Ok, we complete our examination of the Church’s calendar of feast days this week. We have seen how, because of such a spectacular number of saints, you cannotalways celebrate a saint on their actual day of death, or, at least they cannot all find a place on the Universal Calendar. For some saints, like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus who we started this whole project with, we do not know the day they died since we simply do not have records of that. For others, we have to move their feast-day to celebrate something more important, for instance St. Dominic, who we will celebrate on August 8th, actually died on August 6th, but because Our Lord’s Transfiguration is celebrated on the 6th, St. Dominic is bumped forward 2 days, onto a day which may not be his heavenly-birth-day, but happily falls on the day of his earthly birth.
Why did we begin this investigation with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus? Well, because two years ago, Pope Francis changed the feast on July 29th from just being for St. Martha, to also include her sister Mary, and brother Lazarus. These are the kinds of smaller changes that happen constantly in the life of the Church that perhaps we don’t notice, but which gradually impact our life of faith. Why might Pope Francis have done this? If I had to guess, it actually has to do with St. Mary Magdalen, who has sometimes been conflated with Mary of Bethany, but whom scholarship has gradually shifted to thinking that the two Mary’s were different disciples of Jesus. Pope Francis, in 2016, upgraded the feast day of St. Mary Magdalen (on July 22nd) from the level of an obligatory memorial to a feast, (this primarily means that she now has more of her own prayers at Masses on that day). After giving greater emphasis to St. Mary Magdalen, and focusing on the gift of mercy that she received from Jesus, Pope Francis wanted to give greater emphasis to the other Mary, reminding all of us of what it looks like to have close friendship with Jesus. He does not just forgive, He also wants to spend time with us in our homes!
I should mention that saints are not always added or upgraded on the calendar. Sometimes Popes choose to remove saints from the calendar, and not simply for space reasons. St. Pope Pius V, who we saw preceding Pope Gregory XIII, did some preparatory work for his successor and removed whole bunch of saints from the yearly calendar (Sts. Joachim and Anne, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and others) as well as some feasts we may now consider rather odd (the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis, for instance). Other feasts he “downgraded” to a lower class so they would not trump important seasons such as Advent and Lent. After Vatican II, something similar happened, with dozens of saints losing their feast day (examples being St. Philomena, St. Ursula, and St. Christopher) and others being moved to other days or upgraded/downgraded as far as their “class” of feast goes. There are a variety of reasons for this. Sometimes because devotion or knowledge of a saint has waned they may be removed, or other saints who are considered more impactful, loved, or needed at this particular time might take their spot.
Here we can see how popular devotion actually ends up impacting the Church’s liturgical life. As saints grow, or shrink, in popularity, this can eventually change the Church’s celebration of them. That said, the Church also has an obligation to push back on fads and whims, holding before the world saints who challenge and shock us. You get into heaven not because of a popular vote but because of complete surrender to God! Still, each of us personally should choose saints as particularly close friends both for the ways that they challenge us, but also for the ways their lives or virtues attract us. Even if it is not a saint on the universal calendar, we can and should look up their feast day and celebrate accordingly!
A final nugget found in researching these essays: Hurricanes were originally not given alphabetical names, but the name of the saint on whose feast day they first made landfall. See the “San Calixto” hurricane (named after St. Pope Callixtus I, October 14th, 1780), “San Ciriaco” (after St. Cyriacus, August 8th, 1899, though his day has now been stolen by St. Dominic), or even Hurricane Betsy, nicknamed “Santa Clara” (after St. Clare, August 12th, 1956, though her feast since 1970 has been restored to her actual day of death of August 11th.)
– Fr. Dominic Rankin has seen a shift in popular devotion to the saints over just the past year or two, with far more children choosing St. Gianna and St. Teresa of Calcutta as their patron saint at confirmation than before. This could be because we shifted to younger children receiving that sacrament over that same period so I wonder if the stories of Gianna and Teresa more easily captivate our young ladies’ hearts?