From a faithful reader:
Since Easter is the celebration of the Crucifixion & Resurrection of Christ which took place during Passover why do we not celebrate it at the same time as the celebration of Passover? When did the change take place and why?
First, a bit of background. The feast of Passover, in the Jewish calendar, is on a fixed date, the 14 day of the month of Nisan. Just as Christmas can fall on any day of the week, so can Passover.
That being said, the timing of the Passover that was connected to the death and resurrection of Christ meant that Jesus died on a Friday, that the Passover also fell on a sabbath, and that Jesus rose on a Sunday.
We therefore have a double meaning regarding the timing of the pascal mystery: it is connected to Passover, but it is also connected to the sabbath. Since the Passover does not always fall on a sabbath, however, the early church was faced with having to decide how to celebrate Easter and respect this double meaning.
Some Christians, known as Quartodecimans (meaning “14th-day-ers”), celebrated Easter on 14 Nisan, i.e. along with Passover. The early tradition in Rome, however, was to celebrate Easter on the Sunday following Passover; unlike the quartodeciman tradition, it therefore preserved (as best as possible) the double meaning.
Why is Sunday so important? It has to do with the meaning of the resurrection itself. Sunday is the first day of the week, but spiritually it is also the “eighth day” of creation itself! The Bible depicts the earth as having been created in 6 days, with God resting on the 7th. Humans (i.e. Adam and Eve) were created on the 6th day — but Christ, the new Adam, was killed on the 6th day (a Friday). God rested on the 7th day, just as Christ rested in the tomb on the 7th day. Yet on Sunday, the day after, Christ rose from the dead in a new and glorified body — it is a new state of being, a new form of existence that the universe has never seen before! In the resurrection, God has done a new thing, and every Sunday ever after is his pledge to make “all things new”.
There is, therefore, a powerful spiritual connection between day of Sunday and the resurrection of Christ. The “quartodeciman controversy” threatened to divide the Church at one point, until the very first ecumenical council settled the matter in favour of the Sunday tradition.
For more on the spirituality of Sunday, I recommend the Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, entitled Dies Domini.
A friend writes:
I have a question that I hope you can answer for me or maybe give me some direction on. How do you keep focused when praying. I know this may sound odd, but I often experience my mind drifting from one thought to another while saying my nightly prayers. The harder I try to keep what I’m saying front and centre the more distracted I become.
Your question about distractions during prayer is very old. Many saints faced such issues, and a lot of wisdom has been passed down through the ages about this.
The first major piece of wisdom the saints have shared with us is that, in general, we should not pay too much attention to distractions – otherwise, the fact of distractions becomes the distraction itself! Distractions represent some of the basic flotsam and jetsam of our minds. Only those who have passed completely through the Dark Night of the Soul are truly free from them. So, in the meantime, we just need to deal with them while accepting that they will likely be present for most of our spiritual life.
Having a written text helps deal with distractions. Reading written texts are our way to speak to God, or writing down our thoughts in a spiritual journal, are great helps in this, because as the distraction comes it is easy to come back to the original thread once the distraction passes, rather than having to go searching for it again.
The strength of distractions are greatly depends on our current interior state. For example, when we are tired they tend to increase. They also tend to be stronger in the evening than in the morning – that is partly why monks do most of their meditation in the morning, as they don’t have a day’s worth of issues to process while trying to pray.
Finally, while distractions should generally be ignored, there are two exceptions to this rule:
- When a specific distraction repeats itself. This kind of distraction usually represents some sort of “worldly attachment” that, if broken, will set free our spiritual life even more. That being said, this kind should normally be brought to a spiritual director, as the root issue behind the distraction is not always obvious.
- When a specific distraction activates our conscience. This can be because the distraction tempts our mind to dwell on some sort of sin (dreams of revenge, for example, or impure thoughts, or temptations to self-pity, etc.). It can also be because God is actually speaking to us in a more direct way, such that we *can’t* just push ignore the thought – the distraction is not simply a distraction, it is a direct communication from God.
In the case of sinful distractions, the best route is to begin to pray rote prayers (such as a decade of the rosary), so that the distraction can’t get a “foothold” in our mind. In the case of the “communication from God” distractions, my advice is to journal about it. Keep a journal book handy, just in case such moments come, and write these things down. Then, when the moment passes, go back to the usual prayers, and bring the written notes to your spiritual director.
Recently, I discovered a clip from the television show, E.R. It showed a man facing the end of life with the burden of a perceived sin causing him great anxiety. He shares his distress with a so called spiritual councilor who cannot respond to his need for absolution, He states at one point “I need a real chaplain, who believes in a real God and a real hell.” What he wants is objective religious truth, what he was getting was subjective feel good new-age. Very intelligent script for a TV show. Here’s the clip from: ER