Electric Prayer

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

The American Christmas bug

Posted by universalis on 5 January 2013

The last post, The Christmas Calendars, described how the transition is made between the season of Christmas, which reckons time in days after Christmas, and Ordinary Time, which reckons it in weeks starting on a Sunday.

There are two options at this time: the religious and the commercial. The religious calendar celebrates the Epiphany on 6 January, so the transition from Christmas to weeks happens after the Epiphany season. The commercial calendar celebrates the Epiphany on the Sunday between 2 and 8 January, so the transition from Christmas to weeks happens before the Epiphany season. The last post had a couple of elegant tables to show how it all works.

With adjustments to calendars come adjustments to liturgies. 6 January (when not the Epiphany) and 7 January (before the Epiphany) are days that are not part of the religious calendar, and yet they need to have a liturgy. The last post described how these liturgies were put together.

That is how things work in the whole world, both in the original Latin and in English translation. However, the American translation is different, and wrong.

The reason for this wrongness is that the way the Mass is organized is different from the Liturgy of the Hours. With the Liturgy of the Hours, there is a definite sequence and progression of readings, and care is taken to make sure that the liturgy never repeats itself. With the Mass –  specifically, with the prayers and antiphons of the Mass – repetition is tolerated. So rather than the somewhat complex pattern of the Liturgy of the Hours there is a much simpler one. From 2 January to the end of the season of the Epiphany, the prayers and antiphons of the Mass are governed purely by what day of the week it is. There is nothing for 2 January, 3 January, and so on; only for “the Monday between 2 January and the end of the season of the Epiphany”, “the Tuesday between 2 January and the end of the season of the Epiphany”, and so on.

This pattern has the great advantage of working identically for the religious and commercial calendars. It is a lovely pattern, but it is not the pattern of the Liturgy of the Hours. (Actually, it isn’t even the pattern of the Lectionary for Mass, only for the prayers and antiphons). This isn’t an accident: the Liturgy of the Hours has other needs.

One can only guess how this happened. I don’t know whether in some earlier draft of the Liturgy of the Hours it was planned to use the “Mass prayers” pattern. It has to be remembered that the revised Breviary was done in a great hurry in the 1970s, and the translations even more so. For example, the first edition of the English Breviary completely ignored the existence of Advent in the Prayers and Intercessions, so that in place of the Second Coming and the end of time we had motherhood and apple pie (the second edition corrected this). It may be that there were some drafts floating around that used the day-of-the-week pattern, but they were not the pattern that was finally used.

I have every sympathy with the American translator, but he is still wrong. Universalis, in this case, follows both the Latin and the English breviaries, and it is right.

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