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 awkward. 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.

St. John the Evangelist, Philip Schaff, and Christian Unity

Today, December 27, is the feast day of St. John the Evangelist. While internal evidence in the Bible suggests otherwise, tradition identifies him as the son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and the author of all five books in the New Testament ascribed to a John. As such his role in the New Testament is rivaled only by Peter and Paul. He is recognized in Christian art by usually being beardless or symbolized by an eagle or a chalice with a snake.

St. John the Evangelist represented as on the base of pulpit in Cordoba Cathedal, Spain, and in a rose window at St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.

Co-editing the works of the pioneering church historian Philip Schaff with my colleague Ted Trost, I learned much about the adulation John has received through the centuries. Schaff was born almost 200 years ago on January 1, 1819. Next week the bicentennial of his birth will be celebrated at the annual meeting of the American Society of Church History, which he founded.

In his first book, The Principle of Protestantism (1845), Schaff wrote

John, the apostle of love, has not without reason been styled by the church the “Theologian” per eminentiam. For by the eagle flight of his believing speculation into the depths of God and his Word as existing before the world and then made flesh for our salvation, he may be said to have led the way to Christian theology in its bold and glorious course. His love is only the strong will-force of knowledge, his knowledge but the keen vision of love.

The whole history of the Church furnishes proof that the men who have exerted the greatest and most happy influence, the wakers of a new life, the pillars of the temple of God, have always been distinguished also above there contemporaries by a thorough scientific cultivation.

Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism, trans. John W. Nevin, in The Development of the Church, edited by David R. Bains and Theodore Louis Trost (Wipf and Stock, 2017), 175-6.

Schaff cites a medieval Latin hymn in praise of John. In his St. John the Divine: The Deified Evangelist in Medieval Art and Theology, Jeffery Hamburger translates it:

He flies like a bird without limit,
in that neither seer nor prophet
ever flew higher.
As much what would be fulfilled as what has been,
never were so many secrets seen
so purely by a pure man.

Cited in Development of the Church, 175

Schaff was an ecumenist, passionately concerned with the reunion of what he, following his German teachers, called the church of Peter (Roman Catholicism) with the church of Paul (Protestantism) in the coming church of John. He closes the Principle of Protestantism stating

The revivification of the spirit of John the evangelist, in the Church, will open the way directly for his second coming, to establish the Church absolute and triumphant, in which law and freedom shall both be perfect in one, and the results of all previous development appear conserved as the constituent elements of a higher and more
glorious state. To this refers the mystical sense of Christ’s word, John 21:22, where he speaks enigmatically of John’s tarrying till his second coming.

Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism, in The Development of the Church, 190.

With such an emphasis on John–the beloved disciple, the theologian, the evangelist, the author of Revelation–as the embodiment of the coming church of the future, it is unsurprising that Americans would name him patron of their largest and most ambitious church, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. Its name was fixed in a 1873 charter when Schaff was in his prime at age 54. Its cornerstone was laid on this day in 1892 a year before Schaff’s death. Its structure, like the reunion of Christ’s visible church is still unfinished.

Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, New York. Crossing and choir (interior, 2009), Exterior from the south.

While for Schaff, the key attributes of John were knowledge and love, the traditional Anglican collect for this feast highlights the theme of the light of truth appropriate for this dark time of year in the northern hemisphere. The phrasing in the Church of England’s Common Worship captures it best.

Merciful Lord,
cast your bright beams of light upon the Church:
that, being enlightened by the teaching of your most blessed apostle and evangelist Saint John,
we may so walk in the light of your truth
that we may at last attain to the light of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.