MICHAEL WOLSEY: Fix the date for Easter and leave the churches to their rambles
SO here comes Easter, meandering from March to May like a drunk who can’t find his way home. Late again, I see.
I had a vague idea that the dates for this movable feast had something to do with the Jewish Passover and rashly decided to check it out a bit further. I have now gone from very puzzled to totally bewildered.
I turned first to a website called About Religion. It told me: “Easter is always celebrated on the Sunday immediately following the Paschal Full Moon date of the year.”
Got that? Well, forget it. Because the website goes on to explain: “This statement was true prior to 325 AD; however, over the course of history (beginning in 325 AD with the Council of Nicea), the Western Church decided to established a more standardised system for determining the date of Easter.”
Thank god for that. But life is too short to follow the time line from 325AD, so I turned to a site called Christianity Today. Its explanation went back even further. “Although the Julian or solar-based calendar of the Roman Empire had been in place since 45 BC, it did not supplant the lunar calendar that was the chart and compass of 2,000 years of Jewish history,” it said.
I’m very glad to hear it, although it seems “the incongruence of the two calendars had marred historical recordings in the Eastern Mediterranean and environs since the dual systems began. And to add to the confusion, Jesus’s followers had failed to record the exact date of their Lord’s resurrection.”
All very interesting, but not a lot of help when it comes to booking flights for the Easter holidays. I thought I’d have one more go with a site called Christiantimes.com.
Seems I was right – the Passover does have some part to play in the movable Easter feast; but what part exactly is unclear. Well, unclear to me. It may be perfectly obvious to Christiantimes.com which explained how a lot of trouble had been caused by “the Quartodecimian Controversy”.
“The Passover always occurred on the Jewish date of Nisan (or Nissan) 14,” it explained. “Thus the name, Quartodecimian, was derived from the number 14 (‘quartus’ or 4 and ‘decius’ or 10). Those holding to this view believed Easter should be celebrated on the same day as the Jewish Passover.”
Which would be fine and dandy if the Jews could agree on the date of the Passover. But they can’t because “the Jews used a lunar calendar and not a solar calendar”.
Church leaders have been arguing about this for 2,000 years and I can’t see them reaching agreement any time soon. But I don’t see why the rest of us should wait for them.
In some parts of England all the schools take their Easter break on the same two weeks every year, regardless of the actual date of the rambling religious festival. They make a long weekend of Good Friday and Easter Monday but have the full holiday on a fixed fortnight which is – around now, as it happens – in the middle of April and the middle of the term. This works well for the schools and is a big help to parents trying to balance childcare with the needs of their own employers.
I think we should adopt this policy in Irish schools and I would be very happy to see it extended to the wider festivities. Crack the eggs, roast the lamb and don the Easter bonnets on a fortnight in late April; let the churches mark the Resurrection on whatever date the lunar calendar dictates. Christianity would benefit from the separation of the solemn events from the increasingly commercial Easter celebrations.
And the rest of us could plan a Spring break without having to consult a lunar calendar or the Torah.