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Arranging the End of the Liturgical Year in the Extraordinary Form

Thursday, October 20, 2016 14:26
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One of the changes made to the Breviary in the revision of 1960 regards the arrangement of the months from August to November. One of the oddest effects of the new system will take place this year in regard to the readings in November.

On the first Sunday of each of these months, the Church begins to a new set of scriptural books at Matins, with their accompanying antiphons and responsories; their arrangement is part of a system which goes back to the sixth century. In August, the books of Wisdom are read; in September, Job, Tobias, Judith and Esther; in October the books of the Macchabees; in November, Ezechiel, Daniel, and the twelve minor Prophets. (September is actually divided into two sets of readings, Job having a different set of responsories from the other three books.)

The “first Sunday” of each of these months is traditionally that which occurs closest to the first calendar day of the month, even if that day occurs within the end of the previous month. This year, for example, the first Sunday “of August” was actually July 31st, the closest Sunday to the first day of August.

In the 1960 revision, however, the first Sunday of the months from August to November is always that which occurs first within the calendar month. Therefore, the first Sunday of August was August 7th. This change also accounts for one of the peculiarities of the 1960 Breviary, the fact that November has four weeks, which are called the First, Third, Fourth and Fifth.

According to the traditional calculation, November has five weeks when the 5th of the month falls on a Sunday; otherwise, it has four. In those years when it has four (most of them) the second week is omitted. Ezechiel is read on the first week, and the second, if there is one; Daniel in the third, and the the Twelve Prophets in the fourth. The system is designed to maintain the tradition that at least a bit of each of the Prophets would always be read in the Breviary.

According to the newer calculation, November may have three or four weeks, but never five; the second week was removed from the Breviary, since it is never used. However, the older nomenclature was retained; it is hard to imagine why this was thought either necessary or useful, since a great many other terms were changed, such as the entire system of classification of liturgical days. Therefore, the four weeks are called First, Third, Fourth and Fifth.

In the older system, November would have four weeks this year, the first Sunday “of November” being October 30, since it is closer to the first day of that month. In the new system, the first Sunday “of November” will be the first within the calendar month, November 6th.

However, the last Sunday of the month, the 27th, is the first Sunday of Advent this year, and so November only has three weeks. Therefore, this year Ezechiel is dropped entirely; the readings from Daniel begin on November 6th, Hosea on November 13th, and Micah on November 20th.

Things are slightly complicated by the fact that in 1960, a Sunday is completely omitted when it is impeded by a feast of the Lord. (Previously, Sundays were always commemorated if they were impeded.) Thus, all of the liturgical texts assigned to Sunday, October 30th, are dropped this year in favor of the feast of Christ the King.

The calculation of the Sundays after Pentecost also calls for a note here. (The discrepancies between the Missals of St Pius V and St John XXIII are very slight in this regards, and have no bearing on the end of this year.)

The number of Sundays “after Pentecost” assigned to the Missal is 24, but the actual number varies between 23 and 28. The “24th” is always celebrated on the last Sunday before Advent. If there are more than 24, the gap between the 23rd and 24th is filled with the Sundays after Epiphany that had no place at the beginning of the year. The prayers and readings of those Sundays are inserted into the Mass of the 23rd Sunday (i.e., the set of Gregorian propers.) The Breviary homily on the Sunday Gospel and the concomitant antiphons of the Benedictus and Magnificat also carry over in the Office.

The remaining Sunday of the year are therefore as follows in 1960:
Oct 23 – 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (4th week of October in the Breviary)
Oct 30 – Christ the King (5th week of October in the Breviary)
Nov. 6 – 5th Sunday after Epiphany (3rd week of November)
Nov. 13 – 6th Sunday after Epiphany (4th week of November)
Nov. 20 – 24th Sunday after Pentecost (5rd week of November)
Nov. 27 – First Advent

In the Breviary and Missal of St Pius V, they are as follows (with the addition of Christ the King.)
Oct 23 – 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (4th week of October in the Breviary)
Oct 30 – Christ the King (1st week of November in the Breviary, commemoration of the 4th Sunday after Epiphany.)
Nov. 6 – 5th Sunday after Epiphany (3rd week of November)
Nov. 13 – 6th Sunday after Epiphany (4th week of November)
Nov. 20 – 24th Sunday after Pentecost (5rd week of November)
Nov. 27 – First Advent

If this all seems a little complicated, bear in mind that the oldest arrangement of the Mass lectionary that we know of was even more so. The oldest lectionary of the Roman Rite, a manuscript now in Wurzburg, Germany, dates to ca. 750, and represents the system used at Rome about 100 years earlier. It has a very disorganized and incomplete set of readings for the period after Pentecost; the Sundays are counted as 2 after Pentecost, 7 after Ss Peter and Paul, 5 after S. Lawrence, and 6 after S. Cyprian, a total of only 20. There also ten Sundays after Epiphany, even though Septuagesima is also noted in the manuscript, and the largest number of Sundays that can occur between Epiphany and Septuagesima is only six.


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