Holy days are secondary to the season in Lent. In most years, 1 March is St. David’s Day, but this year Ash Wednesday falls on this date, and the entire month of March will be included in Lent, with this important qualification: Sundays are not part of the season of Lent. Sundays are feasts of Our Lord, and spiritual disciplines such as fasting do not apply. In earlier times these disciplines were generally observed on Sundays in Lent, and the fourth Sunday was set aside as Laetare Sunday (the name derives from the incipit—a sort of opening line in the old Mass—for the feast), from the words “Laetare Jerusalem” (“Oh by joyful, Jerusalem,” from Isaiah 66.10). Laetare Sunday has traditionally been marked by expressions of joy not otherwise seen in Lent, e.g., flowers at the altar. This day is, for example, the only day during Lent when a wedding may be celebrated.
Holy days are secondary, but may be observed. Commemorations which fall in March begin with John and Charles Wesley (feast 3 March), Anglican priests responsible for the spiritual awakening in the 18th century Church that gave rise to Methodism. They were nick-named “Methodists” by their fellow students at Oxford, in token of their systematic approach to devotions. Each actually died as an Anglican priest. The split between the Church of England and Methodism resulted from the issue of how to provide for bishops in the American colonies. No bishop was ever named in an American colony, and attempts to do so met significant resistance from independence-minded colonists who viewed bishops as agents of the English crown. This is perhaps another example of how politics can divide, and raises the question of what the Church would be like absent the split between Anglicanism and Methodism.
The Kalendar: Two important feasts fall in February. The first is the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple (2 February) which falls this year on a Thursday, and will be observed with a Solemn Eucharist at 6 p.m. This feast is, in fact, defined as a “Holy Day,” i.e., a feast of Our Lord as opposed to a saint. “Presentation” was known until the 1979 prayer book as “The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary” (see Luke 2.22-38), and is known popularly as “Candlemas”. The popular name derives from the tradition of blessing candles for use throughout the church year on this day. This tradition probably deriving from the Christian supplantation of the Anglo-Saxon pagan practice of bearing torches on this day in honor of the earth goddess, Ceres.
In Advent the emphasis is on the season rather than on feast days. Nonetheless, the calendar remains filled with observances to mark.
The first week of the month includes a notable missionary, St. Francis Xavier (d. 1552), a Jesuit who established a Catholic presence in Nagasaki, Japan that survived persecution and war, only to be grievously wounded in the atomic bombing of 9 August 1945. By God’s grace a Christian presence remains in Nagasaki, and from that base has extended throughout the land. Also remembered as an important father of Church doctrine is Clement of Alexandria (d. 210). Ambrose (d. 397) is remembered as a father of doctrine as the propagator of much prayer. Under the understanding lex orandi, lex credendi (“the law of prayer is the law of faith”), what we pray is an expression of what we believe. This understanding of how doctrine is defined is particularly Anglican. We don’t have a lengthy and detailed catechism, for example, but our prayer book contains many prayers that define what we believe. Ambrose definitely wrote the hymn Veni redemptor gentium (“Come, Redeemer of the nations”), the source for our Advent hymn, “Savior of the nations, come” (no. 54), as well as ten other hymns in our hymnal. He is the originator of antiphonal chant, in which alternate verses of a psalm or other prayer are chanted back and forth between alternate sides of a monastery choir, or between cantor/choir and congregation. Importantly, this back and forth style of praying featured in the exchange between Ambrose and St. Augustine of Hippo, at the latter’s baptism, which exchange became the prayer Te Deum laudamus (“We Praise Thee, O God,” BCP 52 and 95).
We begin the month on All Saints’ Day. The commemoration of All Saints originated in Ireland, and spread from there to England. After the late 6th C. arrival in England of St. Augustine of Canterbury, the Celtic commemoration of All Saints was learned on the Continent, being observed eventually in Rome by the ninth century. In the East, from the third century a day commemorating all martyrs had been observed. All Saints’ Day is the only “principal feast” on the Calendar that may be observed twice. It must be observed on its given date, but may also be observed on the following Sunday.
The Kalendar: 3 September is the feast of Phoebe, Deacon of the church in Cenchreae (1st C.) Phoebe is commended by Paul to the church in Rome (Rom. 16.1-2). Was Phoebe as a deacon described functionally or in terms of office? The Greek word for “servant” is diakonos. Phoebe is not described by Paul as a “deaconess”. She is not described using a generic description for servant, but in terms of an office, “of the church in Cenchreae”. The fact that she is described as a “helper of many and even of me” connotes as well the role of patron and financial supporter. Regardless of how her ministry in Cenchreae is described, she was the bearer of Paul’s letter to the Romans, and was afforded a crucial role in the spread of the Gospel.
The Kalendar: The month of August includes three major and a number of lesser feasts.
The month begins with the Feast of St. Justin, (d. 167), an early witness to the faith in Rome, who is generally remembered as “Justin Martyr” (as if this title were his surname). Justin was a prominent apologist, addressing arguments to the Roman emperor about the truth of the faith. His witness involved both his arguments and his death, and his “surname” recognizes that the meaning of the Greek word martyr is “witness”.
The month begins of the last day in Easter Week. In Easter Week the events surrounding Jesus’ resurrection appearances are recounted, and then we encounter our first feast on 4 April, when we will observe the Feast of the Annunciation. Annunciation normally occurs on 25 March, but is transferred to after Holy Week and Easter Week. The feast commemorates the annunciation by the archangel Gabriel to Mary that she will bear the Messiah (Luke 1.26-38) and was, in the West, New Year’s day until 1582.
The month begins with the feast of the Holy of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. The feast is also known as the Feast of the Holy Circumcision. Falling eight days after Christmas, this would have been the day for Jesus to be circumcised under Jewish Law, but is a day used to commemorate that our Lord’s Name is holy. The name Jesus means “the Lord saves” in Hebrew, and in an ancient calculus a name connotes power; a name effects what it says, and for this we give thanks.
The Feast of the Epiphany is 6 January (this year a Thursday), when we celebrate the manifestation of Jesus to all the world. The lessons make it clear that God’s saving word is for all people, not just Israel, and so we as Gentiles may keep this feast with an especial thanks-giving. Epiphany is not a moveable feast. We will celebrate the feast as an “Eve of Epiphany” gathering, with a Solemn Mass at 6 p.m., followed by a light supper. This allows us to observe “Twelfth Night” as a parish feat as well as feast of Our Lord.
In Advent the emphasis is on the season rather than on feast days. Nonetheless, the calendar remains filled with notable observances.
The first week of the month includes a notable missionary, St. Francis Xavier (d. 1552), Jesuit missionary to Japan, who established a Catholic presence in Nagasaki that survived persecution and war, only to be grievously wounded in the atomic bombing of 9 August 1945. By God’s grace a Christian presence remains in Nagasaki, and from that base has extended throughout the land. Also remembered are important fathers of Church doctrine (particularly for the Eastern Church), St. John of Damascus (d. 760) and Clement of Alexandria (d. 210). John (often referred to as John Damascene) was notable for his defense of the use of icons in devotion, in the midst of the iconoclastic controversy. The controversy over icons had more to do with the understanding of the Person of Jesus Christ than with the use of “images”. The issue was settled at the Second Council of Nicaea in A.D.
Three apostles are celebrated in October: James of Jerusalem (the brother of our Lord) on the 23rd, and Simon and Jude on the 28th. St. Luke the Evangelist is remembered on the 19th (transferred from the 18th). St. Luke is both the patron of physicians and painters. He himself was a physician (Col. 4.14), and tradition holds that he painted the first icon, of the Virgin Mary.
The month begins with feast of Remigius of Rheims. Remigius was the apostle to the Germanic Franks in the sixth century. The feast of St. Francis of Assisi (4 October) will be transferred this year to Saturday the 3rd. We’ll celebrate a blessing of animals (Mass at 9 a.m., blessing at 9:30). Francis reminds us of the fact that all of God’s Creation is to be honored. October includes the commemoration of many martyrs. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 115) is commemorated on 17 October. He is remembered for his letters written to churches as he journeyed to his execution in Rome. These letters are of such an authority that the early Church debated seriously whether they should be included in the Bible.
The Church calendar begins September with the feast David Pendleton Oakerhater, a Cheyenne warrior of an elite corps (dog soldiers) who became a Christian deacon, and the apostle to the Cheyenne. This feast of an indigenous missionary is followed by one of missionaries from one land in another, the Martyrs of New Guinea (2 September). On this date we commemorate the suffering and sacrifice of the Christian missionaries who stayed as prisoners in New Guinea during the second world war.
3 September is the feast of Phoebe, Deacon of the church in Cenchreae (1st C.) Phoebe is commended by Paul to the church in Rome (Rom. 16.1-2). Was Phoebe as a deacon described functionally or in terms of office? The Greek word for “servant” is diakonos. Phoebe is not described by Paul as a “deaconess”. She is not described using a generic description for servant, but in terms of an office, “of the church in Cenchreae”. The fact that she is described as a “helper of many and even of me” connotes as well the role of patron and financial supporter. Regardless of how her ministry in Cenchreae is described, she was the bearer of Paul’s letter to the Romans, and was afforded a crucial role in the spread of the Gospel.
The month of August includes three major and a number of lesser feasts.
Feast of the Transfiguration, 6 August (to be celebrated with a Solemn Eucharist at 6 p.m.): Commemorating the time when Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John; when His glory was revealed and God the Father commanded, “This is my beloved Son ... listen to him” (Mt. 17.1-8; Mk. 9.2-8; Lk. 9.29-35). The figure of the transfigured Jesus is a foreshadowing of the risen and ascended Lord, of Jesus in His glory. Peter, James and John see Him as He really is, and not with His glory veiled. This reminds us that as we are created in the “image and likeness of God” (Gen 1.26-28), we too will rise one day in glory.
Transfiguration was not adopted on the Western calendar until the very eve of the Reformation, and so was not included in the Prayer Book calendar. In the 1892 revision to the American Book of Common Prayer this feast was included, and from this revision the observance has spread to all Anglican provinces.
Feast of the Assumption (St. Mary the Virgin) (15 August) transferred to 17 August: We will offer our devotions at a 6 p.m. Solemn Mass, to the human being closest to our Lord, and the tradition that at her death Mary was assumed into heaven.
St. Bartholomew the Apostle, (24 August): We know very little about Bartholomew (“son of Tolmai”). He is always mentioned in connection with Philip, who brought him to Jesus. Tradition teaches that he preached and was martyred in Asia Minor. His feast is perhaps better remembered for the massacre in 1572, in which mob violence led to the deaths of thousands of French Huguenots.
The Kalendar: The first day in July for which the Church calendar prescribes an optional special observance is Independence Day. An observance of Independence Day in the Church was first proposed in the draft Prayer Book of 1786, but General Convention in 1789 voted this down, based in large part on the intervention of Bishop William White (Pennsylvania—his feast day is on the 17th), who argued such an observance to be inappropriate in a church in which the majority of clergy had been loyal to the British crown throughout the War of Independence. The Fourth of July was not included in the church calendar until the 1928 Prayer Book.
The month begins with the Feast of the Visitation (transferred from 31 May), which commemorates the visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, a visit in which the unborn John the Baptist leapt in his mother’s womb at the presence of his Lord in Mary’s womb, and in which Elizabeth famously proclaimed to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”(Lk. 1.42). IN response to this greeting Mary breaks forth into the prayer of praise we know as the Magnificat (Lk. 1.47-56), in which she praises God for what it is characteristic of Him to do.
The month begins with the feast of Sts. Philip and St. James, apostles (1 May). Philip is the disciple who baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch at Acts 8.26-39, fulfilling Jesus’ injunction at Acts 1.8 that the disciples will be His witnesses “... in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” James is “James the Less” (a son of Zebedee), to distinguish him from James, the Lord’s brother. This feast is followed immediately by that of St. Athanasius (d. 373, commemorated in a window on the east side of the sanctuary at Grace), the defender of orthodoxy at the First Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325). Another window in Grace commemorate St. Monnica (d. 387). mother of St. Augustine of Hippo. Monnica is the patron of parents of wayward children, for her many years of prayer eventually were instrumental in the conversion of her son from a pagan defender of the “good life” to become one of the most important fathers of the Church. (Augustine’s conversion is remembered on 5 May.)
The month begins on Wednesday in Holy Week, and between Holy Week and Easter Week many feasts of saints that would otherwise be observed are trumped. Holy Week recapitulates the finals days and passion of Our Lord, following His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday). The opening Wednesday finds us, then, in the midst of Jesus’ teaching in the Temple, prior to the final plot to kill Him. This is followed by Maundy Thursday, on which we commemorate the institution of the Holy Eucharist and Jesus’ final teaching to His disciples. The day takes its name from the Latin mandatum (command), in commemoration of Jesus giving us His “new commandment” (that we are to love one another as He has loved us) at John 13.34.
Holy days are secondary to the season in Lent, and this year we do not even get to celebrate St. David’s Day (1 March), because this falls on a Sunday. When the feast is observed, it is traditional in Britain to eat a leek as a token of Welsh heritage. David (d. 601) was an early missionary who succeeded in converting pagans in Britain and in the Middle East, as well. He ended his ministry as archbishop of Wales. Northeast of Wales, what was then the kingdom of Mercia, is found the shrine of St. Chad (d. 672), at Lichfield. Chad is credited with introducing the Christian faith to the middle part of what is now England.
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