Immediately after St. Valentine’s Day we find them in our stores. They are available in a variety of shapes, colors, textures and sizes. They are the rabbits or Easter bunnies which during this Easter Week can be found with discount tags of up to 75%. How did this animal, in the minds of many, become a symbol of Easter? I found an answer in one of the Little Books, a series created by Bishop Ken Unterner (1937-2004).
The rabbit as a symbol of life and fertility pre-dates Christianity. Its association with Easter has been traced back to 16th century Germany and was brought to the United States in the 18th century by Germans who settled in Pennsylvania Dutch country.
German Children believed that if they were well behaved, the Easter bunny would leave them gifts: treats, sweets and colored eggs. Before the use of baskets the children would set their caps and bonnets in the garden or home for the bunny.
According to the Little Book, the use of the basket has its origins in the Catholic practice of taking food for Easter dinner to church on Holy Saturday to be blessed
Another symbol associated with Easter is commonly found in Italy, particularly on the island of Sicily, where the lamb in a variety of sizes, made with Marzipan, all of them the color of unbleached wool, can be found in pastry shops. They look very much like the image that accompanies the following text prepared by Dolores Cullen, OFS.
The symbol of the Paschal Lamb is traditional to both Jews and Christians. From biblical times a chosen lamb was slaughtered and eaten by Hebrews at Passover.
In Ex 12:3-11 the Lord gave detailed instructions regarding a ritual and meal that signaled the long awaited beginning of the Exodus from Egypt. The Israelites are commanded to select a one-year-old, male lamb without blemish. On the evening of the 14th day of the first month it was sacrificed. Its blood was sprinkled on the doorposts of the home where the meal would be eaten. The blood served as a protective sign against the destroying hand of the Lord who smote all the first-born as it passed over the land of Egypt that night.
For the meal, the lamb must be roasted and eaten with unleavened bread and wild lettuce. The food is to be consumed in haste, with girded loins, shoes on their feet, and staves in their hands. The whole lamb must be eaten—head, feet, and entrails—and if anything remains in the morning it must be destroyed by fire.
This Paschal Lamb prefigured Christ, "the Lamb of God," who redeemed the world by the shedding of His blood. Representations of Christ, as the Agnus Dei (literally, "Lamb of God"), are depicted with a halo and carrying a banner inscribed with a cross.
During my time spent in Italy I never found an after- Easter- Sunday sale on Paschal Lambs. There was no discount tag of up to 75%. What I did find was that the Marzipan lambs were all gone after the first week of Easter and beautifully colored Marzipan in the form of fruits became more abundant in the pastry stores. Could it be that the remaining lambs, if there were any, had been transformed into these beautiful edible works of art? Like the Marzipan, we were kneaded and stretched during lent and are now transformed by the gift that is Easter. We are Resurrection People.
Happy Easter Season.
Your Sister in Christ
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