What Easter (still) means to us

We speak to Executive Director of The Carmelite Institute Malta and University lecturer Rev. Dr Charlo Camilleri about the ongoing significance of Easter in Malta.

How would you describe the Maltese 'experience' of Easter in particular, when perhaps compared to its international counterparts?

Considering that Easter is the central feast of Christianity, it shouldn't be a surprise that this festival has a cultural significance both in the local and in societies shaped by Christianity.

The Maltese experience of Easter is typically Catholic and particularly Mediterranean and specifically Maltese: processions with the Passion stations, particular cuisine for Lent, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Sacred Plays, exhibitions of miniature churches and Passion statuettes, participation in the Liturgical celebrations of the Holy Week, and so on.

What I notice is that folklore and sentimentalism (not culture) is prevailing over liturgical celebrations (Palm Sunday re-enactments of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem is a typical case).

Another case in point which I find offensive to our Jewish brothers and sisters and their faith, is the abusive celebration of the Jewish Passover meal.

Besides being disrespectful towards the religion, symbols and rituals of others (I would be offended if a non-Christian would use the Sacred Mysteries of the Mass just for the sake of folklore).

It doesn't make any sense for a Christian to celebrate the Jewish Passover. We are not even sure that Jesus's Last Supper was actually celebrated during a Jewish Passover Meal!

We have lost also the weekly commemoration of Easter throughout the year, a custom which was very much ingrained locally, starting from the Adoration hour on Thursdays, bells tolling soberly on 3pm of every Friday inviting the faithful to commemorate Jesus's death, confessions on Saturdays and participation in the Sunday Eucharist. Every Sunday throughout the year is an Easter commemoration which finds its climax in the annual Festival of the Three Holy days of Easter.

Do you think that the attitude towards Easter has changed over the past few years?

I think the folkloristic and cultural aspect of it is prevailing, even though the spiritual and religious aspect is still felt.

How can it expand from here, in the internet age?

I think that internet is another tool, and a space where messages and events related to the festival are promoted. I do not think that it changes a lot. Perhaps it enhances the experience. Internet 'fasting', 'retreats' and 'reflections' are becoming popular, it seems.

As ever, there are a number of various cultural events happening around Easter: from musical events to exhibitions. A lot of these events seem to toe the line between sacred events and simply cultural activities which take their cue from Easter proceedings - would you say that this is a normal, even healthy, response to the Easter season?

The core of religion is a particular spiritual experience which binds the faithful together around tenets of the faith, symbols and rituals.

These create culture. Culture derives from the Latin 'cultus' and 'colere' which point to 'cultivation', 'care', 'worship'.

'Cult' in its original (non-pejorative) sense is related to 'culture'. Change in one transforms the other.

What I find particularly interesting and worthy of study and analysis is the fact that local culture is undeniably changing rapidly and drastically, but locals still celebrate a Christian 'cult'.

My impression is that, in fact, these festivals from the cultural perspective are dead cults. Cult, especially religious cult, is transformative... perhaps I am mistaken, but I doubt whether they have maintained this interior transformative power.

A case in point is the ever-growing number of committed Christians who choose to celebrate this fundamental Christian feast in alternative, non-traditional ways and places in order to experience the transformative interior power of the essential Christian Cult.

I repeat that 'cult' here is to be understood in its original sense and not in its contemporary pejorative reference to bizarre practices of sectarian anti-social groups.    

Do you think that the election of the new pope will lead people to experience Easter with a different perspective this year?

Thank God, Pope Francis, like his Predecessor Benedict XVI, is insisting on what is essential in the living out of the Christian faith: a deep relationship with Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord.

Perhaps this message will get through because Pope Francis's style is more appealing, thanks to his character and straightforward, almost childlike, simplicity.

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