Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
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.[1]  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.[2]  Saint Luke relates that two of our Lord’s disciples met Him of the road to Emmaus, perhaps on Easter Monday.[3]  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.[4]  Saint Paul relates that: “he was seen by more than five hundred brethren at once: of whom many remain until this present.”[5]

    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 brethren.”[6]  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 year.)

    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


[1]   John xx: 19-31.

[2]   Ibid.

[3]   Luke xxiv: 13-35.

[4]   John xxi: 1-14.

[5]   1 Corinthians xv: 6.

[6]   Acts i: 12, 14.


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