Height of Liturgical Geekiness

So I was all excited to figure out last night’s collect for Evening Prayer. Why? Well, it’s a Saturday night. Generally Saturday nights are the First Vespers of the Sunday following which is why even the ’79 BCP instructs that the Sunday collect be used (p. 158). However, it being the Saturday falling after the first Wednesday after the 14, yesterday was also the Fall Ember Day which is a fairly significant event. Not only that, it was the 23rd which means it’s the eve of a 24th.

Caelius can explain this better than I, but the date of the summer and winter solstices and the equinoxes have drifted a bit over the centuries. They’re currently on the 21st where they used to be on the 24th. Early on, the church appropriated the natural theology of the increase and decrease of the sun and positioned incarnational feasts at each of them. Thus, Christmas–the rebirth of the light–was Dec 24th; nine months early was the vernal equinox and the equality and increase of the light and thus the Annunciation of the BVM. The Birth of St John Baptist was at the summer solstice (nb: it’s really rare to celebrate the *birth* of a saint rather than his death…it’s a signal there’s something deeper going on…). Since the sun decreases at that point it was linked to the words of JB in John’s Gospel, “I must decrease so he [Jesus] may increase.” Nine months before that, then, is the Conception of JB. Which is today. So yesterday was the eve.

What then should be observed? The 1st Vespers of the Sunday or the Feast or the 2nd Vespers of the Ember Day?

When I went to check the tables of precedence in the Anglican Breviary–what do you know, they had the nerve to take out the Conception of JB!

Final answer–The Ember Day as the second vespers of a feria of the second class takes it; the Conception would have to be a 1st class feast for a first verspers to knock out a second vespers.

Hey–I said it was the height of geekiness…

12 thoughts on “Height of Liturgical Geekiness

  1. Caelius

    However, thanks to attempts to compensate for this effect in our calendar systems, one cannot use precessional drift to backdate the origins of the liturgical calendar. Otherwise, I would have to conclude that the system you refer to dates to the 18th century.

  2. Caelius

    However, if you add the Julian-Gregorian difference and multiply by the uncompensated drift in the Julian calendar (1 day per 131 years), you get ~1700 years, which I think is about right.

    The actual drift is one day per 71 years.

  3. Derek the Ænglican

    Ah–very cool. Thanks for the warning. This makes me rather curious then since (apparently) its been some time that the Conception has not been on Kalendars. The tenth century ones I’m most familiar with have the two JB dates on the 24th and the two DNIC dates on the 25th. Could their connection to the solar year be purely coincidental?

    Also, how do you explain the marginal notes on early medieval kalendars that put the vernal equinox on XII Kl Apr (i.e., March 21)?

    On another matter…there is an argument that Epiphany was the original date of the winter solstice in the first centuries of the Church–is that plausible from what you know?

  4. Caelius

    Here are some poor answers.

    The Julian calendar doesn’t seem to have been designed to put the solstices and equinoxes in any particular place. C. Iulius Caesar consulted the experts at Alexandria for a simple algorithm of intercalation, which would prevent lengthy intercalary periods. Due to errors in the use of the algorithm (the pontiffs weren’t too bright) and the Alexandrians’ neglect of Hipparchus’ data about drift, the solstices and equinoxes drifted earlier. When the Gregorian calendar was computed, they assumed the calendar was “correct” at the time of the Council of Nicaea, even though there were some earlier errors that had to be corrected about the beginning of the Age of Human Salvation. So I’m still not sure what day the solstices and equinoxes were “supposed” to fall on in 46 BC. (It’s rarely mentioned, but Copernicus’ research was motivated by his status as consultant to the Council of Trent on this issue. Others are remembered because they didn’t write books that ended up on the Index.)

    Question 1: What do JB and SNIC stand for? But my best guess is the use of some earlier authority on the date of Christmas and gestational reasoning.

    Question 2: This would be easily explained if someone was using a late 3rd century source, but the Almagest is too early and Nicaea too late. If you really believed that Numa Pompilus established the Roman calendar in the late 8th century with January 1 as the winter solstice etc., you can imagine some popular tradition in Caesar’s time of spring being XII Kl. Apr. which propagated into late antiquity. But knowing how poorly regulated the kalendar was during the Republic, I doubt very many people had any idea how to figure this out. So the simplest explanation would be a late 3rd century source. Doesn’t Bede note drift from the Nicene date of the vernal equinox somewhere? It’s also entirely possible that there is an error of a day in the Gregorian estimate of drift, though I’m sure they were working off the Almagest…

    It occurs to me that the most parsimonious explanation is that some bishop present at Nicaea was consulted about the vernal equinox date. If I were there, I would consult the Bishop of Alexandria, Alexander. It’s entirely possible that he would quote me the day that the vernal equinox fell during his youth (50 years before Nicaea), which indeed would be 21 March.

    3. Epiphany in 1583 fell on Julian date=Dec 29 1582. The winter solstice would have been eighteen days earlier. So, no.
    In the early centuries of the church, the solstice would have been Dec 20-22.

    See useful calculating page (gives you Gregorian estimate of Council of Nicaea-referenced Julian date…) ;) http://www.bdl.fr/page.php?nav=en/ephemerides/astronomie/saisons/index.php

  5. Caelius

    Sorry, back to Question 1.

    I think you’re generally right that there was some attempt to tie these feast days to the solar year (i.e., approximately equinoxes and solstices). But it was likely never exact.

  6. bls

    I can tell that JB=John Baptist, and I imagine DNIC has something to do with the Navity.

    But I guess I should let DtheA himself answer….

  7. bls

    “Nativity” that is.

    What I like best about this whole thing, I have to say, is the beautiful tying together of two different strands – one earthly, one heavenly – to make a new Incarnational whole. I never knew about this before. Four seasons, four directions, four gospels, four pillars. Very beautiful, really. And so much more about human nature (and culture) than anybody ever acknowledges.

  8. Derek the Ænglican

    A big thanks to the house geophysicist! :-D

    Oops–didn’t mean to confuse folks. Yes, JB is John the Baptist, the other refers to feasts Domini Nostri Iesu Christi…

    There is so much cool stuff in our tradition that we’ve forgotten and much of it will give us deep theological meaning if we just ask. I pity those whose knowledge of Christianity extends only a hundred–or five hundred–years back.

  9. Chris T.

    Wow, I thought I was a geek. I bow before your superior geekiness.

    And I really ought to buy a copy of the Anglican Breviary. I’m running out of excuses.

  10. James Day

    More Geekiness please!!

    I’m glad that there is at least one Anglo-Catholic blogger who has something else to talk about besides the TEC going to hell in a handbasket or how we should all just grovel before the Pope!

    I agree with your statement about how some people’s views of Christianity goes back only 100 years or so. Can I make a special request that you post something on where did the daily office tradition went for RCs?

    The more obscure the information the tastier!!

  11. Derek the Ænglican

    I’d be happy to comply, James–we’re long overdue for a Rant on the Demise of the Daily Offices!! :-D

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