The Liturgical Year III: Christmas Time 

A couple of weeks back, we took an overview of how the Liturgical Year differs, and how it remains the same, across the two liturgical forms, the Novus Ordo (Ordinary Form or OF) and the Tridentine (Extraordinary Form or EF). I also loosely refer to them as the 1962 calendar (the calendar followed by the EF) and the 1969 calendar (the calendar followed by the OF). Now we’ll look a little more closely at the period around Christmas.

First, though, a note of caution: the purpose of these posts is simply to explain the differences, and the similarities between the two calendars. The Church can, and has, altered the Liturgical Calendar through the millennia. I’ve heard, for example, that once upon a time, Advent was 8 weeks, not 4. Sometimes changes seem for the better, other times not so much. But the Church has the authority to do this.

1962 Calendar

Beginning with the EF, my Baronius Press 1962 Daily Missal tells me that the season of Christmas, or the Christmas Cycle, begins with the First Sunday of Advent, and ends with the Saturday before Septuagesima. This Cycle is also known as The Mystery of the Incarnation, and has three parts. Thus we have:

Part I of the Christmas Cycle. Advent: First Sunday of Advent (the Sunday closest to November 30th) up to the Vigil Mass on December 24th. The feast of the Immaculate Conception, a Holy Day of obligation in the US (being as Our Lady is, after all, the Patroness of these United States) is on December 8th. The 3rd Sunday of Advent is Gaudete (rejoice, in the plural imperative voice, literally: REJOICE, y’all!) Sunday. Note that the Ember Days for Advent also occur during Advent. These are days of recommended (not obligatory) fasting; in Advent they occur on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the 3rd Sunday of Advent. The subject of Ember Days probably should have its own post someday.

Part II of the Christmas Cycle. Christmastide: Begins with the Vigil Mass, December 24th, (which I believe in the 1962 calendar must span midnight) and runs through Epiphany. 

Now things get a little confusing. Right after Christmas Day comes the days of the Octave of Christmas; these have their own Masses, with Decembers 26, 27 and 28 are the Masses of St. Stephen, St. John the Evangelist, and the Holy Innocents, respectively. Decembers 69, 30 and 31 are just called 5th, 6th and 7th days in the Octave. If a Sunday happens to fall in there, it gets its own Mass, the Sunday within the Octave. Then comes the Octave, January 1st, previously known as the Mass of the Circumcision (I think), as under the Jewish Law, it was on the 8th day of life that the boy was to be circumcised. Now it is known as the Octave Day of Christmas. 

On the Sunday after the Octave Day of Christmas comes the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Now, if this Sunday happens to fall on January 1st, 6th or 7th, as it does this year (2018; the first Sunday is January 7th) then the Holy Name Feast is kept on January 2nd. Except when it isn’t. Current calendars for the EF available to me differ slightly on this (along with some other minor points), although the FSSP calendar shows it as I’ve written. Anyways, the days of January 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th are Feria (non feast) masses with their own designated readings, Collects, Introits and so forth. 

What we can be sure of, though, is that in the 1962 calendar, Epiphany falls on Epiphany, the 12th Day of Christmas, January 6th.

The First Sunday after Epiphany is the Feast of the Holy Family, even if it’s the very next day (as it is this year). 

The Octave of the Epiphany is January 13th, the Baptism of the Lord.

Part III of the Christmas Cycle: Season after Epiphany: Now things get a bit more straightforward. Each Sunday after Epiphany (As many as 6 depending on when Ash Wednesday comes) gets its own Mass, and the days in between are Ferias interdigitated with various saints’ feast days. This season runs up to the Saturday prior to Septuagesima Sunday. Thus endeth the  Christmas Cycle in the Extraordinary Form, according to the 1962 Liturgical Calendar. The periods known as Ordinary Time are not present in the 1962 calendar.

Et nunc,

How does Christmas time work in the 1969 General Roman Calendar as promulgated for the Dioceses of the United States by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)?

1969 Calendar

Advent: Using my handy and dandy Daily Roman Missal, Third Edition I find that, as in the EF, Advent runs from the First Sunday of Advent up to First Vespers of Christmas, essentially Sunset of Christmas Eve (which is when the Vigil Mass is often held). As in the EF, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is on December 8th, and Gaudete is still the Third Sunday, but the Ember Days are all gone. Indeed, all of the Ember Days throughout the year were expunged from the 1969 calendar. Other than that, things are pretty similar to the EF.

Christmas Time: Begins December 24th at First Vespers (Evening Prayer I, which is essentially sundown). The Octave is pretty much as in the 1962 calendar, although the Octave Day (1 January) is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. In the 1962 calendar, this feast is not a solemnity, and is on October 11th.

Next up is Epiphany. In the Dioceses of the United States, Epiphany is on the Sunday that falls between January 2 and January 8. If that Sunday happens to be the 6th of January, then Epiphany is on Epiphany. If that Sunday happens to be not January 6th (Epiphany), then Epiphany is celebrated on that Sunday anyway and January 6th in that case is just another day. Now, this period around the 1st of the year is already confusing, as we saw in the 1962 calendar, it is doubly so in the 1969 calendar, because we have two factors that move: the days of the week change relative to the calendar dates (normal), and the date of Epiphany moves, to keep it on a Sunday (less normal). This, in turn, necessitates extra set(s) of weekday readings. If you are not following this and are getting a headache, don’t worry. It’s only in these United States that this goes on. In the rest of the Roman Catholic world, at least so far as I know, they celebrate Epiphany on Epiphany. Or, maybe they don’t.  

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord ends Christmas Time, but it isn’t celebrated at the Octave of Epiphany, as it is in the 1962 calendar. It can be anywhere from 1 to 7 days after Epiphany which, as we saw, has no fixed date either. To recap: in the 1962 calendar, Epiphany is on Epiphany, January 6th, and the Baptism of the Lord is January 13th. The Season After Epiphany, Part III of the Christmas Cycle, can vary in length, but it alsways ends the evening before Septuagesima Sunday. Spetuagesima Sunday, in turn, is always three Sundays before Ash Wednesday, and nine Sundays before Easter. Always. It’s easy to remain oriented to where you are in the year.

In the 1969 calendar, Epiphany is sometime between January 2nd and January 8th, and the Baptism or the Lord (and the end of Christmas Time) is 1 to 7 days after that. Some years, like this year, Christmas Time can end rather abruptly, with the Baptism falling the day after Epiphany, which was placed this yeat on January 7th. So, in the 1969 calendar, if you find yourself feeling slightly disoriented after January 1st, well, don’t worry about it. The USCCB isn’t.

After the Baptism of the Lord (1969 calendar) Christmas Time is over, and we go into the first of the two rounds of “Ordinary Time”. There are no “pre-Lenten Sundays” (Septuagesima, Sexagesim, Quinquagesima). So, there it is.

Valete.