Alleluia! Alleluia! He is Risen!
The fifty-day feast of Easter developed from the harvest feast of ancient Israel known as "Shavuot," or the "Feast of Weeks." It was a period of seven weeks (a "week of weeks") plus one day, beginning with Passover and concluding with the fiftieth day, the day of Pentecost. The fiftieth day marked the end of the barley harvest and included an offering of the first fruits. By the time of Jesus, this festival also had become a celebration of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai.
The themes of harvest, Exodus and the Law also became part of the Christian celebration. Christians celebrated the Passover of Jesus through death to new life and the Covenant that was established in him. Images of Christ as paschal Lamb and as first fruits are the earliest Easter images used by St. Paul.
Easter was the first of our feasts to develop beyond the weekly Sunday celebration. This fifty-day period of rejoicing seems to have been adopted by all Christian communities by the second century. Within a few centuries, however, the unity of the feast began to weaken, and the resurrection, the ascension, and the descent of the Holy Spirit began to be celebrated separately. Easter and Pentecost became two separate days rather than the two names for the same fifty-day period. Only in our own time has the unity of this celebration been reestablished, at least in the liturgical books. The pastoral challenge is to reestablish it in the minds and hearts of the parish, and the best way to do that is by celebrating the whole feast well.