Epiphany Proclamation of the Date of Easter: History, Texts, and Suggestions

My students know that I am fascinated by religious calendars and liturgical texts. These come together uniquely in the the formal announcement of the date of Easter and other feasts at the celebration of the Epiphany. This ancient custom originated long before printed calendars and may seem utterly unnecessary today. Indeed for most of the history of printing, it has not been performed in parish churches. Yet, in recent decades it has been revived in some Roman Catholic and other churches as a way of linking the observance of Christ’s birth to his resurrection. There now two texts commonly used for the proclamation in English. I think both have there merits and that the one more commonly used by Anglicans and Episcopalians would benefit from a few edits.

History
A variety of sources from the fifth and sixth centuries testify that after parish clergy received news of the date of Easter each year from their bishop they would announce it on Epiphany. From at least the sixteenth century, however, in the Roman Rite the announcement occurred only in Epiphany masses celebrated by a bishop. It survived longer as a practice in parish churches in the Parasian Rite. But this use was curtailed in the nineteenth century. Beginning in the 1970s, Liturgy Training Publications published an English version of it for optional use in Catholic parishes (Merz 2011). A few Episcopalians, Anglicans and perhaps some other Protestants began to use it as well to add an additional festive element to the Epiphany celebration and unite the nativity and paschal cycles of the church year.

Texts, Music, and Variations
Two English texts for the proclamation are in common use. A translation of the Latin text is supplied in the current Roman Missal (2011). Its content is very matter-of-fact. It begins, “Know, dear brothers and sisters that, as we have rejoiced at the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, so by leave of God’s mercy, we announce to you also the joy of his resurrection” and then proceeds to list the dates. Its liturgical performance, however, is more significant than the text itself. It is sung to the same tone as the Easter Proclamation (the Exsultet). For those familiar with it, it brings the full joy and solemnity of the Easter Vigil into the Epiphany eucharist. (The text and a video of its performance are near the end of this post.)

A longer form, approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1989, was used by Roman Catholics through 2011. It is still the version most commonly used by Episcopalians and Anglicans. This longer form is more instructive and can hold its own in the liturgy even if it is not sung. It was published to be sung to a preface tone, not the Exsultet. Using the same tone as the Exsultet would be an improvement.

The text itself needs improvement in at least two places. First, it states, “from Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy.” This is true theologically. And thus through a “theological license” one might deem it liturgically acceptable. Yet, it is not true calendrically and the proclamation is about the details of the calendar. Second, given the Easter-centered elaboration in this text, the abrupt announcement of the date of the First Sunday of Advent sounds like an afterthought. It should be included more logically into the flow of the proclamation. Here is the text as it stands, below it I will propose changes to remedy this problems.

Dear brothers and sisters, the glory of the Lord has shone upon us, and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of his return. Through the rhythms of times and seasons let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation.
Let us recall the year’s culmination, the Easter Triduum of the Lord: his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial, and his rising celebrated between the evening of the . . . of . . . and the evening of the . . . of . . .
Each Easter–as on each Sunday–the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed by which Christ has for ever conquered sin and death.
From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the . . . of . . ..
The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on the . . . of . . .
Pentecost, the joyful conclusion of the season of Easter, will be celebrated on the . . . of . . . And this year the First Sunday of Advent will be on the . . . of . . . .
Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.
To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise, for ever and ever.
R. Amen

“The Proclamation of the Date of Easter on Epiphany,” Sacramentary Supplement . . . Approved for Use in the Diocese of the United States of America by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and Confirmed by the Apostolic See  (New York: Catholic Book Publishing, 1994), 28

The first change I propose is simply to insert the word “moveable” before “days we keep holy.” This brings the text in line with the realities of the calendar. The dates of Christmas and most saints’ days are in no way affected by Easter’s changing date.

The second change is to move the announcement of the date of the beginning of Advent until after the sentence about the feasts of the saints, and to link it to them. There are a couple of good ways to do this. My preference is to follow ancient tradition and the universal norms for the Catholic calendar issued by Pope Paul VI and state that Advent begins on the Sunday closest to St. Andrew’s Day, November 30 (Roman Missal,114). The First Sunday of Advent is always both the fourth Sunday before December 25th and the Sunday nearest November 30. Since Andrew was the first apostle called by Jesus, it makes sense that he begins the liturgical year. With this change I suggest the end of the proclamation be:

“Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.
“These conclude and begin anew with the feast of Andrew, the first Apostle to follow the Lord, on the 30th of November. Thus the First Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ will be the … day of ….
“To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise, for ever and ever.”

(If November 30 is a Sunday, Andrew’s feast is transferred to December 1. In that case the text is given as above, but with December 1 given as Andrew’s day.)

If the mention of St. Andrew is not desirable, an alternative ending is

“These days are reckoned from the Nativity of our Lord, as is the season of his Advent which this year will begin on Sunday, the . . . of . . ..

Arguably, the reference to the “day of his return” in the opening of this long form of the proclamation invites a more significant reference to Advent and the Second Coming as a kind of inclusio, but I’ll save that proposal for others or another time.

Full texts of the short form, the long form with my edits, and other resources follow below.

‘Short Form’ Announcement of Easter and the Movable Feasts (Roman Missal, 2011) — Text and Performance

Know, dear brethren (brothers and sisters),
that, as we have rejoiced at the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ,
so by leave of God’s mercy
we announce to you also the joy of his Resurrection,
who is our Savior.
On the  day of  will fall Ash Wednesday,
and the beginning of the fast of the most sacred Lenten season.
On the  day of … you will celebrate with joy Easter Day,
the Paschal feast of our Lord Jesus Christ.
On the … day of … will be the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.]
On the … day of …, the feast of Pentecost.
On the … day of , the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
On the … day of , the First Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom is honor and glory for ever and ever.
Amen.

“The Announcement of Easter and the Moveable Feasts” Roman Missal (USCCB, 2011), 1448-49
Instructional video from the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon. The proclamation itself begins at 1:51.

As Corinna Laughlin notes in her pastoral introduction to the text, the fact that the Roman Missale does not include the text of the Epiphany proclamation without music suggests that if it is not sung, it should not be read (Proclamations 2011). That makes sense to me if this short form is to be used.

‘Long Form’ “The Proclamation of the Date of Easter on Epiphany” (1989) Sacramentary Supplement (1994) — Performance

‘Long Form’ with suggested amendments incorporated

Dear brothers and sisters, the glory of the Lord has shone upon us, and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of his return. Through the rhythms of times and seasons let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation.
Let us recall the year’s culmination, the Easter Triduum of the Lord: his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial, and his rising celebrated between the evening of the . . . of . . .and the evening of the . . . of . . ..
Each Easter – as on each Sunday – the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed by which Christ has for ever conquered sin and death.
From Easter are reckoned all the movable days we keep holy. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the . . . of . . . .
The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on the . . . of . . ..
Pentecost, the joyful conclusion of the season of Easter, will be celebrated on the . . . of . . ..
Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.
These conclude and begin anew with the feast of Andrew, the first Apostle to follow the Lord, on the 30th of November. Thus the First Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ will be the … of ….
To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise, for ever and ever.
R. Amen

Other Resources

  • The version of the long form provided by Creighton University’s Online Ministries includes the date of Easter Sunday as well as the Triduum.
  • The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops provides the short form with dates for 2019 on its site.
  • On his popular Liturgy blog, Bosco Peters provides the long form, including the dates of Easter Sunday, divided so that it may be read by two lectors.
  • A recording of an a capella proclamation of the long form is here. The audio is good, though the video is shaky.
  • The short form in both Latin and English set in musical notation may be found in various resources including on the Chant Cafe blog.
  • A useful history of the proclamation is provided by Henri Adam de Villers on the New Liturgical Movement Blog.

Works Cited

  • Merz, Daniel J., and Marcel Rooney. 2011. Essential presidential prayers and texts : a Roman missal study edition and workbook. Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications.
  • Proclamations for Christmas, Epiphany, and Easter. 2011. Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications.
  • The Roman Missal . . . English Translation According to the Third Typical Edition For Use in the Diocese of the United States of America. 2011. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications.
  • Sacramentary Supplement . . . Approved for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America. 1994. New York: Catholic Book Publishing.

6 comments

  1. Hello. Thank you for this. Can I ask, does the chant of the movable feasts have to be done by a make member or can a female cantor also chant this? Thank you.

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  2. Hi, I like this article. I really like including S.Andrew after mentioning the feasts of the apostles and saints, et. al. with, “These conclude and begin anew with the feast of Andrew, the first Apostle to follow the Lord, on the 30th of November. Thus the First Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ will be the … of …. ”
    However, I am a little remiss about adding the words ”movable days’ we keep holy. Actually–though fulling loving most of what you have said, and wanting to read more of your articles–I fully believe that from Easter all the days we keep holy are in fact reckoned. In my humble opinion, without Easter we never would have Epiphany, which never would have been broken down into Epiphany and Christmas, and we never would be celebrating anything as Christians.
    Without Easter, there is, quite frankly, nothing. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).
    Like I said, I do like your other changes and I am planning to incorporate them into our Proclamation of Easter in 2024 (we already did this on January 6, 2023). May God bless and keep you!

    In Christ,
    Fr. Rick Roessler+, Rector
    The Episcopal Church of the Cross
    Ticonderoga, NY

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    • You are right the “moveable” is overly technical and not needed in proclamation. Technically, it is correct since nativity-cycle dates do not vary with the date of Easter as do the paschal-cycle feasts, but in terms of liturgical proclamation the theological point you make is more important. — sorry I didn’t say this in my first reply. It has been a couple years since I reread this post and hadn’t done so before my first reply. I’m not clergy, and while one of my former students is now our rector, the Easter proclamation is not part of the parish’s tradition.

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      • Dear friend in Christ Jesus,
        All I shall say is, ‘Imitation is the greatest form of flattery.’ I have already amended our template for the “Proclamation of Easter 2024″ to include ‘These conclude and begin anew with the feast of Andrew the first Apostle to follow the Lord, on the 30th of November. Thus, …”
        You also inspired what seems to be a promising sermon for next Sunday (15 January) about Andrew being the first disciple to follow Jesus and how his ‘small action’ of bringing his brother to Jesus had a ripple effect on the church. We do not know how God is calling us to, our response is merely to “Come and see.”
        Thank you, kind sir, for your ‘small’ contribution to this preacher’s proclamation of the Gospel in a small rural town in Northern New York State. God bless and keep you.

        In Christ,
        Fr. Rick Roessler, Rector
        The Episcopal Church of the Cross
        Ticonderoga, NY

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