By Christopher L. Webber
Years ago there was a retired priest in the parish I served who had strong opinions. Fr. T. T, Butler was a big man with a big voice with which to express his opinions and one subject on which he felt strongly was the phrase “Easter Sunday.” “It’s EASTER DAY!” he would roar; “What else would it be but Sunday?” I don’t know whether I had been aware before that of the fact that the Prayer Book title for the day is not the one commonly used in our society and that there is a reason for it. As the 1979 Prayer Book makes abundantly clear, Easter Day is not just a Sunday but rather THE DAY on which the whole year centers.
I thought of old Fr. Butler earlier this year when, in filling in the Annual Parochial Report, I noticed that it asked me to report attendance for “Easter Sunday.” What have we come to, I thought, when our National Office asks us to report on a day that isn’t in the Prayer Book? But I was busy, so I crossed out the “Sun” and filled in the number and sent it in. I doubt that anyone noticed.
More recently, I looked at the local paper in Holy Week and found display ads for six Episcopal churches in our area. Not one of them announced “Easter Day.” Five were planning a service for “Easter Sunday” and one for “Easter.” Fr. Butler’s roar echoed in my mind and I decided to see what shape the church is in. I checked out the fourteen churches of our local Deanery and found seven web sites with no information about their service schedule for Holy Week and Easter, three listings for Easter Sunday, three listing simply “Easter,” and only one for Easter Day.
Looking still further, I conducted a very unscientific analysis of 25 web sites, culled at random from 22 states and 25 dioceses ranging from Alaska to Alabama and Vermont to San Diego. A simply majority (13) would have offended Fr. Butler by listing services for “Easter Sunday,” while nine, a distinctly minority showing, conformed to the Prayer Book and T. T. Butler. Two said simply “Easter” and one used the scarce, alternative Prayer Book title, “The Sunday of the Resurrection.”
Fr. Butler, I am sure, would have deplored these findings, and surely it is a sadness that so many churches let pass the opportunity to stress the uniqueness of this central feast day. How is it that so many have failed to notice or conform to the Book of Common Prayer? “A minor technicality,” some may scoff; “Why waste time on trivia?” Ah, but wasn’t the church better off when we chose sides on such titles and trivia rather than whether to belong to the Episcopal Church at all?
The Rev. Christopher L. Webber, the author of a number of books about the Episcopal Church and Beyond Beowulf, the first-ever sequel to Beowulf, has recently become Vicar of St. Paul's Church, Bantam, Connecticut.