Crash Course on Holy Week and Easter Sunday

As Spring draws near, we can begin to prepare for the quintessential holiday of the season: Easter. Not everyone thinks of the same things when they think of Easter Sunday, nor do they celebrate it in the same way. This is especially true in a global sense, but still relevant here at home in America. Even people of the Christian faith (where Easter in the traditional sense has it roots) have many different practices and customs during this time of year. For many Easter Sunday is the culmination of a much longer ritual called Lent, which itself has many other important days and milestones in addition to Easter. Whatever your level of familiarity with the customs of Easter, my hope is that the following paragraphs will reveal some previously unknown facts about the holiday. Because, as everyone knows, Easter is much much more than colored eggs, candy baskets and the Easter Bunny. I urge you to read on, and learn some things that you may have missed in Sunday School.

Mardi Gras
Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Mardi Gras, which is arguably the “party capital” of the modern calendar, is where we begin our discussion. Sometimes referred to as Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras (which in literal translation from French means “Fat Tuesday”) immediately precedes Ash Wednesday (the start of Lent) and is the last day of the Carnival season. Though it is often viewed as the last opportunity for excess and mass consumption before the fasting and abstinence of Lent, the festival was in existence before the Holy Days discussed below became common practice. The largest celebration of Mardi Gras in the United States is usually in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the heart of Cajun country. The festivities are so elaborate and massive that extremely large quantities of trash line the city streets the following day, prompting locals to refer to Ash Wednesday as “Trash Wednesday.”

Ash Wednesday
Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. On the calendar it falls forty-six days before Easter, but since Lent is not observed on Sundays Lent is considered a forty day period. The date of Ash Wednesday is determined by mathematical algorithms based on lunar cycles (which will be discussed below), so it naturally falls on a different day each year, as do all of the Holy Days of Lent. It can fall as early as February 4 or as late as March 10. The dates of Ash Wednesday for upcoming calendar years are as follows:

2006 – March 1
2007 – February 21
2008 – February 6
2009 – February 25
2010 – February 17
2011 – March 9
2012 – February 22
2013 – February 13
2014 – March 5
2015 – February 18
2016 – Febraury 10
2017 – March 1
2018 – February 14
2019 – March 6

For many Christians Ash Wednesday is a day for remembering his or her humanity, mortality and inferiority to Jesus and God. Traditionally mass is held on this day, where devotees take part in a ceremony during which the priest or other clergy member marks a cross on each person’s forehead with black ash (often taken from the remains of burned palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday rituals) and says, “Remember man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Worshippers usually do not wash their foreheads until after sundown.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006 – Sunday, April 16, 2006

Lent is a period of fasting and abstinence. Historically a Catholic tradition, it is a period during which Catholics (and Christians of several other denominations) between the ages of 18 and 59 are required to limit their intake of food to one full meal a day, to be supplemented as needed by two smaller meals which when combined must not equal the aforementioned full meal. Excluding Sundays (and in some areas of the world March 17, Saint Patrick’s Day), this dietary restriction is in effect every day of Lent until noon on Holy Saturday, the day immediately preceding Easter Sunday.

The essential idea of Lent is sacrifice, and to conform to that aim while being practical in modern times, a more common practice today is for believers to give up something that they love to do during Lent, such as eating chocolate or having an occasional alcoholic beverage. Sometimes, Christians will donate the time or money that is usually spent on that activity to their church or some other charitable orginization. This practice is much less severe than the ancient practice of strict avoidance of meat, fish, eggs and milk products that limited the contents of the one single meal allowed daily. Regardless of the specifics of a person’s observation of Lent, the main idea is always sacrifice and/or abstinence in order to bring them closer to Jesus Christ and the ultimate sacrifice that Christians believe He endured to save men from the consequences of their unavoidable sins.

Holy Week (a.k.a. Passion Week)

Palm Sunday – Sunday, April 9, 2006
Maundy Thursday – Thursday, April 13, 2006
Good Friday – Friday, April 14, 2006
Holy Saturday – Saturday, April 15, 2006

During this week, it is encouraged to follow and focus prayer around readings from the Gospel accounting the events that took place on each day of Holy Week. On Palm Sunday Christians remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey as the “King of the Jews.” In some areas of the world followers braid together palm leaves, often in the shape of a cross, and hang them above their front doors or elsewhere inside the house. This practice is said to ward away the presence of evil. Many Catholics and Protestants hold Holy Thursday (or Maundy Thursday), Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, the three days preceding Easter sometimes referred to as the Easter Triduum, as the holiest days of the calandar. Holy Thursday is generally considered the day of the Last Supper (depicted in Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous Sistine Chapel painting), where Jesus announced that one of his twelve disciples would betray Him to the authorities who wanted Him dead. ”The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.’ ” (Matthew 26: 24)

Easter Sunday
Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus that, faithful to prophecy, occurred three days after his death. Easter as well as its related holidays are moveable feasts; that is, they all fall on different dates each year. The date of Easter is computed from an algorithm (a mathematical tool with a specific structure that is customized to perform a particular task) that is printed below as a curiosity.

c= y / 100
n= (y – 19) * (y / 19)
k= (c – 17) / 25
i= c – c / 4 – (c – k) / 3 + 19 * n + 15
i= i – 30 * (i / 30)
i= i – (i / 28) * * [ (21 – n) / 11]
j= y + y / 4 + i + 2 – c + c / 4
j= j – 7 * (j / 7)
s= i – j
m= 3 + (s + 40) / 44
d= 1 + 28 – 31 * (m / 4)

Note: All remainders from division are dropped.

y=year for which the date of Easter is desired
m=month of Easter for year y
d=date in month m of Easter for year y

Typically, Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first ecclesiastical full moon (the 14th day of a new moon) that occurs after March 21 (the vernal equinox, or first day of Spring). This means that Easter can fall on any Sunday between and including March 22 and April 25. The date of Easter Sunday for upcoming years is as follows:

2006 – April 16
2007 – April 8
2008 – March 23
2009 – April 12
2010 – April 4
2011 – April 24
2012 – April 8
2013 – March 31
2014 – April 20
2015 – April 5
2016 – March 27
2017 – April 16
2018 – April 1
2019 – April 21

Did you know?: In earlier times, on Easter Monday husbands were allowed to strike their wives; on the next day, wives could strike their husbands.


“The Holy Bible (Containing the Old and New Testaments)” published by Gideons International

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