Ending Christmas

After Easter, Christmas is the next greatest feast in Christendom. For various liturgical, cultural, social, even psychological, reasons, just as secular establishments compete in commencing the festivities, Catholics also compete in delaying the end of the observations. While the former is pathologically symptomatic more of the world’s rejection of the penitential character of Advent than of its expectation of the birth of the Redeemer, the latter is somewhat indicative of modern Catholics’ reluctance to finally retire the exultation and mirth of the Lord’s Nativity in order to begin the rigours of Lent. Indeed, since Lent requires stricter discipline in terms of penance and diet, and Easter has never associated itself with gift-giving, only a few recognise that extraordinary—dare we say, superior—joy we ought to feel at the Resurrection of the Lord.

Fuga in Egitto | Gentile da Fabriano | 1423

Liturgically speaking, below are the temporal durations of the different reckonings associated with birth of our Saviour:

  • The Christmas cycle (cyclus natalicius) begins at first vespers of the First Sunday of Advent (movable) and ends at none of the Saturday before Septuagesima (movable). This covers the tempus Nativitatis, the tempus Epiphaniæ, and the tempus post Epiphaniam. For 2018, the Saturday before Septuagesima is 27 January.
  • The Christmas season (tempus natalicium) begins at first vespers of Christmas (25 December) and ends on 13 January (Baptism of the Lord if not Sunday; Holy Family if Sunday). This covers both the tempus Nativitatis and the tempus Epiphaniæ.
  • In the vetus ordo (with respect to the 1962 rubrics), Christmastide (tempus Nativitatis) begins at first vespers of Christmas (25 December) and ends at none of 5 January inclusive (previously, the vigil of the Epiphany). Whereas in the novus ordo (with respect to the 1969 rubrics), Christmastide (tempus Nativitatis) begins at first vespers of Christmas (25 December) and ends on the Sunday after Epiphany or after 6 January (Baptism of the Lord). This latter reckoning conflates under one name two traditionally distinct, albeit connected, times, rendering moot the tempus Epiphaniæ. (Moreover, it requires acclimatisation due to the transferability of Epiphany in the novus ordo: for 2018, if Epiphany is observed on its proper day, the Baptism of the Lord should be on Sunday, 7 January; but for those places where Epiphany is moved to Sunday, the Baptism of the Lord is immediately moved to Monday, which is 8 January.)
  • The Christmas octave (octava Nativitatis) begins at first vespers of Christmas (25 December) and ends at second vespers of 1 January (traditionally, the Circumcision of the Lord).

Popular understanding of Christmas, and its ending, typically gravitates towards lengthening the observance, as much as possible:

  • According to popular tradition, Christmas ends on 6 January, Epiphany of the Lord, to complete the so-called 12 days of Christmas.
  • According to popular piety, Christmas ends on 2 February, Purification of the Blessed Virgin, to complete the so-called 40 days of Christmas (parallel to the 40 days of Lent).
  • According to extended popular piety, Christmas ends on 9 February, simply because it is the octave day of the Purification.

We do not intend to weaponise this exposition of the different reckoning of the temporal terminus of Christmas to exacerbate the pointless argument about which is correct. Rather, we wish to highlight with this the comforting fact—which in recent times has been invoked for the purpose of furthering causes surreptitiously pernicious to and glaringly incompatible with the faith—that Holy Mother Church has always accommodated the different pious customs of Her children.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.


‘More solemn tone’ of the Te Deum

We have heard the Te Deum sung on many occasions. The Liber usualis contains a solemn tone (begins on p. 1832 in № 801) and a simple tone (begins on p. 1834 in № 801), and these lift our soul to give thanks to God. There is, however, a Roman tone for the Te Deum, which we fondly call its ‘more solemn tone’. (It is actually listed as iuxta morem Romanum, and its placement in the 1908 Vatican edition of the Graduale Romanum, right after the tonus sollemnis, suggests that it is to be understood as the tonus sollemnis iuxta morem Romanum.) For many of us who had heard this tone first, prior to hearing the solemn tone or the simple tone, the latter tones understandably sounded like a reduction of the Roman tone, quoting bits and pieces of its surprisingly more tuneful melody.

Benlliure y Gil - El coro
El coro | José Benlliure Gil | 1886

Today is another occasion to hear or sing the Te Deum. If a blessing of Epiphany water is happening somewhere near you, that is. The notation for the Roman tone of the Te Deum is buried in the latter part of the Graduale Romanum. Check it (begins on p. 147* in № 696; p. 118* in the 1908 Vatican edition), and, if you are a chorister or cantor, sing it today. (For us Filipinos, this is rather opportune, considering that an alternating chant and fauxbourdon version of the Te Deum appearing in a collection of sacred music from colonial Intramuros uses the Roman tone for the chant.) Here (the original website carrying this recording is inaccessible as of this posting) is how it was sung by the Benedictine monks of São Paulo. For comparison, listen to the solemn tone and to the simple tone.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Epiphany announcement 2018

We are in the middle of the first week of 2018. For that, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone! Epiphany will be on the first Saturday! If divine favour is upon us, we might get some Epiphany water blessed on the first Friday.

Burne-Jones - The Star of Bethlehem
The star of Bethlehem | Edward Burne-Jones | 1887–1891

Festa mobilia 2018This means that it is time for our priests to brush up on the Epiphany announcement, a parallelising misnomer (we had Christmas proclamation last Christmas) for the rather cumbersome announcement of movable feasts. Unlike the Christmas proclamation, this one does not have any stymieing elogium (say, for the phase of the moon), apart from the synodal elogium, which we have omitted, since our local ordinary had not issued an indiction for a diocesan synod anytime this 2018. And, unlike the Christmas proclamation, the tone for this announcement (click on the thumbnail to open the file) is familiar, being the same tone used for the Easter proclamation (yes, the Exsultet). Here is how it was sung in 2014.

Oh, and a final note, 14 February is Ash Wednesday. It is one of the two days when Filipinos cannot substitute anything for the obligatory fast and abstinence.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Christmas proclamation 2017

Gallegos - Niños del coro
Niños del coroJosé Gallegos y Arnosa | c. 1885–1890

Today is Christmas Eve. Traditionally, before the misa de gallo, the Mass sung at midnight, the first Mass of Christmas, at prime, the proclamation of Christ, what many of us call kalendas, is sung as prologue to the martyrology. Amongst us Filipinos, members of some choirs that sang in the Mass before the liturgical changes of the 1960s would probably still remember singing or hearing the kalendas, which used to be sung as a choral rite of passage from tiple to cantor.

We know, of course, that, in a deplorable, but not unexpected, happenstance, the chronological exactitude of the old text of the prologue of the Christmas martyrology was thrown off the cliff and replaced with a generic formula that situates the birth of our Redeemer at a time, rather off-puttingly, “when ages beyond number had run their course”. It is no longer a mystery to us, but we still wonder why the usus recentior strives to countenance this inelegance and ambiguity.

Gérôme - Le Siècle d'Auguste et la naissance de Jésus-Christ
Le siècle d’Auguste et la naissance de Jésus-ChristJean-Léon Gérôme | 1855

For the usus antiquior, it is more common to use the older text. The elogium of the date is the same: the eighth calends of January. This means that 25 December is eight days away from 1 January, which is the calends of the month. The elogium of the moon changes per year, according to the epact of the year and its corresponding martyrology letter. This year, it is the seventh moon. Practically, especially if referencing the dates against the martyrology tables becomes too daunting a task to accomplish, we can simplify the reckoning by counting the number of days from the preceding new moon, which occurred on 18 December this year, until 25 December.

Kalendas 2017There is a modus ordinarius found in the Martyrologium Romanum, but here we have the modus sollemnior (click on the thumbnail to open the file), which is probably monastic in provenance. If it has fallen upon our happy lot to chant the kalendas this year, then we can exercise the option to sing it in the more solemn tone in honour of the holy birth of our Redeemer.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

Rizal and a villancico

It is time for villancicos! A great number of Filipino villancicos (of course, in Spanish) eventually disappeared via the oft-trodden road of desuetude. What replaced them are feel-good Christmas carols, such as one that gleefully glorifies the coordinated twinkling of Christmas lights, or another that excitedly enumerates the meals prepared for the nochebuena, or another that forlornly reduces Christmas to an accident in an ongoing breakup process, or still another that poignantly ponders on missed family reunions juxtaposed against the glittering tinsel and clinking jingle of the season.


Perhaps, we can say that the collapse of the Spanish language in the Philippines was one of the catalysts that progressively favoured the deconstruction of Christmas into its purely aesthetic, amply gastronomic, potentially therapeutic, and overstatedly emotional elements. In other words, materialism articulated in poetic motifs and tuneful themes. The worrying thing about this trend is not the accident that modern Filipino Christmas carols do not mock the core and reason of Christmas, Who is Christ our Lord, but the fact that they do not mention Him at all. Whether a staunch refusal or a candid failure, this setting aside of Christ contributes to the decoupling of our values from our faith.

But enough about this tragedy in our culture. Let us get to the villancicos. Examples of Filipino villancicos are this and this, both from the Visayas. Sung with their Spanish counterparts during pastores presentations, together with the adaptation of various Latin hymns, and the misa pastorela for the misa aguinaldo, villancicos defined the Christmas soundscape of colonial Philippines.


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Awe and longing of creation

La O
Nuestra Señora de la O

Today is the third day of the misa de aguinaldo. That means we are six days away from Christmas. Before the 1960 rubrical changes raised the dignity and rank of the Advent ferias from 17 to 23 December, many countries in the Spanish realm kept the feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin on 18 December, a holdover of the feast of the Annunciation transferred from 25 March by the Tenth Council of Toledo. Images of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin usually depict Mary gravid.

The feast eventually assumed the title of Nuestra Señora de la O, literally, Our Lady of the O. What inspired Spaniards to use O traces a rather interesting history, which is ultimately, and surprisingly, choral in provenance. In summary, for seven days beginning on the eve of the feast, that is, from 17 to 23 December, at Vespers in the cathedral of Toledo, at the inchoation of the Great Antiphons, the dignity charged with the intonation prolonged the interjection O, and the rest of the choir joined with its lengthening, signifying with “these profound suspirations of longing” the “desire and yearning of the world for the Redeemer” [1]. For more details, read this.

Catedral de Toledo
Dives Toletana

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Cerulean for the Immaculate

La Inmaculada Concepción
La Inmaculada Concepción | Francisco de Zurbarán | 1628–1630

The Philippine Islands this coming Friday, 8 December, shall again exercise her privilege of using cerulean vestments for all Masses in honour of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in all churches, chapels, and oratories. Saint Pius X granted this indult on 11 February 1910 at the request of the Fathers of the First Provincial Council of Manila.

After Mass, we are to renew the consecration of the Philippines to the Immaculate Mother of God.

Ordo - December 8

Cerulean is indeed a very beautiful and unique colour. The privilege to use it has been extended and, theoretically, can still be extended to only a few countries and places, mostly within the Spanish ambit, or formerly under the jurisdiction of the Spanish Crown [1]. Some monasteries outside the Spanish world in general petitioned and succeeded in securing permission to use cerulean, yet the indult was predicated on the communities’ ability to prove that it had links with Spain [2].


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Troped Kyrie: Cunctipotens Genitor, Deus

We have started singing Mass IV in our Sunday Masses. Like most of the ordinary settings in the chant books of the Roman Rite, this ordinary is soubriqueted with the incipit of the trope traditionally sung to the plainchant Kyrie.

The trope appears in the manner below (click on the image to open the file):

Tropes - Kyrie - Mass IV

In the Middle Ages, this Kyrie occupied the bread-and-butter niche that Missa de Angelis now inhabits amidst many Traditional communities. Troped Kyries were usually sung alternatim in such a way that each Kyrie line was chanted in full before each trope line. Hence, if tropes were still sung in Masses in the usus antiquior nowadays, instead of nine-fold, we would have an eighteen-fold Kyrie.

The tropes in a Kyrie are often arranged such that the first three address the Father; the second, the Son; and the third, the Holy Ghost. This schema is evident in the tropes of this Kyrie. Here are the first tropes for each of the three sets, from the Codex Calixtinus. And here is a sample rendition of some of the tropes.

O almighty Father, God!

Toque de ánimas

Belfry of the parish of Baclayón five months before the devastating 2013 Bohol earthquake

Todos los santos is now upon us. This reminds us of that small commotion amongst Filipino churchly circles that recently erupted concerning bells, after the CBCP “[appealed] for the pealing of church bells at 8:00 pm during the same [forty-day] period in remembrance of the souls of those killed” [1]. This national appeal was preceded by appeals at the diocesan level outside Metro Manila [2], and followed by diocesan instructions on what day to begin the observance, what time to ring the bells, and how long the pealing should be [3].

The critique to this appeal mainly questioned the motivations behind it. Observers noted that by singling out “those killed in the government’s campaign against drugs” [4], even though including in the appositive “all victims of violence and the war in Marawi” [5], as beneficiaries of the exercise, the CBCP politicised its revival of the ancient custom. Strengthening this observation is the fact that the revival was specified only for forty days. An optimist perhaps would say that the CBCP is laying out guidelines for a present issue. Extending it beyond the specified time remains at the hands of individual bishops and parish priests.

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