Publication of the Date of Easter on the Day of the Epiphany

by Henri Adam de Villiers
From the NLM

Epiphany is the last principal feast before the beginning of the Easter cycle. In this day, the Roman Pontifical (Pars III. De Publicatione festorum Mobilium in Epiphania Domini) gives the how to publish the date of Easter and of the main movable feasts of the year, in cathedrals and other principal churches.

HISTORY

This tradition dates back to the early days of the Church. The Patriarch of Alexandria, in which town were the most skilled astronomers of Christianity, had the mission to send the date of the Paschal solemnity to other Eastern Patriarchs and to the Roman Pontif, who shall then inform the metropolitans of the West.

The Council of Nicaea is said to have formalized the practice, as a consequence of the that everyone, everywhere should celebrate it on one and the same day. Although there is no mention of the fixing of the date of Easter in the canons of the Council of Nicaea which have been preserved, we know that the issue was discussed and decided by the council with three texts: a letter of Emperor Constantine, a synodal letter to the Church of Alexandria, and a letter written by St. Athanasius in 369 to bishops of Africa. In the fifth century, Cyril of Alexandria is said to have written in an Easter letter: “The Ecumenical Council voted unanimously that the Church of Alexandria, because of its illustrious astronomers, should report annually to the Church of Rome the date of Easter, and Rome would be communicated to other churches.” However, it is not certain that this passage refers to the first Council of Nicaea.

Soon, the bishops took the practice to publish annually, on January 6, an Epistola festalis, a pastoral letter in which were announced the dates of Easter and movable feasts of the current year.

Many Fathers of the early Church speak of the announcement of the date of Easter on the feast of the Epiphany. The Fourth Council of Orleans in 541 and that of Auxerre in 578 are good witnesses of this use in Gaul, and broadly, in the West. In the old Parisian Breviary, at the end of the office of a prime, a canon from decisions of the holy councils used to be read on Sundays & holidays. Here’s the one for the Epiphany:

The Council, guided by the inspiration of a God full of goodness for men, ruled that the priests will celebrate at the same time the holy Easter, and that every year on the day of Epiphany the people in the church will be informed of this solemn feast… Let the priests before the Epiphany send deputies to the bishop to be informed by him of the beginning of Lent, and to be able to instruct the faithful upon that on the day of Epiphany.

— Fourth Council of Orleans, in the year 541, c. 1, and Council of Auxerre, held under St Aunaire, in the year 578, c. 2.

The Roman rite has a formula (the “Noveritis”) quite developed for this announce: to the proclamation of the date of Easter is also added those of Septuagesima, Ash Wednesday, the diocesan synod, Ascension, Pentecost and First Sunday of Advent. The Roman recitative uses the same tune as the Exultet of the Easter Vigil, which gives a taste of the Easter joy to this publication of the date of Easter. This same idea is developped by Dom Prosper Guéranger:

This custom, which dates from the earliest ages of the Church, shows both the mysterious connection which unites the great Solemnities of the year one with another, and the importance the Faithful ought to attach to the celebration of that which is the greatest of all, and the centre of all Religion. After having honoured the King of the universe on the Epiphany, we shall have to celebrate him on the day which is now announced to us, as the conqueror of death.

— Dom Prosper Guéranger, on the feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord

LITURGICAL RULES

In the Roman rite, the “Noveritis” is sung on the feast of the Epiphany in cathedrals (and other principal churches) after the Gospel of the most solemn mass of the day. The proclamation is made by the Archdeacon, or, according to local uses, by the canon precentor or another canon. Bearing a white cope, who is appointed to this office goes to the ambo or pulpit of the Gospel, adorned with a silk white.

CHANT

Here are the pages of the Pontifical Roman with the singing of the Noveritis:

TEXT

Here is the chant of the Roman rite for 2012:

“Know, dearly beloved Brethren, that by the mercy of God, as we have been rejoicing in the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, so also do we announce unto you the joy of the Resurrection of the same our Saviour. Septuagesima Sunday will be on the 5th day of February. Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the fast of most holy Lent will be on the 22th of the same month. On the 8th of April we shall celebrate with joy the holy Pasch of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ will be on the 17th of May. The Feast of Pentecost on the 27th of the same month. The Feast of Corpus Christi on the 7th of June. On the 2th of December will occur the first Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom are honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

PARISIAN RITE

The old Paris rite had kept a very short form, on a simple recitative, in which only the date of Easter is properly proclaimed: all this has surely a flavor of very ancient use, probably earlier than that – more developed – currently in use in the Roman rite. In this old use of Paris, the Noverit was sung in every parish church by the deacon, facing the East, immediately after the singing of the gospel in the jube, without any change of vestment.

Nóverit cáritas vestra, fratres caríssimi, quod, annuénte Dei & Dómini nostri Jesu Christi misericórdia, die N. mensis N. Pascha Dómini celebrábimus.

Here is the song in the 1766 Missale Parisiense of Bishop Charles Gaspard Guillaume de Ventimille de Luc:

Here is the chant of the old rit of Paris for 2012:

AMBROSIAN RITE

The Ambrosian rite has almost the same formula as the Parisian one, with just the addition of “cum gaudio” at the end and a response, “Deo Gratias.” Not only for their texts, but the melodies in Paris and Milan have also great similarities, especially for the final cadence. As in other rites, the announcement is made after the Gospel of the Mass of the Epiphany. Here is the rubrics & text:

Indictio Paschalis. – Mox Diaconus annunciat Pascha Resurrectionis, quo die, et mense sit futurum, hoc modo :

Nóverit cáritas vestra, fratres caríssimi, quod, annuente Dei et Dómini nostri Jesu Christi misericórdia, die N. mensis N. Pascha Dómini cum gáudio celebrábimus. R/. Deo grátias.

Here is the chant in the Missale Ambrosianum of 1712 of Joseph Cardinal Archinti, archbishop of Milan:

Here is the chant for the Ambrosian rite for 2012:

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