Sunday, March 23, 2008

Long-Standing Easter Tradition is Still Being Observed

I was interested to read the following article on today Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Web site. This is a tradition I fondly remember from my childhood.

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Blessing of baskets an enduring rite
Sunday, March 23, 2008

In the waning hours of Lent, baskets of every type, shape, heft and color lined the base of the communion rail at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland.

Bishop David Zubik lifted his hand and 130 people rose from the pews for a Holy Saturday ritual in the Eastern European tradition -- the blessing of the Easter basket.

He spoke of "unleavened bread and bitter herbs," of the sacrificial lamb's relationship to Christ as the lamb of God, of eggs as symbols of the resurrection and admonished the congregation to "remember those who suffer hunger and want."

As he edged his way along the line of baskets, sprinkling them with water from a gold bowl, he blessed loaves of leavened bread and twisted rolls, lamb, ham, sausages, horseradish and pickled beets, cheese, butter and dyed eggs, all under scrunched cloth napkins, crocheted potholders and checkered hand towels.

He blessed several at a time, sturdy hemp and wicker baskets, some natural, some painted, tall rectangular baskets and shallow oval ones with big handles, children's pastel baskets stuffed with shredded cellophane Easter grass and wide baskets full of flowers.

Joe and Kay Littell, of Bloomfield, brought three baskets of food they said they would eat that evening, including egg cheese, kielbasa and nut rolls.

"It's just us," said Ms. Littell, who is Slovak-American. "In the past, everybody in the family came to Grandma's, but after she died, everybody did their own thing," including lots of nieces and nephews who live all over.

John and Nevenka DePasquale, of Glenshaw, brought their three young children for the blessing of their basket.

Ms. DePasquale said in her native Croatia, her family had their baskets blessed every Holy Saturday. Her husband said it is "our family tradition now" but the first at St. Paul.

After the service, Bishop Zubik said the particular foods sacrificed for Lent are ones with direct reference to Christ's life, death and resurrection.

"The lamb is the biggie," he said. "Christ is our lamb." Bread is significant in the Eucharist, the wine significant of the blood Christ shed, the yolk of the egg a sign of new life, he said.

"The season of Lent used to be a lot more strict," he said. People really did forego eating meat, eggs and dairy, and their sacrifice made their senses sharper when Easter came.

"They thanked God the fast was over, yes," he said, "but also for everything that they had."

Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.
First published on March 23, 2008 at 12:00 am

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