Electric Prayer

The Liturgy of the Hours, the Mass, and other things.

The Calendar at Christmas – II

Posted by universalis on 1 February 2007

There are two unbreakable rules that guide the layout of the liturgy in Advent:

  1. Sundays are more important than anything else.
  2. The days from 17 December onwards are more important than anything else.

What happens when 17 December falls on a Sunday? This posting is about what happens when the two unbreakable rules collide, as they did in 2006.

Let’s give names to the two possible outcomes:

3. Use all the prayers, psalms, antiphons and readings for the 3rd Sunday of Advent. If anything is missing, fill it up from what is given for 17 December.

17. Use all the prayers, psalms, antiphons and readings for 17 December. If anything is missing, fill it up from what is given for the 3rd Sunday of Advent.

Universalis (based on the second edition of the Latin Breviary) uses 3 because that is what I think the Latin means: see the arguments below.

The English Breviary (published by Collins in 1974 and based on the first edition of the Latin Breviary) uses 3.

My correspondents tell me that the American Breviary published by the Catholic Publishing Company in 1975 and also based on the first edition of the Latin Breviary) uses 17.

It will be my contention that 17 is wrong and 3 is right.

What the breviary says – language


Si haec dominica occurrit die 17 decembris,… dicendae sunt lectiones, necnon antiphonae ad Benedictus et Magnificat atque preces quae infra, 278-284, pro singulis diebus assignantur, omissis iis, quae hic pro dominica III ponuntur.

“If the 3rd Sunday of Advent occurs on the 17th of December, use the readings, Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons, and prayers given to each individual day on pages 278-284, having been omitted those that are here given for the 3rd Sunday”.

[Pages 278-284 give readings for 17 December].

Now there are two possible readings for that “having been omitted”.

3. TAKE the things from 17 December BUT THEN LEAVE OUT OF THE COLLECTION OF THINGS YOU’RE TAKING any of those things that are specified under the “3rd Sunday” heading.

17. TAKE the things from 17 December AND LEAVE OUT OF CONSIDERATION the things that are specified under the “3rd Sunday” heading.

Now the Latinists I have consulted agree that – as one of them put it – “you can’t omit something that you haven’t put in”. In other words, you have to have been told to take something first before you can be told to omit it. This happens with 3 (take the things from 17 December first and then drop some of them) but not with 17 (drop the 3rd Sunday without taking any of it at all).

A partisan of 17 might contend that different experts may have different views, and that Latin is a living language and modern Latin is different from the Latin of 2000 years ago. So let’s look for further evidence.

What the breviary says – rubrics

In Morning Prayer for the 3rd Sunday, you get a series of Benedictus antiphons (one each for years A, B, and C), and then the rubric

Si vero occurrat die 17 decembris, antiphona Scitote, p.281

“If this Sunday falls on 17 December, use the antiphon “Scitote” from the 17 December stuff on page 281.”

If 17 were correct, there would be no need for this rubric since we will already have been told to use everything from 17 December anyway – in fact we’d already have turned to those pages and wouldn’t be looking in the 3rd Sunday at all.

The same thing happens all over again in Evening Prayer, with the Magnificat antiphon.

As for the Office of Readings, the psalm antiphons are specified in the usual way and then, before the readings and responsory, we get this rubric:

Die 17 decembris, versus, lectiones et responsoria, p.278.
Ante diem 17 decembris, dicuntur ut sequitur:

“On 17 December, the versicles, readings and responsories from page 278 [ie. 17 December].
“Before 17 December, use the following: “

So if 17 is true, the rubricist has wasted his time by writing three rubrics which are completely redundant because 17 says it all already. So not only is 17 not favoured by Latin scholars, but it also makes the other rubrics for the 3rd Sunday pointless.

So 3, which gives the most natural meaning to the Latin and doesn’t make nonsense of the extra rubrics, is clearly the winner.

An example from Evening Prayer

All this was originally drawn to my attention by someone called Richard, who pointed out that the Vespers reading for Sunday 17 December 2007 seemed wrong: it was Philippians 4:4-5 (3rd Sunday) instead of the 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (17 December) that he’d been expecting. At the risk of making you explode with boredom if you already agree with me, here are all the relevant parts of Vespers for the 3rd Sunday of Advent:

Short reading – Philippians 4:4-5

Short responsory – the text is identical to the text for 17 December, so there isn’t any useful evidence here.

Magnificat antiphon:

Year A – “Tu es qui venturus es…”
Year B – “Ego baptizo in aqua…”
Year C – “Respondit Ioannes dicens…”

Si vero occurrat die 17 Decembris – “O Sapientia…” (p.284)
[“But if this day happens to fall on 17 December”]

Prayers: “Redemptorem nostrum Iesum Christum…”

Concluding prayer: “Deus, qui conspicis populum tuum…”

Now under interpretation 3, this is a perfectly rational Hour. Various components are given and a specific exception is given to ensure that one of the great and famous “O…” antiphons is used if the Sunday happens to be 17 December. Under interpretation 17, on the other hand, the “Si vero occurrat die 17…” rubric is simply wrong. Either wrong because you shouldn’t be reading it at all (having turned to 17 December for everything), or wrong because it gives just one change (to the Magnificat antiphon), whereas interpretation 17 commands that we take everything from 17 December, not just the antiphon.


I rest my case. The American translator got it wrong, and on 17 December 2017 (the next time that the 17th falls on a Sunday) the American-speaking world will get it wrong as a result. Since the Americans are using the American translation and think that their translation is right, and the English are using the English translation and think that their translation is right, no-one has a motive to appeal to Rome for a definitive ruling, and the matter is likely to remain forever unresolved. As schisms go, this is not a very big one.


A kind correspondent informs me that the American breviary’s translation of the relevant rubric is:

When this Sunday occurs on December 17th, the hymns are taken from those given on 132-136. The readings, antiphons for the canticles of Zechariah and Mary, and the intercessions, 318-325, assigned for each day, are used. Those for the Third Sunday are then omitted.

I have now spoken to the Liturgy Office of the Bishops’ Conference for England and Wales, and they confirm that interpretation 3 is correct, interpretation 17 is wrong, and the American rubric is a mistranslation.

5 Responses to “The Calendar at Christmas – II”

  1. Fr.S said

    Thanks for this, I almost certainly won’t remember next time it happens, but I know I was v.uncertain last year, what to do or not do.

  2. Dcn. Jim said

    Do we know what Rome did on the 17th?

  3. Sang Hoon, a lay person said

    I pray using botn American LH, and Korean short breviary (does not have office of reading with this one).
    I do not see why American translation is wrong and there are conflicts as you described here, between 3, and 17. I do not have the St. Josephs’s guide for 2006 any longer and it is possible that the guide might have been wrong, but the LH book itself is not.

    One thing you missed is, the psalms and cocluding prayer are still taken from the Third Sunday in Advent, whether it is December 17th or not. And then many things are taken from December 17th but psalms (with antiphons) and Concluding Prayer. That is why there is rubrics in the book helping the prayer to find the proper antiphons and readings.

    Lee me quote the rubric on Third Sunday of Advent in American LH.

    “When this sunday occurs on December 17th, the hymns are taken from those given on 132-136. The readings, antiphons for the canticles of Zechariah and Mary, and the intercessions, 318-325, assigned for each day, are used. Those for the Third Sunday are then omitted.”

    We have taken everything first from the third Sunday, and then as we take some from Dec. 17th as they replace those from 3rd Sunday; we now omit the readings, antiphons for Gospel canticles, and the intercession.

    My Korean translations also took 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 as short reading for evening prayer and it makes sense according to the rubrics.

  4. Pawel Pojawa, another lay person said

    The general rubric at the beginning of the 3rd Sunday of Advent that you quote in Latin is identical in the first edition of Liturgia Horarum.
    The Polish breviary, which is what I normally use, translates that rubric into plain 17.

    I agree with you that the specific rubrics inside Lauds, Vespers and Office of Readings would feel more logical if we accepted 3, as they would indicate the only deviations to make from a “regular” 3rd Sunday of Advent. However, I am wondering why preces from December 17th are ever mentioned in the general rubric, when there is no specific rubric in the 3rd Sunday of Advent to include them.

  5. Fr. Dave said

    Please remember one thing: This is prayer, not research academics or rote dogmatic ritualism. Let us pray that the Lord will be with us and with our spirits as we pray that which is presented. Perhaps the Holy Spirit has something to say to us today beyond the dogmatic and academic. Let us receive what is given in a way that is open to what the Spirit may be trying to say and then only apply what we may know in academics or dogmatics to see if it will be what the Lord is trying to say to us.

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