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Lessons from Catholic History: Ball Games Are an Easter Celebration?

By James Penrice
April 5th, 2010
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Commenting on a number of Easter traditions that have arisen over the centuries, the Catholic Encyclopedia includes ritual handball games in medieval Europe:"In France, handball playing was one of the Easter amusements, found also in Germany. The ball may represent the sun, which is believed to take three leaps in rising on Easter morning. Bishops, priests, and monks, after the strict discipline of Lent, used to play ball during Easter week…. The ball game was connected with a dance, in which even bishops and abbots took part. At Auxerre, the dance was performed in church to the strains of the ´Victimae paschali´."

GRAND RAPIDS, MI (Catholic Online) - It may seem a minor coincidence that two prominent "secular" celebrations—Major League Baseball´s opening day and the NCAA men´s basketball championship—both occur on the Monday in the octave of Easter. Yet ball games have a rich history as an Easter celebration, one Catholics can contemplate as they settle in to watch the contests.

Commenting on a number of Easter traditions that have arisen over the centuries, the Catholic Encyclopedia includes ritual handball games in medieval Europe:

"In France, handball playing was one of the Easter amusements, found also in Germany. The ball may represent the sun, which is believed to take three leaps in rising on Easter morning. Bishops, priests, and monks, after the strict discipline of Lent, used to play ball during Easter week…. The ball game was connected with a dance, in which even bishops and abbots took part. At Auxerre, the dance was performed in church to the strains of the ´Victimae paschali´."

Historian William J. Baker offers the same account in his book Sports in the Western World, noting that during this dance, Church officials passed a ball from person to person up the church aisle. He adds that at Vienne, near Lyon, the Archbishop hosted a ball game following an Easter meal.

In England, the Monday in the octave of Easter was once known as "Ball Monday" because of the various games that were customarily played to celebrate.

Albert G. Spalding, an early professional baseball player, manager, club owner, and sporting goods magnate, relates the significance of Easter ball playing in his 1911 book America´s National Game:

"It is supposed that ball-tossing had a deep symbolical meaning when played in the spring of the year; and that the tossing of the ball was intended to first typify the upspringing of the life of nature after the gloom of winter. And, whether this was the case among the people of antiquity or not, it is a remarkable fact that the ecclesiastics of the early Church adopted this symbol and gave it a very special significance by meeting in the churches on Easter Day, and throwing up a ball from hand to hand, to typify The Resurrection."

So whether it´s the "new life" of baseball´s opening day, or the victory of college basketball´s new national champion, these Easter Monday ball games can become part of a spiritual heritage if Catholics are mindful that they are gifts from our Heavenly Father, and offer them back to Him for the glory of our risen Savior.

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James Penrice is the author of numerous books, a Catholic Online contributor, and correspondent for Catholic Athletes for Christ.

Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)