Calendar, Liturgy and Meaning
I didn’t know that Palm Sunday was the original Good Friday until I went to seminary. If I had read this before going or heard it in a class it did not register. Of course, once I learned this it made a lot of sense of what I had experienced on Palm Sunday – and it explained in some sense why the Prayer Book gives the day the title, “The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday.”
The Church of the first few centuries worshipped on Sunday. If one Sunday is Easter, the Sunday before is “The Sunday of the Passion.” Then, it becomes legal to be a Christian and Christians in Jerusalem begin celebrating what we would call a “Liturgy of the Palms” in the evening on the Sunday before Easter – while still doing a Mass of the Passion in the morning. Over the centuries the Palm Liturgy was attached to the Passion Sunday Mass. This is what we know today.
A similar kind of thing happens with other celebrations across the church year. Easter seems to have been kept as a season of fifty days in the first centuries of the Christian Era. The numeration of a fifty days is taken from Jewish tradition. Easter begins the season and the day after seven weeks later (a week of weeks) is Pentecost, the conclusion of the season. It was a big mystery; it had a big season, in which salvation history unfolded before the eyes of the first Christians.
The mystery of resurrection, ascension and the gift of the Spirit seems to have been celebrated as one event for fifty days. But by the end of the fourth century a feast for Ascension is common. Although John’s Gospel recounts the gift of the Spirit to the disciples on the first Easter Day, a reading about the gift of the Spirit from Acts becomes associated with the end of the season, Pentecost. More complications follow. Longtime members of the congregation will remember when there were changes in the color of vestments in the middle of services – reflecting the complication of traditions being conjoined over the centuries.
There was a serious attempt among the liturgical reformers of the twentieth century to bring some intelligent order to the liturgical calendar – which had taken on a life of its own. Pentecost was restored as the fiftieth day of the Easter Season – its original meaning. The Paschal candle was no longer put out during the Mass on Ascension Day – because the Easter Season is in fact not over. Although the Church celebrates historical events on particular days, the nature of Christian worship is that the greatest feasts are beginnings, not endings.
Jesus does rise from the dead at one point in time. Jesus does give the Spirit at one point in time. Jesus does ascend into heaven at one point in time. But the Lord Jesus Christ is in the world but not of the world. He rises from the dead still in the waters of Baptism. The Spirit is still poured out in the waters of Baptism. He gives eternal life in the waters of Baptism. You and I born into a particular moment of time move outside of time to eternity in Baptism.
There is a more than a little reductionist tendency in Western Christian thinking. God knows we love those bells that tell us exactly when the bread becomes the Body. Our Western liturgical traditions foster this; but there is also a struggle within the tradition against this. Over time, the liturgical tradition wants to correct itself. I cannot imagine that the people who celebrated the Easter Vigil on Saturday morning in 1960 here at Saint Mary’s didn’t realize that something was askew. It took time, study and courage to recover the great tradition. (Yes, they really did chant, “This is the night” at 10:00 AM.)
A lot of people don’t speak liturgy. Some people don’t learn it at all – and often make fun of it. Some people learn only the words – sort of a flash card approach to it – but never learn the poetry and deeper meaning of it. But the liturgy is one particular place among many in this life where the divine is revealed in the midst of creation. The calendar never controls that mystery; it like us is only its servant.
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Henry who is hospitalized and for Jack, Harold, Olga, Carl, Harold, Frank, Eleanor, John, Roy, Peter, John, Jonathan, Joseph, Elwyn, Shirlah, Michael, Kenneth, Ursula, Jessica, Russell, Evelyn, Susan, Rodney, priest, and Arthur, priest, and for the repose of the soul of Raymond.
GRANT THEM PEACE . . . May 29: 1992 Robert William Anderson, May 31, 1995 Louis Stephen Stancill, June 1, 1993 Kenneth William Cloughley, Jr.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . As we go to press we have just received word from the Reverend Rosemari Sullivan that Raymond Duncan died this morning at the hospital in Hoboken, New Jersey. Ray worked in the General Convention Office at the Episcopal Church Center. He is to be buried in Lexington, Kentucky, where his parents live. Mother Sullivan told me that Ray was at work yesterday and not feeling well. His death was completely unexpected. Please pray for him and for all who mourn. S.G.
I PUBLISH THE BANNS OF MARRIAGE between Luis Javier Mejia of New York City and Lisa Ann Hanson of New York City. If any of you know just cause why they may not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, you are bidden to declare it. This is the first time of asking. S.G.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . The final meeting of “Great Voices of Anglicanism” led by Father Breidenthal is this Wednesday, May 30, at 7:00 PM in Saint Benedict’s Study. All are welcome. The final series of our academic year “In Dialogue with Islam” begins on Wednesday, June 6 . . . Abraham Rochester and Suzanne Nagy-Rochester will celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary of their marriage this Sunday, May 27. Congratulations! And their daughter Stephanie received her Master’s degree in Social Work on May 20 from Fordham University. Stephanie, Congratulations! . . . Attendance last Sunday 176.
SUMMARY OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES, MAY 21, 2001, MEETING . . . At the May 21, 2001, meeting the Board of Trustees: 1. Heard a report from Mr. Terrance O’Dwyer of the Investment Committee, which reviewed the performance of our investment accounts for the first quarter of 2001. 2. Heard about continuing negotiations with SafeSpace regarding the Mission House. 3. Heard that the Rector has initiated searches for a new Curate and for a building superintendent (these are listed as “positions available” on St. Mary’s Web site). 4. Heard that there are now 112 pledges, totaling approximately $220,000, for 2001. Leroy Sharer, Secretary
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Seventh Sunday of Easter
Monday Easter Weekday
Memorial Day: One Mass only 12:15 PM
Tuesday Easter Weekday
Wednesday Easter Weekday
Visitation Eve 6:00 PM
Thursday The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Sung Mass 6:00 PM
Friday Justin, Martyr Abstinence Dispensed
Saturday The Martyrs of Lyon
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,
The Reverend Allen Shin, curate, The Reverend Thomas Breidenthal, assistant,
The Reverend Arthur Wolsoncroft, The Reverend Canon Maurice Garrison, The Reverend Amilcar Figueroa, The Reverend Rosemari Sullivan, assisting priests, The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.