Seldom have the ponderings at the Vatican had much impact on the rituals of Rex and Zulu, but if an idea, which Pope Francis supports, ever takes effect, it could be logically sound for Rome and good for business in New Orleans.
For nearly 2000 years various Catholic sects such as Roman, Coptic, Orthodox and other Christian denominations have celebrated Easter on different Sundays, each with a convincing argument why their way is right. Francis even applied a rare bit of papal wit to the situation by saying, “When did your Christ rise from the dead? My Christ rose today, and yours next week.”
How the situation got like this is complex and laced with the byzantine rivalries of the ancient European/Asian world with overtones of references to the Justinian and Gregorian calendars and the Council of Nicea – for starters. In the western world, Easter has traditionally been celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, but there is no historic link why. It is time for history to move on. When then should Easter be? Most of the discussion suggests early to mid-April, a date that would best embrace the rival dates. That sounds good to us. One suggestion is that Easter would always be on the second Sunday in April. (This year it would be on April 10 instead of the pre-ordained March 27. Ash Wednesday would have been February 24 and Mardi Gras February 23.)
What is good for Easter, and for Mardi Gras, is that the timeframe would be consistent. The actual dates would still shift each year but by no more than a few days.
For the churches it would be an act of unity; sects separated by centuries would be celebrating their most spiritual date together. For the worshipper, a core standardized dated would give more legitimacy to the Easter story placing it into a consistent time frame.
And down in New Orleans the move would strengthen Carnival by making it easier to plan within a tighter time period. No longer would Captains and programmers be challenged by the occasional early Mardi Gras. Carnival season would still start on Twelfth Night, Jan. 6, but now the length of the season would be consistent. For King Cake bakers and hotel bookers, that’s good news.
(We know, however, that a later date does not automatically guarantee better weather. Three carnivals ago Mardi Gras was on a cold and rainy March 4. Though, the odds are with the weather being better later into the season. Later dates also tend to draw more tourists who have had time to recuperate from Christmas.)
On matters of Carnival, “tradition” is always part of the debate. Truth is there is nothing spiritual about the current lunar-based system for determining the dates. Nowhere does the bible speak of the resurrection as being “after the Vernal equinox.” Linking events to an astronomical phenomenon is a pagan invention going back to when people had little to do at night than study the sky.
We live in a more logical world. We urge Pope Francis to advance the cause. Mardi Gras aside, unity of any type brings global peace a little closer.
Note: this blog is adapted from an editorial by Errol Laborde, which appears in the March 2016 edition of New Orleans Magazine.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book web sites.
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