“When the king, having ended the time of fasting, kept his Easter, the queen and her followers were still fasting, and celebrating Palm Sunday.” This intriguing domestic vignette, in which the principal characters were the Anglo-Saxon king Oswy and his queen Eanfleda, described by the Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History, was enacted thirteen hundred years ago, in the middle of the seventh century. It serves to remind us of the fact that the question of the proper date of Easter has been a center of much controversy in the history of the Church.
The question has been brought to the fore once again by the announcement that the Vatican Council, now in session in Rome, has by an overwhelming majority (2,058 to 9) agreed to fixing the date of Easter in the event that civil authorities adopt a calendar reform. As things are now, the date of Easter changes from year to year, falling on the first Sunday after the full moon which occurs on or next after March 21. This involves variations of date between the limits of March 22 and April 25, so that Easter is at present very much a moving feast. (The Eastern churches follow a different system for computing the date of Easter.)
In the early Church, controversy was aroused when some Christians, especially those of Asia Minor, maintained that Easter, the Christian Passover (see 1 Cor. 5:7), should coincide with the date of the Jewish Passover, which fell invariably on the fourteenth day of the lunar month Nisan. The rest of the Christian world insisted that Easter should always fall on a Sunday. Thus in the middle of the second century Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, tried unsuccessfully to persuade the bishop of Rome, Anicetus, to conform to the usage favored in Asia Minor. ...1
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