The term comes from the opening words of the collect for the day in the Book of CommonPrayer of 1549 and later (a translation of the Roman Missal’s collect “Excita, quæsumus“):
- Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and later, this collect is listed for “The Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Trinity”, with a rubric specifying that this collect “shall always be used upon the Sunday next before Advent”. This reinforced the significance of this day as forming part of the preparation for the season of Advent. The rubric is necessary because the last Sunday before Advent does not always fall on the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity: Trinity Sunday is a moveable feast and the Advent season is fixed, so the number of weeks in between varies from year to year.
Thus, this collect always was read just before Advent. Since most recipes for Christmas pudding call for the mixture to stand for several weeks before cooking, the day subsequently became connected, in countries which used the Book of Common Prayer, with the preparation of Christmas puddings in readiness for Christmas. Supposedly, cooks, wives and their servants would go to church, hear the words ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord…’, and be reminded, by association of ideas, that it was about time to start stirring up the puddings for Christmas.
In recent years most provinces of the Anglican Communion have adopted the practice of the Roman Catholic Church in observing this Sunday as Christ the King (sometimes under the name The Reign of Christ). Popular attachment to the Stir up collect has, however, caused it to be retained (in contemporary language) in the liturgies of several provinces. The Church of England’s Common Worship uses it as the Post-Communion prayer, with a rubric stating that it “may be used as the Collect at Morning and Evening Prayer during this week”.
In the Episcopal Church, USA, the collect appointed for the Third Sunday of Advent in the Book of Common Prayer (1979) begins with the phrase “stir up your power O Lord.” Thus, in many Episcopal Churches, the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday, is referred to as “stir-up Sunday. “Marion J. Hatchett in his definitive work Commentary on the American Prayer Book, notes that in the Pre-Reformation English Sarum Rite, collects for four of the last five Sundays before Christmas began with the word excita or “stir up.” A similar collect to the one appointed in the BCP 1979 appears in the recent book authorized for use in the Church of England, Common Worship, appointed for the Second Sunday of Advent, but the phrase “raise up” is used instead.
Stir-up Sunday will be celebrated on 24th November in 2013.
Stir-up Sunday is a pivotal point in my Regency romance, A Touch of Grace. It is on that day that Gabriel Crowden discovers Grace Nelson living as a governess right under his nose. It changes everything for the pair.