Easter in the Catholic Church

The Greatest Christian Feast

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Piero della Francesca (1463).
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Piero della Francesca (1463). Public Domain

Easter is the greatest feast in the Christian calendar. On this Sunday, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. For Catholics, Easter Sunday comes at the end of 40 days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving known as Lent. Through spiritual struggle and self-denial, we have prepared ourselves to die spiritually with Christ on Good Friday, the day of His Crucifixion, so that we can rise again with Him in new life on Easter.

For the date of Easter in this and other years, and for information on how the date of Easter is calculated, see When Is Easter?

A Day of Celebration

In Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches on Easter, Christians greet each other with cries of "Christ is risen!" and respond "Indeed He is risen!" Over and over, they sing a hymn of celebration:

Christ is risen from the dead
By death He conquered death
And to those in the graves
He granted life!

In Roman Catholic churches, the Alleluia is sung for the first time since the beginning of Lent. As St. John Chrysostom reminds us in his famous Easter Homily, our fast is over; now is the time for celebration.

The Fulfillment of Our Faith

Easter is a day of celebration because it represents the fulfillment of our faith as Christians. Saint Paul wrote that, unless Christ rose from the dead, our faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:17). Through his death, Christ saved mankind from bondage to sin, and He destroyed the hold that death has on all of us; but it is His Resurrection that gives us the promise of new life, both in this world and the next.

The Coming of the Kingdom

That new life began on Easter Sunday. In the Our Father, we pray that "Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven." And Christ told His disciples that some of them would not die until they saw the Kingdom of God "coming in power" (Mark 9:1). The early Christian Fathers saw Easter as the fulfillment of that promise.

With the resurrection of Christ, God's Kingdom is established on earth, in the form of the Church.

New Life in Christ

That is why people who are converting to Catholicism traditionally are baptized at the Easter Vigil service, which takes place on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter), starting sometime after sunset. They have usually undergone a long process of study and preparation known as the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). Their baptism parallels Christ's own Death and Resurrection, as they die to sin and rise to new life in the Kingdom of God.

Communion: Our Easter Duty

Because of the central importance of Easter to the Christian faith, the Catholic Church requires that all Catholics who have made their First Communion receive the Holy Eucharist sometime during the Easter season, which lasts through Pentecost, 50 days after Easter. (The Church also urges us to take part in the Sacrament of Confession before receiving this Easter communion.) 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.

Christ Is Risen!

Easter isn't a spiritual event that happened just once, long ago; we don't say "Christ has risen" but "Christ is risen," because He rose, body and soul, and is still alive and with us today. That is the true meaning of Easter.

Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!