02 July 2007

The Visitation and the Calendar

Today is the traditional date for the Visitation in the Western Church, commemorating the visit of the Holy Virgin to Elizabeth, and thus the occasion for Magnificat, the Blessed Virgin's hymn of praise, which we sing at Vespers: "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!" Our prayer this day is that receiving God's Word in humility and faith, we may "be made one with Jesus Christ." (Collect)

One of the things that folks will either decry our celebrate about LSB is that it does not proclaim a unified calendar for our Synod but offers, in the use of two lectionary systems, two calendars. True, for all the major days the calendars are completely in sync. But there are variations: Transfiguration falls three weeks later if you use the three-year lectionary and calendar and epiphany is extended, swallowing up what the one-year celebrates as Pre-Lent. And then there is the variation on Visitation. If you follow the three-year, you will observe this feast on May 31. If you follow the one-year, it is observed today.

As I've said elsewhere, it is a choice of pre-Vatican or post-Vatican II. Odd as it may be, that is clearly the origin. Pre-Vatican II had both Pre-Lent and a celebration of the Visitiation on July 2. After the council, Pre-Lent disappeared and Visitation migrated to a date before the celebration of St. John's Nativity. Yes, that makes sense (how could the Blessed Virgin visit a pregnant Elizabeth AFTER John was born? We celebrated his Nativity last week!), but the Church's calendar has never made sense that way. It doesn't seek over all to match things up historically, but to celebrate on different days the mysteries of our faith. [Note that both pre and post Council the celebration of Transfiguration in Rome - as also in Swedish Lutheranism and Orthodoxy - is August 6th].

In putting forward such an approach, we see in LSB the refusal to take either the pre or the post council forms as normative; recognizing value in both, both are set on entirely equal footing (something that the previous *Lutheran Worship* did not do). I suspect it's a wise approach for the present. The day may possibly come when it's all unified once again. And probably whatever Rome does in regard to the restoration of the old Latin Mass and its lectionary and calendar will have more effect than most Lutherans (or Romans) would be willing to recognize. "When Rome catches a cold..."


Anonymous said...

You know, today isn't such a bad day for the Visitation, while May 31 seems very arbitrary. Yesterday, after all, was the Octave of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and St. Luke tells us that she was there for these things (and she is the source for the first 2 chapters of St. Luke's Gospel.) So it seems fair to say that today is the day she left for Nazareth.

Christopher said...

I was wondering if the Orthodox celebrated this Feast, or if it might be celebrated within the context of another, more broad Feast. Looks like no. I came across some background info on the Visitation (below) and see that it was only introduced in the 1200s, so after the Schism with the East. I would assume that means that only Western Rite Orthodox celebrate it today. It is probably mentioned and venerated within the context of feasts of the Mother of God where the events surrounding the Magnificat are mentioned and/or relative to Feasts of the Forerunner and his parents.

"The earliest evidence of the existence of the feast is its adoption by the Franciscan Chapter in 1263, upon the advice of St. Bonaventure.

"With the Franciscan Breviary this feast spread to many churches , but was celebrated at various dates — at Prague and Ratisbon , 28 April; in Paris , 27 June, at Reims and Geneva, 8 July (cf. Grotefend, "Zeitrechnung", II, 2, 137). It was extended to the entire Church by Urban VI , 6 April, 1389 ( Decree published by Boniface IX , 9 Nov., 1389), with the hope that Christ and His Mother would visit the Church and put an end to the Great Schism which rent the seamless garment of Christ....

"The feast , with a vigil and an octave, was assigned to 2 July, the day after the octave of St. John, about the time when Mary returned to Nazareth . The Office was drawn up by an Englishman, Adam Cardinal Easton , Benedictine monk and Bishop of Lincoln ( Bridgett , "Our Lady's Dowry", 235). Dreves (Analecta Hymnica, xxiv, 89) has published this rhythmical office with nine other offices for the same feast , found in the Breviaries of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Since, during the Schism , many bishops of the opposing obedience would not adopt the new feast , it was confirmed by the Council of Basle , in 1441.

"Pius V abolished the rhythmical office , the vigil, and the octave. The present office was compiled by order of Clement VIII by the Minorite Ruiz. Pius IX , on 13 May, 1850, raised the feast to the rank of a double of the second class. Many religious orders -- the Carmelites , Dominicans , Cistercians , Mercedarians , Servites , and others -- as well as Siena , Pisa , Loreto, Vercelli , Cologne , and other dioceses have retained the octave. In Bohemia the feast is kept on the first Sunday of July as a double of the first class with an octave."

- 'Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary' in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907-1912).

William Weedon said...


I like it! Celebrating the END of her visit rather than its inception. Makes sense to me. I fully believe that Zacharias' old eyes twinkled as he sang the Benedictus and looked right at Mary's tummy and said: "In the tender mercy of our God the dawn from on high has visited us, to give light to those in the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace."


Yes, Western Rite celebrate it today. But like you, I can't find anything approximating it in the Eastern Rite calendar.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, I, Brian Westgate, forgot to sign my name to my previous post. I guess I need to get around to getting a blogger ID!

Anyways, I recently acquired the Sarum Missal in English. This was translated by Pearson in the 1800s, and was recently republished by Wipf & Stock. This does indeed include the Octave for the Visition, but not a Vigil (this would be because yesterday was the Octave of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, which takes the place of a vigil I suppose.)
I'll post the Collect below.

"O God, Who for the consolation of both didst move the most Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of Thy Only Begotten Son, to visit St. Elizabeth, mercifully grant that we Thy servants may ever draw comfort from her Visitation, and by Thy protection defended from all adversitites. Through Jesus Christ . . ."


Christopher said...

I guess that the Magnificat is given such pride of place in so many services of the Orthodox Church - especially Matins where it completely overshadows the Ode of Zachariah. It is also heavily referenced in all of the feasts of the Mother of God.

This is probably an example of the prevalent but passing references to the Visitation in the Orthodox Church:

"Revealed as a Prophetess, Elizabeth, bearing the Baptist and Forerunner, proclaimed you Mother of the Lord, as she cried out: Praise the Lord and highly exalt him to the ages." (Theotokion. Ode 8 at Matins. October 18, Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke!)

Apart from remembering the event itself, what import does the Western service place on the Visitation? Why did it become so popular following the 1200s when it was unknown prior to that time?

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William Weedon said...


Just a word of caution. The Western Rite Orthodox of the Antiochians do NOT acknowledge the legitimacy of his work. He's regarded as uncanonical. FWIW.

Christopher said...

Until somewhat recently Fr Aiden was uncanonical, but this is not longer the case. He left the Milan Synod 1-2 years ago and came under the omophor of ROCOR, which is where he is today and which is now a part of the Moscow Patriarchate. He was not received as a priest and his recensions of the Old Sarum Rite have not (yet?) been accepted for use in ROCOR.

I must say that, whatever the value of his recensions of Old Sarum, his arguments for a Pre-Schism form of the Western Rite is more convincing to me than is simply a 'purified' version of either the BCP or the Tridentine Rites. His main argument is that the Old Sarum practices actually show far less difference between East and West than has arisen over the centuries since the Schism - and come with less baggage.

Of course, 19th Century Moscow took a different course in approving purified versions of those Rites, as did 20th Century Antioch. I'm not sure what form of the Western Rite St. John of San Francisco approved for the French. I think the ROCOR WR parishes follow the 19th Century Muscovite versions of the Western Rite.

Past Elder said...

I've always thought there is some sort of divine irony in that the long standing traditional date for the Transfiguration, 6 August, in time turned out to be the date of the first nuclear transfiguration, as it were, in warfare (Hiroshima).

Certainly there are good reasons for its relocation in Lutheran observance, but I think where it traditionally stood serves as a real big hint that we are better off with God's transfiguration rather than our own.