One of the things that was central to the Anglo-Catholic way of discipleship was to live the Calendar – that is to say, to live a life shaped by its rhythms and to be formed in its holiness. Feasts followed fasts, not only nominally but actually; reflection followed by celebration, the seasons of penitential preparation giving way to vivid joy. Thus, in the Anglo-Catholic calendar, the “red-letter days” (solemnities and the feasts of major saints) and the “black-letter days” (the lesser saints) were carefully observed; and each the great feasts of the former were always preceded by vigils which were kept as fasts. In seminary, in those days, the red letter days were always accompanied by sherry before dinner and a glass of beer with the meal. Even more fattening were the fasts, with their inevitably carbohydrates-rich (and often delicious) meatless dishes.
The ordered liturgical Calendar is important because it takes us, in a steady and objective way, through the course of Our Lord’s life and ministry, showing us what lessons we are to draw from the events, the mysteries of the successive stages of that Life. But, as Fr Gerald Vann O. P. has put it (in The Son’s Course), it is important for a second reason:
“… our knowledge and love of God and our life with him are not to be thought of as being a sort of spiritual vacuum, remote from life, the interests, the affairs of every day, of this mundane, material world. If a man is to learn God, love God, live with God at all, it must be this man, this particular body-soul in this particular setting, the child of God but also the child of Nature, of this our mother Earth, who does so; and though the power of God can make good all deficiencies, still it is true that supernatural life and power work in and through the natural, so that a man is better prepared to learn about the supernatural realities of the sacrificial wood, the sacramental water or bread, the pentecostal fire, if he is in a deep and vital sense aware of and rooted in these things as natural realities.”
Few of us nowadays can be countrymen, can have the countryman’s nearness to the earth or his deep knowledge and love for it. For most of us, our lives are those of urban dwellers and commuters, nourished (by means of canning and freezing) on out-of-season fruits and vegetables, never coming closer to the realities of agriculture than the produce section of the local grocery store. So it is easy for us to become remote from the realities of Nature and its annual rhythm, easy to become uprooted from our mother Earth.
“Yet to allow this to happen,” says Fr Vann, “is to invite disaster, a deep sickness of mind and heart.”
And that is why not only Christians, but non-Christians too, have sensed the Church’s wisdom in keeping us close to that yearly rhythm through the liturgical cycle. It was not a Christian, but D. H. Lawrence (in Apropos of Lady Chatterly’s Lover) who, lamenting the fact, that so many of us nowadays “are bleeding at the roots because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars,” remarked how Catholicism had, on the contrary, preserved for us “the rhythm of life itself . . . day by day, season by season, year by year”, and how that coming of the seasons and going of the seasons is the “inward rhythm of man and woman too, the sadness of Lent, the delight of Easter, the wonder of Pentecost.” Sun, star, wind, tree: these are part of the stuff of the Christian story as they are part of that rhythm of the seasons, that yearly cycle of fasts and feasts, of penitence and joy, which the liturgy keeps alive in us, and through which it keeps us rooted not only in Nature but, infinitely more important, in God himself.
And, insofar as it is true that “the Faith is caught, not taught”, the cycle of the liturgical year has a vastly important pedagogical function, leading those who participate faithfully in its observance ever more deeply into the heart of the Christian mystery.
The cycle of the Church’s Calendar deserves far more attention than I can give it here. But we should, at least, look briefly at three features which have been formative for Christian spirituality.
The first is the observance of Sunday, the Lord’s Day, which, in the words of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, is “the foundation and nucleus of the whole liturgical year”. It was on the first day of the week, according to the Jewish calendar, that the Lord rose from the dead. And his followers met thereafter on that day each week for common — and, almost certainly, eucharistic — worship.
Attendance at the weekly assembly was regarded as obligatory, even in times of persecution. “We could not live without celebrating the Lord’s Day. It is our rule.” Such was the witness of the martyrs of Abitina. And St John Chrsysostom writes that: “To abstain from this meal is to separate oneself from the Lord: the Sunday meal is that which we take in common with the Lord, and with the brethren.”
The second feature is the annual celebration of Holy Week and Easter, the climax of the liturgical year. The ancient and powerful liturgies — especially those of the Triduum Sacrum (the Three Holy Days) of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday — are no mere commemorations (as, for example, is the Feast of the Epiphany). They are infinitely more than that; they are a true “anamnesis”, a calling into present reality, of the great events of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord, by means of which, through baptism, we are initiated into the Christian Passover and incorporated ever more deeply into the saving power of the Paschal Mystery.
Thirdly, the Calendar – by means of the frequent commemoration of the saints and the historic heroes of the Faith — reminds us that we never worship alone, but with the whole company of heaven which is composed in part of just men made perfect, the great cloud of witnesses which surrounds us. As Evelyn Underhill says:
“This intensely corporate spirit, for which ‘the household of faith’ is a vivid fact and a real source of confidence and power, explains the great part played in Catholic worship, both Eastern and Western, by the veneration and the invocation of the saints; the reliance placed on their intercessions, their continued loving interest in the world of men. A saint is a human being who has become a pure capacity for God, and therefore a tool of the divine action; and it is consistent with the doctrine of the Incarnation that God should be adored not only in his pure Being but also as present in these instruments, and as the cause of their holiness and power … Especially the Blessed Virgin, as the human instrument of the Incarnation, must be for Catholic devotion the ‘saint of saints’, in whom the (human) race aspires to God, and abandons itself to his action.”
I urge you, then, to keep the liturgical calendar before you. You can find the detailed information in many places – and, no doubt, most conveniently in your parish Sunday Bulletin: don’t leave it in the pew, but take it home, precisely so that you can pray it every day, and even on those days when you cannot attend the daily Mass. Learn about, and reflect on, the saints as they are commemorated; pray the prayers of the parish family, sharing daily in its concerns, its joys and sorrows.
The Calendar this week (according to the Calendar of the Ordinariate)
[Solemnities and Feasts are noted in upper case. Memorials are shown in lower case. Optional memoria are indicated by italics.]
March 3 THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT
March 4 Monday: Lenten Weekday; Saint Casimir
March 5 Tuesday: Lenten Weekday
March 6 Wednesday: Lenten Weekday
March 7 Thursday: Lenten Weekday; Saints Perpetua and Felicity, martyrs
March 8 Friday: Lenten Weekday; Saint John of God, religious
March 9 Saturday: Lenten Weekday; Saint Francis of Rome, religious
Next Sunday, March 10, is THE FOURTH (Refreshment, Laetare) SUNDAY OF LENT