As I sat down to write this letter, I opened up my internet web browser and did a Google search for “Easter 2016.” Sure enough, “March 27” came back as the result. And at one level, that is absolutely correct: today, Sunday March 27, is indeed Easter Day.
However, seen through the eyes of faith, Google’s response is significantly lacking. For believers, this greatest feast of the entire year cannot be confined to a single day. And so the Church celebrates Easter not as a mere day, but as an octave…a grouping of eight consecutive days. Today, Easter Day, is just the first of these eight days of the Easter Octave, which comes to a conclusion next Sunday, the “Second Sunday of Easter,” also named Divine Mercy Sunday.
Every day of the Easter Octave is celebrated as “another” Easter Day. All of the daily Masses during the upcoming week are celebrated as solemnities (the highest category of Church feast days), complete with the Gloria, the Creed, and the solemn Easter double Alleluia dismissal. The altar cloths and flowers that decorate the church on Easter Sunday remain for the entire week. The Gospel readings during the entire octave are drawn from the various resurrection appearances of Jesus from all four Gospels. For priests, religious, and anyone else who prayers the Liturgy of the Hours, the prayers of vespers (evening prayer) for all of the days of this week are taken almost exclusively from vespers of Easter Sunday. And in ancient times, centuries ago, the adults who were clothed in white robes at their baptism at the Easter Vigil would continue to wear those white robes during the entire week of the Easter Octave.
Why an octave? Because the joy and glory of the Resurrection of Christ cannot be confined to just one day. Christ, resplendent in glory, has risen from the grave, and invites us all to share in His new and eternal life. Darkness has been driven away by Christ our Light; our enemy has been vanquished. The power of sin and evil have been destroyed; even death no longer holds any power over us. Such a victory cannot be adequately celebrated in a mere day!
And why eight days, rather than 5, or 12, or 37? There is deep symbolism here that goes back to the very “beginning.” God created the heavens and the earth in six days, and then rested on the seventh bringing to completion that first week. And so “in the beginning” the eighth day is really the “first day” of the life of the fully created world. And in that sense, you might say that every day that followed is essentially an extension of that eighth day of creation. And so for us, standing in the glory of the Risen Christ, every day of our existence you might say is one long “eighth day,” which we live in the light of the recreation of the whole world accomplished by the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. Our whole life, our whole existence, every day of our future from now until the day the Lord calls us home to Himself is one great, beautiful celebration of the eighth day of Easter, the octave day, and thus also the “first day” of our lives, now lived and transformed by the glory of the Empty Tomb. May the light and life of the Resurrected Christ fill you to overflowing, this day and always. Christ is Risen, Alleluia! Truly He is Risen, Alleluia!
Fr. John Paul