What is Easter?

April 4, 2021 - May 23, 2021

The Resurrection of Jesus

The Easter Vigil is the "Mother of All Vigils." Easter Sunday, then, is the greatest of all Sundays, and Easter Time is the most important of all liturgical times. Easter is the celebration of the Lord's resurrection from the dead, culminating in his Ascension to the Father and sending of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. There are 50 days of Easter from the first Sunday to Pentecost. It is characterized, above all, by the joy of glorified life and the victory over death expressed most fully in the great resounding cry of the Christian:  Alleluia! All faith flows from faith in the resurrection: "If Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, is your faith." (1 Cor 15:14)

"What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind;…So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one. So, too, it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living being," the last Adam a life-giving spirit. But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven. As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly, and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one (1 Cor 15:36-37, 42-49).

The octave of Easter comprises the eight days which stretch from the first to the second Sunday. It is a way of prolonging the joy of the initial day.In a sense, every day of the Octave is like a little Sunday.

The word "Easter" comes from Old English, meaning simply the "East." The sun which rises in the East, bringing light, warmth, and hope, is a symbol for the Christian of the rising Christ, who is the true Light of the world. The Paschal Candle is a central symbol of this divine light, which is Christ. It is kept near the ambo throughout Easter Time and lit for all liturgical celebrations.

Divine Mercy Sunday

St. Faustina Divine Mercy Jesus
CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

Mankind’s need for the message of Divine Mercy took on dire urgency in the twentieth century, when civilization began to experience an “eclipse of the sense of God,” and therefore, to lose the understanding of the sanctity and inherent dignity of human life. In 1931, Jesus appeared to Sr. Faustina in Poland and expressed his desire for a feast celebrating his mercy. The Feast of Mercy was to be on the Sunday after Easter and was to include a public blessing and liturgical veneration of His image with the inscription “Jesus, I trust in You.” St. John Paul II explains the hope of the Divine Mercy message:

This promise of mercy has been affirmed by the Church, which has made Divine Mercy Sunday an occasion for receiving a plenary indulgence, “the remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sin whose guilt has already been forgiven” (CCC, no. 1471). The plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful under the usual conditions (Confession, Eucharist, prayer for the intentions of the pope, and complete detachment from sin, even venial sin). The faithful may either take part in the prayers and devotions held in honor of Divine Mercy in any church or chapel or recite the Our Father and Creed in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, adding a devout prayer to the merciful Lord Jesus.

There are many aspects of the Divine Mercy devotion, including the Chaplet, the Divine Mercy image, and the “hour of great mercy” (3:00 p.m.). The popularity of these devotions, focused on the Lord’s infinite mercy, has grown rapidly in recent decades. Regarding the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, St. Faustina wrote that Jesus said to her, “At the hour of their death, I defend as My own glory every soul that will say this chaplet; or when others say it for a dying person “ (Divine Mercy in My Soul, no. 811).

The Ascension

The Ascension of Jesus

The Paschal Mystery culminates in the Ascension of Jesus. After his appearance here on earth in his risen body, and “after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen” (Acts 1:2), Jesus “was lifted up and a cloud took him from their sight” (Acts 1:9):

Christ’s ascension marks the definitive entrance of Jesus’ humanity into God’s heavenly domain, whence he will come again (cf. Acts 1:11). . . . Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, precedes us into the Father’s glorious kingdom so that we, the members of his Body, may live in the hope of one day being with him forever. Jesus Christ, having entered the sanctuary of heaven once and for all, intercedes constantly for us as the mediator who assures us of the permanent outpouring of the Holy Spirit. (CCC, nos. 665-667)

Daily Reading

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Pentecost

The descent of the Holy Spirt on the Apostles and Mary in the Upper Room

Pentecost marks the occasion of God sending the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ disciples after his Resurrection. The book of Acts describes how the disciples were gathered together in one place on the day of Pentecost. The Jewish feast of Pentecost (Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks) was a day that commemorated the giving of the law to Moses, a day soon to be marked as well by the giving of the Holy Spirit. The day of Pentecost was a turning point for the disciples:

Before Pentecost, the disciples were unsure of what they were to do next and spent most of their time in hiding. After Pentecost and [receiving] the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they understood their mission to spread the Good News of Jesus, and they had the courage to come out of hiding and speak openly about who Jesus was and what he had accomplished by his dying and rising.

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave the disciples the strength to fulfill their commission to spread the Good News of Jesus. The Church marks this day through a special liturgical celebration:

The Solemnity of Pentecost, on the fiftieth day of Easter, concludes the Easter season. In recent years, the Church has restored the extended vigil for this solemnity. Similar to Easter, the vigil of Pentecost includes four readings from the Old Testament, each with a proper Psalm and prayer, along with the Epistle and Gospel. At the conclusion of the Mass during the Day, the Paschal Candle is extinguished and moved to its permanent location near the baptismal font.

The Solemnity of Pentecost, which crowns and fulfills the Easter season, is a good time to pray for a deeper indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Liturgical Notes for Easter

Universal Norms

22. The fifty days from the Sunday of the Resurrection to Pentecost Sunday are celebrated in joy and exultation as one feast day, indeed as one "great Sunday." These are the days above all others in which the Alleluia is sung.


23. The Sundays of this time of year are considered to be Sundays of Easter and are called, after Easter Sunday itself, the Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Sundays of Easter. This sacred period of fifty days concludes with Pentecost Sunday.

24. The first eight days of Easter Time constitute the Octave of Easter and are celebrated as Solemnities of the Lord.

25. On the fortieth day after Easter the Ascension of the Lord is celebrated, except where, not being observed as a Holyday of Obligation, it has been assigned to the Seventh Sunday of Easter (cf. no. 7).

26. The weekdays from the Ascension up to and including the Saturday before Pentecost prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.

Liturgical Colors

The liturgical color for Easter is white.  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (no. 346) also states: "On more solemn days, festive, that is, more precious, sacred vestments may be used even if not of the color of the day. The colors gold or silver may be worn on more solemn occasions in the Dioceses of the United States of America."

Especially during Easter Time, instead of the customary Penitential Act, the blessing and sprinkling of water may take place as a reminder of Baptism.

Ascension Thursday

There are six metropolitan sees and their suffragan Dioceses which maintain the Solemnity of the Ascension on Thursday: Boston, Hartford, Newark, New York, Omaha, and Philadelphia. Every other region of the United States has opted to transfer the Solemnity to the following Sunday (the Seventh Sunday of Easter).