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Just How Different are the Old and New Liturgical Calendars at Christmas and New Years?

The following post began as an email conversation with noted Catholic scholar and lecturer Dr. Peter Kwasniewski this afternoon. It has now been shared via his personal Facebook page. With his endorsement I am also sharing it here for readers of my blog.

More and more Catholics are waking up to the huge differences between the old and new Roman liturgical calendars — the one, a product of two millennia of organic development; the other, brainchild of a 1960s committee.

In the period from Christmas to Epiphany, one can see a massive difference in logic and emphasis. (The below graphic by Dr. Kwasniewski was compiled largely from memory as he is currently on holiday abroad).

With colors to identify particular feasts and periods of celebration, the reader will see immediately that the old calendar has a massive emphasis on Christmas, which is “repeated” multiple times during the Octave, even continuing alongside the saints (note in particular the use of the Gloria and the Creed); and a massive emphasis on Epiphany, which is a feastday even older than Christmas — though one wouldn’t know that from how it’s been demoted in recent decades. In the old calendar, the Most Holy Name of Jesus is an obligatory Sunday celebration, but in the new, an optional weekday celebration; and so on and so forth..

Also note that the Holy Family does not “intrude,” so to speak, until the great mystery of the Nativity in all its facets has been given plenty of room to shine. The focus is maintained: Christmas for 8 days, the circumcision when the Redeemer first shed His blood, the Holy Name he was given and by which we are saved, the Epiphany or revelation of God as savior of the Gentiles. Only then do we turn expressly to the family in which Our Lord grew up, His baptism in the Jordan, His first miracle at Cana (2nd Sunday after Epiphany), and the start of His preaching and miracles (subsequent Sundays).

It’s not that Our Lady and St. Joseph are neglected, for they are always present in the liturgical readings. Besides, they have their own major feastdays elsewhere in the liturgical year. It’s a matter, rather, of focused liturgical reverence towards the central mystery of the Incarnation of the Eternal Son of the Father.

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