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How to Live More Liturgically this New Year

With the New Year comes another opportunity to go deeper into the Church’s Liturgy. While those who are new to Tradition often are amazed at the additional saint days in the Church’s sanctoral cycle and are surprised with all the forgotten seasons (e.g., Septuagesima), even Traditionalists can go deeper each and every year. Praying the Votive Mass texts each week, reading the Propers for the Masses in Some Places, and reading the daily Martyrology are just some of the ways we all can go deeper this year. All of these will help us live more liturgically each and every year.

The Liturgical Year & Its Two Cycles

The Church’s Liturgical Year is a harmonious interplay of feasts and fasts interwoven in both the temporal and sanctoral cycles that define the rhythm and rhyme of Catholic life. The Church’s annual liturgical calendar is comprised of two different, concurrent annual cycles. First, the Proper of the Seasons, or Temporal Cycle, traces the earthly life of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Roman Catholic Church, it consists mainly of Sundays related to the various liturgical seasons – that is, the seven liturgical seasons contained in two cycles of its own: the Christmas Cycle and the Easter Cycle. It starts with Advent then goes through Christmas, Epiphany, Septuagesima, Lent, Easter, and Time after Pentecost. The determination of the date of Easter dictates nearly all the other dates in this cycle. But there is a second cycle: the Proper of the Saints, called the Sanctoral Cycle, which is the annual cycle of feast days not necessarily connected with the seasons.[1]

The base level of living a Catholic liturgical life is assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and praying the prayers and living the feasts and fasts of the day, which the Church is liturgically keeping. Even if we are not assisting at Mass, we can and should pray the Church’s liturgical prayers whether that be in the form of a Missa Sicca at home or by praying the Divine Office or the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Changes to the Catholic Liturgical Year after Vatican II

Step one of going deeper is going from the Novus Ordo Calendar to the Traditional Calendar of 1962. Even though many changes occurred before Vatican II, they pale in comparison to the changes made after it. With the introduction of the Novus Ordo, more than 300 saints were removed from the General Calendar, as the flagship article “The Sanctoral Killing Fields: On the Removal of Saints from the General Roman Calendar” calculated.

The results have greatly affected Catholic life. How many Catholics today are familiar with St. Telesphorus, the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, Ss. Cletus and Marcellinus, the Seven Holy Brothers, St. Thelca, St. Placid, St. Ursula, or even St. Barbara? These saints gave a powerful and memorable witness to our holy Faith. They provide powerful inspiration for us in these turbulent times and are models we should all strive to emulate. Yet, all these and more were removed from the liturgical calendar, leaving all parishes named after such saints orphaned with no patronal feast day remaining on the universal calendar.

While hundreds of changes occurred to the Sanctoral Cycle in 1969, there were still considerable changes to the Temporal Cycle with the introduction of the Novus Ordo Mass. These changes included the following:

  • Removing Septuagesima entirely, thus continuing the use of the Alleluia until Ash Wednesday. This change made easing into Lenten penance much harder.
  • Eliminating the requirement to veil statues and images during Passiontide. 
  • Replacing Time After Epiphany and Time After Pentecost with a strangely named “Ordinary Time” (Tempus per annum)season that is split in half and is seemingly unrelated to the Liturgical Year. Such a change vastly split the “3 cycles with 7 seasons” Temporal Cycle that was around for centuries.
  • Moving a number of temporal feast days, like the Feast of Christ the King (from the last Sunday of October to the final Sunday before Advent) and the Feast of the Holy Family (from the Sunday after January 6th to the Sunday in the Octave of Christmas).

The changes made after Vatican II also affected how we refer to feast days. In 1969, the ranking of feast days was changed to solemnities, feasts, memorials, and optional memorials. In the 1962 Missal, we have First, Second, Third, and Fourth Class feast days. But for centuries before the 1962 Missal, up until the changes made by Pope Pius XII in 1955, the ranks of feast days were, from least to most important: Simple, Semi-double, Lesser Double (also known as Double), Greater Double, Double of the Second Class, and lastly Double of the First Class.

The Changes to the Catholic Liturgical Year Before Vatican II

But we can go deeper. And the next layer is to transition, at least in our own personal devotional lives, to a pre-1955 Calendar.

In addition to the significant changes and alterations to the Holy Week Liturgies in the 1955 Missal, there were also a few other noteworthy changes. With the advent of the 1955 Calendar, Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of “St. Joseph the Worker” on May 1 (moving the feast of “Saints Philip and James,” which was previously in the past a Holy Day of Obligation, from May 1 where it had been since the sixth century to May 11). In doing this, he also suppressed the Patronage of St. Joseph that – since Pope Pius IX’s decree of September 10, 1847 – had been celebrated on the second Wednesday after the Octave of Easter. In 1954, Pius XII also instituted the Feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary on May 31; and to make room for it, he moved the Feast of St. Angela Merici to June 1.

The year 1955 saw some of the most significant changes to the Church’s liturgy since the Council of Trent. In Cum nostra hac aetate (March 23, 1955), Pius XII abolished fifteen Octaves in addition to the Octave for the Dedication of a Church, and particular octaves for patrons of various religious orders, countries, and dioceses. He also abolished roughly half of all vigils, leading to the removal of the liturgical vigils of the Immaculate Conception, Epiphany, All Saints, and for all of the Apostles except Saints Peter and Paul. The total number of liturgical vigils was now reduced to seven. These vast changes affected both the Temporal and Sanctoral cycles.

Additional changes that occurred in 1960 under Pope John XXIII included the removal of most saints who were on the calendar twice or feasts that commemorated miraculous events. For instance, the Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross, the second feast of St. Agnes commemorating her apparition to her parents, and the Feast of St. John before the Latin Gate were all removed. These changes were incorporated in the 1962 Missal; however, a priest may still choose to offer a votive Mass for those saints on those traditional feast days.

Masses in Some Places

But we can advance deeper still. Even in the Roman Rite itself, various dioceses, countries, and religious orders keep some different feast days. For instance, there is a fascinating list of movable Masses related to Our Lord’s Passion that are kept in some places and by some religious orders – but not on the Church’s Universal Calendar. These Masses in some places can be found in the supplement of the traditional Roman Missal under Missae pro Aliquibus Locis (“Mass in Some Places”) and some of the feast days in the list include:

  • The Prayer of Christ (Tuesday after Septuagesima): This was kept by the Dominicans, who had separate feasts for most of the Mysteries of the Rosary not already on the general calendar.
  • The Commemoration of the Passion of Christ (Tuesday after Sexagesima): This was a Passionist Feast.
  • The Feast of Reparation of Insults Offered to the Most Holy Sacrament (Thursday after Sexagesima)
  • The Feast of the Holy Face of Our Lord Jesus Christ Deformed in the Passion (Tuesday after Quinquagesima): Mass said in reparation for the sins of Mardi Gras.
  • The Sacred Crown of Thorns (Friday after Ash Wednesday): This was kept at Notre Dame in Paris and also at St Peter’s, which has two of the thorns.
  • The Sacred Lance and Nails (Friday after the First Sunday in Lent): This was very popular in late medieval Germany and the Low Countries, under the title “Arma Domini,” but usually kept in Eastertide, on the Friday after Low Sunday.
  • The Holy Shroud (Friday after the Second Sunday in Lent): This was kept in Turin, Italy.
  • The Five Holy Wounds (Friday after the Third Sunday in Lent)
  • The Precious Blood (Friday after the Fourth Sunday in Lent): This was the original date for the Precious Blood Fathers and also for Westminster Cathedral.

We could personally keep such feast days alive in our own homes by reading about them and by praying the collect from these feasts in our morning and evening prayers. There are many such “Masses in Some Places” throughout the year.

Votive Masses

A weekday with no feast associated with it is called a feria or ferial day (from the Latin feria meaning “free day”). On such a day, in the traditional rite, the priest generally offers the Mass of the previous Sunday or a Votive Mass of his choice. He may choose to follow the devotion attributed to that day of the week (for instance, on a ferial Wednesday he may offer a Votive Mass of St. Joseph since Wednesdays are devoted to St. Joseph) or he may offer a Votive Mass of Our Lady. But he may also offer a Votive Mass for any saint. He may also generally, exceptions aside, offer a Requiem Mass.

In our own spiritual lives, we might add to our morning prayers the collects from various Votive Masses found in our hand missals. In so doing, we can better honor the Holy Angels each Tuesday, St. Joseph each Wednesday, the Institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood on Thursdays, and Our Lord’s Passion on Fridays.

Reading the Martyrology Daily

The Martyrology is an official liturgical book that contains a list of saints whose feast days are celebrated throughout the liturgical year. It includes a brief account of their lives and, in the case of martyrs, the circumstances of their deaths. The purpose of the Martyrology is to provide a guide for the Church to commemorate and honor these holy men and women.

The Martyrology is traditionally prayed or chanted during the canonical hour of Prime. Prime is one of the hours of the Divine Office, which is a set of prayers and psalms recited by religious communities and clergy at various times throughout the day. Historically, Prime was the first hour of the day, typically prayed at sunrise. Sadly, it too was abolished after Vatican II.

We can go deeper still by obtaining a copy of the pre-1955 Martyrology in English and reading the accounts of the saints in it each day. You will be amazed at the number of saints who are canonized and who are not known. You will be awed by the accounts of their triumphs over cruelty and torture. And you may even be surprised to see when all the Old Testament Prophets are honored as saints as well throughout the year.

Living out Catholic Customs

Beyond assisting at Mass and praying the Divine Office, we can and should observe the forgotten customs that further underscored authentic Catholic culture. Catholic culture is more than just going to Mass – much more. Catholic culture is built on fasting periods, assisting at Processions, having various items blessed at different parts of the year (e.g., herbs on August 15, grapes on September 8th, wine on December 27th). It features days of festivity like Martinmas and promotes family time and charitable works like visits to grandparents on Easter Monday. It is replete with food customs to celebrate the end of fasting periods and filled with special devotions during periods of penance. It is our heritage. These traditions are our birthright. They are ours as much as they were our ancestors. We must reclaim them. We must spread them. We must love them and observe them. To this end, I hope you will pick up a copy of my newest book: Restoring Lost Customs of Christendom and strive to live out these customs each day this new year.

Make Catholic Resolutions for the New Year

Each year I have made what I call “Catholic Resolutions.” These New Years Resolutions are not centered on losing weight, eating more vegetables, or securing a raise. I make resolutions for all facets of my life including these. Rather, these resolutions each year are centered around my spiritual life. I encourage all of you to make resolutions specifically geared toward improving your own Faith life and your own knowledge of the Faith. One’s spiritual health needs the same care – if not more – than our physical, financial, or professional health. Here are 10 suggestions:

  1. Pray the Rosary every day, if you are out of the habit of it.
  2. Pray Lauds, Vespers, and Compline (from the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary or the Divine Office) every day.
  3. Say a prayer for the Poor Souls in Purgatory every day, such as the St Gertrude Prayer. Getting a copy of The Purgatorian Manual: Containing Spiritual Reading and Prayers for Every Day of the Month is also an excellent idea.
  4. Attend Mass one day extra a week in addition to Sunday. And if you have fallen away from Mass, start going weekly again.
  5. Make it a habit to go to Confession every two weeks. Ensure that you are sincere and actually detest your sins and desire to amend your life.
  6. Fulfill the First Friday Devotion as well as the First Saturday Devotion. (Join the Crusade this year called by Bishop Schneider!)
  7. Start wearing the Brown Scapular if you do not already. But ensure you are properly enrolled by a priest.
  8. Add additional days of penance to your life. Can you observe the vigils of the apostles as fast days? What about all 40 days of Lent or the 40 days leading up to Christmas? There are many venerable ways we can practice penance this year and fulfill our Lady’s call for “Penance, penance, penance.” (Join OnePeterFive’s lay sodality, the Fellowship of St. Nicholas to embrace traditional fasts this year with other Catholics).
  9. Make it a point to learn much more about the Faith. For example, has an ideal Adult Course just for this purpose.
  10. Do you struggle with certain sins or addictions? What actions do I need to take to really conquer them?

May Our Lord grant all of us a most blessed new year as we seek to go deeper into the Church’s liturgical life this year!

Photo by Allison Girone

[1] There are more than 20 different Catholic Rites and several Churches which are all in Communion with and under obedience to Rome. All these Catholics are fully Catholic in the complete sense. The rites of various Eastern Catholic Churches (e.g., the Byzantine Rite, the Syro Malabar Rite, etc.) use entirely separate calendars with separate saints commemorated, separate Holy Days of Obligation, and separate days of fasting and abstinence. A liturgical diversity in the calendar is seen even in the West. Beyond the Roman Rite, the Ambrosian, Mozarabic, Lyon, and Bragan Rites are also all part of the Western liturgical tradition. So too are the various rites for religious orders (e.g., the Carmelite Rite, the Dominican Rite). There are various uses as well, such as the Anglican Use (i.e., the Ordinariate) – which was only recently approved under Benedict XVI. These are also part of the Roman Catholic Church. Thus there is no one Catholic calendar but the calendar mentioned by most Catholics is the Roman Calendar used in the Roman Rite.

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