“At the heart of [the Advent Project’s] proposal is a desire to re-expose the churches to ‘the great eschatological themes of Advent. . .’”1 What else might this proposal re-expose the churches to? What might be the implications of an expanded Advent for the overall shape of the liturgical year? What opportunities and challenges might this proposal present for the rest of the liturgical year? While I propose nothing definite in this essay, I hope to raise questions that will inform our ongoing discussion, as well as that of communities who think our proposal has merit.
Using our proposal, this is how the broad outlines of the liturgical year would look in 2009/2010 (the year we have just begun):
- Seven Sundays of Advent, beginning with the Sunday after All Saints’ Day, November 8th
- Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and two Sundays after Christmas, December 27th and January 3rd
- Epiphany and six Sundays after Epiphany
- Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday, February 17th and including five Sundays, February 21st through March 21st
- Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday, March 28th
- The Great Fifty Days of Easter, beginning with Easter Day, April 4th and ending with Pentecost, May 23rd
- The season after Pentecost, beginning with Trinity Sunday, May 30th and ending on Saturday, November 6th, the eve of All Saints’ Sunday
“At the heart of [the Advent Project’s] proposal is a desire to re-expose the churches to ‘the great eschatological themes of Advent. . .” The Advent Project’s proposal offers, in addition to the specific goal for Advent itself: “a desire to re-expose the churches to ‘the great eschatological themes of Advent,’” a new opportunity to see, appreciate, and appropriate in a fresh way the shape and sweep of the entire liturgical year. Of course, our proposal is not the first to offer this opportunity. Probably the most notable recasting of the calendar in the twentieth century was the Joint Liturgical Group’s (JLG) proposal.1 They certainly hoped their work would prompt another look at the liturgical year. In his introduction to the calendar portion of the JLG’s proposal, Henry de Candole wrote: “We cannot indeed start afresh and disregard history and centuries of devotion. But we may be able to remove some of the features which blur the general effect, and do some tidying-up and (maybe) improvement.”2 In his section on their proposal for the lectionary, Neville Clark went even further. He wrote: “There are compelling reasons for the conclusion that a marginal revision cannot be accepted as the adequate solution for our time.”3 The JLG’s reconfiguration of the calendar and lectionary was ultimately deemed too extreme. Our proposal, on the other hand, by simply expanding Advent to seven weeks, and using the lections already provided in the Roman lectionary (and those based on it) and the extant propers, brings the entire year into new focus in an organic way that preserves its shape and sweep intact.
The most significant fruit of this is an opportunity to re-claim and re-emphasize the Paschal Mystery as the theological, liturgical, and spiritual foundation of Christian life and of the church year. This is needed. Ralph Keifer wrote: “We have a massive religious problem on our hands because the paschal mystery is, to most people, a near-abstraction. The dying and rising of Christ is perceived more as a past event than as a present reality.”4 While he wrote this in the mid-1970s and in the context of a critique of the newly-revised rites of initiation of the Roman Catholic Church, I suspect that it remains at least to a certain extent true.
Another is the opportunity to re-emphasize the liturgical seasons and their theological, liturgical, and spiritual significance. In “Time Sanctified: A Pastoral Approach,” Antone Lynch observes that in his experience as a priest and pastor in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Biloxi, Mississippi, many (perhaps most) adults “do not possess a cognitive understanding of the historical, liturgical, and theological concepts associated with the meaning of the liturgical celebrations of Sunday and Easter-Pentecost, and Christmas-Epiphany seasons.”5
A third, which ties these two together, is that our proposal provides an unprecedented opportunity to rethink how the church prepares candidates for initiation (the new Christian’s incorporation into the Paschal Mystery) and provides ongoing formation for Christians of every age. In his essay in the Standing Liturgical Commission’s volume, Baptism and Ministry, William Seth Adams raises questions regarding the church’s thinking about, and practice of, initiation that should not be ignored. He asks the church to consider what “the nature of preaching and teaching in the parish about baptism and its place in the life of the church” is, and then goes on to ask:
What is the proclamation on baptismal days? . . . What is the character, content and duration of catechesis in the parish for those preparing for baptism and/or sponsorship? Is the sponsorship of baptismal candidates an identifiable ministry in the parish? Does catechesis continue after baptism? Are the claims made in the parish about the nature of baptism and the ministry of the baptized acted out by clergy and laity alike? Does the parish understand itself as a ‘baptizing community’?6
With our modest retooling of the calendar, might the four “especially appropriate” baptismal days – Easter, Pentecost, All Saints, and the Baptism of Our Lord (First Sunday after the Epiphany)7 – receive new emphasis, and the seasons preceding them provide new opportunities for both baptismal preparation and ongoing formation: opportunities to immerse (pun partially intended) Christians more deeply into the Paschal Mystery and to help them understand more fully the meaning of the liturgical year — the framework in which the church lives into, and lives out, the Paschal Mystery? In his Commentary on the American Prayer Book, Marion Hatchett emphasizes in two different places the integral connection between baptism and the liturgical year. He writes: “one major concern of this revision  is to reestablish the relationship of baptism to the church year.”8 And again, he says: “The Book emphasizes the baptismal nature of the church year. . . .”9 Might our proposal reinforce this vital connection and permit the churches to take more fruitful advantage of it?
Join Laura Moore next Tuesday as she continues to discuss the possibilities of an extended Advent.
(This paper was originally given as “Setting the Tone: The Impact of an Expanded Advent on the Cycle of the Liturgical Year” to the Advent Project Seminar at the 2010 meeting of the North American Academy of Liturgy. For more information, visit the website of the Advent Project.)
1Jill Burnett Comings, “Advent, Creation and the Reign of God” (paper, The Advent Project, North American Academy of Liturgy, Baltimore, MD, January 4, 2009), 1, quoting William H. Petersen, “The Advent Project” pamphlet, January 2006.
1Joint Liturgical Group, The Calendar and Lectionary: A Reconsideration, ed. Ronald Claud Dudley Jasper (London: Oxford University Press, 1967).
2H. de Candole, “The Calendar,” in Calendar and Lectionary, 11.
3N. Clark, “The Lectionary,” in Calendar and Lectionary, 15.
4Ralph A. Kiefer, “Christian Initiation: The State of the Question,” in Made, Not Born, Murphy Center for Liturgical Research (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1976), 150.
5Antone J. Lynch, “Time Sanctified: A Pastoral Approach,” Liturgical Ministry (Fall 1999): 195. He offers a “Liturgical Seasons Workshop” that may serve as a first step toward addressing this lack of understanding, and suggests concrete steps parishes can take.
6William Seth Adams, “Decoding the Obvious: Reflections on Baptismal Ministry in the Episcopal Church,” in Baptism and Ministry, Liturgical Studies One, ed. Ruth A. Meyers, for the Standing Liturgical Commission (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1994), 16.
7The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, Together with The Psalter or Psalms of David, According to the Use of the Episcopal Church (New York: Seabury Press, 1979), 312. The United Methodist Book of Worship recommends the same days: The United Methodist Book of Worship (Nashville, TN: United Methodist Publishing House, 1992), 84. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults of the Roman Catholic Church presupposes that the catechumenate and proximate preparation for baptism will be timed so that baptism will be celebrated at the Easter Vigil; no other days are especially recommended, except that “as far as possible, the sacraments of initiation are to be celebrated on a Sunday.” Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1988), 8-9. The current books of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America do not recommend specific days for baptism: Book of Common Worship (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), 403; Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 225.
8Marion J. Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 267.