The date of the first Good Friday

This year, the feast of the Annunciation, normally on 25 March, is displaced to Monday 4 April, because Good Friday this year is on 25 March in the Western church.
Orthodox Good Friday this year is 29 April, with Easter Sunday on 1 May. The Christian Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar when calculating the date of Pascha (Easter), and adheres to the rule set forth by the First Ecumenical Council, in Nicea in 325 AD, that requires that Pascha must take place after the Jewish Passover in order to maintain the Biblical sequence of Christ’s Passion.
This date of 25 March has a strong significance in Christian tradition, predating the schism with the East. Good Friday was on 25 March in 2005, but it will not occur again until 2157! What is all this about?
The feast of St Dismas, according to the Roman Martyrology, is also on 25 March (Octavo Kalendas Aprilis): “At Jerusalem, the commemoration of the good Thief, who confessed Christ on the cross, and deserved to hear from Him these words: ‘This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise.’”
This is significant in that it recalls an early Christian tradition that the death of Jesus, like that of Dismas, was on 25 March. This is not to say we can assert this for certain – there are many attempts to assign a precise date and year. But it was a strong early tradition. St Augustine (354 – 430) wrote in De Trinitate IV 5 (9):
“They said, ‘Forty and six years was this temple in building.’   John ii. 20 And six times forty-six makes two hundred and seventy-six. And this number of days completes nine months and six days, which are reckoned, as it were, ten months for the travail of women; not because all come to the sixth day after the ninth month, but because the perfection itself of the body of the Lord is found to have been brought in so many days to the birth, as the authority of the church maintains upon the tradition of the elders. For He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also He suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which He was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which He was buried, wherein was never man laid    John xix. 41, 42 neither before nor since.
But He was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th. If, then you reckon from that day to this you find two hundred and seventy-six days which is forty-six times six. And in this number of years the temple was built, because in that number of sixes the body of the Lord was perfected; which being destroyed by the suffering of death, He raised again on the third day. For ‘He spake this of the temple of His body.’
We don’t have to go along with Augustine’s playing with the symbolism of numbers, but he is reporting an earlier tradition. Tertullian, writing about 220 AD, says: “
“And the suffering of this extermination was perfected … in the month of March, at the times of the passover, on the eighth day before the calends of April, on the first day of unleavened bread, on which they slew the lamb at even, just as had been enjoined by Moses.” The eighth day before the calends (1st) of April is 25 March, counting both 25 March and 1 April.
Calculation of dates is complicated by the fact that the Jewish calendar is based on a lunar cycle and the Roman Julian calendar on a solar cycle. As Augustine shows, however, there was a tradition that Jesus died on the same date as he was conceived, and that this is 25 March. “The perfection itself of the body of the Lord is found to have been brought in so many days to the birth.”
This is also an indication that the date of the celebration of the birth of Jesus on 25 March was not taken from the Roman celebration of “Sol Invictus” but from the earlier Christian tradition of the date of the death of Jesus. The tradition that a person of such significance as Jesus
There was also the much disputed question in early centuries about when to celebrate Easter. Should it be derived from 14th Nisan, the Biblical date for Passover, regardless of what day of the week it was, or should it always be on a Sunday, the first day of the week as the gospels tell? The Irish church had a significant part in those disputes. There are existing documents with Irish calculations of the “Computus” for the calculation of Easter and the spring equinox (this year on 20 March). That they were able to calculate these matters at all to me is extraordinary, not forgetting that they used Roman numerals, not the Arabic (or Indian) numerals we use today. They had far greater awareness of the seasons and of the heavenly bodies than most of us have today. We have lost something in this.
So perhaps we could remember St Dismas this year, in the Jubilee of Mercy, on Good Friday, and remember too that every day is a day for mercy.
We commemorate the Easter Rising of 1916, not just to remember an event in history, but because it still holds significance for Irish people today. This is true whether our commemoration is on Easter Monday, the day of the Rising in 1916, or on Easter Sunday as is planned, or on April 24, which was the date in 1916.
At the Easter Vigil and on Easter Sunday remember not events of history, but events which, amazingly, still impart new life, a true Rising. We “re-member” them as we sing “This is the day the Lord has made!”
Pádraig McCarthy

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One Comment

  1. Typo:
    This is also an indication that the date of the celebration of the birth of Jesus on 25 March was not taken from the Roman celebration of “Sol Invictus”
    Should be 25 December

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