Friday, July 10, 2020 –
The last couple of days we have talked about Holy Days of Obligation. We covered the list and a basic primer on Canon Law. Today, let’s take a walk back in time and talk about how many there have been over time.
Current Canon Law says Sundays + 10 Holy Days, so that is how many there have always been, right? RIGHT!? Sorry, but no. Truth is that the number of Holy Days of Obligation has varied throughout time.
Sure, but there’s…like…a list, right? Again, no. Sorry. The Catholic Church has been around for 2,000ish years. In that time, there have been a lot of Holy Days and a few Holy Days, and everything in between. At some point in history, there were a TON of Holy Days and a great deal of confusion about what could / should be celebrated.
And when I say “TON,” I mean that Urban VIII REDUCED the number of days to 34 or 36, depending on who you ask. How many must there have been to be reduced to 30ish? Oh my!
Anyhoo, Urban VIII issued a Papal Bull (fancy word for important document) on September 13, 1642 to reduce the number. Here is the best guess I have found on these interwebs for what that list might have contained, but keep in mind it is only a guess:
- The Nativity
- The Circumcision
- The Epiphany
- Monday within the Octave of Easter
- Tuesday within the Octave of Easter
- The Ascension
- Monday within the Octave of Pentecost
- Tuesday within the Octave of Pentecost
- The Most Holy Trinity
- The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
- The Finding of the Holy Cross
- The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- Dedication of St. Michael
- The Nativity of St. John Baptist
- The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul
- The Feast of Saint Andrew
- The Feast of Saint James
- The Feast of Saint John (the December feast)
- The Feast of Saint Thomas
- The Feast of Saints Philip and James
- The Feast of Saint Bartholomew
- The Feast of Saint Matthew
- The Feast of Saints Simon and Jude
- The Feast of Saint Matthias
- The Feast of Saint Stephen (the December feast)
- The Feast of the Holy Innocents
- The Feast of Saint Lawrence
- The Feast of Saint Sylvester
- The Feast of Saint Joseph
- The Feast of Saint Anne
- All Saints
- Feasts of Principle Patrons for a Country, City, etc.
Fast forward a few centuries to Pope Pius X, who on July 2, 1911 issued a motu proprio (an edict personally issued by the Pope to the Church) entitled Supremi Disciplinæ on the Holy Days of Obligation.
Owing particularly to the high cost of living and to the necessity of caring in due season for crops, fruits, etc., the discipline of the Church has tended to lessen the number of Holy Days in certain countries. Pius X deemed it advisable to extend this policy to the Universal Church, thus effecting greater uniformity. (Meehan, Andrew. “Supremi disciplinæ.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 7 Jul. 2020 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14342a.htm).
Given all of that, Pius X eliminated most Patronal feasts (Saints) and set the number at eight (not including Sundays, of course):
- The Immaculate Conception (December 8th)
- Christmas (December 25th)
- The Feast of the Circumcision (New Year’s Day; now called Mary, Mother of God)
- Epiphany (January 6th)
- The Ascension of Our Lord (40 days after Easter)
- The feast of Saints Peter and Paul (June 29th)
- The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (August 15th)
- All Saints (November 1st)
So, what about the Feast of Corpus Christi (Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ) and the feast of Saint Joseph (March 19th)? Well, in 1917 the Code of Canon Law was codified. It added those two days, upping the list to ten in Canon 1247 §1.
Can 1247 §1. Dies festi sub praecepto in universa Ecclesia sunt tantum: Omnes et singuli dies dominici, festa Nativitatis, Circumcisionis, Epiphaniae, Ascensionis et sanctissimi Corporis Christi, Immaculatae Conceptionis et Assumptionis Almae Genitricis Dei Mariae, sancti Ioseph eius sponsi, Beatorum Petri et Pauli Apostolorum, Omnium denique Sanctorum.
Okay, sounds legit and kudos on throwing down Latin (trust me, it is just a list of the ten days, promise!). Buuuuttt wait…backing up even further. In 1884, at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (think of them as the precursor to the precursor of the USCCB) the US bishops removed the obligation for: the Epiphany, Corpus Christi, and feast days for Saints (other than the Blessed Virgin Mary). In Supremi Disciplinæ, Pius X indicated that if any of the feasts in the 1911 list (above) were abolished or transferred by the local Bishop’s Conference, then the new law for those days were not in effect.
So, because the US Bishops had removed the obligation back in 1884 for a few days…well…you get the idea. This put the Holy Days in the US at six. As you saw yesterday, we basically have the same list today (new Code of Canon Law, same idea), but with some modifications if certain days fall on Saturday or Monday, and the transfer of the Ascension to the following Sunday.
Whew! That was a lot of lists and history jam-packed into one post Sorry about that. Well, onward! Tomorrow we will continue with our discussion. Hopefully, it will be a little lighter. Maybe?
Blood of Christ, which in the Eucharist nourishes and cleanses our souls, save us!