The fifty-day party

If you can find it in your attic, open your old, pre-Vatican II missal, and look at the Sundays between Easter and Pentecost, which are titled “Sundays after Easter.” Now look at a contemporary Missal, or your current issue of Magnificat, and note the difference: those Sundays are now styled “Sundays of Easter.” Three letters were lost in the transition from after to of, but that subtraction represents a great recovery of liturgical insight.

I’ve had occasion to express my discontents with the post-conciliar liturgical calendar; anyone interested can find my complaints, and proposed fixes, in the chapter on liturgy in my book, Evangelical Catholicism. But in this instance, the postconciliar reform got it exactly right when the 1969 General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar explained the Easter season in these terms: “The fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost are celebrated in joyful exultation as one feast day, or better as one ‘great Sunday.’ These above all others are the days for the singing of the Alleluia” [22]. The idea of the Easter season as one, great, fifty-day- long Sunday traces its origins to the eastern doctor of the Church, Athanasius; its recovery today ought to help us appreciate the Easter season, and indeed the entire liturgical year, at greater depth.

The shift from Sunday’s after Easter to Sundays of Easter is so evocative because that small change in preposition tells us that “Easter” is not something that happens for twenty-four hours and ends when the leftover ham and chocolate bunnies are put away after dinner. Rather, “Easter” is one continuous fifty-day feast, one “great Sunday,” and it should be lived that way, with as much revelry as possible.

The fifty-day party, properly catechized and preached, also gives the Church an annual opportunity to reflect on its own birth. For the Church is born of Easter faith, which begins with the encounter with the Risen One. And that encounter changes everything. Meeting the Risen Lord, the Church begins to live the life of the Kingdom within history, as the Resurrection restores history to its proper course. Recognizing the Risen Lord in the breaking-open of the Scriptures and the breaking of bread, the Church experiences the New Life – life in the messianic era, here and now. Receiving the Holy Spirit, at the “Johannine Pentecost” recounted on Divine Mercy Sunday and on the Fiftieth Day of the “great Sunday,” the Church is sent into the world on mission, proclaiming the Gospel and the forgiveness of sins.

In the ancient Church, these fifty days were the time of “mystagogical catechesis,” during which the newly baptized catechumens were drawn deeper into the Church’s sacraments and their full meaning, which could only be grasped after the sacrament of “illumination,” baptism. And if Lent (the last lap for the ancient catechumens) is an annual opportunity for each of us to “re-enter” the catechumenate and ponder anew the basics of the faith through the three great catechumenal Gospel readings (Jesus and the woman at the well; Jesus and the man born blind; the raising of Lazarus), then Easter, considered as one fifty-day “great Sunday,” offers each of us the opportunity to reflect on the commission to be missionary disciples we were given at baptism, and to which we pledged ourselves anew at the Easter renewal of baptismal promises.

How many Catholics imagine that the liturgical year is a kind of happenstance, things occurring when and how they do in a more-or-less random way? Too many, perhaps, and that’s especially true of the Easter season, which also gets cultural short shrift because of the dominance of Christmas and “the holidays.” All the more reason then, for preaching during the “great Sunday” to stress the fifty-day party as the pivot of the Church’s entire year of grace, to which all that comes before points, and from which all that follows flows.

Substituting the Apostles Creed for the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed on the Sundays of Easter, for which the rubrics provide, is another good way to highlight the distinctiveness of the Easter season. For the Apostles Creed is the baptismal creed of the Roman Church, and the fifty-day party is, preeminently, a celebration of the saving grace of baptism.

Party on.

COMING UP: Après Gorsuch le deluge

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Did you find the Gorsuch hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee a depressing exercise in political theater? Are you tired of the members of the “world’s greatest deliberative body” playing “Gotcha!” games that would embarrass a well-trained high school debate team? Have you had it with a mainstream media that doesn’t hold senators accountable for gross ignorance and bias and a social media universe that’s constantly in hysterics?

If so, I’ve got some bad news for you: the melodrama over the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court was just the warm-up. Things will be immeasurably worse the next time. Why? Because Gorsuch was a trade-across that maintained the Court’s philosophical balance after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Assuming the next justice to retire or die is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who’s 84), Justice Anthony Kennedy (who will be 81 in July), or Justice Stephen Breyer (who will be 79 in August), the nominee to follow will be replacing a justice fully committed to the abortion license defined by Roe vs. Wade in 1973 and reaffirmed by Casey vs. Planned Parenthood in 1992.

Which means, in a word, Armageddon: a battle of apocalyptic passions, unhinged from reason.

Disturbing as that forecast may be, Armageddon seems virtually inevitable after the Gorsuch hearings and the Senate floor debate on his nomination. For beneath the “Gotcha!” games played by the Senate minority, an implacable determination to preserve the abortion license, at all costs and in its present form, was obvious to those with eyes to see and ears to hear. And perhaps the most chilling formulation of that grim resolve came from Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.

The Senate today is not replete with genius; it’s somewhat disconcerting to contrast today’s solons with a Senate that included, in 1850, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Jefferson Davis, William H. Seward, Lewis Cass, Salmon P. Chase, and Stephen A. Douglas – men who, irrespective of their positions on issues, argued with keen intelligence anchored by deep learning. There are few such senators today; but Dianne Feinstein enjoys a reputation for seriousness and thoughtfulness that is, in my experience, deserved.

Until the subject turns to abortion. Then we get the following:

“Judge Gorsuch has not had occasion to rule directly on a case involving Roe. However, his writings do raise questions. Specifically, he wrote that he believes there are no exceptions to the principle that ‘the intentional taking of a human life by private persons is always wrong.’” And that principle, Senator Feinstein concluded, raised the specter of a situation where a woman’s “decisions about her health care will be determined by politicians and the government.”

It would be interesting know if there are situations other than the termination of an unwanted pregnancy in which Senator Feinstein would recognize a liberty right to the “intentional taking of a human life by private persons.” It would be even more interesting to know if, in formulating her fear as she did, Senator Feinstein was conceding that the unborn child is a “human life” – a life that for a variety of reasons, does not deserve the protection of the laws? Which would then get the discussion down to what seems to be the bottom line: the senator’s claim that Roe vs. Wade gave a “woman…control over her own body.”

And there we arrive at the Armageddon-like character of what’s-coming-after-Neil-Gorsuch.

The day after the presidential inauguration, Washington saw a display of rage, vulgarity, and violence by over half a million demonstrators, the overwhelming majority of whom, I’m willing to bet, consider the empowerment of women inextricably linked to the abortion license defined by Roe. The false (and indeed bizarre) linkage between the abortion license and the dignity of women has served the interests and convenience of irresponsible and predatory men. It has led to a tragedy of breathtaking proportions – the deaths of 58 million innocents. It has warped our politics for two generations. Yet that linkage is what leads an otherwise intelligent senator like Dianne Feinstein to take issue with “the principle that ‘the intentional taking of a human life by private persons is always wrong.’”

Reason is another victim of Roe vs. Wade. The Gorsuch hearings underscored that. Which does not bode well for the future.