Thursday, April 29, 2010

Some Thoughts on the Calendar

It occured to me, when I had finally drunk enough coffee to achieve consciousness last Sunday, that my parish was in the relatively small number of churches that would be celebrating the feast of St Mark. This illustrated two points for me. Firstly, that the English Reformers were relatively conservative in their treatment of the Calendar; and secondly, that the position of the saints in the liturgy was actually diminished by the liturgical reform of the 1950s and 60s.

As you may know, the traditional BCP Calendar divides the liturgical days into four categories:

Greater Sundays - Advent, the 'Gesimas, Lent, Easter, Low Sunday, Pentecost and Trinity Sundays
Red Letter Days - the major holy days that have a Collect, Epistle and Gospel in the 1928 BCP
Lesser Sundays - that is, everything not named above.
Other days - such as Thanksgiving Day, Rogation Days, etc.

It should be noted that the above list is in the order of their importance, which is something that becomes important when a holy day and a Sunday fall on the same day. What is celebrated is decided by the Table of Occurrence in the Prayer Book, but its principles can be fairly summarized by saying that Greater Sundays are never displaced by a feast; but a Lesser Sunday gives place to a major holy day. Hence, on Sunday April 25th, Traditional Anglicans - or at least those who have read pages i & li of the 1928 BCP - found themselves celebrating St Mark rather than Easter III-something that Roman Catholics have not done since the mid-1950s. Those Roman Rite parishes which use the Extraordinary Form (i.e. the 1960/62 redaction of the Tridentine books) in spite of their professed traditionalism did not observe St Mark, but rather Easter III with a mere Commemoration of St Mark. This means that about the only other churches celebrating St Mark last Sunday were some very traditional Lutherans and the Sede-Vacantists! In the latter case, that make me hope that I am not judged by the liturgical company I keep!

This observance of the saint instead of the Sunday points to a certain level of traditionalism on the part of Cranmer and the other compilers and revisers of the BCP. It would have been so easy to sweep the saints under the carpet in 1549/1552, but instead Cranmer gave Biblical saints, the Apostles and Evangelists, enough prominence in the new liturgy that their feasts continue to displace Lesser Sundays in the Church year. This meant that even "casual Anglicans" continued to hear about the wonderful works of God as revealed in His saints.

Then, as the coffee was good and strong, a second point that occurred to me - that liturgical reform has significantly downgraded the saints -applies to both the Anglican and Roman Liturgies.

Like Thomas Cranmer, St. Pius V's revision committee made a point of pruning the Calendar so that the Sunday Office and Mass would be heard with some frequency, just as it had been in the early Middle Ages. In the Roman Church subsequent developments allowed the number of high ranking feasts to again grow to the point where the Sunday Office was rarely heard. A major part of St. Pius X's reform of both Missal and Breviary was altering the rubrics so that Lesser Sundays gained precedence over all but the most important feasts.

This created, or rather restored the situation where the usual Sunday service was that of the Sunday, but the Apostles and the most important saints still occasionally get a look in on Sundays. To my mind, the BCP and the Pius X editions of both the Breviary and the Missal achieve the perfect balance; the Sunday service predominates on Sundays, but two or three times a year one of the great saints of the Church replaces the Sunday office to the edification of all involved.

However, the modernizers and rationalizers could not rest content with the Roman Reform of 1908-13 and the Anglican BCPs of 1662-1928. The saints had to be displaced completely from the Sunday Liturgy. This ideal was achieved in the 1950s and 60s. In the Roman Church, the reforms of the Calendar initiated by Pius XII upgraded the rank of the Sunday Office so that it could be displaced only by the feasts of Our Lord and Our Lady; then in the 1970 Calendar the number of feasts important enough to displace a Sunday is reduced. In Anglican circles, the number of minor saints days is multiplied, but major saints days falling on a Sunday are now usually transferred rather than observed. This means that "the average Sunday Church-goer" now hears very little about the saints, which means that they hear very little about the heroes of the Church.

This downgrading of the saints is not a completely healthy development, because it robs the ordinary churchgoer of their chance to meditate upon the lives of great Christians. All of us have a stage in our lives when we need heroes, and this is particularly true of adolescent males - a group frequently lost to the Church. Our "Christian heroes," the saints, were ordinary men and women who, through the Grace of God, have done extraordinary things, and being like us, they can inspire us to be like them. We also loose a valuable opportunity to reflect on the historical foundation of our Faith. Christianity is grounded in an historical fact - the resurrection of Christ - so if we want to combat the idea that Christianity is just another version of "the Great Cosmic Myth (TM)" we need every chance we can get to emphasize is historical basis.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Total agreement here.

When these days (the feasts of saints in the BCP kalendar) roll around for Sunday observance, I frequently make the homiltic point that we celebrate them not as "heroes of the Faith" but as "witnesses to the Gospel."

I am one of the few remaining who happen to believe Cranmer's instincts were sound in limiting the BCP kalendar to Biblical saints. The more such holy days we have, the less likely they are to be observed in any meaningful way.

This is surely a minority opinion but that has never stopped me before.

LKW

Canon Tallis said...

And since the cult of the saints was one of the major issues of the Reformation period, Cranmer's traditionalism here really implys that he was also very, very traditional elsewhere. I know this is a kick in the head for all those who think him a "dead Protestant" in the non-Anglican use of the word, but a truly close reading of what is actually in the Book of Common Prayer paints a very different picture of what Anglicanism is supposed to be than we find in many parishes, even those in which the priest has an SSC behind his name.

RC Cola said...

I haven't had the time and opportunity to visit the site in several weeks, but tonight I had a little time and what a reward!
Great post! Coincidentally, while flipping through my RC LoH on Sunday I thought, "Pity about St.Mark..." I transferred his feast to the next day whether I was really supposed to or not.

Fr. Steve said...

I saw to it that the Rector that I serve as assistant to changed the colors and celebrated St. Mark. I felt that it was important, given who St. Mark actually was. It also helped that I was preaching the sermon that day too.

Anonymous said...

I am one of the few remaining who happen to believe Cranmer's instincts were sound in limiting the BCP kalendar to Biblical saints. The more such holy days we have, the less likely they are to be observed in any meaningful way.

This is surely a minority opinion but that has never stopped me before.


I agree with Fr Wells here.

Although I certainly don't object if folks want to observe other saints' days (than listed in BCP), I tend to think our ORDO KALENDER is a bit cluttered with the plethora of non-biblical saints days listed. I think the Church is doing well to observe the prayer book holy days (with perhaps just a handful of other days added as well--ie August 15th for our Lady, for example, since she of course is a 'biblical saint').

Doubting Thomas

BCP Anglican said...

Great post and also some good comments. I especially like the one by the Rev. LKW.

Canon Tallis said...

I quite agree with Father Wells and Jay with two exceptions and one caveat. My exemptions are feasts of title and dedication which I believe fall just below such as St Mark. My caveat is that before one begins celebrating the feasts of black letter saints, one needs to be meeting ones other obligations to the prayer book liturgy. In short, your parish needs to have daily morning and evening prayer plus celebrations on all those times when the BCK provides propers or indicates by rubric that a celebration is appropriate.

The real reason for celebrating the feasts of black letter saint's days is that we need to be aware that our Lord's work did not end with the death of the last apostle. He is still by His grace making real and great saints - and in spite of all my real and great faults and sins - I would like to be one as well.

Canon Tallis said...

I am very glad that Father Steve was able to get St Mark's day celebrated, but there was no reason to change the color of the frontal or the vestments. In English Use based upon that of Sarum just prior to the Reformation, white was The liturgical color from Easter through Trinity with the single exception of the feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross. So it would have been a little less work for the Sacristan and the altar guild.

Fr. Steve said...

Fr. Wells wrote: I am very glad that Father Steve was able to get St Mark's day celebrated, but there was no reason to change the color of the frontal or the vestments. In English Use based upon that of Sarum just prior to the Reformation, white was The liturgical color from Easter through Trinity with the single exception of the feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross. So it would have been a little less work for the Sacristan and the altar guild.

Me: Well, considering the Rector and I constitute the altar guild AND the Sacristans, it was worth it.

Death Bredon said...

In light of the fact that well-attended week day services are rare as hens teeth, I have always wondered why the Collects for the major Saints of the week can't be said and some brief hagiography be inserted into our ubiquitous Sunday bulletins. I realize that is not anything like a liturgical ideal, but it sounds like good guerilla liturgics to me.