Monday, May 20, 2024

Summer Feasts and Multiple Feasts

On July 11, 2022, I published an article here entitled “The Feasts of St. Benedict and Their Proper Texts in Benedictine Churches,” in which I discussed how certain very eminent saints have multiple feastdays. St. Benedict has at least five proper Masses that developed in the monastic tradition: his dies natalis or transitus on March 21; July 11 as the translatio of his relics; July 18 as the octave of the translation (with different texts); December 4 for the “illation,” that is, rediscovery, of at least some of his relics; and its octave on December 11 for the veneration and reinstatement of the holy relic of the head of St. Benedict. Maybe there are still others I don’t know about.

St. Walburga’s Many Feasts

A reader of this blog notified me that Benedict isn’t the only monastic to enjoy so many feasts. At the glorious Benedictine Abbey of Saint Walburga (founded in Eichstätt, Germany, in 1035), four feasts are still observed for Saint Walburga:

February 25: The Solemnity of Saint Walburga (the anniversary of her death) [see A Benedictine Martyrology, Feb. 25, pg. 54]

Last Sunday of April: The Memorial of Saint Walburga’s remains being found incorrupt in her grave (see A Benedictine Martyrology, May 1, pg. 118]; traditionally, however, May 1st was the feastday, and this is why April 30th earned the name “Walpurgisnacht” (Walburga’s Night).

August 4: The Memorial of Saint Walburga’s arrival from England

October 12: The Memorial of the first flowing of the Holy Oil from Saint Walburga’s bones

Regarding April 30:
Because Walpurgisnacht falls on the same date as Beltane Eve, one of the four great pagan Gaelic holidays, this will be, for some pagans and witches, a night much like Hallowe’en (the Eve of All Saints), when the pagan Samhain coincides calendrically with our Feasts for the dead. In Germany, where sometimes this night is called “Hexennacht,” witches are said to fly to the top of the often mist-covered mountain named the Brocken (or Blocksberg) in order to rendezvous with the devil. And like Hallowe’en, the veil between this world and the afterworld is said to become thin tonight, the damned dead are believed to become restless, and devils are said to cause trouble…. The spooky nature of Walpurgisnacht because of witches’ doings is recalled in Goethe’s Faust, and in his poem The First Walpurgis Night which was set to music by Felix Mendelssohn.
Saint Benedict’s summer feast brings mind to the tradition of other saints who have summer feasts in addition to their usual feasts.

The translation of St Thomas Becket’s relics. (Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew)

Other Summer Feasts

July 4: Translation of Saint Martin of Tours, which is also the anniversary of his ordination as a bishop
In German, “Sommerfest des heiligen Martin,” or “Martinus aestivus.” Gregory DiPippo talks about this here. Martin’s main feast is November 11.

July 7: Translation of Saint Thomas Becket

According to an article by Dr. John Jenkins:
The organisation of Becket’s translation was the work of Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, and one of the most important figures in the drafting of Magna Carta. In his own struggles against King John, he saw himself as something of a Becket figure, and in translating Becket’s relics he wanted to make a powerful statement about the importance of the cause—the rights and freedoms of the Church – that the saint had died for. The date chosen for the event, 7 July 1220, was both symbolic and practical. It was the ‘jubilee’ anniversary of Becket’s martyrdom, not simply 50 years but calculated according to the Biblical definition of 49 years, 7 months, and 10 days after the event. It fell on a Tuesday, a day of great significance in Becket’s life as supposedly it was also on a Tuesday that he was born, was condemned by the King’s council, fled into exile, had a vision of his martyrdom, returned from exile, and was martyred.
But this next bit is of particular importance, as it verbalizes something one often notices when studying the sanctoral calendar—namely, that summer feasts are often preferred to winter ones for reasons of weather, or a summer feast is added in order to heighten a figure’s importance:
The date of the anniversary of Becket’s martyrdom, 29 December, was awkward as it not only fell during the Christmas celebrations but was at a time in midwinter when pilgrims were unlikely to travel. By establishing another anniversary of equal importance in the middle of summer, at the height of the pilgrimage season, and at a time when it would not clash with other church feasts, Archbishop Langton ensured that the feast of the translation would become one of the highlights of the English religious calendar.
July 29: Translation of the Blessed Emperor Charlemagne

Celebrated in Aachen for about a century, ending in 1932. Ripe for integralist restoration? Aachen currently celebrates a Mass in honor of the emperor on the last Sunday of January, which is near to his dies natalis of January 28. (I am not saying Charlemagne was above-board in all his actions; but if the Emperor Constantine can be venerated by our Eastern brethren as “Equal to the Apostles,” then we can make some room for an analogous figure in the West.)

August 3: The Finding of Saint Stephen

Sadly, this is one of many long-observed feasts that was abolished in the 1960 revisions to the Roman calendar that guide the rubrics of the 1962 missal. This feastday commemorates the “invention” or finding of the body of the Protomartyr Stephen:
His relics were found in the year 416 by a priest named Lucian. A church was built and dedicated to him at the site of the discover—outside the Damascus Gate—and his relics were housed there for centuries. In 1882, the ruins of the church were discovered by the Dominicans, and a new church was built there; however, his relics were subsequently moved to the Papal Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls (San Lorenzo fuori le Mura) in Rome, Italy. The church is one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome, and it is a fitting place for Stephen’s relics to reside, as the church commemorates the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, one of the first seven deacons of Rome to be martyred in 258.
So, it sounds like Stephen was found not just once, but twice—reminiscent of the entry in the Roman Martyrology for the “third finding of the head of St. John the Baptist”!

August 17: Festival of Saint Agatha

The Festival of Saint Agatha is the most important religious festival of Catania, Sicily, commemorating the life of the city’s patron saint. It takes place annually from 3 to 5 February and (again) on 17 August. The earlier dates commemorate her martyrdom, while the latter date celebrates the return to Catania of her remains, after these had been transferred to Constantinople by the Byzantine general George Maniaces as war booty and remained there for 86 years. (source)

A site devoted to Sicily notes:
The night of the 17th August the sound of bells woke up the people of Catania announcing the return of the mortal remains of St. Agatha from Constantinople. The citizens came out their houses barefoot and in their nightgowns to greet the arrival of the Saint. This is the reason why during the feast devotees wear white dresses (called “sacco”), that represent the white clothes of those citizens…. The celebration starts in the morning with different liturgies at the Cathedral dedicated to St. Agatha. In the evening at 20.30, there is a short procession near the Cathedral and piazza Duomo. The reliquary casket and the half bust of St. Agatha go around from piazza Duomo to Uzeda Door, via Dusmet, via Porticello, piazza San Placido, via Vittorio Emanuele II and then come back to piazza Duomo. As every celebration of the Patron Saint of Catania, this feast is also features spectacular fireworks in piazza Borsellino when the relics leave and return to the Cathedral.
However, the February celebration of St. Agatha is considerably more extensive, lasting for days. And that’s good, because I’ll be leading a pilgrimage to Sicily in February 2025, accompanied by a chaplain who will offer the traditional Mass daily (sung whenever possible), and we’ll be in Catania for the feast. Read more about that trip here or here.

Sr. Wilhelmina (courtesy of Benedictines of Mary)

New Summer Feasts?

The tradition continues as a new summer feast seems to be emerging:

August 11: Saint John Henry Newman

Although he died on August 11, his appointed feastday is October 9—but one notices that a number of people privately celebrate August 11 in addition to the official feast of October 9. On the other hand, the weather in most places in early October is pleasant, and the two dates are quite close together, so it would be improbably that an August date would ever attract broad observance, let alone find its way on to a liturgical calendar.

And one may well speculate about this date:

May 29: Death of Sr. Wilhelmina Lancaster, OSB

Yes, she is not yet a saint, nor has a process for her beatification been officially opened (as far as I know); and yet, she has four things very much in her favor: (1) a reputation for holiness among the many sisters who lived with her for years at the monastery she founded; (2) an incorruptible body exhumed on April 28, 2023; (3) a steady flow of pilgrims to her body, on a scale that has not been seen in this country since the Council, and who knows how long before that, indicating popular devotion, that once-indispensable adjunct to any valid case for canonization; (4) many stories of healings and other possible miracles attributed to her intercession, which are being carefully collected.

May 29 is already observed on the old calendar as the feast of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, but a future Benedict XVII or Leo XIV could certainly add a commemoration, if it ever comes to that…

Celebrating in style: The Feast of Saint John by Jules Breton (1875)

Lost jewels of May

A last note about the month of May itself.

Given the wonderful, edifying second feasts in the traditional Roman calendar—the Conversion of Saint Paul; the Chair of Saint Peter; the Second feast of Saint Agnes on January 28—it is most regrettable that a number of second feasts were abolished under John XXIII in the 1960 calendar: think of the Finding of the Holy Cross on May 3, Saint John at the Latin Gate on May 6, and the Apparition of Saint Michael on May 8. All of these fall in the merry merry month of May, which, although not technically summer, is, as Newman says at the beginning Meditations and Devotions, “the month of promise and of hope.” He continues: “Even though the weather happen to be bad [at least in the UK…], it is the month that begins and heralds in the summer” (italics in original).

Indeed, even Christmas is reprised in the summer. As Gueranger observers in his Liturgical Year: “The Nativity of St. John Baptist [June 24], indeed made holy [in the womb], is celebrated with so much pomp…because it seems to enfold within itself the Nativity of Christ, our Redeemer. It is as it were midsummer’s Christmas day. From the very outset, God and his Church brought about, with most thoughtful care, many such parallel resemblances and dependences between these two solemnities.”

One might make the same observation about the thoughtful care that went into many other parallelisms between feasts.

It is good to do what we can to remember, to retain, and to celebrate these special feasts, at least for saints that have a connection to our parish or community, or to whom we have a personal devotion, or some other connection such as when one bears the saint’s name.

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