Easter Duty

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

Older Catholics will certainly be familiar with the concept of “Easter duty,” a phrase that describes the obligation of Catholics to receive Holy Communion at least once a year, specifically during the Easter Season.

Easter duty seemed to have more relevance years ago when Catholics didn’t receive Holy Communion as often (or as casually) as they do today. The purpose was to maintain some minimal contact with the Church by receiving Holy Communion at least during Easter Season when the Church was celebrating its primary feast, the Resurrection of Christ. It was even a practice in some parishes that individuals making their Easter duty would present a kind of census card at the communion rail, a card that certified them as practicing Catholics for another year.

Although the sacramental practices in the Church have changed somewhat over the years, (for better or worse depending on your point of view) the fulfillment of Easter duty remains one of the primary precepts of the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “The third precept, (You shall humbly receive your Creator in Holy Communion at least once during the Easter season) guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feast, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy.” (#2042)

Now in thinking about the nature and history of Easter duty, it occurs to me that our belief in the Resurrection of Christ should lead us to the observance of other “Easter duties” as well.

For example, if we really believe that the Resurrection of Christ is the turning point of human history and an important force in our lives, don’t we have an Easter duty to joyfully and convincingly share our faith with others?

It was the reality of the Resurrection that transformed the Apostles from weak, timid and confused men into courageous and effective witnesses of Christ. The early chapters of The Acts of the Apostles are filled with stories of the Apostles’ fearless and joyful preaching. For example, Peter and John, facing certain persecution, testified: “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. But it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts, 4:19-20)

We too, emboldened by the reality of Christ’s Resurrection, should be inspired to share our Christian Faith with others and infuse the values of Christ into the world, transforming it into the Kingdom of God.

Another Easter duty we have is to live in peace and harmony with others.

It was no accident that in his post-resurrection appearances, Jesus invariably greeted his followers with, “Peace be with you.” It was important for the disciples to hear this message of peace, for their lives had been turned upside-down and inside-out by the betrayal, persecution, suffering and death of Jesus. They, too, would suffer persecution for their preaching but they were filled with peace, and that serene confidence became the hallmark of their mission.

If we believe in the Resurrection of Christ we should be people of peace. We should pray for peace in the world and establish peaceful and harmonious relationships with our family, friends, neighbors and co-workers.

Finally, we have an Easter duty to be messengers of hope to our weary world and troubled Church.

There were many problems in the world when the disciples set out to proclaim the Good News. And the early Church had little structure, few resources and many challenges. Nonetheless, the disciples completely believed in the goodness of their message and ultimate success of their mission. They remembered the words of Christ at the Last Supper: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (Jn 16:33); and also his final blessing at the Ascension: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20)

If we believe in the Resurrection of Christ we should be beacons of hope, not prophets of doom and gloom. We believe, as Pope John Paul wrote: “The power of Christ’s cross and Resurrection is greater than any evil which man could or should fear. We need, perhaps more than ever, the words of the Risen Christ, ‘Be not afraid’.”

You see, the Resurrection of Christ really should make a difference for us and it’s our “Easter duty” to make that difference known.

To the readers of The Providence Visitor and your families, I offer my best wishes and prayers for a blessed and joyous Easter Season. May the reality of Christ’s Resurrection lessen your burdens, brighten your days and strengthen your faith.

(This article was previously published in “The Catholic Exponent and The Providence Visitor.”)