MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Easter is still two weeks away, falling on April 24 this year. Last year Easter was on April 4. Some years it’s March. The varying dates have even some avid churchgoers confused.
Cherie in White Bear Lake wanted to know, “Why is Easter so late this year?”
It’s a Good Question that led us to a physics lab. Yes, a physics lab.
“Easter is determined more astronomically than by the church,” said Dr. Terry Flower, who teaches astronomy at St. Catherine University.
The simple answer about when Easter happens is that it’s always the Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.
“We’ll have a full moon next Monday. It’ll be the first Sunday following that full moon,” said Flower.
The process dates to the fourth century, when people around the world were celebrating the rebirth of Christ on different dates.
The Council of Nicea wanted to get everyone in line. They set an official ecclesiastical equinox on March 21. Then they looked for the first full moon.
But the full moon can fall on two different dates, depending on where you live. So in 1583, Christoph Clavius came up with a calculation to standardize the Paschal Full moon. Easter falls on the next Sunday.
“It’s almost the latest it can be this year,” said Flower.
Because of the length of a lunar cycle, Easter is never later than April 25. That’ll happen in 2038. The earliest is March 22.
Flower said, just like Christmas isn’t really about December 25th, with Easter, “the exact date we do that doesn’t really matter that much.”
However, every once in awhile there’s a move to try to lock down Easter to one date like Christmas. But because Christians believe Jesus was killed after Passover, and because Passover’s dates are also linked to the moon, the World Council of Churches has never seriously considered it.