quod pro nobis traditum est

Monday, July 12, 2010

A thought on the calendar of the Church

The school calendar must have a successful influence on our lives. I say this because, outside of trips and vacations, church attendance on Sunday mornings in the Summer ought not be much different than it is during the Fall, Winter or Spring. Yet, except for the faithful, it is. There may be some other reasons why there is lower attendance in the Summer but it appears that the ideas of the School Year and the Summer Vacation are engrained in our psyches from early on. We miss a Sunday or two in the Summer and it becomes easy to slack off and extend our time away from Church. Then, before we know it, Summer is gone and in our minds we come to accept that Summer Vacation from school also means vacation from the Church. We all need a break now and then, don't we?

Don't be fooled, priests and pastors do not mind a slower pace from time to time either. Still, what is it that we miss by allowing a scholastic calendar to run our lives? Although, not necessarily intentionally or consciously, are we saying that going to Church is simply learning the Faith just like going to School is learning Reading and Writing? Then Summer means nothing other than a rest for the mind?

We know the Church also has a calendar and it is year round. This is because of our belief in the eternal nature of God. Although He is outside of and beyond time He never rests from being Who He is. So He calls Himself, "I Am." Since God is eternal we believe that all time is under His merciful providence and the Church calendar reflects that. Jesus Christ's own birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary is described as happening in the "fulness of time" and His death on the cross under Pontius Pilate is significant to us in terms of "eternal life." The calendar of the Church has many divisions but primarily has two parts. One half, the festival half, focuses on our Lord. The second half, the non-festival half, focuses on the life of His Church. We believe that this second half, which includes the Summer months, is not just about Christ's Church. This time is Christ Himself living in and for His Church as He does throughout the year in Word and Sacrament. Throughout the year we sin and need to heed His call for repentance. Throughout the year He gives to us His mercy and forgiveness.

If you have fallen into the habit of skipping Church during the Summer months (or at any time of the year) think about what you are missing. What valuable Scripture lessons are you and your family not hearing? What blessing are you not benefitting from in not receiving the Holy Eucharist? What spiritual benefit is there in resting from the Lord and His gifts?

At the Mass for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost the Church prays, "O God, whose providence faileth not in its designs, we humbly entreat Thee: put from us all that might be harmful and give us all that will be profitable. Through our Lord . . ." And in the words of the Gradual, "Come, children, hearken to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Come ye to Him and be enlightened; and your faces shall not be confounded." (Ps. 34)

The Lord does not rest from His work of blessing us. He gives us His rest and it is available throughout the year on the given day of rest. His mercy is not limited to the school year. His mercies are new every morning and this is reflected in the calendar of the Church. May this Summer be a safe and enjoyable time for you and your family and a good time to reflect on the never ending calendar that revolves around the life of God and His people in the Church. Sundays in the Summer are just as valuable to us as they are at other times of the year. They teach and discipline us in things eternal.


Fr. Timothy D. May said...

PS Since this is a public forum it is assumed that anyone may be reading this "thought," so it is not addressed to anyone in particular. Lutherans might quibble if this is Law or Gospel and that is fair (for Lutherans). Nevertheless, this is more of a general observation on the influences of the school calendar on our lives (since childhood) and whether or not that has any influence on church attendance in the Summer which appears to be different than at other times of the year. Likewise, this is more of a general observation on the influence of the church calendar on our lives and how different calendars might relate to that which is outside of time (the church calendar is meant to point our eyes elsewhere). Obviously, my general comments here reflect an observation that might be apparent to any Christian or church body. Hence, it is only a "thought" or observation and not a doctrinal treatise or a singling out of anyone in particular. This may also be called a "Summer Thought."

The Exiled said...

I agree that there is somewhat of a "lull" in the church year during the Trinity season. I just don't think it is purely an American academic year phenomenon. One just needs to look at Europe and how the countries practically shut down for the month of August while everyone is on holiday. Even the pope heads to the hills (Castel Gandolfo) for a summer vacation. I think the church calendar is more to blame for the long "green" season, than any academic calendar. The agrarian calendar might have played more of a role in this development, especially since the academic calendar in America was based upon the agrarian calendar and lifestyle.

If America switched to a year-round academic calendar, one might see more of an increase in church attendance. The reason being it would be more difficult to have those long weekends, or even weeks, at one's cabin "up North", as the locals would say.

Short of overhauling the liturgical calendar and trying to make the Trinity season more "exciting", there is not much a pastor can do in this present age. A pastor can only encourage the flock to continue church attendance either at home, or elsewhere. What would also be helpful is if the church didn't help to encourage this behavior by not having Bible study on Sunday mornings during the summer; closing down Sunday school; having that worthless activity of free babysitting, aka "Vacation" Bible School; having a summer hiatus of confirmation; and, in some cases, having a more "relaxed" style of worship in the summer months. By what I have just listed, the church has done more to encourage members in taking the summer off from worship than encouraging it by its actions (or inactions?).