Sunday Homilies

from Father Kevin Laughery, Troy St. Jerome and St. Jacob St. James Parishes, Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Note: Comments from this page do not reach me; instead, email:

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In our commerce-driven society, we might be forgiven for concluding – after seeing, when we are out shopping, the sign “Easter is April 8” – that the date of Easter is determined by Hallmark Cards.

In fact, Easter is the greatest Christian solemnity, and the Christian churches determine the date for Easter.

Very early in Christianity, there was no annual celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, since every Sunday had the character of a resurrection celebration.  (To this day, we understand our regular Sunday observance as a continuation of the understanding of every Sunday as Easter.)  In Rome, Pope St. Soter (166-175) established an annual resurrection celebration.

In establishing the annual celebration, Christians considered it important to link Easter with the Jewish celebration of Passover.  The Gospels place Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection in the time of Passover.  Our theology of the “Paschal Mystery” encourages us to see Jesus as the fullness of the liberating “lamb of sacrifice.”  The Hebrew calendar contains lunar months, and the effect of this linking was to make Easter an irregular occasion within the solar calendar.

Some early Christians were so strict about this link between Passover and Easter that they did not necessarily observe Easter on a Sunday.  There was an obvious tension between Passover and the new Christian meaning of Sunday.

At the first ecumenical council, Nicaea I in 325, it was determined that Easter would be celebrated on a Sunday.  Without getting too technical, we can describe the determination of the date of Easter as the Sunday following the full moon following the March equinox (when day and night are equal).  Rome’s adoption in 1582 of the Gregorian Calendar (named for the contemporary Pope Gregory XIII) was motivated by an awareness that the equinox was not stable against the calendar of Julius Caesar, but was apparently occurring ever earlier.

The Gregorian Calendar, of course, is the civil calendar used in our day and adopted throughout the world.  Western Christianity (including our Church and Protestant ecclesial com-munities) keeps to a calculation of Easter in accord with Nicaea and the Gregorian Calendar.  Easter thereby occurs within the period March 22 to April 25 inclusive.  Many Orthodox Churches, however, apply Nicaea and the Julian Calendar.  This means that not all Christians necessarily celebrate Easter on the same day.  This year, for instance, Eastern Orthodox Easter is April 15.

We Christians might display to the world at large a better sense of our unity by reaching a consensus on a common day for celebrating Easter.  The World Council of Churches has made a proposal in this regard.  The proposed calculation is very close to the current calculation of Western Easter in most years.  

As we ponder these complicated matters, we as speakers of English might want to reconsider our use of the name Easter, which derives from the name of a Germanic pagan goddess.  Many modern languages use as their word for Easter a term derived from Pesach, the Hebrew name for Passover.  The Latin term is Pascha.  Adherence to a link with the “perpetual institution” of the Passover celebration helps us appreciate the imagery of our risen Savior as the Lamb of God whose blood has been shed for our salvation.

Category:general -- posted at: 10:24am CDT