Easter is such a glorious day in the life of the Church that it’s celebrated for eight whole days. In my house, the octave of Easter is synonymous with “dessert every night for a week,” something my kids (and, let’s be honest, my husband and I) look forward to after 40 days of Lenten sacrifices.
Catholics celebrate Easter for another six weeks after the octave, which is right and just considering the immensity of the moment in our salvation history. But what does celebrating Easter and the subsequent transition back into Ordinary Time look like?
During Lent, many of us give something up or make commitments to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. When Easter arrives, we celebrate, in part, by enjoying what we gave up and stopping whatever additional practices we’ve taken on. Perhaps your prayer journal comes to an end on Easter Sunday or your parish no longer offers the evening daily Mass that fit into your schedule. For my family’s part, we return to Wednesday-night dessert nights and date nights out on the weekends.
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It’s appropriate to keep Lenten devotions in Lent, but our Easter celebration shouldn’t mean going back to the way things were. Once the ham is eaten and the eggs have been found, we ought to spend some time reflecting on what changed in our hearts and souls during our 40 days in the desert. What did we learn about ourselves? What did we learn about the Lord? Which practices drew us closer to the Lord, and do we feel called to do the same next year, or not to wait and rather to hold to these devotions right now? How have we received God’s mercy and grace? And how can we take these new understandings, these more powerful experiences of love, into the rest of our lives?
During the Easter season, we rejoice in our deepened faith and reliance on the Lord. We can make that manifest by continuing with a habit we found fruitful during Lent or by finding a new way to pray, fast or give, as these practices are fruitful any time of year. (Note: If you are prone to scrupulosity, this discernment should be made with the guidance of a spiritual director.)
If you participated in daily Mass
Celebrate with Jesus by keeping a date with him at Mass (or a holy hour or confession) each week. Check the Mass times of other churches in your area, not just those of your home parish, to find an option that works. Make a commitment to invite a friend to join you once a month.
If you prayed the Stations of the Cross
There’s no rule saying the Stations of the Cross are only to be prayed during Lent. Pope St. John Paul II prayed the stations every Friday, all year long — proof that this practice can help pave the way to sainthood.
If you gave up sweets
Enjoy your Easter chocolate, but read from a saint’s biography while you indulge. Or, if you found that you felt better with less sugar in your system, reserve sweets for time spent with friends or family, when you can also build community and grow in relationship.
If you gave up social media
Perhaps, like me, you found you did better in all areas of life when you spent less time on social media. If that’s the case, pray about limitations you want to stick to for the long-term, and consider finding an accountability buddy.
If you made a monetary donation
Review your monthly or annual charitable donations, and see if anything needs to change. Have you gotten a raise? Is there another organization you’d like to support? If you don’t already do so, set aside a certain amount of money each month to have on reserve to provide a meal for a family in a medical crisis or to support others in need locally.
If you donated material items
Lent and spring cleaning coincide on a spiritual level. Living more simply in a less cluttered home opens our hearts to be more receptive to prayer and ready to respond to the Lord’s call in any variety of ways. Mark your calendar for a once-monthly or bimonthly reassessment of the stuff that accumulates in your living space, so that this deep-down clean, fresh feeling can last all year.
All of these — and more — are gifts for ourselves, but they are also gifts to the Lord in thanksgiving for all he’s done for us. And those, of course, are worlds better than anything a certain bunny might stow in a basket.