Author Joan Chittister dramatically over-reaches in her attempts to bring credibility and significance to the observance of the church calendar in The Liturgical Year – an installment in the Ancient Practices series by Thomas Nelson. You know the church calendar – it includes the familiar periods of advent and lent, and celebrates Christmas, Easter, Christ’s ascension, and Pentecost. Through the rhythm of the year the church calls attention to these major events in the life of Christ and the gift of God’s grace to all mankind. It is a helpful educational tool that has been used by the Roman Catholic and mainline protestant denominations for centuries. Some evangelical churches might even recognize portions of the liturgical year in their worship. Chittister views the liturgical year more mystically as if the dates on a calendar and the feast days associated with them rise to the same level of witness and power as scripture. On p. 11 she writes:
In the liturgy, then, is the standard of what it means to live a Christian life both as the church and as individuals. The season and cycles and solemnities put before us in the liturgical year are more than representations of time past; they are an unending sign – a veritable sacrament of life. It is through them that the Christ-life becomes present in our own lives in the here and now.
My theological view is that this more accurately describes the role of scripture.
The author provides interesting background for the setting of dates for Jesus’ birth in both the west and east (Dec 25 & Jan 6). Based on an ancient belief in symmetry where notables were born and died on the same day. If Passover (Jesus’ death) is set at March 25 then his conception would have occurred the same day. December 25 is nine months later. In the east, with the influence of the lunar calendar, Easter is April 6. Jesus birth nine months later would fall on January 6. I did appreciate the clarity with which she reminded us that Christmas is not so much a celebration of Jesus’ birthday as it is a commemoration of his birth and all that his incarnation means for mankind.
As a book review blogger for Thomas Nelson I was drawn to this book because I grew up in denominations that observed the liturgical calendar and appreciate it as an educational tool. However, I found little I could agree with or commend to others in The Liturgical Year.