The Great Thanksgiving

The Great Thanksgiving is a modern (or arguably a renewed ancient) label for the opening section of the Eucharistic Canon. Although the specific “prayers of consecration” that follow have varied over the centuries, and even seen some shuffling within the Anglican Prayer Book tradition, the first section has remained remarkably stable for well over a thousand years. Its pieces are the Sursum Corda, the Preface, the Sanctus, and the Benedictus. Let’s take a look at these prayers, primarily as presented in the 2019 Prayer Book.


Classically, the Sursum Corda followed the Words of Comfort, the assurance of pardon leading directly to the lifting up of our hearts to give thanks.  The Liturgical Renewal Movement of the 20th century, however, led to a re-ordering of the liturgy (sometimes termed novus ordo – new order) and the addition of the dialogue “The Lord be with you.” “And with your spirit.” which was used only sparingly in the classical Prayer Books.  This dialogue is also present in the Roman Rite; contemporary Anglican liturgies like this signal a move toward general Western liturgical practice.

The Sursum Corda has also been entitled the Great Thanksgiving.  The worshipers lift their hearts to God, pursuing a sort of ascent from earthly to heavenly matters, and do this with an explicit call to “give thanks to the Lord our God.”  The final response, classically, was “it is meet and right so to do,” and the initial drafts for this Prayer Book drew a closer rendition in the phrase “it is just and right so to do,” but it did not survive the final revision. The celebrant’s next phrase, “It is right, our duty, and our joy…” is, by contrast, a return to classical phraseology, where the 1979 Prayer Book had set aside the language of duty by phrasing this “It is right, and a good and joyful thing…”

The ordering of the modern liturgy has a lot of starting and stopping, and a new “start” is needed at this point.  The Confession and Absolution ended with the Peace, which is often a huge interruption to the liturgy.  Announcements often take place there, which is an interruption to the liturgy.  The Offertory is often drawn out with music and the presentation of the elements – in short, the interaction between the celebrant and the people in a worship-minded context can easily be all but lost.  “The Lord be with you…” is a practical addition in order to restart the worship service at this point.  Classically, the offering would be taken, then the Prayers of the People, Confession, and Absolution followed.  Then the Comfortable Words were read, after which the Priest shall proceed saying, Lift up your hearts.  There was a direct link from the comfort of divine forgiveness to the Communion: “You are fully pardoned and forgiven and Christ, so lift up your hearts and let us give thanks…!”  That context is easily obscured in the modern arrangement of the liturgy.

After being bidden to give thanks, the people respond “it is right to give him thanks and praise”, rather than the classical “it is meet and right so to do.”  The message is the same but the emphasis is reversed.  The classical phrase emphasizes the properness, fittingness, rightness, that we ought to give thanks to God.  The modern phrase emphasizes the thanks and praise which we are to offer.

That loss is balanced with the restoration of the celebrant’s next phrase, “It is right, our duty, and our joy…”  There we see the rightness of giving thanks to God spelled out clearly.  So, between the priest’s two lines the whole message is present.  What falls to the people is to repeat and reinforce one or other part of that whole; the classical phrase emphasized what the priest was about to say next; the modern phrase emphasizes what the priest previously said.

All this is just the beginning; what follows is the Proper Preface, which provides a sentence of purpose – a reason why we should give thanks to God.


Then may follow a Preface.  The 1979 Prayer Book uniquely required one on every Sunday, when classically only five to seven Prefaces were appointed, for a few specific days or weeks in the year.  This edition has embraced both classical practice (by making the Preface optional) and contemporary liturgical development (by adding to the number of prefaces for special occasions).  This variation mirrors early liturgical history: the Leonine Sacramentary appointed a specific Preface for each Sunday and Holy Day, the Galasian Sacramentary contained about fifty Prefaces, the Gregorian Sacramentary reduced the list near to twelve, and the Sarum Missal contained ten.  The early Prayer Books reduced this to five (Christmas, Easter, Ascension, Whitsunday, and Trinity), and by 1928 the Epiphany and the Purification/Annunciation/Transfiguration were added to make seven.  The 1979 Prayer Book brought the total to 22, and the present edition has 34, although most of these are for special occasions not typically observed on Sundays.

The Preface is essentially a single-sentence addition to the Great Thanksgiving.  It specifies a particular reason why it is “right, our duty and our joy always and everywhere to give thanks” to God.  It is called a “Proper” Preface because it is proper to a particular occasion or season.  Many of these Prefaces are similar to collects in that they both identify something about God and a benefit that we enjoy as a result; our particular thanksgiving is typically for the benefit in light of God’s character, word, or acts.

Therefore we praise you…

After a specific reason for thanksgiving has been elucidated in the Preface, the celebrant continues by aligning the Church’s praise with the worship taking place in the heavenly places.  This is one of the clearest expressions of the Communion of Saints in all of Christian liturgy: we explicitly call upon the angels, archangels, and saints in heaven as fellow-worshipers of God.  With one heart and voice we sing…


Holy, Holy, Holy

As far as we know, this hymn was composed by angels.  Both the Prophet Isaiah and the Apostle St. John witnessed the angelic hosts singing this in their respective visions of heaven, and duly recorded it for the faithful on Earth to join in (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8).  The liturgical form of the Sanctus has gently grown over time.  The Gregorian Sacramentary provides the biblical text “Sanctus sanctus sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.”  By the 16th century this had been expanded, as the classical Prayer Book rendition attests: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord, most high.  Amen.”  Before the Reformation, the Sanctus was often sung by a choir, but the English Prayer Books reserved the reading or singing of this hymn to the priest.  The first American Prayer Book contained a rubric that implied that the priest and people were to sing or say the Sanctus and its lead-in text together, but subsequent revisions have clarified that the Sanctus only is said by the congregation with the celebrant.  The present text of the Sanctus (most noteably changing “God of hosts” to “God of power and might”) was first adopted in the 1979 Prayer Book, matching the translation of the Roman Rite into English.

Certain musical settings in recent times have obscured the proper phraseology of this hymn.  It should be read and understood:

            Holy, holy, holy,
            Lord God of power and might,
            heaven and earth are full of your glory.
            Hosanna in the highest.

The thrice-repeated “holy” proclaims the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By “power and might” we proclaim not just the idea of divine strength but the “powers” of the universe, namely the mighty ones, the spiritual beings, with whom we sing this hymn.  And, as heaven and earth are united in the singular worship of their common Creator, so too are heaven and earth filled with his glory.

Blessed is he…

The variable text of the Preface here concludes with a fixed text, which, together with the Sursum Corda and the Sanctus has been standard in Western liturgy since at least the 9th century, developing from Early Church liturgies.  The English translation of the Latin text was changed in modern Prayer Books.  The 1662 Prayer Book here reads “Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying:”

The anthems “Benedictus qui venit in Nomine Domini” and “osanna in excelsis” were suffixed to the Sanctus over the course of the time in the medieval era.  The 1549 Prayer Book initially retained this – “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Glory to thee, O Lord in the highest.” – but it was soon dropped from the Prayer Book tradition, not to return until its retrieval in the modern Prayer Books (1979 on).

The addition of this “Benedictus”, taken from the praises of the people of Jerusalem when Christ the Lord entered the city to its initial celebration and joy, evokes the sense of Christ’s entrance into the worship gathering in a new way.  (This phrase is occasionally misunderstood: Jesus is the one “who comes in the name of the Lord.”)  He has been present in the reading and preaching of his Word, he has been the object and mediator of our prayers, he has been our comfort in the absolution of our sins, and now he enters into the midst of a people prepared for himself.  The worshiper is reminded of the sacramental presence of Christ that will soon be received in the forms of bread and wine.

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.

The Exchanging of the Peace

The Peace is a staple of modern (or Novus Ordo) liturgy, but the traditional Anglican (or most other traditions for that matter) may scoff at this ancient tradition seemingly-haphazardly thrusted into our liturgies. Let’s take a quick look at where it came from, how it ended up in our Prayer Book, and what it means.

The Peace in some form has been found throughout the history of Christian worship.  The New Testament contains several references to a “kiss of peace” or “a holy kiss”, and instructions to “greet one another” during what are presumed to be formal gatherings of the local faithful.  The specific act of the kiss gradually fell from common use as the Christian community became larger over the centuries, instead being reserved for more particular circumstances such as priests greeting one another or Eastern Christians kissing an icon of Christ.  Nevertheless, even in Late Medieval England the custom of kissing a pax-board was not unknown, and in some cases provided a substitute for the frequent reception of Holy Communion.

The Peace is absent from the classical Prayer Book tradition with the exception of the 1549 Prayer Book, wherein these words are exchanged between the priest and the people after the Prayer of Consecration and Lord’s Prayer, roughly where the Roman Rite places it today.  No physical action or exchange of peace among the members of the congregation was appointed, however, and when the Communion liturgy was further reordered in 1552 the Peace disappeared until its revival in the mid-20th century.

The function of the Peace is twofold.  First, it is an expression of Christian brotherhood wherein we acknowledge the family-like nature of our fellowship.  We embrace one another in love as an expression of unity and peace.  In this sense, the Peace could be appropriately placed elsewhere in the liturgy, such as after the breaking of the bread as in the modern Roman Rite.  The second function of the peace, which seals its location after the Confession and Absolution of Sin and the Comfortable Words, is its expression of reconciliation – a liturgical expression of Matthew 5:23-24 wherein we reconcile with our brethren before offering our gifts at the altar.

With these two purposes of the Peace rightly understood, the worshiper may find one’s priorities changed regarding how to “greet one another in the Name of the Lord.”  Far from a “say hello to everyone nearby” moment, as some church traditions have interpreted the Peace, this is a moment either to offer a symbolic sign of peace to one’s immediate neighbor, or to make good and true restitution with another member of the congregation before proceeding to the Holy Table.  To aid such a corrected understanding of the Peace the celebrant may add to the provided dialogue, “[In light of such peace with God,] let us extend that peace to one another.

The Absolution and Comfortable Words

Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
who in his great mercy has promised forgiveness of sins
to all those who sincerely repent and with true faith turn to him,
have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins,
confirm and strengthen you in all goodness,
and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The priest’s word of absolution in the Communion service has remain essentially unchanged since 1549, with the sole exception of the absolution of 1979.  In that version, all three persons of the Trinity are invoked, referencing their typical scriptural roles with regards to our salvation:

Almighty God have mercy upon you,
forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ,
strengthen you in all goodness,
and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.

But the opening line about the Father’s merciful promise to forgive sins is omitted, and the stipulation that the people “sincerely repent and with true faith turn to him” was also omitted, drastically truncating the biblical doctrine of the forgiveness of sins and sharply clericalizing the sacramental act of absolution.  Thus, the 1979 absolution was not retained for the Renewed Ancient Text, as other elements of that book were.

Far from a perfunctory word from the priest or bishop, this absolution is a solid piece of biblical theology that fully embraces catholic history and protestant reformed doctrine.  It is formatted similar to a collect: it begins with the identification of God and certain attributes relevant to what follows, and then proceeds to the main statement.  However, the absolution is not a prayer, but a statement – or as some might term it, a “speech-act” – in which the priest addresses the people.  It differs from a prayer for forgiveness in that the words of mercy, pardon, deliverance, confirmation, strengthening, and bringing to everlasting life are subjunctive (similar to imperative/command) verbs.  The speaking of these words conveys the actions they describe.  Thus we see the promise of Christ (in Matthew 16:19 and John 20:23) at work: whomever God’s ministers forgive, they are forgiven.  See also the absolution in the Daily Office.

But these are not unconditional benefits infallibly bestowed by the power of the ordained priesthood.  Unlike contemporary Roman absolutions, the Prayer Book absolution makes sure to describe the character or properties of God that pertain to such forgiveness: he has “great mercy” and “has promised forgiveness of sins.”  Specifically, though, such forgiveness is for the sincere penitent who turns to him in “true faith.”  Thus the power of absolution is tempered.  The priest cannot simply issue absolutions and expect infallible results; the grace of this ministry must be received by faith.

The worshiper is therefore reminded, in this moment of absolution, to continue in faith and to make good the repentance voiced in the prayer of confession.

The words of comfort, following, were introduced in the first Prayer Book and remained a mainstay of the Communion liturgy until they were removed in 1979.  They return in the 2019 Book as optional, and without the intervening texts “Hear also what Saint Paul saith” and “Hear also what Saint John saith.”

The words of comfort stand as a sort of reassurance of pardon.  They serve as a sort of biblical seal upon the priest’s word of absolution.  This emphasizes that the ministry of the Church is grounded upon the authority of the Word of God written. Furthermore, these are not casually-arranged memory verses to encourage the penitent; rather, they form a logical sequence that carry the message of the Gospel in a subtle but heartfelt way.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 begins with the condition and desire of the weary sinner for rest, or refreshment, in Christ. 

God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 follows this with God’s desire to give life to such a weary sinner, opening a reciprocating relationship. 

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1 Timothy 1:15 then shows us what God has done to address our need: sending his son Jesus. 

If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. Finally, then, 1 John 2:1-2 gives us the closing action of the Gospel with Christ as our advocate before God.

This is the Gospel of the God who condescended to rescue us from sin, repeated and summarized here for our comfort and our joy.  In the classical Prayer Books, this would be followed immediately with “Lift up your hearts” – eucharistic thanksgiving being the logical response to such good news and comfort.

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.

A Collect for the Cessation of Rain

I have often joked with people that we, in the Anglican tradition, only have a collect for rain, not a collect for not-rain. So in the midst of flood situations we’re kinda outta luck. Here in New England where I live, anyway, it rained nearly every day in July. We weren’t in any serious danger of flooding as far as I know, but there certainly have been farms that struggled to keep their crops healthy with all the constant water and the lack of sunshine. My family’s splitting a crop share this year, and the farmers were apologizing for the weather’s adverse impact on the veggies – last year was too hot and dry, this year has been too rainy.

So I guess it was about time to set about writing that collect for no-more-rain-please.

I’m billing this as Weird Rubric Wednesday because this idea came from conversations that were flippant and silly, even though the resulting prayer is actually legit.

You see, the challenge is that the primary concern in the Lord’s heart is that his people pray with humility, penitence, honesty, and faith. We don’t have to concoct the Perfect Prayer to make our supplications satisfactory in His sight. Eloquence is not a requirement for efficacy. The child-like cry for help is really all he wants from his children. Yet at the same time, when we come together to worship with one voice and one heart, it is right and good that we present to the Lord something not only of our hearts and desires but also of our intellect and efforts. We are taught to worship in spirit and truth, and in the corporate assembly it is especially important that we model truth in our prayers and utterances.

Thus, while on your own it may be perfectly appropriate to cry out “Please God stop all this rain!” it behooves a congregation to clothe that honest and faith-filled prayer with a layer of biblical truth and assurance.

So here is what I came up with:

O Lord Jesus Christ, who stills the storm and calms the waves of the sea: Deliver us, we beseech you, from excess of rain and save us from flood; that the fruit of the earth may yield its increase, and at the harvest we all may enjoy its bounty, even as we await your great Harvest on the Last Day, with the Father and the Holy Spirit in one eternal glory. Amen.

A Collect for the Cessation of Rain, composed by the Rev. M. Brench

The classic Collect Formula is executed quite regularly:

The Address is to Jesus, rather than the Father, which is a little rare but regular enough. This is most appropriate because it is in the person of Jesus Christ that we see (in the Gospels) both weather and wave commanded and calmed. So we open with that reference, proclaiming God’s power over the forces of nature.

The Petition is, simply, for deliverance from excess of rain and salvation from flood. I almost added a third phrase about the restoration of sunlight, but couldn’t figure out how to fit it in without making the prayer too crowded. And, as it would turn out, the next section of the prayer is where the majority of the focus ends up anyway. As it happens, the petition is often the simplest and shortest part of a prayer anyway. That is the “simple cry of the heart” at the center of a collect, which the liturgy clothes with dignity and clarity in the Address and the Purpose.

The Purpose is where things get more specific. We don’t ask for God’s intervention in the weather for frivolous or selfish reasons. Our children may prefer to play in a dry playground and someone may want to go to the beach and get a tan, but one of the greater concerns about excessive rain is the ecosystem. Too much rain means too many mosquitos, and flooded crop fields, and hardship for those who labor outdoors. Again, there is more than can be crammed comfortably into one short prayer, so I honed in on the concern for agriculture. The language of “the fruit of the earth” and “all enjoying its bounty” is borrowed from Occasional Prayers in the Prayer Book (2019) on page 653 For the Harvest of Lands and Waters, For Rain, and In Time of Scarcity and Famine, where this collect thematically fits right in.

The prayer transitions into its Doxology which I’ve made trinitarian – not a requirement for a collect, but a common feature. (The doxologies of the modern collects for Sundays & Holy Days are all standardized to be Trinitarian, but that was not historically the case.) The transition is smoothed over by linking the awaited earthly harvest with the eschatological harvest when Christ returns, which is a theme that is also picked up on Thanksgiving Day and especially one of my favorite Thanksgiving Hymns. Thus as we pray for such earthly concerns as the weather and its impact upon our lives, our hearts and minds are still lifted to spiritual things, matters of eternity. This is precisely what the parables of Jesus and indeed much of biblical teaching does – use ordinary images and concepts to point us heavenward.

So while praying for no-more-rain can seem like a weird prayer request, it can have its place in the church’s treasury of worship.

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.

The Prayers for Mission at Morning Prayer

The inclusion of a Prayer for Mission at this point in the Daily Office was introduced in the 1979 Prayer Book.  Most of the prayers in that book are retained here, but some changes have been made. One of the chief concerns of 20th century evangelicalism is the work of mission, bringing the Gospel to all peoples, tribes, and nations, locally and abroad.  The Canadian Prayer Book of 1962 put a particular mission focus into its office of Prayers at Mid-Day and the American Book of 1979 put six prayers for mission into the Daily Office – three for the Morning and three for the Evening.  Some of the content has changed for the 2019 Prayer Book, but the function is the same: we have a group of prayers for mission to keep us mindful of God’s work throughout the world in various ways.

The First in Morning Prayer.  This prayer was not among the 1979 Prayers for Mission in the Daily Office, but a version of it was Additional Prayer #9 in the appendix of that book.  Before that, it has a long history of use in both Prayer Book and pre-Reformation tradition, serving as the Collect for a couple different Votive Masses in the Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries and the Sarum missal, as one of the final collects of the Litany of 1544, and as an extra collect at the end of Morning and Evening Prayer in the 1662 Prayer Book.

Almighty and everlasting God, who alone works great marvels: Send down upon our clergy and the congregations committed to their charge the life-giving Spirit of your grace, shower them with the continual dew of your blessing, and ignite in them a zealous love of your Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Previous Prayer Books have entitled this prayer, “For Clergy and People”, which identifies the angle of its missional focus.  The mission of the church is to be carried out by congregations and their clergy together by the grace of the Holy Spirit.  God’s continual blessing is requested, and zealous love for the Gospel is identified as another gift to empower this mission.

The Second in Morning Prayer.  A Missionary Bishop in India wrote this prayer and it was subsequently adopted into the Additional Prayers and Thanksgivings in the 1892 and 1928 Prayer Books.  With further minor revisions along the way it took its current place in the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books.

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This prayer looks to our common humanity across the world, imploring God to grant that all would “feel after” or “seek after” him.  The appeal to the pouring of God’s Spirit upon all flesh in the Book of Joel and on the Day of Pentecost also gives this prayer an eschatological tone: it is the destiny or calling of humanity to unite in Christ’s kingdom.  Thus we are encouraged to see the mission of the church from the angle of preaching this peace, or unity, to the whole world.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the Cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name.  Amen.

The Third in Morning Prayer.  The third prayer was written by Bishop Charles Henry Brent in a book published in 1907.  Its Prayer Book debut was in 1979, and its position was maintained in the 2019 Book.

Where the second prayer contains a brief appeal to the work of Christ’s (in his preaching) this one centers entirely on the example of Christ (on the Cross).  As Jesus’ arms were stretched out wide as if to embrace the world, so too must we stretch out our hands in love to a world that needs “the knowledge and love” of him.  Although the tone of this prayer is decidedly modern, in keeping with its authorship, the devotional angle of Christ’s embrace of the universe on the Cross is of ancient origin.

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!

The Summary of the Law

After the Collect for Purity comes what may be termed the Penitential Rite, consisting of either the Decalogue (BCP 100) or the Summary of the Law.  The Summary of the Law entered the Prayer Book tradition in 1790 as an option to follow the Decalogue, basically offering a New Testament summary of the Old Testament Law.  The Kyrie followed the Summary of the Law.  Later editions of the American Prayer Book allowed for the Summary of the Law and Kyrie to be said without the Decalogue, provided that the Decalogue was read at least once each month.  The following collect also came to follow the Penitential Rite:

O ALMIGHTY Lord, and everlasting God, vouchsafe, we beseech thee, to direct, sanctify, and govern, both our hearts and bodies, in the ways of thy laws, and in the works of thy commandments; that, through thy most mighty protection, both here and ever, we may be preserved in body and soul; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The 1979 Prayer Book reduced the entire Penitential Rite to the Kyrie only (in line with the Roman Rite) and even that was optional.  The present volume has restored the integrity of the Penitential Rite, making the Summary of the Law the standard text and offering the Decalogue as an option in its place, albeit without the former rubric requiring it monthly.

Here what our Lord Jesus Christ says:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

Either on its own or (as in earlier Prayer Books) as a follow-up to the Decalogue, this Summary confronts the worshiper with the fundamental moral demand upon all Christians: to love God and neighbor with every aspect of one’s being.  Like as in the case of the Decalogue, this is a penitential moment: our unworthiness is called to mind, and we rightly respond with the Kyrie or the Trisagion.  This brief Penitential Rite does not, however, come to the worshiper as a new subject or focus within the liturgy, but actually serves as an answer to prayer: in the Collect for Purity we pray for the cleansing of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which the Penitential Rite immediately addresses.  If we are to “perfectly love” God and “worthily magnify” his holy Name, we must confront ourselves with the Law of Moses, or Christ’s Summary of the Law, and cry out “Christ, have mercy upon us.”