Pastor Joelle has posted a nice bit of outrage over at her site. Apparently, the liturgical geniuses at Augsburg-Fortress now transfer the Lesser Festivals, such as St. Mary Madgalene (22 July) to the following weekday. Meaning, in practice, that nobody actually celebrates them at all. The A-F bulletin inserts, which we despise for so many reasons, reflect this change.
Apparently, the argument is that A-F is following the lead of our ecumenical partners. Maybe so; but if so, then wrongly so. We'll try to explain.
By the late Middle Ages, the church calendar was a sclerotic mess, so full of saints that one could scarcely find Jesus in it. Protestant reformers hacked away at the calendar, some with more zeal than others. Conservatives made fewer deletions, radicals made more; the most extreme radicals had their doubts about Christmas. Anglicans, in particular, expressed their peculiar both-and charism by issuing several successive calendars, in which Mary Magdalene's status changed. In 1549, she was a "red-letter day," or major feast, provided with propers. In 1552, she was gone. In 1561, she was back as a black-letter day, the rough equivalent of a commemoration. (The same thing happened, more or less, to the Transfiguration and Visitation).
Late medieval Roman Catholicism undertook a very long-term review of the saints -- last we heard, the Bollandists were still toiling away in their underground chambers, trying to separate truth from fiction. But after four hundred years, some of their reformers grew impatient, and so in the 1960s there were some major reforms of the Roman calendar. The entire system of duplex and semiduplex was discarded in favor of simpler categories. Under the new system, Mary Magdalene (formerly a duplex, outranking an ordinary Sunday) is ranked as a Memorial which means that her day now never outranks a Sunday.
So, in that sense, the new regime reflects a general trend, with its roots in the Reformation and branches in post-Vatican II liturgics. It creates a simpler calendar and one in which the flow of the lectionary is less likely to be interrupted by saints' days. In the mind of the soi-disant Liturgical Movement, it is a very good thing that the tempus per annum at last has its true dignity. And perhaps, if one's alternative is the incomprehensible mess of the Tridentine categories, this is true.
However, that is not the alternative which faces Lutherans. Our use of the church calendar has often leaned toward minimalism. The 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship presented one of the most extensive calendars in American Lutheran history up to that time, and it was still pretty short.*
What's worth noticing, then, is that the LBW, although itself largely shaped by the Liturgical Movement, took a direction directly opposite to that of the Roman Catholic calendrical reforms. Mary Magdalene, whose name did not appear on the calendar of the Service Book and Hymnal, was placed among the Lesser Festivals, which took precedence over any Sunday for which the color was green. (Incidentally, the 1979 American Book of Common Prayer places Mary Magdalene among the Major Feasts, which likewise outrank green Sundays). In other words, from 1978 forward, the observance of Mary Magdalene enjoyed a higher rank in the Lutheran church than in the Roman Catholic church.
This makes perfect sense. By the late 20th century, Roman Catholic parish liturgy was drowning in saints' days, while Lutheran parish liturgy was starving. The question is whether, in the years since, Lutherans in the United States have somehow reversed course, and begun drowning as well. Are there too many saints' days cluttering our summer? If that is true in your parish, and you have a pastoral vacancy, please call us, because we need to talk.
On the contrary, our observation is that few Lutheran congregations have any real awareness of the sanctoral cycle. Augustana XX says we "teach that the saints are to be remembered," but in fact this is the exception rather than the rule. In a cultural moment when worship is largely confined to Sundays, the ability to remember saints in worship, to tell their stories and inspire people with their faith, depends to a large degree upon their presence in the propers for Sunday. Perhaps not every commemoration -- although we'd be fine with that, honestly -- but certainly the Lesser Festivals, the Biblical saints or as one mentor called them "the people around Jesus."
So don't be bludgeoned into submission by some crypto-papists at the publishing house!* Come Sunday, toss out your green-accented bulletin inserts and turn to page 34 in the hymnal (or 57 if you must use ELW), then tell the story and inspire the people.
* We're joking. To lay lay our cards on the table here, we don't really think A-F's explanation about following Rome is honest. Our gut tells us that what's really going on is that there was an argument between the true calendrical minimalists, who don't want any saints' days at all, and the moderates who do; this was the compromise. Mind you, "transfer it to Monday" is like "send it to committee," a polite way to kill something off by making sure nobody sees it.