They who went about “preaching Jesus and the Resurrection,” and who
observed the first day of the week as a continual memorial of that Resurrection,
must have remembered with vivid and joyous devotion the anniversary of
their Lord’s restoration to them. It was kept as the principal festival
of the year, therefore, in the very first age of the Church, and Easter
had become long familiar to all parts of the Christian world so early as
the days of Polycarp and Anicetus, who had a consultation at Rome in A.D.
158, as to whether it should be observed according to the reckoning of
Jewish or Gentile Christians. [Irenaeus in Euseb. v. 24.] Eusebius
also records the fact that Melitus, Bishop of Sardis about the same time,
wrote two books on the Paschal festival [Euiseb. iv. 26], and Tertullian
speaks of it as annually celebrated, and the most solemn day for Baptism.
[de Jejun. 14; De Bapt. 19.] Cyprian, in one of his Epistles, mentions
the celebration of Easter solemnities [lvii]; and in writers of later date
the festival is constantly referred to as the “most holy Feast,” “the great
Day” [Conc. Ancyra vi.], the Feast of Feasts, the Great Lord’s Day, and
the Queen of Festivals. [Greg. Naz. Orat. in Pasch.]
The original name of the Festival was one which also included Good Friday,
Pasca, which was derived from the Aramaic form of the Hebrew name for Passover.
This name was also retained in the Latin: and in the time of Leo the Great,
when the distinction began to be made of the Pascha Dominicae Passionis,
and the Pascha Dominicae Resurrectionis, Dies Paschae began to be understood
chiefly, and soon alone, of Easter. In England the same name was
also once familiar perhaps derived from the French language, and Easter
eggs are still called “pasque” [or in a corrupt form “paste”] eggs all
over the North of England. The more familiar name of Easter is, however,
traceable as far back as the time of the Venerable Bede, who derives it
from the name of a pagan goddess Eostre, or Ostera, whose festival happened
about the time of the vernal equinox [De ratione Temporum, xiii.], and
was observed as a time of general sacrifices, with a view to a good harvest.
Later, and perhaps more trustworthy, philologists have derived the word
from the old Teutonic urstan, to rise, and urstand, the Resurrection: and
it is significant that the idea of sunrise is self-evident in the English
name for the day among Oriental Christian as Lampra, the Bright Day, in
which the same idea is to be observed. In old English Calendars Easter
is called “the uprising of oure Lord,” and “the Azenriysing of our Lord.”
The Judaizing habits which caused so much trouble in the earliest days
of Christianity long retained a hold upon many portions of the Church in
respect to the observance of Easter. In the Western Church the festival
was always kept on the first day of the week, as being the actual day which
our Lord had consecrated by His Resurrection; but the Churches of Asia
kept it on the third day after the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan, whatever
day of the week this might be. In the second and third centuries
there was much controversy respecting this difference of computation; but
the first Canon of the Council of Arles [A.D. 314] ordered Easter to be
celebrated on one day everywhere, and the Council of Nicaea [A.D. 325]
authoritatively ruled that Easter was to be kept on the Lord’s Day.
There being also much difficulty in determining, without scientific help,
which Sunday in March or April was the proper one, the same Council directed
that the Church of Alexandria should send timely notice to other principal
Churches of the day on which the true Easter would occur in the ensuing
year, and that thus an uniform practice should be maintained throughout
the Christian world. It was not, however, until the eighth century
that the computation of Easter was settled on sufficiently accurate calculations
to ensure uniformity; and the Church of England retained, for some ages,
a modified form of the Jewish method, which was not wholly banished from
the northern parts of the island until A.D. 714. These two methods
of computing Easter may be shortly explained by adding that the Jewish
or “Quartodeciman” computation aimed at observing the very day of our Lord’s
Resurrection (as we observe the day of His Nativity); while the method
which ultimately became universal aims at observing that Lord’s Day as
Easter which comes next after the actual anniversary. Each method
claimed apostolic authority from the first: Polycarp, who advocated
the Jewish system, declared that it was derived from St. John, with whom
he was contemporary; while the Bishops of Rome and others believed themselves
to be following a custom handed down to them from St. Peter and St. Paul.
The Anthems instead of “Venite exultemus” represent the primitive custom
of Easter morning, when the versicle “The Lord is risen,” and the response
“He is risen indeed,” were the formal salutation between Christians.
In the ancient rite of the English Church one of these anthems was said
in procession before Mattins; and the service was retained in 1549.
The present Rubric substituting these Anthems for the Venite was introduced
in 1552: they were not pointed in 1549.
In the Salisbury Use there was a celebration at a late hour on Easter
Eve, probably after midnight; and in the Prayer Book of 1549 two celebrations
are directed for Easter Day, the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel for the first
of which are those which are still retained; the Epistle being that previously
in use on Easter Eve. The second celebration had the Collect which
is now used (as it then was also) for the Octave of Easter Day, and the
Epistle and Gospel of the ancient Missal.