Does the Episcopal Church recognize Independence Day as a feast-day on the Church calendar?
By Rev. David Lucey
Yes it does, but, as always in the Episcopal Church, it is more complicated than a simple yes or no.
Since my ordination in 1999, July 4 has coincided with a Sunday three times, with this year’s calendar making it the fourth such occurrence.
Independence Day is recognized in the Book of Common Prayer, 1979 as one of two National Holidays which merit observance, the other being Thanksgiving Day. As a result, there is a set of Propers for the day, including a set of readings, a psalm, and a collect as follows: Old Testament Lesson—Deuteronomy 10:17-21, New Testament Lesson—Hebrews 11:8-16, Gospel Lesson—Matthew 5:43-48, and Psalm 145, with the permission to substitute the Psalm and Lessons “For the Nation,” from page 930 as an alternative way of celebrating.
Here is the Collect of the Day for Independence Day from page 242 of the BCP which will be read as the Concluding Collect for the Prayers of the People this Sunday:
Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.page 242 of the BCP
The Episcopal Church has traditionally recognized the importance of nationhood to human identity and experience. The usage in the term “nations” refers to all those peoples who were not considered the people of God, (i.e., the Israelites) in the Bible and carry the connotation of national or tribal identity, with all its complexities—good and not so good. The phrase in the above collect, “Grant that we and all the people of this land may have the grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace” is so important. It recognizes God’s place in this relationship by asking for his favor (grace) to maintain liberty in a just and peaceable way. All Christians believe that our national existence is always dependent upon God’s favor.
Our Prayer Book appoints a hierarchy of days to observe the worship of God, Principal Feasts (like Easter, Pentecost, Christmas, and more) being at the pinnacle, with Sundays being next in line, and with days of Optional Observance being last in the hierarchy. Therefore, we will celebrate Sunday, July 4, 2021, with the readings, psalm, and collect for Proper 9, as appointed. We will acknowledge our national day in the Prayers of the People. Let me also recommend for your personal observance reading the Lessons of the Daily Office for Independence Day, either sometime during the day on Sunday or on Monday as we observe the celebration: Ecclesiasticus 10:1-8, 12-18, James 5:7-10, Matthew 5:43-48, Psalm 33, and the collect from page 242.
God deals with us where we are and favors us because of who God is, not who we are. By remembering this, we can maintain a pride in the United States, though a humble one, a right relationship with God, and a focus on the privileges this allows us to share with others, not in superiority, but with equal standing before the Lord.