How Do You Organize Your Calendar?

How Do You Organize Your Calendar?

This year my calendar has seemed a little odd and it is about to get even more so. It seemed like Thanksgiving came early, December was late, but happened before you knew it, and even though Christmas is always on the 25th of December, it is coming too soon.

I’ve spoken to more than one person who feels this way and it isn’t a surprise. The way our calendar slides back and forth between calendar dates and days of the weeks seems innocuous at first, but this year, when Christmas falls on a Monday (as it does once every seven years or so), things get a bit crazier.

Last year, there were 28 days in Advent. This year there are only 22. Last year we celebrated the Sunday of the Fourth Week of Advent and had a full week to prepare for Christmas. This year, we will celebrate the Sunday of the Fourth Week of Advent (Sunday, December 24) and only 4 hours later, begin the celebration of Christmas with our Christmas Eve Family Mass at 3pm.

For calendar watchers, this year is like the perfect storm of confusing calendaring quibbles. It only makes sense if you are attentive to the rhythm and meaning behind the use of sacred time.

The phenomenon we face is caused by our simultaneous use of multiple systems to mark time. We determine Thanksgiving based on the last Thursday of a month. We determine Christmas based on a structured date in the Julian Calendar. And we determine Advent based on the sacred cycle of weeks.

Although the last method seems to be the most obscure to us, let’s not forget that the sacred cycle of weeks (with 7 days in a week) is what gives us a five-day work week and weekends. As a society, we tend to enjoy that cycle quite a lot. It is also the primary method of calculating time in the Church. The Church began following the calendar of a seven-day week (one day representing each of the days of creation) before the Julian Calendar was even invented. It is how we mark sacred time.

And because it is our most ancient testament to the passing of time, we choose to fulfill that commitment of time before we move onto specific numerical dates on our calendar. In the case of the year 2017, that means we will celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent on December 24.

But to make life interesting, another common practice of the Church is to celebrate the “eve” of a sacred day also called the “vigil”. This again goes back to how days were determined by the Church before we had clocks. The tradition was that a new day started at sundown (we hold this in common with our Jewish ancestors of faith). Thus, in the life of the Church, Sunday actually “begins” on Saturday at sundown. This is why attending Mass on Saturday evening fulfills the obligation for Sunday Mass. The intention of the Church is that the Mass held after sun down the night before is the same intention as the day of.

But wait! There’s more! For practical reasons, the church doesn’t require the sun to physically have set. Since the sun sets at a different time every week, we keep it simple by just declaring a specific time for all vigil Masses. For example, in our parish, we keep that time set at 4:00 pm on Saturday all year round and in the case of Christmas, we have been given permission to have our Christmas Eve Vigil Masses start as early as 3:00pm for the sake of families.

So if you are wondering, “Am I really supposed to go to Mass twice in the same day?” That would depend on how you count your days. The obligation we are called to as disciples of Jesus is to fulfill the commitment of sacred time. Yes, to attend the Fourth Sunday of Advent and yes, to attend Christmas Mass.

If fulfilling those obligations all in the same calendar day seems odd to you, we might suggest some alternatives. Come to the Saturday vigil for Sunday Mass (Saturday night December 23 at 4pm) and the Christmas vigil (Sunday December 24 at 3, 5, or 11pm). Another alternative is to come on Sunday for Mass, and celebrate Christmas Mass on Monday – Christmas Day. Either way, you would be fulfilling the invitation of sacred time without spending your whole day at Church.

But all of that depends on how you organize your own calendar.

– David Heimann, Pastoral Associate


For another perspective perspective on this topic, check out this article referring to the bishop’s instructions about attending Mass on December 24 and 25…

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