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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Feasts, or Festivals
in the Christian Church, certain days set apart for the more particular remembrance of the prominent transactions connected with our Lord in his redemption of mankind, and also for the commemoration of the labors and sufferings of his apostles.
I. History and Theory of their Observance.
(1.) "Some Protestants object to the observance of these feasts on the ground that such observance is contrary to the injunction of the apostle Paul (Colossians 2:16), forgetting that in this passage the apostle alludes exclusively to Jewish feasts; others object to all such festivals as being popish, forgetting that they have been observed from the earliest ages of the Church. If a Church has power to ordain rites and ceremonies which are not contrary to Scripture, she has the power to set apart certain days in commemoration of the most important events and persons connected With the first promulgation of the Gospel to sinners" (Eden).
(2.) Festival days were hallowed in the Church long before the rise of the papacy. At first the religious festivals of the Church. were observed voluntarily, and never by formal obligation; but in the 4th century various decrees of councils were passed, enjoining the observance of them as a duty. The number of festivals was originally small, consisting, besides Sunday, of Easter, Pentecost. and Ascension, and to these the Epiphany and Christmas were added at a later period. "The end designed by the observance of these festivals was to call to mind the benefits of the Christian dispensation, to excite Christians to holy living, to offer thanks for providential mercies, and to aid in the cultivation of Christian graces. The discourses which s-ere delivered on these occasions always referred to the most important topics of the Christian religion. Even the Lord's day, according to Eusebius, was said to have had a threefold origin, emblematic of the sacred Trinity - the creation of the world, the resurrection of Christ, and the effusion of the Holy Spirit" (Bingham, bk. 20:ch. iv; Neander, Church History, i, 301). "The primitive Church were not careful to prescribe a specific time or place for the celebration of their religious festivals. The apostles and their immediate successors proceeded on the principle that these should be observed at stated times, which might still be varied as circumstances should direct. These seasons were regarded as sacred, not for any peculiar sanctity belonging to the day or hour in which they were solemnized, in itself considered, but merely as being set apart from a common to a religious use. Some, however, have maintained that these festive days should be observed as holy time" (Coleman, Christian Antiquities, ch. xxi). After the 4th century festivals were so greatly multiplied in the Church that later times bear no resemblance in this respect to the first ages. "Many causes contributed to this multiplication of festivals, among which may be mentioned as the chief,
1. The commemorations of martyrs and confessors already introduced, which led to the establishment of numerous festivals in honor of saints, and to the superstitious use of relics, invocations, pilgrimages, and the like;
2. The errors of some sects respecting existing festivals, to correct which the Catholic Church introduced new observances;
3. Several laws of Constantine relating to the celebration of Easter, the religious observance of Friday in every week, and the feasts of martyrs;
4. The celebration of Christmas, which was introduced in the 4th century, led the way to the establishment of other festivals in connection with itself, such as those in honor of the Virgin Mary.
5. The propensity of many Christians to partake in the celebration of heathen festivals and in Jewish observances had become a serious evil in the Church during the third and fourth centuries. In Homilies and decrees of councils of that date we find earnest protests against the amalgamation of Christian worship with Jewish and heathen rites, and a description of the dangers which threatened Christianity from this practice, which had begun to gain ground (see Chrysostom Hoss. 1, 6, 52, and elsewhere; Conc. Laod. c. 29, 37, 39; Conc. Illiber. c. 49, 50). This perverse attachment to forms and ceremonies altogether foreign to the Christian religion appears to have been a leading cause of the multiplication of festivals within the Church. The original simplicity of Christian worship had become unsatisfactory to the multitude, and it was deemed necessary to give splendor and external attraction to the religion of the Gospel by the establishment of new festivals, or by converting Jewish and heathen ceremonies into Christian solemnities. It was thought that this might be done with safety, inasmuch as there was no longer occasion to fear that the people would return to Judaism or heathenism. And accordingly, in the time of Gregory the Great, many observances were adopted into the course of Christian worship from the Jewish and heathen ritual, without fear of those evil consequences which were formerly apprehended from such a combination. See Gregor. M. Reg. 9:Ep. 71; Theodoret, De Mart. i, viii" (Riddle, Christian Antiquities, p. 648).
(3.) Those who vindicate the observance of festivals in the Church maintain that "this sanctification or setting apart of festival days is a token of that thankfulness, and a part of that public honor which we owe to God for his admirable benefits; and these days or feasts set apart are of excellent use, being, as Hooker observes, the,
1. Splendor and outward dignity of our religion;
2. Forcible witnesses of ancient truth;
3. Provocations to the exercise of all piety;
4. Shadows of our endless felicity in heaven;
5. Records teaching the facts of Christianity in the most obvious way. The Church begins her ecclesiastical year with the Sundays in Advent, to remind us of the coming of Christ in the flesh. After these, we are brought to contemplate the mystery of the incarnation; and so, step by step, we follow the Church through all the events of our Saviour's pilgrimage to his ascension into heaven. In all this the grand object is to keep Christ perpetually before us, to make him and his doctrine the chief object in all our varied services. Every Sunday has its peculiar character, and has reference to some act or scene in the life of our Lord, or the redemption achieved by him, or the mystery of mercy carried on by the blessed Trinity. Thus every year brings the whale Gospel history to view; and it will be found,-as a general rule, that the appointed portions of Scripture in each day's service are mutually illustrative; the New Testament casting light on the Old, prophecy being admirably brought in contact with its accomplishment, so that no plan could be devised for a more profitable course of Scripture reading than that presented by the Church on her holy days"- (Sparrow, Rationale of the Common Prayer).
II. Number and Classes of Feasts.
(1.) Besides the days observed by the whole Church as memorials of the acts of Christ's life and death, other festivals were also introduced commemorative of the apostles and martyrs. Bingham states that these may be traced up to the 2d century (Orig. Eccl. 20:7), and Mosheim agrees with him (cent. i, pt. ii, chap. 4:§ 4). It is to be observed that while Christmas is celebrated as the birthday of Christ, the martyrs' festivals we held on the days of their deaths-still, however, called birthdays (natales), as on these days they were transferred to endless life. On the, number of these festivals in the early Church, and the modes in which they were observed, see Bingham (1. c.; Neander, Ch. Hist. i, 300 sq.).
(2.) The Roman Catholic Church has retained all the early festivals, with the later ones of the apostles and martyrs, and has added largely to the number. She retains the right to enact festal days, and to fix the mode of their observance. The following list embraces the feasts of the American calendar:
Movable Feasts and Holydays. — Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus; Septuagesima Sunday; Ash Wednesday; Office of the Passion of our Lord; Office of the Most Sacred Crown; Office of the Spear and Nails; Office of the Five Wounds; Office of the Most Precious Blood; Sorrows of the B. V. Mary; Easter Day; Patronage of St. Joseph; Ascension of our Lord; Whit Sunday; Trinity Sunday; Corpus Christi; Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; Feast of the Most Precious Blood of our Lord; Feast of the Holy Name of Mary; Feast of the Seven Dolors of B. V. M.; Feast of the Holy Rosary; Feast of the Maternity of B. V. M.; Feast of the Patronage of B. V. M.; Sundays after Pentecost; First Sunday of Advent.
Immovable Feasts and Saints' Days. -Abdon and Sennen, MM., July 30; AEgidius, Ab., Sept. 1; Agatha, V. M., Feb. 5; Agnes, V. M., Jan. 21; Alexius, C., July 17; All Saints, Nov. 1; All Saints, Octave, of, Nov. 8; A11 Souls, Nov. 2; Aloysius Gonzaga, C., June 21; Alphonsus Liguori, B. C., Aug. 2; Ambrose, B. C. D., Dec. 7; Anacletus, Pope, M., July 13; Andrew, Apostle, Nov. 30; Andrew Avellino, C., Nov. 10; Andrew Corsini, B. C., Feb. 4; Anicetus, Pope, M., April 17; Ann, Mother of B. V. M., July 26; Anselm, B. C. D., April 21; Anthony, Ab., Jan. 17; Anthony of Padua, C., June 13; Antoninus, B. C., May 10; Apollinaris, B. M., July 23; Apollonia, V. M., Feb. 9; Athanasius, B. C. D., May 2; Augustine, B. C. D., Aug. 28; Barnabas, Apostle, June 11; Bartholomew, Apostle, April 24; Basil, B. C. D., June 14; Benedict, Ab. C., Mar. 21; Bernard, Ab. D., Aug. 20; Bernardinus, C., May 20; Bibiana, V. M., Dec. 2; Blase, B. M., Feb. 3; Bonaventure, B. C. D., July 14; Boniface, M., May 14; Bridget, Widow, Oct. 8; Bruno, C., Oct. 6; Cajetan, C., Aug. 7; Callistus, Pope, M., Oct. 14; Camillus de Lellis, C., July 18; Canute, M., Jan. 19; Casimir, C., Mark 4; Catharine, V. M., Nov. 25; Catharine of Sienna, V, April 30; Cecilia, V. M., Nov. 22; Chas. Borromeo, B. C., Nov. 4; Christmas Day, Dec. 25; Chrysanthus and Daria, Oct. 25; Circumcision of our Lord, Jan. 1; Clare, V., Aug. 12; Clement, Pope, M., Nov. 23; Cletus and Marcel. PP. MM., April 26; Cornelius and Cyprian, MM., Sept. 16; Cosmas and Damian, MM., Sept. 27; Cyprian and Justina, MM., Sept. 26; Cyriacus, etc. MM., Aug. 8; Damasus, Pope, C., Dec. 11; Didacus, C., Nov. 13; Dionysius, etc. MM., Oct. 9; Dominic, C., Aug. 4; Dorothy, V. M., Feb. 6; Edward, King, C., Oct. 13; Elizabeth, Widow, July 8; Elizabeth of Hungary, Widow, Nov. 19; Epiphany of our Lord, Jan. 6; Epiphany, Octave of, Jan. 13; Eusebius, B. M., Dec. 16; Eustachius, etc. MM., Sept. 20; Evaristus, Pope, M., Oct. 26; Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Sept. 14; Fabian and Sebastian, MM.; Jan. 20; Faustinus and Jovita, MM., Feb. 15; Felix, P. M., Mar. 30; Felix of Valois, C., Nov. 20; Fidelis, M., April 24; Finding of the Holy Cross, May 3; Frances, Widow, Mark 9; Francis of Assisium, C., Oct. 4; Francis, Stigmas of, Sept. 17; Francis Borgia, C., Oct. 10; Francis Caracciolo, C., June 4; Francis of Paula, C., April 4; Francis of Sales, B. C., Jan. 29; Francis Xavier, C., Dec. 3; Gabriel, Archangel, Mar. 18; George, M., April 23; Gertrude,V., Nov. 15; Gregory the Great, P. C. D., Mark 12; Gregory Nazianzen, B. C. D., May 9; Gregory Thaumaturgus, B. C., Nov. 17; Gregory VII, P. C., May 25; Guardian Angels, Oct. 2; Hedwigis, Widow, Oct. 17; Henry, Emperor, C., July 15; Hermenegild, M., April 13; Hilarion, Ab., Oct. 21; Hilary, B. C., Jan. 14; Hyacinth, C., Aug. 16; Ignatius, B. M., Feb. 1; Ignatius of Loyola, C., July 31; Innocents, Holy, Dec. 28; Innocents, Holy, Octave of, Jan. 4; Irenseus, B. M., June 28; Isidore, B. C. D., April 4; James, Apostle, July 25; Jane Frances de Chantal, Aug. 21; Januarius, etc. MM., Sept. 19; Jerome, C. D., Sept. 30; Jerome AEmilian, C., July 20; John, Apostle and Evangelist, Dec. 27; John, Octave of, Jan. 3; John before Lat. Gate, May 6; John the Baptist, Beheading of, Aug. 29; John the Baptist, Nativity of, June 24: John the Baptist, Octave of, July 1; John Cantius, C., Oct. 20; John Chrysostom, B. C. D., Jan. 27; John of the Cross, C., Nov: 24; John of God, C., Mark 8; John Lateran, Dedication of, Nov. 9; John A. S. Facundo, C., June 12; John Francis Regis, C., June 18; John of Matha, C., Feb. 8; John Gualbert, A. C., July 12; John Nepomucen, M., May 22; John and Paul, MM., June 26; Joseph, C., Spouse of B. V. M., Mar. 19; Joseph Calasanctius, C., Aug. 27; Joseph Cupertino, C., Sept. 18; Juliana Falconieri,V., June 19; Lady of Mercy, Our Blessed, Sept. 24; Lady ad Nives, Our, Aug. 5; Laurence, M., Aug. 10; Laurence, Octave of, Aug. 17; Laurence Justinian, B. C., Sept. 5; Leo the Great, P. C. D., April 11; Leo, Pope, C., July 7; Lewis, King, C., Aug. 25; Linus, Pope, M., Sept. 23; Lucy, V. M., Dec. 13; Luke, Evangelist, Oct. 18; Magdalen, Mary, Pen, July 22; Magdalen of Pazzi, V., May 27; Marcellinus, etc. MM., June 2; Marcellus, P. M., Jan. 16; Marcus, etc. MM., June 18; Margaret, Queen, Widow, June 10; Marl, Evangelist, April 25; Mark, Pope, C., Oct. 7; Martha, V., July 29; Martin, B. C., Nov. 11; Martin, Pope, M., Nov. 12; Martina,V. M., Jan. 30; Martyrs, Forty, Mar: 10; Mary, B. V. of Mt. Carmel, July 16; Mary, B. V., Annunciation of, Mar. 25; Mary, B. V., Assumption of, Aug. 15; Mary, B. V., Octave of, Aug. 22; Mary, B. Y., Conception of, Dec. 8; Mary, B. V., Octave of, Dec. 15; Mary, B. V., Espousals of, Jan. 23; Mary, B. V., Expected Deliverance of, Dec. 18; Mary, B. V., Help of Christ, May 24; Mary, B. V., Nativity of, Sept. 8; Mary, B. V., Octave of, Sept. 15; Mary, B. V., Presentation of, Nov.l 21; Mary, B. V., Purification of, Feb. 2; Mary, B.V., Visitation of, July 2; Mathias, Apostle, Feb. 24; Matthias, Apostle, leap year, Feb. 25; Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, Sept. 21; Michael, Archangel, Dedication of the Church of, Sept. 29; Michael, Apparition of, May 8; Monica, Widow, May 4; Nazarius, etc. MM., July 28; Nereus, etc. MM., May 12; Nicholas of Tolent., C., Sept. 10; Nicholas of Myra, B. C., Dec. 6; Norbert, B. C., June 6; Pantaleon, M., July 27; Paschal Baylon, C., May 17; Patrick, B. C., Mar. 17; Paul, Conversion of, Jan. 25; Paul, Commemoration of, June 30; Paul, First Hermit, C., Jan. 15; Paulinus, B. C., June 22; Peter's Chains, Aug. 1; Peter's Chair at Antioch, Feb. 22; Peter's Chair at Rome, Jan. 18; Peter, Martyr, April 29; Peter of Alcantara, C., Oct. 19; Peter Celestinus, P. C., May 19; Peter Chrysologus, B. C. D., Dec. 4; Peter Damian, B. C. D., Feb. 23; Peter Nolasco, C., Jan. 31; Peter and Paul, Apostles, June 29; Peter and Paul, Octave of, July 6; Peter and Paul, Dedication of the Church of, Nov. 18; Philip Beniti, C., Aug. 23; Philip Neri, C., May 26; Philip and James, Apostles, May 1; Pius V, Pope, C., May 5; Pius, Pope, M., July 11-; Placidus, etc. MM., Oct. 5; Polycarp, B. M., Jan. 26; Praxedes,V., July 21; Primus and Felicianus, MM., June 9; Raphael, Arch., Oct. 24; Raymund of Pennafort, Jan. 29; Raymund of Nonnatus, C., Aug: 31; Remigius, B. C., Oct. 1; Romuald, Ab., Feb. 7; Rose of Lima, V., Aug. 30; Sabbas, Ab., Dec. 5; Saviour's Church, Dedication of the, Nov. 9; Scholastica,V., Feb. 10; Seven Brothers, MM., July 10; Silvester, Pope, C., Dec. 21; Silverius, Pope, M., June 20; Simeon, B. M., Feb. 18; Simon and Jude, Apostles, Oct. 28; Soter and Caius, PP. MM., April 22; Stanislaus Kostka, C., Nov. 14; Stanislaus, B. M., May 7; Stephen, Proto Martyr, Dec. 26; Stephen, Octave of, Jan. 2; Stephen Finding of Relics of, Aug. 3; Stephen, Pope, M., Aug. 2; Stephen, King, C., Sept. 2; Theresa, V., Oct. 15; Thomas, Ap., Dec. 21; Thomas of Aquin, C. D., Mark 7; Thomas of Canterbury, B. M., Dec. 29; Thomas of Villanomva, B. C., Sept. 22; Tiburtius, etc. MM., April 14; Timothy, B. M., Jan. 24; Transfiguration of our Lord, Aug. 6; Ubaldus, B. C., May 16; Valentine, M., Feb. 14; Venantius, M., May 18; Vincent of Paul, C., July 19; Vincent Ferrier, C., April 5; Vincent and Anastasius, MM., Jan. 22; Vitalis, M., April 28; Vitus, Modestus, etc. MM., June 15; Wenceslaus, M., Sept. 28; 'William, Nb. C.,June 25; Zephyrinus, Pope, M., Aug. 26.'
(3.) The Church of England retains the following; the history will be found under the particular name of each festival.
Movable Feasts and Holy Days.-Advent; Septusagesinla; Sexagesima; Quinquagesima; Ash Wednesday; Quadragesinia, and the four following Sundays; Palms Sunday; Maundy Thursday; Good Friday; Easter Eve (Sabbatutm Magnum); Easter Day; Sundays after Easter; Ascension Day; Whit Sunday; Trinity Sunday.
Immovable Feasts and Holy Days. — Jan. 1, the Circumcision of our Lord; Jan. 6, the Epiphany; Jan. 25, the Conversion of St. Paul; Feb. 2, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, or the Purification of the Virgin; Feb. 24, St. Matthias's Day; March 25, the Annunciation b-f the Blessed Virgin Mary; April. 25, St. Mark's Day; May 1, St. Philip and St. James's Day; June 11, St. Barnabas the Apostle; June 24, St. John the Baptist's Day; June 29, St. Peter and St. Paul's Day; July 25, St. James the Apostle; Aug. 24, St. Bartholomew the Apostle.; Sept., 21, St. Matthew the Apostle; Sept. 29, St. Michael and all Angels; Oct. 18,xSt. Luke the Evangelist; Oct. 28, St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles; Nov. 1, All Saints' Day; Nov. 30, St. Andrew's Day; Dee. 21, St. Thomas the Apostle; Dec. 25, Nativity of our Lord; Dec. 26, St. Stephen's Day; Dec. 27, St. John the Evangelist; Dec. 28, the Innocents' Day.
See, besides the works already cited, Zyliegan, die alte end neue Festen alter Christl. Confessionen (Dantzic, 1825, 8vo); Augusti, Christl. Archceologie, i, 469 sq.; Coleman, Ancient Christianity exemplified, ch. xxvi; Bingham, Orig. Eccles. Uk. 20:ch. iv; Butler, Feasts and Fasts of the Catholic Church (N.Y. 1856, 12mo); Nelson, Festivals and Fasts of the Church of England; Riddle, Christian Antiquities bk. v, ch. i; Barrow, Sermons (serm. 77); Bibliotheca Sacra, 4:650; Neander, Planting and Training, i, 158; Lewis, Bible, Missal, and Breviary (Edinb. 1853), ch. i; Schaff, Hist. of the Christian Church, i, 128, 372; Lamson, Church of the first three Centuries, p. 321 sq.; Siegel, Christl.-Kischl. Alterthumer, ii, 81, and references there.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Feasts, or Festivals'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/f/feasts-or-festivals.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.