The Octave of All Saints in the Pre-1955 Roman Liturgical Books

In a recent article, I discussed the 1955 liturgical changes that abolished the Vigil of All Hallows Eve and downgraded the Triduum to -- as I’ve long conceived it anyway -- a pair of adjacent but jarringly different feasts.

Hallowtide was, in fact, truncated at both ends in that fateful year. Not only was All Hallows Eve abolished at the beginning, but the Octave of All Saints was abolished at the end. For decades now we have been catapulting into and out of two very different liturgical days with hardly any time to prepare for them or reflect on them.

The Gaudeamus introit that kicks off the Mass of All Saints is so jubilant that variations of it were translated into American Indian languages and used in the missions throughout the most joyful seasons of the year—Christmastide and Easter. Both the Mass and Office of All Saints are unabated celebrations. It thus seems curious that, before the sun even sets on our festal delight, we suddenly find ourselves within the Vespers of All Souls. The vestments in the 1962 Missale Romanum change from white to black and the catafalque before the altar drills home the somber reality of death in the most blatantly obvious manner. But then, on November 3rd, it’s back to a plain old “Mass of the Season.” Hallowtide became a two-day roller coaster right from some pretty high highs to the lowest lows, without even, as between Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, a suitable pause to process the events.

Contrast this approach with the pre-1955 liturgy. During the Octave—including all the ferial days to November 8th inclusive—the vestments stayed white and the Mass of All Saints was repeated, including the Gaudeamus Introit and the readings from the Apocalypse and the Beatitudes. In the Matins lessons, Bede and Augustine continued to preach on the saints, followed by St. Bernard, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Cyprian. Hallowtide was a whole week to linger in liturgical heaven amongst the blessed. Even though the black-clad Mass of All Souls within this white Octave of joy was certainly a dramatic change of tone, it was a tone that added to, not replaced, the joy of All Saints.

On the “Second Day within the Octave” on November 2nd, the proper Lessons at Matins remained on the theme of the blessed in heaven— St. Bede’s sermon on the saints, St. Augustine’s homily on the Beatitudes. It is only after Lauds on that day that the sterner morning Offices of the Dead were said—adding a second Matins and a second Lauds instead of replacing those of the Octave.

All Souls Day in the traditional Breviary is very much a day of the Octave and, as such, it feels less like a forced break in the joyous celebration and more like a votive pause to remember those suffering in Purgatory. The focus on heaven has actually not changed—it has just been tempered briefly with a reminder about all those who still await the heavenly joys we are hearing about during this time of the liturgical year.

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