When You Find Joy in Easter, the Reversion’s Complete

April 7, 2009 | 12 comments

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Barr. Her site is Tink’s Mom, where she writes about pop culture from a mom’s perspective. (Be warned that she uses salty language at times.)

Everyone loves Christmas. It would be hard to argue that an ardent Christian loves Christmas any more than your average atheist. Our secular society has imbued it with so much magic and sourceless feelings of good will that it no longer belongs to Christians alone. (Of course, for those who don’t believe, “magic” truly is what they’re worshiping.) Secularists might not “buy” the reason for the season, but it’s hard to beat their enthusiasm.

Easter is a whole other matter.

Before I came back to the Catholic Church, I thought of Easter as a quaint relic observed by a generation that would soon be gone. I grew up in a Northeast Rust Belt city with a large Polish population and heard stories about how my grandmother and her family would take baskets of food – their Easter meal: fresh Polish sausage, rye bread, hardboiled eggs and butter sculpted into the shape of a lamb, and no, I’m not kidding – to church to be blessed. I, however, planned Christmas celebrations like an obsessed follower of Martha Stewart but only humored my other grandmother when she called to tell me what time to come for Easter dinner.

This year is the first year I am more eager about Easter than I was for Christmas. I think for anyone who is Catholic or becoming Catholic, it’s the real litmus test. A Christian who feels Easter is the most important holiday in the practice of Christianity truly gets it.

It’s not an easy holiday to love. I once thought it was morose. Even until recently, I wondered if all the references to nails and pierced sides and heads made bloody by crowns of thorns in the hymns we sing were, well, necessary. Why was everyone taking such delight in such gory descriptions?

Reading and studying and praying has done much to change my mind about Easter and the glory of Christ’s sacrifice, but my change of heart is largely due to my pastor, caught in an unguarded moment.

Easter 2008 was my first Easter since coming back to the Church. My reversion was only a few months old, and quite frankly I spent more time thinking about what friends and family members would think if they knew I was going to church than considering the actual teachings of my faith. Still, the call I felt to return to the Church was powerful, and I thank God He continued to gently pull me even through my confusion. Last year I could only focus duty and procedure of Holy Week (“OK, last chance for Confession before Easter is Wednesday, then Maundy Thursday’s Mass is at 7 p.m., then Good Friday…”) instead of the sorrow and joy of it.

There was a moment during the processional before Holy Thursday’s Mass where I was able to witness a glimpse of the enormity of Christ’s passion and resurrection, though. I was watching my pastor, a man who fills me with more than a little trepidation. He doesn’t sugar-coat the teachings of the Catechism and reminds us of Christ’s expectations for His followers in very direct language, in his homilies and his weekly letter in the bulletin. As he walked past the pew where I was standing, I could see the expression on his face.

I was only beginning to explore the reasons Christ had to die for our sins, a topic Steve G. discussed here just last week. The historical significance of the crucifixion and resurrection had me fascinated. My thoughts were of bemusement, and if I had actually articulated them, it would have sounded like: “If this is true, this is really big.” I was there out of curiosity, really, and a sense that the only way to test this pull I felt was to go to church. Basically, fake it until you make it.

Father Newman, on the other hand, was not there as a re-enactor of history. He wasn’t there to perform the Mass so that we the congregation could check it off our Holy Week to-do list. He was there to worship and give thanks to a man he knew, a man who was going to His death for us. For him, it was personal. I recognized the look on Father Newman’s face. It was that of someone about to lose his best friend.

I was instantly envious. I wanted to know what he knew.

It’s only now after another year full of attending Mass and prayer, especially the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, that I love Easter and have an idea of my role in Christ’s brutal death. I was particularly excited for Palm Sunday’s Mass. The drama of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem knowing what awaited him makes my heart beat a little faster. The hair on my arms stood up more than once as the Gospel of Mark was read. Everyone lingered a little longer after Mass on Sunday — with Lent over and Good Friday on the horizon, Passion Sunday is a little relief before the Triduum. Some tweenage girls were folding palms into the shape of a cross and gave one to my 3-year-old daughter.

I’m amazed at how far Christ has brought me in only a year. The thing about Christmas is, it’s a birth. Births happen all the time. As moms, most of us have even given birth ourselves. He might have been the Messiah, but Jesus was born a baby. It’s not a stretch of our human capacity to understand Christmas.

Jesus’ death, however, can take a lifetime to understand. For someone who was sure she had all the answers, it’s an unfamiliar place to be, but not fully understanding Easter has brought me more joy than celebrating pretend Christmas.

Elizabeth Barr lives in Greenville, SC. She’s a parishioner at St. Mary’s, where the Rev. Jay Scott Newman is pastor and Father Dwight Longenecker is an assisting priest. Can you imagine such luck for someone coming back to the Catholic Church?


  1. Kylie w Warszawie

    I love Easter more and more every year. I always attend the Easter vigil if I can and I always cry when the RCIA candidates are welcomed into the church.

    But my absolute favorite mass of the year is Palm Sunday. I love that it’s interactive. (Good Friday is up there too, since it’s basically the same thing, but since it’s not mass I didn’t know how to address it).

  2. Eliz

    Kylie – I was going to mention RCIA and how beautiful it is to watch them entering the Church fully, but I was afraid my post was getting too long. This past Sunday, as I was overwhelmed by the Palm Sunday Mass, I was thinking that the RCIA candidates should come into the Church earlier in Lent so that they can fully experience Holy Week as true Catholics. Not that I’m second-guessing the Church. Plus, once they’re Catholic they have a whole lifetime of Holy Weeks ahead of them! It was just that, this past Sunday, I felt it was such a shame that they couldn’t experience it like I did.

  3. Tara Sz.

    Wow,this one brought tears to my eyes. So true…Easter is amazing, and I grew up thinking it was more of a halfway to Christmas consolation prize. Each year the Passion pierces my heart more and more. Thank you Jesus…


  4. Melanie B

    Thank you for this beautiful reflection.

  5. Jim T.

    Thank you for this.
    I long for a deeper experience, like your pastor. I want to feel the pain of losing Jesus. Lord help me understand, Amen.

  6. Emily

    Great reflection.
    I, too, love Easter more and more each year. Actually, it’s not even Easter–I’ve always loved Holy Thursday–it’s the whole drama of the triduum, our salvation being worked out “in fear and trembling.” It’s beautiful.

  7. ABBEY

    How ironic that I had begun to think just a few days ago how I was thinking “I am beginning to love Easter even more than Christmas”. It began this year, actually, and I guess it is because I feel my conversion is at long last complete. I converted to Catholicism in 1986, so it has taken 23 years for me to feel it has come to completion.

    I want to say to Jim T., if you want to truly feel the pain of losing Jesus, the movie “The Passion” comes as close as anything I have ever seen or ever hope to see. It was completely realistic and heartwrenching; I cried, everyone I know cried. I came away from it feeling that I finally know a little bit about exactly what Christ went through, and believe me, it was horrific! Now evertime I meditate on the crucifix, I see him in the state he was in at the time he gave his life for us. It is extremely emotional, and I WANT to feel that emotion and never forget it. I am so meek and so humbled in His presence. I love him with all of my heart.

    This was an excellent post.


  8. momof2boyz

    What an excellent post! I was raised as a Roman Catholic, but my spiritual journey led me to the Episcopal church. From time to time, I have considered returning to the RC tradition, but then something happens, and I am reminded of how much I have come to love my adopted church. But that is a discussion for another time. I, too, love Holy Week, and this year my sons will join me at the Maundy Thursday service.

  9. Jess

    I could have written this post, except I didn’t come back to the Church, I found it this year. I am finding myself experiencing Easter in an entirely different way than I ever have before, even as a Protestant Christian, as I look toward Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, during which I will be confirmed and the children will be baptized and then celebrating as a Catholic on Easter Sunday. I am anticipating it as much as I anticipated my wedding!

    Thank you so much, Jennifer, for all your guidance along the way. You have been invaluable and I am so very appreciative.

  10. Flexo

    Although Advent does have Christmas carols, and Christmas does have Midnight Mass, and although one of my very favorite moments of the year is at the very beginning of Midnight Mass, joyously and robustly singing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” overall, I find Lent to be more fulfilling (although that’s not really the right word), and I am especially drawn toward Holy Week and the Easter Triduum.

    By its very nature, the Triduum is more quiet and, hence, a more reflective atmosphere. And, again, by its very nature, the Passion and death of Jesus are more intense and, hence, strike more profoundly and deeper into the soul.

    From the drama of Jesus giving His very Body and Blood to us, to the procession of the Blessed Sacrament and stripping of the altar and sanctuary, to the keeping vigil for a time during the agony of the Lord, to the prostration before the bare altar on Good Friday, to the veneration of the Cross, to the extended prayers, to the reading of the Passion, stopping and kneeling at Christ’s death, to departing in silence, to fasting the entire day, to spiritually placing yourself there at the foot of the Cross, feeling the anguish of Mary, and afterward reflecting on the emptiness of life with Jesus gone, to the lighting of the fire at the Vigil and procession into the dark church with candles, to the chanting of the Exultet, to the extended readings, to the sudden return of the light, to the return of the Alleluia, to the return of the bells, to the incense and Latin, to the baptisms and confirmations and first Communions, to the Gospel accounts of the empty tomb, to the encounter with Mary Magdalene, from the wearing of black and purple to the wearing of white, from betrayal and denial to redemption and forgiveness, and from dying and death to life.

    And I suppose, in the final analysis, it is this last part that makes the Easter Triduum a more favorite time of the year — it is the time of hope realized. It is the time when we see that suffering and hardship and evil and death do not have the last word. Love has the last word. Love, which has the power to even transform death to life. It is the time of hope and the joy of having hope – the real hope, the hope that allows us to persevere and endure, no matter what bad things may come.

    Deo Gratias!

  11. Lucy

    I’m not Catholic, I’m Eastern Orthodox, but I relate so much to this post, too. I love Easter more and more (and Lent, too, – as hard as it is) every year. As a family, we’re trying to tone down our Christmas celebrations to keep it in better balance with Easter (and we’re amping up the Easter celebrations – we do baskets of food, too!). Our Palm Sunday is this week, but I’m so looking forward to it! During Holy Week, we have services every night and twice on some days. I’m sure some people think, “how can you stand so much church?” But it’s all part of Easter and makes our Pascha service the pinnacle of a week’s build-up (well, that plus the 40 days of Lent).

    Anyway, great post and I love what you say about your priest. That is how I want to feel, too.

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