The earliest believers in the church of Asia Minor wished to keep the observance of Easter in correlation to the Jewish Passover. Because the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ happened after the Passover, they wanted Easter to always be celebrated subsequent to the Passover. And, since the Jewish holiday calendar is based on solar and lunar cycles, each feast day is movable, with dates shifting from year to year.
The date of the Paschal Full Moon is determined from historical tables, and has no correspondence to lunar events.
As astronomers were able to approximate the dates of all the full moons in future years, the Western Christian Church used these calculations to establish a table of Ecclesiastical Full Moon dates. These dates would determine the Holy Days on the Ecclesiastical calendar.
Though modified slightly from its original form, by 1583 A.D. the table for determining the Ecclesiastical Full Moon dates was permanently established and has been used ever since to determine the date of Easter.
Why Change Now?
God had a plan, which, through the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus executed by consuming the Passover feast immediately before his passion, death and resurrection. The date has worked for centuries, so why change it now?
Some say the answer lies in the secular world and their need to fix the Easter holiday to make it convenient for schools. But Easter doesn’t need to change to accommodate civil calendars. The schools can fix their holidays and remove 2 days from the long summer break to incorporate the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. Easy.
Christian Unity and Our Lady of Soufanieh
There is, however, another much more important reason to fix the date of Easter linked to the prayer of Our Lady which echoes that of Jesus Christ.
Marian apparitions reported to have occurred in Soufanieh, a suburb of Damascus in Syria from December 1982 to March 1983. The Virgin is said to have appeared to a woman called Myrna Nazzour who developed stigmata wounds and started to secrete olive oil from her face and hands.
During the apparitions, the Virgin told Nazzour that “Christians should pray for peace, love one another and pray for the unity of the Christian churches.” This echoes the words of Christ,
“May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they may also be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.” (John 17:21).
Proposals to agree a date were put forward in 1923, 1997 and more recently in May 2014. On this occasion, Coptic Pope Tawadros II wrote a letter to Pope Francis asking for him to consider the matter again. In response, on 12 June 2015, Pope Francis remarked to the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services 3rd World Retreat of Priests at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome that “we have to come to an agreement” for a common date on Easter.
So there you have it, the move to set an agreed date for Easter comes from the desire to answer the prayer of Jesus ‘that they may all be one’.
To those who question whether the Pope has authority to change something that Jesus established, I remind them of the Lord’s words to Peter:
“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18).
Through Apostolic Succession, Pope Francis has the power and God-given authority to establish a new way of setting a date for Easter. So let’s pray for this intention, for peace and unity in the Church and the world.