“Corpus Christi” Anglican Style

In Western tradition, the Thursday after Trinity Sunday is the feast of Corpus Christi.  It and Trinity Sunday are, as far as I recall, the only holidays that primarily celebrate a doctrine rather than a person or event.  In its original (and present) Roman setting, Corpus Christi is a celebration of the doctrine of transubstantiation, which is the official Roman explanation for how the Body and Blood of Christ is present in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

It is often incorrectly assumed that transubstantiation is the same as the doctrine of the corporeal real presence; that is incorrect.  The former is an explanation of how the latter works; there are other theological theories that explain the doctrine of the real presence.  If that confuses or surprises you, or you want to look at this in a little more detail, check out this summary.

Anyway, transubstantiation is explicitly ruled out in our formularies, so why would we ever want to celebrate Corpus Christi?  Among the particularly high-church Anglo-Catholics, there have been a number of movements toward both reviving pre-Reformation tradition and aping the Church of Rome in the present.  Corpus Christi was a major holiday in popular devotion as well as the calendar of the church, and in light of how lax many (perhaps most) Protestants treat Holy Communion, it seemed necessary to some to re-emphasize the holiness of Holy Communion with a restored feast day in its honor.  Appropriated into Anglican tradition, one might call it “Thanksgiving for the gift of Holy Communion”, in a manner not unlike last week’s “Thanksgiving for the Promulgation of the First Prayer Book.”

Another angle of how and why Corpus Christi can be re-appropriated in Anglican tradition is the fact that the traditional Collect for this holiday was appointed by Thomas Cranmer to be the Collect for Maundy Thursday, and has remained unchanged ever since.  Seriously, compare the Latin Mass propers in English with ours; it’s the same prayer!  Combine this with the fact that one of the Scripture lessons is the same (Epistle is from 1 Corinthians 11), and you find that Corpus Christi is basically just a reiteration of Maundy Thursday outside the context of Holy Week, just as Holy Cross Day is a reiteration of Good Friday outside the context of Holy Week, and the (modern) Last Sunday of Epiphanytide is a reiteration of the feast of the Transfiguration in a different context.

If you want to commemorate an Anglican-style Corpus Christi, the easiest way to do it under the auspices of the 2019 Prayer Book is to do a Votive Mass of the Holy Eucharist according to the Various Occasion Propers on page 733, which instructs you to imitate Maundy Thursday.  That would turn out as follows:

Almighty Father, whose most dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it in thankful remembrance of Jesus Christ our Savior, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 78:15-26; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26(27-34); Luke 22:14-30

I took the liberty of removing the John 13 Gospel option as that is about the “maundy” and not about the Eucharist per se.

You might also consider other traditional Communion-related Psalms such as 34 or the latter part of 116.  John 6:47-58 is also traditional Corpus Christi material, if you don’t mind applying that text to Eucharistic doctrine.  Don’t forget, also, to grab a hymnal and sing or read some Communion hymns!  Anglican hymnals have some truly wonderful entries in this category that you can’t find in most of the rest of the Protestant world, and a couple of my all-time favorite songs are Communion hymns.  It’s definitely worth celebrating in song, too.

What is an Epiclesis?

If you poke clergymen who are passionate about liturgy, and start asking deep questions about the Communion Prayers (or prayer of consecration, or Eucharistic canon) in different rites and prayer books, sooner or later you’re going to run into a hot topic: the epiclesis.

Also called “the invocation”, the epiclesis (true to its Greek meaning) is a prayer that “calls down” the Holy Spirit.  Some think this is unnecessary, even inappropriate; some think this is important to include; some think it’s absolutely necessary.  Thus, the language of the epiclesis, and even its placement within the prayer of consecration, can be a real battleground among those of passionate theological persuasions.

There are too many Prayer Books and rites to survey here, so let’s just look at some representative examples in groups.

GROUP #1: The Epiclesis is Unnecessary

In the English 1552 and 1662 BCP there is no hint of an epiclesis.  Reformed (particularly Calvinistic) doctrine is generally hesitant to make room for transformation language regarding the bread and wine into body and blood, much less attribute the operation of the Holy Spirit to it.

In the Canadian Prayer Book of 1962, the epiclesis reads thus:

And we pray that by the power of thy Holy Spirit, all we who are partakers of this holy Communion may be fulfilled with thy grace and heavenly benediction;

This epiclesis is very mild.  The Holy Spirit is called upon as the power whereby the grace and blessing of receiving the Sacrament is applied to we who partake of it.  It reveals a theology of the Spirit’s activity, working in the Sacrament, but makes no particular commitment as to the nature of the consecration of the bread and wine.

GROUP #2: The Epiclesis is Important

2019 BCP, Anglican Standard Rite

And now, O merciful Father, in your great goodness, we ask you to bless and sanctify, with your Word and Holy Spirit, these gifts of bread and wine, that we, receiving them according to your Son our Savior Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood.

This epiclesis is a strong one: the Holy Spirit is named alongside the Word of the Father as an instrument of blessing and sanctifying the bread and wine so that we may be partakers of Christ’s Body and Blood.  Contexts of right reception and right remembrance further color and qualify this prayer such that being a “partaker” is not an automatic function of physically receiving the Sacrament.  (One may “eat unto condemnation”, as St. Paul warned, cf. the Exchortation.)  Also noteworthy is that this epiclesis is said before the Words of Institution, which, according to general historic Western theology, is the precise formula that actually consecrates the bread and wine.  The epiclesis in this rite, therefore, is best seen as preparatory for the moment of consecration.

The 1928 Prayer Book has essentially the same epiclesis text as this, but placed after the Words of Institution.  It therefore leaves room for interpretation: are the Words of Institution the moment of consecration?  Is the epiclesis that moment?  Is it both, together, that accomplishes it?  This debate can be pretty heated, depending upon where you poke your nose.  A good explanation of this debate from a Lutheran perspective is addressed here.

The original English Prayer Book, in 1549, and the first Scottish Prayer Book, in 1637, were a little more explicit:

Hear us (O merciful father) we beseech thee; and with thy holy spirit and word, vouchsafe to blSmCross.GIF (76 bytes)ess and sancSmCross.GIF (76 bytes)tify these thy gifts, and creatures of bread and wine, that they may be unto us the body and blood of thy most dearly beloved son Jesus Christ.

Complete with the priest signing the cross over the bread and wine, this prayer is an example of a high view of the Sacrament.  And because it’s followed immediately by the Words of Institution, this epiclesis can (like the first example in this group) be interpreted as preparatory for the moment of consecration, though also introduces room for the debate that the 1928 Prayer Book also invites.

GROUP #3: The Epiclesis is Necessary 

2019 BCP, Renewed Ancient Rite

Sanctify them by your Word and Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son Jesus Christ.

This epiclesis is explicit (like the 1549 version); God’s Word and Spirit is called upon to sanctify the bread and wine such that they will be Christ’s body and blood.  Furthermore, this is prayed after the Words of Institution, which logically contradicts the historic view that those words are the “true” moment of consecration.  The theology of the Renewed Ancient Rite, therefore, is that the epiclesis is the center of the prayer of consecration.

Most of the rites in the 1979 Prayer Book follow suit with this position.  The Non-Jurors‘ Communion Rite also does the same thing:

…send down thine Holy Spirit, the witness of the passion of our Lord Jesus, upon this Sacrifice, that he may make this * Bread the Body of thy Christ, and this * Cup the Blood of thy Christ…      [* the priest touches the paten or chalice]

What to do about all this…

If you’re a lay person, all this is primarily of instructive value.  Hopefully this gives you insight into the ways that even small changes to the liturgy can suggest or set forth different doctrines, and why some clergymen can get so uppity and argumentative about it, especially the Communion prayers.

If you’re a priest (or bishop, I suppose, if any actually reads this!) who hasn’t thought about this subject a whole lot before, this may be something of a challenge to you.  What do you believe about the Eucharist?

If you believe the Words of Institution “this is my body/blood” is the moment of consecration for the bread and wine, then an explicit epiclesis prayed after those words is errant, even blasphemous.  That means if you hold the traditional view, “consecrationism”, you cannot in good conscience use the Renewed Ancient Rite in the 2019 BCP!

If you believe an epiclesis is absolutely essential to a proper consecration of the Eucharist, you’re in luck, both rites in the 2019 book have a clear epiclesis.  But you have to contend with the fact that the “liturgical standard” of Anglicanism, the 1662 Prayer Book, has stood for centuries with no epiclesis at all.

So whatever your convictions are, there are challenges and consequences to address.

On the other hand, if you don’t have a firm opinion on this (admittedly somewhat minute) point of doctrine, it pays to take note of the rite(s) you typically use, to consider what it is they say, suggest, or refrain from saying, and to think about how these prayers have been shaping your beliefs over time.

So, as the Pentecost Octave begins to wrap up, take this opportunity to think about the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments.  What do you believe?  What do we pray?

Pentecost Ember Days

The Pentecost Ember Days are here!  It’s been a few months since we last talked about Ember Days, so let’s hazard some repetition of material.  Although in some places the purpose of these days have changed somewhat, their original purpose was to be a time of fasting and prayer for the clergy, those preparing for ordination, and those discerning a call to ordination.  Positioned fairly evenly throughout the year near the changes of the season, these were often the days when ordinations would take place and people would have a quarterly reminder to pray for their clergymen.

Those who are discerning for holy orders, including transitional deacons awaiting the priesthood, typically write an Ember Day letter to their bishop, updating him on their ministerial progress and how the discernment process has been proceeding.

Each seasonal group of Ember Days is a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after an anchor date.  For Advent (winter) that date is December 13th (Saint Lucia Day): the first Wednesday after that day starts off the Ember Days; for spring it’s in the first full week of Lent, for summer it’s in the Pentecost Octave (starting today), and for autumn the anchor date is September 14th (Holy Cross Day).

It’s a little tricky because the Ember Days appear in threes, yet our Prayer Book only gives us two sets of Communion Propers (Collects on page 634 and Lessons on page 732).  This may be easier to deal with in the Daily Office: choose one Collect of the Day for mornings and the other for evenings.

Although the Ember Day Propers are fixed, the context of Pentecost can afford these days a different teaching emphasis.  Consider the subject of ordination from the perspective of a spiritual gift.  Many Anglicans believe in the “indelible mark” or “ordination character” bestowed upon the imposition of the Bishop’s hands, akin to the baptismal change the Holy Spirit also brings about.  These summer ember days are good opportunities to meditate on (or teach about) that angle of the ministry.

Planning Ahead: Trinity Sunday

Until the revisions of the 1970’s, Trinity Sunday was the hinge of the Church Year.  That was the day the first half of the cycle (Advent through Pentecost) reached its culmination and turning point.  All the revelation about God covered in those seasons find their apex in the doctrine of the Trinity: God is One and Three.  As the Collect of the Day begins:

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who has given unto us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity…

But this day is also a turning point.  We have not only received this faith throughout the year to confess and worship God, but also:

We beseech thee, that this holy faith may evermore be our defence against all adversities; who livest and reignest, one God, world without end.  Amen.

That is what the season of Trinitytide used to do: unfold like a discipleship course in how this faith may be our defence against all adversities.

I beseech you, readers, if you have the slightest interest in Anglican Prayer Book spirituality and history, to take a look at this essay: http://www.lectionarycentral.com/trinity/Phillips.html  It brilliantly lays out how the season after Trinity served as a multi-layered course of dealing with our chief adversary: sin.  The life and doctrines of Jesus are presented with Epistle lessons that together work to demolish our pride, our lusts, all our vices.  There are, for sure, other ways to analyze the Trinity season, but the general agreement is that it’s an application of the teachings of the first half of the year to help us conform our lives thereto.

It’s popular now to say that the first half of the year is “the story of Jesus” and the second half is “the story of the Church.”  This is wrong.  The first half is the story (or better, doctrines) of God, and the second half is the application of the story/doctrines of God to us.  Trinity Sunday is the hinge: it sums up all the teaching about the Father, Son, and Spirit, and presents it to us to believe, worship, and follow.

Enough with the theory, now for some advice.

how to mark Trinity Sunday

A fairly long-standing tradition, now recommended or encouraged in the general rubrics at the end of the Communion service in the 2019 Prayer Book, is to say the Athanasian Creed in place of the Nicene at the Communion Service on Trinity Sunday.  It is uncomfortably long, for the average worshiper, but a paltry once a year won’t kill them.  Plus, it’s honestly the best teaching tool we have when it comes to spelling out the doctrine of the Trinity without falling into one of many accidental heresies.  The 1662 Prayer Book called for this Creed to be read at Morning Prayer about 13 times a year, so once a year on Trinity Sunday is really quite lenient in that light!

If you haven’t used the Great Litany with your congregation in a while, that’s another possibility to consider for this day.  Its strong beginning with a Trinitarian invocation is a standard staple of Christian prayer, and extemporanous prayer these days very easily falls into Trinitarian confusion – addressing Jesus yet ending with “in Jesus’ name we pray”, or mindlessly switching from “Father-God” to “Jesus” as if it’s the same Person.  The Great Litany, or indeed any collect or liturgical prayer, can be a helpful teaching example of how to pray in an orthodox manner, rightly praising the triune God without confusing the Persons or denying the Unity.

There are lots of hymns that address God as Trinity, verse by verse.  If you’ve got an Anglican hymnal then the “general hymns” section usually starts with such hymns.  (If you’ve got a generic Protestant hymnal, that could be a problem here.)  If you opt for contemporary praise music, take care to make sure the lyrics handle the doctrine of the Trinity rightly; it’s very easy to make theological mistakes here!

Last of all, for you preachers out there, for God’s sake (literally), preach the doctrine of the Trinity.  Yes it’s complicated; yes it’s difficult; yes it’s easily seen as boring, or even stilted and of minor importance.  But this is basic Christian dogma; the doctrine of who & what God is the foundation of all Christian teaching.  If we don’t get it right, our congregations definitely won’t get it right, and eventually the whole church will be the sicker for it.  Grab a hold of the many resources in the liturgy that you’ve got, use them to your fullest advantage, and disciple your flock!

Hymn for Ascensiontide: See the conqu’ror

One of the things I really like about the 2017 hymnal is that it’s got about twelve hymns about the ascension.  It’s nice to have choices, rather than appoint the same couple every year, even if they are really good.  Despite that, I figured I should just stick to “one of the greats” and walk us through a classic ascension hymn, See the conqu’ror mounts in triumph.  It’s as if each verse brings in a different theological layer to this momentous Gospel event.

See the Conqu’ror mounts in triumph;
See the King in royal state,
Riding on the clouds, his chariot,
To his heav’nly palace gate.
Hark! the choirs of angel voices
Joyful alleluias sing,
And the portals high are lifted
To receive their heav’nly King.

This is focused on the kingship of Christ Jesus.  He is a conqueror, his ascension is a victory march, the heavens are opened to welcome him in.  Verse two is similarly awe-filled, but quite different.

He who on the cross did suffer,
He who from the grave arose,
He has vanquished sin and Satan;
He by death has spoiled his foes.
While he lifts his hands in blessing,
He is parted from his friends,
While their eager eyes behold him,
He upon the clouds ascends.

This is about the humanity of Jesus.  The conqueror and savior is a man – the one who suffered and died, the one who had friends.  The context of his death and resurrection is perhaps the most obvious place to start approaching the ascension (and probably is the overriding context by which many people deal with the ascension at all), and although it is the most ‘simple’, it is by no means unimportant.

Verse three may be my personal favorite.

Now our heav’nly Aaron enters,
With his blood, within the veil;
Joshua is come to Canaan,
And the kings before him quail;
Now he plants the tribes of Israel
In their promised resting place;
Now our great Elijah offers
Double portion of his grace.

The Old Testament imagery is out in full force!  Jesus is like Aaron: a great high priest; his ascension is his entering into the true holy of holies.  Jesus is like Joshua, leading God’s armies to inevitable victory.  Jesus is like Elijah, ascending into heaven but leaving behind a spiritual legacy that will surpass the scope of his own earthly ministry.  The three offices of Priest, King, and Prophet, as applied to Jesus, make their offerings in this verse.  Personally, I think we need more celebration of Christ’s priesthood, Ascensiontide is well-suited to that, and this verse is a good step in the right direction.

The final verse also touches upon the priesthood of Christ, if obliquely.

Thou hast raised our human nature
On the clouds to God’s right hand;
There we sit in heav’nly places,
There with thee in glory stand.
Jesus reigns, adored by angels;
Man with God is on the throne;
Mighty Lord, in thine ascension,
We by faith behold our own.

If verse 2 can be said to be focusing the ascension upon the context of the death and resurrection of Jesus, verse 4 brings in the context of his incarnation.  Because Jesus is both God and man, and because Jesus has bodily ascended into the heavenly places at the right hand of the Father, we can say in no uncertain terms that humanity is enthroned with God!  He took on our flesh in order that there might be communion between the divine and humanity; it’s a two-way street.  He shares our sufferings, we share his glory.  He shares our death, we share his victory.  So we sing the great mystery of the ascension: we are seated with him on the throne!

This reinforces and echoes the Scripture lessons from Ascension Day, and the Collects from both Ascension Day and Sunday.  We’ll take a closer look at those tomorrow.

Planning for Pentecost

Chances are by now that most of the big decisions for the worship service on Pentecost have already been made by now.  Nevertheless, let’s take a moment here to consider ways to celebrate this great holy day.

The Languages Thing

Obviously one of the big features of the story of that first Day of Pentecost is the preaching of the Gospel in a dozen or so different languages.  If you have a multi-lingual congregation, this is an opportunity to celebrate that: invite readers to read one of the Scripture lessons in their own language, immediately before or after it’s read in English.  Take the Latin text of the Gloria in excelsis Deo and have it read or sung before or after (or instead of!) the English version.  If you use printed bulletins, perhaps you could put the Hebrew and Greek text for some of the readings in parallel with the English.

Obviously, you don’t want to go so far into this that you lose or confuse your congregation.  Keep it simple, keep it “easy to translate”, make it a feature yet not a burden.

The First Prayer Book

Jumping off the languages point, Pentecost in 1549 was the day the first English Prayer Book was mandated to begin its use across England.  So Pentecost is an anniversary for us Anglicans and there are ways we can honor and celebrate that too.  You could make use of the rubrics in the 2019 Prayer Book to re-order the Communion service according to the 1662 Prayer Book’s liturgy.  You could make it a traditional-language service (if you don’t normally have one).  The clergy could even make a point of vesting in historic English fashion – cassock, surplice, hood and preaching scarf (if they don’t normally).

The Old Covenant Echo

One of the Jewish Pentecost commemorations was/is the giving of the Law to Moses on the mountain.  While the glory of that gift is vastly surpassed by the gift of the Holy Spirit, there is still merit to observing the first giving of the Torah – have the Decalogue read at the beginning of the liturgy instead of the Summary of the Law!  (This coincides with the 1662 Order suggestion, by the way.)


Although less prominent than the Easter Vigil, the Day of Pentecost is another fine opportunity to hold baptisms or renew baptismal vows.  The topic move from the Holy Spirit to Creation to the New Creation to Holy Baptism is very easy and natural to make; I’ve enjoyed it before.  It’s also a great opportunity for confirmations, but unless you’re a bishop you don’t have much say over that.

This is not when the disciples were scared

We’re sort of cheating today… this isn’t liturgical advice so much as it is Bible-teaching and preaching advice.  Now that we’re in Ascensiontide and Pentecost is approaching, you need to make sure you don’t mess this up for your congregations: this is not when the disciples were hiding and scared.  I see this error on the internet almost every year, and it’s even in my sons’ otherwise-pretty-good children’s Bible.  After Jesus ascended into heaven the disciples were not hiding behind locked doors in fear, wondering what was to happen next.  The biblical account we have of these ten days is Acts 1.  There we read of the ascension of Jesus following his final instructions:

to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So while yes, the disciples were waiting for the Holy Spirit to descend, they were not hiding away and frightened.  Furthermore, there were not waiting passively either, but actively preparing for that gift from on high.  In particular:

All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.… So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

They then proceeded to identify who the new twelfth apostle would be, chose Matthias, and ordained him so.  (Some modern calendars place St. Matthias Day on May 14th, which generally lands around this time of year, making a stronger link between his story and its situation in the time between the Ascension and Pentecost.  Our calendar, however, keeps him in a more traditional date, February 24th.)  So, far from scared and hiding, the apostles were active during these days between Ascension and Pentecost; make sure you don’t misrepresent them in your Pentecost sermon!

Additionally this is worth noting because the “activity” and “mission” that is frequently brought up regarding Pentecost is often presented at the expense of the quiet prayer, preparation, and planning that went on in the days before.  We must be sure we present a healthy spirituality; one that not only pushes out “outwards” towards ministry and mission, but also equally draws us “inward” to worship and prayer.  That is one of the purposes of a Customary like this one, after all, to help the church order her prayers in a healthy manner so to under-gird a fruitful Christian life for all her members.

Book Review: The Bay Psalm Book

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.

Today we’re stepping outside the Anglican tradition and looking at a gem of American history.  The first book ever published and printed in North America was The Bay Psalm Book in 1640, a mere twenty years after the pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts.  It has gone through many re-printings since then, and probably has some more legible successors in recent times, but I happened upon a facsimile print of the first edition, complete with blocky type and funny 17th century spelling.  On its own, it’s a cool historical curiosity.  But its actual contents have proven useful to me, and even found their way into my church’s worship from time to time.

The Bay Psalms Book is basically a psalter: all the psalms are re-translated such that they conform to common poetic meters in English such that they can be set to hymn tunes.  This book does not assign any tunes, it’s simply the text of the metric psalms.  What I have done, then, is take up some of a psalm from this book, fix up the spelling (and modernize the grammar a little if possible) and pick a tune that my congregation will know.

Psalm 67, for example (odd spelling and italics included), reads thus:

God gracious be to us & give
his blessing us unto,
let him upon us make to shine
his countenance alſo.*

That there may be the knowledg of
thy way the earth upon,
and alſo of thy ſaving health
in every nation. **

O God let thee the people prayſe,
let all people prayſe thee.
O let the nations** rejoyce,
and let them joyfull bee:

For thou ſhalt give judgement unto
the people righteouſly,
alſo the nations upon earth
thou ſhalt them lead ſafely.

O God let thee the people prayſe
let all people prayſe thee.
Her fruitfull increaſe by the earth
ſhall then forth yeilded bee:

God ev’n our owne God ſhall us bleſſe.
God I ſay bleſſe us ſhall,
and of the earth the utmoſt coaſts
they ſhall him reverence all.

* The “long s” – ſ – looks like an lowercase f, but if you look carefully it doesn’t have the horizontal line through the center.  There was a general rule when to use ſ or s, but it doesn’t seem to be strictly followed in this book.

** Twice in this psalm you have to pronounce “nations” with three syllables: na-ti-ons.  This kind of thing happens with similar words throughout the book, making it rather difficult for the modern reader to pick up on.

Now try singing that to the hymn tune AZMON (popular with the song “O for a thousand tongues to sing“).

Pretty cool, huh?  What you can do with a book like this is look up the Psalm for the Communion service on a given Sunday, check if its verses are readable and singable for your congregation, and then bring them into the worship service set to a tune they know… then they’ll both read/pray the Psalm and sing a paraphrase of it!

A note on Psalm-singing: in liturgical worship, Anglican or otherwise, the text of the liturgy is very important.  It matters what we say, and why we say it.  To mess around with the wording or translation, therefore, is not good practice.  So I would never recommend metric psalms as a replacement for the Psalmody in the Daily Office or Communion services.  Let the official psalter translation do its work.  Metric versions such as in The Bay Psalms Book can be refreshing and interesting and even beneficial at times, but should never replace the actual text of our liturgy.

The ratings in short…

Accessibility: 5/5
This book is nice and simple; there’s an explanatory introduction, the text of 150 psalms, and nothing else.  The header tells you what psalm(s) are on the page below, so you can thumb through the book quickly and easily as you search for the one your want.

Devotional Usefulness: 3/5
You have to supply the music.  You have to be able to read the imperfect print (if you get a facsimile edition) and ignore the funny spellings.  You have to figure out how to pronounce some of the words like a 17th century British colonist.  It can be done, and it can be beneficial, but much of this book just “won’t do it” for worshipers in the 21st century.  Whenever I’ve used it in my church, it’s always been limited in scope and edited for clarity of language.

Reference Value: 3/5
There are modern metric psalm translations out there, so you don’t really need to seek this one out.  This is great if you like colonial American history, or the history of bible/psalm translation, or the history of Christian worship.  The introduction provides a little insight into puritan theology of worship, too.

Book Review: Saint Dunstan’s Plainsong Psalter

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.

One of the more unusual music volumes in my collection is Saint Dunstan’s Plainsong Psalter.  It was kindly bought for me as a Christmas gift by my parents-in-law a couple years ago, which was quite a surprise (though considering the vast length of my Amazon Wish Lists, it’s pretty easy for me to be surprised by gifts).  There was brief concern on my part, as I had just purchased stack of old books of chant, mass parts, choral services for the Daily Office, and so forth… would this book be redundant?

It turns out no, what this provides is a little different, and a lot more organized.  The title indicates that this book contains the Psalms marked for plainchant, but it has so much more inside.  It has some information and history of plainchant, including instructions on how to read and sing it.  It also provides chant settings (and text) for the entire Morning and Evening Office according to classical Prayer Book tradition!  With the resources in this single volume, you can chant the entire Morning Prayer (Matins) or Evening Prayer (Evensong) service, including the Scripture lessons.

It includes a walk-through of the ritual/ceremonial for a solemn chanted Office, and provides several chant tones for several Canticles that could be used at the Morning and Evening Office, even including the Athanasian Creed, and some Marian Anthems for those who want to high-church it up at the end of Evensong.  At the back, there’s a table of tones – an index of chant tunes, basically – which is a helpful study resource both for one who wants to learn to sing the chants regularly, and for one who wants to study this fascinating corner of music history.

It’s also worth noting that the plainchant tunes for the Psalms are not quite the same as in the traditional Roman Rite, but reflect the British variants that developed over the course of history.  So although this is a very “old-fashioned” traditional book, it is not crypto-Papist, but celebrates our Anglican heritage.

Of course, all the worship text is in traditional Prayer Book English.

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The ratings in short…

Accessibility: 3/5
With all the resources and explanations in this book, it is inevitably a bit tricky to navigate at first.  If you want to sing an Office, you need a bookmark in the Psalms section, in the Office liturgy section, and in the Canticles section.

Devotional Usefulness: 4/5
If you want to chant some or all of the Office, and don’t know how, this book will both teach you and provide everything you need for it.  All you need besides this is the Collect of the Day and Scripture readings appointed in your Prayer Book.  I give it a 4 instead of a 5 only because of all the explanatory text that makes the book a bit unwieldy… a more “professional” chorister or chanter would use a more streamlined book with fewer helps.

Reference Value: 5/5
If you don’t want to chant the Office, then this book is of purely academic value.  But its academic value is superb.  The history of chant, the application of chant in English practice, how to arrange and order a solemn Daily Office service, all make this book quite handy on your shelf even if you never intend to chant the Psalms in your church.

Saint Dunstan’s Plainsong Psalter is available from Lancelot Andrewes Press.

Next week: Rogation Days

Today’s entry is just a reminder: the Rogations Days are next week, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  This coming Sunday is nicknamed Rogation Sunday, as a result.  If you look at a church calendar (or at least, a traditional one) the Rogation Days stand out like a sore thumb – three purple days in a sea of white.

What’s rogation?  Well, rogare is Latin for ask, so a rogation day in the church is a day of prayer.  The rogation days, specifically, are days of prayer and fasting for the year’s crops.  The major time for the sewing and planting of crops is already done, in many climes of the Northern Hemisphere, so this is a point when farmers have done most of what they can, as the Scriptures say “one plants, another waters, but God gives the growth.”  So we stop and pray that God will protect and prosper the crops.

In recent centuries, as Western Christendom has moved out of agriculture-dominated economy and culture, the Rogation Days have taken on additional layers of prayer to cover other forms of business and industry.

Unless your church has a weekday communion service on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, it’s pretty easy for these days to slip by year by year, invisible to the vast majority of Christians.  One of the easiest ways to keep the spirit of Rogationtide is to grab a hymn appointed for Rogation and sing it on the 6th Sunday of (or 5th Sunday after) Easter.