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Confusing Christmas Church Conventions

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I have long highlighted that the liturgy rules for the Anglican Church of Or (also known as NZ Anglicanism) are confused and confusing. If you are not interested in liturgical rules minutia, go out and swim at the beach – it’s anticipated to get up to 32° here today.

Robert McLean, alert regular reader of this site (yes, I have his permission to use his name), read my recent post on the alternatives provided by our NZ Lectionary booklet for Sunday, 1 January 2023. He was surprised that the Epiphany wasn’t given as an option.

The agreed teaching and practice of our Church, Notes on the Calendar – Te Maramataka, and Precedence in Liturgical Observance [NoCTM], has:

In any year when there is a Second Sunday of Christmas, the Epiphany (6 January) may, for pastoral reasons, be celebrated on that Sunday.

So, yes! The clear, agreed teaching and practice of our Church is that the Epiphany can be celebrated this coming Sunday, 1 January 2023, it being the Second Sunday of Christmas. This increases the licit possible combinations of readings for Eucharist this Sunday in the Anglican Church of Or to 36! The NZ Lectionary booklet is incorrect in not including the Epiphany option for this Sunday.

Instead, the NZ Lectionary booklet allows for the Epiphany to be celebrated on 8 January, 2023. The response, it being the Anglican Church of Or, could be, “well, it does say ‘may’: ‘may, for pastoral reasons, be celebrated on that Sunday’. This means that it may be celebrated on the next Sunday.” Following such logic, the Epiphany may be celebrated on any Sunday of the Church Year! Not forgetting that the Epiphany is a Principal Feast which “takes precedence of any other observance.”

In passing, NoCTM has that the Epiphany is a Principal Feast which is to be observed and “the holy communion is normally celebrated” on the Epiphany. I do not know what General Synod Te Hinota Whanui [GSTHW] understands by the words ‘observed’ or ‘normally’, but I can assure you, dear reader, that in NZ, if January 6 is a weekday (as it is 6/7th of the time!), the majority of our Anglican Churches will not ‘normally observe’ this day with a celebration of the Eucharist!

This year has Christmas Day falling on a Sunday (You don’t have to be much of a Mathematician to figure that happens about every seventh year – but if you want to spend more time on that, work out the 28 year cycle that includes leap years; spoiler: the pattern is 6–5–6–11. OK, since I spoilt that, now go and do it for the Gregorian Calendar of centuries).

As you go further down this messy Anglican-Church-of-Or rabbit hole, you notice that NoCTM has different Principal Feasts than our NZ Prayer Book (both the 2006, latest actual edition, and the faux-not-yet-gone-through-GSTHW 2020 publication). In the Anglican Church of Or, NoCTM has The Naming of Jesus, The Baptism of Christ, The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, The Annunciation of our Saviour to the Blessed Virgin Mary, The Transfiguration of the Beloved Son, and All Saints’ Day as Principal Feasts. Our Prayer Book does not! It is hard to believe that none of our different levels of liturgical groups or commissions (diocesan, tikanga, provincial) have worked to have these two documents agree with each other. Or is it?! [Note the ‘or’ in that last sentence!]

Similarly, it is hard to believe that no one at these different levels of liturgical groups or commissions spent five minutes working through the seven days of the week that Christmas can fall on and recommending how we, in our tiny church, might have some common prayer during this period when even fewer than usual go to services (deciding when to celebrate the Naming of Jesus, the Epiphany, and the Baptism of the Lord – and when any of these are dropped for a year).

ChristmasNaming of JesusEpiphanyBaptism of Lord

Previously, the Epiphany could be transferred to the Second Sunday AFTER Christmas. Our Church then went through the HUGE effort of changing “after” to “of” (GSTHW debate & vote; debate & vote at every diocesan synod and hui amorangi; debate and vote a second time at GSTHW – see changing formularies). I predicted, in 2015, that this was going to cause confusion. In the case of changing counting ‘Sundays AFTER Christmas’ to ‘Sundays OF Christmas’, using find-and-replace in church rules works most of the time. BUT, when Christmas falls on a Sunday, then it becomes the First Sunday of Christmas and what was the ‘First Sunday AFTER Christmas’ suddenly is the ‘Second Sunday OF Christmas’. And the ‘Second Sunday AFTER Christmas’ is now the ‘Third Sunday OF Christmas’. That SHOULD have been noticed by someone in the rule-making/rule-changing process!

Any teacher can recognise that NZ’s NoCTM is essentially mother Church of England’s Rules to Order the Christian Year – like any cheating student, some words are changed so that it looks, at first glance, like independent work. In the case of The Epiphany, mother England had:

If the Epiphany (6 January) falls on a weekday it may, for pastoral reasons, be celebrated on the Sunday falling between 2 and 8 January inclusive.

Principal Feasts

Looking back through NZ lectionary booklets over the years that Christmas has fallen on a Sunday, we can see that the booklet has followed the dating of mother CofE’s Epiphany (and of NZ’s previous rule) and not the new rule of our own Church as in our NoCTM.

If anyone asked me (and no one has), in NZ I would suggest that we celebrate in line with the vast majority of church-going (and liturgical) Christians in Aotearoa New Zealand: Roman Catholics. At this time of year, that would mean on Sunday, 1 January 2023, NZ Anglicans would celebrate The Naming of Jesus; Sunday, 8 January 2023, the Epiphany; Monday, 9 January 2023 The Baptism of the Lord. Although that is not what is provided by NoCTM, the Anglican Church of Or has that as one of the pathways in our lectionary booklet.

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1 thought on “Confusing Christmas Church Conventions”

  1. This is just brilliant, Bosco. Well worth waiting for, thank you. All is now clear…or is it? (there’s another ‘or’). Seriously, though, you’ve highlighted another area of concern here – that Epiphany is a ‘Principal Feast which is to be observed and “the holy communion is normally celebrated”‘…but…”the majority of our Anglican Churches will not ‘normally observe’ this day with a celebration of the Eucharist!” I see that as a big problem, linked to the misunderstanding that I keep banging on about of what it means to be an Anglican in this province. Are we a liturgical church or not? Blessings to you for the New Year – keep posting!

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