Eight Fascinating Facts About Octaves


Some feasts in the Church are honored with octaves, eight days of celebration that allow the faithful to more deeply contemplate the mysteries of the feast day and more fully apply them to their lives. Octaves don’t play nearly as large a role in the Church as they have in years past, and many Catholics may not know anything about them. Here are some interesting facts about these hidden treasures of our Faith:

  1. Octaves date all the way to the Old Testament. The Jewish people would often honor a feast for seven days, followed by a solemnity on the eighth day. Baby boys were circumcised on the eighth day and it took eight days to dedicate the Temple.

  2. The first Christian octaves on record were eight days of celebration for the dedication of the basilicas at Jerusalem and Tyre in the fourth century. The first feasts to receive annual octaves were Easter and Pentecost, also in the fourth century.

  3. The number of octaves grew throughout the Middle Ages until Pope St. Pius V reduced them in 1568. He also classified Pentecost and Easter as “specially privileged” octaves, during which no other feast could be celebrated. Christmas, Epiphany and Corpus Christi were “privileged,” allowing for the celebration only of major feasts.

  4. Many saints’ feasts were celebrated with octaves, including Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Lawrence, St. John the Baptist, St. Joseph and St. Agnes.

  5. For the first half of the 20th century there were still approximately 15 octaves celebrated, classified into different groups. Certain additional octaves were often celebrated at a local level.

  6. Pope Pius XII reduced the number of octaves to three, for Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, in 1955.

  7. In 1969, under Pope Paul VI, the number came down even further, to its current level of two. Today the Church celebrates octaves only for Christmas and Easter.

  8. The octave of Christmas contains many universal feasts, such as the feasts of St. Stephen, St. John and the Holy Innocents, as well as the Feast of the Holy Family, and of Mary the Mother of God on the eighth day. By contrast, the only other feast celebrated during the octave of Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday, which falls on the Octave (eighth) Day.

Although the liturgical calendar is not as full of octaves as it was during the Middle Ages, they are an important part of our history. And the octaves we still celebrate offer us a wonderful opportunity to more fully experience the Birth and Resurrection of Jesus. See some of the items below for help extending your celebration of these feasts beyond just the first day.

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