Catholics love to celebrate and we are presently celebrating the Easter Season. It occurs to me that we talk about celebrations but do we know what they really are. When you think about celebrations, birthdays probably first come to mind and then anniversaries. In the Church calendar, we mark our calendar year either toward Easter or Christmas (see Our Liturgical Watch). These are exciting and joy-filled times! To better appreciate these events we should probably first look at what a celebration is first.
Merriam Webster’s primary definition for the 15th century transitive verb celebrate is very helpful in our discussion. Celebrate is:
1: to perform (a sacrament or solemn ceremony) publicly and with appropriate rites
We celebrate the most important events in our life. Properly speaking, the most important events in this life are those that directly effect our eternal life. Those events are called sacraments. The word liturgy literally means work of the people. In ancient Greece and Rome, a liturgy was some public act that was comprised of an oath and a ritual. It is not surprising then that the word celebrate is linked to the word sacrament (even in the dictionary) since a sacrament also fulfills the the definition of a liturgy. An example of the Roman use of sacrament and how it changes us forever can be seen in the following selection:
The Roman Sacramentum
To perform their transformation from Roman citizens into Roman soldiers, the selected men would then have to swear an oath of allegiance.
This swearing of the sacramentum, changed the status of the man entirely. He was now utterly subject to his general’s authority, and had thereby laid down any restraints of his former civilian life. His actions would be by the will of the general. He would bear no responsibility for the actions he would commit for the general. If he was ordered to do so, he would kill anything in sight, be it an animal, a barbarian, or even a Roman.
There was more than mere practicality behind the change from the white toga of the citizen to the blood red tunic of the legionary. The symbolism was such that the blood of the vanquished would not stain him. He was now no longer a citizen whose conscience would not allow for murder. Now he was a soldier. The legionary could only be released from the sacramentum by two things; death or demobilization. Without the sacramentum, however, the Roman could not be a soldier. It was unthinkable.
Celebrations are more than the party. It has a much deeper meaning. It first means to re-present the action or event, to relive the event – although sometimes more figuratively (Mom’s, what say you about re-presenting childbirth….NOT). The best example of this is the Passover mandate.
The second is to consider and explore the deeper meaning of the celebration. So often we stop at the presents and the Easter baskets and forget about the Incarnation and the Resurrection. What do they mean? Not just literally but how does this apply individually, personally and spiritually.
An example is our Easter season. The Easter season begins with the Easter Vigil and ends with Vespers on Pentecost Sunday. St. Athanasius called the the Easter season one great Easter Sunday with the octave as its morning hours. This time is a time for reflection and prayer. Which for most people is called leisure. Let’s take some time over the next few days on the Easter season. In the meantime, consider using the next 50 days to reflect on leisure.
I would like to recommend Joseph Pieper’s Leisure: the Basis of Culture. This noted Thomistic theologian’s meditation on the church’s understanding of leisure is well worth the time and effort.
 E.O. James, Sacrifice and Sacrament (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1962), p.232