Why do some feasts, formerly celebrated on the church calendar, later get suppressed?

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The removal of some saints from the General Roman Calendar has been lamented as "the sanctoral killing fields."

In the 20th century, Pope Pius XII appointed a commission to abolish some octaves, vigils, and duplicate feasts to simplify the church calendar. Depending on how dates fell, celebrations overlapped and became confusing to pastor and people: what exactly ought we to be observing?

It seemed prudent to focus the assembly's attention on significant mysteries, rather than scattering their contemplation every which way. In church history, "calendrical clog" was periodically eliminated, so Pope Pius wasn't acting uniquely in his decision. This led to the renewed rubrics in the Roman Breviary and Missal of 1955. Five years later, additional changes were made by his still-operating commission under Pope John XXIII. 

Celebrating major feasts as octaves was an ancient Jewish practice. Three octaves are retained on the church calendar—Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost—as one day is hardly enough to consider the mysteries of Incarnation, Redemption, and the in-Spiriting of the church. Discontinued octaves include those for the feasts of John the Baptist, Peter & Paul, Stephen the first martyr, John the Evangelist, Ascension, Corpus Christi, Epiphany, and the Sacred Heart.

Vigils were embraced by the early church as an opportunity to pray all night on special feasts. Easter, Pentecost, Ascension, Assumption, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, and Lawrence the deacon retain their vigils—though it's the rare Catholic who keeps vigil all night these days. Vigils are suppressed for Immaculate Conception, All Saints, and Epiphany. You're still welcome to pray all night on any feast you like.

The removal of some saints from the General Roman Calendar has been lamented as "the sanctoral killing fields." Over 300 saints, plus their typically unnamed companions, were removed from the calendar in the renewals. This list famously includes the popular Mr. Christopher, but also the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste and the Seven Maccabee Martyrs. Many deleted feasts were duplicate names on the calendar, such as observances for Agnes and Francis of Assisi. Of the more than ten thousand saints in the canon, some are certainly variant names used in different locales: i.e.  Vlash in Albania is Blaise elsewhere. 

It also bears noting that Pope John Paul II doubled the number of canonized saints in a single papacy. Making a little room for these contemporary saints who have much to teach us about how to embrace holy living in circumstances more familiar to us is a good thing.

Scripture: Matthew 11:28-30; 23:4; Luke 11:46

Books: Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium - Rita Ferrone (Paulist Press, 2007)

Cum hac nostra aetate (With Our Age). On "Reducing the rubrics to a simpler form" - Pope Pius XII, find at https://divinumofficium.com/www/horas/Help/Rubrics/1955.txt  

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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