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Aliturgical Days

Those days on which the 'liturgy', i.e. the Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist, is not allowed to be celebrated

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Aliturgical Days. —This term, though not recognized by any English dictionary, has lately come into use as a convenient designation for those days on which the “liturgy”, i.e. the Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist, is not allowed to be celebrated. The term is warranted by modern Greek example (aleitourgetikos, liturgia carens dies—Nilles, “Calendarium”, II, 743—though aleitourgesia under the Empire commonly meant exemption from public burdens), and the conception is much more familiar among the Eastern Churches than in the West. In the Roman Rite, in fact, there is only one day in the year which is generally recognized as aliturgical. This is Good Friday, on which, as is well known, the Holy Sacrifice is not offered; since the so-called “Mass of the Presanctified” which takes its place contains no prayer of consecration, and the sacred Host which is consumed by the celebrant is one that has been consecrated on the preceding day. Strictly speaking, the Holy Saturday is also an aliturgic day in the West; for it is easy to show that the Mass which is now celebrated in the morning, after the blessing of the paschal candle and the font, belongs of right to the office of Easter Eve, and that in the early ages of the Church it was only celebrated after midnight at the close of the great Easter vigil. In the Ambrosian Rite, still retained in the Church of Milan, all the Fridays of Lent are also theoretically aliturgical, and no Mass is celebrated on those days in the cathedral or the parish churches (see the sketch of Ambrosian practices in Magani, “L’Antica Liturgia Romana”, Milan, 1897, I). But the prohibition is evaded by many of the clergy who on these days say their Mass in convents and other privileged chapels where the Roman Rite is followed. In the Russian Orthodox Church at the present day the whole of the seven weeks preceding Easter are aliturgical, except the Saturday and Sunday of each week. Amongst these aliturgical days, however, certain differences are made, for on some of them the “service of the presanctified” (akolouthia ton proegiasmenon) is celebrated in the evening. These days are the Wednesday and the Friday of the first six weeks of Lent, a very few minor festivals, and the first three days of Holy Week. The feast of the Annunciation, whenever it falls, is a liturgical day, but if it chances to coincide with Good Friday the feast is transferred to Easter Week.

Although we do not possess much which can be regarded as direct and clear evidence, there is every reason to believe that in early centuries of the Church aliturgical days were numerous both in East and West. In the beginning of things Mass seems to have been said only on Sundays and on the very few festivals then recognized, or perhaps on the anniversaries of the martyrs, the bishop himself officiating. To these occasions we have to add certain days of “stations” which seem to have coincided with the Wednesday and Friday fast then kept regularly throughout the Church. But there is considerable doubt whether the liturgy was always celebrated on these days of stations, and we have indications in Tertullian and other writers of a current of opinion which tended to regard the offering of the Holy Sacrifice as inconsistent with the observance of a true and serious fast. In Alexandria in the fifth century we have direct testimony of the observances on certain fast days of all the rites which belonged to the usual assembly of the faithful (synaxis), “with the exception of the celebration of the mysteries”. This probably points to some kind of Mass of the Presanctified. A letter of Pope Innocent I (401-417) to Decentius of Eugubium makes it clear that no Mass was said in Rome on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, and some writers have wished to draw the conclusion that the same was true of all Fridays and Saturdays throughout the year. In Spain Canon xxvi of the Council of Elvira (300) may be quoted as evidence that the faithful at that time fasted every Thursday evening to the Sunday morning, and that the liturgy was probably celebrated during the vigil of the Saturday night as the fast drew to its close. No doubt this practice followed the type of the Holy Saturday vigil. In the later centuries we can only be sure of certain isolated facts which argue considerable diversity of usage. Dom Germain Morin has shown that at Capua, in the sixth century, and also in Spain, Mass was celebrated during Lent only on the Wednesday and the Friday. It is probable that a similar rule, but including the Monday also, obtained in England in the days of Bede or even later (see “Revue Benedictine”, 1891, VIII, 529). At Rome we also know that down to the time of Pope Gregory II (715-731), the liturgy was not celebrated on Thursdays. In the East, Canon xlix of the Council of Laodicea (365?), laid it down “that it is not lawful to offer bread in Lent except on the Saturday and the Lord’s day”, while the Council of Constantinople (in Trullo), in 692, speaks explicitly of the liturgy of the presanctified and appoints it to be celebrated on all days of Lent, except the Saturday, the Sunday, and the feast of the Annunciation.


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