January 25, 2018
Besides the St. Francis Gala the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, which I guess is a local feast day, is there any other special day before Lent begins?
It is interesting that against the reforms of the early Church of England (i.e. the time after the split with Rome and after Henry VIII's death), the modern Episcopal Church has been adding in celebrations of feasts at a rapid pace (see, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, Holy Women, Holy Men, and A Great Cloud of Witnesses, all publications commissioned the General Convention).
The Classical and early Mediaeval Church, from the 5th through the 9th Centuries, observances of honored men and women were most local. So, our Gala feast day would have been in keeping with that overarching concept, although we might have added a local holy man or woman, maybe someone like John Millen, to the feast in order to give it even stronger grounding in its Godly importance. This was serious business then, and, as we see it at St. Francis, a serious and fun business now.
There is another big feast day that will occur, not only before Ash Wednesday, but also before the Gala. Next Friday, February 2, is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. That day, AKA Candlemas or "The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary," has been an important Feast day since the Fourth Century, having appeared in a sermon by St. Gregory of Nyssa, an important figure in establishing the intellectual and spiritual validity of the Nicene Creed, and in the travel log of Egeria, a religious from Spain whose writings describe Holy Week in Jerusalem in that period and used as the basis for our own Triduum celebrations. Originally occurring on February 14, or forty days after the Feast of the Epiphany, it is now observed in the Church universally forty days after the Feast of the Nativity, or on February 2 (which is also Groundhog Day and which has nothing to do with the religious calendar at all.)
The Presentation appears in Luke 2:22-40, where they, presumably both Mary and Joseph (although only the mother was required to present herself), along with the baby Jesus, observing Jewish purity laws goes to the Temple in Jerusalem. There the three travelers encounter Simeon, an old man who promised by God to see the salvation of his people (i.e. Jesus). We have his reaction recorded as the Nunc Dimitis, Canticle 17, beginning, "Lord, you now have set your servant free…" This scene and feast truly end the "Christmas" celebration because all the childhood stories have been covered. And, as pointed out in one of the earlier Episco-facts, this absolutely the last day that you can take down household Christmas decorations and expect an auspicious year ahead.
The Candlemas service begins outside of the church where the mass is to be held. It begins with blessed candles being lit, a short homily, and a procession into the church, with the Nunc Dimittis being chanted. Mass is held. This feast is prominent enough in the Church that its observation, should it occur on a Sunday, supersedes the regular Sunday observance and lectionary.