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Festivals Held Before The Reformation

( Originally Published 1884 )

Some of your readers will probably not be displeased at seeing a catalogue of the Festivals which were celebrated in the Church of England before the Reformation. A certain number of them are enumerated in the Calendar which is prefixed to the book of common prayer ; but as that list is very defective, I have taken the trouble of examining the Breviary of Salisbury with a considerable degree of care and attention. I have intentionally omitted a few festivals which are mentioned in the Calendar of the Breviary, but which appear to have been confined to particular dioceses, instead of being generally observed throughout the province of Canterbury. My edition of the Breviary is dated 1556, printed in London by Kingston and Sutton. I have added marks to distinguish the different classes of festivals, with an enumeration of these classes from the Rubricks of the Breviary.

The Protestant reader will observe that the two festivals of St. Thomas of Canterbury (July 7, December 29) are placed in a higher class than those of most of the Apostles. The Visitation of the blessed Virgin (July 2), a festival of modern institution, which commemorates the meeting of Mary and her. cousin Elizabeth, as recorded by the Evangelist Luke, is also a greater solemnity than the Annunciation. St. Anne, the imaginary mother of the Virgin, was received by our ancestors as a Saint; but St. Joachim, the equally imaginary husband of St. Anne, has no day set apart to his honour. None of the later monastic Legislators (Bernard, Francis, Dominic, etc.), who fill the pages of the present Roman Breviary, are inserted in the Liturgy of the Church of Salisbury. It may be presumed that the secular clergy were not disposed to honour the memory of men with whose disciples they waged a constant war.

The original preface to the Common-prayer-book complains, with great justice, of the number and hardness of the rules called the Pie, or Pica. Many of these rules relate to the concurrence of two different solemnities on the same day, and the translation, commemoration, or omission of one of them. As our English Liturgy has laid down no rules on this subject, perhaps a few of the regulations of the antient Pica may not be wholly uninteresting.

A double feast which fell on any Sunday in Advent, or from Septuagesima to Easter, on Ash Wednesday, on Maundy Thursday, or any of the ten following days, on Ascension day, on Whitsun-day, on Whitsun-eve, or any of the eight following days or on Corpus Christi-day, was transferred to the nearest day afterwards, on which it could conveniently be celebrated ; except principal and greater double feasts, which might be celebrated on the three last Sundays in Advent, and on Septuagesima and the six following Sundays.

A simple feast, cum regimine Chori, which fell on any Sunday in Advent, on Septuagesima and the six following Sundays, on Ash Wednesday, on the Octave of Easter, on Ascension-day and its Octave, on Trinity Sunday, or on Corpus Christi-day and its Octave, was transferred, in like manner, as a double feast.

A simple feast, cum regimine Chori, which fell on Passion-Sunday, and the twenty following days, or on Whitsun-eve and the seven following days, was not transferred, but entirely omitted.

Simple feasts, sine regimine Chori, were never transferred, but either commemorated or entirely omitted on the days on which they could not be celebrated. Very minute rules are laid down as to the commemoration or omission. Those which I have adduced may suffice as a specimen of the whole.


Feasts are divided into double and simple. Double feasts are subdivided into principal (marked I), greater (z), less (3), and inferior (4). Simple feasts are either cum regimine Chori, or sine regimine Chart: Simple feasts cum regimine Chori, have either Invitatorium triplex (5), or Invitatorium duplex (6). Simple feasts sine regimine Chori have either Invitatorium duplex (7), or Invitatorium simplex (8). Those which are only commemorated in the service of the day are marked 9. Those which were formerly celebrated, but in latter times entirely omitted, on account of some .solemn festival of recent institution, are marked o.

Besides the feasts marked in the catalogue, Easter-day, Ascension-day, Whitsunday, the Feast of the Patron Saint, and the Anniversary of the Dedication of the Church, are principal double feasts. Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi-day, and the Feast of the Relicks (which is always observed on the second Sunday in July) are greater double feasts. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, in Easter and Whitsun weeks, and the Octave of Easter, are less double feasts. By a constitution of the province of Canterbury, the Feast of St. George ought to be observed as a greater double; but it is usually kept only as an inferior double.

The translations of St. Edward the Martyr (June 20), of St. Benedict (July II), and of St. Cuthbert (September 4), belong to the class 6, when the other feasts of those Saints (March 18, 20, 21) happen on or after Passion Sunday (i.e. the fifth Sunday in Lent). In this case, the feast which falls in March is entirely omitted, and only the translation celebrated.

Those feasts which are marked with an asterisk belong to the class 6, when they happen on Sunday. All other feasts of the classes 7 and 8 belong to the class 9 when they happen on Sunday.

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