Episco-Fact #81
February 15, 2018

It has been pointed out that Sundays remain feast days in the Western Church during the season of Lent. Are there any other special days that are exempt from penitence and fasting during this season?


The above is a great calendar question. The observance of the season of Lent, for the purpose of pardon and absolution as a theological mindset was to be aided "by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by the reading and meditating on God's holy Word." In order to fully embrace our humanity and the need of God, the season is, therefore, characterized by somberness, simplicity, sobriety, and austerity. It is not so much that things are prohibited, but we are constrained in our liturgical and personal habits in order to understand our true relationship to God.


So, you do not personally have to give up anything from your life, although it might be a good thing to refrain from certain luxuries to remember that our sustenance depends on God. Liturgically we are restrained so that we might focus our spirits on necessary things. That is why we try to temper our lives and our worship. Therefore, we put aside Alleluia's, even on Sundays. We bring out the purple, admittedly a very rich looking color, but one that is reasonably somber, none-the-less.


 We also avoid, though we do not prohibit, celebrations which can be scheduled at other times. Weddings and Baptisms are discouraged during Lent, although one might think of a really good practical reason for a Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage and Baptisms as well. The discouragement is part theological, sobriety outweighing celebration in this period, and part traditional, Lent became a season of Baptismal preparation to be culminated at the Great Vigil of Easter.


 And, there exceptions to all of this sobriety and austerity noted in the Book of Common Prayer. For instance, for the Burial of the Dead, on page 507, the Prayer Book notes that "the liturgy for the Dead is an Easter liturgy." "The liturgy, therefore, is characterized by joy. . ." Without eliminating grief or sadness, joy is an interestingly complicated emotion, the Church is empowered to proclaim hope in the resurrection and the anticipation of being reunited with those whom we love, even in Lent. That would seem to mean that Alleluia's are on display, as are white, the color of feasting, and joyfulness in the power of God.


And, there are Major Feasts whose fixed days on the calendar are only superseded by Sundays, greater feasting rather than lesser feasting, and not the observance of the Lenten disciplines. There are two major feasts scheduled for this Lenten season which will be noted in our daily celebrations of Morning Prayer. The first which happens this next week, February 24, is the Feast of St Matthias, the Apostle, who was chosen by lot by the eleven disciples to replace Judas, Iscariot, after the resurrection of Jesus. The other celebration is for St. Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus, March 18. Both of these days may be acknowledged by rejoicing and feasting even though they are solidly in Lent. Another that may occur is the Feast of the Annunciation, April 9.