med-calend-art - 5/5/95
Article on figuring out feast days by Fr. John Woolley.
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
Date: Wed, 06 Jan 1993 01:59:27 GMT
From: "John W. Woolley" <jww at evolving.com>
Organization: Evolving Systems, Inc.
Subject: The Period Calendar you've been wanting
You asked for it, you got it.
Assuming you want to take modern month-and-day dates and convert them
to Church-style dating by feasts and seasons, you've got several
problems, only a few of which have been touched on in this Rialto thread
so far. Here's as brief an article as I can manage without being grossly
incomplete. The discussion below is not accurate for the modern calendar,
but should do well for period stuff. In the odd event they're called for,
corrections would be welcome.
If it's Sunday or a major feast day, your job is (comparatively) simple.
The problem is just to figure out which Sunday or feast it is.
The ecclesiastical year starts with the fourth Sunday before Christmas.
(This is the Sunday between November 27 and December 3 inclusive.) It's
called "The First Sunday in Advent", or "Advent Sunday", or (shorthand)
"Advent I". The next three Sundays are, as you might expect, "The
Second Sunday in Advent" (or "Advent II"), "The Third ...", etc.
So far so good. Now comes a cluster of major feasts, "Christmas" or
"Nativity DNIC" on December 25 (DNIC is a standard abbreviation for
"Domini Nostri Jesu Christi" -- "of our Lord Jesus Christ"; similarly,
BVM means "Beatae Virginis Mariae", "of the Blessed Virgin Mary".); St.
Stephen's Day (or "The Feast of St. Stephen") on December 26; St. John's
(John the Apostle, that is) on December 27; Holy Innocents' Day on
December 28; and Circumcision DNIC on January 1. The Sunday after
Christmas is "The First Sunday after Christmas", unless Christmas was
Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, in which cases the next Sunday
would be one of the feasts just mentioned. If Christmas is on a
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, there is a "Second Sunday
after Christmas" as well on January 5, 4, 3, or 2.
Now we come to Epiphany DNIC, the great feast on January 6. If that's a
Sunday, it's still "Epiphany", or "The Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord",
or whatever. The next two-to-six Sundays are "The First Sunday after
Epiphany" ("Epiphany I"), etc. I say "two-to-six" because it varies
year to year with the date of Easter. You will have to look up the date
of Easter. It's the Sunday after the first full moon on or after the
vernal equinox, and falls somewhere between March 22 and April 25
inclusive. Yes, there are algorithms for finding it, and no, I'm not
going to post them. The trick here is to count back from Easter to the
ninth Sunday before. The Sundays between Epiphany and the ninth Sunday
before Easter are the ones dated "after Epiphany".
The ninth Sunday before Easter is named "Septuagesima"; the eighth is
"Sexagesima"; the seventh "Quinquagesima". The Wednesday in
Quinquagesima week is "Ash Wednesday", the first day of Lent; the day
just before it is called "Shrove Tuesday" or "Carneval" -- Latin for
"Goodbye meat!". The next four Sundays, then, are the "First Sunday in
Lent" ("Lent I") and so on through the "Fourth Sunday in Lent". The
fifth Sunday in Lent (the second before Easter) is "Passion Sunday", and
the next (the first before Easter) "Palm Sunday". That second week
before Easter is called "Passion Week", and its weekdays are called, for
instance, "Tuesday in Passion Week". The week just before Easter is
"Holy Week"; its Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are designated "in Holy
Week"; its Thursday is "Maundy Thursday" or "Holy Thursday"; its Friday
of course is "Good Friday"; its Saturday is "Holy Saturday".
Then comes Easter itself. The two days following are "Easter Monday"
and "Easter Tuesday", and the other days of the week called, for
instance, "Thursday in Easter Week". The next five Sundays are dated
from Easter, in what by now seems a simple manner: "The First Sunday
after Easter" or "Easter I", etc. (Easter I is sometimes called "Low
Sunday" for obscure reasons, or "Quasimodo Sunday" for less obscure
ones.) The Thursday five-and-a-half weeks after Easter is Ascension
DNIC, or "Ascension Day"; so the sixth Sunday after Easter isn't called
that; it's "The Sunday after the Ascension". And the seventh Sunday
after Easter is "The Feast of Pentecost" or "Pentecost", or in English
"Whitsunday" -- after Easter the most important feast of the whole year.
The next Sunday is the Octave of Pentecost (more on Octaves below), and
is called Trinity Sunday, or "The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity".
From then until Advent comes again, the Sundays (from 23 to 28 of them)
are dated "after Pentecost"; sometimes they're dated (with the numbers
one less, of course) "after the Octave of Pentecost" or even "after
Trinity". The last Sunday before Advent is often called not by number,
but "The Sunday before Advent".
Now, exceptions. We've already dealt with Christmas, the feasts in
Christmas week, and Epiphany, any of which might fall on a Sunday and
upset the normal naming of Sundays. There are others feasts that do the
same, but the list varies from place to place and time to time. In
general, the other feasts that can override Sunday are "The Feast of St.
Peter and St. Paul" (St. Peter's Day) on July 29, Assumption BVM on
August 15, and "All Saints' Day" ("All Hallows'", "The Feast of All
Saints") on November 1. The feasts of Patron Saints of countries,
dioceses, parishes, religious orders, towns, etc., also override Sunday
unless they fall between Advent I and Christmas or between Septuagesima
and Easter, in which case the feast is transferred ("bumped"). More on
transfers in a moment.
(A caution. Not all these conflict-resolution rules were well worked
out until late in our period, say mid-fifteenth century. But the scheme
encoded then embodied the usual practice of earlier ages.)
Other major feasts that land on a Sunday (or on another more major feast
-- one of those we've already discussed -- or on a major feria -- Ash
Wednesday is the only major feria you need worry about) get transferred
to the first open day. (As do even very high-ranking feasts that land
on Sundays during Advent and Lent, as noted previously.) An "open day"
is usually the next day, Monday; but if Monday is a feast day of equal
or greater rank itself, the moving feast would move (probably) to Tuesday
instead. The exceptions (you're surprised there are exceptions) are all
the days from January 7 through 13, the two weeks from Palm Sunday
through Easter I, and the week from Pentecost to Trinity -- all the days
of these weeks are considered closed, and nothing transfers to them. So
Annunciation (normally March 25), if it landed in the last week of Lent,
would get moved all the way to the Monday eight days after Easter.
Sometimes two feasts will get "bumped" by the same conflict; for example,
St. George and St. Mark (April 23 and 25) might both conflict with a
later-than-usual Easter Week, and get moved to the Monday and Tuesday
after Low Sunday. (This of course would only apply where SS. George and
Mark are both celebrated as major feasts -- the English embassy in Venice,
The list of these "other major feasts" would vary from place to place;
in the Middle Ages it would include most of these: Purification BVM or
"Candlemas" on February 2; Annunciation BVM ("Lady Day") on March 25;
Transfiguration DNIC on August 6; Nativity BVM on September 8; and
Conception BVM on December 8. Also patronal festivals such as St. David
(Wales) on March 1; St. Patrick (Ireland) on March 17; St. Benedict on
March 21; St. George (England) on April 23; St. James (Spain) on July
25; St. Dominic on August 4; St. Francis on October 4; and St. Andrew
(Scotland) on November 30. Local patrons of provinces, towns, parishes,
etc., get celebrated the same way; but it's rare to date documents from
obscure saints' days, unless just to show you're a hagiography geek.
Lesser feasts get cancelled if they land on a Sunday, major feast, or
major feria. Frequently seen lesser feasts are:
January 5 St. Edward Confessor
9 St. Adrian
13 St. Hilary
18 St. Prisca
19 St. Wulstan
21 St. Agnes
25 Conversion of St. Paul
February 3 St. Blaise
5 St. Agatha
14 St. Valentine
22 The Chair of St. Peter
24 St. Mathias (February 25 in leap years)
March 1 St. David (patron of Wales)
2 St. Chad (or Cedde)
7 St. Perpetua
12 St. Gregory
17 St. Patrick, patron of Ireland
18 St. Edward King of Wessex
20 St. Cuthbert
21 St. Benedict, father of monks
April 3 St. Richard
4 St. Ambrose
19 St. Alphege
23 St. George, patron of England
25 St. Mark, patron of Venice
May 1 SS. Philip and James, Apostles
3 Invention of the Holy Cross
6 St. John before the Latin Gate
19 St. Dunstan
25 St. Aldhelm
26 St. Augustine (or Austin) of Canterbury
27 St. Bede the Venerable
June 1 St. Nicomedes
5 St. Boniface
11 St. Barnabas
15 St. Eadburga
18 Translation of St. Edward King of Wessex
22 St. Alban
24 Nativity of St. John Baptist
30 Commemoration of St. Paul
July 2 Visitation BVM
3 Translation of St. Thomas the Apostle
4 Translation of St. Martin
7 Translation of St. Thomas of Canterbury
11 Translation of St. Benedict
15 St. Swithun
20 St. Margaret
22 St. Mary Magdalene
25 St. James the Greater; also St. Christopher
26 St. Anne, mother of the BVM
August 1 St. Peter ad Vincula ("Lammas Day", "Gule of August")
4 St. Dominic (at first August 5)
10 St. Laurence
24 St. Bartholomew
28 St. Augustine (or Austin) of Hippo
29 Beheading of St. John Baptist
September 1 St. Egidius (aka St. Giles); also St. Priscus
4 Translation of St. Cuthbert
14 Exaltation of the Holy Cross
16 St. Edith; also St. Euphemia
21 St. Matthew
22 St. Maurice
26 St. Cyprian
29 St. Michael the Archangel
30 St. Jerome (or Hieronymus)
October 1 St. Melorius
4 St. Francis
6 St. Faith
8 St. Oswald
9 St. Denys (or Dionysius), patron of Paris
12 St. Wilfrid
13 Translation of St. Edward the Confessor
17 St. Etheldreda
18 St. Luke
25 SS. Crispin and Crispinian (or Crispian); Henry V day!
28 SS. Simon and Jude, Apostles
November 2 St. Eustace
6 St. Leonard
11 St. Martin
16 St. Edmund Bishop
17 St. Hugh
20 St. Edmund King
22 St. Cecilia
23 St. Felicity; also St. Clement
25 St. Catherine
30 St. Andrew the Apostle
December 3 St. Birinus
6 St. Nicholas (Santa Claus)
13 St. Lucy
21 St. Thomas the Apostle
29 St. Thomas of Canterbury
31 St. Silvester
This list is heavily weighted toward English practice.
The day just before a major feast (unless that day before is a Sunday,
major feast, or major feria) is called the "Vigil" of the feast. So
don't date things mediaeval "Christmas Eve", but rather "The Vigil of our
Lord's Nativity". If the feast is on a Monday, though, Sunday is *not*
its vigil -- for document-dating purposes it has no vigil that year.
(For monastic purposes, the vigil is anticipated on Saturday.) A feast
that always falls the day after another notable feast (St. John's the day
after St. Stephen's, for instance) never has a vigil.
The eighth day counting from a major feast is the Octave of that feast,
exactly one week afterwards. So, for instance, a document signed on
January 4 would likely be dated "The Octave of the Innocents". You can
frequently date weekdays as being within an octave, as "The Tuesday
within the Octave of the Assumption".
Four times a year are a group of "Ember Days". They never override a
feast of any importance, but (if the days are otherwise unencumbered)
they are the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday next following 1) The
First Sunday in Lent, 2) Whitsunday, 3) Holy Cross Day (September 14),
and 4) St. Lucy's Day (December 13). (The Ember Days at the four
quarters are designated as being "in Lent", "in Whitsuntide", "in
September", and "in Advent"). So, for instance, in this year of grace
1993, Friday September 17 will be "Ember Friday in September". (Unless
of course you're in a parish dedicated to St. Lambert, in which case
that's your patronal feast. Nothing is ever simple.)
If all this doesn't get you to a nice-sounding date, you can always use
a phrase like "Tuesday the seconde daie afore the feste of oure glorious
patroun and lord seinte Austin biscop and confessour of Caunterbury".
Questions more-than-happily fielded.
Fr. John Woolley (jww at evolving.com); vastly enthusiastic about Augustine,
Austen, babies, Bach, backgammon, baseball, beer, the Bible, Botticelli, Burke,
Chesterton, Dante, Dixieland, hardboiled, Hitchcock, Dr Johnson, Latin, Mozart,
Shakespeare/de Vere, St Teresa, Tolkien, Trollope, Fats Waller, and Washington