The end of “Greater Meatloaf”

Today I will say Mass using the formulary for the 4th Sunday “left over” after Epiphany.

“But Father! But Father!”, some of you in Columbia Heights may be saying, “Isn’t Epiphany in, like, January or something?”

At the end of the liturgical year with the traditional Roman calendar, there are some oddities to counting the Sundays.

As we approach the end of another liturgical year, a strange thing happens in the Church’s traditional, pre-Conciliar calendar.  After the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, the Sundays left over after Epiphany, way back after Christmas, are pulled out of the freezer, warmed up and served.  And “left over” is not a flippant description.  In the older Missale Romanum our Sunday is “Dominca quarta quae superfuit post Epiphaniam”.  Superfuit is from super-sum, which the super Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary , indicates is “to be over and above, either as a remainder or as a superfluity”.

So how can Sundays be ‘left over’?”  Here is what happened.

In structuring our liturgical calendar we Christians depend on the vagaries of the moon.  The date of Easter each year is fixed according to when the spring full moon occurs.  Since the moon isn’t always full on the same date, the date of Easter Sunday shifts.  Lent, however, has a fixed length. Thus the beginning of Lent slides around, earlier or later depending on that spring full moon.  At the other end of the equation, Epiphany (the real Epiphany) is a fixed date: 6 January.  Since the beginning of Lent slides around, the time between Epiphany, which begins on 14 January, and Ash Wednesday and Septuagesima (three weeks before), is longer or shorter depending on when the moon is full in the spring.

There can be many as six Sundays between Epiphany and Septuagesima which can fall from 18 January to 22 February, that is from the 2nd until the 6th Sunday after Epiphany.

Therefore, when Lent begins earlier the texts for as many as four Sundays after Epiphany slated to be celebrated up to Septuagesima must be skipped.  On the other end of the Lent/Easter cycle, Pentecost also shifts its date.   Pentecost is always the same number of days after the movable Easter.  The twenty-four Sundays allotted after Pentecost are not enough to get us all the way to the end of the liturgical year, back around to Advent.  Depending on the date of the spring full moon, there can be a gap of a several Sundays between the 22nd after Pentecost and last Sunday before Advent.

Therefore, Holy Church uses those “movable” Sundays left over after Epiphany as fillers until the final Sunday of the year, which liturgically is always the 24th Sunday after Pentecost … even if it isn’t ordinally the 24th. So, at the end of the Church’s year, in the traditional calendar, we usually get left over Sundays.

In the newer, post-Conciliar calendar the shift in the moon also changes how many Sundays of “Ordinary Time” we can squeeze in after the Christmas season ends with the Baptism of the Lord (a mystery yanked away from the Feast of Epiphany).  Again, due to the shifting dates of Pentecost some of the Sundays of Ordinary Time in the middle of the calendar are blotted out by the tail end of the Easter season.

At the end of the liturgical year in the newer calendar, the last Sunday is always fixed as the 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time, celebrated as the Solemnity of Christ the King.  In the older calendar Christ the King is observed on the last Sunday of October.

In the older, traditional calendar we have not only the far more interesting Septuagesima and the pre-Lent Sundays, we also have the Seasons of Epiphany and Pentecost for what is called our tempus per annum… “time through the year”.  In the post-Conciliar calendar we call the tempus per annum “Ordinary Time”.  “Ordinary” refers to “order” rather than “ordinariness”.  Perhaps it would be better to call it “Ordinal Time”.

The Novus Ordo’s “ordered” time is split into two unequal parts.  An old clerical friend of mine, dear Harold – R.I.P – called them “Greater and Lesser ‘Meatloaf’”.  I preferred the traditional reckoning.  Whereas in the ordinary Novus Ordo calendar we just throw the unconsumed “meatloaf” Sundays away, in the Church’s extraordinary calendar we conserve the left over Sundays in the back of the liturgical ice-box and pull them out later if needed.

Either way, as is the case with many things preserved lovingly in the refrigerator for a long time, these Sundays are green… with hope, of course.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. disco says:

    This is the time of year that my missal never seems to have enough ribbons.

  2. VexillaRegis says:

    Fr. Z said: “Either way, as is the case with many things preserved lovingly in the refrigerator for a long time, these Sundays are green… with hope, of course.” ROFL! You just ruined my appetite for meatloaf! Otherwise this is an extremely interesting read, worth ruminating on. Have a nice Sunday, with or without meatloaf ;-)

  3. majuscule says:

    What a wonderful explanation!

    I was thinking that keeping the extras in the freezer rather than refrigerator would have been a better idea, but you covered that when you said they were green!

  4. APX says:

    I thought this post was about Meat Loaf finally ending his music career.

    This is the time of year when I’m always worried whether or not I’m on the right Sunday.

  5. Nan says:

    What do you have against Columbia Heights?

  6. Quanah says:

    Interesting post. It would be wonderful to have “lesser and greater meatloaf” in the post-conciliar calendar. On another note, this serves as a good example of the arrogance and/or thoughtlessness of those who are responsible for the post-conciliar liturgical changes. The Church is not Rome alone. The other rites of the Church still have pre-Lent Sundays (which are extremely beneficial) in addition to a richer calendar of saints. And somehow having all those saints doesn’t disrupt the rhythm of the liturgical year at all.

  7. Geoffrey says:

    This is actually one post-Vatican II revision that I like. When attending the EF this time of year, I feel like I need an advanced degree in mathematics in order to figure out where to be in my missal!

  8. Elizabeth M says:

    Thank you for continuing to post these Sunday insights and asking people about the sermons they hear on Sunday. For 2 weeks the family has been ill so unable to make Mass. It helps keep today’s focus on The Word.

    As for meatloaf’s bad reputation…well, when you make it based on your grandmother’s meatball recipe that only 2 people (myself & my mother) knows, it becomes delicious and requested by everyone in the family!

  9. We should go back to the pre-conciliar calendar, and get rid of this “ordinary time” business. The Sundays after Pentecost were — are — a reminder that these days after Pentecost are the last stage before the End of Time. “Ordinary time” obscures this reality, and makes one feel as though one is just going around in circles.

  10. JohnPW says:

    It was great to see you this AM at holy Innocents, Father! “…purify and protect our frailty from all evil.” Indeed. It is also wonderful that HI is now offering confession before all the Masses. You know what hey say about real men and confession……

  11. MarkG says:

    The Catholic Church still needs to fix the calculation of the date of Easter based on modern astronomical data. In some modern years, we have actually been celebrating Easter on the wrong date (and consequently a lot of the movable calendar).
    The First Ecumenical Council in 325 set the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox.
    The Catholic Church sets the Vernal Equinox as March 21st, when it’s actually March 20th slightly more years than it’s March 21st. The Catholic Church has tables for full moons that assume 14 days after new moon which isn’t always the case.
    The tables used by the Catholic Church have been revised at least 6 times since 325. The last revision was in 1580’s, so maybe it’s time to revise them. They really should be updated every 100 years or so, as the axis of the earth is titled and constantly rotates a slight amount every day.

  12. Elizabeth D says:

    aka “I don’t know where to find that in my missal” Sunday. There needs to be a crash course on the EF available in parishes with an EF Mass.

  13. Elizabeth D says:

    Of course, for those who read Catholic blogs, handily serves that purpose for many!

  14. The new calendar is definitely an improvement over the old, particularly with regard to fixing the end and omitting the middle if necessary. The end of the Novus Ordo liturgical year flows very smoothly into the beginning of Advent, and no one really notices what Sundays were omitted once Ordinary Time resumes. I think this is one case where we have to admit that something isn’t better simply because it is old, and that our forefathers in the faith were not impeccable, but rather imperfect human beings who did the best they could with what they had. A living, healthy Church constantly reevaluates its liturgy and makes useful improvements where they are advantageous. (But that does not mean throwing the doors open to tambourines and drums or whatever else someone might dream up in a nightmare!)

  15. RafqasRoad says:

    Quanah at #6,

    AMEN!! The Maronite liturgical year does not have ordinary time; we also have a completely different schedule of readings. The maronite liturgical year has actually commenced this Sunday just gone (3 November) with what I shall term for ease here ‘consecration Day’ that is, consecration of Holy Mother Church. We have just finished the Season of the Glorious Cross.


    Aussie Maronite (Soon to be South Coast Catholic)

  16. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Fr. Z, you say, “After the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, the Sundays left over after Epiphany” – was that not once ‘after the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost’? When did that change?

    And what now happens, EF, with respect to the Propers – it used to be that the “23rd Sunday” Propers were repeated every week combined with the appropriate ‘after Epiphany’ Collect, Epistle, Gospel, Secret, and Postcommunion?

    Miss Anita Moore, O.P. spoke of the “reminder that these days after Pentecost are the last stage before the End of Time”. How do the ‘after Epiphany’ elements in the EF, and the interrelations of Propers and Lectionary in OF, affect the conveying of the sense of that?

  17. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    By the way, does the older ‘Anglican’ calendar with ‘Sundays after Trinity’ reflect Sarum Use? And is it – or will it be – part of the ‘patrimony’ in any Ordinariates?

  18. John Nolan says:

    Sarum indeed counted after Trinity, as does most of the Anglican Church (although some use the Roman OF calendar), and the Ordinariate calendar follows Anglican practice, which includes the season of Septuagesima. The Dominican Rite numbers the Sundays after the octave of Trinity.

    Surely if there are (as there must be) a fixed number of Ordinary Time Sundays, how can any be “thrown away”? Doesn’t Ordinary Time resume after Pentecost where it left off before Lent? Or am I missing something?

  19. Deo volente says:

    This is from the website “Traditional Latin Mass Missal Project”:

    “Easter being variable, the number of Sundays from Pentecost to the First Sunday of Advent is, of course, variable also; but there cannot be less than twenty-three, nor more than twenty-eight. The Mass for the Last Sunday after Pentecost is always said on the Sunday preceding Advent. If there are more than twenty-four Sundays after Pentecost, the Introit, Gradual, Offertory, and Communion of the twenty-third Sunday are repeated on all the remaining Sundays. But the Prayers, Epistle and the Gospel are taken from the Masses of the Sundays omitted after the Epiphany…

    This is also repeated more or less on page 865 of the Baronius Missal, Summorum Pontificum Edition, F.S.S.P. Edition. Sunday was the “4th Resumed Sunday after Epiphany” but with the Introit, ‘Dicit Dóminus.” (see above)

    Last Sunday was the Feast of Christ the King, but there was no Commemoration of the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (although this Mass was used in the Feriae of the past week). Confusion can occur because the Introit for the next several weeks will all begin “Dicit Dóminus” with the Gradual, Offertory, and Communion of the twenty-third Sunday.

    And yes, I do prefer the old calendar as Anita Moore suggests!

    Hat Tip, Fr. Z. Excellent explanation!

  20. eiggam says:

    As I am an occasional participant of the EF, thank you to the person who provided the page with the Mass propers.

  21. CharlesG says:

    In the new calendar, the number of Sundays of ordinary time is more or less the number that is supposed to fit, regardless of where Lent and Easter floats to in any year, so even if you lose a Sunday or so in the middle, I don’t see that the older calendar is necessary “more economical” in saving leftover Sundays. I think the moving of feasts like Corpus Christi and Epiphany to Sundays probably plays a greater practical role in causing us to miss out of Sundays in Ordinary Time. Of course, singing in a Gregorian Chant schola for the EF, one “benefit” to the old calendar is that we have several chances to get the chants right, since the chant propers for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost are repeated for all these autumnal “Epiphany” Sundays…

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