Saturday, June 5, 2010

Feasts of Apostles: West vs. East

Though I'm all for liturgical diversity, one thing that has always troubled me a bit (however unjustifiably) is the difference between the feast days of the Apostles in the East compared to the West. Aside from the whole Gregorian vs Julian and Reformed vs Old Calendarist debates...I was surprised to learn that the Apostles themselves would be a discrepancy even if those problems were solved.

Now, I'm not saying that the calendars need to be the same. Obviously, liturgical diversity is a good thing, and I think for the Sanctoral cycle, at least, we'd expect and hope local churches would have different local saint (ie, the traditional third class feasts). But I'd also hope that when a Saint is present on multiple local calendars...he or she would at least be present on the same day, as way of uniting those churches which do commemorate that feast.

When it comes to the traditional first class feasts, there is generally agreement on the Twelve Great Feasts*, at least, between East and West, as well as other important feasts like those of St. John the Baptist. And of course we wouldn't expect the East to have feasts like Sacred Heart or specific Marian titles or any such Western devotions, nor later "idea feasts" like Corpus Christi.

Many of the more important minor feasts (St. Nicholas, St. Lucy, St. Catherine) are in fact the same between East and West. But when it comes to the feasts of the Apostles (mainly second class feasts in the '62 books), there is some surprising disagreement. Of course, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul is the same, on July 29th, and Saint Andrew is also November 30th in both traditions. St. Barnabas is the same in both (June 11th) but in the East he is commemorated with St. Bartholomew whereas, in the West, Bartholomew has his own feast. Interestingly, St Mary Magdalene (Jul 22nd) and the Evangelists St. Luke (Oct 18th) and St. Mark (Apr 25th) also agree, but some important feasts disagree:

Saint (West/East)
James the Greater (Jul 25/Apr 30)
John (Dec 27/Sept 26**)
Thomas (Dec 21/Oct 6th)
Philip and James the Less (May 1***/Nov 14 & Oct 9)
Matthew (Sept 21/Nov 16)
Bartholomew (Aug 24/Jun 11)
Simon and Jude (Oct 28/May 10 & Jun 19th)
Matthias (Feb 24****/Aug 9)
Stephen (Dec 26/Dec 27)
Holy Innocents (Dec 28/Dec 29)
Anne (Jul 26/Jul 25)

In many of these cases, I think it would be historically possible to trace the date of the major Feast to a specific historical event (like the transference of relics important to that church). So they may not be so much disagreement as commemorations of technically different things. For example, in the West, the Feast of St. Michael (who, as an angel, has no dies natales) is linked with the dedication of his church in Rome, whereas in the East there would be no such historical contingency (their Synaxis of the Angels is in November).

Of course, those latter feasts which seem to be off only by a day are actually effected by the presence of another feast. For example, the reason that St. Anne is a day later in the West is clearly the Western feast of St. James on July 25th (though that is only the Dormition of St. Anne in the East; they have another feast with St. Joachim [who has jumped around the Western calendar a lot] on September 9th.) Or, for example, the post-Christmas feasts are bumped up one day in the East because they have a Synaxis of the Holy Theotokos on the day after Christmas.

In the West, St. Zachary is commemorated with Elizabeth on November 5th, while in the East they are together on September 5th. But the West also has some tradition of remembering St. Zachary on September 23rd, logically the same day the East celebrates the conception of John the Baptist (the West does not commemorate the conceptions of those conceived in Original Sin) nine months before the feast of his Nativity.

It is also to be noted that the East keeps certain feasts that, in the West, are part of the Sanctoral Cycle, as part of their Temporal Cycle (by pegging them to a Sunday). Such is the case with St. Joseph and All Saints.

It should also be pointed out that the "Eastern" dates here are largely based on Byzantine practice. Other churches may have even more different dates. For example, St James has a feast on December 30th in the Mozarabic Rite. The Syriac churches have the Holy Innocents a day before (December 27th) the West instead of the day after us like the Byzantines. And the Syro-Malabar keep the Feast of St. Thomas (their founder) on July 3rd.

Interestingly, so that it would no longer interfere with the major ferias of Advent, the Novus Ordo places the Feast of St. Thomas on July 3rd also (corresponding with the Indian tradition) in accordance with an early martyrology entry on this date commemorating the transference of his relics to Edessa. This is an example of how I'm conflicted, because this seems like a logical change liturgically (the O Antiphons in question don't have to be merely commemorated then) and brings unity with the Indian Christians. And yet the traditional Apostle's feast in December goes back to at least the 9th-century in the West...

And although certainly these things are disciplinary non-essentials, it might be possible (though not necessary) to negotiate slight mutual changes to bring more unity on these shared feasts. Any future reform of the Western calendar should certainly take this ecumenical angle into account! For example, the West might agree to simply commemorate Bartholomew with Barnabas on June 11th, if the East would adopt our day for Sts. Simon and Jude, or some trade like that. We could move St. James the Greater (thus also reconciling our feasts of St. Anne) if they would switch to one of our days for one of the other Apostles in a trade-off. And I think I'd be willing to trade for their St. Matthias too (the leap-year thing is needlessly complicated, and his Western feast often falls during Lent anyway, which isn't ideal). And we could all agree to follow the traditional Indian practice of St. Thomas in July.

* As a Westerner, I have always been a little surprised at the inclusion of Palm Sunday as one of the "12 Great Feasts" in the East. Easter itself is not listed as a Great Feast, as it is considered The Great Feast around which the other Twelve adorn, as it were. However, the days of the Triduum are not included among the Great Feasts either, and I assume this is because they are considered part-and-parcel with Easter. Again, I wouldn't presume to meddle in other traditions, but as a Westerner with my own biases, I've often thought it would make more sense for me to include Palm Sunday just as part of Easter (ie, take Holy Week as a whole as the central unity) and for the twelfth adorning feast to be Immaculate Conception (though the East celebrates Mary's conception a day later than us...)

**The East commemorates the repose of St. John on this day. They have another feast on May 8th when the faithful used to take ashes from his tomb to cure the sick, which is close to the Western feast of his [survived] martyrdom before the Latin Gate on May 6th.

***This feast was, I think unfortunately, bumped to May 11th by St Joseph the Worker under Pius XII, and then brought to May 3rd in the Novus Ordo. One might wonder why, if they were going to break with tradition and move it anyway, they didn't instead pick one of the Eastern feast days for those Apostles.

****Or February 25th in a leap year. In the Novus Ordo he was moved to May 14th, presumably to avoid the leap-year complications and the feast falling during Lent. One must wonder, though, if they were going to break tradition and move his feast anyway...why they didn't instead make the ecumenical choice of August 9th (the Eastern feast of St. Matthias) given that nothing else fell on this date in the Novus Ordo calendar (at least not until the introduction of St Edith Stein as a mere optional memorial).

No comments: