The Kalendar in Easter


Easter is the preeminent season of celebration in the Church Year. The “Great Fifty Days” are established by the dates given in Luke’s Gospel and Acts, and correspond with the forty days from the resurrection of Jesus until his Ascension, then the remaining ten days from the Ascension until Pentecost. Accordingly, Easter is a period always having 8 Sundays, the first being the Sunday of the Resurrection and the eighth being the Feast of Pentecost.

There are three distinct periods within the Easter Season identified by the Church: the Octave of Easter, the regular Easter time from the Second Sunday until the Ascension, then Ascension-tide consisting of the ten days from the Ascension to Pentecost.

The Easter season may begin as early as March 22nd or end as late as June 13th. Thus, there is an 83 day period within which the 50 days of Easter will fall. No matter when in this span it falls, the 15 days between April 25th and May 10 will always occur within the Easter season.

Historical Treatment

Under the early 20th century Pian rules, the Easter Sunday of the Resurrection received highest honors as both a privileged Sunday of the First Class and a Double of the First Class with a privileged Octave. The Monday and Tuesday were also Doubles of the First Class in their own right, the other days being Primary Greater Doubles by virtue of their octave status. As a result, no feasts aside from these could be kept until the second week of Easter. After this Octave, however, the ordinal Sundays of Easter receive no special treatment, being Lesser Sundays.

The days between the 7th Sunday of Easter and the Ascension, though, were the Rogation Days; the Monday and Wednesday (which is also the Vigil of the Ascension) were non-privileged Greater Feria meaning that a Double feast would take precedence but even then the ferias would be usually commemorated. These were solemn penitential days and, even in the midst of Easter, the liturgical color for these days was purple.

The Ascension which always falls on a Thursday is also a Double of the First Class with a non-privileged Octave.  The time from Ascension to the Vigil of Pentecost was its own mini-season with hymns proper to it. The Vigil of Pentecost only ranked as a Semi-double but was a privileged Vigil—no feast could be celebrated upon it. Pentecost received the same rank as Easter and therefore the week following was bound by the same rules: Monday and Tuesday in Pentecost week were Primary First Class Doubles, the rest of the weekdays were Primary Greater Doubles with the added twist that the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday were the Summer Ember Days. The Octave concluded on Saturday before the First Vespers of the Feast of the Holy Trinity.

Thus, there were three periods during the Pian Easter where the kalendar rules were in full play, first during the Octave of Easter itself, then in the days around the Ascension, and finally the Octave of Pentecost which effectively expanded the Easter season by an additional week.

Under the rules immediately before Vatican II, the ranks were altered but the effects were the same with one exception; the Octave of the Ascension was suppressed.

Thus the temporal days within Easter fell into the following categories; rank/order of precedence is per Ritual Notes:

Rank Class Days
1 Feasts/Sundays, 1st Class Easter day and Pentecost
3 Feast, 1st Class Ascension of Our Lord
6 Sunday, 1st Class Low Sunday (Easter 2)
9 Vigil, 1st Class Vigil of Pentecost
10 Octaves, 1st Class days in the Easter and Pentecost octaves
15 Sunday, 2nd Class Sundays of Easter (Easter 3-7)
21 Vigil, 2nd Class Vigil of the Ascension

Within the “Rules to Order the Service” in the English 1662 BCP, rules 1 through 3 address, among other things, occurrence with the octaves of Easter and Pentecost. Rule 1 states that:

When some other greater Holy Day falls on . . .  Palm Sunday or one of the fourteen days following, on Ascension Day, or on Whitsunday or one of the seven days following, it shall be transferred as appropriate to the . . . Tuesday after Easter 1 [Low Sunday], or the Friday after Ascension Day, or the Tuesday after Trinity Sunday: except that if Easter Day falls on April 22nd, 24th or 25th, the festival of St. Philip and St. James shall be observed on the Tuesday of the week following Easter 1, and the festival of St. Mark shall be observed on the Thursday of that week.

Thus, Holy Days are transferred after the Octave of Easter and special rules are in force when said transference might interfere with other Holy Days.

Rule 2 prohibits a greater Holy Day from superseding Easter day, Low Sunday or Pentecost. No other Sundays in the Easter season are protected in this way, however.

Rule 3 states, “A lesser Holy Day shall lapse if it falls on any Sunday, . . . on Palm Sunday or any of the fourteen days following, on Ascension Day, or on Whitsunday or any of the seven days following.”

Rule 4 concerns the Rogation Days and states that “a greater or lesser Holy Day” will supersede the feria but the collect of the Rogation Day should be said as a memorial.

Rule 5 states that the collect of the Ascension shall be used on the days following it until Sunday and also that the collect of the Ascension will be the only collect at Evening Prayer on that day (i.e., no memorials).

Rule 6 which gives permission for First Vesper services, explicitly forbids a First Vespers for Ascension day.

The Table of Precedence in the American 1928 BCP shows an expansion of protections to the Easter season. It gives precedence to “Easter Day and the seven following days [including Low Sunday (Easter 2)]; Rogation Sunday [Easter 6]; The Ascension Day and the Sunday after Ascension Day [Easter 7]; Whitsunday and the six following days.”

Current Status

The ‘79 BCP simplifies the Easter season. In following the greater tradition, it keeps the Octave of Easter as a privileged octave; feasts are transferred until after Easter 2  and every day is a named holy day with its own collect and propers. Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost are Principal Feasts but they have no octaves. The days following Pentecost are explicitly those of the next numbered proper of Ordinary Time and thus the collect of Pentecost is only said on the Day of Pentecost itself.

The Sundays of Easter have received a promotion, though, and no feasts may replace them. Indeed, the Easter season as the great baptismal season of the church has received a boost in the ’79 BCP and the practices around it and many parishes again make reference to Canon XX of Nicaea which forbids kneeling “during the Days of Pentecost [Easter]” and on Sundays. I’ll take no hard position on this either way except to make note of three things: 1) An appeal to 4th century practice completely by-passes the next 16 hundred years within which it became the standard Western practice to kneel on Sundays and during Easter; 2) the 4th century insistence on not kneeling was a reference to and was set in the context of the usual daily practice of multiple prostrations—to enforce the “no kneeling” without reference to lots and lots of kneeling the rest of the time seems to throw the practice off-kilter; 3) The current trend in the Episcopal Church tends not to revere the other actions of the Council, perhaps I’d be more enthusiastic to follow this canon if the other were equally promoted.

One other point on Easter is that the ’79 BCP attempts to restore the Vigil of Pentecost, making it an evening baptismal service analogous to the Easter Vigil. Despite this intention, I have never seen or heard of this being put into practice.

The current Roman rules concur concerning the new prominence of Easter and likewise give Sundays of Easter precedence over other feasts and solemnities with one exception—the Ascension may be transferred to Easter 7 (GNLY 7.2). The Octave of Easter is observed, each of the days being a solemnity of the Lord (GNLY 24). The status of Ascension-tide seems rather ambiguous; the norms say only that “The weekdays after the Ascension of the Lord until the Saturday before Pentecost inclusive are a preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete” (GNLY 26) but fail to note whether this preparation has any liturgical implications.

The order of precedence established in the GNLY 59 is:

Rank Class Days
1 I Easter triduum of the Lordʼs passion and resurrection
2a I the Ascension of the Lord, and Pentecost
2b I Sundays of the season of Easter
2d I Days within the octave of Easter
13c III Weekdays of the season of Easter from Monday after the octave of Easter until the Saturday before Pentecost inclusive.

Liturgical Days within Easter

Holy Days

There are 5 Holy Days that may fall within the Easter season:

Date Class Feast DL Notes
Mar 25 Feast of our Lord (3a) The Annunciation g Always in the Easter Octave if in Easter
April 25 Major Feast (3b) St Mark the Evangelist c May fall in Easter Octave
May 1 Major Feast (3b) Sts Philip and James, Apostles b Rarely falls in Easter Octave
May 31 Feast of Our Lord (3a) Visitation of the BVM d
June 11 Major Feast (3b) St Barnabas the Apostle d

The Octave of Easter may fall any time between March 22nd and May 2nd. As a result, the first three feasts may fall within this span and require transference. In each case, the feast is transferred outside of the Octave of Easter as stated in the BCP: “Major Feasts falling in [this week] are transferred to the week following the Second Sunday of Easter, in the order of their occurrence” (p. 17).  Current Roman practice seems to be that transferred feasts are placed on the Monday of the week (GNLY 5), but Sarum and the example of the 1662 BCP suggest that transference to the next Tuesday is optimal allowing full celebration of the prayer book appointed Eves/First Vespers.

If the Annunciation falls within Easter, chronologically it must fall within the Octave and cannot be celebrated on the 25th.

St Mark the Evangelist will always fall within the Easter season and, when Easter is late, may fall within the Octave. As it precedes the feast of Sts Philip and James by six days, transferences around this time must adequately accommodate both occasions; the recommendation of the 1662 BCP seems solid, suggesting that when Easter is on April 22nd (and thus Philip and James naturally fall on the Tuesday after Easter 2) or when Easter falls on April 24th or 25th (and thus Philip and James also fall within the Octave), that Sts Philip and James be celebrated on the Tuesday and St Mark receives the Thursday.

Some uses have special material for feasts of apostles within Easter, however, not all have Commons for Evangelists (yes, English Office, I’m looking at you…). If such supplementary materials are used, St Mark should receive the honors as an apostle within Easter-tide.

As noted above, Sts Philip and James will only fall within the Octave of Easter if Easter lands on one of its two latest days. In most years, therefore, the feast may be celebrated on its appointed day.

Days of Optional Observance

The only Days of Optional Observance that are impacted by Easter are those that fall within the Octave and lapse. There are a few feasts that fall within the March 22nd to May 2nd window that may be feasts of title or patron. Too, the Rogation Days are explicitly classed and listed as Days of Optional Observance in the BCP. Here are the significant Easter-tide feasts that may need to be transferred or otherwise noted:

Date Feast DL Notes
Mar 22 Gregory the Illuminator e May fall on Easter
April 19th Alphege of Canterbury d May fall in Easter Octave
April 21 Anselm of Canterbury f May fall in Easter Octave
April 23 St George, Patron of England A May fall in Easter Octave; lately added to HWHM, though not in ’79 BCP
April 29 Catherine of Siena g But note that most “St Catherine’s” are named for the VM of Alexandria (Nov 25)
May 2 Athanasius c Falls on Easter 2 if Easter falls on Apr 25
varies Rogation Days n/a Fall on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension

If any of these days fall in the Octave of Easter and would be feasts of patron or title, they should be transferred to the first open day in the week after Easter 2. They may not replace the Mass of the Sunday during Easter.

2 thoughts on “The Kalendar in Easter

  1. Stephen Benajmin

    Best wishes for a joyful celebration of the Feast of the Lord’s Resurrection!

    Thanks for this very helpful analysis of Eastertide from the angle of traditional liturgical observance. It made me think of the one recent aberration in Eastertide in the Roman Communion: the observance of “Mercy Sunday” on Low Sunday. As many of you will know: this was inspired by the Polish religious, Sister Faustina, and her ‘private revelations’ on the Divine Mercy of our Lord. Sister F was much favoured by JP II and hence this intrusion into the Roman season of Easter, when he canonised her.

    I don’t know what this means liturgically for the Low Sunday Divine Office or Holy Eucharist among our Roman brethren. It may just be a devotional adjunct to the proper office for Low Sunday but I wonder whether Rome-leaning Episcopalians/Anglo-Papalists/Uniates etc have adopted this devotion?

    Personally speaking, the Mercy devotion seems laudable in intent but is so culturally/ethnically specific (20th century Polish Roman Catholicism) that it doesn’t sit well with this Australasian Prayer Book Anglican. The English mediaeval devotion to the Five Wounds of our Saviour is more accessible to me!

    It does seem very odd that a privately revealed devotional focus should overlay the liturgical celebration of Low Sunday but Rome’s way is not our way, despite what many Episcopalians/Anglicans like to think.

  2. Derek Olsen

    Here in the US, the Bishops’ kalendar gives an either/or for the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday. I note that the text and readings for Mass are those of the Second Sunday.

    There’s no doubt that one of the differences—perhaps one of the larger—between the Roman Catholic and various Anglican churches is devotional sensibility. I simply cannot get into body-part feasts; various hearts do nothing for me. The pieties of the Counter-Reformation took the feel of Catholicism in a different direction from what the English Reformation tried to inculcate. That is, Cranmer was attempting to instate a stripped-down version of the Regular life whereas most devotions after that time focused on more particular and less holistic themes.

    Of course, that having been said, I’ve yet to fully wrap my mind around the rosary either… The idea that I should be saying one thing while concentrating on something else seems completely counter-intuitive from a formation perspective that teaches us to consider what we pray.

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