Sunday, April 11, 2004

Easter Sunday -- Dominica Resurrectionis -- Festa Paschalia

Christ is Risen!

Indeed, He is Risen!

The Catholic Encyclopaedia outdoes itself for Easter. It includes not only a discussion of the word "Easter" itself and a description of the Mass and its feast but a few odds and ends from the non-liturgical - even wholly non-religious - customs and practices of the day.

The bunnies and eggs are ubiquitous. But did you know:

This strange custom originated in Bavaria in the fifteenth century. The priest inserted in his sermon funny stories which would cause his hearers to laugh (Ostermärlein), e.g. a description of how the devil tries to keep the doors of hell locked against the descending Christ. Then the speaker would draw the moral from the story. This Easter laughter, giving rise to grave abuses of the word of God, was prohibited by Clement X (1670-1676) and in the eighteenth century by Maximilian III and the bishops of Bavaria.

Or that

On Easter Monday the women had a right to strike their husbands, on Tuesday the men struck their wives, as in December the servants scolded their masters. Husbands and wives did this "ut ostendant sese mutuo debere corrigere, ne illo tempore alter ab altero thori debitum exigat" (Beleth, I, c. cxx; Durandus, I, c. vi, 86).

I like antique customs as much as the next fellow, but I think we'll forego a revival of that one in this house. However, this next one might be how the prior custom got started:

In the northern parts of England the men parade the streets on Easter Sunday and claim the privilege of lifting every woman three times from the ground, receiving in payment a kiss or a silver sixpence. The same is done by the women to the men on the next day.

More traditions, these from the east:

The Greeks and Russians after their long, severe Lent make Easter a day of popular sports. At Constantinople the cemetery of Pera is the noisy rendezvous of the Greeks; there are music, dances, and all the pleasures of an Oriental popular resort; the same custom prevails in the cities of Russia. In Russia anyone can enter the belfries on Easter and ring the bells, a privilege of which many persons avail themselves.

Maybe I'm too northern European for the sport in the cemetery. That seems a bit much. But I could go for a bit of Easter bell-ringing.

And finally handball, dancing abbots, and a parade:

In France handball playing was one of the Easter amusements, found also in Germany (Simrock, op. cit., 575). The ball may represent the sun, which is believed to take three leaps in rising on Easter morning. Bishops, priests, and monks, after the strict discipline of Lent, used to play ball during Easter week (Beleth, Expl. Div. off., 120). This was called libertas Decembrica, because formerly in December, the masters used to play ball with their servants, maids, and shepherds. The ball game was connected with a dance, in which even bishops and abbots took part. At Auxerre, Besancon, etc. the dance was performed in church to the strains of the "Victimae paschali". In England, also, the game of ball was a favourite Easter sport in which the municipal corporation engaged with due parade and dignity. And at Bury St. Edmunds, within recent years, the game was kept up with great spirit by twelve old women. After the game and the dance a banquet was given, during which a homily on the feast was read. All these customs disappeared for obvious reasons

Disappeared, that is, as of the turn of the 19th century. This is now the 21st century. So the Victimae Paschali cha-cha may be coming to a Parish Liturgical Commission planning session near you. Or worse: near me.

Haec dies quam fecit Dominus, Alleluia!

Exultemus et laetemur in ea, Alleluia!