Pope Francis carries a candle as he celebrates the Easter vigil in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 11, 2020. CNS photo/Stefano Dal Pozzolo, pool

Fr. Raymond de Souza: Easter Holy Days perfect substitute to March Break

  • April 1, 2021

It's long since time to break with March Break.

In Ontario schools it has been pushed back this year to April, a bit like having midnight Mass at 2 a.m.. When the pandemic is over though, Ontario’s Catholic school boards should kill March Break altogether and adopt the model I grew up with in Calgary’s Catholic schools — an Easter break. It would be a step toward living liturgically, which is the proper reckoning of time.

In Holy Week we live more intensely the liturgical time which God employed to fashion for Himself a chosen nation, a people set apart. The regulation of time was constitutive of the Jewish people, a tradition that we inherited. It set them apart from all the surrounding nations that worshipped creation itself, not the God who created. Only God can create time and by living time according to God’s plan we realize that we belong to Him first, not to the secular culture around us.

We find this very difficult to do. We get seduced by a secular way of thinking. It is common enough to refer to “weekend Masses,” though the “weekend” is not a Christian concept. Indeed, the Lord’s Day is the first day of the week, the day of the Resurrection. For Christians, like Jews, the “weekend” is Saturday, the Sabbath day for Jews, the seventh day upon which God rested. Sunday is not the week’s end, rather it’s the week’s beginning.

“Sunday loses its fundamental meaning (when it) becomes merely part of a ‘weekend,’ ” wrote St. John Paul II in his 1998 apostolic letter on the Lord’s Day. “The disciples of Christ, however, are asked to avoid any confusion between the celebration of Sunday, which should truly be a way of keeping the Lord’s Day holy, and the ‘weekend’, understood as a time of simple rest and relaxation.”

Yet more than 20 years later Catholics still speak about “weekend Masses,” subjugating God’s time to our time, sacred things to the schedule of labour and commerce.

Every Sunday is supposed to be a “little Easter” John Paul taught. Part of the evidence for the Resurrection is that only an event of absolutely maximum impact could possibly explain the change in the “Sabbath” from the end of the week to the beginning. That’s how central the Sabbath was for the national culture of the children of Israel.

Consider Leviticus (23:1-3, 5): The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel: The appointed feasts of the Lord which you shall proclaim as holy convocations, my appointed feasts, are these. Six days shall work be done; but on the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation; you shall do no work; it is a sabbath to the Lord in all your dwellings. … In the first month, on the 14th day of the month in the evening, is the Lord’s passover.”

The late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the greatest Jewish theologians of recent times, argued that holiness in space, in nature, was known in other religions. Judaism brought something new, gradually shifting the idea of holiness from space to time, from the realm of nature to the realm of history, from things to events.

The central history-changing event for the Jews was Passover; for Christians it is the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, which itself took place at Passover.

That is why we reckon Sunday, the first day of the week, as our holy day. That’s why our annual calendar revolves around Easter; everything from Ash Wednesday to the feast of the Sacred Heart depends upon it.

It follows that Easter ought to take pride of place in the calendar of Catholic schools. March Break is a secular festival for secular purposes. It is not bad, just secular.

Having the school break from Good Friday to Divine Mercy Sunday, as Catholic schools in Calgary do, makes it clear that this holiday is timed for religious reasons. Easter is a feast of such great solemnity that it extends for the entire octave, as though the entirety of Easter week was one single feast day. There is no more fitting time for a holiday than the holy days of Easter.

March Break is of enormous cultural importance in Ontario, observed by many families with an intensity that rivals the Christmas holidays in terms of travel and recreations. Breaking with that tradition would generate enormous opposition — and an equally enormous opportunity to reflect deeply upon how we mark time, and who it belongs to.

Catholic education is different from secular education. Having a different calendar from the public school down the street would be another way to demonstrate that.

(Fr. de Souza is editor-in-chief of Convivium.ca and a pastor in the Archdiocese of Kingston.)

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