Something new seems to be brewing. The past few month have not been very exciting. In fact, there have been depressing moments. A quarter of the year has passed since the cheerfulness of Christmas. But now there seems to be promise of something new and good.
The past six weeks int he parish have been intense. The call to conversion has echoed repeatedly. It has been a season of penance: mot much excitement there! Decorations have been subdued. The ritual journey during the past week, Holy Week, has been full of symbolism. The waving of palms gave way to a passion story. A supper banquet gave way to a cross. And last night (Easter Vigil) gave way to a new fire, new oils, new water – and new life
The theme of Easter morning echoes that of the Eater Vigil. It remembers and celebrates the very foundation of Christianity: Jesus is raised from the dead and is Lord. Those who believe and are baptized share in this Resurrection to new life. This theme will continue for the next fifty days of the Easter season. It was natural that the very first followers of Jesus would hold this moment sacred. it was the anniversary of that wonderful time when they experienced him risen and still among them. His death had occurred on the most important of all Jewish feasts: the Passover. His resurrection fulfilled all that the Passover had meant to them as Jews. It was an exodus, or passage, from the old times and the oppression of slavery to spiritual freedom. Jesus was the Paschal Lamb, slain to achieve this freedom.. It is obvious that something wonderful has happened as people walk into church. They are greeted by a church decorated with signs of new life: bright colours and Easter lilies. Alleluias ring out. it is Easter morning! For many, if not most, parishioners, this is the celebration of Easter. In every parish, however, the main celebration occurred the night before with the Easter Vigil. Sunday morning Easter Mass evolved in history when the Easter Vigil was anticipated during the early morning hours of Holy Saturday.
Christ’s resurrection was the sign of new beginnings. This theme was part of the evolution of the Passover long before the Exodus from Egypt. The ancestors of the Jews had celebrated a springtime festival of the first fruits of their flocks with a sacrifice of lambs. Eventually these feasts were combined as an annual memorial of the mystery of
their escape from Egypt, and the passing over them by the angel of death. For 3000 years, and still today, Jews celebrate this drama of miraculous salvation by repeating the ancient story with song, readings, and symbolic foods: the Seder meal. It was the Seder meal of this Passover that Jesus celebrated with his friends the night before his crucifixion, with the request that it be celebrated in a new way in his memory. This they did on the weekly anniversary of his resurrection, the first day of the week, Sunday. It was only natural that the annual anniversary be highlighted with special solemnity.
DATE OF EASTER
Early in Christianity a controversy arose over setting the date of the annual Pascha. Some, called the Quartodecimans (Latin, “fourteenth”), claimed that it should be celebrated annually on the precise date of Jesus’ historical Passover: the 14th of Nisan ) first day of the full moon that followed the spring equinox), usually a weekday. Others insisted that it always be a Sunday, because Christ was raised from the dead on the first day of the week. This controversy was a high priority on the agenda at the Council of Nicaea called by Emperor Constantine in 325. The decision was that it be observed on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. In the West, only the Celtic church in Britain and Ireland refuse to accept the date until 664 because of their own Celtic calendar. Easter can occur on any Sunday from March 23 to April 25.
NAME OF EASTER
In almost every language except English, the name for this annual memorial of the resurrection is some from of the word “Passover” (for example, Pasch, from the Hebrew Pesach, “Passover”). When Christianity arrived in the north countries, its springtime celebration of the resurrection received a new name from the Teutonic people, a name used today by English-speaking people: Easter. At one time it was thought that this name came from an Anglo-Saxon spring goddess, Eostre. However there is doubt that such a goddess ever existed. A better explanation lies in people’s misunderstanding of a Latin phrase for Easter Week, week “in white vestments” or garments of the newly baptized (in albis), thinking it was the plural of alba in the Latin idiom for “dawn,” the birth of the new spring sun in the east. This was translated in Old High German as eostarun. Regardless if the exact origin of the term, the symbolism remains: Christ is the sun that rises at dawn – in the east.