October 8, 2017
What is a patronal feast day, and why do we get to change the readings for the day? Who was St. Francis?
This is going to be a two-part series. This week, the first question will be answered and next week we will deal with the person of St. Francis and why he is still so honored in the church.
The first part of the answer has to do with The Book of Common Prayer and its instructions for use, otherwise known as rubrics (Remember way back at the beginning of this feature, it was pointed out that in the first Book of Common Prayer, the instructions were printed in red ink, not italics. Hence, rubrics). These instructions are the structure on which the local priest is authorized to act on behalf of the bishop and in service of the people.
The first two sections of the Book of Common Prayer, 1979, are: Concerning the Service of the Church and The Calendar of the Church Year. These sections define the services, prayers and readings to be used by the parish. These dates are supposed to be followed carefully and faithfully. Outside of the following feasts, Sundays always take precedence over a named Feast, Easter Day (Feast of the Resurrection), Ascension Day, The Day of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, All Saints' Day, Christmas Day (The Feast of the Incarnation), The Epiphany, The Holy Name, The Presentation, and The Transfiguration (we observed this event twice this year because we read about it on the Last Sunday of Epiphany and because August 6, the fixed feast day, occurred on a Sunday).
Alright, you may say, but what about celebrating St. Francis, whose fixed feast date is October 4. Should we not be using the Collects and Readings for Proper 22. Well, on page 16 in the BCP, under the section on Sundays as feast days, we find a paragraph that says: "The Feast of the dedication of a Church, and the feast of its patron or title, may be observed on, or transferred to, a Sunday, except in the seasons of Advent, Lent, and Easter." Therefore, we, St. Francis Episcopal Church, who draw inspiration from this late 12th and early 13th Century spiritual giant, have permission to whoop it up today. This would not be the case if we were named after St. Cuthbert or St. Swithun, both of whom existed, although St. Swithun's day is observed in England and not in the United States. He was after all an important Anglo Saxon bishop, and local observances of local saints was reasonably common until Gutenberg's movable type printing press, which led to increasing internationalization and standardization of the Saintly calendar.
Our own observances this week will include the readings, collect, and proper preface appointed for the celebration of this day; the blessing of animals ("stuffies" are welcome), a popular but not required celebration; and hymns evocative of St. Francis' special gifts.
The Rev. David Lucey