Easter Sunday is the chief of all Christian festivals. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that brought Christianity to life. Easter is the greatest feast on the Christian calendar. It comes forty days after Lent would have begun and continues for fifty days, nearly two months!
That is how much time is put to celebrate the glorious resurrection.
Jesus rose from the dead, as He had predicted to His disciples, three days after He was killed. Early Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene and some other women, upon their arrival at Jesus’ tomb, saw that the stone had been rolled away and that the tomb was empty. Immediately, they ran to inform the other disciples. Later that evening, Jesus met with them.
Easter actually begins on the night before Easter Sunday, Holy Saturday night. On Holy Saturday night, many Christians attend church services. They keep vigil until it is close to midnight, to joyfully welcome the new day, Easter day.
During the vigil, Christians, especially those of the Catholic and Anglican traditions light the new fire, from which the Easter Candle or Paschal Candle would receive its light. The Paschal Candle is a very large candle, with several markings.
There is a cross, the inscription of the current year (for this year it will have 2011), meaning that Christ is present here and now. The candle will also have the Greek letters, Alpha and Omega, representing Christ. Sometimes, five grains of incense, symbolizing the five wounds of Christ, are pressed into the arms and center of the cross with pins or small nails.
Churches are completely dark during the vigil on Holy Saturday night and the congregation light their own candles from the Paschal Candle. The service of Light takes place and the people listen to nine scripture readings telling of the salvation history of Man, from Genesis to Revelation.
By the time all of the nine readings are finished, it would be some time close to the midnight hour and then the church switches gear, from the observances of Lent to the celebration at Easter.
The lights come on and the bells start to ring. The Gloria in Excelsis Deo is sung while this is happening; signaling the joy and celebratory mood of the people, signaling it is now officially Easter day.
Father Joseph Dias, SJ said that Easter is a very old celebration by Christians and without the resurrection, there might have been no Christianity. “From the earliest times Christians have been celebrating the Paschal Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. This is the central mystery of the Christian faith and the foundation of Christianity. Without it there would be no Christianity.
Easter Vigil is a celebration of the great mystery of the Resurrection. It is the greatest feast in the liturgical year. It was the first feast to be celebrated by Christians from the very beginning. Every Sunday is meant to be a celebration of Easter Sunday.
The Roman historians have recorded that Christians used to meet secretly every Sunday for the ‘breaking of the bread’. Those who were preparing for baptism were baptised (into the death and resurrection of the Lord, as Paul says in Romans) at the Easter Vigil. Sinners too were reconciled by the bishop and forgiven their sins so that they could participate in the Eucharist.
New converts are initiated and baptised into the Church during Easter as well. Whether they are from other religious backgrounds, Christian denominations or Atheists, new Catholics are baptised and receive their first Holy Communion at the Easter Mass on Holy Saturday night.
Easter also symbolizes newness and freshness. The church receives new members and fresh flowers are part of the décor at Easter time.
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