Lammas Day


The first of August – a cross-quarter day – is traditionally known and kept in Britain as Lammas Day (it still appears in the Kalendar of the official [1662] Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England). The word Lammas comes from the Old English hlafmæsse, ‘loaf-mass’, the festival of the wheat harvest, the first one of the year. On this day it was the tradition to bring to church a loaf of bread made from the new crop and have it blessed, giving thanks for God’s bounty. Various games and other traditions also were celebrated in conjunction with it.

Though Lammas does not appear in the Episcopal Church’s Kalendar, the modern three-year Sunday Mass lectionary coincides thematically in certain ways: in Year A (the current year), the Gospel for the Sunday nearest 3 August is Mt 14.13–21, the account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, where we read

Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

and in Year B, the Gospels for the four Sundays in August are taken from Jn 6, which contains that Gospel’s account of the same Feeding as well as the ‘Bread from Heaven’ / ‘Bread of Life’ discourse.

Lammas is not the only occasion on which bread is blessed; in fact, in Orthodox Churches to this day, the portion of the bread which is brought and offered for the Eucharist but is not actually consecrated is regularly blessed and distributed to the people after the Divine Liturgy, often today including non-Orthodox who may be attending (it is known as antídôron [‘instead of the gifts’] in Greek). A similar custom was formerly widespread in the West as well and is still observed in some places, e.g. France, on certain feasts.

Judeo-Christian religion – no doubt among many others – has a substantial basis in agricultural and other seasonal phenomena. Far from being pagan relics best swept under the carpet, and in addition to their symbolic or spiritual value, the feasts and seasons of the Church’s year keep us connected to the natural world of which we are a part, however much we may seek to deny or destroy. One of the most fundamental affirmations of the Jewish tradition, retained by Christians, is that Creation is ‘very good’; Christians further maintain that Creation has been, is being, and will be redeemed and renewed through flesh and blood. Feasts such as Lammas help us remember our dependence upon God, upon one another, and upon the natural world.

And so upon this Lammas Day, we might recall this prayer over the Eucharistic bread from the late first- or early second-century Didachê... (‘Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles’), from which Bland Tucker made his wonderful hymn ‘Father, we thank thee who hast planted’:

We give Thee thanks, O Father, for the life and knowledge which Thou didst make known unto us through Thy Son Jesus; Thine is the glory for ever and ever. As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, and being gathered together became one, so may Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever and ever.