The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville

During Lent, Fr. Ray and myself have been trying to answer your questions. One of them asked “Why does the date of Easter keep moving?”

The date of Easter isn’t exact. Unlike your birthday or New Year’s Day, which are the same every year, Easter is a made–up date, albeit as close to the original as possible. You’ll remember that the main event leading up to Easter is the death of Jesus, which happened during the Jewish Passover. That’s well recorded, and so even now –some 2000 years later, we try to get Easter on or as near as possible to the Jewish Passover.

But there are a few problems! First being that the Christian Church decided to break away from the Jewish calendar in 325AD in order to make Easter Day always a Sunday. The Jewish Passover usually stays on the same date - a bit like our Christmas. Second, the date of the Jewish Passover is worked out using a lunar, or moon based calendar – and a calendar which originally had 13 months in it. As we use a more complex calendar – based on both the moon and the sun, and with just 12 months – immediately you can see there’ll be problems, and third the Jewish Passover can be on different dates in different parts of the world.

So Easter is fixed using a combination of the different calendars, which means it can be anything between March 22nd and April 25th. The ‘spirit’ of keeping with the date of Passover is acknowledged but the calculations often mean Easter is different. I recall that the dates were last in line with each other in the year 2000.

Then there’s a more recent complication which makes it even more difficult to say when Easter will fall. The Eastern Church and the Western Church use different starting points for their calculation and so very often our Easter is not the same as Greece, for example. That complication goes back to 1583 when the Western or Catholic Church adopted the Gregorian Calendar as its starting point whereas the Eastern Church continued to use the Julian Calendar, which can be as much as 34 days different.

The Gregorian Calendar was named after Pope Gregory 13th, who introduced it in 1582 after finding faults with the Julian Calendar. These faults meant that the date of Easter was gradually slipping as the length of each year wasn’t quite exact. Gregory’s aim was to restore Easter to the date originally agreed upon by the Early Church. The Gregorian Calendar is now the main calendar used world-wide and is accepted as the standard. Others exist, of course, notably the calendars of the Jews, the Muslims and the Eastern Church.

The earliest Easter in recent times was on March 22nd in 1818, and it is again on March 22nd in the year 2285. The latest date that Easter has been celebrated recently was in 1943, when it fell on April 25th. This year the date is roughly in the middle of its range, but next year it’s very early – March 27th.

If you really want to, you can work out the date of Easter for any year, either by using the Golden Number from the Prayer Book or by using the official formulae:

“Easter falls on the Sunday following the full moon that follows the Northern Spring Equinox also called the Paschal Full Moon”.

Maybe it’s better just to look at your diary and trust the compilers to get it right!

Fr Mike Sheffield

Easter 2015

From the Parish Priest