Ascensiontide Old & New

The ten days between the Ascension of Christ and the Day of Pentecost form a mini-season or sub-season called Ascensiontide.  There is debate between modern and traditionalist views of the calendar over just how independent this season is from Eastertide, and you can read about that here.  What one finds upon closer inspection, however, is that whether Ascensiontide should be considered part of Easter or a season in its own right, it is very strongly linked, liturgically, both to Easter and to Pentecost, marking the transition from one to the other, not unlike the transitional Pre-Lent Sundays of the old calendar.

At a length of ten calendar days, Ascensiontide has two “days” in the Prayer Book: Ascension Day (the Thursday in the 6th week of Easter) and the Sunday after Ascension Day.

Ascension Day

This day has not substantially changed from the traditional calendar to the 2019 Prayer Book.  The Collect is the same, and the two original lessons are among the 2019 options: Acts 1:1-14 and Mark 16:14-20 both speak of the ascension of Jesus and his last words to his disciples.  The 2019 Prayer Book adds Psalm 47 (or 110:1-5) and Ephesians 1:15-23, and also supplies Luke 24:44-53 as an alternative to the traditional Gospel from Mark.

For the Daily Office, the 1662 Prayer Book identified Ascension Day as one of the six days of the year that merited a unique set of Psalms: 8, 15, and 21 at Morning Prayer, and 24, 47, and 108 at Evening Prayer.  Psalm 47 is perhaps the most obvious ascension-related Psalm (“God has gone up with a triumphant shout!“) and thus is offered as the psalm for the Communion service in the modern lectionary.

Ascension Sunday

In both traditional and modern lectionaries, the Sunday after the Ascension shows signs of influence from both Eastertide and Ascension Day.

The Collect (same in old and 2019 prayer books) is thematically built on the same foundation as that for Ascension Day, but adds the element of looking ahead to Pentecost: “Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit” – a reference to the traditional Gospel for the day of Pentecost.  It’s lovely: we pray this prayer on one Sunday, as if with the original apostles-in-waiting, and then we hear it answered the following Sunday as the apostles experienced it too.

The lessons are rather more different.  The course of Epistle and Gospel lessons in the traditional Eastertide are continued on this day, ending in 1 Peter 4 and John 15.  The modern lessons also complete the modern Eastertide sequence: a different part of 1 Peter 4 or the end of 1 John 5 or Revelation 22; and a Gospel from John 17, which appropriately brings us Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity in preparation for the day of Pentecost.  Readings from the book of Acts continues as an Old Testament replacement option on this day: on two years of the cycle looking appropriately at Acts 1, and in Year C reading from chapter 16 to finish off the Eastertide sequence instead of addressing Ascensiontide.

Ascensiontide as a transition

Whether you choose to consider this period of time as the final of Easter’s 50 days or a distinct ten day season of their own, tradition both old and new connects this time fluidly to its predecessor (Easter) and its successor (Pentecost).  We move from the resurrection to the resurrection life to the ascension of Christ with our human nature to Jesus’parting blessing to us in the descent of the Holy Spirit, and this season marks the turning of the page between Easter and Pentecost.

As we observed the other day, this is a period of time that is ripe for quiet inward-focused prayer.  If your or your church doesn’t normally pray the Great Litany, this is an excellent time to make use of it.  This is a good time for special prayer meetings or vigils, for rest and discernment before the Lord.  Like the Apostles who spent this time in preparation and prayer before the explosive activity of Pentecost, it is good for us to seize times such as this for the same, preparation and prayer, before starting the next round of outward-focused activity that we normally like to think about at Pentecost.  This often lines up with the end of the academic school year, and may easily match the transition period for students between school work and summer jobs.  It may also be a good time to look inward at our Sunday School or Christian Education teachers and thank them for their labors and grant them some rest.

Psalm 118 Flashback

It’s the 24th day of the month, and that means Psalm 118 is on the docket for the rounds of daily prayer today.  With Eastertide well in progress this psalm may give you a bit of a flashback, as Psalm 118 plays prominent roles in Holy Week and Easter.

14 The Lord is my strength and my song, * and has become my salvation.
15 The voice of joy and deliverance is in the dwellings of the righteous; * the right hand of the Lord brings mighty things to pass.
16 The right hand of the Lord is exalted; * the right hand of the Lord brings mighty things to pass.
17 I shall not die, but live, * and declare the works of the Lord.
18 The Lord has chastened and corrected me, * but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open unto me the gates of righteousness, * that I may go into them, and give thanks unto the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord; * the righteous shall enter into it.
21 I will thank you, for you have heard me, * and have become my salvation.
22 The same stone which the builders refused * has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing, * and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made; * we will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Help me now, O Lord; * O Lord, send us now prosperity.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord; * we bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 God is the Lord, who has shown us light; * bind the sacrifice with cords, even to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will thank you; * you are my God, and I will exalt you.
29 O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is gracious; *  his mercy endures for ever.

The verses in blue are the parts of this Psalm appointed for Easter Day.  The verses in red are the parts appointed for Palm Sunday.  The verses in purple are appointed for both.  (Easter Saturday also repeats much of this part of the psalm too.)

The Palm Sunday (Liturgy of the Palms) portion, verses 19-29, are pretty explicit in their attribution to Palm Sunday.  “Open to me the gates” invokes the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, Jesus is “the righteous” who “shall enter” through “the gate of the Lord.”  The crowd’s cry of “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” is found here, as is the prophetic line “bind the sacrifice with cords, even to the horns of the altar”, which is what Palm Sunday goes on to observe – the crucifixion of Jesus.

Easter Day captures the more ‘positive’ verses of this psalm.  That is the day we celebrate that the Lord “has become my salvation,” that Jesus “shall not die, but live.”  Verses 22-24, which are shared on both days, proclaim a truth Jesus attributed to himself: I am the “stone which the builders refused” (Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17), which St. Peter remembered well in his life thereafter (Acts 4:11, 1 Peter 2:7).  That, above all others, is “the day that the Lord has made” in which we are to “rejoice and be glad in it.”

Of course, when we’re praying this Psalm in its entirety on its own, outside the context of Palm Sunday or Easter Day, we need not let those liturgical usages of the psalm dictate the fullness of its interpretation.  But its allusions to the death and resurrection of Christ are inescapable, and the Christian must always see and acknowledge the echoes both of Calvary and the empty tomb sounding back through centuries into the words of this psalm, rebounding again to us as we pray, chant, and sing these words.

Eastertide: 40 days or 50?

The length of the Easter season is one of those subjects that can start internet fights.  Some say it’s 50 days long, beginning on Easter Day and ending on the Day of Pentecost.  Others retort that it’s 40 days, beginning on Easter Day and ending with the Ascension.  Meanwhile, perhaps the majority of church-goers look on in bewilderment or bemusement.  Why does it matter?  What’s the big deal?  Surely there are bigger fish to fry.

Let’s explore this debate in chronological order, so we can see how this disagreement came about, and why it matters to those who argue about it.

The Classical Prayer-Book Tradition

The changing of the seasons were not marked out quite so overtly in the old prayers books as they are in the new.  The Sunday Collects and Lessons were not typically marked out into season-based sections like they are in the 2019 book, so you had to rely upon the specific “name” of each Sunday, and the short list of Proper Prefaces early in the Communion prayers.  In both cases, Easter and Ascension are treated separately.  This sets out a demarcation: Eastertide ends when Ascension Day kicks in.  Thus we get images like this from Enid Chadwick’s beloved bookMy Book of the Church’s Year:

19

Note, “THE GREAT FORTY DAYS”… that’s Eastertide.

The emphasis this takes is on the gospel narrative of events: Jesus was raised from the dead, met with his disciples at various times, and ascended to the right hand of the Father 40 days later.  This also lines up the calendar with the Apostles’ Creed: “the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand…”  In the ascension we see Jesus as Priest, making intercession for us, and Jesus as King, seated at the right hand of God.  It is a festal season, and closely related to Easter, but it takes on a theological emphasis that is distinct from Easter before it and Pentecost after it.

The Modern (or modernist?) Prayer-Book Tradition

The 1979 Prayer Book (and probably others like it) changed this up quite dramatically.  First of all, the name “Sunday after the Ascension” was changed to “the 7th Sunday of Easter”.  Ascensiontide still got its own Proper Preface, but a new feature of the liturgy – the opening acclamation – was provided for various seasons of the year, and the Easter acclamation (Alleluia, Christ is risen / The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!) was appointed for the entire stretch from Easter to Pentecost.  Ascension Day and Ascensiontide were not removed from the calendar, but they were rolled into the Easter season, turning “the great forty days” into “the great fifty days.”

Now, there is a biblical precedent for this perspective: two of the primary Old Testament feasts (Passover and Tabernacles) are fifty days apart, and became the Christian Easter and Pentecost.  By emphasizing the fifty days, instead of the forty plus ten, the new calendar system highlights the Old Testament precedent for the Gospel.

The 2019 Prayer-Book Tradition

What we receive in the 2019 Prayer Book is something of a mixed bag when it comes to the length of Easter.  As usual, Ascension still has its own Preface.  Like the 1979 book, Ascensiontide has no acclamation of its own; it still gets the Easter call-and-response.  But the name of the Sunday in this season is back to “The Sunday after Ascension,” so there’s room for debate if it counts as Easter or not.  Room for debate, that is, until you read the calendar rubrics on page 689.  When discussing days of discipline, denial, and special prayer, it says:

The weekdays of Lent and every Friday of the year (outside the 12 Days of Christmas and the 50 days of Eastertide) are encouraged as days of fasting. Ember Days and Rogation Days may also be kept in this way.

This rather seals the deal: the 2019 Prayer Book sets forth a 50-day Eastertide.

HOWEVER,

Unlike the 1979 Prayer Book, there is a nuance, or a balance: the 7th Sunday of Easter is not “the seventh Sunday of Easter,” but the “Sunday after the Ascension.”  So although the “season” is still “Eastertide” in one sense, it has entered into a different phase: new Sunday nomenclature, new Proper Preface.

So if you’re a “50 days of Easter” kind of person, pay this balance (not to mention our historical tradition!) more careful attention.  We are apparently encouraged to use the 50-day language, according to our calendar rubrics.  But the Sunday after the Ascension is informed more by Ascension Day than by Easter Day.  Whether you call that ten day period the last part of Eastertide or Ascensiontide, be sure to afford it the distinct theological and Gospel-narrative emphasis it was meant to communicate.  On that Sunday, tell people “Christ is risen!” is no longer just about his resurrection, but about his rising bodily into heaven.  Make sure the Easter songs and hymns give way to songs and hymns about the ascension of Christ.  Crown him with many crowns and Hail the day that sees him rise are perhaps the two most famous examples.

If you want to read more about Ascension Day and its mini-season (or subset of Easter, if you insist), click here!  In my experience this is one of the most under-rated parts of the church year, and it has much to offer.

Reading Acts at this time of year

We saw a few weeks ago how the book of Acts has a prominent place in the modern Communion lectionary through Easter week.  We’ve seen that the book of Acts may be read from in place of the Old Testament lesson through Easter season.  Now it’s time to look at why Acts shows up at this time of year, in the Communion lectionary, and at none other time.

The book of Acts holds a unique position in the canon of Scripture.  It is not an Epistle, nor is it a Gospel.  It’s like the Epistles in that it’s looking at the life of the Church after Jesus ascended; it’s like the Gospels in that it’s a collection of narratives.  Its very introduction makes it out to be a sort of sequel to the Gospel according to Saint Luke.  Ultimately its literary contribution to the Bible is much more like the historical books of the Old Testament – showing us the power and presence of God in the world through his people.  That likeness, perhaps, is why the book of Acts is almost always provided in place of the Old Testament lesson in the Communion lectionary.

As for the time of year… Acts has a particular focus on the life of the Church immediately after the Gospel work of Christ Jesus.  It re-tells the story of his ascension, it tells the story of the Day of Pentecost, and provides first-hand insight into the immediate history of a few of the apostles, as well as some of the missionary and church-planting ministry of St. Paul and others.  As the great feast of Easter (due in part to the ancient custom of holding baptisms at the Easter Vigil) has a particular liturgical emphasis on new life in Christ, it was only natural that the book of Acts came to be a go-to book in the season following.  Let’s take a look at how the book of Acts is read in the ACNA Sunday Communion lectionary:

Year A

Easter II – 2:14a, 22-32 – Peter preaching Christ from the Old Testament
Easter III – 2:14a, 36-47 – Peter preaching repentance unto faith in Christ
Easter IV – 6:1-9, 7:2a, 51-60 – diaconate established, Stephen martyred
Easter V – 17:1-15 – Paul is attacked for preaching the Gospel to Greeks as well as Jews
Easter VI – 17:22-34 – Paul preaches to the Gentiles
after Ascension – 1:1-14 – the ascension of Jesus

Year B

Easter II – 3:12a, 13-15, 17-26 – Peter preaching repentance unto faith in Christ
Easter III – 4:5-14 – Peter and John examined by the Jews for healing in the name of Jesus
Easter IV – 4:23-37 – the church rejoices and grows in generosity
Easter V – 8:26-40 – Philip preaches to and baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch
Easter VI – 11:19-30 – the church grows among Gentiles and is generous abroad
after Ascension – 1:15-26 – the replacement of Judas with Matthias

Year C

Easter II – 5:12, 17-22, 25-29 – the apostles are arrested for preaching Christ
Easter III – 9:1-19a – Saul (to be Paul) converts on the road to Damascus
Easter IV – 13:14b-16, 26-29 – Paul preaches Christ mostly from the Old Testament
Easter V – 13:44-52 – Paul is abused for his conviction to preach to the Gentiles
Easter VI – 14:8-18 – Paul and Barnabas heal a cripple
after Ascension – 16:16-34 – Paul exorcises a demon, is imprisoned, and preaches to his jailer

Noting the Patterns

If you just look at the chapter and verse numbers, it’s hard to see there’s any rhyme or reason to these tours through Acts.  But when you note what those readings contain, similar contours can be traced in each of the three years of the lectionary cycle.  The first three Sundays mostly follow a pattern of preachingresistancetriumph & growth.  Easter V and VI then deal with the spread of the Gospel among the Gentiles, typically to the chagrin and anger of the Jewish synagogue members.

The odd Sunday in this sequence is the Sunday after the Ascension.  In Year A it just repeats the Acts 1 lesson from Ascension Day; in Year B it (sensibly) deals with something that occurred between the ascension and Pentecost.  But in Year C it seems to be rolled into the Eastertide progression of readings from Acts, noting some of Paul’s ministry (and abuse) among the Gentiles.

Advice

When preparing for Eastertide and the Sunday after Ascension, the preacher(s) ought to make a decision: either commit to using the Acts readings each Sunday along the way, or commit to using none of them during this period.  These readings are not paired with the Gospel or Epistle, much less the Collect of the Day, but form a sequence of five or six Sundays exploring the spread of the Gospel from the apostles to the Jews to the Gentiles.  Whether they are the preaching focus or not, they form a sequence that ought to be carried through from start to finish, if they are to be used at all.

In my case, I was committed this year to preaching the “Epistle” texts from Revelation, so I opted not to use the Acts lessons, preferring to have OT lessons that would match the Gospels so there’d be more unity to the liturgy on a given day.

Whatever you decide is appropriate, be sure you stick with it through the season to maximize the liturgical benefit, one way or the other!

A Canticle for Eastertide

We’ve already looked at the Pascha Nostrum, but there are other ways to distinguish the Easter season in the Daily Office!  Among our Supplemental Canticles provided at the end of the Daily Office section of the Prayer Book are four that are labeled as appropriate for the Easter season.

#1 Magna et mirabilia (Song of the Redeemed, Rev. 15)

The rubrics indicate this canticle is appropriate both for Advent and for Easter.  Since Advent has fewer options, this Customary recommends this canticle serve as the first canticle during Advent, rather than Easter.

#5 Cantemus Domino (Song of Moses, Ex. 15)

This canticle is a prime choice for the Easter Vigil as a response to the reading of the crossing of the Red Sea.  And it’s also great for the Daily Office – consider making use of it as an alternative to the Te Deum on weekdays throughout the season!

#6 Dignus es (Song to the Lamb, Rev. 4 & 5)

This canticle is indicated as being appropriate both for Eastertide and Ascensiontide.  This customary appoints Canticle 6 in place of the Te Deum in Morning Prayer for the weekdays starting on Ascension Day through Pentecost Week.

#7 Cantate domino (Sing unto the Lord, Ps. 98)

Historically, this canticle was appointed as the alternative for the Magnificat, presumably for the days on which that text, the Song of Mary, was appointed to be read in the New Testament lesson.  That is how this Customary recommends Canticle 7 continue to be used, and thus not have a particularly Easter-related role.

Reading 1 John in Eastertide

This evening we begin reading the epistle 1 John at Evening Prayer, and will go through it over the course of the whole week.  As I noted with 1 Peter a little while ago, this is an appropriate daily lectionary experience because it matches up with the Sunday Communion lectionary on one of the three years of its rotation.  It doesn’t match up perfectly in real time, of course, but the idea of reading 1 John in Eastertide is achieved both in Year B on Sundays and in the middle of May in daily Evening Prayer.

What makes 1 John an Easter-appropriate epistle such that it got assigned to this season in one year of the Communion lectionary?  In part, it’s an echo of the historic lectionary for Eastertide, which features 1 John and 1 Peter and James as the Epistle lessons through the season.  Digging deeper, the style of 1 John is very similar to the Gospel of St. John, which also gets heavy coverage in Eastertide and other major festal seasons and occasions throughout the year.  1 John has emphases on community, belonging, love, and release from sin, which all connect easily with the tradition of reading Acts in Eastertide, and the more general “result of the resurrection” frame of mind that this season is all about.

The opening prologue to 1 John also betray the unusual status of this book.  It is billed as an epistle of John but its writing style is much more like a homily or address.  Thus it makes for great reading and hearing but a far more difficult study than a more orderly epistle like those of St. Paul (at least in my opinion).  Despite the general challenge of making sense of how this book is structured and organized, the opening verses are one of my personal favorite passages of Scripture.

If you’d like a homily to accompany you in Evening Prayer today, here you go:

Hymn: At the lamb’s high feast

Easter is one of those holidays, like Christmas, that has some really famous, really well-loved, really satisfying hymns to sing.  Jesus Christ is ris’n today or its twin, Christ the Lord is ris’n today, are so classic I’m tempted to say “Easter just wouldn’t be Easter without singing that song!”  There are, of course, many other Easter hymns of lesser fame that are quite fantastic for the holiday, and one of my favorites in that middle category is At the lamb’s high feast we sing.  Set to the tune SALZBURG, it bears a grandeur both lyric and melodic that deserves higher praise than it usually seems to get.

At the lamb’s high feast we sing
Praise to our victorious King,
Who hath washed us in the tide
Flowing from his pierced side;
Praise we him, whose love divine
Gives his sacred blood for wine,
Gives his body for the feast,
Christ the victim Christ the priest.

That first stanza sets us firmly in the Easter celebration, makes a baptismal reference (as is traditional in the Easter celebrations), and then moves seamlessly to a eucharistic reference.  I especially appreciate how his sacrifice is described in the active sense: he gives his blood and body; he’s not just Christ the victim, but also Christ the priest!  This is, in my opinion, an emphasis that we often lack when discussing the atonement.

The second stanza continues:

Where the Psachal blood is poured,
Death’s dark angel sheathes his sword;
Israel’s hosts triumphant go
Thro’ the wave that drowns the foe.
Praise we Christ, whose blood was shed,
Paschal victim, Paschal bread;
With sincerity and love
Eat we manna from above.

The baptismal and eucharistic references remain, but are couched in more overtly Old Testament imagery, invoking the Passover and the Crossing of the Red Sea as the foreshadowings or prototypes of these two Sacraments of the Gospel.  It even manages (in the last two lines of this stanza) to reference the Easter Anthem (The Pascha Nostrum) and invoke the context of the teachings of 1 Corinthians 10, linking the Old Testament (particularly Exodus) waters and manna images to the New Covenant sacraments.

Mighty victim from the sky,
Hell’s fierce pow’rs beneath thee lie;
Thou hast conquered in the fight;
Thou hast brought us life and light;
Now no more can death appall,
Now no more the grave enthrall;
Thou hast opened paradise,
And in thee thy saints shall rise.

The brief Passover reference at the beginning of stanza 2 – the sheathing of the destroying angel’s sword – is explored here in full force.  The death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ has brought about a great victory.  Jesus is a “mighty victim from the sky”, yet, “Hell’s fierce powers” lie beneath him.  He has conquered, he has brought us from death to life, and those evils can never reign over us again; the hope of our own resurrection to eternal life is sealed for sure.

This leads the hymn to a great doxological ending:

Easter triumph, Easter joy,
Sin alone can this destroy;
From sin’s pow’r do thou set free
Souls new-born, O Lord, in thee.
Hymns of glory, songs of praise,
Father unto thee we raise;
Risen Lord, all praise to thee
With the Spirit ever be.  Amen.

That second line always bugs me – “sin alone can this destroy“… It is obviously meant that sin is the object, not the subject, of the verb destroy: Easter triumph and joy alone can destroy sin.  But there’s just no decent way to get the word order sorted out with perfect clarity without destroying the rhyme scheme of the lyrics.  You just have to roll with the poetry, which we moderns and post-moderns are not generally very good at doing.  Getting over that shortcoming in ourselves, however, this is a logical and fitting apex for the hymn.  Christ’s victory is over sin itself, and in his Gospel we find freedom.  And thus we praise the triune God, Father, Risen Lord, and Spirit.

There’s still plenty of Easter Sundays left… get it into your congregation’s hands if you haven’t already!  It works as a communion hymn, offertory/doxology hymn, processional, recessional… nearly anywhere in the liturgy where singing can be found!

Hymn: the way, truth, life

There’s a perfect hymn for Saints Philip and James Day which works perfectly with both the Collect and the Gospel lesson:

1 Thou art the Way: to thee alone
from sin and death we flee;
and he who would the Father seek,
must seek him, Lord, by thee.

2 Thou art the Truth: thy Word alone
true wisdom can impart;
thou only canst inform the mind,
and purify the heart.

3 Thou art the Life: the rending tomb
proclaims thy conquering arm,
and those who put their trust in thee
nor death nor hell shall harm.

4 Thou art the Way, the Truth, the Life:
grant us that Way to know,
that Truth to keep, that Life to win,
whose joys eternal flow.  Amen.

This lovely reflection on Jesus as the way, truth, and life, is an excellent pairing with yesterday’s holy day.  And also, as I commented in that post, the 5th Sunday of Easter will also be a good candidate for singing this hymn, as its collect is derived from the traditional collect for Philip & James.  Check it out; consider appointing it for your church’s worship service that day if you’re on the modern calendar; or just enjoy it on your own!

Philip & James, Old & New

It feels a bit silly to approach a “mere” major feast day with an “old & new” comparative article.  That sort of analysis is usually better spent upon whole seasons rather than individual days.  But this holiday in particular has undergone some interesting transformation and reassessment and repurposing.

First of all, let’s consider the traditional Collect.  Roughly adapted to modern idiom, it reads:

O ALMIGHTY God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life; that, following the steps of your holy Apostles, Saint Philip and Saint James, we may steadfastly walk in the way that leads to eternal life; through the same your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

This collect, dropping the mention of Philip and James, has been repurposed as the Collect for the 5th Sunday of Easter in the modern calendar.  This is pretty neat: the collect was considered so great that it got moved to a Sunday where it will be heard by the majority of church-goers (rather than only the few who participate in the liturgy during the week).  And placing that Collect in Eastertide means that it’ll always be generally near the May 1st holiday it originally belonged to.  The modern collect for Saints Philip & James Day still draws upon the “way, truth, and life” quote, pairing with mostly the same Gospel reading as in the traditional lectionary, which is good, though the petition and application of the Collect comes out rather differently:

Almighty God, who gave to your apostles Philip and James the grace and strength to bear witness to Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life: Grant that we, being mindful of their victory of faith, may glorify in life and death the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The other major change is the Epistle.  Traditionally, the reading was James 1:1-12.  Those verses did have some thematic connection with the traditional Collect, but a more significant consideration is the identity of James.  There are, today, typically three men named James in the New Testament:

  1. James the Great/Elder, Apostle, brother of the Apostle John, commemorated on July 25th
  2. James the Less, Apostle, commemorated with Philip on May 1st
  3. James of Jerusalem, kinsman of Jesus, author of the Epistle of James, commemorated on October 23rd

For a good portion of the Church’s history of biblical interpretation, James the Less and James of Jerusalem have tended to be considered the same man.  But, now that scholarly opinion prefers to see three different characters named James, it was decided that the epistle of James should be not read on the feast day for the “wrong James”, so a different epistle lesson was appointed instead: the popular “jars of clay” passage, 2 Corinthians 4:1-7.

This text, too, has a thematic role: it speaks of the ministry of the apostles, of veiling and unveiling the truth, of blindness and sight, knowledge of the glory of Christ presented in earthen vessels.  Echoes of John 14 can be found here, and so can an allegory of these lesser-known apostles: compared to other apostles whom we know better from the Scriptures, Philip and James are very much like clay jars (humble, seemingly expendable characters) who nevertheless carried the glorious and imperishable word of God to the nations.

Happy Saint Mark’s Day!

If you’ve got a “Churchman’s Ordo Calendar” or other such liturgical resource hanging on your wall, you may see today is Saint Mark’s Day [transferred].  This may be puzzling to some people – why is it transferred, and what does that mean?

A certain calibre of holy day can be transferred in the event that it conflicts with another, higher ranking, holy day.  When you think of a “day” in liturgical time, imagine there is only room for one Communion service.  In the event that you get double-booked, a judgment call has to be made: which holy day will you celebrate, and will the other one just get skipped for the year, or get transferred to the next available day?

In the Prayer Book tradition, taking its cue from Western Catholic practice in general, we have Major Feast Days (“red-letter days” as provided in the Prayer Book) and we have commemorations (“black-letter days” listed in the Prayer Book calendar).  Commemorations are of a low rank; they get skipped if they coincide with a Sunday or other holy day.  The Major Feast Days, however, are generally required in the Prayer Book tradition, and therefore they will either replace the Sunday they land on (depending upon the season) or they will get bumped back to the next available date.

Saint Mark’s Day is supposed to be April 25th.  But this year, April 25th fell within Easter Week, wherein the Prayer Book tradition does not allow any non-Easter intrusions.  A few days ago I mistakenly stated that the old Prayer Books allowed holy days like this to be celebrated later in Easter Week, but closer inspection of the old calendar rules revealed that, even though Easter Week only provides two sets of Collects and Lessons, the whole week is still off-limits for other major feast days.  So whether you’re using an old or new prayer book, Saint Mark’s Day is still transferred to today.

If you take a look at both the major feast days and the commemorations throughout the year, you’ll notice that there’s a convenient gap through much of March and April where they get pretty sparse.  The average month has three major feast days in it, but March has just two, and April only one!  This is because of the overriding presence of Holy Week and Easter Week – every year, somewhere in this time of year, those two weeks in a row will blot out all the commemorations in its path, and cause any of those major feast days to be transferred.  So, the fewer saints days we schedule in these months, the less we have to deal with this situation.  Pretty smart, huh? 😉