We have just passed Michaelmas Day, 29th September, otherwise known as “The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels.” How come the Archangel Michael has reached “sainthood”? Isn’t this strange? The Roman Catholic Church has always been in the habit of “canonising” people, but never before they died. No other angelic personage has been granted this accolade, so why? My own researches have brought a blank. Does anyone know how this came about? Please let me know.
Here’s another item. Michaelmas is one of four “Quarter Days.” In Britain these have traditionally been days when rents became due, and magistrates were elected. But that is merely an addition to something more ancient. How did the Quarter Days come about? They have changed since the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar, and now stand as follows.
Lady Day, March 25th, Midsummer Day, June 24th, Michaelmas Day, September 29th, Christmas Day, December 25th.
Concerning Lady Day, the dictionary tells us that it “commemorates the Annunciation of Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, and used to be called ‘St. Mary’s Day in Lent.’” Christmas Day needs no elaboration, but notice that it follows Lady Day by nine months, the human gestation period. Therefore two of the Quarter Days have been linked to the conception and birth of Jesus.
Midsummer Day is otherwise known as St. John the Baptist’s Day, the time of his birth. We therefore conclude that nine months prior to this might be the ecclesiastical time of remembering the conception of John, which turns out to be Michaelmas Day. Hence these four Quarter Days were held in antiquity, and introduced into the rubric of the Church at a very early date.
Some have tried to connect the Quarter Days with the astronomical Quarter Days, i.e., the Solstices and Equinoxes. In our present Gregorian Calendar these are as follows.
Spring Equinox, March 21st, Summer Solstice, June 21st, Autumn Equinox, September 23rd, Winter Solstice, December 22nd.
But by glancing at the two sets, there is no match. The attempt to show that the two sets are identical once the precession of the equinoxes is taken into account falls down when it is realised that in September there is a mis-match of some six days, whereas the other three dates vary by only 3 or 4 days. We may therefore discount the connection, and return to the ecclesiastical origin for the Quarter Days.
Now we have an additional problem. It has to do with John the Baptist. If Michaelmas Day is in remembrance of his conception, then Scripture has no intimation that Zachariah and Elisabeth had any such dealings with Michael, and certainly not “Michael and All Angels.” In fact Luke 1:19 is specific that it was the Archangel Gabriel who spoke to Zachariah in the Temple.
This brings us to the possibility that the Quarter Days have been changed, are now out of phase with the original. Much research has been done to show that Jesus could not have been born “in the bleak mid-winter”, and many expositors now believe that it must have been around the end of September, for reasons that we need not go into here. If this is the case, then there appears to be a very pressing reason why Michaelmas celebrates Jesus’ birthday, because the Angel appeared to the shepherds to announce Jesus’ birth, and “suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” (Luke 2:9, 13) Who else could this be than “Michael and All Angels”?
Let us restore the Quarter Days to their original designations and see what happens. If Jesus was born at the end of September, then His conception would have been nine months earlier, which is December 25th. The so-called “Christmas Day” is therefore the Lord’s conception, a time to celebrate “the Word becoming flesh”, and Michaelmas to celebrate His “dwelling amongst us.”
The other two Quarter Days, connected with John the Baptist must be restored as well. Midsummer Day, known traditionally as St. John the Baptist’s Day, becomes the date of his conception, and his birth nine months later would be what the Church now calls Lady Day. There is a possibility that these Quarter Days were shifted out of phase in the days of the Emperor Constantine, who wished to align Jesus’ birth with the Winter Solstice, the “the birth of the unconquered sun.”
There is another chronological factor to help us in our enquiry. It is generally understood from the Gospels that our Lord’s ministry occupied three and a half years. Basing our study on the fact that John’s and Jesus’ ministry began when they were thirty years of age, John’s ministry would have begun six months ahead of our Lord’s, and according to our restored chronology, this would have been in March. Jesus would therefore have been baptised in Jordan in September. Three and a half years later would terminate in the Spring, at Passover, which is exactly what happened. However, if Jesus began His ministry in December, three and a half years would end in June, which is three months too late for the Passion.
These research notes may well give us additional thoughts as we celebrate Christmas this year.