Posted 11 December 2009 - 10:39 AM
I have read through this thread with interest.
I would like to offer just a few thoughts
Firstly, a fraternal and pastoral one: it is Lent—let us strive to ensure that we don’t let the passions get the better of us here or elsewhere. It is always a great temptation in these periods.
Secondly, my own chief thought on the matter of calendars has been that their first role for the normal Christian faithful person (i.e. not a bishop, who is empowered to enter into discussions about what calendars may be used, how, etc.) is that of engendering obedience. I am, as we all are, able and called to ask questions, to probe for understanding, to query details; but ultimately I am called to be obedient to the liturgical order given to me by the Church and by my bishop. The calendar is a central part of this, since it orders the flow of fasting, feasting, celebrations, commemorations and the whole liturgical life of the community. And so I am called, as by all things in the Church, first and foremost to obedience, to conforming my will and heart to and through that handed to me by her, rather than seek to project and impose will—whatever it may be—upon it.
Thirdly, in coming to an understanding of calendars as used liturgically by the Church, I don’t find myself able to agree with the claim that calendars are chiefly astrological. Clearly they involve astronomical elements (e.g. the turning of the earth vis-à-vis the sun, which marks out days; the orbit of the moon, which marks months); but the Church’s usage of calendars is to take the basic, cyclical framework provided by God’s creation (the sun, moon, stars) to order and shape her liturgical life.
This is perhaps an ideological difference between the way the Church approaches calendars, and the way they are more commonly approached in other contexts—leading to their continual revision and correction. Outside the Church, there is no common life to regulate and order, to which to give shape; and so the result is that calendars are focused solely on the accurate measurement and definition of the passing of time in an astrological sense. It is up to whomever wishes to use this data, to employ it to give shape or form to life or activities. And in this context, it is entirely understandable (and wholly justifiable) that the striving after astronomical accuracy should be as precise as possible. When it is learnt that calculations are in error, that lags have caused inaccuracies, these should be corrected; and this is precisely what we see. Since the sole function of such calendars is astronomical precision, it would be ridiculous to maintain a system known to be in error, if one more accurate was possible. But again, this is because calendars in this extra-ecclesial context are wholly astronomical in function; any order they may bring to life and living are up to another body to create through them.
The Church uses calendars quite differently. Taking the basic cyclical framework provided by creation, it employs them wholly for the right ordering of the life of faith and worship. They are the backbone of liturgical life. In this sense, there is an astronomical foundation to the calendar as used by the Church (it does, in fact, use days, weeks, months, years; it does acknowledge the changing of the seasons), but this is as a more-or-less basic structure. What is far more significant is the liturgical framework built around this basic cycle, and which sanctifies it precisely by making of a natural pattern a thing liturgical and divine.
The Church is well aware that the calendar it has traditionally used is, in astronomical terms, inaccurate. I’ve never met anyone who argued that advances in astronomical accuracy and knowledge don’t render it possible to be more precise, in these regards, than the systems used to craft the old Church calendar (though there are some arguments to be made for seeing it as less errant in some ways that often assumed). But again, this isn’t the main purpose of the calendar. Its purpose is the ordering of liturgical life, which it does quite well; and, in fact, which there are substantial arguments for suggesting it does better than more astronomically accurate calendars that have superseded it in other contexts.
This is a rather long way of saying that I do not find arguments for a Church usage of one calendar or another, grounded in questions of astronomical precision, at all compelling or convincing. This simply isn’t what the Church does with calendars.
The question that has faced the Church is whether or not advances in civic computations of time—which are not liturgical—should or should not cause her to take up the new ‘pattern of time’ offered by such advances, now used by the secular society around her, and re-fashion her liturgical ordering around it. This was done once, some well argue (i.e. the liturgical calendar did not fall out of heaven: it was crafted by the Church off the basic civil calendar of the day), so it can be argued it can be done again. And we all know that some parts of the Church have indeed done so. But there are also arguments to be made against this re-fashioning: firstly, there is the basic question of whether it is necessary. Does the Church need to follow the world in this regard? Is ‘keeping time’ in synch with the saeculum missionary, or counter-missionary? And secondly, there is the technical question of whether the liturgical life that the Church has fashioned over two millennia can effectively be grafted onto a different way of keeping time. By and large the calendars are similar, simply off-set; but there are certain, well-known and well-worn issues that are more dramatic: the shift in Pascha, the shrinking of certain fasts, etc.
The point here is that in no case is the real question, for the Church, astronomical. The question that has faced the bishops is whether the Church (a) should and (b) can take a new social ordering of time and use it as the structure on which to graft its liturgical ordering.
INXC, Dcn Matthew