Thursday, October 12, 2017

Calendar Quandaries

Introducing a New Feast Day the Right Way

Pius XI at the throne during a Papal Chapel in St. Peter's
With all the talk lately about "integrating" the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form of Mass, in particular with regard to adding feast days of recently canonized Saints, it might be useful to look to the not-so-distant past: the most recent period when the traditional calendar was left mostly undisturbed--a key provision!--even though new feasts were added.

Under Pius XI (of happy memory), some changes to the calendar were not entirely felicitous, in my opinion. The feast of Christ the King is certainly a beautiful and noble devotion, but its liturgical observance does--we have to admit--act as a "perpetual translation" of the last Sunday of October. (Further, there is, in the associated Office, the unwelcome innovation of using at Matins fragments of a psalm, Psalm 88: that is, one psalm divided into two sections, something otherwise unheard of in the Office of Matins from the Common or Proper. But that is a quibble for another time.)

Some have argued, not without reason, that Christ the King essentially duplicates, in order to bring into relief, the mystery celebrated on Ascension Day. And although there is a kind of precedent in the duplication of the Transfiguration on August 6th from the Second Sunday of Lent, it is not a completely apt precedent in that there is no holy event in the life of the Church associated with the "Sunday nearest All Saints" as there is for August 6th (the relief of Belgrade thanks to St. John Capistrano and his battle cry of the Holy Name).

The extension by Pius XI of the feast of the Sacred Heart with an Octave is obviously modeled on the Octave of Corpus Christi. With the advantage of hindsight, though, it does seem perhaps to attempt too much with too little. I mean, the texts (not the reality of the mystery!) simply do not possess the splendor of St. Thomas's Office and Mass. Perhaps it's impossible that they could, since devotion to the Sacred Heart, properly so called, is essentially modern (post-Tridentine). In the medieval and ancient Church, devotion to the Sacred Heart seemed to be more intertwined with devotion to the Passion and consequently enjoyed greater literary riches to draw on. I must add, though, that I am myself attached to the Sacred Heart devotion and do not consider its post-Tridentine provenance to make it any less necessary or accessible. Nevertheless, I remain unconvinced that the Octave was sufficiently warranted, especially at the expense of Simplex feasts that went without their Office if they fell during the Octave.

Be all that as it may, the feast of the Divine Maternity on October 11th seems to be almost perfectly in line with traditional additions to the calendar. It is Pius XI's "liturgical monument" or memorial of the 1,500th anniversary of the Council of Ephesus with its emphatic confirmation of the title Theotokos, Dei Genetrix. With the exception of the specially composed or selected hymns for Matins and Lauds (which are, thankfully, more of the ecclesiastical Latin variety than the ersatz-Horatian style, as found in some Enlightenment forays into hymnography), lessons for the nocturnes, and the antiphons (and none of this is without precedent), everything else comes from the Common, as is the usual Roman custom. (After all, why have Commons if they are never used?) Although someone might argue that there was no "crying need" for a special feast of the Divine Maternity (that mystery is included in January 1st, after all), still he would have to agree that the choice of the date was apt; no violence was done to an existing feast; and nothing jarring or out of place with the Roman Church's liturgical customs was introduced.

Saints Days: Can't Live without Them, Can't Live with Them?

With all that as background, let us consider the unobjectionable proposal much bruited in recent years to "enrich" the Extraordinary Form with new Saints' days. One candidate, we are informed, would be Padre Pio, the great Stigmatist and Capuchin Confessor (in both senses of the word). While I doubt there is anyone who would question the outstanding holiness of St. Pio or his relevance to the contemporary Church amid all her afflictions, there is still the problem of his feast day, Sept. 23rd. Traditionally, this is the feast of St. Linus, with a commemoration of the much-revered Virgin, St. Thecla. Personally, I am skeptical, in the prevailing climate, whether much thought, if any at all, would be given to St. Linus or St. Thecla, because "who even knows who they are?" St. Pio is seen as more immediately important to the faithful. There was already a spate of this kind of reckoning in recent centuries, when ancient Martyrs' feast days were made to give way in the universal calendar to more recent celebrations: Pope St. Stephen I (St. Alphonsus), St. Lawrence's Octave Day (St. Hyacinth), Sts. Felix and Adauctus (St. Rose of Lima), and so forth.

St. Pio of Pietralcina (as celebrant at Easter High Mass):
Is there room in the traditional calendar for the holy Stigmatist?

In all these cases (and others could be cited), the feast particular to the Roman Church is subordinated to the celebration of a Saint pertaining to the Roman Church in the broad sense (St. Alphonsus being somewhat of an exception, of course) but in fact more universal and immediate in appeal, at least at the time of the canonization. Of course, the weight of tradition made it impossible in those days to suppress the earlier feasts entirely. Does anyone doubt that any such hesitation would come to bear nowadays, especially given the minimalist leanings of the 1962 revision?

Of course, no one is suggesting suppressing the feasts of St. Rose, St. Hyacinth, or any other great and established celebration. Rather, the question is: to what extent, if any, do the post-Vatican II Saints merit a universal observance at the expense of more ancient feast days? John Rotondi at his excellent blog Current Tridentine Ordo has suggested how the traditional calendar could be revised to give due weight once again to the particularly ancient and Roman elements of the liturgical year. Among other principles, he suggests reducing in rank or relegating to local calendars those Saints whose devotional appeal, or importance as founders of particular congregations, is no longer what it once was (for instance, St. Francis Carracciolo). His work has laid a foundation and set a precedent for approaching the suggestion grudgingly discussed nowadays of incorporating the new, post-Vatican II feasts into the traditional calendar.

Possible Principles for the Universal Roman Calendar

First: the Roman calendar, though of universal importance, is at the same time the calendar of the local Church in Rome. As such, it should retain its distinctive feasts and observances.

Second: any new feast incorporated into the universal Roman calendar must be of an importance, both for the Church in Rome and the Church Universal, that is unmistakable. Among the precedents from past ages of the Church might be: St. Cyprian, St. Thomas of Canterbury, Sts. Francis and Dominic, St. Teresa of Ávila. All of these Saints, of course, had a connection with the Roman Church even in its aspect as a local Church. They also had a great importance for the Church Universal, including the local Church at Rome, and this importance is unmistakable.

Is there room even for Paul VI?
Third: relegation to a local or particular calendar is not a sign of disrespect or disdain. Even Rome qua local Church has its particular calendar (St. Urban II, Bl. Innocent XI, et al.). Leaving aside the dubious mechanisms of the "new canonization process," we would willingly allow St. John Paul II to be celebrated in Poland and some other places. But to argue that his importance for the Church Universal is as undeniable as St. Cyprian's or St. Thomas Aquinas's is to be caught up in the enthusiasms of the present day. (Does anyone, for instance, read or cite Laborem exercens even one-tenth as much as De Ente et Essentia? Or would anyone put on a par with St. Cyprian's letters a Post-Synodal Exhortation--Pastores dabo vobis--that encourages seminarians to cultivate their "feminine side"?)

Finally: if we haven't realized by now that anything that deviates from the well-trodden path of Tradition ("Worker Priests," lay investiture, nouvelle théologie, etc. ad nauseam) is bound to end in frustration, error, or defeat, then we probably have no business meddling with something so delicate and fraught with consequence as the calendar of the venerable and sacrosanct Church of Rome.

Having said all this, I would be interested to hear which, if any, of the post-conciliar Saints our readers would consider nominating for the universal calendar of the traditional Mass and Office. Are any of sufficient weight to justify supplanting existing feasts or commemorations?


  1. The fact that st. Linus is in the Roman Canon can be used in two opposite ways.
    1. He is so important that he's mentioned in the Roman Canon and therefore his day should remain.
    2. He's already mentioned in the Roman Canon so it makes no difference if we get rid of his day.

    I have a soft spot for the celebration of "birthdays" of martyrs and especially the Roman ones.
    So, of course st. Pio, in my estimate would have a place in the calendar but not as a replacement for st. Linus (the second pope, mentioned also in the Sacred Scriptures).

    But then, there are so many of martyrs, both Roman and local (Sirmium and Cibalae in my case) that if we celebrated each and every one of them from now on regardless of the year cycle, there wouldn't be a feria for the next 20 years.

    Maybe (and this just popped into my mind) each local Church could celebrate her local martyrs by name, and all others communally, i.e., that the Church in Cibalae has it's own st. Eusebius and Polion day (which it does), but that Roman martyrs are commemorated as such, as Roman martyrs.

    That would kind of harken back to the days when the celebration was done on the martyrs' graves.

  2. Interesting stuff, Father. Thumbs up.

    But I think that there is no more need for a regulated universal calendar. Let the local traditions do their work. The current calendar should stay simply as tradition that is coincidentally shared universally.

    1. Thanks, Mirai!
      I agree for the most part. I have to say, though, that I really like the proposals John Rotondi makes on his blog, as far as restoring & "pruning" the traditional calendar (i.e., the one before the changes starting around 1950).

  3. Local variations in the calendar would help imbue the local churches with character than invigorates devotion. In North America we had a remarkable series of martyrs whose feasts are largely ignored, both in the old and new calendars. Local feasts are accounted for in some episcopal conferences, but not in a way that they can usually impede either the Sunday Mass in the new rite or the turgid Duplex feasts in the old (all one had to do was be the Italian founder of a religious order after Trent and instant canonization followed with a Double feast).

    I noticed in my survey of the French rites that most major Roman saints were kept, but certainly not as many popes or martyrs as in Rome. Then again, Rome did not keep St Genevieve and I doubt the Parisians expected Rome to do so.

  4. I just can't think of any post-conciliar saints that would trump the older feasts, since nearly of them are local. Some may merit a commemoration, like St. Pio, but that's about it.

    1. I tend to agree. Possibly Our Lady of Fatima on May 13th (but there's already Our Lady of the Rosary in Oct.). The Spanish Civil War and the Cristeros uprising were of Church-wide importance, but the beatified or canonized Martyrs from those persecutions don't seem to have a cultus of a similar breadth to warrant imposing (as it were) a liturgical feast.

    2. Maybe Hildegard of Bingen, although I'm not convinced she has a wide enough cult to warrant a universal feast. Pope Benedict named her a Doctor of the Church, but I'm still trying to understand why.

    3. Looking at it in a more political aspect - what would traditionalists broadly accept? - the only two that leap to mind as being both acceptable and of sufficient universal importance and cultus, scanning the post-1962 list, are (Padre) St Pio, and St Maximillian Kolbe.

      Of course, each one's death day presents difficulties with an existing saint or vigil which we would be reluctant to replace or move. Not an insuperable difficulty, if we're willing to be flexible in locating an alternative, appropriate day.

      Various groups of martyrs would also likely find broad traditionalist acceptance - the Forty Martyrs of England, the Spanish Civil War and Cristero martyrs, the Martyrs of Otranto, or even for that matter Francisco and Jacinta Marto and Louis and Marie-Azélie Guérin Martin....but I share Father's concern that none are likely of sufficient universal import in terms of cultus to justify trying to squeeze them into the universal calendar.

    4. Dear Athelstane,
      Good suggestions (as always)! Personally, my quandary is always that considering Saints in isolation (for instance, St. Francis Carracciolo), I'm drawn to them and enjoy celebrating their feasts, but in the larger picture, of course, I realize that there simply isn't room (calendrically or devotionally) to accommodate them all. Consequently, I find myself temperamentally more inclined to St. Pius V's rationale than to St. Pius X's.

    5. I believe the thousands of martyrs who died for the Faith in Communist countries warranting a universal cult (given how the Communists surpassed in many respects the Roman persecutors, especially as to the number of people killed), but the only problem is the date. It is very much needed right now, given that many are still drawn to some Communist teachings, if not all of them.

    6. Dear Father C,

      And I find your principles to be sound ones for informing such a project.

      I actually don't think it's a bad sign that we might only manage to insert one or two post-conciliar saints onto the universal calendar of the traditional Roman Rite. The truth is, the Tridentine popes were at times too profligate in stuffing up the calendar with new feast days. A healthy and proper use of local calendars to develop a cultus for other saints seems like a fitting solution.

  5. Why not simply move Saint Pius of Pietrocina to the twenty-fifth, an open day, as was the usual practice?

  6. At the risk of de-railing the thread I find this statement hard to comprehend: '(Further, there is, in the associated Office, the unwelcome innovation of using at Matins a fragment of a psalm, Psalm 88, so as to omit the lament that concludes that otherwise triumphal proclamation of David's kingship. But that is a quibble for another time.)'

    Although the Office of Christ the King does indeed contain Ps. 88 divided into two parts in the third nocturn of Pius XI's Office of Christ the King the complete text is there as found at Sext on Fridays in the (de)/reformed Breviary or at Mattins, in its integrity, as a Psalm at Mattins of Friday in the tradtitional Breviary.

    1. Rubricarius,
      Well, if "even Homer nods," then I practically go into convulsions. Thank you for catching that. I relied on memory too much and only came up with the unlovely memory of using fragments in Mattins, as though asking us to recite Psalm 88 as a single Psalm at both Christmas and Christ the King was beyond our stamina. Just another innovation of the 20th century, I suppose. I will correct that in the post as soon as I get a chance.

    2. Fr Capreolus, an excellent post! To further clarify this bit about Ps. 88: it is true that before the 1960 changes that Ps. 88 was prayed in its entirety, but split into two fragments, on Christ the King. The penchant for chopping off the last verses of this psalm on both Christmas and Christ the King (and the Transfiguration) originated with the 1961 BR. So, in the 1962 BR, there are two fragments of Ps. 88, but the second is shortened to exclude the verses you mentioned, but this was not the case with Pius XI's original composition.

    3. John, Thank you, very kind! And thank you for the clarification. I had forgotten about the Transfiguration (and it wasn't even that long ago that we celebrated it).