Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Rise of English Catholicism

Our Lady of Walsingham
A Popular English Catholic Devotion Commemorating an Apparition of the Virgin Mary in England

In the April 12, 2017 edition of the National Catholic Register (EWTN's official newspaper), Peter Jesserer Smith published an outstanding article outlining the inside story on the creation of the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans. He writes...
Benedict XVI gave a tremendous gift to the English-speaking world in 2009, when he finally realized a dream centuries in the making, and established a permanent canonical home for groups from the Anglican tradition seeking to enter the Catholic Church with the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus
Today, the Catholic Church has three Personal Ordinariates — informally known as the “Anglican Ordinariates” — that preserve the Anglican patrimony in their Catholic parishes, communities, and religious orders. These Personal Ordinariates have the only English form of the Roman Missal, promulgated by Pope Francis, called Divine Worship — an actual English form, not an English translation of the Latin Mass — written in traditional, poetic “Prayer Book” English. Each Personal Ordinariate covers a region of the globe (Oceania, the United Kingdom, and North America) and is headed by a bishop or ordinary who falls directly under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 
Read the full article here.
Smith makes a very important observation. What we effectively have here is a whole new form of the Roman Rite, that really isn't that new at all. In fact, it's very old, and when I say old, I mean ancient. You see, much of Divine Worship is based on the old Sarum Use, used in England prior to the Reformation. Yes, that's right, I'm talking about a Use or Form of the Roman Rite which is actually older than the Tridentine mass. Now granted, the old Sarum Use was said in Latin not English, and Divine Worship is not an exact replica. It is different, but it has many common points of reference, just as it has common points of reference with the Trindentine mass. It is its own thing. Those looking for an exact English translation of the Latin Tridentine mass will be disappointed. Those looking for another modern vernacular of the Novus Ordo mass will be disappointed. It is none of these things. It is rather something entirely different, and it's based on many elements from the old Sarum Use as preserved through the centuries in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

What's it like? Well, let me tell you. It's very traditional by contemporary Catholic standards. Mass is commonly celebrated with the priest facing the altar together with the congregation (ad orientem). Communion is typically served on the tongue while kneeling. Sometimes the method of intinction is used, where the priest dips the host into the precious blood before placing it on the communicant's tongue. The gospel reading is done in the centre aisle amongst the congregation. The prayers are a little different. The responses are a little different. Most importantly, all of it (prayers and responses) are done in Sacred English (thee, thou, thy, etc.)

Divine Worship Mass - Celebrated by Bishop Lopes - Oct. 23rd, 2016

This is now an official form of the Roman Rite, on par with other forms, such as the Tridentine and Novus Ordo, commonly called the Extraordinary and Ordinary forms of the Roman Rite. Thus Divine Worship is a third form, which is distinctively English. Whereas the vernacular translation of the Novus Ordo mass is just that -- a translation of a Latin text -- in contrast Divine Worship is a Vatican approved English text in and of itself. Smith continues...
The CDF’s guarantee means the faithful of the Church, from now until Christ returns in glory, understand that the Anglican patrimony (and what in the Ordinariate is a truly restored English Catholic heritage that runs through the Anglican tradition all the way back to St. Augustine at Kent) is not just a treasure for the Personal Ordinariate, but is a treasure that belongs to “the whole Church.” 
Read the full article here.
As is pointed out here, what we have embodied in the Ordinariates and Divine Worship is the authentic Anglican Patrimony as restored English Catholicism, as it has developed from the time of St. Augustine of Canterbury until now. It is, in a very real sense, the heritage of every English-speaking Catholic in the world. This may sound strange to some, but its not so foreign when we consider how much the Anglican Patrimony already plays into Catholicism in the English-speaking world, even outside the Ordinariates. For example; when we pray the Lord's Prayer during the vernacular English Novus Ordo mass, this is how it's commonly said or chanted...

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. 

Take note of the Sacred English words "art" and "thy." It's exactly the same in Divine Worship. How very interesting that Rome saw fit to translate the Lord's Prayer into Sacred English, even in the 1970s vernacular translation that uses Common English (or "modern" English). I mean, think about it. The words "art" and "thy" appear nowhere else in the English vernacular Novus Ordo mass. They only appear in this prayer, and that's because it's an appeal to our linguistic history and heritage -- our Anglican Patrimony. English-speaking Catholics have been using Sacred English for this prayer, straight out of the Anglican prayerbooks, officially in the mass, ever since the vernacular English translation was commissioned in the 1970s.

However, it's been going on a lot longer than that -- unofficially. Pick up just about any copy of the Daily Roman Missal 1962 and what you'll find is the old Tridentine mass officially in Latin on one side of the page, translated unofficially into Sacred English (not Common English) on the other side of the page. For decades prior to the Novus Ordo mass, English-speaking (Anglophone) Catholics learnt the "Our Father," "Hail Mary," and "Glory Be," and scores of other prayers in Sacred English. The same is true of the first English translations of the Catholic Bible. I'm speaking specifically of the Douay-Rheims Bible, which is entirely in Sacred English, just like the Anglican King James Version. In fact all English Bibles, produced in previous centuries, used some variation of Sacred English, commonly found in Anglican prayer books, because that was THE standard for all English religious text. Every English-speaker knows this deep down inside. Sacred English is the language of poetry, music and theatre. It always has been. It is our most treasured vernacular, because it represents the highest and most precise diction the language has to offer. We offer God only our best, and that is why it's called Sacred English, or as the Anglicans sometimes say "Prayerbook English." (Read more about Sacred English Here.) We can see, however, by the abundance of Sacred English used in unofficial liturgical translations, Scripture and prayers, prior to 1970, that the Catholic Church has already been in the business of preserving some aspects of the Anglican Patrimony for a very long time. Perhaps there has always been a recognition by Rome that there is something there. There is something about Sacred English, as exemplified by the Anglican Patrimony, that is worth preserving, and so Anglophone Catholics have been preserving some aspect of it all along.

With the creation of the Novus Ordo liturgy in 1970, it was only natural for Rome to translate it into the most common and popular vernacular. That is, after all, the primary purpose of the Novus Ordo translations, to bring the liturgy of the mass into the common tongue. Thus it was translated into Common English (or what many mistakenly refer to as "modern English"). Yet even then, a nod to the Anglican Patrimony was given with the Sacred English translation of the "Our Father." Every single English-speaking Catholic gives that same nod when the "Our Father" is recited (or chanted) during mass. And this is where Smith's article hits a home run...
But rather importantly, as the bishop pointed out, the CDF stands as the guarantee that the liturgical traditions of the Personal Ordinariates are fully Catholic in every sense of the word. No one can say otherwise, or tell lifelong Catholics that the spiritual patrimony of the Personal Ordinariates is not for them, because the CDF stands behind it. Any Catholic who wishes to adopt this spiritual patrimony knows its Catholicity comes guaranteed by Rome. 
Read the full article here.
Did you catch that? "Any Catholic who wishes to adopt this spiritual patrimony knows its Catholicity comes guaranteed by Rome." Pause and let that sink in.

Any Catholic may adopt this spiritual patrimony -- ANY Catholic. Stop. Let that sink in.

"No one can say otherwise, or tell lifelong Catholics that the spiritual patrimony of the Personal Ordinariates is not for them."

ANY Catholic may adopt the spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony as guaranteed by Rome. Presumably, it would be mostly English-speaking (Anglophone) Catholics who would be most drawn to it, but by no means is it just limited to them. ANY CATHOLIC may adopt the spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony -- any Catholic.

Are you Catholic? If yes, you may adopt the spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony as guaranteed by Rome. That's the only prerequisite. Are you Catholic? If the answer is yes, you qualify to adopt the Anglican Patrimony as your own personal spirituality.

Now, to be clear, that does not mean any Catholic qualifies to become a member of the Ordinariates. Membership in the ordinariates is a different matter of episcopal jurisdiction, governed by specific rules set down in Anglicanorum Coetibus, decrees from the pope, and the oversight of the Vatican CDF. So membership in the Ordinariate is a different matter. One must qualify, and to learn what those qualifications are, one must take a look at the rules here.

Still, one does not need to be a member of a certain episcopal jurisdiction (the Ordinariate) in order to personally adopt the authentic Catholic spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony. ANY Catholic may adopt the spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony, and do the following, regardless of Ordinariate membership...
  1. Pray using Sacred English (thee, thou, thy, etc.)
  2. Use prayer books and devotionals derived from the Anglican Patrimony.
  3. Pray the Daily Office (see here).
  4. Fellowship with Ordinariate Catholics.
  5. Join the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society.
  6. Join an Ordinariate parish (find one here, here or here)
Yes, Ordinariate parish membership is open even to non-Ordinariate members. In other words, it is possible (even fairly common in some places) for Roman Catholics, who do not qualify for Ordinariate membership, to nevertheless adopt the total spirituality of the Anglican Patrimony, even to the point of joining an Ordinariate parish. It happens all the time.

Regardless of whatever continent you're on, membership in the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society (ACS) is open to EVERYONE, and this makes a very suitable alternative for Roman Catholics who love the Anglican Patrimony, but for whatever reason, do not qualify to be part of an Ordinariate jurisdiction. It connects Catholics to the life of the Anglican Patrimony on all three continents by way of a public blog, an ongoing journal, as well as access to occasional events and special materials. The ACS has more exciting things on the way. So whether you're a member of one of the three ordinariates, or even if you don't qualify to be a member, consider membership in the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society (ACS),

You see, up until now, the type of Catholicism we have seen in North America is heavily influenced by Irish, Italian and Latino immigrants. There is a small French influence as well, but that's mostly limited to Canada. In the U.K., Catholicism has been heavily influence by the Irish. All this is well and good, and I would never dream to knock any of these fine traditions. They are lovely in themselves. In fact, I have a particular fondness toward Latino Catholicism, having been surrounded by it as a child in Southern California. However, there has been something big missing in the English-speaking (Anglophone) world for a long time. It's sort of like a great big hole in the Anglophone world. It's something that once was, but has been gone for a very long time.

What we have now in the restored Anglican Patrimony, guaranteed by Rome, is the rebirth of something very old -- English Catholicism. It seems new because we haven't seen it in a very long time. In fact, it hasn't existed in a unified state since the 16th century. It has, up until now, existed only in a fractured state, between High Church Anglicanism and Recusant English Roman Catholicism. So there is nobody alive today who remembers it in a singular unified state, as exists now in the restored Anglican Patrimony embodied in Divine Worship. Nevertheless, Rome has guaranteed it, and former Anglicans (now Catholics) attest to it as well. What we have here is a form of Catholic spirituality that is specifically geared toward English-speaking (Anglophone) people, which should be especially appealing to those living in North America, the U.K., and Oceania. Obviously, this form of spirituality is not for everyone, but if you're an English-speaking Catholic, at least take some time to learn your spiritual history and heritage. Rediscover English Catholicism!

*** Edits in grey, made for clarity. Hat tip to Mark C. in comment below.

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

A Catholic Guide
to the Last Days
for Protestants

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Benedict Option for Catholics

Mont Saint-Michel, French Atlantic Coast

There has been a lot of talk about the best-selling book: The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. Catholic Answers Focus recently did an interview with the author, Rod Dreher, which you can listen to the podcast here. It's really quite good, and it's really NOT what a lot of people think it is.

Admittedly, when I first head of the Benedict Option, I was a sceptic. I still am a sceptic of the popular interpretation of it. However, after listening to Dreher on Catholic Answers, my opinion has changed a bit.

What if I were to tell you the following...
  1. Contrary to popular opinion, we are NOT living through the Last Days of humanity. The coming of Antichrist is still likely centuries away. Everyone reading this will likely live to a ripe, old age (Lord willing), as will their children and grandchildren. So we need to start dealing with that reality again. Radical apocalypticism has only contributed to the problems of our Western civilisation, by causing Christians to mentally retreat from everything, in order to prepare for "The End."  
  2. The current spiritual/moral malaise the West is going through right now is NOT a passing storm. It's here to stay.
  3. We have entered a post-Christian world, and this is our new reality.
  4. We are NEVER going back to 1950s Catholicism, nor are we going back to 1940s Catholicism, nor 1930s, nor 1900, nor 1870, nor 1850, etc. We're not going back to any of that -- ever -- those days are over. It is done.
  5. Mainstream Protestantism is dying in the West, and will continue to die.
  6. Evangelical Protestantism is not far behind, and is in fact heading toward a total implosion that will eventually see its demise even quicker than Mainstream Protestantism.
  7. Eastern Orthodoxy is struggling, experiencing only short bursts of growth for brief periods of time, followed by periods of stagnation and biological attrition. 
  8. The mainstream Catholic Church is sinking as well, but at a slower rate. It is only now just beginning to experience the vocation and financial crisis that lay ahead. In the decades to come, dioceses all across Europe and the Americas will be downsizing! Catholic parishes and schools will gradually be sold off, as will diocesan-owned properties and assets. Parishes will be merged, downsized, and merged again. The main strategy of this current generation of bishops is now "managed decline."
  9. The mainstream religious orientation of tomorrow's generation in the West will be Secular and Islamic: more Islamic in Europe, and more Secular in the Americas. Christianity will gradually become a minority religion in these areas.
  10. This reality will manifest over the next generation. It cannot be stopped, and will not be reversed outside of a miraculous intervention from God himself.
  11. That intervention will likely come, eventually, because God is faithful, but when it does, the world is NOT going to automatically become Catholic again. That's not how it works. It's never worked that way in the past, and it won't work that way in the future. Rather, it will need to be re-evangelised, and this will take generations of solid faith and sacrificial commitment.
  12. The Western Catholic Church of today is unprepared to accept this challenge.
  13. The Western Catholic Church of today can't even stop its own haemorrhaging of youth leaving the Church, let alone reach out to the heathen youth of today or tomorrow.
Still, the decline of the Catholic Church in the West is not universal. There are places were it is growing. We have small, isolated, pockets in North America, as well as rapidly expanding dioceses in Africa and Asia. Looking at these communities may serve to help us. But first, we must understand the problem.

What is the problem?

The problem is modern Western culture -- Modernism -- and this is what is discussed in the book The Benedict Option. Our Modernist culture is just too overwhelming for parents to be able to do their jobs anymore. It is virtually impossible for parents to raise godly children, in the self-sacrificial Catholic faith, when the message of the world (even the message of consumer Christianity) is that of self-gratification. Like ancient Rome, the culture is destined for collapse. It's hard to say if or when such a collapse would be political, but it most certainly is cultural.

On a personal side note, living here in the Bible Belt of the United States, I am constantly hearing local Protestants refer to the November 2016 election of Donald Trump as some kind of "turning point" for the culture, and they fully expect things to get better now. I'm sorry to report to you that our Evangelical brethren are sorely mistaken on this, and will be in for a rude awakening sometime in the not-too-distant future. Politicians cannot solve this problem. Those who believe the election of Trump marks some kind of cultural turning point are sadly deceiving themselves.

So with a culture that is overwhelmingly Modernist, wherein Catholic parents have no choice, what is this Benedict Option in modern terms? No, it's not what you think. It's not about going out into the wilderness to live as the Amish do. I suppose that might be a viable choice for some, but certainly not for most. For the average Catholic, the Benedict Option heavily involves your local Catholic parish.

The Catholic parish must be revived, or rebuilt, to become a truly communal place, as it was originally meant to be. Catholics can no longer look at Catholicism as just one aspect of their lives. Rather, they must now look at it as their entire lives. Catholicism can no longer influence us. It must define us, and yes, the local Catholic parish is the key to making this whole thing work. Without it, any attempt at a Benedict Option will fail miserably. So with that said, what are some things Catholic families can do to bring the Benedict Option to your local Catholic parish...
  1. Abandon radical apocalypticism. That is not our calling folks. We are commanded to LIVE our lives, and LIVE THEM JOYFULLY, without fear. I have a book coming out this year which will help in this area. It's called A Catholic Guide to the Last Days. Yes, some bad things are coming our way, just as they did in previous generations, but it's NOT the end of the world.
  2. Home school your children. Remember, your goal here is to raise them to be good Christians, not little Einsteins. Just as parents who send their children to schools can get overly focused on academics, so can home schooling parents. Granted, we need to teach our kids to read and write, as well as math, history, science and other things. BUT, that should never be the focus of the homeschooling Catholic parent. FAITH is the focus, and it must be a FAITH OF JOY without fear. If you don't have this. Get it! Because you can't give your children that which you don't have.
  3. Set up a home school support group at your local parish. You don't need the parish to organise this for you. You can organise this yourself. Simply bring your priest into the loop and ask for his prayers. Naming him as your official chaplain will go a long way toward this. Some priests just don't get it yet, and a lot of them want you to send your children to Catholic schools instead. They need to be educated that Catholic schools simply don't work for all families. Home school support groups are not the same as cooperatives or academies. The latter focus more on academics. A support group is just that. It's a place where parents support one another, and children have time to fellowship and play. Occasionally some activities might be involved.
  4. Turn off the television, or at the very least, severely limit it. If you choose to have a television in your home, families should be very selective about what they watch. Spending hours on end, in front of the television, will corrupt any child's mind, and even some adult minds too. This didn't used to be the case, in the 1950s through 70s, but in recent decades, the culture has gone so overwhelmingly Modernist, that it cannot be redeemed. It can only be turned off.
  5. The same discretion must apply to movies, radio, Internet and video games.
  6. There should be no televisions or screens in bedrooms at all. This separates the family.
  7. If you have the Internet in your home, you MUST apply filters to internet accessible devices that children handle. Children must not be allowed to access the Internet in their rooms, or away from parental view. Parents must be in the habit of looking at their devices frequently and randomly, without warning. This will teach the children that they can never escape your supervision. In addition, ask the children to show you any material they think might be inappropriate. While doing this, teach them the skills they need to discern for themselves what is appropriate viewing material and what is not. Sheltering children from information will not last into adulthood. Like the Amish, sheltered children will simply go on worldly binges when they reach maturity and only some will come back to the fold. Rather, children must be taught to form good information searching habits instead, being taught the difference between right and wrong and why, which they can carry with them into adulthood. 
  8. Start working on community activities with your local parish. Bible studies and prayer groups are great, but I'm talking about something more here. For example; a community garden might be one option for men, women and children. Knitting, sewing and cooking groups might be some other options as well. Are there any hunters or fishermen in your parish? How about organising some group outings and bring back some meat for the parish as well. These can all be shared with the community, and even given to those in need. I know this sounds somewhat "Amish" in a way, but remember, I'm talking about parishes in the middle of urban cities too. Even people who live there sometimes go out on hunting and fishing trips outside the city. A donation of a deep freezer to the Church basement can supply a source of protein for parish members struggling with grocery bills, and the outings that made that protein possible can supply men (or women) with the fellowship they need to build each other up in Christ. Who knows? Maybe even your priest likes to fish or hunt!
  9. NETWORK with other parishioners, and start supporting their local businesses and trades.
  10. In addition to mass, plan a weekly Evening Prayer (Vespers) meeting, followed by a potluck or snacks. The same could be done with Sunday mass in smaller parishes. 
The point here is to make your local parish more than just a weekly stop for an hour-long mass, then back to the rest of your life. The point here is to make your parish your life entirely. That is the Benedict Option for Catholics. Alongside Dreher's book, another volume by Archbishop Charles Chaput should be consulted. It's called Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World. I would recommend them side by side...


Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

A Catholic Guide
to the Last Days
for Protestants
Regnum Dei Press

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Is Easter a Pagan Celebration?

Easter Bunny and Coloured Eggs

There is a thread of radical Protestant Fundamentalism that likes to attack traditional Christian celebrations -- particularly Christmas and Easter. We see this primarily among the Jehovah's Witnesses (which aren't technically Protestant or Fundamentalist but rather a separate religion entirely more akin to Arianism). The Protestants include, but are not limited to: Quakers, Churches of Christ, Anabaptists, Congregationalists and some Presbyterians. Other Fundamentalist groups come in too. In addition, a growing number of Judaic Evangelicals (Messianic and Sabbath-keeping groups) do not celebrate Christmas and Easter, and often attack them as "Pagan in origin." While I'm not going to criticise these groups for their own religious practises, I will say their criticism of traditional Easter celebrations is out of line and poppycock. Most of the time, whenever they attempt to "reveal the true origins of Easter" the only thing they really reveal is their lack of education in the areas of history and religion.

The Goddess Ishtar
Babylonian Relief in British Museum
Here's the gist of their argument. It's really very simple, but there are subtle variations of it depending on the particular denomination attacking Easter. The main idea is that Easter is really a super-secret worship of the ancient Babylonian goddess Ishtar. Because you see, the Church of Rome (that is The Roman Catholic Church) has secretly and deviously concocted a plan to make us all unwittingly worship a Pagan goddess. You know, because that's what Rome does I guess. So according to these conspiracy theorists, the name "Easter" is how you actually pronounce the Babylonian name Ishtar, and the celebration of Easter is really (secretly) all about sex, and just uses the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as a cover. So look out! These rascally popes have actually got you worshipping a naked fertility goddess with wings and bird claws, instead of Jesus Christ, every Easter celebration, and your kids are participating in it! The conspiracy continues to point out that the symbols of Ishtar were eggs and rabbits. So once again, Easter is all about Pagan sex. Those chocolate Easter bunnies and coloured eggs are actually sex symbols, and you're kids are eating them!

Easter/Ishtar Meme
Often Circulated on Social Media
I know, it sounds so ridiculous, right? Well, that's because it is ridiculous. But you would be surprised to discover just how many Protestants (and modern Arians like the Jehovah's Witnesses for example) actually believe this stuff. They usually get quite militant about it too, using it as some kind of justification for their own religious practises, while condemning the culture around them as "Pagan." They publish long articles, with elaborate "archaeological findings" that supposedly prove their point. They've been doing it for decades. Then of course, with the advent of social media, came the Easter/Ishtar memes, consisting of a single picture of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar and a brief synopsis of their hysterical conspiracy-theory typed over it. Again, I'm not going to criticise their Sabbath-keeping here, nor their Passover-keeping, nor their avoidance of Christmas and Easter in their own homes, nor any of their other religious practises. If they want to do those things, that's their business, but when they attack our Catholic practises, I'm pleased to call out rubbish for what it is.

First of all, the ancient Babylonians did not pronounce Ishtar as "Easter." That's just bunk. The name Ishtar is likely Semitic in origin, and was identified in ancient times with the Canaanite goddess Ashtoreth or Astarte. All of these names were pronounced exactly as they're spelt. In fact, the English spelling of those names is based on a phonetic interpretation of the actual Semitic words. None of them were pronounced as "Easter" -- not a single one. Secondly, even if they sounded similar (which they don't) that does not mean they have the same etymological origin. For example; the English words "here" and "hear" are two completely different words that mean two completely different things. They sound the same, but their origins are completely different. The same would be true for Ishtar and Easter, if indeed they sounded the same (or similar), but in fact they don't.

The origin of the word Easter is a linguistic fluke actually. In most languages, the word for Easter is derived from the Hebrew word for Passover...

  • Bulgarian – Paskha
  • Danish – Paaske
  • Dutch – Pasen
  • Finnish – Pääsiäinen
  • French – Pâques
  • Indonesian – Paskah
  • Italian – Pasqua
  • Lower Rhine German – Paisken
  • Norwegian – Påske
  • Portuguese – Páscoa
  • Romanian – Pasti
  • Russian – Paskha
  • Scottish Gaelic – Càisg
  • Spanish – Pascua
  • Swedish – Påsk
  • Welsh – Pasg

In other languages it's referred to as follows...

  • Bulgarian - Velikden (Grand Day)
  • Polish - Wielkanoc (Grand Night)
  • Czech - Velikonoce (Grand Nights)
  • Slovak - Velká Noc (the Grand Night)
  • Serbian - Uskrs or Vaskrs (resurrection)
  • Japanese - Fukkatsu-sai (resurrection festival)

It is only in English and German that the name "Easter" is found in reference to the feast...

  • English - Easter
  • German - Ostern

There are two possibilities for this. The first, and in my opinion more likely, explanation is that the old Germanic word for the eastward direction is "eostarun" which is a reference to the rising dawn. Thus Eostarun/Ostern/Easter is likely a reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ as like the rising dawn. It also could be a reference to it as an eastern feast, since Christianity is a Middle Eastern religion. To this date, the German word for east is "osten."

To play devil's advocate, I'll cite a source that almost seems to back the Pagan origin of the word "Easter." St. Bede wrote in the 8th century that he believed there was a connection between the English word "Easter" and the German word "Ostara," which was the name of a Teutonic goddess of the rising sun (no direct connection to fertility here). He surmised that because the Paschal Feast of the Resurrection happened in the same month named for this goddess, the month we call April today, Christians simply stole the name and applied it to the Feast of the Resurrection. I love St. Bede, but I think he's oversimplifying things here. As I established above, the German word for east is "osten," and the German word for Easter is "Ostern." It only stands to reason that a Teutonic goddess, named after the rising sun (which always comes from the east) would be named "Ostara." However, after playing devil's advocate, I still believe the etymological connection to the German word for east (osten) is stronger. We have to remember that English was originally called Anglish, and it was the language of the German tribes (Angles, Saxons and Jutes) that invaded Britain in the 5th century from northern Germany. These Germans spoke Old German, a language now extinct, which evolved into Old English (Anglish), Middle English, and finally Modern English. It's extremely likely that the Old German word "eostarun" simply became the English word "eastern," which eventually led to the English word "Easter" for the Feast of the Paschal Resurrection, which came from the east, just like "Ostern" is now the German word for the same religious feast. We must remember that in ancient times, any land east of Greece was considered "the east" or "the orient." Palestine, from which Christianity originally came, was considered an eastern religion to the ancient people of western Europe.

English and German are unique, in that they both have their own common word for the Paschal Feast of the Resurrection, but that word is more likely tied to a direction than to Paganism, and it most certainly has no connection to the Semitic goddess of fertility, war, and fate -- Ishtar.

In the Easter/Ishtar meme, that frequently circulates social media, there is a reference to Constantine. Many Fundamentalist conspiracy theories centre around this particular Caesar, who legalised Christianity in AD 312 with the Edict of Milan. The conspiracy goes on to theorise that Constantine actually changed Christianity after this to make it more Pagan. Again, this shows a total lack of historical scholarship. Constantine originally sided with the Arians, not the Christians, but was eventually forced to assent to Christian Trinitarian theology after the Council of Nicea in AD 325. He himself remained religiously aloof in his personal life, until he was baptised on his deathbed. He had virtually no influence on Christian theology, but eventually found himself influence by it. Many of the so-called "doctrinal inventions" of Constantine (such as the papacy, prayer to the Saints, Purgatory, Marian devotion, etc.) can be well documented in the writings of the early Church, decades to centuries before his arrival. So no, Constantine did not introduce "Easter" to the Roman Empire. In fact, he likely never heard the word in his entire life. Constantine did not reinvent Christianity. Rather, Christianity reinvented him.

Like all good conspiracy theories, they're usually crafted with the skin of the truth, stuffed with a lie. It is true that Ishtar was a Babylonian goddess of sex and fertility. However, she was also the goddess of war, power, protection, fate, childbirth, marriage and storms. Her western counterpart was the Greek goddess Aphrodite and the Roman goddess Venus. However, her symbols were not eggs and bunnies. They were rather; lions, owls, gates, and the eight-pointed star. The connection between Ishtar, eggs and bunnies, is in fact a fabrication. It's a complete myth with no basis in the archaeological record.

Now Christians have always used symbols in nature to make obvious parallels to theological truths. Eggs have always been a symbol of new life. That is of course what they literally are. Likewise rabbits, particularly little bunnies, are symbolic of spring. I live in the Ozarks of the southern Midwest United States, and every spring this place is just hopping with bunnies of all types. I mean they're everywhere, especially the little baby bunnies. Springtime has always been associated with new life in many cultures and religions. Anywhere there is lush vegetation, you're going to have a lot of rabbits in the springtime. Likewise, Christians celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ are celebrating new life as well. So it only stands to reason that the symbols of eggs and bunnies would play into that. Eggs represent new life. Rabbits (bunnies) represent springtime, which also represents new life. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is all about new life. So there you go. These are symbolic parallels in nature that point to the supernatural resurrection. So long as Christians view these things only as symbols, there is certainly no harm in them, and there is most certainly no connection at all with Pagan fertility goddesses.

So as you can see, this whole "Easter is Pagan" conspiracy is just rubbish, put together with amateur scholarship, by people who have an anti-Catholic prejudice to begin with. So enjoy those Easter bunnies and coloured eggs, but just make sure your kids know they are merely symbols of the new life that comes from the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

A Catholic Guide
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