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Festival of the Blessed Virgin

31 October 2014


David Winter (Diary, 19 September) reports celebrating St Mary's Patronal Festival on 17 August, the Sunday closest to the Feast of the Assumption. I don't believe that his parish is alone in this. Surely very few churches have the Assumption as their dedication; so what has caused 15 August increasingly to find favour over 8 September?

An explanation of this changing pattern may be found in the Church of England's Calendar, Lectionary and Collects for the Year 2000, in which 15 August was designated the Festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her Nativity on 8 September a Lesser Festival.

This has encouraged the increasing observance of 15 August - the purpose of which is not to commemorate an event, either at the beginning or end of Mary's life, but to celebrate the totality of her unique vocation, as it reflects her lowliness and glory as the Mother of Christ.

The date of 8 September, therefore, becomes an alternative rather than the primary date for Mary's principal festival, as the note in the Calendar reminds us. "The Blessed Virgin Mary may be celebrated on 8 September instead of 15 August"; and the Calendar Rules in Common Worship: Festivals, add that this proviso is "for pastoral reasons", such as the local inconvenience of the August date, or a reluctance to accept it because of its doctrinal associations.

A celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 15 August in the Church of England, as in other provinces of the Anglican Communion, is of importance ecumenically. In the report of the Second Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission Mary: Grace and hope in Christ, it is recorded that "Mary has a new prominence in Anglican worship through the liturgical renewal of the twentieth century. . . Further, August 15th has come to be widely celebrated as a principal feast in honour of Mary" (para. 49).

On that date, Christians can unite in the Marian festival that was popularly known in medieval England as that of "Our Lady in Harvest".

(Canon) Terry Palmer
Magor, Monmouthshire


C of E churches that celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary on 15 August are simply following the Common Worship calendar; and 8 September is the traditional anniversary of her birth, and 15 August of her death.

The Alternative Service Book 1980 gave 8 September rather than 15 August as her feast day. Factors included the Book of Common Prayer's knowing nothing of 15 August; fear of association with the dogma of Mary's bodily assumption; and the inconvenience of many churches' having to keep a patronal festival in the middle of the summer holidays.

But one of the principles on which Common Worship was fashioned was ecumenical consensus; so in 2000 we switched to observing 15 August alongside most of Christendom (although a footnote in the Common Worship Calendar does allow those who wish to to stick with 8 September).

(Canon) Peter Mullins


Does Canon B5 give a priest the discretion to set aside all the authorised Creeds and Affirmations of Faith in Common Worship and to introduce instead an alternative of his or her own choosing?

C. T.


Address for answers and more questions: Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG.


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Fri 20 May @ 04:58
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