I am really blessed to participate at liturgy each Sunday with an awesome community of believers. As we were engaged in Lent and Easter planning, we discussed decorations and flowers for our worship space. We decided that for Easter, rather than dozens of pots of lilies and other plants, fresh cut flowers that we could arrange ourselves would be much more beautiful for our Easter Vigil and Easter Week liturgies. As we were on the phone with the florist ordering stems of lilies and tulips and roses, I also asked her to send pots of hydrangea and azalea. A cry went up from among the committee. "They're ugly! We don't want pots of plants!" After hanging up, I explained that fresh flowers will wilt and die in week, but we were going to need Easter plants that could last for fifty days.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to quip, "First we fast, then we feast." Indeed, it is very Catholic to fast and then feast. Remember our forty day Lenten observance a few months ago. Recall all the chocolate and Facebook and television we gave up. Recall all of those Fridays when all we wanted was a hamburger and walked away with a grilled cheese. Recall all the corporal works of mercy and prayer we added to our lives. Recall the trash pickups and nursing homes visits and clothing or food drives we participated in. Recall the violet draped churches and chapels (many, nowadays, with veiled statues) in which we prayed. Recall all of the cacti, thorn and stick floral arrangements with swaths of purple fabric all over them. We Catholics are great at fasting. But, the Church suggests that we should feast more than we fast at Easter time. After all, Easter lasts a ten full days longer than Lent!
But sometimes, it's harder to feast. Why?
We tried our best to feast. Yes, we gorged on our favorite candy by Easter Sunday night. Gold banners and flowers replaced the empty pots and violet cloths. The statues in our churches are now unveiled. But, the potted hydrangeas and the azaleas are now dead and we are singing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" with a little less vigor than at Easter Vigil.
We forget that violet cloth and the absence of potato chips is not what got us ready for Easter. If our feasting consists only in the superficial things we gave up during Lent, then our Easter Alleluias will never ring more vibrant than the silent vacuum their Lenten absence created.
Continuing the party is difficult when we forget what our preparation was. Easter gives us fifty days to continue visiting the sick, mending broken relationships, naming and fixing the parts of ourselves that need healing, volunteering our time and help, and giving aid to those in need. That's how we show that we are people of Resurrection - by sharing the new life Christ won for us with others, and it's the only way we can continue to celebrate for fifty days.
For Catholics, the reality is that we are an Easter people all year long. That's a lot of party, but the only way we can continue this Easter joy is by sharing the new life that Christ won for us. Bringing new life where there is sadness and death is the constant call of Easter. And it's a call that goes well beyond these fifty days.
David Pennington is the Associate Campus Minister for Liturgy and Worship at The Catholic University of America.