It’s common knowledge that the number seven has deep biblical and theological significance. Seven is a holy number; the seventh day was the day God rested after completing the work of creation. The number seven also reoccurs frequently throughout the Old Testament, usually a sign that God is up to something; a sign that God is still creating, here and now, and recreating us out of our brokenness.
What might be less well-known is the notion of the eighth day (and no, this didn’t originate with the Beatles).
Easter Sunday occurs on the eighth day following Palm Sunday. Every Sunday falls on the eighth day following the previous one. And after Easter Sunday, we have the Octave of Easter, an eight-day celebration in which we savour the story of the Resurrection, basking in the glow of this new light which shines after the darkness of Christ’s crucifixion.
One of the earliest Christian writings that we have, an epistle from the Church Father Barnabas, makes mention of this. He says that after God has ‘set all things at rest’, He will ‘usher in the Eighth Day, the commencement of a new world.’
This was what the Resurrection signified for the early Christians. It wasn’t just another miracle in a long line of miracles; it wasn’t a parlour trick designed to convince everyone that Jesus really was the Son of God (although it does prove that). It was, in the language of St Paul, the beginning of a ‘new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:16-17), the inauguration of a new reality, the making present here and now of the promised new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:1).
St Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century theologian, said this:
This is the beginning of a new creation. On this day, as the prophet says, God makes a new heaven and a new earth . . . On this day God created the true man, the man made in the image and likeness of God . . . This day destroyed the pangs of death and brought to birth the firstborn of the dead.’
When Pilate said to the people, ‘Here is the man’ (John 19:6), there was a deeper significance to his words than he could have possibly recognised.
There stood the Man, humanity embodied; there stood the new Man, or ‘the last man’, as Joseph Ratzinger interprets St Paul’s words in Introduction to Christianity (1968):
the final man, who takes man into his future, which consists of his being, not just man, but one with God.’
There stands the Word made flesh, through whom we 'share the divine nature and . . . escape corruption' (2 Peter 1:4).
The eight days of Easter are significant, then. In and of themselves, they speak of this new creation, of a world that is, through Christ, no longer shackled to death and sin and decay. Every day of this Octave is a “little Easter”, a prolonging of the Easter celebration until its culmination in Divine Mercy Sunday. It is one, huge solemnity.
It’s no wonder Easter was considered an appropriate time to baptise people. What better time to have the new creation born inside of them than at the time in which the Church celebrates it. In fact, Divine Mercy Sunday, formerly known as Low Sunday, was also the day referred to as dominica in albis (deponendis): The day of laying aside the white garments, which the newly baptised had been wearing since Easter Sunday.
The Easter Octave is eight days of feasting in which we bask in the glory of what has been done for us and what has been given to us.
The best way to revel in this story is to celebrate it through the Mass, which is not only the re-presentation of Calvary but also the presence of the Risen and Glorified Christ. The best way to feast in these days of feasting is to feast at the heavenly banquet brought to us by the gracious love of an amazing God.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli17 April 2022
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli15 April 2022