While the American prayer book has no black letter holy days, the English and Scots books abound in them. Elizabeth's Latin prayer book almost had one for every free day in the year. And while that might be just a little excessive, it is good to have them as they remind us of our history and that others before us have succeeded in the path which we attempt to follow.
But today is a little and maybe a great deal more of that. The red letter feast days of our Lady in the prayer book, the Purification and Annunciation, are really feasts of our Lord, but the black letter holy days are as uniquely hers as possible. Today, the feast of her conception, according to some liturgical scholars originated with the English in the eighth century. True or not, it has remained in the English calendar since the reign of Elizabeth I. I am particularly fond of it because of a story regarding my first real mentor and spiritual director in the faith. She found the feast delightful because in the Sarum missal the gospel for this day is the genealogies from St Matthew. It was wonderful, she thought, that God saw fit to have his divine son's human descent be from such a list of scoundrels. I share her view.
But in modern times, the feast has another point. It reminds us that the Church has always regarded life to have begun with conception and this is one of the two feasts in the calendar which point this out. If as Christians we are intended to choose life over death, then we must choose it for the truly innocent as well and regard all abortion not only as a sin but as a crime. The Christian life, the Biblical life demands sexual purity both in and outside of marriage. The very institution has as its end the protection of the children which are one of its major intentions. Civilization fall when they forget or ignore this. Ours, such as it is, may be on its way. Remembering the purpose of this feast and celebrating it just may be a step in preventing that.