Easter and Wester…

I read this article (“From Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, world’s Christians mark Jesus’ entry”) on CNS and it got me thinking…

Catholic Christians in the Holy Land have made the amazingly humble and gracious gesture of unity to their Eastern Christian counterparts: Catholics and Orthodox celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar:

Most of the Catholic communities in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Cyprus are preparing to celebrate the liturgies of Holy Week not these days but in the first week of May, according to the Julian Calendar followed by the Orthodox communities. The unification of the Easter dates in most of the area is an application of the directive issued on October 15, 2012 by the Assembly of ordinary Catholic bishops in Holy Land, where it was established that within two years all Catholics in the Diocese of Latin Rite and the various Eastern rites will celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar, coinciding with the Easter liturgies celebrated in the Orthodox churches.

The CNS article, however, describes activities in Jerusalem for Palm Sunday this past week, and while it acknowledges the decision of the Catholic bishops, they can’t really do anything about all the pilgrims who show up wanting to celebrate Western Easter in situ (so to speak).

Which seems to raise for me the really hairy problem that while we are celebrating Easter here this weekend, at the very place where the events we commemorate took place, they will still be at the start of Lent.

I know that the issue of the divided Easter date needs resolution. Personally, since we all agree on the “first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox” rule (which was, as I understand it, mandated at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea), I think we should all simply adopt the most accurate astronomical method of counting that date – with the proviso that we also follow the other old rule of never celebrating Easter before Passover.

According to, this FAQ sheet, the only difference this would produce to our current western Easter would take place in 2877. I know that the Greek Orthodox bishops decided to go down this root some time ago, but it is a decision that has yet to be implemented because of the issues it would cause in the Orthodox world – especially among the Russians.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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8 Responses to Easter and Wester…

  1. Malcolm says:

    Most Catholics I know couldn’t give a hoot about the historical, theological or astronomical reasons for our date of Easter. They just look at future calenders and see the date for this and future years.

    Most would be very happy to have the same date as the Orthodox no matter how they set the date. It would be later than we have in most years at present and that could solve the other issue in Australia of the time of the Easter Vigil with daylight saving ending on the first Sunday morning of April.

  2. Felix Alexander says:

    G’day David.

    I’ve seen nothing in that faq that seems particularly fulsome, but also I can’t see where it says that astronomical Easter falling before 15 Nisan wouldn’t be a problem till 2877. The reference to that date is when Easter falls on 21 March.

    Is there are rule that effectively stops Nisan from starting later than 6 March? Do my reading skills fail me?

    • Schütz says:

      No, you are right. I was misreading or misremembering the document while on the go. That means I have no idea whether such a rendering would ever put Easter before Passover.

  3. Joshua says:

    Does anyone know *why* the Orthodox have the additional rule that, not only must Easter fall on the Sunday after the first full moon after the Northern hemisphere vernal equinox (albeit according to their system of calculation, not according to the actual astronomically-determined date), *but* also after Jewish Passover? Is it so that the liturgy conforms to the Gospel account, whereby Christ died at Passover (without inquiring too deeply into the apparent dating discrepancy between the Synoptics and the Fourth Gospel) and rose on the following “first day of the week”?

    • Schütz says:

      Yes, I think that is it. It is a good requirement, and makes sense whether you take the Johannine or Synoptic Gospel accounts into account. I also have very much enjoyed the exchange of greetings between myself and my Jewish friends during the last week. I have been able to wish them a blessed Passover and they in return have prayed that I might have a blessed Holy Week. There is a real symbiosis here that I think would be lost if we were to adopt the Julian dating all over again. Is it possible that the opposition to the Western dating from some in the East might just have a little to do with ancient prejudices?

  4. Joshua says:

    If we require ecumenical gestures in order to advance the cause of reuniting East and West, then as well as returning to celebrating Easter according to the Julian calendar and mode of calculation, we really ought resume many other perfectly orthodox and indeed praiseworthy Orthodox practices, such as strict fasting for the whole of Lent (abstaining not merely from meat, but from eggs, dairy products and so forth – as Aquinas mentions was still done in some places in his day).

    In the OF, moving the date of Easter about (and all that depends on it) is quite simple, as Ordinary Time runs between the end of Christmastide and the start of Lent, then resumes again after Pentecost; in the EF, it would potentially require reversing the usual practice whereby Sundays after Epiphany that are not needed in a given year are transferred to fill in any gaps at the end of the Sundays after Pentecost, so that instead – if Easter fall very late (this year, on the 5th of May for the Orthodox) – some unneeded Sundays after Pentecost could be inserted between the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany and Septuagesima Sunday.

    However, wasn’t the Gregorian calendar and its Easter calculation system specifically drawn up, after many centuries of concern in the West about the inaccuracies of the Julian calendar and its Easter dates, in order to far better match the calendar to the actual year, and celebrate Easter as close as possible to the ideal date as prescribed by the First Ecumenical Council?

    • Schütz says:

      Yes, I cannot say that I am a great fan of adopting the Julian calendar all over again. The agreement of the whole church on the decree of the First Ecumenical Council has a great deal to recommend it. If you take Nicea seriously and literally, I think that means that we should use the best science available to us to determine when the equinox is (precisely) and when the full moon is (precisely), and all celebrate Easter on the Sunday following. For this reason, I am also against the “fixed date” idea. Smacks too much of the French Revolution. The Calendar needs to be related to the seasons, the earth, the sun and the moon. That’s why we light fires out in the dark under the full moon on Saturday night…

  5. Tony Bartel says:

    As long as we have an extended long weekend for the opening of the AFL season, most Australians (or at least Victorians) won’t really care when we celebrate Easter.

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