A brief history of the Benedictus

This canticle has been a part of the Morning Prayers of the Church (particularly Lauds) at least since the 5th century Rule of Saint Benedict. The Prayer Book tradition has consistently maintained its position as the second canticle – the one read after the New Testament lesson. Its legacy in America, however, has been curious. The 1790 Prayer Book printed only the first few verses, ending with “from the hand of all that hate us.” The 1892 and 1928 Prayer Books included the full text of the Benedictus, but noted that “the latter portion thereof may be omitted”, permitting the short version of 1790. Only in 1979 did the American Prayer Book tradition return to the reading of the full Benedictus without omission.

From the English Prayer Book of 1552 through to the American 1928, the Jubilate (Psalm 100) was offered as an alternative to the Benedictus. This originated from the Puritans’ hesitancy to use anything but the Psalms as hymns and canticles, but by 1662 had settled into an alternative to the Benedictus only when the text of Luke 1 would be found in the New Testament reading on a given morning. The first three American Prayer Books swapped the preferential order between these two canticles, 1979 offered extremely flexible guidance about the choice of canticles, and 2019 has reaffirmed the priority of the Benedictus as the second canticle in Morning Prayer.

Customary update: Family Prayer

I’ve got a new update to the Saint Aelfric Customary online now: it’s some extra materials to help you customize Family Prayer for your own needs!

In a way, this seems like a silly idea; the whole point of liturgy, or common worship, or common prayer, is that we speak with one voice and one mind, as the Scriptures exhort us. So to customize a liturgy is to defeat the purpose, right? Yes, BUT…. family prayer is explicitly not common prayer in the congregational sense; it’s only common prayer within the context of a local household.  There are some devotions and practices that a family might want or need which they’ll best implement in a different way than others.  One example is children: my five year old is still developing his attention span; reading a whole chapter from the Old Testament, as in the Daily Office lectionary, is a bit too much for him to take in right now.  But if I stick with the mini-readings in Family Prayer, he’ll never be stretched to listen to longer readings, so we need something in between.  Thus, one of the resources to be provided in this Customary is a Children’s Lectionary.

Because formatting is difficult to translate onto a webpage (on top of WordPress radically changing its Post Editor into a new system that hate with an alarming hatred), I’m not putting all the actual lectionary-like resources on the page; they’ll wait for the book.  But you can comment on the Family Prayer Customary page to request a copy if you want.

Behold: Customary: Family Prayer

When to skip the Nicene Creed!?

Happy September!  I am finally easing out of a writing hiatus, now that my family’s move is more or less completed and the school year has more or less begun.  We won’t quite be jumping straight into five posts per week, but, as I announced a few months ago, the focus on quality over quantity will continue.

Today we’re tossing another “Weird Rubric Wednesday” into the collection.

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So you’re going along through the Communion service in the 2019 Prayer Book, and you get to page 108 or 126 and you come to this rubric:

On Sundays, other Major Feast Days, and other times as appointed, all stand to recite the Nicene Creed…

So this is curious.  Most of you are probably used to the Nicene Creed being a static part of the Communion service – always there, unchanged, unchanging.  Indeed that was the pattern set out in 1662: And the Gospel ended, shall be sung or said the Creed following, the people still standing as before.  By that point it was assumed that Holy Communion was being celebrated, at most, on Sundays and Holy Days.  The Roman tradition of Daily Mass was pretty much gone from English practice.  So practically every Communion was a Sunday or Holy Day, and there was no need to mess around with options.  After the Gospel, just say the Creed.  (Yeah, the sermon used to be after the Creed.)

But eventually things got a bit more loose.  The 1928 Prayer Book, usually upheld as the last bastion of traditional Anglican liturgy in America, actually has quite a strange rubric about the Creed – I daresay more worthy of “Weird Rubric Wednesday” than its 2019 counterpart.  This is what it says:

Then shall be said the Creed commonly called the Nicene, or else the Apostles’ Creed; but the Creed may be omitted, if it hath been said immediately before in Morning Prayer; Provided, That the Nicene Creed shall be said on Christmas Day, Easter Day, Ascension Day, Whitsunday, and Trinity Sunday.

You see, in the 1928 Book, people have the option of saying either the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed in Morning Prayer, and the same choices at the Communion too.  The “defaults” were still Apostles’ in the Office and Nicene in the Communion, but the expansion of options was such that one could choose either at any time, with only five exceptions.  Omitting the Creed entirely was also an option if Morning Prayer had just been said!

But this isn’t simply wild and crazy liberalism and choose-your-own-adventure liturgy building.  I mean, that could happen, but that’s not the intention.  Rather, this option to omit the Nicene Creed is in line with a retrieval of pre-Reformation tradition that was going on at the time in the growing Anglo-Catholic movement.  In the Roman calendar there are several “classes” or “ranks” of feast days, and they are celebrated with different levels of liturgical complexity.  Among those levels include the saying/omitting of the Gloria, and also of the Nicene Creed.  These options have been codified among traditional Anglo-Catholics, as demonstrated by this Ordo Kalendar put out by a group of the Continuing Churches:

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In this picture you can see August 27th-29th, with notes for the daily mass.  St. Augustine of Hippo’s feast day merits both the Gloria and the Creed, whereas the Beheading of St. John the Baptist omits the Creed.  The Feria (or empty) day before them omits both.  So, coming back to the 2019 Prayer Book, when we read On Sundays, other Major Feast Days, and other times as appointed, this is an opportunity for those who want to follow some sort of “ranking” of feast days to make distinctions in how we celebrate Communion in honor of different saints’ days.

The Great Litany has three different endings?

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The Great Litany is the oldest piece of liturgy in the English language; it was the first “worship service” that Cranmer assembled, a few years before the first Prayer Book was promulgated.  It has been changed a little bit over the centuries, but on the whole is probably the “most original” piece of Reformation Anglican liturgy in our (or any) Prayer Book.

It’s also supposed to be very simple: start at the beginning and finish at the end, but in the 2019 Prayer Book (similar to what you see in the 1979 Book) it has three different endings!  What gives?  Welcome to Weird Rubric Wednesday.

Ending #1

The earliest rubrical ending is on page 96.  When the Litany is sung or said immediately before the Eucharist, the Litany concludes here [between the Kyrie and the Lord’s Prayer] and the Eucharist begins with the Salutation and the Collect of the Day.  This is a modern option inherited from the 1979 Prayer Book.  The standard pattern set out in the English Prayer Books was that the Litany followed Morning Prayer, but the American Prayer Book tradition de-coupled the Litany from its usual standard times, and permitted it to be tacked on the end of both Morning and Evening Prayer and the beginning of the Communion service.  What the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books have done is simply chop off the end of the Litany and the beginning of the Communion service so they run into one another more smoothly and briefly.

Ending #2

The second natural place to stop is on page 97; this seems to be the default expected use of the Litany in the 2019 Book.  One who is used to the 1662 Prayer Book Litany may be surprised here: why has the traditional ending been chopped off?  This goes back at least to the 1928 Prayer Book (or maybe earlier; I haven’t checked), where a rubric on its 58th page notes that the majority of the last two pages of the Litany may be omitted.  This last section has been given a section heading in modern prayer books: “The Supplication.”

Ending #3

The longest form of the Litany includes The Supplication, skipping the top half of page 97 and concluding on page 98.

That’s weird.  How should I choose?

Well, it depends upon the situation.  If you’re planning the Sunday morning worship service and you want to include the Great Litany, the easiest way to start your congregation out with it is to attach it to the service they’re most familiar with: so either as a special extended ending for Morning Prayer or a special prefix for the Communion service.  The rubric on page 97 also states that the Supplication portion is especially appropriate in times of war, or of great anxiety, or of disaster.  So, like, right now.  We’re in the midst of a pandemic, race riots and protests are rocking the country, millions are unemployed or recovering from unemployment, and to top it all off it’s an election year.  Pray the darn Supplication!  We need it.

O Lord, arise and help us; And deliver us for your Name’s sake.

On the Daily Office Lessons

The single most time-consuming part of the Daily Office is the reading of the two lessons of Scripture.  This indicates to the worshiper that this is a high point in the liturgy.  Furthermore, where the majority of the liturgy is relatively static from day to day, the content of the lessons is appointed by a Daily Office Lectionary such that every morning and evening throughout the year has its own unique set of lessons.  This suggests that the public reading of Scripture is even the highest point in the Office liturgy.

The tradition, with very few exceptions in modern Prayer Books, is that the first lesson is from the Old Testament and the second is from the New.  This allows for multiple readings of the New Testament in a year (originally three, now two) and one read-through of the Old Testament in the year.  Several chapters from several books have been omitted from the Daily Office Lectionary in every Prayer Book, most notably Leviticus, Numbers, and Ezekiel.  Further examination on the lectionary itself will have to be provided later; here it should suffice to note that the basic pattern of Old & New Testament readings each day provides both a deep familiarity with the contents of the New Testament and a cursory-but-constant familiarity with the Old Testament.

Because the Daily Office Lectionary is designed to read through the Bible in continuous readings, there should be no attempt to harmonize the two lessons on any given day; they are independent of one another, and only overlap in theme or content on a very few holy days in the year.

Weekly Update to the Customary

Hello hello everyone, another Thursday means another update to the Customary is up!  The first half of the Evening Prayer liturgy is covered, now.  You can check that out here: Customary: Evening Prayer

So you know what to expect, what these Customary pages are doing, basically, is walking through each section, header by header, in the worship service, and giving direction for when and how its rubrics and options may be implemented.  For example, there are three Opening Sentences provided at the start of the liturgy, and an appendix with many more.  How do you choose between all these sentences?  This Customary can guide your choices, with a little bit of insight into why these patterns are being made.

Yes, many of these points are quite fine points of detail.  And taken individually they are quite subtle and probably not easily realized what they’re doing.  However, taken as a whole system, the aim of a Customary like this one to order the use of the Prayer Book by arranging the “small things” to echo a bigger picture – a life of worship rooted in Prayer Book tradition, general Western liturgical tradition, and sensible and intentional discipleship and spiritual formation.

On Psalmody in the Daily Office

The first and foremost distinction of the role of the Psalms, not only in the Daily Office, nor even in the Prayer Book generally, but in the entire history of Christian worship, is that the Psalms are to be sung or prayed.  They are distinct from the rest of the Bible in this regard; they are not provided for in the lectionaries; the Psalms are prayers, not lessons.  Indeed, just like the rest of the Scriptures the Psalms are useful for edification and instruction, but the manner in which they do so is not through proclamatory reading but through prayer.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously put it, the Psalms are the Prayer Book of the Bible.  They are, therefore, naturally, the heart of the Prayer Book.  Those who are new to the liturgical tradition often find this one of the most fundamental shifts in their understanding both of the Psalms and of worship.

The Prayer Book pattern of praying the Psalms set out by Archbishop Cranmer since 1549 is a methodical advance, cover to cover, through all 150 Psalms in thirty days.  They are divided about as evenly as possible into Morning and Evening groupings for each of those thirty days, though every Psalm except the inordinately long 119th is kept intact.  Thus the monthly sequential praying of the Psalms mirrors the annual sequential reading of the Bible, in the course of the Lessons that follow.

Just as different readings of Scripture teach the hearer different things at different times, so too do the various Psalms lead the worshiper through different tones and moods and subjects – and all this regardless of the individual’s condition or circumstance.  This is one of the greatest roles of liturgy, calling individuals out of themselves and into a common worship and a common prayer.  And if only one portion of the Daily Office could be considered absolutely essential, it would be the praying of the Psalms.  From these 150, and the Lord’s Prayer, all Christian worship is extrapolated.

Our Prayer Book offers a sixty-day Psalter as an alternative to the Cranmerian pattern.  This is not new; the 1979 Prayer Book’s daily lectionary provides a roughly-seven-week pattern of Psalmody (though omitting a few), and the 1928 Prayer Book’s daily lectionary throughout the year offers highlights of the Psalter ranging from four to seven weeks in length.  These alternatives are best offered for the young and the beginner to praying the Psalms.

Customary Update: Morning Prayer

The Saint Aelfric Customary for the Daily Office of Morning Prayer has been completed.  You can read it all here: https://saint-aelfric-customary.org/customary-morning-prayer/

The idea behind this is provide guidance regarding when and how to use the various options in the Prayer Book in order to make reasonable use of the scope of resources in the 2019 Prayer Book while yet retaining a stable tether to the great well of Anglican tradition before all these modern forms came to the fore.