Monday, May 14, 2007

More objections to the Liturgical Calendar

I have been discussing my objections to the Liturgical Year or Liturgical Calendar. I thought I would add a few much more general objections before discussing the Continental Reformed practice of Feast Days.

My first objection is that it de-emphasizes part of the year. Roughly half of the year is spent celebrating seasons of the church and the other half is called "ordinary time". Some denominations try to spice that up a little by calling it "kingdomtide", but the effect is the same. Church is just ordinary when it is not Advent or Lent or some other season. The special season have special colors, rituals, and celebrations all their own, and then ordinary time has only Sundays. It is simple human nature to see what the reaction to the non-seasonal aspects of the year will be. It will be looked down upon, or overlooked as people wait on the next season of the year. This is not a healthy view of Church life.

My second objection is that too much time is spent penitentially preparing and not enough time celebrating what we already have. Advent is a time to repent and prepare. Lent is a time to repent and prepare. Lent is 40 days plus Sundays, and Advent is over twenty-eight days counting Sundays. Christmas season is twelve days, and Eastertide is fifty days. However, Eastertide really only has Easter, Ascension Day, and Pentecost as the celebrations as opposed to Lent which has Holy Week (an event every day), Ash Wednesday, St. Patrick’s Day, and other days that are taken more seriously by Rome than by Protestants like the Annunciation. The focus of the year falls heavily on the penitential time of Lent and Advent. This sort of emphasis fits well with the Roman Catholic dogma, but does it have a place in Protestantism where we do not earn salvation but it is freely given?

A sub-point of my second objection is how this makes us view the Lord’s Day. Is it ever right to have the church covered in Penitential Purple on the day we celebrate the victory of Jesus Christ over the grave and over sin? Even though Lent does not require fasting on Sunday’s because it recognizes the inherent problems with such a position, the church is still focused on the teaching of Lent (penitence) during the Lord’s Day that fall during that time. Advent is the same way. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is to be celebrated every Sunday. I think legitimate concerns can be raised about the Liturgical Calendar and this point of doctrine and practice.

My third objection is the circular nature of the calendar is stale, artificial, and not the cycle God gave us. While I do not go as far as men like Hughes Oliphant Old who linked the Liturgical Calander with nature worship (Penitential mourning at Advent coincides with Winter, joyous celebration occurs with the return of Spring signaled by Easter), I do think the calendar does not follow the clear cycle set forth by God for us. The week is created for us to work six and worship one. This is clear-cut in the Scripture, and I believe undermined by the Calendar as Sundays are lowered beneath special days (maybe not in theory but often in practice). This combined with never ending cycle of preparing-brief celebration-nothing-preparing-brief celebration make me think the criticism of a stale worship falls both ways at least.

A fourth and final objection is the nature of the Post-Pentecost Church. The Liturgical Calendar is focused on reliving the Incarnation, Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. While no one disagrees those are important points of the Gospel, the question is whether or not we are to relive them as a church over and over again. While Old Testament Israel was set up on a series of feasts and festivals, the New Testament church is never given such commands or examples. Pentecost comes and the Church is now for all nations and is free from those OT festivals because they are fulfilled in Christ. One of the main differences between the Liturgical Calendar and the Non-Calendar position is the idea of a Post-Pentecost church. The Calendar relives the life of Christ every year while the Non-Calendar lives in the Spirit every week. What I mean by that is that church that does not follow the Calendar is free to follow the Spirit’s guidance, to preach on whatever seems important, focus on specific issues, respond to needs, and celebrate the life and death and resurrection from the dead of Christ how it sees fit. I think this is an important difference between the Liturgical Calendar and non-Calendar churches.


Anonymous said...

I understand your misgivings but believe that your comments betray a form of nascent gnosticism when you say that the Non-Calendar is somehow more spiritual precisely because it not embodied in time and space.

You say it is good to remember and meditate on these things but you question whether or not we should celebrate these things as a church. As Christians our life is in Christ and in the Church. There is no such thing as a loner Christian. The Church, living together sacramentaly in community and celebrating the Incarnation and Resurrection and other evangelical mysteries is what being saved looks like.

I am not as disciplined and spiritual to be able to meditate as I should without the Church and the Church gives me a wonderful way to live and experience and celebrate, feast not simply mediate, on these blessed events and to bring them in to my heart. Left on my own I might get lazy and not think about them at all or only focus on parts of the gospel that interest me. Thank God that Christ has given us the Church to be our mother.

And I also object to Roman Catholics calling the season after Pentecost Sunday "Ordinary Time," since it most certainly is not ordinary. All the other seasons are anticipatory, but Trinity is celebratory and rightly takes up the majority of the year. I don't call it ordinary time, I call it Sunday's after Trinity or simply Trinity.


Ryan C.

Lee said...

Ryan C,
Thanks for your comments. I am not suggesting that people should avoid church or be loner Christians at all. I just think that the Liturgical Calendar sometimes teaches us things that tend toward a more Roman view of salvation than a Protestant one.

I appreciate your point about not wanting to meditate only on the parts of the gospel that interest us, but I think the Liturgical Calendar falls into that trap rather than avoids it. The non-calendar method of preaching is usually to just progress through a book of the Bible rather than follow a lectionary. Going through entire books has many advantages, one of which is that we are unable to simply focus on our own hobby horses and are forced to appreciate all of God's word. The Litrugical Calendar repeats certain aspects of the gospel and the lectionary picks and chooses for us, which I believe is a less thorough way of dealing with the whole of Scripture.

Chris said...

As a Catholic I must point out that "Ordinary Time" is not "Ordinary".

A quick look at Wikipedia:
explains "The term Ordinary does not mean common or plain, but is derived from the term ordinal or "numbered." The weeks in ordinary time are numbered, although several Sundays are named for the feast they commemorate, such as Trinity Sunday (first Sunday after Pentecost) and the Feast of Christ the King (last Sunday in OT), and for American Catholics, the Feast of Corpus Christi (second Sunday after Pentecost)."

This is a common misconception.


Chris R.

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Anonymous said...

Thank you for your posting about the liturgical calendar. As a protestant minister, I have long had an "uncomfortable" feeling about these practices in the church. You have succeeded in crystalizing these reservations and clarifying them for me. It appears to me that if we focused our attentions upon celebrating Christ's resurrection each Sunday, perhaps we would not feel the need to join in with such artificial practices as Lent or others.