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From Easter onward

We may, perhaps, be familiar with some of the (more or less well-known) older names that were at one time used to refer to particular feast days in Church; some were adopted as the so-called “quarter days” for rent payments or contracts of employment, some are formed by contractions of the saint’s name, all betray a time when Christian observance, influence and experience were more important aspects of our national and community psyche.

  • Hilary, the name of an academic university term or a term of the legal year ([13th] 14th January – Feast of St Hilary of Poitiers)

  • Candlemas (2nd February – Feast of the Presentation)

  • Lady Day (25th March – Feast of the Annunciation)

  • Johnmas (24th June – Nativity of John the Baptist – Midsummer’s Day)

  • Petertide (traditionally the Sunday closest to 29th June and the period around that day; within the Anglican Church a season for ordinations)

  • Lammas (1st August – Loaf Mass, marking First Fruits of the Harvest)

  • Bartlemas (24th August – St Bartholomew’s Day)

  • Marymas (8th September – Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

  • Michaelmas (29th September – Feast of St Michael and All Angels)

  • Hallowmas (1st November – All Hallows or All Saints’ Day)

  • Martinmas (11th November – St Martin’s Day)

and not forgetting, of course …

  • Christmas itself (Christ’s Mass – 25th December, the Feast of the Nativity)

  • Stephenmas (26th December – St Stephen’s Day)

It was not only feast days that acquired particular and popular designations. Sundays, too, were given different appellations. The very confused terms, whether in meaning, development or application, Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima (the last three Sundays before Lent; “Gesimatide” has some similarity to the Pre-Lent of the Orthodox Church) and Quadragesima (the first Sunday of Lent), were still being spoken of in church when I was growing up, even though the terms had officially “disappeared” in the rationalisation of the liturgical calendar in 1969/70 as part of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Other Sundays in the course of the liturgical year also have alternative names attached to them, either by virtue of the opening words of the introit (entrance antiphon / chant) to the Mass or by connection with the collect or opening prayer:

  • Invocabit / Invocavit (first Sunday of Lent)

  • Stir-up (last Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent)

  • Gaudete (fourth Sunday of Advent)

  • Reminiscere (second Sunday of Lent)

  • Oculi (third Sunday of Lent)

  • Laetare (fourth Sunday of Lent)

  • Passion or Judica (fifth Sunday of Lent)

  • Palm (Sunday before Easter)

  • Low (first Sunday after Easter)

  • Misericordia (pre-1970 second Sunday after Easter, post-1970 third Sunday after Easter but referred to instead as the Fourth Sunday of Easter)

  • Good Shepherd or Vocations (also Fourth Sunday of Easter)

  • Jubilate (originally third Sunday after Easter)

  • Cantate (fourth Sunday after Easter)

  • Whitsun(day) (Pentecost).

Thinking back to the Disney film version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, there is one Sunday known as Quasimodo Sunday, the Sunday following Easter Sunday (also referred to as the Second Sunday of Easter or Low Sunday and this year falls on 11th April 2021).

[Since 30th April 2000, by the initiative of Pope John Paul II, this particular Sunday has also been designated as “Divine Mercy Sunday”.]

Chapter 1 of Book IV of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo bears the title, “Good Souls”; the chapter offers a description of the reactions (some quite shocking, others highly comical) of the passers-by towards an abandoned child:

... one fine morning, Quasimodo Sunday, a living creature had been deposited after Mass in the church of Notre-Dame in the wooden bed sealed in the pavement on the left hand of the entrance … Upon this wooden bed it was customary to expose orphans to public charity. Anyone who chose could take them away. In front of this wooden bed there was a copper basin for contributions.

The sort of living creature which was lying upon this plank on the morning of Quasimodo Sunday in the year of Our Lord 1467 seemed to excite, in a high degree, the curiosity of a rather large group which had gathered around it. They group consisted mainly of members of the fair sex. They were nearly all old women …

… ‘Whatever can that be?’ …

… ‘What is the world coming to … if that’s the way they make children nowadays?’

… ‘I don’t know much about children … but it must be a sin to look at this one.’

… ‘It’s not a child at all … It’s a deformed ape’ …

… ‘This so-called orphan is an abominable monster’ …

… ‘I hope no one will claim it.’ …

Indeed, the “little monster” was not a newborn infant … it was a little, angular, twitching mass, imprisoned in a canvas bag … with a head peeping out. And that head was so deformed! It was nothing but a forest of red hair, one eye, a mouth, and a few teeth. The eye was weeping; the mouth was crying; and the teeth seemed to want only to bite. The whole lump was struggling violently in the sack …

… ‘Really … I thought they only exposed children here.’

… ‘I think it would be better for the people of Paris if that little sorcerer there were lying upon a faggot than upon a board.’

‘Yes, on a fine flaming faggot!’ …

For several minutes a young priest had been listening to the comments … His face was severe, his forehead broad, and his eyes penetrating. He pushed his way silently through the crowd, examined the “little sorcerer”, and stretched his hand over him …

… ‘I’ll adopt that child’, said the priest.

He wrapped it in his cassock and carried it away. The by-standers looked after him with horror …

… ‘Didn’t I tell you … that that young cleric, Monsieur Claude Frollo, is a sorcerer?’

(“The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” by Victor Hugo, Penguin edition, 1964)

So the abandoned child gains his name from the day on which he was found, Quasimodo Sunday; the Sunday gains its name from the words of the antiphon Quasi modo geniti infants (“as if new born babies”) – from the Vetus Latina version of the introit of the Mass.

The Vetus Latina is a collective name given to various Latin translations of the Old and New Testaments which date to earlier than the definitive Vulgate version produced by Jerome in the fourth century. When studying liturgical texts in the seminary we encountered the Vetus Latina as the source of the phrase “our daily bread” (Panem nostrum cotidianum) in current translation of the Lord’s Prayer used during the Mass rather than the equivalent but different words of the Vulgate.

The words are taken from the First Letter of Peter (2:2):

Vetus Latina:

quasi modo geniti infantes rationabile sine dolo lac concupiscite ut in eo crescatis in salute

English trans:

You are new born, and, like babies, you should be hungry for nothing but milk – the spiritual honesty which will help you to grow up to salvation


sicut modo geniti infantes rationale sine dolo lac concupiscite ut in eo crescatis in salute

You can see how the Vetus Latina differed from the Vulgate – we might otherwise have been considering a character called “Sicutmodo”!

Quasi modo géniti infántes, allelúia:

rationábile, sine dolo lac concupíscite,

allelúia, allelúia, allelúia.

As newborn infants do (alleluia),

covet milk that is rational,

without dolosity (alleluia, alleluia, alleluia).

* * * * *

The Church tells us that Easter is to the year what Sunday is to the week.

Easter and the season of Eastertide are the most significant occasions in the liturgical year for the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation, particularly Baptism.

In Baptism, God calls us by name (“I have called you by your name, you are mineIsaiah 43:1); we receive our baptismal name, perhaps that of a Christian saint, a Christian virtue or a Christian mystery:

CCC § 2158

God calls each one by name. Everyone’s name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it.

CCC § 2159

The name one receives is a name for eternity …

Traditionally, one’s “name day” (or saint’s day) was always an additional celebration in the vein of another birthday.

An Austrian cousin of mine married a man whose family come from Styria in Slovenia; her married name is Božič which, as we learned at the wedding, makes her Mrs. Christmas! Elsewhere in the family, Sarah Ellen decided she wanted to change her name to Sara Helen; eldest sons of eldest sons have been burdened with August as one given name (my father was the youngest, thankfully); there are strange names scattered across the family generations (some still living), there’s Hepzibah, Clemency, Beulah, Theodora, Melchior, Crispin, Prosper and Isidore … but no Frollo and no Quasimodo.

* * * * *

Some countries with perhaps deeper Christian roots have surnames which derive from Christian heritage: in France, Toussaint (connected with the feast of All Saints); similarly in Italy, De Santis (literally “of the saints”) and De Angelis (“of the angels”); in Portugal, Neves (from the devotion to Our Lady of the Snows, neves) and Reis (from devotion to the Magi or Three Kings, reis); Pentecost is a surname throughout the English speaking world. It’s always struck me as rather odd – given the rule on priestly celibacy – just how many traditionally Catholic European countries have surnames that have the literal meaning of “son of the priest”. Perhaps these predate the introduction of mandatory celibacy?!

We know from scripture that a change of name can be symbolic, marking a new commission from God, a change of life or direction, something new. We might think of Abram becoming Abraham (Genesis 17:5) and Sarai becoming Sarah (Genesis 17:15).

Often when upon entering the religious life, a monk, religious brother, nun or religious sister takes a “religious” name, symbolising a new way of living, a new place in life and of leaving the old behind. The name in religion sometimes reflected the season during which the novice or postulant first entered, for example, Marie-Noel (during Christmastide), Marie-Pascal (during Eastertide), Marie-Baptiste, Marie-Pentecost. Sometimes names were inherited from a religious brother or sister in the community who had died recently before the novice or postulant entered.

Similarly, on their election to the Chair of Peter, popes take a pontifical name; likewise, kings and queens may choose a regnal name on their accession to the throne.

* * * * *

The popular phrase, often mistakenly attributed to St Augustine of Hippo, reminds us of who we are and who we are called to be, “We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song”. Whether we are an Abraham or a Sarah, a Frollo or a Quasimodo, we are part of that Easter people and the Renewal of Baptismal Promises at the Easter Vigil and on Easter Sunday reminds us that we belong to God, that we have responsibilities towards God and his church, that we have a God-given vocation, and that we are called to witness to him through our lives, by our choices and example, in our words and actions.

Perhaps best of all, we are known by two other designations: as a “child of God” (1 John 3:1) and as a “Christian” (Acts 11:26).

May the grace of Easter strengthen us to be faithful to our Christian Baptism and to live fully as children of God. May we be worthy of the names we bear, however burdensome, peculiar or irrational they appear; all names tell a story.

Happy Quasimodo Sunday!

Fr Alistair

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