Origins of Easter
Easter is the most important festival in the Christian church and celebrates the Resurrection of Christ. Easter is preceded by the 40 days of Lent, which is a period of fasting and prayer and begins on Ash Wednesday. Many people give up something that they enjoy or is important to them for Lent as a form of penance. The last week of Lent is called “Holy Week” which starts with Palm Sunday and includes Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Holy week is a time for prayer and reflection before the happy days of the Easter weekend when celebrations are held. Eastertide lasts for fifty days and the season ends on Pentecost Sunday. Easter is a moveable feast and varies between 22nd March and 25th April, in the Eastern churches they use the Julian calendar and their dates for this feast varies between 1st April and 5th May. Easter is also linked to the Jewish Passover because of its position on the calendar. Attending early morning services is very much a part of Easter Sunday, as are the decorated eggs which are a symbol of the rock rolling away from the tomb to reveal that Christ had risen and was no longer in the tomb.
Maundy Thursday is the fifth day of Holy Week and celebrates the day of the Last Supper of Christ and the Apostles. The Last Supper was held on the feast of Passover. In the Western churches this is the day on which the Chism Mass is celebrated and during which the Holy Oils are blessed by the Bishop. The Holy Oils are the Chism, Oil of the sick and Oil of catechumens. During the mass there is ‘The washing of the feet’, this is done in rememberence of Christ washing the feet of the Apostles. At the end of the mass the altars are all stripped bare, except for the main altar which will contain the Blessed Sacrament, and this is in preparation for the somber Good Friday service. In the Eastern churches this day is known as Great Thursday, services held this day are celebrated with brighter colours han those during Lent, this will often be bright red. During the service held on Great Thursday, the ‘Gospel of the Testement’ is read, it is the first Passion Gospel (John 184.108.40.206). The altar will be covered in a plain white cloth to symbolise the Last Supper. The Holy Oils will be blessed and the ceremony of the washing of the feet will be held in monasteries and cathedrals. In the evening all the vestments and hangings in the church will be changed to black or the purple of Lent in coming for the Passion of Christ which begins on Good Friday. In the UK the monarch gives out Maundy Money, this tradition dates back to the reign of King Edward I. The money is distributed in red and white purses and contains pennies for each year of the monarch’s reign and are given to one man and one woman for each year of the monarchs reign. In most countries the bells which ring out from the churches will fall silent after the service on this day until Holy Saturday
Good Friday follows Maundy Thursday and is the day Christians commemorate the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This is a day of fasting and abstainance. Fasting normally meaning only one small meal and abstaining from eating of meat. Good Friday services are normally held around three O’clock in the afternoon, which is believed to be the time of the crucifixion on Calvary. There are no masses held between Maundy Thursday and the Easter vigil, the service on Good Friday is the Passion of Our Lord. The altars are bare, statues are covered and adornments removed, vestments are red or black, the whole air of this service is sombre. There are also processions of the Way of the Cross held in many towns and cities around the world on this day, the most famous being that in Rome at which the Pope is present and finishes at the Colosseum