When you look at the liturgical calendar of the Roman Church, with all its various types, classes, or ranks of feast days, you will quickly appreciate the simplicity of the Prayer Book tradition. It’s either a “red-letter day”, that is, a holy day mandated in the book, or it is a “black letter day”, a commemoration that you can celebrate if you want to, or ignore if you want.
But the priest may find, after considering how best to celebrate some of the names in our calendar, that not all commemorations ought to be treated equally. Certainly, yes, all God’s children are equal in His sight, but as we look to the examples of those who have gone before us, there is a marked difference in the impact of Augustine of Hippo and, say, Samuel Shoemaker. Pastorally, it’s worth helping our flocks identify who the ‘major players’ are in church history, who the great theologians and teachers are, who lived truly holy lives that we can strive to emulate. And thus we stumble back into the Western tradition of feast days of different ranks.
The Saint Aelfric Customary sets forth a four-tired rank of saints days, and it’s very simple.
- The Major Feast Days (“red-letter days”) are the ones specifically named and mandated in the prayer book. They each have their own set of Collect and lessons for Holy Communion that day, and usually impact the Daily Office Lectionary with at least one special reading.
- The Minor Saints Days are “black letter days” which are identified as the most prominent. If you have a weekday communion service on one of these days, they ought to be celebrated, as if they were a major feast. Unlike major feasts, though, these aren’t celebrated on Sundays, and don’t impact the Daily Office.
- The Commemorations are the “black letter days” entirely unchanged – they’re still optional, at the discretion of the celebrant to observe or not.
- The Memorials are the “black letter days” that are set aside as not for observance at Holy Communion. This is born out of a respect for the liturgical tradition of not naming new Saints without either due process or clear consensus. And since the Anglican tradition has no official process, we can only gain new saints by martyrdom or by clear consensus. The names in our calendar that do not meet these terms are therefore categorized as Memorials.
You can download the Saint Aelfric Customary version of the Sanctoral Calendar here.
Note also that this calendar “elevates” three commemorations to Major Feast Day status: Aelfric, Augustine of Canterbury, and King Charles I. This is due to the fact that they are the three “patron saints” of this Customary, and therefore ought to be especially available to those who use this Customary.
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