By Father Ted
Not all days of the week are created equal, especially when it comes to Christmas. For example, the best day for Christmas is Friday: we have plenty of time after the Fourth Sunday of Advent to get ready for Christmas Eve, but Christmas Day isn’t so close to the next Sunday that the clergy fear everyone might stay home. Having Christmas on a Sunday isn’t so bad either, as we did last year. But the worst possible scenario, the most dreaded calendaring misfortune is to have Christmas on a Monday, because that means the Fourth Sunday of Advent is also Christmas Eve. When that happens, it feels like we lose an entire week of Advent, and trying to observe Advent IV on the same day as the barrage of Christmas Eve services makes for an insanely long day for clergy, musicians, altar guild members, and other volunteers.
If you have not already checked, I regret to inform you that in 2023, Christmas Day falls on a Monday. And no matter how many Hail Marys we say, nothing is going to change it. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t make things better by diving deep into the tradition of the church. If we can’t move Christmas, then perhaps we can be a little creative with Advent.
Advent is the liturgical season that immediately precedes Christmas; it begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on December 24. However, that has not always been the case. Starting in the fifth century and codified in year 582, the church observed a 40(ish)-day-long fast from November 12, the day after the Feast of St. Martin of Tours, until December 24. It was known as “St. Martin’s Lent.” It functioned similarly to the 40-day fast leading up to Easter, but it was not quite as penitential. A few centuries later, the season was shortened to the current practice of four Sundays.
Advent is a busy and beloved time around Transfiguration. We try to prepare our hears for Christmas in a way that is at odds with our consumer-driven culture, but it’s hard to do that in only three weeks. So this winter, we are borrowing a few components from St Martin’s Lent and extending our Christmas preparation.
The three Sundays between All Saint’s Sunday and the First Sunday of Advent are going to look a little different. These are the last three Sundays of Ordinary Time, a season when we normally number the weeks based on their distance from Pentecost. This year, we will number them by their distance to Advent I. Instead of the 24th, 25th, and Last Sundays after Pentecost, we will call them the 3rd, 2nd, and Last Sunday before Advent. You can think of them as Pre-Advent. During those three Sundays, we will continue to use the assigned propers (readings and collects and such), which have eschatological themes that are already appropriate for Advent, but instead of green vestments, we will start wearing our blue set. You might see other changes; maybe the altar flowers will slowly be replaced with greenery as we get closer to Advent.
But perhaps the greatest benefit will be for our formation programming. Our traditional Advent Festival, which has happened before Advent in the last few years anyway, will happen on November 12, and our Advent Sunday School class for adults will start the following week.
Most things will stay the same, though. The Advent Wreath will remain in storage until the First Sunday of Advent on December 3. Our Advent Procession of Lessons & Carols will still happen on that first Sunday in December, and the Advent Taizé service will be the following Sunday.
Being fully aware of how Episcopalians feel about change, the clergy came to this decision after several months of discussion and reflection, and we think it will be to the congregation’s spiritual benefit. We have discussed all of the liturgical changes with Bishop Smith, who has given us his blessing. It’s also worth noting that Transfiguration is not the only parish in The Episcopal Church to experiment with a 7-week Advent. Many have been practicing it for several years and cannot imagine going back to their old customs.
Advent is a special time in the life of the church and the life of Transfiguration. It’s a time to slow down and prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ, once as a baby in Bethlehem and again in glory from the clouds of heaven. It is our prayer that during this extended period of preparation and introspection, you will find more meaning in the season. And we hope that our program of Christian Formation this Advent will help you grow in your faith as we learn more about the heavenly creatures that feature prominently in both Advent stories: Angels.