The practice of referring to the Wednesday of Holy Week as “Spy Wednesday” appears to be growing. I only heard it a few years ago, and I have long enjoyed learning about the details of the liturgical calendar. So I’m surprised I didn’t know about it. My wife is equally interested in liturgy, and between being a student and a teacher spent 22 years in Roman Catholic parochial schools. But she never heard it there.
She says she first encountered it through Lent Madness, which is only in its tenth year. (Lent Madness is fun, silly, educational, and devotional. Think March Madness but with Christian saints instead of college basketball teams, and votes from spectators, not shots by players. If you hurry you can still vote to determine the champion, the final round is always on Spy Wednesday.)
It turns out that the first reference that the Oxford English Dictionary provides for “Spy Wednesday” is from Samuel Lover’s Handy Andy: A Tale of Irish Life (1842). So at least in Ireland, it goes back at least to the nineteenth century. It is called Spy Wednesday, because according to the gospels it was on Wednesday that Judas Iscariot’s decided to betray Jesus.
For what it is worth, the nifty N-Gram viewer provided by Google Books suggests that the phrase “Spy Wednesday” was most popular in the 1940s, and then again around 1990. But Google only searches its data through 2000, so we don’t know about the past twenty years.
Of course “Spy Wednesday” is far less common than either of names for Thursday in Holy Week. I’m not surprised to see that “Holy Thursday” is ascending and “Maundy Thursday” is descending, but I still prefer Maundy.
Apparently the internet prefers Maundy Thursday too. Google gives me 3.23 million results for “Maundy Thursday” but only 1.83 million for “Holy Thursday.” Spy Wednesday has just 50,500, after all, it is far from the week’s main event.
Samford University Library posts an historic photo of an Alabama Baptist Church every Sunday as a “church spotlight.” I’m going to start to do the same from churches far and wide in my collection. This week is St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, Hastings, Michigan. I wondered in there one Saturday in June 2006. It is a modest-sized church on a residential street near the town center. It has interesting art and a good-sized apse. It is an appropriate place off the beaten path for this first post.
I know almost nothing about the church but later I used an photo of the representation of the Trinity above its altar as an illustration in the chapter on Christianity that I wrote for Understanding the Religions of the World. So now a lot of students who have never even been to the church have seen a piece of it.
When introducing students to Judaism, one text I always discuss is the Shema, the passage of the Torah that is the centerpiece of Jewish daily prayer. It begins at Deuteronomy 6:4 with the words “Shema yisrael,” or in English, “Hear O Israel.” It then continues
The Lord is our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9, New Jewish Publication Society translation
The Shemaconcludes with the recitation of Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. In class we usually just focus on the words in Deuteronomy 6.
When we discuss the commandment to “bind them as a sign on your hand” and “inscribe them . . . on your gates.,” I mention that this has shaped the traditional Jewish practice of wearing small boxes containing scripture (tefillin) during daily prayer and hanging a container containing it (a mezuzah) on the door post of homes. I also mention that it has shaped the front gate of their own university.
Samford’s Main Gate
The university, then known as Howard College, moved to its new campus in Shades Valley in 1957. Promotional drawings show that a gate such as graces the main entrance was part of the master plan.
However no gate was built until after the college became a university by acquiring Cumberland School of Law and was renamed, in 1965, in honor of the chair of its board of trustees, insurance executive Frank P. Samford. In gratitude for honor, Mr. and Mrs. Samford donated front gate bearing the school’s new name.
When the Alabama Baptist State Convention was debating what to rename the university, the leading rival to “Samford University” was “Alabama Baptist University.” The vote for “Samford” at the Alabama Baptist State Convention was close, 593 to 512. Perhaps as a nod to those who preferred the longer name, and definitely to reflect the school’s close tie to the convention, the new gate included the phrase “An Agency of the Alabama Baptist State Convention.”
In the late 1980s, President Thomas E. Corts grew troubled by these words. He explained in his memoir, “lawyers had taught me that ‘agency’ has special legal consequence, and the Convention would likely not want to position itself to accept ascending liability.” Convention leaders agreed and Corts replaced the agency sign “with the best quotation I could think of, a foundational statement, the statement Jesus made in response to the question: ‘What is the great commandment?'” (Corts, Legacy of Gratitude (2007), 34).
The famous passage appears three times in the New Testament. Given sign’s relatively small size, Corts chose the most concise version, Luke 10:27. “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself” (Luke 10:27, King James Version).
I jokingly tell my students, that the change is testament to the fact that if you want displace Baptists at Samford, you have to use the Bible. Indeed given how Samford redefined its relationship to the convention in 1994 and again in 2017, a change in the sign would have had to come, even without Corts’s concern with “agency.”
The Shema vs. The Summary of the Law
Perhaps to support the change, Corts often referred to the passage as “the Shema,” thus emphasizing its root in Deuteronomy 6 and its commandment to write God’s words “on your gates.” Referring to the passage as the Shema, however, causes confusion to those who know Hebrew or the Jewish tradition. As we’ve seen “shema” is the simply the Hebrew word for “hear,” and the passage on the gate and in the Gospel of Luke does not begin, “Hear, O Israel.” Also while the commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself” is esteemed in Judaism just as much as it is in Christianity, it is not part of the Shema. It comes from Leviticus 19:18. Among Christians, the passage on the gate is more commonly referred to as the Greatest Commandments or the Summary of the Law.
Given the fluidity of biblical tradition, the three gospels each differ from Deuteronomy and each other in either the number, the names, or the order of the human faculties to be used to love God. Deuteronomy 6:5, “heart, . . . soul, . . . might.” Matthew 22:37, “heart, . . .soul, . . . mind.” Mark 12:30, “heart, . . .soul, . . . mind, . . . strength.” Luke 10:27, “heart, . . . soul, . . . strength, . . . mind.” (These and all the quotations of scripture in this article are from the King James Version.)
When Dr. Corts had a silver mace made for the university in the early 1990s, he inscribed on the cylinder at the base of its head these words: “And thou shalt love the lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, . . . And thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself. Mark 12:30-31.” Yet, this is not an accurate quote from Mark in the King James Version. Mark includes “mind” between “soul” and “strength.” The mace omits it.
The explanation of the mace that has often appeared in the program for commencement exercises states that “the cylinder bears the Shema,” yet provides the words of the Shema as “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” (Commencement Program, December 2014, p. 3). In Mark 12, Jesus does begin his recitation of Deuteronomy with “Hear O Israel,” but those words do not appear on the cylinder.
The authors of the commencement program, knowing that “the Shema” is on the mace, correctly identify the opening words of the text in the Jewish tradition but by so doing wrongly identify the words on the mace. Using the Hebrew name is a nice acknowledgement that Jesus’ greatest commandments are from the Hebrew Bible. But giving the word Shema a different meaning than it has in the Jewish tradition by including Leviticus 19:18, and omitting much else especially, “Hear O Israel,” sows confusion.
The Belltower Logo and Deuteronomy 6:5
Fortunately, the habit of refering to the commandments on Samford’s gates as the Shema seems to have run its course. Attention instead has focused on the link between the first commandment on the gate and Deuteronomy 6:5. In the 2009 revision of the university’s belltower logo, the hands of the clock were positioned at 6:05 in reference to Deuteronomy 6:5. In explaining this fact Inside Samford (Spring 2016, p. 20) said that it was Deuteronomy 6:5 that was inscribed on the gate, quoting it correctly from Deuteronomy (but incorrectly from the gate) as “heart, . . . soul, and . . . might.” In Seasons, President Andrew Westmoreland also said it was Deuteronomy but the quote he provided was actually Matthew’s version “heart, . . ., soul, . . . mind” (Spring 2016, p. 2).
Since the front gate cannot be accessed by pedestrians and the scripture cannot be safely read by motorists on Lakeshore Drive it is not surprising that various understandings of what is on its sign have emerged. The version Corts chose seems best for a university since it includes “mind” and emphasizes it by placing it last. The hands of the clock could be set at 10:27 in reference to the actual text from Luke that is used, but at that angle the hands of the clock might be more distracting from the logo’s clean lines.
Founded in 1842 or 41?
Careful viewers of the photos of the gate above may have noticed that originally the gate said “Founded 1842,” but that now it has been altered to read “1841.” Indeed the fact that the final “1” in the 1841 looks different than the first suggests that the final digit has been altered even without seeing earlier photographs.
Howard College held its first classes in January 1842 and the year 1842 appeared on its seal which can still be seen in the tympanum of Davis Library or the marker near the library at the site of the flag pole given to the school by the class of 1964.
The State of Alabama, however, granted Howard College its charter on December 29, 1841. This 1841 date was used on the 1955 cornerstone for Samford Hall in 1955.
During the administration of Dr. Corts, the date on the seal and on the gate was changed to 1841 in keeping with the common practice of universities and colleges to claim as their founding date the year in which they were chartered, not the year in which they first held classes. At inaugurations and other ceremonial occasions, universities are often listed in order of founding, thus by claiming the 1841 date, Samford is now ahead of other schools founded in 1842 including the Citadel, Ohio Wesleyan, Villanova, Willamette, and, most notably, the University of Notre Dame.
Feb. 21, 2019: Statement that the gate originally had no functional gates across the roadway has been removed. I’m grateful for correspondence from David Henderson, class of 1971, informing me that there was some kind of gate used to enforce curfews for female students while he was a student. In his 2007 memoir, Dr. Corts mentions that early in his presidency there were no functional gates until they were installed in the early 1990s.
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
If you are looking for alternative holiday viewing, you might consider the hour-long “Spirit of Apollo” program organized by the National Air and Space Museum and held at the Washington National Cathedral earlier this month. It is available on YouTube (click here)or on the Smithsonian website, where you will also find the printed program for the event.
The event commemorates Apollo 8, the first trip humans made to lunar orbit. It particularly remembers its most famous moment, the broadcast made by the astronauts on Christmas Eve 1968 in which they read to the world the creation account in the first 8 verses of Genesis. Also central is the “Earthrise” photograph taken by astronaut Bill Anders. Its effect on human perceptions of the Earth was aptly summarized by Anders, “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”
Jack Jenkins provided a fine report of the newsworthy aspects of the evening for Religion News Service. Here I’ll offer a few additional reflections. The program is an intriguing mix of the historical, the spiritual, the technical, and the artistic. A short documentary film and an address by James Lovell, one of the Apollo 8 astronauts, provides the inspiring historical story. Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church who impressed the world with his sermon at the royal wedding in May, provided a stirring sermon-like address. Curry framed the evening as one of “re-consecration and dedication.” He strongly emphasized the need to draw on the wisdom of science to address the challenge of global warming, saying we need to act now “to save this oasis, our island home.”
“Our island home” was an allusion to the phrase by which Apollo’s images of Earth entered into Episcopal liturgy. In one of the eucharistic prayers included in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, God is addressed saying,
At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.
Eucharistic Prayer C, The Holy Eucharist Rite II, The Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal Church, 1979).
Dean Randolph Hollerith also channeled this prayer in his welcome at the beginning of the evening when he mentioned the “images of our small and fragile world.” Howard Galley wrote the prayer in the summer of 1969 as he and the rest of the world watched Apollo 11 land on the moon. Apollo’s images of Earth were very much on his mind. While the prayer is often called the “Star Trek” prayer because of this phrase, it might be better called the “Apollo” or “NASA” prayer.
The most technical, or practical address of the evening came from the NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine. He presented the president’s space policy of returning to the moon and using it as a base for further voyages to Mars. This would be possible because the moon has water ice. Since water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen, that means rocket fuel.
Curiously, in driving this point home, Administrator Bridenstine returned three times to the “firmament” which Genesis 1 states God created to separate the waters from the waters. We now know, Bridenstine emphasized, what the Apollo astronauts did not when they read the Bible. We know that there is water not only on earth, but on the moon. Defining firmament as “empty space,” he emphasized that the Bible’s words about water above the firmament had “very really meaning, and that NASA is now following the water so that we can make new discoveries.”
“Firmament” is the word the translators of the King James Bible used to translate rāqîa. Many more recent translations have preferred “dome.” Firmament is an anglicanization of the Latin firmamentum, which is related to the English firm. The key thing about the rāqîa in the cosmology of the Ancient Near East is that it is a physical boundary that can separate water. Thus it allows ordered life on earth to exist amid the watery chaos of the universe. Administrator Bridenstine’s glossing it as “empty space,” reconciles it with modern science. Some popular translations such as the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version perform this reconciliation in the text itself by using the word “expanse” which suggests to most ears distance, rather than boundary. Bridenstine’s main point of course was that water which is on earth is also elsewhere, a point the ancient world view took as a given.
“Firmament” is also the title given to the choral and visual presentation near the beginning of the program where the audio of the astronaut’s broadcasts from Apollo 8 is framed by ethereal music supplied by the cathedral’s choir. The work begins with an animated visual of the cathedral’s space window in which a piece of the moon is enshrined. This sets the astronauts words, not only their reading of Genesis, but all their broadcasts as a kind of civic sacred text encapsulating “The Spirit of Apollo.”