Background — August 15 & 16 on the Christian Calendar

In the church’s calendar, August 15 is observed as the Feast Day of the Virgin Mary and August 16 has recently come to be observed as a feast day remembering Holy Women of the Old Testament.

Holy?

The word “holy” in the biblical languages had the meaning of “being cut off, separate, independent.” In this sense, only God is holy, in the sense that only God is utterly independent and separate, needing nothing and no one. He has always existed and always will exist. But there is also a secondary sense of the word holy, in Scripture. When people (or things) are set aside specifically for God’s use, they are, in a derivative sense, holy. That is why, for example, in the New Testament, everyone who accepts Jesus as Lord is referred to as a saint (which literally translated means “holy one”). Such a person has been set aside specifically for the use of the God whom we know best through and in Jesus. Hence, it is quite acceptable to refer to women from the Old Testament who were followers of God, as “holy.”

Feasts and Fasts

In the church’s calendar, outside of ordinary time, there are basically two kinds of days – feasts and fasts.

A “feast” day is a day set aside especially to remember, give thanks to God for and celebrate a person or event (or both) of great significance in the history of God’s ongoing plan to rescue his creation. Feast days were, in the past, often celebrated with an actual great feast or banquet. The most important feast days in the calendar, not surprisingly, have to do with Jesus himself. These are, in order of importance: Easter (the resurrection of Jesus from the dead), Christmas (the birth of Jesus), Ascension (the return of Jesus to heaven) and Pentecost (the day on which, as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit came, in power upon the disciples). Other feast days are occasions for giving thanks for the lives of important and exemplary followers of God, in the Old Testament (like August 16, Holy Women of the Old Testament), the New Testament (like August 15, Feast Day of the Virgin Mary), or in the church’s history (October 31, Reformation Sunday). Trinity Sunday is a feast day when we are invited to ponder and reflect on how the Bible pictures God for us as Father, Son and Spirit, yet one God. Sunday is always a feast day because, for Christians, every Sunday, is a “mini-Easter,” a celebration of the resurrection. The first Christians moved from observing the Jewish Sabbath, on Saturday, to Sunday, the first day of the week, as it was on the first day that Jesus rose from death. This is the reason why, customarily, Christian funerals are rarely held on a Sunday – which is to be a day of celebration.

A “fast” day is set aside to remember some solemn, sad or tragic event in the history of God’s ongoing plan to rescue his creation. Fast days, in the past, were, and often still are marked by an actual fast, abstaining from some or all kinds of food for a period of time. The most commonly known and observed fasts are those of of Lent, the forty day period leading to Easter, and supremely, Good Friday, the day of ultimate tragedy when human beings executed Jesus on the cross. Some Christians in fact observe every Friday as a fast day, in remembrance of the suffering and death of Jesus.

The church calendar, together with the pattern of feasts and fasts, is an invention of the church, and it has sometimes been abused. For instance there were period when people imagined that if they prayed on this or that day in the calendar God would be more or less likely to hear them! But despite occasional abuse, the calendar has proved, for centuries to be a useful teaching tool and a means of deepening ones walk with and commitment to Jesus. For these reasons, it remains a benefit to countless millions of Christians around the world today.

The Colour White

Did you notice that the pulpit hanging and Communion Table runner have changed to the colour white, from green? That’s because today we are celebrating and giving thanks to God for “Holy Women of the Old Testament” and white is the colour used for such a feast day.

 
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