Question: Why do we celebrate before Easter?
Posted by james0235 on November 6, 2012
Ok, so I’m confused. Why do we celebrate the 40 days before Easter instead of the 40 day after the Resurrection?
We celebrate both.
The season of Lent commemorates the 40 days Jesus spent fasting and praying in the wilderness (Matthew 4). This was in preparation for His public ministry.
40 is an important amount of time when it comes to preparing for something. Noah and his family spent 40 days on the ark in a storm before finally finding dry land and rebuilding civilization (Genesis 8). Moses spent 40 days on top of Mt. Sinai with God before giving the people the 10 Commandments (Exodus 24). The Hebrews spent 40 years wandering in the desert before they were permitted to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14). Elijah spent 40 days walking to Mt. Horeb where God instructed him to anoint a king for Israel and to anoint Elisha as a prophet (1 Kings 19).
So, we spend 40 days fasting and praying before we celebrate the Resurrection. If you count it up it is actually 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. But, we don’t count the 6 Sundays of Lent as every Sunday is like a mini Easter itself.
We also celebrate the 40 days Jesus spent on Earth after His Resurrection. This is called the Season of Easter and it actually goes through the Feast of the Ascension – 40 days after Easter – and ends on the Feast of Pentecost – 50 days after Easter.
Ok, but how do we celebrate then? Because we don’t fast or anything.
We did the fasting and praying for the 40 days of Lent in preparation for the Resurrection. Then, when Easter comes and God conquers death through death, we celebrate by living in that moment for awhile. At least liturgically, we kind of stop time in a sense. We celebrate Easter on Easter Sunday (of course). But, Easter lasts for an entire week – all the way through the following Sunday. This is called the Octave of Easter – octave meaning 8 days.
The day after Easter is often called Easter Monday, the next day is Easter Tuesday, etc. , all the way up to the following Sunday which is called the 2nd Sunday of Easter.
Things are done a little differently this whole week to highlight the fact that it is still Easter. First off after “fasting” from the Alleluia “Praise God” for 40 days it comes back on Easter.
On Easter Sunday there is a special prayer known as the Sequence read or sung right before the Gospel. The one used on Easter is called Victimae paschali laudes and it begins “Christians, to the Paschal Victim offer your thankful praises!” For the rest of the Octave this prayer is typically recited.
The “Alleluia verse” the verse of scripture that is read or sung right before the Gospel is the same all week – “Alleluia, alleluia. This is the day the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it. Alleluia, alleluia.” (Psalm 118:24)
If Eucharistic Prayer I is used it actually changes slightly to during the Octave to highlight the fact that it is still Easter – “Celebrating the most sacred day of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh…”
And finally during the Octave Mass ends differently – “Go forth, the Mass is ended, alleluia, alleluia. Thanks be to God, alleluia, alleluia.”
These changes stop after the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, to show that the Octave is over and we are no longer celebrating the day of Easter. But, we continue with the Season of Easter (3rd Sunday of Easter, 4th Sunday of Easter, etc.) The season doesn’t actually end after 40 days with the Ascension. It continues for another 10 days and ends 50 days after Easter on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles.
The primary thing you will notice during the Easter Season is that the Easter candle, blessed during the Easter Vigil and representing the light of Christ, is near the altar. It will remain there, symbolizing the Risen Christ with us, until the Feast of the Ascension or Pentecost. The rest of the year it will stand next to the baptismal font and will be lit during baptisms as, representing the presence of Christ, it is a symbol of new life and rebirth (John 3:5) or it will be placed next to the coffin at funerals to represent Christ’s victory over sin and death (Romans 6:3-5).
Only 2 days of the year are special enough to require an Octave to stop time and rest in the moment for awhile: Christmas when God became man and Easter when that man conquered death.