Sunday, August 16, 2015

Non-Sunday worship

At Pray Tell, a Catholic monk from Minnesota, lamented the light attendance at Saturday’s services for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And I discovered that the Assumption (called the Dormition of the Theotokos) is a big deal for our Eastern friends — one of Twelve Great Feasts — as my Anglo-Orthodox (now more Orthodox than Anglican) book club was nearly deserted Friday as the Orthodox

It’s not a day I ever remember celebrating as a lifelong Protestant. August 15 is listed (by TEC and CoE) as a Holy Day for Mary†. I think it’s safe to say that the more Reformed wing of the Anglican Communion do not ascribe a supernatural assumption of Mary’s body into heaven, even if some individual Anglo-Catholic parishes do.

However, Father Anthony Ruff makes a more general point:
[Modern Catholics believe] holy days aren’t that important anymore, and liturgical time should not interrupt real time, which is what happens in one’s real (and very busy) life in the secular world.

We still kept the holy days of obligation in the tiny parish where I grew up in southern Minnesota. … But miss Mass? Not on your life.

The holy day liturgy said, more than any religion class or episcopal statement could, something about the claim the church makes on us.

“We have our own schedule,” the liturgy was saying to us, “and it’s not the world’s schedule.” Just think for a moment what that said about Christian identity and the church’s relationship to broader society. It said it especially strongly when two obligatory days fell inconveniently a day apart, Saturday plus Sunday, or Sunday plus Monday.

The holy days of obligation are there to form us in an alternative narrative. The liturgy tells us that it has its own integrity on its own terms. The liturgy is countercultural, not by behaving like an obnoxious culture-warrior, but simply by being itself.

That’s too bad. I wish we could put Ascension back on Thursday, and maybe even Epiphany back on the 12th day of Christmas. And tell everyone that God is still God, even on Saturdays and Mondays.
He is talking to me. There are only three church holidays I have regularly observed midweek over the past 30-40 years: Christmas, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. (And I’m not very good about Good Friday). Yes, I’ve been to Holy Innocents and Epiphany services (it helps this is during a slow time of the year), and as a tourist to England we would always try to catch an Evening Prayer at the cathedral we visited. But I can’t recall a single Annunciation, Ascension or Transfiguration service. (There might have been an All Saints’s Day — as with Epiphany, there are good hymns.)

At the same time, there’s a chicken-and-egg dilemma. During my Lutheran period, our choir sang at Epiphany, so we were all there. I can’t say that most of the parishes I’ve attended have midweek services for Holy Days (except for Thanksgiving, a local favorite).

As a suburban Anglican, I don’t think it’s realistic to try to match the RCC (let alone the Orthodox) for the frequency or intensity of our midweek Holy Days. Instead, I would build up the adherence to the Daily Office – whether personal or corporate — and remind worshippers of these important days by using the collects and readings that are designated to educate us about these days.

† Footnote: On Friday, Issues Etc. rebroadcast an August 15, 2013 broadcast — with the Missouri Synod's director of worship — on why the Lutheran church remembers the Blessed Virgin Mary on this date. Rev. Will Weedon noted that the Protestant Reformers rejected the idea of Mary (and the saints) hearing our prayers as intercessors between Christians and God. However, he said, the Lutherans [like the Anglicans] continue to commemorate the saints in their annual liturgical calendar.

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