50 > 8

I see some discussion of the Pentecost Octave on NLM. Make use of the ballot box there, if you wish. One commentator:

Out of curiosity to those who said no, what’s your reasoning for believing that it should not be, or is not even something to consider?

While I’m aware of the importance of the number 8 in the liturgical imagination, there are overarching numbers for us to put in the spotlight:

– Fifty, for the days of Easter

– Forty, for the days of Lent

– Twelve, for the days of Christmas (And yes, for the record, I’m in favor of keeping the observance of Epiphany on January 6th, for lots of reasons.)

I think that placing the commemoration of the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem (and the synoptic Passion(s)) on the last Sunday of Lent works without constructing an octave. The liturgy of the following three days strikes me as an adequate observance.

I’m aware of the former unity in observing the Resurrection, Ascension, and Descent of the Holy Spirit. And partly because it’s been a liturgical rhythm for all of my Catholic life, I find that Pentecost has proper dignity as the last day of Fifty, rather than the first day of Eight.

Easter has both Eight and Fifty, and that befits the major feast of Christendom. Christmas has (or should have) Twelve–more than Eight, and also appropriate for the observance of the Nativity and Theophany.

Easter has unexplored potential in those Fifty Days, and I’m disinclined to see liturgical appendages sewn on to the concluding feasts of the Nativity and Resurrection observances. Can we just focus on Jesus Christ, and not on the number eight?

That said, if some Christians have or want to develop a devotional life for the Holy Spirit or for the Epiphany/Theophany, I don’t see a problem with taking prayer time to further extend the virtues of the season if Fifty or Twelve haven’t been enough. But a simple return to preconciliar practice for some exercise in nostalgia just doesn’t square with the greater values preached in the Catholic liturgy.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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6 Responses to 50 > 8

  1. Andy says:

    Do you really view the coming of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity, as simply the concluding feast of the season of Easter?

    Pentecost is arguably the second most important feast day of the year, and it gets fewer days than Christmas.

    I think the error in your reasoning comes from viewing Pentecost only in the relationship to Easter.

  2. Liam says:


    Epiphany/Theophany doesn’t get an octave either. The Eastern churches, interestingly, place Theophany – the first revelation of the Trinity to the world – as the culmination of a season that begins with the Nativity, while Pentecost is a Trinitarian (not specifically Holy Spirit) culmination to the season that begins with the Triduum.

    There has been a steady paring away of octaves since Trent. If you want to blame the origin of the trend, blame Trent. It is Trent that originated the whole trend of cutting away accretions in the name of streamlining (not just octaves, but sequences and other things).

  3. Mike K says:

    I knew octaves have disappeared over time, but I never realized it started from Trent.

    Still, I like the approach. Keep things simple. Don’t just add celebrations for the sake of adding celebrations and/or extending a Holy Day.

    The two principle events of the earthly life of Christ – his incarnation and his resurrection – get the biggest prominence, and thus the two octaves. And that’s the way it should be.

    If you want a sense of how overlapping octaves/observances/feasts can look, see any Eastern Church calendar. (Disclaimer: I was baptized in the Eastern Church.)

    I think part of the issue stems from the cultural celebrations that develop around certain religious celebrations. The octave of Pentecost is one of those, especially in Europe. St. Joseph’s feast day is another (especially in Italian communities). And don’t get me started on St. Patrick’s Day. (In 2008, there should have been NO parades – and no St. Patrick’s Day Masses – on March 17. It was Monday of Holy Week.)

  4. Tony Barr says:

    ‘Twelve for the days of Christmas’

    But don’t forget 4 weeks for Advent (12 + 28 = 40)

    And, as Epiphany in the Orthodox Church is a baptismal feast, paralleling Easter, 40 days is just about the right number compared to the number of days Jesus spent in the desert, or in other words our 35 days of lent plus another 5 to Holy Thursday, the end of lent (= 40)

    Don’t you just love the maths of liturgy! Numerology, necromancy, you name it; we deal with it every day!

  5. Andy says:

    “Twelve for the days of Christmas”

    Actually, the current calendar only celebrates eight days for Christmas (gasp! An octave!) See Paul VI’s “General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar,” Chap 1, sec 8.

    On the other hand, I would concede that an Octave of Pentecost is redundant (at least insofar as focus on the Spirit) if parishes celebrated the proper Novena from Ascension to Pentecost.

    • Todd says:

      Christmas is anchored by two feasts, the Western Nativity and the Eastern Epiphany–these predate the particular Octave. Twelve Days is pretty ancient.

      No problem on the traditional Ascension-Pentecost novena.

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