Throughout the Lenten Season, we are continually reminded of the Lenten regulations. However, it has been a long time since I've seen any mention made of the "Easter Duty." Has this been changed?
You ask an excellent question regarding the tradition of the “Easter Duty.” Does it still exist? Yes, but you won’t find the requirement in the law of the church under that name.
For those who are not familiar with the requirement, the term “Easter Duty” refers to the obligation for the faithful who have reached the age of reason to receive holy Communion once each year and to receive it during the Easter season. The Easter Duty also required the celebration of sacramental confession during the same period. In law, the concept remains but slightly modified since the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.
Today, the law of the church states that all who have received their first holy Communion are obliged to received holy Communion at a minimum of once a year (canon 920). This minimum reception is to be done during the Easter Season (Easter Sunday through Pentecost Sunday) although it may be done at another time “for a good reason” (canon 920 §1). The second part of the Easter Duty is the precept to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation at least once a year. This precept (found today in the Catechism of the Catholic Church #2042) was established to ensure that an individual member of the faithful would be in the state of grace and thus able to receive holy Communion, assuming that reception of holy Communion immediately followed reconciliation. However, that precept is qualified by canon 989 in the Code of Canon Law stating that only those who are conscious of grave sin are obliged to confess at a minimum of once a year. That being said, as Catholics, we should take full advantage of the grace and mercy made available to us in the sacrament of reconciliation, even if we are not in a state of grave (mortal) sin.
The foundation of the Easter Duty goes all the way back to the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, at a time when many of the faithful chose not to approach the sacraments. Today, the church encourages us to make full use of God’s gift of the sacraments in all times and seasons.
Father Chris House is rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield, chancellor and vicar judicial and director of the Department for Canonical and Pastoral Services at the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.