Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Not the Octave of the Epiphany!

The removal of most of the octaves from the liturgical calendar was perhaps an understandable decision.  

But it was, I think, one of those reforms that went more than a few steps too far, most obviously in the abolition of the octave of Pentecost in the Ordinary Form calendar.  

Bring back the octave of the Epiphany and time after the feast!

Another case in point, in my opinion, is the abolition of the octave of the Epiphany, which is, I think, one of those decisions which it would be nice to reverse as a means of giving some genuine impetus to the 'New Evangelisation'.

The calendar reforms of the twentieth century saw a progress reduction in the importance of Epiphany, starting with the abolition of the octave of the feast, and culminating in the outright abolition, in the Novus Ordo calendar, of the traditional season of time after Epiphany.  

Yet Epiphany is, above all, the great feast of the revelation of God to the gentiles, represented by the three wise men.  So how could reducing the importance of this feast possibly be thought consistent with the objective of making the Church more missionary oriented? 

The 1962-63 Benedictine Office does at least retain the remnants of the old octave, in the form of the so-called 'Ordinary of the ferial office in the epiphany season' (January 7 to 12), including Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons for each day.  But I thought it might be of interest to provide the readings previously used during the Octave at Matins as well (from Divinum Officium).

Homily of St Gregory (for second day within the previous Octave of the Epiphany)

From the Holy Gospel according to Matthew
Matt 2:1-12

When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. Saying, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? And so on.

Homily by Pope St Gregory (the Great)
10th on the Gospels.
When Herod knew of the birth of our King, he betook himself to his cunning wiles, and lest he should be deprived of an earthly kingdom he desired the wise men to search diligently for the young Child, and when they had found Him, to bring him word again. He said, that he also might come and worship Him, but, in reality, that, when he had found Him, he might put Him to death. But, behold, of how light weight is the malice of man, when it is tried against the counsel of God. It is written There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel, against the Lord, Prov. xxi. 30. So the star which the wise men saw in the East, still led them on; they found the new-born King, and presented unto Him gifts; then they were warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod. And as it came to pass that, when Herod sought Jesus, he could not find Him even so is it with hypocrites, who, while they make pretence to seek the Lord to worship Him, find Him not.

It is as well to know that it is one of the opinions of the Priscillianist heretics l that every man is born under the influence of a star; and, to confirm this notion, they bring forward the instance of the star of Bethlehem, which appeared when the Lord was born; and which they call His star, that is, the star ruling over His fate or destiny. But if we consider the words of the Gospel concerning this star, they are It went before, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. Whence we see that it was not the young Child Who followed the star, but the star which followed the young Child, as if to show that the young Child ruled the star, instead of the star ruling Him.

But I pray that the hearts of the faithful may ever be free from the thought that anything ruleth their destiny. In this world there is but One Who ruleth the destiny of man, even He Who made man; neither was man made for the stars, but the stars for man; and if we say that they rule his destiny, we set them above him for whose service they were made. When Jacob came out of his mother's womb, and his hand took hold on his elder brother Esau's heel, he could not have done so unless this his first movement had been behind his brother, and, nevertheless, such was not in after life the position of those two brethren whom their mother brought forth at one birth.


Sean said...

Just a polite FYI.

The octave of Pentecost was abolished so as to not detract from the culmination of the 50 days of Easter and draw a closer link between the resurrection, ascension, and giving of the gift of the Holy Spirit. One trend in the reform of the calendar was to clarify seasons. So "Septuagesima" was abolished to clearly highlight the 40 days of Lent, and the Octave of Pentecost to highlight the 50 days of Easter. If you think about them, they blur the edges of those seasons.

Now the octave of Epiphany is a little different. The primary change was that the octave day was transferred to Sunday. When Epiphany (1/6) falls on a Sunday, then the Baptism of our Lord will be on the 13th -- the full Octave. But when it falls on other days, it will be shorter. This year it is on the 12th. Then starts the "per annum" time, just as in the older rite. Keep in mind that all of these days are filled with the theme of Epiphany, with a special emphasis on the First Letter of St John and Isaiah. So while the "octave" has been abolished, the celebration of Epiphany is extended throughout the week. Just reference the Missal and the LOTH. One can even say a gain was made since these Masses are unique formularies, instead of the repetition of the same Mass and readings throughout the week in the older rite.

Kate Edwards said...

Actually it is not correct that Christmas has ended on Jan 13 for a millenia - have a look at Dom Gueranger's essay on the history of Christmas.

And the 1962 Office continues to retain a number of 'after Christmas' elements which extend up to Feb 2, particularly in the office of Our Lady on Saturday, and the Marian antiphon at Compline.

Moreover the 'Epiphany Sunday' phenomenon is very recent indeed and not yet universal. The Code of Canon Law actually lists the feast of the Epiphany as a Holy Day of Obligation. But it also gives permission for such days of obligation to be suppressed or transferred to the Sunday by individual Bishops Conferences.

It is not a permission that I think is at all sensible - Epiphany Sunday as you note can occasionally coincide with the actual traditional number of days, but far more problematic is 'Ascension Sunday', which breaks the Scriptural number of days!

I understand the rationalisations provided for the various calendar reforms, I just think that in reality they are mostly misguided and have had unintended effects.

The repetition of the texts within the Mass of the Octave, for example, ensured that people could really learn the texts off by heart, and meditate deeply on them. Constantly new texts has, in my view, contributed to Catholics knowing virtually no Scripture at all!

The shading of the seasons is important if you actually take the seasons seriously, including the practices associated with them such as genuine fasting for example - abolishing those shadings contributes to the undermining of the traditional disciplines of body necessary for the cultivation of virtue and as a counter to the pursuit of pleasure that is the raison d'etre of contemporary society.

Similarly, the claim that removing the octave of Pentecost emphasises the connection to the Resurrection more simply hasn't worked in practice - we live in a time when more people than ever think it was a 'spiritual' resurrection rather than a physical one. Moreover, the downplaying of Pentecost has meant a downplaying of the Apostolic origins of the Church which has also had dire effects.

I'm not suggesting that one can never change things at all, but I do think an awful lot of those that occurred in the 1950s to 1970s were based on a poor understanding of human nature, misguided theology, and historical claims that have since been disproved.

Kate Edwards said...

Please note that anonymous comments will not be accepted - please give yourself an identifier!

But thanks anonymous for pointing out that my comment should have taken in the 1950s. I certainly have problems with a number of Pius XII's reforms, and I've revised the comment accordingly.

John Newton said...


If I might be permitted to make a small observation...

While it sounds all well and good in theory to say that cutting the Easter season back, so that it finishes at Pentecost, removes blurring the trouble is that the implications of that were not thought through with reference to the liturgy promulgated by Pope Paul VI. Previously (and indeed this is still the case in the extraordinary form) you had the Octave of Pentecost, which culminated in the feast of the Trinity on the octave day. So the resurrection of Our Lord and the coming of the Holy Spirit then liturgically climaxes with a celebration of the mystery of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But, while the octave was stripped from the ordinary form the octave day celebration - Trinity Sunday still remains, so for Catholics who only attend Mass on Sunday there is still a "blurring" at end of Eastertide. Logically, the Church should either go to the extent of getting rid of Trinity Sunday, or reinstating the octave of Pentecost. Personally I would very strongly favour the latter course for many, many reasons. If we want a new pentecost, prayer to the Holy Spirit is essential.

This also brings to mind the quite probably apocryphal story that Pope Paul VI, who had a great devotion to the Holy Spirit, went into the sacristy to prepare for Mass on the Monday after Pentecost in 1970 and was shocked to see Green vestments had been put out.
"Where are the red vestments for pentecost?" he asked.
"But the octave of Pentecost hasd been abolished!" came the reply.
"What? Who did that?" the Pontiff demand.
"Why, you did, your holiness."
At which it is said Pope Paul wept.