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.

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Fasting while Waiting: Advent

David Russell Mosley

 

English: Advent wreath, First Advent Sunday

English: Advent wreath, First Advent Sunday (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

26 November 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

For those of us in the West, the season of Advent is nearly upon us. In just a few days time our Christian year begins again. I’ve always found it interesting that our New Year begins with waiting. We begin by putting ourselves in the shoes of the Israelites after the exile, awaiting this promised branch of Jesse. We put ourselves in Mary’s shoes, awaiting the nativity of the Son of Man and Son of God. But we also remind ourselves of our own situation; our own waiting for the Lord’s return. We begin each year waiting. Waiting for Christmas, certainly, as we recapitulate the waiting that has gone on before us waiting for the birth of Christ; but also waiting for his coming again.

There are two seasons of waiting, in a sense, in the Christian Year. The first is Advent, but the second is Lent, that waiting for the resurrection. When we celebrate Lent, however, we fast, reminding ourselves that the light has gone out of the world and that we depend on that light for our sustenance. It was traditional, however, to also fast in Advent. In fact, the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Advent for forty days prior to Christmas for that very reason. In the West, however, as well, it was traditional to fast during the four weeks and a bit, usually, that precedes the celebration of the Nativity.

With that in mind, I want to encourage you to fast this Advent. Traditionally, one would have fasted from meats, sweets, etc. during Advent, but as often happens with Lent, this may be a time to fast from other things as well (the internet, social media, Christmas music, Christmas movies, etc.). This Advent I’ll be giving up watching TV on my own. I often fill the silent moments in my life with TV shows and phone games, so I’m going to use Advent as an opportunity to remove some of the distractions in my life and remind myself that God often speaks in the silences.

Have you ever fasted during Advent? If so, from what? How did you find it? Let me know.

 

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

A Life of Rhythm: The Church Calendar and the Divine Hours

David Russell Mosley

5 October 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Students,

Welcome, first and foremost, to my blog. I asked Pete a few days ago if it was alright to do a quick response to what we heard from Steve on Tuesday. He said yes, so now I’m burdening you with my thoughts. Please, take them for what they are, my personal, albeit reasoned and studied, thoughts.

As Steve so rightly taught, it is essential to have rhythm in life. Just like the vine in John 15, we cannot, yet, always be in fruit. Still, we may be left wondering how we develop a rhythm, what a good rhythm could look like that includes both times of action and times of rest and yet always fits under the umbrella of abiding with Christ. There is one way, a rather excellent one, I think of having intentional rhythm in your life that has come down to us from Christians in centuries past; it is called liturgy. Specifically, I am talking about the liturgy of the year, also known as the Church Calendar, and the liturgy of the day, otherwise known as the Divine Office or Divine Hours. Being more intentional about including these two aspects of the Christian Tradition can help you live your Christian faith more intentionally and with a sense of rhythm.

If you want, you can look back through some of my older posts on the various aspects of the Church Calendar. Right now, I just want to encourage you to start thinking of your year in these terms. The Christian year begins with Advent (usually late November or early December). This year Advent begins on the first of December. And goes until Christmas Eve Advent is a time of waiting. We remember the waiting the world did for the first coming of Christ, and yet we also recognise that we are waiting for the return of Christ. Advent is often a time of fasting From Advent we move to Christmas, which begins on Christmas Eve and continues until the the eve of Epiphany on January fifth. Christmas, of course, is the time where we celebrate the coming of God into the world in human flesh. From Christmas we move to Epiphany (6 January to the 1 February). Epiphany celebrates the life of Christ, especially his baptism. After Epiphany is the feast of Candlemas celebrating the presentation of Christ at the temple by his parents. Starting on February third, then, we enter Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time reminds us that God is also present in the everyday (where we spend most of our lives) as well as the special events. Ordinary time continues until Ash Wednesday (5 March 2014). Ash Wednesday kicks off the second main time of fasting called Lent. During Lent we remember that Christ died for our sins, we confess our sins and remind ourselves why we needed a saviour (on a side note, people often fast or give something up during Lent. It is important to remember that for Christians Sundays are always Feast Days, because we celebrate the resurrection of Christ. This means we cease fasting for every Sunday in Lent). Lent goes until Holy Week, which is the Week before Easter. During this time we remember the events that led up to and include the Crucifixion of Christ). Easter begins Saturday evening and goes until Pentecost fifty days later. Pentecost is a one off celebration to remind us that Christ has given us the Holy Spirit. After Pentecost is another set of Ordinary Time until the year begins again with Advent.

The Christian Year, in my opinion, offers perhaps the best way to live the year out rhythmically. It allows us to both feast and fast with purpose. One way to make sure you pay attention to the Church Year is to take part in the Divine Hours.

My prayer station at home.

My prayer station at home.

The Divine Hours, or Divine Office, is a series of daily times of prayer. Most monks and nuns use some form of these prayers every day. Here in the Church of England with Common Worship  we have provided for us Morning Prayer, Prayer During the Day, and Evening Prayer. Common Worship has set readings and prayers for each of the seasons so we can be more aware of what season we are in. You can find all this for free on the Church of England’s website here: Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer in Ordinary Time, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer in Seasonal Time, Prayer During the Day Ordinary Time, Prayer During the Day Seasonal Time. I myself say Morning Prayer at 6, Prayer During the Day at or around Noon, and Evening Prayer at about 5. Having set times of prayer helps us organise our days around God and worshipping him (which is what liturgy means, worship), rather than organising our days around work or television or the things of the world. These prayers are set up to be used corporately, but can be done on your own as well. Morning and Evening prayer can also be accompanied by Scripture readings from the Lectionary which you can find here (note: we’re in year C until Advent when we switch to year A). Morning and Evening prayer take about 15-20 minutes and Prayer During the Day takes about 10-12 minutes.

Well, this has gotten too long as it is and so I will bring it to a close. Nevertheless, allow me to encourage you once more to consider using the Church Calendar and the Divine Hours to help you find more rhythm in life. They have been immensely helpful to me. This is, of course, not suitable for everyone and there are many ways to introduce more rhythm into your life, but this is the way I have found most useful and it is also a very traditional way to do so.

See you all on Tuesday.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley