Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A New Feast

Last week, the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published a decree (dated February 11) inscribing the new Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, in the Roman Calendar, to be kept yearly on the Monday after Pentecost. Blessed Paul VI declared Mary "Mother of the Church" at the end of the 3rd session of the Second Vatican Council in 1964. A votive Mass in her honor under that title has been in the Missal since 1975, and the title was added to the invocations of the Litany of Loretto in 1980. Now this celebration will be universal - "to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored in the mystery of the Cross, to the Oblation of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and of the Redeemed, the Virgin who makes her offering to God.".

Over the centuries the number of feasts celebrated in the Roman Calendar has grown in response to popular piety and then periodically been reduced in reaction. Such a reduction occurred in the Tridentine reform of the Breviary (1568) and Missal (1570). The subsequent centuries were, however, characterized by a continued growth in the number of feasts - including so many feasts of "Double" rite that by the beginning of the 20th century, Mass was seldom celebrated in green vestments in many places. The 1911 rubrical reform of Saint Pius X - aimed at rebalancing the liturgical year without actually removing feasts from the calendar - salvaged a lot of those green Sundays, and even made possible the celebration of some of the weekdays of Lent. Then, following in the tradition of the Tridentine reform, the liturgical reformation that followed the Second Vatican Council radically reduced the number and ranking of feasts, further institutionalizing the modern monochromatic character of the long succession of green Sundays (and even weekdays). In the interim, however, many more saints have since been canonized and added to the calendar. Some saints eliminated in the 1969 calendar have been restored (e.g., Saint Catherine of Alexandria), and some devotional feasts that disappeared in 1969 have likewise been restored (e.g., the Holy Name of Jesus, the Holy Name of Mary). Thus, the current Roman Calendar is clearly richer now than the 1969 product.

This process of calendar renewal has continued in an especially felicitous fashion with the introduction of this new Memorial.  Aside from the intrinsic merits of the celebration itself, it is particularly noteworthy that it has been assigned to the Monday after Pentecost - thus connecting it with the Easter season and in some very modest way remedying the abrupt ending of the Easter season thanks to the truncation of Pentecost (one of the least expected and most criticized features of the 1969 calendar).

Although the Octave of Pentecost was abolished by Paul VI, Pentecost Monday is still a civil holiday in some countries (e.g.Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece,  Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Romania). Thus this new festival may be a nice way of resolving in part the anomaly caused by dropping Pentecost Monday from the 1969 calendar.

(Photo: Maria Salus Populi Romani, Basilica of Saint Mary Major, Rome)

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