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.

Before the Vigil

These days, Easter Vigils are super cool and popular.  A lot of churches that hold them end up drawing visitors from other Christian denominations who don’t practice this piece of liturgical tradition.  And hey, who can blame anyone, nowhere else can one find such a broad sweep of Scripture readings proclaiming so much of the Gospel history in the Bible in just one worship service.  Add in the fire and the candles and the dark-and-light drama and the baptisms and the sudden burst of joyful Alleluias, and you’ve got a memorable liturgical experience almost without trying.

I think it’s safe to say that the great majority of Anglicans in this country are happy to have the Easter Vigil authorized and (to some extent) directed in modern Prayer Books.

HOWEVER, this wonderful recuperation of pre-reformation tradition has come with a price: Holy Saturday.  Known as “Easter Even” in the classical prayer books, this was – and technically still is – the official liturgy of Holy Saturday.  In anticipation of the Great Vigil of Easter, many people forget about Holy Saturday, to the point where more and more churches are labeling The Triduum as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.  This is incorrect!  The Triduum, as we saw in fair detail a couple days ago here, ends with the Holy Saturday liturgy.  The Vigil is not part of the Triduum.  It’s not even part of Holy Week or Lent, it’s the beginning of Easter.

If you’re excited about attending an Easter Vigil tonight, please do what you can to attend, or pray on your own, the Holy Saturday liturgy first.  You can do it in like five minutes.  Actually, here, I’ll copy the liturgy right here so you can pray it right now!

H O L Y  S A T U R D A Y

There is no celebration of the Eucharist on this day.

The Officiant says: Let us pray.

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

or this

O God of the living, on this day your Son our Savior descended to the place of the dead: Look with kindness on all of us who wait in hope for liberation from the corruption of sin and death, and give us a share in the glory of the children of God; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

T H E  L E S S O N S

JOB 14:1-14
PSALM 130
1 PETER 4:1-8
MATTHEW 27:57-66

After the Gospel, a homily may follow.

My homily is this: Note that the traditional Collect & Lessons are slightly different from the modern.  The main emphasis difference between traditional and modern Holy Saturday is the baptismal material, which we now have emphasized in the Easter Vigil instead.

The following is then sung or said.

T H E  A N T H E M

Man born of woman has but a short time to live, and is full of misery.
He springs up, and is cut down like a flower; he flees like a shadow,
and never continues the same.

In the midst of life we are in death: of whom do we seek strength, but you, O Lord,
who for our sins are justly displeased?

Yet, O Lord God most holy,
O Lord most mighty,
O holy and most merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the pains of eternal death.

You know, O Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not your ears to our prayer;
but spare us, Lord most holy,
O God most mighty,
O holy and merciful Savior,
most worthy Judge eternal,
do not let us, in this our final hour,
through the pain of death, fall away from you.

The Officiant and People together pray the Lord’s Prayer. The concluding doxology is customarily omitted.

The Officiant concludes: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore.  Amen.

 

Commemorating Saints during Lent

Looking at the calendar of optional commemorations, there are four in a row this week: F. D. Maurice yesterday, Henry Budd today, James Lloyd Breck tomorrow, and Martin Luther King Jr. on Thursday.  Next week has four such commemorations also.  But should we observe these commemoration days?

The first answer is: it’s up to you / your rector.  These are all optional, and the Prayer Book does not mandate how one must handle a weekday Communion service apart from the Red Letter Days.

But if you want to take longstanding tradition and practice into account, things get a bit pickier.  As a penitential season, Lent is best served by maintaining the tenor of penitence at the public worship services.  If four out of seven days in a week is a celebration of a Saint, then there isn’t really much time left for actually observing Lent.  There are also sets of Collects and Lessons for each weekday in Lent that you can find in Lesser Feasts and Fasts and the Anglican Missal and in the Roman liturgy.  I haven’t studied these sources against one another but I suspect they all represent a very similar tradition.  The idea, simply, is that the Church provides for a Lent-focused Communion service every day in Lent, leaving potentially no room for Saints’ days.

Of course, the “Red-Letter Days” take precedence over these; we celebrated the Annunciation last Monday for example.  But among the optional commemorations, there is room for further consideration.  Roman practice has a complex system of liturgical hierarchies: different sorts of holy days take different levels of precedence.  And although post-Vatican-II reforms have simplified their system somewhat, it’s still more developed than most Anglican sources are on the matter.  When it comes down to it, the Romans expect daily mass in their churches and we don’t, so it’s a matter of priority and emphasis.

So if you’re looking for what to do at a weekday Communion service in your church, or for your own devotions at home, you would do well to consider which of the optional commemorations you would “elevate” to observe during Lent, and which you would leave be in order to keep the Lenten disciplines the priority throughout the week.

Ultimately what this is doing is to create a middle class of holy days – what I would prefer to call Minor Feast Days – to stand between the official Major Feast Days and the Commemorations.  How you decide which saints to so elevate is a big question, and one that is better served on its own.  For now, at least, let us remember that Lent is a time of penitence, and it would not serve us well to get carried away with celebrating every commemoration that comes our way.

Holiness and Marriage and Mary

Yesterday was the feast of the Annunciation, one of the major holy days of the Christian year.  Only one reading in the Daily Office Lectionary was specially altered to befit the day, however.  (This is my main disappointment with this particular lectionary, that it provides only scant observance of the major holy days, often offering only one special reading, and even then often doubling one of the readings from the Communion service.)  But what we did have was an interesting “accidental” convergence of topics.  The evening reading yesterday was from Ephesians 5, and this evening finishes that chapter.  Because it’s the Daily Office Lectionary we’re able (and ought) to read these lessons in the context of the whole book; but in this instance we’re able to read it also in the context the Annunciation.

How does this help?

The strict call to holiness in the first half of chapter 5 leading into the beautiful description of marriage in the second half take an extra sense of oomph with the Annunciation fresh on our minds.  There were have the angel telling Mary that’s she’s a “grace-filled one” (full of grace in Catholic translations, favored one in Protestant translations).  There we have Mary offering her fiat to the New Creation – “fiat mihi…” = “be it unto me…”  There we have her virginity intact, and her betrothal to Joseph.  In short, she is modeling almost everything we see in Ephesians 5.

Whether you go on to believe the historic Marian doctrines or not – her perpetual virginity, her sinless life by God’s grace, her bodily assumption into heaven – at least this moment of the Annunciation sheds a great deal of light on her and her husband-to-be.  They’re called the Holy Family… Christ was literally present in the marriage of Joseph and Mary, and in their life together.

So consider keeping this extra context in mind as you read the rest of Ephesians 5 tonight.  You may just discover a newfound respect and devotion regarding our Lady!  And for some this may finally be that breakthrough in understanding the difference between the veneration of the Saints and the worship of God.

9 Months to go…

Are you expecting?
Well you should be; as nine months from now the Church will be celebrating the birthday of her Lord.  Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, as some will point out the “real” feast of the incarnation – when Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  This holy day is placed, quite logically, nine months before Christmas Day.  If you thought radios and shops playing Christmas music in early November is excessive, how about starting the countdown clock nine months early? 😉

Simply realizing that the Annunciation is celebrated at an appropriate time of the year relative to Christmas can give one a newfound appreciation for this holiday.  But there is more.

There was also an ancient belief that great persons died on the same day they were conceived – there was a sort of symmetry to their lives.  (Perhaps this was more of a poetic assertion than an actual biological belief, I don’t know.)  Whateverso, the Annunciation, March 25th, is often very close to Holy Week and Easter, the sequence of days that commemorate Christ’s death and resurrection.  A couple years ago March 25th was Good Friday itself, perfectly lining up our Lord’s conception with his death.

Liturgically, this means we hold off (or transfer) celebrating the Annunciation to the Monday after the Sunday after Easter Day, rather than celebrating it during Holy Week or Easter Week.  But it is worthwhile to note, in those years, the confluence of liturgical events.

This year, with a later Easter, the Annunciation gets to stand on its own date quite unaffected by the Holy Week schedule and goings-on.  The season of Lent is still around us, of course, still giving an ominous sort of context to this celebration.  Just as Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, so is this holy day overshadowed by the Lenten season, reminding us of the dire destiny of Mary’s newly-conceived son.  This, more than Christmas, is perhaps a better time to sing those songs about how Jesus was born in order to die on the Cross.  Christmas is a festal holiday and season in its own right, we don’t need to drown its joy in reminders of Good Friday; the Annunciation however is much more ripe for that combination of moods.

Also, one last reminder: this is a holy day, a Red Letter Day, a major feast day.  And that means your Lenten fasts and disciplines are suspended for the day.  Go and celebrate the obedience of our Lady and the conception of our Lord!

Book Review: Common Worship Festivals

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 first companion volume to Common Worship (reviewed last week) is entitled Festivals.  In the Church of England’s terminology, a Festival is what we’d call a Major Feast Day, or Major Holy Day, or a Red-Letter Day: these are the prayer-book-prescribed days of devotion that fill out the liturgical calendar with specific commemorations beyond simply following the seasons.  This volume also contains a more detailed explanation of the calendar set out in Common Worship, and lists the “Lesser Festivals”, or minor feast days or black-letter-day commemorations.

common worship

One might wonder how these features might merit its own volume.  What more is there to be said about them than what’s already in the Prayer Book or the primary volume of Common Worship?  In the spirit of modern liturgy – which has an insatiable appetite for variety and occasional-specific liturgical features – this book provides special prayers for each holy day.  Instead of simply just a Collect and set of lessons, as Prayer Book tradition has appointed, Common Worship: Festivals now provides the liturgical colour, Invitation to Confession, variant on the Kyrie, Collect, lessons, Gospel Acclamation, Intercessions for the Prayers of the People, Introduction to the Peace, Prayer “at the Preparation of the Table”, Preface and Extended Preface for the Prayer of Consecration, Post-Communion Prayer, Blessing, Acclamation, and extra sentences of Scripture for most of the 29 Festivals in the English calendar.  Those extra resources alone contribute about 100 pages to the book.  The calendar, with detailed rubrics and instructions and liturgical color notes,

It then has a further 50 pages that function similar to parts of the Episcopalian book Lesser Feasts and Fasts, providing a Collect and the occasional specific reading suggestion for the various “Lesser Festivals” or commemorations in the calendar.  Similarly, it provides materials for other Eucharistic occasions such as the “Common of the Saints” and “Special Occasions” not unlike the “votive mass” tradition.  This book also provides chant music for many of the Prefaces and Communion Prayers, which would be very helpful for the celebrant to have in the same volume!

The remaining pages of the book go on to reprint the “Order One” Communion Service from the primary volume of Common Worship.  Why?  Because this volume isn’t just a reference book, it’s able to be used as a Mass Book or Missal all on its own.  People can show up to church on a Sunday and grab the black book (Common Worship) or they can show up on a Festival Day and grab this dark blue book instead.  That makes this book actually functional on its own, which is a smart move.

Of course, outside of the Church of England, there is very little room in our authorized liturgy for additions or substitutions as this volume presents.  Perhaps the Acclamations, Blessings, and material for the Prayers of the People may be permitted by our rubrics in the 2019 Prayer Book, and maybe the special Collects & lessons for the black-letter days will be optional too (we have to wait and see what the new book actually specifies about them).  That makes this book’s value to us mainly one of a limited reference role in the rare opportunity that we can use some of its contents without having to get permission from our bishop.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 4/5
Functionally, this book is remarkably usable, albeit mostly because it has one “Order” for Holy Communion and no other liturgies included.

Devotional Usefulness: 2/5
Common Worship: Festivals is only for the Communion service; no notes are provided for the Daily Office.  As such outside of England, only a priest or other liturgical planner will be able to use this book.  Within the C of E, folks in the pew can use it on Festival Days, but there still isn’t really anything “to take home” as it were.

Reference Value: 2/5
Having extra Collects and prayers and things for the major and minor feast days can be handy resource.  If that’s all you need this book for, then it’s not worth going out of your way to buy it, and there are a lot of pages therein that you simply won’t need.

 

St. Joseph, a “New” Feast

When you go through the classical Prayer Book tradition, compared with modern Prayer Books such as ours in the ACNA, you’ll find that the list of Holy Days, or Major Feast Days, or Red-Letter Days, has grown rather noticeably.  A number of Anglo-Catholics were probably already “unofficially” adding some of these feasts to the Prayer Book calendar in practice, which perhaps helps to remind us that these are not truly “new” feasts in the modern Prayer Books, but simply old traditions that the early Prayer Books omitted and 20th century Anglicans have decided to bring back.  Saint Joseph’s Day, on March 19th, is one of those holidays.

The Collect and lessons look to be the same in our Prayer Book as in the 1979:

O GOD, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph
to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother:
Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

2 Samuel 7:4,8-16; Psalm 89:1-4(5-18)19-29; Romans 4:13-18; Luke 2:41-52

There aren’t a lot of stories about Joseph in the Bible.  Most of his active presence therein is in Matthew 1 & 2, where he is visited by the Archangel Gabriel, and then leads the family to Bethlehem, Egypt, and Nazareth.  But our version of the Revised Common Lectionary covers most of those in Advent and Christmastide.  So instead we get the Gospel story in Luke 2 about the Finding of Jesus in the Temple.  In the historic calendar (before the 1970’s) that Gospel was appointed for the First Sunday after the Epiphany.  But the modern Epiphany season leaves that story out entirely, apparently giving it over to Saint Joseph’s Day instead.  It may not be the most interesting or even the most actively Joseph-centric Gospel story with Joseph, but that’s what we’ve ended up with.

Much more interesting, I daresay, are the other readings.  2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 89 together set up a wonderful emphasis on the covenant of eternal kingship God established with David and his descendants.  This is mentioned in the Collect as well, and expanded further in the Epistle, which adds the covenant with Abraham into the mix.  Joseph, therefore, is presented as the last step in that family succession (alongside Mary of course) from Abraham and David to Jesus.  The human parentage and family of Jesus is what legitimizes God’s fulfillment of all the previous covenants in Jesus – the faithful offspring of Abraham, the eternal King of Israel.

There’s more to be said about Joseph, of course, and the Collect hints at some of that.  Imitating Saint Joseph’s uprightness and obedience is a shout-out to the stories in Matthew 1 & 2, wherein Joseph gets the incredibly rare introduction as “a righteous man.”  Virtually every biblical hero character has reported flaws and sins; Joseph has scarcely a blemish recorded in sacred writ!  A role model he is, indeed.

So there are quite a number of directions one can go in observing St. Joseph’s Day today, and hopefully this is a helpful starting point.

St. Gregory the Great

Today is the commemoration of Saint Gregory the Great, who was the Bishop of Rome from 590 to 604.
To musicians he is remembered as the author (or perhaps just compiler) of a great deal of plainchant that came to bear his name: Gregorian Chant.
To Anglicans he is remembered as the one who sent St. Augustine and his team to England, where, based in Canterbury, the Anglo-Saxons were re-evangelized and the Church there reinvigorated.
To Roman Catholics he is remembered as one of the 36 ‘Doctors of the Church’.
To the Eastern Orthodox he is remembered as the author of the Dialogues, chronicling the lives and miracles of various early Saints, especially including Saint Benedict.
To many Bishops he is remembered as the author of the Liber regulae pastoralis – for centuries the definitive book on how a Bishop is to order his life.
To the Reformer John Calvin he is remembered as “the last good Pope.”

If we to commemorate him in a Communion service today, there are two main options for Collects and Lessons.

Of a Teacher of the Faith

Almighty God, you gave your servant Gregory the Great special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth revealed in Christ Jesus: Grant that by this teaching we may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Proverbs 3:13-26; Psalm 119:89-106; 1 John 1:1-10; Matthew 13:47-52

Of a Pastor

O God, our heavenly Father, you raised up your faithful servant Gregory the Great, to be a bishop and pastor in your Church and to feed your flock: Give abundantly to all pastors the gifts of your Holy Spirit, that they may minister in your household as true servants of Christ and stewards of your divine mysteries; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 71:17-24; 1 Peter 5:1-11 or Acts 20:24-35; Matthew 24:42-50

What one would do is choose either of these sets, and stick with them wholesale; don’t mix and match between them.  Decide how you’re going to commemorate St. Gregory, identify what aspect of his legacy and sainthood you wish to highlight to the congregation, and choose the Propers (Collect & lessons) accordingly.

A further recommendation of this Customary, because this is an optional commemoration and not a Prayer Book “red letter day”, would be to use two readings (plus Psalm) instead of three.  Remember also that you can omit the Nicene Creed, which the rubrics require only for Sundays and Major Feast Days.

And, of course, there’s nothing stopping you from reading and praying an Antecommunion service on your own – that is, going through the Communion liturgy up to the Offertory and ending it there with the Lord’s Prayer!

Perpetua: a Cheerful Lenten Tale

March 7th is the commemoration of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, two martyrs of the Early Church, who died in Carthage in the year 203.  Something that makes their story very special in the memory of the Church is the fact that much of it was written autobiographically by Perpetua herself, making it one of the oldest surviving pieces of writing by a Christian woman.  (That is assuming the document is authentic… manuscript history isn’t always easy to nail down precisely, but the authenticity of this account is not widely disputed today.)

Feel free to take the time today to give it a read!

There’s something very appropriate to starting off the season of Lent with a martyrdom story like this.  We are endeavoring to grow in love and service to our Lord Jesus through this time, motivated by love and strengthened especially by the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, so it can be rather sobering to be reminded up front the sheer cost of discipleship and spiritual discipline for many of our forebears.  It’s one thing to give up chocolate for 40+ days in the name of Jesus; it’s quite another thing to give up your earthly life in the name of Jesus.

Last Sunday after Epiphany: liturgical colors

In a couple days it’ll be the last Sunday before Lent begins.  I have seen, and participated in, a couple different conversations about the liturgical color appropriate for that day, and so thought it prudent to compile the different perspectives and their major arguments

Before we begin, though, there’s a prologue question that should be addressed: “Who cares?”  Granted, the Prayer Book tradition has never mandated a particular scheme for liturgical colors, and granted, the Puritan party of Reformers held the day for a while in Anglican practice whereby liturgical colors were not used by the majority of ministers.  If that is the way you like it then there’s not a lot we can do for you here.  The use of liturgical colors is one of the church’s many and ancient practices for providing visual aids to worship and teaching.  As long as the colors are used in a consistent fashion, they can convey different postures and moods befitting different occasions.  Black for mourning, white for joy, purple for penitence, and so on.  But the key here is that these colors have to be used consistently with their use and meaning, otherwise they will only ever be fashion accessories and a frivolous game of ecclesiastical dress-up.  That’s why getting the colors right, if you’re using them in the first place, matters.

The Traditional Option

If you’re using the historic calendar and lectionary, this Sunday is “Quinqagesima” – the last Sunday before Lent – and Western tradition is unanimously clear: the liturgical color is purple.  The Pre-Lent season is nearing its end, Lent is almost here, the Alleluias have already been “buried”, there is no question: it’s purple.  Easy!  Done.

The Modern Calendar

Anglicanism has no history of its own when it comes to the liturgical color tradition; we’re just one of the several pieces of Western Catholicism in this matter.  Therefore, when Anglicans switched to the modern calendar developed in the Roman Catholic Church, the standard color practice was also imitated.  So if catholicity is your primary concern in choosing liturgical colors, or you’re just looking for the quick and easy answer, then do what the majority of Western tradition does in the modern calendar: it’s white.  Done.

But, but, but…

Not everyone’s happy with this idea, though.  Some argue for green, others for purple.  So let’s look at these arguments and compare with them with the reasons for using white.

The argument for green stems largely from a concern for the integrity of the Calendar as a whole and a rejection of the way the Last Sunday after Epiphany is treated.  This Sunday, wrapping up the modern Epiphany season, is always about the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop.  But, Green Advocates point out, the Transfiguration is already a feast day in the calendar: August 6th.  To read it in the Gospel lesson this Sunday and wear white is basically to double that holy day in the calendar.  This is an inappropriate imbalance, they say, and this Sunday should be normalized to green along with the rest of Epiphanytide.

The argument for purple is a sort of hybrid approach to the modern calendar, drawing in some of the mindset of the old. Instead of looking at it as the Last Sunday after Epiphany it’s the Last Sunday before Lent, and the very observance of Christ’s Transfiguration as a prelude to Christ’s Passion supports this case.  This Sunday is basically the Pre-Lent Sunday of the modern calendar, and thus, in line with pre-1970’s liturgical practice, this Sunday is best characterized by purple.

So why does the Roman order (and all standard Protestant recommendations) appoint white for this day?  Part of the answer is a liturgical symmetry: both of the green seasons (after Epiphany, after Trinity) begin and end with a white Sunday (1st after Epiphany, Last after Epiphany, Trinity Sunday, Christ the King Sunday).  This may be rebutted by some: Christ the King Sunday shouldn’t be white either, and like the transfiguration is best left to its “proper” place in the calendar (Transfiguration to its feast on August 6th, Christ the King to its mini-season with Ascension Day and Sunday after).  But, I would point out, these arguments to take white away from these Last Sundays at the end of the green seasons, especially to replace them with green, are also arguments against the very nature of those Sundays in the modern calendar.  In short, a color scheme revision isn’t enough, these objections cut all the way to the lectionary, and will not be solved unless or until the lessons for “transfiguration” and “christ the king” Sundays are also changed.

Even the appeal for purple runs into trouble along similar lines.  The argument for purple has the advantage of befitting the readings – especially now in Year C where the Epistle lesson happens also to be the traditional Epistle for Quinqagesima! – but still requires a slight re-write of the calendar.  We have the Last Sunday after or of Epiphany, but purple requires the name to be Last Last Sunday before Lent.  It is natural, in the liturgical context of the modern calendar, to reconsider this Sunday as a Pre-Lent purple sort of day, but you have to change its name in the Prayer Book in order to justify it fully.

The Saint Aelfric Customary’s Recommendation

I sympathize with all these arguments.  It’s ecumenical to stick with the Roman order and wear white; it’s annoying to double a feast day like the Transfiguration; it would be nice to bring back some of the historic Pre-Lent purple.

The arguments for green, I think, run into too many counter-arguments that create even more tension within the calendar, and ultimately lead in a direction of a complete overhaul.  I’m not opposed to a complete overhaul; for the most part I’d like to see the calendar restored to the way it was before the radical revisions of the 1960’s and 70’s.  But changing this one Sunday from white to green isn’t really going to help us get there.

The idea of using purple in the modern calendar may primarily be my own imagination; I don’t remember if I’ve actually heard anyone else suggest it before.  It’s less disruptive to the calendar’s color scheme as a whole than choosing green, but it’s still clearly against the spirit of the modern calendar.

So, honestly, I still think white is the way to go.  It may not be the best solution, but at least let’s think of it this way: this is our last hurrah before Lent, let’s do our best to enjoy it and sing Alleluia before we bury it for six and half weeks.