Turns Out this Liturgical Calendar Thingy Is Complicated

First — hello — Advent is not Christmas:

There’s a segment of evangelicalism that’s increasingly drawn to liturgy, especially the Anglican tradition, said Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College. But he thinks that’s a part of the Advent boom. “There’s also undoubtedly a commercial element as well,” he said. “As the popularity of the practice grew among an influential segment of the evangelical community, that popularity was cashed in by the Christian publishing, manufacturing, and retailing industries. The visibility of Advent wreaths, candles, banners, books, tracts, etc., undoubtedly had a major impact on a lot of folks’ awareness, tolerance, and embrace of the practice.”

I see the modern adaptation of Advent as a wonderful entry point to the riches of ancient Christian tradition: the church year, sacraments, and liturgy. Indeed, I’m one of those new Anglicans Eskridge refers to—but I got there via a hip Baptist church that introduced me to the seasons of the church year (and cofounded Advent Conspiracy).

But sometimes I find myself befuddled by a particularity of this movement. As a season of the church year, Advent is intended to prepare us for Christmas—a 12-day celebration, a season in itself. Advent is traditionally the fast before the feast. But I see few recent adopters of Advent keeping the feast. Thirty days of waiting, anticipation, preparation—and then when the person on whom you’ve waited arrives, Alright, we’re done here. Pack up the Christmas tree. What are you doing New Year’s Eve?

Fast between Thanksgiving and Christmas? You have to be kidding.

But if you can mix politics into whether or not to observe the Christ Mass, you might be on to something:

. . . when we look to the seventeenth century, we see some evidence of the Kirk making progress in convincing even lay persons that celebrating Christmas really was naughty. One significant factor working in the Kirk’s favor was, somewhat ironically, King James’s new-found conviction that Scottish Christians really should celebrate Christmas. James put significant pressure on the General Assembly of the Kirk meeting in Perth in 1618 to adopt, among a variety of liturgical/practical reforms, a religious calendar consisting of at least a handful of religious days, one of which was Christmas. For James, getting the Scots to celebrate Christmas was one small step towards creating uniformity of religious practice in his lands, which as of 1603 had come to include England. In any case, so far as the common people and their proclivity to celebrate Christmas went, it turned out that telling them they must celebrate Christmas was the surest way to keep some of them at least from doing so.

But if you are a neo-Calvinist, it’s easy peasy:

But let’s think about this for a second. As Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!’” That includes Christmas. It is, and always will be, his. It is as possible to remove Jesus from Christmas as it is to remove him from the church.

23 thoughts on “Turns Out this Liturgical Calendar Thingy Is Complicated

  1. You left out the best part:

    King: Farts on you and the session of your Kirk both! When I was in Scotland I kept Yule and Pasch in spite of all your hearts…. You are recusants, that will not come to the Kirk on holy days to hear preachings.


  2. If you don’t do Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost…but do observe Advent, your church might not be using the lectionary. The yearly cycle turns on the Sunday readings, and a myriad of seasonal hymns were written with those readings in mind.

    I’m fine with Christians declining to observe certain days, a la Romans 14, but picking and choosing is weird. (And that includes Protestants only acknowledging Easter and Christmas because they are culturally popular.)


  3. Katy nailed it down hard. They’re called e-e-evangelicals. They love to hear scripture readings from the Gospel of John and nod in approval toward the weekly lighting of Advent candles, though never, never hold a special mid-week service dedicated to such. And at the massive December 24th blow-out where exceptional choirs in larger congregations process down the aisles in special robes and collars and candles are handed out at the door for ignition toward the end of the service. But right after that, it’s the routine humdrum of weekly exposition of the designated NT book of choice again (unless the senior pastor decided to sneak out for his own personal yule tide vacation).

    Oh, and Easter – yassum! There we’re entertained by little girls parading down the aisles dressed in white, trailing streamers of similar cloth and color, to be closely followed by processing choirs. And at the end of the service all entertain ALL with tone deaf congregants trying hard to keep up with the choir in the singing of multiple choruses of Handel’s Messiah (first time since Christmas, anyway)!

    But woe to you who might suggest a special Sunday dedicated to Epiphany, or the Ascension, or Pentecos, or the likest! Those are for the papists and not for us e-e-evangelicals. And Reformation Sunday? Whass Dat? We’ve all heard of that Luther fellow and hear frequent quotes from his works by the preacher, but a special Sunday for the reformation? May it never be (well, we might get to sing “A Mighty Fortress”, but that’s about the extent of it).

    And BTW, that poor little OPC church down the road, they just don’t know how to celebrate Christmas and Easter with joy and exuberance…such a pity.


  4. Can someone please suggest a decent book that might sum up why my WELS parents should leave their left-over Romish trappings in favor of the poor little (truly) Reformed church? And don’t say the Bible as I don’t think they read it much (or even little). Not that they’d ever leave the church they’ve belonged to over 60 years.

    We sang A Mighty Fortress every Sunday – 1st song EVERY Sunday. Ya, that calendar was complicated – especially with a large WELS grade school that it was with.


  5. Just give me a Sunday worship service indistinguishable from the other 51 worship services of the year, and do whatever you please on Christmas Eve or Day (unless it falls on Sunday).


  6. I’m with mboss, but I do welcome the chance to get together with both sides of the family on Thanksgiving & Christmas. Never look down your nose at a paid holiday, I say.

    Defeated my brother in Trivial Pursuit (a 2005 Pop Culture Edition). He missed two game winners where the answer was “Kenny G.”. Hilarious. Everyone but my dad, brother, and me bailed out once most of the questions proved to be next to impossible to answer.


  7. Following the Calendar becomes especially tricky when you add Darwin to apostolic succession:

    The Christmas Proclamation is meant to situate the Incarnation of our Lord in the context of salvation history by relating it to other important events and persons of the Old Testament and emphasizing how Christ’s Incarnation happened “in the fulness of time” (Gal. 4:5).

    The Traditional Christmas Proclamation as used in the Latin rite reads:
    The twenty-fifth day of December.
    In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world
    from the time when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth;
    the two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood;
    the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham;
    the one thousand five hundred and tenth year from Moses
    and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt;
    the one thousand and thirty-second year from David’s being anointed king;

    It is interesting to see how this Proclamation has changed with the coming of the Novus Ordo. It was not promulgated in NO Masses until 1980, when John Paul II restored it to the Christmas liturgy. In the revised English Christmas Proclamation, as adopted by the USCCB in 1994, we see that some changes were made to the traditional dating [bolded]:

    Today, the twenty-fifth day of December,
    unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth and then formed man and woman in his own image
    Several thousand years after the flood, when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant.
    Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;
    thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.
    Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;
    one thousand years from the anointing of David as king;

    We have moved from asserting the Incarnation happened “in the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world” to saying that this happened “unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth.” And, “two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the Flood” has become, “several thousand years after the Flood.”

    The current version of the Christmas proclamation is even more watered down. Here is the official 2004 version in the Novus Ordo as listed on the website of the USCCB for Christmas of 2014:

    The Twenty-fifth Day of December,
    when ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world,
    when God in the beginning created heaven and earth,
    and formed man in his own likeness;
    when century upon century had passed
    since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood,
    as a sign of covenant and peace;
    in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith,
    came out of Ur of the Chaldees;
    in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses
    in the Exodus from Egypt;
    around the thousandth year since David was anointed King;

    “Unknown ages” from the Creation has now become “ages beyond number.” I thought the amount of ages was “unknown”? Apparently the committees who decide these things thought that, despite stating that the amount of ages since the beginning was “unknown”, we have now learned (just since 2004) that it was actually “ages without number.” Whereas the 1994 amendment places the flood “several thousand years” ago, the newer amendment says “century upon century”, which is an even more indeterminate amount of time – “century upon century” could mean ten centuries or ten thousand centuries.

    A few other quirks: Notice that the traditional “one thousand and thirty-second year from David’s being anointed king” in 1994 was changed to the more general “one thousand years from the anointing of David as king” and then at last in 2004 to the extraordinarily non-committal “around the thousandth year since David was anointed King.” What is “around the thousandth year”? Is that give or take a decade? A century? Two centuries? Also Ruth and the Judges briefly appear in the 1994 version only to disappear in the 2004 version.

    I think we can infer two things from these changes.

    Some time ago, I noted in my article “The Solemn Enthronement of Evolution” that it is totally incorrect when people say the Catholic Church has ‘never had a problem with evolution.’ When evolution was first proposed back in the mid-1800’s, the Church had a huge problem with it; Catholic publications sympathetic to Darwinism were condemned and placed on the Index. The Church’s objections had to do with the concept of substance. If evolution is true, even theistic evolution, then there really is no underlying Being that undergoes accidental change but is not itself changed. Being is becoming. Everything is in a state of flux. In short, there can be no concept of substance with an evolutionary model. This has striking implications for a number of things, including human nature and transubstantiation. I recommend the article linked above for a more thorough treatment of this problem.

    The Christmas Proclamation demonstrates that, yes, the Church traditionally did assume a literal, historical reading of Genesis and the Creation.


  8. Can we celebrate now?

    Every ritual points to something beyond itself. Our Christmas figurines evoke actual people and a historical event. Our simple symbols point to an ultimate reality. Our “ritual rejoicings” are an attempt to express an unfathomable joy that even a chorus of angels could barely express. Unto us a Savior is born. There has never been better news and never a better reason to celebrate.

    But we have to wait for it. We have to prepare for it. The one who prepared the way of the Lord did so by preaching repentance. Never has our world needed repentance more than it does now.

    We should treat Advent as we should Lent. It should be a time of prayer and penance and preparation. And privation. Pray early and often. Hold off on the treats. Give things up. Give alms.

    One form of penance, of course, is enduring the awful “holiday” music that blares out of the loudspeakers in every public place during the month of December. There is no escaping it. But then, when that music is finally and mercifully turned off, and when the rest of the world is taking down the decorations, our great celebration will just be beginning. And our music will be better, too.


  9. I sympathize with you in your dealings with Jason and the Callers, but it begins to get tedious when you mock even the basically sane thoughts of Chesterton as presented therein by Mr. Ahlquist.

    We get it, everything about Catholicism is wrong and crappy.


  10. Josh, head back to a few threads back, If it could happen to Jerusalem, DGH reads:

    Christians and Jews were enemies because of the message of the gospel (embraced by the former and reject by the latter), he also suggests a way that Protestants should recognize the debt we owe to Roman Catholicism, the only game in town when it came to Western Christianity for at least a millennium. Protestants should — gulp — love Roman Catholics because they are forefathers in the faith.

    Don’t mind me, however. I’m just bores, reading reddit and OL threads, but it appears both me and my 8 year old daughter were wrong. It’s Ca-tawn.



  11. Josh, but Chesterton was fat.

    To be clear, not everything about Rome is “crappy.” What kind of vulgarian would say that? It’s just that Jason and the Callers and all the apologists (which are legion) never mention the less than savory bits.


  12. Boy, is it complicated:

    In the Catholic world, there is considerable variation from country to country in the number of holy days of obligation (when Catholics are required to participate in the Eucharist). The Code of Canon Law in No. 1246 lists 10 of these, in addition to Sundays, but allows national conferences of bishops to reduce the number or to transfer their observance to a Sunday.

    Vatican City observes all 10, while Canada keeps only two (Christmas and Jan. 1).

    The United States has kept six holy days of obligation: the feast of Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1); Ascension Thursday (40 days after Easter); the Assumption of Our Lady (Aug. 15); All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1); the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8); and Christmas (Dec. 25.)

    The US Conference of Bishops decided to maintain the traditional six holy days. Later, in 1999, ecclesiastical provinces of the country were permitted to transfer the observance of the feast of the Ascension to the following Sunday, and most of the United States has done that.

    The most confusing aspect, I believe, was the determination of the US bishops’ conference that whenever Jan. 1, Aug. 15, or Nov. 1 falls on a Saturday or a Monday, the obligation to attend Mass is removed. As a pastor, I confess that each time this happens, I feel the need to review the regulation and explain it in our parish bulletin, because neither our parishioners nor I can seem to keep it straight.

    Regretfully, I acknowledge your contention that Mass attendance is low on some of these holy days. In the 4th century, St. John Chrysostom lamented in a homily that “many people celebrate the holy days and know their names; but of their history, meaning, and origin, they know nothing.” If we are to maintain the six holy days of obligation for the United States, we probably need to do a better job explaining their meaning and their importance.


  13. The RCC has provided us with many brilliant minds to instruct in general revelation.

    Far far fewer in special revelation. It is the height of kindness in here to admit that any have.


  14. No, Josh, it’s just that crap is so bad, it overwhelms whatever vestiges of the genuine Christian religion that are still found in Romanism.

    Consider the abominable idolatry of the mass. Not only is the host worshipped as God, the “sacrifice” of it by the judaizing/pseudo Aaronic Roman priesthood is needed to supplement what Christ accomplished “once for all” on the cross at Calvary. (Golgotha, we are told by the minions of the little papa, only takes care of original sin.)

    IOW it’s pretty hard to come up with something like the mass, that in the name of Christ contradicts Christ so egregiously. But never fear. That masterpiece of Satan, Rome is up to the task.

    Then again, Jesus told his disciples that there would be those who would kill them in the name of God Jn. 16:2. So too those who come as angels of light and butcher the gospel. Rome has few peers in that regard.

    Likewise, Bryan’s version of charity notwithstanding, Christ had his most severe words for the Pharisees and hypocrites; those who might honor him in form, but not in substance; by mouth, but not from the heart or in reality. Any guess who that might be today?

    Evolution? Rome hates competition. Newman, a contemporary of Darwin, didn’t call it the doctrine of development for nothing.


  15. Darryl:

    To be clear, not everything about Rome is “crappy.” What kind of vulgarian would say that?

    To be honest, Calvin was one, as he described the relationship of “the papacy” to “the Church”:

    [We] are to call back godly readers from those corruptions by which Satan, in the Papacy, has polluted everything God has appointed for salvation (Institutes, 4.1.1., Vol 2, pg 1012).


  16. Now I get it. Four weeks of fasting and twelves days of consumption:

    We have two main competing visions for how to celebrate Christmas in America. The first, which we could call the retail model, is undoubtedly the most popular. And it has a lot going for it as the primary mover of Christmas celebrations in this country. Beginning as late as Black Friday (the shopping day the day after Thanksgiving) or as early as July or August, it culminates with Christmas Day and then abruptly stops. No more Christmas music. No more greetings of “Merry Christmas!”

    As the season progresses through November and December, it involves increasingly frenzied shopping, completely de-Christianized but otherwise interfaith school children programs, much stringing of lights and decorating of Christmas trees, drunken work parties, and secular holy days that include Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday. Oh, and lots of Santas and Elves on Shelves and, for some reason I will never understand, viewings of “Love, Actually.”

    The Christian liturgical calendar is somewhat different. For the Western Church, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day. It’s the beginning of the entire church calendar year and it is a time of preparation for Christ’s coming. It usually involves special prayers, more opportunities for worship, and special time for repentance. It’s not a time for partying. Then the feasting begins on Christmas and lasts for 12 days moving into the Epiphany season.

    You have heard of the 12 days of Christmas but, perhaps, thought it just a song that involves a true love giving you lords-a-leapin’ and turtle doves and what not. If you hear about it much these days, it’s usually in the context of the Associated Press’ annual calculation of how much it would cost to give the items in inflation-adjusted dollars.

    But the 12 days are what the actual Christmas season is. And believe it or not, there are more than a few of us who celebrate it that walk among you.

    A local newsman in Duluth asked readers when they take down Christmas decorations and was surprised at how many people replied that they mark the 12 days of Christmas and wait until Epiphany to remove their decorations.

    Given the significance of the resurrection, why not 28 days of Easter?


  17. Given the significance of the resurrection, why not 28 days of Easter?

    Easter is actually an eight-week season (between Easter and the feast of the Ascension).


  18. On December 30, 2014 at 8:17 am, John Bugay miscounted:

    Easter is actually an eight-week season (between Easter and the feast of the Ascension).

    Is the purported “eight-week season” an example of Reformed Presbyterian counting? Or are readers seeing a negative impact of modern U.S. educational dogma, according to which, traditional memorization of the times tables (even for single-digit factors) is a cruel suppression of a child’s creativity?

    The Feast of the Ascension is one of the very rare feasts of Our Lord whose date is documented in the New Testament (Acts 1:3), as the conclusion of 40 days after His Resurrection, thus 5.72 weeks (counted inclusively, the decimal fraction representing 5/7 week, i.e.: 5 days). The Novus Ordo “Catholic” hierarchy provides the option of moving it from that day, which arithmetic requires to be a Thursday, to the Sunday that, by traditional counting, would be the 6th Sunday after Easter.

    Even stretching the season to the next one whose date is documented, Pentecost Sunday, it would span only 7 weeks, that being the “50th day after” Easter (also Roman inclusive counting). One would need to stretch it farther, to the 1st Sunday after Pentecost, thus its octave day, known to Catholics as Holy Trinity Sunday, to get the 8 weeks claimed for “Easter [the] season”.


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