In 325 CE, the Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox. (*) From that point forward, the Easter date depended on the ecclesiastical approximation of March 21 for the vernal equinox.
Although Easter is liturgically related to the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere (March equinox) and the Full Moon, its date is not based on the actual astronomical date of either event.
- March 21 is the church’s date of the March equinox, regardless of the time zone, while the actual date of the equinox varies between March 19 and March 22, and the date depends on the time zone.
- The date of the Paschal Full Moon, used to determine the date of Easter, is based on mathematical approximations following a 19-year cycle called the Metonic cycle.
Both dates may coincide with the dates of the astronomical events, but in some years, they don’t.
Astronomical vs. Ecclesiastical Dates
In years in which the church’s March equinox and Paschal Full Moon dates do not coincide with the astronomical dates of these events, confusion about the date of Easter can arise. In 2019, for example, the March equinox in the Western Hemisphere happened on Wednesday, March 20, while the first Full Moon in spring was on Thursday, March 21 in many time zones. If the church followed the timing of these astronomical events, Easter would have been celebrated on March 24, the Sunday after the Full Moon on March 21.
However, the Full Moon date in March specified by the church’s lunar calendar, also called the ecclesiastical Full Moon, was March 20, 2019—one day before the ecclesiastical date of the March equinox, March 21. For that reason, the Easter date 2019 is based on the next ecclesiastical Full Moon, which is on April 18. This is why Easter 2019 falls on April 21.
In the New Testament, Passover and Easter are tied together. Jesus enters Jerusalem and gathers his disciples to celebrate the Passover meal, memorialized by Christians as the Last Supper. … They celebrated Easter on the first Sunday after Passover, as we do as well (with rare exceptions)
So the date of Easter is connected to the date of Passover. (Passover commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.) But Passover and Easter don’t always coincide. Last year Passover was in April, and Easter was in March
We wish our colleagues and customers who celebrate, chag sameach, Happy Easter.
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