One of the many gifts we receive for Christmas is the singing of the Martyrology which has the special Proclamation of the Birth of Christ, the “Kalenda“.
I am getting ready to sing it tonight. It has been a while.
As a Proclamation, it has a formal character. The birth of Christ follows a list of important events, set points in history, which therefore puts the birth of Christ into the context of the history of salvation, beginning with the Creation of the world and culminating in the Nativity.
The “Kalenda” was sung at the Office of Prime before its suppression. It can be sung or read before the 1st Mass Christmas. In the 1980’s Pope St. John Paul II restored it before his Midnight Masses and the custom has been reviving every since. (Read: Mutual enrichment – yet another reason for Summorum Pontificum.)
The Latin text of the traditional form (sung in Latin):
The twenty-fifth day of December [Octave (before) the January Kalends.]. The seventh Moon [in 2017]. In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world from the time when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth; the two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood; the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham; the one thousand five hundred and tenth year from Moses and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt; the one thousand and thirty-second year from David’s being anointed king; in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel; in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome; the forty second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; the whole world being at peace, in the sixth age of the world, Jesus Christ the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary, being made flesh. The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.
Remember that in the ancient world there was no standard calendar. So, one way to pinpoint events was to say what else was going on at the time according to other reckonings of time. The overlap of the dates would then give you the desired result, like a chronological Venn Diagram. The overlapping of the dates of the events cited in the Proclamation results in an accurate dating of the Nativity, that is 3/2 BC. There is good scholarship that reinforces 3/2 BC and cleans up a dating error for the year of Herod’s death. That’s another story.
Note the reference to the Kalends and the moon.
The Kalends, whence English “calendar”, in the Roman reckoning, is the first day of a month, thus beginning a new lunar phase, that is the sighting of the first sliver after a new moon. Whereas we now think of days as following the first of the month, the Romans thought about them as preceding the kalends, the nones or the ides of the month. And so for the date of Christmas, you count the number of days remaining before the kalends, 6, and you add 2 (because Romans liked to count the starting and ending days) and you get 8. Hence, Christmas is the eighth day out from the Kalends of January.
As I was working on this today, I figured maybe some other priest out there might be also, and might be struggling with it. So here is a working recording I made to play once in a while to help me get it into my head.
It is not a particularly easy chant, since it is so unlike everything else we do. As a matter of fact, I’ve had to take a run at a few of the passages quite a few times.
I pitched this a little lower than I usually would, but I am getting over “the crud”, involving antibiotics, etc. Hard to sing without coughing, so I take it easy.