November 26, 2017
Why is this Sunday, November 26, the last Sunday of the Church year, and how does this effect what we are reading during the Sunday morning service?
The Western Church has based its calendar on the festivals of Easter and Christmas since at least the 4th Century. Easter connects to Judaism, which was based on a lunar calendar through Passover and harvest festivals of Judaism. Christmas was fixed on December 25 by the 4th Century, coinciding with the winter solstice of the Roman calendar which had been conformed to a solar year under the dictatorship of Gaius Julius Caesar.
The Roman Catholic liturgical reforms of 1969 reemphasized the Festivals of Easter and Christmas, the primacy of Sundays over other feast days, and a reduction in the total number of calendar days for Saints. There are 33 or 34 Sundays in the Roman Catholic year, depending on the dating of Easter, which numbers the Sundays sequentially beginning on the first Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany (i.e. the Sunday after the feast of the Magi), excludes the Sundays from Lent 1 through the Feast of Pentecost. The Episcopal Church follows the same calendar pattern, but calls the period between the Feast of the Epiphany, the Season After the Epiphany, and numbers the Sundays as such, and the season after Pentecost, the season after Pentecost and numbers them as such. The nomenclature of the Episcopal Church comes from the Sarum Rite in the Anglican Church (i.e. the rite and naming of Salisbury Cathedral).
Western Church traditions (Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and various churches of the Magisterial Reformation) have agreed upon a lectionary that covers the Bible over a three-year cycle. Year A, which will close this Sunday, focuses on the Gospel of Matthew during the Sunday's of the year, especially in the season after Pentecost. Year B, which begins Sunday, December 3, focuses on the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel of Luke is a year C thing and will begin Sunday, December 2, 2018.
For those who are interested, there is also the Gospel of John, which is not given a year to shine, but is highlighted for theological concepts by Season, and in seasons normally devoted to the Gospel of the year. This year we will routinely read from the Gospel of John, interrupting semi-continuous readings from Mark in every liturgical season of Year C.
The theology of each Gospel is focused on what God did for creation through the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Each, however, has a different emphasis. The Jesus of Matthew is the "meek" King, while the Jesus of Mark, is an exemplary disciple and battler of the evil spirits loosed in the created order.
The Rev. David Lucey