Electric Prayer

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

The Christmas calendars

Posted by universalis on 4 January 2013

At some point the Christmas season has to end and we have to get back to normal life. Liturgically this means that we have to finish the twelve days of Christmas, celebrate the Epiphany, and get back to normal life. Since “normal life” means starting the week on a Sunday, and since Christmas Day is on different days of the week in different years, this inevitably means an awkward splice.

This post describes how it all works in the context of the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Christmas season

2 January (in the Christmas season)
3 January (in the Christmas season)
4 January (in the Christmas season)
5 January (in the Christmas season)

The Season of the Epiphany

6 January: the Epiphany of The Lord
7 January (in the season of the Epiphany)
8 January (in the season of the Epiphany)
9 January (in the season of the Epiphany)
10 January (in the season of the Epiphany)
11 January (in the season of the Epiphany)
12 January (in the season of the Epiphany)

Ordinary Time

Sunday of the first week in Ordinary Time
Monday of the first week in Ordinary Time
Tuesday of the first week in Ordinary Time
…and so on.

The splicing is done like this:

  1. The season of the Epiphany exactly abuts the Christmas season.
  2. Position the Sunday of the first week in Ordinary Time on the Sunday between 7 and 13 January.
  3. Ordinary Time covers up the remainder of the season of the Epiphany.
  4. Replace the first day in Ordinary Time with the feast of the Baptism of The Lord.

Here’s a chart showing each of the possibilities:

2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Wed 2 3 4 5 Ep 7 8 9 10 11 12 Bap M1 T1 W1
Thu 2 3 4 5 Ep 7 8 9 10 11 Bap M1 T1 W1 T1
Fri 2 3 4 5 Ep 7 8 9 10 Bap M1 T1 W1 T1 F1
Sat 2 3 4 5 Ep 7 8 9 Bap M1 T1 W1 T1 F1 S1
Sun 2 3 4 5 Ep 7 8 Bap M1 T1 W1 T1 F1 S1 S2
Mon 2 3 4 5 Ep 7 Bap M1 T1 W1 T1 F1 S1 S2 M2
Tue 2 3 4 5 Ep Bap M1 T1 W1 T1 F1 S1 S2 M2 T2

The commercial calendar

The calendar I have described above is the traditional religious calendar. It has the Twelve Days of Christmas, ending on the day before the Epiphany, and it has the feast of the Kings on 6 January, when good children in Latin countries receive presents.

However, the religious calendar has serious disadvantages in the modern world. People have to think about God on a day other than Sunday, and priests have to do extra work on a weekday.

The solution is the commercial calendar which has been adopted by enlightened bishops in progressive countries. It celebrates the Epiphany on the Sunday between 2 and 8 January, so the Twelve Days of Christmas become the Eight Days of Christmas or the Fourteen Days of Christmas, and good children get no presents at all. Here it is:

The Christmas season

2 January (in the Christmas season)
3 January (in the Christmas season)
4 January (in the Christmas season)
5 January (in the Christmas season)
6 January (in the Christmas season)
7 January (in the Christmas season)

The Season of the Epiphany

Sunday (the Epiphany of The Lord)
Monday (in the season of the Epiphany)
Tuesday (in the season of the Epiphany)
Wednesday (in the season of the Epiphany)
Thursday (in the season of the Epiphany)
Friday (in the season of the Epiphany)
Saturday (in the season of the Epiphany)

Ordinary Time

Sunday of the first week in Ordinary Time
Monday of the first week in Ordinary Time
Tuesday of the first week in Ordinary Time
…and so on.

This time the awkward splice comes between the Christmas season and the season of the Epiphany.

  1. Position the Sunday of the Epiphany of the Lord on the Sunday between 2 and 8 January.
  2. The season of the Epiphany covers up the rest of the Christmas season.
  3. Position the Sunday of the first week in Ordinary Time on the Sunday between 7 and 13 January.
  4. If the first Sunday in Ordinary Time ends up on the Sunday of the Epiphany of The Lord, delete the first Sunday in Ordinary Time.
  5. Replace the first day in Ordinary Time with the feast of the Baptism of The Lord. (This will be a Monday if the first Sunday in Ordinary Time had to be deleted, or a Sunday if not).

Here’s a chart showing each of the possibilities:

2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Wed 2 3 4 5 Ep M T W T F S Bap M1 T1 W1
Thu 2 3 4 Ep M T W T F S Bap M1 T1 W1 T1
Fri 2 3 Ep M T W T F S Bap M1 T1 W1 T1 F1
Sat 2 Ep M T W T F S Bap M1 T1 W1 T1 F1 S1
Ep M T W T F S Bap M1 T1 W1 T1 F1 S1 S2
Mon 2 3 4 5 6 7 Ep Bap T1 W1 T1 F1 S1 S2 M2
Tue 2 3 4 5 6 Ep Bap T1 W1 T1 F1 S1 S2 M2 T2

Liturgical consequences

Every day has its own liturgy. But having two calendars makes for a lot of extra days. The commercial calendar deletes 6 days from the religious calendar (7 January to 12 January in the season of the Epiphany) and adds 8 days (6 January and 7 January in the Christmas season, and Monday to Saturday in the season of the Epiphany). This means extra work for the liturgists.

The first and biggest bit of work is actually the easiest. The religious 7 January and the commercial Monday in the season of the Epiphany are both “the day after the Epiphany” and it makes sense to give them the same liturgy. The same goes for the religious 8 January and the commercial Tuesday, and so on.

So all we are really left with is two extra days in the Christmas season: the commercial 6 January and the commercial 7 January. What is done is a bit of a patchwork. 6 January borrows from either the Sunday of the Baptism of the Lord (because when 6 January appears in the commercial calendar the Baptism of the Lord is always celebrated on a Monday not a Sunday) or Christmas Day; 7 January partly borrows from its religious post-Epiphany equivalent [this is safe, because in years when 7 January is celebrated there is no Monday in the season of the Epiphany and so the same readings won’t get used twice] and partly makes itself a little more Christmassy than that. It’s all very clever and it also explains why the Sunday between 2 and 8 January was chosen in preference to the closest Sunday to 6 January (the Sunday between 3 and 9 January). The choice that has been made is the one which minimises the number of extra days that need new liturgies patched together for them.

However, it is important not to be carried away by all this cleverness. One American was, and I’ll narrate the tragic consequences in the next blog post.

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