Liturgical theologian Peter Mazar once wrote: “For three days Esther fasted and Judith kept vigil, the exiles came home to Jerusalem, and the Hebrews marched to the waters of Marah. For three days darkness afflicted the Egyptians, Jonah was entombed in the belly of a fish, and Paul waited in blindness. On the third day Abraham offered his firstborn son, God came down in fire and wind upon Sinai, the boy Jesus was found in ‘his Father’s house,’ and the man Jesus ‘performed the first of his signs at Cana in Galilee.”
The Paschal Triduum – those three full days, whch include Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday – are the most important days of our Church year. So important are these days that for hundreds of years, we, the Church, have prepared for them by celebrating Lent and then we rejoice for a full fifty days after the Resurrection.
The Church’s “General Norms for the Liturgical Year” say it best: “The fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost are celebrated in joyful exultation as one feast day, or better as one ‘great Sunday.’ For forty days we prepared; for three days we celebrate; for fifty days we rejoice.”
The Paschal Triduum opens up onto a fifty-day feast during which we stand and sing the song of “Alleluia.” As Saint Augustine reminds us, we sing this song “in our life and on our lips, in heart and on mouth, by word and deed.”
As magnificent as those words sound, the realities of life make it difficult to do. For example, so many of our essential human actions are now impoverished: a meal has become a microwave snack on the way out the door; reading is so often a cursory review of stories on the Internet; and family togetherness is a quick hello in the hall on our way to morning coffee.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to celebrating the Great Fifty Days is the loss of connection between God and our daily lives. How can we re-establish that connection? How can we become more conscious of the presence of God in everything that surrounds us?
The best way we can re-connect with God is by doing what Christians do best: remembering. At the Easter Vigil and on Easter Sunday we bask in the light; we wash in the font; and we walk from death to life in the Eucharistic banquet.
We basked in the light. At the beginning of the Easter Vigil we praise Christ the Light who conquers the darkness of death and floods all creation with a light that dispels the night. With the blazing candle before us, we boldly sing an “alleluia” that pierces the night. We know that the night is a fearsome time for many. At night an unemployed mother of two may be crouched on her kitchen floor shielding herself from the blows of an abusive spouse; at night an elderly man may be alone and afraid, shivering in his house without heat or food. At night, a teenager may be wandering the streets, searching for a home.
Our “alleluia” praises a God whose rising up from the jaws of death gives a hope that “dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence . . . and [gives] joy to mourners” – a hope that can give us the courage to reach out and care for the vulnerable who are among us. Such hope merits fifty days of praise.
We remember our being washed in the font. Throughout the Great Fifty Days we unfold the meaning of Baptism for those who have sought it and in so doing, deepen our own appreciation of this gift. We have waded into the water and have risen to new life in Christ. We sing “alleluia,” for when we are flooded by anxiety and hopelessness, drowned in a deluge of despair and doubt, submerged in the sea of senseless violence and discrimination, God shows us the way to peace. Such a journey merits fifty days of praise.
We have tasted life and death in the Eucharistic banquet. In our communion in the Body and Blood of Christ we participated – and continue to participate – in the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection and what it pledges: our own resurrection. We sing “alleluia,” for we know Jesus in the breaking of the bread, the sharing of the cup and our communion with one another. Rejoicing in the power of the Spirit who binds us as one, we sing “alleluia,” not only with our lips but also with our lives, as we struggle each day to live what we have come to know: Jesus is no longer dead, but alive and we who have been crucified with him also are now alive in him (see Gal 2:19-20). That knowledge merits fifty days of praise.
During these fifty days of rejoicing, the words of St. Augustine resound: “These are the days when we hear ‘Alleluia’ and our spirit is … transformed.”
May the joy of the Resurrection dwell deeply within us and prepare us for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, who will send us to tell all whom we meet of the Good News that Jesus Christ has conquered death.
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