Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Sunday within the Octave of the Nativity

Today, interestingly, the Sunday within the Octave of the Nativity is kept transferred from the 28th with both its Mass and Office. A commentator asked the other day why this should be.

The basic issue appears to be that the number of Sundays after the Fourth Sunday of Advent and before the first Sunday after the Epiphany varies depending on which day the Nativity falls. In addition when the Nativity falls on a Sunday there is never any commemoration of that Sunday. Neither is there a commemoration of any Sunday that falls on the Circumcision, Epiphany or Octave Day of the Epiphany. Between the Nativity and Epiphany there can be either two or just one Sunday (the latter case when the Nativity falls on a Tuesday or Monday). Historical evidence of course strongly suggests that there was a cycle of Dominical observance before the development of the Sanctorale and the older sacramentaries do indeed give two formularies for Sundays after the Nativity but their use is not straightforward. The two Sundays became known as 'vacant' Sundays as they might be celebrated or not depending on the degree of development of the Sanctoral and the day the Nativity fell. The celebration of the Nativity on the 25th December does appear to be more recent (relatively!) than the celebration of the Nativity-Epiphany-Theophany on January 6th but I have no knowledge of what arrangements of pericope cycles were in place then: the longer Advent, as found in the Ambrosian rite, clearly has some significance to that situation. Returning to more 'modern' times the three feasts of the 'comites Christi' have developed rather extraordinary privileges in terms of their occurence with the Sunday after the Nativity. We are of course looking at layers of liturgical history that have been built up over the centuries. Surely the best practice, as when on an archaelogical dig or dealing with an ancient treasure, is not to destroy the artefact or treasure in the process of investigation?

If the 25th, 26th, 27th or 28th of December falls on a Sunday a rubric in the Breviary, found on December 28th, directs that the Sunday within the Octave of the Nativity is celebrated on December 30th, as it is this year. This is a unique example of a semi-double Sunday Mass and Office being 'resumed' in the following week. The Incipit (beginning) of the Epistle to the Romans was traditionally assigned to the 30th (this was moved to the 29th in the 1911-13 reform - which we shall observe has an unfortunate consequence for January 1st in due course). As Incipits normally occur on Sundays this suggests a close relationship with the Sunday.

So today the semi-double Sunday within the Octave of the Nativity is celebrated. The liturgical colour is white. At mattins there are three nocturns and nine lessons, the antiphons and psalmody being that of the feast of the Nativity. At Lauds the Octave of the Nativity is commemorated. At the Hours the antiphons are from the Nativity and the psalmody is festal.

The Mass, Dum medium, is proper, the Gloria is sung, a commemoration of the Octave is made, the Credo is sung and the preface and communicantes of the Nativity are used. Vespers of the Nativity are sung, from the chapter of the Sunday within the Octave with a commemoration of the following day's feast of St. Silvester and of the Octave of the Nativity.

In the 'liturgical books of 1962' today is a day within the Octave of the Nativity. Mattins has the antiphons and psalmody of the Nativity (with the shortened Ps. 88 ) and three lessons from occuring scripture, the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. When the 1962ists celebrated their, debatably more rational (?), Sunday within the Octave they had to re-read mattins lessons from the Nativity as St. Paul's Epistle does not begin until the 29th - an interesting novelty. One wonders why the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans was not moved to that Sunday - presumably to avoid the disruption to the pericopes for the other II class days. (In the 1970-2002 rite Liturgia Horaram fails to restore a 'vacant' Sunday within the Octave instead assigning to it the Feast of the Holy Family.) Festal Lauds are celebrated. At the Hours ferial antiphons are psalmody are used and Mass is celebrated of a day within the Octave, Puer natus. Vespers are of the Nativity with no commemorations.

In pre-1911 practice there would have been commemorations of the Octaves of St. Thomas (in dioceses of England and Wales) St. Stephen, St. John the Evangelist and the Holy Innocents in addition to the commemoration of the Octave of the Nativity.


Anonymous said...

Today's section of Gueranger's Liturgical year is very good. He says that the first Christmas was on a Sunday,echoing the Creation of Light and the Midnight Pasch, this would connect with the Annunciation being on a Friday echoed on Good Friday. He says that Christmas on a Sunday is especially sacred.
On a different front, when if ever, were purple dalmatic and tunicle worn ? Penitential seasons had folded chasubles. Can you help in the Problems' Page section ? Happy Silverstermass
Alan Robinson

Rubricarius said...

Violet dalmatic and tunicle are worn on the Sundays of Septuagesima and their respective weekdays; for the Rogations; the Vigil of the Nstivity; the Holy Innocents (when not falling on a Sunday), the Vigils of Saint's days and certain Votive Masses.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this info.You really do need to do a book which will collect all these bits of knowledge,likely to be lost, in an accessible form to be handed down. "Generations yet unborn will bless the name". Happy 2009.
Alan Robinson