For perhaps the first century of the life of the 1662 Prayer Book, January 30th was a national holiday (literally, holy day) with its own special liturgical observances. Morning Prayer, the Communion, and Evening Prayer each had their own unique edits for this day. The commemoration appointed was for the Martyrdom of King Charles I at the hands of the Puritan Parliament that went on to outlaw the Prayer Book and suppress the office of bishops, in addition to temporarily ending the monarchy in England. This holy day, with its special liturgies, was eventually removed from the Prayer Book, I suppose it was a bit too nationalistic.
Check it out for yourself, if you have the time; it’s very interesting! But let’s just glean a couple things from this defunct holy day to see what we can learn about the potential in Anglican liturgy for special occasions.
Observation #1 – the Anglican Church called for prayer and fasting
Stereotypically we think of appointed fast days as a Roman Catholic or East Orthodox practice. Yet the Church of England does have a tradition of such days also. Most Fridays, technically, were intended as such. And January 30th was, for a time, an additional day of fasting. Here is the introductory text in the 1662 Prayer Book for this day:
A FORM of PRAYER with FASTING, to be used yearly upon the Thirtieth Day of January, being the Day of the Martyrdom of the Blessed King CHARLES the First; to implore the Mercy of God, that neither the Guilt of that sacred and innocent Blood, nor those other sins, by which God was provoked to deliver up both us and our King into the hands of cruel and unreasonable men, may at any time hereafter be visited upon us, or our posterity.
¶ If this Day shall happen to be a Sunday, this Form of Prayer shall be used, and the Fast kept, the next Day following. And upon the Lord’s Day next before the Day to be kept, at Morning Prayer, immediately after the Nicene Creed, Notice shall be given for the due observation of the said Day.
While the intersection of State and Church might be a bit too much for our palate today, the idea that the Church can call for a day of fasting and prayer is clear. There are occasions in the life of a country or region when special prayer and fasting can (and should) be called for. However one feels about the appropriateness or execution of this particular example, it nonetheless stands as an example of how we might go about such an occasion. It substitutes a number of prayers, lessons, and canticles for the usual ones appointed, giving the liturgy of the day a different flavor and emphasis without breaking from the ordinary flow of worship.
Let’s zoom in on just one of those liturgical changes from the old January 30th material.
Observation #2 – the Invitatory Canticle
“¶ Instead of Venite Exultemus, the Hymn following shall be said or sung; one Verse by the Priest, another by the Clerk and people.” To translate it from the 17th century language to that of the ESV Bible…
Righteous are you, O LORD, and right are your rules.
You have been righteous in all that has come upon us,
for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed.
They conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant.
For I hear the whispering of many, terror on every side,
as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.
Speaking against me with lying tongues,
they encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause.
Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread,
has lifted his heel against me.
They repay me evil for good; my soul is bereft.
Those who watch for my life consult together and say, “God has
forsaken him; pursue and seize him, for there is none to deliver him.”
The breath of our nostrils, the LORD’s anointed,
was captured in their pits, of whom we said,
“Under his shadow we shall live among the nations.”
Foe and enemy enter the gates of Jerusalem, saying,
“When will he die, and his name perish?”
“A deadly thing is poured out on him;
he will not rise again from where he lies.”
Malicious witnesses rise up; they ask me of things that I do not know.
This was for the sins of her prophets
and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed in the midst of her the blood of the righteous.
Let my soul come not into their council;
O my glory, be not joined to their company.
For in their anger they killed men.
The man of your right hand,
the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be an affliction.
We fools! We thought that his life was madness
and that his end was without honor; but he is at peace.
For though in the sight of men he was punished,
his hope is full of immortality.
Has he not been numbered among the sons of God,
and his lot among the saints?
O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance:
do good to Zion in your good pleasure.
Accept atonement, O LORD, for your people Israel,
whom you have redeemed,
and do not set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst
of your people Israel, so that their blood guilt be atoned for.
Do not sweep my soul away with sinners,
nor my life with bloodthirsty men.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.
You destroy those who speak lies;
the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself,
you despise them as phantoms.
Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
Righteous are you, O LORD, and right are your rules.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end. Amen.
This is a fantastic Canticle, working together a wide range of verses from throughout the Bible. The old Prayer Book even had the courtesy of giving us all the references:
Ps. 119:137, Neh. 9:33, Ps. 73:2-3, 2:2, 83:5, 31:13, 109:2b-3, 41:9, 35:12, 71:10b-11,
Lam. 4:20, 4:12, Ps. 41:5b, 41:8, 35:11, Lam. 4:13, Gen. 49:6, 80:17, Wis. 3:2, 5:4b, 3:3b, 3:4, 5:5, Ps. 94:1, 51:18a, Deut. 21:8, Ps. 26:9, 51:14, 5:4, 5:6, 73:19, 73:20, Rev. 15:3b,
and Ps. 119:137.
Although this Canticle is officially defunct, the style of its arrangement has been copied in later developments, perhaps most notably for Remembrance Day in the Church of England, which has its own special liturgies with unique Canticles and so forth.
I heartily recommend reviving this Canticle for appropriate occasions. If you’re not as big a fan of observing the martyrdom of Charles I, then perhaps you can use it for the commemoration of a different martyr. We have no shortage of martyrs in our calendar of commemorations, after all!