Before the Vigil

These days, Easter Vigils are super cool and popular.  A lot of churches that hold them end up drawing visitors from other Christian denominations who don’t practice this piece of liturgical tradition.  And hey, who can blame anyone, nowhere else can one find such a broad sweep of Scripture readings proclaiming so much of the Gospel history in the Bible in just one worship service.  Add in the fire and the candles and the dark-and-light drama and the baptisms and the sudden burst of joyful Alleluias, and you’ve got a memorable liturgical experience almost without trying.

I think it’s safe to say that the great majority of Anglicans in this country are happy to have the Easter Vigil authorized and (to some extent) directed in modern Prayer Books.

HOWEVER, this wonderful recuperation of pre-reformation tradition has come with a price: Holy Saturday.  Known as “Easter Even” in the classical prayer books, this was – and technically still is – the official liturgy of Holy Saturday.  In anticipation of the Great Vigil of Easter, many people forget about Holy Saturday, to the point where more and more churches are labeling The Triduum as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.  This is incorrect!  The Triduum, as we saw in fair detail a couple days ago here, ends with the Holy Saturday liturgy.  The Vigil is not part of the Triduum.  It’s not even part of Holy Week or Lent, it’s the beginning of Easter.

If you’re excited about attending an Easter Vigil tonight, please do what you can to attend, or pray on your own, the Holy Saturday liturgy first.  You can do it in like five minutes.  Actually, here, I’ll copy the liturgy right here so you can pray it right now!

H O L Y  S A T U R D A Y

There is no celebration of the Eucharist on this day.

The Officiant says: Let us pray.

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

or this

O God of the living, on this day your Son our Savior descended to the place of the dead: Look with kindness on all of us who wait in hope for liberation from the corruption of sin and death, and give us a share in the glory of the children of God; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

T H E  L E S S O N S

JOB 14:1-14
PSALM 130
1 PETER 4:1-8
MATTHEW 27:57-66

After the Gospel, a homily may follow.

My homily is this: Note that the traditional Collect & Lessons are slightly different from the modern.  The main emphasis difference between traditional and modern Holy Saturday is the baptismal material, which we now have emphasized in the Easter Vigil instead.

The following is then sung or said.

T H E  A N T H E M

Man born of woman has but a short time to live, and is full of misery.
He springs up, and is cut down like a flower; he flees like a shadow,
and never continues the same.

In the midst of life we are in death: of whom do we seek strength, but you, O Lord,
who for our sins are justly displeased?

Yet, O Lord God most holy,
O Lord most mighty,
O holy and most merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the pains of eternal death.

You know, O Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not your ears to our prayer;
but spare us, Lord most holy,
O God most mighty,
O holy and merciful Savior,
most worthy Judge eternal,
do not let us, in this our final hour,
through the pain of death, fall away from you.

The Officiant and People together pray the Lord’s Prayer. The concluding doxology is customarily omitted.

The Officiant concludes: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore.  Amen.

 

The Lamentations in Holy Week

A couple months ago we looked at the book of Lamentations in the daily office lectionary.  There, we noted how the book functions as a sort of appendix to the book of Jeremiah, giving expression to the deep sorrow of the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians.  The book is a series of five Hebrew poems, alphabetic acrostics of varying length and elaborateness, each bewailing the destruction of Jerusalem from a different point of view, be it the third-person perspective of an observer, personifying the city itself, and others.  Each chapter is its own poem.  Apart from the Hebrew acrostics, other elements show up from time to time: there are call-and-response elements pop up, as if some of these poems were used for a liturgical community lament around the wrecked Temple.  The varying of perspective, too, enables one to embody the experience of the city itself, or the Temple itself, looking at the destruction and devastation from several angles.

We also noted that one of the simplest appropriations of this book in a Christ-centered manner is to connect the Old Testament Temple building to the New Testament Temple of Christ’s Body, which was destroyed on that first Good Friday and “rebuilt in three days” as Jesus promised (John 2:21).  Now that Holy Week is here, it’s time to return to that christological reading of Lamentations.

Popular evangelical piety today has very little room for lament, much less lament over the death of Christ.  Although one of the central tenets of Evangelicalism is crucicentrism – being “cross-centered” – there is comparatively less attention to the actual death of Christ than in the older liturgical tradition.  Evangelicals will readily accept the importance of his death, but “liturgically” apply it in a different way.  You can see this most clearly in the popular hymnody and contemporary praise songs of modern evangelicalism, where the death of Christ is inextricably linked to his resurrection, and celebrated as a set of events for which we give thanks.  What love Christ showed us upon the Cross!

This is not untrue, of course, but it is only one approach to Christ’s death.  The wisdom of the liturgical tradition is the ability to consider these Gospel events from multiple perspectives.  Palm Sunday highlights our complicity in the death of Christ by juxtaposing the Triumphal Entry and the Crucifixion in one worship service.  Maundy Thursday (and to some extent, Good Friday also) highlights the high priestly work of Jesus on the Cross.  Elements of the Good Friday service in modern Prayer Books (and pre-reformation tradition), namely the Veneration of the Cross, take a more visceral approach to the death of Christ, considering the means by which Jesus was killed and thus wrought our redemption.  The Lamentations, finally, which our Daily Lectionary appoints on Thursday and Friday (and this Customary recommends for Midday Prayer beforehand, too) contribute to the angle of mourning.

Christ has died.  This was unjust!  As the city of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon not only symbolized but actualized the presence of God among his people, so too did the physical body of Christ actualize the presence of God in this world.  The destruction of the first Temple building was both a cultural trauma and a spiritual loss… so much more is the destruction of the Temple of Christ’s Body!  Unlike Jerusalem, Jesus was not guilty of mass apostasy, so the analogy is not perfect; but if you consider the idealized Jerusalem and the divine purpose of the Temple of Solomon, then its destruction is worthily lamentable, just as it is right and proper to weep over the death of Jesus.

It may be the question of some evangelicals unfamiliar with our tradition, at this point, why one should lament the death of Jesus anymore, since the resurrection has already occurred.  First, it’s just like Christmas or Easter – Jesus isn’t a baby anymore, and Jesus isn’t walking around Earth anymore, yet we still celebrate his birth and his resurrection.  It would be inconsistent and imbalanced not to observe his death as well.  Second, for those who go so far as to question all such commemorative holidays, there is the simple biblical example of identificational ritual worship.  Specific rites and rituals aside, one of the clearest lessons we see in the Bible about how to worship God is the use of identificational rituals – the communal re-living of past events that shape and form our identity.  For the Jews under the Old Covenant that was the Passover, the Giving of the Law, and a number of other events that shaped their history and came to be commemorated.  For us that means the Gospel events around the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, as well as the Pentecostal descent of the Holy Spirit.  These cornerstones of historical events shape who and what the Church is.  To “pick favorites” among them at the neglect of others is to create an imbalanced sense of identity.

And so, if just for parts of one week in the year, we weep with the daughters of Jerusalem, with the Virgin Mary and her friends, over the cruel and unjust death of Jesus of Nazareth, our Lord and our God.  And the book of Lamentations helps us do that.

Favorite Psalm? Favorite Day of the month!

One of my favorite Psalms is number 24.  I’m not even sure I can quite put my finger on why that is, exactly.  I appreciate the entirety of creation being identified as God’s dominion in the first two verses.  I like the Q&A in verses 3 & 4 – “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?”  “He who has clean hands and a pure heart” – and the blessing and affirmation of verses 5 & 6.  I like the immediate repetition of verses 7 & 8 in verses 9 & 10.

It also sounds really awesome in Anglo-Saxon.  It begins Drihtnes is sio eoroþe & gefelledness hire * ymbwyrft eorðena & ælle þa ðe eærdiæþ on hieræ.Verse 7 reads: Geopeniæþ gæto eowre eældormonne & upæhebbæþ þæ ecelecæn gæto * & ingeþ se wuldorfestæ kyning.  It strikes me as one of the epic entries in the Psalter, and as a result it makes me look forward to the 5th day of the month when it normally pops up in the Daily Office.

In his book The Christian Priest Today, former Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey spends an entire (brief) chapter commenting on Psalm 37 (“Fret not yourself because of the evildoer) and that he often looked forward to the evening of the seventh day of the month because of that!  If you pray the Daily Office regularly, then you, too, can start having “favorite days of the month” as you latch on to your favorite Psalm(s).

Anyway, I hope you enjoy Psalm 24 with me today:

1 The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, *
the compass of the world and those who dwell therein.
2 For he has founded it upon the seas *
and established it upon the rivers of the deep.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? * Or who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, *
and who has not set his mind upon vanity, nor sworn to deceive his neighbor.
5 He shall receive blessing from the Lord *
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
6 This is the generation of those who seek him, *
even of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
7 Lift up your heads, O you gates, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
8 “Who is the King of glory?” *
“It is the Lord strong and mighty, even the Lord, mighty in battle.”
9 Lift up your heads, O you gates, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
10 “Who is the King of glory?” *
“The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.”

Commemorating Saints during Lent

Looking at the calendar of optional commemorations, there are four in a row this week: F. D. Maurice yesterday, Henry Budd today, James Lloyd Breck tomorrow, and Martin Luther King Jr. on Thursday.  Next week has four such commemorations also.  But should we observe these commemoration days?

The first answer is: it’s up to you / your rector.  These are all optional, and the Prayer Book does not mandate how one must handle a weekday Communion service apart from the Red Letter Days.

But if you want to take longstanding tradition and practice into account, things get a bit pickier.  As a penitential season, Lent is best served by maintaining the tenor of penitence at the public worship services.  If four out of seven days in a week is a celebration of a Saint, then there isn’t really much time left for actually observing Lent.  There are also sets of Collects and Lessons for each weekday in Lent that you can find in Lesser Feasts and Fasts and the Anglican Missal and in the Roman liturgy.  I haven’t studied these sources against one another but I suspect they all represent a very similar tradition.  The idea, simply, is that the Church provides for a Lent-focused Communion service every day in Lent, leaving potentially no room for Saints’ days.

Of course, the “Red-Letter Days” take precedence over these; we celebrated the Annunciation last Monday for example.  But among the optional commemorations, there is room for further consideration.  Roman practice has a complex system of liturgical hierarchies: different sorts of holy days take different levels of precedence.  And although post-Vatican-II reforms have simplified their system somewhat, it’s still more developed than most Anglican sources are on the matter.  When it comes down to it, the Romans expect daily mass in their churches and we don’t, so it’s a matter of priority and emphasis.

So if you’re looking for what to do at a weekday Communion service in your church, or for your own devotions at home, you would do well to consider which of the optional commemorations you would “elevate” to observe during Lent, and which you would leave be in order to keep the Lenten disciplines the priority throughout the week.

Ultimately what this is doing is to create a middle class of holy days – what I would prefer to call Minor Feast Days – to stand between the official Major Feast Days and the Commemorations.  How you decide which saints to so elevate is a big question, and one that is better served on its own.  For now, at least, let us remember that Lent is a time of penitence, and it would not serve us well to get carried away with celebrating every commemoration that comes our way.

Don’t forget the Great Litany!

It’s a Friday in Lent.  If you haven’t already, you probably should go back and pray the Great Litany today.  Lent is, after all, a season of heightened spiritual discipline, especially in the areas of fasting, alms-giving, and prayer, as we were reminded on Ash Wednesday, and praying the Litany is probably one of the basic-but-important ways we can fulfill the latter discipline.

Besides, in historic prayer books, the Litany was appointed to be said at the end of Morning Prayer on every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday, regardless of the liturgical season.  So the least we can do is pick it up during Lent if we normally neglect it.

An interesting feature of the Great Litany’s structure, which perhaps originated in the 1979 book, is the separating of its ending (the “Supplication”) into an optional section.  Classical Prayer Books were much simpler, the Litany was one distinct string of prayers to be used wholesale.  The modern distinction of the Supplication in its final section is handy if you want to shorten the Litany a little bit, or evade its particularly “grim” tone toward the end.  It also means that we can draw upon the Supplication portion by itself as an extra devotion “in times of trouble or distress” as the rubrics suggest.

But for Fridays in Lent, we probably should just pray the whole thing and not cut any corners.

Glorious Lent: a hymn for the season

“You’re fasting during Lent?!  What are you, a closet Catholic?”  Alas, these all-too-common accusations are born of great ignorance of Christian history (including Anglicans and Protestants), not to mention ignorance of the Scriptures.  This penitential season is a time, among other things, of fasting.  It simply is a part of the season; to omit fasting is to ignore everything that the Church announces, in her liturgy, on Ash Wednesday.

And this fasting is glorious!

Consider this 6th century hymn that has adorned Anglican hymnals for a while:

The glory of these forty days
We celebrate with songs of praise;
For Christ, by whom all things were made,
Himself has fasted and has prayed.

Alone and fasting, Moses saw
The loving God who gave the law;
And to Elijah, fasting, came
The steeds and chariots of flame.

So Daniel trained his mystic sight,
Delivered from the lions’ might;
And John, the Bridegroom’s friend, became
The herald of Messiah’s name.

Then grant us, Lord, like them, to be
Full oft in fast and pray’r with thee;
Our spirits strengthen with thy grace,
And give us joy to see thy face.

O Father, Son, and Spirit, blest,
To thee be ev’ry pray’r addressed,
Who art in threefold name adored,
From age to age, the only Lord.  Amen.

What a glorious thing it is to observe a holy Lent!  Fasting so often comes with negative baggage; disciplines of self-denial are so easily looked down upon with disdain today.  Yet songs like this capture the glorious end of self-denial such as fasting: strengthening in God’s grace, similitude with great saints of old like Moses, Elijah, Daniel, and John the Baptizer, not to mention our Lord Jesus himself.  It is a curious thing for a Christian to imagine that he or she could aspire to holiness without utilizing even the most basic of tools championed by the great cloud of witnesses that have come before us.

Let hymns like this encourage you and build you up, this Lenten season.  Yes we have great sins to bewail and repent of, but we also have much to celebrate in the healing- and strengthening-power of God!

Reading Proverbs

For most of this month, so far, our Daily Office Lectionary has been leading us through the book of Proverbs in Evening Prayer.  It’s a different style of writing than most of the rest of the Bible, but it’s not all that difficult to read.

Or at least it wasn’t for the first 9 chapters.  Over the weekend we reached chapter 10, and something in the style has changed – you may find it suddenly more of a slog to get through.  The ideas are jumping around, the analogies and pictures aren’t consistent anymore, it’s as if the nice writing style suddenly collapsed and we’re stuck with a high school student’s bad attempt at plagiarism.  What happened?

Chapters 1-9 of the book of Proverbs are a series of speeches or coherent discourses – usually a paragraph or two long – extolling the virtues of wisdom.  “Listen to your father” (that is, your teacher), the writer opines, “Wisdom calls to you from the streets; receive her invitation“.  It may not be everyone’s favorite or familiar writing style, but at least the sentences connected to each other.

Starting in chapter 10, most of the rest of the book is comprised of individual proverbs, or sayings.  Occasionally you’ll find a bunch grouped together with a discernible logic, but much of the time they seem random.  The good news is also the bad news: they are random.

Okay, that’s not 100% true.  Writings like these are preserved oral teachings.  A teacher would recount strings of proverbs to his students, who would memorize them in turn.  The book of Proverbs makes this abundantly clear when you read it in Hebrew: from one proverb to the next, there is usually a word in common, or a case of rhyme or assonance, or a thematic link, or some other mneumonic device to help you remember what comes next.  Translated into Greek or Latin or English or any other language, most of those subtle memory-helpers are simply lost; all we can see is perhaps the occasional repeated word or repetition of a theme or metaphor.  The intricate word-play is usually lost in translation.

Now, unless you have a personal goal of memorizing the Proverbs, that isn’t a big deal – you don’t need those memory markers if you’re not planning on memorizing them anyway.  After all, this is the age of print and of digital data; you can read these almost anywhere you go.  However, the fact that these proverbs are presented in virtually random order can make them difficult to read.  How can you process and internalize one idea when the very next verse hits you with a completely different idea?

The book of Proverbs, therefore, is one of the few parts of the Bible that is not really served very well by a daily lectionary.  Most of the proverbs in and after chapter 10 are literally stand-alone verses, and are thus best read and considered individually.  The chapter-a-day approach of a daily lectionary like ours is like a fire-hose of proverbs!  So if you want to study and/or meditate on the proverbs, you’ll need to do so outside of the liturgy.  Perhaps you can grab a verse or two from the evening’s reading and revisit them after Evening Prayer concludes (or even during Evening Prayer in an appropriate period of silence).  Perhaps you can devise your own reading plan through this book that works more slowly, and thus spend time with smaller batches of proverbs apart from the Daily Office.

In the meantime, enjoy the fire-hose of divine wisdom!

Consecrating a Bishop

Perhaps the least-often-used portion of any Prayer Book is the liturgy called “The Form and Manner of Ordaining and Consecrating a Bishop“.  Granted, the original Prayer Books actually did not include the Ordinal (saving those liturgies for a separate volume), and perhaps the nomenclature has varied a little over the centuries, but it remains consistently true that the least-often-observed liturgy is that for the consecration of a new bishop.

The Lenten Ember Days are upon us (today, Friday, and Saturday), which are a set of days, quarterly throughout the year, set aside for fasting and prayer for those preparing for ordination.  And because we in my diocese (the Anglican Diocese in New England) are on the cusp of consecrating our second diocesan bishop, this seemed like a good opportunity to look at the liturgy for such an occasion.

The liturgy begins, as for other ordinations and for Confirmation, and even as an option for Holy Matrimony, with a presentation of the candidate: the Bishop-Elect is announced and he is asked to re-state his commitment to the Scriptures and the Church.  The Archbishop (or other Bishop serving as the Chief Consecrator) then makes this statement:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, it is written in the Gospel of Saint Luke that our Savior Christ continued the whole night in prayer, before he chose and sent forth his twelve Apostles. It is written also in the Acts of the Apostles, that the disciples at Antioch fasted and prayed before they sent forth Paul and Barnabas by laying their hands upon them. Let us, therefore, following the example of our Savior and his Apostles, offer up our prayers to Almighty God, before we admit and send forth this person presented to us, to do the work to which we trust the Holy Spirit has called him.

What follows is the Litany for Ordinations, common to the Ordination liturgies for Deacons, Priests, and Bishops, but it should be noted that the repeated Scriptural references to fasting and praying are things that the people should have been undertaking before this point.  If you’re in the New England diocese, you’ve got only a couple days left to meet this biblical expectation before the consecration service is upon us.  If you’re resident elsewhere, you’re certainly welcome to fast and pray for us and with us, also!

The Propers (Collect and Lessons) follow the Litany:

Almighty God, who by your Son Jesus Christ gave many excellent gifts
to your holy Apostles, and charged them to feed your flock;
give your grace to all Bishops, the Pastors of your Church,
that they may diligently preach your Word, duly administer your Sacraments,
and wisely provide godly Discipline;
and grant to your people that they may obediently follow them,
so that all may receive the crown of everlasting glory,
through the merits of our Savior, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

Isaiah 61:1-11; Psalm 100;
1 Timothy 3:1-7 or Acts 20:17-35
John 21:15-19 or John 20:19-23 or Matthew 28:18-20

A Major Feast Day or Sunday may override those lessons, but in our case in New England, with a Saturday ordination scheduled, no such exception applies.

After these readings, the homily, and the Creed, follows the Exhortation and Examination.  Where the Deacon and Priest get a somewhat-lengthy exhortation first, which outlines the definition and duty of those Orders, the Bishop-Elect is brought almost immediately to the Examination.  Curiously the Examination for the new bishop is almost but not quite the same as the Examination for a new priest.  In brief the questions are about:

  1. The supremacy of the Scriptures for doctrine and teaching
  2. The study of the Scriptures in order to teach and correct
  3. The diligent removal of false doctrines
  4. The renunciation of ungodly desires and commitment to being an example of life
  5. The maintenance of peace among all people
  6. The faithful preparation and conferral of Holy Orders upon others
  7. The merciful posture towards the poor and needy

For contrast, the Priest’s vows are

  1. basically the same as #1 above
  2. minister the doctrine, sacraments and discipline of the Church
  3. mostly the same as #3 above
  4. diligence in prayer and study of the Scriptures, like #2 above
  5. personal and family life as examples, like #4 above
  6. mostly same as #5 above
  7. obedience to the bishop and other ministers as appointed

So a progression of duty can be discerned by this comparison.  The authority of the Scriptures, and the teaching thereof, is the utmost priority of the ordained minister.  That is then applied to the correction of false teachers and the living of a godly life to be an example to others and an agent of peace.  The final vow(s) are the most specific to the particular Order.  In general, the Bishop-Elect is subjected to greater scrutiny and stricter vows than the Priest, and it should be remembered that the Bishop has already undertaken the Priestly and Diaconal vows.

Just like in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, and most (if not all) of the other sacramental rites, the heart of the Ordination liturgy is summarized in a central prayer and declaration (or speech-act).  The Archbishop prays:

Almighty God, and most merciful Father, of your infinite goodness you have given your only Son Jesus Christ to be our Redeemer, and to be the author of everlasting life. After he had made perfect our redemption by his death and resurrection, and was ascended into heaven, he poured down his gifts abundantly upon his people, making some Apostles, some Prophets, some Evangelists, some Pastors and Teachers, for edifying and perfecting his Church. Grant to this your servant such grace, that he may be ever ready to propagate your Gospel, the good news of our reconciliation with you; and use the authority given to him, not for destruction, but for salvation; not for hurt, but for help; so that, as a wise and faithful steward, he will give to your family their portion in due season, and so may at last be received into everlasting joy.

This, more than anywhere else in the liturgy up to this point, summarizes the Order of Bishop: he is to be a minister of the propagation of the Gospel, and receives authority that is meant to help people attain to salvation.  The words of consecration are what some call a speech-act, a pronouncement or declaration in God’s name:

Receive the Holy Spirit for the Office and Work of a Bishop in the Church of God, now committed to you by the Imposition of our Hands; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

which is then followed by a further prayer:

Most merciful Father, send down upon this your servant your heavenly blessing; so endue him with your Holy Spirit, that he, in preaching your holy Word, may not only be earnest to reprove, beseech, and rebuke, with all patience and Doctrine; but may he also, to such as believe, present a wholesome example in word, in conversation, in love, in faith, in chastity, and in purity; that, faithfully fulfilling his course, at the Last Day he may receive the crown of righteousness, laid up by the Lord Jesus, our righteous Judge, who lives and reigns with you and the same Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.

The new Bishop is then handed a copy of the Bible, accompanied by further words of exhortation for his new ministry.  Traditionally (provided for in our liturgy, though not required) he also receives a crosier (pastoral staff) symbolizing the shepherding role, anointing with holy oil on his forehead symbolizing the grace of God upon him as a Spirit-endued leader, a pectoral cross symbolizing the authority whom he will continue to serve, an episcopal ring symbolizing his marriage to Christ, and a miter symbolizing the authority he bears and whence it comes.

The celebration of Holy Communion follows, and that’s that!

St. Gregory the Great

Today is the commemoration of Saint Gregory the Great, who was the Bishop of Rome from 590 to 604.
To musicians he is remembered as the author (or perhaps just compiler) of a great deal of plainchant that came to bear his name: Gregorian Chant.
To Anglicans he is remembered as the one who sent St. Augustine and his team to England, where, based in Canterbury, the Anglo-Saxons were re-evangelized and the Church there reinvigorated.
To Roman Catholics he is remembered as one of the 36 ‘Doctors of the Church’.
To the Eastern Orthodox he is remembered as the author of the Dialogues, chronicling the lives and miracles of various early Saints, especially including Saint Benedict.
To many Bishops he is remembered as the author of the Liber regulae pastoralis – for centuries the definitive book on how a Bishop is to order his life.
To the Reformer John Calvin he is remembered as “the last good Pope.”

If we to commemorate him in a Communion service today, there are two main options for Collects and Lessons.

Of a Teacher of the Faith

Almighty God, you gave your servant Gregory the Great special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth revealed in Christ Jesus: Grant that by this teaching we may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Proverbs 3:13-26; Psalm 119:89-106; 1 John 1:1-10; Matthew 13:47-52

Of a Pastor

O God, our heavenly Father, you raised up your faithful servant Gregory the Great, to be a bishop and pastor in your Church and to feed your flock: Give abundantly to all pastors the gifts of your Holy Spirit, that they may minister in your household as true servants of Christ and stewards of your divine mysteries; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 71:17-24; 1 Peter 5:1-11 or Acts 20:24-35; Matthew 24:42-50

What one would do is choose either of these sets, and stick with them wholesale; don’t mix and match between them.  Decide how you’re going to commemorate St. Gregory, identify what aspect of his legacy and sainthood you wish to highlight to the congregation, and choose the Propers (Collect & lessons) accordingly.

A further recommendation of this Customary, because this is an optional commemoration and not a Prayer Book “red letter day”, would be to use two readings (plus Psalm) instead of three.  Remember also that you can omit the Nicene Creed, which the rubrics require only for Sundays and Major Feast Days.

And, of course, there’s nothing stopping you from reading and praying an Antecommunion service on your own – that is, going through the Communion liturgy up to the Offertory and ending it there with the Lord’s Prayer!

Perpetua: a Cheerful Lenten Tale

March 7th is the commemoration of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, two martyrs of the Early Church, who died in Carthage in the year 203.  Something that makes their story very special in the memory of the Church is the fact that much of it was written autobiographically by Perpetua herself, making it one of the oldest surviving pieces of writing by a Christian woman.  (That is assuming the document is authentic… manuscript history isn’t always easy to nail down precisely, but the authenticity of this account is not widely disputed today.)

Feel free to take the time today to give it a read!

There’s something very appropriate to starting off the season of Lent with a martyrdom story like this.  We are endeavoring to grow in love and service to our Lord Jesus through this time, motivated by love and strengthened especially by the disciplines of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, so it can be rather sobering to be reminded up front the sheer cost of discipleship and spiritual discipline for many of our forebears.  It’s one thing to give up chocolate for 40+ days in the name of Jesus; it’s quite another thing to give up your earthly life in the name of Jesus.