7 April 2015


As I understand it, the Saturday of Easter Week, in the ancient Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries, is the 'Close of Easter'. The Gregorian collect of that day talks about us having celebrated the Paschal Feasts (paschalia festa egimus), and Gelasianum numbers the following Sundays as 'after the close of Easter'.

The post-Conciliar reforms made much of Easter being 50 days long and being one single Great Day of Feast. They renamed the Sundays as 'of Easter' rather than 'after Easter, and chucked out the old collects for the Sundays after Easter (their best hope for any sort of survival was to be assigned to the season per Annum) because they didn't consider them 'Paschal' enough. To replace them, they cobbled together a set of collects which was substantially new. They gave their game away by transferring the Collect for the Sunday after Easter (with its talk about now having finished the festa Paschalia) to the Saturday before Pentecost.

The Church of England, with its Liturgical Commission dominated by 'Bubbles' Stancliff and enthusiastic as ever for any passing bandwagon, drove the tendency even further. The addition of Alleluias to Dismissals, which even Bugnini's collaborators had confined to the Octave of Easter, was extended to the whole Fifty Days. A number of variations in the liturgy, to mark and enhance the unitary nature of the Fifty Days, was confected and embodied in the C of E's new "Common Worship".

I wonder just how securely founded in both the Bible and the patristic traditions, of West as well as East, this newly minted view of Eastertide is. It certainly seems to be true that the reforms of the 1970s represented a new divergence between the customs of West and of East: by levelling out Eastertide we lost the ecumenical practice, which we shared with Orthodoxy, of marking the unique character of this one very special week by allowing it to retain a whole lot of unique (mostly archaic) liturgical features. The Byzantines delightfully call it 'Bright Week' (I resist the temptation to repeat all the information in the Wikipedia entry sub hac voce) and they make the service each day to be completely unlike that of any other week of the year. One example in our Western idiom of thus making Easter week 'strange' was the traditional Western disuse of Office Hymns during this week; in place of them and of other elements in the Office, we used simply to sing the anthem Haec dies. Considering the enthusiasm with which the 'reformers' orientalised so much of the Roman Rite, it seems extraordinary that in other respects, such as this one, their concern was to drag the West out of a usage common to both of the Church's 'lungs'. But then, they always did what suited their whimsy.

There is an even profounder 'ecumenical' aspect to this question. S Paul assumes the familiarity of his largely Gentile Corinthian congregation with the Jewish usages of a seven-day Passover Festival celebration in unleavened bread (Exodus 12; Deuteronomy 16; I Corinthians 5). This suggests that the Paschalia festa, that is, of Easter Sunday until Easter Saturday, represent not only Apostolic practice but are part of the immemorial continuities linking the Old Israel with the New. Which would make the post-Conciliar alterations seem even more irresponsibly capricious and 'anti-ecumenical'.

One final point. As in Judaism and in Byzantine usage, so in the pre-Conciliar West, this very special week ended on the Saturday. We then gave up the Alleluias in dismissals, and the proper Communicantes and Hanc igitur. But now we continue them on the Sunday, Low Sunday, before saying farewell to them.

As I understand it, since the Saturday in Easter Week was the Clausum Paschae, the Sunday after it, the English Low Sunday, was the First Sunday After the Close of Easter. So when Traditionalist Catholics and Prayer Book Anglicans call the following Sundays 'After Easter' they do not quite mean 'After Easter Sunday', but, technically and pedantically, 'After the Great Seven-day Festa Paschalia which stretch from the Easter Vigil until they "close" before the First Evensong of Low Sunday'.

I am not, of course, suggesting that the remaining six weeks before Pentecost should lose their 'Eastertide' status. As Dix puts it, "After the Pascha the 'great 50 days' ... were already recognised [at the end of the second century] as a continuous festival, during which all penitential observances such as fasting and kneeling at corporate prayer were forbidden, as they were on ordinary Sundays also. ... just as for the Jews the fifty days of harvest between Passover and Pentecost symbolised the joyful fact of their possession of the Promised Land, so these fifty days symbolised for the Christian the fact that 'in Christ' he had already entered into the Kingdom of God. Like the weekly Sunday with which this period was associated both in thought and in the manner of its observance, the 'fifty days' manifested the 'world to come'."


B flat said...

Although the Orthodox Church only "gives up" Paschal celebration on the Wednesday immediately before the Feast of the Ascension (so forty days - not fifty - of Paschaltide) the equivalent of Low Sunday, called antiPascha or "Thomas Sunday"in te Eastern rite, is a very great contrast to the preceding week, All the characteristic hymns of Pascha are absent for Thomas Sunday, which has its own high rank and unique texts, extended in the celebration over the following week. Only on the Sunday following, the second after the Pasch (called "of the Myrrhbeares") does the singing of the Paschal Canons and Paschal Aposticha verses return to use. This really does isolate and accentuate the uniqueness of Bright week, which I understood hitherto as a prolonging of the celebration of the Day of the Resurrection as "The Eighth Day" which has no ending, and completes the seven days of Creation.

Quite contrary to the reformers leitmotif in the Roman rite, the Greek Orthodox call the liturgical book governing this fifty day period, the "Pentecostarion" and make no bones about celebrating Pentecost as a secondary focal point, with its own festal week free of fasting, like Easter. To impress this more clearly, the Orthodox calendar has a Feast on the Wednesday twenty five days from Pascha, and calls it Mid-Pentecost.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to see how the various American Books of Common Prayer treat Eastertide by seeing how the role of the canticle "Pascha Nostrum" expands in successive revisions.

Up until 1928, the Protestant Episcopal Church carried on the English practice of only using it on Easter Day itself. In the 1928 BCP, there's a new rubric that "At Morning Prayer, instead of the Venite, the following shall be said, and may be said throughout the Octave." In the 1979 BCP, the permission becomes a requirement, and a new permission appears: "In Easter Week, in place of an Invitatory Psalm, the following is sung or
said. It may also be used daily until the Day of Pentecost." I think it would be rather sad to not say the Venite once for fifty days.

DJIndy said...

According to the above, it sounds like you are saying the Octave ended on the Saturday after Easter Sunday, and that the following Sunday was previously not part of the Octave.
Is that correct? (I ask to clear up a debate I am having where 2/3 of us interpret the above article to be saying what I stated above, and the third party is saying that the above says per-Conciliar still included the following Sunday as part of the Octave, but that it was ending with the day in which the collect was said).

Robert Glasby said...

In the photo the clergyman is not wearing a manilpe. Why is that? Surely it is essential.

Robert Glasby said...

In the photo the clergyman is not wearing a maniple. Why is that? Surely it is essential.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Silly me, I've always taken my maniple off to preach.

PseudonymousposterJohn said...

As someone tremendously thoughtful argued on the Rad Trad’s site last Whitsun (Oh, hang on a minute; that was me!) the proper Communicantes and Hanc igitur of both Easter and Whitsun run from Saturday to Saturday. Was never that good at maths but that sounds like eight days to me. In both cases, the following Sundays have never partaken of the features of the Octaves. It has always been a disappointment not to have the Easter sequence on that day, but it has never been so used.
I suppose this has implications for the timing of both Vigil masses. I have never bought the teatime-is-the-right-time-so-it-ends-with-vespers-on-time theory. My personal opinion is that the vigils were originally all night and their following masses were in the light of dawn. Vespers were integral for different reasons. They were certainly NOT evening or midnight masses as in the 1956/1962/novus ordo format de nos jours. I think the ceremonies were anticipated in the day of Saturday, as many other things are during that week (more so in the East), and because of the fasting rules meaning that early Saturday morning was the time as soon as Tenebrae became the norm the night before. MY guess is that the Octave developed when the first masses of both Feasts were celebrated firmly as THE masses of the Saturday mornings.= Eight days, Saturday to Saturday. [Perhaps the whole idea of the Octave – eight days – comes from the development of Easter backwards into its vigil].
I suggest the Vigil mass went from being celebrated on the Sunday morning to the Saturday morning. It had to. Mass was always in the morning until the fifties of the twentieth century, And was something of an innovation. To say the least.

My separate holy week books from the 1900’s all end at None on Sabbatum in Albis and have NOTHING of Low Sunday in them. (The point of these books is that the liturgy doesn’t alter [THAT much] in this fortnight and so can for convenience be put in one small handy format) The later one from about the 1930’s contains not only the [nearly invariable] Low Sunday mass but also the, potentially VERY variable Vespers for that day – if nothing else, favourites to concur then include the transfer of the Annunciation and in these parts, S George. A change in attitude is reflected thus, tho not a change in practice