Paedocommunion: a feature or a bug?

There are a couple inconsistencies in the 2019 Prayer Book that I would like to address, gently, carefully, and with respect. Both involve doctrine and practice that were changed in the 20th century and are accepted by some otherwise-conservative Anglicans today without even batting an eye, yet grumpily condemned by the more traditionalist brethren. And the 2019 Prayer Book, perhaps predictably, has ended up awkwardly with a foot in each camp, so to speak. Is this a feature or a bug?

The issue that I’m going to address here is paedocommunion, the practice of serving Holy Communion to infants and small children, requiring only that they first be baptized. From what I have seen, this practice has been found among some of the more strictly traditional Anglican provinces, not just the ACNA, but there are still people in our midst who are hesitant or outright opposed to this practice. Historically, the Prayer Book tradition has required that one be Confirmed, or at least “desirous to be confirmed” in order to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. That loophole exception proved useful in the early years of the Episcopal Church in the USA when bishops were scarce, but that temporary situation soon went away and regular discipline was eventually resumed, as far as I know. Other Protestant (as well as Roman) traditions were all on the same page: receiving Communion requires a confession of faith, repentance of sin, and the desire to commune with Christ. Basically, if you just read 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 at face value, you get the rule that all of Western Christianity observed for over a thousand years.

But there are rumblings concerning the varied practices in the Early Church, and there is the ongoing witness of Eastern Orthodox practice wherein a child is baptized and “confirmed” (properly, chrismated) all at once, and then go on to receive Communion before what Westerners would call the Age of Reason. But we’re not confirming our infants, like they are, so what changed in Western Christian thought that has led so many Anglicans (and certain other traditions) to make such a radical change in practice?

The answer is largely found in the doctrine of Holy Baptism. It is no secret that the 1979 Prayer Book contains a severe shift in baptismal theology compared to the Prayer Book tradition previously. It became less about cleansing from sin and the beginning of the new life in Christ and more about joining the family of God and belonging to the mission of the Church. The Preface to the 2019 Prayer Book, on page 4, even calls this out:

Baptismal theology, especially in North America, was affected by radical revisions to the received Christian understanding, and came perilously close to proclaiming a gospel of individual affirmation rather than of personal transformation and sanctification.

The poster child for this was “The Baptismal Covenant”, which took some traditional elements of the examination of the candidates and set them in a context that shifts the emphasis from Baptism being a gracious gift of God toward Baptism being a commitment that we make as individuals.

All that being said, the question now arises: what does the 2019 Prayer Book do about all this? The Preface expresses clear concerns about the previous baptismal liturgy, and the 2019 Baptism service does a good job of bringing back several elements of historic prayers. There is still a thread of emphasis on “welcome to the family of God”, but that’s fine because it is (first of all) correct, and (secondly) not a theme original to 1979 but already cropping up in 1962 and 1928 alongside the historic liturgical forms. One might quibble over the quality of the balance between “welcome to the family” and “this child is now regenerate”, but it can safely be said that our baptismal liturgy is once again within the bounds of Anglican orthodoxy.

And yet, nearly the entire ACNA communes its not-yet-Confirmed members. And so do some of the Continuing churches who never even adopted the 1979 Prayer Book in the first place. So when you look at the 2019 Prayer Book and observe the utter lack of direction over whether not-yet-Confirmed children may receive Holy Communion or not, one has to conclude that this is a feature and not a bug as such. It is an inconsistency, yes, because we’ve called out the baptismal errors of the Episcopalians since the 70’s and yet we often retain their practice of communing our children on the basis of their Baptism alone. But it’s an inconsistency that we share with others, and therefore one that we cannot simply “solve” in our new Prayer Book alone.

If you or members of your congregation are uncertain about the practice of paedocommunion, I highly recommend you avoid it. If there are scruples or doubts about doing something, then it would be done in fear and not in faith, and therefore should not be done (Romans 14:23).

If this is a subject you’ve never thought about before, then please go read 1 Corinthians 11 and the Exhortation to Holy Communion in our Prayer Book. I have a doctrinal walk-through of it here for you, and an historical summary of it here.

Whatever you decide on this, make sure that you are able to do so in the confidence of the Holy Scriptures and the directions of your Church.

Book Introduction: The Brench Breviary 2022

THE BRENCH BREVIARY 2022 is the product of several years of liturgical tinkering, experimentation, subsequent conformity to the new Book of Common Prayer (2019), interest in Benedictine spirituality, attempts to organize private study and devotion, and a pastoral attention to the spiritual and catechetical needs of others.  It is my strong contention that the average Christian today desperately needs two things: a robust life of ordered prayer and Scripture-reading, and the development of an authentically Christian instruction and spirituality.  The former is amply supplied in the Book of Common Prayer, if any dare to “take up and read.”  The latter can at least be begun with a book such as this.

The Brench Breviary 2022

Honestly, if you poke around this blog site, especially the Customary pages, you’ll find most of the special additional material that makes this book a unique companion to the Book of Common Prayer. But what you get for your money, with this real-life physical book, is clear, neat, organized, and purposeful access to some of the best resources that I’ve produced and put online here – plus a couple things I haven’t!

As for the name, this is the Brench Breviary because it reflects the particular orders, ideals, or devotional practices that I (Fr. Brench) have aspired to, in part or in whole. There may someday be a Saint Aelfric Breviary, but the biggest issue there is how much Prayer Book material would be re-printed. It it more likely, economical, and in line with my educational intentions that a set of bookmarks or leaflets outlining this Customary’s implementation of the 2019 Prayer Book. And don’t worry, the 2022 doesn’t mean I’m going to replace this every year. Like the Prayer Book, this is a book that is intended to be supplemented, edited, and updated on a gentle and rare basis.

The Offices and orders in this book are presented in one idealized form, but individuals are encouraged to make these their own according to need and ability.  A maximalist use of this Breviary would look something like this:

For those looking to develop a prayer life with children, the Children’s Lectionary attached to the Family Prayer In the Morning can be used with any of the four “Family Prayer” offices in the Prayer Book.

For those looking to develop their grounding in historic Christianity, the Catechetical Lectionary and the reading of the Homilies can be attached to the Daily Offices themselves.

For those concerned about personal holiness, desiring to take up arms in the work of spiritual warfare, the Personal Devotions at the start and end of the day (which are drawn from the American Prayer Book of 1928) contain valuable prayers to that end, especially with the Examinations of Conscience added therein.

The Catechetical Lectionary, it must be noted, includes two compilations of writings that are not fully listed in this Breviary.  The first is Advent With Anglican Poetry, also published by Brench Publications. The second is Lent Readings from The Fathers, published by Oxford, John Henry Parker, in 1852. A reprint of the latter should be forthcoming within the next couple years.

It is my prayer that, however you choose to use this, with family members or a small group or alone, it may be a blessing that enriches your walk with God, your engagement with his Word, and your love for his Church.

The 2019’s “Rite II”

Much ink has been spilled on the subject of a modern eucharistic canon in an Anglican Prayer Book.  Until the mid-20th century there was indisputably one set of Anglican Communion Prayers, in a few minor variations between England, Scotland, America, Canada, and other former colonies of the British Empire.  Accusations were leveled, often justly, that Anglican doctrine was being tampered with in the writing and promulgation of so many new alternative prayers.  Admittedly, 20th century ecumenism has blurred the borders of many denominations and traditions both for their betterment and their detriment.  In light of the great influence of the classical Prayer Book upon Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman liturgies in the English language, traditionalists have a fair point in being wary of the need for such modernist intrusions.

Yet, for better and for worse, the Liturgical Renewal of the mid-20th century has left a lasting mark on the liturgical practices of the Church, and has become a part of the history of Anglicanism.  The present Prayer Book, therefore, does not roll back the stone and seal it off forever, but gathers it up and encapsulates it into a single option: the Renewed Ancient Text.  Where previous modern Prayer Books offer as many as five, six, or even ten sets of Prayers of Consecration, this one offers two: the standard historic rite and a single representative of the past half-century of liturgical experience and development – the Renewed Ancient Text.  It is authorized here with the intent that its theology and doctrine should be understood as fully consonant with the historic Anglican faith.


This set of prayers is derived from a document known as The Apostolic Tradition, attributed to one of the earliest Anti-Popes, Hippolytus.  Writing near 200AD, Hippolytus was reacting to a succession of bishops in Rome who were tolerating various heresies such as Montanism and what came to be known as Sabellianism.  Tensions grew over the years and eventually sought episcopal ordination himself to set himself up as the truly catholic Bishop of Rome over against Zephyrinus and Callistus.  The Apostolic Tradition is his rebuttal to the now-unknown liturgical practices in Rome at the time, and because he wrote in Greek rather than in Latin his liturgical writings have seen influence in Eastern liturgy far more than in Western.  The Apostolic Tradition was reexamined in the mid-20th century and became hugely influential in the Liturgical Renewal Movement that guided the Second Vatican Council in the Roman Church and resulted in several new Communion liturgies both in Roman and Anglican churches.  Modern rites, such as Prayers A and B in the American Prayer Book of 1979, and Prayer B in the Church of England’s Common Worship (2000), as well as the present Renewed Ancient Text, are inspired by the work attributed to Hippolytus. These prayers most closely resemble Prayer A from the 1979 Prayer Book.


One of the most noticeable differences between the two rites is the theological scope.  Where the Standard Text is narrowly focused, delving deep into the doctrine of the Cross, and Christ’s death and resurrection, the Renewed Ancient Text is shallower yet marks of a far larger picture of the Gospel, connecting the dots from Creation to the Last Day.  This is most noticeable in the first paragraph, perhaps giving these prayers a particular fittingness to the seasons of Advent, Christmas, or Epiphany.

The first paragraph is the anamnesis.  Our creation, the fall, and the incarnation are recalled, specifically naming the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary (which is the primary contribution from 1979’s Prayer B).  Christ’s obedience unto death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension close the anamnesis, concluding that the worshipers therefore have confidence to approach the throne of grace.

The Words of Institution follow, and are identical to the form found in the Anglican Standard Text.

Then follows a Memorial Acclamation, or “the mystery of faith”, giving the congregation a voice amidst the Prayers of Consecration.  Although this has no representative in historic liturgies, this call-and-response element has become popular in modern liturgies, particularly in the several rites offered in Common Worship.  This part of the prayers corresponds to the first paragraph of the Oblations in the Standard Text (“Therefore, O Lord and heavenly Father…”) in that both introduce the prayers of self-offering with a recapitulation of the anamnesis or remembrance. The Memorial Acclamation doesn’t just give the congregation more lines to read, but also thereby gives common assent to the celebrant’s prayers beyond the final “Amen.”

The Oblation of “these gifts” follows, acknowledging the Church’s sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, now drawing from the language of historic Anglican liturgy. “We celebrate the memorial… and we offer you these gifts” summarizes elements of the first two paragraphs of the Standard Text’s oblations.  “Sanctify them…” is an epiclesis, similar to the placement of the epiclesis in the classical American Prayer Books.  “In the fullness of time…” concludes the oblations with a prayer for the final glorification of God’s people.  The Prayers of Consecration of the Renewed Ancient Text thus ends as it begins – with a broader scope of the Gospel story than the Anglican Standard Text.  This advantage is gained, however, at the cost of the detailed centrality of the Cross.

The epiclesis has already been discussed before.  Its placement here amidst the prayers of oblation is both a return to the order of the first three American Prayer Books and a subtle way of de-emphasizing the blessing of the bread and wine, because it continues immediately with an epiclesis of the people: “Sanctify us also”.  As in historic Prayer Book piety, there is greater concern for right reception of the Sacrament than for the metaphysics of the Body and Blood in the bread and wine, as the end goal of participating in Holy Communion is not knowledge per se but unity with Christ: the mutual indwelling of he “in us and we in him.”  This unity is for eternity: that the worshipers will be so fed unto eternal life that they will enter into God’s heavenly kingdom with all the saints, beholding the face of God.

The final Doxology is the same as in the Standard Text, only with a different lead-up text.

A Catechetical Lectionary

It is popular, across Christian traditions, to read non-biblical devotions as daily devotions. Historically this particularly drew upon the writings of the Church Fathers. (You can see this still in practice today in the Roman Liturgy of the Hours with its Office of Readings.) It was also a practice in some monastic orders to hear a chapter from the Rule of St. Benedict in the course of the daily liturgy. In that vein, I’ve crafted an extra-biblical, or Catechetical, lectionary rooted in the Anglican tradition.

I would like to publish most of this in the coming year or two, but some of it will take a while to prepare. A longer week-by-week summary is below, but here’s the basic rundown.

Christmas, Epiphany, and Lent begin with the Early Church Fathers, common to all Christianity. Christmastide is on topic with On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius. The Apostolic Fathers (or several of the earliest Ante-Nicene Fathers) occupy our reading during Epiphanytide, and spill over into the first few weeks of/after Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. For Lent I intend to republish a book of daily readings from the likes of Sts. John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, and Cyril of Jerusalem, which is arranged in a largely topical fashion appropriate for that season.

The season of Easter is where the foray into Anglicanism begins. The first 39 days are given to reading the 39 Articles of Religion – one per day. The 40th day, Ascension Day, begins ten days of reading from the “Foundational Documents” and short essays in the Book of Common Prayer.

The majority of Trinitytide (July through November) takes us through the official catechism of the Anglican Church in North America: To Be A Christian. Its tiny Part One, which is a Gospel summary, is actually covered in the few days before Ash Wednesday to fill that space.

Finally, in Advent, with the major Early Church and Anglican material covered, we take time to slow down and meditate on a different form of written piety: the poetry of early Anglican divines such as John Donne and George Herbert. This piece is currently available in print for sale in my bookstore.

While most of this is on my wish-list to arrange nicely for publication in print, there will be some rights issues: the catechism is probably not licensed for commercial re-use, so I will have to find another way to commend that for use without actually reprinting it myself.

Weekly Summary of the Catechetical Lectionary

  • Advent 1-4 Anglican metaphysical poetry…
  • Christmas 1 Athanasius On the Incarnation 1-29
  • Christmas 2 On the Incarnation 30-57
  • Epiphany 1 1 Clement. 1-30
  • Epiphany 2 1 Clement 31-65
  • Epiphany 3 Epistles of Ignatius : Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians
  • Epiphany 4 Ignatius Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrneans, Polycarp
  • Epiphany 5 Epistle of Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp
  • Epiphany 6 Didache2 Clement
  • Epiphany 7 Mathetes ad Diognetus, Justin Martyr 1-4
  • Epiphany 8 Justin Martyr’s First Apology 5-27

As in the Communion lectionary, the last week of Epiphany interrupts the numbered weeks.
Skipped weeks will be picked up after Pentecost.

  • Epiphany Last Catechism Questions 1-17, Lent Fathers Daily Devotional
  • Lent 1-6 Lent Fathers Daily Devotional
  • Easter 1 Articles of Religion 1-7
  • Easter 2 Articles 8-14
  • Easter 3 Articles 15-21
  • Easter 4 Articles 22-28
  • Easter 5 Articles 29-35
  • Easter 6 Articles 36-39
  • Ascensiontide Foundational Documents of the 2019 BCP

Starting on the Day of Pentecost, the “Proper” weeks are to be used for this lectionary.

  • Proper 1 Didache2 Clement
  • Proper 2 Mathetes ad Diognetus, Justin Marty’r First Apology 1-4
  • Proper 3 Justin M. 5-27
  • Proper 4 Justin M. 28-50
  • Proper 5 Justin M. 51-68
  • Proper 6 Athenagorus 1-12
  • Proper 7 Athenagorus 13-22
  • Proper 8 Athenagorus 23-37
  • Proper 9 of the Anglican Church in North America, “To Be A Christian” 18-39
  • Proper 10 Catechism 40-55
  • Proper 11 Catechism 56-75
  • Proper 12 Catechism 76-94
  • Proper 13 Catechism 95-113
  • Proper 14 Catechism 114-133
  • Proper 15 Catechism 134-153
  • Proper 16 Catechism 154-169
  • Proper 17 Catechism 170-187
  • Proper 18 Catechism 188-204
  • Proper 19 Catechism 205-220
  • Proper 20 Catechism 221-236
  • Proper 21 Catechism 237-251
  • Proper 22 Catechism 252-265
  • Proper 23 Catechism 266-279
  • Proper 24 Catechism 280-295
  • Proper 25 Catechism 296-310
  • Proper 26 Catechism 311-324
  • Proper 27 Catechism 325-341
  • Proper 28 Catechism 342-356
  • Proper 29 Catechism 357-prayers

More on the Prayer of Humble Access

The primary difference between our contemporary wording here and the traditional wording is the word “character”.  The classical Prayer Book word is “property” – it is a property of God that he has mercy. 

Our Prayer Book also puts this prayer in the mouths of the whole congregation.  This is a first in official North American Prayer Book tradition, though alternative liturgies had already leaned in this direction for years.  This is an appropriate change for our time because it gets everyone involved in some form of eucharistic piety.  In pre-modern times, preparation for receiving Holy Communion was a noteworthy process both for Protestants and Papists alike.  Now that Communion is received weekly by the majority of liturgical Christians, it is easy to take it for granted, and many have lost a sense of preparation and piety for the Sacrament.  This prayer is a helpful, powerful, and beautiful treasure to that end.

The Prayer of Humble Access is also something of a “wandering prayer” in the history of the Prayer Books.  The first Prayer Book placed it immediately between the Words of Comfort and the Ministration of Communion to the people, making it an acknowledge of our unworthiness to receive the Sacrament even in a state of grace.  In the Prayer Books of 1552 an after, the Prayer of Humble Access is said immediately between the Sanctus and the Prayer of Consecration, making it a final preparatory prayer before approaching the Altar Table, and dissociating it from the penitential overtones that may have been associated with it in 1549.  Finally, the American Prayer Book of 1928 moved this prayer once again, to be read after the Consecration and Lord’s Prayer, immediately before the Ministration of Communion.  That is essentially where it is placed in the present volume too, the only visual difference being that where the 1928 book says a hymn may be sung, ours prints the Agnus Dei as an anthem that may be sung or said after this prayer and before the Ministration.  So, functionally, 2019 and 1928 are doing the same thing with the Prayer of Humble Access: making it (as in 1549) a final devotion before reception of the Sacrament.

From an ecumenical standpoint, it should be noted that the Roman Rite has a different (shorter, less elegant) sort of prayer of humble access.  Its wording has changed over time, but one form reads thus:

Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.

This prayer draws from the words of the faithful centurion whose servant was healed by Jesus’ word, rather than actual visit and contact (Matthew 8:8, Luke 7:6).  And it communicates the same basic premise: we are unworthy of God’s presence (regardless of how recently absolution has been pronounced) and approach him only by his grace.


This is one of the most beloved prayers among traditional Anglicans, yet unfamiliar to many who were formed according to modern liturgies such as that in the American Prayer Book of 1979.  Its inclusion here is part of the restoration of properly Anglican devotion and doctrine, though the rubric concedes it to be optional, should a more brief liturgy be desired.

The language of this prayer also took some consideration as it was adopted back into the 2019 Prayer Book.  The phrase “whose character is always to have mercy” is an update from the original term “whose property”.  This is a better update than a previous draft in Texts for Common Prayer which rendered it “who always delights in showing mercy.”  In that draft, mercy is God’s delight, but the original (and now still official) text identifies mercy as a property of God’s very nature or character.  It is the same as how we speak of God’s love – God is not simply loving, rather, God is love.  God does not just delight in showing mercy, God’s character is to have mercy.  Reflection on this should bring the worshiper great comfort and joy.

Apart from that phrase, further challenges may face the modern worshiper who is not yet accustomed to this prayer.  One of these is the strong realist language: “Grant us so to eat the flesh of your dear Son… and to drink his blood.”  It must be remembered, though, that just as there are different theological interpretations of our Lord’s Words of Institution and of his Bread of Life Discourse, so too will this prayer take on different tones according to one’s theology.   A Lutheran can see this as an affirmation of the Real Presence – Christ’s human and divine natures actually present in the bread and wine.  A Calvinist an see this as an affirmation of the Real Spiritual Presence – Christ’s body and blood actually communicated to us sacramentally as we receive the bread and wine.  So there is no problem with this prayer from either end of the churchmanship spectrum.  Its survival through all the pre-modern Prayer Books should be evidence enough of this.

Another question that might also be raised concerns the “effects” of the Body and Blood of Christ.  A simplistic reading of this prayer might indicate that Christ’s body cleanses our bodies, and his blood cleanses our souls.  But that is not the intention of this prayer – the historic belief has always been that Christ’s body and blood go together, just as with any other real creature.  It is like speaking about the Father creating, the Son redeeming, and the Spirit sanctifying – all three Persons of the Trinity actually do all three of those things; there is simply a convenient prominence of different Persons with different roles, but never an actual division between them.  Similarly, this prayer affirms, poetically, that the body and blood of Christ together sanctify our entire being – body and soul. A third misunderstanding and mistreatment of this prayer concerns its penitential tone.  Some argue that this prayer is extraneous in light of the confession and absolution already offered in the liturgy.  Such a claim is to miss the point of this prayer.  This is not a confession of sin, this is an acknowledgement of unworthiness.  Even with sin absolved the worshiper is still an unworthy participant at the Lord’s Table.  Even with the grace of divine forgiveness upon us, “blessed are they who are invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).  Furthermore, some of the language in the prayer – “that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us” – is echoed in the 8th paragraph of the prayer of consecration, plus the language of unworthiness is echoed in the 9th paragraph of the same.  So this prayer is integrally connected to the rest of the communion liturgy.  As the 1549 Prayer Book amply demonstrated by placing this prayer after the Absolution and Words of Comfort, it is not excessively penitential to express our unworthiness before the Lord.

Autumn Approaching Advent

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
For me, anyway, that’s autumn. I love the cooling temperature, the return of sweater weather, the comfort of drinking tea at any time of day without feeling overly warm, and of course the unbeatable vista of the New England countryside turning all sorts of colors.

But things are happening liturgically, too. Both the traditional lectionary and the modern lectionary feature an escalation in the Scripture lessons as Advent draws near. The traditional Trinitytide propers point us toward our coming perfection-in-Christ as we grow in holiness (that growth and sanctification being the theme gradually worked out throughout a 20-week span) and the modern lectionaries get near the end of the Gospel Book of the Year where Jesus’ teachings get more intense and the accompanying Old Testament lessons start favoring the prophets, speaking more and more of Christ’s death and his judgment and reign over us.

So now that’s mid-October a number of things are coming together, especially in my church’s context. First of all, our bishop is coming for a midweek Confirmation service next week. This was initially disappointing – small churches like ours always get low priorities for episcopal visitations, so we didn’t get a Sunday morning. Nevertheless, the timing works out pretty well: he’s coming on the evening of October 27th which is the Eve of Saints Simon & Jude Day. Lining up a confirmation service with a holy day, especially a saints day, is pretty excellent as the liturgy provides a built-in example of what it looks like to follow Christ. Furthermore, on the Sunday immediately before that the 2019 Prayer Book’s version of the Revised Common Lectionary gives us a reading from Hebrews 5&6 which actually references the Laying On of Hands in the context of Christian maturity. While one cannot necessarily prove that this is a reference to an apostolic form of Confirmation as we know it today, it is still applicable, and will make for a fantastic opportunity for a final “Serious Call” sermon to prepare everyone for what the Confirmation service itself will mean and proclaim. I’m definitely going to appoint a portion of the Great Litany for this Sunday’s prayers, too.

Then on October 31st it will be the Eve of All Saints’ Day. That does not mean churches should celebrate All Saints’ Day then – the calendar works forwards not backwards. Save All Saints’ Sunday for November 7th. Instead, October 31st is regular ole’ “Proper 26” in the modern calendar, which is often missed due to All Saints. It’s a good opportunity to throw in Occasional Collect #3 in acknowledgement of the Lutheran commemoration “Reformation Day”. And we’re going to sing For all the Saints at the end of that service just to anticipate All Saints’ Day!

All Saints’ Sunday, on Nov. 7th, will be a great celebration opportunity. We’ll have more songs in the liturgy than usual, to make it more special and stand out. Where the Prayers of the People have fill-in-the-blank opportunities to commemorate saints and remember the departed, we will read the names of several Saints as well as our church’s departed members. Again, we’re a small church, so we’ll remember the whole list of now-dead parishioners rather than just the past year’s list.

November 14th is the Consecration of Samuel Seabury, who was the first bishop in the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, famously consecrated in Scotland because the English Ordinal was no longer appropriate for an American clergyman. On its own, this is not a commemoration that is to be elevated to Sunday status, but I am a member of the Seabury Society, and the Saint Aelfric Customary appoints this as one of the few optional commemorations that are elevated to Holy Day status. Here are the Collect and Lessons we’ll be using that Sunday:

We give you thanks, O Lord our God, for your goodness in bestowing upon this Church the gift of the episcopate, which we celebrate in this remembrance of the consecration of Samuel Seabury; and we pray that, joined together in unity with our bishops, and nourished by your holy Sacraments, we may proclaim the Gospel of redemption with apostolic zeal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Acts 20:28-32; Psalm 133; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Matthew 9:35-38

This commemoration is a neat follow-up to All Saints’ Sunday also in that it provides a more specific context for us. The celebration of All Saints’ is the entire family of God, past and present and future, American and African and European and Asian and everywhere else, Old Testament and New Testament, militant and triumphant. It’s big! But the 14th gives us a day to celebrate our particular heritage as American Anglicans. So, where the 7th will see a 2019 Prayer Book liturgy filled with music, and commemorations in the prayers, the 14th will see the liturgy re-ordered according to the classical American Prayer Book order. It might even be an opportunity for traditional-language worship as well; I haven’t decided yet.

After that is Christ the King Sunday which (in the modern calendar/lectionary) is functionally doubled with the traditional Last Sunday before Advent. This, presaged in the “Serious Call” tone of this coming Sunday and the other commemorations into November, gives five consecutive Sundays a sort of Pre-Advent feel to them. Advent is such a powerful and rich season, juggling the Return of Christ and the Judgment on the Last Day and the prophetic ministry of St. John the Baptist and the faithful posture of the Blessed Virgin Mary approaching the birth of the Savior – four Sundays just isn’t enough time to give full consideration to all these elements! So allowing some of that to bleed over earlier into November and October is helpful, I think.

I write this summary of what’s coming up in my church’s worship schedule in the hopes that it helps you think about your own congregation’s life of worship on the “seasonal” scale also. Slavish adherence to the lectionary only on a punctiliar (or day by day) basis without awareness and understanding of the larger movements and patterns at play in the calendar and the lectionary can be a real loss to the sense of seasonal “flow”, especially for those who only think about Church on Sundays and are not also grounded in the Daily rhythms of prayer and worship.

Hopefully I’ll write more about some of these days as the next few weeks unfold, to give you more ideas and examples of how the liturgy on paper can really pop into life.

Learning to sing or chant mass parts

I have always served a small church. And for all but one year of my pastoral ministry I have doubled as the musician, which is how I actually began my service for Grace Anglican Church. As a result (by necessity) the selection of music has been part and parcel of liturgical planning. This is sometimes a fair bit of extra work for me, but also can be pretty rewarding for all of us in that the songs we sing usually tie closely with the Scriptures and prayers of the day. In fact, I’ve even started working on a booklet to collect the “best practices” I’ve developed (and learned from others) which will be available for sale sometime in the coming months.

One thing which is common in many Anglican (and Episcopalian) churches which we’ve only dabbled in, however, is the singing or chanting of mass parts. “Mass parts” is a phrase that refers to the parts of the mass, or Communion service, that are traditionally sung or chanted by a choir and/or the congregation. Traditionally there are quite a few of these, but the main ones are:

  1. the Kyrie
  2. the Gloria in excelsis
  3. the Sanctus
  4. the Agnus Dei

In the classical Prayer Book tradition, there is no Kyrie but instead the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) which could have chanted/sung responses, and the Gloria is placed near the end of the liturgy instead of near the beginning. And most of the old Prayer Books had no place for the Agnus Dei, either, come to think of it. But contemporary Prayer Books (and contemporized versions of the classical Prayer Books) restore all four of these to the liturgy one way or another. Every Anglican hymnal these days worth its salt has at least one (if not a handful) of different musical settings for these parts of the liturgy.

The main reason my church never got into these is because we used the 1940 hymnal for years, and then switched to the 2017 hymnal. The former only has the traditional-language texts for the liturgy and the latter has only one setting for the contemporary language that we use 96% of the year. When we had a different music minister for a little while, he brought in a contemporary Gloria and Sanctus, which we appreciated, but I was not able to keep them up when he was gone. In fact, after his departure I quickly became a hymnal-only musician, no longer having the energy to learn and teach contemporary-style worship songs. The demographics of our congregation matched this preference anyway, so it was not an issue one way or the other.

But this past year, coming out of COVID-tide, I’ve started taking these mass parts seriously. It was time to start singing or chanting these parts of the liturgy again. I started at the Easter Vigil this year, introducing the Gloria in excelsis Deo. The contemporary-language set in our new hymnal is the New Plainsong set by David Hurd, first copyrighted in 1981 and featured in the 1980 Episcopal hymnal. It’s not an especially ground-breaking new and exciting set of music, nor is it a re-make of one of the old classics, but it is stately and singable. Since Easter, we’ve sung that Gloria on the major Sundays of the year, but not every Sunday… yet.

Shortly thereafter I introduced the Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy), which went over pretty well. We’ve been singing it ever since.

And now that we’re moving our worship indoors for the season I’m about to introduce the Agnus Dei which is nicely similar in sound and contour to the others. After about a month to get used to that, I’ll add the sung Kyrie (just threefold, not ninefold), and then we’ll have all four together for a solemn few Sundays before Advent.

In Advent it is traditional to omit the Gloria, so we will not sing or say it at all for those four weeks until it returns at Christmas. From there I will be free to use or omit some or all of these sung parts to emphasize the tone of the church calendar. We can sing everything on the most celebratory Sundays and other feast days, sing some of them on more ‘normal’ Sundays, or simply just speak them at penitential times. The solemnity of the liturgy style can become a tool in the celebration of the Gospel from week to week, and season to season.

As I was planning this, though, and preparing to type this up, I could just hear in my head the anti-traditionalists, as the ACNA is sometimes a bit infamous for, asking the question “and how will this help the mission of your church and its growth?” To which I will confidently reply that it will neither help nor hinder the missional character of Grace Anglican Church… at least directly. Instead, it will help teach us to worship with reverence, and perhaps to respect the Lord just that little bit more. And, with its periodic use and omission to accentuate the gospel that we proclaim over the course of the year, it may just help people grasp that gospel more nearly to their hearts. In which case, I dare say, we may become a people more apt for the missio Dei.

The Orchestral Feast of the Prayer Book Liturgy

One of the more baffling and frustrating things I find in common discourse regarding the nature of Anglicanism, and more particularly our way of worship, is the identification of our liturgy as a distinctly “catholic” expression of spirituality. This is true one sense – it is a heritage that we have happily received from the wider family of Western liturgies. But it is equally true that our beloved Prayer Book liturgy is very much a Protestant treasure also. One need not be a high churchman or an Anglo-Catholic to love and defend the Prayer Book way of life. Indeed, our low church or reformed members can be just as fierce defenders of our heritage.

In our own day we need look no further than the recently departed J. I. Packer of blessed memory. This quote of his, for example, captures the respect any (and indeed every) member of the Anglican tradition can have for the Prayer Book:

The Prayer Book Liturgy on the Large Scale

The Prayer Book liturgy, in both its “pattern” and its content, provides a veritable symphony of Scripture. It is filled with intricate lines of biblical theology and thought, it is permeated with a robust spirituality that is both Patristic and Protestant, it is stately, yet simple; English, yet ecumenical; poetic, yet precise. It would admittedly be the height of hubris to claim this or any other liturgy to be utterly perfect. But the great Teachers of the Church have always agreed that the wisdom of those who have come before us are guiding lights in matters of faith’s practice, particularly in worship and liturgy. The formational power of worship, repeated over days and weeks and years, cannot be underappreciated; and the intentionality of a life of worship, rather than attention only to punctilious moments of worship on individual Sundays (as is the mentality of modern evangelicalism), will yield much greater spiritual gains in the long run. The Prayer Book offers us a full symphony that runs not just for “the Sunday service”, but throughout the day, throughout the week, and indeed all year long. No sextet, quartet, chamber ensemble, let along pop song, has the same scope, size, and sound of a full orchestra.

The music analogy is excellent, and speaks well to the beauty and craft of the liturgy, but perhaps another analogy speaks more pertinently to the sustaining power of worship – that of food. The worship of the Lord in Word and Sacrament are literally life-giving to the Christian soul. Liturgy is the meal planning. When a worship service is considered in isolation, only a single meal is being addressed; the Prayer Book prepares not only individual services but the whole meal plan, the full diet, for each day, week, and season of the year. A healthy diet needs to take the bigger picture into account, after all, one can’t usefully prepare a single meal or snack without accounting for what has been eaten already and when & what the people will eat next. Too many cheese sticks will complicate digestion. Not enough liquids will dehydrate the body. Junk food staves off starvation, but doesn’t contribute to bodily health in the long run, but rather, kills.

The Prayer Book is not unique in that it provides for the full orchestra or plans the long-term food plan; all liturgical traditions before it did so, and these were not inventions of medieval Christians but date back to Christ and the Apostles attending the Temple and the synagogue, which in turn dates back to various stages of Old Testament history. Obviously the Old Covenant prayers had to be “updated” in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Saviour of the world, but the continuity of worship from B.C. to A.D. is remarkable.

The Prayer Book, is, however, unique in that it provides all this in one single volume. Over the course of time, liturgical traditions (especially in the West) grew more and more elaborate. As one reads in the Preface to the first Prayer Book, “many times, there was more business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it was found out.” Liturgy had become over-specialized, elitist, the provenance of priests and monks, the laity reduced to mere spectators most of the time. The gem of Anglicanism has been to provide the essential material of our historic liturgical tradition in a single book that can be used (albeit with some practice and guidance) by anyone who can read.

Thus the Prayer Book is a vital tool not only for the work of the priests and other ministers, but for everyone in the pews, as it protects the laity from the clergy. Instead of being subject to the whims of individual ministers, who might pray as they wish and provide no guarantee of orthodoxy apart from personal trust, the Anglican with a Prayer Book is assured that no matter what church or chapel one might visit, the worship of God will be sound, no matter how well- or ill-disposed the minister might happen to be.

The Prayer Book Liturgy on the Small Scale

It has become something of a popular mentality since the 20th century to pay more attention to the shape, contour, or outline of a worship service than to its specific ingredients, contents, and phraseology. It is true, as our Articles of Religion confess, that rites and ceremonies need not be everywhere identical. Language changes over time and varies across distances and cultures. The Prayer Book, especially the 1662 Book which is effectively the mother of all other Prayer Books since, is not a golden tablet received from the hand of God himself to be used unchanged and unvaried for all time, but it is the gold standard by which we measure our changes and variances over time. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it is a Book that we understand to be reliable, having fed and nourished one local national church into a global communion of tens of millions.

Thus it is important that we appeal not only to the types of worship services in the Prayer Book, or the ideas of the Prayer Book services, or their shapes or outlines, but also the specific contents thereof. A long-term meal plan must use specific ingredients to make its meals; a symphony orchestra must appoint specific notes to played by specific instruments at specific times. What we pray is an essential part of how we pray.

Many volumes of books could be (and have been) filled to comment on the truth and beauty found within the Prayer Book’s pages; this essay can only address a few brief examples and perhaps point beyond itself for further reference. Let us consider how we confess our sins, how we confess our faith, how we approach the Communion table, and how we commend our prayers unto God.

Confession of Sin

The Prayer Book tradition has two different prayers of confession, which modern practice had sometimes simplified and sometimes diversified.

In the Daily Office, the minister prepares the way for confession with Scripture and exhortation, providing a compelling biblical case for the practice of confessing our sins especially “when we assemble and meet together.” In this confession we not only offer a functional admission of guilt and wish for forgiveness, but we use sober and uncompromising biblical language to express it with clarity and sincerity. “We have erred and strayed from [God’s] ways like lost sheep, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, we have offended against [God’s] holy laws, we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” Here we express general ways in which we have sinned (by commission or by omission) and detail the means in the language of straying, following other ourselves, and offending against the Law. This culminates with the admission that “there is no health in us,” – that on our own we are dead or dying, unless or until God’s grace changes that. Our plea for mercy and forgiveness follows, with the hope that we might “hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life” to God’s glory.

At the Communion service we “acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed.” Or, in more modern terms, we “acknowledge and lament our many sins and offenses, which we have committed“. We further acknowledge our sins manifest in thought, word, and deed, cutting deep into our souls, and we acknowledge these sins provoke God’s wrath, or righteous anger, against us. For this we are deeply and heartily sorry, and we confess that our sins are an intolerable burden, more than we can bear, already hinting at the solution in Christ who could and did bear our sins on the Cross. We offer a three-fold plea for mercy which is followed by a prayer for such forgiveness that we may evermore serve him in newness of life to the honour and glory of God’s name.

These prayers are thorough, biblically rich, personal, and far more honest than we otherwise would be on our own. They express the depth of our sinfulness and proclaim the Gospel of salvation – especially when followed by the minister’s words of Absolution and (in the Communion) the Comfortable Words from four New Testament passages.

Contrast this with the pithy confessions of modern liturgies and the loss is clear.

Lord God, we have sinned against you; we have done evil in your sight. We are sorry and repent. Have mercy on us according to your love. Wash away our wrongdoing and cleanse us from our sin. Renew a right spirit within us and restore us to the joy of your salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Common Prayer (2000, UK), page 31

If you look at the shape or contour, you will see that the outline of the prayer is basically the same. But the substantial content is massively reduced – we say we are sorry but we don’t express we are sorry. It is like playing an excerpt of a grand symphony on a plastic recorder – it sounds the same functionally but carries little of its gravity. Thus even though the worshiper here is speaking truth, there is far less impetus take that truth into the depths of one’s heart.

The American prayer of confession from 1979 is a little longer, but ultimately suffers from the same problem:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Book of Common Payer (1979, USA), page 79

There is more room to “feel” the truth of penitence here than in the previous example, but there’s still more “tell” than “show.” The grave wickedness of sin is not mentioned, the standards of God’s law or holiness are not put upon our lips. True confession of sin, or contrition (to use the language of Psalm 51 and Isaiah 57, and the Church’s traditional discourse ever since) must be heartfelt. Short and simple confessions like these run the risk of a rubber-stamped contractual obligation – “I’m supposed to say I’m sorry before I’m allowed in.”

Confession of Faith

Something that is popular in some modern liturgies is to provide fresh new confessions of faith to use in the course of worship. Take, for example, this Affirmation of Faith:

Let us declare our faith in God.

We believe in God the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.
We believe in God the Son, who lives in our hearts through faith, and fills us with his love.
We believe in God the Holy Spirit, who strengthens us with power from on high.
We believe in one God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Common Worship (2000, UK), page 148

This is an authorized “Affirmation of Faith” that may be used in place of the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds. It is noted to be drawn from Ephesians 3, and in that sense it is a lovely confession of faith. BUT, of course, it is incredibly limited in its value as a Creed. Gone is the name of Jesus, let alone his death and resurrection. Gone is the forgiveness of sins, holy baptism, the creation of the universe, the church. For a private devotion this “creed” can be a beautiful reflection on Ephesians 3, but a real Creed it is not.

Instead, in the liturgical tradition we have always used Creeds that have been accepted across the global church with almost perfect unanimity. There were complications with the Nicene Creed in a few small quarters, and the Athanasian Creed is not used in the East, but as far as our family of liturgical practice is concerned we have received three Creeds: the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian. At the Communion, we recite the Nicene Creed, in the Daily prayers we recite the Apostles’, and on special occasions the Athanasian Creed makes an appearance. Again, this is not a “catholic” versus “protestant” thing; my Reformed colleagues outside of the Anglican tradition also argue that the Apostles’ Creed is inferior to the Nicene Creed when it comes to parsing out the full divinity and humanity of Christ. And the Athanasian Creed remains the most useful resource in all of Western Christianity for explicating the doctrine of the Trinity. When it comes to rehearsing the basic articles of our faith, there is no better place to turn than these three creeds.

Furthermore, these are not ingredients in isolation. In both the Daily Office and the Communion service, we recite a Creed soon after the Scripture readings. The Creed therefore serves not only as a summary of our faith but also a summary of biblical teachings. Whether is is a sermon (as at the Communion) or not (as in the traditional Daily Office), the Creed still stands as at least a brief teaching to follow up on our hearing of the sacred Scriptures.

Approaching the Communion Table

One of the most-beloved specific prayers of the Prayer Book tradition is entitled the Prayer of Humble Access. Its precise location in the Communion service has shifted from one Prayer Book to another, and there is merit to discussing its precise role in those different places. But in all cases, it serves as a preparatory prayer, a voice of humility and devotion before receiving Holy Communion. here it is in traditional and modern language forms:

We do not presume to come to this thy/your Table, O merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy/your manifold/abundant and great mercies.
We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy/your Table.
But thou/you art/are the same Lord, whose property/character is always to have mercy.
Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy/your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
and to drink his blood,
that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body,
and our souls washed through his most precious blood,
and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

Modern liturgies often remove this prayer entirely. Some forms axe the two penultimate lines (“that our sinful bodies…” and “and our souls washed…”). Some offer alternative prayers:

Most merciful Lord, your love compels us to come in. Our hands were unclean, our hearts were unprepared; we were not fit even to eat the crumbs from under your table. But you, Lord, are the God of our salvation, and share your bread with sinner. So cleanse and feed us with the body and blood of your Son, that he may live in us and we in him; and that we, with the whole company of Christ, may sit and eat in your kingdom. Amen.

Common Worship (2000, UK), page 181

As with the modern confession prayers, this alternative follows the same “shape” as the original, but it lacks much. Most notably, this example has no language of cleansing. It sets up our unworthiness truthfully and God’s gracious invitation is biblical, but God does not simply share his bread with sinner, but rather he transforms us through this bread and cup into people who are cleaned and washed so that we may live in him forever.

There is a lot going on in the celebration of Holy Communion, and the Prayer of Humble Access is one of the most “personal” moments in the liturgy, whether it’s read only by the minister (traditionally) or by the whole congregation with him (in some modern forms). We have already heard God’s Word, we have already confession our sins and heard words of absolution and comfort; the Prayer of Humble Access is where each one of us recognizes the ongoing nature of our unworthiness and cleansing-in-Christ that happens before, during, and after the eucharistic feast of which we are about to partake. To confuse this prayer with the Confession of sin, or to remove it utterly, would be a great loss to the richness and power of the liturgy.

Commending our Prayers to God

It is perhaps one of the most arrogant things in popular evangelicalism today that we presume upon God as if he is obligated to hear us and answer our prayers. It is true that we have a gracious God who has dwelt among us sinners precisely to open the way to eternal life to any sinner who repents and turns to him, but that does not translate to an attitude to flippant presumption on our part. We do not invite God’s Spirit among us when we begin to worship, nor do we offer him prayer without humbly beseeching him to hear us. The Litany, in its extended list of supplications, is a prime example of us principle in action, but perhaps the best single-prayer summary of this is the Prayer of Saint John Chrysostom, found at the end of the Daily Office. As the name implies, it has a fair bit of history before the advent of the Prayer Book, but its role in our liturgy is significant.

There we acknowledge of our prayers that God has “given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto Him, and dost promise that when two or three are gathered together in His Name, He will grant their requests“. This is, in one sense, an affirmation that the liturgy – what we’ve been praying so far – is acceptable to God (cf. Psalm 19:14 and Psalm 69:13, Proverbs 10:32 and 15:8), and that we can be confident in the content of the liturgy. It is also, of course, a more personable reassurance that God is with his people. The prayer then continues with us asking God to “fulfill now the desires and petitions of His servants” So we not only express humble confidence that God has listened to our prayers, we ask that he would answer them. God has no obligation to us apart from his own promises – we have no power over him, there is no magic force in true faith.

So we ask him to hear and answer our prayers, and even that we do humbly: “as may be best for us [or most expedient for them], granting us in this world knowledge of thy/your truth, and in the world to come life everlasting.” God knows best how to answer our prayers, whatever is best or most expedient for our true needs. And, whatever the specifics of our prayers, there is always an underlying intention in our worship to gain knowledge of God’s truth and to attain to everlasting life. These intentions are mirrored in the Blessing at the end of the Communion service – that the peace of God which passes all understanding would keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and that his blessing would be among us and remain with us forever.

Thus even our “meta-prayers”, our prayers about prayer, are instructive to the worshiper and humbly worshipful before the Lord.

World without end

Our liturgy, our Prayer Book, is indeed a symphony and feast that stretches from winter to summer to winter again; from birth to death, from baptism to last rites; from the dead souls at the Gates of Hell to the regenerated, justified, and sanctified soul stepping through the Gates of Heaven. Could there be another symphony written, as elegant and effective, as beautiful and true, as ours? Certainly it could. The wealth of liturgical history is ample evidence of this – the Liturgies of Saint James and Saint Chrysostom have been observed for over a millennium in the East, the West has enjoyed the Mozaribic Rite, the Sarum, Gallican, and Roman Rites, various monastic institutions such as the Benedictines and the Dominicans have developed their own forms of the same liturgy… the variety is beautiful, and periodic moments of cross-pollination have been very enriching for the church at large.

But each of these liturgical traditions are the work of centuries, crafted carefully, slowly, reverently, and lovingly, over many generations. The 1662 Prayer Book itself represents the work of many individuals spanning over a century beginning with one Archbishop’s consolidation of the Sarum Use of the Western liturgical tradition. And since 1662 standard practices have gradually shifted and developed; the liturgy is living and active, a sharp sword in its own right, dividing the demons of ambition and personal preference in public worship, much like how the spiritual sword of sacred Scriptures divides the joints and marrow of our souls to uncover our underlying sinful nature in all realms of life. Thus it is foolhardy and dangerous to presume that we can, in one fell swoop, overthrow and replace a liturgy as developed as our heritage has delivered to us. Alternative services, variations or order and wording, have their places on the fringe of experimentation and the occasional what-if’s of Christian worship, but to replace our Prayer Book history wholesale with something new or different is to cast ourselves adrift in the chaotic ocean of the world a new untested ship. It may deliver some to their desired port of rest, but if the new Titanic has sunk en route one can hardly say the massive loss was worth it.

As my province’s Prayer Book admits in its Preface, “The Book of Common Prayer (1979) in the United States and various Prayer Books that appeared in Anglican Provinces from South America to Kenya to South East Asia to New Zealand were often more revolutionary than evolutionary in character. Eucharistic prayers in particular were influenced by the re-discovery of patristic texts unknown at the Reformation, and often bore little resemblance to what had for centuries been the Anglican norm. Baptismal theology, especially in North America, was affected by radical revisions to the received Christian understanding, and came perilously close to proclaiming a gospel of individual affirmation rather than of personal transformation and sanctification.” In the wake of such wide-ranging revisions and changes, it is all the more difficult (yet necessary) that we take steps to rediscover and reclaim our rightful heritage, which nurtured our forebears for centuries and led to the great and global growth of our tradition which many since the 20th century have gone onto squander. We must labor to further work of true reform and restoration, seeking the historic confines of what is authentically the Christian Faith and the Anglican patrimony, to restore their fullness and beauty.

Vigil fast today!

In the 1662 prayer book there are several fasts appointed on the eve, or vigil, or day before several of the holy days in the church year. Curiously, not all of the holy days in that prayer book get their own fast day beforehand; perhaps about 75% do and the rest do not.

Today is one such vigil fast, preparing us for the feast of the nativity of Saint John the Baptist tomorrow! This pairing of fasts and feasts is both an ancient and a sound practice:

Here, the great Anglican theologian, Richard Hooker, points out that grief and joy are two states of heart and mind which excellently summarize human life, and in her fast and feast days the church uses grief and joy to help Christians grow in virtue and holiness.

So if you are not normally one who observes days of fasting consider adopting the prayer book tradition of vigil fasts today!

On Prayers for the Departed

“Why would you pray for the dead? They’re already with Jesus!”

Such is the common well-meaning retort from most Protestants today when they hear us pray for the faithful departed. This is an ancient practice of the Church, but it seems that the Romans have cornered the market when it comes to explanation. They, famously, believe in Purgatory, wherein the souls of ordinary Christians are purged of their lifetime of sin before beholding the fullness of the Beatific Vision, or (more crassly), going to heaven. While this doctrine could be interpreted in a benign fashion – simply the clearing of our spiritual eyes after a life of sin and darkness – it has typically been presented in very penitential terms: the soul is tortured, exposed to the pains of hell for a period of time depending upon how much sin went unconfessed, lightened by indulgences and prayers and masses on their behalf.

Anglican prayers for the departed has no place for that.

Actually, some say that Anglicans have no place for any prayers for the departed. We had some in the first Prayer Book, and got rid of them a few years later, only to see the extreme Anglo-Catholic wing bring them back in the 20th century and the liberals tolerating it under the guise of “tradition.” But this explanation is not strictly true. The Prayer Books have always included prayer for the departed.

If we look at what our reformed liturgy, 1549 to the present, actually says, we will find that our practice is quite far from Roman superstition.

The Prayers of the People in the 1549 Prayer Book’s Communion liturgy prayed for

all other thy servants, which are departed hence from us, with the sign of faith, and now do rest in the sleep of peace: Grant unto them, we beseech thee, thy mercy, and everlasting peace, and that, at the day of the general resurrection, we and all they which be of the mystical body of thy Son, may altogether be set on his right hand, and hear that his most joyful voice: ‘Come unto me, O ye that be blessed of my Father, and possess the Kingdom, which is prepared for you, from the beginning of the world’.

This was dropped from subsequent Prayer Books until the American book of 1928, which prayed

for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service, and to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom.

In between, the 1662 Prayer Book contained a similar, if more subtle, prayer for the departed in the penultimate prayer of the Burial rite:

Almighty God… we give thee hearty thanks, for that it hath pleased thee to deliver this our brother out of the miseries of this sinful world; beseeching thee that it may please thee, of thy gracious goodness, shortly to accomplish the number of thine elect, and to hasten thy kingdom; that we, with all those that are departed in the true faith of thy holy Name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in thy eternal and everlasting glory

The final Collect in the 1662 Burial service reuses some of the material from the 1549 Prayer Book quoted above, acknowledging the future consummation of the Christian hope of resurrection unto eternal life.  This is the common acknowledgement throughout the Prayer Book tradition – that God’s will, or plan, for his people has not yet reached its conclusion.  We pray for the departed no longer with the fear or urgency of late medieval piety, which errantly believed in the departed souls’ need to move through Purgatory, but instead with personal affection and biblical hope that all is not as it yet should be.

The Prayers of the People in the 2019 Prayer Book summarize it this way:

We remember before you all your servants who have departed this life in your faith and fear, that your will for them may be fulfilled

The 2019 Litany offers a more specific explanation of this will:

To grant to all the faithful departed eternal life and peace, We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

Thus the prayers for the departed in the Prayer Book tradition is drawn from biblical doctrine rather than from later superstitions.