Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Compendium of the Reforms of the Roman Breviary, 1568 - 1961: Part 10.3 - The Reform of Local Calendars in 1961

By a decree of February 14, 1961, the Sacred Congregation for Rites outlined the norms by which local liturgical calendars should be conformed to the revision of the Breviary and Missal issued in the previous year. This decree repeats in broad terms the same principles by which local calendars had been reformed in the reign of St. Pius X, when the new Psalter was promulgated. However, where the 1911 reform was in most cases very conservative, that of 50 years later made way for a much more significant reduction in the number of local Saints. This is a matter of no small consequence for the Breviary, in which individual churches and religious orders celebrated so much of their sacred history and tradition, especially in the lessons of Matins. The complete text of the decree is available in the online version of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis of 1961 (p.168) ; I have here given a summary of it, including only the more salient points.

1. Feasts should be on the local calendar for a good reason, and their liturgical grade should be congruent with their relative importance.

2. Feasts which were originally introduced for a particular reason which is no longer pertinent should be expunged from the calendar.

3. Feasts which were formerly added to a local calendar because of the presence of a relic within a certain territory (such as a diocese) are henceforth to be celebrated only in the church or oratory where the relic itself is actually present.

4. Secondary feasts of a principal patron, titular Saint, or religious founder are to be reduced to commemorations. Secondary feasts of other Saints are to be suppressed. (Among such secondary feasts are those of the translation or finding of a Saint’s relics, and special feasts commemorating the patronage of a Saint in a particular place.)

5. Regularly occurring votive Masses and Offices of patron Saints are suppressed.

6. In special cases, two or more Saints who have hitherto been celebrated with their own individual feasts may be joined into a single feast.

7. Feasts of the early bishops and martyrs of a diocese, of whom little or nothing is historically known, should be suppressed. A common feast of All Bishops or of All Martyrs of a particular diocese may be instituted in their place.

8. Likewise, individual religious orders may institute a feast of All Saints of their order, and keep with an individual feast only those Saints and Blesseds of particular importance to the order. Permission is given to restrict the feasts of less important Saints and Blesseds to the provinces where they formerly lived, or the churches where their relics are kept.

9. Very few feasts of the First or Second class should be admitted to the local calendars, and these only for very particular reasons. The majority of local feasts should be of the Third class.

10. In regards to local patronal feasts, there should be only one, formally recognized by a decree of the Sacred Congregation for Rites, or established as such by immemorial custom. Patronal feasts which were instituted for states that no longer exist, or because of “extraordinary events, such as plagues, wars and other calamities, or because of a special devotion which has now been allowed to lapse”, are no longer to be kept as such.

11. The decree also states that feasts “of devotion”, i.e., feasts that commemorate a particular title or event in the life of the Lord, the Virgin Mary and of other Saints, have been “multiplied exceedingly”, and are to be restricted to those places which have a special reason for keeping them. A list of such feasts is given, of which the only very prominent one is the feast of the Translation of the Holy House of Loreto, formerly kept in all of the dioceses of Italy.

12. The feast of Saint Philomena (which was never on the General Calendar) is to be removed from all local calendars.

13. In regards to the individual lessons provided for local feasts, they should be “brief and sober”, of roughly 120 words, easily understood, and purged of false or “less apt” statements. In cases where accurate historical information about the Saint is lacking, a reading from the common Offices or from the Church Fathers should be chosen.

14. The proper antiphons, hymns and responsories of a Saint’s office should also correspond to historical fact, or be replaced with pieces from the common offices.

15. Provisions are made for those feasts which have more proper features than the new structure of the Office can accommodate, as for example, offices which have four proper hymns, but no longer have First Vespers, and therefore have nowhere to put the hymn of First Vespers. Other rules are given for the manner in which the propers are to be printed.

16. All privileges and indults which are contrary to the new rubrics are revoked, but local ordinaries may petition for their reinstatement for particular reasons.

The Decree in Practice

As an example of the application of this decree to a local calendar, we may take the case of the Pope’s own Cathedral, the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior, commonly known as Saint John in the Lateran, after the two Saints John, Baptist and Evangelist. Like several of the major basilicas of Rome, it did not keep to the calendar of the Roman diocese, but had its own proper liturgical calendar, which was followed in the basilica itself, and in its local dependent churches.

In 1911, the Lateran calendar contained 32 entries. Of these, sixteen also occur on the General Calendar, but are kept at a higher grade at the Lateran.

1. The feast of the Transfiguration is kept as a Double of the First class with an octave, as the titular feast of the basilica. (This was also done thoughout the diocese of Rome.) This custom derives from the Byzantine Rite, in which the feast is known as “the Transfiguration of the Savior”, and from which the Roman Church adopted the feast in 1456. In the Byzantine tradition, the feast celebrates the manifestation of Christ to his disciples as Savior, for which reason it is placed exactly forty days, the length of Lent, before the principle feast of the instrument of our salvation, the Exaltation of the Cross.

2. The same grade is given to the feast of the church’s Dedication on November 9, and to St. John the Evangelist, as co-titular of the church. (The Nativity of St. John the Baptist is not noted, since it already has this grade on the General Calendar.)

3. Five Saints or feasts are noted on the calendar because their main Roman churches are affiliated with the Lateran. Four of these are at a higher grade than on the General Calendar; one of these churches is no longer extant, a chapel of St. Margaret of Antioch (July 20), which was formerly part of the Lateran complex.

4. Nine Saints or groups of Saints are kept at a higher grade because of the presence of their relics in the basilica itself, the baptistery, or the Sancta Sanctorum, the official Papal chapel at the Lateran. This last is officially known as Saint Lawrence in the Palace, but has been called the “Sancta Sanctorum” for centuries because of its extraordinary collection of relics.

The altar of the Sancta Sanctorum, which is now part of the building across the street from the Lateran called the Scala Sancta. The grill around the altar was originally installed to protect the many precious relics stored within it.

5. Six other feasts not on the General Calendar are kept because of the presence of relics within the complex. Of these, by far the most important is the Translation of the relics of the heads of Ss. Peter and Paul, which are kept in the large baldachin over the main altar of the basilica.

6. Among the remaining entries, the most notable are the feasts of St. John the Baptist’s father, St. Zachary: that of St. John the Evangelist’s mother, Maria Salome; the Empress St. Helena, who discovered the relics of the True Cross, and whose son founded the Lateran Basilica; the feast of All Saints whose relics are kept in the Lateran; and the octaves of the Transfiguration and Dedication.

In 1961, the Lateran Calendar contained 11 entries, a reduction of just under two-thirds. Of these, five also occur on the General Calendar, but are kept at an equal or higher grade at the Lateran.

1. The Ascension is noted as the titular feast of the basilica, instead of the Transfiguration.

2. The Nativity of St. John the Baptist is noted as co-titular of the basilica. The Dedication of the church, and the feast of St. John the Evangelist are also First-class feasts, as before. To this group is added Pope St. Sylvester I on December 31, as the “founder of the Constantinian Basilica”; in the previous version of the Lateran Calendar, the founder of the Constantinian Basilica was recognized to be Constantine, who was named as such under the entry for his mother, St. Helena.

3. Only one feast is noted because of a Roman church affiliated with the Lateran, that of St. John at the Latin Gate.

4. Of the fifteen relic-feasts formerly kept at the Lateran, all but two are suppressed. That of All Saints whose relics are kept at the Lateran is retained, but transferred from its traditional date, June 23rd, the vigil of St. John the Baptist, to November 5th; special mention is made in the title of the Sancta Sanctorum. The other is that of the Translation of the Relics of the Heads of Ss. Peter and Paul, kept only as a commemoration.

5. The feasts of Ss. Zachary, Maria Salome, and Helena are retained; the octaves of the Transfiguration and Dedication were suppressed in the reform of 1955.

Just up the street from the Lateran, another basilica with its own calendar, St. Mary Major, the oldest church in the world dedicated to the Mother of God, proved to have even fewer feasts deemed important enough to retain. Its proper calendar of 1964 contains only six entries, three of which are common to the General Calendar; of its three proper feasts, one is a commemoration.

An Unimportant Blessed

Guala of Bergamo was one of the earliest members of the Order of Friars Preachers, having received the habit from St. Dominic himself; he also accompanied the founder on several of his travels. He established the convents of the Order in his native city of Bergamo and in nearby Brescia. His governance of the latter earned him such respect and admiration that he was chosen prior of the Order’s most important Italian house, that of Bologna, then called St. Nicholas in the Vineyards, now called after St. Dominic. From the reputation of his holiness and wisdom, Popes Honorius III and Gregory IX, both very close to the Dominicans, entrusted him with some of their most important affairs, making him first nuntio, then Bishop of Brescia, then legate a latere to the Emperor Frederic II. A contemporary historian notes that Guala personally wrote the peace treaty between the Guelph and Ghibelline factions that were tearing apart his episcopal city. After ten years as bishop, he resigned his see, to spend the final years of his life in prayer and meditation; he died in 1244, and his long standing cultus was approved in 1868. (See Victor O’Daniel,“The First Disciples of St. Dominic.”)

When St. Dominic was dying in August of 1221, Guala, then prior at Brescia, had a dream of a ladder let down from Heaven, with Christ and the Virgin at the top, and Angels ascending and descending by it. At the foot of the ladder sat a friar whose face he could not see; the ladder was then pulled up into Heaven, and the friar with it. On waking, Guala immediately departed for Bologna, only to learn on his arrival that St. Dominic had died at the very moment he was having his dream. In 1234, very shortly after his canonization by Gregory IX, St. Dominic’s feast was kept with a newly composed proper Office in the choir of St. Nicholas in the Vineyards, where he was buried. In this Office, the third antiphon of Lauds says, “A ladder stretching forth from Heaven is revealed to a brother, by which the Father passing was born on high.”, and at this first chanting of the Office of St. Dominic, it was Guala himself who intoned this antiphon.

The vision of Blessed Guala, by Cosimo Gamberucci, from the Great Cloister of Santa Maria Novella,
the principal Dominican church of Florence, ca. 1580.

In 1961, Guala was one of 62 Blesseds removed from the Calendar of the Dominican Use; another 19 were reduced to commemorations, leaving eight, (a mere 9 percent of the former total,) as Third class feasts.

The final article in this series will discuss some points relating to possible future reforms of the Divine Office. To read the most recent parts of this series, click here. For the complete set of links to the earlier parts of this series posted last fall, including a Glossary of terms related to the Divine Office, click here.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: