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"Octave" has two senses in Christian liturgical usage. In the first sense, it is the eighth day after a feast, reckoning inclusively, and so always falls on the same day of the week as the feast itself. The word is derived from Latin octava (eighth), with dies (day) understood. The term is also applied to the whole period of these eight days, during which the observance of certain major feasts came to be observed

Octaves are not to be confused with eight-day weeks: see Christian "eighth day".

From origin to Middle Ages

The practice may have had its origins in the Old Testament eight-day celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles ( ) and the Dedication of the Temple ( ). However, the number "eight" may also be a reference to the Resurrection, which in the early church was often referred to as the "eighth day". The "eighth day" may also refer to the "new creation" following the second coming of Christ, which is beyond time.

For this reason, early Christian baptistries and tombs typically were shaped as octagons. The practice of octaves was first introduced under Constantine I, when the dedication festivities of the basilicas at Jerusalemmarker and Tyre, Lebanonmarker were observed for eight days. After these one-off occasions, annual liturgical feasts began to be dignified with an octave. The first such feasts were Easter, Pentecost, and, in the East, Epiphany. This occurred in the fourth century and served as a period of time for the newly baptized to take a joyful retreat.

The development of octaves occurred slowly. From the 4th century to the 7th century, Christians observed octaves with a celebration on the eighth day, with little development of the liturgies of the intervening days. Christmas was the next feast to receive an octave. By the 8th century, Rome had developed liturgical octaves not only for Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas, but also for the Epiphany and the feast of the dedication of a church. From the seventh century, saints' feasts also began to have octaves (an eighth-day feast, not eight days of feasts), among the oldest being the feasts of Saints Peter and Paul, Saint Lawrence and Saint Agnes. From the twelfth century, the custom developed of liturgical observance of the days between the first and the eighth day, as well as the eighth day. During the Middle Ages, octaves for various other feasts and saints were celebrated depending upon the diocese or religious order.

From Pius V to Pius XII

After 1568, when Pope Pius V reduced the number of octaves, they were still numerous. Not only on the eighth day from the feast but on all the intervening days, the liturgy was the same as on the feast itself, with exactly the same prayers and Scripture readings. Octaves were classified into several types. Easter and Pentecost had "specially privileged" octaves, during which no other feast whatsoever could be celebrated. Christmas, Epiphany, and Corpus Christi had "privileged" octaves, during which certain highly ranked feasts might be celebrated. The octaves of other feasts allowed even more feasts to be celebrated.

To reduce the repetition of the same liturgy for several days, Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius X made further distinctions, classifying octaves into three primary types: privileged octaves, common octaves, and simple octaves. Privileged octaves were arranged in a hierarchy of first, second, and third orders. For the first half of the 20th century, octaves were ranked in the following manner, which affected holding other celebrations within their timeframes:

In addition to these, the patron saint of a particular nation, diocese, or church was celebrated with an octave, on each day of which the Mass and Office of the feast was repeated, unless impeded by another celebration.

Reduction by Pius XII and Paul VI

Pope Pius XII simplified the calendar with a decree dated 23 March 1955: only the octaves of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost were kept. All other octaves in the Roman Rite were suppressed, including those in local calendars. (See General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII#Octaves.) In 1969 the Roman Catholic Church further revised the Roman Calendar by removing the octave of Pentecost.

The two surviving octaves differed from others as they did not repeat the same liturgy daily. The first eight days of the Easter Season make up the octave of Easter and are celebrated as solemnities of the Lord. Since 30 April 2000, the "Second Sunday of Easter", which concludes the Easter Octave, has also been called Divine Mercy Sunday.

The Christmas Octave is arranged as follows:

Eastern Christian usage

Among the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Rite Eastern Catholic Churches, what in the West would be called an Octave is referred to as an Afterfeast. The celebration of the Great Feasts of the church year are extended for a number days, depending upon the particular Feast. Each day of an Afterfeast will have particular hymns assigned to it, continuing the theme of the Feast being celebrated.

Most of these Great Feasts also have a day or more of preparation called a Forefeast (those Feasts that are on the moveable Paschal Cycle do not have Forefeasts). Forefeasts and Afterfeasts will affect the structure of the services during the Canonical Hours.

The last day of an Afterfeast is called the Apodosis (lit. "giving-back") of the Feast. On the Apodosis, most of the hymns that were chanted on the first day of the Feast are repeated. On the Apodosis of Feasts of the Theotokos, the Epistle and Gospel of the Feast are repeated again at the Divine Liturgy.

Modern Usage

The term octave has been applied to some relatively recently introduced church observances. For example, many churches observe an annual "Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity" in January, which runs from Sunday to Sunday. This title has tended to be replaced by "Week of Prayer...", but it is still referred to as an Octave in many churches, especially within the Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic traditions.


  1. Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article Octave
  2. "Octave", Catholic Encyclopedia
  3. Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1969)
  4. General Norms for Liturgical Year and Calendar, 24
  5. General Norms for Liturgical Year and Calendar, 35

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