December. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The discussion of the question of this feast lasted for more than a thousand years. A feast of the Conception was celebrated in the Eastern Church in the early part of the eighth century and was celebrated on the 9th December (Kellner, Heortology, p. 242, et seq.). The feast was celebrated in England before the Norman Conquest (1066) (Bishop, On the Origins of Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, London, 1904).

But there is an earlier codex than those mentioned by Bishop, and from it, it is argued that the feast is of Irish origin. In a metrical calendar, which is reasonably referred to the time of Alfred the Great (871-901), there is the line "Concipitur Virgo maria cognomine senio"; and this calendar exhibits, says Father Thurston, S.J., "most unmistakable signs of the influence of an Irish character." It was written, Dr. Whitely Stokes believed, by an Irishman in the ninth century or thereabouts. The script appears to him to be "old Irish, rather than Anglo-Saxon, and the large numbers of commemorations of Irish saints and the accuracy with which the names are spelt, point to an Irish origin." This calendar places the feast of our Lady's Conception on the 2nd May. In the metrical calendar of Oengus, the feast is assigned to the 3rd May, and in his Leabhar Breac, the scribe adds the Latin note, "Feir mar Muire et reliqua, i.e., inceptio ejus ut alii putant—sed in februo mense vel in Martio facta est illa, quae post VII. menses nata est, ut innaratur—vel quae libet alia feria ejus." Again, in the martyrology of Tallaght, from which Gorman, a later martyrologist, says that Oengus, the Culdee, drew his materials, is found under date May 3rd, a mention of the celebration of the Conception of Mary. This evidence seems to show—although it is not perfectly conclusive—that the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was celebrated in the Irish Church in the ninth and tenth centuries, but not on the 8th December (see Father Thurston, S.J., The Month, May and June, 1904; Father Doncoeur, S.J., Revue d'histoire ecclesiastique, Louvain, 1907, p. 278, et seq.; Baudot, The Roman Breviary, pp. 253-255; Kellner, op. cit.).

It is to be regretted that even in the new Breviary the lessons for the second nocturn of this feast are taken from the composition, Cogitis me, falsely attributed to St. Jerome, and rejected by critics, from the days of Baronius, as spurious (Baudot, op. cit., p. 236).

February. The Purification. Candlemas. According to the Gospel narrative, Mary fulfilled the commands of the Law (Lev. XII. 2-8), and on the fortieth day brought the prescribed offering to the Temple, where she met Simeon and Anna.

The first reference found in Christian writers to this festival is found in the famous Peregrinatio Sylviae, the diary of a Spanish lady who visited Jerusalem about 385-388. She tells us that the day began with a solemn procession, followed by a sermon on St. Luke II. 22 seqq., and a Mass. It had not yet a name, but was called the fortieth day after the Epiphany; and this naming shows that at Jerusalem the Epiphany was regarded as the day of Christ's birth. The lady's words show that the feast was not then observed in her own country. The feast was observed in Rome in 542; and Pope Sergius I. (687-701) ordered a procession on this festival. The opinion that is so often met with in pious books, that this feast with its procession of candlebearers was established by the Church to replace the riot and revels of the Pagan Lupercalia, is now rejected by scholars. For, processions, with or without lights, were so common amongst Pagans and Christians that any connection between these two feasts is negligible.

March. St. Joseph. In the Western Church the cultus of St. Joseph is not found in any calendar before the ninth century, although numerous traces of the esteem and veneration paid to him by individuals are found. The public cultus of St. Joseph was introduced by the private devotions of great servants of God, such as St. Bernard, St. Gertrude, St. Bridget of Sweden, John Gerson, St. Bernardine of Sienna, and other Franciscan preachers. The spread of the devotion in several countries led Pope Sixtus IV. (1471-1484) to introduce St. Joseph's feast, as a simplex, having only one lesson. Clement XI. (1700-1721) changed it into a feast of nine lessons. Two centuries previously the feast is found in Breviaries under date 19th March.

The Annunciation. Devotion to the Mother of God was continued by the apostles after the death of her Son. Fervent and widespread devotion is traceable in the Church's early days, but the organising of our Lady's feasts was a work of some time and difficulty. A great difficulty was the fear of blasphemy from pagans, and of error amongst pagan converts, so trained in myths and genealogies of the gods. Then the festivals commemorating the facts of the life, death and resurrection were primarily commemorative of the Redeemer and secondarily of His Mother. Long before the institution of her feast, the cultus of Mary was almost universal. The feast of the Annunciation falls on the 25th March with us. Its date depends entirely on the date of Christmas, but the birth of Christ was not always placed in calendars on the 25th December.

In early days the feasts of martyrs and other saints were not celebrated in Lent, and hence this feast of the Blessed Virgin was set down in some calendars as transferred, and was celebrated in Advent. In Spain, it was celebrated eight days before Christmas. In the East, the feast was generally celebrated on the 25th March, and gradually this date was fixed, and was sanctioned by several councils in the eleventh century.

May. The Finding of the Holy Cross. The history of the finding of the true cross by St. Helena is well known. The Alexandrine Chronicle gives the day as the 14th September, 320. This September feast of the holy cross is of earlier origin than the feast of May. The latter was established to commemorate the act of the emperor in 629, when he brought back to Jerusalem the true cross, from the Persian conquerors. On 3rd May, he handed it over to the Patriarch Zacharias, and, strange to say, this festival of May spread rapidly in the Western Church, whilst in the East only one feast, (the September one), of the finding of the cross was celebrated for centuries. In Milan, for instance, the September feast was received in the eleventh century, whilst the May feast was rooted in the Western Church very many years before that time.

The antiphons and hymns of this Office are, it is said, amongst the most beautiful and sublime prayers of our liturgy.

The Apparition of St. Michael. The cultus of the holy angels is of Jewish origin and existed in the Christian Church from the beginning. In St. Paul's Epistle to the Colossians (modern Khonus on the Lycus) he speaks of this devotion and of the attempts of a Gnostic sect to spread false doctrines on this point (Col. ii, 18). Although the evil wrought was long lived, true devotion to the angels was practised in Colossae and there the Archangel Michael appeared. In honour of this apparition, the festival of St. Michael in September was established. Devotion to the Archangel was of very early date in Rome and in the Western Church generally. Masses in his honour are found in the oldest Roman Sacramentary (483-492); and in these he is mentioned by name in prayers and prefaces. The May feast was instituted in the sixth century, to commemorate a second apparition near Sipontum on Monte Gargano, which took place on the 8th May, 520.

June 29. Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. There always has been a constant tradition in Rome that these two saints suffered martyrdom on the same day, 29th June, and it is only natural that this day should be kept with great devotion and solemnity at Rome. In the East, feasts in honour of these martyrs were held at different seasons, Christmas, February and Epiphany. The day was kept in many places as a solemn holiday, servile works being prohibited. But in Rome, devotion was closely connected with the date and with the exact places of martyrdom. "Owing to the distance which separated the two churches of the apostles from each other, it was most fatiguing to celebrate Mass at both places, and so in course of time the festival was divided into two parts, and the Mass in honour of St. Paul took place on the 3Oth June."

July. The Visitation. This feast was probably originated by the Franciscans in the thirteenth century. It certainly was preached and spread by their zeal. It is mentioned amongst Franciscan records bearing date 1263. It was kept in different places at different dates. In Paris it was kept in April. In 1850 Pius IX. raised this feast to the rank of a double of the second class, to thank God for having, on this day, 2nd July, freed Rome from the revolutionary yoke.

Feast of St. Mary Magdalen. Commentators on Sacred Scripture are not agreed whether Mary of Magdala was the sister of Lazarus or whether there were two or three Marys connected with our Lord—Mary the sister of Lazarus, Mary of Magdala, and Mary the sinner named in St. Luke's Gospel vii. 27. The Roman liturgy seems to favour the opinion that Mary of Magdala was the sister of Lazarus, and that she was a sinner and was possessed by seven devils. The history of Mary Magdalen after our Lord's death has been written, with large and varied additions of adventure, by pious mediaevalists. In the Western Church, traces of the saint's cultus are met with in Bede and his contemporaries. But devotion far and wide begins with mediaeval times. The many legends which have grown up around her name and history have so obscured historic truth that the Breviary gives no historic lessons on her feast day, but gives as a lesson part of a homily from St. Gregory. Some of the legends may be found in the Office of St. Martha (July, 29th).

August. The Assumption. "In all probability this is the earliest of our Lady's festivals" (Kellner, op. cit., p. 235). Early writers mention the Garden of Gethsemani as the place of Mary's burial and the third year—some say the twelfth year—after our Lord's death as the year of her death. St. John Damascene relying on the writings of Euthymius tells us what we know of the Assumption. He tells that the wife of the Emperor Marcian (450-457) wished to transfer our Lady's relics from Jerusalem to Constantinople and was informed by Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, that such relics were not in Jerusalem. The Blessed Mother had been buried there, in the Garden of Gethsemani, in the presence of the Apostles, Thomas alone being absent. On his arrival he wished to venerate the Mother of God; the tomb was opened for him, but nothing was found save the linen grave-clothes, which gave forth a sweet perfume. The Apostles concluded that Christ had taken to Heaven the body which had borne Him. The Emperor Maurice ordered the date, the 15th August, long and widely recognised, to be the date of this annual festival. However, some churches celebrated it on other dates. In the Gothico-Gallic missal of the eighth century, the feast is fixed for the 18th January. The festival was called sometimes dormitio Mariae, pausatio Mariae. It was celebrated in Rome at the end of the seventh century, but how long it had been in existence there, and in the West generally before that time, no one can say.

Feast of the Name of Mary. This feast owes its origin to the devotion of the faithful and was first authorised by the Pope in 1513. It was extended to the universal calendar in 1683, on the occasion of the deliverance of Vienna from the Turks.

Over the derivation and meaning of the name Maria much scholarship and conjecture have been lavished. It is said to mean (1) stella maris (Eusebius); (2) lady, from the Syrian Martha (St. John Damascene); this is the Breviary meaning, but the Breviary uses the first meaning, stella maris, too; (3) stately, imposing one (Bardenhewer); (4) from the Egyptian, merijom, friend of water, bride of the sea (Macke).

October. Feast of the Holy Rosary. It is not necessary to speak of the origin of the Rosary. This feast was established by Gregory XIII. in 1573, as a thanksgiving for the victory of Lepanto (October, 1571). Clement XI. extended the feast to all Christendom in consequence of the victory gained at Peterwarden by Prince Eugene in 1716.

November. Feast of all Saints. This feast was "instituted to honour all the saints, known and unknown, and, according to Urban IV., to supply any deficiencies in the faithful's celebration of saints' feasts during the year. In the early days, the Christians were accustomed to solemnize the anniversary of a martyr's death for Christ, at the place of martyrdom. The neighbouring dioceses began to interchange feasts, to transfer them and to divide them, and to join in a common feast; ... frequently groups of martyrs suffered on the same day, which naturally led to a joint commemoration. In the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great that a separate day could not be assigned to each. But the Church, feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. The first trace of it we find in Antioch on the Sunday after Pentecost. ... At first only martyrs and St. John the Baptist were honoured by a special day. Other saints were added gradually, and increased in number when a general process of canonization was established; still, as early as 411 there is in the Chaldean calendar a 'commemoratio Confessorum' for the Friday after Easter. ... Gregory IV. (827-844) extended the celebration on 1st November to the entire Church" (Cath. Ency., art, "All Souls").

Feast of All Souls, "The theological basis for the feast is the doctrine that the souls, which, on departing from the body are not perfectly cleansed from venial sins, or have not fully atoned for past transgressions, are debarred from the Beatific Vision, and that the faithful on earth can help them by prayers, almsdeeds, and especially by the holy sacrifice of the Mass. In the early days of Christianity the names of the departed brethren were entered in the diptychs. Later, in the sixth century, it was customary in Benedictine monasteries to hold a commemoration of the deceased members at Whitsuntide, In Spain, there was such a day before Sexagesima or before Pentecost, at the time of St. Isidore (d. 636). In Germany, there existed (according to the testimony of Widukind, Abbot of Corvey, c. 980) a time-honoured ceremony of praying for the dead on 1st October. This was accepted and sanctified by the Church" (Cath. Ency., art. "All Souls").

The psalms and lessons of this Office are especially well chosen, and the responses to the lessons—said to be the work of Maurice de Sully (d. 1196)–are greatly admired by liturgical experts.

It may be noted here, that, in the recitation of this Office, which is, for most priests, the only choral recitation of liturgy, care should be taken to select the proper nocturn or nocturns. "In the general rubrics of the Breviary (Tit. XIX. n. 2) it is stated that the invitatory is not to be said in Officio Defunctorum per annum, excepto die Commemorationis omnium fidelium defunctorum, ac in die obitus seu depositionis defuncti et quandocunque dicuntur tres nocturni. When, therefore, only one nocturn is recited, the invitatory is to be omitted except on the dies obitus seu depositionis." In this latter case, even though the body is not present—for some special reason, such as contagious disease—the invitatory is not to be omitted.

"On any other occasion, no matter how solemn or privileged, such as the seventh, thirtieth, or anniversary day, when only one nocturn is recited, the invitatory must not be included. This is clear, not only from the rubrics of the Breviary and Ritual (Tit. VI., cap. IV.) but also from certain answers of the Congregation of Rites" (Irish Eccles. Record, December, 1913).

Dom Baudot's The Roman Breviary gives in an appendix, pp. 239-252, "tables showing the date at which each saint was inserted in the Roman Breviary, the rank given to his festival, and the variations it has undergone. It is often difficult to give precise dates."


"Litanies were solemn supplications instituted to implore the blessing of Heaven on the fruits of the earth. It was customary to recite them in the spring, that is, the season of late frosts, so much dreaded by the cultivators of the soil.... The people marched in procession to the spot, chanting the while that dialogue prayer which we call a litany, elaborated, according to circumstances, into a long series of invocations, addressed to God and to angels and saints."

"The day set apart for this purpose at Rome was the 25th April, a traditional date, being that on which the ancient Romans celebrated the festival of the Robigalia....

"The most ancient authority for this ceremony is a formulary for convoking it, found in the Register of St. Gregory the Great, which must have been used in the first instance in the year 598" (Duchesne, Christian Worship, chap, viii., n. 9).

Ember days, a corruption from Latin Quatuor Tempora (four times). "The purpose of their introduction, besides the general one intended by all prayer and fasting, was to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy. The immediate occasion was the practice of the heathens of Rome. The Romans were originally given to agriculture and their native god belonged to the same class. At the beginning of the time for seeding and harvesting religious ceremonies were performed to implore the help of their deities; in June for a bountiful harvest, in September for a rich vintage, and in December for the seeding.... The Church when converting heathen nations has always tried to sanctify any practice which could be utilised for a good purpose." The fasts were fixed by the Church before the time of Callixtus (217-222). The spread of the observance of Ember days was slow; but they were fixed definitely and the fast prescribed for the whole Church by Gregory VII. (1073-1085). (Cf. Catholic Encyclopedia, word, Ember Days; Duchesne Christian Worship, chap, viii.; Dom Morin Revue Benedictine, L'Origine des Quatre Temps, 1897, pp. 330-347.)


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