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This year, Lent does not begin until March 6th. It seems unusual. However, Easter is three times more likely to occur during the month of April than March. As a result, in the rare occurrence that Ash Wednesday begins in March, we often will "feel" that Easter is going to be late. Numerous times have I heard someone say, "O, Easter is going to be late this year." The truth is that Easter is right on time. To say that Easter is late, would be the same as saying, "Tuesday is going to late next week." Tuesday will always occur between Monday and Wednesday, right on time and never late. When Lent begins in March, Easter will occur later in the spring than we are used to, but it will be on time. The real perception of a "late" Easter is that we feel like the winter is longer when Easter occurs later in the spring. Regardless Easter will always occur somewhere between March 21st and April 25th.

The dating of Easter has an interesting and confusing history. I have several books on my shelves that go into detailed discussion, but most of the information is now readily available on the internet. The current method for calculating the date of Easter is referred to as the Alexandrian method since it was the method used by the church in Alexandria. It was adopted as the official method by the Council of Nicea in the year 325. However, there were a few small groups who did not accept it. It also may have taken some time for the majority of churches to make the change. This is evident in the writings of St. Augustine over sixty years after the council: "Thus we learn from St. Augustine that in 387 Easter was observed in Gaul on 25 March, in Italy on 18 April, and at Alexandria on 25 April."1 By the fifth century, most churches had adopted the Alexandrian method.

People have often asked me how the church decides the date for Easter, to which I reply, "It is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox (first day of spring)." I often say this as quickly as I can for two reasons. One, it makes it sound really confusing to those who are listening (I know that said slowly it is already quite confusing). Two, it makes me sound really smart to say it so quickly. Therefore, anyone with a decent calendar can calculate the date of Easter. First you must find the vernal equinox (spring) which is usually March 20 or 21, next find the first full moon that follows the vernal equinox, then find the first Sunday after the full moon and you have Easter. In years when the full moon that follows the vernal equinox falls on a Sunday, Easter will be the following Sunday.

So now take a few minutes and memorize the formula and the next time someone says that Easter is late this year you can tell them that it is not late according the Alexandrian formula, then rattle off the formula and you will be the "life of the party".

Grace and Peace,

1 Cross, F. L. and Livingstone E. A. editors. The Oxford English Dictionary of the Christian Church. 2nd edition. Oxford University Press, 1985.