HATE to make my debut at Corpus Christi Watershed on a big downer, but would you believe that Easter Monday is usually one of the darkest days of my year? I’m aware that Easter Monday is meant to be joyful. It sits within the octave of Easter, an eight-day stretch in which it remains Easter nonstop. In the Gospel of the day’s Mass, we hear about Our Lord meeting two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus and holding their eyes so that they do not recognize Him. I love it when Jesus is tricky! The weather is always nice in California on Easter Monday—and Major League Baseball has usually begun a new season by now. In short, this season is full of good things.
So, why is Easter Monday such a difficult day for me? Because of what it lacks.
The Uphill Climb to Easter Monday
Even a non-musician can imagine how much planning and preparation must go into singing the many liturgies of Holy Week and Easter. Our choir at St. Stephen the First Martyr in Sacramento begins rehearsing Lent and Easter music as early as January. But it’s Holy Week itself that requires almost superhuman dedication from our singers.
Here’s how a typical Holy Week looks for choir members who sing all of the liturgies:
- Spy Wednesday evening: 2.5 hour dress rehearsal
- Holy Thursday morning: 1 hour rehearsal, 2.75 hour Tenebrae
- Holy Thursday evening: 1.25 hour rehearsal, 2.5 hour Mass, Eucharistic procession, Stripping of the Altars, and Vespers
- Good Friday morning: 1 hour rehearsal, 2.5 hour Tenebrae
- Good Friday afternoon: 1.25 hour rehearsal, 3 hour Mass of the Presanctified
- Holy Saturday morning: 1 hour rehearsal, 2 hour Tenebrae
- Holy Saturday evening: 1.25 hour rehearsal, 3.5 hour Easter Vigil Mass
- Easter Sunday morning: 1.25 hour rehearsal, 1.5 hour Mass
Now, we don’t actually sing nonstop at each liturgy, of course. But if you’re in choir, you have to be “on” throughout each of these commitments. And our youngest choir member is just 10 years old.
Add it all up, and the most involved choir members invest 28.25 hours in a less-than-four-day span. That’s like having a full-time job—and not one where you sit in a cubicle working at your own pace.
I should mention that ours is an entirely volunteer choir (except for me, the director). What would inspire someone to give so generously of their time, and more importantly, their energy?
Love of God and love of liturgy, of course. Which is what makes it so hard to stop abruptly on Easter Monday.
Easter Monday Withdrawal: Know the Signs
I’ll admit that as a choir director, there’s a slight feeling of relief on Easter Sunday afternoon to realize that “We did it!” and the hard work is over for a while. It’s a day of leisure, feasting, and family. But then comes Easter Monday, and with it, the realization that we won’t be making music today. We won’t be walking into that familiar room, finding our folders in the cabinet, greeting our beloved fellow choir members, and looking at each other with those knowing glances that say, “I’m running on fumes…but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world right now!” We won’t be plugged into the Easter joy that’s magnified when we share it with a group of 25 to 30 fellow musicians. The same people with whom we suffered during the 40 days of Lent. The same people who shared our longing to see the hopeful glow of the fire at the Easter Vigil and to feel the ebullience of Easter morning.
That’s why Easter Monday has never brought me a feeling of “Oh good—I can finally relax!” It’s more like, “How am I supposed to keep feeling joyful when someone just yanked my power cord?” Easter season is supposed to be 50 days of joy. Frankly, that’s a lot of pressure. So, I try to compensate. Over the past few years, I’ve established the tradition of taking my two eldest children (who are both choir members) out for an almost scandalously large breakfast on Easter Monday morning. It helps—a little.
How a Pandemic Prevented My Easter Monday Crash
It wasn’t possible to go out for a huge Easter Monday breakfast this year, for obvious reasons. And I couldn’t be bothered looking for our pancake griddle.
But I’m happy to report that, for several reasons, it was a good day. And I’ve even survived the rest of the week.
First of all, my power cord got yanked early this year when we learned that public Masses would be suspended shortly before Passiontide. I’ve had time to come to terms with the fact that this Easter cycle would be very different.
Second, I was tremendously grateful to be able to sing all of the Holy Week Masses despite the current circumstances. Because we were limited to 10 people in the church, I was only allowed a three-man schola—but the other two singers were fantastic musicians (one is even an FSSP seminarian). We livestreamed the liturgies and received many grateful comments from parishioners.
And third, working with our three-man schola and keeping the music relatively simple enabled me to focus a bit more intensely on the liturgies themselves, and to ponder the mysteries therein. Liturgy is always teaching us something. It leads us from where we are to where we ought to be at this time of year. I couldn’t help but let myself be led from profound sorrow to authentic joy in less than three days.
The joy isn’t going away. I’m realizing, paradoxically, what a blessing it has been to experience the many disappointments of the past few weeks. As we continue to pray for those affected by the pandemic as well as for the speedy restoration of public Masses, let’s not forget to give thanks for the privilege of serving the Church in the way we do.