You Need to Know about This Easter Requirement
As Holy Week approaches, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as Lenten practices become a steady spiritual rhythm for Catholics and Catechumens preparing for the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. With Easter just around the corner, the Catholic obligation related to Easter—one’s Easter Duty—again rises up over the horizon.
The Easter Duty has a long history whose underlying basis is in Scripture (see 1 Cor 11:27-32 and Mat 5:21-26) and whose obligations have been set forth in Ecumenical Councils; the Code of Canon Law; the Precepts of the Church and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Easter Duty obligations are part of the Church’s teaching authority which is binding on the faithful, recognizing that some adjustments have been made over time related to the Easter Duty’s disciplinary practices for pastoral reasons.
What is the Easter Duty?
In 1215, for example, Easter Duty obligations were set forth in the Fourth Lateran (ecumenical) Council which stated: “Every faithful of either sex who has reached the age of discretion [about age 7 years] should at least once a year faithfully confess all his sins in secret to his own priest. He should strive as far as possible to fulfill the penance imposed on him, and with reverence receive at least during the Easter Time the sacrament of the Eucharist” (Fr. William P. Saunders).
With the updated 1983 Code of Canon Law (which sets down the rules for administering and governing the Western Church), the Easter Duty for Catholics currently is stated as an “obligation for the faithful who are already initiated (that is already baptized Catholics) to receive the Sacraments of Penance and Eucharist during the Easter Season. In the United States, this has been defined to include the days between the First Sunday of Lent and Trinity Sunday.” It should be noted that a parish “penance service does not satisfy the requirement for sacramental confession (CanonLaw.Info, Dr. Edward Peters). Also, Trinity Sunday is technically outside the Easter Season, but the Church has made an extension beyond the Easter Season in order to pastorally assist the faithful.
Applying the above to this Liturgical Year 2018, then, one would fulfill one’s Easter Duty between February 18, 2018 (1st Sunday of Lent) and Trinity Sunday (the first Sunday after Pentecost), celebrated on May 27, 2018. The Church no longer requires that one’s Easter Duty be fulfilled in one’s home parish. Additionally, reception of the Eucharist can take place within or outside of Mass (Peters).
While the above is the general rule, an exception exists (once again to pastorally assist the faithful): The Church accepts that the Easter Duty may be fulfilled at another time during the year. For a “just cause," you may receive Holy Communion at another time during the year, provided that you are in the state of grace/have confessed mortal sins before receiving Holy Communion. The obligation to “go to confession is related in the sense that, in order to receive Holy Communion, one might need to go to confession first in order to be in the state of grace.”
The Precepts of the Catholic Church
The Precepts of the Catholic Church lay out the bare minimum obligations required by Catholics regarding the Church and are derived from “Catholicism’s moral and doctrinal foundations . . .” (Peters) and are “nourished by liturgical life." The Precepts of the Church “seek to integrate the sacramental and moral teachings, and provide a basic paradigm to help a person grow in love of God and neighbor” (Saunders).
There are five precepts and all of these are presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church whose purpose is to inform and teach Catholics. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The second precept 'You shall confess your sins at least once a year' ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism's work of conversion and forgiveness. The third precept 'You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season' guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord's Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy."
The Purpose of the Easter Duty
From the above it can be concluded that fulfilling the Easter Duty lays out the bare minimum for participation in the sacramental life of the Church. Receiving Holy Communion in the state of grace every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation and frequenting the Sacrament of Confession should be the norm for Catholics. The Church supports the sacramental life of those who may have a scrupulous fear of unworthiness to receive Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist and of those in mortal or serious sin whose laxity is leading them away from the sacraments. To once a year go to sacramental confession and receive Holy Communion at Easter Season (or some other time if need be) is to recognize the Church’s role in helping us gain our salvation.
The Church wisely employs a minimum obligation—the Easter Duty— as a merciful means to help the faithful to stay on their sacramental path toward resurrection in Christ. The Church also recommends “for the Christian faithful that venial sins also be confessed” (Canon Law No. 988.2). As Fr. Saunders said, “Regular confession is the recipe for sainthood and all of the saints of our Church not only knew it, but advocated it.” Let this serve as a timely reminder to all the faithful this Lent to go to confession and “receive the abundant graces of Our Lord who suffered, died and rose for our salvation” so that we can receive Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist with Easter joy being “without the least venial sin to impair [our] relationship.”