Monday, April 07, 2008

Easter Question

An anonymous comment on the last post asks how the date of Easter is calculated because he thinks I will know. Interestingly I went out for lunch on Easter Sunday with my mother and I`d no sooner walked through the door of the restaurant when the maître d' came rushing up to me to ask me how the date of Easter is calculated. I`m afraid I`ve never taken a great interest in the subject but know it is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Further research reveals that this must therefore never fall before March 22nd and never after April 25th.

However looking at the old Catholic Encyclopedia I found some interesting stuff about Easter customs, some quite remarkable:

Men and women
On Easter Monday the women had a right to strike their husbands, on Tuesday the men struck their wives, as in December the servants scolded their masters. Husbands and wives did this "ut ostendant sese mutuo debere corrigere, ne illo tempore alter ab altero thori debitum exigat" (Beleth, I, c. cxx; Durandus, I, c. vi, 86). In the northern parts of England the men parade the streets on Easter Sunday and claim the privilege of lifting every woman three times from the ground, receiving in payment a kiss or a silver sixpence. The same is done by the women to the men on the next day. In the Neumark (Germany) on Easter Day the men servants whip the maid servants with switches; on Monday the maids whip the men. They secure their release with Easter eggs. These customs are probably of pre-Christian origin (Reinsberg-Düringsfeld, Das festliche Jahr, 118).

I`ve never seen any of this going on on the northern parts of England!


Processions and awakenings

At Puy in France, from time immemorial to the tenth century, it was customary, when at the first psalm of Matins a canon was absent from the choir, for some of the canons and vicars, taking with them the processional cross and the holy water, to go to the house of the absentee, sing the "Haec Dies", sprinkle him with water, if he was still in bed, and lead him to the church. In punishment he had to give a breakfast to his conductors. A similar custom is found in the fifteenth century at Nantes and Angers, where it was prohibited by the diocesan synods in 1431 and 1448. In some parts of Germany parents and children try to surprise each other in bed on Easter morning to apply the health-giving switches (Freyde, Ostern in deutscher Sage, Sitte und Dichtung, 1893).

House blessings
On the eve of Easter the homes are blessed (Rit. Rom., tit. 8, c. iv) in memory of the passing of the angel in Egypt and the signing of the door-posts with the blood of the paschal lamb. The parish priest visits the houses of his parish; the papal apartments are also blessed on this day. The room, however, in which the pope is found by the visiting cardinal is blessed by the pontiff himself (Moroni, Dizionariq, s.v. Pasqua).

Last year I offered to bless any houses of families that would like it as a way of honouring the custom and to get to do some parish visiting. It did take me quite a while to get around but this year I have offered to do this again and will be starting later this week.


Volpius Leonius said...

That is very good of you to do that Father, I'm sure many graces will result from it.

Anonymous said...

Easter for the Western Church is the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the 21st of March.

Anonymous said...

And for your bonus point, how do they work it out in the Eastern Churches?

PeterHWright said...

Old customs notwithstanding, I doubt many women would wait until Easter Monday to strike their husbands, should they feel it necessary, but then I'm an old bachelor, so I wouldn't know.

Fr Michael Brown said...

Ben, please tell us if you know!

Fr Michael Brown said...

This year house-blessings, maybe next year we can re-introduce conjugal slapping.

Anonymous said...

In 2006, I sang at Holy Saturday tenebrae in London, then caught a plane to Athens, arriving in time for Palm Sunday. How so?

Well, as far as I can make out (and I speak under correction), the disparity between East and West arises because both parties still determine the date of the equinox not by astronomical observation but by official rules drawn up at Alexandria in the fourth century. The 'church equinox' is 21 March. Since the Western Church adopted the Gregorian calendar in the eighteenth century, that means that our church equinox is never more than a day away from the astronomical equinox. However, the Eastern Christians (including Byzantine Catholics) still use the Julian calendar, so their church equinox falls on 4 April. This is why 'Greek Easter' is usually later than 'Roman Easter', though they can coincide - as they will in 2010 and 2011.

The World Council of Churches in 1997 proposed the scrapping of the Alexandrian rules and the adoption of a system based on direct astronomical observation. This would eliminate the difference, while allowing the Easterners to keep the Julian calendar.

Fr Michael Brown said...

Thanks Ben. I suppose it would be a bit more convincing if we all had Easter on the same day.