Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Kicking St Irenaeus Around

June 28 is traditionally the feast day of Pope St Leo II, who died on this day in 683, after a reign of less than 11 months. The Liber Pontificalis records that on the previous day he celebrated the ordination of nine priests, three deacons, and twenty-three bishops; it is not said that it was the ordination ceremony that killed him, but the heat of Rome in June and the inevitable length of such a ceremony make this seem likely more than coincidence. The principal achievement of his pontificate was the confirmation of the acts of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, the third of Constantinople, which condemned the Monothelite heresy; being fluent in Greek as well as Latin, he personally made the official Latin translation of the council’s acts. It is one of the oddities of hagiography that his predecessor St Agatho, in whose reign the council was held, and whose intervention (through his legates) in its deliberations was acclaimed with the words “Peter has spoken through Agatho!”, has never been honored with a general feast day in the West, but is kept on the Byzantine Calendar. Leo, on the other, was a Sicilian, and therefore born as a subject of the Byzantine Empire, but is not liturgically honored in the East.

In this altar in St Peter’s Basilica are kept the relics of three Sainted Popes named Leo, the Second (682-3), the Third (795-816) and the Fourth (847-55). The altar of Pope St Leo I (440-61) is right next to it, and Pope Leo XII (1823-29) is buried in the floor between them.
Even older than the feast of Pope Leo is the vigil of Ss Peter and Paul. The vigils of the Saints originally consisted solely of a Mass, penitential in character, celebrated after None in violet vestments, without a Gloria, Alleluia or Creed; prior to the Tridentine reform, they had no presence in the Office in the Use of Rome. (Back when there were plenty of canonical and monastic churches, such foundations would have celebrated two Masses in choir, that of St Leo after Terce, and that of the vigil after None, just as was done with the feasts of Saints which occur in Lent.) In the Breviary of St Pius V, vigils were extended to the Office, following a custom of medieval German Uses, an unusual example of change in an otherwise very conservative reform. At Matins, a homily on the day’s Gospel is read, and the prayer of the vigil Mass is said at the Hours; everything else is done as on the feria until Vespers, which are the First Vespers of the feast. However, the vigil of Ss Peter and Paul, because it coincides with St Leo, was reduced in the Office to one lesson at Matins (the ninth) and a commemoration at Lauds.

At Lyon, the ancient primatial see of Gaul, the day was kept as the feast of St Irenaeus, and the vigil as a commemoration. In his book On Illustrious Men, St Jerome mentions the famous martyrdom of St Pothinus, who was Irenaeus’ predecessor in the See of Lyon, but says nothing about the latter’s death, the date and circumstances of which are unknown; it is a rather later tradition that he died a martyr. It may very well be that his feast found its way to the vigil of Ss Peter and Paul at Lyon because of the famous passage in his book Against the Heresies (3.3.2) in which he attests to the primacy of the Roman See as follows. “For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority – that is, the faithful everywhere – inasmuch as the Apostolic Tradition has been preserved continuously by those who are everywhere.” In 1921, Pope Benedict XV extended his feast to the general Calendar on his traditional Lyonese date, moving Pope Leo II to July 3rd, the next free day on the calendar, and the day of his burial according to the Liber Pontificalis.

The crypt of the church of St Irenaeus at Lyon. In 1562, the church was severely damaged by the Huguenots, who also destroyed the Saint’s relics, and played a game of soccer with his skull. After more destruction in the revolution, it was rebuilt in 1824, and the crypt renovated in 1863. Despite these vicissitudes, the crypt may still be regarded as one of the oldest religious buildings in France; relics of certain local martyrs were venerated there already in the later part of the 5th century. The church was originally dedicated to St John the Baptist. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Xavier Caré.)
In the Breviary Reform of 1960, St Irenaeus was moved to July 3rd, and Pope Leo II suppressed, in order to free June 28th up entirely for the Mass and Office of the vigil of Ss Peter and Paul. This was fundamentally a rather odd thing to do, since so many of the vigils then on the general Calendar, (including all those of the other Apostles, and, inexcusably, those of the Epiphany and All Saints) were abolished by the same reform. Less than a decade later, however, with the promulgation of the Novus Ordo, vigils in the classic Roman sense, penitential days of preparation for the major feasts, were simply abolished altogether, “freeing” June 28th from the one observance which had hitherto been absolutely universal on that date, the vigil of Ss Peter and Paul. St Irenaeus was therefore moved back to that date, freeing July 3rd for the transfer of the Apostle St Thomas from his historical Roman date, December 21st, to the date on which the Syrian church commemorates the transfer of his relics from India to Edessa.

This may seem to be just another case of what Fr Hunwicke once described as the freezing in pack ice of the EF Calendar, which keeps Irenaeus on a day which he held for ten years, while the OF has restored him to his historical Lyonese date. It should be noted, however, that Lyon itself moved his feast 4 times. After it had been kept on June 28th for centuries, Archbishop Camille de Neufville de Villeroy (1654-93) moved it to November 23rd, displacing the very ancient feast of Pope St Clement. (His Grace will have had a reason for choosing that date, but I cannot find what that reason might be. If anyone knows, please be so kind as to leave a comment.) In the Neo-Gallican reform of Abp Antoine de Montazet (1758-88), which was a catastrophe for the Use of Lyon, it was fixed to the Sunday after the feast of Ss Peter and Paul. In the 1860s, the Missale Romano-Lugdunense was promulgated (basically the Missal of St Pius V, with a great many Lyonese customs added to it, including the rites of Holy Week), and St Irenaeus was fixed to July 3rd. Finally, in the 20th century, he was returned to his traditional date.

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