The Pre-Lent Mini-Season

This coming Sunday, as some liturgical calendars indicate, is (or was) known as Septuagesima.  This is the beginning of a distinct mini-season in the traditional calendar.  Although the ACNA calendar no longer retains or authorizes these three Sundays, it can be beneficial to know about them.  They are part of the treasure of Church Tradition that reaches back well past a thousand years, and, rightly received, can be of great benefit to our spiritual formation as we work with the Church’s calendar to learn and grow in Christ.

The three Sundays before Ash Wednesday were known as “the -gesima Sundays.”  -gesima is a Latin partial word, from Septuagesima and Sexagesima and Quinquagesima and Quadragesima.  These mean 70 days, 60 days, 50 days, and 40 days, respectively, and they refer to the approximate amount of time remaining until Easter.  Quadragesima is a Latin name for Ash Wednesday, when Lent officially begins, but the three Sundays before it (with increasingly ‘rounded’ approximations of the Easter countdown) form a sort of Pre-Lent season.

These three weeks were a transitional period: the Lenten spiritual disciplines had not yet begun, but some of Lent’s liturgical features were put in place, like the “burial of the alleluia” and the wearing of purple vestments.  Those who practiced especially severe fasting during Lent would use these three weeks to begin the fast in stages, giving their bodies time to adjust safely to the austere self-denial that awaited.

The Gospel lesson on the first Sunday (Septuagesima) was the Gospel of the Landowner paying his workers the same, even to the 11th hour (Matt. 20).  This prepared the Church for the labor of Lenten disciplines.  The second Sunday (Sexagesima) proclaimed the Parable of the Four Soils (Luke 8).  This reminded us of right reception of the Word of God.  The third Sunday (Quinquagesima) recounted Jesus’ announcement that he was going to Jerusalem where he’d be arrested, killed, and rise again (Luke 18:31ff).  This was an apt sort of announcement that the penitential season of Lent was about to begin.

As it happens, our Collect for the “Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany” is essentially the same as the Collect for Sexagesima Sunday, so on the very rare occasion that we get to use that 8th Sunday, we’ll have the historic Pre-Lent Sunday Collect with us, even on the correct date in relation to the beginning of Lent.

Why have the Roman Catholics and most Anglicans abolished this part of the liturgical calendar?  Perhaps some people think it redundant with Lent.  Perhaps others wanted to lengthen the Epiphany season.  Perhaps its function in the larger scheme of the calendar was not properly appreciated by the revisionists.  Whateverso it is a tradition largely gone from the Church today, observed only in the Eastern Orthodox traditions and the relatively few Anglicans who continue to use traditional prayer books.

If you want my personal opinion, which I suppose you probably already tolerate since you’re reading this article, I hold the third theory above: I believe the demise of Pre-Lent was a poorly-considered decision.  Yes, it simplifies the calendar, but I don’t think such simplification was necessary.  Some localities (and even the whole province of the Church of England and those influenced by their liturgical revisions of the past couple decades) have developed a sort of pre-Advent season, sometimes called Kingdomtide.  Why Advent can get a new pre-season and Lent cannot is beyond me, apart from the slightly-cynical observation that modernists don’t like penitential material.

In my own congregation, I had the liberty to use the traditional calendar for three years before the ACNA calendar appeared and we conformed to it.  Some people asked me about the Pre-Lent Sundays: “isn’t it redundant?  If Lent is about preparation for Easter, doesn’t that make Septuagesima (et al) a preparation for the preparation?”  My answer to that is a rejection of the assertion that Lent is primarily about preparation.  It points and leads to Easter, yes, but it is a season in its own right.  Lent focuses on penitence, purification, sin and death.  Only in its final two weeks did it traditionally start sliding toward Easter.  Lent, therefore, understood on its own terms and in relation to the rest of the calendar, is perfectly entitled to a three-week lead-up.  And that practical consideration of having some “warning” before it starts actually helps, too.

Sadly, this probably doesn’t help much with the liturgical planning for your congregation.  But if you have a regular weekday worship service, perhaps there you can make use of the Pre-Lent Sundays.  Or you can always just pray an Antecommunion service with these traditional Sundays!  They may be gone from the general life of the church, but that doesn’t mean that can’t live on in our private devotions.

 

This article was adapted from “Learning from the Liturgy: The Pre-Lent Sundays” on leorningcnihtes boc, originally posted on 4 February 2018.

The Epiphany Season (modern)

Yesterday we looked at the historic Anglican calendar for the Epiphany season.  Now let’s take a look at what the ACNA calendar has for us this year.  There are six parts to this summary: the First Sunday, the Second Sunday, the Epistles throughout the season, the Gospels throughout the season, Mission Sunday, and the Last Sunday.

#1: The First Sunday after the Epiphany

Since the post-Vatican-2 revisions to the liturgical calendar, the first Sunday is about the Baptism of Christ.  All three years of the cycle recount the story to us, taken from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, year by year.  This year (Year C) is Luke’s Gospel’s year.  The Collect and all the lessons revolve around the Baptism of Christ, and is rich with teaching and preaching and devotional material: insight into the Trinity, revealing the divinity of Christ, insight into the Old/New Covenants, contemplation on the origins of Christian Baptism, considering the call to Christian mission.

#2: The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

The Gospel lesson on the 2nd Sunday is taken from John chapters 1 and 2.  Years A and B are from chapter 1, dealing with the gathering of Jesus’ first disciples from John the Baptist.  Year C is the story of the Wedding at Cana, which was also the traditional Gospel lesson for this Sunday.  The first two years, therefore, play into the “mission” orientation of the modern Epiphany season, while the third year (this year) reflects more of the original epiphany-as-revealing theme for the season.

#3: The Epistles throughout the Season

From the 2nd Sunday through the 8th, in all three years, the Epistle lessons highlight much of 1 Corinthians and a little of 2 Corinthians.  This is done brilliantly, breaking the book into three logical sections: chapters 1-4 in Year A, chapters 6-9 (with a little of 2 Corinthians) in Year B, and chapters 12-15 in Year C.  As far as I’m aware, this has nothing to do with the Epiphany season as such.  Rather, it is functioning like the modern Trinitytide season by focusing on mostly-sequential readings week by week through the epistles and gospels.  The book of 1 Corinthians is long enough and rich enough that it takes up the Epiphanytide Sundays in all three years.  The downside of this is that if your preacher decides to preach through this epistle, people are not likely to remember where they left off the year before.

#4: The Gospels throughout the Season

As mentioned above, the bulk of the modern Epiphany season simply walks through the early part of the Gospel books: Matthew 4-6 in Year A, Mark 1-2 in Year B, and Luke 4-6 in Year C.  The lectionary is carefully designed such that where you leave off at the end of the Epiphany season is where you’ll pick up after Trinity Sunday.  In that spirit, the Roman Catholics refer to Epiphanytide and Trinitytide both as “Ordinary Time”… the latter is merely the continuation of the former.  In other words, the two green seasons have no thematic or theological character of their own in the modern calendar, but are instead devoted to the sequential and systematic reading of the New Testament Epistles and Gospels.  This is where the Revised Common Lectionary (in its several versions) is basically trying to act like the Daily Office lectionary, for better or worse.

#5: The Second-Last Sunday

New to the ACNA Prayer Book is the invention of “Mission Sunday” or “World Mission Sunday”.  Technically, the rubrics admit that this is an optional observance, and may actually be placed on any Sunday in Epiphanytide excluding the First and Last.  The Collect for (World) Mission Sunday is actually the same one as Epiphany III, and the Gospel lessons are all evangelism themed: Matthew 9:35-38 in Year A, Matthew 28:16-20 in Year B, and John 20:19-31 in Year C.  All of these Gospel lessons, as well as most (if not all?) of the other lessons, can be found elsewhere in the lectionary.  Therefore, with neither a unique collect nor unique lessons, it is my opinion that Mission Sunday is redundant in the liturgical calendar, and thus it is the recommendation of this Customary that Mission Sunday be left unused, unless the second-last Sunday happens to be Epiphany III, in which case you might as well go for it because the Collect is the same either way.  Instead, consider using Mission Sunday on a weekday?

#6: The Last Sunday

The length of the Epiphany season varies from year to year because its beginning is fixed by the simple calendar (January 6th) while its ending is determined by the lunar calendar (how the date of Easter is determined, and therefore the seasons before and after Easter).  When Easter is later, as is the case this year, Epiphanytide is longer and Trinitytide is shorter.  The traditional calendar had a three-Sunday buffer zone between Epiphanytide and Lent, but the modern calendar just has one Sunday: the Last Sunday before Lent.  Despite the fact that the bulk of the Epiphany season is based on sequential readings and not on any epiphany theme, the Last Sunday sees a return to the epiphany theme by focusing on the Transfiguration of Christ.  Although the Transfiguration already has its own holiday (August 6th), the Last Sunday between Epiphany and Lent takes that event and gives it a different spin, noting it as a final revealing of Christ’s divine glory before he descends the mountain and heads for Jerusalem where he will soon suffer and die.  For all the complaints one might raise against the modern calendar and lectionary, the function of this last Sunday is brilliantly devised.  Simply comparing its Collect with that for Transfiguration Day is a fruitful devotional study in itself.

 

The Epiphany Season (Traditional)

From the traditional calendar to the modern, the Epiphany season is the one that probably has undergone the largest transformation.  Although the majority of us are using the modern calendar, it’s helpful sometimes to look at how things used to be.  It may be that some echoes can be found of the old in the new.

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After the three-fold Epiphany Day followed a series of Sundays each with their own epiphany, or showing, of Jesus to be God.

  1. Luke 2:41 (The Finding of Jesus in the Temple) with Romans 12:1-5
  2. John 2 (Wedding at Cana) with Romans 12:6-16
  3. Matthew 8 (Healing of the Leper and the Centurion’s Servant) with Romans 12:16-21
  4. Matthew 8:23-34 (Calming the Storm and Exorcising Legion) with Romans 13:1-7
  5. Matthew 13:24 (Parable of the Wheat and the Tares) with Colossians 3:12-17
  6. Matthew 24:23 (Sign of the Coming of the Son of Man) with 1 John 3:1-8

There were fewer Epiphany Sundays in the old calendar because there was a three-week transition period between Epiphanytide and Lent… we’ll explore that when we get there.  Suffice it to observe here that the theme of the Epiphany – revealing Jesus to be God – continues for three to six weeks after the Epiphany Day itself.  Although the modern calendar does not intentionally pursue this theme in its lectionary, it is still a theme that preacher and reader alike can watch for throughout this season of the church year, allowing the “principle feast” of the Epiphany to light our way through this section of the calendar before moving on to the penitential pastures of Lent.

If you have a regular weekday Communion service, pulling up these traditional Epiphany Sundays might be a great idea.  With the exception of the 2nd Sunday this year (Year C of the 3-year cycle), there’ll be no overlap between the old and new at all.

Christmas Day versus Sunday

Imagine if Easter wasn’t always a Sunday, but sometimes a weekday.  What would we do in church on that following Sunday?  Well, given that the resurrection of our Lord is rather a big deal, it would make sense that we would continue to celebrate that holiday on Sunday, perhaps with slightly different lessons so as not to make Sunday a total re-run for those who showed up on Easter Day itself.  That’s how it is with Christmas Day and the First Sunday after Christmas: the Gospel is the same (John 1:1-18) but the other Scripture readings are different.

The Collect is changed, too.  On Christmas Day it’s much more direct to the event:

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen

Whereas for the Sunday it’s a bit more general:

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

This is consistent with the analogy I began with.  The “primary” Christmas celebration is on the day itself (December 25th), but the Sunday after is a second pass at the holiday so that those who missed Christmas in church will still get the holiday covered, and that those who attend both will have an enriched experience of the season, not simply repeats.

However….  Something that is often overlooked is the fact that the First Sunday after Christmas is expendable.

If that First Sunday is December 26th, 27th, or 28th, then the Major Feast of that particular day is to be observed that Sunday.  That is the traditional way to handle this Sunday and our Calendar for the Christian permits (if sadly doesn’t mandate) this method.

Furthermore, if Christmas Day is itself Sunday, the “First Sunday after Christmas” is to be omitted.  Traditionally, what you do on that Sunday instead is celebrate the major feast of the Circumcision of Christ (now “the Holy Name”) (January 1st).  Our Prayer Book also authorizes use of the Second Sunday after Christmas on that Sunday, but don’t.  Just celebrate the major feast days in our calendar when they land on Sundays like that… most folks in our congregations have sadly lacked such experiences for the majority of their lives!

Anyway, tomorrow is the First Sunday after Christmas.  Enjoy it!

From Advent to Christmas

Today is a day of two liturgical colors.  For the morning and afternoon it’s simply Monday in the fourth week of Advent.  If you were to have a morning Communion service today, it’s still purple.  If you were to hold Morning Prayer in a church or chapel, the Advent colors would still be up on the altar.  But then in the evening, out comes the festal white: Christmas Eve will begin!

Evening Prayer today is when Christmas begins, the season changes, Advent ends.  For the big picture, revisit Saturday’s post about the several worship services of the Christmas Eve/Day liturgy.

If you have an Advent Wreath, tonight is when the Christ candle will be lit for the first time.  The purple and pink (or violet and rose) candles have given way to the white one in the center.  The liturgy police will finally start saying “merry Christmas” this evening after vespers, haha!

All the more reason to make sure you don’t miss Morning Prayer today, as this will be your only chance besides yesterday to enjoy the stirring Collect for the Fourth Sunday in Advent:

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and as we are sorely hindered by our sins from running the race that is set before us, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

Advent Ember Days

As we were forewarned last week, the Advent Ember Days are here!  Although in some places the purpose of these days have changed somewhat, their original purpose was to be a time of fasting and prayer for the clergy, those preparing for ordination, and those discerning a call to ordination.  Positioned fairly evenly throughout the year near the changes of the season, these were often the days when ordinations would take place and people would have a quarterly reminder to pray for their clergymen.

Those who are discerning for holy orders, including transitional deacons awaiting the priesthood, typically write an Ember Day letter to their bishop, updating him on their ministerial progress and how the discernment process has been proceeding.

Each seasonal group of Ember Days is a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after an anchor date.  For Advent that date is December 13th (Saint Lucia Day): the first Wednesday after that day starts off the Ember Days – that’s today!  This time around, however, we only get two Ember Days, as the Friday one coincides with a “greater” or “higher ranking” liturgical observance: Saint Thomas’ Day (December 21st).  I haven’t done the math, but I can add that the Advent Ember Days almost always land in the third week of Advent, which has a Collect that is very appropriate for the Ember Days:

Lord Jesus Christ, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries may likewise make ready your way, by turning the hearts of the disobedience to the just, that at your second coming to judge the world, we may be found a people acceptable in your sight; who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

This reference to the role of the clergy in preparing God’s people for His return is an excellent set-up for the Ember Days of prayer for the clerical state.

Today and on Saturday, feel free also to use one of the Ember Day Collects in the Daily Office as the Collect of the Day!

Saint Lucia Day

Celebrate Saint Lucia Day, go light your little sister’s hair on fire!  Haha, just kidding… sort of.

Saint Lucia (or Lucy, in English) was a martyr of the Early Church who died in the year 304 during a particularly nasty round of persecution under Emperor Diocletian.  Lucia was betrothed by her mother to be married to a man of some esteem, but Lucia had already pledged herself to virginity and was already beginning to give of her late father’s possessions to the poor.  Discovery of this cause her husband-to-be to scorn her and turn her over to the authorities.  As the story goes, she was sentenced to be defiled in a whorehouse but the soldiers and oxen couldn’t make the cart carrying her to move, and when she was sentenced to be burned to death instead the fire wouldn’t touch her, so the Emperor stabbed her instead.

The candles-on-the-head thing derives from a story that when she carried food to Christians hiding in the catacombs, she wore a wreath with candles on her head so she could carry more food in both hands.  Whether either this or her martyrdom story are accurate reports of history is beyond our ability to know.  But the piety, acts of service, and devotion to Christ displayed in her life are inspirational stories that have endeared Christians the world over, ever since.  Check out the devotion her story can inspire:

Saint Lucia Day, December 13th, is not just any old commemoration in the ACNA calendar.  It also happens to be the anchor date that defines the Advent Ember Days.  You’ll hear more about those next week, but suffice it to note now that the Advent (or Winter) Ember Days are always the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday soonest after St. Lucia Day.  In this year’s case, we’ve got almost a whole week left before the Ember Days begin.

Tomorrow is Christ the King

Christ the King Sunday is one of the most modern additions to the liturgical calendar.  It was first instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to counter the growing secularism and nationalism in Europe at that time.  Despite the Great War, dictatorships were on the rise again, and the Pope felt the need to implement a new solemnity, or major feast day,  to reiterate the supremacy of Christ over all earthly rulers and powers.

Originally, this feast was not on the same date as it is now, but set as the last Sunday in October, such that it would always be observed on the Sunday before All Saints’ Day.  In that original context, Christ the King Sunday was a precursor to the All Saints’ celebration, forming a sort of two-week festive time to honor our King and his court, so to speak.

In 1970 the Roman Catholics moved Christ the King Sunday to the end of “Ordinary Time”, the new name for Trinitytide in their radically reinvented liturgical calendar, upon which the Revised Common Lectionary is built (and thus the 1979 Prayer Book and the ACNA calendar today).

Traditionalists lament this decision: although the traditional last Sunday before Advent had a similar “feel” to Christ the King Sunday, the mood and tone was quite different.  Where “Christ the King” is a joyful and triumphant and victorious sort of celebration, the last Sunday before Advent was a bit more solemn: Jesus is the Prophet and King long-awaited, who feeds his people and judges the nations and stirs us up to love and good works.  It was explicitly a pre-Advent observance preparing the worshiper for the penitential weeks of Advent.

If you want to capture some of the purpose of the traditional calendar, which the Church used for 1,500 years before the 1970’s, consider re-imagining “Christ the King” as “Christ the Judge.”  There is much to celebrate in both the old and new calendar and lessons, but also a powerful call to repentance and obedience to said King.

A Week Ahead: St. Andrew’s Day

One week from today is November 30th, Saint Andrew’s Day.  While I cannot account for the history and reasoning of every Major Feast Day in the Prayer Book, St. Andrew’s does have a fitting explanation for its timing.  November 30th is typically very close to the beginning of Advent, the “new year’s” of the Church Calendar.  Although the timing doesn’t work out this year (with Advent beginning on December 2nd), the idea is basically that Andrew’s is the first feast day of the liturgical year, and All Saints’ Day is the last feast day of the liturgical year.

Having All Saints’ Day at the end makes sense: it’s the catch-all, the summation of all the saints days caught up together in one, the apex of the celebration of the Communion of Saints.  Having Saint Andrew’s Day first is also fitting: Andrew was the first one called by Jesus to follow him (or at least, the named among the first two that followed Jesus).  The point is, he was quick to follow Jesus, and the Collect highlights this fact:

Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Whether this factors into your preparations to celebrate this feast day next Friday or not, perhaps this can be a meditation in the back of your mind as the holiday approaches.

Transitioning to Advent

Advent is coming… just over two weeks from now we’ll be donning the purple and keeping watch for the four-fold arrival of Christ: in his Nativity, in his Sacraments, in the hearts of his faithful people, and in power and great glory upon his bodily return.

To be fair, I’ve only ever heard of a “three-fold” advent, with different sources choosing either the Sacraments or the believer’s heart.  But I’m not going to get into that here and now.

The changing of the seasons, liturgically speaking, is never sudden.  Each season, or sub-season, has its transition markers.  The modern calendar is a little rougher ’round the edges than the traditional lectionary, but the approach toward Advent is a smooth one in both systems.

in the traditional calendar & lectionary

The Trinitytide Collects & lessons follow an upward path of spiritual growth and maturity, culminating in the ultimate goal of Christian perfection via union with Christ.  The natural response to such a progression is to issue a call to labor, to strive for that perfection, to prepare ourselves for that union with Christ, which is very much in line with Advent’s call to “keep watch.”  Further, the Last Sunday before Advent is a fitting close for the Trinitytide themes and a herald of the Advent season to come.  It’s hardly a stretch to see it as a sort of “Christ the King Sunday” like what we have in the modern calendar.

in the modern calendar & lectionary

The sequential Gospel and Epistle lessons approach their end through the month of November.  In each of the three years, the final weeks before Advent take us into the eschatological discourse of Jesus, looking at the “signs of the end” and his eventual bodily return.  This actually steps on the toes of the traditional Advent season, and opens up the modern Advent to a slightly heavier focus on the upcoming Nativity of Jesus.  So in a way, the modern calendar begins the Advent themes as many as three weeks early.  It’s such a smooth transition that there was actually an “Advent Project” some years ago, advocating for a 7-week Advent, like the Church had in Late Antiquity.  Feel free to peruse that site, but be warned that it contains much that is theologically and liturgically liberal, perhaps inappropriate for a healthy Christian congregation.