THE HOLY EASTER
On Sunday 21 April 2019, Holy Easter will be celebrated, the most important festival of the liturgical year, whose meaning is expressed in the words of the angel who spoke to the women in front of the tomb: “Fear not ye; for I know that ye seek Jesus, who hath been crucified. He is not here; for he is risen”.
The festival is linked to the date of the full moon and to the Jewish Passover, Pesach, the liberation from slavery in Egypt, when Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea and the Israeli people fled from a regime of oppression and violence, that culminated under the reign of the Pharaoh (probably Ramses II who reigned from 1279 to 1213 B.C.).
Since then the Israelites commemorate that event with a ritual dinner, awaiting final liberation: the advent of the Messiah, leaving an empty chair for the prophet Elijah who will come to announce his arrival.
An ancient Easter homily, Melito of Sardis, explains the parallel with Pesach: Christ "is he who led us from slavery to freedom, from darkness to the light, from death to life".
The Holy Week
Easter is preceded by a week of rites that evoke the passion and death of Christ: Easter is also linked to the Greek verb páschein: to suffer.
On Palm Sunday the faithful carry palm and olive branches in a procession, and during Mass the Passion of Christ is read.
On Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, the Last Supper is remembered (institution of the Eucharist) while the Washing of the Feet concretizes the commandment of love left by Jesus.
Pope Francis particularly impressed international public opinion for having washed and kissed the feet of prisoners, refugees and elderly people in shelters.
On Good Friday penance is performed (abstinence and fasting), and a Cross is prepared for the worship of the faithful.
The Vigil and the three nights
On the evening of Holy Saturday, the day on which no weddings can be celebrated, preparation is performed with prayer for the night vigil, that includes baptisms, readings and songs, and that ends at dawn on Sunday.
The vigil begins with darkness - broken by the entry into the church of the Paschal candle, symbol of divine light - which celebrates the three fundamental nights of the history of Salvation: the night of the Creation, in which the Lord created the light from darkness, the night of the crossing of the Red Sea, which is a strong symbol also for the Christians who every year read that passage of the Exodus in their vigil, and the night of the Resurrection.
Easter 2019 and the celebrations presided over by Pope Francis
These are the dates and times of the celebrations presided over by the Pope: Palm Sunday at 10.00 in Piazza San Pietro; Holy Thursday at 9.30am in St. Peter's; Good Friday at 5.00 pm the Adoration of the Cross in St. Peter's, while at 9.15 pm the "Via Crucis" will be held at the Colosseum, lit by torches. Every year it is crowded with the faithful and tourists who do not want to miss this show of overwhelming beauty.
Holy Saturday at 8.30pm the Vigil in St. Peter's, and Sunday 21st the Easter Mass at 10.00am in St. Peter's Square. At the end the "Urbi et Orbi" blessing will be given, with the granting of indulgence for all those present
Tickets for these ceremonies are free but necessary (info at http://www.vatican.va/various/prefettura/index_it.html) and must be booked in advance. Tickets are not needed for the Via Crucis at the Colosseum and the Sunday Blessing at 12.00.
Easter in Art
Every single moment of Christ's life has been portrayed in the history of art. For the Catholic Church, images have always been a fundamental part of the teaching of doctrine. For centuries, the greatest artists and the most humble artisans have worked so that the people, who did not understand Latin, could use their sense of sight to nourish their faith, thanks to the images.
We invite you to the Vatican to discover the Easter images, from the Roman sarcophagi to Chagall and Dalì, passing through Caravaggio, Il Ghirlandaio (the master of Michelangelo) in the Sistine Chapel, Van Gogh and Pinturicchio in the Borgia Apartment.