Sat. Jun 8th, 2024

What Is the True Meaning of Easter? Why Is Easter Sunday Celebrated?

What is most important, is keeping in mind what Easter is essentially about — the resurrection of Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice on the cross enabled our salvation and an eternal place beside our Father at His heavenly throne.

What is Easter? Easter is one of the central holidays, or Holy Days, of Christianity. It honors the Resurrection of Jesus three days after His death by crucifixion. For many Christian churches, Easter is the joyful conclusion to the Lenten season of devoted prayer, fasting and penitence.

Along with the Nativity of Christ, Easter is one of the most important celebrations in the Christian calendar. It is when Christians glorify and give thanks for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. After His crucifixion, death, and burial, Christ rose from the grave three days later. By this, He conquered death and redeemed us from sin.

As we’ll explore in this article, the Easter holy day did coincide with some pagan holidays. Because the church didn’t celebrate Easter until a certain point, owing to the persecution the church experienced for the first few centuries, the Christian creation of the holiday did happen around the same time as another pagan celebration was in full swing. Nevertheless, we strive to celebrate God’s victory over the grave on this holiday. In this article, we’ll explore the meaning of the word Easter, pagan associations of the holiday, and what the holiday means for Christians today.

Definition of Easter

According to dictionary.com, Easter is “an annual Christian festival in commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, as calculated according to tables based in Western churches on the Gregorian calendar and in Orthodox churches on the Julian calendar. Also called Easter Sunday. the day on which this festival is celebrated.”

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia gives biblical references of “Easter,” stating,

“The word does not properly occur in Scripture, although the King James Version has it in Acts 12:4 where it stands for Passover, as it is rightly rendered in the Revised Version (British and American). There is no trace of Easter celebration in the New Testament, though some would see an intimation of it in 1 Corinthians 5:7. The Jewish Christians in the early church continued to celebrate the Passover, regarding Christ as the true paschal lamb, and this naturally passed over into a commemoration of the death and resurrection of our Lord or an Easter feast.”

The Color Purple at Easter

The following is an excerpt from Why is the Color Purple Associated With Easter?:

To understand why the color purple became the color of Lent and Easter, we must first look at the color’s significance in ancient society. Purple dye was a prized commodity in antiquity because it was difficult to obtain. In particular, purple dye was obtained from harvesting certain marine snails.

In light of how labor-intensive it was to produce purple dye, purple apparel was very expensive and often only worn by kings, other royal members, or those with high-ranking authority. As such, the color purple became known as a mark of royalty and sovereignty.

The Roman soldiers who tortured Jesus during His Passion would’ve been well-aware of the imperial symbolism behind the color purple. This is why, in mocking Jesus before His crucifixion, the soldiers dressed Jesus in a purple robe and put a crown of thorns on His head, proceeding to then beat Him and yell, “Hail, king of the Jews!” (John 19:2-3).

In a further attempt to humiliate Jesus after the soldiers had removed the purple robe from Him, Pilate had a sign affixed to Jesus’ cross inscribed with the words, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (John 19:19). This inscription is memorialized on today’s crucifixes by the letters INRI, which are the initials for “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” in Latin — Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum.

In remembrance of the purple robe the Roman soldiers put on Jesus in mockery, churches display the color purple during Lent to mourn the emotional and physical anguish that Jesus underwent during His Passion, and also to proclaim Him as the true King of Kings. In some churches, the clergy wear purple vestments, drape lecterns with purple cloths, and cover the front of altars with purple frontals.

Easter Meaning Today

For Christians worldwide, the importance of Easter is praising and acknowledging Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and His glorious assurances of eternal life for all who believe in Him. While there are plenty of non-religious traditions, such as the easter bunny, baskets of candy, and Easter egg hunts, there are also meaningful traditions for Christians today. Some include

  • Sunrise services – many churches meet at a special sunrise service time to celebrate the risen savior
  • Resurrection rolls – these are a cute way to teach children about the empty tomb of Jesus. Resurrection rolls are baked with a large marshmallow inside that disappears while baking, symbolizing the empty tomb of Jesus!
  • Easter Lilies can be found decorating churches and homes as a reminder of the purity of Jesus’ sacrifice and the new life we have through his resurrection

Bible Verses about Easter and Resurrection of Jesus

  • Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead – 1 Peter 1:3 ESV

We celebrate Easter because this holiday recognizes that we can die to our old way of living and resurrect into our new life with Christ. Christianity does require a death to self. But the resurrection we experience in a spiritual sense and the resurrection of the body we have yet to experience give us ample cause for celebration.

  • Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, – John 11:25 ESV

We have full confidence that no matter what happens to us on this Earth, we can experience eternal joy with God in heaven. No wonder many brothers and sisters continue praising Jesus even when they experience persecution and martyrdom. Because we have a greater hope and promise than earthly life.

  • Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9

It is integral to our faith that we believe in the Resurrection. Our faith has no foundation if we don’t believe Jesus rose again on that Easter Sunday.

  • If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. – Romans 8:11
  • Because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” – Acts 17:31
  • We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:4

The Christian faith has many symbols. We often replicate the process Jesus underwent on the cross in a symbolic sense. We die to our old selves. We also are “buried” through the sacrament of baptism and experience a resurrection and new life in Christ. Christ gives us a new life holistically. We experience some of that new life during our time on Earth and look forward to experiencing the rest of the resurrection in Heaven.

  • For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. – Romans 14:9

We celebrate Easter because God lived the life we should’ve lived, and died the death we deserved to die so that we could live. What a wonderful cause for celebration. That we can experience the resurrection with Him!

The Color Purple at Easter

The following is an excerpt from Why is the Color Purple Associated With Easter?:

To understand why the color purple became the color of Lent and Easter, we must first look at the color’s significance in ancient society. Purple dye was a prized commodity in antiquity because it was difficult to obtain. In particular, purple dye was obtained from harvesting certain marine snails.

In light of how labor-intensive it was to produce purple dye, purple apparel was very expensive and often only worn by kings, other royal members, or those with high-ranking authority. As such, the color purple became known as a mark of royalty and sovereignty.

The Roman soldiers who tortured Jesus during His Passion would’ve been well-aware of the imperial symbolism behind the color purple. This is why, in mocking Jesus before His crucifixion, the soldiers dressed Jesus in a purple robe and put a crown of thorns on His head, proceeding to then beat Him and yell, “Hail, king of the Jews!” (John 19:2-3).

In a further attempt to humiliate Jesus after the soldiers had removed the purple robe from Him, Pilate had a sign affixed to Jesus’ cross inscribed with the words, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (John 19:19). This inscription is memorialized on today’s crucifixes by the letters INRI, which are the initials for “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” in Latin — Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum.

In remembrance of the purple robe the Roman soldiers put on Jesus in mockery, churches display the color purple during Lent to mourn the emotional and physical anguish that Jesus underwent during His Passion, and also to proclaim Him as the true King of Kings. In some churches, the clergy wear purple vestments, drape lecterns with purple cloths, and cover the front of altars with purple frontals.

Easter Meaning Today

For Christians worldwide, the importance of Easter is praising and acknowledging Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and His glorious assurances of eternal life for all who believe in Him. While there are plenty of non-religious traditions, such as the easter bunny, baskets of candy, and Easter egg hunts, there are also meaningful traditions for Christians today. Some include

  • Sunrise services – many churches meet at a special sunrise service time to celebrate the risen savior
  • Resurrection rolls – these are a cute way to teach children about the empty tomb of Jesus. Resurrection rolls are baked with a large marshmallow inside that disappears while baking, symbolizing the empty tomb of Jesus!
  • Easter Lilies can be found decorating churches and homes as a reminder of the purity of Jesus’ sacrifice and the new life we have through his resurrection

Bible Verses about Easter and Resurrection of Jesus

  • Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead – 1 Peter 1:3 ESV

We celebrate Easter because this holiday recognizes that we can die to our old way of living and resurrect into our new life with Christ. Christianity does require a death to self. But the resurrection we experience in a spiritual sense and the resurrection of the body we have yet to experience give us ample cause for celebration.

  • Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, – John 11:25 ESV

We have full confidence that no matter what happens to us on this Earth, we can experience eternal joy with God in heaven. No wonder many brothers and sisters continue praising Jesus even when they experience persecution and martyrdom. Because we have a greater hope and promise than earthly life.

  • Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9

It is integral to our faith that we believe in the Resurrection. Our faith has no foundation if we don’t believe Jesus rose again on that Easter Sunday.

  • If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. – Romans 8:11
  • Because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” – Acts 17:31
  • We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:4

The Christian faith has many symbols. We often replicate the process Jesus underwent on the cross in a symbolic sense. We die to our old selves. We also are “buried” through the sacrament of baptism and experience a resurrection and new life in Christ. Christ gives us a new life holistically. We experience some of that new life during our time on Earth and look forward to experiencing the rest of the resurrection in Heaven.

  • For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. – Romans 14:9

We celebrate Easter because God lived the life we should’ve lived, and died the death we deserved to die so that we could live. What a wonderful cause for celebration. That we can experience the resurrection with Him!

Get your free Easter Prayer and Scripture Guide to reflect on the meaning and importance of Jesus’ resurrection.

The Etymology and Origin of Easter

According to our Bible dictionary, the name “Easter” was derived from “Eostre,” “originally a Saxon word (Eostre), denoting a goddess of the Saxons, in honor of whom sacrifices were offered about the time of the Passover.”

Another probability is the Norse eostur, eastur, or ostara, which meant “the season of the growing sun” or “the season of new birth.” The word east comes from the same roots. In this case, easter would be linked to the changing of the season.

A more recent and complex explanation comes from the Christian background of Easter rather than the pagan. The early Latin name for the week of Easter was hebdomada alba or “white week,” while the Sunday after Easter day was called Dominica in albis from the white robes of those who had been newly baptized. The word alba is Latin both for white and dawn.  People speaking Old High German made a mistake in their translation and used a plural word for dawn, ostarun, instead of a plural for white. From ostarun we get the German Ostern and the English Easter.

Christian Meaning of Easter

The significance of Easter is Jesus Christ’s triumph over death. His resurrection means the eternal life that is granted to all who believe in Him. The purpose of Easter also means the full confirmation of all that Jesus taught and preached during His three-year ministry. If He had not risen from the dead or simply died and not been resurrected, He would have been thought just another teacher or prophet. However, His resurrection rebuked all that and provided final and undeniable proof that He was the Son of God and that He had overcome death once and for all.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the core of the Christian gospel. Saint Paul says that if Christ is not raised from the dead, then our preaching and hope are in vain (1 Cor. 15:14). Certainly, without the resurrection, there would be no Christian preaching or faith. The apostles of Christ would have continued as the disheartened group which the Gospel of John depicts being in hiding for fear of the Jews. They were in total despair until they met the risen Christ (John 20:19). Then they touched Christ’s wounds of the nails and the spear; they ate and drank with Him. The resurrection became the foundation of everything they said and did (Acts 2-4): “…for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39).

The resurrection affirms Jesus of Nazareth as the prophesied Messiah of Israel and the King and Lord of a new Jerusalem: a new heaven and a new earth.

Pagan Origin of ‘Easter’

Nevertheless, Easter did not always signify Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and Easter’s purpose was considerably different than what Christians observe today. The feast day of Easter was first a pagan holiday of renewal and rebirth. Honored in the early spring, it praised the pagan Saxon goddess Eastre. When early Christian missionaries saved the Saxons to Christianity, the spring holiday, because it occurred near the same season as the traditional memorial of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, was joined with the pagan festival, and became known as Easter. The meaning of Easter was also changed to honor its new Christian significance.

Easter Bunny’s Connection to Christianity

The following is an excerpt from The Meaning and Origin of the Easter Bunny:

The origin of the Easter Bunny can be dated back to the 13th century in Germany.  The Germanic folk, known as the Teutons, worshiped pagan gods and goddesses. One such goddess was Eostra (otherwise known as Ostara or Ēostre). She was revered as the goddess of fertility and spring. The word “Easter” finds its etymology from the goddess’s name.

Due to its prolific breeding tendencies, the rabbit became a symbol for Eostra. In AD 595, Pope Gregory sent Roman monks to convert the Anglo Saxons. The Anglo-Saxons, like German forefathers, celebrated Eostra. When converted, they accepted the celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection at Easter while still continuing the celebration of spring renewal and the rabbit’s symbolism. sourceHow Is the Easter Bunny Connected to Christianity? Meaning and Origin

The origin of the Easter Bunny can be dated back to the 13th century in Germany. Over time, the Easter Bunny and the hunt for his Easter eggs have become a cultural association of the Easter holiday, especially for children.

The Easter Bunny is a beloved trope associated with the Easter holiday period. The rabbit has pre-Christian roots associated with fertility, new life, and spring. However, early Christians weaved the pagan symbolism of the rabbit into their Christian traditions to make the teachings of Jesus Christ more amenable to those outside of the faith.

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What Is the Easter Bunny’s History and Origin?

The origin of the Easter Bunny can be dated back to the 13th century in Germany.

The Germanic folk, known as the Teutons, worshiped pagan gods and goddesses. One such goddess was Eostra (otherwise known as Ostara or Ēostre). She was revered as the goddess of fertility and spring. The word “Easter” finds its etymology from the goddess’s name.

Due to its prolific breeding tendencies, the rabbit became a symbol for Eostra.

How Did the Rabbit Symbol Become Connected to Easter?

In AD 595, 40 Roman monks were sent by Pope Gregory to England with the assignment of converting the Anglo Saxons to Christianity.

Under the Pope’s instructions, the 40 missionaries convinced the pagan Britons to integrate their ancient celebrations with Christian festivities, where both festival calendars coincided.

The amalgamation of these two traditions is evident in the observation of the Easter celebration.   Like their Germanic forefathers, the Teutons, the Anglo-Saxons worshiped the goddess Eostra and held feasts in her honor on the March Equinox. Concurrently, in Western Europe, Easter was marked on the ecclesiastic calendar to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the March equinox.

Hence, the Roman monks were able to encourage the Britons to accept the celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection at Easter, while at the same time, continuing their worship of the goddess Eostra and revering her motif, the rabbit.

Almost a century later, the first documentation of the Easter Bunny was recorded in the form of a myth in the 1500s.

The legend of the Easter Bunny was fortified through the traditions of German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania Dutch County in the United States in the 1700s. Consequently, the first fictional story of the Easter Bunny was published by the 1680s.

Over time, the Easter Bunny and the hunt for his Easter eggs have become a cultural association of the Easter holiday, especially for children.

What Are Other Pagan Traditions That Are Connected to Christian Holidays?

Some of our Christian holidays retain a vestigial of ancient pagan rituals.

Just as we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25 as the One who brought us out of the darkness of death and sin and into the light of Salvation, so also did the ancient Romans celebrate the Saturnalia Festival, named after Saturn, on the same day. The celebration was to mark the passing of the longest night of the year with gift-giving, a public banquet, and other festivities.

Another Christian festival that has a common denominator with ancient festivities is Halloween. Though it may be known to some as the celebration leading up to All Saints Day, its roots can be traced back to the ancient Celtic holiday Samhain, which was celebrated around the 9th century to honor the seasonal transition into the winter months and the death of vegetation through crop harvesting and bitter frosts.

During Samhain, the Celts believed that the spiritual barrier between the dead and the living was at its thinnest, therefore, they dressed up as monsters and animals to protect themselves. As the festival continued to be celebrated into the Middle Ages, Jack-o-lanterns made out of turnips and potatoes became a favorite accompaniment to the festivities. Later, these vegetables were replaced with pumpkins.

What Does the Bible Say about Cultural and Religious Practices?

In Colossians 2:8, Paul warns us of falling prey to thoughts and practices that are based on human traditions:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

That being said, Paul’s desire was to share the truth of God’s Word through love and encouragement to those who followed schools of scholarly or cultural thought.

In Acts 17:16-33Paul’s concern that mankind be aware of the resurrection power of Jesus Christ and discard any other cultural or philosophical practices is evident when he addresses the Athenians at the Areopagus.

Without condemning the people of Athens or their idolatrous and cerebral pursuits, Paul praised the people for their solemnity as worshipers and thereby established common ground between himself and them; however, his emphasis was that God was a living God, the creator of Heaven and Earth who resurrected the dead, whereas the Athenians were ignorant of the essence of the idols and philosophies that they held in such high esteem.

By using this encouraging approach, Paul succeeded in converting some of the crowd at the Areopagus into believers of Christ. source

 

Should Christians Stay Away from Secular Easter Practices?

One of the fun things about Easter is eating chocolate Easter Bunnies, painting eggs, and taking part in Easter Egg hunts with your kids; it is a wonderful way to create wonderful memories with your family. However, it is ultimately a personal choice whether you celebrate these secular traditions or not.

What is most important, is keeping in mind what Easter is essentially about — the resurrection of Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice on the cross enabled our salvation and an eternal place beside our Father at His heavenly throne.

 


Easter Sunday – Holy Day of Obligation

Easter is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It is celebrated on Sunday, and marks the end of Holy Week, the end of Lent, the last day of the Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday), and is the beginning of the Easter season of the liturgical year.

As we know from the Gospels, Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day following his crucifixion, which would be Sunday. His resurrection marks the triumph of good over evil, sin and death. It is the singular event which proves that those who trust in God and accept Christ will be raised from the dead.

Since Easter represents the fulfillment of God’s promises to mankind, it is the most important holiday on the Christian calendar.

In the Gospels, the precise details of the Easter narrative vary slightly, but none of these variances are critical to the main story. In fact, it is argued that the variances are simply matters of style and not substance. Despite the variances, the key aspects of the Easter story all match. Above all, they agree that the tomb of Christ was indeed empty, which is the most essential fact.

Based on direct evidence from the mid-second century, it is believed that Easter was regularly celebrated from the earliest days of the Church.

Holy SpiritThe Easter date is movable and always falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25. Easter in the Roman Catholic Church is always on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

Most Catholics attend Easter Vigil at midnight, although the services can be lengthy because many sacraments are performed, such as baptisms and Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, during the Mass. Services during the daytime on Easter are shorter and well attended.

Sunrise services are common, but are distinctly Protestant. Sunrise services are gathered before dawn and reflect the arrival of the women at Jesus’ tomb early in the morning. The services take place outdoors, often in church yards, cemeteries, or in parks, and are timed so the sun will rise during the course of worship.

Traditional family activities vary by region. In the United States, children often hunt for Easter eggs, which are often brightly-dyed hard boiled eggs, though they can be plastic eggs filled with candy or small denominations of money. Candy is a traditional gift for Easter as children often break their Lenten fasts with sweets. Adults tend to share bouquets of flowers, greeting cards, and may gather for a family meal. Such celebrations are often secularized and focused on children and family rather than the religious aspect of the holy day.

Following Easter Sunday, the season of Easter begins and lasts for seven weeks, ending with Pentecost.

On this greatest day of the year, all fasting and somber thoughts
are banished. As St. John Chrysostom announces in this famous
Easter sermon, all are invited to the feast: “Let all then enter
the joy of Our Lord!
Both the first and the last, and those who come after, enjoy your reward!
Rich and poor, dance with one another, sober and slothful,
celebrate the day.
Those who have kept the fast and those who have not, rejoice today, for the table is richly spread.
Fare royally upon it-the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry.
All of you, enjoy the banquet of faith!
All enjoy the riches of His goodness.
Let no one cry over his poverty, for the universal Kingdom has
appeared!
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again, for
forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let none fear death, for the death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He spoiled the power of hell when he descended thereto.
Isaiah foretold this when he cried, ‘Death has been frustrated in meeting him below!’
It is frustrated, for it is destroyed.
It is frustrated, for it is annihilated.
It is frustrated, for now it is made captive.
For it grabbed a body and discovered God.
It took earth and behold! It encountered Heaven.
It took what was visible, and was overcome by what was invisible.
O Death, where is your sting?
O Death, where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and the demons are cast down.
Christ is risen, and life is set free.
Christ is risen, and the tomb is emptied of the dead.
For Christ, having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits for those who sleep.
to Him be glory and power forever and ever!
Amen. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

The Feast

Easter is the principal feast of the ecclesiastical year. Leo I (Sermo xlvii in Exodum) calls it the greatest feast ( festum festorum ), and says that Christmas is celebrated only in preparation for Easter. It is the centre of the greater part of the ecclesiastical year. The order of Sundays from Septuagesima to the last Sunday after Pentecost, the feast of the Ascension, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, and all other movable feasts, from that of the Prayer of Jesus in the Garden (Tuesday after Septuagesima ) to the feast of the Sacred Heart (Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi ), depend upon the Easter date.

Commemorating the slaying of the true Lamb of God and the Resurrection of Christ, the corner-stone upon which faith is built, it is also the oldest feast of the Christian Church, as old as Christianity, the connecting link between the Old and New Testaments. That the Apostolic Fathers do not mention it and that we first hear of it principally through the controversy of the Quartodecimans are purely accidental. The connection between the Jewish Passover and the Christian feast of Easter is real and ideal. Real, since Christ died on the first Jewish Easter Day; ideal, like the relation between type and reality, because Christ’s death and Resurrection had its figures and types in the Old Law, particularly in the paschal lamb, which was eaten towards evening of the 14th of Nisan.

In fact, the Jewish feast was taken over into the Christian Easter celebration; the liturgy ( Exsultet ) sings of the passing of Israel through the Red Sea, the paschal lamb, the column of fire, etc. Apart, however, from the Jewish feast, the Christians would have celebrated the anniversary of the death and the Resurrection of Christ. But for such a feast it was necessary to know the exact calendar date of Christ’s death. To know this day was very simple for the Jews ; it was the day after the 14th of the first month, the 15th of Nisan of their calendar. But in other countries of the vast Roman Empire there were other systems of chronology.

The Romans from 45 B.C. had used the reformed Julian calendar; there were also the Egyptian and the Syro-Macedonian calendar. The foundation of the Jewish calendar was the lunar year of 354 days, whilst the other systems depended on the solar year. In consequence the first days of the Jewish months and years did not coincide with any fixed days of the Roman solar year. Every fourth year of the Jewish system had an intercalary month. Since this month was inserted, not according to some scientific method or some definite rule, but arbitrarily, by command of the Sanhedrin, a distant Jewish date can never with certainty be transposed into the corresponding Julian or Gregorian date (Ideler, Chronologie, I, 570 sq.). The connection between the Jewish and the Christian Pasch explains the movable character of this feast.

Easter has no fixed date, like Christmas, because the 15th of Nisan of the Semitic calendar was shifting from date to date on the Julian calendar. Since Christ, the true Paschal Lamb, had been slain on the very day when the Jews, in celebration of their Passover, immolated the figurative lamb, the Jewish Christians in the Orient followed the Jewish method, and commemorated the death of Christ on the 15th of Nisan and His Resurrection on the 17th of Nisan, no matter on what day of the week they fell. For this observance they claimed the authority of St. John and St. Philip.

In the rest of the empire another consideration predominated. Every Sunday of the year was a commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ , which had occurred on a Sunday. Because the Sunday after 14 Nisan was the historical day of the Resurrection, at Rome this Sunday became the Christian feast of Easter. Easter was celebrated in Rome and Alexandria on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, and the Roman Church claimed for this observance the authority of Sts. Peter and Paul. The spring equinox in Rome fell on 25 March; in Alexandria on 21 March. At Antioch Easter was kept on the Sunday after the Jewish Passover.

In Gaul a number of bishops, wishing to escape the difficulties of the paschal computation, seem to have assigned Easter to a fixed date of the Roman calendar, celebrating the death of Christ on 25 March, His Resurrection on 27 March (Marinus Dumiensis in P.L., LXXII, 47-51), since already in the third century 25 March was considered the day of the Crucifixion (Computus Pseudocyprianus, ed. Lersch, Chronologie, II, 61). This practice was of short duration. Many calendars in the Middle Ages contain these same dates (25 March, 27 March) for purely historical, not liturgical, reasons (Grotenfend, Zeitrechnung, II, 46, 60, 72, 106, 110, etc.). The Montanists in Asia Minor kept Easter on the Sunday after 6 April (Schmid, Osterfestberechnung in der abendlandischen Kirche).

The First Council of Nicaea (325) decreed that the Roman practice should be observed throughout the Church. But even at Rome the Easter term was changed repeatedly. Those who continued to keep Easter with the Jews were called Quartodecimans (14 Nisan) and were excluded from the Church. The computus paschalis , the method of determining the date of Easter and the dependent feasts, was of old considered so important that Durandus (Rit. div. off., 8, c.i.) declares a priest unworthy of the name who does not know the computus paschalis . The movable character of Easter (22 March to 25 April) gives rise to inconveniences, especially in modern times. For decades scientists and other people have worked in vain for a simplification of the computus, assigning Easter to the first Sunday in April or to the Sunday nearest the 7th of April. Some even wish to put every Sunday to a certain date of the month, e.g. beginning with New Year’s always on a Sunday, etc. [See L. G?nther, “Zeitschrift Weltall” (1903); Sandhage and P. Dueren in “Pastor bonus” (Trier, 1906); C. Tondini, “L’Italia e la questione del Calendario” source (Florence, 1905).]


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