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Loving the Liturgy

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Loving the Liturgy

by The Revd Dr Elizabeth J Smith | Senior Mission Priest, Parish of the Goldfields

The Calendar

Most Anglicans know that our liturgical New Year begins on Advent Sunday. It’s that day in late November or early December when we look forward to the end of everything, when Christ will come again with judgement and mercy. It’s when we switch from Matthew to Mark, or Mark to Luke, or from Luke back to Matthew for most of our Sunday gospel readings. It’s a moveable date, unlike the first of January (for secular calendars) or the first of July (for the financial year). We count back four Sundays before Christmas to kick off Advent, and forward the famous twelve days towards Epiphany.

The other moveable dates in our liturgical calendar wander around with the moon. Western and Eastern Christians have slightly different systems for calculating the date of the March equinox, so there is ecumenical slippage. Generally, Easter is the Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox. Once you know when Easter falls, you can count backward to Lent and Ash Wednesday and forward forty days to Ascension and thence to Pentecost and Trinity, before everything calms down and we settle into ‘green’ Sundays for the long haul.

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The Calendar is our guarantee that we will recall all the key events in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the reason for every season. But some of his friends pop up in the Calendar, too, not on their birthday, but on their anniversary of their death. Some are given celebrity treatment: John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene, Peter and Paul, the blessed Virgin Mary, and other biblical personalities are celebrated with their own special readings and prayers. We used to call them ‘red-letter days’ for the ink used in old manuscripts to highlight their importance. Other saints, less foundational or more local, pop up as needed to remind us of their unique and often eccentric contributions to Christian life: the mystics and martyrs, the argumentative, the creative, the outrageous lovers of God.

A word to the wise: we don’t much go in for ‘special Sundays’ in the Anglican Church. Occasionally we might highlight a theme for focused prayer or thanksgiving, perhaps during that long stretch of ‘green’ Sundays. But we treat every Sunday as a miniature Easter, a top-priority feast of the Resurrection, and we let each Sunday takes its tone from where it fits into that useful liturgical artefact, the Calendar.

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