It is the oldest Christian holiday and the most important feast of the ecclesiastical year. In fact, the dates and celebrations of the liturgical year (including all the Christian movable feasts) are arranged around the central Christian feast of Easter.
The Roman Catholic Church always marks Easter on the first Sunday that follows the first full moon of the Spring Equinox. The date therefore changes each year and falls on any day between March 22 and April 25.
Easter Sunday starts the Easter season, marks the end of Lent and is the last day of the Holy Week which is also known as the Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday).
The true meaning of Easter has deep significance in our lives as Catholics.
Easter celebrates Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
Christ is Risen
One practice of commemorating Easter is the joyous greeting of “Christ is risen” and a response of “He is risen indeed!”
It reminds us that Jesus is alive and in our midst and he welcomes us in a new life with him.
Easter is thus a symbolic reminder for all Catholics that Jesus has overcome death and sin. It marks the victory of good over evil.
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Our Faith Realized
The resurrection of Jesus is a magnificent event that shows the realization of our Christian faith. In 1 Corinthians 15:17, Saint Paul wrote that “unless Christ rose from the dead, our faith is in vain.” By sacrificing himself, Jesus Christ saved humanity from the shackles of sin. His eventual resurrection is a promise of a new life. It shows us that our faith in him is alive and powerful.
This event is also a powerful reminder to us all that trusting in God will pull you up even from the depths of despair.
Catholic Practices around Easter – A Timeline of Events & Symbols
Fasting and Abstinence
Prior to Easter, Catholics observe 40 days of prayer and fasting. This is a time of repentance that culminates in the Holy Week. Fasting involves reducing one’s food intake, while abstinence involves refraining from certain food like meat.
One of the teachings of the Catholic Church is to perform an act of penance for our sins; and fasting is a very meaningful way to do this. It encourages self-discipline, repentance, and following Christ’s example for a deeper spiritual focus.
Communion; Your Easter Duty
Can. 920 §1. After being initiated into the Most Holy Eucharist, each of the faithful is obliged to receive holy communion at least once a year. §2. This precept must be fulfilled during the Easter season unless it is fulfilled for a just cause at another time during the year. – Code of Canon Law
The Sacrament of Holy Communion connects us to Christ and to our fellow Christians and the Church requires us to receive it at least once each year, in the time between Palm Sunday and Trinity Sunday, which is the Sunday after Pentecost
Easter is fundamental to Christian faith and receiving the Holy Eucharist during this season demonstrates that faith. Catholics are also urged to participate in confession before receiving the Holy Eucharist.
The Easter vigil during the night before is the most significant part of the Catholic tradition. The lengthy services include readings, music, a procession, and performing Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion) for new converts and Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults during Mass.
This represents the continuing of our faith and the fulfillment of God’s promise to humanity.
Palms on Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday marks both the final day of Lent and the start of the Holy Week. It falls on the Sunday before Easter. In the Gospels, Jesus arrived to much love in Jerusalem with people throwing palms in front of him as a gesture of great respect. Palm branches symbolize peace and triumph. They are usually distributed to mass-goers so they can join in the re-enactment of Jesus’ arrival. These palm fronds are blessed and worshippers don’t trash them after use. In fact they sometimes weave them into little items of personal devotion like a little cross that they keep close to themselves.
Brightly painted eggs have become synonymous with Easter. But because it has been widely secularized, we sometimes forget the Resurrection symbolism of the egg.
Traditional account speaks of Mary Magdalene as having gone to the tomb of our Saviour early with a basket of eggs to stay and mourn.
Traditional account speaks of Mary Magdalene as having gone to the tomb of our Saviour early with a basket of eggs to stay and mourn. She was instead the first witness of the resurrection and the eggs she carried in her basket turned a deep red color reflecting the miracle before her. Later she gained entrance to the court of the Emperor Tiberius Caesar and held an egg in her hand to announce the well known words “Christ is risen!”
The eggs are also viewed as symbols of a new beginning and resurrection. During Lent, Christians fasted and abstained from eating eggs. Hence, during Easter Sunday, the eggs symbolize joy and celebration.
Easter tradition involves children going on Easter egg hunts. They look for brightly painted hard boiled eggs hidden around the home or garden and collect them in baskets. Families also hide decorated plastic eggs filled with candy or a little money.
The Easter Rabbit is a popular Easter icon and brings in the Easter eggs. Rabbits are pagan symbols of fertility and are also popular motifs in medieval churches. Some stories mention Easter bunnies sitting over a nest of eggs, and in other secular stories the Easter Rabbit would judge whether children have been good or bad at the start of Eastertide and like Santa Claus, the Easter Rabbit would bring treats like colored eggs and candy even toys to children.
“And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them”. Luke 24:30
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There are so many different personal traditions that Catholic families follow during Easter.
Easter feast includes lamb, cakes, breads, eggs, all symbolizing the resurrection through either shape, form or the act of rising (yeast). Since it marks the end of Lent, many Easter recipes use extra eggs, meat or rich food forbidden during the fasting period. Families offer sweets and candy traditionally to break the long fast.
The season of Easter begins after Easter Sunday and lasts for seven weeks, ending with Pentecost.
Everything You Need to Know About Easter in the Catholic Church
Many people think that Christmas is the most important day in the Catholic liturgical calendar, but from the earliest days of the Church, Easter has been considered the central Christian feast. As Saint Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Without Easter—without the Resurrection of Christ—there would be no Christian Faith. Christ’s Resurrection is the proof of His Divinity.
Learn more about the history and practice of Easter in the Catholic Church through the links in each of the sections below.
For the date of Easter this year, see When Is Easter?
Easter in the Catholic Church
Easter is not only the greatest Christian feast; Easter Sunday symbolizes the fulfillment of our faith as Christians. Through His Death, Christ destroyed our bondage to sin; through His Resurrection, He brought us the promise of new life, both in Heaven and on earth. His own prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven,” begins to be fulfilled on Easter Sunday.
That is why new converts are traditionally brought into the Church through the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion) at the Easter Vigil service, on Holy Saturday evening. Their baptism parallels Christ’s own Death and Resurrection, as they die to sin and rise to new life in the Kingdom of God.
How Is the Date of Easter Calculated?
Why is Easter on a different day each year? Many Christians think that the date of Easter depends on the date of Passover, and so they get confused in those years when Easter (calculated according to the Gregorian calendar) falls before Passover (calculated according to the Hebrew calendar, which does not correspond to the Gregorian one). While there is an historical connection—the first Holy Thursday was the day of the Passover feast—the Council of Nicaea (325), one of the seven ecumenical councils acknowledged by both Catholics and Orthodox Christians, established a formula for calculating the date of Easter independent of the Jewish calculation of Passover
What Is the Easter Duty?
Most Catholics today receive Holy Communion each time they go to Mass, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, for a variety of reasons, many Catholics in the past very rarely received the Eucharist. Therefore, the Catholic Church made it a requirement for all Catholics to receive Communion at least once per year, during the Easter season. The Church also urges the faithful to receive the Sacrament of Confession in preparation for that Easter Communion, though you’re only required to go to Confession if you have committed a mortal sin. This reception of the Eucharist is a visible sign of our faith and our participation in the Kingdom of God. Of course, we should receive Communion as frequently as possible; this “Easter Duty” is simply the minimum requirement set by the Church.
The Easter Homily of Saint John Chrysostom
On Easter Sunday, in many Eastern Rite Catholic and Eastern Orthodox parishes, this homily by St. John Chrysostom is read. Saint John, one of the Eastern Doctors of the Church, was given the name “Chrysostom,” which means “golden-mouthed,” because of the beauty of his oratory. We can see some of that beauty on display, as Saint John explains to us how even those who waited until the very last hour to prepare for Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday should share in the feast.
The Easter Season
Just as Easter is the most important Christian holiday, so, too, the Easter season is the longest of the special liturgical seasons of the Church. It extends all the way to Pentecost Sunday, the 50th day after Easter, and encompasses such major feasts as Divine Mercy Sunday and Ascension.
In fact, Easter sends ripples out through the liturgical calendar even after the Easter season ends. Trinity Sunday and the feast of Corpus Christi, which both fall after Pentecost, are “moveable feasts,” which means that their date in any given year depends on the date of Easter