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Commentary from 




Rivingtons, London, 1884


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.