HOly in Scripture phrase is all one with separate or set a part to God, and is opposed to common. What God hath clean'd, that call not thou common, Acts 10. 15. Holy daies then are those which are taken out of common dayes, and separated to Gods holy service and worship, either by Gods own appointment, or by holy Churches Dedication. And these are either Fasting and Penitential daies (for there is a holy Fast, Ioel 2. as well as a holy Feast, Nehem. 8. 10.) such as are Ash-wednesday, Good-Friday, and the whole week before Easter commonly called the Holy-week, which daies holy Church hath dedicated to Gods solemn worship, in religious fastings and prayers. Or else holy Festivals which are set apart to the solemn and religious commemoration of some eminent mercies and blessings of God. And amongst those Holy-daies, some are higher daies than other, in regard of the greatness of the blessing commemorated, and of the solemnity of the Service appointed to them. So we read, Lev. 23. 34. &c. The Feast of Tabernacles was to continue seven daies, but the first and the eighth were the highest dayes because then were the most solemn Assemblies.
This sanctification or setting apart of Festival-daies, is a token of that thankfulness, and a part of that publick honour which we owe to God for admirable benefits; and these dayes or Feasts so set apart are of excellent use, being, as learned Hooker observes, the
1. Splendor and outward dignity of our Religion.
2. Forcible witnesses of ancient truth.
3. Provocations to the exercise of all Piety.
4. Shadows of our endless felicity in heaven.
5. On earth, everlasting records teaching by the eye in a manner, whatsoever we believe.
And concerning particulars. As the Jews had their Sabbath, which did continually bring to the mind the former World finished by Creation; so the Christian Church hath her Lords dayes or Sundays to keep us in perpetual remembrance of a far better World begun by him who came to restore all things to make Heaven and Earth new. The rest of the holy Festivals which we celebrate have relation all to one Head CHRIST. We begin therefore our Ecclesiastical year (as to some accounts, though not as to the order of our service) with the glorious Annunciation of his Birth by Angelical message. Hereunto are added his blessed Nativity it self, the mystery of his legal Circumcision, the Testification of his true Incarnation by the Purification of his blessed Mother the Virgin Mary: his glorious Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven, the admirable sending down of his Spirit upon his chosen.
Again, for as much as we know that CHRIST hath not only been manifested great in himself, but great in other his Saints also; the dayes of whose departure out of this world are to the Church of Christ, as the birth and coronation-dayes of Kings or Emperors; therefore especial choice being made of the very flower of all occasions in this kind, there are annual selected times to meditate of Christ glorified in them, which had the honour to suffer for his sake, before they had age and ability to know him, namely, the blessed Innocents: glorified in them which knowing him as S. Stephen, had the sight of that before death, whereinto such acceptable death doth lead: glorified in those Sages of the East, that came from far to adore him, and were conducted by strange light: glorified in the second Elias of the World, sent before him to prepare his way: glorified in every of those Apostles whom it pleased him to use as founders of his kingdom here: glorified in the Angels, as in S. Michael: glorified in all those happy souls that are already possest of bliss.
Besides these, be four dayes annext to the Feasts of Easter and Whitsunday, for the more honour and enlargement of those high solemnities. These being the dayes which the Lord hath made glorious, Let us rejoyce and be glad in them. These dayes we keep not in a secret Calendar, taking thereby our private occasions as we list our selves to think how much God hath done for all men: but they are chosen out to serve as publick memorials of such mercies, and are therefore cloathed with those outward robes of holiness, whereby their difference from other dayes may be made sensible, having by holy Church a solemn Service appointed to them.
Part of which Service are the Epistles and Gospels: of which in the first place we shall discourse, because these are peculiar and proper to each several Holy-day, the rest of the Service for the most part being common to all.
Concerning these, two things are designed.
1. To shew the Antiquity of them.
2. Their fitness for the day to which they belong, or the reason of their choice.
Concerning the Antiquity of Epistles and Gospels, it will be sufficient once for all, to shew that the use of them in the Christian Church was ancient. Concerning the antiquity of the dayes themselves, to which the Epistles and Gospels appertain, it will be fit to be more particular.
That the use of Epistles and Gospels peculiar to the several Holy-dayes was ancient, appears first by ancient Liturgies: Secondly by the testimony of the ancient, Fathers. Let S. AVGVSTINE testifie for the Latin-Church, in his Preface to his Comment upon the Epistle of S. Iohn, and in his X. Sermon De verb. Apost. We heard first, sayes he, the Apostolical Lesson, then we sung a Psalm, after that the Gospel was read: Now let S. CHRYS. testifie for the Greek, Rom. 19. in cap. 9. Act. The Minister stands up, and with a loud voice calls, [Let us attend:] then the Lessons are begun: which Lessons are the Epistles and Gospels (as appears in his Liturgy) which follow immediately after the Minister hath so call'd for attention.
The fitness of the Epistle and Gospel for the day it belongs to, and the reason of the choice will plainly appear, if we observe that these holy Festivals and Solemnities of the Church, are, as I have touch'd before, of Two Sorts; The more high dayes, or the rest: The First commemorate the signal Acts or Passages of our Lord in the Redemption of mankind, his incarnation and Nativity, Circumcision, Manifestation to the Gentiles, his Fasting, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension, the sending of the Holy Ghost, and thereupon a more full and express manifestation of the Sacred Trinity. The Second sort is of Inferiour dayes that supply the Intervals of the greater, such as are either the remaining Sundayes, wherein without any consideration of the sequence of time (which could only be regarded in great Feasts) the holy Doctrine, Deeds and Miracles of our Lord are the chief matters of our meditations; or else the other Holy dayes of which already hath been spoken. And for all these Holy Times we have Epistles and Gospels very proper and seasonable, for not only on high and special dayes, but even in those also, that are more general and indifferent, some respect is had to the season, and the holy affections the Church then aims at, as Mortification in Lent, Joy, Hope, newness of Life, &c. after Easter; the Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit and preparation for Christs Second coming in the time between Pentecost and Advent. But these things I shall shew in the Discourse of the Holy dayes severally. As for the Lessons, although they have another Order, and very profitable, being for each day of the week, following usually the method of Chapters, and taking in the Old Testament also (the Communion dealing chiefly with the New as most fit for the nature of that Service) yet in them also regard is had to the more solemn times by select and proper readings, as hath been shew'd. This being the Churches Rule and Method (as she hath it from the Apostle) that all things be done unto edifying, that we may be better acquainted with God, and with our selves, with what hath been done for us, and what is to be done by us. And this Visible as well as Audible preaching of Christian Doctrine by these Solemnities and Readings in such an admirable Order is so apt to infuse by degrees all necessary Christian knowledge into us, and the use of it to the ignorant is so great, that it may well be feared (as a Reverend person hath forewarned) that When the Festivals and Solemnities for the Birth of Christ and his other famous passages of life, and death, and Resurrection, and Ascension, and Mission of the Holy Ghost, and the Lessons, Gospels (and Collects) and Sermons upon them, be turned out of the Church together with the Creeds also, 'twill not be in the power of weekly Sermons on some head of Religion to keep up the knowledge of Christ in mens hearts, &c. And no doubt for this and other good Reasons which he gives us, it was that the primitive Christians were so exact and religious in these Solemnities and Meditations on the occasions of them, and therefore the Sermons of the Fathers were generally on the Readings of the Day, as hereafter is shewed. And we have from another the like hand thus: The Blessings of God whereof these Solemnities renew the Remembrance are of that esteem to the Church, that we are not able to express too much thankfulness in taking that occasion of Solemnizing his Service. And the greatest part of Christians are such as will receive much improvement in the principal Mysteries of our Faith by the Sensible instruction which the Observation of such Solemnities yieldeth. The remembrance of the Birth, the Sufferings, the Resurrection of Christ, the Coming of the Holy Ghost, the Conversion of the Gentiles by sending the Apostles, the way made before his coming by the Annunciation of the Angel and the coming of the Baptist, as it is a powerful mean to train the more ignorant sort in the Vnderstanding of such great Mysteries, so it is a just occasion for all sorts to make that a particular time of Serving God upon which we solemnize those great works of his. See Dr. Hammonds View of the Directory, pag. 38. Mr. Thorndyke of publick Assemblies pag. 256. and what we have above said concerning the excellent use of Festival dayes at pag. 105.
The same Method shall be observed in this Discourse of Holy-dayes, which the Service-Book uses; not that in the Title-Page in the beginning of the book (which perhaps reckons for Holy-dayes only those days in which we are solemnly to worship God, and also to rest from usual labour) but that in the Services appointed by the Book which adds over and above, that old Catalogue of Holy-dayes, S. Paul, and S. Barnabas, Ashwednesday, and the Holy-Week: All which must be reckoned for Holy-dayes in the Churches account, because they have Holy-day service; Epistles and Gospels, and Second-service appointedto them, though there be no Law that inflicts a penalty upon them that do their usual works upon those dayes, they being only desired to be present at the Churches service at the Hours appointed.