Planning The Church Year

Overview

This guide for clergy, parish musicians, lay readers, and congregational representatives covers all the stages of organizing worship services for the entire year. Using The Book of Common Prayer and Hymnal 1982 as primary resources, it explores the rich variety of options—both time-honored traditions and accepted innovations.

Times and seasons covered in depth include Advent, the Twelve Days of Christmas, Lent and Holy Week, Easter and the Great Fifty Days, and the Sundays after...

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Overview

This guide for clergy, parish musicians, lay readers, and congregational representatives covers all the stages of organizing worship services for the entire year. Using The Book of Common Prayer and Hymnal 1982 as primary resources, it explores the rich variety of options—both time-honored traditions and accepted innovations.

Times and seasons covered in depth include Advent, the Twelve Days of Christmas, Lent and Holy Week, Easter and the Great Fifty Days, and the Sundays after Epiphany and Pentecost. Planning the Church Year explains the preparations that make for meaningful holy days and special occasions, such as Lesser Feasts, Thanksgiving Day, Vigils, Michaelmas, All Saints’ Day, the bishop’s visitation, the Patronal and Dedication Festivals.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780819215543
  • Publisher: Church Publishing, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/1/1991
  • Pages: 104
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 0.22 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Planning the Church Year


By Leonel L. Mitchell

Church Publishing Incorporated

Copyright © 1985 Leonard L. Mitchell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8192-1554-3



CHAPTER 1

What Do We Mean by Liturgical Planning?


Many Episcopalians seem to feel that, since we have a Book of Common Prayer, liturgical planning is unnecessary. Once upon a time, it is true, someone had to choose whether we use Rite One or Rite Two for this service. But since that has already been decided once and for all, no further planning is necessary. All you need is to get a calendar to tell you what the proper lessons are, to choose three familiar hymns from the available list of about twenty-five, to ask the choir director the name of the anthem for the program, and we are ready to start.

I hope this picture is wildly exaggerated, but I have attended many services that leave me wondering whether it is. Some parishes ignore all possible options and always conduct the service in a single inflexible way, as if this had been handed down from heaven on golden tablets. Others approach the options provided in the Prayer Book with the enthusiasm of a teenager at a "build-your-own- sundae" counter. There is no thought of congruity and coherence but boundless enthusiasm for getting some of everything.


Considering the Options

What is necessary is to consider the various options available in the services of The Book of Common Prayer as a part of a total program in which the individual elements are seen primarily as parts of an integrated whole, including readings, prayers, hymns, service music, and sermon. This process is called liturgical planning. If we do not plan, we soon fall short of even the minimum requirements of the Prayer Book. We sink into "We always do Rite One," or a mindless mix-and-match of incomprehensible alternatives. The individual elements may be excellent, but the service itself appears to have been assembled from the menu of a Chinese restaurant, taking two items from column A, one from column B, etc. The liturgical year is neglected, and the Christmas midnight eucharist becomes distinguishable from Ash Wednesday only by the hymns and the color of the vestments. There is no continuity or integrity in the services from Sunday to Sunday, and we come to the end of a liturgical season with the feeling that there has been no overall theme or plan to what we have experienced, although some of the individual moments may have been excellent. I say these things, not from any lofty vantage point of omnicompetence from which to look down on others, but as a fellow offender and one who is twice guilty because he teaches others how to do what he so often fails to do.


Liturgy and Church Life

Liturgy is the expression of the life of the Church. It expresses our unity in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. It is our bond of unity with other Christians and in particular with those with whom we are bound in communion. This is not simply a technical term. It means those with whom we celebrate the eucharist and receive communion, for our common liturgy binds us together. The liturgy of The Book of Common Prayer identifies us as a congregation of the Episcopal Church. It visibly identifies this congregation with other congregations, and where this continuity from congregation to congregation is not apparent, we fail to manifest our unity in Christ.

The liturgy is also an expression of our congregational unity, and it is ultimately the concern of the whole people of God. The priest presides over the assembly but does not rule over the congregation. The canons of the Episcopal Church give the rector ultimate control of worship, but this can only be exercised within a congregation. A symphony conductor cannot function without a body of musicians, and a priest cannot function liturgically without a worshiping congregation.

The full, active, intelligent participation of all the people of God in the liturgy is the right and duty of every baptized man, woman, and child, by reason of their baptism, because worship is a part of the priestly activity of Jesus Christ in which the priestly people of God participate as members of the Body of which he is the Head. The eucharist, for example, is described as the sacrifice of Christ—celebrated in Head and members. Worship is not a performance by skilled professionals for a passive audience. It is the common work of a group of brothers and sisters. The Pauline churches in the New Testament clearly expected the members of the congregation to share their talents, whatever they were, in the worship of the Church.

Every congregation has its own life and tradition, including musical and liturgical traditions. Not every option in the Prayer Book and Hymnal is really available to every congregation. Not only are some things beyond their resources, some things "just aren't us." This is neither good nor bad but simply the way things are. Congregations, like individuals, have preferences and tastes. Golden copes and clouds of incense may or may not be a part of your tradition. One congregation prefers the guitar and "renewal" music, another sings only plainsong, while a third carefully avoids both.

Liturgical planners need to look at the life of the parish in its totality and set up general parameters for worship. They need to begin with a realistic inventory of their resources, including both people and things.


Resources for Liturgical Planning

The first resource most congregations have is a church building. It may be a blessing, a headache, an unmitigated disaster, or all three, but it exists, and discovering how best to use it is one of the planner's first tasks. Is it too small? Is crowding a problem? Or is it too large and needs to be made functionally smaller? It contains a number of fixed and movable church furnishings, such as an altar, a font, a lectern, or pulpit or both, pews or chairs, and choir stalls. These may be badly located, making it difficult for people to participate actively in the liturgy. If they are easily movable, consideration should be given to moving them, and if they are not, then planners need to consider seriously how to make the best possible use of their good features and to minimize their faults. Often people within the congregation or available for consultation in the community or through the diocese can help a congregation answer these questions.

Obviously, for worship we need a protected space where we can gather around a table, a reading stand, and, on some occasions, a font. Some church buildings come close to failing to meet these minimum requirements. Their setups prevent gathering, or their environments are so unfriendly as to preclude doing anything together. Often real work is needed to make a building built in a different time suitable for our worship, but the work is worth doing.


Changing the Worship Environment

Be careful of doing things that cannot be undone, especially if they radically alter the building. Some buildings are indeed hideous, but most were simply built to the specifications of an earlier age and are merely unsuited for contemporary worship without what Pierce Middleton calls "retrofitting" (see A. Pierce Middleton, New Wine in Old Skins).

The most common problem is the long chancel with an altar at the far end that produces a tunnel effect, especially if the choir stalls are empty. One of the most simple and straightforward solutions, if the chancel is nice looking, is to build a new altar at the crossing, thereby moving the action down to the level of the people. The choir can continue to occupy the choir pews, and seats for clergy and acolytes can be moved out toward the center. The chancel itself can then be used as a chapel for small services, with people sitting in the choir stalls.

Often, changing communities leave congregations with churches much too large. Using banners and screens to create new and smaller space often works, as does roping off back pews—or removing them. An open space might be created around the font, for example, where the baptismal parties could stand with the congregation at baptisms. Whatever the problem, imagination is the first step to a solution.


The Prayer Book and Hymnal as Resources

The Book of Common Prayer and The Hymnal 1982 are perhaps obvious resources for liturgical planning, but they are often overlooked. The Prayer Book not only contains the texts of prayers and directions for the conduct of the services but is a guide for the use of other resources. The Hymnal, in addition to the music, contains indexed lists of hymns, metrical psalms and canticles, hymns based on specific liturgical texts, hymns for children, and a liturgical index. A copier will make it possible to reproduce materials, such as those included in the appendix of The Hymnal 1982 or in Gradual Psalms, for congregational use as well as service bulletins.


People as Resources

It is important to identify the people available to fill specific roles in the liturgy: readers, acolytes, lay eucharistic ministers, oblation bearers, singers, dancers, instrumental musicians (organ and guitar are not the only possibilities), and ordained clergy (priests and deacons). People are also needed to prepare for the celebration: altar guild members, bread bakers, wine makers, bulletin preparers (typists and/or calligraphers), and artists. Another list includes those whose skills will be needed if the congregation decides to make alterations in their environment for worship: architects, carpenters, decorators, artists, and people with visual imagination.

Make the inventory first. Discover what is possible before you decide what you want to do. Then decide what you as a congregation are trying to do in worship. If you could do what you (the rector and a representative group of parishioners) think would be best, what would it look like? It may be helpful to let your fantasy take over and be creative. Then look at your inventory of resources and see which things you have the resources to do. Perhaps you can't do exactly what you would like, but you do have the resources to do something.

Start by thinking of the liturgy itself. How do you involve the congregation actively and intelligently in the worship of God on Sunday morning? The answer is not some kind of gimmick. It is careful planning with members of the congregation. One way to enhance participation is simply to involve people in the planning of the particular service and in its celebration.


The Liturgical Year

The liturgical year and its accompanying lectionary is, of course, a major resource for planning. The lectionary was compiled with a clear purpose in view: to proclaim the Paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and our participation in those mighty events. In making this choice, the lectionary committee was faithful to the underlying nature of the liturgical year. Neither the lectionary nor the liturgical year is a lesson plan for teaching systematic theology, Bible stories, or even the "history of salvation." The purpose is to proclaim and draw us into the saving events of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ and our participation in them through faith and in baptism, so that the victory that has been won in Christ is being won by him in us.

Marianne Micks, in The Future Present, distinguishes between what she calls a "tourist view" of the Church Year, which takes us on a guided walk through the Holy Land with Jesus, and the mysteriological, or traditional, view that in a real sense we participate in the events we celebrate. "This is the night," we proclaim in the Easter Vigil, "when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life. This is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave." It is more than a convenient occasion to preach about the resurrection, "This is the night!"

Sunday as the Lord's Day; Lent, Holy Week, and Easter as the core of the liturgical year; proclamation of the good news that God in Christ "has visited and redeemed his people" as the primary content of our preaching—these are the core of this celebration. They are what constitute the liturgical year as it has been celebrated in the Church from the patristic age.

If we are going to plan the year in accordance with its own principles of development, we need to think of it as falling into two cycles. The first is the Lent-Easter-Pentecost cycle. This has as its core the celebration of the Great Vigil and our Lord's "passover" from death to life. The central theme, not only of the Vigil but of the Christian year, is our passage with Christ through the grave to the risen life, celebrated in baptism, in eucharist, and in the Easter festival. The theme is extended throughout the eight days of Holy Week, beginning with the passion narrative on Palm Sunday and especially in the liturgies of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The Great Fifty Days, the period from Easter to Pentecost, with its first readings from Acts and its Gospel readings from the Fourth Gospel, give us the opportunity to celebrate the resurrection begun in Christ, continued in the life of the apostolic church, and working still in us. It encompasses Ascension Day and the Day of Pentecost, which are parts of the whole seasonal celebration. Finally, all of this is introduced by the Lenten fast. Here the Sunday Gospels give us the themes.

The second cycle is Advent-Christmas-Epiphany. This is not a different celebration from the older Easter cycle but a different look at the same mystery. The twelve-day Christmas-Epiphany celebration of the Incarnation and manifestation of Christ ("The Word became flesh and dwelt among us; and we have beheld the glory") leads into the Baptism of Our Lord and our participation in his divine life. The Christ who died and rose again for us took flesh of the Virgin "for us and for our salvation." From the Second Sunday in Advent through the Baptism of Our Lord, this is our theme. The nativity, the adoration of the Magi, the baptism are all ways of looking into our union with the Incarnate One.

The rest of the year, called by the original Roman Catholic compilers of the lectionary "ordinary time," is considered by Episcopalians as two quasi-seasons: the Sundays after Epiphany and the Sundays after Pentecost. I call them quasiseasons because they are not real seasons. The weekly celebration of the resurrection on the Lord's Day is their primary focus.

The Sundays after Epiphany are the better organized. They are framed by the Baptism of Our Lord at the beginning and the transfiguration Gospel on the last Sunday. This makes it possible to look at the Sundays as a series of "manifestations." The much longer season after Pentecost has no organization. Trinity Sunday at its beginning and Christ the King at its end provide a sort of loose frame. Toward its end, the post-Pentecost season develops a real structure. Its theme is the Second Coming, and it finds its climax in the First Sunday of Advent of the following year. Advent 1, like all new year's festivals, looks both forward and back. It completes the Pentecost-to-Advent transition and turns from the Second Advent to the First, modulating back into preparation for Christmas.

This is the heart of liturgical celebration, and if we begin our planning here and not with, "Can we sing my favorite hymn?" or "Shall we use incense this week?" we shall be proclaiming and celebrating the Gospel and not simply reading it. This, of course, means that celebrations need to be planned for the year, rather than one service at a time.

CHAPTER 2

Who Should Do the Liturgical Planning?


Rectors or Vicars are canonically responsible for the worship of the congregation. The canons also direct that they seek the assistance of "persons skilled in music" and "together" see that music appropriate to its liturgical context is used. There is no requirement that they consult with anyone else.


The Parish Priest as Planner

In many ways the ordained priest seems an ideal choice for parish liturgical planner. He or she has almost certainly studied liturgics in the course of preparation for the ministry and will have information and insights that other worshipers lack. The priest will be the usual presider and preacher at the parish liturgies and is, therefore, in a position both to understand and to implement the necessary planning. If the priest takes this responsibility seriously, then the services should be well and coherently planned. In many congregations, the rector or vicar has traditionally assumed this responsibility and has produced services that are both beautiful and worshipful. In small congregations, the parish musician is often a part-time accompanist with no expertise in liturgical music, and the priest becomes the sole planner by default.
(Continues...)


Excerpted from Planning the Church Year by Leonel L. Mitchell. Copyright © 1985 Leonard L. Mitchell. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

1. What Do We Mean by Liturgical Planning?          

2. Who Should Do the Liturgical Planning?          

3. Getting Started on Planning          

4. Planning for Advent          

5. Planning for the Twelve Days of Christmas          

6. The Baptism of Christ          

7. Planning for Lent          

8. Planning for Holy Week          

9. Planning for Easter and the Great Fifty Days          

10. The Seasons after Epiphany and Pentecost          

11. Holy Days and Special Occasions          


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