For millions of Americans, this weekend is a time to celebrate redemption at God’s hand. Tonight, Jews will gather for a second Seder, where they will retell the story of the Exodus. And tomorrow, my family will join Christians around the world as we thank God for the all-important gift of grace through the resurrection of His son, and experience the wonder of Easter morning.
These holidays have their roots in miracles that took place thousands of years ago. They connect us to our past and give us strength as we face the future. And they remind us of the common thread of humanity that connects us all.
For me, and for countless other Christians, Easter weekend is a time to reflect and rejoice. Yesterday, many of us took a few quiet moments to try and fathom the tremendous sacrifice Jesus made for all of us.
Tomorrow, we will celebrate the resurrection of a savior who died so that we might live.
And throughout these sacred days, we recommit ourselves to following His example. We rededicate our time on Earth to selflessness, and to loving our neighbors. We remind ourselves that no matter who we are, or how much we achieve, we each stand humbled before an almighty God.
Christ’s triumph over death holds special meaning for Christians. But all of us, no matter how or whether we believe, can identify with elements of His story. The triumph of hope over despair. Of faith over doubt. The notion that there is something out there that is bigger than ourselves.
These beliefs help unite Americans of all faiths and backgrounds. They shape our values and guide our work. They put our lives in perspective.
So to all Christians celebrating the Resurrection with us, Michelle and I want to wish you a blessed and Happy Easter. And to all Americans, I hope you have a weekend filled with joy and reflection, focused on the things that matter most. God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.
HERE are two things about Easter that hop: the bunny and the date.
Unlike the fixed star of Christmas, Easter moves with the planets. It is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after March 21, the vernal equinox.
It was Dionysius Exiguus, a sixth-century monk who worked out the formula for the date. In so doing, he accomplished two things: he doused the flames of a controversy that had burned since the second century, and he created the B.C. - A.D. system for numbering years.
Arguments over when to celebrate Christianity’s most important feast day raged early, fiercely and often. In the first and second centuries after the death of Christ, Christianity was a highly diverse landscape of regional practices and beliefs. In Asia Minor, Christians, following the Gospel of St. John, celebrated Easter on Passover, the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan. They came to be known as Quartodecimans, from the Latin for “14 days.”
The Roman practice, also followed in Egypt and North Africa, was based on the Julian calendar and on the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, which present the Last Supper as the Passover meal. It placed Easter on a Sunday, the day of the Resurrection.
Eventually, with the rising power of the Roman church, Roman practice prevailed, and at the Council of Nicaea in 325, Quartodecimanism was specifically condemned and its practitioners denounced as “Judaizers.” But it lingered on in Asia Minor and far-flung outposts for centuries.
“This may seem like a tempest in a teapot, but calendars are an important issue, regardless of the faith,” said Arthur Droge, a professor of early Christianity at the University of Chicago. “If you don’t have the calendar right, that means something has gone terribly wrong.”
So true. The Easter problem did not end with the Council of Nicaea, because even those churches that followed the Roman practice had different systems for reconciling the Julian calendar (based on the solar year) and the date of Passover (derived from a lunar calendar). To predict the date of Easter in years to come, Rome used an 84-year cycle. In Alexandria, whose astronomers were renowned for their skill in performing calculations, a 19-year cycle was developed.
By the fourth century, Easter was being celebrated on different Sundays all over Christendom, with the Roman and Alexandrian cycles vying for the lead. Despite a bravura effort by Victorius of Aquitaine, who came up with a 532-year cycle in the fifth century, disorder reigned.
Read more HERE from the NYT.
For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. (Philippians 1:29 )
…God will crucify without pity those whom He desires to raise without measure!…
God wants to crucify us from head to foot-making our own powers ridiculous and useless—in the desire to raise us without measure for His glory and for our eternal good….
Willingness to suffer for Jesus’ sake—this is what we have lost from the Christian church. We want our Easter to come without the necessity of a Good Friday. We forget that before the Redeemer could rise and sing among His brethren He must first bow His head and suffer among His brethren!
We forget so easily that in the spiritual life there must be the darkness of the night before there can be the radiance of the dawn. Before the life of resurrection can be known, there must be the death that ends the dominion of self. It is a serious but a blessed decision, this willingness to say, “I will follow Him no matter what the cost. I will take the cross no matter how it comes!”
The night of Maundy Thursday is the night on which Jesus was betrayed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The word maundy comes from the command (mandate) given by Christ at the Last Supper, that we should love one another.
In Roman Catholic churches the anthem Mandatum novum do vobis (a new commandment I give to you) would be sung on Maundy Thursday.
In many other countries this day is known as Holy Thursday.
In Britain, the sovereign takes part in the Ceremony of the Royal Maundy.
This ceremony, held at a great cathedral, involves the distribution of Maundy money to deserving senior citizens (one man and one woman for each year of the sovereign’s age), usually chosen for having done service to their community.
They receive ceremonial red and white purses which contain coins made especially for the occasion. The white purse contains one coin for each year of the monarch’s reign.
The red purse contains money in place of other gifts that used to be given to the poor.
In the 17th century, and earlier, the King or Queen would wash the feet of the selected poor people as a gesture of humility, and in remembrance of Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples. The last monarch to do this was James 2. The ceremony of the monarch giving money to the poor on this day dates back to Edward 1.
Roman Catholic church services feature a ceremony in which the priest washes the feet of 12 people to commemorate Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples.
It was common in monasteries throughout history for the Abbot to wash the feet of the monks in a similar gesture.
Some other churches nowadays also have foot-washing ceremonies as part of their Maundy Thursday services.
In Roman Catholic churches, Maundy Thursday is usually the day on which the supply of anointing oil to be used in ceremonies during the year is consecrated.
This is done at a special Chrism Mass.
Learn more about Holy Week HERE.
And as they led Him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus” (Luke 23:26).
We see in Simon’s carrying the cross a picture of the work of the Church throughout all generations; she is the cross-bearer after Jesus. Mark then, Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering. He bears a cross, not that you may escape it, but that you may endure it. Christ exempts you from sin, but not from sorrow. Remember that, and expect to suffer.
But let us comfort ourselves with this thought, that in our case, as in Simon’s, it is not our cross, but Christ’s cross which we carry. When you are molested for your piety; when your religion brings the trial of cruel mockings upon you, then remember it is not your cross, it is Christ’s cross; and how delightful is it to carry the cross of our Lord Jesus! You carry the cross after Him. You have blessed company; your path is marked with the footprints of your Lord. The mark of His blood-red shoulder is upon that heavy burden. It is His cross, and He goes before you as a shepherd goes before his sheep.
Take up your cross daily, and follow Him. Do not forget, also, that you bear this cross in partnership. It is the opinion of some that Simon only carried one end of the cross, and not the whole of it. That is very possible; Christ may have carried the heavier part, against the transverse beam, and Simon may have borne the lighter end. Certainly it is so with you; you do but carry the light end of the cross, Christ bore the heavier end.
And remember, though Simon had to bear the cross for a very little while, it gave him lasting honor. Even so the cross we carry is only for a little while at most, and then we shall receive the crown, the glory. Surely we should love the cross, and, instead of shrinking from it, count it very dear, when it works out for us “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”
Woodcut by Gustave Doré (1832-1883)
History of Lent, by Father William P. Saunders, read more HERE.
The word Lent itself is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words lencten, meaning “Spring,” and lenctentid, which literally means not only “Springtide” but also was the word for “March,” the month in which the majority of Lent falls.
Since the earliest times of the Church, there is evidence of some kind of Lenten preparation for Easter. For instance, St. Irenaeus wrote to Pope St. Victor I, commenting on the celebration of Easter and the differences between practices in the East and the West: “The dispute is not only about the day, but also about the actual character of the fast. Some think that they ought to fast for one day, some for two, others for still more; some make their ‘day’ last 40 hours on end. Such variation in the observance did not originate in our own day, but very much earlier, in the time of our forefathers” (Eusebius, History of the Church, V, 24). When Rufinus translated this passage from Greek into Latin, the punctuation made between “40” and “hours” made the meaning to appear to be “40 days, twenty-four hours a day.” The importance of the passage, nevertheless, remains that since the time of “our forefathers” — always an expression for the apostles — a 40-day period of Lenten preparation existed. However, the actual practices and duration of Lent were still not homogenous throughout the Church.
Lent becomes more regularized after the legalization of Christianity in A.D. 313. The Council of Nicea (325), in its disciplinary canons, noted that two provincial synods should be held each year, “one before the 40 days of Lent.”
Of course, the number “40” has always had special spiritual significance regarding preparation. On Mount Sinai, preparing to receive the Ten Commandments, “Moses stayed there with the Lord for 40 days and 40 nights, without eating any food or drinking any water” (Ex 34:28). Elijah walked “40 days and 40 nights” to the mountain of the Lord, Mount Horeb (another name for Sinai) (I Kgs 19:8). Most importantly, Jesus fasted and prayed for “40 days and 40 nights” in the desert before He began His public ministry (Mt 4:2).
Once the 40 days of Lent were established, the next development concerned how much fasting was to be done. In Jerusalem, for instance, people fasted for 40 days, Monday through Friday, but not on Saturday or Sunday, thereby making Lent last for eight weeks. In Rome and in the West, people fasted for six weeks, Monday through Saturday, thereby making Lent last for six weeks. Eventually, the practice prevailed of fasting for six days a week over the course of six weeks, and Ash Wednesday was instituted to bring the number of fast days before Easter to 40.
The rules of fasting varied. First, some areas of the Church abstained from all forms of meat and animal products, while others made exceptions for food like fish. For example, Pope St. Gregory, writing to St. Augustine of Canterbury, issued the following rule: “We abstain from flesh, meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese and eggs.” Second, the general rule was for a person to have one meal a day, in the evening or at 3 p.m. These Lenten fasting rules also evolved. Eventually, a smaller repast was allowed during the day to keep up one’s strength from manual labor. Eating fish was allowed, and later eating meat was also allowed through the week except on Ash Wednesday and Friday. Dispensations were given for eating dairy products if a pious work was performed, and eventually this rule was relaxed totally. (However, the abstinence from even dairy products led to the practice of blessing Easter eggs and eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.)
Over the years, modifications have been made to the Lenten observances, making our practices not only simple but also easy. Ash Wednesday still marks the beginning of Lent, which lasts for 40 days, not including Sundays. The present fasting and abstinence laws are very simple: On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the faithful fast (having only one full meal a day and smaller snacks to keep up one’s strength) and abstain from meat; on the other Fridays of Lent, the faithful abstain from meat. People are still encouraged “to give up something” for Lent as a sacrifice. (An interesting note is that technically on Sundays and solemnities like St. Joseph’s Day (March 19) and the Annunciation (March 25), one is exempt and can partake of whatever has been offered up for Lent.
Nevertheless, I was always taught, “If you gave something up for the Lord, tough it out. Don’t act like a Pharisee looking for a loophole.” Moreover, an emphasis must be placed on performing spiritual works, like attending the Stations of the Cross, attending Mass, making a weekly holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, taking time for personal prayer and spiritual reading and most especially making a good confession and receiving sacramental absolution. Although the practices may have evolved over the centuries, the focus remains the same: to repent of sin, to renew our faith and to prepare to celebrate joyfully the mysteries of our salvation.
Father William P. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls and former dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College.