Why do Catholics celebrate Easter earlier: what is paschalía?

Yulia PoteriankoNews
The main symbol of Easter for Catholics is not an egg, but a rabbit. Source: Created with the help of AI

This year, the gap between Catholic Easter and Orthodox Easter is enormous. Christians of the Western rite celebrate on March 31, while the Eastern rite is celebrated more than a month later, on May 5. But why did this tradition develop?

It is based on the paschal calendar. That is the method of calculating the date of Easter. OBOZ.UA looked into the nuances. And tells why the transition of the OCU and the UGCC to the new church calendar did not affect the celebration of Easter.

What is Easter and how is the date of the holiday calculated?

Christian Easter is closely related to the Jewish Passover because it was during its celebration that the events of Holy Week took place, and Christ was crucified and resurrected. According to the Jewish calendar, the holiday begins on the evening of the 14th to 15th of Nisan, which falls in March-April according to the solar-lunar calendar of the Jews. Initially, the date of Easter was calculated by reference to this calendar.

But in the early fourth century, Christians decided to develop own system for determining the date of Easter. This method is called the paschal calendar. It ties the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ to the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

Today, there are two Easter chronologies, the Alexandrian and the Gregorian. The Alexandrian was adopted during the first Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325. It sets Easter for the first Sunday after the full moon that follows the vernal equinox. However, if the holiday calculated in this way coincides with Passover, it is moved a week later. This Easter was tied to the Julian calendar, which was in use at the time.

But in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced a new, more accurate calendar. And with it, he introduced a new Easter calendar. Now it is used by Christian churches of the Western rite, both Catholics and Protestants. Eastern Christians use the Alexandrian calendar, which correlates more with the Jewish approach.

Why the dates of Easter do not coincide after the OCU switched to the new calendar

Even though on September 1, 2023, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church switched to a calendar as close as possible to the Gregorian calendar, the changes did not affect Easter. Now we have the New Julian calendar, not the Gregorian calendar.

Its key difference is the method of calculating the date of Easter. It has remained the same as it was. Therefore, Orthodox Easter is still synchronized with Passover to a certain extent.

Traditions of Catholic Easter

The traditions of celebrating Easter among Catholics are also different. The differences begin with Lent. It is shorter by a week and less strict for Catholics – believers are allowed to eat eggs and milk and to eat meat on holidays. But you need to limit the number of meals to one a day.

The Easter table of Catholics is generally similar to that of the Orthodox, but more attention is paid to sweets rather than to fasting foods. Thus, chocolate eggs should always be present alongside dyed eggs. As for meat, it is more common to cook rabbit and turkey for Easter.

By the way, it is the rabbit, not the egg, that is the symbol of Easter in the Catholic world. Since ancient times, the hare has been considered a symbol of fertility. It was also credited with the ability to reproduce without losing its virginity, which correlates with the biblical legend of the immaculate conception of Christ. In the Middle Ages, the eared animal was also considered a symbol of resurrection.

It is traditionally believed that the Easter bunny brings chocolate eggs to children as a gift. In German folklore, the legend that he hides his gifts in the garden and children have to look for them on the holiday has been established. It was the German Catholics who made the rabbit a popular Easter symbol as they settled around the world.

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