In Defense of Octaves

This year, I am discovering a new pet peeve into which the Holy Spirit has been roped. The Holy Spirit and I are basically besties, so that has me particularly miffed.

I’m annoyed at any holiday (church or secular) being dragged out longer than one day. Except, that is, for the ones that are already multiple days. It is not “still Pentecost.” It’s not even still Easter. We need to let it go.

Keep Calm and Let It Go

Time for a liturgical calendar lesson, and with less bitterness and confusion than the last one! (At least I think so.)

Seasons

The Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar contains several seasons:

  1. Advent, beginning on the First Sunday of Advent, which is the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Andrew (November 30)
  2. Christmas, beginning on the Nativity of the Lord (the day most people just call “Christmas”)
  3. Ordinary Time, beginning on the day after the Baptism of the Lord (which is the first Sunday after Epiphany, whenever Epiphany is celebrated)
  4. Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday
  5. The Triduum, beginning with the evening celebration of the Solemnity of the Lord’s Supper (a.k.a. Holy Thursday)
  6. Easter, beginning with the Easter Vigil
  7. Ordinary Time, beginning on the day after Pentecost and resuming (not restarting) the numbering from January

The year begins with Advent, so Christmas is before Easter in time (although not in importance). Kendra and I had a fun chat about that a few years ago.

Note that the Triduum and Easter seasons begin when those particular Masses start. Earlier in the calendar day, the previous season is still in effect. At noon on Holy Thursday, it’s totally still Lent. At the moment the liturgy begins in the evening, it’s not technically Lent anymore.

Solemnities

The highest celebrations on the calendar are called “solemnities” (“solemn” as in “extra fancy,” not as in “sad.”) That means:

  1. The solemnity is celebrated on the evening before the day as well as on the day of the feast. Christmas Eve is probably the most well-known of these evening-before celebrations, properly called “vigils.” (You may also have heard of Halloween, a.k.a. All Hallows/Saints Eve.)
  2. Any feasts or memorials that would usually fall on either day get knocked out of the way and ignored from about 4 p.m. the day before to 11:59 p.m. the day of. (The technical term is “suppressed.”)
  3. If the solemnity is also a holy day of obligation, you satisfy your obligation to attend Mass by attending any Mass in any Catholic rite at any time during those 32 or so hours.

Some solemnities also begin liturgical seasons. Not every season begins with a solemnity (e.g. Ash Wednesday begins Lent but is not a solemnity). Not every solemnity starts a season (e.g. the Ascension of the Lord always falls during Easter, but there’s no Ascension season).

Octaves

Two solemnities during the year are celebrated as “octaves.” They are the Christmas octave and the Easter octave. That means:

  1. They have all 3 characteristics of solemnities listed above. You know the evenings-before as Christmas Eve and Easter Vigil (curiously, not “Easter Eve”).
  2. The vigil Masses have special readings and prayers that are only used during the vigils. The day-of Masses have different readings and prayers, although they are similar.
  3. The 7 days after Christmas Day and Easter Sunday are all also solemnities.
  4. For the remaining 7 days of the octave, Mass is celebrated as though it is still Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. The prayers all say “today,” Easter octave Masses end with “Go in peace, alleluia, alleluia,” and so on. That makes 8 days total, a.k.a. an octave (like an octagon).
  5. After the octave ends, the season continues, but with less solemnity/fanciness. The remaining days of the season are not automatically solemnities.

If you pray any part of the Liturgy of the Hours daily, it’s hard to miss an octave. You literally pray the exact same psalms from Christmas Day and Easter Sunday every single day for eight days. It feels a little monotonous, but boy, does it stick!

My Pet Peeve

Pentecost has a special vigil. I’ve never heard of it actually being celebrated anywhere, but parishes have the option of using all of the vigil-specific readings and extending the liturgy with additional songs and periods of quiet reflection. It would be like the bookend to the Easter Vigil. And it would probably be awesome. But it is not an octave.

Let the octaves be octaves, and let other holidays just end. I am not a fan of saying that you’re celebrating a holiday after the holiday (unless it’s an octave, which means it’s not “after”). You don’t have a Halloween party on November 2. (I did go to one on November 1 a few years ago; I dressed as St. Michael and considered it an All Saints Day party.) You don’t get ashes on the Thursday or Friday after Ash Wednesday. Nobody was still celebrating Memorial Day yesterday.

This all came up because I’ve heard more than one well-meaning Catholic suggest that it’s still Pentecost. It’s not still Pentecost. Pentecost only gets one day. It’s Ordinary Time now, and that’s kind of a bummer after the glory of Easter, but we didn’t receive the Holy Spirit to just sit around. We’re supposed to go!

So go! Celebrate living with the Spirit of God inside you! If you’re really itching for something special to celebrate, it will be Trinity Sunday in a few days, and then Corpus Christi, and then the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts…. Wow. That is a good plan for curing your post-Easter blues. It’s like the Church knows what she’s doing or something.



2 Comments

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Hi Lindsay,
Keep on loving Jesus! I don’t want to seem contrary, but the Octave of Christmas is a little different than the Octave of Easter. The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar – 14 February 1969 (see http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/CDWLITYR.HTM) say in part,

The celebration of Easter and Christmas, the two greatest solemnities, continues for eight days, with each octave governed by its own rules.
The first eight days of the Easter season make up the octave of Easter and are celebrated as solemnities of the Lord.
Christmas has its own octave, arranged as follows:
a. Sunday within the octave is the feast of the Holy Family;
b. 26 December is the feast of Saint Stephen, First Martyr;
c. 27 December is the feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist;
d. 28 December is the feast of the Holy Innocents;
e. 29, 30, and 31 December are days within the octave;
f. 1 January, the octave day of Christmas, is the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It also recalls the conferral of the holy Name of Jesus.

You can also see this by looking at a liturgical calendar such as the one published at http://www.romcal.net. Look at how the days of the Easter Octave are labeled (all are “solemnities”) versus how the days of the Christmas Octave are labeled (only the first and last days are “solemnities”).

So you are correct that all eight days of the Easter Octave are solemnities, but only the first and last days of the Christmas Octave are solemnities, that is, December 25th (Christmas Day) and January 1st (the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God). The “middle” days during the Christmas Octave are a mixture of feast days, optional memorials and weekdays.

    Well, you definitely seem contrary! The Catholic Google Calendar I set up is based on the calendar from romcal.net, so I’m already familiar with that. The Holy Name of Jesus is celebrated on January 3. I’m going to continue to celebrate the Christmas Octave with great solemnity.

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