Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Epiphany and Holy Days of Expectation

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany in which we celebrate the manifestation of Jesus’ divine nature and the light he sheds in our hearts and in the world. While it is a Principle Feast Day of the church calendar and has in some times and places been held in great honor, for many in the contemporary church in America, it seems a bit of an afterthought. Is this, perhaps because we’ve allowed too much meaning and importance to be placed upon Christmas? For whatever the reason, we should reclaim the significance of Epiphany.

This has me wondering about major feast days in general. In the Roman Catholic Church, there are Holy Days of Obligation when faithful Catholics are obliged to be at worship:
"On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass. Moreover they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body." Canon 1247.
According to Roman Catholic canon 1246:
"Sunday, on which by apostolic tradition the paschal mystery is celebrated, must be observed in the universal Church as the primordial holy day of obligation. The following days must also be observed: the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension, the Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary the Mother of God, her Immaculate Conception, her Assumption, Saint Joseph, Saint Peter and Saint Paul the Apostles, and All Saints."

Holy Days of Obligation have not been part of the Anglican tradition. We have typically been less inclined to legislate the particulars of our piety. Still, Holy Days are set apart for us to celebrate together who God is and what God has done for us. As such they are occasions for rejoicing that are both formative and edifying. Christians might be expected to gather for worship and the celebration of the Eucharist on such days.

Along with Sundays, I suggest that Episcopalians would do well to consider the Principle Feasts found on p. 15 of the Book of Common Prayer (Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, All Saints’, Christmas, and Epiphany) as "Hoy Days of Expectation". At least on these days we should expect to participate in the Eucharist and “abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.”


Derek the Ænglican said...

Actually per the very first substantive sentence in the BCP: "The Holy Eucharist [is] the principal act of public worship and the Lord's day and other major Feasts..."

"Major feasts" as used elsewhere in the book indicate Calendar categories 1 through 3. The BCP itself expects Eucharists on these days--but very few parishes actually do...

Matt Gunter said...

Point taken Derek. At St. Barnabas we do celebrate the Eucharist on most of these(some, but not all, of the "Other Major Feasts" under category 3 get slighted). I would be glad to add Holy Name, Presentation, and Transfiguration to a list of Holy days of Expectation.

At this point, just getting folk to consider the observance of these Principle Feasts of our Lord as an expectation seems a place to start.

Derek the Ænglican said...

Well, the first step is getting folk to consider that the faith isn't something that we confine to Sundays... :-)