As mentioned a little while ago, we’ve got a major feast day coming up next week: the Transfiguration (August 6th). Hopefully that will adorn your worship of our Lord on Tuesday!
But let’s take this moment, today, to cast our eyes upon the rest of the month. There are two more major feast days coming up: St. Mary’s on the 15th and St. Bartholomew’s on the 24th. On the surface these are pretty straight-forward commemorations, honoring the Virgin Mary, mother of our Lord, and Bartholomew (or Nathaniel), one of the twelve apostles. If you dig deeper you can make further connections to tradition and history.
St. Mary’s Day (August 15th) was not in the classical prayer books. This was for two reasons: first it was likely considered sufficient to commemorate Mary in the Purification/Presentation (February 2nd) and the Annunciation (March 25th) and having a third holy day for her would be redundant; and second, August 15th was originally a more specific holy day in Western tradition: the “Assumption” of Mary. The assumption refers to the post-biblical event of Mary being taken up (or assumed) into heaven. This is different from Christ’s ascension into heaven in a key way: Christ ascended, which is an active verb; Mary was assumed, which is a passive verb. Like Elijah and Enoch and presumably post-mortem Moses, the original holiday of August 15th was to commemorate when Mary was taken up into heaven like those Old Testament predecessors. I call this “extra-biblical” because it takes place after most of the New Testament was written, and thus is not preserved for us as a sure doctrine within the Scriptures themselves. The Reformers, thus, did not typically teach the Assumption of Mary (nor did they necessarily deny it); it’s purely a diaphora from our perspective. Thus we are free to read the doctrine of the Assumption into the Collect for this day or not:
O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For St. Bartholomew’s Day we can also look back at the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, a riot of angry Papists who killed thousands of Protestants across France in 1572. Feel free to Google it if you want to know about the history, just be careful you don’t end up reading about the Doctor Who story about it! Or do; Doctor Who’s a cool television show. I review stories from that franchise as a for-fun activity. Anyway, even though there’s no real logical or thematic link between Bartholomew and the massacre of Hugenots, other than the common incident of martyrdom, it’s worthwhile taking note of how major events in history that concur with church holy days can leave deep impressions in popular memory. Shakespeare helps us do this with St. Crispin’s Day too, for example.
So consider yourself forewarned for a Thursday and Saturday later this month. We’ll probably take closer looks at the liturgical observances of these days when they arrive, but it’s important for the worshiper to be aware of feast days before they make their appearance. We’re invited to anticipate them the same way we anticipate Sundays, after all.