I recently read a reflection on the Church’s calendar, in which the author says: “The church year means that we don’t accidentally exclude a truth or event that is important for the life of our souls.” What a clear and simple way to explain such a profound truth!
There are a number of truths and events that are important to our individual lives, too: birthdays, wedding anniversaries, baptism and confirmation anniversaries, graduations, new jobs, new homes, and so forth. Dates and events like these form the skeleton of a Family Calendar that helps dictate the liturgy of your ordinary life. It’s quite a neat comparison to how the Church Calendar sets up the framework for the liturgy of worship.
But there are a few spots where the Family Calendar and the Church Calendar might, and in a way should, intersect. Just as there was once a tradition of a Family Bible with the names, birthdays, and death days and so forth, we can do the same with our Prayer Books. Every Prayer Book has a calendar of commemorations, sometimes called “black-letter days”. These calendars vary from book to book, and since they’re all technically optional, an implicit suggestion is that local churches can add to (or ignore) this calendar as is appropriate for their context. The addition of St. Aelfric in this Customary is an example of that.
In that spirit, it can be a good idea for individuals to add in their own special commemorations in their own prayer books – not frivolous occasions, but ones that can and should be remembered in prayer somehow, such as deaths of family members and friends. If you’re a parish priest, the death dates of members of your flock may be worth recording too. It can help with the grieving process, it can help us remember the departed in an appropriate context, and even remind us to reach out to others who may be grieving more long-term. I’ve already got seven names in my book, two of them are this month:
The distinction between Anglican and Ecumenical commemorations may be somewhat irrelevant for this purpose; this is more a third, “Personal”, category anyway.
Also keep in mind that the Prayers of the People in the Anglican Standard Text (on page 111) has a fill-in-the-blank spot in which the names of the departed may be remembered. One tradition is to name the departed on or close to their death date (sometimes called their obit), and another tradition is to name all of them at the All Soul’s Day service (which for most of us Anglicans actually will probably be All Saints’ Sunday). Whatever you do or don’t do, remember that your copy of the Prayer Book is your copy; invest your spiritual life into it!