I recently saw word that the ACNA Liturgy Taskforce, or a subsection thereof, has a couple more books in production, one of which is Lesser Feasts and Fasts.  Whether that is the final title or not, it is clearly a successor to a group of books put out by the Episcopal Church (USA) which finished (I think) with a 2006 edition.  I’ve heard that its first edition is from the 1960’s, but I haven’t seen it before and therefore cannot comment on the history of this volume.  Here I’m just going to introduce you to Lesser Feasts & Fasts, 2006.

In a nutshell, Lesser Feasts & Fasts exists to give you more resources for weekday Communion services.  Its primary (and titular) angle is to provide more collects & lessons, covering the entire Sanctoral Calendar – that is, the calendar of optional commemorations.  The 2019 Prayer Book also has a calendar of optional commemorations which differs notably from that in the 1979 book, taking away a number of spurious recent and ‘ecumenical’ commemorations, and adding a few more in their place, both historical and recent.

The way these optional commemorations work in the prayer book itself is that there are a set of collects and lessons for different categories of saints (there are 9, in the case of the 2019 BCP) so you can just match the right set to the commemoration.  In Lesser Feasts & Fasts, a unique Collect and set of lessons is assigned to each and every commemoration, allowing a greater degree of personalization and specificity.

Beside the commemoration of saints are seasonal commemorations.  All the days in Lent and Advent are provided for, giving nice seasonally-appropriate prayers and readings for daily communion services.  Eastertide, too, is provided for, mainly by walking the reader through the books of Acts and John during that season.  Furthermore, there are provided for the green seasons both a six-week set of communion propers hitting upon some rotating topics, and a two-year set of communion propers moving through the gospels in a largely sequential manner.

I have not made a detailed comparison, but I do know that some (if not most?) of this material is in harmony with current Roman Catholic practice, where the practice of daily mass is normalized (if sparsely attended by the laity).

Another handy feature of Lesser Feasts & Fasts, perhaps its most useful feature from a pastoral perspective, is the fact that it provides brief one-page bios of each commemoration or saint.  They’re short and focused enough that you can read them at the beginning of a homily, before launching into the meat of the sermon.  In many cases, the attentive preacher can find a connection from the bio sketch to at least one of the provided Scripture lessons.

The 2006 edition of this book reflects the then-current calendar of the Episcopal Church, which includes a few commemorations that an honest Christian cannot justify.  The names in question are of great historical import for sure: Elizabeth Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Harriet Tubman, J. S. Bach, Florence Li Tim-Oi, Kamehameha, Florence Nightingale… the question is whether we are celebrating them because of their achievements or because of their sanctity of life and doctrine.  The progressive mindset tends to esteem “human flourishing” too highly, and indeed non-liturgical evangelical protestants also tend towards a “great achievers” mindset when it comes to commemoration those who’ve gone before (i.e. Adoniram Judson or William Wilberforce), whereas the traditional definition of a “Saint with a capital S” is someone whose life and orthodoxy are impeccable examples to the faithful.  By definition, therefore, it should be very difficult indeed to honor as a Saint someone who is outside of the theological bounds of our own tradition.  For sure, the names listed in this paragraph are great and wonderful people who ought to be remembered in their own rights… but is the Eucharistic assembly the right place for that?

That is why a new version, to accompany the 2019 Prayer Book, is in order.

For what it’s worth, the commemorations from 2006, with additions from subsequent Episcopalian books, can be found online here.  I would only recommend them for comparative reference, however, as the bias of modern Episcopalianism is not entirely amenable to orthodox Anglican (or indeed Christian) sensibilities anymore.

One thought on “Book Review: Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2006

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