European Union must set fixed date for Easter

Fri, Mar 27, 2009

EU must be involved because this issue affects the secular lives of most citizens

LAST YEAR, Easter fell so early (March 23rd) that it caused a major inconvenience to most people. As the parents of school children will remember, their kids were hardly back after Christmas when it was already time for the mid-term break. And they started their Easter holidays even before St Patrick’s Day.

Easter this year falls on April 12th. In two years’ time, it will fall on April 24th. That is a 32-day gap in the space of four years. It is the difference between having Easter falling before winter is really out and having it when spring is well advanced.

That is a big problem for the tourism industry and for its customers – it means that every year they have a different product to sell, and every year the post-Easter early summer period starts at a different time.

Most people consider that having Easter as a moveable feast is a hassle, but assume it is a hassle they have to live with. They assume that there is some deep religious reason for setting the date of Easter the way we do, and that the churches would be opposed to any change.

Nothing could in fact be further from the truth. More than 40 years ago, the second Vatican Council made this clear when it declared that it had no objection to bringing in a fixed date for Easter. A little over a decade later, in 1975, the then pope Paul VI actually went so far as to propose a specific date – the second Sunday in April.

So why has nothing happened? Most members of the World Council of Churches were prepared to agree, with one glaring exception. The Orthodox Churches refused to go along with a proposal that might create the impression they were being led by Rome – not surprisingly, since they define themselves mainly by their independence from Rome.

At the same time, though, they apparently also made it clear that they would have no objection either to a fixed date for Easter – just so long as it did not involve following a proposal that was driven by the Roman Church.

And there the matter has languished for more than 30 years – a highly sensible suggestion that meets wide agreement, but which lacks a driver acceptable to all the religious interests.

Who will fill this gap?

I suggest the European Union is the ideal body to take this idea and run with it. The EU could justify its involvement because this issue is not just a religious one, but affects the secular lives of most citizens and is a barrier to the efficiency of most businesses.

Not alone that, but the EU has a magnificent track record in standardising basic matters like this, to the greater benefit of all.

* It brought about common starting and ending dates for the application of summertime right across Europe;
* It persuaded all European countries to use the same international prefix(00) for making international telephone calls;
* It created and implemented the GSM mobile phone technology that is universally used across Europe, and in large swathes of the world beyond;
* It has succeeded in abolishing passport controls across almost all of Europe (although, regrettably, Britain and Ireland still stand aloof from this great step forward).

By taking on the task of establishing a fixed date for Easter, the EU would be making a highly popular step – and so would be improving its own perception among the peoples of Europe. Let’s do it!

Feargal Quinn is an Independent member of Seanad Éireann


  1. I like the idea, I really do. Evidence indicates that many in the Early diaspora Jewish community had a fixed date for Passover in March or April – transposed b/c they didn’t keep track of the Hebrew Calendar. This fixed date was transposed to the Christian celebration of Easter for quite some time (the Quartodecimians are an example in a way).

    But, I would suspect there would ultra conservative westerners and easterners who would insist on the old Computatus, and thus the church would be further split into three Easters instead of two as she currently is.

  2. I’m sorry, but this is a ridiculous idea. The EU is a secular body, but Easter is a Christian feast. The date of Easter is none of the EU’s business.

    If the EU or its member states wish to set the dates of secular events (e.g. school closings or bank holidays) based on the date of Christian Easter, then they are free to do so — but then they must live with the “chaos” that results from tying themselves to a moveable feast. If they don’t like that, then let them set the dates of their school closings, etc. without regard for the date of Easter.

    That is what we do, increasingly, in the United States. When I was a child in the 1960s, “Easter vacation” (and that is what it was called) was always during Holy Week. Now “Spring break” is the new name and it does not necessarily occur during Holy Week or have anything to do with the date of Easter.

    I am all for a common date for Easter among the Christian Churches. My proposal is that we follow the Nicene rules for determining the date (as the Orthodox do) but determine the equinox according to the most scientifically accurate calendar (which happens to be the Gregorian). But that would be quite different from having the Churches determine the date of Easter according to the dictates of a secular (and, frankly, anti-Christian) ruler.

    And I cannot let this article pass without noticing that the author asserts that the Orthodox Churches define themselves mainly by their independence from Rome. I am not Orthodox any more, but this is a slander that proceeds from a Rome-centric mindset, and betrays a profound ignorance of what the distinctives of Orthodoxy truly are. I am surprised that you, as an Orthodox priest, would post such poppycock with apparent approval.

Comments are closed.

error: Content is protected !!