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What is Easter, and why is it celebrated?

Easter is the most joyous day of the Christian calendar, the day that celebrates the most wonderful event in the history of mankind. Jesus Christ rose from the dead. In 2022, we celebrate Easter on April 17. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 638) says,

The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross:
Christ is risen from the dead! Dying, he conquered death; To the dead, he has given life.

In Romans 6:5-11, we read, (Continue below)


What is Easter, and why is it celebrated? (continued from above)

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a Resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

"The Cross had asked the questions; the Resurrection had answered them... The Cross had asked: 'Why does God permit evil and sin to nail Justice to a tree?' The Resurrection answered: 'That sin, having done its worst, might exhaust itself and thus be overcome by Love that is stronger than either sin or death.'" - Venerable Archbishop Fulton J Sheen

What really happened on the first Easter?

Fr. Joseph Mary Wolfe, MFVA, has stated, It is challenging to consider the pivotal event of Easter, Christ's Resurrection, from our human perspective. Scientists have theorized that Christ rose in a burst of radiation that created the three dimensional image on the Shroud of Turin, which many believe to be Jesus’ burial cloth. Scripture tells us that those closest to Jesus didn't immediately recognize Him in His glorified body. Jesus ate fish in front of the disciples to prove His physicality, even as He was able to enter the Upper Room by going through locked doors. His glorified body had new abilities, but He was not a disembodied ghost as some of the disciples feared. For all the value of scientific inquiry and speculation, the meaning of Easter is far more real and personal than theoretical. Scripture is clear – Christ rose and since Christ rose, we too have the opportunity for eternal life. It is as simple, and as complex, as that.

What does the Bible say about Easter?

The Resurrection of the Lord is in all four Gospel accounts, and it is also discussed in the Epistles. The Gospel of St. Luke 24:1-12 says, But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home wondering at what had happened. We also see accounts of the Resurrection in Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-13, and John 20:1-29.

“The Risen Lord is also the Crucified One … In his glorious body he bears indelible wounds: wounds that have become windows of hope. Let us turn our gaze to him, that he may heal the wounds of an afflicted humanity.” - Pope Francis

Why do we call the Day the Lord Rose “Easter”?

The official language of the Church is Latin, the ancient language of Rome. In Church texts Easter is Pascha, derived from the Hebrew Pasch or Passover. The Passover of the Lord is the saving event completed when Christ rose from the dead. In the languages derived from Latin this naming is followed, e.g. Pascua in Spanish. English, however, while it has many words from Latin is derived from Germanic roots, as is modern German. What is Ostern in German is Easter in English. Although the origins are obscure, it may be a reference to the daily resurrection of the Sun in the Ost or East, upon which our natural existence depends. Christ, Himself, is often thus called the Orient, since upon Him our resurrection from sin to grace depends, as well as our bodily resurrection at the end of history.

What is the Easter Octave?

This is the “eight-day” period from Easter Sunday through Divine Mercy Sunday. Each day in the octave is considered a solemnity, as if Easter is repeated for eight days.

Is Easter pagan?

No, it is not pagan in any way. Some people will argue that “Easter” is named after the goddess Ishtar or another pagan goddess. Easter, as used, in English-speaking Christian countries has always directly referred to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, and no other person or event.

Was Jesus truly resurrected from the dead?

Few events in history are as well documented as the Resurrection. We take for granted ancient events with one ancient reference, whereas all the writers of the New Testament attest to Christ’s death and resurrection. Most of them, and many others who witnessed His appearances before the Ascension, gave their lives as evidence of its truth. Since the first century many millions more who believed their testimony have followed their example. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 639) says, The mystery of Christ’s Resurrection is a real event, with manifestations that were historically verified, as the New Testament bears witness. In about A.D. 56 St. Paul could already write to the Corinthians: “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. . .” The Apostle speaks here of the living tradition of the Resurrection which he had learned after his conversion at the gates of Damascus.

Who saw Jesus after His Resurrection?

After His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, the “other Mary,” the apostles (except for Judas Iscariot), and the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. In 1 Corinthians 15:6, St. Paul says, “Then [Jesus] appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” St. Paul continues saying, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Corinthians 15:8). This indicated St. Paul’s encounter with the Lord (after the Ascension of Jesus), which prompted St. Paul’s immediate conversion to Christianity (see Acts 9:1-19).

Who was the other Mary at the tomb?

We think that this Mary was the mother of James and Joseph.

What was left in Jesus’ Tomb?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 640) teaches, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” The first element we encounter in the framework of the Easter events is the empty tomb. In itself it is not a direct proof of Resurrection; the absence of Christ's body from the tomb could be explained otherwise. Nonetheless the empty tomb was still an essential sign for all. Its discovery by the disciples was the first step toward recognizing the very fact of the Resurrection. This was the case, first with the holy women, and then with Peter. The disciple “whom Jesus loved” affirmed that when he entered the empty tomb and discovered "the linen cloths lying there”, “he saw and believed”. This suggests that he realized from the empty tomb’s condition that the absence of Jesus’ body could not have been of human doing and that Jesus had not simply returned to earthly life as had been the case with Lazarus.

“We are aware of darkness and sin, of poverty and pain. But we know Jesus has conquered sin and passed through his own pain to the glory of the Resurrection. And we live in the light of his Paschal Mystery – the mystery of his Death and Resurrection.” – Pope St. John Paul II