“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week…” (Mt 28:1). This is how the story of the manifestations of the Risen One on the day of Easter starts. That is why the Christians chose to celebrate their weekly feast, not on Saturday like the Jews, but on the following day which the Romans called “the day of the sun.” It was soon changed to the day of the Lord. They gathered “to break bread” (Acts 20:6-12) and to offer to the needy brethren what they were able to save throughout the week (1 Cor 16:2; 2 Cor 8:9).
The early Church did not celebrate Christmas day or feasts in honor of our Lady, or any other for that matter. There was only the weekly celebration of the Lord’s resurrection.
This went on for the first few decades of the Church. The Christians felt the need to celebrate the central event of their faith in a special way. So the first of the feasts, Easter, considered the Sunday of the Sundays, the Feast of Feasts, was born. It was like the queen of all feasts, of all Sundays, of all the days of the year.
By the start of the second century it was celebrated by all Christian communities. The celebration culminated in the night assembly of prayer which concluded with the Eucharistic celebration. The Christians attached importance to attendance at this feast. A famous Christian writer of the time, Tertullian, speaking of the difficulties that a Christian girl would encounter if she were to marry a pagan boy, says: “Will her husband allow her out the night of the Easter Vigil?
How did Lent begin?
To reap the spiritual fruits of Easter depends on how well this feast was prepared by Christians. They introduced the custom of observing two days of prayer, reflection and fast to express their sorrow for the death of Christ. They gradually prolonged the period of preparation: in the third century it became a week, then three weeks until on the fourth century it extended to forty days: Lent thus began. The Council of Nicea (325 A.D) speaks of the forty days as an institution known to all and spread everywhere.
The Easter feast must not only be prepared; there was a need to prolong its joy and spiritual wealth. The seven weeks, the 50 days of Pentecost were instituted and must be celebrated with great joy because—as Irenaeus put it, “they are like a single feast day and are as important as a Sunday.” During the Pentecost they prayed standing up. Fasting was forbidden and baptisms were performed. They would like the day of Easter to last…fifty days.