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When does Epiphany end?

Ordinary TimeOur bishop recently wrote to the diocese, “The season of Epiphany extends to Ash Wednesday”.

Well, in Canada, yes. And in The Episcopal Church. But not in New Zealand Anglicanism. Not this year anyway (yep, two years ago it was true here).

In this year’s NZ Anglican Lectionary(PDF download), this coming Sunday (29 January) is the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany [Puhleeez can we not get into the issue that the Lectionary also has it as the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple which, it says, “should not be displaced by any other celebration“].

But, this year in the Lectionary, the following Sunday, (5 February) is not the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany. No, this year that is called the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

I approach liturgy as an ever-deepening spiral; re-visiting things at a deeper level year by year, week by week, day by day. NZ Anglicanism regards this as boring. Everything must be constantly different, ever-changing. No one may ever have a clue what we will do next.

Last year (2011), the 4th Sunday after Epiphany was followed by (…go on try to guess…) the 5th Sunday before Lent (as well as the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time)! [There are no “Sundays before Lent” this year, 2012.]

2010 was different again. That was the year, as I mentioned, that Epiphany did extend all the way to Ash Wednesday! It also included Ordinary Sundays not starting randomly at 5 – they started at Ordinary 1. The 5th Sunday after the Epiphany was also the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time and the 2nd Sunday before Lent and…. ummm… Proper 5 (whatever that means!)

2009 had 4 Sundays after Epiphany and then went to Ordinary Sundays, but included counting backwards to Lent from the 3rd Sunday before Lent and with Proper Sundays.

2008 … no Proper Sundays…

I regularly get emails such as the following [edited]:

I have been a Licensed Lay Minister in *** Parish for some ** years…

My own Ministry has focused on aspects of the ‘Ministry of the Word’, in particular the preparation of summary ‘Reading Notes’ to accompany the three Biblical Readings chosen from the Lectionary for each Sunday Eucharist throughout the year. Once a year (usually mid November, when the new Lectionary is available) we hold a ‘Lectionary Meeting’ at which we look ahead to the Church Year’s listed readings, picking options from Related or Continuous, and working in the Saints Days relevant to our parish.

On examination, we notice that Lectionary 2012 has changed the nomenclature for several Sundays – specifically those falling after Epiphany/before Lent, after Pentecost and before Advent. For instance:
• 2011 featured 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st Sunday before Lent alongside 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time; but 2012 features only 5th, 6th, 7th Ordinary Sundays with no reference to ‘before Lent’
• 2011 featured Trinity and Te Pouhere Sundays as 1st and 2nd after Pentecost … followed by 3rd, 4th 5th – – – 22nd after Pentecost; but while featuring Trinity, Te Pouhere as 1st, 2nd after Pentecost , 2012 features no other ‘after Pentecosts’ at all – every Sunday thereafter is entitled ‘— Sunday in Ordinary Time’ until Christ the King and then Advent.
Can you comment on the rationale behind these changes? Has there been some discussion in Synod, involving such matters? Why was no mention at all of these changes made in the Introductory section of the Lectionary, or in its end-notes on Liturgical Observances?

We find this hard to understand, … We have no problem with change in the name of progress (particularly if it can be shown to serve a ‘higher purpose’), …

Claudia, a regular contributor here, reinforced the point recently:

I’m just trying to follow the seasons of the Christian calendar in my private daily devotions. I find this kind of thing very hard to follow. I get the impression this document is written primarily for Clergy. Can you recommend a version of the Lectionary out there anywhere suitable for a layperson to follow?

How about NZ Anglicanism (for the love of God) not changing everything every year? How about trying to keep things the same for a few years? OK – that’s too much to ask for those who cannot yet resist the addiction to incessant novelty: try doing baby steps – how about two years in a row, to start with? Just to see how that feels (important motivator in addictive behaviour and in NZ Anglicanism).

I’m quite happy with an Advent/Christmas cycle, and a Lent/Easter cycle, and the rest of the year being ordinary/ordinal (ie “counting”) time. Sure, the way the lectionary works, there’s an afterglow from Christmas/Epiphany, and at the end of the church’s year there’s a moving towards “end” reflections. But I don’t need Ordinary Time to be split into ever-smaller “seasons” (Epiphany followed by Ordinary Time followed by Lent; Pentecost followed by Kingdomtide…) with each “season” seeking its own colour etc.

The incessant search for novelty is, in my opinion, unhelpful, unhealthy, addictive, sinful.

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18 Responses to When does Epiphany end?

  1. I’ve long quietly assumed I had a good grasp of our Church year, Sundays, and seasons but the lectionary over the last several years in the Anglican Church in NZ has had me increasingly thinking I never really knew it that well to begin with.

    • Michael, there used to be an examination prior to ordination – including one on calendar, lectionary, and church year. If there still was one now, clearly I would fail, and would not be permitted to be ordained. Blessings. (ps. but so would the bishop).

  2. The problem comes when you seek to retain Septuagesima; Sexagesima; and Quinquagesima. The Catholic Ordinary Time does not suffice either, and the RCL needs to be revised so that the ministry of Jesus is represented in some order – accepting that the Gospels are faith stories not chronological historical accounts.

    • I would love you to expand on both your points, Phillip. I’ve made no reference to Septuagesima; Sexagesima; and Quinquagesima. And I’m not sure how you are suggesting that RCL needs revising. I’m very hesitant about such revisions because it takes such energy to do it in a way that will carry the majority of Christians, and we are blessed to have that, essentially, at the moment. Blessings.

  3. Is there no value at all in the regular rhythm of the church seasons? Like you, Bosco, I don’t mean the seasons must be set in stone, but the accustomed seasonal rhythm ought to be respected to some degree. I hope our church doesn’t decide to borrow your church’s practice of constant change.

    June Butler

    • You know me well enough, June, that I’m no liturgical fundamentalist. I hold common prayer, shared spiritual practice, as a high value – that’s not just local common prayer, but internationally, ecumenically, and across different years. This is a reason why the situation concerns me. Blessings.

  4. There is no excuse and it seems the NZ Lectionary editors take a pick and choose approach from gobal trends in lectionary design combined with a Kiwi take on things as it suits and a high degree of historic amnesia.

    It would all be too much to reach a consensus in synod or for leadership to be shown by the bishops. Imposing novelties through an unvoted-on lectionary which clergy are obliged to use is so much simpler.

    I also get the impression that worship or even providing an ordered approach to worship are not priorities for those in authority in the Anglican church of Or. They have relegated the church’s role to a socio-political one and attention is placed on fulfilling that role not on worship, ordered or otherwise.

    Call me a BCP-fundy but would it not be wiser to use the traditional Sunday names (Sundays after Epiphany, the wonderful Gesimas, Sundays after Trinity) and use the relevant readings from the RCL for those Sundays whatever they are called under that system?

    I find Ordinary time an uninspiring title for the largest part of the Church year. The Trinity season reminds us of our fundamental call as baptised Christians by the Triune God and this was probably the reason why it was jettisoned (too dogmatic, too theological, too triumphalistic). In my short life, it has gone from Trinity to Pentecost to Ordinary season. This is regression not progress.

    In Australia, in theory the Epiphany season ends at Quinquagesima (Sunday before Ash Wednesday) but in practice it ended on 13 January (Epiphany octave). I’ve discerned no Epiphany propers in any worship (cathedral or parish) since the Baptism of the Lord, despite Epiphany preface, post-communion and blessing being stipulated in the official lectionaries for the APBA 1995.

    It’s worth acknowledging that while prayerbooks and lectionaries can authorise readings and services, individual clergy will do whatever they consider pastorally feasible and appropriate (whether it is or not). My favourite example of this is once celebrating the commemoration of Anthony of Padua with full propers on a Sunday in a North Island cathedral. Outside Padua or its diocese would this be done anywhere else in Christendom?

    • Ah, yes, Steve, the Principal feast of Saint Anthony of Padua, taking priority over the Sunday propers!

      I have been quite OK about Ordinary Time in the understanding of it as Ordinal/counting time, where we pick up after Pentecost where we left off before Lent. But I would be similarly OK with your suggestion – particularly if there was some international energy in moving (back) to that.

      What is perfectly clear to me is that with the abandonment of common prayer as our unifying core we are desperately flaying around for an alternative.

      Blessings.

  5. As far back as I can remember, in England, Epiphany has ended on the evening of Candlemass which is celebrated on 2nd. February (not on the nearest Sunday). I understand this to be in line with Roman Catholicism and (allowing for their date difference) the Orthodox churches.

    • I’m sorry to see how short the time is that you can remember, MadPriest 😉 Certainly the ASB, in CofE, of 1980ff does not end Epiphany at Candlemas. That idea begins in CofE with Promise of his Glory type stuff that flowed into Common Worship. Roman Catholicism has the week in Ordinary Time commencing with the Baptism of the Lord – so no, what you describe is not in line with RC. I am not at all sure about this in Orthodoxy. Blessings.

        • Okay. I’m getting confused with the season of Christmas which ends at Candlemass. This is a monastic tradition within Catholicism that dates back to, at least, the eighth century. The churches I grew up in would retain some Christmas decorations until 2nd. February. At the offices we would always use Epiphany material from Epiphany to Candlemass. Mind you, we also used either the Roman or English missal, so I doubt that we were in line with most of the Church of England. However, as our priests constantly reminded us, we were correct in our usage and everybody else was wrong. I’m so glad that even the colonies are at last accepting that we were right all along.

          • The RC Christmas Season concludes with the Baptism of the Lord. Yes, the colonies appear to be sharing your confusion, MadPriest – but, as I hope you are noting, the confusion changes year by year. None of this “tradition dating back to at least the eighth century” here. My post is pointing out we cannot maintain a tradition from one year to the next! Blessings.

        • Possible meanings of ASB:

          Associated Student Body
          Anti-Social Behaviour
          Actuarial Standards Board
          Associate in Specialized Business
          Associated Services for the Blind
          American Society of Baking
          Appraisal Standards Board
          Auckland Savings Bank
          Alien Space Bats

          • If it’s to do with the Church of England it is going to be either “Anti-social behaviour” or “Associated Services For The Blind Leading The Blind.”

  6. Steve, I can quite see why a parish (Cathedral or not) that has a lively Franciscan attachment might well want to commemorate St. Anthony of Padua’s Feast Day on a Sunday 13 June – if it falls on that day. It also happens to be my birthday, but that’s not the reason I’m not totally against the Festal celebration of a beloved parish patron.

    I do agree, though, Bosco. The NZ Lectionary can be somewhat chaotic, needing some seasonal conformity.

  7. Bosco, you mentioned the Orthodox…(and ignoring the 13 day difference between Julian and Gregorian calendars – for simplicity’s sake)…

    Orthodox practice, from what I can gather from Orthodox Wiki, is a Forefeast of the Epiphany from 1-5 January followed by the Feast (known as the Theophany) on 6 January and an 8 day Afterfeast.

    A preparatory period to Pascha/Easter starts 11 Sundays before Orthodox Easter on Zacchaeus Sunday (which begins the Paschal Cycle each year) while Great Lent proper starts on ‘Clean’ Monday 7 weeks before Pascha, the day after Cheesefare Sunday – the final day that dairy products can be eaten until Easter.

    That said, the period 3 weeks before Great Lent until Easter Eve is called the Triodion with distinct liturgical observances and strict fasting rules which restrict Orthodox to virtually a vegan and unprocessed diet.

    There seems to be a few subset periods and overlapping in this scheme. But Anglicans and RC’s used to have the pre-Lenten Gesima Sundays which helped us get in the mood for Lent. Now Lent is sprung on Western Christians with no warning and how ‘pastorally unkind’ is that?

    • Thanks, Steve, very helpful. People wanting to read the wiki Steve refers to can find it here.

      Possibly there’s been a shift: with Lent now more understood as a preparatory period for the Easter Season. With such an understanding, Lent isn’t sprung on us – the Gesimas would be a preparation for the preparation. But I do love your use of “pastorally unkind”. Blessings.

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