Does Easter Ask Too Much…?

“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, as they acclaim…”

So concludes every Easter Preface in the third edition of the Roman Missal, an ebullient departure from the more succinct conclusion of the second edition:

“The joy of the resurrection renews the whole world, while the choirs of heaven sing for ever to your glory…”

It would appear that the revised translation more than states what the resurrection accomplishes, it directs the appropriate response of all the cosmos to this definitive action of God in human history. It isn’t just choirs of angels who delight and rejoice, it is now contingent upon all creation to exult with overwhelming joy. The translation in the third edition of the Missal places strong and powerful emphasis on communicating that exuberant, unfettered, unrelenting joy, which is the foundation of the Paschal event.

There is almost a frivolous giddiness to the Easter preface conclusion. In some circles this might seem contrary to the oftentimes “serious demeanor” of the liturgical enterprise. “Unbridled joy” may rarely come to mind when celebrating in some assemblies. However, the preface specifically calls forth such emotion in drawing the assembly into the Eucharistic Prayer.

Does this ask too much of presider and assembly? Fifty Days of persistent joy. How is such a thing possible, especially when global, communal, and personal circumstances echo tragic and more virulent truths to mock such sentiments? To pray and proclaim such happiness consistently throughout the Easter Season places no simple challenge upon a presider at the Eucharistic liturgy. Yet, as we pass the half-way point of the Easter Season, have presiders, and assemblies, continued enthusiastically responding with the angelic hosts to the destiny transforming reality of the Resurrection?

An important and perhaps crucial question to ask. If Christ is not risen, then everything we do as believers in the world is in vain, as Saint Paul emphatically states. Witnessing to the world the transformation brought about through the Paschal Mystery, then, is paramount. Failure to communicate the ongoing power of this event in the prayers of the Mass, let alone in the closing lines of the Easter prefaces, and the assembly can just as easily fail to grasp the necessity of the Paschal event for faith that is authentic and viable.

Publicly praying, let alone proclaiming, the final lines of an Easter preface in a manner akin to a dry read of a legal disclaimer contributes to making the impact of the Resurrection nothing more than a fantastic postscript to the Cross. It robs us of the anamnesis of joy, which ought to characterize in every age the witness of a believer in the world. A moment wherein the preface serves as the ultimate “warm up” for realizing the purpose of liturgy as lex vivendi, what it means to live as a believer. It is incumbent upon every presider to express this joy in a way unlike any other time in the liturgical year.

This is why we cannot be lax in embracing the joy of Easter, especially as we move deeper into the Fifty Days. It is necessary to remind each other, as Aiden Kavanaugh proclaimed, that with the Paschal Mystery human history has been jerked onto new courses that have forever transformed our future destiny. Giving prerogative to the forty days of Lent without surpassing that emphasis in Easter reveals we still have much to learn and understand of the joy and hope, which must form the core of what and why we believe that God can and does fulfill the promises God has made.

Yes, Easter does ask much of us, but that is Easter’s challenge. There is nothing flippant about the paschal joy the Resurrection calls forth.  It is not a joy that absurdly masks the pains and brokenness of the world. Easter calls forth creation to exult in a joy that comes when we surrender all that we feebly attempt to control and direct in life to the will God. It is the greatest of all challenges we face in our lives of faith, but a challenge necessary to engage and grow ever stronger in faith. To grow, as it has been said, so that once again we may “put back Christ in the center of human life, where for too long we have placed sin and death.”

12 comments

  1. FWIW, a very personal take:

    I’d suggest that joy can be distinguished from happiness. The latter is a transient emotional state. The former is better understood and engaged as a way of being.

    To put this in context: a person who has experienced depression/dysthymia for years may rarely experience happiness, but still be person in whom others encounter joy. Maybe that’s why joy is so differently attractive than happiness.

    The joy of Easter still allows the disciples of Jesus to experience whiplash in spasms of fear, anxiety and even persisting doubt and lack of fullness of understanding after Good Friday (read the post-Resurrection accounts very closely and do not retroject post-Pentecostal developments).

    The joy of Easter is not the experience of the refrain of, say. Fun.’s “We Are Young.”

  2. All true. But we still are unable to feel” it without some sense texture or movement along the Fifty Days. I suggest a little more emphasis on Ascension, making the final 10 days more of a “pre-Pentecost” time. If we’re a little spent with joy of Easter day, then looking forward to Pentecost may help. I know that might mean Ascension on its Thursday.

  3. How about “overflowing with paschal joy”? “Overcome” sounds like we have succumbed to a noxious substance.

  4. I believe that the Eastern Churches (Orthodox Churches only?) call these 50 days the Season of Pentecost? (Please let me know if I am wrong.) If so, a building emphasis on the work of the Spirit and Pentecost during “the great Sunday” may help with the flow of the season.

    1. Nopers–not just the Orthodox. Eastern Catholics do too. Not sure about Armenians, Copts, Syriacs, or Maronites. And for those using the Byzantine rite, the leaving taking of Pascha is the day before Ascension (Thursday). The tropar “Christ is risen from the dead…” is no longer sung after that day and the Shroud is removed from it’s place on the altar where it has sat since the beginning of Paschal Matins. The hymns shift to the Ascension.

      1. I think what the Roman Rite needs are hymns that unite the Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost (as well as Second Coming?) all in the same hymn’s lyrics. There is no hymn that I am aware of that connects Easter and Pentecost as the beginning and end of the 50 days.

  5. The Latin passage is

    Quapropter, profusis paschalibus gaudiis,
    totus in orbe terrarum mundus exsultat.
    Sed et supernae virtutes atque angelicae
    potestates
    hymnum gloriae tuae concinunt, sine fine
    dicentes…

    The translators apparently tried to read profusis gaudiis as an ablative absolute. But then, writhing in the death grip of Lit Auth, they ran into several problems: the participle is antecedent (past), and it is passive; what is more, it’s hard to see how gaudiis could function as a participial subject, like gladiis strictis, “the swords having been drawn”. And profundo doesn’t mean “overcome”, but “pour out”. It can mean “to cause to flow” – Plautus uses it for pulling the drain plug at the end of a bath and for splashing out wine. So the “literal” Lit Auth translation is far from literal, which might be something like “paschal joys having been poured out”.

    Much easier, I think, to take profusis gaudiis as a simple ablative of manner, from the adjectival profusus, “extravagant, lavish, profuse” – “with profuse paschal joy” – there’s an echo of the Latin word, winning us a Lit Auth point. And Lee Bacchi’s suggestion “overflowing with paschal joy” certainly captures the sense of the phrase, if not the literal syntax.

    And let’s not even get started on the idiocy of rendering sed et supernae virtutes as “even the heavenly powers”, as though the angels had to be coerced or persuaded to rejoice.

      1. Karl, “immersed” is also a great metaphor. Thanks for the suggestion.

    1. And let’s not even get started on the idiocy of rendering sed et supernae virtutes as “even the heavenly powers”, as though the angels had to be coerced or persuaded to rejoice.

      Absolutely! One of my bugbears….

      The sheer incompetence of those who produced the current Missal translation beggars belief.

      And to think that this year we “celebrate” ten years of this nonsense. Not withdrawing this translation is nothing less than irresponsible — some would say criminally so, in the light of the immense damage that has been caused.

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