18 April 2020


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 passuonate 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 convention, 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 own immediate whimsies.

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'."


Fr Ray Blake said...

One reason for the Octave ending on Saturday is that it began on Saturday, because Christ at rest, descends to hell as victor over Satan and all that holds man captive.

I was delighted several Polish families turned up at my door not to socially distance but bringing food baskets to be blessed with the new paschal water before breaking their Lenten fast with sausages, eggs and cake.

I suspect they understand the Church's liturgy more than the Bugnini reforms that make Holy Saturday a day of divine absence rather than one of divine 'consumation' and of human rest and celebration.

Gregory DiPippo said...

“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.” Not very securely at all.


Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

There is great dollop of 'up to point, Lord Copper' in all this, as you Reverence freely acknowledges.

S Gregory the Great we are told extended the Alleluia from Eastertide into the rest of the year, which fact covers two separate points, about previous usage and his intentions. One needs to be a Gregory (or at least a Pius X(?!)) to bring any good when playing with the rites. The Orientals, I gather, have alway used Alleluia through the year, including Lent.

The real problem with Mgr Bugs Bunny and his Reforming Friends was their desire to force the world and the liturgy to confirm to their very narrow modern logic - so, among other absurdity, Octaves have to have rules which govern their behaviour in common, despite the fact that for two millennia (nearly, as they are of Jewish origin) we have managed perfectly well with no two octaves behaving in quite the same way (pedant watch - apart from very minor and late ones). As Addis and Arnold admirably puts it in their very brief entry "the rules... are too intricate to be detailed here." Good. Fiat.

Oe of the charms of the Easter Octave, particularly the Office, (as also the Vigil Mass) is the distinct paucity of Alleluias. As if this extended Festival Day needs no emphasis, that come later, when our minds begin to wander. Less is more, how much has been lost in their tinkerings.

As one gets older, and one is still young enough to be possibly of sound mind, the more one sees that no good whatever came from the liturgy we have lived with, tried to celebrate, and been excusing, for all our lifetime.

As spake Clifford Bax, 'Turn back O man, forswear they foolish ways.', and most excellently done up by Holst; worthy of heeding.