Easter, also called Pascha, is a solemnity that celebrates Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead. It is celebrated on Easter Sunday, the Sunday following Holy Week. Easter is also a 50-day season, often called Eastertide.
Liturgical Color(s): White
 
Type of Holiday: Solemnity; Holy Day of Obligation
 
Time of Year: Varies; follows Holy Week and Lent
 
Duration: Fifty Days; Easter Sunday up to Pentecost, inclusive
 
Celebrates/Symbolizes: The Resurrection of Christ
 
Alternate Names: Pascha (Easter is the Anglo-Saxon name)

Scriptures

Matthew 28 - The Resurrection

And in the end of the sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre.

2 And behold there was a great earthquake. For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and coming, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.

3 And his countenance was as lightning, and his raiment as snow.

4 And for fear of him, the guards were struck with terror, and became as dead men.

5 And the angel answering, said to the women: Fear not you; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.

6 He is not here, for he is risen, as he said. Come, and see the place where the Lord was laid.

7 And going quickly, tell ye his disciples that he is risen: and behold he will go before you into Galilee; there you shall see him. Lo, I have foretold it to you.

8 And they went out quickly from the sepulcher with fear and great joy, running to tell his disciples.

9 And behold Jesus met them, saying: All hail. But they came up and took hold of his feet, and adored him.

10 Then Jesus said to them: Fear not. Go, tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, there they shall see me.

The Report of the Guard

11 Who when they were departed, behold some of the guards came into the city, and told the chief priests all things that had been done.

12 And they being assembled together with the ancients, taking counsel, gave a great sum of money to the soldiers,

13 Saying: Say you, His disciples came by night, and stole him away when we were asleep.

14 And if the governor shall hear this, we will persuade him, and secure you.

15 So they taking the money, did as they were taught: and this word was spread abroad among the Jews even unto this day.

The Great Commission

16 And the eleven disciples went into Galilee, unto the mountain where Jesus had appointed them.

17 And seeing him they adored: but some doubted.

18 And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.

19 Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.

Other Readings on The Resuurrection

 

Introduction

 

But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said (Matthew 28:5-6b, RSV).

Every gospel provides an account of the resurrection of Jesus, which makes perfect sense, because the bodily resurrection is and has been the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Saint Paul makes this clear when he reminds us that our faith is in vain without Christ's resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:14). Easter (also called "Pascha" or some variant by most non-English speaking Christians) celebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and it is the greatest and oldest feast of the Church. Even the term "Pascha" is borrowed from the Jewish word for "Passover," and Easter is calculated based on the lunar calendar (all other feasts are on the solar calendar). These facts show the ancient, probably Apostolic, origins of Easter. We even possess a baptismal liturgy of Easter dating to the mid-third century. Traditionally, the Pascha celebration began with a lengthy vigil, the "mother of all vigils" according to St. Augustine. The whole history of salvation is retold during the vigil, through scripture and liturgy.

At the Easter Vigil (in the West) three traditions developed: the baptism of new converts, lighting of the paschal candle, and the blessing of the new fire (taken from the Jewish blessing of the lamp on the eve of the Sabbath). The new fire is often processed into the Church to light the Paschal candle. Eucharist is then celebrated in the morning hours, being also the first Eucharist of new converts. In general, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican Vigil services consist of variants of this ancient model. The West also celebrates the octave of Easter. These eight days are all solemnities in the Western liturgical calendar. Actually, these days even take precedence over other solemnities that can fall within the Octave of Easter, including the Annunciation.

Easter follows Holy Week, and is the third and final day of the Paschal Triduum, the three day period which began on the evening of Holy Thursday. The evening prayer of Easter Day officially ends the Triduum. The Triduum contains the heart of the Christian faith: Jesus' death and resurrection. Easter is not just a day, but an entire fifty day season, called Eastertide, marked by joyful festivities and liturgical fullness. You might hear "Christ is Risen!" and "Alleluia!" frequently during the Easter season, because we are joyfully celebrating Christ's bodily resurrection. The Feast of the Ascension falls within Easter season. The 50-day season of Easter runs up to, and includes, the Feast of Pentecost.

Of note, Western and Orthodox celebrations of Easter (Pascha) vary in certain ways. Usually Orthodox and Western Christians celebrate Easter on two different Sundays. The reason is that Orthodox churches still base their calculation of Easter's day on the Julian calendar, whereas Western churches follow the Gregorian calendar. In order to keep the date of Easter on a Sunday, the date changes yearly based on the Paschal full moon. The possible date range for Western Easter day is March 21st-April 25th. So what is the rule for finding the date of Easter? Put simply, Easter is observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the day of the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox is the beginning of astronomical spring. However, ecclesiastical rules are slightly more complicated than this formula. These dates coincide with spring in the Northern hemisphere, and the "resurrection" that occurs in nature during the spring provided rich symbolism for the early Christian celebration of Easter (see, for example, the Easter Poem of Venantius Fortunatus).

The name "Easter," used only in English-speaking countries, is derived from the name Eostre (i.e. Ostara), an Anglo-Saxon pagan goddess. Her name was also the name of a month (equivalent to April), which is why her name became associated with the Christian celebration of the resurrection. However, outside of the name, no connection to Eostre remains.

History

As mentioned above, in the ancient Church the feast of Christ's resurrection was the pinnacle of the Christian year. Following a three year process of training and education, converts were baptized and received their first communion at Easter. Saturday night (Holy Saturday) began with candlelight, and anticipated the return of Jesus Christ. As dawn came, Christians joyfully celebrated Christ's resurrection and victory over evil.

Easter was not entirely without controversy in the early Church. Different Church regions were celebrating Easter at different times, and all claimed Apostolic authority. This controversy is called the Quartodeciman (Latin for "fourteenism") controversy. In Asia Minor, many churches, including the church at Smyrna under the pastoral care of St. Polycarp, were celebrating Easter on the 14th of Nisan, following Jewish Passover customs. However, Church historian Eusebius tells us that the Church in Rome and most other Catholic dioceses always celebrated Easter on a Sunday. Both customs may have derived from Apostolic authority, but by the time of Origen (230 AD), the numbers of Quartodecimans were few. Also, differences arose between the Churches of Antioch and Alexandria as to the computation of the Paschal Moon. The Council of Nicaea settled the date of Easter (for the time being), in favor of the Alexandrians, putting Easter on the Sunday after the vernal equinox. However, as discussed above, Eastern Orthodox and Western/Eastern Catholic Easter falls on different dates because of differing calendars.

The English word for the feast of the resurrection, Easter, differs from the feast's name in other regions. In other regions the term is "Pascha," which is derived from the word for "Passover." The word "Easter" might come from an Anglo-Saxon spring goddess. This is probably because the festival of Easter overlapped some pagan holiday in ancient England. While some have used this fact to say celebrating Easter is pagan, the fact is that only the name comes from a pagan source, probably stemming from popular usage (see FAQ below).

Today Easter is celebrated in a variety of ways. Usually (in liturgical Churches) Easter follows a week of busy Holy Week services (Good Friday, Maundy Thursday, etc). Often the first service of Easter is the Great Vigil. Many times the service is shortened from the earlier all-night celebrations. Some modern ones go from 10PM-1AM, with Eucharist occurring at 12:00AM or so. Unfortunately, in many churches the festival of the resurrection is simply another day of the year, while to the early Christians, it was the most important day.

Traditions, Symbols, & Typology

Traditions

White Vestments and Linens
Ringing Bells in Celebration
Baptizing New Converts
Lighting of the Paschal Candle
Having Lamb for Easter dinner

Symbols

Lambs (Christ as lamb)
Lily (symbolizes the resurrection)
Colored Easter Eggs
Spring Flowers and Blossoms
Empty Crosses

Old Testament Typology Foreshadowing the Resurrection

Samson Carrying Off the Gates of Gaza
Daniel Coming Forth from the Lion's Den
The Three Youths Emerging from the Furnace
Jonah Coming Forth From the Whale

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Make So Much of a Fuss at Easter?

Easter is a big deal...a VERY big deal. The resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of Christian doctrine and experience. Without the resurrection, Jesus would just have been another rabbi and failed Messiah. A good case can be made that the belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus caused the rapid spread of Christianity, because the resurrection vindicated Jesus' teachings and personal claims. If Christ is not alive and risen today, Christianity is just another philosophy, and our worship is in vain. These and others are reasons why we celebrate the resurrection specifically for 50 days with such gusto. Remember that every Sunday is a feast of the resurrection, and a kind of "mini-Easter." However, we specifically celebrate the resurrection during the 50 days of Easter.

What Are Some of the Sundays and Weeks Within Eastertide Called?

The Easter Octave (Easter Sunday through the Second Sunday of Easter, 8 days total) is called Bright Week, and the custom is to wear new clothes. The name probably comes from the bright white clothes the newly baptized wore to Mass during the Easter Octave. The Second Sunday of Easter is known as Low Sunday, to distinguish it from the "high" feast of Easter. However, the name could come from the fact that attendance was usually low the Sunday following Easter. Finally, the days between Ascension and Pentecost (which includes one Sunday) are referred to as Expectation Week, because the Apostles prayed with expectant faith for the coming of the Holy Spirit during this week.

Is Friday Penance / Abstinence Still Obligatory During the Easter Season?

As far as we can tell, yes, Fridays within the Easter Season are still days of penance / abstinence in the Catholic Western Rite, unless a solemnity falls on a Friday. Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches may have differing disciplines, so it is always wise to check the canon laws of each Church. While some sources have suggested that the Fridays of the Easter season are not days of penance and/or abstinence in the West, canon law and most sources make it clear that every Friday of the year (unless a solemnity falls on that Friday) is a day of penance. However, the Octave of Easter is an exception. According to the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar (14 February 1969), every day within the octave of Easter is considered a solemnity. Thus, the requirement of Friday abstinence is lifted during the Easter Octave. So while the Easter season is certainly a time of joyful Christian feasting, this is not to say there is no place for Friday penance. Penance is something we should do all the time, even in times of great rejoicing.

What is the Paschal Triduum 

The Paschal Triduum, often called the Easter Triduum or simply the Triduum, consists of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. This includes the Great Easter Vigil, the high point of the Triduum. The word Triduum comes from the Latin word meaning "three days." It begins the evening of Maundy Thursday and ends at Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday. Thus the Triduum consists of three full days which begin and end in the evening. The Triduum technically is not part of Lent (at least liturgically), but Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are still reckoned as part of the traditional forty day Lenten fast. The Triduum celebrates the heart of our faith and salvation: the death and resurrection of Christ, and is thus the high point of the liturgical year. For more information, visit our page, All About the Paschal Triduum.

 Is Easter Pagan?

Easter is not a pagan holiday. Easter is (and always has been) the feast of the resurrection of Jesus. The origins of Easter are Christian and Jewish. Christians have used universal symbols to celebrate Easter that are not specifically Jewish, but that does not mean they are pagan.

Also, some have issue because the name "Easter" may derive from the name of a pagan goddess. Even if true, only the name is derived from a pagan source. This probably happened because when whole towns converted to Christianity from paganism, out of habit most people simply referred to the new Christian festival by the name of the old festival that used to be celebrated until Christian missionaries arrived. In our town, we had a "Cardinal Market" grocery store for years. Even after the Cardinal Market closed, people still called the new market by that name. The same is true of Easter. Another possibility is that missionaries replaced the former festivals with the Christian ones gradually, so as to be able to convert pagans without immediately turning them off.

This page written by .

Mediation

The Meaning of Easter 

By: Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio 

The Meaning of Easter is more than springtime and dyed eggs.  The significance of Easter is that not only sin but death has been conquered by the one who foretold his own resurrection before he gave his life for us on Good Friday.

The serpent’s bite was a deadly one.  The venom had worked its way deep into the heart of humanity, doing its gruesome work.  The anti-venom was unavailable till He appeared.  One drop was all that was needed, so potent was this antidote.  Yet it was not like Him to be stingy. The sacrifice of His entire life poured out to the last drop at the foot of the cross – This was the Son’s answer to the Problem of Sin. 

Three days later came the Father’s equally extravagant answer to the Problem of Death.  For Jesus was not simply brought back to life like Lazarus.  That would be resuscitation, the return to normal, mortal life.  Yes, Lazarus ultimately had to go through it all again . . . the dying, the grieving family, the burial.  Jesus did not “come back.”  He passed over, passed through. Death, as St. Paul said, would have no more power over him.

If you said that physical death was not the worst consequence of sin, you’d be right. Separation from God, spiritual death, is much more fearsome.  But enough of this talk of physical death as beautiful and natural.  It is neither.  Our bodies are not motor vehicles driven around by our souls.  We do not junk them when they wear out and buy another (that’s why reincarnation is all wrong).  Rather, our bodies are essential to who we are.  For human beings, body and immortal souls are intimately intertwined, making us so different from both angels and animals.  Death separates what God has joined.  It is natural that we shudder before it.  Even the God-man trembled in the Garden.

So Jesus confronts death head on.  The ancient Roman Easter Sequence, a traditional part of the Easter liturgy, highlights the drama: Mors et vitae duello, conflixere mirando.  Dux vitae mortuus regnat vivus.” (“Death and life dueled in a marvelous conflict; the Dead Ruler of Life reigns Alive!”).

Jesus endured the wrenching of body and soul for our sakes and came out the other side endowed with a new, different, glorified humanity.  How does the Bible describe it?  Well, Mary Magdalene did not recognize the Risen Christ at first.  The disciples walking to Emmaus didn’t recognize him either.  But Doubting Thomas shows us that his wounds were still evident.  And though he could pass through locked doors, he proved he was not a ghost by asking for something to eat.  Paul speaks of a “spiritual body” in I Cor 15, which sounds like an oxymoron to me.  But we have to take off our shoes here, realize that we are on holy ground, and that we do not have words adequate to describe the awesome reality of the new humanity he won for us.

For resurrection is not something that He keeps for Himself.  All that He has he shares with us: His Father, His mother, His Spirit, His body, blood, soul, and divinity, and even His risen life.  And we can begin to share in this Life now, experiencing its regenerating power in our souls and even in our bodies.  We have access to it in many ways, but especially in the Eucharist.  For the body of Christ received in this sacrament is his Risen, glorified body, so that we too will live forever (read John 6:40-65).

Each of us will pass through physical death, but not alone.  He will be with us, just as the Father was with Him as He made his perilous passage.  And while we will experience indescribable joy when our souls “see” him face to face, this is not the end of the story.  He will return.  Then His resurrection will have its ultimate impact.  Joy will finally be full when he makes our bodies like his own, in glory.  “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen!”

Daily Meditation by
2013 
Don Schwager


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