Friday, February 17, 2012


Looking in on Quinquagesima Sunday Mass - Toronto, Canada

Hello My Friend and Welcome.

As mentioned in the last few posts, we will be doing a series of posts related to Easter and they begin today. However, in the Church’s calendar and traditions, the penitential season known as Lent and the glorious season known as Pascha, or Easter, are interrelated.  There are also a number of other special days included such as Ash Wednesday, and Holy Week, which includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. So throughout the upcoming Lenten season we will be scattering posts relating both to Easter and to Lent.

Easter, like Christmas, is more than just a day; it is a season. The Easter season begins on Easter Sunday and ends fifty days later on Pentecost. Some churches follow the liturgical calendar with its Feasts and Festivals, liturgical colors and so on. Others do not. Either way, we encourage you come along with us whether you do or don’t currently follow a liturgical calendar. The roots of many of these traditions can be traced back to the early Church. We have lots of fun facts to share and, whatever faith tradition you adhere to, you’ll find the posts both educational and enriching. That said, let’s move onto to our first post.

In times past, the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday (this coming Sunday, February 19, 2012) was often referred to as Quinquagesima Sunday from the Latin for fiftieth. In other words, there are fifty days from this coming Sunday to Easter. Your first thought may have been, “Wait a minute, Lent only lasts forty days. If you start with Sunday and add in the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday you’ll get 43, not 50.” This overlooks two things. First, Sundays are not counted as part of Lent. So we need to add in the six Lenten Sundays. Also, Lent ends at midnight on Holy Saturday. Easter Sunday must also be included. The math goes like this: starting with 40, we add 3 (Sun, Mon & Tues) + 6 (Sundays) + 1 (Easter) and get (Ta Da!) 50.

As mentioned above, Lent lasts forty days. The early Church Fathers did not pull this figure out a hat. The number forty appears all through the Bible. And, more often than not, it is associated with a period of waiting, probation, or preparation. The following list is in no way inclusive. It does, however, demonstrate the re-occurrence and importance of the number forty throughout the Bible.

In the Old Testament:
It rained for forty days and nights. Likewise, Noah waited 40 days after the waters receded before sending out a raven. (Genesis 8:3-8)
Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebecca. (Genesis 25:20)
Esau was 40 years old when he married his two wives. (Genesis 26:34)
The Israelites ate Manna 40 years in the Desert. (Exodus 16:35-6)
Moses spent 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai. (Exodus 24:18) He came down, saw the
Golden Calf and broke the tables. Then in Exodus 24:28 he returns and fasts 40 days.
The scouts spied in the Promised Land 40 days before returning. . (Numbers 13:25)
Then the Israelites were required to spend 40 years “wandering” in the Desert. (Numbers 14:33)
Joshua was 40 years old when he spied with the scouts. (Joshua 14:7)
Goliath taunted Israel 40 days before his defeat by David. (1 Samuel 17:16)
King David reigned for 40 years. (2 Samuel 5:4)
King Solomon reigned for 40 years. (1 Kings 11:42)
Elijah fasted 40 days in the wilderness. (1 Kings 19:8)
Jonah preached to Nineveh for 40 days before they repented. (Jonah 3:4)
Ezekiel lay on his right side for 40 days. (Ezekiel 4:4)

In the New Testament we find:
The Purification of Mary is 40 days after birth of Jesus (Leviticus 12:1-4, Luke 2: 22-4)
Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert after His baptism (Matthew 4:1-2)
Jesus also spent 40 days on earth following His Resurrection (Acts 1:3)
And, Jesus, by tradition, spent 40 hours in the tomb.

The forty days of Lent, as we can see, have deep significance. We will examine this in more detail as we move through our posts over the next six or seven weeks.

This is as good a time as any to deal with the overall concept of Easter. As we found in our study on All Things Christmas, there are many half-truths and misconceptions surrounding the traditions and practices of the Church. People perpetuate these falsehoods either out of ignorance or because it discredits the Church and, by discrediting the Church, they gain credibility.

In the case of Christmas, it was the false fact that Christmas was placed on December 25th because that date corresponded with pagan solstice feasts. We disproved that in our post Why Dose Christmas Come on December 25th? If you missed it, you can find it HERE.

Easter, too, we are told is a pagan holiday. As Easter approaches and you’ll hear this refrain repeated over and over. For the sake of charity, we’ll assume that the people saying this are simply misinformed.

First of all, while we cannot be certain when Jesus of Nazareth was born, we know with certainty when he died. As we said earlier, Easter is known as The Pascha everywhere except in the English speaking world. Pascha is Greek for Passover…the day on which Jesus was crucified. But didn’t pagans have Spring festivals? Of course they did. Many small towns have a Fall Harvest Festival…an Apple Fest, a Pumpkin Show, etc. Are these festivals a ritualistic way of paying homage to the Earth Goddess, or simply an opportunity for family fun and food from traveling food booths?

So where did the connection of Easter and paganism come from? It began with the observations of an 8th Century Christian writer. Again, like the Christmas speculation, a passing comment took on a life of its own. In this case, the Venerable Bede said that the word Easter was derived from the name of the pagan goddess Eostre, whose name was in turn derived from the Norse word for Spring, Eastre. So Easter comes from Spring, which seems appropriate. Note, he was talking about the word Easter, not the Easter beliefs and practices.

Boiled Eggs Dyed Red

But what about those practices? Those boiled eggs in a basket of grass, etc? Let’s take a closer look. Circadian rhythms are biological processes that are dependent upon day length. Modern egg producers stimulate a hen’s laying cycle by extending the perceived day length with artificial light. People living in the First Century didn’t have this luxury; they had to depend upon the natural cycle of solstices and equinoxes. Consequently, as the days grew longer with the coming of Spring, their hens were stimulated to begin laying. Also, during the 40-day period of fasting preceding Easter, the Early Christians did without meats, fats and eggs.

What could be more opportune? Just as we move into Spring and the celebration of the Resurrection, the hens begin to produce eggs again. Eggs, of course, are ideal representations of a resurrection of sorts when they hatch and of the new life the Christians found in Christ. Interestingly, the Early Christians dyed boiled eggs red —for the saving blood of Jesus Christ. They presented them to their children on Easter morning as a reminder of the Paschal mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. Easter morning, of course, was also the first day that eggs could be eaten again. This year when you boil and color eggs with your children or grandchildren, tell them the story of the Early Christians.  Remind them that, like those children of the early centuries, they are participating in a holy tradition. Be sure to also remind them that those children never had chocolate.

Next time we will focus on Shrove Tuesday, the origin of Mardi Gras.

Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings.

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