How Do They Figure Out What the Dates are for Lent and Easter?
Trying to wrap your head around how they figure out when the dates are for Ash Wednesday, Lent, and Easter? It's actually pretty cool!
The dates for Mardi Gras, Lent, and Easter fluctuate from year to year. A few years ago, I wanted to know why, so I asked then, Mardi Gras Captain of Captains for NWLA Brian Landy for clarification. He's a lawyer, so he's pretty smart!
Brian says that you start with calculating when Easter will fall, then count backward through the season of Lent to find the date for Ash Wednesday, Fat Tuesday, etc... It seems simple enough, but he's not done.
Check out what Brian had to say. I guarantee you'll learn something new!
The Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325), in addition to writing a very popular Creed, set the date of Easter as the Sunday following the paschal full moon, which is the full moon that falls on or after the vernal (spring) equinox. Following so far? It’s about to get tricky.
The Church does not use the exact date of the paschal full moon but an approximation, because the paschal full moon can fall on different days in different time zones, which would mean that the date of Easter would be different depending on which time zone you live in. For calculation purposes, the full moon is always set on the 14th day of the lunar month (the lunar month begins with the new moon). Likewise, the Church sets the date of the vernal equinox at March 21, even though it can occur on March 20. Both approximations allow the Church to set a universal date for Easter. Universal in a sense for Western Christianity, because the Eastern Orthodox apply the same basic formula, but they use the Julian Calendar instead of the Gregorian Calendar. That usually makes a big difference in when the vernal equinox appears.
We have all heard the tune, “These Forty Days of Lent,” but the song could be misleading, as there are actually 46 days that must be accounted for. The extra six days are the six Sundays that fall within the Lenten Season. Thus, 40 days for Lent, plus six Sundays, equal 46. For 2015, do the math and you will get Fat Tuesday on February 17. In 2016, you start a week sooner for Easter, so you end up a week sooner for Fat Tuesday, too…. February 9.
Keep in mind, I got this explanation from Brian several years ago so you have to adjust for the current year. Easter falls on Sunday, April 17th this year. Do the math that Brian explained above and you'll see that it all lines up perfectly!