Looking at the calendar of optional commemorations, there are four in a row this week: F. D. Maurice yesterday, Henry Budd today, James Lloyd Breck tomorrow, and Martin Luther King Jr. on Thursday. Next week has four such commemorations also. But should we observe these commemoration days?
The first answer is: it’s up to you / your rector. These are all optional, and the Prayer Book does not mandate how one must handle a weekday Communion service apart from the Red Letter Days.
But if you want to take longstanding tradition and practice into account, things get a bit pickier. As a penitential season, Lent is best served by maintaining the tenor of penitence at the public worship services. If four out of seven days in a week is a celebration of a Saint, then there isn’t really much time left for actually observing Lent. There are also sets of Collects and Lessons for each weekday in Lent that you can find in Lesser Feasts and Fasts and the Anglican Missal and in the Roman liturgy. I haven’t studied these sources against one another but I suspect they all represent a very similar tradition. The idea, simply, is that the Church provides for a Lent-focused Communion service every day in Lent, leaving potentially no room for Saints’ days.
Of course, the “Red-Letter Days” take precedence over these; we celebrated the Annunciation last Monday for example. But among the optional commemorations, there is room for further consideration. Roman practice has a complex system of liturgical hierarchies: different sorts of holy days take different levels of precedence. And although post-Vatican-II reforms have simplified their system somewhat, it’s still more developed than most Anglican sources are on the matter. When it comes down to it, the Romans expect daily mass in their churches and we don’t, so it’s a matter of priority and emphasis.
So if you’re looking for what to do at a weekday Communion service in your church, or for your own devotions at home, you would do well to consider which of the optional commemorations you would “elevate” to observe during Lent, and which you would leave be in order to keep the Lenten disciplines the priority throughout the week.
Ultimately what this is doing is to create a middle class of holy days – what I would prefer to call Minor Feast Days – to stand between the official Major Feast Days and the Commemorations. How you decide which saints to so elevate is a big question, and one that is better served on its own. For now, at least, let us remember that Lent is a time of penitence, and it would not serve us well to get carried away with celebrating every commemoration that comes our way.