By Rev. Ralph Solis
Pastor, San Felipe De Jesus
This year Ash Wednesday fell on February 26, 2020. Last year Ash Wednesday fell on March 6. Why does Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday fall on different dates? It all has to do with the moon. I know this sounds strange, so let me explain.
According to the New Testament, Jesus’ death and resurrection occurred around the tine of the Jewish Passover; which is celebrated on the first full moon after the vernal equinox, which is around March 21. This soon led to Christians celebrating Easter on different dates. At the end of the second century, some churches celebrated Easter on the day of Passover, while others celebrated it on the following Sunday. Easter Sunday can fall as early as March 22 or as late as April 25.
In 325CE the Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox. From that point forward, Easter is celebrated on the approximate date of March 21. Easter is delayed by one week if the full moon is on Sunday, which decreases the chances of it falling on the same day as the Jewish Passover.
As we all know, Easter Sunday marks the end of the Lenten Season. So, when does Lent begin? Like Easter, Ash Wednesday falls on a different date every year. There are two factors that determine the date of Ash Wednesday. The first is, obviously, the date of Easter. The second factor is the length of Lent. From the earliest days of the Church, Christians have wanted to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection though a period of fasting and prayer that mirrors the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert. But there is one thing we need to consider. Because from the time of the Apostles Sunday is the day of Christ’s Resurrection, and fasting has been forbidden on Sunday.
Sundays are not included in the 40 day count, since they are days of feasting and not fasting. So, in order to have a full 40 days of Lent before Easter, we have to count backward from Holy Saturday, while skipping six Sundays before we reach a count of 40 days, so Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent falls 46 days before Easter every year. 40 days plus the 6 Sundays in Lent.
The Church stresses the penitential nature of Lent by calling us too fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and every Friday during Lent. Catholics who are over the age of 18 and under the age of 60 are required to abstain from eating meat and fast, which means they can have only one complete meal and two smaller ones during the day, with no food in-between.
Catholics who are under the age of 18 are required to refrain from eating any meat, or any food made with meat, on Ash Wednesday and every Friday in Lent, they are not required to fast. This fasting and abstinence is not simply a form of penance, however; it is also a call for us to take stock of our spiritual lives. As Lent begins, we should set specific spiritual goals we would like to reach even before Easter has come and gone in order to grow in our relationship with the Lord; by going to Mass and receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation.