Thursday, April 28, 2005

the evolution of the Roman liturgical calendar

I have been reading an article by Richard Nardone on the changes made to the Roman liturgical calendar before the Second Vatican Council and then after the Council. There are three changes that I found rather interesting.

One significant change prior to Vatican II was the restoration of the Easter Vigil as a celebration to be held at night. Prior to this for centuries the celebration of the Easter Vigil had been held in the morning of Holy Saturday, and that's because in 1566 Pope Pius V forbad the celebration of any Mass after midday. Imagine that.

However, during World War II, because of the necessities of war, evening Masses were sometimes permitted. And then, vigils for holy days were permitted. And this really started the process of restoring the night-time celebration of the Easter Vigil. In 1955, the night-time Vigil celebration became obligatory. I for one am glad for that. It would be more than weird to celebrate the Vigil in the morning. But isn't it interesting that this particular liturgical celebration, which is the high point in the Church's calendar, was only recently restored to its proper time?

The second thing that was interesting for me was reading how the Second Vatican Council decided on which saints made it to the calendar and which saints were dropped. By the nineteenth century there were hardly any free days left in the Roman calendar. The calendar was overcrowded with saints' feasts. So, Vatican II decided that only saints of "universal importance" should be kept in the calendar. Many of the Roman saints and martyrs were dropped except for six (Agnes, Justin, Cornelius, Cyprian, Ignatius of Antioch, and Lawrence). Also, saints created out of the names of Churches in Rome were dropped, except for St. Cecilia, because of immense popular devotion to her. Many Italian saints were also dropped.

So, what the Council did was to add a new optional memorial in memory of the first martyrs of Rome under Nero on June 30, after the feast of Peter and Paul. Also the Council retained the celebration of only 5 popes as optional memorials. And then the Council gave preference to the saints and martyrs from other countries (St. Thomas More, St. Columban of Ireland, St. Ansgar of Scandinavia, the Japanese Martyrs and others). The coucil then gave preference to the founders of the more important religious orders, and then to all the doctors of the Church.

Also, thirdly it was interesting to learn about changes in the local national calendars--how in the past local feast days had precedence over feasts in the Roman calendar. Now, however, Roman feast days have precedence. For instance May 26th in England was the feast of Augustine of Canterbury and a commemoration of the feast of St. Philip Neri. After the Council, May 26th became the memorial of St. Philip, and St. Augustine was moved to the following day.

So, the balancing act that was put into the making of the present Roman liturgical calendar is quite interesting.

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