A beautiful celebration of Easter Day has come and gone. But part of our Good News is that Easter is not over! This one beautiful and meaningful day is actually fifty days long! Alleluia! In the Anglican Church Easter is a season that extends from the Great Vigil of Easter through the last service on the Day of Pentecost. Up to around the 4th century the “Great Fifty Days” was actually called Pentecost. These days were treated as ‘one great day’ of rejoicing with no fasting and no kneeling.
As the Church grew in her faith the Lord’s Day was realized as both the first day of the week but also the Christian’s ‘eighth day.’ The ‘eighth day’ referenced the eschatological beginning of the new era when Christ shall make all things new. (Rev. 21)
As the Church matured in teaching its theology it was realized that the newly baptized needed specific teaching on the sacramental faith and how to live their life in Christ. Bishops and theologians like St. Ambrose and St. Cyril have left us amazing sermons on the meaning of the sacraments and the new life in Christ. Here is an example: The Power of the Waters of Baptism St. Ambrose.
Instruction centered more and more on the themes of the paschal mystery of Christ, the Resurrection and baptism which gave reason to having a season focused of the Easter mysteries. In time this pushed the themes of Pentecost into a new season of its own.
Today what you find in the Book of Common Prayer is the Great Fifty Days of Easter with the Day of Pentecost (Whitsunday) as the Eighth Sunday of the Easter season.
The paschal candle burns at every service during the Great Fifty Days of Easter. (BCP, 287) Previous Prayer Books allowed for the extinguishing of the paschal candle on Ascension Day which is the 40th day of Easter. This practice was to respect the biblical moment when our Lord ascended into Heaven and the apostles were left to vigil for 9 days waiting for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. But this practice also obscures the unity of the Great Fifty Days and even suggests that Ascension Day began a new season. So that practice has ended and the paschal candle remains lit through the Day of Pentecost.
From this event developed the prayer “novenas” (from the Latin ‘nine’) imitating the apostles waiting and praying the nine days between the Ascension of our Lord and the Day of Pentecost in prayer. Novenas became a practice of many Christians to devote nine days in prayer for a special purpose.
We read a lesson from the Acts of the Apostles each day during the Great Fifty Days including at every Sunday Eucharist. This replaces the Old Testament readings. The Gospel of John is used each Sunday with the exception of the third week of Easter which uses a reading from Luke.
So the Anglican Church celebrates Easter this year through the last Mass on May 24, 2015. The last Mass on the Day of Pentecost marks the close of the Great Fifty Days of Easter. At which time we begin the season of Pentecost celebrating the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.