A fortnight before Easter, social media was displaying posts of Easter eggs, Easter lunch menus and other goodies on sale and for order.
Then came advertisements of Easter dances happening in certain places. With commercial interests playing a major role in most, if not all, religious occasions, these have begun to take a different aspect from what they were in the past.
Like it or not, the religious significance of Holy Week was being diluted by a barrage of celebratory posts of a commercial nature that hitherto was restricted perhaps to Christmas, when the celebrations begin in advance and continue through the season.
Just like Santa Claus has become synonymous with Christmas, Easter eggs and Easter bunnies are coming to do the same with Easter, though the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ has a very subdued preparation in the Church.
Easter follows the most silent of days of the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar. There are days of penance, fast and abstinence and reflection. After the celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday evening, there is no more mass till the Easter Vigil later Saturday night heralds the resurrection of Christ.
There is no mass on Good Friday, only the service that commemorates the passion of Jesus Christ. There is no service on Holy Saturday as Christ remains in the tomb. Easter begins life anew in the Church and in Catholics.
But looking at the manner in which Easter menus, Easter eggs and other celebrations are being promoted through the Holy Week, one does get the impression that the solemnity of the days preceding Easter is getting considerably diluted.
A friend arriving from abroad sought to know from me in which places would there be Easter dances but not what would be the timings of the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. Can’t blame him as Goa has got a reputation for being a party place.
Yet, the Holy Week is a serious time in the Church. It is when the colour in Catholic churches is a deep purple, the shade of mourning. It has been so since Ash Wednesday, but as Holy Week approaches the scenes in most churches changes.
Statues are covered with purple cloth, flowers disappear from the altars, and in some churches, scenes depicting the Santos Passos (seven steps) form the backdrop behind the main altar on all Sundays of Lent.
A lot more changes during the Easter Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. These are days when not just the faithful are expected to look inwards, but even the interiors of the churches are transformed.
After the celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday, the Holy Eucharist is taken and placed on the Altar of Repose, a section of the church that has been specially created for this purpose.
Churches on this night remain open until midnight, during which time the faithful can visit the church and pray before the Blessed Sacrament.
On Good Friday, the scene in the church changes. Most parish churches enact the Crucifixion of Christ after the Good Friday Service. Though some do it earlier in the day and even outside the church.
The Good Friday service is conducted against a dark purple or black curtain concealing the backdrop of the altar. At the end of the service, the curtain is pulled aside to reveal the crucified Christ on the cross.
At this point, a few of the faithful, sometimes attired as people of the first century, will bring down the statue of Christ and place it in a special wooden open casket that will be taken in procession immediately after.
The statue of the dead Christ is followed by the statue of Mary, his mother, in the procession. The statues are brought back to the church at the end of the procession and usually placed behind the altar, which again has a far different look from the rest of the year.
On Saturday there is no mass and no service in the church, though the church remains open in the early hours for anybody who wants to pray.
By midmorning, the doors are closed as the church has to be prepared for the Easter Vigil. At the Easter Vigil, the interiors of the church return to normal and remain so for the rest of the year, until the next Lenten season and Holy Week.
There is no doubt that in the years to come it will be difficult to delink commercial interests from religious festivals, but when it casts a shadow on the seriousness of certain observances, it begins to be obstructive. It is here that some boundaries have to be drawn.