Prioritizing the Liturgical Calendar: Part 1.5, Keeping Track of the Feasts

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Jul 27, 2018

How do you keep track and celebrate all those feasts and saint days?” is the most common question I receive from families who are trying to live the Liturgical Year in their domestic church. The Church Calendar has a myriad of feasts. The idea of remembering and celebrating all those days can seem overwhelming, for newbies and experienced alike. All the beautiful presentations on the internet or books illustrating ways to celebrate feast days are enticing, but to make it happen in one’s own home in a realistic and practical way it might help to go “back to the basics.”

For this twofold question (which I’ll break down by “(a) How do you keep track of all those feasts and saint days in the Liturgical Year and (b) how do you celebrate all those feasts and saint days in the Liturgical Year?”), my first response is a simple: I acknowledge all the feast days, but I don’t observe them all the same way. However, the question begs for a more detailed explanation. I’ve decided to write a series to touch on this question. I’ve entitled this post as Part 1.5 because I unofficially began answering the first part of this question in my previous post, “Reading the Fine Print for the Liturgical Calendar.“ In this Part 1.5 I will attempt to answer the first part of the question: (a) How do you keep track of all those feasts and saint days in the Liturgical Year? by following three steps:

  1. Understand the Liturgical Calendar and the different rankings of feast days
  2. Prioritize feast days for the family
  3. Mark your calendars

1. Understanding the Liturgical Calendar

Even though we may be touched daily by the Liturgical Year, we aren’t always aware of the structure and background for the feast days. Unpacking the Liturgical Year and the Calendar demystifies and brings to light the purpose and organization. My previous post “Reading the Fine Print for the Liturgical Calendar“ (referred to as Part 1) delved into understanding the order of precedence of feast days:

...Initially looking at the General Calendar, without understanding the order of precedence, the calendar can look very busy and full. The different cycles, seasons and feasts need to be organized for it to make sense...

I briefly described the Temporal and Sanctoral Cycles of the year and how each feast is designated. In casual conversation Catholics refer to all days that have a celebration on the Liturgical Calendar “feasts” or “feast days,” but actually they all fall into different categories placed in an order of precedence. This is the basic list of the categories of feasts for the current Liturgical Calendar, repeated somewhat from the Part 1:

Basic Table of Liturgical Days According to Their Order of Precedence

  1. Solemnities:
    • A Solemnity is the highest feast of the Church, with the Easter Triduum being the highest and central point of the whole Liturgical Year.
    • The celebration begins the prior evening with First Vespers or Evening Prayer I.
    • Mass vestments are usually white or gold except for Pentecost and Saints Peter and Paul.
    • The Mass formula is similar to a Sunday, which includes three particular readings, the recitation of the Gloria and the Creed, and special propers and prayers.
    • There are only eighteen solemnities in the year, many of them always on a Sunday.
    • All Holydays of Obligation are solemnities, but conversely not all solemnities are Holydays of Obligation.
    • This is a day of rest and a day of true celebration. There is no fasting or abstaining on these days, even if they fall on a Friday.
  2. Sundays:
    • Sunday is the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day and the primordial feast day. Every Sunday is a little Easter or a little Triduum, again emphasizing the Paschal Mystery being the central focus of the whole Liturgical Year.
    • Like a solemnity, each Sunday begins the prior evening.
    • Vestments reflect the liturgical season (white, violet, rose, or green).
    • The Mass structure has three readings, the Gloria and the Creed are prayed, and there are special propers and prayers.
    • The focus of Sunday being a day of true celebration and day of rest is also the same as a solemnity.
  3. Feasts:
    • Feasts are celebrated within a natural day, with no First Vespers unless certain feasts of our Lord fall on Sunday.
    • Vestments worn are usually white, with the exception of red for feasts of Apostles and martyrs.
    • The Mass usually has two readings, unless celebrated on Sunday. The Mass has special propers and prayers and the Gloria is prayed.
    • There are twenty-seven feasts during the Liturgical Year.
  4. Obligatory Memorials or Optional Memorials:
    • These are the remaining saint days in the fixed Sanctoral calendar and some celebrations of our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
    • Obligatory Memorials, usually referred to as “Memorials,” must be celebrated. “Optional” means the priest has a choice to celebrate or not.
    • Sundays always override Memorials, and some liturgical seasons (Lent, Easter and second half of Advent) will automatically “downgrade” a Memorials or Optional Memorials to a commemoration.
    • Vestments are white for saints who were not martyrs, red for martyrs, or remain violet during Advent and Lent.
    • Liturgically there is no difference between an Obligatory or Optional Memorial. A Memorial has a proper Collect and may have special readings suitable for the saint of the day. The readings of the day may be used, unless there are specific readings chosen for a certain saint.

Note the designation of “Feast” for one of the categories. It can be confusing to talk about a “feast day” when there is a category of “Feast” for the Liturgical Calendar, but it is just another part of the Catholic Church vocabulary, a double definition for the same word!

All this information is found in the Church document from 1969: General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship. Above is a skeleton view of the order of precedence. At the end of the document is a table that itemizes particular feasts and seasons and which ones take precedence.

2. Prioritize Feast Days for the Family

Recognizing the categories and differences of rankings for the Liturgical Calendar provides a visual that it is not flat like a prairie, with every day the same; rather, it is more of a lovely pattern of mountain peaks, valleys, plains and foothills. Not every day has equal footing and not every day has a feast.

The General Liturgical Calendar is very full, with few ferial days (days without feasts). Due to the restrictions of electronic viewing, on a separate page I have included a “Master List” of all the feasts of the General Roman Calendar for each month, including the Proper Calendar for the United States: General Roman Calendar of the Liturgical Year. It is a long list. To think that every one of these feast days listed had to marked and celebrated in the same manner would be too much for anyone.

The Church recognizes that it would be an overload. The days are varied in different priorities, and are sprinkled throughout the year, not lumped all together, nor day after day high-ranking celebrations. According to the way the days are ranked, solemnities, Sundays and feasts are the most important. As there are only 18 solemnities and 27 feasts, it would not be difficult to make these the priority within our own Domestic Church.

Table for Prioritizing the Liturgical Calendar for 2018-19 applies particular feasts for this upcoming academic year, August 2018 through July 2019. The table highlights the solemnities and feasts by month for this upcoming academic year. Every calendar year changes, reflecting fSundays “bumping” some feast days, and all the movable feasts assigned to particular dates.

The third column, “Other Days of Note” is a list of special feasts and holidays that we observe in our family. Most of these are Obligatory or Optional Memorials of saints that are either patron saints or have special meaning to our family members. It does not exclude other saints in the year, but these are the particularly special ones to us. Over the years it will expand. This year my son took the Confirmation name of St. Thomas More, and my brother Joe loves St. Bruno, so we added both of these to our list.

I like to compare the observation or keeping of family days to following the Church calendar. There are days naturally more important than others. Immediate family’s birthdays and anniversaries are first priority. Aunt Emma’s birthday is marked on the calendar, but she lives out of state. She will be remembered, but her celebration will be minor compared my sons’ birthdays. There is no official ranking as with the Catholic Calendar, but a built-in internalized one.

Just like the family calendar, not all the feast days should be marked the same in our domestic church. We don’t need to “track” every single feast day of the year. We focus on the list of solemnities and feasts and our personal favorite saint days. The daily pattern of the different feast days is acknowledged, but we don’t stress them at home. If there is interest to pursue more information on St. Bernard of Clairvaux, for example (my youngest son just finished reading a biography), our observation is expanded, but it might not be for every saint day or repeated every year.

Take a moment to look over the Liturgical Calendar. What days are important to your family?

3. Mark Your Calendars

After deciding what feast days to highlight for your family, the final step is marking your calendar. Summer is the usual time for planning for the next academic year. When I have the new year’s planner or calendar on hand, the first thing I do is mark all the special family days, such as birthdays and anniversaries. The second step is to mark the solemnities, feasts and our special saint days. I personally choose Catholic planners and calendars that include all the Catholic feast day, but I still highlight the important Catholic dates for my family. If it isn’t a Catholic planner, I write in the days.

How to celebrate these days will be covered in Part Two, but for now, marking them on my planner means I have already started making them a priority in our domestic church. These dates become my “red letter days”—whether I’m marking them in highlighter or washi tape or just circling the numbers in red or a different color.

I compiled a PDF file some of the tables above to aid in marking your own calendar and planner. The first section includes the table of the different categories of feasts within the year found at the top of this post. The second is the Table for Prioritizing the Liturgical Calendar for 2018-19 with the specific dates Solemnities and Feasts for the upcoming 2018-2019 school year. I repeated these pages keeping the third column blank so that you can fill out your own family’s saint days.

PDF: Prioritizing the Liturgical Calendar

How to celebrate these feasts of the Liturgical Year is the second part of the original question. Now that the calendar is marked and highlighted, we need intentionally echo the Church’s recognition of higher feast days and prioritize the celebrations within our domestic church, which will be Part Two of this series.

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, mother, CGS catechist and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org’s liturgical year section. See full bio.

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