The Logic of Eastertide (Traditional)

When looking at the Easter season in the old and new calendars, the most annoying challenge right off the bat is the fact the numbering system changed.  The modern system is “The #th Sunday in Easter” starting with Easter Day, and the traditional system is “The #th Sunday after Easter”, starting with the modern Easter II.  So if you just use numerical shorthands, the old and new calendars will be off by one.  I suppose the modern system was making a point of identifying Eastertide as a single unit, rather than a succession of days following the high point of Easter day itself.

Anyway, the traditional calendar with its one-year lectionary had a certain flow to it which is relatively well imitated in the modern calendar.  We’ll get to the modern one in a couple days; today we’re just looking at traditional Eastertide.

Easter Day

The resurrection of Jesus is clearly set forth, complete with multiple witnesses in the Gospel reading (John 20:1-10), today’s celebration aptly applies the resurrection to all God’s people. The Epistle (Colossians 3:1-11) chimes in with the reminder that we have died with Christ and been raised with Christ, by virtue of our union with him in Baptism. The Epistle then goes on to direct us toward heavenly Christ-like lifestyles and attitudes, which is also the prayer of the Collect.

The Octave Day – The First Sunday after Easter Day

The focus remains very close to Easter Day itself: examining the benefits of the resurrection of Christ for us. And they are many: the Collect notes the dual doctrines of justification and sanctification that flow from his death and resurrection, the Gospel (John 20:19-23) speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Epistle (1 John 5:4-12) points us knowing this testimony from God.

The Second Sunday after Easter Day

Today the Easter focus on the resurrection is expanded to include how Jesus was also an example for us to follow. Specifically, we follow him as sheep follow their shepherd. The Collect and lessons each speak of God as our shepherd, gathering us, keeping us safe, and holding us close to him. Thus today is commonly nicknamed “Good Shepherd Sunday.” But it is the Epistle (1 Peter 2:19-25)) and the Collect that turns these beautiful descriptions into instructions: we are to follow and imitate Jesus, even if it means suffering for doing nothing wrong. Knowing of his resurrection gives us hope for ours, too.

The Third Sunday after Easter Day

This Sunday we are reminded of a consistent biblical pattern: suffering and pain is temporary, while joy is eternal. In the Gospel (John 16:16-22), Jesus pointed this out to his disciples concerning his approaching death and resurrection.  The Collect and Epistle (1 Peter 2:11-17), then, take this theme and apply it very practically: because we know that the pain and suffering of life this world is temporary and the joy of God’s kingdom is eternal, we ought to live in such a way that is consistent with that eternal life.

The Fourth Sunday after Easter Day

This Sunday, we are reminded that the resurrection life in Christ is one that is patterned after and ordered by God. The Epistle reading (James 1:17-21) describes this by asserting that we must listen to the word of God, because it saves us and renews us. Additionally, it mentions gifts from above, and the Gospel reading (John 16:5-15) gives an example of this: the Holy Spirit who leads us into all God’s truth. The Collect, finally, takes these themes of listening, and gifts, and disciplines them into one beautiful and coherent prayer.

The Fifth Sunday after Easter Day (Rogation Sunday)

For the past couple weeks, hints of a change of focus have arisen as the Gospel readings have focused more and more on the departing of Jesus and the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  Now, with the Ascension Day approaching, this focus begins to take center stage as all today’s propers deal with the idea of gifts and provision from God.  The Gospel (John 16:23-33) speaks of the coming gift of the Holy Spirit.  What the Epistle reading (James 1:22-27) does, and subsequently the Collect, is turn towards us and remind us of the responsibility that comes with such wonderful gifts: thinking and living according to the will and life of the Spirit given to us.

When you look at the course of the season, there are three major contours that can be traced.

  1. The Epistles move from the exalted “theological” writings of 1 John to the more balanced writings of 1 Peter to the bluntly practical writings of James.  This is something like descending a staircase from the lofty heights of Easter toward the more tangible earthly mission that will be given in Ascensiontide and Pentecost.
  2. The Gospel lessons are all from John.  In general, his gospel book tends to be treated as the “festal” book, containing the exalted texts for the high points of the Christian year such as this.
  3. Overall, these Sundays move from dealing with the resurrection of Jesus into his Upper Room Discourse where he speaks extensively of the Holy Spirit.  The Easter resurrection focus this transitions toward the topics of Pentecost.

One oddity resulting from these seasonal progressions is the fact that there are several readings from week to week that take you out of sequence, even backwards, through single passages.  This happens with 1 Peter 2 for two Sundays, and with John 16 in the last three Sundays.  Again it should be pointed out that in the classical prayer book tradition, continuous readings through Scripture was the function of the daily office lectionary; the Sunday Communion lectionary dealt with Gospel topics on a seasonal basis.

Anyway, that is the traditional set of Sundays in the Easter season.  If you’re more familiar with the revised common lectionary you will probably still recognize some of this shape.  But we’ll get into that, and the comparison between them, later this week.

Easter Week, Old & New

It’s a little unfair to run a comparison between Easter Week in the traditional Prayer Books and the modern ones; the major difference is that before the great revision of the 1970’s Easter Week only contained two special weekdays – Monday and Tuesday – while the new books have special a Communion service for each day through Saturday.

I can’t help but wonder how many Anglican (or Episcopalian) churches actually take advantage of all six weekdays between the first two Sundays of Eastertide.  After all, the prevailing opinion after the rigors of Holy Week and Easter Day seems to be along these lines:

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this makes the rounds on the internet every year; this copy is from https://me.me/i/mondays-facebook-proposed-addition-to-the-book-of-146408
Whateverso, whether it’s two days or six, we have a Prayer-Book-authorized tradition of continued celebration after Easter Day.

The traditional Easter Monday’s Collect is as follows:

O God, whose blessed Son did manifest himself to his disciplines in the breaking of bread; Open, we pray thee, the eyes of our faith, that we may behold thee in all thy works; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

It was paired with a reading from Acts 10:34-43 and Luke 24:13-35.  In the modern calendar the same Collect and Gospel show up on Easter Thursday, which I assume is due to its eucharistic theme – providing an echo of Maundy Thursday a week later.  Instead of Acts 10, however, Acts 3:11-26 is paired with with the Gospel & Collect, replacing Saint Peter’s teaching to Cornelius with his sermon about the fulfillment of the prophets in Jesus Christ, which still matches up with Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel reading – perhaps even more succinctly.

The traditional Easter Tuesday has the same Collect as the modern Easter Monday – that we who celebrate the Paschal feast may be found worthy to attain to everlasting joys.  The readings are completely different, however.  The traditional appointment is Acts 13:26-41 and Luke 24:36-48 (Paul’s preaching and Jesus’ second appearance, to all the eleven on Easter evening).

The logic of the traditional calendar is an interesting mix of continual build-up and topical array.  The Gospel readings are both from Luke 24, following the course of the afternoon and evening of the first Easter Day.  The readings from Acts chime in with apostolic preaching that spells out the singularity of salvation in Christ.

The modern Easter Week, however, looks like this:

Monday: Acts  2:14,22-32 (Peter’s first sermon of OT background for Christ)
Matthew 28:9-15 (Jesus sends the women to the disciples, soldiers are given hush money)

Tuesday: Acts 2:14,36-41 (Peter’s first sermon, calling for repentance and baptism)
John 20:11-18 (Jesus speaks with Mary Magdalene in the garden)

Wednesday: Acts 3:1-10 (Peter & John heal a lame beggar)
Luke 24:13-35 (Jesus with two disciplines on the road to Emmaus)

Thursday: Acts 3:11-26 (Peter’s second sermon, identifying Jesus as the greatest prophet)
Luke 24:36-49 (Jesus with the disciples on that first evening)

Friday: 1 Peter 1:3-9 (Peter’s greeting of joy in Christ despite trials)
John 21:1-14 (Jesus visits seven disciples going fishing)

Saturday: Acts 4:1-22 (Peter and John defend their faith in Jesus before a Jewish council)
Mark 16:9-20 (St. Mark’s quick summary of post-resurrection events)

The emphasis, for both readings, is on continuity of story.  The Gospel readings follow closely (though not quite exhaustively) the narrative of the rest of Jesus’ resurrection day, and then moves on through most of his post-resurrection appearances.  A couple major omissions can be identified, such as the story of Thomas’ denial, but those are generally covered on the following two Sundays (as well as a bit of overlap with the Gospels read in this week).  The first lesson focuses on the beginning of Acts, especially the earliest examples of apostolic preaching.  There is a tradition that the modern lectionary takes very seriously of reading the book of Acts through the Easter season.  I cannot account for the reason behind this, exactly (why not start this at Pentecost, for example?) but it is a prominent feature of the Eastertide lectionary entries.

A cynic might accuse the modern Easter Week of destroying the Prayer Book tradition’s take on Easter Monday and Tuesday.  A more charitable take on the modern form, however, would be that the traditional approach of tracing the post-resurrection stories of Jesus and the apostolic preaching in Acts has simply been expanded from two days to six.  The topic coherence is lessened (especially the old Eucharistic focus on Easter Monday), but the scriptural coverage is widened.

And, of course, a real question to ask before even trying to get into a debate between old and new here is who’s actually going to church during Easter week?  Does all our planning go into Holy Week such that Easter week days are neglected?  Are we so burned out by the end of the Easter Vigil that we don’t have any energy left to keep up the celebration of the resurrection for another two or six days?  Interesting things to think about.

Book Review: Common Worship Times and Seasons

Welcome to Saturday Book Review time!  On most of the Saturdays this year we’re looking at a liturgy-related book noting (as applicable) its accessibility, devotional usefulness, and reference value.  Or, how easy it is to read, the prayer life it engenders, and how much it can teach you.

The last official volume of Common Worship on my shelf is Times and Seasons.  It goes through the entire [modern] calendar of the Church of England highlighting special holy days and providing both occasional and seasonal material for all sorts of things – Opening Acclamations, calls to confession, prayers of confessions, absolutions, Canticles, Prayers of the People, Offertory Sentences, Eucharistic Prefaces, and various other special liturgical bits and bobs that can be used to spice up the Communion service for a special occasion.  In terms of historic Prayer Book tradition, none of this is necessary, and is largely unprecedented.  But this is what late 20th-century liturgical revolution was all about: exploring new ways to diversify the worship experience by emphasizing different occasions and seasons in certain ways to make them stand out from each other more noticeably.  And what you find in this volume, as is the case with most of the Common Worship materials, is a mix of pre-Reformation tradition, modern re-invention, and just plain innovation.

In terms of authorization, the extended rubrics of the 2019 Prayer Book indicate that the Prayers of the People may be rewritten, provided they cover certain specified items.  Thus, various Prayers from Common Worship: Times and Seasons could actually find a home in our ACNA liturgy.  The same applies to the Blessing at the end of the Communion Prayers – the rubrics permit alternate blessings without restriction.

However, unlike most of the supplementary volumes of Common WorshipTimes and Seasons provides for the liturgy of several “irregular” worship services (that is, neither the Daily Office nor the Holy Communion) such as Lessons and Carols for Advent or Christmas.  Indeed, this book’s greatest use outside of the Church of England is probably its extended treatment of various special-occasion services like those, or Remembrance Day (Nov. 11th) or Stations of the Cross or, the Maundy Thursday Chrism Mass, or the Easter Vigil.  Its insights into the seasons and festivals of the liturgical and agricultural years, too, make for decent reading for anyone interested in how the Church “sanctifies time” through her liturgy.  It is certainly a mix of old and new, so if you’re a traditionalist about liturgy there will be many opportunities for ire herein.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 4/5
In terms of use in the liturgy, this book cannot stand alone; it is a supplement to the primary volume of Common Worship.  However, for what it contains, it is very logically arranged and easy to navigate.  It is not overly technical or obscure, but explains its contents thoroughly and succinctly.

Devotional Usefulness: 2/5
As with much of the Common Worship series, we have little practical use for the contents of this book.  But the various prayers and devotions do highlight well the different themes of the liturgical seasons, and can greatly enrich one’s private devotions, and, to a limited extent, find a place in our actual liturgies.

Reference Value: 3/5
The liturgical calendar of the Church of England is set out rather differently than ours, but the basics are similar enough that a study through this book’s contents can help one understand not only how our respective calendar traditions diverged from the historic Prayer Book in different ways, but also provide us insight into the logic of liturgical calendars in general.  I could see this book being fruitfully referenced in the context of catechesis, or a small group study, helping people learn about and explore the Church Calendar.

In all, I think this may be the most useful and interesting volume of Common Worship that I’ve got.

Laetare Sunday coming up

The Fourth Sunday in Lent is known by two nicknames: Laetare Sunday and Mothering Sunday.

The first name, Laetare, comes from the Introit (the opening hymn, if you like) in Latin.

Lætare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum lætitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestræ.

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may suck and be satisfied with her consoling breasts.

These words are from Isaiah 66:10-11a, and serve as an antiphon to Psalm 122, Laetatus sum (“I was glad”).  This joy-filled antiphon, paired with a joy-filled Psalm, start off the 4th Sunday in Lent with a noticeably cheerful mood compared to the rest of the season.  This is, roughly, the midpoint of Lent, and thus serves as a sort of breather from the rigors of the season where the congregation can take their noses off the grindstone, so to speak, lift up their heads, and take a good look at the joy of Easter fast approaching.

This is traditionally matched with slightly “lightened up” vestments from violet to rose, and the historic Gospel is the feeding of the 5,000, adding to the theme of God strengthening us with provisions along the long hard road of the great penitential season.

The modern lectionary’s take on this Sunday, however, is not quite as noteworthy, and undercuts (or at least diffuses) the impact of “Laetare Sunday” compared to the historic lectionary.  It almost doesn’t make sense to retain the rose vestments for this day anymore, and indeed a great many churches, both Roman and Anglican, have not.

The other nickname for this Sunday is Mothering Sunday.  This largely stems from a tradition of masters giving their household servants this day off from their duties so they can go visit their own mothers.  I couldn’t say where this particular custom originates, though it’s probably not a coincidence that the traditional Epistle of this day begins in Galatians 4:21, discussing the allegory of Hagar the slave woman and Sarah the free woman.

Other traditions associated with this day also add to the enhanced cheerfulness of the occasion: the organ, normally silenced during Lent in pre-Reformation practice, was permitted to be used on this Sunday.  Flowers might be placed on the altar.  And weddings, traditionally disallowed during the penitential season of Lent, could be held on this one day of the season.

Given that many of those old Lenten traditions are not in place in many of our churches today, there aren’t many ways that we can “lighten up” the 4th Sunday of the season anymore.  Plus, given that our Lenten disciplines and modern lectionary and calendar are also a great less rigorous than the days of old, there is far less cause or need for such a day as this.  But sometimes knowing about how things used to work can help us reshape our modern practice, and rediscover some of the discipline and mentality that were nearly lost in the 20th century.

The Logic of Lent

The season of Lent is one of the more topically scripted seasons of the year, due in part to its relative brevity and narrow focus.  As is often the case, the traditional calendar is clearer than the modern calendar in terms of the ebb and flow of the season, the modern calendar losing some of its coherence due to the 3-year cycle of readings.  Nevertheless, a basic contour can still be discerned.  Rather than looking at traditional and modern Lent separately as we did for Epiphanytide, we can consider the tradition both old and new together.

The First Sunday of Lent is about the temptation of Jesus.  This has always been the case, and has not changed in modern practice.  Year B of the modern calendar almost drops the ball on this due to the fact that Mark’s Gospel only mentions the temptation in one sentence, rather than relating the whole story like Matthew and Luke.  The Collect, too, is the same in both traditions, seeking to imitate Christ’s abstinence that we may move towards holiness.  This is a strong “best foot forward” experience for the first Sunday of the season, making sure we’re on the right path with our spiritual disciplines that began on Ash Wednesday, with the right godly goals in mind.

The Second Sunday of Lent is a mixed bag in the modern lectionary.  The three years yield the Gospel sayings of Jesus ranging from “you must be born again,” “take up your cross and follow me”, and his lament over Jerusalem.  The latter two suggest a theme of looking ahead toward the liturgical culmination of Lent in the Passion of Jesus, while the former hangs back with another sort of starting place for the season.  Traditionally, the Gospel lesson was about the Syro-Phoenician (or Canaanite) Woman’s great faith over which Jesus marveled.  The Collect built off that, praying that God would keep us defended in body and soul because we’re defenseless (like that woman).  Although that Collect remains in our Prayer Book, it does not seem to have a strong connection with the modern Gospel readings.

The Third Sunday of Lent traditionally was very similar to the second, pairing another Collect asking God to look upon us and keep us defended with another healing story from the Gospel, this time an exorcism with subsequent teaching about demons.  Our Prayer Book supplies an expanded version of that Collect (first introduced in the 1979 Prayer Book) and pairs with the Gospel stories of the woman at the well, the cleansing the temple, and Jesus’ call to repent followed by the parable of the barren fig tree.  The traditional pairing makes this Sunday much like the previous, while the modern Collect and lessons lean more heavily on our “restless hearts” and “heartfelt desires” that need to be rightened, healed, or cleansed.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is interesting in that one of the three years in the modern lectionary lines up with the traditional Gospel: the Feeding of the 5,000.  The traditional application of this, in the Collect, was a prayer for relief instead of punishment, marking this Sunday as the lighter and more hope-filled Sunday in the Lenten sequence, visually marked by the wearing of rose vestments instead of violet.  Our modern calendar, however, puts in a Collect about Jesus being our true bread from heaven, emphasizing the original Gospel story but setting it in a different context, especially in years A and C when the Gospel lesson is about the man born blind or the parable of the prodigal son.  In that light, there isn’t as much reason to retain the “Rose Sunday” tradition in the modern Lent.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent, nicknamed Passion Sunday, is an anticipation of Palm Sunday.  A noteworthy feature of the traditional lectionary was that major Sunday commemorations tended to have a follow-up Sunday to further explicate its meaning, but in the case of Palm Sunday, that follow-up had to be a preview Sunday instead.  Originally, the Gospel was Jesus’ speech about “before Abraham was, I am” – asserting his divinity.  This was paired with a lesson from Hebrews about his priestly sacrifice, so the theological import of his death on the Cross would be better appreciated on the following Sunday.  The modern calendar carries out a similar function using the Gospel stories of the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus’ saying that “the son of man must be lifted up,” and the parable of the wicked tenants.  The traditional Collect was similar to those for the 2nd and 3rd Sundays, with a thematic similarity to the Collect for Good Friday, making it serve as another “preview” of the Passion to come.  The modern Collect, however, is a transfer from what was originally an Eastertide Collect, asking God to fix our hearts where true joy is to be found, despite our unruly wills and affections.  As far as I can see (thus far), this somewhat weakens the traditional Passion Sunday function.

The Sixth Sunday of Lent is usually called Palm Sunday, and it is the day we hear the great Passion Narrative as the Gospel.  The Collect is the same, old and new, drawing upon the Epistle (Philippians 2:5-11, also unchanged) to apply Christ’s passion to us; the only difference is that the historic lectionary sticks with Matthew’s Passion and the modern cycles between Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  We’ll look at this in greater detail when Holy Week draws nigh.

 

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.

7

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.