Saturday, March 13, 2021

Not to be surprised. . .

I was reading a defense of the one year historic lectionary, in particular a spirited piece in support of the gesimas or Pre-Lent.  In it the author suggested that one of the benefits of Pre-Lent was that it announced that Lent was coming long before Ash Wednesday showed up on the calendar.  The presumption here is that without the gesimas announcing what is soon to come, folks in the pews will be caught by surprise and be unprepared for Ash Wednesday when it comes.

Now there is an idea worth consideration.  The faithful are so pre-occupied with ordinary concerns that they are not even thinking about the life of the Church lived in the rhythm of Sunday and season.  Perhaps we should have Pre-Advent, Pre-Epiphany, and Pre-Pentecost, among others.  Perhaps we should announce the seasons before they come so that our people are fully prepared for them.  But is this not what we already do?  We have a liturgical calendar in the parish calendar, we have notes in the bulletin, and we announce the dates of the Church Year formally on Epiphany after the singing of the Gospel?  Would it be too much to assume that our people are paying attention?

That is exactly the problem -- who does pay attention to the liturgical calendar?  The reality is that often the pastors who plan worship and lead the Divine Service are themselves caught up with surprise when suddenly they find themselves a day away from the beginning of Lent (or Advent or any other season of the Church Year) and have forgotten to plan for the changing of the season.  The calendar of the faith has become less important and less relevant to the life of the faithful than the obscure dates that show up on our Google and Outlook Calendars.  The problem is not that Lent needs an announcement well in advance of Ash Wednesday but that we no longer notice or are shaped by the Church Year.

I am not naive enough to believe that the Church Year would become the primary calendar of the faithful but I am unwilling to believe that the Church Year should not be at least a secondary calendar for the faithful.  The fault lies in part with pastors who presume the notion of a churchly pattern of days is quaint, old-fashioned, and out of step with the times.  If pastors do not think the Church Year is important enough to be known by their parishioners, it is no wonder that the folks in the pews pay scant attention to it.  When pastors fail to use the resources of the Church Year to denote the times and the seasons, even those who desire to pay attention to the liturgical year are left confused or confounded.  But the seasons of the Church Year do not exist in a vacuum nor do they exist for theoretical value.  They help us know and live out the events in our Lord's life, the saints and their faithful witness, and they were formed to give meaning and purpose to the unfolding of the days and months.  The goal of the Church Year is not a repeatable cycle but the focus toward eternity and the direction of the fulfillment of all things in the coming of our Savior in His glory.

The primary benefit of the Church Year is not simply to impose a calendar upon us that does not fit with our priorities.  It is to direct our attention toward the future the calendar unfolds in time -- the coming of our Savior to bring to culmination all that was begun in a promise and fulfilled in the womb of the Virgin.  It is not about taking time to think about what will give up for Lent but about the once for all sacrificial suffering and death that opens the door of the eternity to all who believe.  That is why pastors and churches and people give attention to the announcement of the day on Sunday morning.  This is no small detail which can be overlooked without loss -- this it the Church pointing us to when God entered our time to deliver us from the curse of that time -- the death caused by sin.  So I hope and pray that we pay attention to this detail not to satisfy rubric or give notice to history but because we are destined for an eternal future and this calendar points us there.

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