Monday, December 28, 2015

Time to Change the Church's Nonsensical Calendar?

Today 28th December is Holy Innocents' Day, when we commemorate Herod's slaughter of the innocent children around Bethlehem (Matthew 2:13-18).

This coming Sunday 3 January 2016 we celebrate Epiphany, when the Wise Men brought gifts to Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12).

This is back to front. It is time for a change!

Incidentally, on the question of the dating of Jesus' birth, David Weintraub, writing in the Washington Post, argues that a particular planetary phenomenon (the way Jupiter appears above the horizon at certain points in astronomical cycles) explains the details of the Wise Men's journey, and leads to this date:

"The portent began on April 17 of 6 B.C. (with the heliacal rising of Jupiter that morning, followed, at noon, by its lunar occultation in the constellation Aries) and lasted until Dec. 19 of 6 B.C. (when Jupiter stopped moving to the west, stood still briefly, and began moving to the east, as compared with the fixed background stars). By the earliest time the men could have arrived in Bethlehem, the baby Jesus would likely have been at least a toddler."

Now, if (or "IF") Jesus was born around 6 BC and the Wise Men showed up while Herod was still alive, that is, at the latest, by 4 BC, then Herod's malevolent calculation that he needed to slaughter infants up to two years old was no speculative guess but a careful regard for the testimony of the Wise Men, "according to the time that he had learned from the wise men" (2:16).


25 comments:

Liturgy said...

The star stuff is, for someone like me – interested in astronomy (and the Bible), fascinating, thanks, Peter.

Being also interested in liturgy – so is the calendar stuff.

But wait, there’s more!

You oversimplify: “This coming Sunday 3 January 2016 we celebrate Epiphany”.

In our Anglican Church of Or, where 3 January probably has the lowest Sunday numbers in our churches (will there be 20,000? – one reasonable diocese size overseas) we cannot even agree when we will celebrate Epiphany! And devote four pages in our lectionary booklet to increase/decrease the confusion.

Our rule and agreement is clear: “Epiphany is a principal feast and should not be displaced by any other celebration”. We just cannot agree on when this principal feast occurs! So one person’s celebration of this “principal feast” is certainly displaced by many other people’s celebration!

In fact in the first option provided in our lectionary booklet, 3 Jan is not Epiphany at all, but the “2nd Sunday OF Christmas” – and I stress “OF” because our agreed formularies in all FOUR versions (BCP, 2Year, 3Year, RCL) have “after”. No matter – we’ve had the eccentric “OF” in our lectionary booklet since 2014, and General Synod (following the rule of “if it’s not broken, and everyone else does it like this, break it so that confusion increases”) seeks to change all four “after”s to “of”s.

Sorry, Peter, our church officials’ passion to have a complex liturgical season around this time (in passionate emulation of mummy England, desperate for things to do in the dark, cold winter), when most are wanting to lie on the beach, is lost on the majority. Most Christians in NZ wouldn’t know it is Holy Innocents today – and few would care.

Nor would most realise that the anamnesis in feasts is to see this become a reality in us (not merely to remember a past event which may or may not have happened). Epiphany is wise men/ baptism/first miracle – may these grow as realities in us – whenever we celebrate them. Or not. Or on the beach.

Blessings

Bosco
www.liturgy.co.nz

Bryden Black said...

Epiphany is something else Peter. Ask the Greeks!

Father Ron Smith said...

"Kalo Epiphania" - a lovely greeting used by our Orthodox friends - sounds good at any time. As long as we celebrate the amazing reality of 'Emmanuel' in our lives I guess the timing of the celebration has more to do with our liturgical nicetites than the secular obervances.

What a joy to see both Peter and Bosco and their families at Saint Michael's, Christchurch on the First Sunday of the Christmas Season, when we remembered the 'Holy Family'.

I await with some trepidation to see what the Sydney Diocese offers Diana and me on the Second Sunday of Christmas - except that I know that there will be no less than 5 services at Christchurch St. Laurence and probably a similar number at St.James, King Street.

Feliz Navidad and Kalo Epiphania, everybody

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Ron, Bosco and Bryden
Noting and appreciating all your points, I nevertheless observe that not one of you supports me wanting to change the lectionary!
Whatever "actual" day we celebrate Epiphany on, the fact is that a faithful reader of the DEL readings in the lectionary (any lectionary?) from Christmas Day to 7 January will read Matthew 2 non-sequentially ... the mathematician and the theologian in me recoil from the thought!

Andrei said...

But Peter Epiphany celebrates more than the Wise men, in particular the Baptism of Jesus Christ

It is the revealation of Christ as God to mankind that is celebrated on this feast

The visit of the three wise men is just one manifestation of this revelation

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei (and others above)
I am appreciative of the line through several comments here, including yours, that Epiphany "goes beyond" the mere story of the arrival of the three wise men, and thus it could be argued that it is just a quirk of acknowledging the massacre of the innocents "after Christmas" and acknowledging the Epiphany "after Christmas" that, for various reasons - no doubt well formulated etc, we read Matthew 2 out of sequence.

So, perhaps, sticking to my headline for the post, what I am arguing is that the date for Epiphany should not be changed, but the date for Holy Innocents could be changed!

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter; I expect the epiphany to be at twelfth night or after. Holy Innocents, even in the True Church was yesterday, so I don't know what you can do,

Nick

Peter Carrell said...

I could exercise my conscience, Nick, encouraged by recent papal remarks about such exercising! A pen, a few strokes, and my lectionary could be rearranged :)

Anonymous said...

Changing annulment is one thing; but the lectionary? You clearly need prayer. You'll want to change a comma next. , . I'll include you in my rosary subsequent prayers. I'll put you in the Latin section. Nick

Peter Carrell said...

(From the Latin section): Semper reformanda, Nick, that's me :)

Anonymous said...

Mmm..... very progressive; in terms of Chesterton, bound to continue making the same mistakes. In seriousness, I find the lectionary altogether quick at this time of the year. We get back into ordinary time very promptly. Do you still have those marvellous-gessima Sundays? Nick

Father Ron Smith said...

With Nick's remark - about his 'true Church' - what he says on this issue can immediately be contested by another 'true Church' that of the Orthodox Faith. The fact is, that any Church that bases its teaching on the Person and Being of Jesus Christ could claim the title True Church!

e.g., I'm reminded of Pope Peter having a mother-in-law - related to the Church that claims celibacy as part of its requirement for clergy.

"The Church's one Foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord!"

Kalo Epiphania!

p.s. Peter; I agree that the timing of the Feast of the Holy Innocents can be confusing. But if we start putting every liturgical celebration in its chronological order, what will we do with the Feast of Jesus' Baptism? - which comes quite close to his Birth?

I see the propriety of including different occasions of Christ's epiphanic disclosures in a single Season, like the Orthodox; for whom the Nativity and Epiphany are virtually identical.

Peter Carrell said...

I bow to Bosco's authority on "marvellous-gessima" Sundays but I think that even in our "Church of Or" Down Under, we no longer have them as alt.titles for Sundays running up to Lent!

Andrei said...

The Feast of the Nativity (Christmas) and Theophany (Epiphany) are two different feasts Fr Ron

The Holy innocents is a part of Christmas story - one most people have forgotten, not part of the Christmas Card imagery but never the less part of that narrative foreshadowing I think Christ's own Death on the cross

Epiphany in the East has far more to do with Christ's Baptism than with the Wise Men and Peter you will be glad to know that part of the celebrations take place near large bodies of water e.g. the Beach, or Lake or River

These people are recalling their own baptism as part of the Epiphany Celebration 19th January (6th January on the Julian calendar) this year in Novosibirsk Brrrr

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTKLqK1VWY0

Father Ron Smith said...

Yes, Andrei, the water is Never-so-brisk as at Novosibirsrk - at any time in January. All that Full Immersion - so bracing!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps, Peter, the climatically appropriate solution for the True Enough Church down under is to celebrate both Epiphany and Theophany on separate days. All would be happy.

You would be happy because the gospel would be read in due course.

The local synod would be happy because it would be Doing Something Different that could be explained as Righting an Ancient Wrong.

Andrei would be happy, not only because he knows that Theophany is a much better feast anyway, but also because he could celebrate old calendar Christmas at the same time if he felt like it.

Bryden would be happy because he could explain the trinitarian theology of the Theophany to the curious, and sell his new book to those who understand what he is talking about.

Bosco would be happy because he could explain to the synod's liturgical commission why Epiphany is of Christmas and Theophany is after Christmas.

Father Ron would be happy because he could recite the Great Blessing of the Waters for all the waters of the world.

His parishioners would be happy because he would solemnly process to the beach to do this, which they would be eager to do anyway.

And I would be happy to see so many people I like so happy.

Bowman Walton

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Bowman, I wish you a Happy New Year - whenever you are disposed to celebrate the occasion.

My comments might be a little sparse on your blog, Peter. We fly to Sydney on 31 December. Thereafter enjoying a Cruise to Melbourne, Hobart, the N.Z. Fjords, Akaroa, Tauranga, Bay of Islands & Auckland.

Happy holidays everyone!

Peter Carrell said...

Safe travels, Ron!

Your witty comment is appreciated, Bowman!

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter; for Fr Ron's sake, I should explain my reference to the True Church. Some conservatives like me become confused by some progressives who are happy to reinterpret the bible, but will shed their blood before they'll change a comma in the liturgy or alter a feast day. My comment about Holy Innocents is in that spirit; I wasn't doing some "Roma locuta est " evangelism.

Nick

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Nick
(Sigh) That's an Anglican problem too!

tachesterton said...

Interesting that Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus are linked in your NZ liturgies/lectionaries.

Here in Canada we celebrate the coming of the Wise Men at Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord on the Sunday after. and because it is becoming more and more common for churches to celebrate Epiphany on the Sunday before January 6th (as we do here at St. Margaret's), they are often to successive Sunday feasts.

Tim C.

Father Ron Smith said...

Tim, I would have thought that the term Epiphany could cover any manifestation of Jesus as Son of God - that includes; to the Shepherds, Kings, at the Presentation, Jesus in the Temple, at His Baptism, at His Resurrection, at His Ascension - even in every caslabration of the Holy Eucharist - all sorts of occasions, where Jesus is 'shown forth' as Who He really is, both Man and God.

Kalo Epiphania!

Liturgy said...

“So, perhaps, sticking to my headline for the post, what I am arguing is that the date for Epiphany should not be changed, but the date for Holy Innocents could be changed!” (Peter Carrell)

Don't forget, Peter, here (uniquely?!) in Holy-Mother-NZ-Anglican-True-Church-of-Or, if you don't like where the rest of the church has (for as long as rememberable) celebrated Holy Innocents, we have the option of celebrating it on February 16. This year, that's after Jesus goes fasting in the desert... Late enough for you? ;-)

"I bow to Bosco's authority on "marvellous-gessima" Sundays but I think that even in our "Church of Or" Down Under, we no longer have them as alt.titles for Sundays running up to Lent!" (Peter Carrell)

They are, in fact in the binding formularies of our Holy-Mother-NZ-Anglican-True-Church-of-Or, starting on page 569 of our Prayer Book.

As for the current being "after" or "of" Christmas - our four formularies all agree it is "after". It is our (non-binding) lectionary booklet that is breaking that agreement of our Holy-Mother-NZ-Anglican-True-Church-of-Or.

Blessings

Bosco

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
I think 7 January would be a fine date to change Holy Innocents to!
(Thanks for clarity on the other matters!)

tachesterton said...

'Tim, I would have thought that the term Epiphany could cover any manifestation of Jesus as Son of God'

You are undoubtedly correct, Ron.

I was simply noting the variety in Anglican liturgical and lectionary customs around the world. Our Canadian version of the RCL definitely separates the Feast (note: not the season) of Epiphany (which focusses on the coming of the wise men) from the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. In our 1959 BCP, the separation was not so clear; 'Baptism of the Lord' did not appear as a separate feast, but as a set of propers for a second service on Epiphany.

I meant no value judgement. I was simply noting a different emphasis.

Tim C.