03 September 2011

Calendar Wars

My friend Latif was a bit miffed over the LSB joining with the RCC to commemorate Pope St. Gregory the Great on the day he was made pope rather than the day he died (falls in Lent).  Latif is very consistent in insisting that the church's usual practice is to observe a saint upon the day of his or her "heavenly birthday" - the day of their death.  LSB has a number of areas where they play fast and loose with that rule, or ignore it altogether.

What interests me is the emotion of the arguments.  It has a long precedence.  One thinks of the early fights over the dating of Easter - and they were ready to excommunicate each other over it!  One thinks of the huge fights between the old Calendarists and the new Calendarists in Orthodoxy.  Christians historically cared a great deal about their calendars.  Why?  I suspect because our faith is fundamentally an embodied faith, lived out in time.  After all, its central events happened at a particular place and time:  in Palestine under the Governor Pontius Pilate.  And so we've attended to the historicity of the Word's triumph ever since.

What is completely odd is the detached way that modern Christians view the calendar.  Vatican II was much of the spirit of the age in shifting people around right and left; as though it were about celebrating the IDEA of that person, rather than the concrete saint who entered eternal rest on a given day.  Dr. Maher has detailed some of the more egregious movements - and what is interesting to me, he and Latif witness the old fighting spirit of the earlier Christians about the calendar.  It's something that MATTERS and not the celebration of disembodied persons or ideas.

I am committed to living under the LSB's calendar - part of the catholic heritage is also this renouncing of one's own preferences for the sake of the community of which we are a part in Synod, even when you think they may be wrong in choosing a less than optimal practice.  But I must confess that I'm glad we have voices who still care deeply about the calendar.  Their grumps are a good thing.  They might even result in some things getting put back next time round.  I hope so.


Terry Maher said...

Dr Maher? Whozat? Oh yeah, me.

Well this one bugs me more than most, because the reasons for the move are all bound up in Roman rules, and why should those matter to us? Not to mention, Lutherans found no need to change it for our own reasons, until the monkey-see monkey-so postconciliar age.

You can have a feast during Lent, but it can't be obligatory since it might displace a Lenten observance. They wanted Greg obligatory. And when choosing a date other than the dies natalis, it goes to some other significant date in the person's life. In this case, becoming pope, Roman as hell.

Maybe part of the Catholic heritage, but not the catholic.

Even the East, which particularly honours Greg for the Presanctified Liturgy attributed to him, which is used during Lent since the full Divine Liturgy seems too joyful, didn't have a problem retaining the traditional date East and West, Great Lent and all.

Nobody did. Until Vatican II. Was that held in St Louis or something? Rock on Herr Diakon.

Pr. H. R. said...

Indeed, the biggest - really the only - criticism I have of the LSB calendar is the large number of folks (mainly the "commemorations") observed on days other than the traditional death day. Chemnitz on his birthday? It's just weird. I think it was a clear misstep.

The odds of getting it reversed? Maybe pretty good. As I said, most are in the commemorations. If folks get used to a bigger calendar, maybe the next Even Bigger calendar, can then correct everything to death dates.

But in the meantime, yes, I think the way to go is to grin and bear it. LSB is, overall, a very, very great blessing to our fellowship, not least for its expanded calendar.


Dcn Latif Haki Gaba SSP said...

Thanks, Fr. Weedon, for this discussion. I would like to clarify just a couple points, though, just for the record.

1. You mention "emotion" in the arguments. I certainly admit to a thoroughgoing insistence, passionate argumentation, and even sometimes vulgar rhetorical devices, like sarcasm. But I'm really not angry, or emotional. If some of the rhetoric comes across that way, then perhaps I ought to reevaluate it.

2. Regarding my insitence on the observance of a feast on the date of the saint's falling asleep, just want to make clear that I do understand that this is not always the case in the traditional datings. In your description of my position, you did say "usual practice," so I am not criticizing you in this regard. You got my position right. It is worth pointing out, though, that this is not some dogma. We can think of obvious exceptions, like St. Ambrose (7 Dec. is the date of his episcopal consecration), or St. John Chrysostom (he died 14 Sept. in 407, but his traditional feast is 27 Jan., because it was on that day in 438, when the political winds had changed, that his physical remains were returned to Constantinople in triumph, from his exile). Indeed, some of the date changes on the part of the Novus Ordo were precisely to correct a dating, and bring it in line with the saint's death (though there were other reasons for changes too, like the whole Lenten issue). I simply don't think we have compelling enough reason to change these time honored aspects of our liturgical tradition.

The long, winding, development of our tradition has led to certain quirks. Part of the inconsistency we have today, ironically, is the result of committees trying to fix certain inconsistencies. I think we should live with the quirks. It is proof that we have life, a real heart beat, instead of the absolutely perfect machine-work of a computer or robot, which never turns out to be quite as perfect as we had planned anyway.

Terry Maher said...

Well, maybe just as the most recent hymnal got rid of some of the silly experiments in "relevant" sounding changes to the words of some hymns and restored their actual wording, the next hymnal might get rid of the ecumenical bandwagoning on Vatican II and restore traditional observance. Maybe even in more than the calendar!

There's always been variations in the various calendars. Which is often cited, but is not the point. Change per se is not the issue or at issue. It's change to what, and for what reason.

In the case of Gregory, his feast had been kept for centuries on the same date East or West. I don't think C20 Rome really had a reason to mess with that for the sake of an obligatory, according to their rules, observance in Lent, and having done so why that should mean a bleeding thing to us.

Larry Luder said...

I’m just a dumb Lutheran on the pew and am somewhat indifferent to the calendar wars. One blessing, worth mentioning is Cyberbrethren,where Rev McCain posts days of commemoration. There is much wisdom to gain from the prayers and in the lives of these exemplary men and women. May shepherds be clear minded in what they say do and not destroy and scatter the sheep of our Lord’s pasture.

Dcn. Muehlenbruch said...

I have been posting an annual calendar since 2000. I follow the historic calendar, and am often asked why I do this. I guess it is because I think that if it isn't broken why fix it.

In the LSB, some of the tinkering with the calendar gives me pause. Case in point, why are three of the early fathers of the church combined on a date that has nothing common with any of them.

But chiefly, I cannot agree with many of the changes that Vatican II foisted on the church. Thanks be that the Usus Antiquar can be celebrated again.

But that is just my 2 cents.

Ps-Iosifson said...

There are any number of examples where a saint has multiple commemorations throughout the year. It is not uncommon for one of those commemorations to fall on days where yet more important commemorations also fall. One ends up trumping the other, and sometimes the 'lesser' feast of a saint becomes the more popular feast day for him/her, e.g., the translation of relics, the uncovering of relics, the consecration of a particularly important church dedicated to that saint, etc. There are a lot of quirks of history and culture (including times of harvest, times when diseases were particularly prevelant leaving people wary of large gathering) that effect the selection of which of a saint's many feast days becomes the 'primary' feast for that saint. Latif is correct "in insisting that the church's usual practice is to observe a saint upon the day of his or her 'heavenly birthday'", however it is not and has never been a hard a fast rule.

The real question surrounds the why and how regarding these sorts of changes. Is it worthwhile or pastorally necessary to transfer a feast so that it coincides with the RC practice, for instance? In some places and instances, perhaps.

Ps-Iosifson said...

Just got to Latif making much the point I made. Woops.

My favorite example of moving a feast is the Feast of the Transfiguration in August. It was moved from it's rightful place 40 days before Good Friday because it couldn't be properly focused upon during the early days of Lent. So, it was moved to 40 days before the next most important feast of the Cross, September 14, which celebrates St. Helen's rediscovery of the true cross.