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.

The Last Epiphany?

The Collect of the Day for this past Sunday, repeated throughout this week, is:

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever  Amen.

In the classical Prayer Books, this was the Collect for the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany.  One might ask why this Collect should be re-purposed to almost the opposite part of the year.  What is an Epiphanytide Collect doing in November?  One might also look at the text more carefully, notice the eschatological content (its emphasis on the return of Christ, the last judgment, and our preparation for that), and wonder what it was doing in Epiphanytide in the first place.  Isn’t this more like an Advent theme?

It turns out this Collect did double-duty.  Depending upon the date of Easter, Epiphanytide and Trinitytide vary in length: when Easter is early Epiphany is shorter and Trinity longer; when Easter is late Epiphany is longer and Trinity shorter.  The 6th Epiphany Sunday, in the old calendar, was the last possible Epiphany Sunday before the Pre-Lent Sundays kicked in, meaning it was only rarely used.  And so instead the traditional calendar appointed the 6th and 5th Epiphany Sundays as extra Trinitytide Sundays to insert in November if and when the 24 Trinity Sundays ran out.

And so, very appropriately, this Collect, with its lessons (most noteably Matthew 24:23-31) served both purposes.  The Collect’s eschatological emphasis and Jesus’ discourse of the latter days in Matthew 24 served both as an anticipation of the Advent season at the end of the Trinitytide sequence, and as the “last” Epiphany.  In the historic lectionary, Epiphanytide was not the ‘ordinary time’ we have today; its lessons were not sequential but topical, exploring various epiphanies of the divinity of Christ.  The last of these epiphanies was this one, in Matthew 24, the final revelation of Jesus upon his return in great glory to judge both the living and the dead.

So enjoy this Collect today, and for the rest of the week.  Its connections way back to Epiphany and its anticipation of the coming Advent season serves us well at this time of year.

I’m wearing black today

It occurs to me that the lessons and collect for Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day (in the ACNA’s Sunday & Holy Day lectionary) give them a feel not unlike the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (popularly, All Souls Day). I haven’t double-checked, but I suspect most of these lessons are also options for our Burial service.
In which case, it seems that the funeral colors (black is traditional, white is modern(ist)) would be reasonable options for Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day.
Obviously, as Anglicans, and especially under the modern calendar with less connection to the 1,500 years of recorded liturgical history, vestment color schemes are in the “a diaphora” category that are not regulated by canon law – we do have freedom of choice here. In that spirit of freedom, and awareness of what our modern lectionary is doing, I decided I’m wearing a black stole today, to celebrate Veterans Day.

The Lost Sunday

One of the downsides of the modern calendar is that the same Sunday almost always gets overridden by All Saints’ Day when it’s transferred to Sunday.  Occasionally it’s the Sunday before that gets missed, but usually it’s this one, the “Sunday closest to November 2” or “between October 30 and November 5” or “Proper 26” (depending upon what book you’re looking in).  The Collect, which we at least get in the Daily Office for the rest of this week starting this morning is:

Grant us Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

It’s a lovely Collect, drawing heavily from the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7, and it’s a shame that most of our congregations will miss hearing it most years.  If you have a mid-week Communion service, and you celebrated All Saints’ back on Sunday, the “lost” Sunday Propers (collect & lessons) are highly recommended!

A Minor Saint: Alfred the Great

The Prayer Book tradition has always included “black letter days”, that is, commemorations listed in a calendar of various saints of old.  They are distinct from the Major Feast Days: those each have their own Collect and Lessons in the Prayer Book, at least one special reading in the Daily Office, and are expected to be observed by all.  The commemorations in the calendar, variously called “lesser feasts” or “minor saints days”, however, are optional.  The early Prayer Books didn’t even contain resources by which these days could be observed in the liturgy, they were simply points of reference and remembrance.

As time has passed, standard resources for the observance of these lesser feasts have come together.  Typically, the idea is to have a small selection of Collects and Lessons for different types or categories of saints (one for Bishops, one for Martyrs, one for Monastics, etc.).  Over time, however, more and more of the minor saints received unique sets of Collects and Lessons.  The Episcopal Church, USA, ended up with many of these in its volume, Lesser Feasts and Fasts.  So far, it seems that the ACNA is moving back toward the simpler approach by providing 9 thematic Collects and Lessons for these minor saints days.

Let’s say you want to observe today’s commemoration, King Alfred the Great, at a Friday Eucharist service.  He is known for his work in fixing up the church in his realm, and renewing Anglo-Saxon society, so the categories Reformer of the Church and Renewer of Society both fit, as well as the generic “Of Any Commemoration” options.  The Collects are the end of this document, and the Lessons at the end of this.

As an aside, if you want the new Prayer Book to print the Collects and Lessons together to cut down on unnecessary page-flipping, please join my cause and send them an email!

Or, if you want to make use of what the Episcopalians came up with a little over ten years ago:

O Sovereign Lord, you brought your servant Alfred to a troubled throne that he might establish peace in a ravaged land and revive learning and the arts among the people: Awake in us also a keen desire to increase our understanding while we are in this world, and an eager longing to reach that endless life where all will be made clear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wisdom 6:1–3,9–12,24–25 (wisdom literature about wise kings and rulers)

Psalm 21:1–7 (a king who trusts in God) or 112:1–9 (the blessedness of the righteous)

Luke 6:43–49 (good and evil fruit; wise and foolish builders)

Fast on Fridays?

By way of a sort of follow-up to Wednesday’s note, it may be prudent to ask if there is indeed any Anglican tradition of fasting.  The 1662 Prayer Book lists “Fasts and Days of Abstinence” observed on “The Evens or Vigils before” 16 Major Feast Days throughout the year, in addition to:

  1. The forty days of Lent.
  2. The Ember Days at the Four Seasons…
  3. The three Rogation Days
  4. All the Fridays in the Year, except CHRISTMAS DAY.

The current draft of our Calendar rubrics list these as “Days of Discipline, Denial, and Special Prayer”, noting that these days are “encouraged as days of fasting.”  So the order to observe Fridays with some form of “discipline” remains upon the modern Prayer Book user, but the stipulation that this includes fasting has been leniently relegated to a recommendation rather than a requirement.

We therefore do ourselves a disservice to assume that fasting is the sole provenance of Anglo-Catholics; the Prayer Book history is that it is a properly Anglican spiritual discipline regardless of churchmanship and party.  Rather than take advantage of the leniency of modern Prayer Book tradition and scarcely ever entertain the discipline of fasting (much less commit to it), we should consider this leniency a gift: for those of us, and many others in the pews, with minimal experience in fasting, we have the freedom to practice simpler disciplines of self-denial as a build-up toward fasting.  We have the freedom to practice new and different types of Friday fasts such as eschewing social media or reducing “screen time” or curtailing leisure for the sake of increased prayer.

Whatever the specific discipline, it is well past time for us Anglicans to reclaim Friday as a day of discipline!

The Evening Before…

In Jewish accounting of time, the “day” begins and ends at sundown.  This concept survives in Christian liturgy; the “Eve of” a Holy Day is the beginning of that Holy Day.  Christmas Eve is the beginning of Christmas, All Hallow’s Eve is the beginning of All Saints’ Day, and so on.

It can be easy to forget, but Sundays are Holy Days, or feast days, too.  Therefore, as the rubrics in Calendar of the Christian Year explain:

Following ancient Jewish tradition, the celebration of any Sunday begins at sundown on the Saturday that precedes it.  Therefore at Evening Prayer on Saturdays (other than Holy Days), the Collect appointed for the ensuing Sunday is used.

So when you pray Evening Prayer later today, make sure you read the next Collect of the Day: “Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in continual godliness…”  This isn’t just a nit-picky point to make sure you “get your prayers right”, but can also help you prepare for church tomorrow morning!  If you pray this Collect tonight and again at Morning Prayer before the Communion service tomorrow, then by the time you hear it (or say it yourself) in church it’ll be fresh on your mind already.  Just like with music or preaching, a prayer that is prepared is easier to share!


Note: this blog will not be updated tomorrow, or on subsequent Sunday mornings.  I’m rather assuming that you, like me, have got enough to do already at that time!

Looking Ahead: Sts. Simon & Jude

While you’re out flinging holy water at your friends’ animals for a Saint Francis Day blessing, let’s take a moment to look ahead towards the end of this month. Specifically, let’s look at October 28th.

The last Sunday of this month, the 28th, is Saints Simon and Jude Day. Chances are you’ve already got a sermon topic in mind by now, but give this some consideration…

The Prayer Books before 1979 had a different approach to Major Feast Days: whenever one landed on a Sunday, it was celebrated on that Sunday in place of the regular Collect and Lessons. Advent, Lent, Eastertide, Ascensiontide, Pentecost and Trinity Sunday were exempt from this, but that leaves Epiphanytide, Trinitytide, and Christmastide fair game for the celebration of Major Saints’ Days on Sundays. Only in the ’79 book, with the introduction of a completely new Sunday lectionary and radically revised calendar system, did this rule get relegated to the status of “rare exception.” Today, many Anglicans are completely unfamiliar with the idea of celebrating Major Feast Days on Sundays.

Although the Calendar and Sunday lectionary of our up-and-coming Prayer Book remains in the modernist form akin to that of 1979, the rubrics have changed, allowing for this piece of the Anglican tradition to make a return. Specifically, the Calendar of the Christian Year says:

Any of these feasts that fall on a Sunday, other than in Advent, Lent and Easter, may be observed on that Sunday or transferred to the nearest following weekday.

Here two choices are given: observe it on Sunday or on the next free weekday (usually Monday). One can understand this rubric either to be posing both options as equal recommendations or the first option as primary and the second option as secondary. The Saint Aelfric Customary opts for the traditional choice – if it isn’t too late for your worship planning, consider giving Saints Simon and Jude a try that Sunday!