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Calendar Reform

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Archives / 1949 / May

 

 

Calendar Reform

Laurence J. Kenny

By LAURENCE J. KENNY

 

It is the custom of our Catholic preachers, as teachers, to begin their sermons with a sacred text, and it is hoped that a text here will point up the meaning and purpose of this little treatise on Calendar Reform so that its import may not be lost. The text is: The Sab­bath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). I have in mind the greatest of all the Sabbaths, Easter, the com­memoration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the pledge of our own resurrection.

It must be noted, first of all, when discuss­ing the perfecting or reforming of our Gre­gorian calendar, that the matter has two as­pects—the civil and the religious. The nations of the world could institute a new calendar without in any way affecting the dates of reli­gious festivals, and this civil change may be imminent. As citizens we should all share in the benefits that might accrue. But it seems de­sirable that our religious feasts be ordered, at the same time, to harmonize with human con­ditions in this our new One World. These feasts were made for man. The date of Easter —we say it with all deference and reverence—should be fixed.

When in 1581 Gregory XIII and his corps of scholars, after months of patient labor, gave us the calendar that the civilized world, includ­ing Russia, follows today, their wisdom evi­denced itself in the simplicity of their altera­tions of the old Julian calendar. They knew well their work was not final, but they knew also that they dared not ask more of the nations of their day. Time has manifested how wise they were. Through the intervening years lit­tle groups of perfectionists have arisen; until recently, however, these were few and sporadic.

The year 1907 is a memorable one in the story of Calendar Reform, particularly for Catholics, for in that year the superiors of all the Benedictine congregations, meeting in Rome under the leadership of Dom Guepin of Solesmes, unanimously declared themselves in favor of a change, including the fixing of Easter on a definite date. The Benedictines, though masters of liturgy, realized that we have moved into a new era, and they looked forward to a new great Sabbath scheduled to the needs of modern man.

Only five years after the Benedictine proc­lamation, a committee from the International Congress of Chambers of Commerce waited upon Pius X, asking his approval of a calendar change. They were pleased by the response to the effect that

The Holy See declared that it made no objection but that it invited the civil powers to enter into an accord on the reform of the civil calendar, after which it would willingly grant its collaboration in so far as the matter affected religious feasts.

Up to this time, however, there existed among the advocates of a new calendar no agreement as to what a new calendar should be like. When it became known, shortly there­after, that the League of Nations had decided to consider a reform, its calendar committee was overwhelmed with projects for overcom­ing the deficiencies of the Gregorian system.

So far as the civil arrangement was con­cerned, the achievement of the League commit­tee was remarkable. The members rejected with finality the flood of schemes that poured in upon them, retaining but two for further consideration: the proposals for a thirteen-month year and for the World Calendar. Before they were able to decide which of the two might be the more desirable, however, a bolt from the ecclesiastical skies put an end to their labors. Let Mr. Essy Key-Rasmussen, in charge of calendar reform at the League Secretariat, tell what occurred:

There was strong opposition on the part of such different religious quarters as the Vatican on one side and Orthodox Jewry on the other. But whereas the Orthodox Jewish attitude was absolute and un­conditional, the Vatican repeatedly underlined that it would not oppose a reform demanded "by the com­mon good."

Vatican opposition came not from Pius X but from Pius XI, who wished to convene an Ecumenical Council at which the bishops of the whole world would be consulted before the great Sabbath, Easter, was scheduled for an immovable date. He declared at the very out­set, however, that no dogmatic question was involved. Pius XI may have had other objec­tions, but there is reason to believe that the general opinion concerning his opposition has been exaggerated, for reliable prelates have quoted him as commending even the stabiliza­tion of Easter.

Mr. Key-Rasmussen, writing objectively, says : "Because of the attitude of the Vatican" the committee discontinued its labors. The American Hebrew of Nov 25, 1938 tells us the reform "was opposed and defeated chiefly through the efforts of Chief Rabbi G. H. Hertz, who represented English and American Jewry." Jewish opposition, at least that of the Ortho­dox Jews, still stands (1948). This opposition is sincere and is respected. According to a highly representative Rabbi, orthodox Jews will not oppose this advance in science, but, while accepting the civil re-arrangement, they will, as they have so often done in the past—notably in the case of the international date line in the Pacific—attempt to retain the tra­ditional dates for their sacred festivals.

Catholic objection as represented by Pius XI seems to have vanished. There is now no hope of convening a general council of the Church in the near future; but there is high hope on the part of many that the United Nations through UNESCO will institute, on January, 1950, a perfect, perpetual calendar. Though proclaimed on January I, 1950 to prepare the peoples of the world for its inception, a later date, possibly 1956, may be named for its initial operation.

The thirteen-month calendar has been retired from the competition, and today the World Calendar stands victor in the field. Here is the calendar for any quarter of any year:

(SEE PDF for calendar)

This calendar is based on a uniform quarter of 91 days rather than a uniform month. Each quarter begins on a Sunday and follows exactly the scheme above. Since four times 91 is 364, there is one day left over. This is Peace Day, a world holiday following December 3o. The next day is January i of the following year. In leap years, a second world holiday (as yet unnamed) will follow June 30. Like Peace Day, it will be extra-calendric, i.e. will not count in the succession of calendar days. It is gratifying to note that the World Calendar is universally attributed to a priest, the Abbe Marco Mastrofini (1789-1843), whose volume advocating the change was published with ec­clesiastical approbation in Rome in the year 1843.

This calendar, from the civil aspect, may claim to have won the approbation of the world's intelligentsia. Societies representing labor, industry, agriculture, communications, transportation, law, home interests, education, finance and science—including the American Association for the Advancement of Science with its more than 30,000 membership, which includes many Catholics—are listed among its advocates. It has won the formal approbation of eight Catholic, two Protestant, one Eastern Orthodox, one Buddhist and two Mohammedan countries. Bills have been introduced in both the Senate and the House by leading Congress­men—Senator Murray, a Catholic, among them—calling on the United States Government to align itself with the above fourteen ratifying nations.

The movement for the World Calendar has already reached the UNESCO; and the hopes of the Calendar Reform Association—sustained through many years by the energy of Miss Elizabeth Achelis—that January I, 1950, may become a day ever memorable, do not seem over-sanguine. The world seems prepared by instinct, rather than by conscious wisdom, to recognize that the Sabbath was made for man ; and it is prepared for the sake of the new, the industrial man, to relinquish ancestral tradi­tions.

But what of the Church, the divinely in­spired, which has always known, not by instinct alone but by revelation as well, the merciful purpose of the Sabbath? Is she ready to declare that the scheduling of the greatest of Sabbaths, which through the centuties was providentially adapted to agricultural ages, no longer meets the exigencies of our industrial era ?

In a recent conversation in which the prog­ress of the civil reform was the topic, a ven­erable archbishop remarked coldly : "Rome knows all that." He warmed up, however, when it was ventured that any forthcoming declaration by the Holy Father in regard to Easter would be strengthened immensely were he able to write—as he does so often when announcing canonizations—that the heads of Catholic nations, religious orders and congre­gations, Catholic universities, the press, and scholars eminent particularly in astronomy, lit­urgy and economics had anticipated his wishes in this matter.

It is not generally recognized in the United States how strong and persistent have been Catholic appeals to the Vatican from all the classes just named. Such world-visioned churchmen as Cardinals Mercier and Baudril­lart vigorously urged the reform. Other high ecclesiastics, notably the scholarly bishops of Latin America, have been even more insistent. They saw nineteen of their nations at the Pan-American Labor Congress in 1936 voting fa­vorably for the new order, and they could not be indifferent to so great a good. Not only Catholic countries, but Britain also, when her House of Lords was looking approvingly at the reform, sent Lord Desborough's mission to se­cure the Holy Father's concurrence. As to re­ligious orders, which of them would not respect the views of the Benedictines, particularly those of Solesmes, in matters of the liturgy? If the mind of the Society of Jesus is sought, it should be manifest to all who observe that there are learned associations in nearly all the nations agitating for the new calendar, and that for long years Fathers Romafia in Spain and Gutierras-Lanza in Cuba were presidents of their associations. As to universities, even here in America Father Tondorf of George­town in the Ecclesiastical Review (1929) and A. J. Vincent of Notre Dame in the Journal of Calendar Reform (1947) so clearly and tersely expressed American Catholic opinion that there have been neither objections nor additions to their statements.

Why extend what might become an inter­minable list? There seems now to be no Catho­lic opposition. Yet it may be that Pius XII would desire more immediate, cumulative ap­peals, which would seem almost the equivalent of an Ecumenical Council, before making a public pronouncement.

Our Easter date is now determined by the rising of the first full moon after March 21, harbinger of all springtime joys to peoples of the northern climate. But today there are many Catholics in southern climates—South Africa, Australia, South America—whose springtime is six months from our date. Our Church is their Church; it is not a northern-latitude church ; it is the Catholic Church.

By a happy coincidence January 1, 1950, the day on which the Holy Father initiates the Holy year, is the same date that the advocates of the new calendar have set for the beginning' of the new era.—America, Oct. 30, 1948.

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