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Expressing the Joy of the Season

J. Philip Horrigan  

The Church takes fifty days to exult in and to deepen its embrace of the wondrous mystery of Easter. Of course, the Church celebrates the Paschal Mystery every day and year after year. But in each liturgical year the people of God are even more conscious of the astonishing events of the life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ during the fifty days of Easter Time.

The newly baptized, the neophytes, join the liturgical assembly of the local Church rejoicing in their new status as members of the Body of Christ. All the baptized renew both the memory and the mandate of their baptismal identity each Sunday, promising over and over again to live in the new life of the risen Christ.

The Scripture texts recount some of the most amazing stories of the post-Resurrection encounters between Christ and the disciples, and the readings from the Acts of the Apostles (which are particular to this liturgical season) unfold for us the challenges and excitement of the first communities of believers as they seek to understand and live out the meaning of Jesus rising from the dead. The music and the prayers of the liturgy all contribute to the glorious nature of the season; mother earth slowly comes to life again; the winter “blahs” are replaced by the exuberance of spring days; and the general sense that there is indeed new life pervades our bones and our conversations.

The Life of the Parish
For most parishes there really isn’t a down time when it comes to celebrating the unfolding of the faith life of the local Church. But if there is a time when the parish schedule is bursting with activity, it is likely in the weeks after Easter.

Sacramental celebrations receive special attention: Baptisms that have been delayed since before Lent; one or more celebrations for all the first communicants; the Sacrament of Confirmation is often scheduled during this time; and the wedding season gets underway.

These many liturgies, along with the liturgies of the Lord’s Day, underline the festive nature of Easter Time as the music, prayer texts, and preaching continue to proclaim the good news of the Resurrection.

As a new spiritual life bursts forth in the Church, the liturgical environment can resonate with the colors, textures, and beauty of the nature’s springtime that is pushing through the earth, and the spiritual springtime that is informing our life of faith once again.

The Liturgical Environment
The liturgical environment for Easter Time takes its cue from the arrangements that were put in place for Easter. Hopefully there are elements in the Easter environment that will last for the weeks of Easter Time—for example, fabric hangings. But the environment and art committee must be vigilant to make sure that fresh flower arrangements are not left to fade and die; most fresh flower arrangements will not last for seven weeks! The environment will need to be tended and refreshed a number of times between Easter and Pentecost, and some items should simply be discarded. Here is why it is a good idea to keep some of the resources—especially finances—until after Easter. The environment after Easter can be simpler as the weeks go by, but it should be no less beautiful. If large and extravagant displays for Easter have absorbed all the environment and art budget, it would be wise to cut back on those arrangements and instead make the budget last for the entire period of Easter Time.

This allows for those extras that need to be put in place for special parish celebrations as noted earlier: first Holy Communion and Confirmation liturgies and other celebrations that occur in the life of the parish.

During Easter Time the baptismal font should receive extra attention. It doesn’t need to be surrounded by extensive arrangements; it is a liturgical symbol and not a garden centerpiece. The font is always a primary ritual center, and during Easter Time, it has a special significance in the liturgical space. As all the baptized touch the water for blessing as they enter and leave the church, they might call to mind more vividly the renewal of baptismal promises made at the Vigil or on Easter Sunday. The sprinkling rite begins at the font, and the opening rites of all funerals should be at the font. These connections can be noted in the Homily as part of the mystagogy that is developed during the Easter season.

Other Elements of the Liturgical Environment
The Paschal candle deserves special attention. It stands by the ambo for the duration of Easter Time and should be monitored that it burns evenly and retains its beauty. It is the Light of Christ and should be the most beautiful pillar of wax the parish can offer for all to enjoy.

There is an unfortunate trend or temptation to decorate the main cross or crucifix with colorful fabrics or white swags during Easter Time. This is rarely done well and in fact is not appropriate. Resurrection is a great and wonderful mystery, and it defies all literal interpretations with decorative items, as fine and as colorful as they may be. If the main cross/crucifix of the church seems to need decorating, then it may be time to consider a more worthy cross/crucifix that speaks in its own design and form.

As the warm spring weather arrives, we naturally look at the outdoor environment. It’s time to get rid of some of the vestiges of winter, prepare flower beds, repair borders and walkways, and generally do a spring clean-up of our spaces, inside and out. The environment and art committee should take some responsibility for the outdoor spaces that surround the church. Hospitality on the inside begins on the outside. Surely, the parish maintenance crew would appreciate some extra assistance in preparing the property so that it speaks to all, members and neighbors, of the stewardship of the Church for God’s creation. What better place to exhibit that care than on the church grounds?

This is a time when donations of spring potting plants can be solicited from parishioners. Initially, these might be arranged in groupings inside and, when the weather is hospitable, they can be planted outside to help beautify the grounds throughout the summer and into the early fall.

Banners that have been placed on lamp standards for Easter can be left in place for Easter Time to indicate that the joy of the liturgical season is carried over into the renewing life that nature provides for all to enjoy.

The grace, the glory, and the joy of the Resurrection are found in the lives of all believers, and especially when they gather for full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy. Perhaps the environment and art committee should sit down with some of the other liturgical ministers—the musicians, the coordinators, the greeters and ushers, the lectors and ministers of Communion, and, yes, the priest celebrants—to explore how the whole assembly and the entire space can better serve that vision of full participation. Think how wonderful it would be if the liturgical life of the parish burst forth with a newness of energy and joy during Easter Time every year!

If the environment and art committee has survived until this point in the liturgical year, take a bow; you have done a lot of work and have done it well. The transition to the next season is not too difficult; but there is much to do as the weeks of Ordinary Time unfold.

J. Philip Horrigan, DMin,
a presbyter of the Diocese of Kingston, Ontario, is a liturgical design consultant. He is the former director of the Department for Art and Architecture in the Office for Divine Worship for the Archdiocese of Chicago, Illinois. His graduate degree in theology is from the Institute for Spirituality and Worship at the Jesuit Scool of Theology, Berkeley, California, and his doctorate in ministry is from Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.

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