John and Charles Wesley (feast 3 March) were 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.
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. The day is also marked by a change in the liturgical color for vestments and the altar, from purple to “liturgical rose” (a shade of pink). At the end of 2017 The Guild of the Little Flower (the ministry here at Grace which provides for church decoration) donated a set of rose vestments, which will be used for the first time on 11 March.
St. Patrick (d. ca. 461, feast is 17 March) is remembered for the evangelization of Ireland. As great a saint as Patrick was, let’s not let him overshadow our Lord’s foster father, St. Joseph (19 March). Joseph’s feast is one of three (together with the February saint, St. Matthias the Apostle, and the Feast of the Annunciation, when observed on 25 March) in which liturgical colors change in Lent, i.e., the feast takes precedence over the season. The Feast of the Annunciation, which commemorates the annunciation by the archangel Gabriel to Mary that she will bear the Messiah (Luke 1.26-38) was, in the West, New Year’s day until 1582. Because Annunciation falls this year on a Sunday (Palm Sunday), and any feast cannot be transferred into Holy Week or Easter Week, we will not, in fact, observe Annunciation until Monday, 9 April.
March can be remembered as the month of three Gregories: Gregory of Nyssa (d. 394; feast 9 March) was one of the “Cappadocian Fathers,” early theologians instrumental in the development of doctrine about the Holy Trinity. Gregory the Great (d. 604; feast 12 March) was Bishop of Rome. He reformed much of the liturgy in the western church, with much church music being afterwards referred to as Gregorian Chant. Gregory the Illuminator (d. 332; feast 23 March) was missionary to Armenia, the first Christian kingdom.
Three saints with whom this parish has a special connection include James DeKoven (22 March), John Keble (29 March) and John Donne (31 March). The latter two are superseded this year by Holy Week. Dekoven was prominent in the 19th century Ritualist (“Oxford”) Movement, of which Grace is a daughter. He was elected bishop of Wisconsin, but consecration was denied him as “too Catholic” in a 19th century church milieu in which conflicts over ritual and liturgy were prominent. John Keble’s 1827 book, The Church Year, was an early signpost in what would become the Ritualist Movement. Keble was concerned about things like the calendar of saints!
A parish connection with John Donne is much more tenuous, but he is included because of the influence of his poetry on what would become Anglicanism. Donne (who served as dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London in the 17th century) became a priest because the king wanted this to happen. He was much more focused on being a poet, and has been described as a “metaphysical” poet, i.e., one using unusual metaphors and linguistic conceits. His spiritual poetry and his sermons and essays came to influence many writers and Church figures, setting a contemplative tone in an Anglican sensibility on matters of love and death.