NOTES ON SOME FEASTS. CHAPTER I.
PROPER OF THE TIME. ADVENT.
Advent (Latin, advenire,
to come to) is a period beginning with the Sunday nearest to the Feast
of St. Andrew (November 30) and embracing four Sundays. In the early
Church there was a divergence of date and practice in Advent
celebration. Thus, in France it began on St. Martin's Day (11 November)
and ended with Christmas, France kept Advent with tri-weekly fasts.
Rome did not, in very early days, observe the Advent fasts, but
maintained the shorter period, containing only four Sundays. (Father
Thurston, The Month, No. 498).
stated that this period of preparation for the celebration of Christ's
birthday was instituted by Gregory the Great. It is now traceable to
the fourth century in France; in Rome it was of later date. The Church,
as is seen in the Advent Offices in the Breviary, instituted this part
of the liturgical year to honour and to recall the two comings of
Christ—His first coming in human form at Bethlehem, as Saviour; and His
second coming, as Judge of all mankind. In her liturgy she expresses
repeatedly both sentiments, a sentiment of joy and a sentiment of
sorrow. The former she expresses by her alleluias and the latter by her omission of the Te Deum and by her recital of the ferial prayers, the prayers of tears and grief.
In the Advent Offices are many phrases which were fulfilled at the
Incarnation: "Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant Justum; O Adonai,
veni ad redimendum nos; Emitte Agnum, Domine, Dominatorum terrae;
Orietur sicut sol Salvator mundi et descendet in uterum Virginis."
Centuries have passed since the Saviour came, and yet the Church wishes
us to repeat the sublime prayers and prophecies which associate
themselves with the coming of the Word made Flesh, and by our
repetition to be animated with the ardent longings of olden days; and
that by them we may awaken our faith, our hope, our charity, and obtain
and augment God's grace in our souls.
The first Sunday of Advent has the invitatory hymn and the rest of the
Office proper. The lessons are from Isaias, the prophet of the
Incarnation. The first response to the lesson is unique in the Breviary
for it has three verses (see p. 164). These three verses are spoken in
the names of the holy people who lived before the law, during the law,
and after the law. The Gloria Patri is added to honour the Holy
Trinity, who has at length sent the long-watched-for Messias
(Durandus). And the response is repeated from the beginning because the
second coming of Christ is watched for, by His faithful (Honorius
d'Autun). The Te Deum is not said, in order thereby to mark the sad thought of the second coming of Christ, then our judge.
From the first Sunday of Advent until the first Sunday of August the
lessons of the first and second nocturns are given in the Breviary in
the Proprium de Tempore, after the Psaltery. The lessons of third
nocturn for same period are given after those of second nocturn. The
suffrages are not said in Advent. In Advent the lectio brevis is
"Domine miserere." In Sunday Matins special versicles are given. The
preces are said at Lauds and Vespers in ferias of Advent and at the
small Hours; preces are said, too, if they be said at Lauds.
The great antiphons are the antiphons of the Magnificat which begin on
the 17th December. They are sometimes called the great O's, or the O
antiphons, as each begins with this letter. They begin "O Sapientia,
quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti ..." and continue "O Adonai, O radix
Jesse," etc.... They are the most beautiful antiphons in the liturgy,
expressing the prayers and ardent hopes for the coming Saviour. They
have formed the subjects of study for poets, scholars and liturgists,
ancient and modern. It is asked why these antiphons introduce the
Magnificat and not the Benedictus. And liturgists reply: Because the
Incarnation was of Mary, and hence these heralds of the Infant King
more appropriately introduce Mary's canticle rather than that of
Zachary. And the old liturgists add that these antiphons are said at
Vespers, the evening Hour, because the Messias was expected and watched
for in the world's evening. They tell us, too, why there are seven
great antiphons. They are to excite our piety during this octave
preparatory to the birthday of Christ. This number seven typifies the
seven gifts of the Holy Ghost; it represents the seven miseries of
mankind, ignorance, eternal punishment, the slavery of the devil, sin,
gloom and exile from our fatherland, which is Heaven. And those
wonderful men of mediaeval days tell us why we have need of a Teacher,
O Sapientia; of a Redeemer, O Adonai; of a Liberator, O Radix Jesse; of
a Guardian, O Clavis David; of a brilliant Instructor, O Oriens; of a
Saviour to bring us, Gentiles, back to our Great Father, God; O Rex
gentium; a Herald to the Jews. Honorius of Autun tells that these
antiphons refer to the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost and are arranged
in the well-known order in which these gifts are always arranged in
works of piety. He says that Christ came in the Spirit of Wisdom, O
Sapientia, that in the word "Adonai" is indicated that Christ redeemed
us in the Spirit of Understanding. He says, too, that the antiphon "O
Radix" signifies the sign of the cross, and that Christ redeemed us in
the Spirit of Counsel. "O Clavis" indicates that Christ opened Heaven
and closed Hell in the Spirit of Strength or Fortitude. "O Orient"
shows forth Christ enlightening us in the Spirit of Knowledge. "Rex
gentiam" points out the holy King who saved men by the Spirit of Piety.
"O Emanuel" refers to Christ coming in the Spirit of Fear, but giving
us also the Law of Love.
These antiphons have formed the
theme of the oldest Christian poem in Europe—Cynewulf's "Christ," a
work which is the admiration of modern scholars. They were celebrated
with great pomp and joy in monastic life, the monks carrying their
congruous symbolism into their recitation. For, to the gardener-monk
was assigned, the chanting of "O Radix Jesse," and to the
cellarer-monk, the "O clavis David"—typifying their work of
root-growing and key keeping. (See The Month, No. 489; The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, December, 1918).
"It was formerly taken for granted that Christ had actually been born
on this day, and, accordingly, the learned were of opinion that the
Church had observed it from the beginning, as the day of His birth.
Even at the present day it will be dfficult for many to give up this
idea. But there is no Christmas among the Christan feasts enumerated by
Tertullian ([died] 220), Origen (185-254), and the recently published
Testament of Jesus Christ. On the contrary, there is clear proof that
even in the fourth and fifth centuries it was unknown in some parts of
the Church, where its introduction, at a later period, can be proved
historically" (vide Kellner, op. cit., pp. 127-158).
Christmas is one of the great festivals. In Rome there were two night
Offices. The first, celebrated at nightfall in the Papal chapel, begins
with the antiphon of the first psalm in the nocturn. It has nine
lessons and the Te Deum. About midnight a more solemn Office began, this time with the invitatory and psalm Venite. The first of these Offices became the Office of the vigil.
In the Office of Christmas Day the lessons are read without the title
of the book (Isaias) from which they are taken, because their author's
name was so often repeated during the Advent that each one knew their
source, or because at Christmas God speaks to us by His Son, rather
than by His prophet. In the first response the Gloria Patri is said, to
thank God for the great favour He has bestowed on us—His Son, the
Christ. In the third nocturn, Alleluia is added to the
antiphons, because the third nocturn typifies the time of grace, in
which we should express the joy that is ours in the birth of the
Saviour. In this nocturn, too, are given three Gospel extracts,
corresponding with the Gospels in the Mass of Christmas. Matins are
separated from Lauds by the first Mass because, it is said at midnight,
and Lauds is a day Office. At Prime the versicle of the little response
is Qui natus est.
Rubrics. Christmas is a primary double of the First Class. The third of the new Tres Tabellae (S.C.R., January, 1912) in the new Breviaries gives the rules for concurrence of Vespers in the Octave of Christmas.
Feast of St. Stephen.
The worship of St. Stephen may be said to be as old as the Church
herself, since St. Paul gave him the title of Martyr of Christ (Acts
XXII. 20). His name is to be found in the earliest liturgical sources,
e.g., the Arian martyrology belonging to about 360 and in all
calendars, ancient and modern, excepting the Coptic. His cultus
received great impulse from the discovery of his relics at Kaphar
Gamala, on the shore of Lake Genesareth, and the wonderful miracles
wrought by them, A basilica in his honour was erected, in Rome in the
St. John the Apostle. The
commemoration of St. John on the 27th December was formerly united with
that of St. James the Less. In time, St. John's feast only was
celebrated on this date, and such was the case as early as the time of
The Circumcision. This festival was originally called Octava Domini,
and hence it may be inferred that it was not an independent festival
and passed unnoticed if it fell on a week day. Thus, in the Homilarium
of Charlemagne (786) it is referred to by this name. But very shortly
after this, the name which we now use for the festival of the 1st
January was used in Rome, and spread through the Church. In the early
days of Christianity the first day of the civil year was given over to
rejoicings, dancing, feasting and rioting. And these abuses lingered in
France, though stripped of their pagan character, until the later
middle ages. A remnant of them is found in the so-called Feast of
Fools, which was held in churches, and which mocked several religious
customs and ceremonies. These feasts lasted till the middle of the
Epiphany. The name is
derived from a Greek verb employed to describe the dawn, and the
adjective derived from the Greek verb was applied in classic Greek, to
the appearances of the gods bringing help to men. In Christian liturgy,
the feast was instituted to celebrate the appearance, the manifestation
of Christ, to the Gentiles, in the persons of the Magi. In later times,
there were added to this commemoration of Christ's manifestation to the
Gentiles, two further commemorations of his wonderful showings of His
divine mission, viz., His manifestation in His baptism in the Jordan, a
manifestation to the Jews, and His miracle at Cana, a showing forth to
His friends and disciples. This feast is of early origin. Suarez thinks
it should be attributed to the Apostles (De Relig. L.2. ch.5,
n.9); and Benedict XIV. held that it was established by the infant
Church at Rome to draw off the Christians from the profane and sinful
revelry which marked the pagan feast of this date. However, these
statements are hardly accurate. "With regard to the antiquity and
spread of the feast, it was unknown in North Africa during the third
century, for Tertullian makes no reference to it; and even in the time
of St. Augustine, it was rejected by the Donatists as an oriental
novelty. In Origen's time, at least, it was not generally observed as a
festival in Alexandria, since he does not reckon it as such. For Rome,
evidence is wanting for the earliest times, but since the daughter
Church of Africa knew nothing—of the festival at first, it may be
inferred that originally it was not kept at Rome, but was introduced
there in course of time. In Spain it was a feast-day in 380, in Gaul in
361 ..." (Kellner, op. cit., p.172).
antiphons for the Magnificat and the Benedictus it may be noticed that
the three manifestations are given not in the same order. "This day is
the Church united to the Heavenly Spouse, for Christ, in the Jordan,
washes away her sins; the Magi run to the royal nuptials with their
gifts, and the guests of the feast are gladdened by the water changed
into wine" (Ant. of Benedictus). The Magi, seeing the star, said to
each other: "This is the sign of the King: let us go and seek him, and
offer him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh" (Ant. of Magnificat, 1st
Vesp.), "We celebrate a festival adorned by three miracles: this day, a
star led the Magi to the manger; this day water was changed into wine
at the marriage feast; this day Christ vouchsafed to be baptised by
John, in the Jordan of our salvation" (Ant. of Magnificat, 2nd Vesp.).
Now, the baptism is the special event commemorated by the Easterns on
this feast, and on account of its connection with the baptism, this
feast has, amongst the Greeks, the secondary title of the feast of
lights. And, in Ireland (Synodus II., St. Patricii, can. 20), contrary
to the ancient custom of the Church, solemn baptism was administered on
this feast day. This subject of the baptism forms the only theme of the
ancient sermons bearing on this feast. On the other hand, the visit of
the Magi is the sole event commemorated by St. Augustine in his six
sermons delivered on this feast day. The third event, the marriage
feast, is of later commemoration; and Maximus of Turin doubted if they
all actually happened on the same day.
The Octave to the
feast dates from the eighth century. It was customary on this date, in
the Eastern Church, to read publicly the epistola festalis of the
Patriarch of Alexandria arranging the date of Easter and the practice
was ordered by the fourth Council of Orleans in 541.
Epiphany the invitatory is not said in the beginning of Matins, in
order, say the liturgists, not to repeat the inquiry made by Herod from
the scribes about the birthplace of Christ, an inquiry and invitation
inspired by hatred and anger. The invitatory is omitted, they tell us,
that we, like the Magi, may come to Christ, without other than a silent
invitation. Teachers of olden time used to urge those who were slow to
believe to imitate the Magi. But, the invitatory is not quite omitted.
It is read in the third nocturn, which typifies the law of grace, in
which the Apostles and their successors invite all to praise and
worship God. The psalms of the feast are taken from the psalms of each
day of the week, but chiefly from Friday's psalms, perhaps because the
Magi's visit was on that day. SEPTUAGESIMA.
"During the age of the persecutions it was scarcely possible for
Christians to observe any other festival than Sunday, and so it is not
surprising that the two writers who have occasion to speak of the
institution of the festivals of the Church, mention only Easter and
Pentecost, both of which fall on a Sunday. To these Christmas was added
in the fourth century and Epiphany somewhat earlier. These chief
festivals, along with others soon added to their number, formed the
elements for the organisation of a festal system in the Church, as
centres round which the lesser festivals grouped themselves. The last
step of importance, however, in the development of the Church's year
was to connect these chief festivals with one another, so as to make
them parts of a whole. The Sundays afforded a convenient means for
effecting this. They were associated with the festal character of the
nearest feast and were connected with it as links in a chain. The way
for this development had been prepared by the season of preparation for
Easter, and the Sundays in the fifty days between Easter and
Pentecost—Quinquagesima—were marked with the festal character with
which antiquity invested the whole period. All that was needed was,
first of all, to connect Christmas, Easter and Pentecost; and, in the
second place, the institution of a season of preparation before
Christmas. This was accomplished between the sixth, and the eighth
"During the first six centuries the ordinary
Sundays of the year had neither liturgical position or character, since
they were not even enumerated. There was a sort of commune dominicarum, i.e., a number of Masses existed from which one could be chosen at will for each Sunday. To these Sundays, which were called simply dominicae quotidianae, those after Epiphany and Pentecost belonged.
"They numbered altogether twenty-nine or thirty, according as the
calendar gave fifty-two or fifty-three Sundays in the year.... The
smaller number of these, six at most, come between Epiphany and
Septuagesima, but the larger, twenty-three to twenty-eight, between
Whit Sunday and Advent. The variation depends on the date of Easter.
There is no historical circumstance forthcoming to give these a
specially festal character. ..." (Kellner, op. cit., pp. 176, et seq.).
Septuagesima Sunday comes nine weeks before Easter. It cannot come
before the 18th January, nor after the 22nd February. It is the first
day of a period of mourning and penance, preparatory to the great
penitential period of Lent. On the Saturday preceding Septuagesima two alleluias
are added to the Benedicamus and Deo Gratias, to intimate that the
period of rejoicing in the Saviour's birth has passed. Violet, the
penitential colour, is used at Mass, and the chapters in Genesis
recording the fall of Adam, warn man to think well, to humble himself
and to do penance. Every part of the Office, the lessons, antiphons and
hymns, bear the notes of mourning and penance. LENT.
Lent.—The Teutonic word, Lent,
originally meant the spring season. It has come to mean the forty days
preceding Easter. Scholars used to maintain that this season of penance
was of apostolic origin; but, modern scholars noting the diversity of
practice and the diversity of duration in different churches and the
Easter controversy, hold that it is not of apostolic origin, and that
it dates from the third century or even from the fourth century. It is
not mentioned in the Didascalia (circa 250 A.D.), but was enjoined by
St. Athanasius upon his flock in 331.
EASTER AND PASCHAL TIME.
Easter is the chief festival of Christendom, the first and oldest of
all festivals, the basis on which the Church's year is built, the
connecting link with the festivals of the old covenant and the central
point on which depends the date of the other movable feasts. Some of
the very early Christian writers call it feast of feasts (festum
The English word Easter is from Eastre, the goddess of spring. In the liturgy we never find the word Pascha, always the words dominica resurrectionsis. Pascha has no connection with the Greek [Greek: Pascho], but is the Aramaic form of pesach.
Some points regarding this festival are to be noted, its antiquity, its
connection with Jewish feasts and Christian feasts, its preparation,
character and duration.
Antiquity. No mention of this feast is in the Didache,
in Justin's Dialogue with Trypho, or in his apologies. But in the year
198 A.D. an exchange of letters between Pope Victor, Bishop Narcissus
of Jerusalem, Polycrates of Ephesus, shows that the feast had been for
years in existence. Many references are found in Tertullian and writers
of his time to this festival.
Connection of the Christian Festival with the Jewish.
"The connection between the Christian and the Jewish feasts is both
historical and ideal—historical because our Lord's death happened on
the 15th Nisan, the first day of the Jewish feast; ideal, because what
took place had been prefigured in the Old Testament by types, of which
itself was the antitype. The Jewish rites and ceremonies (Exodus XII.)
are referred to in the prophecies of the Messias. Thus, Isaias calls
Him the Lamb chosen by God, who bears the iniquities of others. The
Baptist called Jesus, the Lamb of God. The Evangelist refers to the
typical character of the Passover rites, when he applies, 'a bone of it
shall not be broken' (Exod. XII. 46), to Christ on the Cross. Justin
and Tertullian see in the Christian sacrifice the fulfilment of the
imperfect sacrifices of the old law. Hence, there is no doubt that the
Jewish Passover was taken over into Christianity. Thereby its typical
ceremonies found their due fulfilment.
"To the real and
historical connection between Easter and the Passover is due the
explanation of a striking peculiarity in the Church's year, viz., the
moveable feasts of which Easter is the starting point. Easter falls on
no fixed date, because the Jewish 15th Nisan, unlike the dates of the
Julian and Gregorian Calendars, varied year by year.
"The preparation for Easter was the Lenten fasts. The fare on fast days
consisted of water and soup made with flour; fruit and oil and bread
were also eaten. The catechumens also fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Among the faithful there were some who ate nothing from their repast on
Sunday until the following Saturday, e.g., for five days, and who all
the year round took only one meal a day. Others abstained in Lent from
all food for two consecutive days, but others fasted by taking nothing
to eat all day, until the evening" (Kellner, op. cit., p. 93).
The Easter celebrations were in the early ages chiefly noted for the
great and solemn ceremonies of baptism conferred on a large number of
catechumens, with solemn procession from the baptistry to the
cathedral. The Easter Octave celebrates by festivals the supper at
Emmaus, the appearance of our Lord (St. Luke xxiv.), His appearance by
the sea (St. John xxi. 1-14), His appearance to Magdalen (St. John xx.
11-18), His appearance on the mountain (St. Matthew xxviii. 16-20), and
His appearance just after He had risen (St. John xx, 1-9), THE ASCENSION.
This day was kept as a festival in very early times, although it is not
mentioned in the lists of Church festivals given by Tertullian (+220),
nor by Origen (185-254). St. Augustine (354-430) (Epist. ad Januarium,
54, c.l.) attributes the institution of this festival to an apostolic
ordinance or the injunction of a general council. But neither can be
proved. But the festival dates from the days of the early Church, and
as it was natural that the concluding act of our Saviour's life should
be remembered and honoured, the celebration of the feast of His
Ascension spread widely and rapidly. The feast was noted for the solemn
processions held, to imitate and to commemorate our Lord's leading of
the Apostles out of the city to the Mount of Olives. WHIT SUNDAY.
Pentecost or Whit Sunday extends back to the early days of the Church.
From Tertullian, it is plain that the festival was well known and long
established. In the Peregrinatio Silviae, we read a detailed
account of how the feast was kept in Jerusalem at her visit (385-388).
"On the night before Whitsunday the vigil was celebrated in the church
of the Anastasis, at which the bishop, according to the usual custom in
Jerusalem on Sundays, read the Gospel of the Resurrection, and the
customary psalmody was performed. At dawn, all the people proceeded to
the principal church (Martyrium) where a sermon was preached and Mass
celebrated. About the third hour, when the psalmody was finished, the
people singing accompanied the bishop to Sion. There, the passage from
the Acts of the Apostles describing the descent of the Holy Ghost was
read, and a second Mass was celebrated; after which the psalmody was
resumed. Afterwards, the archdeacon invited the people to assemble in
the 'Eleona,' from whence a procession was made to the summit of the
Mount of Olives. Here, psalms and antiphons were sung, the Gospel was
read and the blessing given. After this, the people descended again
into the 'Eleona,' where Vespers were sung, and then, with the bishop
at their head, proceeded in a solemn procession, with singing, back to
the principal church, which was reached towards 8 p.m. At the city gate
the procession was met by torch bearers, who accompanied it to the
Martyrium. Here, as well as in the Anastasias, to which the people
proceeded in turn, and in the chapel of the Holy Cross, the usual
prayers, hymns and blessings took place, so that the festival did not
conclude until midnight." (Kellner, op. cit., pp. 112-113).
In most churches, the principal services were solemn baptism and
processions. In some places it was customary to scatter roses from the
roof of the church, to recall the miracle of Pentecost. In France,
trumpets were blown in church, in memory of the great wind which
accompanied the Holy Spirit's descent.
The first Sunday after Pentecost, for centuries, was not called Trinity
Sunday. Pope Alexander II. (circa 1073) was questioned about a feast in
honour of the Holy Trinity and he replied that it was not the Roman
custom to set apart any particular day in honour of the Trinity, which
was honoured many times daily in the psalmody, by the Gloria Patri.
But an Office and Mass, dating from a hundred years earlier than this
Pope's time, were in use in the Netherlands and afterwards in England,
Germany and France; and in 1260 were spread far and wide. In 1334, Pope
John XXII. ordered uniformity and general observance of this feast on
the Sunday after Pentecost. The Office in our Breviaries dates from the
time of Pius V. It is beautiful and sublime in matter and in form.
Whether this is a new Office or a blending of some ancient offices, is
a matter of dispute. Baillet, Les Vies des Saints (Tom ix. c. 2, 158) thinks it a new Office. But Binterim, Die Kirchichle Heortology, Part I., 265, and Baumer-Biron, Histoire du Breviaire,
298, take a different view. The Roman rite follows the older form of
enumeration, second Sunday after Easter and so forth, and not first
Sunday after Trinity. The latter form of enumeration is adopted in the
Anglican church service books.
SECTION: B. Proper Of The Saints.
Chapter IV. Vespers And Compline, …