Since the most ancient times the Church has underlined her great feasts by not restricting them to a single day but giving them a whole octave of days. The celebration resounds for a whole week and is renewed on the eighth day. The seven days, completed by the eighth, symbolize the totality of time and its transcendence into eternity. The week-long feast encompasses a basic unit of human life and thus stands as a foretaste of the freedom of eternal life, a sign of hope and peace in the midst of earthly days of toil. The Church has endeavored to help us experience Easter as the feast of feasts, as the basic reason for all celebration and all joy, by causing the Easter octave to last for seven times seven days. So the feast of Pentecost on the fiftieth day after Easter is not in fact an entirely new feast; it rounds off the circle of the seven times seven days which signify our breaking out of subservience to time into the boundless joy of the children of God, a joy uninterrupted by any striking of the hour.
These fifty days of joy are the answer to the forty days of tribulation and preparation by which the Church leads up to Easter. In Old Testament numerology, forty signified the age of the world: it is an intensification of four, which recalls the four corners of the earth and hence the brokenness, the finite, incomplete, and toilsome nature of all earthly existence. The forty prepare for the fifty, the fragmentary for the complete; and the Lord's Resurrection is at the axis of both. Even through this temporal arrangement the Church has provided a profound psychological interpretation of what Easter means and of how we can and should celebrate it. For all these things, far from being liturgical games, are translations of the mystery in terms of our life; they are where the unique and once-and-for-all Event meets life in its daily newness.
I would like to elaborate on this by referring to another psalm which plays a part in the liturgy of Holy Week. In Psalm 30 the believer speaks with gratitude of his experience of God: "His anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning." For Christians these words, read on Holy Saturday, gained an entirely new significance. In the evening tears, but joy in the morning: they saw the evening of Good Friday, the weeping Mother with her dead Son in her lap. But as an answer to this evening picture, in the dusk of history, there comes the morning picture: "The Lord is risen and is going before you into Galilee."
The other words are interpreted similarly: his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. The somber moment of the Cross gives way to everlasting life; the moment yields to eternity. The forty days are followed by the fifty, the fragmented by the whole, the momentary by the everlasting and indestructible, the tears of the evening scene by the morning of full life.
Those who read Holy Scripture in a reflective spirit found this experience in Paul, translated into the profession of Christian hope: "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom 8:18). The center of gravity of existence has shifted as a result of this certainty: now it lies at the morning of life, which means that it takes away the oppressiveness and the pressure of the moment and dissolves the tears of evening by the power of a grace which lasts for ever. This is precisely what Easter faith is designed to give us: the ability to look across from the evening to the morning, from the part to the whole, and thus to journey toward the joy of the redeemed which springs from that morning of the third day which first heard the message: Christ is risen!
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
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