ASK FATHER: Liturgical Seasons are upside down, Down Under

From a reader:

G’day Fr,
Your post on the blessing of grapes got me thinking.

Are any provisions available for those in the Southern Hemisphere to transfer seasonal dates for their proper use?

These important Feasts and blessings that the Church makes available to us seem to go wasted around here as we’re at the opposite end of the seasonal calendar.

I suspect there aren’t provisions made simply to “flip” the calendar over, as it were, for the sake of staying in sync with seasons. The Latin, Roman Church used one calendar and retained its use when Europeans started to populate the southern climes.

Now, of course, we have two Roman calendars side by side, don’t we? Ironic. So, with the traditional calendar we have Ember Days and days when we sing litanies and go in procession in the fields at the time crops are planted in the spring. In the newer calendar, there are hints that something like the Ember Days can be observed, though it is little more than a mention.

It seems to me that, as least for the Novus Ordo calendar, diocesan bishops and conferences of same could have some flexibility in the establishment of local or regional feasts. I am not sure how that would be coordinated with the traditional calendar or the reformed calendar.

We have to simply embrace our Romanitas as Roman Catholics.  For example, it is hard to figure out what to do with, say, the Feast of St. John Baptist, who is diminishing as Christ is growing, right at the time of year when, in Northern climes, the days begin to get shorter again.

Will some of us have to be “upside down”?  I guess so.  That’s the way it goes, at least for the traditional calendar.  Let’s leave aside the problems facing those who would want to more closely coordinate the traditional and reform calendars.  Whew!

Frankly, I think it was a huge mistake to reform the Roman calendar in the way it was reformed. We are paying for that now.  However, that doesn’t address the issue you raised: if the seasons and feasts are more closely harmonized with the seasons as they rotate in the Northern Hemisphere, are Southern hemispherites simply stuck?  Probably.

Perhaps the regional bishops can figure out some other practices.  It would be interesting to know what has already been considered.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. For example, it is hard to figure out what to do with, say, the Feast of St. John Baptist, who is diminishing as Christ is growing, right at the time of year when, in Northern climes, the days begin to get shorter again.

    Easy, Father. Our days start getting LONGER at that point, down here, so Christ – the Light of the World – is increasing while John the Baptist is decreasing.

    I like having things this way, because in the southern hemisphere my birthday – 21 September – is at the vernal equinox, which makes it the flipside of Easter. When I lived in the UK, it was never as much fun knowing that my birthday came at the beginning of what was effectively winter …

  2. vetusta ecclesia says:

    I heard on TV a fascinating q. and a session in which Muslims asked an imam how to keep Ramadan in latitudes where there may be no or few hours of darkness or light. (The answer seemed to be, in extreme cases, follow Mecca time).

  3. kylie says:

    Yeah, we consider the increasing light around the birth of John the Baptist as Christ the Light of the world increasing towards Christmas.

    Easter where we live in Oz comes at a time when there has often been a little rain after the long, hot summer, so the dead and dry vegetation begins to get slowly greener, so New Life at Easter!

    Not sure about the timing of the blessing of the grapes, though……

  4. JBS says:

    It seems a little like the question of using wine and bread in regions where beer or rice prevails, but then we remember that the elements are meant to be linked to their first use, in Judea. Similarly, wherever the Roman liturgical rites have spread, we use these rites in the Roman way, in keeping with their origins, and these rites are inseparable from their calendar.

  5. Southern Baron says:

    In a way it’s also a helpful reminder that we are “Roman” Catholics–while there is still great regional variance in certain traditions, we are united through a geographic center, to which our faith roads lead. By following Roman time, we are reminded that we are ultimately trying to follow God’s time, which is even further from us than Rome, but at the same time present to us through the sacraments, etc.

  6. rcg says:

    What a pleasant topic! Australian grapes and wonderful Australian wine. Why not bless the roots and stems from which the grapes come and would come from the seeds of the grape? They exhibit the same cyclical nature as our calendar all in one neat little package so we are actually hitting all the stops at once. When I return to my fire from shoveling snow I often have a glass of wine, often Australian, and the terroir of people were enjoying the sun.

  7. bsjy says:

    One would think the Jesuits have already considered topics like this. For example, ad orientem works less well as a physical instruction when one is in Edo or Macau.

  8. Supertradmum says:

    As one who grew up and was a young adult with the “Old Calendar”, I hated the changes but like all good Catholics, before the loosening of the restrictions on the TLM, went with the flow. I follow two, and one person in my family follows three, as he was charismated in Byzantine Catholic Church.

    Now, we are “Roman” and I remember a discussion a few years ago online which irritated me on a very famous Catholic commentators’ blog about dropping the title, “Roman” in America. This famous person wanted Catholics in America just to be known as “Catholics” and not “Roman Catholics”.

    To be a “Roman”, as some say in England, (which is sweet, but meant to be an insult), is something we should be proud of and cherish. It is our Rite, our roots. No matter where I lived, I would be “Roman” Catholic in calendar and sensibilities.

    The heresy of Americanism wanted to reduce the “Romanism” of our Church in America and this has happened, sadly, to a great extent. To be part of the universal Church is an honor. The lack of teaching Church history even in some so-called Catholic schools has led to a misunderstanding of what it means to be a Roman Catholic.

  9. TWF says:

    I wonder if this issue comes up with the Byzantine Rite and the various other Oriental Rites.

  10. Giuseppe says:

    I asked a Aussie friend how priests preach amidst the seasonal differences. One priest he liked usually followed the following formula for his homilies.

    1) On this day the church celebrates X
    2) God created the whole world (not just the northern hemisphere)
    3) So, what additionally can we learn about X as we think about it in our surroundings?

    As Philippa and Kylie (great name btw) note, there is usually an interpretation that makes sense. Even Christmas/Easter – Christmas in the South makes Jesus as the New Adam all the more clear, as they can celebrate his birth amidst the joys of God’s creation. Easter in the autumn shows that life triumphs as the world dies. Jesus is the hope for life eternal.

    I love @rcg’s suggestion about seeds and stems. God’s truth embraces AND transcends sequelae of a 23-degree axial tilt.

  11. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    If you will indulge my varying some comments at your post on the blessing of grapes, it is interesing to note that in Anglo-Saxon England – and the English calendar thereafter – 1 August was/is called ‘Lammas Day’ from ‘Hlafmaesse Daeg’ (literally ‘Loaf-mass Day’), from the custom of blessing bread baked from the first fruits of the corn or grain harvest (which also signalled the beginning of ‘haerfest’ the harvest season, autumn (compare German ‘Herbst’), though the Venerable Bede placed the beginning of autumn on 7 August, while St. Isidore of Seville placed it on 23 August, which late mediaeval practice shifted on a day, to the Feast of St. Bartholomew).

    I do not know how widespread this custom was for 1 August, in other lands and latitudes: when, for instance, did parts of Italy, or the Egyptian ‘bread basket’ of the Empire, or Gaul, for example, harvest their corn/grain, and how did the local churches give thanks for this?

    In the old Catholic Encyclopedia, J.P. Kirsch’s “St. Peter” article suggests an early and long-standing celebration of the Feast of St. Peter’s Chains at Rome on 1 August, while Herbert Thurston’s “Peterspence” article suggests, in passing, that it was celebrated in England in King St. Edgar’s time (reigned 958-75). Whether blessing the first new bread was subsumed under that feast, while its ‘loaf-nickname’ was quite prominent, I have not yet discovered – but that seems a real possibility, historically or in contemplating contemporary or future seasonal practice.

  12. RafqasRoad says:

    As a fellow Aussie, I second everything said above by my comrades. Advent during Summmer is wonderful, and nothing beats the heat of an oppressive Christmas Eve being broken by a Thunderstorm during mass with all the church doors and windows flung open to let in a whisper of air – the sound and scent are truly refreshing. One may find object lessons here also; Christ’s birth and reign offering refreshment to the repentant sinner, cleansing us of our impurities and the oppressive atmosphere of error if we will let Him. Celebrating the feast with summer tropical and stone fruit, with the bounty of His gift to us is truly something. Same goes for an Autumn Easter. Christ the light of the world ushered in with an early morning summer sunrise…though many of us still hold to a little Northern nostalgia for the day such as Christmas pudding even if it is 40 degrees celcius in the shade with bushfires raging!!

  13. Gaz says:

    On a completely secular note, I’m still amazed how often I hear “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” droning through the supermarkets just as Summer is really hotting up.

  14. Suburbanbanshee says:

    There are very traditional solutions to different harvest times. Multiple saints’ days are associated with harvest customs. There are lots of brewer and vintner saints with patronage over the whole process of growing and fermenting.

    So if you are in the Southern Hemisphere, logically you would associate your harvest to the nearest saint’s day. And I bet that this is done already in South America, because custom has had more time to percolate there than in Australia.

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