The -gesimas are back!

For those of you who are already using a classical prayer book, this is old news.  But for those who are using the 2019 Prayer Book, this is kind of a background information update that you might not be aware of.  This past Sunday was the beginning of the traditional Pre-Lent mini-season, of which I have written here before.  Feel free to give that article a read if you haven’t before, or want to re-discover what this sadly-defunt tradition has to offer.

Or, if you don’t feel like reading, you can listen to me yammer away about it on YouTube!


Subject Index:

Book Review: Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2006

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.

Introduction to the Epiphany season

Part 3 of the church year is Epiphanytide.  This is part of my year-long video series on the church calendar, check it out:

For further reading:

Subject Index:
* 00:30 Introduction to Epiphanytide
* 01:02 Major Themes
* 02:44 Historical features
* 7:26 Walk-through with the 2019 BCP
* 18:36 Summarizing the season with the “Surge illuminare”

Let’s talk about the Christmas Season

Entry #2 of my video series on the basics of the Church Calendar has been on YouTube for a week or two now, and it’s time to share it here.  Yes, most of you who read this already know that Christmas doesn’t start until Christmas Day (or Eve, technically), but I’m putting this out there now in preparation – I know a lot of people tend to get quite busy during the week in which Christmas lands.

Christmas is best known as the celebration of the birth of Jesus, but theologically (as the Collects and Lessons elucidate) the application of the Christmas celebration is far more theologically rich: we celebrate God the Son taking on human nature and thereby sharing his divinity with us!  Thus we celebrate the beginning of our redemption, our salvation, without even having to bring the Cross into the picture.

A resource that may be useful is last year’s write-up observing the differences between Christmas Day and Christmas Sunday:  Apart from that, here’s the video:

Subject Index:
* 00:10 Introduction to Christmas
* 01:39 Major Themes
* 04:20 Historical features
* 11:30 Walk-through with the 2019 BCP

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:  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.