On Time Warps and Missing Feasts: Puzzling Over the Confusion in the Liturgical Cycle of Christmas

I must admit that I have a few concerns about the Christmas Calendar and I am interested in your thoughts on the matter.

1. In the First place I think that having the Feast of the Holy Family inside the Octave is a mistake. This is due, not to the feast per se,  but especially to the Gospel readings that are selected for the Feast.

In cycle A we read of the flight to Egypt, an event that takes place after the Epiphany which we have yet  yet to be celebrate! In effect, we jump forward in time either weeks, or even two years, (depending on when we reckon Epiphany to have taken place historically, (for some scholars think the Epiphany may have take place up to two years after the birth, which I personally doubt)). After having  jumped forward in time and place (Egypt), we then go back in time and place, (Bethlehem), to celebrate Epiphany on January 6th or the nearest Sunday.

If this were not bad enough Cycle B takes us forty days forward in time for the Feast of the Presentation (also called the Purification).   This too is a jump forward in time for the Rite of Purification was to take place forty days after birth by Jewish law and custom. That is why we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation on February 2nd.

Even worse, Cycle C takes us 12 years into the future as we read of the finding of Jesus in the Temple.  Then suddenly we are back to the infant Jesus for the feast of Epiphany.

All this temporal displacement could be avoided if we returned the Feast of the Holy Family back to the Sunday after Epiphany where it was prior to 1970. Indeed the Traditional Latin Mass still has the feast located there and uses the Gospel of the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. As such it provides a nice bridge from the infant Jesus we had at Epiphany to the Adult Jesus we have and the Baptism of the Lord and the Sundays following. It also avoids the temporal whiplash which the calendar and Christmas cycle causes by celebrating the Feast of the Holy Family on the Sunday inside the Christmas Octave.

2. Asecond concern I have is the loss of the Feast of the Circumcision and the giving of the Lord’s Name. As you likely know, Jewish boys were circumcised on the 8th Day, and their name was announced. Until 1960 we celebrated the octave day of Christmas as the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord. More than the Circumcision we also celebrated the giving of Jesus’ name. However in 1960 Pope John XXIII renamed January 1st as simply, “the Octave Day of Christmas,” though the Gospel of the Circumcision continued to be read. In 1970, the Feast came to be designated as the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

However! –  Now in this matter, my preference for the Feast of the Circumcision is rooted in my preference for a proper chronology that follows the Biblical Data as close as possible. However, the designation of the Octave Day as “Mary Mother of God” has some very strong arguments for it, I must say.

Evidence for the celebration of this feast goes back in the Roman Church all the way to the 7th Century. Prior to that, there is evidence of this feast being celebrated in other parts of Europe, but usually on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. By the 13th and 14th Centuries, however, the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord came to replace this feast, and the Feast of Mary Mother of God was eventually moved to October 11th and renamed the feast of the “Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Just after Vatican II The more ancient feast of Mary Mother of God was restored to January 1st. So, in the first place we see that the Feast of  Mary Mother of God on January 1st is the more ancient practice and this is a strong argument in its favor.

The feast also commemorates a very central dogma, most appropriate for the Christmas season:  that since Christ is one person with two natures (human andDivine), then Mary is rightly called the Mother of God.  Mary is Mother of God because Jesus is God. Some had wanted to argue that she only gave birth to his human nature and,  hence,  is only mother of what is human in him. But Jesus is ONE PERSON with two natures. This is something called in theology the “hypostatic union” and it is an essential teaching on Christ. He unites, in one person, the human nature and the divine nature. There are not two “Jesuses.” Neither is it true that his Divine nature came upon him at a later time such as his baptism. No, his two natures were united in his one person from the moment of of his human conception. And since Jesus is one, Mary gives birth, and is mother to the whole Christ. Mary is Mother of God because Jesus is God and Jesus is one. This title was given to Mary at the Council of Ephesus in 431 in defense of Christ’s divinity. The Greek form of this title is Θεοτόκος (Theotokos) translated more literally as “God Bearer.”

Still! – I love the Blessed Mother and surely affirm her under this proper title. But I regret the loss of the Feast of the Circumcision. As stated, I generally prefer to stick as close to the Biblical narrative as possible. In this case Scripture is clear, on the eighth day (i.e. January 1st for us), Jesus was circumcised and his name given. Three important truths and events are celebrated here. First that Jesus was born under the law and submitted himself to it so that he might fulfill it. Secondly there is the first shedding of blood, and this refers to the passion. Thirdly his name is announced: Jesus, a name which means “God saves.” There is no other name given to men by which we are to be saved, there is no other blood that can atone for our sins than the blood of Jesus and there is no one who can fulfill the Law as Jesus does. It seems a bit of a loss not to explicitly celebrate these  truths about Jesus on the very day (the eighth day) they happened.

3. A final concern is the moving of Epiphany in many parts of the world to the nearest Sunday. This troubles me greatly. Epiphany is a very important feast of the Church and completes the the 12th day of the Christmas feast. January 6th is the proper day for this feast going back to the 4th Century. Now many argue that the Feast is important and that is why it should be moved to the nearest Sunday so that many more will experience it. However, it is a  fact that this inevitably shortens the Christmas Cycle. The liturgical calendar sets forth sacred time, and it seems a very bad idea to allow the demands of the secular world for convenience to intrude on sacred time. Christmas is OUR time and OUR feast. It seems as though the tail is wagging the dog here. Too many Catholics allow the world to influence how they celebrate Christmas. Christmas does not end December 26th or January 2nd. It ends January 6th. Better that we should catechize our faithful as to the importance of this feast and even set it as a holy day of obligation than to move it.  It is true that fewer will experience the feast, even if we oblige it, but at least the Church will speak more clearly to full mystery of the Christmas feast rather than rush its completion and cave to worldly schedules. IMHO.

You may wish to dispute these regrets of mine and I hope you will use the comments section to advance your points. Obviously, greater minds in the Church than I have decided on these matters and do not agree with yours truly.

I suppose though, if I had it my way, here is what I would do:

  1. Celebrate the Feast of Mary Mother of God on the Sunday Between Christmas and January 1st (where we celebrate Holy Family now).
  2. Move the Feast of the Holy Family to the Sunday after Epiphany (where it used to be before 1970). This Feast seems better celebrated after Epiphany as a kind of bridge: Jesus at 12 years of age links the infant Chirst and the adult Christ as we return to Ordinary time.
  3. Restore the Feast of the Circumcision to January 1st.
  4. Return Epiphany to January 6th where this is not currently the case.

But nobody is asking me from Rome what I think! 🙂 So enjoy my “rant” for what it is: , just a slight case of temporal whiplash, grief for a feast that is missing  in action and a wish to tweak the Christmas calendar so it flows a little better.

Enjoy The Ave Maria by Rachmaninoff.

And for those of you who prefer a more modern Christmas, here is a virtual and iPad Christmas:

North Point’s iBand from North Point Web on Vimeo.

76 Replies to “On Time Warps and Missing Feasts: Puzzling Over the Confusion in the Liturgical Cycle of Christmas”

  1. Well, it bugs me too … and I’m just a laywoman. I want the whole Christmas story celebrated. I don’t really know why Epiphany is 12 days after Christmas … it could’ve been 14 days just as easily, but since the date has been fixed, I like your plan very much because you have thought very carefully how to make it all work. It makes so much more chronological sense. You should write to the Pope.

    By the way, we have discovered a church that celebrates the Latin Rite and we had the pleasure of attending Mass there today and we celebrated the Most Holy name of Jesus. I did not realize the importance until I was sitting there listening to the homily. This church celebrates Epiphany on Jan. 6th so they do follow the story and calendar more closely.

    Here is the link if you are curious: http://www.northamericanmartyrs.org/

  2. So I guess my next question would be to ask where would you put the feast of the Holy Innocents since that is also Biblically based? Would you move it after Epiphany or keep it before Epiphany? Just curious.

  3. I totally agree! I got confused and took the tree down tonight. Certainly Christmas is over if we had Epiphany already. Right? Agree on the 8th day also.

  4. Msgr.,

    Just to chime in: as someone who is familiar with both Roman calendars, I completely agree with your ideas. I usually attend the NO, but there are (as you say) some calendar problems. I think these came from a genuine, yet misguided attempt to help the faithful “get the most out of the liturgical year”; however, they neuter the calendar of many good things, especially the historical and numerological significance of the calendar…which is what the calendar is all about! (I am reminded here of the feast of St. John the Baptist as the days gets shorter, and Christmas, around which time the days get longer.)

    By the way, I just want to chime in about how excellent this blog is. There is always something that is food for thought (or prayer!) Even with this post a cynic might say that you have little to gain: “neo-cons” would say “why question?”, progressives would say “who cares”, and traditionalists would say “who cares [since the whole calendar is messed up anyhow]”. However, those of us who want to see the best in the Church love these posts, which try to sort out the middle ground or ordinary way of the People of God.

    1. Thanks for your encouraging words!

      As for the calendar, I think you are exactly right, deeper and more significant things related to the numerological significance of the calendar are lost. “Sacred time” yields to secular time too often today.

  5. There is a great Mexican tradition of eating a Rosca de Reyes (lit. “loaf of the kings [the Magi]”) on the Epiphany where whoever gets the hidden baby Jesus in the loaf has to throw next year’s party and where the knife that cuts the loaf represents King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. This year in the United States the Epiphany was a full 5 days earlier than normal (on a Sunday), really confusing those Mexicans acquainted more with the faith because of their culture than directly from a priest or parish bulletin. What reason do I give to these people, who would probably come back more fully to the faith if the bishops remained consistent, besides: “I don’t know why the bishops want to confuse us.”? I can’t blame an individual bishop for not mandating in his diocese, contrary to the USCCB, that the Epiphany be on January 6 since that would cause even more confusion!

    And yesterday was the feast of Mary or the Circumcision? I thought it was the Circumcision. Even my choir director, who is very acquainted with the faith, though we would be singing at a high mass yesterday but apparently the USCCB abrogates the obligation if it falls on a Monday or Saturday. When did all this start? Certainly the Vatican does not mandate changing holy days of obligation like this. Is there a petition to tell the USCCB bishops to stop misleading their flocks?

    1. Yes, I wonder that, as the Latino population of US Catholics has so increased if the Bishops might not want to consider restoring Epiphnany to Jan 6. As for the crazy rules about Holy Days of Obligation, don’t even get me started. It is a very frustrating and legalistic state of affairs to say the least.

  6. I agree that the OF calendar is out of sorts. Our family celebrates Epiphany on Jan. 6th with the exchange of gifts, a feast, the blessing over the door, etc. However, that is difficult to do without a Mass of Epiphany on that day. I also pray the office, so do I pray the office of Epiphany on the Sunday, or on Epiphany (since I am not bound to pray it at all)? I think the entire thing was concocted by clerics that did not want the added “work” of another feast, covering their impiety with the excuse of giving the feast more prominence. I say, we need a reform of the calendar – especially for Epiphany and for Pentecost, which has been absurdly reduced to one day! The thing is, how does one go about reforming the OF calendar? Where does one start?

    1. Well, as a general rule one strive to keep unity with the local bishop in matters liturgical. But there are many exceptions. For example ccertain religious congregations have different calendars they follow, so to other Rites, more recently we now have TWO liturgical calendars operative in the Latin Rite (EF, OF). Hence I think you are free to read the office of Epiphnay on Jan 6, even more so considering that you would be in sync with the Pope and most of the rest of the Catholic world.

  7. Msgr. Pope:
    Thank you for your thoughtful discussions. I like all of your suggestions for today, and often enjoy reading both your columns, and the comments that are generated from other readers.
    @Laura: Let’s make the other changes suggested by Msgr. Pope, but leave the Holy Innocents on Dec. 28 (Unless it is replaced by the Sunday in the octave of Christmas). We have Pro-life processions locally that are scheduled for 12-28 each year.

  8. The only one of your concerns that I would change is the date for the Epiphany. I prefer January 6th.

  9. Part of the problem with recent changes in liturgy, as well as catechesis and study of the Scriptures, without implying a change in the nature of the Church, is confusion. And this from sin. To list a few:

    – The sin of Bishops. Some shepherds have been lax in their office, giving Communion to public sinners and not correcting disobedient Catholics in their jurisdiction. Other shepherds have been lax in their love, preferring to be more political masters than spiritual masters. Still other shepherds have not helped their brothers or have abandoned the Church. This leads to scandal and confusion, evil growing rather than shrinking, a less holy people, a more ideological people, fear of shepherding and discouragement in teaching. Since the faithful gather around the Bishop, so where he goes, they go.
    – The sin of Priests and Deacons. Some co-workers and helpers of the Bishops have been lax in their ministry, skipping over and inserting words into the Mass. Others have been lax in their love, preferring to be a “personal Jesus” than Christus alter. Still others have been slow in correction and do not give good penances or advice to their penitents. This leads to liturgical abuses and a loss of the sense of the sacred, scandal over “the Church having changed her teachings”, fear of correction, and distrust in God’s Goodness and Real Presence.
    – The sin of Religious. Some Religious, taking cue from the Priests and Deacons, have given into liturgical dances and pseudo-mysticism. Others have permitted themselves to indulge in good things which the vows forbid. Still others have left their congregations, not to seek another which is better, but to make one in their own images. This leads to less sanctification, to scandal, and to a terrible distrust of the consecrated life and scoffing at the religious vows.
    – The sin of theologians. Some theologians question, rather than defend, the Faith and Word of God, such as whether or not Jesus knew He was God or if King David ruled a united Kingdom of Israel. Other theologians mix non-Catholic matters with Catholicism. Still other theologians teach their own speculations as very truth, rather than distinguishing between the two. This leads to doubt and scandal, anxiety, poor catechesis, and a misunderstanding of the field of theology.
    – The sin of apologists and teachers. Some apologists do not clarify their field, whereby some believe what they teach is catechesis rather than a reasonable argument for the faith. Some teachers teach speculation rather than the Faith. Other apologists do not fully understand the Faith, for they never learn beyond natural reason. Other teachers use poor educational methods to explain the Faith, some fearful of using better methods. This leads to misunderstanding, a loss of faith, a shallow knowledge of Christ, and confusion of apologetics and catechesis, argument and truth.
    – The sin of the faithful. Some faithful have abandoned the sacraments, even on Sundays. Others go church shopping, preferring self-righteousness to the Righteousness of Christ. Still others belong to movements which are cult-like, subtle in their wickedness, and manipulative of the Church under the guise of love, such as the Holy Love Ministries, Intercessors of the Lamb, Marian Movement of Priests, and America Needs Fatima.
    – The sin of Satan. No one can forget the devil’s hatred for Christ and His Church, just as no one can forget prayer for poor sinners. He corrupts Catholics from without and within so as to demoralize and discourage us, disappoint and degenerate us, and cause great disaster. The Maronites, thankfully, have a great devotion to Saint Michael, and us Latins, thankfully, have a great devotion to Mother Mary, so we compliment each other – so to speak.

    This tribulation will pass, but for now our fidelity to Christ and to His Church is being tested and proven. Out of tribulation God draws forth a greater good for us: Purification, repentance, unity to Christ, and growth in love.

    1. I should clarify, before any impression of self-righteousness is made, that I am among the faithful who do not go to Mass on Sunday. That, of course, is an offense against the Precepts of the Church, the Third Commandment of God, and a mortal sin – unless there is a grave reason not to go, yet I have rarely been gravely ill, thanks be to God. But my thanks is vain if I do not love Him, and this by keeping His doctrines, such as the Sunday Mass. I am likewise guilty of other mortal sin, mostly sins of the flesh, some of which I am addicted to, yet addiction is no accuse for me to say, “It’s more okay now to commit these sins because my addiction mitigates their gravity!” so I do my best, by God’s grace, to overcome my sin, though I fall daily. In short, I am a poor sinner like all sinners.

      1. I hope you might consult with your local priest on this. I think what you are describing sounds like this: I don’t go to the doctor since I am sick. I will only go to the doctor when I get well. That’s the logic I hear. There is surely something important about worthy reception. But in the case of addiction one must work closely with a priest through regular confession and direction so that Holy Communion is available at least during sin-free periods. You and he would need to work the details. At any rate, Nick, take your medicine.

  10. I love the way you wrote your rant. Sounds like we should pack the whole church into the TARDIS. Back in time. Forward in time.

    I agree with it all. Why did we move Epiphany? When did it become a moveable feast? I didn’t pray the Office for Epiphany. Color me the rebel, but it’s suppopsed to be the 6th. I pray the Office and pack up the ornaments.

    1. I am not sure when Epiphnay got moved here in the US. I’m 50 and frankly don’t remember it happeneing though I am sure it must have been during my life, it must have been early on.

  11. here I am this crazy convert trying to figure this whole thing out. I have heard many a priest express these same concerns and though I am strongly inclined to agree I don’t know if I would be willing to fall on my sword about it. I understand chronoology and how this may confuse folks but in the end we do reflect and celebrate these awesome and sacred events in the Church.

  12. Are the Ephiphany house blessing best held til the 6th? I think I’m just a tired cranky Catholic who wants my calendar left alone – I’m trying to show my children the richness of our heritage and suddenly, the dates change – again. Is there anything stable? The stability of the salvation story is needed in this broken world. And moving the calendar to suit secular society seems ill advised. The conversation in our house involved modes of transportation at various times in our history – we have cars, regular bus schedules, etc. It is easy to get to church – especially when compared to the horse and buggy era. I really think I must be missing something in this whole equation.
    Off to bed – blessing the house on the 6th and celebrating Ephiphany!

    1. Yes, it seems Jan 6th is fine. It is a sacramental and is thus less subject to the stricter liturgical norms . Further Epiphany is still celebrated Jan 6th in most of the world.

  13. “…it seems a very bad idea to allow the demands of the secular world for convenience to intrude on sacred time.”

    I completely agree and agree that the Epiphany should be a holy day of obligation. And let’s start celebrating all holy days of obligation and quit moving them to a nearby Sunday. We need a more demanding faith, one that makes us think. When I read books on saints and how holy days use to be celebrated, I am faced with the fact that I am a slacker and that we live in a pretty lax time.

  14. Yes it is very sad that Christmas cycle(novus ordo) will end next Sunday January 9th(Baptism of the Lord). That will be a total of 15 days!The shortest cycle in the Liturgical Year.Shorter than Advent,Lent,Easter,or Pentecost.
    In the old calendar Christmastide was 40 days from December 25th to Febuary 2 (Purification).During this period one same mystery was celebrated and kept in view during the whole 40 days.Even Septuagesima did not distract Holy Mother Church from the immense joy of this wonderful season.Thank God (and Pope Benedict)we can still celebrate it in the Latin Liturgy .

    1. Wow, here is even another aspect I had not considered: Christmas is currently shorter than Advent! Kinda strange. I have always struggled to see Christmas as extendeding to Feb 2 but your comment makes me reconsider it!

  15. I totally agree with you, especially the point about moving the Epiphany to the nearest Sunday – it just didn’t feel right celebrating it yesterday. This is a recent development here in the UK and the same applies to Ascension and Corpus Christi. It causes no end of confusion when one attends a church where they celebrate both the old and new rites – yesterday we had the Holy Name at the 9am Mass and the Epiphany at the 11am. Go figure!

    1. Oh yes, don’t even get me started with Acension “Thursday” on Sunday and I had forgotten about corpus Christi too. Further, as you point out the two calendars being operative does cause some strangeness

  16. I’m with you, Monsignor! I, too, especially wish that Epiphany were restored to Jan. 6. What you have suggested for the others sounds very sensible and I, too, would be interested in your opinion as to when to celebrate the Holy Innocents.

    1. Yes, I had not thought about that, but I suppose if historical sequence is important we might celebrate it the day after Epiphnay or at least shortly thereafter but but before Holy Family.

  17. Sounds perfectly reasonable and logical to me. The feasts’ misplacement is particularly glaring this year as everything is so tight … we celebrated Holy Family the day after Christmas, barely get in Mary, Mother of God (and since it’s not a Holy Day of Opportunity, few go), and then we’ve got Epiphany. And it’s only the 3rd of Jan!

  18. In the East, we celebrate the “12 Days of Christmas” a little differently. The visit of the Magi is celebrated with Nativity itself. “Holy Family” is celebrated on the following Sunday (albeit by a different name), the circumcision/naming is celebrated on Jan 1 (In fact, this event is the very reason we measure our years by each Jan 1), and January 6 we call “Theophany” rather than Epiphany: the Revelation of our Lord at His Baptism.

    1. Interesting. I admit I am having a little trouble putting all the parts together however. For example how is the visit of the Three kings different than the Theophany? Do you include the baptism and the water made wine in that feast?

      1. The Three Kings have nothing at all in common with the feast of Theophany. This feast is about the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John and the manifestation of the Trinity. Christmas (or more properly, the Nativity) and its postfestive period take care of all the ‘events’ surrounding Christmas as Dr Mac has stated..

  19. Dear Father.
    I agree with you. Someone hidden in the Vatican basements know better than previous centuries of Church liturgy and, of course, than all of us! Today we have celebrated the Holy Name of Jesus or the old time Feast of the Circumcision. Regarding the latter, I had a hard time to know – when a child – its meaning. Thanks to the Italian Dictionary I found out what happened to Baby Jesus. CDD class taught us about the “Baptism” of Baby Jesus. Circumcision was something too intimate and private to be talked about in Italy, a practice not practiced at all still today (except the Italian Jews!). I think that this Feast should be celebrated on the second Sunday after Christmas, a Sunday that does not have any particular “title”. Thank God, the Epiphany is still celebrated on the 6th of January. In the 80s’ the Italian Government suppressed most of the Feasts during weekdays. Too many unworking days, according to the Department of Labor! A socialist President of Republic, Mr. Pertini, strongly disagreed and required the Feast back to January 6th.
    God bless you!
    Don Silvio

    1. Interesting info on Italy. I also understand the skweemishness about the term circumcision and would not mind Janury 1st being called the Feast of the Holy Name since that is a very significant aspect of the day as well.

  20. Excellent ideas! I grew up celebrating “Little Christmas” on January 6. Today everyone puts up their tree on Thanksgiving weekend and takes it down on Jan1…or even Dec. 26 because they have had” enough of Christmas.” People were posting their Christmas tree pics and outdoor decor on FB on Thanksgiving looking very organized and efficient…seriously, it is very very hard to escape the secular pressures and one way would be to firmly establish the calendar of feasts mentioned above.

  21. Dear Father, I generally agree with your suggestions. (For disclosure, I should mention I think the entire Novus Ordo calendar should be restored to the EF calendar, with newer saints simply added as optional memorials — restoring Septuagesimatide, Ember days, etc.)

    What you have not mentioned — isn’t moving Epiphany from Jan 6th terribly *culturally insensitive* and *unpastoral* as this country has many Hispanic Catholics who are deeply attached to celebrating Epiphany on Jan 6th?

    This Jan 6th, I will be at Mass in the EF, for Epiphany. Afterwards, I will go to a dinner with my Hispanic in-laws, who have no attachment to the EF, but still always celebrate Epiphany on Jan 6th, because that’s when it really is, regardless of what the US bishops say.

  22. Monsignor, the Feast of the Circumcision (Octave Day of Christmas) is something to ponder and its loss is very sad. It not only announced the name of Jesus per the Jewish tradition, but it was the first time that Christ shed blood for humanity! We make a great emphasis of the crib being wooden and foretelling the cross, but the Circumcision actually shows the direction for which Christ came into the world by shedding His Divine Blood–the Suffering Servant of Isaiah foretold long before. D.v.

  23. Monsignor,

    Great post, as usual!

    I really hate the way that Liturgical life has been made so barren, confusing, and… well, strange, here in the US. I’d love to attend a parish that celebrates the TLM, but there is none in my area. The only one we have is a small SSPX chapel, which I’ve stayed away from for fear of sin.

    However, I’m getting various (and contradictory!) opinions on whether or not it is acceptable to attend such a chapel for love of the old liturgy. Some say absolutely not; others say that it is permissible, so long as one doesn’t entertain schismatic ideas.

    I trust your opinion and judgment. What is your view on it? Is it acceptable to attend Mass and/or receive Communion at a SSPX chapel, if one is not entertaining schismatic ideology?

  24. I agree that we should go back to the more traditional placements for the Feasts, especially the Feast of the Circumcision. I do not know what to do with the Feast of Mary Mother of God, because I would not place it in the octave of Christmas because I think it should be reserved for Christ himself. However, the argument could be made because of Feasts of Sts. Stephen and John (respectively December 26 and 27) that these two men along with the other major feasts have a close connection with the Savior, that being the First Martyr and the Disciple that Jesus loved and the Holy Innocence. Mary could be the same since she was His Mother. I think I would still prefer that day somewhere else. Without the Feast of the Circumcision, Jesus would not have a name and then we could not celebrate the Memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus, which I think is celebrated on the like January 2nd, that is if it is still celebrated (I do not remember). So now, we have a Savior without a name.

  25. Re: Epiphany. What does this say to the Eastern Church which celebrates this day with great solemnity (and at home with gifts and parties)? I find it very confusing that Vatican II is proclaimed as a champion for ecumenism and in its aftermath the Roman Church mutates Epiphany and even takes saints important to the East (Barbara, Catherine of Alexandria, etc) off their liturgical calendar.

  26. I sound like a broken record at times, but I’m not sure what was wrong with the pre-1970 calendar.
    * December 24 — the violet vestment vigil of Christmas.
    * December 25th — the three Masses of Christmas.
    * December 26th — Saint Stephen (although this time it was the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas with Stephen commemorated with a second collect, second secret and second postcommunion proper).
    * Saint John the Evangelist, Holy Innocents, Saint Thomas Becket and Saint Sylvester as usual Christmas week.
    * January 1 — the octave day of Christmas, which is the feast of the circumicision (focus of the Gospel), but still with many mentions of Mary’s maternity from the early Church propers.
    * January 2 — the feast of the Holy Name.
    * January 6 — the Epiphany.
    * January 9 — the Holy Family.
    * January 13 — the Baptism (former octave of Epiphany). The end of the liturgical Christmas season (although the 40 days of the full Christmas season extend to Feb. 2’s Purification of the BVM / Candlemas, when the Vatican takes down the creche).

    Of course, it would mean going to Mass on more than Sundays, something the novus ordo practically eliminated this Christmas season. But the flow on the 1962 calendar makes so much more sense — there was wisdom in hundreds of years of tradition.

    Thankfully there are several options to hear traditional Latin Masses using this (1962) calendar in our area — including Monsignor Pope’s Solemn High Mass this Sunday at 5 p.m. on the feast of the Holy Family.

    1. I would agree generally, however, the loss of the feast of the Circumcision in 1960 was puzzling.Why did John XXIII replace that feast with the bland, “Octave Day of Christmas” and move the Holy Name one day? Hence, even the 1962 calendar could use a little attention.

  27. Wow. With all the different opinions, and Msgr. Pope’s statement “I suppose if I had it my way…,” it sounds as if everyone wanting to have it their way, like Frank Sinatra’s song, I did it my way. The Father on EWTN did not seem to have a problem with the arrangement of scripture readings prepared for this cycle, in fact he embraced the meaning of the message (At the name of Jesus every knee shall bend). The diversity of opinion sounds like Protests, or Protestants. I was taught to stay obedient to the Roman Catholic Chruch. The key work being Rome. If I decide to re-arrange the scripture to my preferences, would I be called a Catholic, or a dissentient. To use the word “mistake’ in the first paragraph sends a message that a high ranking person in the Catholic Church such as a Msgr., can lament from his pulpit which can stir up animosity against the Bishops, and church authority is incredible. The division within the Church can only benefit the one who sits in a heated place, the father of lies. I’m just saying all this misplaced desire for change, when the true message of Christmas is missed. Kinda like a red herring. I for one, will stay in place, and march in rythm with my Master, and Teacher, Jesus Christ, and His Vicar who sits in the Fisherman’s Chair of St. Peter. Signed: a simple lay-person, Grandpa Tom.

    1. “I did it my……way” . Actually I didn’t Grandpa. I changed no readings and swapped no feasts and I like the priest on EWTN preached out of the readings and the feast at hand. Perhaps my word “mistake” is too strong but don’t you also think your words “Protestant” and “dissentient” [sic] are also strong, even mildly offensive? For the record, you can call me anything you want but I’ll stick up for the commenters here and say I think it is not wrong to discuss the way in the liturgy is experienced. No one is talking about rearranging scripture or launching off on their own. They are talking about their expereince and wishing [perhaps] that some further thought be given to what is currently done. This is no different than discussions on the proper place and manner of the sign of peace. If people were forbidden to discuss the liturgy where would we be today with regards the new translation? Indeed the whole liturgical movement of the last century was an on-going discussion of how liturgy is experienced and if changes needed to be made. That led to the 1970 missale romanum. From there on-going discussions, even battles, have set up that have led to further clarifications, changes and ammendations and also to the reintroduction of the 1962 liturgy. The fact is, the liturgy in an open discussion in the Church and both clergy and laity engage in it. If I were encouraging people to disobey current norms or rearrange the calendar on my own perhaps your charges would apply. As for marching in step with the Vicar of Christ, amen! But he still celebrates Epiphany on Jan 6th, and has reauthorized the old calendar (for the record).

      I think the notion of obedience (or disobedience) as you have here described it is exaggerated and thus your judgment of others is misplaced. THat I should obey the current norms of each form of the Roman Rite IS a matter of obedience, and I do. That discussions on how the liturgy is experienced and seeking to influence that on-going discussion on liturgy (which never really ends) is somehow and act of disobedience, protestantism, and dissent is very extreme on your part Grandpa Tom.

      Even the Pope is suggesting that some of our current practices may need to be revisited and he has engaged bishops and liturgists worldwide on matters such as ad orientem, communion in the hand, harmonizing the caldendars of the EF and OF, relocating sign of peace, etc. He did this also when he was Cardinal. Was he stirring up trouble? Or was/is he engaing in the conversation and seeking to influence it. As Pope he has not issued a lot of directives but seeks rather to build consensus for the changes he sees helpful and ultimately necessary. Its about a conversation and about hopes Grandpa, not about being protestant and dissenting.

      1. The exchange between Msgr Pope and Grandpa Tom reflects life in general: how to know and when to logically and charitably speak out for change, to continue the growth of the kingdom here on earth, WITHOUT being disobedient or selfishly righteous. This is the challenge we face everyday in every area with regards to spreading the Gospel. May God bless our words, our desires and our hearts.

  28. I agree with every concern you have raised. Too bad Rome never asks those of us in the parish. 🙂

  29. The point about the secular world intruding on sacred time is well put. I feel that too many weekday observances are shuttled to Sunday so that the world of business will not be ‘offended’!

  30. I think it is very sad and wrong that Epiphany is moved in the US to accommodate the secular.
    Fortunately, I now live in an Orthodox country and January 6th is always a national holiday!

    On a related note, at a time when some people are attracted to Islam because it is a complete way of life,
    Catholicism has so much more to offer and is a truly complete way of life when it is true to itself.
    Muslims do not accommodate themselves to the world when it is one of their religious days. They take off from work whether it is a national holiday or not. Christians need to get our priorities right. When we look the same as the rest of the world, we are doing something wrong.

  31. A 1962 Missal, a treasure which I recently found in a box of books and papers, has this commentary on the Octave of Christmas: “On this, the Octave Day of Christmas, the Church commemorates the Circumcision of our Redeemer, and also honors Mary’s divine Maternity. The sinless Son of Man sheds for us the first drops of His Blood, and the Lord of all submits to a Mosaic Law.”

    In previous times we could commemorate and honor at the same time (multi-tasking is not so new). Also, the ideas of sacrifice and obedience were presented forthrightly.

  32. I refuse and reject any more changes. My manger stays up until Jan 6, the Epiphany. Satan is happy to see the Christmas season rearranged by retailers and Christians confused.

    I agree with everything Nick said. Come back to the church Nick, it needs you.

  33. How interesting, I have been working on a program to automate the traditional calendar and readings, and I found myself asking very similar questions…. but I guess we just have to tolerate it.

  34. I’d love to see Epiphany, Ascension, and Corpus Christi celebrated on their proper days. While I for one would not object to making them Holy Days of Obligation as well, I’m not sure this is needed. My parish is always jam-packed on Ash Wednesday (and thank goodness we still observe it on Wednesday!), and quite a few of us showed up for All Saints last year even though it fell on Monday. “If you build it they will come” applies here, I think if parishes celebrated all Solemnities with Masses following the usual Holy Day schedule, with a Sunday choir or musicians, publicized this in the bulletin & church web site, and invited everyone to attend, a lot of people would show up regardless of whether or not our bishops decide to make it obligatory. We could call them the “Voluntary Holy Days.”

  35. As a convert from what used to be the Episcopal Church, I was dismayed by the loss of the season of Epiphany. My son, my granddaughter, and I all have our birthdays within that time, and our Epiphany birthdays were a great source of joy

  36. Thank you for your valuable blog. I don’t recall many topics that have prompted as many responses as this one. Perhaps [the bishops] can help us understand how a holy day that celebrates something pivotal becomes a Holy Day of Obligation/Expectation — unless it falls on a day whose date is divisible by Avogadro’s number or falls on a Wednesday that is preceded by a blue moon? Then heretofore significance disappears. (May we do the same with their birthdays?) If they truly don’t want to inconvenience Sorta-Catholics, why not compress all feast days and Sunday celebrations into Christmas and Easter? (At the same time they really oughtta do something with that bothersome number of TEN commandments. Oh, happy day!)

  37. I’m a homeschooling Mother…and this calendar thing is a mess!!! My children have been taught that Epiphany is the 6th. The older ones know the date, can say the date when asked in a Jeopardy-style question (we do Roman Catholic Challenge in our house). And this year we have less Holy Days of Obligation. How can children be raised to know their faith or adults practice their faith with such never-ending confusion? We are doing the Three Kings Day celebration, house blessing, and putting away the Christmas tree on the the 6th.

  38. I keep up the lights and tree to the Presentation of the Lord Feb 2. However I am confused why this feast and its readings are after the Epiphany. I can see how the 40 days sits with the 6 week purification for a male baby but this is not a logical timing given the sequencing of other events of the Christmas Story in the Calender. I think the SSPX church nearby will gert more visits – and YES it is OK to visit and take Communion! However I am a NO catholic as well. Cheers & Peace to All!

  39. I could not agree more! I feel that the Christmas season rushes to quickly away from the celebration of the Nativity. We spend four weeks preparing for what feels like 24 hours of celebration.

  40. Another point in all of this, when Holy days fall on Sat. or Mon. it means that they are simply not celebrated at all in many parishes because those are days that daily Mass is not offered!

  41. Once again, thank you for talking about the Christmas cycle as you said you would do. Your sequence of events is biblical, theological and logical. The current changes do not seem to make much sense and at 83 I find these particular changes difficult to accept. I shall continue to keep my crèche and Christmas symbols up until January 6th .

  42. What I want to know is how did the Baptism of the Lord come to be the end of the Christmas season in the new calendar? Shouldn’t that be closer to Lent? Wasn’t Jesus baptized right before entering the desert?

  43. I have a friend who most years telephones the local chancery to protest that the “novena” [9 days] between Ascension and Pentecost is rendered meaningless by the now near-universal practice of celebrating Pentecost on the Sunday after the Ascension. He asks them waggishly if taking this liberty with the liturgical calendar now means that “every devotional, private novena should also curtailed to end on the Sunday following its start?”

  44. I have a friend who most years telephones the local chancery to protest that the “novena” [9 days] between Ascension and Pentecost is rendered meaningless by the now near-universal practice of celebrating Pentecost on the Sunday after the Ascension. He asks them waggishly if taking this liberty with the liturgical calendar now means that “every devotional, private novena should also be curtailed to end on the Sunday following its start?”

  45. I also find it unfortunate, especially considering the Ephiphany falls on a Thursday, right in the middle of the week. I think it should still be celebrated, and if you’re not going to make it a Holy Day of Obligation, you should still leave it on the calendar and definitely not change the readings for the day. This inconsistency really takes away from the Christmas season and the universalism of the Church and it seems that people are too concerned about convenience rather than sacrafice.

  46. I have also been taken aback by the changes in the Xmas season celebration that skip important events, don’t even mention them, & don’t consider chronology. E.g, the first day of the year is no longer a holy day of obligation, or maybe in some places. The God that gives us the gift of time should always be honored on the first day of a new year by all of us.

    Then, last Sunday, I arrive at church prepared to celebrate one event only to learn that it was scheduled as Ephiphany Sunday.

    The Christmas season is one of the most important in the liturgy & deserves better planning.

  47. As someone who loves Christmas and doesn’t want it to end, I was always puzzled that we spend about 4 weeks preparing for a season that lasts 2 weeks…and even though Epiphany had been moved to Sunday before I was born, we always had the tradition of keeping the decorations up till January 6th. Even though Epiphany was moved in the US for over 40 years, my parents and grandparents kept the tradition (and kinda noticed that it was moved…yep most people don’t even notice, but they remember the tradition…although we never commemorated the 6th in any way.) that’s just the thing…Epiphany was NEVER a holy day in the US. Apparently, since this was a Protestant country, the bishops had Jan 1 be a holy day because it was already a holiday in the US. They didn’t want to push it by having another one 5 days later. So Epiphany’s significance was diminished long before the 1960s. Moving it to Sunday actually gives it more prominence as people will attend Mass for the feast now. Most countries do this now, even Italy! But it reeks havoc with centuries of tradition and the shortening the Christmas season has been put into the revised calendar because technically Christmas time didn’t end until the 13th.
    Here’s a full historical background to help people see what’s up:
    Now remember, before the Novus Ordo, Lent was the only season that had proper daily masses (masses with there own texts and readings)- if it wasn’t a saint’s feast, the mass was of the preceding Sunday, even in Advent and Easter. Plus, there were several opening prayers, so many things could be commemorated.

    For centuries it went like this:
    Dec 24 Vigil of Christmas (Mass celebrated that morning. If it was the 4th Sunday of Advent, the Sunday was only commemorated)
    Dec 25 Christmas
    Dec 26 St Stephen with commemoration of Christmas (Third Mass) (same for below)
    Dec 27 St John
    Dec 28 Holy Innocents
    Dec 29 St Thomas Becket
    Dec 30 Mass of the Octave (Third Mass of Christmas)
    Dec 31 St Sylvester
    Jan 1 Circumcision (Mass only of that day, no commemoration of Christmas)
    (If Dec 26,27.28 fell on a Sunday, the feasts of those saints were celebrated and the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas was celebrated on Dec 30. If it was Dec 29-31, the Octave Sunday was celebrated with commemoration on the saint)
    Jan 2 Octave of St Stephen (Mass of Dec 26)
    Jan 3 Octave of St John (Mass of Dec 27)
    Jan 4 Octave of Holy Innocents (Mass of Dec 28)
    Jan 5 Vigil of the Epiphany (Mass of the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas with different Gospel. Commemoration of St Telesphorus)
    Jan 6 Epiphany
    Jan 7-12 Days within the Octave of Epiphany (Mass of Epiphany (there were no saints commemorated)
    Jan 13 Octave of Epiphany (Mass of Epiphany but Collect was different (it’s an optional opening prayer for the feast of the Baptism and Gospel was “Behold the Lamb of God”)
    Any Sunday was the Second Sunday of Christmas or the Sunday within the Octave of Epiphany. These were changed to the Holy Name and the Holy Family, respectively.
    Then in 1955 all the octaves were dropped (except Christmas). The Sunday in the Octave of Christmas was always celebrated with a commemoration of the saint. Vigil of Epiphany was dropped.
    Jan 2-5 Christmas Ferias (Mass of the Circumcision)
    Jan 7-12 Ferias (before Sunday – Mass of Epiphany; after Sunday – Mass of the 1st Sunday after Epiphany – No saints commemorated
    Jan 13 Commemoration of the Baptism of the Lord (Only the name was changed, Mass was the same as
    So this is were the season was truncated…after Holy Family Sunday, the “Ordinary time” mass was said- although the color was white. But still, Christmas was from Dec 24 to Jan 13.
    Then after 1970, there were individual Masses for most of these days, The weekdays between Jan 2 and the Baptism have their won mass depending on when Epiphany is.
    NOW if this isn’t confusing enough, more changes were made since 1970…at first in countries were the Epiphany is on a Sunday after Jan 7, the Baptism was omitted. It was later changed to be celebrated on the next Monday.
    AND in the 2002 Missal, more changes were made

    – there is now a Vigil of Epiphany (this is a newly written
    Mass- there was a Vigil before as above, but it was the Mass of the Sunday Octave of Christmas).
    – there are no individual masses for Jan 2 til the Baptism. The mass is according to the day of the week
    Monday to Saturday. The opening prayer and the readings are different depending on whether it is before Epiphany or after. Everything else is the same.

  48. Ah, Msgr. Pope, another excellent post. No surprise that the commenters overwhelmingly agree with you. Now if only one US diocese would get its act together. At the very least, restoring Epiphany and Ascension should be done. I’ll add another reason to do so: For those of us with small children, we try to usethe liturgical calendar to reinforce salvation history. When the bishops rip up Epiphany and Ascension from their proper place, they leave us parents in an impossible position. My kids adore the 12 days of Christmas, and it is simply not posible to explain to them, this year, that 8 = 12. These delicate souls’ deep, active participation in the liturgy is harmed by such foolishness.

    In the DC archdiocese, it was Cardinal McCarrick who got rid of the proper day for Ascension. I wrote him, politely assuring him that his cathedral had always been full to bursting on Ascension Thursday, and received back a letter that boiled down to, “everybody else is moving it.”

    St. Augustine said, “we must raise our goals if we are to meet them.” This is the secret of the Marine Corps, which has never had a vocations crisis….

Comments are closed.