Catholic Apologetics #42
The Feasts of the Apostles as Holy Days
For over 100 years, the Holy Days of Obligation on the Universal Calendar have remained largely the same; but this was not the case beforehand. In 1911, Pope St. Pius X reduced the number of Holy Days of Obligation from 36 to 8 (i.e., Nativity of the Lord, Circumcision of the Lord, Epiphany of the Lord, Ascension, Ss. Peter and Paul, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, All Saints, and the Immaculate Conception). Shortly thereafter, as codified in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, Corpus Christi and St. Joseph were added back. Those ten on the Universal Calendar have remained the same ever since, although they are not Holy Days in all, or even most, countries.
However, the Holy Days up until 1911 reveal something quite interesting as all of the feasts of the Apostles were Holy Days of Obligation on the Universal Calendar. Pope Urban VIII, in Universa Per Orbem, reduced the number of holy days to the list below. To their number Pope Clement XI added, in 1708, the Conception of the Blessed Virgin. Subsequent changes in the late 1700s also abrogated both Easter Tuesday and Pentecost Tuesday.
- Nativity of Our Lord
- Circumcision of Our Lord
- Epiphany of Our Lord
- Monday within the Octave of the Resurrection
- Tuesday within the Octave of the Resurrection
- Monday within the Octave of Pentecost
- Tuesday within the Octave of Pentecost
- Most Holy Trinity
- Most Holy Body of Christ
- Finding of the Holy Cross
- Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- Dedication of St. Michael
- Nativity of St. John the Baptist
- SS. Peter and Paul
- St. Andrew
- St. James
- St. John (the December feast day)
- St. Thomas
- SS. Philip and James
- St. Bartholomew
- St. Matthew
- SS. Simon and Jude
- St. Matthias
- St. Stephen (the December feast day)
- The Holy Innocents
- St. Lawrence
- St. Sylvester
- St. Joseph
- St. Anne
- All Saints Day
- The Principle Patrons of One’s Country, City, etc.
The Church, by reducing the number of Holy Days of Obligation, removed the feasts of the Apostles. And this has diminished their importance in the lives of the average Catholic. How many Catholics can even name all 12 Apostles? How many know the name of the traitor or the name of the Apostle who took his place? Catechesis has failed the post-Vatican II Catholic.
Make a special effort to observe the feasts of all of the Apostles by Mass attendance, if possible, or at least by praying the Collect prayer for their feast days. You can also try to pray the Divine Office or, at the very least, remember to implore their intercession on their feast days.
Observing the Vigil of the Apostles
The term “vigil” is used in several ways. One way is that it may refer to an entire day before a major feast day (e.g., the Vigil of Christmas is the entire day of December 24th). This kind of vigil is an important liturgical day in itself. Some form of penance, such as fasting or abstinence, was often performed on these vigil days. This spiritual exercise was intended to help prepare one’s soul to better celebrate the feast and contemplate its divine mysteries. Before the changes to the Roman calendar in 1955, nearly all feasts of the Apostles were preceded by a special Vigil Day. And the Church put those days in place to help us prepare for the importance of a feast of an Apostle.
We have lost the importance of the feasts of the Apostles I believe, in part, due to losing the vigils. We can change that for ourselves by observing those in our own prayer lives. And the same is true for the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception or the Vigil of All Saints (All Hallows’ Eve, secularly known as Halloween), traditional days when we would fast and abstain from meat, but which are neither found in the Novus Ordo calendar nor even in the 1962 Missal. You can easily find online listings of the pre-1955 Catholic liturgical calendar which include these unique vigil days of preparation.
Image: The archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the Lateran is the cathedral church of Rome and is known as the “Mother of all Christian Churches.” Colossal statues of the Apostles dominate the basilica’s nave and powerfully depict how the Apostles are the foundation stones upon which Christ built His Church (cf. Apocalypse 21:14). The image heading this article depicts photographs of the statues of the Apostles St. Bartholomew and St. Philip.
Note: If you would like to print these traditional holy days of obligation, so as to increase your piety and strengthen your devotional life, we have listed them again below. Here they are organized chronologically according to their ancient feast day. Most remain on the same day, but a few have been eliminated or had their date changed in the more modern liturgical calendars.
Jan 1: Circumcision of Our Lord
Jan 6: Epiphany of Our Lord
Feb 2: Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Feb 24: St. Matthias
Mar 19: St. Joseph
Mar 25: Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
May 1: SS. Philip and James
May 3: Finding of the Holy Cross
Jun 24: Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Jun 29: SS. Peter and Paul
Jul 25: St. James
Jul 26: St. Anne
Aug 10: St. Lawrence
Aug 15: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Aug 24: St. Bartholomew
Sep 8: Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Sep 21: St. Matthew
Sep 29: Dedication of St. Michael
Oct 28: SS. Simon and Jude
Nov 1: All Saints Day
Nov 30: St. Andrew
Dec 8: Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Dec 21: St. Thomas
Dec 25: Nativity of Our Lord
Dec 26: St. Stephen
Dec 27: St. John
Dec 28: The Holy Innocents
Dec 31: St. Sylvester
Moveable Feasts, as determined by the date of Easter:
1 day after Easter: Monday within the Octave of the Resurrection
2 days after Easter Tuesday within the Octave of the Resurrection
40 days after Easter Ascension Thursday
1 day after Pentecost: Monday within the Octave of Pentecost
2 days after Pentecost: Tuesday within the Octave of Pentecost
7 days after Pentecost: Most Holy Trinity
Thursday after Pentecost Octave: Most Holy Body of Christ
 All of our known records indicate that the Feast of the Holy Trinity has always been celebrated on Sunday in Rome; as such, it has always been necessarily observed as a Holy Day of Obligation. In some locations, such as the Low Countries (Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg) and parts of Germany, the Feast of the Holy Trinity had previously been celebrated on the Monday after the Octave Day of Pentecost, but this practice ended long before Pope St. Pius X. Most of these locations either abandoned the Catholic Faith and became Protestant, or adopted the Roman liturgical books as a sign of unity with the Holy See. As a result, the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity was almost always a Holy Day of Obligation in most places simply by virtue of it always falling on a Sunday since its institution. St. Pius X did codify for the Universal Church the practice of the Solemnity honoring the Trinity always being on the Sunday after Pentecost.
 Note: A Mass with the Sunday Propers and anticipated on a Saturday evening is sometimes, though incorrectly, called a vigil. This practice though is a novelty and not part of Catholic Tradition, so I always encourage Catholics to never attend such “vigil Masses” on Saturday evenings. The Third Commandment states that we must keep the Lord’s Day holy, and the principal means by which we sanctify the Lord’s Day is by our assistance at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. If someone attends Mass on Saturday evening and does not go on Sunday, then how are they keeping Sunday holy and fulfilling the Third Commandment?
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