Why is the Octave of Easter So Important to the Church?
According to the General Instructions of the Roman Missal, (the GIRM, the rules for celebrating the Mass), the Days of the Octave of Easter is listed second in order of precedence, equal to Christmas, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, and Pentecost. (Table of Liturgical Days). Why does the Church rank the Octave so highly, especially since most Catholic do not even know what the Octave is?
The Octave is the first eight days of the Easter Season, in particular, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, also known as the Eighth Day of the Week, and also known as the Eighth Day of Creation. The ancient Church placed so much importance on this ‘Eighth Day’ that it influenced the architecture of many ancient church buildings and the shape of many baptismal fonts. The octagon was the outward symbol to convey the profound meaning of the ‘Eighth Day’.
The Eighth Day of the week is the Sunday after Easter Sunday when the Gospel proclaimed is from John’s Gospel where the Resurrected One appears to the disciples and breaths the Holy Spirit upon them. Once the Spirit is given the Church is born. The Eighth Day is the day we celebrate the birth of the Church! The Eighth Day is the day we recognize that we now live in the time of the Church. We now live in Christ time, not merely Chronological time. We now live when we acknowledge the Eighth Day of the week, when there are only seven. We celebrate the Eighth Day of Creation when God creates a community of disciples led by the Holy Spirit born out of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
For the Ancient Christians the number seven was understood as a number that symbolized perfection. The number eight, being one greater than seven, was a symbol meaning greater than perfect. Eight points us to an awareness of recognizing ‘time out of time’, the time of eternity, the time of Christ, the time of the Church. This is why we count the first days of the Season as 7 days + 1= the 8th Day; the day we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit, the birthday of the Church. And also: 7 Sundays of the Easter Season + 1 = the 8th Sunday of the Easter Season which is Pentecost Sunday; the day we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit, the birthday of the Church. We also count the days of the Easter Season as 7 x 7 (perfection multiplied by perfection) =49 days + 1 = 50 which is Pentecost Sunday.
The Eighth Day is the first of the two different days we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit, the birth of Christ’s Church! Join us this weekend as we celebrate the Octave, as we continue the celebration of Easter, as we continue to celebrate Christ’s victory over death, as we continue to celebrate the great gift of the Holy Spirit which brought about the birth of the Church!
Director of Liturgy
Guardian Angels Catholic Community