The Feast is not just another meeting Bahá’ís go to every 19 days. It’s where we go to become spiritually restored, and endued with a power that is not of this world. If the feast is to provide us with this, we must adequately understand how to ensure it’s being held in the proper fashion.
If this feast be held in the proper fashion,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states, “the friends will, once in nineteen days, find themselves spiritually restored, and endued with a power that is not of this world.” To ensure this glorious outcome the concept of the Feast must be adequately understood by all the friends. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 419)
To do this requires the greatest care:
You should unquestionably see to it with the greatest care, and make its value known, so that it may become solidly established on a permanent basis. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, from a Tablet to an individual believer, translated from the Persian)
To that end, I’ve put together a checklist, to help make preparation easier. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes have come from the compilation “Feast, Nineteen Day” by Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice, published in Compilation of Compilations, Volume 1, pages 417-458, 1991; and found online.
Preparation by the Assembly
- A Local Spiritual Assembly is responsible for the organization of Nineteen Day Feasts, once every Bahá’í month
- It is expected to make a report of its activities to the community at the Feast, in addition to responding to suggestions submitted to it
- Ensure that consultations in each area are fruitful and productive
- Ensure that the views of the friends are brought to its attention
- Ensure that it responds to recommendations in a loving and constructive manner
- Designate one or more friends to chair the gathering, record the results of consultations, and receive contributions to the Fund
- If a local community occasionally has a joint Feast with one or more other communities, you may credit in your statistics each Assembly for having held its own Nineteen Day Feast.
- A reception before the actual Feast can be held to provide a warm welcome to newly declared believers and particularly youth
- Consider having a light evening meal together before the Feast is held
- Arrange for social activities of an appropriate kind while the friends are gathering
- This should not take the place of the social part of the Feast itself.
- These spiritual gatherings must be held with the utmost purity and consecration, so that from the site itself, and its earth and the air about it, one will inhale the fragrant breathings of the Holy Spirit
- Weaning indigenous believers away from the old forms should be accomplished gradually so as not to destroy their spirit, and your Assembly should not be too rigid in these matters
- Feasts should be conducted in the conventional local language.
- Some of the readings could be in the language of the immigrants
- The institutions of the Faith should be careful not to press the friends to arbitrarily discard those local tribal traditions which are harmless and often colourful characteristics of particular peoples and tribes
- Dignity and reverence should characterize these observances, but this does not mean that cultural traditions which do not contravene Bahá’í principles cannot find expression in the local observances and meetings of the friends.
- Provide for a children’s observance, suited to their capacities, in a separate room during part of the community’s observance.
- It is important that the believers be informed about important messages from the Holy Land and other important items, but since reading the messages at the Feast can become a boring and trying experience (particularly for new believers not acquainted with many aspects of Bahá’í administration), the Assembly should consider other ways and means to inform the believers of vital and necessary information, through bulletins, institutes and other meetings.
- Should be held on the first day of each Bahá’í month day, before sunset. If impossible, then it is permissible to hold them on the succeeding day.
- If it should be difficult to do so, (for example if it coincides with a regular public meeting evening), it is permissible to hold it on the following day, i.e. on a succeeding day of the Bahá’í month.
- If in summer, the sun sets too late to enable Feast to be held on the preceding evening, it should be held on the day itself. As long as the meeting begins before sunset it is considered to be held on the day which comes to an end with that sunset.
- Feast can be scheduled on one of the intercalary days and during the month of fasting, provided they abstain from food.
- The Naw-Ruz Feast should be held on March 21 before sunset and has nothing to do with the Nineteen Day Feast. The Nineteen Day Feast is administrative in function whereas the Naw-Ruz is our New Year, a Feast of hospitality and rejoicing.
- Observance of the Nineteen Day Feasts and other local activities should be held in the respective civil areas.
- If some special Feast is offered in the home of one of the believers, with the approval of the Spiritual Assembly, there can be no objection; but, generally speaking, he feels it is better to use the Hazíratu’l-Quds.
- No objection to holding meetings in the open air as long as they are conducted with dignity.
- More than one Feast can be held within its area
- Every Feast in the area is a portion of the same Feast under the jurisdiction of the Local Spiritual Assembly
- The friends should be allowed to attend the Feast most convenient to them
- Occasions should be provided for the entire Bahá’í community to meet together
- A Local Spiritual Assembly should not cancel its Nineteen Day Feast in order to attend Feast in another community
- Joint Feasts do not fulfil the purpose of the Nineteen Day Feast in its strict sense, and should not become a regular practice among the friends.
- Any Bahá’í may attend a Feast — a local Bahá’í, a Bahá’í from out of town, an isolated Bahá’í from the neighbourhood.
- Bahá’ís living outside the civic limits should be encouraged to take an active part in the affairs of the community
Principles for Large Cities
It is left to your discretion as to whether large communities should:
- purchase adequate facilities to accommodate the believers
- rent facilities
- hold several simultaneous Feasts, still utilizing homes.
Local Assembly can provide for the holding of the Feast in different localities with the following precautions:
- Guard strenuously against creating too many sub-units
- Exert the utmost care not to allow the Bahá’í community to become racially or socially fragmented, even though one race or stratum may be dominant in a sub-unit of the city.
- provide for the overall coordination of the efforts of the friends in all sub-units of the city.
Determine how the devotional portion will be organized and how reports, news, and announcements will be shared
Prepare a common set of materials for the administrative part of the Feast, including any particular topics or questions that should be raised
When the Feast is decentralized, and the language spoken by the minority population most prevalent in a neighbourhood is not the same as the language of the country, it is left to the discretion of the LSA, under the guidance of the NSA, which language to use, approaching the decision with both flexibility and an attitude of learning
- Bahá’ís from anywhere in the world should be warmly welcomed, and may take part in consultation. However, only members of the local community can vote on recommendations to the Local Spiritual Assembly.
- Isolated believers and the members of groups may also, of course, attend the Nineteen Day Feasts of communities when they wish to.
- Out of courtesy, a visitor would normally refrain from taking too much time of the consultation
- Instructions of the beloved Guardian clearly forbid attendance at the Nineteen Day Feast by those deprived of their voting rights
- If the Feast is held in the home of the family where the spouse is not a Bahá’í, it would be discourteous not to allow the non-Bahá’í member of the family to attend at least the social and spiritual parts of the Feast.
- It is inconceivable and wholly inadmissible that any Bahá’í should be permitted to hold a Feast in their home and refuse admission to another believer
Non-Bahá’ís at Feast
- These Nineteen Day Feasts are for the Bahá’ís, and the Bahá’ís exclusively, and no variation from this principle is permitted.
- You should rescind the action taken by your Assembly in opening the Feasts to “near Bahá’ís”, as it is not consistent with the spirit of the administrative order for non-Bahá’ís or near Bahá’ís to attend the Nineteen Day Feasts, particularly the administrative portion of the Feast.
- Regarding the Nineteen Day Feast, the principle universally applicable is that non-Bahá’ís are not invited to attend, and if you are asked about this you can explain that the nature of the Feast is essentially domestic and administrative. During the period of consultation the Bahá’ís should be able to enjoy perfect freedom to express their views on the work of the Cause, unembarrassed by the feeling that all they are saying is being heard by someone who has not accepted Bahá’u’lláh and who might thereby gain a very distorted picture of the Faith. It would also be very embarrassing for any sensitive Bahá’í to find himself plunged into the midst of a discussion of the detailed affairs of a Bahá’í community of which he is not a part. A non-Bahá’í who asks to be invited to a Feast will usually understand if this matter is explained to him.
- If a non-Bahá’í does appear at a Nineteen Day Feast he should be made to feel welcome, but a Bahá’í should certainly not invite a non-Bahá’í to attend.
- When a non-Bahá’í does appear at a Feast he should not be asked to leave; rather the Assembly should omit the consultative part of the Feast, and the non-Bahá’í should be made welcome.
- Rather than eliminating the administrative portion completely or asking the visitors to withdraw, the programme can be modified so the sharing of local and national news; information about social events, and consultation on topics of general interest (the teaching work, service projects, the Fund etc), can take place as usual, while discussion of sensitive or problematic issues related to these or other topics can be set aside for another time when the friends can express themselves freely without being inhibited by the presence of visitors.
- When the Feast is celebrated in the home of a family with members who are not Bahá’ís, careful thought must be given to the requisites of hospitality and love as well as how to best handle issues of confidentiality and unfettered discussion on important and sensitive subjects.
- Bahá’í communities have come to use the term “Unity Feast” to indicate events which resemble a Nineteen Day Feast but in which the administrative portion is not conducted due to the presence of non-Bahá’ís or because it is being jointly celebrated by more than one community.
- Such an event is purely social and enjoys no special station in Bahá’í community life.
- A Unity Feast cannot take the place of a Nineteen Day Feast, an Institution of the Faith, which includes the administrative portion as an essential element.
- It is not quite correct to say that a Nineteen Day Feast is changed into a Unity Feast as a result of the presence of non-Bahá’ís. What can happen is that the consultative portion of the Feast has to be postponed.
- If it is decided to postpone part or all of the consultative portion of the Feast, the House of Justice states that it is within the discretion of the Local Spiritual Assembly to decide whether another meeting should be held during the Bahá’í month to complete it, or whether it can be postponed until the following Nineteen Day Feast.
Non-Bahá’í Children at Feast
- Children of non-Bahá’í parents, under the age of fifteen can attend Feast provided their parents have given consent
- Children placed in the home of Bahá’ís for temporary or prolonged care are permitted to attend Feast and that no distinction should be made between them and the children of Bahá’ís in this regard
Children at Feast
- Children of Bahá’í parents are to be encouraged to attend all Feasts, and to share the reading of the Writings and prayers
- Every Feast will be a feast of love when the children will give and receive the tangible affection of the community and its individual members.
- Parents are responsible for their children and should make them behave when they attend Bahá’í meetings
- One of the parents may have to miss part of the meeting in order to care for the child.
- If children persist in creating a disturbance they should be taken out of the meeting. This is not merely necessary to ensure the properly dignified conduct of Bahá’í meetings but is an aspect of the training of children in courtesy, consideration for others, reverence, and obedience to their parents
- Children should be trained to understand the spiritual significance of these gatherings and to appreciate the honour and bounty of being able to take part in them
- Attendance at the whole of the adult celebration thus becomes a sign of growing maturity and a distinction to be earned by good behavior
- Bahá’í youth under 21 years of age should not act as Chairman of the Nineteen Day Feast
Preparation by the Host
The spreading of a table for the lovers of God is considered a praiseworthy act
- Hold the Nineteen Day Feasts with utmost dignity
- All that’s needed to be served is water
- Have complete self-effacement
- Show kindness to all
- Be a comfort to each one
- Serve the friends with his own hands
- Make use of hymns composed by Bahá’ís themselves, and also such hymns, poems and chants as are based on the Holy Words.
- Encourage the most beautiful possible expression of the human spirits through music and other modes of feeling
- The presence of pets is a minor matter of which no issue should be made
Preparation by the Individual
- Feast should be regularly attended by all believers
- If anyone has a teaching appointment on the same evening, it is left to them to judge which is the most important
- Iranian believers should make every effort to attend the Nineteen Day Feasts, and should not expect such meetings to be conducted in Persian.
- Effort should be made to attend the meetings once in every Bahá’í month
- No radical action should be taken when anyone fails to attend these Feasts.
Before entering the feast:
- Free yourselves from all that you have in your heart
- Free your thoughts and your minds from all else save God
- Speak to your heart
- Turn your face toward the kingdom
- Glorify God and fix your heart on Him
- Supplicate, invoke and entreat toward the lofty throne
- Beg God’s forgiveness for all shortcomings
- Let your heart be enlightened
- Make your faces radiant
- Allow your spirit be illumined
- Let your thoughts find wider range of vision
- Increase your spiritual susceptibilities
- Let the realm of God surround you
- Make your heart the treasury of heaven
- Think of ways to promote the integration of the immigrants into the community
- Avoid feelings of estrangement or disunity on account of language
- Ensure the utmost translucency and purity of intention
Before entering the feast, say this prayer:
O God! Dispel all those elements which are the cause of discord, and prepare for us all those things which are the cause of unity and accord! O God! Descend upon us Heavenly Fragrance and change this gathering into a gathering of Heaven! Grant to us every benefit and every food. Prepare for us the Food of Love! Give to us the Food of Knowledge! Bestow upon us the Food of Heavenly Illumination!
In your hearts remember these things, and then enter the Unity Feast. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in “Star of the West”, vol. IV, no. 7 (13 July 1913), p. 120)
How to Behave During the Feast:
- Call God to mind; dwell on Him; glorify Him
- Supplicate God with contrite hearts
- Enjoy the love of God
- Read the prayers and holy verses
- Make the Feasts occasions of joy and fellowship
- Think how to make happy and pleased the other members of your assembly
- Consider all those who are present as better and greater than yourself
- Consider yourself less than the rest
- Know their station as high, and think of your own station as low
- Conduct ourselves with the greatest courtesy and self-restraint
- Associate lovingly, spiritually and happily with one another
- Treat one another with the utmost affection and love
- Encourage and inspire one another
- Bind the hearts together
- Foster comradeship and love
- Encourage benevolent pursuits
- Even if there is the slightest feeling between certain souls — a lack of love — it must be made to entirely disappear.
The Three Parts of the Feast
A good part of the Feast must be devoted to the reading of the Holy Words. For it is through them that the friends can get the inspiration and the vision they need for the successful accomplishment of their work for the Cause. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Meetings/The Nineteen Day Feast, p. 24)
The Feast is opened with devotional readings, that is to say prayers and meditations, from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, the Báb and the Master. Following this, passages may be read from other Tablets, from the Holy Scriptures of previous Dispensations, and from the writings of the Guardian. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 244)
- This part of the meeting need not be confined to prayers, though prayers can and should be read during it
- The Persian writings of Shoghi Effendi are unique in nature, and many of them are interspersed with supplications, prayers and homilies of a devotional character which are suitable for the spiritual part of Bahá’í Feasts
- It’s advisable to read from our own holy Writings in the spiritual part of the Feast
- Intone the holy verses, the heavenly odes and laudations
- Chant the communes and prayers with serenity and joy
- Beseech God’s help
- Praise the matchless Lord
- Music is permitted during the spiritual part or any part of the Feast.
- Instrumental music may be used at the Bahá’í Feasts.
- There is no objection to showing appreciation by the clapping of hands.
- Songs whose words are the primary Writings of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh or `Abdu’l-Bahá are all quite fitting for the devotional portion of the Feast
- Persian chants are a way of giving music to the holy Word, and each person who chants does it in a way which mirrors his feeling and expression of the Words he is uttering.
- Read essays which are of benefit
- Give eloquent talks
- enriched by the sense of reverence cultivated through personal prayer and regular devotional gatherings
- The main purpose of the Nineteen Day Feasts is to enable individual believers to offer suggestion to the Local Assembly, which in its turn will pass it to the National Spiritual Assembly.
- The Assembly and the believers should look forward to this happy period of discussion, and neither fear it nor suppress it.
- The chairman or an appointed representative of the Spiritual Assembly presides during the period of consultation.
- If it is possible to make arrangements for the Iranians who have not yet learned the language to benefit from the topics discussed without interfering with the smooth running of the meetings, this factor could be taken into consideration.
- Suitable ways should be found to inform believers not fluent in the language in which the Feast is conducted, of the content of major messages and announcements
- Everyone should be afforded an opportunity to express their views, in their own language if necessary
- It should be feasible to offer any translation needed in a manner that does not interfere with the smooth running of the meeting
- The chief opportunity which the friends have for discussion on administrative questions is during the Nineteen Day Feasts, at which time the members of the Assembly can meet with the body of the believers and discuss in common the affairs of the Cause, and suggest new policies and methods.
- The Spiritual Assembly shall seek the advice and consultation of all members of the community, keep the community informed of all its affairs, and invite full and free discussion on the part of the community of all matters affecting Faith.
- It is animated by reports on the progress of the Cause, and insights contributed by eager believers engaged in Bahá’í activity
- Any Bahá’í may convey his suggestions and recommendations to the National Spiritual Assembly at any time and thus take part in the consultative aspect of Bahá’í community life.
- It is not only the right, but the responsibility of every member of the Community to offer fully and frankly, but with due respect and consideration to the authority of the Assembly, any suggestion, recommendation or criticism he conscientiously feels he should, in order to improve and remedy certain existing conditions or trends in his local Community
- It is the duty of the Assembly to give careful consideration to any such views submitted to them by any one of the believers.
- All criticisms and discussions of a negative character which may result in undermining the authority of the Assembly as a body should be strictly avoided.
- The Bahá’ís must learn to forget personalities and to overcome the desire to take sides and fight about it.
- During the administrative portion there is no objection to the reading of the Writings of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, `Abdu’l-Bahá or the Guardian.
- Conclusive proofs must there be set forth as to the people of the Bayán, so that newcomers, unaware of the situation, may be made aware of it
- The actual voting on recommendations made at Nineteen Day Feasts to decide whether they should be forwarded to the Local Assembly is a secondary matter which may be left for decision by the Local Spiritual Assemblies themselves.
- The Local Assembly secretary can record suggestions made at Nineteen Day Feasts for consideration by the Assembly.
- Bahá’í youth between the ages of 15 and 21 may certainly take part in discussions, and should be encouraged to do so, but they may not vote on recommendations to the Assembly until they are 21.
- If the friends at a Nineteen Day Feast agree with a recommendation, either unanimously or by a majority, it constitutes a recommendation from the Feast to the Assembly.
- If an individual believer makes a suggestion that other friends do not take up, it may still be considered by the Assembly
- Should trouble arise between two of the friends, let both be invited in, and efforts be made to compose their differences.
- The social portion transcends polite formalities
- becomes the joyous reunion of ardent lovers, of tested companions united in a common purpose
- conversations are elevated by spiritual themes
- Let all discussion centre on the doing of charitable acts and holy deeds, that laudable results may come about
- Become joyfully enamoured with each other
- In complete attunement and love, they should engage in the remembrance of god and his praise
- Converse as to the glad tidings of God, and proofs of the advent of Bahá’u’lláh
- Recount the high deeds and sacrifices of the lovers of God in Persia
- Tell of the martyrs’ detachment from the world, and their ecstasy, and of how the believers there stood by one another and gave up everything they had
Every day great feasts and banquets are being spread with the object of material enjoyment and relish of food. People partake of certain delicacies and waters from various fountains, that they may have a good time. Balls and dances follow. All these are for the body, but this fellowship is of the enjoyment of God, for the partaking of spiritual food, for the elucidation of spiritual subjects, for the discussion and interpretation of the teachings and counsels of God. It is absolute spirituality. (From a talk by `Abdu’l-Bahá given at a Nineteen Day Feast in London, England, 29 December 1912, quoted in “Bahá’í News Letter” 33 (July 1929), pp. 1-2)
Regarding changing the order of the Feast, it is clear from Shoghi Effendi’s instructions that the Nineteen Day Feast programme should start with the spiritual part, and not with the social part, which includes refreshments, or breaking bread together”. However, if it is found that some sort of association among the friends or the serving of food and refreshments will be helpful, if this takes place at the outset, there is no objection to this practice, provided it is clear that it is not part of the Feast. (23 January 1985 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)
Special Guidance for Bahá’í Groups
- The Nineteen Day Feast can only be an official administrative occasion where there is a Local Spiritual Assembly to take charge of it, present reports to the friends, and receive their recommendations
- But groups, spontaneous gatherings of the friends, and even isolated believers should certainly remember the day and say prayers together
- In the case of a group, it may well hold the Feast in the manner in which a Local Spiritual Assembly would do so, recognizing of course that it has no official administrative standing
A group, of course, is not an administrative body and there is no objection to the members of a group making decisions within their scope on any occasion when all of them happen to be together, even if this should be at a Nineteen Day Feast. The Nineteen Day Feast can only be an official administrative occasion where there is a Local Spiritual Assembly to take charge of it, present reports to the friends, and receive their recommendations. But groups, spontaneous gatherings of the friends, and even isolated believers should certainly remember the day and say prayers together. In the case of a group, it may well hold the Feast in the manner in which a Local Spiritual Assembly would do so, recognizing of course that it has no official administrative standing. (31 October 1972 written by the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Switzerland)
The thing I love about all of the writings on the Bahá’í Feast, is that God makes a LOT of promises if the Feast is held befittingly. For example:
- It will be the Lord’s Supper with all its fruits and influence
- It will cause the divine table to descend from heaven
- It will draw down the confirmations of the All-Merciful
- It will cause the breathings of the Holy Spirit to be wafted over us
- It will cast the lights of the All-Glorious Realm and the rays of the Supreme Horizon on us
- It will be a confluence of holy souls
- It will be a convocation of those who love the Lord
- It will be blessed by the Lord of all mankind
- It will surrounded with the Lights of the Supreme Concourse
- We will be gathered together with the utmost love
- It will give us the Heavenly Food
- It will be the “Lord’s Supper”
- ‘Abdu’l-Bahá will be the Servant of our gathering
- It will attract the confirmations of God like a magnet
- It will be the means of the appearance of the Light of God
- It will be the under the protection of God
- The reality of every subject will be unfolded
Benefits to the Individual
- It will bring us bliss, joy, unity, love and peace of mind
- It will be the groundwork of agreement and unity
- It will be the key to affection and fellowship
- It will quicken our hearts and carry us away from ourselves
- It will keep us alert and heedful
- It will kindle the stirrings of the spirit
- It will ensure that we all acclaim the rise of the Sun of Truth with an eloquent tongue and a heart flooded with the love of God
- It will allow us to occupy ourselves with making mention of God; praising and glorifying Him; and guiding the people aright
- It will rejoice our minds and hearts
- It will be a retreat and palace-hall for all of us
- It will disclose the divine mysteries
- It will allow our hearts to become perfectly united
- It will establish reciprocity and mutual helpfulness
- It will become the cause of great spiritual solidarity between us
- It will bring us into the bonds of unity
- It will cause the enlightenment of our hearts
- It will make our hearts as treasuries of love
- It will assure both material and spiritual benefits
- It will intoxicate us with the breezes of the Love of God
- It will become a power which will attract heavenly confirmations
- It will bring about closer fellowship and unity
- It will form a rallying-point
- It will help to unite us
- It will deepen us in the Faith
- It will be a vital medium for maintaining close and continued contact between the believers, and between the body of their elected representatives
- It will foster the spirit of service and fellowship in the community
- It will give us an opportunity to fully discuss the affairs of the Cause and find ways for continual improvement in our Bahá’í activities
- It will the groundwork of agreement and unity
- It will be the key to affection and fellowship
- It will diffuse the oneness of humanity
- We will grow in purity and holiness
- We will grow in the fear of God
- We will grow in resistance to passion and self
- We will separate ourselves from this elemental world
- We will be able to immerse ourselves in the ardours of the spirit
- We will be able to leave behind all prejudices and conflict
- We will be so united that the love and wisdom found here will spread to all parts of the world
- We will find ourselves spiritually restored
- We will be endued with a power that is not of this world
- The Breath of the Holy Spirit will inspire our hearts with tremendous power
Aren’t these promises a good incentive to encourage the implementation of all these requirements in our Feast?
What’s been your experience with the Feast? How could your community benefit from this checklist? Post your comments below!