Alleluiah! You might have thought that Easter is over today, but for many Christians the celebrations are only just beginning.
For the practice in the Catholic Church is that 'Eastertide' as it is traditionally known, lasts for 50 days, running from sunset on Holy Saturday, when many churches celebrate Easter with a Vigil Mass, through to Pentecost, which this year falls on Sunday June 4.
This week itself is known in the Catholic Church as the Octave of Easter, ending at the beginning of next week with Divine Mercy Sunday: eight days since Easter Day, with the 'eighth day' representing the mystery of a day beyond the usual seven of the week. Traditionally during this time, the Latin term 'Christus resurrexit' is used.
The Church takes celebrating Easter seriously: fasting is actually banned during the Octave, including on the Friday, the day when devout Catholics abstain from meat.
But Eastertide is more than just an extended celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. In the early Church, just as Lent was a season for new converts to learn about the faith and prepare for baptism on Easter Day,the initial purpose of Eastertide was to continue the faith formation of new Christians.
This is the season when we remember our baptisms and how as 'Easter people' we are, according to the liturgy, 'incorporated into Christ's mighty acts of salvation'.
As is explained in General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Ceremonial of Bishops: '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. The Sundays of this season rank as the paschal Sundays and, after Easter Sunday itself, are called the Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Sundays of Easter. The period of fifty sacred days ends on Pentecost Sunday. The first eight days of the Easter Season make up the octave of Easter and are celebrated as solemnities of the Lord.
'On the fortieth day after Easter the Ascension is celebrated, except in places where, not being a holy day of obligation, it has been transferred to the Seventh Sunday of Easter. This solemnity directs our attention to Christ, who ascended into heaven before the eyes of his disciples, who is now seated at the right hand of the Father, invested with royal power, who is there to prepare a place for us in the kingdom of heaven; and who is destined to come again at the end of time.
'The weekdays after the Ascension until the Saturday before Pentecost inclusive are a preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. This sacred season of fifty days comes to an end on Pentecost Sunday, which commemorates the giving of the Holy Spirit to the apostles, the beginnings of the Church and its mission to every tongue and people and nation.'
Here is an Easter prayer for the period adapted from the Book of Common Prayer:
O God, who for our redemption gave your only begotten Son to death on the Cross, and by his glorious resurrection has delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant that we who celebrate with joy the day of our Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit. Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection, empowered and transformed by your grace in and among us.
O Lord, so stir up in your church, indeed in each of us, that Spirit of adoption and reconciliation that is made possible by your grace revealed in Jesus the Christ, that we being renewed in both body and mind, may worship and serve you in sincerity and truth. We pray this in the name of the same Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.