A Prayer Book Eastertide
Easter Day sermon 1606.
As we are in the midst of Eastertide, what are the characteristics of a Prayer Book Eastertide?
Easter Day, on which the rest depend, is always the First Sunday after the Full Moon, which happens upon or next after the Twenty-first Day of March.
The 'Tables and Rules' of the classical expressions of the BCP may appear to be an odd place to begin consideration of the characteristics of a Prayer Book Eastertide. Here, however, we are reminded that our experience of time centres around, depends upon, the celebration of Easter Day.
In a wonderful blog post, Michael Sadgrove - former Dean of Durham - writes of the significance of how the date of Easter Day is determined:
the calculation of Easter, involving as it does the movements of sun, moon and earth, gives our feasts and fasts a dimension that is nothing less than cosmic. Astronomy and our concept of time comes into things. It tells us that what we do as people of faith is intimately connected to physical science and mathematics. You could say that the universe is ‘aware’ of and ‘interested’ in when and how we celebrate the passion and resurrection of Jesus. That is to say, Easter is of cosmic importance. It involves the whole of creation. It isn’t any old date in springtime that happens to suit us.
The 'Tables and Rules' and Kalender of the Prayer Book tradition are an integral part of what it is to be shaped by Common Prayer, ordering our experience of time and, above all, centring our experience of time on the Paschal Mystery, the celebration of Easter Day.
The Easter Octave
The Octave, of course, is now behind us. This in itself points to a significant difference between Eastertide in the Prayer Book tradition and in much contemporary Anglican liturgy. The Octave is marked by the glorious Proper Preface (directly taken from the Latin rite) - "Upon Easter Day, and seven days after". In Ireland 1926 and PECUSA 1928, the Easter Anthems replace the Venite during the Octave. After the Octave, however, the Proper Preface is not heard, and the Venite returns. The provision of propers for the Monday and Tuesday in the week of Easter echoes the Sarum practice of distinguishing the first days of the Octave. Indeed, the Prayer Book tradition retains the traditional Epistles and Gospels for these days. The Octave is thus clearly marked out as a time of festivity.
In other words, there is no attempt in the Prayer Book tradition - as in contemporary liturgy - to attempt to replicate the joy of Easter Day and the Octave throughout the season. To pretend that the festival is fifty days long is to undermine the experience and joy of festivity - mindful that Hooker defines festivity as having three characteristics, "praise, liberality and rest". We can experience this on Easter Day and during the Octave, but not throughout the fifty days.
Through this emphasis on Easter Day and its Octave, the Prayer Book tradition emphasises the unique glory of Easter Day and calls us to be centred around this truth and glory.
What, then, of the Sundays "after Easter"? In his commentary on the collects, Sparrow points to these Sundays and weeks "after Easter" as being a time of "joyful meditation of Christs Resurrection from the dead":
the First Sunday after Easter - how they should imitate Christ in a Resurrection from sin and death to life;
the Second Sunday after Easter - for thankfulness and imitation of his holy life;
the Third Sunday after Easter - a general anniversary Commemoration of the great blessings received from God by our baptism;
the Fourth Sunday after Easter - that our joy may be a true and real joy, that our hearts may surely there be fixt, where true joyes are to be found;
the Fifth Sunday after Easter - that we may feel the fruits and comforts of this holy Spirit in our hearts by good thoughts and abilities to perform them.
In other words, the Sundays after Easter provide opportunity to grow into the mystery of the Resurrection. Rather than attempting to artificially sustain the high joy of Easter Day and its Octave, these Sundays are given over to the living out of the Resurrection. That this is a theme also very evident in the collect for Easter Day itself is testament to the Prayer Book tradition giving pronounced emphasis to the New Testament theme of the meaning of the Resurrection for the moral life:
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
In the Prayer Book tradition, Eastertide closes with the Rogation Days. Whereas liturgical revision of the 70s and 80s dismissed Rogationtide as an unwarranted, antiquated disruption of the fifty days, Eastertide concluding with Rogation Sunday and the Rogation Days wonderfully illustrates the ordinary, earthy nature of the vocation to live out the Resurrection. As such, they also serve as important preparation for Ascension Day, reminding us that the Lord's Ascension is a sign of the redemption of the physical and material order, not its denial.
In much contemporary Anglican liturgy, Ascension Day and Ascensiontide are subsumed by the 'Seventh Sunday of Easter' and then by the days of preparation for Pentecost. In the Prayer Book tradition, however, Ascensiontide is quite distinct, with the Ascension Day proper preface used for "seven days after", and the collect for the 'Sunday after Ascension Day' devised by Cranmer from an anthem at the Sarum Vespers for Ascension Day. This at least partly reflects the significance of the doctrine of the Ascension to high Reformed Eucharistic theology ("the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in heaven"). What is more, however, it also ensures that this article of the Creed is not lost or overshadowed amidst preparation for Pentecost, a feast more favourably received by the theologies which shaped the liturgical revision of the 70s and 80s.
Let us keep our feast the whole term of our life, with eating the bread of pureness, of godly life, and truth of Christ's doctrine. Thus shall we declare that Christ's gifts and graces have their effect in us, and that we have the right belief and knowledge of his holy resurrection - from the Homily for Easter-Day.