I'm trying to get clarification on how this word is used. 'On ferias at Terce' - does that mean any day of the week Sun->Sat? All days except Sunday? All days except Saturday and Sunday? All days except feast days? Days outside of penitential seasons? Is Feria 2 = Monday? Feria 3 = Tuesday? The usage may have changed, but I'm interested in how it was used in the Middle Ages. Thank you.

2 Answers 2


On ferias, feria 2, feria 3?

First of all the word feria comes from the Latin meaning free day.

Historically the term by which the Church has used for the days of the week has undergone several changes in it’s usage. The nuances of the term is not always completely clear either. Here is what the Catholic Encyclopedia has to say on this subject:

A day on which the people, especially the slaves, were not obliged to work, and on which there were no court sessions. In ancient Roman times the feriae publicae, legal holidays, were either stativae, recurring regularly (e.g. the Saturnalia), conceptivae, i.e. movable, or imperativae, i.e. appointed for special occasions. When Christianity spread, the feriae were ordered for religious rest, to celebrate the feasts instituted for worship by the Church. The faithful were obliged on those days to attend Mass in their parish church; such assemblies gradually led to mercantile enterprise, partly from necessity and partly for the sake of convenience. This custom in time introduced those market gatherings which the Germans call Messen, and the English call fairs. They were fixed on saints' days (e.g. St. Barr's fair, St. Germanus's fair, St. Wenn's fair, etc.)

Today the term feria is used to denote the days of the week with the exception of Sunday and Saturday. Various reasons are given for this terminology. The Roman Breviary, in the sixth lesson for 31 Dec., says that Pope St. Silvester ordered the continuance of the already existing custom "that the clergy, daily abstaining from earthly cares, would be free to serve God alone". Others believe that the Church simply Christianized a Jewish practice. The Jews frequently counted the days from their Sabbath, and so we find in the Gospels such expressions as una Sabbati and prima Sabbati, the first from the Sabbath. The early Christians reckoned the days after Easter in this fashion, but, since all the days of Easter week were holy days, they called Easter Monday, not the first day after Easter, but the second feria or feast day; and since every Sunday is the dies Dominica, a lesser Easter day, the custom prevailed to call each Monday a feria secunda, and so on for the rest of the week.

The ecclesiastical style of naming the week days was adopted by no nation except the Portuguese who alone use the terms Segunda Feria etc. The old use of the word feria, for feast day, is lost, except in the derivative feriatio, which is equivalent to our of obligation. Today those days are called ferial upon which no feast is celebrated. Feriae are either major or minor. The major, which must have at least a commemoration, even on the highest feasts, are the feriae of Advent and Lent, the Ember days, and the Monday of Rogation week; the others are called minor. Of the major feriae Ash Wednesday and the days of Holy Week are privileged so that their office must be taken, no matter what feast may occur.

Here follows an example of a medieval liturgical calendar, which may be helpful in understanding the above nuances.

Perhaps the oldest ecclesiastical calendar, in the proper sense of the word, which still survives, is the one which was in the possession of the Englishman St. Willibrord, Apostle of the Frisians, who has left in it an autograph note of the date of his consecration as bishop (A.D. 695). The calendar was probably written in England between 702 and 706. As it has never been printed it may be interesting to give here the entries made in the original hand, omitting the interpolations made by others at a slightly later date. The manuscript which contains it is the well-known "Codex Epternacensis", now Latin manuscript 10837, in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.


1 Circumcision

3 St. Genevieve of Paris

6 Epiphany

13 St. Hilary

14 St. Felix of Nola

17 St. Anthony, Hermit

18 St. Peter's Chair at Rome and the Assumption of Holy Mary

20 St. Sebastian

21 St. Agnes (Virgin) 24 St. Babilas, Bishop and Martyr 25 Conversion of St. Paul at Damascus 29 St. Valerius, Bishop, and St. Lucy (Virgin) at Treves


1 St. Denis, St. Polycarp and St. Brigid (Virgin)

2 St. Symeon, Patriarch

5 St. Agatha

6 St. Amandus

16 St. Juliana

22 The Chair of Peter at Antioch


1 Donatus

7 Perpetua and Felicitas

12 St. Gregory at Rome

17 St. Patrick, Bishop in Ireland

20 St. Cuthbert, Bishop

21 St. Benedict, Abbot

25 The Lord was crucified and St. James the brother of Our Lord

27 The Resurrection of Our Lord


4 St. Ambrose

22 Philip, Apostle


1 St. Philip, Apostle

5 The Ascension of the Lord

7 The Invention of the Holy Cross

11 Pancratius, Martyr

14 Earliest date for Pentecost

31 St. Maximinius at Treves


2 Erasmus, Martyr

8 Barnabas, Apostle

9 St. Columkill

22 James the son of Alpheus

24 Nativity of John the Baptist

29 Sts. Peter and Paul at Rome


15 St. James of Nisibis

26 St. James, Apostle, Brother of John

26 St. Symeon, Monk in Syria

29 St. Lupus


1 The Machabees, seven brothers with their mother

5 St. Oswald, King

6 St. Syxtus, Bishop

10 St. Laurence, Deacon

13 Hippolitus, Martyr

16 (Sic) [erasure] St. Mary

25 St. Bartholomew, Apostle

28 Augustine and Faustinus, Bishops

29 Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

31 St. Paulinus, Bishop at Trier


7 Sergius, Pope at Rome

9 (Sic) Nativity of St. Mary at Jerusalem

13 Cornelius and Cyprian

15 St. Euphemia, Martyr

19 Januarius. Martyr

21 Matthew, Apostle

22 Passion of St. Maurice

24 Conception of St. John the Baptist

27 Cosmas and Damian at Jerusalem

29 St. Michael, Archangel


1 Remedius and Germanus

4 Sts. Heuwald and Hewald, Martyrs

14 Paulinus, Bishop in Canterbury

18 Luke, Evangelist

28 Simon and Jude, Apostles

31 St. Quintinus, Martyr


10 St. Leo, Pope

11 St. Martin, Bishop at Tours

22 St. Cecilia

23 Clement at Rome

24 Crisogonus

30 St. Andrew, Apostle


10 St. Eulalia and seventy-five others

20 St. Ignatius, Bishop and Martyr

21 St. Thomas, Apostle in India

25 Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

26 St. Stephen, Martyr

27 John, Apostle, and James, his brother

28 The Innocents

31 St. Silvester, Bishop

This list very well illustrates the arbitrary choice of saints to be commemorated, which is observable in most early calendars. The mention of the Nativity of our Lady on 9 September instead of 8 September is interesting in view of the Eastern practice, attested by the Naples marble calendar, of celebrating the Conception of Our Lady on 9 December. - Christian Calendar

  • Ok, great. Thanks, Ken. I appreciate it. Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 20:08
  • @R.B.Jawad No worries, you are welcome.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 20:09
  • Interesting re 16th August, are you saying something has been erased and so we don't know what about Mary was marked (dormition or assumption perhaps)?. Invention on 7th May, rather than 3rd May,may be connected to a vision of St Cyril in 351. It is the modern date used by Catholics in Jerusalem. Bartholomew a day late is Byzantine, Candlemas as St Symeon, rather than Presentation or Purfication also Eastern. Fascinating. Thanks for posting this.
    – davidlol
    Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 8:41

Andrew Hughes' 1982 book Medieval Manuscripts for Mass and Office: A Guide to Their Organization and Terminology explains it quite well at page 18.

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  • Great, thank you. That is basically what I needed to know. Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 15:15

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