Book Review: An Anglican Prayer 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.

In 2008 the Anglican Mission in the Americas (then AMiA) published An Anglican Prayer Book to provide their congregations with historic Anglican liturgy in contemporary idiom.  The project was aided by the late Rev. Dr. Peter Toon, then President of the Prayer Book Society of the USA.  I don’t know how widely-used this book ended up being, given the colorful and complicated history of AMiA’s founding, leaving, and partially re-joining the ACNA, eventually splitting from its parent province Rwanda, and the complicated leadership debacle surrounding its founding Bishops.  Their Prayer Book, sometimes nicknamed “the blue book”, however popular or obscure, was a gem of a resource.  It contains an entire Prayer Book, omitting only a Psalter, and very closely preserves traditional Anglican liturgy in contemporary English.

Its language style is plain and simple, and strikes me as a little less awkward than that found in Common Prayer 2011.  It might even go in the other direction, feeling a bit calm and informal by comparison.  Also in contrast to CP2011, this book seems to produce more of a low-church feel to it.  Take, for example, this excerpt from the Absolution in the Daily Office:

He has commanded and authorized his Ministers to assure his people that they will receive absolution and forgiveness of their sins when they repent of their sins.

Compare this to the historic wording:

[He] hath given power, and commandment, to his Ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins…

The language of the original may be understood to say that the Minister actually declares or enacts God’s pardon upon the penitent, whereas the language of An Anglican Prayer Book specifies that the Minister merely assures the penitent of God’s pardon.  Similar subtleties can be found throughout this book, especially in its contemporary version of the 39 Articles of Religion, where the minutiae of wording and grammar have sparked centuries of theological debate.  Thankfully, this book isn’t trying to re-write the Articles of Religion according to a particular agenda (in this case low-church evangelical), but admits up front that this translation is provided for ease of reading, and only the original text is authoritative.  Still, the nature and style of this book is clearly better-suited to the evangelical than the anglo-catholic.

One of the unique features of this book is that it combines Morning and Evening Prayer together into one liturgy, noting which Canticles and Collects belong to which time of day.  Because it sticks with the traditional material and adds nothing of what is supplied in the 1979-2019 tradition, this doesn’t take up a ton of space, and very much helps to shorten the length of the book overall.

Another interesting feature of this book is that it the Communion liturgy has three Prayers of Consecration: one based on the English 1662, one based on the American 1928, and one based on the Canadian 1962.  This allows for variation in churchmanship, local tradition and familiarity, and just plain variety.  The first half of the liturgy is the same, and the last section is presented one version at a time; you have to skip to the correct page in order to follow along.

Because of its simplicity, small size, and traditional brevity, you’d think that this book should be easy to use.  But it actually isn’t all that user-friendly.  Part of it is the typeface: the rubrics are in a lighter grey color, and not in italics, which often makes them harder to distinguish from the regular spoken text.  The page-flipping, while not as complex as in the 1979 Prayer Book, is more cumbersome than the historic Prayer Books, and there are no page number guides within the liturgy texts to tell you where to go.

The greatest triumphs of this book, however, are the lectionaries.  The Daily Lectionary (bafflingly stuck near the back of the book instead of the front near the actual Office liturgy) is very simple to use.  It is the 1871 version of the 1662 Prayer Book’s daily lectionary, which sticks close to the original one-chapter-per-read method, but breaks up the longer chapters in half so they’re less cumbersome for the average reader.  I haven’t studied it carefully (let alone used it before), but I think it may give the new ACNA daily lectionary a run for its money in terms of overall quality.

The Communion lectionary, too, is assembled in what I consider the best way possible: united with the Collects.  The traditional Prayer Books printed the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel each in full text together for every Sunday and Holy Day of the year.  This makes a book quite lengthy of course, so the space-saving option (and especially smart in this age of multiple options for Bible translations) is to print the Collect with the verse references for the lessons.  Behold:


In my opinion, this is what the 2019 Prayer Book ought to do.  Granted, with a 3-year lectionary you’d need to specify “Year A: OT, Psalm, Epistle, Gospel“, but that wouldn’t take up a ton of space and would cut out an extra bit of page-flipping situation from having the Collects and Lectionary in two different places (like the 1979 book does).  I fear this is not a lesson our book will learn, though I did suggest it to them a couple times.

Also, this book is noteworthy for adding an Old Testament lesson & Psalm to the historic lectionary which featured only an Epistle & Gospel.  This, I believe, was the right way to contemporize the Communion lectionary, not rehash another version of the modern (or modernist!?) 3-year lectionary, as the 2019 book is doing.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 3/5
While not as simple as traditional Prayer Books, this book still has a relatively small learning curve.  As I noted above, its primary hindrances are due to presentation, not structure.

Devotional Usefulness: 4/5
Although some features in this book lean in the low-church direction, it still has everything you need for an Anglican devotional life.  The lectionaries are sound and the daily prayers are thorough.  It lacks all the bells and whistles of modern Prayer Books (such as special liturgies for Palm Sunday and similar days), but that’s not an issue for personal use.

Reference Value: 2/5
This book has had a relatively low impact in American Anglican liturgical development; I’ve never met anyone who uses (or used) it as their congregation’s primary prayer book.  I’ve known someone who used its daily lectionary, and I’ve known a church that uses its additions to the historic Communion lectionary, but never the book wholesale.  Really, apart from the added lessons to the Communion lectionary, this book has nothing to offer the liturgical world.  There are quite a few modern adaptations of the old liturgies out there, these days, making this book feel like one of the most redundant prayer books on my shelf.

At the end of the day, this isn’t a book I’d recommend adding your liturgy collection unless

  1. you really like collecting different prayer books, or
  2. your parish uses the historic lectionary and you want an OT & Psalm added, or
  3. you like studying different ways traditional language can be modernized.


A Pre-Lent Hymn: Come, labor on!

Although we don’t officially have the Pre-Lent season on the books, there’s no reason we can’t learn from that mindset and explore ways of incorporating the old wisdom of the church into modern practice.  For example, let’s consider a hymn that encapsulates something of the Pre-Lent spirit.

Come, labor on.
Who dares stand idle on the harvest plain
while all around him waves the golden grain?
And to each servant does the Master say,
“Go work today.”

Come, labor on.
The enemy is watching night and day,
To sow the tares, to snatch the seed away;
While we in sleep our duty have forgot,
He slumbered not.

Come, labor on.
Away with gloomy doubts and faithless fear!
No arm so weak but may do service here;
By feeble agents, may our God fulfill
His righteous will.

Come, labor on.
Claim the high calling angels cannot share;
to young and old the gospel gladness bear.
Redeem the time; its hours too swiftly fly.
The night draws nigh.

Come, labor on.
No time for rest, till glows the western sky,
till the long shadows o’er our pathway lie,
and a glad sound comes with the setting sun,
“Servants, well done!”

This song links to the Gospel both on Septuagesima Sunday (Matthew 20, the parable of the successively-hired laborers in the vineyard) and on Sexagesima (Luke 8, the parable of the sower and four types of soil).  The call to join in the Lord’s labor, to bear fruit, to put in our all for Christ, is excellent preparatory thematic material to rally the troops, as it were, before the spiritual disciplines of Lent begin.

It may already be too late to appoint this hymn for your Sunday morning worship services in the next two Sundays, but there’s nothing stopping you from using it on your own and recommending it to others as a great-ready-for-Lent sort of devotion!

Those wicked long readings…

Something great about the ACNA Daily Office Lectionary is that it has a return to the fantastically simple style of our 16th and 17th century lectionaries of reading one chapter at a time.  Back then, that reading pace typically applied both to the OT and NT daily readings, whereas for us it’s mostly just the OT readings that are thus treated.  It’s so much easier when you don’t have to fiddle about with “what verse to stop with” – just read one chapter at a time, and continue it tomorrow.  Simple!

The downside with this approach, of course, is that some chapters are longer than others.  When I tried a 1662-inspired lectionary, at first I found this irritating.  But eventually I came to appreciate the variety of length: sometimes you get a longer story, sometimes it’s short and sweet.  Nevertheless, some chapters are just really long compared to others.

This morning brings us to one such example: Genesis 41.  Clocking in at 57 verses, this chapter packs a punch with two lengthy pieces of the story of Joseph in Egypt.  The first 36 verses detail his interaction with the Pharaoh and interpreting his dreams about the coming bounty and famine; the last 21 verses detail Joseph’s rise to power through the implementation of his vision-based proposal.  It’d be nice to be able to break these up into two different readings, but there just isn’t enough space in the calendar to play with chapter divisions like this.

If you’re a completionist, using the lectionary to read as much of the Bible as possible each year, then you’ve just got to tough it up and read 57 verses in one go.  If, however, you’re praying the Office with a lighter devotional approach, and concerned more about getting the sense of the Scriptures without necessarily reading each word – or if for some reason you need to shorten the reading or have a time limit for the Office as a whole – there is another way.

The ACNA lectionary comes equipped with an “Optional abbreviation” for a number of the larger chapter readings throughout the year.  The entry in the lectionary table for this morning’s Old Testament reading is:

Gen 41 † 1-15,25-40

This means that if you want to shorten the chapter, simply read verses 1-15, then skip to 25 and read through verse 40.  In so doing, you cut out a fair bit of repetition (which is very common in Hebrew storytelling), and abbreviate the lengthy description of the honors Joseph went on to receive, as well as cut out the implementation of the plan that was already described and approved.

Here’s an interesting analogy: reading chapter 41 in its entirety is like reading a sermon, whereas reading the shortened version (vv 1-15,25-40) is like reading the blog post summary of the sermon.  The full version has a beginning, middle and end: “This is what we need to do, this is what we will do, this is what they did.”  A good sermon format is often similar: “This what I’m going to say, this is me saying, this is what I said.”  The blog post version is much more succinct: “Ain’t nobody got time for dis, so here’s the deal.”

Personally, I’m a big fan of reading the Bible in full throughout the year.  If we seriously believe it is the Word of God in literary form then we really ought to be poring through its pages diligently, consistently, and completely.  But as a stay-at-home parent with young children I have come to appreciate all the more how truly difficult it can be for many people to carve out that time for the longer Scripture readings.  So while I see the full-chapter readings in lectionaries like ours to be the ideal to reach for, I must assure you that there is no shame in opting for the shortened version as need arises.

Canticle of the Martyred

For perhaps the first century of the life of the 1662 Prayer Book, January 30th was a national holiday (literally, holy day) with its own special liturgical observances.  Morning Prayer, the Communion, and Evening Prayer each had their own unique edits for this day.  The commemoration appointed was for the Martyrdom of King Charles I at the hands of the Puritan Parliament that went on to outlaw the Prayer Book and suppress the office of bishops, in addition to temporarily ending the monarchy in England.  This holy day, with its special liturgies, was eventually removed from the Prayer Book, I suppose it was a bit too nationalistic.

Check it out for yourself, if you have the time; it’s very interesting!  But let’s just glean a couple things from this defunct holy day to see what we can learn about the potential in Anglican liturgy for special occasions.

Observation #1 – the Anglican Church called for prayer and fasting

Stereotypically we think of appointed fast days as a Roman Catholic or East Orthodox practice.  Yet the Church of England does have a tradition of such days also.  Most Fridays, technically, were intended as such.  And January 30th was, for a time, an additional day of fasting.  Here is the introductory text in the 1662 Prayer Book for this day:

A FORM of PRAYER with FASTING, to be used yearly upon the Thirtieth Day of January, being the Day of the Martyrdom of the Blessed King CHARLES the First; to implore the Mercy of God, that neither the Guilt of that sacred and innocent Blood, nor those other sins, by which God was provoked to deliver up both us and our King into the hands of cruel and unreasonable men, may at any time hereafter be visited upon us, or our posterity.

¶ If this Day shall happen to be a Sunday, this Form of Prayer shall be used, and the Fast kept, the next Day following. And upon the Lord’s Day next before the Day to be kept, at Morning Prayer, immediately after the Nicene Creed, Notice shall be given for the due observation of the said Day.

While the intersection of State and Church might be a bit too much for our palate today, the idea that the Church can call for a day of fasting and prayer is clear.  There are occasions in the life of a country or region when special prayer and fasting can (and should) be called for.  However one feels about the appropriateness or execution of this particular example, it nonetheless stands as an example of how we might go about such an occasion.  It substitutes a number of prayers, lessons, and canticles for the usual ones appointed, giving the liturgy of the day a different flavor and emphasis without breaking from the ordinary flow of worship.

Let’s zoom in on just one of those liturgical changes from the old January 30th material.

Observation #2 – the Invitatory Canticle

“¶ Instead of Venite Exultemus, the Hymn following shall be said or sung; one Verse by the Priest, another by the Clerk and people.”  To translate it from the 17th century language to that of the ESV Bible…

Righteous are you, O LORD, and right are your rules.
You have been righteous in all that has come upon us,
for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed.
They conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant.
For I hear the whispering of many, terror on every side,
as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.
Speaking against me with lying tongues,
they encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause.
Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread,
has lifted his heel against me.
They repay me evil for good; my soul is bereft.
Those who watch for my life consult together and say, “God has
forsaken him; pursue and seize him, for there is none to deliver him.”
The breath of our nostrils, the LORD’s anointed,
was captured in their pits, of whom we said,
“Under his shadow we shall live among the nations.”
Foe and enemy enter the gates of Jerusalem, saying,
“When will he die, and his name perish?”
“A deadly thing is poured out on him;
he will not rise again from where he lies.”
Malicious witnesses rise up; they ask me of things that I do not know.
This was for the sins of her prophets
and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed in the midst of her the blood of the righteous.
Let my soul come not into their council;
O my glory, be not joined to their company.
For in their anger they killed men.
The man of your right hand,
the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be an affliction.
We fools! We thought that his life was madness
and that his end was without honor; but he is at peace.
For though in the sight of men he was punished,
his hope is full of immortality.
Has he not been numbered among the sons of God,
and his lot among the saints?
O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance:
do good to Zion in your good pleasure.
Accept atonement, O LORD, for your people Israel,
whom you have redeemed,
and do not set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst
of your people Israel, so that their blood guilt be atoned for.
Do not sweep my soul away with sinners,
nor my life with bloodthirsty men.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.
You destroy those who speak lies;
the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself,
you despise them as phantoms.
Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
Righteous are you, O LORD, and right are your rules.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end. Amen.

This is a fantastic Canticle, working together a wide range of verses from throughout the Bible.  The old Prayer Book even had the courtesy of giving us all the references:

Ps. 119:137, Neh. 9:33, Ps. 73:2-3, 2:2, 83:5, 31:13, 109:2b-3, 41:9, 35:12, 71:10b-11,
Lam. 4:20, 4:12, Ps. 41:5b, 41:8, 35:11, Lam. 4:13, Gen. 49:6, 80:17, Wis. 3:2, 5:4b, 3:3b, 3:4, 5:5, Ps. 94:1, 51:18a, Deut. 21:8, Ps. 26:9, 51:14, 5:4, 5:6, 73:19, 73:20, Rev. 15:3b,
and Ps. 119:137.

Although this Canticle is officially defunct, the style of its arrangement has been copied in later developments, perhaps most notably for Remembrance Day in the Church of England, which has its own special liturgies with unique Canticles and so forth.

I heartily recommend reviving this Canticle for appropriate occasions.  If you’re not as big a fan of observing the martyrdom of Charles I, then perhaps you can use it for the commemoration of a different martyr.  We have no shortage of martyrs in our calendar of commemorations, after all!

The Double-Duty Collect

The up-and-coming 2019 Prayer Book appoints this Collect for the third Sunday after the Epiphany, and thus for this week in the Daily Office:

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This Collect does double duty; it comes back for “World Mission Sunday,” which the calendar recommends for the penultimate Sunday before Lent (though authorizes for any Sunday in Epiphanytide between the first and last).  I’ve mentioned here before my preference to omit the World Mission Sunday option, but let’s take a look at this Collect.

As far as I’m aware, this Collect originated with the 1979 Prayer Book; it certainly has no previous life in the historic prayer book calendar tradition.  It is one of the several “mission-themed” Collects that comprise the Epiphany season in the modern liturgical calendar.  Arguably it is a favorite of the mission themed Collects, since it was selected for the World Mission Sunday option, too.

It begins with a rare switching of order – the petition precedes the address: “Give us grace” before “O God.”  Some Collects have a longer address than others; this is one of the shortest.  In fact, not only is the address brief, but the petition is brief too.  It is the third part of this collect (the purpose) that occupies the majority of its verbiage.  We pray for grace “to answer readily the call” and to “proclaim to all people”, so that “we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works.”

It’s not an unusual thing to pray for the mission of the church.  Making it personal (“give us grace, O God…”) is a good step up from that.  And taking it further to describe the purpose of such missional prayer – that all may glory in the marvelous works of God – sets before us a sort of destination.  We don’t pursue evangelism and missions for the sake of “saving souls”, as it were, but so that all may see God.  One of the challenges of stirring up the call to evangelism and outreach is the trap of self-aggrandizement: “look how successful we are because of all the people we’re reaching for Christ!”  Keeping the purpose of evangelism and mission firmly fixed upon the glory God, not ourselves, is a helpful reminder indeed.

Psalm 119 in pieces

The 119th Psalm is, as I’m sure you know, the longest in the Psalter by far.  It’s so long that it has (probably?) never been appointed to be sung or said all the way through in a liturgical setting.  Private recitation and devotion, is another matter.  Thomas Cranmer’s monthly cycle of Psalms splits it over a few days, starting on the evening of the 24th day.

As you will find in most Bibles, Psalm 119 has 22 sections.  These sections are noted in the Prayer Books also; four are grouped together in the evenings and five are grouped together in the mornings.  These groups come from the structure of the original Hebrew poetry: an acrostic.  The acrostic is actually a fairly common poetic structure in the Hebrew Bible: it’s a simple matter of beginning each successive line with the next letter of the alphabet.  A handful of Psalms are acrostics, each chapter of the book of Lamentations is a sort of acrostic (well, chapter five is an anti-acrostic, but we’ll check that out later), and the occasional bit of prophetic writing also uses this device.  Psalm 119, however, does this to the extreme: it has eight lines (verses) beginning with the first letter (aleph), then eight beginning with the second letter (beth), and so on, all the way through the alphabet.  Obviously this effect is lost in translation, but many Bibles (and most if not all Prayer Books) note these eight-verse groupings.

One result of the acrostic structure is that the Psalm doesn’t have another organizing principle or logical flow.  It’s a series of meditations on God’s law and commands (etc.), with little sense of progression from one section to the next.  In that regard it’s like some of our modern songs (Christian or otherwise), dwelling on ideas, topics or feelings, but not developing a logical structure for the lyrics.  This means that, in the context of the liturgy, we can fruitfully deal with each section of Psalm 119 as if it were its own psalm, without missing much context.

In medieval and early Prayer Book tradition, therefore, it was appointed that the worshiping congregation place the Glory be to the Father at the end of each section of Psalm 119.  Today, Prayer Books tend to be ambiguous – we can either say that end the end of the whole Psalmody section of the Daily Office or at the end of each Psalm.  But be it known here that if you opt for the latter option, which was the way of the early Prayer Books, you may even do so with each eight-verse section of Psalm 119.

Follow-up: obscure Christmas songs

Near the beginning of the month, I made the wacky suggestion that in order to get through the massive pile of Christmas hymns and carols in most Anglican hymnals, you could sing a different one every day all the way until the feast of the Presentation (February 2nd).  Well, as that date approaches, why don’t we check in on one of the lesser-known Christmas songs lurking in the hymnals.

And by “lesser-known”, I’m referring to common American use.  If you know and love this hymn, don’t be offended; be proud you know it!

From heaven high I come to you was written by Martin Luther in 1535; he may have written the tune also which bears this song’s name, Vom Himmel Hoch.  You can hear the piano part on YouTube (though the text translation will be a little different).

Despite how most arrangements like to shorten things, this hymn could have seven verses.  The first three are in the voice of the angels.

From heaven high I come to you: I bring you tidings good and new;
Good tidings of great joy I Bring; Thereof will I both say and sing:

For you a little child is born Of God’s own chosen maid this morn,
A fair and tender baby bright, To be your joy and your delight.

Lo, he is Christ the Lord indeed, Our God, to guide you in your need;
And he will be your Savior, strong To cleanse you from all sin and wrong.

Like the Gloria in Excelsis, these words proclaim the saving purposes of God in Jesus Christ.  But unlike the Gloria, the hymn then continues with another three verses of application.  The voice of the angels is now the voice of the heart, exhorting one another.

Now let us all right merry be, And with the shepherds go to see
God’s own dear Son within the stall, His gift, bestowed upon us all.

Mark well, my heart; look well, mine eyes; Who is it in the manger lies?
What child is this, so young and fair?  It is my Jesus lieth there.

Ah, dearest Jesus, be my guest; Soft be the bed where thou wilt rest,
A little shrine within my heart, That thou and I may never part.

The pious desire to worship the newborn Savior at his manger leads to an invitation – may Jesus come into our own home.  Let us make a bed, a shrine, within our hearts to care for and cherish the Savior forever.  Evangelical culture often speaks of “inviting Jesus into your heart” and “putting Jesus on the throne of your life.”  This hymn does exactly that, with poetry, grace, solemnity, and joy.

The final verse is a doxology:

Praise God above on his high throne, Who giveth us his only Son.
The angel hosts rejoice in bliss To chant a glad New Year like this.  Amen.

A Canticle for Epiphanytide: Surge illuminare

In the “Supplemental Canticles” document which will be appended to the Daily Office in our new Prayer Book, Canticle #2 is marked “especially suitable for use during the season after Epiphany.”  Well, now we’re there, so let’s look at how to make use of this Canticle.

Throughout the history of Western liturgy, there can be found many Psalms and Canticles that get special treatment and use in various offices and rites.  The early Prayer Books were generally simple and minimalist about them, but still allowed a couple options in most cases.  If you trace the continuity of the Prayer Book Daily Office from its monastic predecessor, some basic principles can be drawn.  Most importantly:

  • The three Gospel Canticles (Benedictus, Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis) are said daily: morning (matins), evening (vespers), and night (compline).
  • The Te Deum is said on Sundays and feast days.

So, when looking at the Canticles of the Daily Office in current Prayer Book tradition, the usual best practice is to keep the Benedictus in the Morning and the Magnificat in the Evening, and replace the Te Deum or the Nunc Dimittis.  For these “seasonal” Canticles in our present list, it is the recommendation of this Customary to use most of them on weekdays in place of the Te Deum.  Perhaps, starting this week, you can try out Surge illuminare as the first Canticle in Morning Prayer?

What’s especially neat about this canticle in particular is that it was the Old Testament reading back on the Day of the Epiphany (January 6th), so to have parts of it as a Canticle in the subsequent season is to maintain a thematic and textual link to where this whole section of the calendar began.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, *
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.

Looking Ahead: two Friday Feasts

Happy Friday!  Happy Epiphanytide!  It’s unusual to have such a long beginning to the Epiphany season, having a whole week between the Day (January 6th) and the first Sunday.  It’s as if the wise men are staying to party with the holy family extra long this year 🙂

As we look ahead at the next few weeks, a succession of major feast days await us.  The two remaining this month are both on Fridays: the Confession of Saint Peter on the 18th and the Conversion of Saint Paul on the 25th.  The former was not in the historic prayer books, but now adorns our modern calendar.  If your church has a regular Friday worship service, these two holidays stand as special opportunities to celebrate the work of the Gospel in the New Testament as well as to flesh out the Epiphany season even further.

For, although we don’t know the dates of the original events – when Peter declared “you are the Christ, the son of the living God”, and when Paul encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus – it is appropriate that we celebrate these critical gospel moments during the Epiphany season.  Both of these holidays celebrate epiphanies, revelations, or showings of who Jesus is.  They fit right in to the season’s traditional overarching theme.

Eight days after that will be February 2nd, a Saturday, when the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and the Purification of Mary is observed.  That is the 40th day after Christmas, matching the event being 40 days after the birth of Jesus.  We’ll hear more about that when it draws near, but it’s good to mark one’s calendar ahead of time so these major holidays of the church year don’t surprise us when they arrive.

The Epiphany Season (modern)

Yesterday we looked at the historic Anglican calendar for the Epiphany season.  Now let’s take a look at what the ACNA calendar has for us this year.  There are six parts to this summary: the First Sunday, the Second Sunday, the Epistles throughout the season, the Gospels throughout the season, Mission Sunday, and the Last Sunday.

#1: The First Sunday after the Epiphany

Since the post-Vatican-2 revisions to the liturgical calendar, the first Sunday is about the Baptism of Christ.  All three years of the cycle recount the story to us, taken from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, year by year.  This year (Year C) is Luke’s Gospel’s year.  The Collect and all the lessons revolve around the Baptism of Christ, and is rich with teaching and preaching and devotional material: insight into the Trinity, revealing the divinity of Christ, insight into the Old/New Covenants, contemplation on the origins of Christian Baptism, considering the call to Christian mission.

#2: The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

The Gospel lesson on the 2nd Sunday is taken from John chapters 1 and 2.  Years A and B are from chapter 1, dealing with the gathering of Jesus’ first disciples from John the Baptist.  Year C is the story of the Wedding at Cana, which was also the traditional Gospel lesson for this Sunday.  The first two years, therefore, play into the “mission” orientation of the modern Epiphany season, while the third year (this year) reflects more of the original epiphany-as-revealing theme for the season.

#3: The Epistles throughout the Season

From the 2nd Sunday through the 8th, in all three years, the Epistle lessons highlight much of 1 Corinthians and a little of 2 Corinthians.  This is done brilliantly, breaking the book into three logical sections: chapters 1-4 in Year A, chapters 6-9 (with a little of 2 Corinthians) in Year B, and chapters 12-15 in Year C.  As far as I’m aware, this has nothing to do with the Epiphany season as such.  Rather, it is functioning like the modern Trinitytide season by focusing on mostly-sequential readings week by week through the epistles and gospels.  The book of 1 Corinthians is long enough and rich enough that it takes up the Epiphanytide Sundays in all three years.  The downside of this is that if your preacher decides to preach through this epistle, people are not likely to remember where they left off the year before.

#4: The Gospels throughout the Season

As mentioned above, the bulk of the modern Epiphany season simply walks through the early part of the Gospel books: Matthew 4-6 in Year A, Mark 1-2 in Year B, and Luke 4-6 in Year C.  The lectionary is carefully designed such that where you leave off at the end of the Epiphany season is where you’ll pick up after Trinity Sunday.  In that spirit, the Roman Catholics refer to Epiphanytide and Trinitytide both as “Ordinary Time”… the latter is merely the continuation of the former.  In other words, the two green seasons have no thematic or theological character of their own in the modern calendar, but are instead devoted to the sequential and systematic reading of the New Testament Epistles and Gospels.  This is where the Revised Common Lectionary (in its several versions) is basically trying to act like the Daily Office lectionary, for better or worse.

#5: The Second-Last Sunday

New to the ACNA Prayer Book is the invention of “Mission Sunday” or “World Mission Sunday”.  Technically, the rubrics admit that this is an optional observance, and may actually be placed on any Sunday in Epiphanytide excluding the First and Last.  The Collect for (World) Mission Sunday is actually the same one as Epiphany III, and the Gospel lessons are all evangelism themed: Matthew 9:35-38 in Year A, Matthew 28:16-20 in Year B, and John 20:19-31 in Year C.  All of these Gospel lessons, as well as most (if not all?) of the other lessons, can be found elsewhere in the lectionary.  Therefore, with neither a unique collect nor unique lessons, it is my opinion that Mission Sunday is redundant in the liturgical calendar, and thus it is the recommendation of this Customary that Mission Sunday be left unused, unless the second-last Sunday happens to be Epiphany III, in which case you might as well go for it because the Collect is the same either way.  Instead, consider using Mission Sunday on a weekday?

#6: The Last Sunday

The length of the Epiphany season varies from year to year because its beginning is fixed by the simple calendar (January 6th) while its ending is determined by the lunar calendar (how the date of Easter is determined, and therefore the seasons before and after Easter).  When Easter is later, as is the case this year, Epiphanytide is longer and Trinitytide is shorter.  The traditional calendar had a three-Sunday buffer zone between Epiphanytide and Lent, but the modern calendar just has one Sunday: the Last Sunday before Lent.  Despite the fact that the bulk of the Epiphany season is based on sequential readings and not on any epiphany theme, the Last Sunday sees a return to the epiphany theme by focusing on the Transfiguration of Christ.  Although the Transfiguration already has its own holiday (August 6th), the Last Sunday between Epiphany and Lent takes that event and gives it a different spin, noting it as a final revealing of Christ’s divine glory before he descends the mountain and heads for Jerusalem where he will soon suffer and die.  For all the complaints one might raise against the modern calendar and lectionary, the function of this last Sunday is brilliantly devised.  Simply comparing its Collect with that for Transfiguration Day is a fruitful devotional study in itself.