Why is Easter on a Sunday?

Jesus didn’t rise from the grave on the third Sunday in April. He also didn’t die three days before the third Sunday in April. It happened when it happened. So why isn’t it celebrated on particular days?

Well, it all depends on which calendar you prefer to use. On a lunar calendar, Easter occurs around the same time every year. If I’m correct (probably not) Easter is set as the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Vernal Equinox. Actually, I think that Good Friday (or Maundy Thursday) is set that way … first one after the full moon, and then the Sunday after that’s Easter.

Unlike Christmas, Easter is one event in Christ’s life that can be calculated with a pretty high degree of certainty.
Easter occurred on the Sunday after Passover – the gospel says that Jesus & disciples went to Jerusalem for Passover, and that was what the Last Supper meal was (also why there were so many people around in the city).

The date of Passover was fixed in Moses’ time as the fourteenth day of the first month (the year started in the spring). I don’t know for sure how it is set now, or what differences there are in how Christianity & Judaism set the festival dates.

Here’s an explanation of while Easter wanders around the calendar:


The Bible records that Jesus was crucified on a Friday and rose from the dead on a Sunday, so it is not as if Sunday was picked at random as being the day to celebrate Easter.

If you want the long version (covered by Cecil in the phrase “They argued about it until the 8th century”), try the article Easter Controversy from the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907-1919 version).

Thanks so far for the replies.
I can understand the priests wanting Easter on a Sunday. That makes sense. But at the same time, Jesus died when Jesus died. Yom Kippur doesn’t always fall on Shabbat even though it’s the holiest of the Jewish holidays. It falls where it falls.
Unless I’m missing something, the gregorian calendar was set up pretty much revolving around Jesus. If they’re going to rotate Easter around every year, at least put it on a Monday and give us all a long weekend! :wink:
I don’t know why I’m so interested in this. The thought just occurred to me today and I couldn’t think of a logical answer. Now that I have one, I’m even more confused. Priests wanted to ignore the real date for…what? Universal feng shui?

Imagine! Pope Gregory XIII centering something around Jesus! How odd!

Not sure what part of the computation you are not understanding, Enderw24. The celebration of Easter occurs exactly when it should each year as measured on a lunar calendar. The fact that a lunar calendar isn’t congruous with a solar calendar is irrelevant, since the festival that triggered the events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus (Passover) was (and still is) set each year on the basis of a lunar calendar.

No one knows WHAT month (March or April) the act actually occurred on, because we don’t know what year it occurred in.

In short, it might very well have happened on the third Sunday in April.

What? You don’t get a long weekend?

You need to come to Australia, mate. The Easter long weekend is written into our social fabric. We have Good Friday as a public holiday, followed by another holiday on Monday (to compensate for Easter Sunday). Four days off for most Australians. Many major events, such as picnic horse race meetings, car races, festivals etc, have become traditional favourites because of our long Easter break.

No one was trying to ignore the real date.

The issue is not (primarily) one of “belief” or religion, but of culture and calendars.

Although the details vary from gospel to gospel, the “standard” reconciliation of the gospel stories is that Jesus died on a Friday following a Thursday Passover. (You can read the story a bit differently.) Passover occurs at different times in the Gregorian calendar each year. Why? Because the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar with all dates fixed to the solar year of approximately 365 1/4 days. The winter and summer solstices will always fall within the same three-day range each year and the spring and autumn equinoxes will also fall within the same three day range each year. The Romans deliberately calculated their calendar so that a “date” (say, the Ides of March) would occur at the same point in the Earth’s orbit about the sun each year. When the Gregorian reform was imposed on the calendar, it was a reformation of the Roman solar calendar.

Passover, however, is calculated on the Jewish calendar which is lunar, not solar. Each month is based pretty much on the moon’s cycle through its phases, having either 29 or 30 days. Since the moon’s phases are not synchronized with the earth’s orbit around the sun, they have to make regular adjustments to it. If, for example they used a 13 month “year,” that began (for the purposes of illustration) on the spring equinox, within a few years, their year would be starting near the summer solstice. If they chose a 12 month year, they would find themselves, within a few years, beginning the year near the winter solstice. Even in season-deprived places like Israel and Southern California they can recognize that there is a solar “year” that occurs independent of the moon’s phases. The Jewish calendar, therefore, has twelve regular months, and, when it looks as though the year might begin too early in the “wrong” season, they throw in the “leap month” Veadar to be sure that the year does not start too soon. (I am describing this very casually; they are quite smart enough to have worked out the exact dates for each month for years into the past and future.)

(Interestingly, the Islamic calendar which is also lunar, ignores the solar year, completely. Thus, the Desert Storm assault on Iraq raised protests for overlapping with Ramadan in the Spring, while this past year’s Ramadan occurred in December.)

Now, we know that Jesus died near Passover, although we do not know the exact year. On which date in the Roman calendar–later reformed to the Gregorian calendar–did this event occur? No one can say with certainty.

In the earliest days of the Church, there was no one calendar. Some followed the Jewish calendar, some followed the Roman calendar, some followed other local calendars.

So, we have an event that occurred, we are not exactly sure when, that is celebrated each (variably dated) year, among groups of people who do not even share the same calendars.

Your question presupposes that everyone at the time was using a single calendar so that they could mark the date. A normal suppostion for a person from early 21st century Western European culture, but not even close to the chaotic reality of the times we are looking back to.

Even in our society (or at least in the U.S.), we have non-date holidays: Labor Day and Thanksgiving have always been celebrated on the first Monday or fourth Thursday of their respective months. Memorial day, President’s Day, and a few others have recently, (recent to us geezers, anyway), been shifted to particular Mondays and away from particular dates.

(There was, sadly, some religious bigotry involved in the decision, as well. There were those who argued that the Church should deliberately avoid tying Easter to Passover, simply as a supposed “rebuke” to the Jews. The issue is sufficiently complex that that was not the deciding force, but it did play an unfortunate part in the discussion.)

Okay, thanks all for the education about lunar calendars and all.

But I think you might have missed the OP’s real question, cuz I’m understanding it very differently than you all. So let me phrase it this way:

Why is Easter tied to a specific day of the week? Why is it the Sunday after the full moon, rather than the third day after the full moon?

Because the dang book says he was resurrected on the Sabbath, which is Sunday for most Christians. In the liturgical calendar there a a number of movable feasts, which help get everything in order when there are incongruities between day sequence and feasts that need to be on a particular day of the week.

Clarification: as Fiddlesticks noted, he was raised by the end of the Jewish Sabbath, i.e. Sunday morning. which gets used as the Christian sabbath. And this makes sense with the lunar calendar BECAUSE 7 days (a, ahem, week) times 4 is a lunar month, so a lunar day that is on Sunday will be on sunday in the next lunar year, too.