The Pre-55 Calendar and Inculturation

The last half century has seen a great push for inculturation and adaptation of the Roman liturgy to various lands and peoples. Paradoxically, however, this same period also saw a dramatic simplification of the liturgical calendar. I say paradoxically because the calendar has long been the part of the Roman liturgy most free to adapt itself to its geographical and cultural surroundings. If you hand a medieval bibliophile a Book of Hours and ask him to pinpoint its provenance, he will likely turn to the calendar and look for regionally distinctive saints. If he finds St. Bavo singled out in red on October 1st, he will tell you it was produced for Belgians.  

Although the medieval Roman Mass was tolerant of slight local variations like the Sarum Use or the use of Lyons, these have faded in importance and are hardly ever encountered today. In places like the United States, and among some orders like the Jesuits, Mass has always been offered strictly according to the Roman books. But the places still boasted distinct calendars and unique sets of Propers.

After the French conquest of Algeria in 1830 resurrected the church of North Africa that had fallen to the Islamic invasions, the new bishops of Carthage produced a new liturgical calendar to repatriate its ancient patrimony. A flurry of almost-forgotten African saints re-entered the Propers for the Office and for Mass. The great St. Cyprian of Carthage, who in the Roman Rite only shared a lowly semi-double feast with Pope St. Cornelius, found himself with his very own dedicated double of the first class with an octave. New feasts were also drawn up for African Popes and martyrs, and Cardinal Lavigerie promoted the cult of these newly restored local saints to his flock.

Propers of Algeria 1888
The Octave of St. Cyprian
in the Propers of Algeria

Yet even without any such strong episcopal direction, the most humble members of the Catholic laity understood this general principle. African diaspora scholar Jeroen deWulf has documented how black communities in Europe cobbled together their own yearly cycle of feasts based on the patrons of their churches and lay confraternities:

“Processions and celebrations primarily occurred on holidays that were intimately related to the black community such as the feast day of Saint Moses the Black, an ascetic monk from Egypt (August 28); Saint Iphigenia, a legendary Nubian Princess (September 21); Saint Benedict—il Moro—of Palermo, whose parents had been African slaves (October 5); Saint Elesbaan, formerly known as King Kaleb of Axum in today’s Ethiopia (October 27); and Our Lady of the Rosary (first Sunday in October), all of whom were venerated with specific loas (veneration songs). The black community in Portugal also venerated a black Saint Anthony, called Santo António de Notto, who originated from Libya and had been a slave in Sicily.”
Remember that this all took place in the context of a traditional liturgical calendar that was much more complex and also much more decentralized than what most Catholics are now used to. Today, large national and supra-national episcopal conferences have taken over the process of drafting liturgical calendars from individual dioceses.

But if we want inculturation to be driven by communities rather than committees, it is imperative that we learn from  the calendar that made such flexibility possible.

In order to prove the point, it might be useful to step out of the abstract and conduct a little thought experiment. By focusing on one particular community—Native American Catholics of Canada and the United States—we can see exactly what a traditional calendar can offer over and above the modern one.

The patron saint of Native American Catholics is St. Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), beatified in 1980 and canonized in 2012. In spite of the centuries that have elapsed since her death, she is a modern saint, in the sense that her feast has always been celebrated in the context of the reformed liturgy and has never been celebrated in the traditional one.

At present there are two feast days associated with St. Kateri. In Canada she is venerated on April 17th, the date of her death. But although the Canadian date is spot on historically, it has the drawback of falling in mid-April, where it is regularly displaced by the immovable days of Holy Week and Easter. In 1982, the American Bishops elected to move the feast to summer, where it could be celebrated with much less complication. Hence, the second day associated with St. Kateri is July 14th, her feast day in the United States.

Note that these two dates are mutually exclusive and break cleanly along national lines. Canadians do not celebrate Kateri on July 14th, and Americans do not celebrate her on April 17th. One could envision, I suppose, permission for each nation to also keep the feast of the other—but it is highly unlikely such a thing would be allowed, as the whole spirit of the new calendar is to resist duplications. (And to be fair, exact duplications of feast days are rare even in the old calendars).

So at present, Native American Catholics currently have only one day out of 365 to liturgically honor their patroness—and, significantly, no more than any other Canadians or Americans.

With some imagination, that 1/365 fraction could be increased a little bit. For example, local collections of saints currently appear in some calendars throughout November: All Saints of Ireland (6th), All Saints of Africa (6th), All Saints of Wales (8th), All Saints of England (8th), All Saints of the Dominican Order (12th), All Saints of the Benedictines (13th), all Saints of the Seraphic Order (29th).

A similar date could be chosen to honor St. Kateri and, obliquely, the putative martyrs and confessors who appear in her hagiographies but whose causes have not yet proceeded: Catherine Gandeaktena, Francoise Gonnhatenha, Marguerite Garangouas, Stephen Tegonanakoa, and others. 

The Josephite Order, created in 1893 to serve Americans of African descent, did something similar in its Manual of Prayers (1895). They duly honored St. Benedict the Moor on his feast day of April 4th, but also listed an apparently redundant date for “St. Benedict the Moor, and all you saints of his race,” on November 5th. This latter date probably actually meant to commemorate another man dear to the heart of black Catholics, St. Martin de Porres, who had not yet been canonized at the time.

We can certainly call such developments “redundant” if we like. But that feature of the ancient calendar—the quality that many liturgical reformers wished to be rid of—can also be seen positively as a valuable tool of inculturation.

As part of a little thought experiment, let’s drag the spirit of the traditional calendar forward 70 years or so, and pretend that the intervening changes never happened:  the suppression of most octaves in 1955, the reduction of commemorations in 1960, the abolition of commemorations in 1969, and the simplification of feast ranks in 1970.

First of all, where St. Kateri is the patroness of a Church or community, she would get a common octave attached to her feast; eight full days of liturgical celebration in the Mass and in the Divine Office. In Canada, where no high-ranking feast or Sunday intervenes, daily Mass on April 18th, 19th, 20th repeats the Mass of St. Kateri. On April 21, 22, and 24, the feasts of St. Anselm, Ss. Soter and Caius, and St. Fidelis take precedence, but even during these Masses St. Kateri still remains present within the commemorations. On April 23rd, a priest could say either the Mass of St. Kateri with a commemoration of St. George, or the Mass of St. George with a commemoration of St. Kateri. We would see something similar in the U.S. starting on St. Kateri’s feast on July 14th—a liturgical octave with St. Kateri either being the principal Mass of the day or remembered as a commemoration.

This patronal octave, suppressed in 1955, automatically sets apart all those churches and communities under St. Kateri’s aegis from all the others. It recognizes, wisely, that those ecclesial bodies who have St. Kateri as their special patroness deserve to be allowed some extra time in honoring her.

The old calendars present us with more ready-made examples that could serve as models for additional opportunities to flesh out the calendar even further.

Take the feast of the Apparition of St. Michael the Archangel (May 8th). We know from reliable historical accounts that St. Kateri made several appearances to priests and friends after her death. If the Church deems these worthy of credence, perhaps a Mass of the Apparition of St. Kateri could be assigned to the dates that have come down to us from history: April 23 (within the Canadian octave) or September 1st.

Or take the numerous local feasts commemorating the translation of relics: April 25th for St. Vincent de Paul, May 24th for St. Dominic, October 11th for St. Augustine. Would it not be just as appropriate for St. Kateri’s spiritual sons and daughters to honor their patron as the Vincentians, Dominicans, and Augustinians honor theirs? Her relics were translated to her current resting place, the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Kahnawake, Quebec, on November 1st, 1972. All Saints Day, of course, can’t be displaced, but why not permanently defer the translation to a nearby feria of the (restored) All Saints Octave, like November 3rd?

Or to get really far out there, let’s suppose that an American liturgical dilettante (speaking purely hypothetically of course), with his nose buried in the primary source material concludes that the Canadians had the whole business right after all: the Lily of the Mohawks ought really to be honored in April. But he doesn’t want to be left out with his fellow countrymen either. Then while perusing some early 20th century liturgical calendars from Kahnawake, he discovers that the Mission Church of St. Francis Xavier, St. Kateri’s current resting place and the mother Church of American Indian Catholicism, celebrated the feast of its dedication on the second Sunday of July, from the 8th to 14th. (And according to the standard of the time, it would have been a double of the first class with an octave). This fact provides the perfect cover to preserve both the modern American and Canadian dates, with a slightly different emphasis that avoids exact reduplication.

If you lost track of all that, that leaves us with: 1 or 2 Native-American-themed days a year in the current calendar, but up to a staggering 19 Native-American-themed days a year using the tools provided by the traditional calendar. (We are assuming an 8-day octave with the principal feast on April 17th, an 8-day octave for the Dedication starting in the second week of July, and three putative feasts for the apparition on Sept. 1st, for the translation around November 3rd, and for All Saints of [Native] America). 

Granted, that highest total would really only apply to Kateri’s shrine in Kahnawake itself—but doesn't that result only make sense?

Oughtn’t St. Kateri's home shrine be the place most fervently devoted to her in all the world? And from there, her presence in the calendar can gradually taper down the further away one moves away from her center of devotion. Special permission would have to be sought to celebrate putative additional Masses like the Translation or the Apparition. But assuming these permissions could be granted to communities with significant Native populations—and why not, if inculturation is truly our goal?—these would be unique liturgical celebrations of their own. The rest of us Catholics in Canada and the U.S. would be delighted to join in observing her main feast once a year, but the special feasts could be uniquely their own.

Granted, I have allowed my imagination to run free with this exercise, but only insofar as bringing once-common liturgical practices into an age of stark liturgical minimalism. What I have outlined above for St. Kateri was pretty standard operating procedure just a couple centuries ago. In a 1780 book of propers from the diocese of Lisbon, local-interest octaves, vigils, dedications, and translations account for some 37 days—a full 10% of the liturgical year. 

And it must surely be admitted that adding feasts to the traditional calendar is a much simpler path to an inculturated liturgy than going to the extreme of trying to draft and seek approval for a new ordinary of the Mass or (shudder) a new Eucharistic prayer or “Native American Creed”.

Whatever mid-20th century concern about liturgical reduplication and redundancy remains at this point, it increasingly appears to have missed the point of liturgy in the first place. Those who love St. Kateri and regard her as their special patroness want to celebrate her. And quite a lot! Always in due proportion to the mysteries of Our Lord, of course, but if we can take some extra time to celebrate slightly different aspects of her life and glorification in heaven just like we have always done with other saints throughout Christendom, then why would we pass up that opportunity?

Of course I do not mean to entirely discount the value of inculturation beyond the calendar—readers of these pages may be familiar with my previous articles on the unique liturgical uses of Kahnawake and the other missions. Where liturgical texts like these exist, I am delighted to foster and promote them. Yet such developments typically rely on either immemorial antiquity or special indults and permissions, and are therefore comparatively rare.

Whereas local calendars are typical of all Catholic communities, completely anticipated within the structure of the Roman Rite, and amply provided for by a ranking system that traditionally gave wide latitude to local devotional interests.

And even with unique Rites and Uses, the calendar has a special role to play.

There are only a handful of churches in the diocese of Toledo that use the Mozarabic Rite, a very ancient Spanish liturgy going back to the 7th century. However, the Roman-rite Churches in Toledo are still permitted to participate in this local heritage by offering this liturgy twice a year, on the feasts of the Incarnation and St. Ildephonsus. In France, the otherwise Roman Rite FSSP has been reviving the solemn Rite of Lyons on locally-important feast days such as St. Irenaeus and St. Just. 

Offering local liturgies on local-interest feasts comes far more natural to the Western Rites than, say, cobbling together new anaphoras ostensibly after Hippolytan, Mozarabic, and Basilian models and then offering them to everyone indiscriminately, buffet-style. 

Although the modern flexibility might initially allure an inculturator with the freedom to customize, one quickly learns that a wobbling mass of universally available options is exactly the opposite of a truly inculturated liturgy, which has well-defined fixed and local divergences from the Roman Missal. The Ambrosian Rite does not offer options for the length of Advent, it simply prescribes a 6-week Advent, and that is that. We could say the same about the Mozarabic Illationes, the Sarum ceremonial, or the cycle of introits in the Kaiatonsera Teieriwakwatha.

To sum up, it seems evident that the traditional, pre-1955 Roman Missal, limited in its general options but extremely generous in its treatment of local feasts, offers far more potential for inculturation than its subsequent revisions, which offer a plethora of general options but limit the capacity for local customization.

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