Traditions of Easter
The Reverend William Bradley Roberts, D.M.A.,
Professor Emeritus, Virginia Theological Seminary, and parishioner of St. Paul’s
The fifty-day celebration of Easter is the most important season of the Liturgical Year, because of the focus on our risen Lord and the events of his resurrected life on earth. It is a season of great joy: Alleluias are restored, having been omitted during Lent. “Alleluia except in Lent,” say the
(meaning “red,” because these directions were originally printed in red). The word “Alleluia” is so connected to the season of Easter that in the early Church “Alleluia” was permitted
during Easter. Pope Gregory (from whose name is derived the term “Gregorian Chant”) instituted the
practice of singing Alleluias throughout the year except Lent. How joyful it feels to shout and sing “Alleluia” after not having uttered it during Lent, enhancing our joy all the more because it has been restored. This is the
The first service of the Easter season, considered by many to be the most important service of the entire year, is the Easter Vigil (
Book of Common Prayer
, page 285). It is often held after sundown on Holy Saturday, since, following Jewish tradition, a new day begins not at sunrise, but at sunset. As an alternative practice, the Easter Vigil may be enacted before sunrise on Easter Day. The Easter Vigil, an ancient tradition, is still new to some Episcopalians. Once it is established as the practice in a parish, however, it tends to grow exponentially, often becoming parishioners’ favorite service, even surpassing Easter morning! This is because of the drama and color inherent in the service. First a fire is kindled from which the Pascal Candle is lit. Then the congregation, their own candles lit from the Paschal candle, process into the dark church, following the Pascal Candle, as the deacon or priest sings, “The Light of Christ,” the people responding by singing, “Thanks be to God!” This formula is sung three times, each successive time at a higher pitch. As the liturgy continues, we trace our salvation history, beginning with events from the Hebrew Scriptures. A deacon or cantor sings the
(Book of Common Prayer, page 286), the longest and most beloved chant in the repertory; the congregation rings bells they have brought from home, making a huge, joyous noise when our salvation journey reaches the resurrection of Jesus; and
, those who have been preparing for Baptism during Lent, receive the rite of Christian initiation and take their Baptismal Vows. The Eucharist is celebrated. After the service champagne is often served along with tasty morsels, crowning the event with a festive party.
Gloria in excelsis
(Glory to God in the highest) may also be sung in Easter, having been avoided during Lent. There is another canticle, however, that is particular to Easter, and so many parishes make this the opening canticle during the entire fifty days of Easter. The
(Christ, our Passover, BCP, page 83) is the great canticle of Easter. The words begin “Alleluia. Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast. Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia. . . .” Not surprisingly, there are grand musical settings of the
, often with brass and timpani, befitting the joyous celebration of Easter.
During Easter we traditionally omit the Confession of Sin, because Easter is that joyful fifty-day season when we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, who took our sins upon himself, and we are forgiven.
Traditions abound during Easter season: Easter egg hunts, the flowering of the cross, dressing in our fanciest clothes, wearing flowers, and a grand feast of lamb (with mint jelly, please). And the celebration is the longest one we have, not just a day long, but the entire Great Fifty Days of Easter.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
 The Liturgical Year has six seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.
 Some parishes dramatically illustrate the disappearance of Alleluia during Lent by literally burying the word in the church yard, then resurrecting it when Easter comes.
 Gregory’s papacy was from 590 until his death in 604 A.D.