Today is Easter Sunday, the holiest day of the Catholic liturgical year. The name is pagan, of course, and so are all the trappings—from the hunt for the eggs to the symbol of the bunny to the story of the Resurrection, which dates to ancient Egypt.
Until I graduated from high school, I went to church pretty much every Sunday. It was just something we did every week as a family, a part of our life. I never really took to it. I never had that transcendent spiritual experience that some folks do. But I did appreciate the structure of the Mass, how it was always the same, every week, without fail, as it had been, more or less, since the Council of Nicaea in the Fourth Century.
It was at that Council, in AD 325, that the various Church leaders, under a mandate by the Emperor Constantine, produced a creed, variations of which are still recited in Mass to this day. Ours went like this:
I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is seen and unseen.
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father:
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one in being with the Father;
through Him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
He came down from heaven,
By the the power of the Holy Spirit
He was born of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake, He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day, He rose again,
in fulfillment of the Scriptures.
He ascended into Heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and His Kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins,
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
There’s a lot to unpack there. For one thing, it has the sound of a piece of writing that was heavily edited by a group of people. It lacks poetical flow. For another, some of it confounds my understanding to this day. It never made sense to me how there was a Father and Son, but instead of a Mother, something called a Holy Spirit/Holy Ghost. Were all of those early Church Fathers ignorant of how babies were born?
(Sidenote: The Cult of the Madonna, in which the Mother of God was elevated to saintly status, did not go mainstream until the reign of the Emperor Arcadius 75 years later, around the turn of the Fifth Century. His sister and principal advisor, Pulcheria, was the Virgin Mary’s champion).
I probably recited the Nicene Creed five thousand times in my youth, while never really believing a word of it. On Easter 2021, however, I read it less as a proclamation of dogma and more as a pure expression of eternal hope. Consider: For seventeen centuries—despite the fact that the Apostles believed the Second Coming would occur in their own lifetimes, which obviously did not come to pass—Catholics have been promising that Jesus Christ “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” For seventeen centuries, there’s been bupkis. And yet the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics keep insisting, as an article of faith, that one day, this unlikely prophesy will be fulfilled. Putting aside Jesus of Nazareth and the religious aspects of the Creed, there is much to admire about the beatific certitude that things will get better.
The dead brown grass becomes verdant. Bare branches suddenly grow leaves of green. Buds sprout. Flowers bloom. Birds who’d flown hundreds of miles away in search of warmth suddenly appear in the same tree they called home a year ago, and fly around my head so I can behold the glory of their colored wings. Sorry, Mr. Eliot, but April is anything but cruel!
For me, Easter is the Christian version of the celebration of spring. Of rebirth. Of hope. And what is hope, after all, but blind faith in a happy outcome?
Whatever your struggle, Dear Reader, on this Easter Sunday, I wish you good hope.
Photo credit: My red-winged blackbird returns!