Today, January 25th, is the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. There is a nice arrangement of the liturgical calendar in the fact that exactly one month after Christmas, in the season of Epiphany, comes the feast of the great missionary apostle. It is also the last day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This eight-day period has been observed since 1908. It begins on January 18. Originally Anglican, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic churches all observed it as feast of St. Peter. Thus the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity unites the feast of these two apostles who are often seen as rivals.
It is possible to read too much into the traditional assignment of days to the feasts of biblical saints. Since the dates of their death or martyrdom are generally unknown, their traditional days have more do to with the dedication of churches in their honor, if their origin is known at all.
But, since allegorical interpretation is common in Christianity, one may consider that:
The feast of St. Andrew, the first apostle to be called to follow Jesus, begins the liturgical year on November 30.
The feast of “doubting” Thomas occurs on the shortest day of the year (in the northern hemisphere) when the light of the sun begins to grow stronger over the darkness of the night.
The feast of John the Apostle, Evangelist, and Beloved Disciple is closest to Jesus’ birthday. This is fitting both because he was the disciple who reclined next to Jesus at the Last Supper, and whom the Gospel of John says served as an intermediary for Peter on a few occasions.
The twin feasts of the Confession of Peter and the Conversion of Paul have a nice alliterative symmetry in English. They twin the sometime-rival apostles in the winter even as they are twinned in the feast of their martyrdom in the summer on June 29. As Paul has often been seen as the “type” and “representative” of Protestantism, grace, and freedom and Peter of Roman Catholicism, law, and order, octave, or eight days including their feasts is well chosen as a time to emphasize Christian Unity. They also figure most prominently in the story of early Christian missions in the Acts of the Apostles and thus fittingly occur in the season of Epiphany that is so closely associated with mission.
The feasts of Simon and Jude, two of the most obscure apostles occurs near the end of the year, shortly before the feast of All Saints’, which exists in part to honor those saints whom the church has forgotten.
Of course not all Christian observe the same calendar of saints. In reforming and consolidating their medieval inheritance, Western Christian have taken slightly different paths. In the 1960s, the Roman Catholic church
Moved the feast of St. Thomas to July 3 so it would not be overshadowed by the special observances leading up to Christmas.
Moved the feast of St. Matthais was moved from February 25, which often falls in Lent, to May 14. Some have suggested that it be observed on the Monday after the Ascension, since Mathias’s only appearance in the Bible is when he is chosen after Jesus’ ascension and before Pentecost.
Combined the two feasts of the Chair of Peter (on January 18 and February 22) into one on February 22.
Anglicans and Lutherans kept January 18 as the Confession of St. Peter and did not observe February 22. But they have divided among themselves on whether to follow the other changes. The Episcopal Church and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod have kept the traditional dates, while the Church of England and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have adopted the new Roman dates. The two major variations of the the Western calendar of apostolic feasts follow below.
Calendar of the Episcopal Church and Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod
November 30 – Andrew December 21 – Thomas December 27 – John January 18 – Peter (confession of) January 25 – Paul (conversion of) February 25 – Matthias May 1 – Philip and James (the less, son of Alphaeus) June 11 – Barnabas June 29 – Peter and Paul July 25 – James (the greater, son of Zebedee) August 24 – Bartholomew September 21 – Matthew October 28 – Simon and Jude
General Roman Calendar
November 30 – Andrew December 27 – John January 25 – Paul (conversion of) February 22 – Peter (chair of) May 3 – Philip and James (the less, son of Alphaeus) May 14 – Matthias June 11 – Barnabas June 29 – Peter and Paul July 3 – Thomas July 25 – James (the greater, son of Zebedee) August 24 – Bartholomew September 21 – Matthew October 28 – Simon and Jude
I learned yesterday that the Birmingham Historical Society’s newest book, Shades Creek: Flowing through Timewill be released Saturday at the annual Salamander Festival sponsored by the Friends of Shades Creek. The cover photo appears to be of the portion of Shades Creek adjacent to Samford’s Intramural Fields. The rapids in the foreground are formed by a watervane Samford installed in 2010 to help stabilize the bank and improve the quality of the creek. My colleagues in our biology and environmental science programs can tell you the mixed story of that experiment’s success. They can also fill you in on the salamanders that migrate into pools adjacent to this site about this time every year.
My part in this book was sharing my research on the development of Samford’s Lakeshore campus with Marjorie White, the historical society’s long-time leader and one of the book’s principal authors. It was great to discuss the contribution tot he campusof the famous landscape architectural firm Olmsted Brothers with someone who knows so much about their work and their contribution to Birmingham. I can’t wait to read the finished product.
After Howard College, now Samford University, purchased land on the north side of Shades Creek Road, now Lakeshore Drive, in 1947, it was given the flood plain of Shades Creek which had recently been a lake by the county for a dollar. Gradually Samford sold off or developed most of that land which resulted in the channelizing of the once winding creek. The book will tell the story of this development.
Bizarrely, Google Maps still labels the lake and shows part of the creek’s winding path even though both ceased to exist before Google existed.
Part of my research on the development of Samford’s campus on the north side of Lakeshore Drive was published in Samford’s Seasons magazine in the Winter 2005 issue. You can read the four page article here. The whole issue and other issues are available are available on the Samford website. Much of the article focuses on the changes between the initial site plan prepared in 1947 by the Boston-based landscape architects, Olmsted Brothers, and the later plan that guided development to the present day. The Birmingham-based firm Van Keuren and Davis (now Davis Architects) partnered with Olmsted Brothers in the first plan, but developed the second by itself.
The initial plan arranged the main quad at an angle to Lakeshore Drive so that it was sited toward the lake. It also had separate quadrangles for men’s and women’s dorms and a back entrance on to Saulter Road. The chapel, rather than the library, was placed at the head of the main drive.
This plan was abandoned because grading the land to develop it was estimated to be too expensive. This was due in part to apparent inconsistencies between the topographic information supplied to Olmsted Brothers and the actual topography of the land. Van Keuren and Davis’s 1955 plan was more compact, more enclosed, and veered away from the traditions of landscape architecture favored by Olmsted and more toward the classical Beaux-Arts tradition.
By using a smaller portion of the site, it left more room for later development, including the eventual sale of the eastern end of the campus to Southern Progress. This land and the three large buildings now on it was repurchased in 2014 and now housed the College of Health Sciences.
The legacy of the Olmsted Brothers plan survives in few ways. These include the location of the site itself, the siting of the main entrance, and the positioning of the performing arts center near Lakeshore Drive and the west gate. Marjorie White has long championed the legacy of Olmsted Brothers and other landscape architects in Birmingham. I look forward to reading more about this in her new book.
In the summer of 2017, the Center for Worship and the Arts at Samford University produced a nine-minute video on understanding church architecture. It was used in Animate, their week-long summer program for teenagers and others. I provided the narration. I’ll be referring to it in a talk at a All Saints’ Episcopal Church this week, so I’m sharing it here for easy access. I hope you find it helpful.
They produced a teaching activity handout based on my notes. If you are interested, let me know, and I’ll see if we can track down a copy.
My students know that I am fascinated by religious calendars and liturgical texts. These come together uniquely in the the formal announcement of the date of Easter and other feasts at the celebration of the Epiphany. This ancient custom originated long before printed calendars and may seem utterly unnecessary today. Indeed for most of the history of printing, it has not been performed in parish churches. Yet, in recent decades it has been revived in some Roman Catholic and other churches as a way of linking the observance of Christ’s birth to his resurrection. There now two texts commonly used for the proclamation in English. I think both have there merits and that the one more commonly used by Anglicans and Episcopalians would benefit from a few edits.
History A variety of sources from the fifth and sixth centuries testify that after parish clergy received news of the date of Easter each year from their bishop they would announce it on Epiphany. From at least the sixteenth century, however, in the Roman Rite the announcement occurred only in Epiphany masses celebrated by a bishop. It survived longer as a practice in parish churches in the Parasian Rite. But this use was curtailed in the nineteenth century. Beginning in the 1970s, Liturgy Training Publications published an English version of it for optional use in Catholic parishes (Merz 2011). A few Episcopalians, Anglicans and perhaps some other Protestants began to use it as well to add an additional festive element to the Epiphany celebration and unite the nativity and paschal cycles of the church year.
Texts, Music, and Variations Two English texts for the proclamation are in common use. A translation of the Latin text is supplied in the current Roman Missal (2011). Its content is very matter-of-fact. It begins, “Know, dear brothers and sisters that, as we have rejoiced at the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, so by leave of God’s mercy, we announce to you also the joy of his resurrection” and then proceeds to list the dates. Its liturgical performance, however, is more significant than the text itself. It is sung to the same tone as the Easter Proclamation (the Exsultet). For those familiar with it, it brings the full joy and solemnity of the Easter Vigil into the Epiphany eucharist. (The text and a video of its performance are near the end of this post.)
A longer form, approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1989, was used by Roman Catholics through 2011. It is still the version most commonly used by Episcopalians and Anglicans. This longer form is more instructive and can hold its own in the liturgy even if it is not sung. It was published to be sung to a preface tone, not the Exsultet. Using the same tone as the Exsultet would be an improvement.
The text itself needs improvement in at least two places. First, it states, “from Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy.” This is true theologically. And thus through a “theological license” one might deem it liturgically acceptable. Yet, it is not true calendrically and the proclamation is about the details of the calendar. Second, given the Easter-centered elaboration in this text, the abrupt announcement of the date of the First Sunday of Advent sounds like an awkward. It should be included more logically into the flow of the proclamation. Here is the text as it stands, below it I will propose changes to remedy this problems.
Dear brothers and sisters, the glory of the Lord has shone upon us, and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of his return. Through the rhythms of times and seasons let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation. Let us recall the year’s culmination, the Easter Triduum of the Lord: his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial, and his rising celebrated between the evening of the . . . of . . . and the evening of the . . . of . . . Each Easter–as on each Sunday–the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed by which Christ has for ever conquered sin and death. From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the . . . of . . .. The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on the . . . of . . . Pentecost, the joyful conclusion of the season of Easter, will be celebrated on the . . . of . . . And this year the First Sunday of Advent will be on the . . . of . . . . Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed. To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise, for ever and ever. R. Amen
“The Proclamation of the Date of Easter on Epiphany,” Sacramentary Supplement . . . Approved for Use in the Diocese of the United States of America by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and Confirmed by the Apostolic See (New York: Catholic Book Publishing, 1994), 28
The first change I propose is simply to insert the word “moveable” before “days we keep holy.” This brings the text in line with the realities of the calendar. The dates of Christmas and most saints’ days are in no way affected by Easter’s changing date.
The second change is to move the announcement of the date of the beginning of Advent until after the sentence about the feasts of the saints, and to link it to them. There are a couple of good ways to do this. My preference is to follow ancient tradition and the universal norms for the Catholic calendar issued by Pope Paul VI and state that Advent begins on the Sunday closest to St. Andrew’s Day, November 30 (Roman Missal,114). The First Sunday of Advent is always both the fourth Sunday before December 25th and the Sunday nearest November 30. Since Andrew was the first apostle called by Jesus, it makes sense that he begins the liturgical year. With this change I suggest the end of the proclamation be:
“Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed. “These conclude and begin anew with the feast of Andrew, the first Apostle to follow the Lord, on the 30th of November. Thus the First Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ will be the … day of …. “To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise, for ever and ever.”
(If November 30 is a Sunday, Andrew’s feast is transferred to December 1. In that case the text is given as above, but with December 1 given as Andrew’s day.)
If the mention of St. Andrew is not desirable, an alternative ending is
“These days are reckoned from the Nativity of our Lord, as is the season of his Advent which this year will begin on Sunday, the . . . of . . ..
Arguably, the reference to the “day of his return” in the opening of this long form of the proclamation invites a more significant reference to Advent and the Second Coming as a kind of inclusio, but I’ll save that proposal for others or another time.
Full texts of the short form, the long form with my edits, and other resources follow below.
‘Short Form’ Announcement of Easter and the Movable Feasts (Roman Missal, 2011) — Text and Performance
Know, dear brethren (brothers and sisters), that, as we have rejoiced at the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, so by leave of God’s mercy we announce to you also the joy of his Resurrection, who is our Savior. On the … day of … will fall Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of the fast of the most sacred Lenten season. On the … day of … you will celebrate with joy Easter Day, the Paschal feast of our Lord Jesus Christ. On the …day of … will be the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.] On the … day of …, the feast of Pentecost. On the … day of …, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. On the … day of …, the First Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom is honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
“The Announcement of Easter and the Moveable Feasts” Roman Missal (USCCB, 2011), 1448-49
As Corinna Laughlin notes in her pastoral introduction to the text, the fact that the Roman Missale does not include the text of the Epiphany proclamation without music suggests that if it is not sung, it should not be read (Proclamations 2011). That makes sense to me if this short form is to be used.
‘Long Form’ “The Proclamation of the Date of Easter on Epiphany” (1989) Sacramentary Supplement (1994) — Performance
‘Long Form’ with suggested amendments incorporated
Dear brothers and sisters, the glory of the Lord has shone upon us, and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of his return. Through the rhythms of times and seasons let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation. Let us recall the year’s culmination, the Easter Triduum of the Lord: his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial, and his rising celebrated between the evening of the . . . of . . .and the evening of the . . . of . . .. Each Easter – as on each Sunday – the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed by which Christ has for ever conquered sin and death. From Easter are reckoned all the movable days we keep holy. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the . . . of . . . . The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on the . . . of . . .. Pentecost, the joyful conclusion of the season of Easter, will be celebrated on the . . . of . . .. Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed. These conclude and begin anew with the feast of Andrew, the first Apostle to follow the Lord, on the 30th of November. Thus the First Sunday of the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ will be the … of …. To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history, be endless praise, for ever and ever. R. Amen
In an earlier post I mentioned that some evangelical supporters of President Donald Trump see him as “a ‘Cyrus’ figure.” A few recent publications have brought more attention to that idea.
In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Katherine Stewart reports that evangelical author Lance Wallnau has drawn draws a rhetorical connection between the 45th president and a chapter of Isaiah in which Cyrus appears, “I believe the 45th president is meant to be an Isaiah 45 Cyrus.” Stewart further explains,
Ralph Drollinger, who has led weekly Bible study groups in the White House attended by Vice President Mike Pence and many other cabinet members, likes the word “king” so much that he frequently turns it into a verb. “Get ready to king in our future lives,” he tells his followers. “Christian believers will — soon, I hope — become the consummate, perfect governing authorities!”
The great thing about kings like Cyrus, as far as today’s Christian nationalists are concerned, is that they don’t have to follow rules. They are the law. This makes them ideal leaders in paranoid times.
In a Washington Post interview published the next day, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. doesn’t explicitly compare Trump to Cyrus, but does state that there is nothing Mr. Trump will do that will jeopardize his evangelical support. He also firmly endorses a form of a two kingdoms theology.
There’s two kingdoms. There’s the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom. In the heavenly kingdom the responsibility is to treat others as you’d like to be treated. In the earthly kingdom, the responsibility is to choose leaders who will do what’s best for your country.
Such a theology does not require supporters to value the president’s personal character or religious faith. Though as Stewart points out their preference for him as a strong, unquestioning leader does dovetail with many recent themes in conservative evangelical theology and church polity. Strong executives are in, congregational government is out.