The custom of blessing food at Easter has been around for centuries, and across the United States many parishes are once again celebrating Resurrection Sunday with this rite. Lent is a time of fasting and discipline. Although in recent years the Catholic Church has relaxed the rules for Lenten abstinence and fasting, during the Middle Ages meat and dairy products were not allowed to be eaten. For this reason, people, from differing nationalities, celebrated the end of Lent and the return of their favorite foods by giving thanks to God and having their Easter food blessed by the Church.
For many families, it is important to continue this custom of having their Easter food blessed on Holy Saturday. They carefully assemble the food to be eaten Easter Sunday, cover it with a linen cloth, and present it to their priest to be blessed. They understand that after a season where we are offering up sacrifices to Jesus, trying hard to improve our bodies and minds, it is important the foods we break our fast with be blessed. Sitting around the table on Easter, and sharing the blessed bread, eggs, meats, sweets and other wonderful foods we give thanks to the Lord for the gift of new life. Jesus made Himself known to the Apostles after His Resurrection by breaking bread with them. Our families, by celebrating Easter with blessed food, are just doing the same.
Although the name given to these food baskets differ according to nationality, they all contain specific foods symbolizing God’s gifts to all:
- The Lamb, recalling our Paschal Lamb, Jesus Christ, is carved out of butter in many Slovak Easter baskets and given a place of honor on the Easter table. (In the middle Ages it was a lucky omen to meet a lamb. Superstition said the Devil, who could take the form of animals, is never allowed to appear as a lamb because of its religious symbolism)
- Easter eggs represent our new life in Jesus Christ. Many nationalities, such as the Ukrainians, spend hours during Lent decorating their “Pysanki’s”. (It was believed by many that for every “pisanki” (egg) made the chain that holds evil monsters below the Earth will be reinforced.)
- Horseradish and herbs: these recall the bitterness of Christ’s suffering
- Salt: Sign of hospitality in the Polish tradition and considered the herb of life
- Ham: in many cultures, this meat symbolizes good luck.
- Sausages and other meats are also blessed, symbolizing the sacrificial animals of the Old Testament, and foreshadowing the true sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross
- Wine: Fruit of the vine
- Special Easter breads symbolize the true Bread of Life.
We spend Lent preparing for Our Lord’s Resurrection and triumph over death. We ask for forgiveness for our sins during our Lenten Confession, and on Easter Sunday we receive Holy Communion. As you break-fast Easter Sunday morning, share the blessed food from your basket with family and friends, giving thanks to God for the gift of His Son, and with faith that the coming year will be filled with God’s blessings and goodness. This is a custom to be treasured and handed down to your children and grandchildren. As Sirah 10:6 states “do not reject the traditions of our elders, which they have learned from their fathers”. It is our time to be the teachers of tradition. Happy Easter!