The Logic of Eastertide (Traditional)

When looking at the Easter season in the old and new calendars, the most annoying challenge right off the bat is the fact the numbering system changed.  The modern system is “The #th Sunday in Easter” starting with Easter Day, and the traditional system is “The #th Sunday after Easter”, starting with the modern Easter II.  So if you just use numerical shorthands, the old and new calendars will be off by one.  I suppose the modern system was making a point of identifying Eastertide as a single unit, rather than a succession of days following the high point of Easter day itself.

Anyway, the traditional calendar with its one-year lectionary had a certain flow to it which is relatively well imitated in the modern calendar.  We’ll get to the modern one in a couple days; today we’re just looking at traditional Eastertide.

Easter Day

The resurrection of Jesus is clearly set forth, complete with multiple witnesses in the Gospel reading (John 20:1-10), today’s celebration aptly applies the resurrection to all God’s people. The Epistle (Colossians 3:1-11) chimes in with the reminder that we have died with Christ and been raised with Christ, by virtue of our union with him in Baptism. The Epistle then goes on to direct us toward heavenly Christ-like lifestyles and attitudes, which is also the prayer of the Collect.

The Octave Day – The First Sunday after Easter Day

The focus remains very close to Easter Day itself: examining the benefits of the resurrection of Christ for us. And they are many: the Collect notes the dual doctrines of justification and sanctification that flow from his death and resurrection, the Gospel (John 20:19-23) speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Epistle (1 John 5:4-12) points us knowing this testimony from God.

The Second Sunday after Easter Day

Today the Easter focus on the resurrection is expanded to include how Jesus was also an example for us to follow. Specifically, we follow him as sheep follow their shepherd. The Collect and lessons each speak of God as our shepherd, gathering us, keeping us safe, and holding us close to him. Thus today is commonly nicknamed “Good Shepherd Sunday.” But it is the Epistle (1 Peter 2:19-25)) and the Collect that turns these beautiful descriptions into instructions: we are to follow and imitate Jesus, even if it means suffering for doing nothing wrong. Knowing of his resurrection gives us hope for ours, too.

The Third Sunday after Easter Day

This Sunday we are reminded of a consistent biblical pattern: suffering and pain is temporary, while joy is eternal. In the Gospel (John 16:16-22), Jesus pointed this out to his disciples concerning his approaching death and resurrection.  The Collect and Epistle (1 Peter 2:11-17), then, take this theme and apply it very practically: because we know that the pain and suffering of life this world is temporary and the joy of God’s kingdom is eternal, we ought to live in such a way that is consistent with that eternal life.

The Fourth Sunday after Easter Day

This Sunday, we are reminded that the resurrection life in Christ is one that is patterned after and ordered by God. The Epistle reading (James 1:17-21) describes this by asserting that we must listen to the word of God, because it saves us and renews us. Additionally, it mentions gifts from above, and the Gospel reading (John 16:5-15) gives an example of this: the Holy Spirit who leads us into all God’s truth. The Collect, finally, takes these themes of listening, and gifts, and disciplines them into one beautiful and coherent prayer.

The Fifth Sunday after Easter Day (Rogation Sunday)

For the past couple weeks, hints of a change of focus have arisen as the Gospel readings have focused more and more on the departing of Jesus and the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  Now, with the Ascension Day approaching, this focus begins to take center stage as all today’s propers deal with the idea of gifts and provision from God.  The Gospel (John 16:23-33) speaks of the coming gift of the Holy Spirit.  What the Epistle reading (James 1:22-27) does, and subsequently the Collect, is turn towards us and remind us of the responsibility that comes with such wonderful gifts: thinking and living according to the will and life of the Spirit given to us.

When you look at the course of the season, there are three major contours that can be traced.

  1. The Epistles move from the exalted “theological” writings of 1 John to the more balanced writings of 1 Peter to the bluntly practical writings of James.  This is something like descending a staircase from the lofty heights of Easter toward the more tangible earthly mission that will be given in Ascensiontide and Pentecost.
  2. The Gospel lessons are all from John.  In general, his gospel book tends to be treated as the “festal” book, containing the exalted texts for the high points of the Christian year such as this.
  3. Overall, these Sundays move from dealing with the resurrection of Jesus into his Upper Room Discourse where he speaks extensively of the Holy Spirit.  The Easter resurrection focus this transitions toward the topics of Pentecost.

One oddity resulting from these seasonal progressions is the fact that there are several readings from week to week that take you out of sequence, even backwards, through single passages.  This happens with 1 Peter 2 for two Sundays, and with John 16 in the last three Sundays.  Again it should be pointed out that in the classical prayer book tradition, continuous readings through Scripture was the function of the daily office lectionary; the Sunday Communion lectionary dealt with Gospel topics on a seasonal basis.

Anyway, that is the traditional set of Sundays in the Easter season.  If you’re more familiar with the revised common lectionary you will probably still recognize some of this shape.  But we’ll get into that, and the comparison between them, later this week.

The Easter Anthems – Pascha Nostrum

The Pascha Nostrum is a beautiful set of anthems that Anglican tradition uses at Easter.  It is built upon three scriptural references: 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, Romans 6:9-11, and 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, each bookended with an Alleluia for good measure.

It has always been in Anglican Prayer Books, but its location has changed in modern practice.  Traditionally, it was placed among the Propers (the Collects and Lessons), for Easter Day; in modern books it is placed in the Morning Prayer liturgy.  It’s interesting to note how the rubrics for this canticle have changed over the years.

1662 BCP:

At Morning Prayer, instead of the Psalm: O Come, let us, &c. these Anthems shall be sung or said.

1928 BCP:

At Morning Prayer, instead of the Venite, the following shall be said, and may be said throughout the Octave.

2019 BCP:

During the first week of Easter, the Pascha Nostrum, without antiphons, is used in place of the Invitatory Psalm, and it may be used throughout Eastertide.

What stays the same? its function.  This Canticle is always used in place of the Venite in Morning Prayer.  What has changed? its duration of use.  The implication back in 1662 is that this canticle (or set of anthems) only gets used on Easter Day.  By 1928 in the US, it was authorized throughout the octave – that is, the first eight days of Eastertide.  Now, it is appointed (not merely authorized) throughout Easter Week and authorized for the rest of Eastertide.  With this increased anticipated use, it’s no wonder that modern prayer books have opted for printing this canticle directly in the Morning Prayer liturgy, so it’s more accessible!

There is also a custom in some places of using the Pascha Nostrum in place of the Gloria in excelsis Deo near the beginning of the Communion service, under the modern rubrics that allow other hymns of praise to take its place.  Especially in church cultures where nobody is really praying the Daily Office, this can be a great way of introducing elements of the Office liturgies to the congregation.  Such points of contact and familiarity will prove helpful when trying to make that move toward teaching people to pray the Office.

Easter Week, Old & New

It’s a little unfair to run a comparison between Easter Week in the traditional Prayer Books and the modern ones; the major difference is that before the great revision of the 1970’s Easter Week only contained two special weekdays – Monday and Tuesday – while the new books have special a Communion service for each day through Saturday.

I can’t help but wonder how many Anglican (or Episcopalian) churches actually take advantage of all six weekdays between the first two Sundays of Eastertide.  After all, the prevailing opinion after the rigors of Holy Week and Easter Day seems to be along these lines:

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this makes the rounds on the internet every year; this copy is from https://me.me/i/mondays-facebook-proposed-addition-to-the-book-of-146408
Whateverso, whether it’s two days or six, we have a Prayer-Book-authorized tradition of continued celebration after Easter Day.

The traditional Easter Monday’s Collect is as follows:

O God, whose blessed Son did manifest himself to his disciplines in the breaking of bread; Open, we pray thee, the eyes of our faith, that we may behold thee in all thy works; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

It was paired with a reading from Acts 10:34-43 and Luke 24:13-35.  In the modern calendar the same Collect and Gospel show up on Easter Thursday, which I assume is due to its eucharistic theme – providing an echo of Maundy Thursday a week later.  Instead of Acts 10, however, Acts 3:11-26 is paired with with the Gospel & Collect, replacing Saint Peter’s teaching to Cornelius with his sermon about the fulfillment of the prophets in Jesus Christ, which still matches up with Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel reading – perhaps even more succinctly.

The traditional Easter Tuesday has the same Collect as the modern Easter Monday – that we who celebrate the Paschal feast may be found worthy to attain to everlasting joys.  The readings are completely different, however.  The traditional appointment is Acts 13:26-41 and Luke 24:36-48 (Paul’s preaching and Jesus’ second appearance, to all the eleven on Easter evening).

The logic of the traditional calendar is an interesting mix of continual build-up and topical array.  The Gospel readings are both from Luke 24, following the course of the afternoon and evening of the first Easter Day.  The readings from Acts chime in with apostolic preaching that spells out the singularity of salvation in Christ.

The modern Easter Week, however, looks like this:

Monday: Acts  2:14,22-32 (Peter’s first sermon of OT background for Christ)
Matthew 28:9-15 (Jesus sends the women to the disciples, soldiers are given hush money)

Tuesday: Acts 2:14,36-41 (Peter’s first sermon, calling for repentance and baptism)
John 20:11-18 (Jesus speaks with Mary Magdalene in the garden)

Wednesday: Acts 3:1-10 (Peter & John heal a lame beggar)
Luke 24:13-35 (Jesus with two disciplines on the road to Emmaus)

Thursday: Acts 3:11-26 (Peter’s second sermon, identifying Jesus as the greatest prophet)
Luke 24:36-49 (Jesus with the disciples on that first evening)

Friday: 1 Peter 1:3-9 (Peter’s greeting of joy in Christ despite trials)
John 21:1-14 (Jesus visits seven disciples going fishing)

Saturday: Acts 4:1-22 (Peter and John defend their faith in Jesus before a Jewish council)
Mark 16:9-20 (St. Mark’s quick summary of post-resurrection events)

The emphasis, for both readings, is on continuity of story.  The Gospel readings follow closely (though not quite exhaustively) the narrative of the rest of Jesus’ resurrection day, and then moves on through most of his post-resurrection appearances.  A couple major omissions can be identified, such as the story of Thomas’ denial, but those are generally covered on the following two Sundays (as well as a bit of overlap with the Gospels read in this week).  The first lesson focuses on the beginning of Acts, especially the earliest examples of apostolic preaching.  There is a tradition that the modern lectionary takes very seriously of reading the book of Acts through the Easter season.  I cannot account for the reason behind this, exactly (why not start this at Pentecost, for example?) but it is a prominent feature of the Eastertide lectionary entries.

A cynic might accuse the modern Easter Week of destroying the Prayer Book tradition’s take on Easter Monday and Tuesday.  A more charitable take on the modern form, however, would be that the traditional approach of tracing the post-resurrection stories of Jesus and the apostolic preaching in Acts has simply been expanded from two days to six.  The topic coherence is lessened (especially the old Eucharistic focus on Easter Monday), but the scriptural coverage is widened.

And, of course, a real question to ask before even trying to get into a debate between old and new here is who’s actually going to church during Easter week?  Does all our planning go into Holy Week such that Easter week days are neglected?  Are we so burned out by the end of the Easter Vigil that we don’t have any energy left to keep up the celebration of the resurrection for another two or six days?  Interesting things to think about.

Before the Vigil

These days, Easter Vigils are super cool and popular.  A lot of churches that hold them end up drawing visitors from other Christian denominations who don’t practice this piece of liturgical tradition.  And hey, who can blame anyone, nowhere else can one find such a broad sweep of Scripture readings proclaiming so much of the Gospel history in the Bible in just one worship service.  Add in the fire and the candles and the dark-and-light drama and the baptisms and the sudden burst of joyful Alleluias, and you’ve got a memorable liturgical experience almost without trying.

I think it’s safe to say that the great majority of Anglicans in this country are happy to have the Easter Vigil authorized and (to some extent) directed in modern Prayer Books.

HOWEVER, this wonderful recuperation of pre-reformation tradition has come with a price: Holy Saturday.  Known as “Easter Even” in the classical prayer books, this was – and technically still is – the official liturgy of Holy Saturday.  In anticipation of the Great Vigil of Easter, many people forget about Holy Saturday, to the point where more and more churches are labeling The Triduum as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.  This is incorrect!  The Triduum, as we saw in fair detail a couple days ago here, ends with the Holy Saturday liturgy.  The Vigil is not part of the Triduum.  It’s not even part of Holy Week or Lent, it’s the beginning of Easter.

If you’re excited about attending an Easter Vigil tonight, please do what you can to attend, or pray on your own, the Holy Saturday liturgy first.  You can do it in like five minutes.  Actually, here, I’ll copy the liturgy right here so you can pray it right now!

H O L Y  S A T U R D A Y

There is no celebration of the Eucharist on this day.

The Officiant says: Let us pray.

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

or this

O God of the living, on this day your Son our Savior descended to the place of the dead: Look with kindness on all of us who wait in hope for liberation from the corruption of sin and death, and give us a share in the glory of the children of God; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

T H E  L E S S O N S

JOB 14:1-14
PSALM 130
1 PETER 4:1-8
MATTHEW 27:57-66

After the Gospel, a homily may follow.

My homily is this: Note that the traditional Collect & Lessons are slightly different from the modern.  The main emphasis difference between traditional and modern Holy Saturday is the baptismal material, which we now have emphasized in the Easter Vigil instead.

The following is then sung or said.

T H E  A N T H E M

Man born of woman has but a short time to live, and is full of misery.
He springs up, and is cut down like a flower; he flees like a shadow,
and never continues the same.

In the midst of life we are in death: of whom do we seek strength, but you, O Lord,
who for our sins are justly displeased?

Yet, O Lord God most holy,
O Lord most mighty,
O holy and most merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the pains of eternal death.

You know, O Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not your ears to our prayer;
but spare us, Lord most holy,
O God most mighty,
O holy and merciful Savior,
most worthy Judge eternal,
do not let us, in this our final hour,
through the pain of death, fall away from you.

The Officiant and People together pray the Lord’s Prayer. The concluding doxology is customarily omitted.

The Officiant concludes: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore.  Amen.

 

So many Psalms!

There are a lot of Psalms kicking around this time of year.  Today, Good Friday, has quite a few available to us.  In the classical Prayer Books this was one of the very few days in the year that got its own set of Psalms for the Daily Office, interrupting the 30-day cycle.

Morning Prayer: 22, 40, 54
Evening Prayer: 69, 88

Looking at the modern liturgy of our 2019 BCP, it’s not quite as heavy-handed on the Office, but the options still give a similar range:

Friday Morning Prayer: 40
Good Friday Service: 22 or 40:1-16 or 69:1-22
Friday Evening Prayer: 102

Saturday Morning Prayer: 88
Holy Saturday Service: 130 or 88 or 31:1-6
Saturday Evening Prayer: 91

You’ll notice that there is a little overlap between the Psalms offered in the primary service and the Psalms offered in the Daily Office, and a lot of overlap with the traditional Prayer Book Psalms.  Although the execution and placement has changed, it’s nice to see that the contents of our venerable tradition have not been lost entirely.

If you’re a worship planner for your congregation, you should observe that the primary worship service for Friday and Saturday in the Triduum offer three choices of Psalms… and our lectionary has a three-year cycle.  This is not presented as a rule, but it is a logical assumption that we should cycle between those three Psalms year by year.  If you want to cast an eye back to general Western tradition, the Gradual Psalm for Good Friday was from Psalm 54 and Psalm 42 for Holy Saturday, neither of which are appointed in our Prayer Book.  You could, however, add them to the Daily Office Psalmody on their proper days (the former is already there in the classical Prayer Books anyway).

Furthermore, whether you’re a worship planner or not, something anyone can do is add Psalms to the recitation of the Daily Office on one’s own.  Assuming you’re able to know what Psalm the main liturgy at church will use later today, you can fill in the other Psalm options to your recitation of the Office.  So if Psalm 69 is featuring at the Good Friday liturgy today, then consider adding Psalm 22 to Morning Prayer; perhaps you can grab Psalm 54 from the classical Prayer Books also, to add to Evening Prayer.

Same deal with Holy Saturday; take a look at the Psalms appointed, and consider how you might use up ones “left out” this year.  I mean, hey, it’s the Triduum… there’s no such thing as praying too much on days like these!

The Triduum as a single liturgy

An interesting interpretation of the modern liturgies for the Triduum is to consider all three as one single worship service that happens to be broken up across three days.  Before I get into the full explanation, this merits breaking down a bit:

  • By “modern liturgies” I mean what we’ve got essentially in the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books.  They’re new, or modern, to the Prayer Book tradition.  If you take a longer view of history, they can also be seen as restorations of pre-reformation liturgical tradition, conformed to the Prayer Book ethos and style.
  • The Triduum, in case it needs clarifying, is the three-day sequence of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.  (The Great Vigil of Easter is not part of the Triduum; it’s the beginning of Easter.)

So, since this sequence begins tonight, let’s look at how these three services can be understood as a single worship service.  I encourage you to take a look at them for reference.

Part One: Maundy Thursday

The Maundy Thursdayservice begins like most any Communion service: with the Holy Week Acclamation, though the Entrance Rite’s usual progression of penitence & praise (that is, the Summary of the Law/Kyrie/Decalogue and the Gloria in excelsis) is replaced with a special address, the fourfold “This is the night…”  The Collect & Lessons & Sermon follow, as normal.  Things really diverge from the norm after that, though.  Instead of the Creed we get the option of the Foot-Washing.  It might be a little pretentious to say this, but the priest(s) washing the feet of the congregation is a bit like an enacted Creed, demonstrating the servanthood of Christ in his own ministry.  The liturgy continues as usual with the Prayers of the People, through the Holy Communion, after which point the next big shake-up takes place: the Stripping of the Altar.  In this ritual (which is not broken down in any great detail in the Prayer Book), the holy table is denuded of its vessels, candles, linen cloth, and anything else upon it, and perhaps also “washed” with palm branches.  It’s a symbolic act that points to a few different things – the stripping of Christ before his crucifixion, the abandonment of Christ by his friends, the rejection of God by the world he created.  This is emphasized further by the lack of Blessing and Dismissal at the end.  Instead, “The Congregation departs in silence.

But wait, there’s more!  The Additional Directions note:

Consecrated elements to be received on Good Friday should be kept in a place apart from the main sanctuary of the church. They may be carried to that place at the end of Communion on Maundy Thursday, prior to the stripping of the Altar. An appropriate hymn or anthem, such as “Now my tongue the mystery telling,” may be sung.

This sets us up for the Good Friday portion of the Triduum liturgy, where the celebration of the Eucharist is specifically not appointed.  The altar will remain in its stripped state for the rest of the Triduum liturgy; the bread and wine consecrated on Thursday will have to last for Friday as well.  Also, the fact that the Maundy Thursday service doesn’t really “end” kind of indicates that there is more to come.  The Stripping of the Altar and the departure of the clergy without a word rather implies that things are not as they should be.  Christ is in custody – will we not keep watch just one hour?

Building upon that, there is also a tradition of a Vigil at the Altar of Repose.  It is not mentioned or directed in the Prayer Book, mainly because it does not strictly speaking qualify as “common prayer”.  Basically, it’s a time of constant prayer throughout the night, giving a liturgical-devotional expression to St. Peter’s waiting outside the gates while Jesus was tried before the High Priest and Herod and Pilate.  It also fills in the gap between Part One and Part Two.

Part Two: Good Friday

Where the Maundy Thursday doesn’t really end, the Good Friday liturgy doesn’t really “start” either.  Check out the initial rubrics:

On this day the ministers enter in silence.

All then kneel for silent prayer.

The Officiant rises and may say All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way,

People And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

If you ignore the fact that a night and a morning has passed, one could easily see this as “the next scene” of the story where the Maundy Thursday liturgy left off.  The Collect & Lessons that follow conform to the normal pattern, as does the sermon, but then come the Solemn Collects.  In the historic Prayer Books, Good Friday had three Collects of the Day, which sort of encapsulated the idea that got expanded into the Solemn Collects we have today.  What we’ve got here is a repeated sequence of bidding, silence, collect.  There are 10 iterations of this pattern, covering prayer for unity of the Church, the Bishops of the Church, the Clergy and People, leaders of government, those who are preparing for Holy Baptism on Easter, deliverance from evil and suffering, for the repentance of heretics and schismatics, the conversion of the Jewish people, the conversion of all peoples, and grace for a holy life in each of us.

Then follows the Devotions before the Cross.  This is comprised of a series of Reproaches and Anthems, the former set in the voice of God accusing (“reproaching”) his people for their history of unfaithfulness, and the latter taking up words from the Scriptures to express our faith in Christ’s work of redemption upon the Cross.  As I mentioned the other day with regard to the book of Lamentations, this is an opportunity to approach the crucifixion and death of our Lord from a penitential angle one normally perhaps would not consider on one’s own.

After all that, the Confession & Absolution follow, with the Lord’s Prayer, and the distribution of Holy Communion which was reserved from the evening before.  But then, instead of the usual thankful Post-Communion Prayer, we get this Collect (which is to be used at the end of the Good Friday service no matter what elements of the service are used or omitted).

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion, Cross, and death between your judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and grace to the living; peace and rest to the dead; to your holy Church unity and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life and glory; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

If there is one statement that could summarize Good Friday, it is this prayer – “set your passion, Cross, and death between your judgment and our souls“.  At least, that’s my opinion.

But still, the liturgy doesn’t really end… the rubrics state “No blessing or dismissal is added.” and “The Ministers and People depart in silence.”  The Triduum hasn’t worked itself out completely yet.

Part Three: Holy Saturday

Just like Good Friday, this day’s worship service doesn’t have a proper beginning either.  Literally, this is how it starts:

The Officiant says Let us pray.

It’s the Collect of the Day.  And it’s followed by the lessons; the Gospel recounts the burial of Jesus.  Even the homily is optional.  In the context of the Triduum, there isn’t really anything left to be said; Christ has said his piece, been abandoned, arrested, tried, and crucified.  In the liturgical re-living of those days, there isn’t really much left to “do” on Saturday, we’re just sort of milling around wondering and waiting for something to happen.

After the homily comes one of the most moving anthems in the Prayer Book, Man born of woman has but a short time to live.  It has four stanzas, the first three of which are originally from the Committal in the historic Prayer Book funeral rite.  (Our own burial rite also makes use of this anthem.)  After the anthem comes the Lord’s Prayer and – finally – the closing sentence, or grace, or blessing, from 2 Corinthians 13:14.  This is the traditional verse that concludes the Daily Office, and signifies the end of the the Triduum liturgy, an ending that neither Maundy Thursday nor Good Friday provided.

In Sum…

The Triduum thus has much to commend itself when conceptualized as a single worship service broken up across the three days.  It begins in a solemn, but still familiar and normal manner, but then takes a dramatic turn in the Foot-Washing and a sudden downward pitch in the Stripping of the Altar.  After a pause, Good Friday brings us back together with Jesus only to hear him crucified in the Gospel, prompting us to turn to serious and considered prayer and to face God’s reproach for our many evils that brought about the Lord’s death.  Despite being fed with the reserved Sacrament one more time, we still come to an abrupt and awkward silence in which we plead the Cross of Christ and await an answer… an answer that does not come, for when we regroup on Saturday, Jesus is still dead and in the tomb.  All we can do is lament and mourn, though the Scripture readings do hint at what he is doing in his death.

The Triduum, therefore, is a liturgy like no other.  Rather than leading us upwards and onwards into the love of God and sending us out into the world rejoicing to do his will, the Triduum leads us downwards into the depths of our sinfulness, all the way to the grave.  The Triduum shows us the dead end of earthly life without Christ.

It will take something different, something completely new – a new fire – to bring us back out of the pit where the Triduum leaves us…

Hold Your Peace

One Holy Week tradition that does not get a shout-out in the Prayer Book but has a standard following in some places is the practice of omitting The Peace after the Confession & Absolution in the Communion service.  The rubrics of our Prayer Book do not provide for such an omission, so it is a tradition that should only be adopted by the permission of your diocesan Bishop.

Or, if you want to explore this option without breaking the rubrics, keep the verbal exchange of peace (Celebrant The Peace of the Lord be always with you. People And with your spirit.) but halt the further exchange of peace, which the rubric identifies as optional: “Then the Ministers and People may greet one another in the Name of the Lord” (underline added).

The idea behind this practice is that in the Garden of Gethsemane Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss (Matt. 26:48-49, Mark 14:44-45, Luke 22:47-48).  As I wrote to my congregation a couple years ago:

This normal, friendly, even reconciliatory part of the liturgy is such a regular part of the service that its omission can be something of a shock, even a disappointment to some people.  The reason for its omission, though, is significant: in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was betrayed by Judas with a kiss.  Normally a sign of greeting and peace, Judas transformed it that night into a sign of betrayal and the marking of a target for the soldiers to arrest.

Thus, on Palm Sunday and throughout Holy Week, we also “hold our peace,” as it were.  We remember the wicked deception of Judas, and remind ourselves that we, also, all to easily use signs of peace as covers for internal hatred.  How easily we lie through our teeth to “get along” while harboring ill will towards our neighbor.  Or, how easily we go through the motions of the liturgy while harboring a coldness of heart against our Lord and our God!

It is also worth noting that the exchange or passing of the peace is not an element in traditional Prayer Book worship.  Until the liturgical revision of the mid-20th century, it simply was not a part of the liturgy for us.  Understanding that it is a modern insertion to our liturgy, between the Comfortable Words and the Offertory, may perhaps give us further cause for consideration as to how our liturgy works, what elements are truly needed and important, and hone our interaction with it.

 

The Lamentations in Holy Week

A couple months ago we looked at the book of Lamentations in the daily office lectionary.  There, we noted how the book functions as a sort of appendix to the book of Jeremiah, giving expression to the deep sorrow of the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians.  The book is a series of five Hebrew poems, alphabetic acrostics of varying length and elaborateness, each bewailing the destruction of Jerusalem from a different point of view, be it the third-person perspective of an observer, personifying the city itself, and others.  Each chapter is its own poem.  Apart from the Hebrew acrostics, other elements show up from time to time: there are call-and-response elements pop up, as if some of these poems were used for a liturgical community lament around the wrecked Temple.  The varying of perspective, too, enables one to embody the experience of the city itself, or the Temple itself, looking at the destruction and devastation from several angles.

We also noted that one of the simplest appropriations of this book in a Christ-centered manner is to connect the Old Testament Temple building to the New Testament Temple of Christ’s Body, which was destroyed on that first Good Friday and “rebuilt in three days” as Jesus promised (John 2:21).  Now that Holy Week is here, it’s time to return to that christological reading of Lamentations.

Popular evangelical piety today has very little room for lament, much less lament over the death of Christ.  Although one of the central tenets of Evangelicalism is crucicentrism – being “cross-centered” – there is comparatively less attention to the actual death of Christ than in the older liturgical tradition.  Evangelicals will readily accept the importance of his death, but “liturgically” apply it in a different way.  You can see this most clearly in the popular hymnody and contemporary praise songs of modern evangelicalism, where the death of Christ is inextricably linked to his resurrection, and celebrated as a set of events for which we give thanks.  What love Christ showed us upon the Cross!

This is not untrue, of course, but it is only one approach to Christ’s death.  The wisdom of the liturgical tradition is the ability to consider these Gospel events from multiple perspectives.  Palm Sunday highlights our complicity in the death of Christ by juxtaposing the Triumphal Entry and the Crucifixion in one worship service.  Maundy Thursday (and to some extent, Good Friday also) highlights the high priestly work of Jesus on the Cross.  Elements of the Good Friday service in modern Prayer Books (and pre-reformation tradition), namely the Veneration of the Cross, take a more visceral approach to the death of Christ, considering the means by which Jesus was killed and thus wrought our redemption.  The Lamentations, finally, which our Daily Lectionary appoints on Thursday and Friday (and this Customary recommends for Midday Prayer beforehand, too) contribute to the angle of mourning.

Christ has died.  This was unjust!  As the city of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon not only symbolized but actualized the presence of God among his people, so too did the physical body of Christ actualize the presence of God in this world.  The destruction of the first Temple building was both a cultural trauma and a spiritual loss… so much more is the destruction of the Temple of Christ’s Body!  Unlike Jerusalem, Jesus was not guilty of mass apostasy, so the analogy is not perfect; but if you consider the idealized Jerusalem and the divine purpose of the Temple of Solomon, then its destruction is worthily lamentable, just as it is right and proper to weep over the death of Jesus.

It may be the question of some evangelicals unfamiliar with our tradition, at this point, why one should lament the death of Jesus anymore, since the resurrection has already occurred.  First, it’s just like Christmas or Easter – Jesus isn’t a baby anymore, and Jesus isn’t walking around Earth anymore, yet we still celebrate his birth and his resurrection.  It would be inconsistent and imbalanced not to observe his death as well.  Second, for those who go so far as to question all such commemorative holidays, there is the simple biblical example of identificational ritual worship.  Specific rites and rituals aside, one of the clearest lessons we see in the Bible about how to worship God is the use of identificational rituals – the communal re-living of past events that shape and form our identity.  For the Jews under the Old Covenant that was the Passover, the Giving of the Law, and a number of other events that shaped their history and came to be commemorated.  For us that means the Gospel events around the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, as well as the Pentecostal descent of the Holy Spirit.  These cornerstones of historical events shape who and what the Church is.  To “pick favorites” among them at the neglect of others is to create an imbalanced sense of identity.

And so, if just for parts of one week in the year, we weep with the daughters of Jerusalem, with the Virgin Mary and her friends, over the cruel and unjust death of Jesus of Nazareth, our Lord and our God.  And the book of Lamentations helps us do that.

Prayers for Mourning

My apologies for not having a post prepared this morning as usual, as you might imagine this is a busy time of year for clerics!

I expect that most people who follow this blog have already heard the news: the great historic and famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris is burning. This is, obviously, a tragedy of incalculable proportion – centuries of spiritual life and history dissolving in smoke. I don’t have any special prayers for this exact sort of tragedy, but I thought we could instead revisit something released by our Province in 2014 after a nasty round of violence and martyrdom. Some of it may still find a place in our hearts in the midst of this event.

“Prayer for a time of suffering…”

Book Review: Common Worship Times and Seasons

Welcome to Saturday Book Review time!  On most of the Saturdays this year we’re looking at a liturgy-related book noting (as applicable) its accessibility, devotional usefulness, and reference value.  Or, how easy it is to read, the prayer life it engenders, and how much it can teach you.

The last official volume of Common Worship on my shelf is Times and Seasons.  It goes through the entire [modern] calendar of the Church of England highlighting special holy days and providing both occasional and seasonal material for all sorts of things – Opening Acclamations, calls to confession, prayers of confessions, absolutions, Canticles, Prayers of the People, Offertory Sentences, Eucharistic Prefaces, and various other special liturgical bits and bobs that can be used to spice up the Communion service for a special occasion.  In terms of historic Prayer Book tradition, none of this is necessary, and is largely unprecedented.  But this is what late 20th-century liturgical revolution was all about: exploring new ways to diversify the worship experience by emphasizing different occasions and seasons in certain ways to make them stand out from each other more noticeably.  And what you find in this volume, as is the case with most of the Common Worship materials, is a mix of pre-Reformation tradition, modern re-invention, and just plain innovation.

In terms of authorization, the extended rubrics of the 2019 Prayer Book indicate that the Prayers of the People may be rewritten, provided they cover certain specified items.  Thus, various Prayers from Common Worship: Times and Seasons could actually find a home in our ACNA liturgy.  The same applies to the Blessing at the end of the Communion Prayers – the rubrics permit alternate blessings without restriction.

However, unlike most of the supplementary volumes of Common WorshipTimes and Seasons provides for the liturgy of several “irregular” worship services (that is, neither the Daily Office nor the Holy Communion) such as Lessons and Carols for Advent or Christmas.  Indeed, this book’s greatest use outside of the Church of England is probably its extended treatment of various special-occasion services like those, or Remembrance Day (Nov. 11th) or Stations of the Cross or, the Maundy Thursday Chrism Mass, or the Easter Vigil.  Its insights into the seasons and festivals of the liturgical and agricultural years, too, make for decent reading for anyone interested in how the Church “sanctifies time” through her liturgy.  It is certainly a mix of old and new, so if you’re a traditionalist about liturgy there will be many opportunities for ire herein.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 4/5
In terms of use in the liturgy, this book cannot stand alone; it is a supplement to the primary volume of Common Worship.  However, for what it contains, it is very logically arranged and easy to navigate.  It is not overly technical or obscure, but explains its contents thoroughly and succinctly.

Devotional Usefulness: 2/5
As with much of the Common Worship series, we have little practical use for the contents of this book.  But the various prayers and devotions do highlight well the different themes of the liturgical seasons, and can greatly enrich one’s private devotions, and, to a limited extent, find a place in our actual liturgies.

Reference Value: 3/5
The liturgical calendar of the Church of England is set out rather differently than ours, but the basics are similar enough that a study through this book’s contents can help one understand not only how our respective calendar traditions diverged from the historic Prayer Book in different ways, but also provide us insight into the logic of liturgical calendars in general.  I could see this book being fruitfully referenced in the context of catechesis, or a small group study, helping people learn about and explore the Church Calendar.

In all, I think this may be the most useful and interesting volume of Common Worship that I’ve got.