Table of Contents
- What is the significance of feast days?
- What is the Church Calendar?
- Old Testament Rational for Feast Days
- New Testament Rational for Feast Days
- Feast Days in the Early Church
- Feast Day Errors and Corruptions in the Medieval Church
- Reformation of Feast Days
- An Anglican Approach of Feast Days
What is the significance of feast days?
Anglicans celebrate feast days because “it is meet and right so to do.” On the feast days, Christians give thanksgiving unto God and commemorate the saints so that the Christian soul is encouraged unto “love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). The observance of feast days provides a regular rhythm encouraged in the church calendar for the Christian. The observance of the church calendar or feast days is an inheritance that ought to be honored.
Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, and other liturgical traditions observe the church calendar and, therefore, observe feast days. Even though this might seem foreign to many Christians today, most are already observing holy days like Easter and Christmas and so observe a church calendar, albeit only a few days set aside as such.
Anglicans, along with other Christian denominations, seek to observe a whole calendar. And although some Christians reject celebrating such holy days according to their view of the regulative principle of worship, most Christians embrace this practice.
What is the Church Calendar?
The church calendar identifies and offers direction regarding the observance of feast days (principal and lesser), Sundays, holy days, fast days, etc. It offers the church a liturgical rhythm that centers on the life and work of Jesus Christ and His gospel such that the believer becomes formed in and through its observance. It also bears witness to those who came before us, providing space for us to thank God for their life of service unto the church.
What are holidays or holy days?
The church calendar orders the life of the church. James B. Jordan calls it a “covenant recital or covenant rehearsal.” The seasons of the church year include Advent, Christmas, Easter, Lent, and Ordinary Time.
For those skeptical of the idea of observing a church calendar, consider this question:
Should the church be at the whim of the state and the culture, letting them set the days Christians should observe?
The word “holiday” is derived from “holy day.” Historically, holidays are days of dedication to religious observance. Today, holidays typically commemorate some secular event or person. Secular or non-religious observance of something does not mean the observance is bad in itself; there certainly are good things to commemorate in the secular culture when they are good, true, and beautiful. However, the work of Christ and His church ought to set the standard for holy days, not the state.
Old Testament Rational for Feast Days
Are holy days, and therefore feast days, biblical? Beginning with the Old Testament, we see that observance of feasts and festivals was a regular part of the life of the people of God. Such days recognized God’s work and presence with His people throughout Jewish history, and each major Israelite feast acknowledged a particular aspect of God’s work of redemption.
Feasts Observed in Israel:
- Passover (Leviticus 23:4-8): commemorates the last plague in Egypt and Israel’s release from bondage at the hand of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
- Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:6): commemorates the time soon after leaving Egypt when Israel did not have time to add leaven to their bread.
- Feast of the First Fruits (Leviticus 23:10): the first harvest feast to give thanks unto God for all his provision.
- Feast of Weeks or Pentecost (Leviticus 23:16) is the second harvest feast where thanks would be given to God as well as an offering of grain.
- Feast of Trumpets (Leviticus 23:24): a time for abstinence and fasting from work, where labor is prohibited, and the Israelites would present a food offering unto God
- Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16; 23:26-32): a day of contrition and repentance when the High Priest offered the annual sacrifice of the spotless lamb for the atonement of the sins of Israel
- Feast of Tabernacles or Booths (Leviticus 23:34): following the Day of Atonement, set apart seven days to celebrate God’s provision and care of his people during the 40-year period of wandering in the wilderness
The Sabbath might be considered the principal of all feasts, a feast day established at the time of creation pre-sin, and, thus, is not limited to or contingent upon the condition of the state of Israel or its temple.
New Testament Rationale for Feast Days
The New Testament does not ignore the feasts and holy days fixed by the Torah. In many places, we see Jesus’ and (by implication-–the student doing what the teacher does) the Apostles’ observance of them as examples.
In Luke 2:41-42 we read that Jesus, when he was young, along with Mary and Joseph, were in Jerusalem for Passover, most likely making their annual, rhythmic pilgrimage. John 5:1 mentions Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem for a “feast of the Jews.” In John 7:2, 14, and 37-38, Jesus observes and participates in the Feast of Tabernacles. If Jesus observed these feasts, we could safely assume his apostles did as well.
There are countless references to the feast days mentioned above in the New Testament. To say they are mentioned merely for timekeeping would dismiss the importance of what they were for and the benefits God’s people received in their observance.
Our Fathers in the Faith
Moreover, the commemoration of feast days of particular saints can be inferred from the New Testament. Practically, to learn what it means to be godly, we look to not only Jesus but also those who walk according to His ways.
St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:1, says to be an imitator of him, as he is of Christ. In 2 Timothy 1:3, he states: “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day.” Again, 1 Thessalonians 2:9 says: “For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.” And, lastly, to the church at Colosse, “Remember my chains” (Colossians 4:18).
Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.”
Our fathers in the faith deserve the honor bestowed on them on our feast days.
Feast Days in the Early Church
The oldest ecclesiastical feasts observed begin with the Jewish solemnities of Easter and Pentecost, along with the weekly Lord’s Day–the Sabbath–and largely remained universal up to the third century. The feasts of Epiphany and Christmas were added in the fourth century, following the feasts of the Apostles and various martyrs. Sessions of the civil courts were even prohibited on these feast days when the Holy Roman Empire came into effect.
It is no surprise that in Christ’s church, feasts were implemented to remember those who came before. It is good to honor our brothers and sisters. It is good to “esteem others better than [oneself]” (Philippians 2:3).
Feast Day Errors and Corruptions in the Medieval Church
Eventually, corruption began in the Medieval church as regards the remembrance of the saints and, hence, the observance of feast days, which centered on particular persons. Doctrines like purgatory and the treasury of merit (an innovation that came along around 1230 AD) corrupted the practice of remembering and, thus, commemorating the saints on their feast days. The center of the feast days did not surround God’s work in the life of the saint, but the saint itself. From this came the notions of relics which only deteriorated the once-good practice of observing the feast days of saints.
Reformation of Feast Days
The Reformation corrected many errors the Medieval church embraced. Though there were extremist positions in the reformation era, the moderate reformers in England sought to keep the good and leave the ugly. A couple of concerns addressed were (1) the purpose of these observances and (2) the excessive number of feast days in the calendar.
Commemoration v. Worship
A primary correction England made was to get right the distinction between commemoration and worship. Rather than give the feast principal attention in Holy Communion instead of the Gospel, commemoration took its proper place. Because commemoration is the act of giving recognition to a feast other than the principal one being celebrated, the Anglican church does not go the way of Rome. Below, we will assess a collect offered on All Saints’ Day, which makes clear the purpose of an Anglican observance of these feast days.
Commemoration is recognizing, acknowledging, and remembering. Worship is attributing utmost honor and reverence to God. Only God is the one who deserves our worship. So, when we remember the feasts, and, therefore, sometimes the saints, we do not cease our worship of God but grow in thanksgiving and worship unto Him by acknowledging His handiwork. When Paul says, “remember my chains,” we do not cease to forget God. The glory of God is not infringed upon when we recognize His work in His people.
As Anglicans we love to “exalt the LORD our God, and worship at His footstool.” We do not worship at the footstool of another, but at the footstool of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
An Anglican Approach of Feast Days
According to the Reformed Episcopal Church’s Prayer Book, the feasts to be observed in the church throughout the year are as follows:
- All Sundays in the Year
- St. Bartholomew the Apostle
- The Circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ
- St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
- The Epiphany
- St. Michael and all Angels
- The Conversion of St. Paul
- St. Luke the Evangelist
- The Purification of the Blessed Virgin
- St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles
- St. Matthias the Apostle
- All Saints
- The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin
- St. Andrew the Apostle
- St. Mark the Evangelist
- St. Thomas the Apostle
- St. Philip and St. James, Apostles
- The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ
- The Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ
- St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr
- St. Barnabas the Apostle
- St. John, Apostle and Evangelist
- The Nativity of St. John Baptist
- The Holy Innocents
- St. Peter the Apostle
- Monday and Tuesday in Easter Week
- St. James the Apostle
- Monday and Tuesday in Whitsun Week
- The Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ
There are still more optional feast days one may observe as an Anglican.
Tables of Precedence
The following list of feast days is considered to have precedence over other Holy Days:
- The Sundays in Advent
- All the days of Holy Week
- Christmas Day
- Easter Day; and the seven following days
- The Epiphany
- Rogation Sunday
- Septuagesima Sunday
- The Ascension Day; and the Sunday after Ascension Day
- Sexagesima Sunday
- Quinquagesima Sunday
- Whitsunday; and the six following days
- Ash Wednesday
- Trinity Sunday
- The Sundays in Lent
What does To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism say about the church calendar and feast days?
Question 365 asks, “How does the Church assist in your sanctification?”
The answer: “The Church’s joyful worship, faithful teaching, grace-filled sacraments, Gospel-shaped calendar, compassionate ministry, loving discipline, and caring fellowship all assist my growth in Christ and are channels of God’s abundant care for my soul. (Ephesians 4:1–16; Philippians 3:12–21)”
The Anglican church believes that our Gospel-shaped calendar comes alongside us to shape, form, and mold us into the image of Christ.
When we consider Christ’s life, death, and resurrection through the various seasons and feast days, we slow down enough to contemplate the magnificence of God in Christ. When we consider St. Paul, St. Luke, St. Thomas, St. Peter, and the rest of the Apostles, we are encouraged to submit to God’s work in us as they have submitted to God’s work in them.
You can buy a copy of the Anglican Catechism here.
The Collect for All Saints’ Day, November 1
O ALMIGHTY God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
There are a few things to note about this prayer: (1) God has knit together all the saints in one communion, (2) God is the recipient of the prayer, (3) He grants us grace to follow the saints in virtuous and godly living, and (4) that the prayer is through Jesus Christ.
God forms one communion of saints.
In the Apostles’ Creed, Anglicans confess our belief in the doctrine of the “communion of saints.” All saints, who have lived, are living, and who will live are knit together as the body of Christ. When Christ offered himself, he did not only restore our communion with God the Father, but also restored our communion with humanity. Thus, all who are baptized in the Trinity and profess the name of Jesus Christ are enveloped into one body: Christ’s. So, when we honor a feast day concerning a saint, we honor Christ and the church as a whole.
God is the recipient of prayer.
Anglicans acknowledge that God is always our object of prayer. There is no other who can hear our prayers perfectly as He can. There is no one else that cares, loves us, and answers our prayers perfectly like He does. In prayer, Anglicans follow the model Christ taught us: to pray to “Our Father”.
Grace for virtuous and godly living
God is the only one who grants grace. So, it is good that we ask this from Him. As the General Confession states, “we have no health in us.” Because sin in us makes this true, we ask God to change us. So, we plead: “just as you gave grace to your servants, give that also to us!” Our petition is for God’s grace in order to bring about a transformation in us to act like the men and women who lived lives according to Christ, who were “obedient to faith,” as St. Paul states in Romans 1:5.
Prayer through Jesus Christ: mediator and advocate
Though there is attention, acknowledgment, and time given to the saints and their lives, we cannot ask to be like them (as they are like Christ) unless we come to the Father through the Son, Jesus Christ. “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all,” says St. Paul in 1 Timothy 2:5-6.
Anglicans celebrate feast days to honor God and His people. We follow a church calendar and, thus, help along the Christian life through its observance. There is biblical justification for upholding and observing feast days, though, for a time, the observance of such had been corrupted. But as Anglicans, we practice true catholicity by keeping the good of our heritage while purging corruption in reformation, carrying on from faith to faith.