Remember the movie “The Godfather”? “Jaws”? “Star Wars”? “Superman”? “The Exorcist”? These 1970s films provided not only “boffo” box office results but they also gave us the common practice of movie sequels. So when you see “Friday the 13th – Part 53,” you know what decade to thank for creating the idea.
Now, there had been sequels to movies in the past, but that practice was spotty at best. More common than “sequels,” some early movies spawned “series.” What series?
• The 1940s entertained us with the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s “Road picture” series;
•l The 1950s gave us the “Francis the Talking Mule” series;
• The 1960s yielded the God-forsaken series of “Gidget” movies; and the 1980s dropped on us the awful “Ernest” movies.
But sequels and series are not the same thing. The difference between sequels and series has everything to with the pivotal value of the first movie in the series. Thus, it’s very important to watch the first “Godfather” before watching the second or (awful) third film, as that first film sets the tone, characters, premise and back-story.
In a movie series, whether you see the first or fifth movie in the series makes no difference. There is little glue, except the main characters, that connects those movies. Watch any “Francis the Talking Mule” movie, in any order, and you won’t miss a thing. Not so with true sequels. Sequels are best described as logical continuations of the first movie. “Jaws II” continues thematically from “Jaws.” “The Empire Strike Back” is a logical progression from “Star Wars.”
• Sequel rites
With movie sequels providing the premise, I want use that concept to talk about a certain group of holy days. There are a number of holy days that follow the celebration of our church’s primary and most significant feast day, Easter.
Of course, all Sundays of the year are built on that great event of Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, I want to explain some key holy days that come to us based around Easter. These holy days are like the “sequels” of the cinematic realm. The way a movie sequel points back to and by design references the original film, so, too, these holy days point back to the original and pivotal event, Easter. Also like a movie sequel, these post-Easter holy days provide us with a logical continuation of what flows from the Resurrection.
• Start me up
Commonly observed as “Ascension Thursday,” though in some dioceses celebrated on a Sunday, the Ascension of the Lord, which falls 40 days after Easter, is when Christ ascended back to heaven in the sight of his Apostles. The Ascension of the Lord is the day that makes Christ’s command, “follow me,” imbued with salvific meaning. Christ died, rose and ascended to heaven, and beckons, “follow me.”
The hope of heaven now awaits us. We have the ability, as followers of Christ, to live lives that allow us to follow Christ, even to heaven. Also, right before his Ascension, he gives his church marching orders, which direct that the church continue his good works and continue to bring souls into the fold to follow the Lord. On the basis of the Scriptures, the Ascension is celebrated 40 days after Easter (Acts 1:3).
• Pentecost: That’s the Spirit
Before Christ ascended, he told us that he would not leave us as spiritual latch key kids, but rather would send the Paraclete (the Holy Spirit), who would teach us everything we need to know. On that first Pentecost, the Apostles (our first priests and bishops) gathered in the upper room, anxious as to how the church would survive with Jesus gone. They prayed, along with our Blessed Mother who was with them. Then it happened. Like a special effects scene from Hollywood, tongues of fire descended on the Apostles; they became filled with the Holy Spirit, sent, as promised by our Lord. With this, the Apostles’ fear dissipated and the early church became enlivened.
Ka-boom! The followers of Christ began boldly proclaiming his name, evangelizing people and putting the efforts of the church into high gear. Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after Easter; like Ascension, the time frame of Pentecost is scripturally based.
Now it can be properly said that the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost are natural progressions that flow from Easter; they are scripturally based in their placement after Easter. However, there are additional holy days in this post-Easter time, normed directly or indirectly to Easter, which the church, in its wisdom, places in our spiritual path to speak to us about some pivotal and central mysteries of our faith, marked out by the Risen Lord.
• Three’s company
Trinity Sunday is celebrated on the Sunday immediately following Pentecost, and with it, the church starts the post-Easter season reminding us that one of the greatest mysteries of our faith is the blessed Trinity: namely that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Interestingly, in the Eastern Catholic Church, the previous Sunday (Pentecost) is called “Trinity Sunday.” A day dedicated to the Trinity started in the early centuries of the church to refute the Arian heresy which reduced Christ to the status a created being. This day was put forth not only to honor the Trinity, but to confirm and uphold the divinity of Christ as second person of the Blessed Trinity. Affirming his divinity affirms the value of his salvific actions brought to fruition on Easter in the Resurrection.
• A present of his presence
The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, commonly called Corpus Christi, celebrates the belief and the reality of the Eucharist as the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and reminds us that he is really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.
Corpus Christi is observed on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday (though in the dioceses of the United States, the celebration is transferred to the following Sunday). Corpus Christi as feast was born when a priest named Father Peter, from Prague, experienced doubt in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. While consecrating the Sacred Host and the wine at Mass, the host turned, visibly, into flesh and bled. This was a reminder to the priest and his congregation that witnessed this miracle, who and what the Eucharist is. This great Eucharistic miracle is remembered on this holy day of Corpus Christi and, of note, is observed as a public holiday in some 20 countries including Austria, Poland, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Panama and Haiti. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote his famous hymns “O Salutaris Hostia” and “Tantum Ergo” specifically for this holy day.
• You gotta have heart!
The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a holy day, which is observed on Friday of the week that follows Corpus Christi. It celebrates the love of God as symbolized by the heart of Jesus Christ. While most people associate the Sacred Heart of Jesus with a vision by St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century, it was actually promoted in the writings of church father, St. Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century. However, widespread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus can certainly be attributed to the aforementioned St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, when from 1673-1675, in private revelations, Jesus Christ appeared in visions to her 18 times, bearing his heart in front of him and telling of his love for mankind.
By 1856, the devotion to the Sacred Heart became so widespread that Pope Pius IX declared it a solemnity in the Universal Church. In addition to the post-Easter celebration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a votive Mass to the Sacred Heart may be celebrated every first Friday on which there is not a feast or seasonal observance of higher rank or precedence.
A corresponding holy day, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, is observed on the day following Sacred Heart.
And so, Ascension is 40 days after Easter, Pentecost is 50 days after Easter (nine days after the Ascension), Trinity Sunday is one week after Pentecost, Corpus Christi is four days after Trinity Sunday (or on that coming Sunday), and Sacred Heart is on the Friday of the week after Corpus Christi.
Easter starts the chain of these holy days. And so, these sequels, these days that follow Easter give us logical progression of what the Resurrection did for us, tells us and means for us. Since Christ, the Son of God, rose from the dead (Easter), ascended back to God the Father (Ascension) and sent God the Holy Spirit to us (Pentecost): Father, Son and Holy Spirit were all in the mix. The very next Sunday points back to this: Trinity Sunday.
Then, Corpus Christi reminds us that Christ remains with us, in the Blessed Sacrament until the end of the age. All this is built upon Christ’s wondrous love for us, which we acknowledge in his Sacred Heart.
These days after Easter that I have referenced are all notable and significant, just like a movie sequel might prove good, but that first movie was the best, and must be seen to understand what follows. Easter remains the central holy day of our Church year.
Father Lentini is pastor of Holy Cross Church in Dover and Immaculate Conception Church in Marydel, Md.