Every year, in her liturgy, the Church renews the memory of the events of our Redeemer's life, and calls us to take our part in them. At Easter, she keeps the anniversary of the triumph of Christ, the Vanquisher of death. In the words of Bossuet, this is the central event of the whole of history, towards which all things in our Lord's life converged. It is the culminating point of the Church's life in her liturgical cycle.
"As the memorial of our Lord's passion and resurrection (cf. the Canon of the Mass), the Mass has been like the grain of mustard seed from which has sprung the whole liturgy of the Church." (Abbot Cabrol, Liturgical Prayer.) Since Christ rose from the dead, on a Sunday, the day took the place of the sabbath as that on which this Christian sacrifice was officially celebrated. Consequently the anniversary of the resurrection was observed on the Sunday which followed the Jewish Passover. We prepare for this great feast by Lent, we prolong it throughout Paschaltide, and we reap its fruits in the time after Pentecost. From the Easter Cycle springs that of Christmas for the 25th of December corresponds to the 25th of March. So we see that the week itself, the Christian year, and the whole system of Catholic worship revolves round the Easter mystery.
Our Redeemer's Resurrection is at once the most glorious event in His whole earthly course, the most striking proof of His divinity, and the foundation of our whole Faith. "If Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain." (1 Cor. 15:14.) "Buried with Him in baptism, in whom also you are risen again by the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him up from the dead." (Colossians 2:12.)
For the Pasch of Christ, that is His passage from death to life and from earth to heaven, finally sealed the victory which He had gained over the devil, the world and the flesh. It was for this that the Word became
Incarnate, suffered and died. By legal title, so to speak, we rose with Him, but actually the power of this holy mystery is at work in the faithful through their whole life and more especially at Easter, to make them pass from sin to grace and later on from grace to glory. "God hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 15:57; Colossians 3:1-2.) "God ... hath raised us up together and hath made us sit together in the heavenly places through Christ Jesus." (Ephesians 2:6.)
The Roman Martyrology proclaims that "the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh, is the Feast of Feasts and our Pasch". This formula is the fitting counterpart of that in which, at Christmas, the birth of our Lord is announced, for the Christmas cycle, although first in order of time is secondary to the Easter cycle in order of thought. For if God became man (Christmas) it was to make us gods (Easter). At the Incarnation it was our Lord's soul which, enjoying yet the beatific vision, was born to the divine life, while at the Resurrection it was His body which entered into the glory of God. Just as at Christmas it was necessary for us to be born with Christ to His new life, so at Easter our souls must follow Him in the glorious life which He is beginning.
Further, Easter Week was the Feast of the Baptized, when the Church concentrating all her maternal care upon those whom St. Paul calls "her new-born babes", strengthened them by giving them for seven days, together with the Holy Eucharist8, instructions bearing upon the resurrection, the model of our supernatural life. " If you be risen with Christ," says St. Paul, "seek the things that are above ... not the things that are upon the earth. Mortify ... your members which are upon the earth; ... stripping yourselves of the old man with his deeds and putting on the new." St. Augustine comments: " When you put off the white garment of the baptismal ceremony, keep its whiteness always in your heart."
Paschaltide bears the character of a time of renewal. Corresponding to the Forty Days after our Lord's resurrection during which He built up His Church, it reminds us more especially of the infant Church herself; which is the reason why at this time, the Acts of the Apostles are read in the Breviary and in the Epistles at Holy Mass.
The cycle of the Incarnation, in which we adore the Son of God made man, and that of the Redemption in which, by His immolation of Himself He merited grace for us, are complementary to each other. Septuagesima, Lent and Passiontide are seasons of struggle and victory. Paschaltide honours the divine life which penetrates and transfigures the humanity of Christ in His Resurrection and Ascension. Pentecost shows us the Holy Ghost who feeds our souls with this same divine life, and prepares us for the resurrection to come, when it will be revealed in our bodies. In former times, every one received the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist on Easter Day or at Pentecost, and in that way all were reminded every year of the twofold anniversary of the triumph of Christ and of His mystical Body, the Church.
Just as the Lenten liturgy was specially adapted to encourage the reception of the Sacraments of the dead, so that of Easter included the partaking of those of the living. As late as the 12th century in all Western cathedrals, young children after having been baptized on Saturday night immediately received Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist, the pledge of a future life (O sacrum convivium), for did not our Lord say: "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life, and I will raise him up in the last day."(St. John 6
Every year the Easter Cycle calls up the memory of our Baptism, our First Communion and our Confirmation and ought to penetrate us more and more with this new life whose full growth will be accomplished at our Lord's second coming. Paschaltide is a reflection of heaven; and the Church, who at Passiontide wept over our Lord and over sinners, has now a double reason for rejoicing, for Christ is risen, and to herself many children are born.
This Easter joy is a foretaste of our own resurrection and of our entry into the heavenly country where the Master is gone to prepare a place, and whither the Holy Ghost, whom He has sent to us, will lead us.