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Living a different kind of time during Holy Week and Easter

Easter in America is fast becoming a hidden feast. I’ve already noted that, unlike Christmas, secular America manages to let Easter pass mostly unnoticed. If you limit yourself to the secular cultural milieu, you might hear something about Easter bunnies and Easter eggs, though even their prominence—compared to my childhood in the 1960s—is markedly reduced. Case-in-point: as a kid, I remember plenty of ads for Easter egg coloring kits. Kids were supposed to have fun decorating Easter eggs. I don’t see much of that today. The only eggs promoted are chocolate eggs for you to buy and eat: consuming over doing.

The invisibility of Easter

The marginalization of Easter may very well be due to its religious nature. Christmas can be secularly tamed. Santa Claus can replace Jesus, gifts can become central, velleities about “peace on earth” can become the “message.” A grown-up Jesus bursting out of the tomb is harder to co-opt by other images: the “Easter Bunny” is just no competition beside the Paschal Lamb of God. Compared to Christmas’s focus on gifts broadly understood, chocolate rabbits and painted eggs are far too niche: there’s no variant “adult market” big enough to replace them once one outgrows the Easter Bunny.

The message of Easter also isn’t so readily secularized. Christmas can be turned into “universal peace” but any potential universalizable message about Easter—like the conquest of death—only works if one makes the faith commitment. That’s why those with faith commitments can push back on the invisibility of Easter.

But we live in a culture where faith commitments are driven off the public square. So, without an ersatz substitute, Easter finds no cultural resonance, especially in an increasingly “diverse” society where Christianity’s influence is circumscribed. Happily for secular America, Easter—unlike Christmas—always falls on a Sunday, allowing it to be subsumed into and ignored as part of just another “weekend.” With Good Friday almost universally a workday and even schools pretending “Easter break” is actually “spring holiday,” the invisibility of Easter is relatively complete.

Talking recently with a young person, however, I learned to my dismay just how “complete” that invisibility may be. This young person was raised in a Catholic home, one that at least tried to signal the importance of faith. Yet, asked how his schedule might change on a particular day, he replied, “Nobody celebrates Easter.”

For him, the domestic observance of Easter apparently was just some folkloric add-on that no longer seemed to matter in the “real (i.e., secular) world.”

The impoverishment of secular time

That started me thinking. We Catholics—especially the kinds of people that read this website—are perhaps lulled into illusions about our surroundings. The fact is that not a lot of people—including a lot of our fellow Catholics—may very well not see the time through a liturgical lens.

Yet one has to say: how impoverished is time through a purely secular lens!

Consider the calendar we as Americans all “share” together. (This exercise is equally relevant, mutatis mutandis, in many places outside the United States). What do we really celebrate as Americans? The Fourth of July. Halloween. Thanksgiving. Christmas/New Year.

We celebrate the Fourth, though various historical “revisionists” have alienated large numbers of Americans from their heritage, resulting in Independence Day being mostly about watching some fireworks and eating hotdogs and hamburgers. The meaning of what happened on and around July 4, 1776 is far more contested.

Read more at Catholic World Report 

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