Sunday, 11 July 2021 16:57

Studying liturgical calendar can be fascinating

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This column first appeared in the issue of July 3, 2011. So, the column is 10 years old. Over the years, I have heard from many people who have let me know how much they enjoy it. So, I will do my best to keep going.

I believe that, in the past, I have touched on my study of the liturgical calendar; it is, for me, a hobby of sorts.

Readers may assume that such a study is very, very dull. I would explain my fascination this way: Our liturgical calendar is regular enough for the “rules” to be worth studying, and irregular enough to be interesting.

We keep to a solar calendar which includes lunar elements. When I say “lunar,” I primarily refer to the date of Easter, which can occur anywhere between March 22 and April 25 inclusive. In the Hebrew calendar, Passover is determined by the full moon following the March equinox, and we determine Easter similarly.

We are fortunate that our calendar is the one used throughout most of the world as a civil calendar. We remember that Christians, at the Council of Nicaea in 325, took the Roman calendar and adapted it, setting up a method for determining the date of Easter for the whole Christian world. The Roman calendar, however, needed to be tweaked, because throwing in a leap day every four years was not quite accurate enough, and the calendar was drifting away from nature. So, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII made provision for somewhat different leap-day rules for years ending in 00; he also dropped Oct. 5 through 14 from the 1582 calendar, so Thursday, Oct. 4 (St. Francis of Assisi Day) was followed by Friday, Oct. 15! (St. Teresa of Avila happened to die on that transitional night; her memorial consequently was set for Oct. 15. Go Bulldogs!)

By the way, the people in 325 didn’t call it 325. The “Anno Domini” (Year of the Lord) chronology was not devised until two centuries later.

One part of my hobby is watching for new elements to appear on the liturgical calendar. And we do have some new memorials of saints coming up. (New features of the calendar can be found at usccb.org/prayer-worship/liturgical-year.)

July 29 (which happens to be the date in 1853 when our diocese began) has been known as the memorial of St. Martha. But a change has been made: henceforth the memorial will also include Martha’s siblings Mary and Lazarus. I am sure there are lots of Marthas who are embarrassed by the Gospel (Luke 10: 38-42) in which Jesus seeks to calm Martha’s anxieties. So at least, when July 29 comes around, the spotlight is not exclusively on Martha.

There are new optional memorials appearing on the calendar as well. Sept. 17 is the optional memorial of St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), virgin, abbess, and doctor of the Church, whom Wikipedia describes as a “polymath,” and about whom I know practically nothing; Feb. 27 is the optional memorial of St. Gregory of Narek (c. 950-1003/1011), priest and doctor; and May 10 is the optional memorial of St. John of Avila (1499-1569), priest and doctor. As in the case of Hildegard, so also with Gregory and John, I know practically nothing about them.

So, we see that the liturgical calendar presents plenty for us to study. Besides the daily Scriptures for Mass, we have these important individuals to learn about as well.

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