Many people think that Christmas is the most important day in the Catholic liturgical calendar, but from the earliest days of the Church, Easter has been considered the central Christian feast. As Saint Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14, "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain." Without Easter—without the Resurrection of Christ—there would be no Christian Faith. Christ's Resurrection is the proof of His Divinity.
Through the links in each of the sections below, you can learn more about the history and practice of Easter in the Catholic Church.
For the date of Easter 2013, see When Is Easter 2013?
Easter is not only the greatest Christian feast; it is the fulfillment of our faith as Christians. Through His Death, Christ destroyed our bondage to sin; through His Resurrection, He brought us the promise of new life, both in Heaven and on earth. His own prayer, "Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven," begins to be fulfilled on Easter Sunday.
That is why new converts are traditionally brought into the Church through the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion) at the Easter Vigil service, on Holy Saturday evening.
Many Christians think that the date of Easter depends on the date of Passover, and so they get confused in those years when Easter (calculated according to the Gregorian calendar) falls before Passover (calculated according to the Hebrew calendar, which does not correspond to the Gregorian one). While there is an historical connection—the first Holy Thursday was the day of the Passover feast—the Council of Nicaea (325), one of the seven ecumenical councils acknowledged by both Catholics and Orthodox Christians, established a formula for calculating the date of Easter independent of the Jewish calculation of Passover.
Most Catholics today receive Holy Communion each time they go to Mass, but that wasn't always the case. In fact, for a variety of reasons, many Catholics in the past very rarely received the Eucharist. Therefore, the Catholic Church made it a requirement for all Catholics to receive Communion at least once per year, during the Easter season. The Church also urges the faithful to receive the Sacrament of Confession in preparation for that Easter Communion, though you're only required to go to Confession if you have committed a mortal sin.
On Easter Sunday, in many Eastern Rite Catholic and Eastern Orthodox parishes, this homily by St. John Chrysostom is read. Saint John, one of the Eastern Doctors of the Church, was given the name "Chrysostom," which means "golden-mouthed," because of the beauty of his oratory. We can see some of that beauty on display, as Saint John explains to us how even those who waited until the very last hour to prepare for Christ's Resurrection on Easter Sunday should share in the feast.
The Easter Season
Just as Easter is the most important Christian holiday, so, too, the Easter season is the longest of the special liturgical seasons of the Church. It extends all the way to Pentecost Sunday, the 50th day after Easter, and encompasses such major feasts as Divine Mercy Sunday and Ascension.
In fact, Easter sends ripples out through the liturgical calendar even after the Easter season ends. Trinity Sunday and the feast of Corpus Christi, which both fall after Pentecost, are "moveable feasts," which means that their date in any given year depends on the date of Easter.