FATHER VALERIAN CHEONG explains the 50 days of Eastertide: to live with the joyful spirit and conviction of the resurrection of Jesus.
The day Christians have been waiting for over the past 40 days of Lenten preparation has finally arrived: The resurrection of our Lord. Christians all over the world honour and recognise Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and His glorious promises of eternal life for all who believe in Him.
But what next after this joyous occasion?
Following Easter Sunday, the Church enters the Easter season or Eastertide which last 50 days from the Sunday of the Resurrection to Pentecost Sunday on June 9. For us Christians, Eastertide is to live with the joyful spirit and conviction of the resurrection of Jesus. It is to have that hope against all odds, to trust in the power of the resurrection, and to glorify the Lord in all that we encounter. Easter is certainly more than a historical event for us today, because we have every opportunity to live in the spirit of the Resurrected Lord daily!
The 50 days of the Easter season were first introduced towards the end of the first and the beginning of the second century. It was, and still is, a celebration of the entire redemptive act of Christ starting with the incarnation at Christmas, to the glorification at Easter and His return to Heaven at the Ascension. Looking at this from the theological and historical perspectives, we notice that the whole liturgical year springs forth from the paschal redemptive action of Jesus Christ, and these 50 days of Easter are precisely, the celebration of this action.
For us Christians, during the Easter Triduum, we see the cross giving way to a new fire, new oils, new water and ultimately, new life. Those who believe and are baptised share in this resurrection to new life and this theme continues for the next 50 days. In almost every language except for English, the name for this memorial for the Lord’s resurrection is some form of the word ‘Passover”, or Pasch, which comes from the Hebrew word Pesach, meaning ‘Passover”. This is important for us to note as it was during the Seder meal of this Passover event when Jesus celebrated with His friends the night before His crucifixion requesting that it be celebrated in a new way in His memory.
There have been a few theories as to how the English speaking world got the name Easter, as what it is today. Regardless of the various traditions, the exact origin of the term is the symbolism of Easter that Christ is the sun that rises at dawn – in the east. For the Jewish people, whenever they celebrate a festival, it usually takes a certain amount of time for the festivity to run its course. That is why we have two special octaves in the liturgical calendar: Christmas and Easter.
However, the early Christians practised celebrating the paschal mystery of Christ with thanksgiving and joy not only during the three days of the Easter Triduum, but also the following seven weeks or 50 days. An example of such a festal 50day period in the Jewish calendar is the Festival of Weeks (also known as Pentecost).
For the first Christians, on this day occurred the visible outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1), and till this day, that significant event must be regarded as being the first and real fruit of the paschal mystery. This 50th day after Easter is to be regarded as the culmination to the Easter season. The coincidence of this event with the Jewish Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, is an unmistakable sign that Christians are the new covenanted people and that the Church is the firstfruits of Christ’s paschal mystery. Pentecost closes the Easter season and it celebrates the overwhelming experience of God pouring out the Spirit upon the first Christian community of those who believed Jesus was the Lord and Christ. Some would call this as the birth of the Church’s mission on earth. It is with this joyful thought that we intentionally celebrate the Eastertide living as an offering of being the first-fruits and contributing to the growth of the Church with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Father Valerian Cheong is Rector of the St Francis Xavier Seminary.
This article was first published in The Catholic News on Sunday April 21, 2019.