Saturday, December 17, 2022

On Feasts and Fasts. . .

Another blogger posited that the Reformation in England removed some 50 feast days from the calendar -- days in which the people were expected not to work but to worship and to feast with family and friends.  I have no idea if it is true or not but suspect it is probably on target.  The reformers in England were a less than happy lot and looked askance at such things as laughter, merriment, and fellowship -- along with the Radical Reformers on the continent but not so much the Lutherans who were happier overall.  In any case, this would add up to about 7 weeks of days off over a full year -- a pretty good deal for nearly everyone except the clergy, of course.  It has been amply attested that if you do not provide them, they will be taken anyway (have you heard of quiet quitting or making sure you use up all your PTO bank every year?).  In any case, what was removed by the English reformers long ago have come back with a vengeance -- feast days are so culturally important that they cannot be permanently removed from the calendar.

What is disconcerting, however, is that we have made up feast days to replace the good and laudable days of old marked by the Church Year and the Sanctoral Cycle.  We now have invented days that celebrate often invented causes instead of real feast days for honored saints and celebrations.  I fear the English have won the battle but lost the war.  Nowhere is that more true than in the Church.  Nowadays most places cannot even bring themselves to admit that the Winter Break is really a Christmas holiday!  We have become adverse to anything orthodox and Christian and it shows up in the way we traded off the noble holy days of old for days of which few know the significance.  We won the battle but lost the war.

Halloween has become a major player in the holidays of today -- bigger than most other celebrations judging from the value of things sold and the extent to which people go to celebrate the day.  Yet All Hallow's Eve is lost to most who dress up and trick and treat to their heart's content.  Some are shocked by the idea that the day had anything to do with Christianity at all (at some point in time, anyway).  Thanksgiving is a godly cause but I am not sure what we do has all that much to the idea of humble gratitude to God.  St. Nick bears little resemblance to the saint and has long ago left the holy man in the dust.  Valentine the chubby little cherub has completely obliterated the saint by the same name.

The point is that we want to feast, to celebrate, but we have no reason why anymore so we are left to imagined occasions and invented traditions for rather shallow days marked by our festive calendar.  I think it would have been better to leave the feast days in place than to end up where we are today with holidays that bear some historical connection to holy days but nobody really knows how or why anymore.  Meanwhile the Church Year languishes with high and holy days that are a shadow of what they ought to be.  Epiphany cannot even merit a celebration unless it falls on a Sunday and Ascension has been somewhat permanently moved to a Sunday anyway.

Feasting and fasting are necessary to us and we will invent reasons to do both absent the real reasons of the faith.  And that, my friends, is downright sad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I believe the term “magisterial Reformation” refers to the tendency of the German, Scandinavian, and Anglican landeskirchen and state churches to be rather conservative in the reform of ceremonies. Although certainly the radical Reformation existed side by side with the magisterial Reformation and tended to break down along class lines, it is not helpful to paint a portrait of “happy Lutherans” practicing Roman Catholic ceremonies vs. dour Puritans to make a general point. The Anglican Church was heavily influenced by Lutheran practices, as many English reformers traveled to Wittenberg to study, corresponded with Melanchthon, and were influenced by the later presence of Bucer in Cambridge. True, there were exceptions such as Hooker, and Geneva became more influential for the Anglican Church from the 1550s onward, but the abrogation of the myriad of saints days was a Lutheran practice that is even referred to in the Apology:

“But we cheerfully maintain the old traditions [as, the three high festivals, the observance of Sunday, and the like] made in the Church for the sake of usefulness and tranquillity…”

Three high festivals, hmmm, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost maybe?