Up Next: Ordinary Time

This year, Eastern and Western liturgical calendars were about as far apart as they can be, the Western Easter was in March and won’t be that early calendrically for over a hundred years, while the Eastern Pascha was in May. Next week … the East celebrates the ending of its Paschal season (and to be honest with the feast of the Ascencion just past much of the Paschal liturgical changes have been removed). Pentecost begins “ordinary time”, marking the days between Pentecost and the Nativity fast (although at least 2 “minor” fasts exist between Pentecost and Easter).

Liturgical time is a reflection of the non-secular nature of Church. Secular, coming from the Latin, saeculum has to do with marking time. Liturgical markings of time, the liturgical season strikes a “fork” into our daily time-bound lives grounding us periodic reminders and connections to the timeless. The secular “holidays” that come closest to this like the major sports finals seasons, right now we have the NBA playoffs and coming up the Summer Olympic games, NHL, MLB and NFL as well as many other sports all have their “holidays”. These games are in one way notably unlike liturgical holy days (holi-days) in that typically our “games” are numbered but specifically and purposefully, liturgical holidays are not. There is good reason why Pascha this year is not the 1975th Paschal/Easter celebration. Pascha/Easter is a connection, via liturgy, a forging of a connection to the original Eucharist and the historical resurrection of our Lord, as well as to the eschatological Pascha out of or beyond time. It is a communing with God and our Theosis outside of time.

I’m curious, some Protestant churches have abandoned essentially all but Easter and the Nativity from their set liturgical calendar. The Protestant Reformation was a rejection of many practices in the Roman church that deemed to haveĀ  mislayed the essence of the Christian faith and were drawing the laity away from their calling and a distraction. I’m curious. If you belong to a church which does not follow a full liturgical calendar, marking Nativity, Epiphany, Lent, Annunciation, Pascha, Ascension and Pentecost in your season as well as the myriad of lesser feasts (for example coming up “next” in the Orthodox calendar at the end of June is the St. Peter and St. Paul fast and feast). Why? What was the reason for that move, a move arguably toward a secularization of Church?

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  1. Kyle says:

    It has to do with the puritan movement in England, but I forget exactly the argument. I think there was something to do with a radical misapplication of the principle of sola scriptura, so you’ll need to ask Zwingli. If they banned musical instruments because they weren’t mentioned in the New Testament (though actually they are), can you wonder that they also eliminated scheduled holidays?

    Originally Christmas and Easter were also banned – Police would break into people’s houses during the Orwellian, uh, Cromwellian republic on Christmas and arrest people if they were caught feasting. You can still find adamant arguments among certain kinds of Christians for why Christmas and Easter ought to be abandoned because they are actually pagan holidays in disguise. Eventually, Easter and Christmas were let back into even the most iconoclast churches, mostly because they couldn’t be kept out. People kept insisting on celebrating at least those two, and eventually tradition overcame theology.

    As for me, I take Paul’s argument that, for some particular feasts and holidays are important, while for others every day is the same. He said these things in reference to celebrating Jewish holidays, but surely they can apply to liturgical time as well. Religious holidays are not in themselves either salvific or condemning, but could have either effect depending on the conscience of the believer. (If you really believe that Easter is secretly a feast in honor of the goddess astoreth, it’s probably best you abstain.)

    My personality is such that I’d rather every day were the same – I hate keeping track of dates. But I’ve sort of resigned myself to celebrating holidays, since everyone around me insists on doing it. If I ignore them for no good reason, what am I communicating? But it seems to me that, if we’re going to start celebrating holidays, we might as well celebrate all of them. I suppose we will eventually.

  2. Mark says:

    Actually, as you probably know, an interesting aside is that Orthodoxy as well “abandoned” musical instruments in worship. Virtually the entire liturgy is sung or chanted (a capella). I understand this is an injunction followed from one of the 7 Ecumenical councils. Actually the 90/120 minutes of 4 part harmony a capella singing with the chorus does for me as a tenor, I’ll acknowledge as one of the pluses to my perception of Orthodox liturgical life.

    Thanks for the great comment.

  3. Kyle says:

    Actually, I didn’t know that. I’d be interested in reading the arguments in that direction. My church music history started in the west and ended in the west, and all the arguments against instrumentation were based in high reformation ideals.

    I don’t recall, from my single visit to a Greek Orthodox church in Massachusetts, that there wasn’t any instrumentation. I thought I remembered a pipe organ. But musically from that visit, I was too busy being frustrated by the fact that singing at all seemed to be restricted to the choir. The congregation hardly sang at all.

  4. Mark says:

    The Greek Orthodox church I’ve visited twice used an organ twice in the service, to provide background music during Eucharist. However, it is my impression that the Greek Church in American Orthodox praxis is the most lax regarding this and other practices (such as confession). Again the Greek congregations also rarely sing. Congregational singing and participation varies quite widely.

    My Deacon told a story of the Chicago Ukrainian cathedral downtown, I think this occurred a few decades ago. Apparently some elderly rich parishioner donated a substantial sum, likely $50-75k for a pipe organ to be installed in the church. Then during service a organ piece was played somewhat brazenly out during Eucharist. After the service 10 or 20 stout men marched their way somberly up to the balcony where the organ was installed. They reviewed it for a moment and then heaved it over the balcony rail to smash on the marble floor below (no pews). He started to tell about the time a visiting priest in the 70s pulled out a guitar to strum along with some of the hymns but only noted that jaws dropped in utter amazement in response. He didn’t note any further developments from that.