The Importance of the 12 Days of Christmas

David Russell Mosley

Русский: Рождество Христово (икона в Храме)

Русский: Рождество Христово (икона в Храме) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

23 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Christmas is nearly upon us. Tomorrow evening, as we have our supper, however meagre or magnificent, the celebration of the Nativity begins. For most of us, it has probably already begun to some extent. We’ve probably indulged in a few Christmas songs; our churches have put on carol services. Everything is building up to the next day, the 25 of December, perhaps the only day in the Western Calendar (both secular and sacred) that still firmly has a name rather than a date. Wednesday morning will dawn, we’ll open presents, go to church (if it’s safe or if they’re holding services), perhaps we’ll sing carols, give hugs, we’ll laugh, in short, we’ll feast. And then, Christmas is over. Boxing Day, St Stephen’s Day in the Church Calendar, will come and perhaps we can find it in us to extend the festivities to this day, but by the 27, St John’s Day, Christmas is quite firmly over, isn’t it?

Actually, in the Church Calendar, there really are 12 days of Christmas. Depending on how you count it the twelve days run  from the 24 of December to the 5 of January. Either way, Christmas is more than a day or two, it is, in fact, a liturgical season. We are meant to extend both our celebrations and solemnities (particularly during Holy Innocents on the 28 which commemorates the children put to death by Herod). Christmas is meant to be much more than its feast day.

Think of what a change this could make in how you think of Christmas. Christmas parties can continue for twelve days. Christmas carols can be sung with gusto, especially if you’ve generally fasted from them during Advent. The reality of the Incarnation can continue to be at the forefront of our minds. Perhaps, if we in the West, were to take more seriously the twelve days of Christmas we might even begin to think about the larger implications of the Incarnation beyond the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. As I’ve written to you before, I work on the topic of deification. At the heart of this primarily Eastern doctrine is the Incarnation, God becoming human so that humans might become God. Maybe if we took Christmas a little more seriously, people like me wouldn’t need to convince Western Christians of the truth and beauty of deification, or as it is called in the East, theosis.

Christmas has always been my favourite time of year. The music, the movies, the weather (in the Northern hemisphere anyway), the carols, the services, Father Christmas, all come together for me to show forth the magic of Christianity. Beyond all of this, however, is the reality that our God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the Creator of everything and yet Uncreated, became a creature  in the Son without ceasing to be Creator. He became a creature in order to lift us up, to make us like himself, to make us gods, to make us sons through the Incarnation, the gift of his Spirit, and the sacraments. This is what Christmas means, this is why we celebrate it for 12 days and not just one.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

A Place for Father Christmas: A Response to Tara C. Samples

Folk tale depiction of Father Christmas riding...

Folk tale depiction of Father Christmas riding on a goat. Perhaps an evolved version of the Swedish Tomte. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

David Russell Mosley

Third Week of Advent
16 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

The Feast of the Nativity (probably a more accurate description for most Christians, and non-Christians, who stay whom on the 25 of December) is nearly upon us. This time of year, along with engendering quite a few more letters here on Letters from the Edge of Elfland, also tends to cause quite a lot of controversy, particularly over one issue. No, it isn’t the Keep the Christ in Christmas issue, nor is it the Happy Holidays controversy. It is the Santa Claus controversy. Every year we see a strange combination of consumeristic Santas (WestJet, Coca Cola, etc.) and Christians who have rejected the use of Santa Claus in their families.

One such example, and the impetus for this letter, appeared on the Sojourners blog by Lincoln Christian University Professor of Counselling and Psychology Tara C. Samples. Samples’ article says this, ‘We have chosen to say “no” to Santa based on our faith, our understanding of social psychology, and commitment to economic justice.’ For Samples, Santa has become a means for consumerism and thus the continuation of economic disparity. There is a truly heart-rending Christmas song called ‘The Little Boy the Santa Claus Forgot.’ The basis of the short and simple song is that this little boy received no presents at Christmas because he has no Father, thus his family lacks the ability to buy him presents from Santa. I myself have at least one friend who determined quite early on the Santa Claus could not be real because the gifts she received from him paled in comparison to the gifts given by St Nic to her wealthier neighbours. Samples goes on to say, ‘The jolly old elf brought a lot of joy into my life when I believed, but as an adult I have discovered Santa’s magic is a poor imitation of God’s grace and his mythology brings joy to only a privileged few.’ Her point? Santa can now only bring joy to those with enough money to buy presents for their children. This is Samples’s main reason for discontinuing the Santa tradition.

Samples does attempt to connect this consumerism to latent theology behind it as emphasised in this video by fellow Christian Joffre.  In the video a little girls is said to have stated in Sunday School that the number of presents one receives is dependent on how sinful one is (perhaps she said it a little differently than that, but you get the idea). Instead, as most Christian parents do who choose not to have Santa in their lives, Joffre and Tara focus on the historical figure Nicholas of Myra. A rather common trend in this day and age.

I want, however, to offer a critique. While I agree that Santa can be used to perpetuate bad theology and economic disparity, I’m not sure he’s outgrown his usefulness as Samples and this blog post suggests. Now I first want to argue that this is partly the reason I am a bigger fan of Father Christmas than Santa Claus. After all, Santa Claus literally means Saint Nicholas (Claus being another nickname for Nicholas like Nic/Nick). Having written on this subject already last year (In Defence of Father Christmas), I will leave it and continue to provide my defence of Father Christmas.

The key thing about Father Christmas is having someone bigger than you or your parents to be thankful to at Christmas time. G. K. Chesterton writes in the ‘Ethics of Elfland’ section of his celebrated Orthodoxy, ‘Children are grateful when Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts of toys or sweets. Could I not be grateful to Santa Claus when he put in my stockings the gift of two miraculous legs? We thank people for birthday presents of cigars and slippers. Can I thank no one for the birthday present of birth?’ For Chesterton, Santa Claus, or Father Christmas as I suggest, actually teaches us thankfulness. Author and Christian J. R. R. Tolkien believed Father Christmas to be such a good that he actually wrote letters from Father Christmas to his children each year. One might argue that in both cases these men came from (and had) economically privileged families. It would perhaps be mute to point out both that in their day Father Christmas rarely gave as extravagant gifts as he does today and also that Tolkien himself often wrote to his children letters from Father Christmas explaining why they did not get all the things they desired.

Perhaps my favourite depiction of Father Christmas is the ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Rather than a being as old as the nativity itself (see Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas), he comes from a family that can be dated back to the Christ event. This ghost’s chief purpose, beyond Scrooge’s salvation, is the spreading of Christmas cheer on food and conversations, those that are kindly given, but especially those that are poor, because, as the ghost himself says, they ‘need it most’. I personally use this, along with gift giving, when I write letters from Father Christmas to my nephews, and will continue to do so with my own children.

There are many arguments I could attempt to make defending the place of Father Christmas in Christianity, from thankfulness for gifts received and joy in gifts given to being able to teach our children (and ourselves) that our very existence is itself a gift. I wonder though, if perhaps there isn’t a bigger issue. Consumerism. Many Christians today repudiate Christmas altogether because of the way the World has taken it over. Yet this seems to be the wrong attitude. If the World has taken something of ours, rather than it give it up as a lost cause, should we not seek to redeem it. To show how we can do Christmas differently, how we can do Father Christmas (or Santa Claus) differently? To be in the world and not of it, its something I write about quite often on here, particularly in relation to liturgy and the Church Calendar. Father Christmas, whose very name more evokes the Feast of the Nativity than Santa Claus does, can be the way we as Christians do that. By all means let him bring toys, but perhaps he also brings suggestions to the wealthier to help the poor (as St James seems to desire). Perhaps as Alison Milbank will suggest in the video below, we can create a community of gift-exchange that centres around Father Christmas, who centres around the Nativity.  It should be remembered that C. S. Lewis, the author with whom Samples ends her article, used Father Christmas to signal the end of the reign of the White Witch in Narnia because he signalled the coming of Aslan into Narnia.

Sincerely yours, this believer in Father Christmas,
David Russell Mosley

Books to Read over Advent and Christmas

David Russell Mosley

Third Sunday of Advent
15 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

With only 10 days left in Advent, this may seem like an odd time to write a letter on books to read over Advent and Christmas, but since Christmas is 12 days long, that gives us a bit more time. This list is a combination of fiction, poetry, and theology. I hope you enjoy.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens


Perhaps the most obvious choice, I find many people have seen film versions of this story, but have rarely read the book. It is a story of transformation, of hearts of stone exchanged for hearts of flesh. Don’t let the familiarity you may have with the story allow you to pass by the beauty of this Christmas Ghost Story.

Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien


From the creator of Middle Earth (or sub-creator I should perhaps say), many people don’t know, but shouldn’t be surprised to learn, that this creator of language and myth used to write letters to his children from Father Christmas. Filled with stories about the antics that cause Christmas to almost fail, this book is a collection of twenty years of epistles from that jolly old elf.

‘Farmer Giles of Ham’ in The Tolkien Reader by J. R. R. Tolkien


What started as an introduction to George MacDonald’s ‘The Golden Key’ turned into a delightful fairy story. Giles is a farmer in the little kingdom who finds himself battling a giant and a dragon. The story takes place between Michaelmas and St Matthias’ Day, paying special attention to Christmas Day, St Stephen’s Day and more. Be prepared to laugh at a parody of the standard fairy tale.

‘Gawain and the Green Knight’ by The Pearl Poet


Faerie castles, green giants who can survive without their heads, King Arthur, his cousin Gawain, and more. This poem which centres around Christmas and New Year’s is an excellent example of the Medieval faerie tradition and makes an excellent addition to any Christmas reading.

On the Incarnation by Athanasius


This text defends the doctrine of the Incarnation against the Arian heresy. This is the text you want to read if you want to understand how the Church first began to articulate in greater detail how and why it is that Jesus Christ, the person who’s birth we celebrate in Christmas, is both God and Man. This can be a bit technical and use language that non-theologians might not be familiar with, but I highly recommend working through it, nevertheless.

On God and Christ by Gregory of Nazianzus


This collection of sermons given by Gregory, bishop of Nazianzus, continue the fight against forms of Arianism, defending both the divinity and humanity of Jesus, as well as the divinity of the Spirit. Gregory takes what Athanasius had done before him and works out more aspects of the importance of the Incarnation. What both this book and the above have in common is an understanding that the coming of Christ means much more than our salvation from sin, but also our deification.

What are some of your favourite books to read during Christmas? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Being a (Non-Roman) Catholic Evangelical: Scripture and Tradition

David Russell Mosley




Folio 209v of the Lindisfarne Gospels showing ...

Folio 209v of the Lindisfarne Gospels showing John the Evangelist. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Second Week of Advent
St John of the Cross
14 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire


Dear Friends and Family,


Today I want to write to you about a topic that is close to my heart. Throughout the Church’s history two things have been guiding principles for the Church. They have served as sources for Christ’s authority, and have been variously understood through the centuries. They are Scripture and Tradition. Often today in our polarised environment people tend to think of these as distinct from one another. We want to prioritise them, or perhaps to ignore one in favour of another. This, however, is, in my opinion, an inappropriate relationship. We should not be able to simply pick one over the other, but both should be allowed to sing together.


In Evangelical circles, we tend to put all our emphasis on the Scriptures. And of course, why not? After all, most good Evangelicals will tell you they believe the Scriptures to be God’s holy word. They are inspired by the Holy Spirit in a way nothing and no one else is (though even our Charismatic brothers and sisters might blanche at that statement). They are the source of all authority. Within my own Christian tradition of the Restoration Movement, there have been some who believe the Holy Spirit’s primary role as being in interpreting the Scriptures. There is also a tendency to see the New Testament Scriptures as holding the blueprints for how the Church is meant to be run and function. Other traditions affirm a doctrine called Sola Scriptura whereby they understand the Scriptures to hold the only authority for Christians.


Often, Evangelicals tie themselves to historical-critical methods of interpreting the Scriptures, or even a common sense reading of the text. There are many problems with this approach. For starters, it was often the method of many early heretics to read the Scriptures in a common sense method. This is how heresies such as Sabellianism (where God shows himself in three different modes, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but is not three persons) or Arianism (where the Son is not God but the first Creature of God). Equally problematical is that the historical-critical method of interpretation (which focuses on cultural, historical contexts and authorial intent as the keys to interpreting the Scriptures) was primarily founded in the nineteenth century by liberal Christians in Germany seeking to dismantle traditional readings of the Bible.


In Catholic circles, on the other hand, more emphasis is often given to the Tradition. This is often understood as both the unwritten tradition of the Apostles passed on through Apostolic succession (through the bishoprics), and the writings and councils of the Church throughout the centuries. Noting the problems a common sense reading of the Scriptures can cause, Tradition puts more authority on interpreters of the Scriptures. This often works out through the creation of Creeds as well as the findings of Ecumenical Councils (councils that involve the whole Church, however that is defined at given point in history). This puts emphasis on the holy men and women who have read and interpreted the Scriptures through the centuries.


The problem with this method is that it can often downplay the role of the Scriptures themselves. A friend of mine recently noted that while his group of Roman Catholic students could articulate at least a creedal understanding of the Trinity, they were unaware that Genesis was a book in the Bible. Too much emphasis on the Tradition can cause a complete ignorance or at least lack of familiarity with the Scriptures. Equally, it can cause Christians to become rather shallow in their faith since the role of interpreting the Scriptures is placed in the hands of others through the Tradition, rather than being encouraged to encounter the Scriptures at an individual and lay level.


I have tried to point out the pitfalls of what a true Sola Scriptura and a Sola Traditione could be. In many ways, I have allowed myself to fall into the Straw Man Fallacy. There are few in either camp (Scripture emphasising or Tradition emphasising) who truly only follow either the Scriptures divorced from the Tradition or the Tradition divorced from the Scriptures. Yet I fear this may happen as we become more and more polarised.


Evangelicals, I want to applaud your knowledge of the Scriptures and thank you for teaching me to encounter the Scriptures on their own terms. However, I want to encourage you to remember that we do not read or interpret in a vacuum, nor within the confines of our tradition alone. After all, the canon itself is a product of Tradition. We must read the Church Fathers and Mothers, medieval theologians, monks, and nuns, and those who helped found our own individual traditions.


Catholics, I want to applaud your belief in the power of the Spirit to work in history, in councils, and in the men and women of the Church who have read and interpreted the Scriptures over the years. You have given me a deeper way to read the Scriptures and encounter God. However, we must also remember that we must read the Scriptures and encounter them at the individual as well as corporate level. We must be willing to disagree with the great and holy men and woman who have come before us. We must, above all else, remember that the Scriptures are often the foundation for the Tradition, that the men and women who have come before us were so steeped in the Scriptures that their own words were dripping with citations and allusions.


What do you think? Am I over simplifying? Perhaps a little, but I hope I have shown the importance of being a Catholic Evangelical as it regards the Scriptures and the Tradition. Let me know what you think in the comments below.




Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley




My Three Books: Eric Austin Lee Edition

Eric Austin Lee

Feast of St Lucy
13 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
West Sacramento, California

Dear Friends and Family,

David has kindly sent out a call for our ‘My 3 Books’, in the spirit of Theology Studio‘s tradition of asking its interviewee’s which 3 books have had the most profound affect upon them theologically. Such decisions are always incredibly difficult ones, and I could add at least another ten books to this list, but, if one were to have to choose, I think this is where I would start: Practice in Christianity, by Anti-Climacus / Soren Kierkegaard, translated and edited by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).

I first read this during my MA at PLNU, under the direction of Professor Mike Lodahl. It was an exhilarating read, not only for its critique of ‘established Christianity’, but also because this book in many ways sums up Kierkegaard’s thought in a pseudonym that is even ‘higher’ than he is able to personally achieve.  A later book, Practice in Christianity also combines his critical, pseudonomous style with the ‘upbuilding discourse’-style as the latter part of the book consists of meditations on Scripture, much like those found in Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses and Words of Love (amongst others). One of my favourite meditations on Scripture is his series of discourses on John 12:32. The creativity and inspiration behind these Scriptural meditations are some of the brightest guideposts in the tradition. For me, primarily, the energy and passion about what it means to be a Christian for Anti-Climacus has shaped a great deal of my own journey: Christianity is not meant to be an easy life, for the way of the Cross is a difficult one, and anything which says otherwise “abolishes Christianity!”

Genealogy of Nihilism: Philosophies of Nothing and the Difference of Theology, by Conor Cunningham (London: Routledge, 2002).

I distinctly remember where I was when I finished this book: on my lunch hour at a Mexican food restaurant in San Diego next to the I-5 freeway. It stuck with me because, when I finished this book, I’d never read anything else like it. Yes, I had just finished John Milbank’s wonderful Theology and Social Theory, but, even though it was one of the most difficult books I had ever read at that point, something about this work really struck me. The combination of very dense philosophy on the one hand with beautiful theological prose on the other, alongside such a variety of sources that I wouldn’t have regularly thought was possible. But beyond stylist remarks, it was Cunningham’s vision of proposing a theological alternative to the logic of nihilism that, contrary to most un-nuanced accounts by his detractors, is not simply one that argues that theology is ‘better’ than nihilism; rather, he shows that both nihilism and theology begin with accounts of nothingness: the former cannot stand upon it’s own edifice and ultimately becomes intelligible, while the latter Christian account is primarily one of gift that, out of nothing, God creates. On the one hand, such a logic is simple, but as it is not a ‘simplistic’ one, it is also the kind of account that takes a lifetime — an eternity, even — to understand, needing constant education (to echo Luigi Giussani). Those who know me will know I’m very indebted to Cunningham’s wide-ranging approach and style, not to mention the fact that he was my Doktorvater, so this book will always stay with me. I return to it often, if just for the bibliography alone!

Plato’s Critique of Impure Reason: On Goodness and Truth in the Republic, by D. C. Schindler (Washington, D. C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2008).

It is hard to imagine that a book on Plato like this exists. I’ve read a lot of scholarship on Plato and Socrates, and while some of it is very good and most of it is rather boring, this book stands out like no other. It is the kind of philosophical book where — and not only because I know the author’s theological commitments and indebtedness to Hans Urs von Balthasar — one can see the theological transcendence brimming from every chapter, without even mentioning Christ or Scripture. It takes a mind attuned to the beautiful to be able to read off of philosophical texts (eg, the ‘book of nature’, so to speak) and see a reality resplendent with the light of the Good, all while still maintaining a high standard of scholarship. All of this is prolegomena to say that D. C. Schindler’s work sums up a recent current to extricate Plato from the usual crude ‘dualisms’ with which he is accused. It can be summed up as a kind of ‘third way’ approach, one that argues not through analytic readings of the typical ‘What is F?’ arguments, but through an interpretation which attempts to order Plato’s works toward not just the Republic, but under Plato’s understanding of the Good itself. In this reading, the reader is reminded that Socrates, as the ‘stand-in’ for the Good, always returns to the cave in order to ‘save the appearances’. It is not a gnostic flight from the flesh into the transcendent forms, but an argument for understanding the particular at all, illuminated by the light of the Good.

Sincerely Yours,

My 3 Books (or The Post Where I Steal Ideas from The Theology Studio)

David Russell Mosley

Second Week of Advent
10 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Over at The Theology Studio, run by excellent gents Tony Baker and Scott Bader-Saye, they have a virtual bookshelf of books that have most influenced the writing and thought of the theologians they interview. While I certainly do not even remotely put myself in the same category as the women and men they interview, I nevertheless thought it would an interesting exercise to try to determine what books have most influenced me in my theology (since I’ve not published multiple books or journal articles yet I thought more appropriate to talk about what has more generally influenced my theology). Without further ado, then, here are my three books:

This book served both as my introduction into patristic theology and my introduction into deification. While Cassian himself never uses the language of deification, it was reading Cassian that led me to the Cappadocians, Augustine, Athanasius, etc. Without this book, and Cassian’s understanding of grace, I probably would not be doing my PhD on deification.


While I admittedly do very little philosophical theology in my PhD, John’s work in TST on the secular confirmed much for me as well as taught a whole new way of talking about society, secularity, and theology.


I’m cheating a bit here, but really Tolkien’s work on sub-creation, the purpose and place of fairy stories, and his practice of sub-creation in The Silmarillion have significantly influenced how I think about humanity’s role in the cosmos. Without this article and this book I wouldn’t be doing the work on poetry, faerie, and fantasy I’m doing in some side projects and in my PhD.

Next week, I’ll probably do a runners-up list. What about you? What books have most influenced your thinking/theology? Leave your answers in the comments below.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Essay Extract: ‘The Liturgy of the Week’

David Russell Mosley

Simon Ushakov's icon of the Mystical Supper.

Simon Ushakov’s icon of the Mystical Supper. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Second Sunday of Advent
8 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Since today is Sunday, the Lord’s Day, I thought I would post a section from my essay ‘Reclamation of Time’ here that deals with how we ought to view the whole week in light of Sunday. Please read and let me know what you think.

The Liturgy of the Week

From the year, then, with its seasons and major festivals, we move to the week, the unabated cycle followed no matter what the season or what celebrations or solemnities are found within it. The week centres around one specific day, called both the Lord’s Day and the First and Eighth Day. Here I wish to look at those two designations and how they affect the Christian approach to the rest of the week. Of course, central to both concepts is the celebration of the Paschal Feast, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Communion. Known by many names, and having many different theological interpretations, it is this celebration that is at the core of the liturgy of the week, both with understanding Sunday as the Lord’s Day and as the First and Eighth day.

The Lord’s Day

Sunday is the key to the liturgy of the week. It is the day of the Lord, the day on which Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ. While this can be celebrated, and often was celebrated––depending on how one reads Acts 2.46-47, ‘And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people’––everyday. Nevertheless, a week day could be a feast day or a fasting day, but Sunday can only be a feast day. It is a day of celebration, always. This is why in the West, Sundays are not included in the forty days of Lent. The Eucharist, then, along with the celebration of the resurrection, is what it at the core of Sunday as the Lord’s Day.

In one sense, the Eucharist transcends notions of feast days and fast days. As Schmemann writes, ‘No matter when the Liturgy is celebrated, on Sunday, a Feast Day, or on any day, in the day-time of at night, it is essentially independent of the day or hour; it is not determined by them. From this standpoint the time of its cele- bration is unimportant, since what is being accomplished in the service introduces and incorporates us into a reality which is no way subject to time.’1 Nevertheless, while the Eucharist can, and should, be celebrated on other days of the week and other kinds of days within the liturgy, it belongs to Sunday, or better, Sunday belongs to it. Again, Schmemann writes, ‘The celebration of the Eucharist is placed within the framework of the liturgy of time, so that being neither bound essentially to time nor determined by it, it is ‘correlative’ of time. This is seen even more clearly in the weekly cycle, where the Eucharist has its own day––the Lord’s Day or Sunday.’2 In one sense, it is the celebration of the Eucharist which gives the Day of the Lord its meaning within the week. It is the Lord’s Day for it is the day on which we always celebrate the Eucharist. On the other hand, however, Sunday as the Lord’s Day de- fines it as the appropriate day for the Eucharist since it is the day of the week on which the Lord rose from the dead. It seemingly must be both, for as noted above, the Eucharist is not bound to time, or even to Sundays, it can be celebrated at any time on any day, and yet it is precisely Sundays that are most appropriate because the connection to the resurrection.

The First and Eighth Day

For this reason, Sunday also can be called the First and Eighth Day. It is because of the Lord’s resurrection that we can look forward, to the return of Christ, which signifies that day outside the weekly cycle, that day which is eternal present. Sunday represents the day which Amos looks forward to ‘“when the ploughman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it” (Amos 9.13).’ Ploughing happens before planting, and certainly before harvesting, just treading grapes comes after, not before, the sowing of seed. Amos shows us a picture of eternal planting and harvest. This is a picture of what Sunday is as First and Eighth Day.

Sunday also serves us within time as the first day of week. Within time, it is Sunday that begins the weekly cycle. This means that every week begins with a cele- bration of the Eucharist, the resurrection of the Lord, and the awaiting of his return. It is interesting that as the Liturgy has developed over the years, every Sunday has either a name of its own, or a name in relation to a previous celebration. The Sundays in Advent are all named after Advent; Palm Sunday is its own day; even in the large expanse of Ordinary Time after Pentecost, every Sunday is either called Proper, or related to the previous celebration of Trinity Sunday (again its own day). Sundays do not have numbers within the month, rather, when they have numbers, it is numbers associated with a Season or specific Feast or Festival. To begin each week with a name, rather than a number (even if one only thinks of it only in terms of its more eternal perspective as the Lord’s Day) must affect how the rest of the week is then viewed. Even more, Sunday as the first day of the week, as compared to Monday, could have profound implications when the week begins not with work but with wor- ship. This, according to Josef Pieper, is the foundation for celebrations at all:

And similarly in divine worship a certain definite space is set aside from working hours and days, a limited time, specially marked off––and like the space allotted to the temple, is not used, is withdrawn from all merely utilitar- ian ends. Every seventh day is a period of time of that kind: that is what a feast is, and such is its only origin and justification.3

For Pieper, celebration, even leisure, have their source in divine worship, ‘The cele- bration of divine worship, then, is the deepest of the springs by which leisure is fed and continues to be vital––though it must be remembered that leisure embraces eve- rything which, without being merely useful, is an essential part of full human existence.’4 This leads him to the conclusion that a purely utilitarian life cannot have celebrations, cannot have feasts, cannot have leisure, for it lacks the foundation for this, worship. This is what Sunday both as the Lord’s Day and the First and Eighth Day, does for us, it grounds the weekly life cycle in worship, providing us with the opportunities for work and leisure.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

1 Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology trans by Asheleigh Moorhouse (London: The Faith Press, 1966), 35.

2 Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology trans by Asheleigh Moorhouse (London: The Faith Press, 1966), 36.

3 Josef Pieper, Leisure The Basis of Culture, trans. by Alexander Dru (London: Faber and Faber, 1952), 73.

4 Josef Pieper, Leisure The Basis of Culture, trans. by Alexander Dru (London: Faber and Faber, 1952), 76.


Essay Extract: The Liturgy of the Year

David Russell Mosley

English: Ash Wednesday, watercolor, 78 x 113 c...

English: Ash Wednesday, watercolor, 78 x 113 cm (detail) Polski: Popielec, akwarela, karton, 78 x 113 cm (frag.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First Week of Advent
3 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Here is an excerpt of an essay I am working on provisionally entitle ‘The Reclamation of Time’. I thought it would provide a good accompaniment to my letter from yesterday. Please, let me know what you think in the comments below.

The Liturgy of the Year

I want to begin, then, with the liturgy of the year. This is the macro-level at which Christians can look at time. As each year roles through, beginning with Ad- vent in late November or early December and ending in Ordinary Time in late No- vember, a kind of non-identical repetition emerges. The movable dates, like Advent, Ordinary Time, Ash Wednesday, Easter, etc., are now on different dates and some- times different days of the week. Nevertheless, despite the change, they remain in many ways the same, Ash Wednesday is still Ash Wednesday, Lent is still a time of fasting. However, we are different, the year is different, and the readings are differ- ent. Our experience of any particular date will change from year to to year and yet the structure remains the same. This is the big picture, which tells the story of Christ’s coming to Earth, his life during that time, his death, his resurrection, his as- cension, and his sending of the Holy Spirit. In between the major feasts (besides the lesser festivals and Saints’ Days) are the seasons that accompany them. Seasons of feasting and fasting. It is at this level that Christian explores the notion that all of his- tory is pointed toward the coming and return of Christ, that time, on a grand scale, is here to tell that story. The roots of the Christian year, can be found in the Scriptures, to which I shall now briefly turn.

David Russell Mosley

That there is a religious calendar for the ancient Hebrews is indisputable. When it came into its final form is beyond my purview. The point is that for the He- brew people, the theological and cultic ancestors of Christianity, the year was to be viewed through the lens of the various celebrations and commemorations of God’s actions in the history of Israel. The question then becomes, is this something, on the macro level, that was taken on by early Christianity. This seems equally clear from Luke’s use of Pentecost in Acts as well as Paul’s mention of it in 1 Corinthians 16.8. Still, however, there is little mention of any other major celebrations or commemora- tions in the works of the New Testament. It is, perhaps, a bit inconclusive to what extent the earliest Christians were beginning to think of the year in terms of God’s interactions with humanity throughout history, and especially in the sending of His Son. Nevertheless, with celebrations of the Old Testament in their blood, it at least provides a foundation on which to build a more intentional understanding of the year rather than a simple progression of months and seasons.

As the year developed over the centuries, it worked itself, like the Hebrew calendar before it, around the comings of God into human history. Louis Bouyer writes, ‘God’s intervention in the history of mankind since the Fall, God’s word mak- ing itself more and more perfectly heard and understood by men, all this Divine ac- tion seems from the beginning to be founded on one clearly defined objective:––the formation, out of common and fallen humanity, of a people which should eventually be God’s Own People.’1 These interventions, as he calls them,2 are for one purpose, to create a community known as the People of God. Thus in the yearly celebrations of God’s interactions with humanity, the people who celebrate form that very com- munity. They participate in the divine actions by commemorating them and even re- enacting them by their very celebrations. Bouyer writes concerning the homilies of

men like Gregory of Nazianzus and Leo the Great, ‘On every page, these [homilies] remind us of the fact that in the liturgical year we are not only making a commemo- ration of the past but also actually living again the realities on which we are meditat- ing with the Church.’3 The Church, which is forming itself and being formed into the People of God by participation in the celebrations and solemnities of the Church Year, is also participating in the realities being celebrated. In Advent we await the first and now also the second coming of Christ; in Christmas and Epiphany we live again the reality of his incarnation; in Lent we relive the reality of his death; in Easter his Resurrection and defeat of sin and death; in Pentecost, his sending of the Spirit. Even in Ordinary time we relive with the Church the reality of the times be- tween God’s obvious interactions with history. All of this points us ultimately to the return of Christ. Schmemann, commenting on Pentecost, writes, ‘No matter what the original liturgical expression of Pentecost may have been, its preservation in the Church––as the fifty day period following Easter––points again to the Christian ‘adoption’ of a definite understanding of the year, of time, of the natural cycles, as having a relation to the eschatological reality of the Kingdom.’4 In fact, as Bouyer argues, the Church Year is both an expression of the Word and Mystery entrusted to the Church, but it is also a kind of creation of that Mystery. That is, by participating in the liturgy, the Church calls forth Christ in the mystery. As he writes:

For the liturgical year, seen as a whole, is the great proclamation by the Church of the Word with which she is entrusted. In the celebration of the li- turgical year, therefore, the Mystery is proclaimed, communicated and par- ticipated in. Since the liturgy is, according to the fine phrase of Pius XI, “the principal organ of the ordinary magisterium of the Church,” and as liturgy is all set out within the framework of the liturgical year, the framework contains not only an expression of the Mystery, working by faith through charity and tending toward its final revelation. For the Word of the Mystery cannot be so solemnly proclaimed by the Church without thereby creating what it proclaims.5

The importance of the year cannot be underemphasises. It is preeminent to all the other liturgies of time which follow it. Therefore, I shall now move from the liturgy of the year to the liturgy of the week. It is, perhaps, interesting to note that there is no real liturgy of the month. This could possibly be the case because Christians, in part due to the Julian calendar and a rejection of things that appeared too Jewish, no longer followed a lunar calendar. It is also likely, however, that as the seasons of the Church Year developed, this implicitly became their liturgy of the month, or more appropriately, their liturgy of the season. Thus rather than having twelve months the Christian Year has six seasons (five if Epiphany is only a feast day and not a season).

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

1 Louis Bouyer, Life and Liturgy (London: Sheed and Ward, 1965), 23.
2 I would prefer a different word here from intervention, perhaps interjection, though even that provides too deist an account of the God who upholds the cosmos at all times.
3 Louis Bouyer, Life and Liturgy (London: Sheed and Ward, 1965), 186-7.
4 Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology trans by Asheleigh Moorhouse (London: The Faith Press, 1966), 69.
5 Louis Bouyer, Life and Liturgy (London: Sheed and Ward, 1965), 189.


Being a (Non-Roman) Catholic Evangelical: The Church Calendar

David Russell Mosley


St. Maria Parish Church, Sehnde, Holy Mass

St. Maria Parish Church, Sehnde, Holy Mass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First Week of Advent
2 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I want to begin this post with a disclaimer about the title. When I talk about being a (non-Roman) Catholic Evangelical, I do not mean this a slight to my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. I am not trying to suggest that Roman Catholics cannot be evangelicals or that being a (non-Roman) Catholic Evangelical is inherently better than being a Roman Catholic. I am simply trying to describe myself. I am not a Roman Catholic, and that for very specific reasons I will willingly discuss with anyone. However, I do view myself as Catholic as well as Evangelical. This letter is meant to serve both as an explanation of who I am as a Christian, that is, how I express my faith in Jesus Christ, and to serve somewhat as a call to those who might view either Catholic or Evangelical as pejorative terms to reconcile these two views.

There are many things I mean when I say I am a Catholic Evangelical. It means I like to read and study the Scriptures, but it also means I like to use incense, written prayers, and icons in my faith. It means that I believe in the Church Universal (the Church Catholic), that I like reading Creeds and take seriously the Tradition of the Church, but that my faith at an individual level is also a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It means I think there is something more going on in the Eucharist than mere symbolism or remembrance; but it also means that I’m not totally sold on priestly presidence over the Sacraments (for that matter, it means I talk in terms of sacraments). I could write an awful lot about each of these things, but the one I want to focus on today is the Church Calendar.

Readers of my blog will know that I often write letters on the various seasons of the Church Calendar, sometimes even writing about specific feasts. If you know much about the Restoration (or Stone-Campbell) Movement, however, you might find this odd. In my tradition, there are often, at most, two major Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter. Even then, I have several friends who don’t even observe these holidays because, ‘We ought to celebrate Christ’s coming and his Resurrection every day’. For others, the circular nature of the Church Calendar, minus Christmas and Easter, is perceived as too structured, too limited. I want to challenge that.

The Church Calendar provides us with an opportunity to view the year differently. Rather than the year beginning with a big party, the year begins remembering the waiting the world did for the first coming of Christ and the waiting we do for the second. Christmas then becomes a celebration of the first coming. Epiphany reminds us of aspects of Christ’s earthly life. Lent reminds us of the cost of our sins. Easter reminds us that we have a risen saviour. Ordinary time reminds us that most of God’s actions throughout history take place in the everyday. The Feasts and Festivals throughout the year remind of God’s faithful who lived and died for Christ and who can encourage us to do the same. This is part of what the Church Calendar can offer us.

However, it also offers a check to world. It shows the world that we need not be bound by secular structures or working time and time off, of work weeks and weekends. It is, in essence, an evangelistic tool (as well as a tool for discipleship). It shows non-Christians the intentionality with which we live as Christians. It shows non-Christians that we are an inherently celebratory people, that we live to celebrate, to feast, to party. But it also shows that we know temperance, that celebration requires preparation, contemplation. We feast, but we also fast.

This is a large part of what it means for me to be a Catholic Evangelical. It means that I want to live in this world recognising that God is sovereign, that the way I think of the year is bound up in God’s actions within this world. But that I also see this as evangelistic, that it tells the Good News both to those who believe and those who do not.

If you, like me, come from or are in a tradition that takes little heed of the Church Calendar, I highly recommend that you start. Start in your personal life, in you home. Encourage others in your church to do so. See what kind of impact it can have. If, however, you come from a tradition who makes liberal use of the Church Calendar, make sure that you don’t forget what its purpose is, to proclaim the Gospel to believer and non-believer alike. Make sure you really live the Church Calendar, that it invades and pervades you body and soul.

If you want some resources for how to go about using the Church Calendar, I recommend looking at my previous letters on the subject. Also, I highly recommend going here, and look at some prayers and readings you can do to keep the Church Calendar at the front of your mind.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley