F YOU HAVE READ the excellent book by Lauren Pristas, Collects of the Roman Missals: A Comparative Study (2013), you probably noticed the chart she included, explaining certain changes to the Christmastide feasts. (Some will quibble with that term, because a diversity of opinion exists regarding the “true” definition of when Christmastide ends.) These changes to the calendar were enacted after the Second Vatican Council by CONSILIUM COETUS I—“Study Group 1”—whose members were Ansgar Dirks, Rembert Van Doren, Adrian Nocent, Aime-Georges Martimort, Pierre Jounel, Agostino Amore, Herman Schmidt, and Annibale Bugnini, who served as “Relator.” About twenty years ago, Father Valentine Young had warned me about certain feasts (The Holy Family, The Holy Name, and so forth) which underwent changes over the last century, and he was absolutely correct.
The chart created by Lauren Pristas seemed inadequate, so I created my own. Even before Vatican II this season was incredibly confusing:
* PDF Chart • CONFUSING FEASTS (1 Page)
—History of the Confusing Feasts which follow Christmas (1908, 1962, 1970).
When it comes to several feasts mentioned in that Chart, you can examine for yourself some of the research that went into its creation. There remains one final mystery which I don’t understand—and you can read about it and attempt to solve this mystery for me.
Feasts Replacing Sundays
Writing in 1912, Father Adrian Fortescue (d. 1923) produced six amazing pages which anyone interested in “the olden days” should read. Pay special attention to FOOTNOTE NUMBER 1 on page 213, concerning legislation by Pope Pius X circa 1912. Here is an excerpt, for those who don’t want to read all six pages:
“So the Proper of Saints—once an occasional exception—now covers very nearly the whole year, and the search for the Mass to be said has become a laborious process.”
To give an example of what Father Fortescue was talking about, look at this page from 1847, explaining to the laity the Sundays replaced by modern feasts:
“Octaves” for Important Feasts
In the olden days, feasts had “octaves,” but for the sake of “simplicity,” Pope Pius XII eliminated most of these—using a decree dated 23 March 1955—leaving only three: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. All other octaves in the Roman Rite were suppressed, including those in local calendars. A diversity of opinion exists regarding whether getting rid of octaves made sense; they did make life complicated, especially with all the commemorations and so forth. On the other hand, life was already extremely complicated, as you can see:
* PDF Download • DIRECTIONS FOR UNDERSTANDING
—This “explanation of an explanation” is from 1864.
I certainly can’t comprehend many items in the old directories. For example, look where it says “of which nothing” (below). I’ve been informed that means the complete Proprium Missæ for the 1st Sunday after Epiphany is “overpowered” by the Octave Day of the Epiphany, which (I guess) means Epiphany’s Octave Day is “stronger” than the 1st Sunday after Epiphany:
The old directories themselves agree that certain items are quite confusing.
For example, reading this:
…we remember in those six amazing pages how Father Fortescue complained: “We now need a current ORDO that tells us which Mass to seek in which appendix.”
Dominica Vacat • “Vacant Sunday”
A fascinating feature of old Catholic calendars is the Dominica vacat (“Vacant Sunday”). For example, the Sunday after 1 January had no feast; instead, an Octave Day was celebrated. Do you see how the “Octave Day of Saint Stephen” was celebrated on the “vacant” Sunday in 1859?
Do you see how the “Octave Day of Saint John the Evangelist” was celebrated on the “vacant” Sunday in 1875?
Do you see how the “Octave Day of Saint Stephen” was celebrated on the “vacant” Sunday in 1881?
If you want to see “vacant Sundays” from 1861, click here. By the way, those old Catholic almanacs often have funny items. Look how they claim their Chapel Choir Book is—quite literally—“the cheapest music book in the world” in an attempt to attract buyers:
The Feast of the Holy Family
A very close companion of Father Jean de Brébeuf was FATHER JOSEPH CHAUMONOT (1611-1693), who was born in France but died in Quebec. Father John A. O’Brien has written: “Many of the Indians regarded writing as magic and feared that it might do them harm; Père Chaumonot, one of the chroniclers, at times had to write in secluded places and carry his letters in his clothing, because of the superstitious fear with which the Indians sometimes regarded them.” In 1640, Father Jérôme Lalemant commissioned Father Brébeuf and Father Joseph Chaumonot to preach the Gospel to the Neutrals. While returning to Fort Sainte Marie with Chaumonot—and four other missionaries who had joined them on the way—Father Brébeuf fell on the ice, breaking his collarbone. The pain was intense, and he could not lift his left arm. His companions strapped the arm to his side and suggested that a sled be made to carry him over the trails. Declaring he “was still able to use his legs,” Brébeuf turned down the proposal, and they continued on. They cleared places in the snow and passed the nights there, while the wind blustered and the cold pierced the marrow. Brébeuf at one point confided to Chaumonot that the pain was severe, but no greater than the agony he had asked from God. “We proceeded joyously and with courage,” wrote Chaumonot, “despite the cold, the fatigue, and countless falls on the ice.” Their goal was not only to reach Sainte Marie, but to reach it by March 19, the feast of Saint Joseph, to whom they eagerly wished to offer Masses. They fasted from midnight and arose with the dawn. They weathered the sodden snow, the muddy, slushy paths, and the swollen streams. Limp and exhausted, they straggled into Sainte Marie a few minutes before noon on the nineteenth. Waving off the customary welcome, they washed, confessed, and hurried to the Altars, where the Missals already were open at the Mass of Saint Joseph. If I had more space, I would describe the absolutely crucial role Père Chaumonot played in the early missions of North America, alongside Saint Isaac Jogues and the others.
Although he was a Jesuit priest, Chaumonot founded the CONGREGATION OF THE HOLY FAMILY, which figures extensively in early Canadian history. Indeed, the feast of the Holy Family seems to come from Canada. In the Graduel Romain a l’usage du Diocese de Quebec (1841) we see that the Holy Family replaced the Third Sunday after Easter. But in the 1871 edition, we see that the Holy Family replaced the Second Sunday after Easter. In 1921, Pope Benedict XV made the feast of the Holy Family part of the General Roman Calendar.
As far as I can tell, my chart is the first effort to carefully detail the changes made to feasts which follow Christmas (unless we also count the rather basic one by Lauren Pristas). Has anyone else made such a chart? My hope in publishing this would be that we can begin the process of returning the feast of the EPIPHANY to where it belongs—viz. 6 January—and also begin the process of restoring the ancient feast of the 1st Sunday after Epiphany. Modern feasts, in my humble opinion, should not replace feasts which stretch back 1,600+ years.