Thursday, November 28, 2019

A Reminder about the Date of the Immaculate Conception

This year, December 8th is on a Sunday, and I have already seen some posts on social media discussing what to do with the feast of the Immaculate Conception when it coincides with a Sunday of Advent. This is one of the places where there is a difference between the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite; the question of whether the rubrics of the two Forms ought to be reconciled on this point, and if so, how, has no bearing on the fact that as things currently stand, they have not been reconciled.

– In the Ordinary Form, the Sundays of Advent admit of no impediment whatsoever (paragraph 59 of the “Universal Norms concerning the Liturgical Year and the Calendar”), and the Immaculate Conception is transferred to the following day, Monday, December 9th (ibid. par. 5). This is true even where it is celebrated as a Patronal Feast, as it is in the United States. As a point of information, several years ago, the USCCB made the very bad decision that the feast would not be a Holy Day of Obligation in those years when it is transferred. I therefore encourage all priests to reminding their parishioners on the next couple of Sundays how urgently the Church in the United States (and everywhere else) needs the prayers of the Immaculate Virgin, and how we should make a special effort to honor Her on this important feast.

– In the Extraordinary Form, the Immaculate Conception takes precedence over the Second Sunday of Advent, which is reduced to a commemoration at the Mass of the former. This is a special exception made solely for this feast, which is part of the rubrics of the 1962 Missal (Rubr. Gen. III, 15), and which is NOT superceded by any subsequent canonical or rubrical legislation, including the rubrics of the Ordinary Form. As stated in paragraph 28 of the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae, which was issued in 2011 to clarify certain issues related to the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, “Furthermore, by virtue of its character of special law, within its own area, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962.”

This custom of the Extraordinary Form is in point of fact a very recent one, which was only universal law between 1913 and 1969, and last applied universally in 1968. In the liturgical books of St Pius V, as in the modern ones, the Sundays of Advent admitted of no impediment whatsoever. This was subsequently revised in such a way that, while the First Sunday remained inviolable, the Second, Third and Fourth Sundays yielded in precedence to a Patronal Feast. The Immaculate Conception is of course the Patronal Feast of a great many places, but wherever it was not so designated, it was transferred off the Sunday. Thus e.g., in the year 1912, churches in the United States celebrated the feast on Sunday, December 8th, while across the border in Canada, it was transferred to the following day. It was only with the new code of rubrics instituted by Pope St Pius X, which became legally active in 1913, that all feasts of the highest grade, then called “Doubles of the First Class”, impeded those three Sundays everywhere. The new rubrical code of 1960 then changed this back to the rule of St Pius V, with the special exception for the Immaculate Conception.

It therefore seems to me that a future reconciliation of these contrasting rubrics is desirable, but also not a matter of particularly high priority, and that no one has any reasonable cause to be bothered by the fact that he may be celebrating the feast on a different day than many of his fellow Catholics.

The following is a page of the general rubrics of the very first post-Tridentine liturgical book, the Roman Breviary of 1568, issued by the authority of Pope St Pius V. The rubric “concerning the translation of Double and Semidouble feasts” begins at the bottom of the first column. “If any Double feast occurs on the Sundays of Advent, the Sundays from Septuagesima to Low Sunday (etc.), it is transferred to the first day not impeded by another Double or Semidouble feast.” In the original version of the rubrics, feasts were distinguished by only three grades, Double, Semidouble and Simple; the first of these was later subdivided into four classes.

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