Category Archives: Church Year

Liturgical Juxtaposition

One of the things that I talked about in my dissertation that I’m revisiting as I frame it into a book is the principle of liturgical juxtaposition. That is, one of the ways the liturgy functions is to draw Scripture together—literally placing passages one next to the other—sometimes purposefully, other times accidentally as different cycles draw different texts together, then leaving the participant to tease out connections and relationships between them. Sometimes these come only at a great stretch as we see in some tortured allegories of the liturgy. At other times, they flow effortlessly, naturally, and powerfully.

That was my experience at Morning Prayer today. The Passion from yesterday still ringing in my ears, reading Psalm 72 (on the monthly cycle), a psalm of royal triumph, juxtaposed with the Monday in Holy Week antiphon: “The Lord was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and He opened not His mouth” neatly captured the contrast that will animate the rest of the coming week.

Maundy Thursday Musings

Not being a priest, I have no authority to shape liturgical celebrations at the local level. In a certain sense, this gives me the freedom to play “what if” and think through various scenarios without having to commit to one to embody in the midst of community that has its own histories that may either support or resist what I dream up in my head!

Of the various liturgical possibilities and quandries within the span of high-church Anglicanism, I think that perhaps the most interesting with which to wrestle is the tone of Maundy Thursday.

As I interpret the various services I’ve seen and attended, there seem to be two main types. The first is to emphasize the establishment of the Eucharist. In this version, Maundy Thursday is radically different from the Lenten and Holy Week liturgies around it. The vestments are white, the Gloria in Excelsis—unheard since the Sunday of the Transfiguration (or perhaps the Annunciation)—peals out its joy, and the Eucharist is celebrated in its highest possible state.

The second is to emphasize its setting within Triduum and Holy Week. Here the vestments are either the crimson or ox-blood or Lenten purple of the season, the Gloria remains tucked away, and the emphasis rest less on the gift of the sacrament to the Church than a man’s prophetic—and proleptic—last meal with his friends.

Like most of the mysteries of the Church, there ought to be a sense of both/and rather than a strict either/or. However, when it comes to the textures of the service, the vestments, the music, the tone of the event, you really do have to choose one or the other. Vestments are either crimson or white. In Rite II, you either use the Gloria or the Kyrie (or the Trisagion). The Opening Acclamation is either penitential or not.

The prayer book to which we look for guidance, gives us very little to go on. Indeed, it begins with the singularly unhelpful rubric, “The Eucharist begins in the usual manner, using the following Collect, Psalm, and Lessons.” Really? “Usual”? What’s that supposed to mean—usual Lent, usual Holy Week, or usual Feast of Our Lord/Institution of the Eucharist? The collect emphasizes the institution of the Eucharist as its central point, yet does not omit a reference to the night before Christ’s suffering.

As a liturgist who is also a biblical scholar whose work focuses on the gospels, I find this one of our toughest nuts to crack.

That is, if we celebrate Maundy Thursday as a Eucharistic festival, do we overshadow, obscure, or distract from our experience of Triduum and the gospels’ emphasize on the events around Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection? Recall the, I think accurate, summation of Mark’s Gospel as a Passion Narrative with an extended introduction. Recall that the evening of Maundy Thursday begins at John 13; almost a third of the John’s Gospel, from chapter 13 to the middle of chapter 20, occurs within the three-day span.

In one sense, this quandry can be constructed along classical lines of Christian argument as the age-old fight of sacrament vs. Scripture. But I think it’s deeper than that. Really wrestling with it engages some of the deep questions about the inter-relationship between the meal of Jesus in the upper room and the sacrament of the Church society, between our Lord’s command to repeat what he did in his memory and the forms in which we share this ceremony now. Rather complex questions of sign, intention, metaphor, and continuity vie with one another here.

My own preference is to let Maundy Thursday be the Triduum’s inauguration, where Jesus gathers with those whom he trusts and to whom he teaches his last lesson of love in two ways, both firmly rooted in ritual action. Then we watch a third way unfold as trust unravels, and he is betrayed into the hands of those who seek his life. I’m all for a blow-out celebration of the sacrament—and that’s why we have Corpus Christi, a day to revel in the gift of grace given to the Church. But to make Maundy Thursday that day, it seems to me, obscures a bit the uncomfortable yet necessary truth that the betrayer of trust is a disciple who loves Jesus. As we do…

The best of the celebration-style gatherings that I have seen use the contrast between the service’s glorious start and its stark ending in stripped sanctuary as a pivot. The contrast is an integral part of the liturgy’s experience. And I think that it can serve as an effective entry into the Three Great Days. But, on the whole, my preference is to experience it the other way.

For my part, of course, it’s not in my hands. I actually don’t know how my parish will celebrate it this year; I’ll find out next week. And I’ll be fine with whichever way we do it. However, I still see this day with its complex confluence of themes worth wrestling with…

 

Lenten Reflection

I haven’t put up many pieces on the Episcopal Cafe recently. That’s not a function of anything other than being overly busy, and not having anything compelling bubbling up to the top. However, I do have a new piece up as a kick-off to Lent.

Lent can be a mixed bag around the Church. Some see it as a time to curb minor food cravings without reference to its deeper intentions; others see it as a time for renewed advocacy of a particular cause. Too, I think some people in some years need more or less Lent than others. For me, I’m feeling a need for more and for a turn back to the personal side of Lent. I need to honestly take stock of where I am, and there’s no way I can do that without taking sin seriously.

In that light, my post invites us to a Lenten reflection about the dark places within ourselves, and the Gospel call to let in the light of Christ.

On the Collects

This chapter will round out the section on the Calendar before I move on to the Office.

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The Collects: An Integral Link of Prayer Book Practice

The Liturgical Manifestations of the Church Year

The Church Year establishes fundamental organizing principles that direct our common liturgical life. The Daily Office and the Eucharist both exist within and are guided by it. When we look back to the liturgies of the medieval period, there was quite a lot of material that was used to mark the liturgical year and its passage. Remember, before the mid-20th century and the reforms of Vatican II, there was no three-year cycle; there was only a one-year cycle which repeated in an invariable fashion. In the medieval books—taking those of 10th century England as an example—each Sunday Eucharist had its own particular set of liturgically proper materials:  four prayers (the opening collect, a prayer over the gifts at the offertory, a proper preface, and a post-communion prayer), two readings (an Epistle and a Gospel), and four or five minor propers (usually one or two-line biblical texts sung by the choir at the entrance, after the Epistle, before the Gospel, during the offertory, and during the communion).

That’s a lot of stuff. And it doesn’t stop there either!

Turning to the Daily Office, parts of the Eucharistic propers—especially the biblical readings—would be interwoven among the various elements. The Gospel in full would be read in the Sunday Night Office and a line from it would usually appear as an antiphon on the Song of Mary at the Evening Office. The Epistle too might appear in gospel canticle antiphons through the week and was frequently found tucked into the suffrages of the mid-day Offices. Of course, the opening collect of the Eucharist would reappear as the closing collect of each Office.

In Archbishop Cranmer’s simplification of the liturgy and in his construction of the first Book of Common Prayer, he swept away most of these proper elements. In his 1549 book he retained only four of the Eucharistic propers: the opening collect, the Epistle, the Gospel, and the psalm sung at the entrance. In the even more radical revision of 1552 the psalm at the entrance was dropped as well. With the stripping of the gospel canticle antiphons, psalm antiphons, and variable Suffrages from the reformed Daily Offices, Cranmer eliminated even the possibility of retaining the delicate tissue of interactions between the Sunday Eucharist and the Office through the following week.

The only unifying element from the Church Year cycle that held together the liturgical experience of the Eucharist and the Office was the collect.

Cranmer could easily have done away with this too—but he didn’t. Instead, he worked his way through the Sarum Missal, translating and retaining many of its collects where they were in accord with his understanding of the Faith, crafting new collects when they were not. The English-speaking church owes him a great debt of gratitude for this, because his work of translation and adaptation was masterfully done. Through him, we have access to ancient prayers that have sustained the Church over centuries, drawn into luminous, gem-like models of prayer and praise.

Since Cranmer’s day, prayer book people the world over have embraced the collect. Hundreds of collects have been translated, adapted, and composed to fill our prayer books and resources. Collects are not unique to Anglican churches, but they are a definitive aspect of our spiritual heritage.

While our last few prayer books have begun recovering seasonal elements in the Eucharist and the Office, the collect remains the single point of calendrical continuity that has the potential to unite the two liturgical services. Particularly as the notion of a one-year cycle has been shattered with the moves to a two-year Office lectionary and the three-year Eucharistic lectionary, the collect remains the sole consistent element. The consistent practice of Anglican prayer books up to the present is the use of the Sunday (or prior festal) collect at the end of Morning and Evening Prayer. However, our current prayer book has made the use of the Collect of the Day optional. Let me say in the strongest possible terms that I believe this is a mistake! The use and repetition of the Eucharistic collect within the Daily Office is the last common element that connects these two liturgical movements together under the overarching aegis of the Church Year. Without this element, they become disconnected; we will have lost the last intrinsic link and they can be seen as two entirely different and unrelated devotions rather than the complementary pair that they were designed to be.

I’d like to explore the collects from two different directions. First, we’ll examine what a collect is. Second, we’ll look at how the collects function within the liturgical year and serve as key unifying units.

What is a Collect?

The original meaning of the term itself is lost in the mists of liturgical prehistory. The earliest Roman books refer to these prayers simply as “oratio” or “orationes;” the Gallican books produced in Gaul (modern France) in the 7th and 8th centuries used the term “collecta.” The Latin word is closely related to the English word it sounds like—something has been collected—but what? There seem to be three main answers with no good away to adjudicate between them. One suggestion is that the term refers to the prayer that should be prayed after all of the people have collected together. Another is that the collect brings together in one succinct statement the principal themes of the service being celebrated. The third is that, after a bit of silent prayer at the beginning of the service, the celebrant prays this prayer as a means of collecting together all of the prayers that have been prayed silently and individually. This last certainly seems to reflect the practice of bidding prayers which is of great antiquity. I favor the last, but we’ll probably never know for sure. One thing we do know is that the practice of the whole congregation reading it together aloud is a modern anomaly!

One modern liturgist, Fr. Bosco Peters, emphasizes the third option in his description of the four parts of a proper collect when it appears as the opening prayer of the Eucharist:

    • The bidding: The presider invites the community to prayer – “Let us pray”. Or in a more extended way, something like: “Let us pray in silence that God will make us one in mind and heart”.
    • The silence: This is the heart of the collect. This deep silent praying of the community is what the collect is collecting. No silent prayer and it is not a collect, there is nothing to collect. Without this silence the “collect” is reduced to merely another little prayer cluttering the vestibule at the start of our service.
    • The collect: After sufficient silent prayer the presider proclaims the collect, gathering the prayers of the community, and articulating the prayer of the church – the body of Christ. As Christ’s body the collect is addressed in Christ’s name, on Christ’s behalf, to God the Source of all Being, in the power and unity of the Holy Spirit.
    • Amen: The community makes the collect its own by a strong “Amen” – “so be it”. (Peters, “Collect – four parts”)

His subversion of the notion of a four-part scheme refocuses the collect as a summation of the whole community at prayer.

As for what a collect is and the nature of its essential character, Anglican writers have fallen over themselves for years singing its praises in very extravagant ways. I find that one of the clearest and most helpful introductions to the collect comes from the radical of the English Sarum Revival at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, Percy Dearmer. In his usual acerbic tone Dearmer writes:

The collect is a definite literary form, a prose form with something of the character that a sonnet has in verse, but with a far more loosely defined structure; so that, though it is easier to make a poor collect than a poor sonnet, it is perhaps more difficult to make a good one. A collect is not merely a short prayer: many prayers are short—some, like the Kyrie eleison, extremely short—but they are not collects; on the other hand, it would not be difficult, though the result would be unpleasing, to write a prayer of some length that kept strictly to the collect form.

Unity is the essential characteristic of the collect. To be good, it must have colour, rhythm, finality, a certain conciseness as well as vigour of thought; but it must be a unified petition, or it becomes something else than a collect. We might indeed say that it must be one complete sentence, an epigram softened by feeling; it must be compact, expressing one thought, and enriching that thought so delicately that a word misplaced may destroy its whole beauty. We cannot safeguard this balance, which is so easily upset, by setting down any definite rules, such as that a collect must consist of four parts. There is a real danger of a notion like that obtaining currency, and of everyone who tries to write a collect fitting his material into a Procrustean bed, and finding fault with every example that does not conform to his imaginary rule. As a matter of fact, many if not most of the finest collects do not consist of those four divisions. (Dearmer, The Art of Public Worship, 149-50)

True to his usual style, after airily dismissing the four-part structure of the collect, Dearmer goes on to explain it (but doesn’t number the final element giving him four where we will speak of five)… Dearmer makes some excellent points here; in particular, I’d like to take up two in the form of comparisons. One is obvious and explicit; the other is less so, but I one that I think Dearmer would approve of. First, the collect is like a sonnet; second, the collect is like a haiku.

Dearmer’s comparison of the collect to the sonnet is quite apt. Sonnets are poems defined by a certain structure, rhythm, rhyme scheme, and topic. Certain poets have defined these parameters through particularly notable examples of the genre—notable Petrarch and Shakespeare—and their work shapes the convention. Skilled poets are able to work within the form and experience the rules and structures as canvasses to define an area of play rather than rigid guidelines. Truly remarkable poets are able to bend or break the rules, subverting the form and their readers’ expectations in order to achieve something sublime. And yet, this subversion works because they have grasped a deeper structure to which they are adhering beyond the more basic guidelines.

The same is true of collects; there are rules and guidelines. The rules guide the process of understanding and crafting the collect. A collect generally consist of a single sentence. It may be a quite long sentence with several relative clauses thrown in, but is a single sentence. As a result of being a single sentence, it has one main point—the “unified petition” that Dearmer speaks of. Then there are five components that are usual:

  1. The Invocation—this is the naming of the Person of the Trinity to whom the prayer is addressed.
  2. The Relative Clause/Acknowledgement—this clause often begins with a “who” and usually says something about the identity of God that will relate to the rest of the prayer; it often ends with a colon.
  3. The Petition—this is what is being asked for. Sometimes there may be a second petition that is related to the first. Classically this may start with “Grant” or even “Grant, we pray…”
  4. The Statement of Purpose/Result—this clause explains why we’re asking for what we’re asking for or describes what we hope will be the result of the request. This often starts with “that.”
  5. The Ending/Doxology—we end by bringing in the rest of the Trinity (or, at the very least, Jesus).

Here’s an example of how these five parts break down on a common and well-known text, the Collect for Purity that appears in the early part of the Eucharist:

The Invocation Almighty God,
The Relative Clause/Acknowledgement To you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid:
The Petition Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
The Statement of Purpose/Result That we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name;
The Ending/Doxology Through Christ our Lord.

The unifying concept here is that we are requesting the God who knows our secret thoughts to cleanse them for the proper worship of him.

Another example is the collect for the Fifth Sunday of Easter:

The Invocation Almighty God,
The Relative Clause/Acknowledgement Whom truly to know is everlasting life:
The Petition Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life,
The Statement of Purpose/Result That we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life;
The Ending/Doxology Through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The unifying concept here is a riff off John 14:6 asking that we might know the truth in order to follow that way to share in life.

Dearmer throws in an example of a short prayer that is not a collect but which could be confused with one if someone were not paying attention. It was composed and distributed in England during World War I:

O Lord God Almighty, look down with pity upon those who are suffering the miseries of war. Have compassion on the wounded and dying; comfort the broken-hearted; make wars to cease; and give peace in our time; for the sake of him who is the Prince of Peace, even thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Now, this is a perfectly fine prayer—it’s just not a collect; there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s simply another sort of prayer following different guidelines that should be mistaken for a collect simply because it might appear on the service to share some characteristics.

Let’s take a look at why it’s not a collect. It looks “collect-shaped” because it’s short, it starts with an invocation, and ends with a standard collect ending. However, what follows the Invocation isn’t a Relative clause or an Acknowledgement—it’s a petition. And four more petitions follow on after that. Consider—after the first sentence and where each semicolon falls you could easily insert “Lord, in your mercy,/Hear our prayer” without any problem. This is a brief, private intercession rather than being a collect. Its unity is difficult to assess; generally speaking, the prayer is about the miseries of war, but the content of the petitions is more wide-ranging than what we would expect to find in a collect.

The five-fold form (it depends on whether you count the Ending or not—I would) is another example of how the prayer book teaches us to pray. When you’ve spent a sufficient amount of time with collects and you’ve memorized the structure listed above, it isn’t too hard to produce an extemporaneous prayer that follows these guidelines.

However, as Dearmer mentions, there is more to it than simply following the rules. Some collects don’t follow this structure like the collect for Proper 3:

The Petition Grant,
The Invocation O Lord,
The Petition, cont. That the course of this world may be peaceably governed by your providence
Secondary petition And that your Church may joyfully serve you in confidence and serenity
The Ending/Doxology Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Now, this one comes close to edging the line that the prayer above falls over. Like that one it only contains an Invocation, Ending, and petitions. The difference is that we have fewer petitions (two instead of five) and that the thought is more unified.

Another differing structure is that of the collect for Monday in Easter Week:

The Petition Grant, we pray,
The Invocation Almighty God,
The Petition, cont. That we who celebrate with awe the Paschal feast may be found worthy to attain to everlasting joys
The Ending/Doxology Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

This is probably the shortest a collect can be in terms of components and still be considered a collect.

The point here is that the not every collect of the prayer book fits the rules—nor needs to fit the rules—but they all share in the same fundamental concept and approach. The five part structure is normal and typical, but it’s not uncommon to see some variations in the wild. As we gain facility with it as an extemporaneous prayer form, it’s good to stick to the rules, but they need not be considered straight-jackets either.

Just as a collect has rules regarding its form, elements, and content as a sonnet does, there’s something about its character that is also like a haiku. This classical Japanese poetic form also has rules around it, but the central experience of a haiku is that it is very short—only 18 on (which are roughly comparable to syllables)—unified, and has a seasonal reference. A good haiku evokes an effect. The use of language is intentional and particular. Because it is so short, every word matters; the placement of every word matters. While the seasonal reference is an important part, most Westerners miss them because there are specific words or turns of phrase that have seasonal resonance within Japanese culture; the use of the loaded phrase is important. The master Bashō ­­demonstrates these elements (in Higginson’s translation):

old pond . . .

a frog leaps in

water’s sound

It deftly creates a single experience, the translator’s first line setting a scene, the second providing a glimpse of action.  Rainy springtime is evoked by the frog—but the frog itself is part of what makes the poem what it is: classical poetry often uses this kind of frog for its haunting call; Bashō keeps it silent, but gives the water a voice instead!

A good collect should be like a haiku in that it gives a unified experience, communicating a single, self-contained thought. Furthermore, this thought may be allusive, using loaded language to point outside of itself to references that a cultural literate interpreter should pick up. Finally, a good collect should leave us with a feeling, an intention, or a resolve to enact that for which we have just prayed. Let’s return again to Cranmer’s collect for the First Sunday of Advent:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The unified concept here is about receiving the grace to turn from darkness to light and to live according to the light in the presence of Christ, teacher and judge. The language of light and dark connects to key Advent themes where the coming of Christ is often spoken of as the coming of light and the dawn (…a people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light…; …more than watchmen for the morning…; sleepers, awake!; …be watchful…; etc.). Furthermore, Cranmer is making a very specific biblical allusion. In the old one-year cycle that he knew, the Epistle for Eucharist on Advent 1 was invariably Romans 13:8-14 which includes these verses:

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day… (Rom 13:11-13a).

The collect’s phrase foreshadows the Epistle and, when the collect was repeated after hearing that Epistle, the connection should be remembered. (Of course, in our current three-year cycle, this Epistle only appears on Advent 1 in Year A.) The season, the Scripture, and the practice of the moral life are united in the collect.

Note, too, that the structure is altered a bit from the usual. There is no Acknowledgement following the Invocation, however there is a relative clause in the petition that could easily be one. This is what would happen if we attempted to “fix” the collect:

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

What gets lost here is the effect of the multiple comings of Advent. Cranmer’s collect creates a balanced structure by evoking an advent at the end of the petition clause with one in the result clause; they mirror each other. Moving the Acknowledgement to the Acknowledgement position obscures the parallelism and weakens the collect. By separating the coming of Christ “in great humility” by a greater space of words and phrases from the coming “in glorious majesty” the juxtaposition between the two and the sense of paradox is diminished. Where the words and phrases go matters in terms of the overall effect.

When we encounter collects, therefore, we want to be attentive to these factors. What is the theological and spiritual center of gravity of the collect? What is it inspiring in us and leading us towards? Is it leading us deeper into the season or a particular mystery of life-in-Christ by using allusions or references?

The final point that we should note about collects in general is that, just as particular poems take on a life of their own and shape the cultural vocabulary, the same is true of collects. The collects of the prayer book span an enormous amount of Christian history. When Cranmer prepared the first Book of Common Prayer, he took most of the collects directly from the Sarum Missal and Breviary. Many of these, in turn, went back to the Gregorian and Gallican liturgies that spread throughout the Christian West in the seventh and eighth centuries. Those that Cranmer found objectionable he either adapted or replaced entirely with compositions of his own. As time went on, more collects were added by significant figures in Anglican history like Bishop Cosin who was responsible for the 1662 English prayer book that lays behind so many of the colonial prayer books and is still England’s official text. As more collects have been added, we have gathered recent collects from around the world and as well as going back to the earliest Western sources in the Leonine sacramentary which scholars date to the sixth century.

Many of the collects that we read have been forming Christian theology and spirituality for well over a thousand years. It’s one thing to claim continuity with the Christian tradition of the ages; it’s another to demonstrate it—and our collects do. They are a direct connection into the oldest streams of the tradition enriched by fertilizations from later ages as well.

Collects and the Liturgical Year

Having taken some time to explore the collect form, let’s turn to how the collects function to give a more concrete sense of shape to the liturgical year.

While the prayer book is filled with a variety of collects, the most influential are those appointed for Sundays and the Principal Feasts. This is because these get repeated so often in practice. A collect appointed for a regular Sunday can be prayed through at least fifteen times over the course of the week: in addition to the Sunday Eucharist, it could be repeated every day of the week at Morning and Evening Prayer. The repetition is both intentional and important. The Anglican Churches are not confessional in a technical sense; that is, our beliefs are not established by a confessional document in the same sense that the Lutheran and Reformed churches are. The center of our unity is the prayer book; the collects as bite-sized crystallizations of doctrine, interpretation, and practice are a primary source of our theology. Repeating them day after day, week after week, year after year, instills within the praying community a shared theological vocabulary.

As a result, maintaining the weekly repetition of collects is a significant part of how we acquire and recall our theological heritage. In recent years, there has been a tendency to multiply collects. With the introduction of a more complete sanctoral Calendar in the current prayer book and in subsequent expansions, more and more Days of Optional Observance are receiving their own proper collects. Too, collects have been provided for every day of Lent and many of the days of Easter. Incorporating these new collects alongside a commitment to the faithful use of the Sunday collects—particularly in the Daily Office—is a challenge. There are two main options: the first is to retain the Sunday collects to the exclusion of the supplementary material. The second is to use both: the supplementary Collect of the Day would be used first, the weekly collect would then follow.

Short yet meaty, the collects are ideal candidates for memorization. As each Sunday rolls around, I try to take a few minutes and memorize the collect. As I move through the week, I can stop and reflect on it, rolling its words around in my mind. Instead of passively receiving the piety and theology of the prayer book, I can actively engage it as it fits both into my life of prayer and my daily experiences.

The Seasonal Collects

There is another way that the collects used to reinforce the liturgical year. Starting with the English prayer book of 1662, several collects were appointed to serve as seasonal collects. A note after the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent designated that this collect should be read after the Collect of the Day throughout Advent:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, p. 211)

A similar note after the collect for Ash Wednesday requires that this collect be read after the Collect of the Day through Lent:

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  (BCP, p. 217).

The collect for Christmas wasn’t used throughout the season but it was given its own octave; it was appointed to be read every day after the Collect of the Day up until the Feast of the Circumcision:

 Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

This concept was greatly expanded in our American 1928 prayer book: the collects for Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, the Ascension, Pentecost, and All Saints’ Day were all given octaves—for the whole week after they were read after any other appointed collect falling in this time. Thus, on the Sunday after All Saints’ (which would vary based on where Easter fell) the congregation would hear first the collect appointed for the Sunday, then the collect appointed for All Saints’ Day. This accomplished two things: first, it emphasized the importance of these feasts; second, as more collects were introduced—as in Holy Week—the repetition of the Octave Collect helped give a better defined shape to the period.

The current prayer book no longer requires these seasonal or octave collects, but they remain an effective practice for securing the intentions and purposes of the chief seasons and feasts in our minds.

Final Calendar Section (Anatomy, Part 4)

Here’s the last section on the Anatomy of the Calendar running from Holy Week through the end…

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Holy Week

Holy Week constitutes the space of our deepest yearly meditation upon the passion of Christ and ushers in the Three Great Days that are the highlight of the Church Year. It’s also the space of a single week and, if a family follows typical American church-going habits, it’s possible for them to miss all but one day (Palm/Passion Sunday) or even the whole season altogether! It can be said without exaggeration that this is the season where faithful attendance at—or at least attention to—the public liturgies of the Church matters the most and renders the most. Both the prayer book and the Revised Common Lectionary provide material for every day of the week, with The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday receiving their own distinct liturgies in the block between pages 270 and 285 of the prayer book.

Palm Sunday was conflated with Passion Sunday in the mid-20th century by the Roman Catholic Church; this move worked towards the process of leveling the grades of Lent, but also recognized by means of the title what was actually going on in the service. That is, Passion Sunday didn’t have a passion reading—Palm Sunday did. Indeed, there is little in the liturgy of Passion Sunday to signal a further shift towards the cross and passion than other Lenten Sundays: neither the Gospel (John 8:46-59) nor the other propers seem more passional than normal. By contrast, the celebration of Palm Sunday had included the reading of the entirety of Matthew’s Passion (chapters 26-7) from at least the 7th century!

For most Episcopalians this change makes no difference—the 1928 prayer book was the first American or English book to identify the Fifth Sunday in Lent as “Passion Sunday” and it directed no liturgical changes at this time. Only those who followed old traditions or Roman Catholic customs of the timing for veiling images and crosses, dropping the Gloria Patri from the end of the psalms, and singing different hymns at the Office noticed and then had to decide whether to keep doing it following the Fifth Sunday in Lent or whether to shift these practices to Holy Week.

All of the days of Holy Week have been prayer book service days since the very first prayer book. Following the traditional pattern, the passions from the four gospels were read through the week: most of Matthew’s passion was read on Palm Sunday, Monday and Tuesday recounted Mark’s passion, Wednesday and Thursday read through Luke’s passion, and John’s passion was read on Friday; Saturday finished off the end of Matthew’s passion with the burial of Jesus. Our current Holy Week chooses to move in a chronological direction rather than a comprehensive one: the Passion Gospel of Passion Sunday comes from the gospel appointed for the year, the days of Holy Week read from John’s narrative beginning at chapter 12 which begins “Six days before the Passover…” (The Revised Common Lectionary only offers John’s sequence; the prayer book lectionary that it replaced offered both the John readings and alternatives from Mark on Monday and Tuesday, Matthew on Wednesday, and Luke on Thursday.) Oddly enough, the Daily Office lectionary of Year One also prescribes similar but not identical readings from John 12 for Monday through Wednesday.

Holy Week is fundamentally about the journey to the cross. We accompany Jesus, his apostles, and the disciples on the last walk into Jerusalem and through the days that follow. The services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil are best seen as a single liturgical unit with long pauses between its movements. For me, I can’t help but hear strains of Renaissance settings of the Book of Lamentations floating all through Holy Week—as Lamentations was the heart of the Daily Office services and some amazing settings were composed for Tenebrae, the Office of Shadows that occurred in the early mornings at Matins and Lauds. We can take our cue from them: Holy Week has a restrained grandeur in order to communicate in beauty the horror of human hatred that we unleashed upon the Lord of Life.

Recognizing that, it’s important to take a moment and consider our perspective: how we interpret these moments and where we find “us” within the events of the passion. Some of the greatest devotions of the Passion—like the Stations of the Cross—come from the imaginative-affectional tradition of devotion. In these sorts of devotions, we use images, readings, hymns, and prayers to give ourselves the sense of being there, to imagine exactly what we would have seen and heard, and then to feel the emotions that seeing these things would bring upon us. Certain traditions are better at this than others. For instance, I’d suggest that “Were you there?” from the African-American experience stands strongly in this tradition. And, while we may not normally think of them as “feely” type people, many of the passion devotions from late Sarum England, just before the Reformation, place great emphasis upon this imaginative-affectional spirituality. However—as I have spent time working with and ready through these devotions, I have identified what I believe to be a fundamental flaw in their imaginative construction.

These materials tend to identify heavily with the disciples and with the women who accompanied Mary. That is, we see images or texts will describe vignettes where we have graphic depictions of what is suffered by both Jesus and Mary in the events of the capture, the judgment, the torment, the crucifixion and the death. (The Fifteen Oes of St. Brigit are a classic example of this should you desire to see them for yourself.) The problem here is that the identification of “us” is consistently and relentlessly with the disciples. We gain a clear sense of “us” and “them.” “We” are those who follow Jesus; “they” are those who slay Jesus. The devotions themselves with this stark contrast lead us to experience the crucifixion of Jesus not as humanity’s inhumanity to the Son of Man, but as the experience of what the Jews did to Jesus. Given the emphases of these devotions, it’s no surprise that medieval and renaissance pogroms sometimes coincided with Palm Sunday and Good Friday. This kind of Christian anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism is absolutely deplorable and has no place in our faith. In addition to that, it’s also bad spirituality.

This kind of devotion which allows us to create and foster an “us” and “them” perspective on Holy Week misses one of the big patterns of Scripture and undermines a proper understanding of the season and its liturgies. We misconstrue the basic teachings of the Church and the Scripture on sin if we fail to account for the fact that “we” are “them.” This is not a new insight. Indeed, in the period of the Reformation itself and in a lot of Counter-Reformation Roman Catholic spirituality this point is made sometimes to the point of excess. A good example of the proper reversal is “Ah, holy Jesus.” The second verse in particular makes the turn that the Sarum materials lack: “Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus hath undone thee. ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee: I crucified thee” (Hymnal 1982, 158). We stand both as the disciples and as the crucifiers. The impact of Palm Sunday is muted if we fail to make the connection that the same crowd that shouted “Hosanna” was the same crowd that shouted “Crucify him!” and that, we need to be able to locate ourselves within both crowds. It is only with this perspective that we can hear the Good Friday Reproaches properly as words directed at us rather than condemnations of “the Jews.”

It is a shame that more people don’t come to the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. Again—I realize they’re not on Sunday and thus fall outside the usual pattern. However, patterns lie at the heart of this. We say that God is love. We say that Jesus is God incarnate and, therefore is the most perfect exemplar of love. But love is a very broad word. Considering all of the things that the word “love” is used for in American culture these days it includes quite a range of things! Surely we mean something more significant, something more meaningful. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are about a life patterned by love and therefore about the nature of love and the consequences of love. Christ came to preach love. Had the content of love been some ooey-gooey feel-good message of self-satisfaction, no one would have demanded his death. That’s not the love that Christ preached incarnate. He preached a love—and enacted a love—that made people deeply uncomfortable, that challenged the status quo, and that was not afraid to speak openly against sin, hypocrisy, and pride—particularly amongst those who saw themselves as most religious. Holy Week warns us of the consequences of preaching true love.

Maundy Thursday lays bare the strength and power of humble service. The maundy or commandment from which the day gets its name is the Gospel exhortation to love one another as Christ has loved us. All three of the great liturgical actions of the evening offer a powerful—and disturbing—example of what this love and service looks like. The Last Supper is an intimate gathering of friends, yet its elemental symbols and pregnant words reveal a host of deep meanings. The washing of the feet offers a vision of a leader who is strong enough in humility to perform the role of a menial servant in the midst of his friends. (And, in this present age can be far more intimate and therefore intimidating when a relative stranger offers to touch and wash our feet!) Lastly, the stripping of the altar portrays in symbolic terms the stripping away, the falling away of all supports and defenses and shields.  Don’t kid yourself—Jesus could have run. But he didn’t. Therefore it is only fitting that we give John the last word: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13)

Good Friday is our great festival of paradox: we celebrate the day that mortals slay the immortal, the day the Lord of Life gives himself up to death. And we call it “good,” firm in the conviction that in his dying the power of death will be destroyed. Most of our acts this day involve paradox in one form or another. We lift high and venerate a very simple yet effective instrument of torture.  We address a long series of collects to the one who did not respond to his own Son’s cry from the cross. We receive from the reserve sacrament in the absence of a consecration a meal which proclaims his presence and power.

If not many make it to Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, fewer still appear for Holy Saturday and yet we do have a service for it in the book. It’s a simple Service of the Word about which there’s not much to say. It’s the last service of Holy Week for as the sun sets we prepare to turn the corner and head into Easter.

The Easter Season

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Liturgical Renewal Movement is the restoration of the Easter Vigil. The dual emphases on Baptism and Easter come together in full flower in the splendor of a well-celebrated Easter Vigil. I can say without exaggeration that hearing the singing of the Exultet before a newly-lit Paschal candle in the midst of a darkened nave at the end of a long Lent is truly one of the top spiritual moments of my year.  The Vigil sets the tone for the rest of the Great Fifty Days as the Church celebrates the coming of Easter and the on-going power of the resurrection. Another related thrill comes the next morning as Morning Prayer kicks off with the Alleluia-laden “Christ our Passover (Pascha Nostrum).” Likely the oldest season of the Church year, it follows gospel chronology effortlessly, celebrating the bodily Ascension of Christ on the Thursday forty days after the resurrection and ending with Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the birth of Church on the fiftieth day after the resurrection.

The first week after Easter, from the Sunday of the Resurrection to the Second Sunday of Easter is another special octave; every day is a prayer book Holy Day with special readings assigned for Eucharist and the Office, and no other feasts are allowed to fall within this week. If March 25th (the Annunciation) or a feast of the apostles falls within its span, they are transferred out to the days after the Second Sunday.

Easter is the season when we meditate upon the resurrection and acquaint ourselves with the affection of joy. As I said of the affections earlier, this is not an emotion or an expression—it is a pattern of being. It is—thankfully—not about feigning a feeling or attempting to put on a happy face. It is more subtle, deeper, richer, than that. This is simply the joy of living, the joy of resting in the presence of God, and in being in the presence of those you love. It takes its cue from the resurrection, the triumph of life, the ultimate sign that love is stronger than death.

The Church does not follow its usual pattern of fasting during Easter because of the celebratory nature of the season. Likewise, in some churches it is the custom to not kneel during Easter for the same reason. This prohibition of kneeling is sometimes connected to a canon from the Council of Nicaea—the church council back in 325 AD that agreed on the wording of what would become the Nicene Creed. A canon from that council does prohibit kneeling both on Sundays and throughout the Easter season. However, it comes from a liturgical environment where kneeling and multiple prostrations was the regular rule. It was a liturgical culture entirely unlike ours. Thus, it seems odd to impose one part of its practice during Easter (standing) and ignore the more regular and consistent part throughout the rest of the year (kneeling and prostrations). Furthermore, the council was attempting to establish liturgical uniformity upon the Church through this canon. It is, therefore, ironic that John Cassian and his friend Germanus coming from Gaul by way of Palestine questioned the Egyptian monks about it during their tour there around the year 385; apparently they were used to both kneeling and fasting during Easter from their time in the Palestinian monasteries. Whatever uniformity the council was attempting to achieve, it did not achieve.

The Season after Pentecost

The Season after Pentecost is referred to in some Calendars as Ordinary Time. This is not supposed to suggest that it is ordinary in the sense of being normal and not important, but rather that the Sundays are counted in an ordinal fashion. Unfortunately, this fine distinction is usually easily and quickly lost. This is the long green season that occupies somewhere between twenty-three and twenty-eight weeks out of the year depending on when Easter falls. As far as I’m concerned, it is most closely connected with the affection of faithful endurance!

The beginning of this season can be a little tricky particular for those who are diligent in their use of the Daily Office. Sundays in this period are counted, as the table on page 32 of the prayer book shows us, as Sundays after Pentecost. However, the collect and the readings are established be reference to a numbered Proper which is anchored around a calendar date. Thus, an ordinary average Sunday like Proper 15 will be whatever Sunday falls closest to the date of August 17th (and we can find this out by looking through the Season after Pentecost either in the collects, the Eucharistic lectionary or the Daily Office lectionary.) The logic here is that the fixing of Propers to calendar days minimizes the effects of a constantly moving Easter season. Thus, we can always count on the same readings showing up in the summer and fall. The difficulty comes at the very start. The season after Pentecost begins on the Monday after Pentecost. The problem is that the collect for the week is typically that of the preceding Sunday—but not in this case. Instead, we locate the Proper that falls closest to the date of Pentecost, use its collect, and begin lectionary readings from this point. The first Sunday of the season itself is the Feast of the Holy Trinity, one of our Principal Feasts. The week following the feast continues with the collect of the Sunday that would have been and continues the lectionary readings in course. Thus, due to the placement of Pentecost and the Feast of the Holy Trinity, the two earliest possible Propers, Proper 1 and Proper 2, will never actually be celebrated on a Sunday, although their collects and weekday readings may be used when Easter falls at its earliest dates.

As noted above, the Sundays of the Season after Pentecost hold the lowest order of precedence and it is permissible to celebrate a Holy Day in place of the Sunday if it should happen to fall on a Sunday. Note, however, that it’s not proper to move a feast that falls in the week onto a Sunday unless it is the feast of the parish’s title (i.e., the saint or mystery that it is named for) or its patron (i.e., any saints whose relics might be enshrined in the church). The only other feast that may be transferred to a Sunday is the Feast of All Saints because of its status as a Principal Feast. Anything else requires the bishop’s permission.

The Last Sunday after Pentecost is officially titled in the prayer book as just that: “The Last Sunday after Pentecost” and is “Proper 29, the Sunday closest to November 23.” Just as the Revised Common Lectionary placed Transfiguration Sunday at the end of its Season of Epiphany, the Lectionary and the Roman Catholic Calendar appoint the final Sunday after Pentecost as the Feast of Christ the King. Again—as with the end of Epiphany—the prayer book has not adopted the title but has taken the concept: the collect and the readings celebrate the reign of Christ.

The Days of Optional Observance

Having spoken about the Principal Feasts, Sundays, Holy Days and the Days of Special Devotion, that leaves only one more category of days to be reckoned with from the prayer book’s section devoted to the Calendar: the Days of Optional Observance. These are the “ferial days” or “ferias” which means any day that isn’t a Sunday or a feast. If you add together the 7 Principal Feasts, the 49 Sundays (as three are Principal Feasts), and the 32 Holy Days, that gives a total of 88 prayer book feast days, leaving 277 ferial days in a regular year.

The monthly listing of days between the Calendar rubrics and the list of titles of feasts give us a potential set of people to be celebrated as Lesser Feasts on these days. When Lesser Feasts were first introduced in 1963, there were 115 recommended Lesser Feasts on the list; the latest set of recommendations brought before the church for approval in 2009 (which is still pending as I write in 2013) contained 288 occasions. One of the issues over the latest list is the sheer volume of names brought forward; as you can see, even accounting for some of these falling on Sundays in any given year, it doesn’t leave a lot of open days. The thing to remember, though is this: they’re all optional! You can choose to celebrate as many or as few as you would like.

Because of the cyclical nature of the Daily Office, Days of Optional Observance don’t impact it much—the only effect is whether you choose to change the Collect of the Day. If a Eucharist is being celebrated on a ferial day, the prayer book provides a range of six possible options. They are:

  1. To celebrate a Major Feast that has fallen elsewhere in the week as provided in the prayer book,
  2. To celebrate a Lesser Feast as a Day of Optional Observance appointed in the Church’s Calendar,
  3. To celebrate a Lesser Feast as a Day of Optional Observance not appointed in the Church’s Calendar by using the Commons of Saints,
  4. To celebrate the season by using the propers of the preceding Sunday,
  5. To celebrate the season by using the propers appointed for a day in the given week of the season, and
  6. To celebrate an occasion provided for in the propers for “Various Occasions.”

Because the celebration is optional, all of them have equal standing.

More Calendar (Anatomy, Part 3)

Christmas

The Christmas season lasts a spare twelve days—but at least half of them are prayer book Feasts if the two possible Sundays are included! The season begins on Christmas Day, December 25th, and runs up to the eve of Epiphany. It is a season of rejoicing that focuses on the Incarnation and on the mystery of Immanuel: God with us. Yet, the rejoicing of the season is tempered a bit by the character of the Holy Days that, very early on, became associated with Christmas. This season is one of the most complicated in terms of rubrical gymnastics because there are four fixed Holy Days in a row, any one of which could be a Sunday in any given year: Christmas Day, Saint Stephen, Saint John, and the Holy Innocents. A note in the collects section establishes that if a Sunday happens to fall on any of the latter three days, that day and any successive day are pushed back by one. (For instance, if Sunday falls on the day after Christmas, the 26th is celebrated as the First Sunday after Christmas, the 27th honors Saint Stephen, the 28th honors Saint John, and the 29th honors the Holy Innocents.)

These Holy Days have been attached to Christmas for a very long time; they tend to put some perspective on the joy of Christmas. St. Stephen is referred to as the “Protomartyr”—the first of the martyrs. He is the first of Christ’s followers who suffers death because of the faith, and the story is consciously told in such a way to mirror the death of Christ himself. This death is recorded in Acts 7; parallel to Jesus, Stephen commends his soul to God and forgives his persecutors—the young Paul among them.  Historically, the liturgies of the Church have focused on two aspects of the feast of Stephen. First, in his death like Jesus, his prayer is effective: Paul is himself converted and this conversion is greatly attributed to Stephen’s prayer. Second, both prayers and hymns catalogue a number of antitheses or dramatic and ironic reversals between the Nativity and the death of Stephen: Christ was born to the world, but Stephen died to the world; Christ conferred life, Stephen endured death; Christ descended to humanity, Stephen ascended; Christ came to earth, Stephen went to heaven, etc. The underlying reminder here is that while Christ came to share the life of God with the world, this way is none other than the way of the cross.

Next, we celebrate St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. The only apostle not to suffer a martyr’s death, the connection between John and Christmas comes preeminently through the famous opening of his Gospel—which has been read at the third Eucharist of Christmas ever since we have records of such readings. No other gospel account captures quite so effectively the sense of Incarnation as John’s Prologue (John 1:1-18) and the high point of that passage is verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, as of the only Son from the Father” (ibid.).

The third Holy Day is the feast of the Holy Innocents which, like Stephen, gives Christmas a darker turn. While it commemorates an event from Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 2:16-18), its inclusion in this cluster of feasts around the Nativity itself underscores that we know how the story will go: innocence is no guarantee of safety and the innocent Lord of Life—himself an infant at this point—will in his own turn be condemned to die.

The next feast of Christmas is more benign even if it celebrates an occasion that may seem an odd liturgical moment: the feast of the Holy Name. This is a Feast of the person of our Lord and, as such, should be celebrated even if a Sunday falls on this day. It’s also our first “octave” day of the year. Under the pre-Reformation systems, certain important feasts would be celebrated for a whole week afterward—liturgically if not otherwise—and Christmas was certainly one of them. Thus, January 1st falls the week after December 25th—seven days after, but eight if you begin counting with Christmas itself. What’s interesting about this day is that, in addition to being the octave of Christmas, it also celebrates a biblical event: the Circumcision of Jesus which, as with any good Jewish lad, occurred eight days after his birth as recorded in Luke 2:21. The ceremony of circumcision also included the naming rite; our current prayer book prefers the more delicate “Holy Name” rather than former books’ “Circumcision of our Lord.”  More than just recording a biblical event, this feast reminds us of an important corollary to the fact of the Incarnation: it explicitly reminds us of the scandal of particularity—that Jesus was born as a specific person in a specific culture (which is not our culture). Circumcision brought him into God’s covenant with the children of Abraham, locating him within a people, affirming and confirming his Jewish identity.

The doctrine of the Incarnation sometimes gets short shrift because the season dedicated to it is so brief and falls at a time that is so often given over to travel, family, and holidays rather than church. Nevertheless, it is one of the most important doctrines of the faith and it can—and has—been argued that Anglicanism in particular has a special affinity with it. Indeed, the statement of the Incarnation was one of the greatest stumbling-blocks of Christianity in its first few centuries. People could get behind a God who loved them. People could get behind a God who worked wonders, even the resurrection. But the idea that a God, a divine spirit-being, would stoop to sully himself with matter—fallible, corruptible, imperfect, decaying matter—was crazy talk to the dominant Neoplatonic perspective that said that spirit was better than and fundamentally opposed to both body and matter. And yet, this is what the Church insisted upon even in the face of a variety of potential explanations of how spirit and matter stayed appropriately separate in the person of Jesus. Instead, we chose, and defended, and fought for Incarnation: the belief that God cares about us enough to become one of us. This is the miracle of Christmas: God took on humanity so that we might take on divinity. This, in and of itself, totally apart from crucifixion, totally apart from resurrection, is a fundamental act of God reconciling humanity and all creation to himself. Of course, crucifixion and resurrection are also part of the equation, but take on greater and deeper meaning for the fact of the Incarnation. They mean more when we acknowledge that it was a truly human Jesus who suffered and died and was raised than if it was a spiritual projection who only seemed to suffer.

Epiphany

One of the principles observed and standardized in the mid to late 20th century Calendar reforms is the notion that seasons tend to begin and end with feasts. As a result, it is often said that the feast of Epiphany concludes the Christmas season. In one sense this is true—in another it is not. On one hand, if you count out the famous “Twelve Days of Christmas” by modern reckoning, they will end on January 6th, the Epiphany. On the other, if you count them out following the standard classical method (counting the day you start with), the twelve day period ends on the 5th.  According to the prayer book’s list of feasts (BCP, p. 31), Epiphany is the first entry under the “Epiphany Season” while the Second Sunday after Christmas day closes out Christmas proper.

Whether there is such a thing as the “Epiphany Season” is a point of some debate. In my graduate student days, a famous professor of preaching once paused a lecture to inquire specifically upon this point! The confusion was likely compounded by the fact that she was attending an Episcopal parish at the time (dedicated to the Epiphany no less!): according to the prayer book, there is an “Epiphany season”; according to the Roman Catholic reform of the Calendar, Christmas runs through the Sunday after the Epiphany and everything after that is Ordinary Time designated as “Sundays after Epiphany.” The Revised Common Lectionary attempts to split the difference; it retains the title “Season of Epiphany” yet breaks into an Ordinary Time sequence after the Second Sunday after Epiphany, beginning with the Third Sunday and thus functionally siding with the Roman Catholic removal of the season. With the Episcopal adoption of the Revised Common Lectionary, we find ourselves in the odd situation of keeping the season yet losing its character.

The original point of the season is that it was about epiphanies. “Epiphany” comes from the Greek word meaning “manifestations” or “showings-forth.” Actually, many of the medieval calendars retained the Greek name of the feast, Theophany, which means “manifestation of God.” The point here is that the Epiphany season focused on the ways that the divinity of Christ was revealed to the world. The season as whole was about how God was made manifest within Jesus and how he was shown to be both fully human and fully divine. As a result, the Gospel readings of the period cycled through the first miracles in each of the Gospels and some of the earliest teachings of Jesus. These were all understood as differing ways that the Christ made himself known to the world.

So—why does this matter? What’s the point?

As far as I’m concerned, the point has to do with the degree to which we accept an over-simplification of our Calendar. The Roman Catholic reforms and the Revised Common Lectionary following them attempt to make the Church Year more tidy; they place it into neat classifications. According to these schemes, there are two cycle: one celebrates Incarnation, the other celebrates Redemption. The first includes the preparatory season of Advent, then the festal season of Christmas; the second includes the preparatory season of Lent, then the festal season of Easter—everything outside of these is relegated to “Ordinary.” I resist this, though, because it feels just a little bit too tidy! If God’s work of reconciliation is packaged into these two boxes, we lose a variety of shades of meaning through which these two interact with and interpenetrate one another. Retaining an independent Epiphany season recognizes that the earthly ministry of Jesus contained redemptive moments possible through his incarnate nature, that redemption includes more than simply crucifixion and resurrection—as central and important as these rightly are!

There’s one more oddity here that ought to be mentioned…  In accordance with the concept that feasts should begin and end liturgical seasons, the Revised Common Lectionary created a feast to conclude the Season of Epiphany, Transfiguration Sunday. This actually makes quite a bit of sense if the theme of the Epiphany season is manifestation as this is one of the more dramatic manifestations of Jesus’ two natures in the gospels.  In hindsight it does seem ironic, though, to create a new feast to underscore the meaning of the season after having functionally gutted it by turning it into Ordinary Time! Furthermore, the prayer book already contains a feast of the Transfiguration on August 6th. The prayer book’s original solution was to offer the feast without the name—the Gospel reading was of the Transfiguration and the collect mentioned it, but the day itself was simply referred to as “The Last Sunday after the Epiphany.” Now, with the official adoption of the Revised Common Lectionary, its status and title is unclear.

Lent

The season of Lent engages the affection of penitence. During Lent we consider ourselves from two vantage points. The first concerns the human tendency to sin—individually and corporately. Sin is a reality of human existence. The other unavoidable reality of human existence providing the second vantage point is death. Lent opens with Ash Wednesday’s stark acknowledgement of the reality of death. Lent isn’t about being morbid, or punitive, or tearing ourselves down, or whipping ourselves into a lather of self-condemnation. It is, rather, about that word I’ve used twice now: reality. It’s about taking honest stock of who and what we are in the face of eternity and in the face of God. We are limited; we are fallible. In a short life of uncertainty we make choices that lead us deeper into separation and chaos—cutting ourselves off from those who love us and whom we would love. Lent is a deliberate exercise in owning up.

Of all the seasons that were altered in the 20th century reforms, Lent was changed the most. The best way to look at the historic Calendar is that it saw Lent as a graded movement into practices of penitence. That is, it started off easy, then, at designated points, ramped things up as you progressed further in the season. The season began with Septuagesima on the Sunday ten weeks out from Easter creating a three week Pre-Lenten period. Then Ash Wednesday hit with the liturgy of the ashes. The Lenten liturgical round started on the First Sunday of Lent. Then Passiontide moved the bar higher two weeks before Easter. Finally, Palm Sunday kicked off Holy Week. So, there were a series of four grades that moved us deeper into Lent and its exercises. However, this process did not fit within the 20th century emphasis on idealized 4th century baptismal practices. In the move to realign the Lenten experience with the 4th century catechumenal process, the principle of grading was rejected and the Lenten experience was reduced to a period of forty days beginning with Ash Wednesday. The Pre-Lenten season was trimmed away; Passion Sunday was merged with Palm Sunday to make Holy Week even more distinct. The Revised Common Lectionary does not recognize Holy Week as a distinct season—it is the final week of Lent. The prayer book, however, does give Holy Week its own heading equal with Lent so we shall consider it separately though recognizing its intrinsic Lenten character.

The fullness of the intention of the 20th century renovation of Lent is not entirely clear without the catechumenal liturgies contained in the Book of Occasional Services. Within the Pastoral Services a set of liturgies is provided for those to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. On the First Sunday in Lent, the candidates for Baptism are enrolled; on the Third Sunday, they are given the Creed; on the Fifth Sunday, they are given the Lord’s Prayer. I have only ever experienced the fullness of a “catechetical Lent” once—and that was in the context of a Roman Catholic college chaplaincy (I sang in their choir). It was a moving experience to share the Lenten journey with those preparing for Baptism, and it did give that Lent a deeper character. On the other hand, I have never seen this process take place within an Episcopal Church! While the prayer book envisions and provides resources for a return to adult baptism and its communal celebration during Lent and Easter, our evangelism seems to have fallen behind our liturgies… The potential here is all too often left on the table. We have trimmed away some of the traditional richness of the season to make room for another facet of the season that, all too often, is lacking.

Lent is a time to get back in touch with holy habits. The prayer book reminds us that all of the weekdays of Lent are “observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial” (BCP, p. 17); Ash Wednesday’s exhortation to the observation of a holy Lent spurs us to both penitence and faith “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word” (BCP, p. 265). In a work such as this, I would certainly be remiss if I did not offer the reminder that Lent is a perfect time to recommit ourselves to the regular practices of the faith—including the praying of the Office and attendance at Eucharist. These are not great ascetic works—they’re actually fairly easy—but are more useful in the long run than attempts at greater feats of penitence.

On a practical liturgical note, the Lenten liturgies receive a more austere tone. The Gloria in exclesis is not sung; “alleluia” is not said. If a “Hallelujah” does appear in a psalm, the word can simply be omitted. Penitential options are provided for the opening of the Eucharist and as the invitatory antiphons at Morning Prayer. Sundays are always feast days (which is why we speak of Sundays “in” Lent rather than Sundays “of” Lent), but it’s appropriate that the rejoicing be a bit more subdued. (And, of course, on Sundays you may—within moderation—indulge in those things that you have given up for Lent if it is your choice.)  The veiling of images, statutes, icons and crosses is common, but different authorities give different periods as to when this should be done. Some suggest that it is done on the First Sunday in Lent; others suggest Passion Sunday. Of course, with the transference of Passion Sunday to Palm Sunday a decision must be made whether Passiontide is retained as a two week period or, following the prayer book, is reduced to Holy Week itself.

On the Shape of the Calendar (Anatomy, Part 2)

Leading from the previous post on the anatomy of the Church Calendar, this bit gets to the big picture view that the prayer book never fully lays out. Here I only get through general principles and Advent—the rest are still under construction…

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The Shape of the Calendar

Competing Calendar Schemes

The Calendar as we currently have it stands in the midst of three different schemes. First, we have the historical Western calendar which has been in use since it solidified around the seventh century. This is the structure that informs liturgical and spiritual writing up through the middle of the 20th century. Second, we have the revision and simplification of that calendar influenced by the scholarship of the Liturgical Renewal Movement and enshrined in the Roman Catholic reform of the Calendar at Vatican II in 1969. While most of the historical pattern was retained, it was reoriented; they superimposed on it an idealized view of fourth-century practice focusing on Easter, Sunday, and Baptism, simplifying and sometimes suppressing features that didn’t seem to work well with these emphases. Third, the calendar of the Revised Common Lectionary that has now superseded the lectionary printed in the prayer book reinforces the process of simplification and the application of modern principles to an ancient system.

Now—since our purpose is to uncover potential spiritual meaning in the prayer book system, my preference will be to foreground complexity and nuance rather than simplification. As a result, the reading of the big picture that I present here will cut against the trend to simplify. That’s not because I believe the Revised Common Lectionary is a bad thing—its common ecumenical use is a real gift highlighting similarities between mainline Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic church and enabling us to share lectionary resources. Rather, attention to detail and an awareness of historical precedents will help us find richer meaning in the year’s round.

Some General Principles

Broadly speaking, the emphasis on Easter, Sundays, and Baptism has certain practical effects on the Church Year. There are two major meta-classes of Feasts: feasts of our Lord Jesus Christ and feasts of the saints. As a general principle, feasts of our Lord take precedence over feasts of the saints. The occasions of the Temporal cycle are feasts of our Lord, as are the fixed Holy Days that celebrate events in the life of Jesus and his mother. Likewise, all Sundays are also feasts of our Lord.

So far, so good. As a set of general principles this works pretty well. However, there’s a twist in here that never gets fully explained… In the section devoted to Sundays, three feasts of our Lord get special treatment and get to take precedence over a Sunday. Why these three? Well, this is the complicated part that the book doesn’t explain.

Certain seasons are more protective of their Sundays than others. Basically, the Sundays within seasons that have a distinctive theological character are higher ranking feasts of our Lord than the fixed Holy Days that fall within them. Here’s a chart that may help:

  1. Easter Week/Holy Week
  2. Sundays of Easter
  3. Sundays of Lent
  4. Sundays of Advent
  5. Holy Days: Feasts of the person of our Lord Jesus Christ
  6. Sundays of Christmas

7a. Sundays of Epiphany
7b.  Sundays of Season after Pentecost
7c.  Holy Days: Feasts relating to our Lord Jesus Christ
7d.  Holy Days: Feasts of the Saints

You can see what’s tricky here—there’s a distinction between two different sorts of feasts of our Lord that get treated differently in different seasons. Basically, nothing will ever replace a Sunday in Easter, Lent, or Advent. When it comes to Christmas, Epiphany, and the Season after Pentecost, it depends. The more important feasts (the Presentation and Transfiguration) do trump the Sundays; other feasts offer you an option. If a Holy Day of either sort falls in Epiphany or the Season after Pentecost, it is left up to discretion as to whether the Holy Day is transferred a day or two or whether it is celebrated on the Sunday in place of the Sunday (which just gets skipped over until next year).

Which is better to do when a feast falls on a Sunday in a green season, celebrate the season or the Holy Day? That depends—I would think it better to celebrate the specific feast of our Lord (the fixed Holy Day) over the general feast of our Lord (the Sunday) and to give way to the most important of the sanctoral festivals: the dual feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the feast of Saint Mary the Virgin (concerning which liturgists can debate whether it should properly be classed as a sanctoral feast or a feast of our Lord), and the feast of Saint Michael and All Angels.

While we’re speaking about general principles, I’ll note that the fourth section discussed in the Calendar section identifies a different kind of day from the others. Sections one through three and five (Principal Feasts, Sundays, Holy Days, Days of Optional Observance) are about precedence: what feast gets celebrated when should a conflict arise. Section four is fussing with a completely different issue. Rather than being concerned about what to observe, it focuses on how to observe. This section gives us ascetical directions. And they’re fairly simple—fasting (eating less food than usual) or abstinence (refraining from a kind of food, usually four-footed flesh meat) are proper on Fridays that aren’t celebrations.

You might ask what this is doing here if it doesn’t seem to relate to the topic at hand… It does, however: it balances the insistence on the importance of Sundays and calls us to the balance which is the fullness of the faith. If we celebrate every Sunday as a festival of the resurrection—as we should—we also in an equal way need to keep Fridays as a reminder of the crucifixion. While Sunday should always receive the higher acclaim and the greater focus, we risk falling into danger if we celebrate a resurrection disconnected from a crucifixion, a liturgical theology of glory without a corresponding theology of the cross.

[Added] There’s one more point to notice in terms of general principles and that’s the idea of Eves. Nothing is said in the Calendar section but in the general preface to collects is the note that the collect for Sundays and Holy Days may be used on the evening before. This reflects an old principle that reckons days a little differently than normal. An average day goes from midnight to midnight. However, in reckon the length of feast days, the Church has always shown a preference for the Jewish model, reckoning it from sundown to sundown. As far as liturgical cycles go, that means that feast days—and thus our calendar categories one through three—begin at Evening Prayer on the day before and end at Evening Prayer on the day itself. Thus, the collect should be used at this prior Evening Prayer, and the Daily Office Lectionary makes provisions for eves—proper lessons for the more important days and commons for the others.

Advent

Advent focuses upon one chief affection, watchful expectation, but—as the monastic reformer St. Bernard captured it in one of his sermons for the season—we explore it in three different directions:

We know that there are three comings [advents] of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men… In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within themselves, and they are saved. In the first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.  (Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermo 5, In Adventu Domini)

The multiple senses of Advent allows it to be the perfect season to both begin and end the Church Year. Taking the first sense, seeing it as the time in which God’s people waited for the birth of the long-promised Messiah, it serves as the perfect time of preparation for Christmas. Taking it in the third sense, seeing it as the culmination of the year and—indeed—of this present age itself with the coming of Christ as Lord and Judge at the last trumpet, it serves as the perfect conclusion to the Church’s year. And, this third sense was the dominant sense of the season for a long time. Gregory the Great, reforming pope and highly influential author at the end of the sixth century, particularly connected Advent with the second coming; many of the classic hymns of Advent reflect this perspective: Wesley’s “Lo! He comes, with clouds descending,” the old Latin “Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding,” Nicolai’s “Sleepers, wake!” the old Latin “O heavenly Word, eternal light,” and Laurenti’s “Rejoice! Rejoice, believers” to name but a few in our hymnal. Music lovers who are familiar with the “Dies Irae” (O Day of Wrath) from requiems may be surprised to learn that this text was originally composed as a sequence for Advent! While Gregory’s homilies for the season focus on the dread appearance of the Judge, some of these hymn texts remind us to balance this perspective with a hearty dose of Christian hope. Both Laurenti and Nicolai use with good effect the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids to remind us that the coming of the Lord is our summoning to the marriage feast of the Lamb, not just to judgment.

Some modern authors have attempted to downplay the idea of Advent as a penitential season and have seized upon the element of rejoicing at the coming of the Bridegroom as a more fitting attitude. Too, they would like us to see Advent as a pre-baptismal period, another forty-day stretch of catechesis leading up to initiation at the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord on the Sunday after Epiphany. While the elements of rejoicing shouldn’t be suppressed, Advent does ask us if we stand ready for the coming of the full presence of God. For myself, I find this question to be the most fruitful. When I consider the Baptismal Covenant in light of the Advent proclamation that a holy God comes to dwell with a holy people, I inevitably find myself falling short and turn to penitence, less because the season is an inherently penitential one and more because of the realities that the season lays bare. If you’re fine with the Four Last Things: Heaven, Hell, Death, and Judgment—the traditional themes for preaching during the season—then, no, it doesn’t have to be a penitential season at all; as for me, I’m not quite there yet!

Even as we consider the third aspect of the season, though, it is also tempered by the second aspect that Bernard mentions. During this season we focus on our own watchful expectation for Christ to be born within us. The coming of the Lord does not have to be as dramatic as the entrance on the clouds in the words of Wesley’s hymn; the affection of the season seeks to cultivate in us an inward watchfulness, spurring us to get our house in order for the coming King. Doddridge’s “Hark! The glad sound!” neatly captures this second, focusing on the inward experience of Advent.

Cranmer’s collect for the First Sunday of Advent strikes a good balance between the three aspects, beginning with the second, making reference to the first, and concluding with the third:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, 211)

In every prayer book up the current one, this collect was read as a seasonal collect throughout the season, making it a classic Anglican lens for Advent.

On the balance the third aspect flavors the first part of Advent, while the first predominates towards the end of Advent. The final weeks of the Season after Pentecost begin ramping up the theme of the Last Judgment eliding with the first few weeks of Advent. The shift to the Nativity is heightened by the beginning of the “O” antiphons on December 17; while they don’t appear in the prayer book per se, they are explicitly broken out in Hymn 56, indicating which verse should be used at Evening Prayer with the Song of Mary on which day.

Fragment on the Church Year

This is a section that needs to be said–it just doesn’t belong in the place that I’ve written it and probably needs to get shuffled back into the Essence of the Calendar chapter…

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In one sense the Church Year unfolds like a Gospel, following the life of Christ. Advent reflects the waiting of God’s people for the coming Messiah. Christmas focuses upon the birth and Incarnation. Epiphany combines manifestation and ministry as the early teaching ministry manifests the character of Jesus in both word and works. Lent begins the turn to the cross which is intensified in Holy Week. Easter foregrounds the resurrection and the presence of the Risen Christ in the midst of his people until the Ascension. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost initiates a new period for the Church, and the later ministry of Jesus that unfolds from that point is dually informed by both the Spirit and the resurrection. Finally, Advent once again reflects the waiting of God’s people for the coming Messiah, but this time as the one who comes to preside over the final consummation of all things as Judge of Heaven and Earth.

The danger with only seeing the year like this, though, is that we can view it as a panorama of historical remembrances. To do this is to miss something important. The Church Year is kerygmatic—an act of proclamation in and of itself. It proclaims not just the past but present power of the Risen Christ and proclaims both the presence and the power in our very midst. At Christmas we pray “O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true light…” and “…you have given your only begotten Son…to be born this day of a pure virgin…” (BCP, 212, 213). During Christmas we pray, “…you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word…” (BCP, 213). Not, “a long time ago you did some things that we now remember fondly”—no! This night, this day, us, new light, in our very midst!

While we see the same language, emphasis, and themes in the second collect for Easter (“O God, who made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord’s resurrection”), they reach full crescendo in the Church’s great song of rejoicing, the Exultet which is one of the high points of the Easter Vigil. Scooping up the great biblical images of redemption in the Exodus from Egypt and the Resurrection of Christ, they are united in our present moment as the faithful stand in a darkened church, staring at the single paschal candle, our own pillar of flame. The deacon sings:

This is the night, when you brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land.

This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life.

This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.

How holy is this night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away. It restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn. It casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord.

How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God (BCP, 287).

This isn’t about the past: it’s about now. The past becomes powerfully present as we reach towards the future promises, but these are all caught up in the moment of song and is our now.

The Church Year isn’t just a catechetical exercise (although it does that), it is means of accessing the power and the promise of God now. This is why the Anglican fathers fought the Puritan attempts to get rid of the Church calendar: they recognized that this cycle too is a means of tapping into the mysteries that God offers us in the sacramental life.

The Anatomy of the Calendar, Part 1

The way that I’m constructing the book is to start each major section with an “Essence” chapter, then an “Anatomy” chapter. The first gives a general spiritual orientation, then the following dives into the prayer book, identifies where the parts are to be found, and offers a more particular discussion of what we find there, drawing on both the general principles and the actual contents. Since we’ve talked about the essence of the Calendar and identified some central spiritual principles (as in part 1part 2a, and part 2b), it’s time to turn to the prayer book contents.

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The Calendar is most clearly laid out in a section at the head of the Book of Common Prayer. After this initial material, several other parts relate back to it and assume its patterns. In particular, the Collects, the rites provided for special days, and the lectionaries depend upon the shape of the year laid down in the Calendar.

  •  The Calendar of the Church Year
    • 1. Principal Feasts (p. 15)
    • 2. Sundays (p. 16)
    • 3. Holy Days (pp. 16-17)
    • 4. Days of Special Devotion (p. 17)
    • 5. Days of Optional Observance (pp. 17-18)
  • [List of Fixed Feasts and Days of Optional Observance by Month] (pp. 19-30)
  • The Titles of the Seasons, Sundays and Major Holy Days observed in this Church throughout the Year (pp. 31-33)

So, the first few pages of this Calendar section lay out the liturgical rules governing the various days of the year. These provide general rubrics for how to figure out what occasion to celebrate on any given day. Next, we have a section that lays out the months from January to December and identifies which fixed feasts fall on which days. Last, we have a list of titles that specify how we name the various liturgical occasions of the year.

For the most part, this section does a good job of letting you know how to order your services, but there are a few oddities worth noting that effect both how we order things and how we understand the wider year.

First, the normative unit of time throughout this section is the day with the consequence that seasons are given short shrift. Notice—there is no section here that talks about seasons of the Church Year. That’s not to say they are absent; the names of the seasons are mentioned throughout the Calendar section and they are used as structuring devices in the listing of the titles on pages 31-3. However, they are assumed rather than explained.

Indeed, many people assume that the colors of the liturgical seasons and the practices around them are listed out somewhere. There are plenty of such lists—but none of them appear in the prayer book!

Second, the Calendar section begins with three paragraphs that discuss the movable date of Easter. The third paragraph emphasizes that “the sequence of all Sundays of the Church Year depends upon the date of Easter Day” (BCP, p. 15). However, it doesn’t actually tell you that there are tables somewhere within the covers that help you figure out when Easter falls each year and the consequent effect upon other days. These tables, which had formerly been joined to the Calendar rules, are now found in the back of the book:

  • Tables for Finding Holy Days
    • Tables and Rules for Finding the Date of Easter Day
      • Rules for Finding the Date of Easter Day (pp. 880-881)
      • A Table to Find Easter Day [from 1900-2089] (pp. 882-883)
      • A Table to Find Movable Feasts and Holy Days [based on the Day on which Easter Falls] (pp. 884-885)

There is much in this section that seems fairly arcane—like the specific rules for determining the date of Easter—but there are also some nuggets in here that will help you if you have any sort of planning to do that involves the Church Calendar. The Table to find Easter Day is a straight-forward list: you look up the year, and it tells you the month and day Easter falls upon and whether it’s a leap year or not. Once you have that, you can turn the page, and look up that month and day in the next table, the Table to Find Movable Feasts, and it’ll provide the number of Sundays after Epiphany, the month and days for Ash Wednesday, Ascension Day, and Pentecost, the Numbered Proper that the Sunday after Trinity Sunday will start with, and the month and Day of the First Sunday of Advent.

The other thing that’s in here is an explanation of the funny letters and numbers listed in the monthly tables back on pages 19-30. If you look at page 22—the month of April—you’ll see four columns going across the page. The first only appears sporadically and gives a number. This is the Golden Number related to finding Easter Day—feel free to ignore it. The second gives the days of the month. The third is a repeating string of letters going from A to g; these are the Sunday Letters and this column can be handy if you want to know what Holy Days may fall on a Sunday in a particular year. By finding the letter of the current year on the table at the top of page 881, you can learn which letter will represent the Sundays throughout the year. The fourth column, of course, gives the title of the occasion with Feasts in bold type and Optional Days in regular type.

Third, the focus of the Calendar section is on establishing precedence. That is, it helps to identify what days are more important than other days. It doesn’t necessarily help you to figure out what to do or pray in on those days. It turns out that a certain amount of useful material on the Calendar is hidden within the section of the book devoted to the Collects:

  • The Collects for the Church Year
      • Concerning the Proper of the Church Year (p. 158)
    • Collects: Traditional
      • [Collects for Sundays of the Church Year] (pp. 159-185)
      • Holy Days (pp. 185-194)
      • The Common of Saints [for Days of Optional Observance] (pp. 195-199)
      • Various Occasions (pp. 199-210)
    • Collects: Contemporary
      • [Collects for Sundays of the Church Year] (pp. 211-236)
      • Holy Days (pp. 237-246)
      • The Common of Saints [for Days of Optional Observance] (pp. 246-250)
      • Various Occasions (pp. 251-261)

The initial section on the Proper of the Church Year gives us two important principles:

  • The Sunday collect gets used throughout the rest of the week unless there’s a Holy Day.
  • “The Collect for any Sunday or other Feast may be used at the evening service of the day before” (BCP, 158).

Then, a variety of notes get tucked between the collects! There are three kinds of notes here: 1) notes that identify when certain optional movable days occur, 2) notes that give additional directions on how to handle a tricky part of the Calendar, and 3) notes that direct you to other services within the book.

The Calendar section mentions the Rogation Days and the Ember Days but never explains what they are or when they fall; while the “what” never does get explained, the “when” is provided by italicized notes like the one on page 160 following the collect for the Third Sunday of Advent: “Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of this week are the traditional winter Ember Days” (BCP, 160).

The next page (page 161) gives an example of the second kind of procedural notes: the italics on both sides of the title for the First Sunday after Christmas provide more detailed instructions for how to negotiate the three Holy Days that fall after Christmas and what to do if a Sunday lands on one of them.

On page 166 after the title for Ash Wednesday we find the third sort of note. This one directs you to a proper liturgy for the day in another part of the prayer book. Essentially, these notes are present for the major days of the Redemption cycle that ground the seasons of Lent, Holy Week and Easter that are gathered together towards the middle of the book:

  • Proper Liturgies for Special Days
    • Ash Wednesday (pp. 264-269)
    • Palm Sunday (pp. 270-273)
    • Maundy Thursday (pp. 274-275)
    • Good Friday (pp. 276-282)
    • Holy Saturday (p. 283)
    • The Great Vigil of Easter (pp. 285-298)

All of this sounds awfully confusing. The reason is because there is no piece dedicated to tying it all together. Allusions and references are made to a wide variety of concepts around the Calendar, but these references assume a big picture sense of the whole that the prayer book never actually provides. In order to understand what the mechanics are and how the mechanics then flow into our spirituality, we need to take the time to construct the big picture view that is implied but never stated explicitly.

Section on the Essence of the Sanctoral Cycle, Part 1

Since we looked last at the seasons of the Temporal Cycle, it’s time to head into the sanctoral cycle. This part is currently incomplete. There’s more that needs to be said here as you’ll see. I’ll indicate some of where we’re headed at the end.

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The Temporal cycle that celebrates in time the high points of the Creed and, in doing so, the main movements in the life of Jesus is mirrored by the Sanctoral cycle that celebrates Christ and his Church in and through the heroes of the faith. The Temporal cycle operates along two major axes: Incarnation and Redemption. That is, the seasons of Lent and Easter focus our attention upon how God acts to redeem us; the seasons of Advent and Christmas along with attendant fests involving Mary and John the Baptist focus us on God becoming human. The best way to think about the Sanctoral cycle is not as some other separate thing that gets plopped on top of the Temporal cycle to confuse it. Rather, the Sanctoral cycle is the logical next step from the Temporal cycle that flows from the life of Jesus and shows us the fusion of both Redemption and Incarnation as they intersect within human lives. The Sanctoral cycle shows us the promise and potential of humanity reconciled with God; it gives us vivid examples of redeemed humans who incarnated Christ in their very flesh to the wonder of the watching world.

Now, some people are a bit wary of the Sanctoral cycle. And that’s understandable. There’s a wide range of attitudes with in the Episcopal Church and within Anglicanism as a whole towards the heroes of the faith and how we decide to remember them in church. A lot of this has to do with the way that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches honor these heroes and desires to—alternately—emulate, learn from, or reject what it is that they do. Some Episcopalians are fine with the Sanctoral cycle and are perfectly comfortable using the “s-word” (saints). Others are much more leery of it, and see the notion of saints as inherently troublesome and problematic. The prayer book and associated materials tries to respect the diversity of opinion yet still providing for liturgical celebration of these heroes. We’re not going to solve the difference of opinion here, but, instead, will try to use the principles of the prayer book to wrestle with the topic in a way that helps us touch the heart of it: the intersection of the dual mysteries of redemption and incarnation.

A Baptismal Ecclesiology: Where the Rubber Hits the Road

The best way to untangle this matter, it seems to me, is to cut to the heart of the matter. It starts with Baptism. One of the real achievements of our prayer book is its embrace of the sacrament of Baptism and the restoration of its place as one of the two great sacraments of the Church. You won’t spend very long around arguing Episcopalians without somebody tossing out the phrase “baptismal ecclesiology” or referring to “the Baptismal Covenant.” That’s as it should be, yet these phrases can seem a bit daunting to when you run across them the first few times.

What is “baptismal ecclesiology” and how does it matter?

Baptism joins us to Christ. Using the language of drowning, Paul speaks of us dying in the waters of Baptism with Jesus and rising from it sharing in his new risen life. This is the moment when we get plugged into the life of God. It can be seen as an individual and individualistic event—me and Jesus. And yet, that’s not how the New Testament or the Church have talked about it. It’s not just me and Jesus—it’s me and Jesus and everybody else who is likewise plugged into Jesus; it’s all of us who are connected by Christ into the life of God. That’s the heart of what the Church is: recognizing all those who are fellow travelers with us by virtue of Baptism. The Church is defined by Baptism. We fail to see the Church properly if we’re only looking at the clergy.  Or if we’re only looking at the people who decide to show up to our church on Sundays. A real, robust baptismal ecclesiology takes seriously that everyone who is, was, or will be baptized shares in a common bond, the union with Christ, without regard to church attendance or denominational lines. Furthermore, Paul’s insistence that baptismal life is a sharing in Christ’s risen life means that we don’t see the line between the living and the dead quite so starkly either.

I fear, despite all of our talk of a baptismal ecclesiology, that we tend to have a “parochial” view of the Church. And I mean that in two different senses of the word. I mean it in the word’s negative sense when “parochial” is used to mean short-sighted and narrow; I also mean it in the word’s most literal sense as it relates to the parish we go to on Sundays. We tend to think of “Church” as restricted to the people we see around us—and that’s a mistake. If we take Baptism seriously, we have to see Church not only as the people within our walls, but also the folks in the church down the street (even if we don’t agree with them on some things), and all the folks who didn’t actually make it to our church or another church, but also including the whole host of those who have gone before us and we see no longer. If the act of Baptism replaces our life, plugging us into the life of God in some fundamental, meaningful way—however we understand that—than the dead share the very same life that we do. We are all bound together into the energies of God. What we do with the dead, how we understand them and our relation to them finds focus liturgically in two days at the start of November: the Feast of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, historically shortened to All Souls. If we want to do the Sanctoral cycle right, we have to start with these two days and what they mean for us.

All Saints and All Souls

If we’re going to approach this topic from a prayer book perspective, than the place we have to begin is one of humility. We don’t have all the answers here, and that’s ok—we have enough to get by on. The first thing to note is that, despite what you might think, the Bible doesn’t spend very much time at all talking about death or what happens after we die. Christian tradition has filled in a whole lot of stuff here and often in some fairly imprecise, rather sketchy, and often down-right contradictory ways. Some of our most treasured notions about what happens when we die are more a product of cultural myths than anything rooted in Scripture and historic Christian teaching. Frankly, that’s part of what makes this discussion a bit tricky—we are touching on treasured notions. It’s certainly not my intention to harm anyone’s faith or pass judgment on what you were taught formally or not. As a result, I don’t plan on arguing against certain presentations of the Christian after-life, but rather want to stick closely to the words and intentions of the prayer book.

In the proper preface for the Commemoration of the Dead, we say, “to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended” (BCP, 382). That’s the foundation upon which everything else is built. Because of our faith in the resurrection and the promises of Baptism, death is a shift—not an end. From that fundamental recognition, the prayer book then makes reference to two general groups: the departed and the saints. Most often, these are placed in juxtaposition with one another. For instance, in the various forms of the Prayers of the People we routinely mention both the departed and the saints in close proximity: “Give to the departed eternal rest; Let light perpetual shine upon them. We praise you for your saints who have entered into joy; May we also come to share in your heavenly kingdom.” (Form III, BCP, 387) and “We commend to your mercy all who have died, that your will for them may be fulfilled; and we pray that we may share with all your saints in your eternal kingdom.” (Form IV, BCP, 389) and “For all who have died in the communion of your Church, and those whose faith is known to you alone, that, with all the saints, they may have rest in that place where there is no pain or grief but life eternal, we pray to you, O Lord.” (Form V, BCP, 391). Too, we have Commons appointed for the Dead and for the Saints. But how do we interpret these two groups? Are they distinct or does one shade into the other?

I’d suggest that the prayer book is being deliberately vague on these points. The clearest statement that I can find that sheds light on the situation comes from the Prayers of the People in the Rite I Eucharist which reflects the language that we inherited from classical Anglicanism: “And we bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear, beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service; and to grant us grace so to follow the good examples of all thy saints, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom” (BCP, 330). This language affirms that the saints of God are partakers of the heavenly kingdom, and also envisions a process of growth that is not ended by physical death.  The pattern that is laid out here reflects a classical threefold division into the Church Militant—we the living, the Church Triumphant—those departed who currently enjoy the fullness of God’s presence, and the Church Expectant—those departed who do not yet experience the full presence of God but who shall as that process of growth is played out and as God’s promises in Baptism and Eucharist are fully delivered in the final consummation of all things.

Keeping these categories in mind, the Feast of All Saints celebrates the mighty deeds of God in and through the Church Triumphant; the Feast of All Souls recalls to us the Church Expectant who shall yet enjoy that final consummation.

Now we get to the tricky part: if we’re saying that we have two buckets—who goes where, and why?

Well, that’s complicated…

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Ok—that’s it for today. From this point I’m heading back to Baptism in order to define the two major definitions for “saint” and talk about when and where we use them. I’m trying to decide if my usual spiel on patron saints, where that notion comes from and how/why it informs this practice is worth the space and is necessary for this kind of work. Part of the wrap-up of this section includes the difference between secular days of memorial/remembrance and the Christian celebration of saints’ days; the main difference, of course, is that the secular world celebrates the dead while we celebrate the living…

More later!