What Is the Paschal Full Moon?

Paschal Full Moon

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In simplified terms, the Paschal Full Moon is the first full moon immediately following the Vernal (Spring) Equinox. It occurs most often in March but sometimes in April and is also called the Egg Moon.

Paschal Definition

The word Paschal means “Passover” in Greek. The paschal meal was the supper prepared and eaten during the Passover celebration. (Exodus 12; Matthew 26:17, 19; Mark 14:14, 16; Luke 22:8, 11, 13; John 18:28). The paschal lamb was the center of the feast. (Exodus 12:21; Ezra 6:20; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7).

According to the Gospel of John, Jesus was crucified the day before Passover, at the time the paschal lamb was slain (John 19:14). The apostle Paul saw Jesus as the completion and fulfillment of the paschal sacrifice (1 Corinthians 5:7). Christ is the spotless Lamb of God, sacrificed for the sins of the people, whose blood protects from God’s wrath and opens the way for God’s full redemption (Romans 3:25; 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; Revelation 1:5).

In ancient times, the Jewish Passover was observed on the full moon of Nisan, which is the first month of the Jewish ecclesiastical year. Months were based on a lunar cycle, with each new month beginning on the new moon. The full moon fell around the 15th of the month. On the 14th of Nisan, the paschal lamb was killed, at the start of Passover:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month [Nisan] is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. ... The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight." (Exodus 12:1–6, NIV)

The Paschal Full Moon and Easter

The date of Eastera moveable holiday—coincides with the Paschal Full Moon. However, the Paschal Full Moon may not be the exact same date as the actual astronomical full moon. The date can vary as much as two days from that of the actual full moon, although the two intersect more often than not.

In the earliest days of the Christian church, all believers agreed to celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection (Easter) at the time and season when these events had actually occurred—the time of the Jewish Passover. They also agreed that the Lord’s crucifixion had taken place on a Friday, which coincided with the 14th day of Nisan, the day on which the paschal lamb was slain.

Thus, the original celebrations of Easter by the Christian church were celebrated on the Sunday immediately following the first astronomical full moon after the Vernal (Spring) equinox. Over the course of history, beginning in AD 325 with the Council of Nicea, the Western Church decided to establish a more standardized system for determining the date of Easter.

Ecclesiastical Full Moon Dates

Astronomers were able to approximate the dates of all the full moons in future years for the Western Christian churches, therefore establishing a table of Ecclesiastical Full Moon dates. These dates would determine each of the Holy Days on the Ecclesiastical Calendar.

Though modified slightly from its original form, by 1583 AD the table for determining the Ecclesiastical Full Moon dates was permanently established and has been used ever since to determine the date of Easter.

Consequently, according to the Ecclesiastical tables, the most accurate current definition of the Paschal Full Moon is the first Ecclesiastical Full Moon after March 20 (which happened to be the Vernal Equinox date in 325 AD). So, in Western Christianity, Easter is always celebrated on the Sunday immediately following the Paschal Full Moon.

The possible dates of the Paschal Full Moon range from March 21 to April 18. As a result, Easter can fall anywhere from March 22 through April 25 in Western Christianity.

Sources

  • The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (Third Edition, p. 742). 
  • Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1249). 
  • Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics (Vol. 3, p. 88).