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Understanding Our Family's High Feasts

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Mar 28, 2014

The Church just celebrated two solemnities in March within a week of each other, the Solemnity of St. Joseph and the Solemnity of the Annunciation. While there are other solemnities throughout the year, no other part of the Liturgical Year does a solemnity stand out in such marked contrast to the liturgical season. While these feasts are fresh on the mind, it might be helpful to delve into understanding solemnities of the Church.

I have mentioned more than once the Church is our family and being familiar with her Liturgical Calendar is just as vital as being familiar and remembering our immediate family's celebratory days. The Church's calendar is not complicated, but there are few unique aspects that make each year a bit different. I think of each Liturgical Year as a map, and once I have the map key and scale, I can read the map for each year and understand the pattern and directions. It's not as satisfying to have a GPS just give directions.

The map key for the Liturgical year and the Calendar is General Norms of the Liturgical Year and Calendar. The document explains how there are two concurrent cycles of feasts of the Liturgical year, the "temporal cycle" (Temporale) or "Proper of the time" (Proprium de tempore) and "sanctoral" (sanctus) cycles. The temporal cycle is a yearly cycle during which

the Church celebrates the whole mystery of Christ, from his incarnation until the day of Pentecost and the expectation of his coming again (GNLYC, No. 17)

The source and center of the whole Liturgical Year is the Paschal Mystery. The annual commemoration centers on that mystery, and then spirals out with the whole mystery of Christ. In the order of prominence the temporal cycle is composed of the Easter Triduum, Easter Season, Lent, Christmas Season, Advent, and Ordinary Time. The temporal cycle also includes solemnities and feasts that celebrate the mystery of the Redemption. This cycle needs to be preserved and remain intact to "maintain proper preeminence over particular celebrations" (GNLYC, No. 50).

And then there is the sanctoral calendar, or the Proper of the Saints which includes feasts of devotion of Our Lord, feasts of Mary and the saints. This cycle runs simultaneously with the temporal cycle, but it is secondary in the priority of feasts.

It tangles up the situation a bit more to realize that there are solemnities that can either be part of the temporal or sanctoral cycle. Sundays and Solemnities are the highest feast days of the Church, but it depends on the timing of the Liturgical Year to see which has higher prominence.

The Church celebrates the paschal mystery on the first day of the week, known as the Lord's Day or Sunday. This follows a tradition handed down from the apostles and having its origin from the day of Christ's resurrection. Thus Sunday must be ranked as the first holyday of all.

Because of its special importance, the Sunday celebration gives way only to solemnities or feasts of the Lord. The Sundays of the seasons of Advent, Lent, and Easter, however, take precedence over all solemnities and feasts of the Lord. Solemnities occurring on these Sundays are observed on the Saturdays preceding. (GNLYC, Nos. 4-5)

There are 17 Solemnities in the Liturgical Year, 9 with fixed dates in United States. Below is a table of all the Solemnities:

Solemnity Date Cycle
1. Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary December 8* Sanctoral
2. The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas) December 25 Temporal
3. Mary, the Holy Mother of God January 1 Sanctoral
4. The Epiphany of the Lord USA Sunday between January 2 and 8 Temporal
5. St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary March 19* Sanctoral
6. Annunciation of the Lord March 25* Temporal
7. Easter Between March 22 or April 25 Temporal
8. The Ascension of the Lord 40 days after Easter or 7th Sunday after Easter Temporal
9. Pentecost Sunday 50 days after Easter Temporal
10. The Most Holy Trinity First Sunday after Pentecost Sanctoral
11. The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ USA Sunday after the Most Holy Trinity Sanctoral
12. The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Friday after the Second Sunday of Pentecost Sanctoral
13. The Nativity of St. John the Baptist June 24 Sanctoral
14. Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles June 29 Sanctoral
15. Assumption August 15 Sanctoral
16. All Saints November 1 Sanctoral
17. Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe Last Sunday in Ordinary Time Sanctoral

 

In addition, there is the Octave of Easter during which every day is a solemnity (so that makes the total actually 24 solemnities). There are also two solemn days which are unique, but hold as high rank as a solemnity in the Liturgical calendar: Ash Wednesday and Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls).

The asterisked (*) dates are the feasts that might be transferred. During Ordinary Time a solemnity can be celebrated on a Sunday (for example, Saints Peter and Paul or All Saints Day). During liturgical seasons such as Easter, Lent, or Advent, solemnities cannot "bump" a Sunday, and so the solemnity is transferred. Transferring doesn't happen to any other kind of feast days (feasts, memorials, optional memorials). If these types fall on Sunday, they are not celebrated.

Easter is the hinge date for the rest of the calendar. Using the map analogy, every year there will be tweaks to the map. The map remains the same, but the measurements to some locations will change because Easter can fall between March 22nd and April 25th. There will also be some missing feasts if they fall on Sunday. General Norms of the Liturgical Year and Calendar is the map key which will help read the symbols to understand the seasons and feast days, but the Table of Liturgical Days in Order of their Precedence within the document is the map scale (I won't reproduce here as it is long). The table shows the "ranking" of feasts and which days hold prominence, which ones will be transferred, and which ones will be "bumped" depending on their rank.

And that brings me to the original inspiration of this piece. 2014 had no changes to the solemnities of St. Joseph or Annunciation. Out of the last seven years, 4 years had one or more of the solemnities transferred. The dates for these solemnities always occur in Lent, and the Lenten Sundays, Holy Week and the Octave of Easter take precedence over solemnities. So depending on the date of Easter and day of the week will determine whether these solemnities are celebrated on the actual day, or transferred.

Solemnities of St. Joseph and the Annunciation
Year St. Joseph Annunciation Date of Easter
2014 March 19, Wednesday March 25, Tuesday April 20
2013 March 19, Tuesday April 8, Monday* March 31
2012 March 19, Monday March 26, Monday* April 8
2011 March 19, Saturday March 25, Friday** April 24
2010 March 19, Friday** March 25, Thursday April 4
2009 March 19, Thursday March 25, Wednesday April 12
2008 March 15, Saturday* March 31, Monday March 23
2007 March 19, Monday March 26, Monday* April 8

 

The single asterisked dates are the ones that had to be transferred. In 2007 and 2012 March 25 fell on a Sunday, so the feast was transferred to the following Monday.

If Easter falls from March 22nd to March 26, that means the Solemnities of St. Joseph and the Annunciation will fall during Holy Week and the Octave of Easter and both will have to be transferred. In 2008, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments transferred the Solemnity of St. Joseph earliest first date possible, which was March 15. The Annunciation is a feast of Our Lord which is higher preeminence, so St. Joseph might not have had a feast day if it was not made earlier. If Easter falls from March 22nd to March 31, only the Annunciation will be affected and is transferred to the Monday after the 2nd Sunday of Easter.

That means if Easter falls in March, the days of St. Joseph and/or the Annunciation will be affected. An earlier Easter disturbs the usual map.

The double asterisk are the times when these solemnities fell on Fridays. It doesn't change the date, but it does change the obligation of abstinence from meat. No dispensation is required. From the Code of Canon Law:

Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. (Code of Canon Law, 1251.

It is a reminder that Sundays and solemnities are exceptional and should be treated in this way.

While solemnities and feasts, which occur less frequently than memorials, are fully festive days, a memorial is celebrated as the mere calling to mind of a saint on the anniversary of his death. Solemnities and feasts are exceptional days. (Flannery, The Saints in Season)

Solemnities that fall during Lent are not part of the the season of Lent. Lenten observances can be put aside. Sundays and Solemnities are the highest rank in the ecclesiastical calendar, and our lives should reflect that fact!

I find map reading enjoyable. I prefer to have an overview of where I am and where I am going and not hit with surprises. I still prefer paper maps over mobile device maps. I can get instructions from a GPS device, but I don't always understand where I'm going unless I have a big picture overview.

In the same way, while I can look at a liturgical calendar and see how the dates are plugged in, it is more satisfying to understand and appreciate the changes due to the way the calendar will fall (Easter and Sundays). I won't be surprised or disappointed when some feast days move around or not celebrated. Understanding the "Map key" and "map scale" brings familiarity to the Liturgical Calendar, a word that illustrates that the Church is our family, and we should continually work at being active and loving members and really understand our family's feasts.

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