Epact is a word of Greek origin, employed in the calendar to signify the moon's age at the beginning of the year. The common solar year containing 365 days, and the lunar year only 354 days, the difference is eleven; whence, if a new moon fall on the 1st of January in any year, the moon will be eleven days old on the first day of the following year, and twenty-two days on the first of the third year. The numbers eleven and twenty-two are therefore the epacts of those years respectively. Another addition of eleven gives thirty-three for the epact of the fourth year; but in consequence of the insertion of the intercalary month in each third year of the lunar cycle, this epact is reduced to three. In like manner the epacts of all the following years of the cycle are obtained by successively adding eleven to the epact of the former year, and rejecting thirty as often as the sum exceeds that number. They are therefore connected with the golden numbers by the formula (11 n / 30) in which n is any whole number; and for a whole lunar cycle (supposing the first epact to be 11), they are as follows: - 11, 22, 3, 14, 25, 6, 17, 28, 9, 20, 1, 12, 23, 4, 15, 26, 7, 18, 29. But the order is interrupted at the end of the cycle; for the epact of the following year, found in the same manner, would be 29 + 11 = 40 or 10, whereas it ought again to be 11 to correspond with the moon's age and the golden number 1. The reason of this is, that the intercalary month, inserted at the end of the cycle, contains only twenty-nine days instead of thirty; whence, after 11 has been added to the epact of the year corresponding to the golden number 19, we must reject twenty-nine instead of thirty, in order to have the epact of the succeeding year; or, which comes to the same thing, we must add twelve to the epact of the last year of the cycle, and then reject thirty as before.
This method of forming the epacts might have been continued indefinitely if the Julian intercalation had been followed without correction, and the cycle been perfectly exact; but as neither of these suppositions is true, two equations or corrections must be applied, one depending on the error of the Julian year, which is called the solar equation; the other on the error of the lunar cycle, which is called the lunar equation. The solar equation occurs three times in 400 years, namely, in every secular year which is not a leap year; for in this case the omission of the intercalary day causes the new moons to arrive one day later in all the following months, so that the moon's age at the end of the month is one day less than it would have been if the intercalation had been made, and the epacts must accordingly be all diminished by unity. Thus the epacts 11, 22, 3, 14, etc., become 10, 21, 2, 13, etc. On the other hand, when the time by which the new moons anticipate the lunar cycle amounts to a whole day, which, as we have seen, it does in 308 years, the new moons will arrive one day earlier, and the epacts must consequently be increased by unity. Thus the epacts 11, 22, 3, 14, etc., in consequence of the lunar equation, become 12, 23, 4, 15, etc.
In order to preserve the uniformity of the calendar, the epacts are changed only at the commencement of a century; the correction of the error of the lunar cycle is therefore made at the end of 300 years. In the Gregorian calendar this error is assumed to amount to one day in 312&FRAC12; years or eight days in 2500 years, an assumption which requires the line of epacts to be changed seven times successively at the end of each period of 300 years, and once at the end of 400 years; and, from the manner in which the epacts were disposed at the Reformation, it was found most correct to suppose one of the periods of 2500 years to terminate with the year 1800.
The years in which the solar equation occurs, counting from the Reformation, are 1700, 1800, 1900, 2100, 2200, 2300, 2500, etc. Those in which the lunar equation occurs are 1800, 2100, 2400, 2700, 3000, 3300, 3600, 3900, after which, 4300, 4600 and so on. When the solar equation occurs, the epacts are diminished by unity; when the lunar equation occurs, the epacts are augmented by unity; and when both equations occur together, as in 1800, 2100, 2700, etc., they compensate each other, and the epacts are not changed.
In consequence of the solar and lunar equations, it is evident that the epact or moon's age at the beginning of the year, must, in the course of centuries, have all different values from one to thirty inclusive, corresponding to the days in a full lunar month. Hence, for the construction of a perpetual calendar, there must be thirty different sets or lines of epacts. These are exhibited in the subjoined table (Table III.) called the Extended Table of Epacts, which is constructed in the following manner. The series of golden numbers is written in a line at the top of the table, and under each golden number is a column of thirty epacts, arranged in the order of the natural numbers, beginning at the bottom and proceeding to the top of the column. The first column, under the golden number 1, contains the epacts, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., to 30 or 0. The second column, corresponding to the following year in the lunar cycle, must have all its epacts augmented by 11; the lowest number, therefore, in the column is 12, then 13, 14, 15 and so on. The third column corresponding to the golden number 3, has for its first epact 12 + 11 = 23; and in the same manner all the nineteen columns of the table are formed.
Each of the thirty lines of epacts is designated by a letter of the alphabet, which serves as its index or argument. The order of the letters, like that of the numbers, is from the bottom of the column upwards.
In the tables of the church calendar the epacts are usually printed in Roman numerals, excepting the last, which is designated by an asterisk (*), used as an indefinite symbol to denote 30 or 0, and 25, which in the last eight columns is expressed in Arabic characters, for a reason that will immediately be explained. In the table here given, this distinction is made by means of an accent placed over the last figure.