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CNP Feedback - Easter during Lent?

The "Feedback Box" on the CanticaNOVA Publications website has proven quite effective in promoting communications on a variety of subjects, and expressing concerns of liturgists and musicians. From time to time, we'll compile a few of these questions or comments and put them in public view, with the hope that others with similar concerns may benefit from their content.

Q. Dear CNP:

Why do you have "Come and Let Us Drink of that New River" suggested as a hymn for the Third Sunday of Lent? This song is obviously an Easter hymn. One cannot reasonably sing "yesterday with thee in burial lying / now today with thee aris'n I rise" in the middle of Lent. It doesn't make any liturgical sense. Water is a theme of the Third Sunday of Lent, but that's not an excuse to sing an Easter hymn.

A Lenten Pilgrim

A. Dear Pilgrim:

I will refrain from using the ubiquitous justification: "Every Sunday is a little Easter," because, although truthful, it has become an almost trite saying. There's something a little deeper involved here.

One needs to be careful about imposing an historically-precise chronology on the Church's liturgical year. During the period of one year, the Church does celebrate the events in the earthly life of Christ, but the feasts are not meant to be a proportioned "calendar" (i.e. we don't unlock a "Jesus day-planner"). We are called to remember the moments of our Savior's life for the import they have on our own, and at times these events are in a loose chronological order (witness the sequence during the Triduum of Last Supper, Passion & Death, and Resurrection). But there are many other events, that if approached chronologically, would challenge our minds beyond all logic. For example, the Solemnity of the Epiphany recalls this event: the visit of the Magi to the infant Christ. Yet one week later, we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord and see him as an adult in the River Jordan. Even more challenging: March 25 (the Solemnity of the Annunciation) commemorates the conception of Our Lord in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And yet, a few weeks later, this Child (who hasn't been "born" yet – Dec. 25) is nailed to the cross and gives his adult life for our salvation. There is quite a problem in viewing the remembrances of the liturgical year as too temporal.

A second issue: is the text of the hymn in question really an Easter text? It is perhaps more a baptismal text, and baptism is a major theme during Lent. The theology of the Sacrament of Baptism reminds us that just as Christ died (and as we descend into the waters of the font), so did he rise (and we will rise into a newness of life by these waters). "Yesterday with you in burial lying" — that is, previously (not literally "yesterday") I was dead in sin; "Now with you in triumph I arise" — after Baptism I share in the life of Christ. These are baptismal images, not time-oriented, historical sequences.

Thirdly, even if we were to accept that there are "Easter allusions" in the hymn, this kind of notion is not at all foreign to the Lenten liturgy. From the Sacramentary:
  • "You do not want sinners to die but to live with the risen Christ"
          [Blessing of Ashes on Ash Wednesday]
  • "May you follow his example and share in his resurrection"
          [Solemn Blessing for Lent]
  • "May this lenten observance of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ bring us to the full joy of Easter"
          [Opening Prayer, Saturday of the Third Week of Lent]
  • "Let us hasten toward Easter with the eagerness of faith and love"
          [Opening Prayer, Fourth Sunday of Lent]
  • "They proclaimed the resurrection of life"
          [Processional Antiphon for Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion]
  • "By his rising he has raised us up to holiness of life"
          [Preface for Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion]
  • "May his resurrection give us perseverance and lead us to salvation"
          [Prayer after Communion, Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion]
  • "May we come to share the glory of his resurrection"
          [Opening Prayer, Wednesday of Holy Week]
  • "You have restored us to life by the triumphant death and resurrection of Christ"
          [Prayer after Communion, Good Friday]
  • "We recall his passion, his resurrection from the dead and his ascension into glory"
          [Eucharistic Prayer I]
  • "In memory of his death and resurrection"
          [Eucharistic Prayer II]
  • "Calling to mind the death your Son endured for our salvation, his glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven"
          [Eucharistic Prayer III]
  • "But by rising from the dead, he destroyed death and restored life"
          [Eucharistic Prayer IV]
The Easter event, the glorious and joyful resurrection of Christ, is a part of every Mass and liturgy we celebrate. It impacts the entire year, including Lent ... and even Good Friday.

It's clear, then, that we don't approach our Lenten pilgrimage "pretending" that the Lord hasn't risen yet. We celebrate our continuing conversion, the remembrance of our baptism, our solemn preparation for the Triduum, knowing and affirming that Christ is risen, and even saying so in the texts mentioned above (as well as the common "...who lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit...").

While the historicity of the resurrection is not something we can "put aside" for forty days, I'm not at all advocating that we sing Jesus Christ Is Ris'n Today (alleluias aside) on the Third Sunday of Lent. We do have a feast (Easter) and even a season (Eastertide) to liturgically shout and revel in that particular message.

So, save the overtly Easter hymns for Eastertide... but during Lent don't avoid hymns that merely hint of a "risen Savior."

Thanks again for your question. It's refreshing to see someone who looks so carefully at hymn texts. Your attentiveness is certainly a blessing!

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications

See also Liturgical Planning Pages for Lent (C)

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