Third Sunday after Easter—13
April AD 2008
The Fifty Days of Easter
Holy Week was a beautiful and
fascinating time of the year, but it was a bit physically and emotionally
draining for those of us who were close to it. After all, the Passion,
Death, and Resurrection are momentus events in human history, the history
of salvation, and in our own lives. There is a certain emotional tension
that goes along with seeing that everything is done correctly. If you made
a good Lent, and took part in the ceremonies of Holy Week and
Easter—particularly those of you who helped set things up for the various
ceremonies, and those of you who served at the altar—if you did any of these
things, quite probably you breathed a sigh of relief sometime on Easter day.
But today, as we celebrate the third
Sunday after Easter, I must remind you that we have not entirely finished the
holy season that articulates with Easter. We have a few major days left to
complete this history of our salvation.
In the Jewish calendar, in use at the
time of our Lord, the Passover corresponded more or less with our Holy Thursday
and Good Friday. Passover was then something of a harvest festival.
The first-fruits of the wheat harvest and the first-born lambs were offered to
God at the Temple in Jerusalem. People came from all over Israel to
sacrifice their offerings at the Temple. Once sacrificed, the lamb would
be returned to the family offering it, and they would return to their lodgings
to eat the Passover supper of sacrificial lamb and unleavened wheat bread.
Fifty days later they would return to
the Temple to make an offering of the first-fruits of the barley harvest.
This was the feast known as “Shavuot” (תועובש),
or “Pentecost” (πεντηκόστη),
:the fiftieth day” for those Jews who spoke or wrote in Greek. This day
celebrated God’s gift of the Law to His people through the prophet Moses at
Mount Sinai. The sacrificial offering of barley was just waved in front of
the altar of the Temple, for barley, although important, was thought of as
animal feed—only wheat was fine enough to be offered directly to God.
Our Lord saw fit to overlay the
Christian dispensation on these fifty days, building something new to replace
the old. The Passover was replaced by Holy Thursday and Good Friday—the
Last Supper and the Crucifixion—wherein the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ,
replaced the animal victim, under the appearances of that same unleavened bread
of fine wheat, and the pure wine of the grape.
Three days later, our Lord rose from the
dead—an event which quite obviously has no analog in the Jewish calendar.
In the forty days thereafter, our Lord was seen by many, so that there would be
no question that He did, indeed, rise from the dead. He came to the
Apostles on Easter night, and gave them the power of forgiving sins.
He returned eight days later so that the doubting Saint Thomas could actually
touch the wounds on His body, dispelling forever the possibility that He was no
more than a ghost or a vision.
Saint Luke relates that two of our Lord’s disciples met Him of the road to
Emmaus, perhaps on Easter Monday.
The Apostles encountered Him again as they fished from Peter’s boat on the Sea
of Tiberias—He cooked fish for them, and baked bread, after enabling them to
make a miraculous catch of 153 large fish.
Saint Paul relates that: “he was seen by more than five hundred brethren at
once: of whom many remain until this present.”
The words of today’s Gospel, and those
for the next three Sundays, were spoken at the very beginning of this fifty day
period, during the discourse our Lord gave during His Last Supper. He
speaks of Himself going away to the Father and returning again—of going away,
but sending an Advocate in His place, the Holy Ghost, who would enable the
Apostles to witness about Him and to speak truth to the powers of the world.
So, after our Lord was seen by many
people, yet again alive after His death on the Cross—almost at the end of our
fifty day period—forty days, to be precise—He went to His Father in Heaven.
We Catholics look forward to celebrating His return to the Father on Ascension
Thursday (May 1st this year). If we are zealous, we may also attend the
vigil Mass on the day before (Wednesday), thus celebrating the entirety of the
feast over two days.
Between the fortieth and fiftieth days
there are, of course, nine days. We can think of these days as the
Catholic Church’s first novena. And an interesting novena it must
have been. Certainly, the Apostles were very excited, for another very
important phase in our Lord’s mission had just played out, exactly as
He said it would. But, on the other hand, they were now without
Jesus—for two or three years he had been with them almost continuously, always
knowing exactly how to deal with the Romans, and the Pharisees, and all of the
other hostile parties—those days were over, and it took a great deal of faith
even to imagine how any “Advocate” might take Jesus’ place.
The Scripture tells us that “they
returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet . . . a Sabbath
day's journey. And when they had entered the city, they came to the upper room
where [the Apostles] were staying.... All these with one mind continued
steadfastly in prayer with the women and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and with His
What a marvelous grace to celebrate a novena in the actual presence of the
Blessed Virgin Mother of God! Nine full days before that fiftieth day
would roll around. The Church will commemorate our Lady and this first
novena with a special Mass honoring her as Queen of the Apostles on the Saturday
after the Ascension—another opportunity for all of us to celebrate this sacred
time with the Church. (It is also the First Saturday of the month this
Finally, we come to the fiftieth day.
It too begins with a Saturday Vigil, which may be celebrated much like the Vigil
of Easter, although we will celebrate it in the morning—we will, at least,
bless the holy water, as we did at Easter.
The fiftieth day itself, we call by the
name of “Pentecost,” the same name used by the Greek speaking Jews.
For us it is not a barley festival, nor do we celebrate the reception of the
Mosaic Law. On some level, we can say that we are celebrating the
replacement of the Mosaic Law by the Gifts of the Holy Ghost—both in the souls
of men and women, and in the Catholic Church by which we are joined to Jesus
Christ through the workings of this Holy Ghost. It was on that day of
Pentecost that Mary and the Apostles received the Holy Ghost. It was on
that day of Pentecost that Church left the Upper Room and went out into the
world to make disciple of all nations.
The next four weeks will not be anywhere
as hectic as those surrounding Passiontide and Easter. (You can breathe
your sigh of relief right now if you care too.) But they do represent the
important conclusion of our Lord’s mission on earth. The Sundays and
Ascension Thursday are days of obligation, the others I mentioned are
not. But they are all days of opportunity—days on which you can
join our Lady and the Apostles at Mass, learning more about the mysteries of our
Faith, celebrating our Redemption, and growing stronger in the Gift of the Holy
Ghost. So, please mark your calendars!
April A.D. 2008
May A.D. 2008