Rubrics, Tradition, Passion Sunday

There has been a spirited debate in the last couple of years between The Reverend Publisher Paul McCain, and the Reverend Editors of Gottesdienst regarding the proper conduct of the service.  To explain both views briefly, and (hopefully fairly) they are :

McCain : Do the Red, the whole red and nothing but the red.

E.G. : Do the red if you wish, unless it conflicts with an historic practice.  Or omits one.  Or goes beyond one.  Or… actually, just do the historic practice.  As far as we’re concerned, Piepkorn is the red.

Now, of course, there are many arguments pro and con for both views.  This is how I see things in my parish.

I use the historic lectionary.  This was a choice very early in my ministry for a number of reasons.  (Another post perhaps)  It turns out that I don’t care for the gesima Sundays.  But I do them, even when Epiphany is zero weeks long.  Why?  Because I follow the historic lectionary.  I think it is arrogant to say, “I am choosing a lectionary, but I will only do it on my terms.”  The lectionary exists to discipline the pastor.  Whether you use the one or three year, you should actually use it.  Same with a hymnal.  I despise the new translation of “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow.”  But I don’t print the old one in the bulletin when we sing it.  Why?  Because we discipline ourselves in using a hymnal to actually use that hymnal.


There are some things that are just bad ideas.  There is no way to pull them off successfully.  Palm Sunday as the Sunday of the Passion is one of them.  It was a terrible idea.  I suppose having Passion Sunday close to Good Friday makes sense.  But it just doesn’t work.  Here’s why :

1) On Passion Sunday the focus shifts from testing and trial to the Passion itself.  Notice that the historic Gospel for Lent 5 has no test.   They just try to kill him.  By moving it to Palm Sunday you actually shorten the amount of time devoted to focusing on the passion, and mess with the beautiful structure of Lent that exists in the historic lectionary.

2) Many churches have confirmation on Palm Sunday.  That means you have the procession of the palms, confirmation, and the passion all on the same day.  They should add All Saints and Christmas, just to round it out.  Too many themes.

3) Palm Sunday needs it’s own day.  When it’s combined with confirmation, it already loses the Palm Sunday focus.  So much is there, that it needs to stand out on its own.  Palm Sunday is an important step on the path to Good Friday.  Don’t get rid of it.

So what do I do? I follow the historic practice.  I guess that puts me in a camp with the G.E.  There are worse places to be.


One Response to “Rubrics, Tradition, Passion Sunday”

  1. I was confirmed on Palm Sunday. Having Confirmation on Palm Sunday itself means Palm Sunday needs its own day. Nothing of Palm Sunday survived the attention given to the Examination and Confirmation so I am at a loss to know what possible fix might be offered for congregations that confirm on Palm Sunday short of confirming on another day…

    I have not found the conflict you have, of course I use the three year series, but the Palms and Hosannas lead right into the Passion. And unless I am severely mistaken, fewer folks are availing themselves of the services at the end of Holy Week that flesh this out… although we still get a good crowd for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday it is still only about half the Easter attendance and only a bit more than half of the Palm/Passion attendance… so that means you do have a significant number of folks whose only connection to the Passion is the Sunday before Easter… If you omit it, you end up with an Easter without a Good Friday — which might fit well with what Americans want in a religion but is not very faithful to the Gospel… just a few thoughts

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