Martinmas tomorrow

Before Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, and/or Veteran’s Day took hold of 11/11, it was known as St. Martin’s Day, or Martinmas for short.  It was one of the most popular and beloved saints’ days all across Europe.  It served as the end of an extended All Saints’ celebration.  It coincided with the final harvest of the year.  Especially up North, like in England, it was a day to slaughter a cow, have some martinmas beef, cook up some blood or suet pudding and other treats, and set an extra place at the table for St. Martin on his white horse for ambling merry-makers about the town, or for the poor.  The festive tone of the whole thing is rather like how one might envision an old-timey Christmas.  What a lovely thought, to realize that such a cheery festive spirit could be enjoyed on more than just one holiday a year!

Since Martinmas this year (tomorrow) is a Sunday, and since it’s also Remembrance/Veteran’s Day with a very special anniversary this year, perhaps today is the better day to make a little shout-out to the old feast of Martinmas.  Grab some various hymns and songs to add to your daily prayers.  Open a bottle of wine, or procure a fancy dessert to enjoy with family or friends, or grab some portable yummy healthy food and visit the local homeless folks or needy neighbors.

Maybe we all need to learn to “keep the spirit of Christmas” all the year round, and use old customs like this to remind us.

Get ready for St. Luke!

Tomorrow is October 18th, Saint Luke’s Day.
So don’t forget all the usual stuff: his feast day’s Collect is to be read at Evening Prayer tonight, watch out for the different reading in the Daily Office tomorrow (in the ACNA daily lectionary, or two different readings if you’re using a different modern one), and if your church offers a Thursday Eucharist service check today if you can make it tomorrow and celebrate Saint Luke the Evangelist!

But there’s more you can do on your own to observe a holy day such as St. Luke’s.  The Eve of a major feast day is set forth in the 1662 Prayer Book as a day of discipline, for fasting and abstinence.  Look at the ordinary pattern of your daily life – what can you deny yourself today, and how can you celebrate tomorrow?  Perhaps you can deny desserts today and celebrate tomorrow with a nice single malt.  Perhaps you can pray the Great Litany today (if you weren’t going to already on the account of it being a Wednesday) and spruce up tomorrow’s worship with an extra psalm, hymn, or song of praise.  Perhaps you can skip dinner this evening, replace it with a time of extended reading or study about St. Luke and his New Testament books (Luke and Acts), and then celebrate with a big healthy and yummy break-fast in the morning!

Fast on Fridays?

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

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

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

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

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

A Special Pastoral-Liturgical Opportunity

A month from today is 11/11 – Veteran’s Day in the USA, Remembrance Day in several other countries; originally Armistice Day, commemorating the end of the Great War (WW1) in 1918.  This year is the centenary of the Armistice and the institution of this multi-national state holiday.  And it falls on a Sunday!

Normally state holidays like this do not take precedence over the regular Sunday Propers (Collect & Lessons), though in England, I believe Remembrance Day is big enough to observe on Sunday.  Given the special timing of this particular November 11th, however, it struck this small-church Vicar as an opportune moment to break the usual rules of precedence in our Calendar and plan to celebrate Armistice Day on Sunday 11/11.  And yes, I got my Bishop’s permission to do this!

If you have veterans in your congregation, as I do, this could be a very special opportunity to honor and minister to them.  That’s why this article is entitled a “special pastoral-liturgical opportunity.”  How can you implement this in your church?  Let us count the ways:

  1. Go all-out and use the Collect & Lessons for Remembrance/Veteran’s/Memorial Day (copied below).
  2. Reference poetry contemporary with the War such as Dulce et Decorum est or For the fallen.
  3. Reference the origin of Veteran’s Day in the USA.
  4. Include hymns such as the second stanza of I vow to thee my country, or Faith of our fathers! or God bless our native land or In Christ there is no East or West or O God of earth and altar or even Silent Night (referencing the Christmas Day Armistice of 1914, and providing a haunting double meaning to the phrase “sleep in heavenly peace”).
  5. Browse the Church of England’s vast collection of resources surrounding their observance of this day for other bits and bobs you might incorporate locally.

There are so many directions this observance can go: the noble call of patriotic service to one’s country, the devastating idolatry of nationalism run wild, commemorating the departed (not unlike All Soul’s Day back on November 2nd), praying for our current service-men and -women and veterans.  For sure, do what makes sense for your congregation!  But it strikes me as a very special opportunity to seize.

Collect and Lessons in Texts for Common Prayer

O King and Judge of the nations: We remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our armed forces, who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy; grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, now and forever.  Amen.

Wisdom 3:1-9, Psalm 121, Revelation 7:9-17, John 11:21-27 or 15:12-17

NOTE: the reading from Revelation is also an option for All Saints’ Day, so if you go for this commemoration be aware that you might end up with the same Epistle lesson twice in a row unless you plan carefully.

Days of Disciplined Devotion

In the original Prayer Books (at least through 1662) the Great Litany was appointed to be said at the end of Morning Prayer ever Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Sunday perhaps makes the most sense – it is the Lord’s Day, and the largest gathering of God’s people for worship is going to be that morning.  But why also Wednesday and Friday?

There is a long-standing Christian tradition of Wednesday and Friday being weekly fast days.  Friday is perhaps the better-known day of discipline, even getting a shout-out in the Prayer Book’s introduction to the Calendar.  But Wednesday, too, was long considered a fast day.  In the Didache (or, “the teaching of the twelve apostles”) written close to the year 100, chapter 8 begins:

1. Let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays, but do you fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.

It seems that it was Jewish custom to fast on the 2nd and 5th days of the week, and Christians (at least Palestinian Christians, whose early tradition is represented in this document) shifted the fasts to the 4th and 6th days.  Friday is likely related to the weekly remembrance of Good Friday (just as Sunday is the weekly remembrance of Easter).  Wednesday’s fast could have been observed in commemoration of the Incarnation, or perhaps as a weekly echo of Ash Wednesday… we may never know the ancient rationale.

Regardless, the Prayer Book tradition has maintained this ancient custom in the form of the use of the Great Litany!  If you are not a regular pray-er of the Litany, take a few minutes this morning to go through it after the Collects of Morning Prayer.  Unlike in the 1979 Prayer Book, we’ve got it “translated” into contemporary English, so it is now just as accessible as the rest of the liturgy!  And besides, the more familiar you are with the Litany, the easier it will be for you to share it with others in your congregation.

Looking Ahead: Sts. Simon & Jude

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow: Saint Francis Day!

October 4th is the commemoration of Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order, and beloved medieval Saint.  One of the popular traditions that accompanies his (minor) feast day is the blessing of animals.

Naturally, such a specific tradition is not mandated, nor even mentioned, in the Prayer Books.  But many parishes have preserved forms of this old practice.  If you want to take this opportunity to bless your pets or other animals, or visit those of your friends or neighbors, here is a sample prayer you could use:

Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures.  You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air, and animals on the land.  You inspired Saint Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters.  [We ask you to] bless this A.  By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan.  May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation.  Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures.  Amen.

If you’re a priest or bishop, you may omit the words “We ask you to” and gesture the sign of the Cross over the animal at that point.  Sprinkling with holy water is optional – be considerate of animals that might spook!

Just for fun: Can you bless the water in a fish tank?  What happens if you do?  Leave a note in the comments! 😉