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Speaking to the Soul: Low Sunday

Speaking to the Soul: Low Sunday

It’s been a relatively quiet week, church-wise. After the build-up of Lent, the constant quiet activity of Holy Week, and the energy and exuberance of Easter, the church may still be celebrating Easter but the people are more than ready for a bit of rest. There are still Bible studies to do, sermons to write, the church to be tidied up, flowers arranged, brass polished, and the like, but for the most part, those who have invested so much of themselves and their time in the lead-up to Easter are relaxing just a bit. It’s sort of like a mini-vacation, a bit of Sabbath after the biggest Sunday of the whole church year.

 

 

The First Sunday after Easter has often been called by a number of different names. The most common is the unofficial designation of Low Sunday. You’ll never see it listed that way in the newsletter or bulletin, but behind the scenes, that is how it is called.

 

 

On Easter Sunday, every pew and chair is full, the choir is in full voice, there are “bells and smells” (ringing of the Sanctus bell and thuribles full of incense marking processional, recessional, blessing the Gospel book and the whole altar in churches where such “high” touches are not usually done), the church is abloom and garlanded with decorative flowers and greens, crucifixes and crosses wear translucent white coverings, and the altar and clergy are garbed in white or gold to celebrate the occasion.

 

 

By the following Sunday, though, things have changed. Most of the decoration is gone, the choir may have taken the day off, the bulletins are a bit shorter and less ornate, and there are a lot of empty pews (the chairs having been taken off to wherever extra chairs are kept until the next big occasion). Families who spent Easter together have returned to their homes, and hostesses who have had a full house take the chance to sit down, find the last bit of fake grass from Easter baskets, and plan another meal of leftover ham or roast.

 

 

In the early church, new prospective members (catechumen) had to undergo a lengthy period of instruction before being admitted for baptism and inclusion in the Eucharist. They would attend the Liturgy of the Word but be excused before the Liturgy of the Table began. When their time of study ended, they put on white garments and were baptized at the Easter Vigil. They could then join the community for the Eucharist. At the end of the octave (Easter and the seven days that succeeded it), they exchanged their white robes for regular clothing at church, marking the end of their being set apart and the beginning of their life as full Christians.

 

 

One of the other names for Low Sunday is Quasimodo Sunday. Those familiar with the Hunchback of Notre Dame will recognize the name of the maimed character who found abandoned on the steps of Notre Dame on the first Sunday after Easter. In fact, the Introit (opening antiphon sung or spoken at the beginning of the service) for the day in the Roman Missal was Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). The reference to the catechumen is unmistakable.

 

 

However it is called, the First Sunday After Easter is a continuation of the Easter season, 50 days that lead to the feast of Pentecost. During the Easter season, we celebrate Jesus’s appearance to the disciples, Doubting Thomas being shown the wounds in Jesus’s hands and side, the road to Emmaus, and the Ascension. Alleluia comes back into our vocabulary after a 40-day absence for Lent. Many churches omit the confession of sin during the season. In short, the Easter season has a lot going on.

 

 

But we have to stop a minute. We are taught that every Sunday is a little Easter, no matter at what time in the church year it occurs. People forget that quite often during Lent but a quick count the number of days in Lent comes out to 46–if the Sundays are counted in. Subtract those six Sundays and there are 40 days left. When it comes to Easter season, every Sunday after Easter itself is a little Easter, and should be celebrated as such, if not with the full panoply we reserve for the actual Easter Day.

 

 

Whether or not we call it Low Sunday, the First Sunday after Easter, or Quasimodo Sunday, it all amounts to the same thing–a celebration of Jesus’s resurrection and the gathering of the community to share in the Eucharist. The newly baptized participate as well as those who were baptized decades ago or during some other church season.

 

 

So fill the pews, shout the Alleluias, and thank God for the blessings of Easter all year. Amen.

 


 

.Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter.  She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale

 

Image: Public Domain, Catacombs of San Callisto

 

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Linda Ryan

The author has seen the processional cross and others in the nave veiled in a translucent (transparent enough to see all the details) chiffon. No, the author isn’t confusing the Lenten and Holy Week veiling (which changes during the week) with the Easter cross. The Easter veiling was in keeping with the seasonal color and reminds us that the cross has done it’s service. The dead Jesus of Good Friday and Holy Saturday is celebration of the risen Christ. Sorry if it upsets you, but to the author (me) it was beautiful and symbolic, especially at the Easter Vigil which is a very thin space between death and life.

Dustin Henderson

It’s definitely an idiosyncratic use to veil symbols during Easter, and I’d disagree pretty strongly with the symbolism behind it, but that’s not the purpose of this forum. It is wonderful, however, that you found it so meaningful. I do wonder if veiling things like you describe extends beyond the parish where you experienced it, or if it’s something that’s particular to that place.

David Allen

Symbolism doesn’t need to be rationalized or explained, it should just work. In fact, I think if it needs to be explained, then it doesn’t work and isn’t needed.

I have to side with the author, I don’t find it idiosyncratic, as I’ve seen a sheer white veil used plenty of times during Easter.

Dustin Henderson

Does anybody know what the author means by, “. . .crucifixes and crosses wear translucent white coverings. . .”? Is he or she maybe confusing the veiling that goes on in Passiontide (or all of Lent in some places)? I’ve never seen what the author describes, and I’d be pretty upset to see the crosses and crucifixes veiled on Easter Day of all days!

Jay Croft

Aidan Kavanaugh pointed out in a lecture, “It’s not that every Sunday is a little Easter. Instead, Easter is a big Sunday!”

Linda Ryan

Kavanaugh has the right idea. Easter is a “big” Sunday where they pull out all the stops (organ-izationally speaking, in a punny sort of way). We celebrate a little Easter every other Sunday, but that one — it’s just something more transcendent.

Paul Woodrum

My Liturgical Desk Calendar calls it the Second Sunday OF Easter, not “First After.” More emphasis on that continuation until Pentecost. Favorite? Quasimodo Sunday though that tends to get rather blank looks from the congregation. Wonder why, if we can have fish added to the Eucharistic feast, the liturgical commission doesn’t restore introit propers.

Linda Ryan

I mostly go on what the Lectionary calls it, namely First After. I too like Quasimodo Sunday but who reads the Latin Introits (or “Hunchback of Notre Dame”) any more? I doubt we’ll be having gefilte fish at the Eucharist. That announcement came on a very auspicious day for practical jokes, I believe.

David Allen

The three modern prayer books in my library call all of them Sundays in Easter, not Sundays after Easter.

TEC – BCP 1979
Canada – Book of Alternative Services
England – Common Worship

Wayne Kamm

The Lectionary in the BCP calls it Second Sunday of Easter.

Jay Croft

I absolutely hate the designation, “Low Sunday.” Look at the readings, for Pete’s sake! They’re full of joy and positive energy.

The Easter season is 50 days long. Follow up on visitors. Make the most of it–“Jesus is the reason for the season” is not just for Christmas time!

Linda Ryan

I’m not crazy about that designation either, but people seem to understand it better than Quasimodo Sunday (kind of my personal favorite).

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