The quietly profound pro-life rite

One of the trademark causes of orthodox Anglicanism in North America today is the commitment to the pro-life cause. Romans and Reformed, Protestants and Pentecostals, Brethren and Baptists, all conservative Christians are concerned about the evils of murder that urge on the abortion industry. Often we are accused of being hypocrites, only really being “pro-birth” and leaving the children of the poor to their fate. Occasionally that is true, especially when you look at the many politicians who only use causes such as the pro-life cause primarily to prop up their re-election campaigns among conservatives… being pro-life in name only is indeed a sham.

But, of course, the Church as a whole is indeed consistently pro-life, however imperfectly aberrant individuals may demonstrate that. One of the particular expressions of this truth in our Prayer Book (which I think is often over-looked) is the Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child. In classical Prayer Books it was often referred to as “The Churching of Women” and it focused more on welcoming the mother back to church after being away for the latter weeks of her pregnancy and giving thanks for her survival. Modern edits to the rite have expanded it to be a bit more flexible to the varied family situations we’re likely to see on the ground today: adoptions, single parents, difficult circumstances.

This rite reminds us that children are gifts from God – all life is sacred.  The Church proclaims and celebrates this truth even amidst the devastating difficulties that can accompany pregnancy and birth. You can read the 2019 Prayer Book’s form of it here, and this Customary’s walk-through of how to implement it here: https://saint-aelfric-customary.org/customary-thanksgiving-for-a-child/

Considering the Wedding and its Due Preparation

After the theological drift in the past two American Prayer Books, the service of Holy Matrimony in the 2019 Prayer Book is a breath of fresh air, its content rooted in the traditional material of the classical Anglican tradition. The format of the service is very much in the modern style, but language and doctrine it contains are long-awaited returns to historic orthodoxy.

The opening text on BCP 198-199 outline the doctrine of marriage and call for “great care” in the preparation of all candidates for Holy Matrimony. The word “candidate” should be taken seriously: just as in Confirmation and Ordination, those preparing for marriage are merely candidates, and the minister is well within his rights to deny officiating the wedding if the couple is not prepared or ineligible for marriage. The Banns of Marriage are one line of discernment, wherein the congregation is to be given at least three opportunities to offer any “cause, or just impediment” that the wedding should not go through. Furthermore, the minister is expected (and in many dioceses required) to have the couple sign the Declaration of Intention on BCP 200. This, and its accompanying liturgy on BCP 213, is essentially a formalized betrothal ceremony, and serves as the primary “gateway” to the path to marriage. If the couple is unable to sign the Declaration in good conscience they need further instruction and catechesis concerning Christian marriage before they can receive the Church’s blessing. The minister should take this role with grave solemnity, as many believers have slipped through the cracks in recent decades, entering into marriage with (at best) anemic views of biblical marriage.

What follows is but one way of approaching pre-marital counseling, which the minister can adapt to the strengths and weaknesses of the couple in question.

“Marriage is two people made one flesh in community bearing fruit for life before God.”

1. “Marriage Is”

  • Examine the Declaration of Intent study its four-fold purpose of marriage
  • Examine Holy Matrimony as an image of Christ & Church
  • Gateway: Sign the Declaration of Intention

2. “Two People”

  • Profile the personalities of the man and the woman with appropriate social and religious tools and measures
  • Consider their schedules, lifestyles, interests, personal spaces
  • Gateway: Make plans for Confirmation if not yet done

3. “Made One Flesh”

  • Consider the unity of the couple, especially their disciplines (spiritual and otherwise)
  • Examine their conflict resolution past and present, and where peace is found
  • Gateway: Have them paraphrase the Wedding Vows for their own understanding

4. “In Community”

  • Consider the community, especially the future in-laws, for this couple, and their relationships
  • Explore their baggage, expectations, history, and wishes about family and friends
  • Gateway: Offer Healing Prayer

5. “Bearing Fruit”

  • Explore the subjects of agape love that sacrifices & spreads, especially with regards to sexuality, family planning, and child-rearing
  • Examine their sexual desires, history, expectations, and ethics
  • Gateway: Offer private Confession & Absolution

6. “For Life”

  • Consider ordinary household plans like finances, spending & saving habits, occupations
  • Explore the subjects of homemaking and domestic duties and expectations
  • Gateway: Have them prepare a budget and list major milestones as a couple for their first year

7. “Before God”

  • Explore spiritual habits shared by the couple and pastoral accountability for the future
  • Consider the religious life of their family-to-be
  • Gateway: Plan the wedding ceremony’s liturgy together

Living on a prayer half-way through the day

Invitatory

Following the tradition of the monastic offices, Midday Prayer begins with a shortened version of the same dialogue used in Morning and Evening Prayer. So Midday Prayer still is what is traditionally termed a “minor office.” It was a brief devotion primarily observed in the monastaries, intentionally short and largely invariable. This is expressed in the Prayer Book today by its similarity to Morning and Evening Prayer, but shortening all its components. The opening dialogue between the officiant and the people is abbreviated from the regular Daily Office.

The rubrics allow for a “suitable hymn”, also a nod to monastic practice in which every Office (including the Minor Offices of Terce, Sext, and None) has its own hymn for the hour. This option also imitates the role of the Invitatory Psalm or the Phos Hilaron.

Psalmody

The Rule of Saint Benedict set a pattern of psalms on a weekly basis, alloting Psalms 119 through 128 to Terce (9am), Sext (12pm), and None (3pm). Four selections from this range are provided in the main text of Midday Prayer, and the rest are recommended in the Additional Directions. Each of the main four provide a different tone or mood that can be pertinent at midday.

Psalm 119:105-112

This is perhaps the most famous piece of Psalm 119 among Protestants, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet” being a popular memory verse and also put to song. The meditation upon the word of God in this Psalm gives the worshiper an opportunity for daily celebration of God’s spiritual provision.

Psalm 121

This Psalm of trust is a word of comfort. In the middle of the day, when one might feel particularly distant from the grounding morning and evening times of worship, it can be a helpful devotion to lift up one’s eyes to acknowledge the Lord, our help and keeper and defense.

Psalm 124

This is a Psalm of victory, celebrating the triumph of the Lord over the raging waters of our three-fold enemy: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Encouragement for us and praise for God, in whom is our help, can be a timely pick-me-up at midday.

Psalm 126

This is a petitionary Psalm, looking at the subject of peseverance. “The Lord has done great things for them”, the worshiper notes, looking back in history, and on that basis looks ahead with hope: “Overturn our captivity, O Lord.” In a difficult day it can be helpful to be reminded in prayer that one is half-way through.

Or, as Jon Bon Jovi wisely put it, “Oh, we’re half-way there. Woah, livin’ on a prayer!”

The Extra Directions for the Daily Office

Those who used the 1979 Prayer Book might know or recall that there were a couple of pages of “Additional Directions” for the Daily Offices. Perhaps the traditionalists scoffed at this – the increase in complexity and variation both distances the liturgy from the average person in the pews and distances parish from parish, as customs could diverge more and more.

So it is, perhaps, a relief to see that the 2019 Prayer Book only has a short list of Additional Directions. And most of them are rubrics that the 1928 Book had in-line with the liturgy itself; we simply have them moved to the end of the service to reduce clutter.

Nevertheless, some may question why additional directions are necessary for what should be a simple liturgy. Let’s check them out briefly.

The Confession and Apostles’ Creed may be omitted,
provided each is said at least once during the course of the day.

The 1928 Prayer Book afforded flexibility to the saying of the Creed in Morning Prayer, allowing its omission when the Eucharist was to follow. The 1979 Prayer Book’s Additional Directions standardized the Creed’s omission under those circumstances, and also permitted the dropping of the Confession and Absolution of Sin. It is worth noting that neither the Confession nor the Apostles’ Creed were used in the Daily Office until 1559.

So this isn’t a license for laziness, but an accommodation for pre-existing tradition. After all, if you only read through the liturgy, you’ll never even know that this is an option!

The Gloria Patri (Glory be…) in the opening versicles may be said in unison.
The following form of the Gloria Patri may alternatively be used:
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Due to widespread popularity, the 1979 translation of the Gloria Patri is permitted. Would it be better if everyone just used the common text? Yes. This rubric allows congregations that are used to the 1979 version to continue on for a while without having to be bludgeoned with the new text. It also gives a break to the singers who have Psalm and Canticle settings from the past 40 years that they still want to use. But, again, this is an additional direction; the default text is what most people will see, and it will eventually win the day.

The Officiant and People may join in saying “Alleluia” (except in Lent) as an alternative to the versicles “Praise the Lord. The Lord’s Name be praised.”

The saying of “Alleluia” at the end of the Invitatory dialogue was appointed in the 1549 Prayer Book from Easter until Trinity Sunday.

If an offering is to be received, it is appropriate to do so during the hymn or anthem following the Collects.

When weekly Communion was not yet normal, it was common practice in many parishes for the offering to follow the hymn or anthem, after the Collects.

A sermon may be preached after the lessons, after the hymn or anthem following the Collects, or after the conclusion of the Office.

The sermon, when added to the Daily Office, would traditionally be preached after the anthem and the offertory. This rubric also authorizes “after the lessons” to parallel the position of the sermon in the Communion service, and after the conclusion of the Office to allow for the integrity of the Office as it stands and freeing the preaching to follow on its own terms.

Singing through Hallowtide

Hallowtide is one of the nicknames for the period of time around All Saints’ Day – perhaps most especially from All Hallow’s Eve (October 31st) through the Octave of All Saints’ Day. Indeed, we do kind of need a name for the phenomenon of how modern Prayer Books direct that we should observe All Saints’ Day on the first Sunday in November. Last year we looked at that in a brief write-up here, so this year we’re taking a more devotional tack.

There are two groups of hymns to consider when looking at how to sing our way through Hallowtide: hymns about the Church Triumphant and hymns about the Church Expectant (or At Rest). You may be familiar with the Roman pair of All Saints’ Day and All Souls Day on November 1st and 2nd, honoring the Saints in heaven on the former and praying for the souls in purgatory in the latter. Obviously, the Anglican tradition does not teach the Roman doctrine of purgatory, so we have no need of All Souls Day. But many Anglicans today do observe a Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, looking at the mournful side of death (the other side of the coin in All Saints’ Day where we celebrate victory amidst death). So as we sing through Hallowtide we should consider both of these angles along the way.

Here are the hymns appointed in this Customary’s “daily hymnody” plan, remembering that the hymn numbers refer to Book of Common Praise 2017 or Magnify the Lord:

There are, of course, plenty of other appropriate hymns out there that you could draw in. These are just the ones that I selected from one hymnal for this particular week; there are others are scattered throughout the year on particular saints’ days.

After Hallowtide, you may also wish to consider some national hymns on November 8th through 11th, building towards Remembrance Day (Intl.) / Veteran’s Day (USA).

Customary Update: Communion options!

The Saint Aelfric Customary’s directions through the 2019 Prayer Book’s Communion liturgy is complete now. You can read it in full here.

One note of particular interest are recommendations for Communion Hymns based on the liturgical season, drawing from the lovely collection of thirty-seven (!!!) such hymns in the excellent REC hymnal. There is, of course, a lot of argumentation to be found among Christians concerning music, its accessibility, appropriate styles, and theological and biblical content. The subject of Holy Communion (or any sacrament, really) tends to suffer the most neglect in contemporary music, and sacramentology also tends to be something of a partisan battleground among Anglicans already, so making use of a set of lyrics that describe the Lord’s Supper can indeed be quite valuable for our congregations today.

Another feature that may appear somewhat strange here is the implementation of a little rubric in the 2019 Prayer Book’s liturgy authorizing “a sentence of Scripture at the conclusion of the Communion“, immediately before the Post-Common Prayer. Before the Reformation, each Mass had an appointed Communion Sentence. The 1549 Prayer Book reduced this complexity to a simple list of Sentences for the celebrant to choose from, and exploring that list is particularly interesting as it highlights the Reformation doctrine of faith much more prominently than the exaggerated sacramentalism of late medieval piety. Most subsequent Prayer Books have omitted this little piece of the liturgy, but now that it’s authorized again this Customary has seized the opportunity to restore the 1549 list, with a few additions from prior tradition. Check them out!

Two Morning Collects: for the Renewal of Life & for Guidance

After the Collect of the Day in Morning Prayer the 2019 Prayer Book gives us a list of seven prayers, each recommended for the seven days of the week. Here are two more of them.

A COLLECT FOR THE RENEWAL OF LIFE

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night
and turns the shadow of death into the morning:
Drive far from us all wrong desires,
incline our hearts to keep your law,
and guide our feet into the way of peace;
that, having done your will with cheerfulness during the day,
we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This collect was written by Bishop William Reed Huntington and proposed for the 1892 Prayer Book, but was not adopted until 1928, where it serves as one of the additional collects for Family Prayer on page 594. In 1979 it moved to its current position in the Morning Prayer Office. It references several Old and New Testament verses, perhaps most obviously the Benedictus (Luke 1:79).

If there a single prayer that summarizes a “theology of Mornings” it is this collect. The primary liturgical use of night and day is as a picture of death and resurrection, and this prayer explores several variations on that theme. It’s almost a list, carrying at least five verses of Scripture in mind and alluding to others also. Ultimately, in this prayer we acknowledge the works and victories of God, and look ahead to our own participation in that (by giving thanks) at the end of the day.

A COLLECT FOR GUIDANCE

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being:
We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit,
that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you,
but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The exact age of this collet is difficult to identify. This version is identical in content and position to that of the 1979 Prayer Book, which in turn was adopted from the Canadian 1922 Prayer Book where it was among the Family Prayer devotions. It was drawn from the 1913 book A Chain of Prayer Across the Ages, which has since gone through subsequent revisions, and is labeled as ancient.

This prayer is particularly appropriate for the morning as it implies a day ahead in which we need to remember God amidst all the busy distractions. Indeed, part of the purpose of the Daily Office (and other hours-based offices like Midday and Compline) is to help us remember God throughout the day. Drawing primarily from Acts 17:28, in which St. Paul quotes from known Greek philosophers to affirm the truth that all of reality is grounded upon the existence and will of God, this collect contrasts the doctrine of God with the sort of experience found in the story of Mary and Martha of Bethany in Luke 10, such that we pray for continual awareness of that reality: may the ever-present Spirit guide and govern us in such a way that we don’t succumb to the world’s distractions and end up living as practical atheists.

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.”