The fifty days of Eastertide are the Easter Festival, which is when the joy created at the Easter Vigil, is sustained for seven weeks, and the Church celebrates the risen Christ:
Triumphant in his glory now,
his sceptre ruleth all,
earth, heaven and hell before him bow,
and at his footstool fall.
(Fulbert of Chartres)
Early Christians called the ‘fifty days of rejoicing’ Pentecost, which Tertullian called ‘laetissimum spatium this most joyful period’. For us, the Day of Pentecost is the end of the Easter season. It marks the fifty days since Easter Day, and the time when we remember how the Holy Spirit was given to the Disciples after His ascension into heaven.
Some places have a custom of lighting the Easter Candle at the beginning of Easter. The lit Candle stands prominently in Church, for all the Eastertide Services. The Alleluia often appears in liturgical speech and song. Morning Prayer begins with the traditional collection of Pauline texts, known as the Easter Anthems. White or gold vestments and decorations, emphasise the joy and brightness of the Easter Season.
From the late 4th century, there has been a celebration of Christ’s Ascension on the 40th day. Christ commissions his Disciples to continue His work, He promises the gift of the Holy Spirit, and then He is no longer among them in the flesh. The Ascension is connected to Mission. The arrival of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, completes and crowns the Easter Festival.
According to ancient custom, there is no celebration of the Eucharist on Easter Eve, but we have Morning and Evening Prayer. Christians have long since gathered through the night to recall the story of God’s saving work, from creation through to the death and resurrection of Christ. The Easter Liturgy is all about new life for the worshipper, which is a passing from darkness to light, and offers new hope to the faithful.
The Easter Vigil signals the end of Holy Saturday, and leads us into the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. For our ancestors, the image of light as the resurrected Christ was particularly meaningful. In those days, they couldn’t flick a switch to get instant light! For us, the light from a candle is an honour that we bestow on Him, because He is our Redeemer. The Exsultet, or Exultet, is an ancient hymn linking the night of our redemption to the Passover night of Israel’s redemption out of Egypt.
The Easter Vigil has always been a favourite time for baptism, because it’s when Christ died for our sin, and was resurrected. Baptism symbolises a dying to sin, in order to be reborn in Him. It’s also a time when Christians confirm the promises that were made during their own baptisms. Water and light are the basic elements that sustain life, both spiritually and biologically.
The Easter Eucharist follows the Easter Vigil, but sometimes it’s deferred until Easter Day. The Church celebrates Christ’s resurrection with music, flowers, bells and colours. The Alleluia, which was silent during Lent, then returns!
Now the queen of seasons, bright
with the day of splendour,
with the royal feast of feasts,
comes its joy to render.
(John of Damascus)