Common Easter: Another Pope Heard From

Following up on an earlier report, it now seems that Pope Francis has agreed to a proposal from the Coptic Pope Tawadros II for a common (and apparently fixed) day for Easter: the second Sunday in April. It is not clear to me whether the Vatican has made any formal announcement regarding this, other than the previously reported “openness” of Francis to the proposal. According to the report, the Patriarchs of Antioch and Constantinople have already agreed to this.

I’ll admit to some ambivalence. I’m all for a common date for Easter, but I’m less than enthusiastic about untethering Easter from the lunar calendar and the connection with Passover.

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26 comments

  1. Fritz, I too am “less than enthusiastic about untethering Easter from the lunar calendar and the connection with Passover.” I will have to further ponder the pros and cons of such a change. I look forward to hear with others say and where this all goes.

    1. @Adam Wood:
      Yes, remember the Western schism: when in 1409, “Alexander V” was elected to resolve the schism, so we went from two popes to three!

      … And how are we going to get agreement from all the protestant churches and secular governments who often have a public holiday for Good Friday and Easter Monday?

      1. @Gerard Flynn:
        That is true. But if the Society of Pius X folk, for example, cannot accept the current reformed Roman Calendar, what hope is there that they will ever accept a changed date of Easter? And I’d be very surprised if all the Orthodox followed their patriarchs. (I remember hearing that some monks on Mt Athos erased the name of the Patriarch Athenagoras from their prayers after he met Paul VI in Jerusalem in 1964, and the Metropolitan Philaret of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia vehmently protested – the patriarch didn’t speak for him!) Anyway, we shall see …

      2. @Martin Wallace OP:
        Summorum Pontificum would allow for the celebration of Easter on the regular lunar date.

        Universae Ecclesiae makes this clear in para 28.

        28. Furthermore, by virtue of its character of special law, within its own area, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962.

        For the sake of example, that is why the Mass for Ascension Thursday still happens on Thursday in the Extraordinary Form even if the Bishops Conference has transferred it to Sunday. Then, when the Sunday arrives, the Pontifical Council for Ecclesia Dei has confirmed that the same Ascension Mass may again be offered — effectively creating a new External Solemnity.

        However, the Council has also made clear that a community could choose to ignore it, and simply offer the regular Mass of that Sunday, still fulfilling the obligation to attend Mass on that Holy day. — Because the obligation to attend Mass is tied to the day, not the Propers used.

        Now whether Francis chooses to allow this derogation of Summorum Pontificum to continue with a Common Easter Date is still up to him. However, he has made pretty clear that he believes the Extraordinary Form is basically a fad, so I bet he would be inclined to leave it alone.

  2. I don’t know which I value more, an Easter date that looks back to the Passover roots of our faith, or an Easter date that looks forward to a united and universal Christian Church’s witnessing to one God, one Faith, one Lord of all.

  3. I happen to think a fixed date is worse than two different dates (and don’t see why any Orthodox who have retained their Julian calendar would think such an innovation more palatable than a simple adjustment – a la Gregorian – of what name and number we ascribe to today’s date), but if these churches do move ahead with such a plan I earnestly implore them to remember that they cannot pull it off without Moscow.

  4. A comment on the website I linked says:

    “The Coptic Bishop Barnaba of Turin, participated in one of the Family Synod, held at the Vatican over the past 3 weeks. Apparently, he was greeted by Pope Francis who also told the bishop about his agreement to unify the celebration of Easter among various Churches.

    There was no further formal announcement, but it’s understood that the Churches would still need to work out the modalities.”

  5. The last Sunday in March is too early; the second Sunday of April would put Easter kind of late. The first Sunday is “just right.”

    1. @Lee Bacchi:
      Well, if we want to go for the Gregorian median days, it would be the Sunday falling from April 5 to April 11. (A drag for people born in late February.)

      The Russian Orthodox Church is the key rudder – is there any reason to imagine it would accept any change (other than perhaps a technical adjustment to the calculus)? I’ve seen/heard no evidence o of that.

      Then there’s the small matter that Rome doesn’t speak for its separated Western brethren.

      I think the loss of connection to Pesach would be very sad. (Even though the Jewish calendar acquired a different intercalary month method a generation after Nicaea.)

  6. While a fixed Easter date is not my preference (and I suspect would also not be preferred by many other traditional-leaning folks) it does end up meshing fairly well into the EF Calendar. This would lead to a situation where Septuagesima (the beginning of the pre-Lenten season) always falls after Candlemas (the end of the Christmas season). The 2012 calendar shows a near-perfect example — the earliest Easter could fall is April 8, making the earliest date for Septuagesima Sunday February 4 (it was the 5th in 2012 since that was a leap year). SSPX may not want to buy into it, but I think the Ecclesia Dei groups could live with it.

    I do see an unintended consequence that would need to be addressed and remedied in the Ordinary Form Calendar/Lectionary — because of the current pattern of Ordinary Time, there are several Sundays/weeks worth of readings we rarely encounter because of the movement of Lent/Easter/Trinity Sunday/Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. These readings would always be skipped in a fixed-Easter calendar.

    A similar problem is avoided by the EF Calendar/Lectionary because the last two Sundays after Epiphany would permanently move to the end of the year between the Twenty-third and the Twenty-fourth and last Sundays after Pentecost in the same manner they do in some years with the current moving-Easter calendar.

    1. @Matthew Morelli:

      Matthew: “While a fixed Easter date is not my preference (and I suspect would also not be preferred by many other traditional-leaning folks) it does end up meshing fairly well into the EF Calendar. This would lead to a situation where Septuagesima (the beginning of the pre-Lenten season) always falls after Candlemas (the end of the Christmas season).

      I do not understand your interest in Pre-Lent. Pre-Lent is no longer a fast and abstinence period for traditionalists, and has not been a period of penitential acts for centuries. The shift to a per annum calendar in the Ordinary Form merely recognizes that the beginning of the penitential season seventy rather than forty days before Easter had resulted in a disregard for the thirty day introductory period. I would be very surprised if there is a movement to bring back the previous practice even among those who would wish to “tridentinize” the reformed calendar.

      I appreciate Pope Francis’s gesture of Christian unity. Still, the biblical parallels should not be broken. It’s doubtful that many Orthodox would agree to calculate Easter according to the Gregorian calendar. The latter would be the easiest move, in my view, even if it is very impractical.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo:
        One of the odd things I’ve observed whenever I’ve had chance to visit local mainline Protestant churches is that they continue to use the “Tridentine” names for the seasons, even when they do not use traditional liturgy or a one year lectionary cycle. I’ve found myself at a (VERY liberal) Lutheran church on Sexagesima and an Episcopal church on one of the Sundays After Pentecost.

      2. @Jack Wayne:

        Sure. Also, Sundays after Epiphany. I always thought it very odd that churches descended from the Reformation would maintain Pre-Lent, at least in name. Protestants don’t abstain or fast, so why a preparatory penitential period for Lent?

        Easter date synchronization according to one calendar, or the introduction of a fixed Easter date, proclaims a unity which might only be superficial. I wonder if Pope Francis is wise to begin an ecumenical invitation with a discussion of the most holy day of Christianity. I’m partial to Pope Francis and I trust his judgment. Still, Pope Francis as a celebrant of a Byzantine liturgy, with the blessing of Patriarch Bartholomew (maybe the two patriarchs might concelebrate! Now that would be awesome!) might be a better tentative step.

      3. @Jordan Zarembo:

        Eh? Would not a concelebrated Divine Liturgy presuppose, well, the restoration of full communion? Whereas Easter date synchronization would return us to where we were before the Gregorian calendar reform, which does not presuppose that?

        Therefore as a tentative step, surely the Easter date is well, much more tentative?

  7. It is nice to have a date that the Church has to explain with religion and science and that the Church recognizes the role of the sun and the moon in the Northern Hemisphere. Removing those “influencers” will drop a connectedness to season, light, dark, which culture is defeating with advancing technology.

    The Church would be shooting itself in the foot if it scheduled the Easter Vigil annually on the same day as the NCAA Basketball Tounament semifinals…

  8. This would sure make life as a church musician a lot easier! But still, I’m not sure I like it…and the Protestant and governmental connections would be a huge ramification to consider.

  9. It would seem that the Pope could direct the Catholic Church to return to the Julian manner of dating Easter in one motu proprio. Has this ever been a consideration, and, if so, what appear to be the relative merits and/or disadvantages? Just curious if this has ever been a discussion.

  10. In the unlikely event that this has any basis in truth, it seems to be leaked information rather than anything that has been officially declared. The Coptic site is reporting it as a done deal, yet the likes of John Allen and Sandro Magister seem to be completely unaware of it.

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