VATICAN CITY — Speaking to a global gathering of priests, Pope Francis signaled an openness to changing the date of Easter in the West so that all Christians around the world could celebrate the feast on the same day.
The Pope on June 12 said “we have to come to an agreement” for a common date on Easter.
His comments came in remarks to the World Retreat of Priests at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. The event drew priests from five continents.
Noting jokingly that Christians could say to one another: “When did Christ rise from the dead? My Christ rose today and yours next week,” he said that this disunity is a scandal.
The Orthodox Churches normally celebrate Easter a week after the Catholics. Some Orthodox leaders have also reflected on the dating of the Christian holy day. In May, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II wrote to the papal nuncio in Egypt suggesting a common date for Easter.
Historian Lucetta Scaraffia, writing in the Vatican daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, said the Pope is offering this initiative to change the date of Easter “as a gift of unity with the other Christian churches.”
A common date for Easter, she said, would encourage “reconciliation between the Christian churches and … a sort of making sense out of the calendar.”
She noted that the proposal could help reinforce the identity of persecuted Christians, particularly those in the Eastern churches that are at risk of disappearing.
Scaraffia wrote that the simultaneous celebration of the Resurrection by all Christians “would increase the importance of the central feast of the faith in a moment when changes seem to be suddenly coming throughout the world.”
“The Pope’s remarks implicitly underscore an important fact: In the countries where Christian identity is being overshadowed, the marking of time continues to be tied to the life of Jesus,” she added. “We also know also that the calendar is not only a convention but also something profound and symbolically relevant.”
Scaraffia said Easter and related feasts “constitute a distinct aspect of the liturgical year because they are connected with a cycle of time that repeats every year and marks the returns of the seasons.”
She also pointed out that the date of Easter is established based on the cycle of the moon, just as the Muslims and Jews establish their important feasts with the lunar calendar. According to Catholic Answers, “On the Gregorian calendar (the one that we use), Easter is the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon, which is the first full moon on or after March 21.”