Church Calendar & Backlog

Something I spent a lot of time exploring, studying, and writing about early in my ministry was the liturgical calendar.  It was a new and exciting thing for me, a former non-denominationalist who (at most) only ever celebrated Advent, Christmas Day, Easter Day, and occasionally Good Friday.  That the entire year could be redefined according to the Gospel was a breath of fresh air – the chilly muddy months of late winter and early Spring could instead be known as “Lent”, and the Easter celebration could actually be just the beginning of something larger, leading to the Ascension and Pentecost – the latter of which I’d at least heard of, but the Ascension was almost completely new to me (apart from an obscure reference to it in the Apostles’ Creed).  Add in the fact that my Christian peers at the time were also unfamiliar with the liturgical calendar (and generally uninterested in my new “discovery), and you got an enthusiastic me tapping away at his blog yammering on about the calendar without them.

It took me a while to settle down and get to know the actual Prayer Book calendars, undiluted from my initial experience with the calendar in a Roman setting.  But when the dust cleared I came out a calmer-but-resolved advocate for the Calendar of the Christian Year.  And the payoff here has been, according to some of the feedback I’ve received, that a number of readers have learned things about the calendar and the seasons that they never knew before, especially novus ordo folks discovering the differences in the classical prayer book calendar.

If you, or someone you know, needs a refresher in the most basic question – “why a liturgical calendar at all?” – I would direct you to this lovely recent article: http://northamanglican.com/a-cruciform-calendar/  It lists ten bullet-point reasons at the end, but also explains some of the relevance of having the Gospel shape our accounting of time rather than the Government, the realities of all time being in God’s hands, and our roles as co-creators under God, making something with the time he has given us.

Furthermore, if you’re new to following this blog, or just want to peruse the past year and see where we’ve been, here’s a list of entries I’ve already written, in outline of the church year.

Calendar Seasons:

Quick Note about the last Sunday before Advent

It’s the last Sunday of the season – Advent starts in one more week!  A lot of us are probably celebrating “Christ the King Sunday” today, so I thought I’d drop a quick reminder here before we misrepresent our own tradition.  The traditional prayer for this Sunday anticipates the tone of Advent:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The modern prayer for this Sunday, now called “Christ the King” but perhaps more subtly and appropriately “Christ the Judge”, also prepares us for Advent quite well:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

If you want to know more about Christ the King as an observance, here are some links:

Introduction to Advent

With Advent just over a week away at this point, let’s have a proper introduction to the season.  This is the first of about twelve videos I’m going to make about the different parts of the church year.

The season of Advent begins the church year with a focus on the advent (or arrival) of Jesus, both in as a baby at Christmas and as a glorious king upon his awaited return. Our place, in response to both those themes, is to prepare and make ready.
For further reading:
Subject Index:
* 01:10 Introduction to Advent
* 01:29 Major Themes
* 07:13 Historical features
* 12:19 Walk-through with the 2019 BCP

All Saints’ to Advent

Autumn is my favorite time of year.  Autumn in New England, in terms of nature’s visual beauty, can’t be beat.  September has my ordination anniversary, and October my birthday.  And then there’s November with All Saints’ Day and Thanksgiving, and the excitement for Advent to begin after that.  And in the liturgical calendar, November is also an interesting time of year.  Both the traditional calendar as well as the modern anticipate the transition from Trinitytide to Advent in the last couple weeks (or last few weeks) before Advent.

In the traditional calendar (assuming Trinitytide is long enough on a given year) you’ve got the culmination of the massive discipleship course on the 24th Sunday, where a focus on absolution and perfection can be found.  The “last epiphany” often chimes in there too, making a connection to the return of Christ; and the Last Sunday before Advent translates that into one last kick in the seat to get on with good works as the next season is about to start.  Thus, on the heels of All Saints’ Day, the traditional calendar points us in the direction of sainthood, bringing the liturgical year full circle.

In the modern calendar (and the Revised Common Lectionary family), the context of what’s going is extremely different, but the effect at this stage is actually very similar.  Trinitytide is not a discipleship course in the modern lectionaries, but rather a survey through the Gospels and Epistles, cycling through different books in each of its three years.  Towards the end of the season, though, the gospels reach the last parables and teachings of Jesus, bringing us to the final calls to holiness (like the parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25) and the great eschatological discourse.  Christ the King Sunday, in its modern position directly before Advent, plays well into this scheme, transitioning the modern Trinitytide into the season of Advent.

(Yes, there are those who argue, quite fairly, that Christ the King is primarily supposed to be a feature of Ascensiontide instead, but that’s a debate for another time.)

Advent, then, both old and new, begins with the same end-times emphasis in the Gospels, smoothly picking up where the previous season left off, because the lectionary has prepared us for it.

For those planning the worship, particularly choosing the music and writing the sermons, this transition can be a great gift for the congregation if we just let it shine forth.  In these few Sundays between All Saints’ and Advent, we can mix in a nice pile of hymns for All Saints, or the Church Triumphant, the Kingdom of God, the Kingship of Christ, the return of Christ and Advent.  How to execute this mix and transition of themes will vary depending upon which calendar & lectionary you’re using, and what exactly the preaching plan is, but in general this all works together.

Fun fact: over in England, their modernization of the calendar is a little different than ours.  For them, Trinitytide ends in October, and All Saints’ Sunday kicks off what is essentially a Pre-Advent season, sometimes called ‘Kingdomtide.’  The liturgical color is recommended to be red.  This strikes me as somewhat unnecessary – the traditional lectionary and the RCL already provide a Pre-Advent time without specially marking one out.  This Kingdomtide addition also makes the removal of the traditional Pre-Lent Sundays rather hypocritical.  If you poke around the Anglican Communion today, you will find some provinces have a modern calendar like ours – the American style – and others will have one like the English one.  So if you ever travel abroad at this time of year, be aware that there may be some noteworthy lectionary divergences this month.  The good news is that, despite the various methods, the general effect is mercifully similar across the board.

There are a lot of commemorations this month…

Looking through the calendar of commemorations for the month of November, it seems as though there are rather more commemorations this month than in a lot of others.  And not just popular saints days, but particularly quite a few early British ones.  We’ve got:

And beyond them a few memorials of recent great Anglicans include Richard Hooker, William Temple, Charles Simeon, the Consecration of America’s first Bishop, and C.S. Lewis.  Not to mention a few classic saints from early times like St. Leo the Great, St. Martin of Tours, St. Cecilia, St. Clement, and St. Catherine of Alexandria.

The four names in bold, above, are people about whom I’ve written articles myself.  The rest of the links are to Wikipedia.

Now, whether you want to make a point of remembering these men and women in a Communion or Antecommunion service is up to you and/or your priest.  And you may wish to consult this Customary’s guide to handling the sanctoral calendar for advice.  Whatever so, this is a month with commemorations that particularly remind us of the deep roots we have in English spirituality and tradition.

The Lord is glorious in his saints.  O come, let us adore him!

Readings Review & Planning Propers 11/4

What we’re doing on this blog on Mondays is looking back and forth at the Daily Office readings (or lessons) so we can better process together what the Scriptures are saying, and list the recommended Propers for the Communion or Antecommunion service for each day of the week.

Readings Review

Last week: 2 Kings 15-17, 2 Chronicles 28-29, Acts 5:12-9:31, Isaiah 9-15, Mark 8:11-11:26

This week: 2 Kings 18-22, 2 Chronicles 30-33, Acts 9:32-13:12, Isaiah 16-22, Mark 11-14

Both in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer we are hurtling toward some major endings.  In Morning Prayer we are powering through the last century of the kingdom of Judah, recorded in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.  We’re in the reign of Hezekiah at the moment, who was one of the last great kings of Judah.  He’s featured heavily not only Kings and Chronicles but also in the middle of Isaiah, so we’ll hear some of his stories again from that book later this month.  We’ll then bounce through the lows and highs of Manasseh and Josiah over the coming week, and finally crash into the destruction of Jerusalem early next week.

In Evening Prayer we have been moving through Mark’s Gospel.  Last week we entered the second “half” of the book, where Jesus’ teachings and claims are increasingly tested.  Disagreements and questionings, even from St. Peter, characterize this half of the book, and things only continue to escalate this week.  We’ve just had the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, so now we’re in “holy week”, leading up to the crucifixion.  It’s an interesting experience reading through the Gospel books at this pace – you discover just how much attention is given to the death and resurrection of our Lord.  In this lectionary, for example, it takes about four weeks to read Mark, which means a quarter of the book is spent on Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem!  You’ll also note here (as in the other gospels) that the chapters dealing with the trial and crucifixion and death are the longest chapters in the book.

Many of us are used to thinking of the resurrection of our Lord as being “more important” than his suffering and death, so it’s thought-provoking to see the Gospels give more attention to the death than the resurrection.

Planning Propers

This is the week of Proper 26 (or 20th after Trinity in the traditional calendar), so keep in mind that the historic Prayer Book default is that a mid-week Eucharist will repeat the Collect & Lessons (the propers) for yesterday.  Especially this week a weekday communion service probably should use “Proper 26” if it was not used on Sunday!  Otherwise, we recommend…

  • Monday 11/4 = Votive *
  • Tuesday 11/5 = Elizabeth & Zechariah
  • Wednesday 11/6 = Votive
  • Thursday 11/7 = Votive or St. Willibrord
  • Friday 11/8 = Votive
  • Saturday 11/9 = Votive

* A Votive is a “Various Occasion” (page 733 in the BCP 2019).  The traditional appointments are Holy Trinity on Sunday, Holy Spirit on Monday, Holy Angels on Tuesday, of the Incarnation on Wednesdays, of the Holy Eucharist on Thursdays, the Holy Cross on Fridays, and of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturdays.

Will the real All Saints’ Day please stand up?

Happy All Saints’ Day!  Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve has brought us safely here at last.

Wait, Father Brench, my church is transferring All Saints’ Day to Sunday instead.

Actually that’s not quite how it works.  Our prayer book, on page 688, explains:

All Saints’ Day may also be observed on the Sunday following November 1, in addition to its observance on the fixed date.

Notice that this scheme gives us “two” All Saints’ Days.  What’s really going on here is the last vestige of the ancient “Octave of All Saints.”  We’ve discussed Octaves before, but it’s worth summarizing again: an octave is an eight-day period of time devoted to a special celebration.  All the highest feasts of the year had one: Easter Octave (Sunday to Sunday), Pentecost Octave (Day of Pentecost through Trinity Sunday), All Saints’ Day (November 1st-8th), and I believe a few other holidays here and there also here.  Modern prayer book tradition, with its allowance to celebrate All Saints’ Day on the Sunday within its octave, therefore preserves a piece of that ancient octave!

In short, if you’re celebrating All Saints’ Sunday, remember that today is still All Saints’ Day.  The Daily Office lectionary has a special reading for this feast day in both Morning and Evening Prayer, which is exceedingly rare in the 2019 lectionary.  So enjoy the holiday today, don’t fast, and sing For all the saints loudly on Sunday!

The Singing Schedule has changed

Did you know that The Saint Aelfric Customary offers a sing-the-hymnal-in-a-year plan, for the Book of Common Praise (2017) put out by the Reformed Episcopal Church – a subjurisdiction of the Anglican Church in North America?  It’s true, and you can read about it here.  Like the Bible, thanks to the daily office lectionary with its expansion, and like the options in the Prayer Book itself, the principle of completionism is at work here.  The idea of completionism is that if (or as) these books are fully authorized and endorsed by ecclesiastical authority, it is right and good for the Christian to (at least have a means to) read or make use of every page in its appropriate time.

Even if you’re not using this daily hymnody plan, at least skip to the last paragraph for a calendar insight.

With the hymnal, as we draw near the end of the liturgical year, the pace of the hymnody has changed.  From Trinity Sunday until this past Sunday (Proper 24) it has brought us two hymns almost every day of the week, working through the bulk of the General Hymns half of the book.  The “Christian Warfare” section has been running its course for the past week or so, some of it lining up neatly with the war stories of 1 & 2 Maccabees.  But now we’re down to one hymn a day, allowing more room for the Morning & Evening Hymns, and generally decreasing the time it takes to say the Office.  But there’s another practical reason also…

As the month of November approaches, the number of holy days increases.  The second half of October is unusually rich with major feast days but November starts off with All Saints’ Day, which is one of the seven principle feasts of the year, and includes Thanksgiving Day.  Both of these holidays have a substantial number of hymns associated with them, and therefore the regular progress through the hymnal is slowed at this to make room for the numerous special hymns of the season.  More than half of the days in November have at least one holiday hymn appointed for them.  So if you’re not normally a user of the hymnal in the rounds of daily worship, this time of year is a good one to consider picking one up and giving it a try on occasion.  Here are some of the hymns coming up, for your consideration:

  • 23 Oct. (St. James) – #195 Rise again, ye lion-hearted
  • 28 Oct. (Sts. Simon & Jude)- #169v20 From all the saints in warfare
  • 31 Oct. – #617 Day of wrath! O day of mourning!
  • 1 Nov. (All Saints’) – #186 For all the saints, #193 Lord, who shall come to thee
  • 2 Nov. (Commemoration of the faithful departed)
    – #187 Behold a host, arrayed in white, #319 O Lord, my God, I cry to thee
  • 3 Nov. (now filling out the All Saints/Souls Octave)
    – #191 Who are these like stars appearing
  • 4 Nov. – #192 I sing a song of the saints of God
  • 5 Nov. – #194  The saints of God! their conflict past
  • 6 Nov. – #318 Tempted and tried
  • 7 Nov. – #320 I fall asleep in Jesus’ wounds
  • 8 Nov. (now leading to Veteran’s/Remembrance Day)
    – #215 Thou by heav’nly hosts adored
  • 9 Nov. – #216 Rejoice, O land
  • 10 Nov. – #217 God bless our native land
  • 11 Nov. – #218 God of our fathers, whose almighty hand

Leading up to All Saints’ Day

There are three major feast days in October, in the modern calendar, and with All Saints’ Day on November 1st we get a pretty close succession of four holidays in close proximity.

This unusually “thick” part of the calendar actually make for an excellent introduction to why we have Saints Days at all in the Anglican tradition.  Even though it’s been a staple of the Prayer Book order since Day One, there are many life-long self-identifying Anglicans who know almost nothing about the purpose of these holidays, and are even uncomfortable with talking about “saints” at all.  This is a real shame!  The discipleship value, not to mention spirituality, is great, and to lose this part of our tradition leaves a gap that can only be filled with lesser things.  So if you need or want an introduction to why we celebrate saints days, or know someone else who needs such an explanation, here’s an article using the next four holy days as an example: https://leorningcniht.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/the-testimony-of-the-saints/

In the meantime, consider yourself reminded of the upcoming holy days:

  • Friday the 18th is St. Luke’s Day
  • Wednesday the 23rd is St. James of Jerusalem’s Day
  • Monday the 28th is Sts. Simon & Jude’s Day
  • Friday the 1st of November is All Saints’ Day, which the calendar permits may also be celebrated on the Sunday immediately following (see page 688 of the BCP 2019).  This is one of the last vestiges of an Octave – wherein the holy day continues its observance for a full week after its official date.

Your Own Commemorations

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:

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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!