It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
For me, anyway, that’s autumn. I love the cooling temperature, the return of sweater weather, the comfort of drinking tea at any time of day without feeling overly warm, and of course the unbeatable vista of the New England countryside turning all sorts of colors.
But things are happening liturgically, too. Both the traditional lectionary and the modern lectionary feature an escalation in the Scripture lessons as Advent draws near. The traditional Trinitytide propers point us toward our coming perfection-in-Christ as we grow in holiness (that growth and sanctification being the theme gradually worked out throughout a 20-week span) and the modern lectionaries get near the end of the Gospel Book of the Year where Jesus’ teachings get more intense and the accompanying Old Testament lessons start favoring the prophets, speaking more and more of Christ’s death and his judgment and reign over us.
So now that’s mid-October a number of things are coming together, especially in my church’s context. First of all, our bishop is coming for a midweek Confirmation service next week. This was initially disappointing – small churches like ours always get low priorities for episcopal visitations, so we didn’t get a Sunday morning. Nevertheless, the timing works out pretty well: he’s coming on the evening of October 27th which is the Eve of Saints Simon & Jude Day. Lining up a confirmation service with a holy day, especially a saints day, is pretty excellent as the liturgy provides a built-in example of what it looks like to follow Christ. Furthermore, on the Sunday immediately before that the 2019 Prayer Book’s version of the Revised Common Lectionary gives us a reading from Hebrews 5&6 which actually references the Laying On of Hands in the context of Christian maturity. While one cannot necessarily prove that this is a reference to an apostolic form of Confirmation as we know it today, it is still applicable, and will make for a fantastic opportunity for a final “Serious Call” sermon to prepare everyone for what the Confirmation service itself will mean and proclaim. I’m definitely going to appoint a portion of the Great Litany for this Sunday’s prayers, too.
Then on October 31st it will be the Eve of All Saints’ Day. That does not mean churches should celebrate All Saints’ Day then – the calendar works forwards not backwards. Save All Saints’ Sunday for November 7th. Instead, October 31st is regular ole’ “Proper 26” in the modern calendar, which is often missed due to All Saints. It’s a good opportunity to throw in Occasional Collect #3 in acknowledgement of the Lutheran commemoration “Reformation Day”. And we’re going to sing For all the Saints at the end of that service just to anticipate All Saints’ Day!
All Saints’ Sunday, on Nov. 7th, will be a great celebration opportunity. We’ll have more songs in the liturgy than usual, to make it more special and stand out. Where the Prayers of the People have fill-in-the-blank opportunities to commemorate saints and remember the departed, we will read the names of several Saints as well as our church’s departed members. Again, we’re a small church, so we’ll remember the whole list of now-dead parishioners rather than just the past year’s list.
November 14th is the Consecration of Samuel Seabury, who was the first bishop in the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, famously consecrated in Scotland because the English Ordinal was no longer appropriate for an American clergyman. On its own, this is not a commemoration that is to be elevated to Sunday status, but I am a member of the Seabury Society, and the Saint Aelfric Customary appoints this as one of the few optional commemorations that are elevated to Holy Day status. Here are the Collect and Lessons we’ll be using that Sunday:
We give you thanks, O Lord our God, for your goodness in bestowing upon this Church the gift of the episcopate, which we celebrate in this remembrance of the consecration of Samuel Seabury; and we pray that, joined together in unity with our bishops, and nourished by your holy Sacraments, we may proclaim the Gospel of redemption with apostolic zeal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Acts 20:28-32; Psalm 133; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Matthew 9:35-38
This commemoration is a neat follow-up to All Saints’ Sunday also in that it provides a more specific context for us. The celebration of All Saints’ is the entire family of God, past and present and future, American and African and European and Asian and everywhere else, Old Testament and New Testament, militant and triumphant. It’s big! But the 14th gives us a day to celebrate our particular heritage as American Anglicans. So, where the 7th will see a 2019 Prayer Book liturgy filled with music, and commemorations in the prayers, the 14th will see the liturgy re-ordered according to the classical American Prayer Book order. It might even be an opportunity for traditional-language worship as well; I haven’t decided yet.
After that is Christ the King Sunday which (in the modern calendar/lectionary) is functionally doubled with the traditional Last Sunday before Advent. This, presaged in the “Serious Call” tone of this coming Sunday and the other commemorations into November, gives five consecutive Sundays a sort of Pre-Advent feel to them. Advent is such a powerful and rich season, juggling the Return of Christ and the Judgment on the Last Day and the prophetic ministry of St. John the Baptist and the faithful posture of the Blessed Virgin Mary approaching the birth of the Savior – four Sundays just isn’t enough time to give full consideration to all these elements! So allowing some of that to bleed over earlier into November and October is helpful, I think.
I write this summary of what’s coming up in my church’s worship schedule in the hopes that it helps you think about your own congregation’s life of worship on the “seasonal” scale also. Slavish adherence to the lectionary only on a punctiliar (or day by day) basis without awareness and understanding of the larger movements and patterns at play in the calendar and the lectionary can be a real loss to the sense of seasonal “flow”, especially for those who only think about Church on Sundays and are not also grounded in the Daily rhythms of prayer and worship.
Hopefully I’ll write more about some of these days as the next few weeks unfold, to give you more ideas and examples of how the liturgy on paper can really pop into life.