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Holy Water, the Cathedral Church of Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston TX

The days of the Easter Octave retain a special character throughout the Roman Rite. This is true of both the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form, and also of Divine Worship: The Missal, which preserves this sacred time in accordance with ancient practice, whilst also making use of certain Anglican translations and practices.

Overview of the Easter Octave

If the Paschal Vigil is “the mother of all vigils,” then the Easter Octave is to be considered the mother of all octaves. Its origins predate even those of the Octave of the Nativity of the Lord, of the Epiphany, and of Pentecost, and of course those of later feasts such as Corpus Christi. Blessed Ildefonso Schuster goes so far as to say that the octave “was characteristic of the Easter festivities.” Dom Prosper Guéranger says, with equal eloquence, “So ample and so profound is the mystery of the glorious Pasch, that an entire week may well be spent in its meditation.” With an overview of its associated practices, we can see how right they are.

For the early Christians, Eastertide as a whole was a time with a particular emphasis on the sacrament of Holy Baptism. The vestiges of the baptismal liturgy that we find in the Easter Vigil of today was, in earlier times, the apex of the entire Easter Vigil and, indeed, of the extended journey toward the Paschal celebrations in the seasons of Pre-Lent and of Lent proper. In these penitential seasons we look to our own sins, and look forward to the restoration of our life in Christ in the Paschal mystery. This is done, however, in parallel with the principal work of this season: the preparation of the catechumens—those who will receive baptism at Easter. This fact is ably drawn out by the various stages of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. The baptismal character of Eastertide in general, then, is fundamental to our understanding of the character of the Easter Octave in particular, which is the continuation of Easter Day itself. Those who were baptized at the Paschal Vigil in the night of Easter (the first hours of Easter, liturgically speaking), and then clad in the new white robes that represent their purity and spotlessness in their new life in union with Christ, are the focus of these days. These neophytes would remain in their baptismal garments until the following Sunday—known in English as Low Sunday, but by its Latin colloquial name as Dominica in albis, that is “Sunday in white.” Thus the Easter Octave is, in a particular way, the time of the newly baptized; a fact that also emphasizes again the importance of baptism for the whole community of the Church, and indeed the very nature of the Church itself.

Christian Rome celebrated the Easter Octave with great solemnity, closing businesses and suspending all unnecessary transactions, including marriages. The Roman Church, throughout the Easter Octave, also maintained its liturgical celebration of this Feast of Feasts with Mass at significant station churches: The Vatican Basilica on Monday, Saint Paul outside the Walls on Tuesday, Saint Laurence outside the Walls on Wednesday (recalling the patronage of Saint Laurence over the city of Rome), the great church of the Twelve Holy Apostles on Thursday, Saint Mary of the Martyrs (the Pantheon) on Friday, and the Cathedral of Saint John Lateran on Saturday. On Low Sunday, the Octave Day of Easter, the station was peculiarly at the church of the fourteen year old martyr, Saint Pancras. As Schuster says, this is “eloquent of [the] spiritual youth,” bestowed on us in baptism. In all of this, then, it was the neophytes who were the focus of the liturgy, particularly of the prayers and scriptural texts.

Much of this is preserved in the pre-conciliar Roman Rite. The orations refer to the gift of baptism, given at Easter, variously as the “medicine to a sick world” and “the continued birth of new offspring.” And particularly in the texts associated with Monday and Tuesday of the Easter Octave, we see the character of the previous days’ vigil retained by repeating its texts. The Secret or Oratio super oblata, which in the Roman liturgy was the only offertory rite until the much later insertion of the Gallican prayers, prayed at the Paschal Vigil, is found again on Easter Sunday, and then also on the Monday and Tuesday of the Easter Octave. And both in these orations, as in the scriptural texts associated with these days, it is once more the neophytes who are the focus. On Easter Monday, for example, they are addressed by the Introit: “The Lord hath brought you into a land flowing with milk and honey, alleluia: that the law of the Lord may always be in your heart. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.” On Easter Tuesday this is even more explicit: “The water of wisdom hath he given them to drink, alleluia.”

These themes are certainly retained in the Ordinary Form. The introits are unchanged, though the collects are somewhat altered and moved around (Tuesday’s is moved to Monday, for example), and the traditional Preface, which is retained as one of five options, adds a final paragraph: “Therefore, overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in your praise and even the heavenly Powers, with the angelic hosts, sing together the unending hymn of your glory.” Most dramatic, though, is the loss of the recitation of the Creed on these days and the optional recitation (rather than mandatory, as in the older missal) of the Sequence Victimæ paschali laudes, which sought to emphasize the continuation of the single day of Easter throughout the Octave. Nevertheless, the proper Hanc igitur and Communicationes specified for the Roman Canon are retained. In contemporary practice, there is the laudable custom of a Mass for the newly baptized, celebrated by the bishop in his cathedral church, on the Saturday of the Easter Octave. Regrettably, the reception of baptized non-Catholics into the full communion of the Catholic Church has also found its place at the Easter Vigil, and these new Catholics are often included in this practice. This risks undermining the uniqueness of baptism, saying nothing of the connotations to the newly received.

The observance of the Easter Octave in Anglicanism is typically complicated. In the early English iterations of the Book of Common Prayer, the word “octave” does not appear, but again the Monday and Tuesday of the week are regarded in a special way. In the Prayer Book of 1549, for example, the Epistle and Gospel given on Easter Monday (called Monedaye in Easter weke) is the same as the ancient Roman lectionary. The same is true of Easter Tuesday. However, the collects given on Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday differ from that of the Missale Romanum. By 1662, the first collect found in 1549 had become the only provision for Easter Day, and also for the two days of the Easter Octave provided by the Prayer Book. The later 1928 Book of Common Prayer in the United States reinstated distinct collects for Monday and Tuesday of Easter week, but it did not restore the order found in 1549. The 1962 Canadian Prayer Book retained the 1662 provision. Strikingly, The Anglican Missal (1962, Frank Gavin) took up the 1928 American provision, whilst The English Missal (1933) offered the option of retaining the 1662 provision or the Roman collects, on weekdays, whilst retaining the 1662 collect alone on Sunday. The 1958 edition of The English Missal even gave the Roman option on Sunday, but dispensed with the 1662 provision in the Octave. Thus we can say that there is no one Anglican practice for these days, save perhaps the lections.

The Easter Octave in Divine Worship

Divine Worship maintains the ancient practice of the Easter Octave, mandating not only the Gloria but also the Creed on each day of the week. The Sequence Victimæ paschali laudes is optional, as in the Ordinary Form, though its recitation on each day through the Octave is consistent with the mandatory use of the Gloria and the Creed; a further sign that the Easter Octave is a continuation of Easter Day, not just of Eastertide. It should be noted, also, that Divine Worship designates the first full day of Easter as Easter Day, in keeping with the Anglican tradition, but in contrast with the Roman Missal and the original calendar for the personal ordinariates issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in February 2012.

Easter Day makes use of the 1549 Collect but also uses the propers that are found in both the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar Missale Romanum. The sole Preface of Easter provided in Divine Worship (in contrast to the five provided in the 2002 Missale Romanum) retains the sobriety of the Roman Rite, by using an amended version of the translation found in the 1549 Prayer Book (for example, replacing “offered” with “sacrificed). Its conclusion is not amended, as in the Ordinary Form.

Easter Monday makes use propers of the pre-conciliar Roman Missal as found in a translation of The Anglican Missal, whilst also making use of the Collect from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer which, as we have said, was also retained in The Anglican Missal. Easter Tuesday also follows this patten. Easter Wednesday, finding no equivalent provision from the Book of Common Prayer tradition, reverts to that of the The Anglican Missal texts, drawn from the pre-conciliar Missale Romanum. The same is true of the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of the Easter Octave.

Like the Ordinary Form, the Sequence Victimæ paschali laudes is mandatory on the Second Sunday of Easter (The Octave Day of Easter). This is not so in the pre-conciliar Roman Missal. Adrian Fortescue remarks, “Low Sunday, although it is the octave day of Easter, conforms to the normal rules of Eastertide.”

Finally, Divine Worship follows the practice of both the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite in including the double alleluia at the dismissal from the Solemn Paschal Vigil until the Second Sunday of Easter inclusive. This is then omitted until Whitsunday, the final day of the Easter season. In the Extraordinary Form this is not included on the Octave Day, as with the inclusion of the Sequence.

A further article will explore some of the general characteristics of the Easter season in Divine Worship.

Please do not reproduce this text elsewhere without permission of the author.