Tuesday, April 01, 2008

What, Annunciation? Now?

I have to admit that this has been something of an odd day for me. It may be April 1, but it’s also the Feast of the Annunciation.

I know, I know: the Feast of the Annunciation is March 25 (Nine months to the day from Christmas! Isn’t that an interesting coincidence?) However, this week, with our early Easter, March 25 feel during Easter Week. In the calendar of the Church, nothing else takes priority over Easter Week; and so the Feast of the Annunciation was, as we say, transferred to the first available day. (Note that the first available day wasn’t Monday. That went to the transferal of the feast of St. Joseph, which this year fell during Holy Week – another week over which nothing else can take priority.)

This caused me some small distraction in part because I was ordained a deacon years ago on the Feast of the Annunciation. In those days I was in my first CPE Residency (for those unfamiliar, a year of clinical education in pastoral ministry, serving as a hospital chaplain) at Children’s Memorial and Grant Hospitals of Chicago, two fine hospitals joined in those days only by a shared Pastoral Care Department and a long block of Lincoln Avenue. (The Avenue remains; the department is long gone.) I was from the Diocese of Tennessee, much less Anglo-catholic than my surroundings in Chicago, and much less Anglo-catholic than I am now. I had had a confrontation with both rector and organist of the parish I attended over a hymn to the Blessed Mother sung on the previous Fourth Sunday of Advent (for which the lesson that year was indeed the Annunciation). I had no problem with the first verse speaking of the Blessed Mother as witness to the Incarnation; nor to the second verse speaking of her as witness to the Crucifixion; nor even to the third verse speaking of her as witness to the Resurrection. However, when the fourth verse referred to her bodily Assumption, I almost walked out. Granted there are many who believe in it, and even in the Episcopal Church there were some who held to it as a part of their private piety. But, not being based in Scripture, it couldn’t be taught as doctrine in the Episcopal Church (who says I don’t love the 39 Articles?), and certainly shouldn’t be used in worship. I phoned that afternoon to express my concern to both the rector and the organist, each of whom proceeded to blame the other.

So, when I announced to the rector the date of my ordination to the diaconate, he asked, “You mean, you’re being ordained on the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary?” With a righteous rigor that is only palatable in one so young, I responded, “No, I’m being ordained on the Feast of the Annunciation of our Lord Jesus Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary.” He smiled a thin smile. (Perhaps my righteous rigor wasn’t so palatable. After all, I had already lost the privilege of preaching in the parish on somewhat similar grounds; and even after my ordination all I was ever invited to do was take a chalice and chant the Gospel.)

So, I remember March 25 and the Feast of the Annunciation as the anniversary of my ordination as a deacon. The transferal of the date has been just a bit disorienting.

We do have a special devotion to the Blessed Mother in our house. This is particularly true of my Best Beloved, who has a shrine in her room and a collection of rosaries; but it’s true of me as well. While it’s not a common part of my private piety, I don’t have any trouble praying the “Hail Mary” with my Catholic patients; and I have the opportunity often enough to explain to non-Catholics the difference between devotion to the saints and asking their intercession, and true worship, which is due only to God.

And, after all, the Blessed Mother picked out our puppy. Those years ago when we were thinking of a puppy, and touring various opportunities for adoption (well, my Best Beloved was thinking of a puppy; I was thinking of wee hours trips to the back yard, without much enthusiasm, but with a fine devotion to my Best Beloved), my Best Beloved would tell me she would “just know” when we had found the right dog. In fact one Saturday afternoon she said, “This is it. This is her.” Sass was, and is, a sweet, somewhat submissive, little bitch of uncertain ancestry, and she has turned out to be a great success. When I asked my Best Beloved how she had chosen her, she replied, “Oh, the Blessed Mother spoke to me. She said, “There’s your dog. What are you waiting for?” Not that I was inclined to argue with my Best Beloved anyway; but, who was I to argue with the Blessed Mother? And after all: the dog has turned out to be a great success.

So, all in all the transferal of the Feast of the Annunciation has been something of a disruption of routine. I did observe it today, in the Daily Offices if not in the Eucharist. (I decided the transferal would take more time to explain than I had in a half-hour hospital service.) I did give thanks for my ordination, and for the gracious service of the Blessed Mother, well established in Scripture. And now I can give thanks that I may never see so significant a disruption of my routine in my lifetime; for it will be long and long before Easter comes anything like this early again.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for this sinner, now and in the hour of my death. Amen.

1 comment:

Barbara said...

Hey Marshall, I was priested on the feast of the Annunciation. It was the Bishop's choice of days but I was very pleased. I liked the idea of saying "yes" to the idea of God using me, sort of like Mary if not perhaps quite so significantly! I got to choose all the hymns, though.
As to the so-called Assumption (I like the Orthodox term "dormition"), I would just say that I always find the collect for August 15 (O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary) vague enough to be open to most any interpretation any Anglican might have.