Faithfully Stay the Course

February 24th is Saint Matthias Day in the traditional liturgical calendar. Some churches and provinces have moved him over to May 14, closer to Ascension Day and Pentecost, where his story in Acts 1 fits right in from a biblical-narrative perspective. But we’ve still got him in late February, usually in Lent. It’s always nice to have a feast day in Lent – we get a little break from the penitential tone! – but there’s also something appropriate about observing this Saint during Lent: Matthias is only one of the twelve Apostles because he was selected to replace Judas, the traitor.

There are two lessons that I’d like to draw from this liturgical observance (and from Acts 1:12-26).

  1. Apostolic authority is a critical point for the unity of the Church.
  2. Every Christian must faithfully stay the course of the faith.

On the point of apostolic authority, this is something I like to try to mention during Ascensiontide but often don’t have time – (there is a lot of fantastic theology and lessons about Jesus and his ministry to us to tease out in that brief mini-season, and I seldom have opportunity to write or preach about ecclesiology then) – the eleven considered it vitally important that they replace Judas and restore their number to twelve apostles. Jesus had just told them that while it was not for them to know “the times or seasons” concerning the Kingdom of God, but that they would “receive power” when the Holy Spirit would descend upon them. And this wasn’t entirely in the future; Jesus had already “breathed on them the Holy Spirit” giving them authority to forgive and retain sins. In that authority they’d already been entrusted with, they took it upon them to select and ordain a new twelfth man – Matthias. St. Peter even quotes Psalm 109 to acknowledge the necessity of this act: “Let another take his office.” And in the Greek, the word translated “office” is the source for the word “episcopate” – the office of an overseer, or bishop.

They knew that when the Holy Spirit would descend upon the whole church (on the day of Pentecost) the leadership had to be ready. Ancient Israel was founded with Twelve Tribes, and the New Israel was to be re-founded with Twelve Apostles – this was a very self-conscious and -aware decision, they knew the significance of what they were doing.

And, although the nature of the authority of those first Apostles is different from the authority that has been passed down among the Bishops ever since, the apostolic role of the bishops assembled is still critical for the church today. On their own, bishops might be little more than super-priests, pastors of megachurches, or of multi-site churches. That’s where cynicism from tired or burned church-goers (or skepticism from presbyterians and congregationalists) thrives. The real power, or authority, of the bishop is not so much in the individual as in the episcopacy as an institution and a group. One bishop can go astray about as easily as one priest or pastor, honestly. But a group, or college, of bishops, is another matter. Yes, a group can be corrupted too – we consider the entire Roman Church to be in error for example. But a church is at its best when its bishops speak together with one voice, in accord with the Church global and temporal.

An example of this was just demonstrated last month when the College of Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America concluded a year of deliberations concerning the issues of ministering to people with same-sex attraction. It’s one of the greatest ministry challenges of our time, and must be met with careful biblical attention and loving attention to the situation of people today. Their excellent statement can be read online here.

But of course, there are always people who want to add their own nuances, pick at words, and even twist or re-cast what has been said. No small online furor has followed, muddying the waters and making some people wonder what the exodus from the Episcopal Church was all about if we’re just going to re-tread the same ground all over again. One of the angles of corrective response is an article in which a respected Anglican examines for us the nature of the teaching authority of bishops as a unified body. I commend that reading to you also!

But this also leads us to the second point about the election of Matthias to be the new 12th Apostle – he was “one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us“. And, critically unlike Judas Iscariot, Matthias faithfully stayed the course. He did not falter from the way of Christ; he remained constant like the other eleven.

Other Scriptures read on this day attest to this also: Psalm 15 asks the hard-yet-important question of who can dwell on God’s holy hill; Philippians 3 gives us the example of “press[ing] on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus“. Simply put, there is a way that leads to life, and a way that leads to death. Judas chose the latter for himself; we must choose the former. Yes, salvation is not simply about what you choose – the real work of salvation is Jesus’ death on the Cross for the sins of the world, but if you reject his sacrifice on your behalf then you’ll have to find another way to pay for your sins… and there isn’t one.

The story of St. Matthias taking Judas’ office, or episcopacy, is a sobering reminder. Please, faithfully stay the course of the faith. In Christ alone is salvation wrought, and only his Body (the Church) offers him to us.

A colorful week ahead

If you look at the Calendar of Commemorations in the 2019 Prayer Book, you’ll find a few Saints Days of particular note in rapid succession this week.

  • Tuesday the 17th commemorates Saint Patrick, bishop & apostle to the Irish.
  • Wednesday the 18th commemorates Saint Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem and teacher of the faith (or “Doctor of the Church” in Roman terminology).
  • Thursday the 19th is a red-letter day, the feast of Saint Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary and Guardian of our Lord Jesus.
  • Friday the 20th commemorates Saint Cuthbert, abbot and missionary bishop of Lindisfarne.
  • Saturday the 21st commemorates Thomas Cranmer, the first reformation Archbishop of Canterbury, author of the first Prayer Book, and martyr.

Of all these days, only St. Joseph’s Day is an official break from the Lenten fast; the rest are optional commemorations that you and your church may or may not choose to observe.  The Saint Aelfric Customary names all of these particular commemorations as “minor feasts”, the highest rank of such commemorations, and thus to be given pride of place in any midweek eucharistic celebration.

The way these observances are probably going to look in my household, for example, is that I’ll replace the purple candle on the family prayer table with a white one for Tuesday through Friday (each a saint’s day), and a red one for Saturday (a martyr’s day).  It’ll then go to a pink candle after that – for the 4th Sunday in Lent!  ‘Tis a colorful week indeed.

Collects of the Day this week

Last week was a bit complicated for tracking the Collect of the Day in the Daily Offices.  In a normal week, you start the Sunday’s Collect on the Saturday evening before, and use it through Saturday morning until the next Sunday Collect kicks in.  Last week, however, had two holy days, one of which redefined the rest of the week:

  1. Sunday morning: Collect for the Last Sunday of Epiphany
  2. Sunday evening through Monday evening: Collect for St. Matthias Day
  3. Tuesday morning and evening: Collect for the Last Sunday of Epiphany
  4. Wednesday morning through Saturday morning: Collect for Ash Wednesday

This week we have the Lenten/Spring Ember Days, causing a similar mix-up of the Collect of the Day:

  1. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday: Collect for the First Sunday in Lent
  2. Wednesday: Collect for an Ember Day
  3. Thursday: Collect for the First Sunday in Lent
  4. Friday, Saturday: Collect for an Ember Day

One of the things that makes this tricky is the fact that we, in the 2019 Prayer Book, only have two Collects for the Ember Days.  Sometimes, like in Advent a few months ago, this works out fine because a holy day (in that case, St. Thomas) sometimes cuts in and overwrites one of the Ember Days, allowing us to use both Collects on one day each.  But now that we have three Ember Days unfettered, and only two Collects to use, how should we handle this?  Perhaps the simplest approach is to use the first Collect each morning and the second Collect each evening.

Another tradition worth mentioning is the fact that the classical prayer books (that is, those before 1979) call for the repetition of the Ash Wednesday Collect after the current Collect of the Day throughout the season of Lent.  The 2019 Prayer Book does not direct for this to be done, but with the rubrics the way they are, there is nothing “illegal” about applying this tradition in our recitation of the Daily Office.  So give that possibility due consideration also!

Why wouldn’t you fast during Lent?

“You’re fasting during Lent?!  What are you, a closet Catholic?”  Alas, these all-too-common accusations are born of great ignorance of Christian history (including Anglicans and Protestants), not to mention ignorance of the Scriptures.  This penitential season is a time, among other things, of fasting.  It simply is a part of the season; to omit fasting is to ignore everything that the Church announces, in her liturgy, on Ash Wednesday.

And this fasting is glorious!  Give this classic Lent hymn a look from last year’s entry:

Now, we’re not Romans, so we don’t have strict rules on precisely when and how to fast.  But at the very least, we ought to be taking note of Fridays, and eating at least one meal less.  Here’s a round-up of previous thoughts I’ve put together about fasting in the Anglican tradition:

Video Introduction to Lent

If you’ve got 18 minutes, or someone you know who wants an introduction to Lent has 18 minutes, check out this video I put together for ye!  We look at Ash Wednesday as an introduction to season as a whole, a few historical features for sake of background, and explore various features of the 2019 Prayer Book that have to do with the season of Lent.

I’ve largely omitted Holy Week, however, as I’ll devote a separate video to that short-but-intense period of the liturgical calendar.

Subject Index:

  • 00:00 Introduction with Ash Wednesday
  • 05:22 Historical features
  • 08:30 Walkthrough of the lectionaries in the 2019 Prayer Book
  • 13:48 Other ways to observe Lent in the liturgy
  • 17:02 The Theme-prayer for all of Lent

What’s different in the liturgy now that it’s Lent?

Welcome to Ash Wednesday, the common name for The First Day of Lent.  Occasionally you’ll see today called quadragesima because there are now 40 days left (excluding Sundays) until Easter Day.  Let the 40-day fast begin!

One of the main questions I get from non-liturgical Christians, concerning Lent, is “what do you differently during this time?”  This blog post is aimed at answering that question – partly for the benefit of those who are wondering the same thing, but also as a reminder to my fellow Anglican readers who might need a reminder of some of the changes, or possible changes, in the daily course of our liturgy.

Today’s  differences

For those of us using the 2019 Daily Lectionary, or one of the historic daily lectionaries that uses the regular calendar, we may need the reminder that today’s lessons for Morning and Evening Prayer are interrupted from the regular course.  At the bottom of page 740 in the BCP 2019 you’ll see the following readings appointed for today:

  • Isaiah 58:1-12 & Luke 18:9-14 for the Morning
  • Jonah 3 & 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 for the Evening

To that I would recommend another traditional-for-this-day reading, Hebrews 12:3-17, for Midday Prayer.

At the Holy Communion (or in place of it, if the Communion itself isn’t actually going to be celebrated) we have a special liturgy in the 2019 Book, starting on page 543, and prefaced by a handy introduction to this day (and Lent in general) on page 542.  It’s worth reminding ourselves that the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday is a custom that was removed from Anglican practice during the Reformation, and not formally put into a Prayer Book until 1979, though the Anglo-Catholic movement had provided extra-liturgical material to sneak the practice back into the liturgy before it was embraced by the church as a whole.  You can read last year’s note about Ash-less Wednesday here.

Also, remember that today’s Collect of the Day is now the Collect of the Day for the rest of this week!

Morning Prayer during Lent

There are some extra Opening Sentences of Scripture appropriate for this season on page 27.

The Venite (Psalm 95) should be said in full daily this season, if you don’t normally do so already.  Keep in mind that you can bookend it with a Lenten antiphon from page 30!

The first Canticle, Te Deum laudamus, is recommended in our Prayer Book to be replaced with the Benedictus es, Domine on page 18.  This Customary would recommend retaining the Te Deum on Sundays and other major holy days, however.

If you don’t normally do so, make a point of praying the Great Litany (page 91) after Morning Prayer on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Evening Prayer during Lent

There are some extra Opening Sentences of Scripture appropriate for this season on page 54.

The second canticle, Nunc dimittis, could be replaced by Canticle 3, Kyrie Pantokrator, most evenings.  We’d recommend doing so on Monday through Friday.

The Minor Offices during Lent

The “Alleluia” after the invitatory dialogue is to be omitted now.

For Midday Prayer, it may be a good idea to make use of one the Additional Directions and make more extensive use of Psalm 119 throughout the season.  Consider this two-week rotation of Midday Psalms:

  • <week 1> :day: <week 2>
  • 124, 126 :Sundays: 124, 126
  • 19 :Mondays: 119:81-96
  • 119:1-16 :Tuesdays: 119:97-112
  • 119:17-32 :Wednesdays: 119:113-128
  • 119:33-48 :Thursdays: 119:129-144
  • 119:49-64 :Fridays: 119:145-160
  • 119:65-80 :Saturdays: 119:161-176

Consider making more frequent use of Matthew 11:28-30 as the Lesson at Compline.

The Holy Communion during Lent

There is an Acclamation appropriate for Lent on page 146, and another one for Holy Week.

This is a good season to make weekly use of the Decalogue (page 100) instead of the Summary of the Law if you don’t normally already.

The Gloria in excelsis is traditionally omitted during Lent.  Consider replacing it with a hymn from the Lent section of your hymnal, just to emphasize the season difference in mood.

The First Sunday in Lent is one of the traditional days to read The Exhortation (page 147).

Consider using Offertory Sentences (page 149) that are more pointed about spiritual disciplines, such as Matthew 7:21, 1 John 3:17, and Tobit 4:8-9.  This could be especially effective if you normally use the same one every week, memorized from the list in 1979 Book.

The “alleluia” in the Fraction dialogue (on page 118/135) is to be omitted now.

If you don’t normally prayer the Prayer of Humble Access and the Agnus Dei (page 119/135), this is the season to start.  (Pro-tip: never stop using them!)

In fact, if your congregation normally uses the “Renewed Ancient Text”, I cannot heartily-enough encourage you to switch to the “Anglican Standard Text” at least for Lent.  You’ll get more direct prayers of confession and of consecration (not to mention historically Anglican prayers).

Other Spiritual Practices

The classical Prayer Books appointed the Collect for Ash Wednesday to be used after the Collect of the Day throughout the season of Lent.  I’m not so sure the 2019 Prayer Book intends to allow that, so consider making use of this Collect elsewhere – in the additional prayers at the end of an Office, or after the Prayers of the People at the Communion, or in your private prayers and devotions.

On page 689 our calendar directs The weekdays of Lent and every Friday of the year (outside the 12 Days of Christmas the 50 days of Eastertide) are encouraged as days of fasting.  The classical Prayer Books were more direct about the expectation (not just encouragement) that we should fast.  We’re not Romanists, so we don’t have elaborate standardized definitions of what “counts” as fasting; we have the freedom in Christ to fast according to conscience, as the Bible indicates.  Nevertheless, some advice is helpful, and our calendar provides some: Fasting, in addition to reduced consumption, normally also includes prayer, self-examination, and acts of mercy.  It is popular to “give something up for Lent”, or to “take something on for Lent”, and almost all of those particular expressions of Lenten devotion are summed up in that one sentence.  Consider how you might mark this season in your own lifestyle, and give it a go.

The -gesimas are back!

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

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


Subject Index:

Holy Week Walkthrough

Holy Week is a special time of year; the historic Prayer Books provide different readings for a Communion service on each day of the week, a coverage not enjoyed anywhere else in the calendar.  (If you look in the 1979 and 2019 books, you’ll see Easter week is also fully covered, but historically only Monday and Tuesday of that week were provided for.)

The Gospel lessons throughout the week were very simple.  On The Sunday Next Before Easter (commonly called Palm Sunday) was read Matthew 26:1-27:56; on Monday was read Mark 14, on Tuesday was read Mark 15, on Wednesday was read Luke 22, on Maundy Thursday was read Luke 23, and on Good Friday was read John 19.  In short, the Passion narrative of all four Gospel books were read in sequence throughout the week, leaving the burial in Matthew 27:57.  The Epistle or OT lesson to match these Gospels were also great material for the death of Christ: Philippians 2:5-11, Isaiah 63, Isaiah 50:5, Hebrews 9:16, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 on Maundy Thursday, from Hebrews 10 on Friday, and 1 Peter 3:17ff on Saturday.

How anyone thought they could improve on this is beyond me.  But change it they have; the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books offer a completely different Holy Week experience.  Rather than reflecting upon the death of Christ for the majority of the week, we are now taken on a roller coaster ride through various events near Jesus’ last days.

  • Palm Sunday
    In a marvelous reclamation of pre-Reformation tradition, we have the Liturgy of the Palms back, complete with a procession and Gospel: either from Matthew 21, Mark 11, or Luke 19 depending upon the year.  The Passion Gospel in the regular service, too, changes with the year: Matthew 27, Mark 15, or Luke 23, with options to lengthen them to include the previous chapters.
  • Monday
    On this day we get a flashback to the anointing of Jesus at Bethany, from John 12:1-11 or Mark 14:3-9.  This probably took place shortly before the triumphal entry observed in the liturgy of the Palms the day before.
  • Tuesday
    Here we have a choice between the cleansing of the Temple in Mark 11:15-19 or a Gospel from John 12:37-38,42-50 in which Jesus both acknowledges that some will reject him and promises salvation to those who hear.
  • Wednesday
    The plot to kill Jesus, with the betrayal of Judas, as reported in Matthew 26:1-5,14-25 is the Gospel of this day.  Like the Mark 14 option on Monday, this actually replicates a small piece of what a traditional Prayer Book would cover during Holy Week.
  • Thursday
    Luke 22:14-30 is the standard Gospel option, focusing on the institution of the Lord’s Supper, though the option of John 13:1-15 (the washing of the disciples’ feet) is also available.  This option was introduced at least as early as the American 1928 prayer book.
  • Friday
    The old tradition finally comes back in line on Good Friday, going with John 19:1-37, though allowing for chapter 18 to be added.  At last, the crucifixion of Christ returns to the fore.
  • Saturday
    Again, the traditional burial of Christ is still the Gospel for this day, though the specific reading (Matthew 27:57-66) is now offered alongside a parallel alternative: John 19:38-42.

So, let’s say you want to observe Holy Week to the full; praying both Office each day plus the daily Communion service.  What would that look like according to the 2019 Prayer Book, and executed in a traditional fashion?

  • Palm Sunday, 14 April
    Morning Prayer: Numbers 8, Mark 9:30
    Liturgy of the Palms: Luke 19:29-40 & Psalm 118:19-29
    Communion: Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22:1-11, Philippians 2:-11, Luke (22:39-71) 23:1-49 (50-56)
    Midday Prayer: Leviticus 15
    Evening Prayer: Job 12, Hebrews 4:1-13
  • Monday, 15 April
    Morning Prayer: Numbers 11, Mark 10:1-31
    Communion: Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 36:5-10, Hebrews 11:39-12:3, John 12:1-12
    Midday Prayer: Hosea 13:1-14
    Evening Prayer: Job 13, Hebrews 4:14-5:10
  • Tuesday, 16 April
    Morning Prayer: Numbers 12, Mark 10:32
    Communion: Isaiah 49:1-6, Psalm 71:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Mark 11:15-19
    Midday Prayer: Hosea 14
    Evening Prayer: Job 14, Hebrews 5:11-6:end
  • Wednesday, 17 April
    Morning Prayer: Numbers 13, Mark 11:1-26
    Communion: Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 59:7-15,22-23, Hebrews 9:11-28, Matthew 26:1-5,14-25
    Midday Prayer: Lamentations 1
    Evening Prayer: Job 15, Hebrews 7
  • Maundy Thursday, 18 April
    Morning Prayer: Daniel 9, John 13:1-20
    Midday Prayer: Lamentations 2
    Communion: Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 78:14-25, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26(27-34), Luke 22:14-30 (note that John 13 is covered in the daily office), Washing of the Feet, Stripping of the Altar, Reserving of the Sacrament
    Evening Prayer: 1 Corinthians 10:1-22, John 13:21-38
  • Good Friday, 19 April
    Morning Prayer: Lamentations 3:1-36, John 18
    Communion: Genesis 22:1-18 or Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 69:1-23, Hebrews 10:1-25, John 19:1-37, Solemn Collects and Laments, Veneration of the Cross, Communion from the prior day’s Reserved Sacrament
    Midday Prayer: Genesis 22:1-18 or Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (whichever was not chosen for the previous service)
    Evening Prayer: 1 Peter 2:11-25, Luke 23:18-49
  • Holy Saturday, 20 April
    Morning Prayer: Lamentations 3:37-58, Hebrews 4
    Liturgy of the Word (or Antecommunion): Job 14:1-17, Psalm 130, 1 Peter 4:1-8, Matthew 27:57-66
    Midday Prayer: Zechariah 9
    Evening Prayer: 1 Peter 4:1-8, Luke 23:50-56
    Easter Vigil, which merits a post of its own!

This doesn’t happen often in the ACNA lectionaries, but you can find interplay between the daily office readings and the communion service readings during Holy Week – I pointed out a couple points of contact already.  As I lamented at the beginning, it is my opinion that Holy Week is better served with the traditional approach: the daily communion readings from the trials and passion and death of Christ from Sunday through Friday.  We’ve got all year to explore the context of his death; can’t we just “settle in” to this dark moment at the foot of the Cross?  The modern set of Collects added in for Monday through Wednesday add a nice touch in that direction, but they aren’t reinforced by the Scripture readings.  Still, at least the daily office lessons maintain a decent focus on the death of Christ, so the new daily collects will fit in better there than in the Communion services.

Whateverso, Holy Week is just around the corner, and hopefully this overview will help you get ready.

Passion Sunday Coming Up

After Lent’s lighter moment on its 4th Sunday, things really start to ramp up on the 5th Sunday.  This is nicknamed Passion Sunday, even the Passion Gospel itself is not read on this day.

As I introduced this day in a previous post, it 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.

One of the old traditions that typically began with this day is the covering, or veiling, of images in the church building.  All the statues, icons, even crucifixes, would have some sort of shroud or veil obscuring them.  In past days where church buildings were beautifully and vividly decked with visual splendor, this would have been a stark sight to behold.  On one level this tradition is easy to understand as an anticipation of the starkness of Holy Week: the mourning of Christ’s death on account of our sins, the injustice of his conviction, is aptly expressed in the covering of images that normally bring us joy.

But there are also connections to the liturgy of Passion Sunday itself that probably play a role in this.  The traditional Gradual, from Psalm 143, contains the verse

Hear me, O Lord, and that soon, for my spirit waxeth faint: * hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.

– a plea that is given an extra layer of personal devotion when the visual depictions of God and his Saints are literally hidden from your face that morning!

The traditional Epistle, from Hebrews 9, also contains a thematic link.  Starting in verse 11, “CHRIST being come an High Priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands; that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves; but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.”  It is fitting, therefore, to cover all the things in the church “made with hands”, to remind people that these images are merely images of the Truth to whom they must ultimately look.

Finally, and perhaps most bluntly, the traditional Gospel for the 5th Sunday ends with the Jews wanting to stone Jesus for claiming equality with God, “but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.”  Sure enough, as you look around the room back then, Jesus has hidden himself; his images are covered.  Suddenly you find yourself in the place of those who would kill Christ – he is hidden from you.  This is very much an anticipation, in tone, of the final rejection of Christ on the following Sunday: “Crucify him!”

Chances are, however, that your church building is not adorned with wall-to-wall pictures, icons, artwork, and lined with alcoves with statues of our Lord and our Lady and the Saints.  Directly appropriating that old tradition may not have anywhere near the usual impact in many church buildings today. So what might we do instead?

  • put a veil over the altar cross
  • print a service bulletin with no cover art
  • silence some or all of the instruments

Be creative!  How else might you ratchet up the experience of Lent?

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.