Laughter in Church
Lawrence S. Cunningham August 2, 2007 - 8:41am
In one of his meditations given on Bavarian radio before he became pope, Cardinal Ratzinger made passing reference to the custom known as the "risus paschalis" or "Easter laughter". This curious custom, traceable to the fifteenth century, had the parish priest telling funny stories during his Easter homily typically involving Christ fooling Satan while breaking down the doors of the underworld (that trope of Christ outwitting Satan had a patristic ancestry). Ratzinger saw this custom as a way of encouraging joy and laughter in the congregation at Easter. In some places the afternoon on Easter Sunday was devoted to the telling of stories. Evidently, like so many good things, the practice got a bit out of hand, so Benedict's predecessor, Clement X, condemned the practice in the eighteenth century.I pass on this piece of Catholic trivia for its own sake and will resist musing about how such a custom can be comported with the stern strictures against "hilaritas" so often found in ancient ascetic and monastic literature.
About the Author
Lawrence Cunningham is John O'Brien professor of Theology (Emeritus) at the University of Notre Dame.