Roman Calendar

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: The General Roman Calendar in front of the missal lists all the days and months of the year and identifies which ones are assigned to a saint or other observance. The far right column gives the ranking, such as solemnity, feast and memorial. The far left column makes no sense to me. It has a bunch of Roman numerals and then words like “Cal.”, “Eve”, “Nones” and “Ides” in red ink. What does the left column mean?


A: That’s how the old Roman empire designated the days of each month. The Roman rite still honors the tradition, but it also gives you the names and dates of each month according to the system you know better.

“Cal.” is the abbreviation for Calends, which is the first day of the month. In some months the Nones is the 5th day, and in other months it’s the 7th. The ides is sometimes the 13th day and sometimes the 15th. “Eve” is what you would expect: the day before the Calends, Nones or Ides. The intervening Roman numerals go backwards, Eve taking the place of the 2nd, which seems really strange to us, but made sense to the early Romans. So what they called the Nones of January, we call January 5th, and what they called the fourth Nones of January is what we call January 2nd. 

The most famous day from that calendar still in our vocabulary is the Ides of March, the day of Julius Caesar’s assassination, which we also know as March 15.

This is why Octoberfest is in September. The sixth calends of October, for example, is what we call September 26.
This is also why we observe the feast of the birth of John the Baptist on June 24, six months before we observe the birth of Jesus on December 25. To our eyes, it looks like it’s a day off, but to the early Romans, June 24 was known as the 8th Calends of July, and December 25 was known as the 8th Calends of January—exactly 6 months later.