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The Truth about Octaves

Filed under: Liturgical Calendar,Liturgy — December 18, 2008 @ 11:06 pm

It’s no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I like octaves. I frequently point them out for various feasts. One thing I like most about octaves is that they give you more time to dwell on important feast days. Times are hectic, especially if you have kids. Days come and go, and sometimes you hardly even realize it. It’s not hard for even a big feast day, like Corpus Christi, to fly by with little notice other than a mad rush to get to mass on time. But with an octave, the one feast day is mystically stretched out into eight temporal days. This gives you a chance to really savor it, go over relevant prayers, take some time for contemplation, especially on the octave day itself. It’s also and excuse to have another celebration!

It is also well known that in the Novus Ordo all the octaves except Easter have been suppressed. I won’t go into my thoughts on that. What I didn’t know until recently was that even on the 1962 calendar all the octaves were removed except Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas. This was done as part of the 1955 reforms. Needless to say I am quite disappointed. My main sources for learning about the liturgy are Dom Gueranger’s Liturgical Year (written mostly in the 19th century) and a circa 1930s St. Andrew Daily Missal. So that explains why I missed it for so long. I knew there were reforms done in 1955, but I was always told they were primarily for the Holy Week liturgy, and otherwise very minor. Well, it never occurred to me that hacking out the vast majority of octaves would be considered “minor” so I never checked for any changes besides those of Holy Week.

I have to admit that Sedevacantists have a point when they insist on pre-1955 missals. After all, if you are going to reject the NO as untraditional, why not reject other recent untraditional changes? Octaves have a long and venerable history in the Church’s liturgy, having roots in the Old Testament. I can see cutting out some of the minor octaves, especially overlapping octaves (which doesn’t make much sense to me anyway). But no octave for Corpus Christi, the Ascension, and All Saints? No octave for Epiphany!?

Epiphany is one of my favorites as it extended Christmastide until the 13th. I suppose there is no use griping about it. In the Spirit of the Liturgy Cardinal Ratzinger said that many liturgical customs came from pious para-liturgical customs that spread in usage and popularity until they were formally incorporated into the liturgy. So be it then. I’m not giving up my octaves. I have the resources, I can celebrate them as my own private devotions. The only draw back is that I suppose the same graces are not available. But if enough people observe octaves anyway, perhaps someday they will be reincorporated into the liturgy.

1 Comment

  1. John R:

    Yes, the key right now is keeping them as a personal devotion. Someday the reforms of the 1955-1962 era need to be seriously and carefully examined as part as of a thorough updating of the Traditional Liturgy. That being said, I wouldn’t fall into the trap of “ex post facto, ergo propter hoc” applied to the pre-V2 changes as seen in the light of the NO. I would tend to see these changes taken for themselves. Leaving aside Holy Week, the aim was simplification – albeit perhaps too much simplification, but as you said, there were too many overlapping Octaves and these came to be very cumbersome to observe rubrically.

    Same goes for the old ranking system of Doubles and Simples. I believe that John XXIII came out with a very laudable system in 1960 of First, Second, Third, and Fourth Class. It’s not ideal when it comes to the order of precedence of feasts (but this could very well be changed within the confines of the new system), but as a system, the ranks of all liturgical days are very clearly defined.

    On a personal note, as with restoring the observance of the full Sunday Matins as it was pre-1960, I began to restore the observance of some Octaves when praying the Office, namely, Epiphany, Ascension, Corpus Christi, and the Sacred Heart, but all rendered into the clear rankings of the 1960 system, such that Epiphany and Corpus Christi are Second Class Octaves just as Christmas, while the others are Third Class Octaves.

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