The Kyrie in the Daily Office

The Kyrie is an ancient prayer, attested by the fact that it remains in Greek even in Roman liturgy. It is based upon the biblical cry found twice in the mouth of blind men imploring Jesus’ help in Matthew 20:30-31, as well as similar pleas in Matthew 17 and Psalm 123. The Kyrie has endured in the penitential portions of the liturgy, often being sung ninefold (each line being sung thrice) or even in a set of forty (as in Byzantine liturgy to this day) early in the Communion service. Its appearance in the Daily Office has been consistent through the English and Canadian Prayer Books, though it was omitted in the American Prayer Books until now.

It is a simple prayer, its near-identical repetition making it both a challenge and an opportunity for devotion. The obvious challenge is how easy it is for the worshiper to utter the words as a parrot, without meaning or understanding. Such is the case with anything memorized. The opportunities, however, are manifold. This can prayed as a prayer of contrition – have mercy upon my sins. This can be prayed as a prayer of intercession – have mercy on my needs. The words “on us” (in the traditional form of the Kyrie) may be directed toward one’s family, one’s church, community, nation, or the entire world.

It also serves as a lead-in for the Lord’s Prayer. There, we have the boldness to address God as our Father, here, we address him as Lord and Christ. The Kyrie, thus, is directed primarily at God the Son, our only mediator and advocate who can bring us to the Father. In fact, a Trinitarian pattern of prayer can be inferred in teh sequence of Kyrie, Lord’s Prayer, and Suffrages: first we call upon the name of Jesus, then we address the Father, and then we pray in the Spirit with some God-breathed words of prayer.

About that Salutation…

It’s a classic standard across the liturgical-church world:

“The Lord be with you.”
“And with your/thy spirit.”

This exchange, well known today, was used only sparingly in the classical Prayer Book tradition. The 1549 Prayer Book used it twice in the Communion service (before the Collect of the Day and the Post-Communion Prayer), once in the Baptism service, and once in the Daily Office immediately before the three Collects. By 1559 this arrangement had been drastically reduced: the salutation was not to be found in the Sacramental services, and only at the beginning of the Prayers in the Daily Office. By contrast, a Low Mass before the Reformation would include this salutation as many as seven times!

The origin of this salutation is likely an amalgamation of several biblical blessings. “The Lord be with your spirit” (2 Timothy 4:22) is a primary example; some other variations include Ruth 2:4, 2 Thessalonians 3:16, and Galatians 6:18.

In the 1979 Prayer Book and similar contemporary liturgies the response was re-translated to read “and also with you.” It was thought, at the time, to be a fair translation of the ancient liturgies, if more dynamic. Recent revisions in both Roman and Anglican liturgy have tended toward the restoration of the more literal translation, “and with your spirit.”

The salutation has come under fire, in recent times, concerning its theological implications. Some argue, in line with Roman tradition, that the language of “and with your spirit” is a reference to the indelible ordination character bestowed upon the priest, thus highlighting the sacredotal character of the ordained ministry. The reduction of the use of this salutation in the first Prayer Book and its near-total disappearance in subsequent versions may be cited as evidence in favor of this interpretation, especially when seeing that the liturgies of the Anglo-Catholic movement increase this salutation’s use.

This is not the only way to understand the salutation, however, nor is it the sole explanation for its disappearance in the more “reformed” Prayer Books. A 17th century commentator, the Rev. Dr. John Boys, observed that the Puritan party at the time was opposed to this and other suffrages and short exchanges and prayers, seeing them as “short cuts, or shreddings” rather than as actual blessings or prayers. Puritan (and other then-radical reformation) liturgies preferred longer, extemporaneous prayers, and this salutation was out of line with their doctrine of worship. John Boys also observed that “the people cannot make a fitter reply than ‘with thy spirit.’ For (as Plato divinely said) every man’s soul is himself.” There was no apparent concern at the time of any sacerdotalism or Romish doctrine of priesthood in this salutation; its real controversy was its brevity. Thus, we ought not today to assign it a meaning more narrow than its simple words merit.

The Apostles’ Creed: didactic and devotional

The 8th Article of Religion lists this Creed as one of the three which “ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.” A great many proof texts may be cited for such “most certain warrant” but it may be more beneficial for the worshiper to recognize the biblical foundation of the creedal tradition in general.

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) has as its primary verb “make disciples”, supported by the participles “going”, “baptizing”, and “teaching”. These are different stages of evangelism and catechesis, passing on the faith. The use of the trinitarian name – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is the beginning of a theological synthesis; among Jesus’ last words to his disciples are summary statements that began the Church’s work of theology. This trinitarian formula can also be seen echoed in the Epistles; Saint Paul adapted it into a blessing (2 Corinthians 13:14). Thus the early liturgy paved the way for systematic theology to follow.

A similar example can be found in another text, Romans 10:8-10, wherein Paul gives us a summary of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), beloved to this day. In a short span he links confession of faith and belief to justification and salvation. And he introduces this as “the word of faith that we proclaim”. He both quotes and uses an Old Testament text (Deuteronomy 30:14) to summarize grand sweeping doctrines in miniature – he gives us a sort of proto-creed. This need to contend for the faith was felt by other biblical writers too (Jude 3), and several texts rose to prominence in the formulation of miniature creeds ranging from the Jewish Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) to the Epistles (1 Corinthians 3:5-11).

There is one line of the Apostles’ Creed that has occasioned controversy among Protestant scholars: “He descended into Hell.” We affirm this statement in the 3rd Article of Religion, and all the American Prayer Books have offered an alternative translation to clarify its meaning: “He went into the place of departed spirits” or “He descended to the dead.” That is, we affirm that Jesus truly died, as any human does, and God the Son was present where dead souls reside. (You can read more about this from Fr. Jeffries here.)

There is great value in reciting the Creed in the course worship; it is both didactic and devotional. Its didactic, or teaching, value is obvious: it symbolizes or summarizes the essentials of the Christian faith. Since all Scripture speaks of Christ and the Gospel (Luke 24:27, 44-48), the worshiper can anticipate every Scripture reading attesting to at least one part of the Creed; the Creed can serve as a sort of sermon. Devotionally, the Creed is also an offering or confession of faith that the worshiper brings to God. It is like a twice-daily renewal of faith, spoken prayerfully, not simply a teacher keeping us in line but the individual heart’s oblation. In that sense, it is appropriate that we conclude the Creed with the word “Amen.”

Who was St. Cyprian of Carthage?

There are several names that refer to early Christian Saints – John, Augustine, Clement, Theodore, Gregory, Basil, to name a few – so we generally have to give them suffixes to their names in order to distinguish them. Today’s commemoration in the calendar is one such example: St. Cyprian, from Carthage.

In many ways, Cyprian is the Augustine before Augustine. He was a Berber, a Roman African, born to a wealthy Pagan family, and he converted to Christianity at age 35. After his conversion he was ordained quickly, becoming the Bishop of Carthage roughly four years later. This was, perhaps understandably, a little controversial, but his actions in the ministry soon proved his sanctity-in-Christ. A wave of government oppression of the Church, called the Decian Persecution, swept through in the early 250’s, and Cyprian saw a lot of his flock cave in to the Roman demands to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods. Cyprian himself rode out much of that persecution in exile, believing it God’s will that he survive to shepherd his flock from a temporary distance, and be present to pick up the pieces when it was over, much like how the Apostles fled Jerusalem after the death of St. James, and how many Christians fled Jerusalem during the Roman-Jewish War culminating in the sack of 70 AD.

Needless to say, there was a controversy waiting for Cyprian when the dust settled: what do you do with the lapsi – the lapsed, who burned sacrifices to other gods? Cyprian’s initial demand was that they undergo public penance before being readmitted to Holy Communion, but a number of his earlier opponents thought this was too strict, and many priests took it upon themselves to invite people back under much more liberal conditions. As this controversy was brought to a local council, another party cropped up: a stricter group who argued that the lapsed could not repent and rejoin the church at all! The council stood with Cyprian, in between the too-liberal Novatus of Carthage and the too-strict Novatian of Rome.

As a pastoral and liturgical aside, this is insightful for us today, because we, too, see many lapsed Christians coming in and out of our churches these days. Do we admit them to Holy Communion without question? Or should we, as St. Cyprian ruled, call for public repentance of their wanderings from the Gospel before reinstating their place at the Holy Table? This is worth considering carefully, and we have resources in our Prayer Book to help us.

  • The Ash Wednesday exhortation explicitly mentions the ancient practice of public repentance.
  • The Exhortation in the Communion service warns us against unworthy reception of the Sacrament.
  • The Confirmation liturgy includes a variant for “Reaffirmation”, particularly for those who were previously confirmed, fell away, and have since returned.

It may well be that we have become too lax in our ministration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and need to re-learn, from the likes of St. Cyprian, what good Eucharistic discipline looks like.

This wrestling with the implications of the Gospel for those who fall away under persecution would return for St. Augustine of Hippo and the Donatists nearly 150 years later, though then it would be about the purported need for re-ordination, rather than readmission to Holy Communion. Cyprian was like an early Augustine in other ways too: his Latin writings were influential and beloved, his handling of controversy and good accord with other bishops was laudable. And they both saw disaster at the end of their lives. For Augustine, of course, it was the news of the sack of Rome and the arrival of barbarians at the gate of his own city. For Cyprian it was another round of government persecution, leading to his execution on 14 September 258.

The date of his commemoration isn’t so straight-forward, because 14 September has been taken by Holy Cross Day, forcing the Church calendar to shift St. Cyprian of Carthage to another day. Most Anglican calendars place him on an adjacent day – the 13th or 15th. The Roman Church has another observance (Our Lady of Sorrows) on the 15th, so they celebrate Cyprian on the 16th, and some other traditions follow suit.

Customary update: Family Prayer

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

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

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

Behold: Customary: Family Prayer

Anticipating the next day’s feast

We just celebrated St. Mary Magdalene a couple days ago, and this Saint-filled end of the month is about to bring us to one of the twelve apostles, St. James.

Last year we looked at St. James Day with a nod to the Collect of the Day and a couple of the Scripture readings associated with this day.  That’s worth a quick re-read in preparation for tomorrow’s holiday.

For today, though, I’d like to remind you of a tradition that has been a subtle part of Prayer Book practice, though not always explicit: the “Eve of” a holy day.  You may be familiar with the Easter Vigil, or Christmas Eve.  You may also be familiar with the fact that many (most?) Roman churches have a Saturday evening Mass in addition to Sunday morning.  All of these are examples of “liturgical time” starting a day on the evening before, rather than on the morning of.  This is part of the Church’s Hebrew legacy, wherein every “day” begins at sundown – though in Christian liturgy we only tend to do this for Sundays and other feast days.

The 2019 Prayer Book, explaining the calendar on page 687, makes this much explicit:

Following ancient Jewish tradition, the celebrations of any Sunday begins at sundown on the Saturday that precedes it.  Therefore at Evening Prayer on Saturdays (other than Holy Days), the Collect appointed for the ensuing Sunday is used.

It does not go on to say that we are to apply this principle to the other Holy Days.  But such an extension of the rule is not forbidden, and some Prayer Books in the past have operated that way, so it is a traditional option that we are free to make use of.

In short, applying these rules, here are the Collects of the Day for the Daily Office this weekend:

  • Friday Evening: Collect for Saint James Day or Proper 11
  • Saturday Morning: Collect for Saint James Day
  • Saturday Evening: Collect for Saint James Day
  • Sunday Morning: Collect for Proper 12

A Saint-filled couple weeks have begun

In the back of my mind, there are three times of year that stand out as being particularly saturated with significant Saints’ Days: Christmas, mid-November, and late July.  I haven’t studied the sanctoral calendar closely to see how accurate these impressions are, but I think it’s worth pointing it out now that we’re in one of those periods of time.

Consider this.  Three major feast days are just ahead:

  1. St. Mary Magdalene (22 July)
  2. St. James (25 July)
  3. The Transfiguration (6 August)

Among the Optional Commemorations there are four coming up that this Customary particularly highlights as feasts to be kept:

  1. St. Gregory of Nyssa (19 July)
  2. The Parents of the Virgin Mary (26 July)
  3. Sts. Lazarus, Mary, and Martha of Bethany (29 July)
  4. St. Joseph of Arimathea (1 August)

There are also some classical Saints’ days worth considering:

  1. St. Macrina (18 July)
  2. St. Margaret of Antioch (20 July)
  3. St. Thomas a Kempis (24 July)

And a few more recent folks remembered in our calendar:

  1. William White (17 July)
  2. William Reed Huntington (27 July)
  3. William Wilberforce (30 July)

Huh, maybe I should’ve named this post “Williamtide”, haha.

Let us also consider jotting down a new name into our calendars, remembering another faithful servant who ran his course well:

  • 17 July: J. I. Packer, Priest and Teacher of the Faith, 2020

May their memories ever be a blessing to us all.

A Prayer that actually isn’t out of date

Among the litany and prayers in the Prayer Book tradition, one of the groups in the “for the needy” category is for those who travel.  Here is Occasional Prayer #53, from page 662 in The Book of Common Prayer (2019).

O God, our heavenly Father, whose glory fills the whole creation, and whose presence we find wherever we go: Preserve those who travel [epsecially ___]; surround them with your loving care; protect them from every danger; and bring them in safety to their journey’s end; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

As much as I love history and tradition, this has often been an odd prayer subject for me.  Traveling is so much safer today than it was “back then”.  You can fly around the world in airplanes just about anywhere and although accidents happen your chances of coming home safe & sound are incredibly high.  So in my own prayer life whenever I encountered this sort of prayer, I would usually apply it in my heart to people I know who travel for a living, like truck drivers.

You can also spiritualize this sort of prayer really easily.  The Journey is one of several biblical images for the Christian life; we are all pilgrims on the Way of Christ, seeking our eternal abode in that heavenly city.  That’s a great and fruitful allegorical use of this prayer, complete with “every danger” that besets the Christian Journey.

But this prayer must have merit also in its “literal” construction.  And you know what?  COVID-19 has provided a context where this prayer has become more useful and meaningful.  When there is a plague, pandemic, or other widespread disaster or concern, traveling becomes a lot more dangerous.  Popping ’round the corner for groceries with a face mask is one thing, but traveling across multiple State lines in the US, where the infection rates have either fallen or dramatically risen (depending on the state and region) can get rather squirrely.  What differences in policy will I run into if I stop in New York State versus Pennsylvania?  Does Connecticut have the same guidelines as Massachusetts?  Does a family have to take particular self-quarantine measures if a household member has traveled a few hundred miles and back?

These are not questions we should be panicking about, or asking in fear, but they are issues to be concerned with and to seek mindful answers to.  Travel has become more complicated, and public health issues do make traveling more “dangerous” in one form or another.  So if you’re not accustomed to praying this Prayer For Those Who Travel, perhaps for now you’ve got a useful context for it.

Introducing the Creed of Saint Athanasius

One of the “Documentary Foundations”, on page 769 in the 2019 Prayer Book, is The Athanasian Creed.  It is offered there without comment, much like it is in the back of the 1979 Prayer Book, except this time in a normal font size so you don’t have to be especially young and spry in order to read it.

There is, however, a rubric in our Prayer Book that point to it.  On page 139, among the Additional Directions Concerning Holy Communion, we are told that the Athanasian Creed may be used in place of the Nicene Creed on Trinity Sunday and other occasions as appropriate.  This is probably the most widespread use of that Creed today.

In the classical Prayer Book tradition, however, it received a bit more use.  In the 1662 Prayer Book, for example, we find this rubric:

Upon these Feasts, Christmas-day, the Epiphany, St. Matthias, Easter-day, Ascension-day, Whitsunday, St. John Baptist, St. James, St. Bartholomew, St. Matthew, St. Simon and St.
Jude, St. Andrew, and upon Trinity-sunday, shall be sung or said at Morning Prayer, instead of the Apostles Creed, this Confession of our Christian Faith, commonly called the Creed of St. Athanasius, by the Minister and people standing.

That’s 13 times a year this Creed was ordered to be said.  If you’re curious about why those feasts were selected, and not others, the best I can offer is that the principle feasts of the year are covered (Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday), and beyond that one feast per month is chosen, such that this Creed would be heard about once a month, usually near the end:

  • January: Epiphany (6th)
  • February: St. Matthias (29th)
  • March: Easter sometimes
  • April: Easter usually, Ascension sometimes
  • May: Ascension usually, Pentecost sometimes
  • June: Pentecost usually, Trinity, St. John Baptist (24th)
  • July: St. James (25th)
  • August: St. Bartholomew (24th)
  • September: St. Matthew (21st)
  • October: St. Simon and St. Jude (28th)
  • November: St. Andrew (30th)
  • December: Christmas (25th)

Anyway, let’s look at the Creed itself.  It’s called Of Athanasius because he is the traditionally-acclaimed author, though historical scholarship has indicated that it’s most likely a product of his school of thought, or his tradition so to speak, rather than of him himself.  Thus some like to refer to it by its first line in Latin: Quicunque vult.  But the appellation of Athanasius is appropriate nonetheless, as this does express his theology quite clearly.

In terms of contents, this Creed is by far the best and most robust resource in the Church’s arsenal when it comes to teaching the doctrine of the Trinity.  In the way it is formatted in our Prayer Book, most of page 769 deals with the Trinity, all of page 770 does, and the first “verse” of it on page 771 concludes the section on the Trinity.  The rest of the Creed (page 771) proceeds in a fashion very similar to the Nicene Creed, outlining the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  But even this uses more developed language to expound the two natures of Christ (in close union with the 3rd and 4th Ecumenical Councils, again indicating a post-Athanasius origin).

Let’s be honest, this Creed can be a bit of a tongue-twister, and its repetitive phrases can make it difficult to understand without familiarity.  But if you read it slowly and carefully, its logic will be clear, as two things are being established very methodically: there are three Persons in the Trinity and there is one God in Unity.

Apart from its length, this Creed has other features that have contributed to its decline in popularity over the past 200 years: its vehement insistence on orthodoxy for salvation.  Note how it begins:

Whoever will be savedbefore all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.
Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

It ends with the same tone:

This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

The good news here is that it never says “understand”, only “hold” or “keep” or “believe”.  So if you or your child or your uneducated Christian friend don’t really understand what this Creed is saying, you or they are not damned.  We keep the faith, we hold and believe the faith, however well we understand and grasp its particulars in our minds.  The mystery of the Trinity is one of the greatest mysteries and paradoxes that can be found in the Scriptures, yet this Creed reminds us (and carefully explains) that no true Christian worships three Gods, or blends the Father, Son, and Spirit together into one person, neither do we blend the divinity and humanity of Jesus together into some sort of demigod half-breed.  We hold to the intellectually-difficult yet simple truths that the one God exists in three persons, and that Jesus is both fully God and fully man.

So that, I hope, puts to rest any fears that the anathemas (condemnatory statements) may rile up in the heart of the reader.

If you and your church did not say the Athanasian Creed on Trinity Sunday this year (and let’s face it, very few of us even had the chance to!) consider taking up the tradition of the classical Prayer Books and saying it at Morning Prayer on John the Baptist’s birthday tomorrow!  It’s not technically authorized in our Prayer Book, but to do so would be in accord with the spirit of the rubrics, if not the letter.

Filling in the Blanks: Joshua

I skipped a Friday post for a Saturday post this week because today (June 13th) is the last consecutive reading from the book of Joshua in Morning Prayer.  After today we skip from chapter 10 to chapter 14, and after that jump all the way to chapter 22 to finish the book from there on.  That’s a lot of skipped material, what’s going on?

The book of Joshua contains a lot of writing that is stereotyped and repetitive, as well as lengthy portions that are essentially maps in prose form.  Think of the first half Joshua as a train: it starts moving very slowly (conquering one town at a time, with specific stories at each encounter), then it speeds up bit by bit as it gives an account of the conquest of the Promise Land in larger and larger pieces.  It is obvious that there is a lot of history that isn’t being handed down here; we get a few specific stories in the beginning and the rest of the territory is basically assumed under Israelite control, with very little description of how things went.

Then in the second half of the book you get some very lengthy descriptions of tribal boundaries.  This is incredibly boring reading for most people, wading through geographic references (mountains, rivers, hills, fortifications) that most of us know little about – and many of which are not even identified with certainty by archaeologists anymore.  But most Bibles today have maps in the back… if you look closely at the one(s) with the early tribal borders then you’re basically looking at a best-guess depiction of what the second half of Joshua is trying to describe.

So yes, all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for instruction, edification, and so forth, but some parts are going to be more useful than other parts.  For the Old Covenant Jew, this was extremely important, outlining when their tribes and families were to inhabit and dwell.  To the Christian, this is almost completely relegated to historical interest.  There are Gospel overtones, of course: the intricate detail God goes into as he “makes a place” for his people in Palestine is a reminder of the intricate detail he goes into now as Jesus “makes a place for us” in the heavenly Jerusalem.

And so, most daily lectionaries omit almost half of the book of Joshua; it’s a lot of reading for very little unique benefit.  But if you do want to take the time to read through the omitted chapters, consider using this Customary’s Midday Prayer Lectionary, which picks up with chapter 11 today and continues through the ten omitted chapters one day at a time.