We are an Easter people

March 26, 2013

Weeks after the colored eggs are discovered under backyard bushes, and long after chocolate bunnies are devoured, Easter continues. In fact, the Easter season runs 50 days — from Easter to Pentecost. It is a time for Christians to mark the most important event in the history of humanity and to find ways of proclaiming Christ to the world.

In the early day of Christianity, St. Augustine proclaimed, “We are an Easter people and ‘Alleluia’ is our song!” Indeed, the “crowning truth” of Christian faith is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

At Easter, we commemorate that moment in which the Son of God, having been crucified, conquered death and made heaven possible for mankind, fallen since the first sin by Adam and Eve.

According to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “The history of humanity was decisively changed” at the first Easter.

“The long reign of sin and death was shattered by the triumph of obedience and life,” the pontiff emeritus continued during his May 2009 address at the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus rose from the dead.

“(H)ere Christ, the new Adam, taught us that evil never has the last word, that love is stronger than death, that our future, and the future of all humanity, lies in the hands of a faithful and provident God.”

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Easter is “not simply one feast among others, but rather the ‘Feast of feasts,’ the ‘Solemnity of solemnities.’” The day Christ rose is the first day of the week, the memorial of the first day of creation and the “day that the Lord has made” — the “day that knows no evening.”

In the tradition handed down from the Apostles, the Church continues to celebrate the resurrection at Mass on the first day of every week, or the “Lord’s Day.”

Based on Egyptian astrology, the early, non-Christian Romans had called the first day of the week, “the day of the sun” or “Sunday.” But referring to the Son of God raised from the dead, St. Jerome, 4th century priest and theologian, wrote of Sunday that Christians “willingly agree, for today the light of the world is raised, today is revealed the sun of justice with healing in his rays.”

Differing Easter dates
Easter comes after the 40-day penitential time of Lent, but the date for Easter differs for the Western and Eastern churches.

At the Council of Nicaea in 325, the Western and Eastern rites of the universal Church established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the March equinox. In Western Christianity, using the Gregorian calendar that we are all familiar with, Easter always falls on a Sunday between 22 March and 25 April, inclusively.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity bases its calculations on the Julian calendar. Due to the 13-day difference between the calendars between 1900 and 2099, 21 March corresponds, during the 21st century, to 3 April in the Gregorian calendar. Easter therefore varies between 4 April and 8 May on the Gregorian calendar.

But because of the different methods of calculating dates, Western and Eastern Christians don’t always celebrate Easter on the same day. For example, our celebration of Easter takes place on March 31 this year. The Eastern Orthodox Christians will celebrate Easter on May 5.

Still, the Easter season is always 50 days long. It begins at the Easter Vigil — the night before Easter Sunday — and runs through the feasts of the Ascension of Our Lord, celebrated this year on May 12, and Pentecost, which closes the Easter season, on May 19 this year, when the Church celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles.

Easter mission
Across those 50 days, Catholic churches are filled with signs of Easter joy — from white vestments to the lighted Easter candle to the “asperges” or sprinklings of Holy Water at Mass — and also reminders of a Christian’s call to witness to the resurrected Christ.

During the Easter season, many Scripture readings at Mass recall the fervor of the previously frightened Apostles, who after being bolstered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, boldly proclaimed Christ’s Resurrection from the dead.

On most days during the season of Easter, the first reading at Mass comes from the Acts of the Apostles. They show the tremendous change in the Apostles, how they were giving witness to their faith and how they set aside the fears that were there in their lives.

“Today we need the strength of God to move us, that we have a great shaking of the earth, that an Angel move the great stone in our heart, that stone that prevents us from heading out on the road,” said Pope Francis, then Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio, at the Easter Vigil Mass in 2008. 

“Today we need our soul shaken, that we’re told the idolatry of cultured passivity and possessiveness does not lead to life. Today we need, after being shaken for our many frustrations, to encounter Him anew and that He tell us ‘Be not afraid,’ get back on the road once again.”

Witnessing and proclaiming
During the 50 days of Easter, we are called to witness to Christ and our belief in the resurrection.

“We can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail,” said Pope Francis in his first homily as Supreme Pontiff.

Indeed, as Pope Francis’ life has shown, it is the faith communicated through acts of great love and a fearless, unashamed desire to proclaim Jesus Christ that will make our witness effective.

“When one does not walk, one stalls. When one does not build on solid rocks, what happens? What happens is what happens to children on the beach when they make sandcastles: everything collapses, it is without consistency. When one does not profess Jesus Christ — I recall the phrase of Leon Bloy — ‘Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil.’ When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil, Pope Francis said.”