Liturgical Calendar, II: Ecumenical

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The liturgical year is not the result of a direct and conscious arrangement of the annual cycle for pedagogical purposes about some such thematic scheme as the life of Christ or salvation history. Rather, it is the result of a long and complex evolution in which many cultic and cultural forces have shaped times of feast and fast into a pattern that not only celebrates the several dimensions of the Christian kerygma, but constitutes an epitome of the entire Christian tradition. Critically reviewed in the 16th century, with widely divergent results ranging from slight to radical reform, the calendar has received fresh attention since Vatican Council II along lines manifesting more ecumenical convergence. Calendars of Western Christian Churches in the United States today agree in beginning the year with four Sundays of Advent leading to Christmas, and all observe the feast of Epiphany on January 6 or an adjacent Sunday, with the Sunday after Epiphany kept as the Baptism of Christ. Omitting the former three pre-lenten Sundays (Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quadragesima), all begin Lent on Ash Wednesday and distinguish the days of Holy Week. Easter is celebrated for 50 days, terminated by the one-day celebration of Pentecost, from which the following Sundays are numbered.

Such are the norms for the liturgical year issued with the new Roman Calendar (1969). They were adopted by the Presbyterian Worshipbook (1970), the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (1979), and the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978). The same norms govern the lectionary prepared for the Consultation on Church Union (1974), now approved for use by the Methodist Church. The Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ follow the calendar of the Presbyterian Worshipbook. In the United Kingdom, on the other hand, calendar reform began somewhat earlier and along different lines. In 1963 a Joint Liturgical Group composed of representatives of the churches of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales (Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Congregationalist, and Churches of Christ, with an observer from the Roman Catholic Church) undertook the formulation of a common calendar and lectionary along new lines. The result, published in 1967, arranged the Sundays of the year thematically about three major festivals: Christmas and Easter, each preceded by nine Sundays and followed by six, and Pentecost, followed by 21 Sundays. Although the earlier (1962) calendar of the Church of South India had treated Septuagesima as the Ninth Sunday before Easter, the parallel arrangement before Christmas was an innovation of the Joint Liturgical Group. Traditional themes of Epiphany were set on the first and third Sundays after Christmas, but that feast itself did not appear. Since its publication this radical proposal has undergone further development in a more conservative direction in individual churches. In The Calendar and Lessons (1969) the Church of England added feasts of Christ and of the saints, and the Methodist Service Book (1975) restored Epiphany and All Saints' Day. Both retain the three pre-lenten Sundays as well as the distinctive nine Sundays before Christmas, although alternative titles show that these are coming to be seen either as Sundays before Advent (Methodist) or as the last five Sundays after Trinity or Pentecost (Church of England). A period preceding Advent has also characterized the Methodist calendar in the United States, the time after Pentecost giving way to a season of Kingdomtide from the last Sunday of August. Roman and Lutheran calendars designate the last Sunday after Pentecost as Feast of Christ the King, and the same lessons are given in other lectionaries.

While the number of observances in the sanctoral cycle has been reduced in the reform of the Roman Calendar, it has been increased in calendars of the Lutheran Church to 127 and of the Episcopal Church to 152; for both the latter these are divided between feasts (Lutheran, 30; Episcopal, 33) and optional commemorations. Like the Roman, the Lutheran Calendar occasionally places more than one optional memorial on the same day. The General Roman Calendar has 33 feasts of fixed date (10 designated Solemnities) with others of moveable date, as well as 64 obligatory memorials. All modern calendars strongly emphasize sunday as a weekly feast of Christ that is accorded precedence over all but the most important feasts of fixed date, an emphasis that casts doubt on the acceptability of any universal calendar reform (such as the World Calendar), which would interrupt the independent cycle of the week.

Bibliography: r. c. d. jasper, ed., The Calendar and Lectionary: A Reconsideration by the Joint Liturgical Group (London 1967). The Standing Liturgical Commission of the Episcopal Church, The Church Year (Prayer Book Studies 19; New York 1970). The Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship, The Church Year: Calendar and Lectionary (Contemporary Worship 6; Minneapolis, Minn; Philadelphia, Pa; and St. Louis, Mo. 1973). r. nardone, "The Roman Calendar in Ecumenical Perspective," Worship 50 (1976) 238246. h. m. daniels, "Recent Changes in the Presbyterian Celebration of the Liturgical Year," Reformed Liturgy and Music 16 (Fall 1982) 153158.

[t. j. talley/eds.]

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Liturgical Calendar, II: Ecumenical

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