What does the + mean?

You’re reading something churchy and all of a sudden there’s a plus sign on the page.  What does that mean?  Typically it’s one of three things.

#1 Make the sign of the cross on yourself.

In Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and high-church Anglican tradition, making the sign of the cross is a common gesture in the course of prayer and worship.  Most often, one crosses oneself when the priest is pronouncing a blessing or absolution, or when the person praying says the triune name of God: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  The opening acclamation of the modern communion service is typically said with the sign of the cross, as is the beginning of the Gospel Canticles (the Benedictus, the Magnificat, and the Nunc dimittis).  If you’re a regular worshiper in a high-church context, you may be able to identify more points in the liturgy where people do this.

In certain liturgical texts, though not any official Prayer Books, a plus sign or cross is placed alongside or amidst the words to indicate when the worshiper should cross him-or-herself.

#2 The celebrant makes the sign of the cross over something.

During the celebration of a sacrament or sacramental rite, it was traditional for the priest or bishop to make the sign of the cross over the object being blessed or consecrated.  We saw an example of this last week in the 1549 Prayer Book’s eucharistic canon.  When holy water or oils are being blessed, it is customary for the celebrant to make the sign of the cross over those elements also.

I’ve seen occasions wherein people cross themselves while the celebrant makes the sign of the cross over the object(s) being blessed, and it’s frankly a bit comical.  There the bishop is, consecrating oil to be used in the anointing of the sick and whatnot, and there’s half the congregation crossing themselves at the same time!  The reader has to be aware of whether the + is meant for the congregation or for just the celebrant.  Usually context is perfectly clear.  If nothing else, this is a reminder that one must always keep one’s brain engaged in the liturgy. “What am I to do? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also” (1 Cor. 14:15).

#3 The priest or bishop is conveying a blessing in writing.

When writing a letter (or email, today) a priest or bishop may sign off with a blessing to his recipients by marking a + or † after his name if he’s a priest or before his name if he’s a bishop.  As deacons do not pronounce blessings, they do not sign their name in this manner.

This is by far the most misunderstood use of the sign today.  It’s frequently used as a name marker in internet communication:

Dear Fred+,

I was talking with +William and James\ about the conduct of a member of our vestry, and would like your input.

Thanks,
Lionel+

The only correct use of the sign is in the signature.  Father Fred and Bishop William should just be spelled out; the plus sign is not supposed to be a shorthand for ordination status.  Occasionally people have even used the \ to denote a Deacon, such as Deacon James in this fictitious example.  Yeah it’s kind of cute, imitating the slant of a deacon’s stole, but it’s also incorrect style.  The plus sign or cross with someone’s name in correspondence is meant to be a conferral or wish of blessing on the part of the bishop or priest writing the correspondence.  Hence, Father Lionel’s name is the only correct appearance of the + in the example above.

Two Collects for Peace

In the prayers of the Daily Office, there were traditionally three Collects in a row: the Collect of the Day followed by two set Collects according to the time of day (Morning had two, Evening had two).  In the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books those two Collects got expanded to seven choices, plus a choice of a Prayer for Mission.  Among the original Collects, still found among the modern choices, are two Collects entitled “For Peace.”  Let’s take a little comparative look at these two prayers today.

Collect for Peace (Morning)

O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Peace (Evening)

O God, the source of all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works: Give to your servants that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey your commandments, and that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness, through the merits of Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen.

Naturally, both of these prayers address the trouble of enemies.  Perhaps the first question is who are our enemies?  Like several of the Psalms, this is a nebulous concept, a fill-in-the-blank opportunity, and we should take care how we treat it, even in the silence of our hearts.  In a bad mood you might throw your annoying boss into that “enemies” category, or your misbehaving kids, or the noisy neighbors, or members of the wrong political party, or those gosh-darn terrorist foreigners from that other country somewhere else.  The scriptures teach us that the enemies of the Christian are the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Those are the forces that turn us away from God; those are the real threats against whom we need protection, and against whom we must fight.

And I say “must fight” on purpose, for as these prayers express, Peace is not found in avoidance of conflict, but in steadfastness despite conflict.  Through “the might of Jesus” we pray for God’s defense “in all assaults”, not from all assaults.  The goal or purpose of these prayers is that we “may not fear,” and “pass our time in rest and quietness.”  With our trust placed in God’s defense and our hearts set to obey his commandments, we find ourselves on the solid ground of God’s Word, in the footsteps of Jesus, in cooperation with the Spirit.  There, we can withstand the wiles of the world, the flesh, and the devil; there can be found peace that cannot be found anywhere else.

So whether you pray these prayers every day (as in the old prayer books) or every week (as in the new), take care to note what we’re really praying here.  In this life, the peace of God is found amidst the spiritual war, not as an escape from it.

Book Review: A Time to Pray

Welcome to Saturday Book Review time!  On most of the Saturdays this year we’re looking at a liturgy-related book noting (as applicable) its accessibility, devotional usefulness, and reference value.  Or, how easy it is to read, the prayer life it engenders, and how much it can teach you.

A Time to Pray is a pocket-sized devotional book, in the same supplementary category as Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book, just with less stuff, simpler content, and broader churchmanship appeal.  Its purpose, as I understand it, is to introduce people to Prayer Book worship without dropping the whole BCP on them right away.  Perhaps for children not yet ready to push through the whole daily office, or adults who are intrigued by the liturgy but not yet convinced.

Unlike the aforementioned Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book, very little of this book is original content.  The first 75 pages reprint the Family Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Order for Evening Worship, Compline, and Reconciliation of a Penitent services right from the 1979 BCP.  After that follows a collection of prayers, a few of which are not found in that Prayer Book, a selection of Psalms and Canticles, and some Bible readings.  In short, this could serve as a miniature Prayer Book & Bible combination for simplified Offices of worship.  If someone, for whatever reason, is unable to handle an actual Prayer Book and Bible, this is a neat resources of basics to get them started.

Because of its brevity and simplicity, there isn’t really any room for significant theological bias, so the fact that it was produced by the Episcopalians is not an issue.  Liturgically, though, it is somewhat incompatible with the 2019 Prayer Book tradition; our Psalm and Canticles have updated translations, our Family and Minor Offices are a little different.  Yes, the content and wordings are very similar, but if this is meant to be a stepping stone toward a prayer book, it’s a step towards a prayer book different from our own, and will result in some awkward little shifts that tend to annoy people once they’ve “learned” one version of a particular piece of liturgy.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 4/5
It’s small and simple.  The only point against its usability is the fact that the Lord’s Prayer is only printed on pages 42 and 43, so whatever liturgy you’re using you have to flip over there if you haven’t memorized it.  I mean, I’m sure you‘ve memorized it, but the newcomer might not, or at least not the version we use.

Devotional Usefulness: 2/5
The most you can get out of this book are extra (or Minor) Offices of worship with a limited list of Scripture lessons.  It’s a baby step toward Anglican spirituality, rather than an actual expression of Anglican spirituality.  And because of that it is of extremely limited use to us.

Reference Value: 1/5
As mentioned above, there is almost nothing in here that isn’t already in the 1979 Prayer Book.  One or two particular prayers may be unique here, so it’s worth looking through them briefly.  Otherwise, there’s nothing new to learn or draw from this book.

In short, this isn’t a book worth getting.  I only have a copy because someone had a small stack of them and wanted to hand out extras.  It’s a neat idea, and could be the inspiration for a new Office booklet in the ACNA’s 2019 BCP context, but in itself is not particularly remarkable.

What is an Epiclesis?

If you poke clergymen who are passionate about liturgy, and start asking deep questions about the Communion Prayers (or prayer of consecration, or Eucharistic canon) in different rites and prayer books, sooner or later you’re going to run into a hot topic: the epiclesis.

Also called “the invocation”, the epiclesis (true to its Greek meaning) is a prayer that “calls down” the Holy Spirit.  Some think this is unnecessary, even inappropriate; some think this is important to include; some think it’s absolutely necessary.  Thus, the language of the epiclesis, and even its placement within the prayer of consecration, can be a real battleground among those of passionate theological persuasions.

There are too many Prayer Books and rites to survey here, so let’s just look at some representative examples in groups.

GROUP #1: The Epiclesis is Unnecessary

In the English 1552 and 1662 BCP there is no hint of an epiclesis.  Reformed (particularly Calvinistic) doctrine is generally hesitant to make room for transformation language regarding the bread and wine into body and blood, much less attribute the operation of the Holy Spirit to it.

In the Canadian Prayer Book of 1962, the epiclesis reads thus:

And we pray that by the power of thy Holy Spirit, all we who are partakers of this holy Communion may be fulfilled with thy grace and heavenly benediction;

This epiclesis is very mild.  The Holy Spirit is called upon as the power whereby the grace and blessing of receiving the Sacrament is applied to we who partake of it.  It reveals a theology of the Spirit’s activity, working in the Sacrament, but makes no particular commitment as to the nature of the consecration of the bread and wine.

GROUP #2: The Epiclesis is Important

2019 BCP, Anglican Standard Rite

And now, O merciful Father, in your great goodness, we ask you to bless and sanctify, with your Word and Holy Spirit, these gifts of bread and wine, that we, receiving them according to your Son our Savior Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood.

This epiclesis is a strong one: the Holy Spirit is named alongside the Word of the Father as an instrument of blessing and sanctifying the bread and wine so that we may be partakers of Christ’s Body and Blood.  Contexts of right reception and right remembrance further color and qualify this prayer such that being a “partaker” is not an automatic function of physically receiving the Sacrament.  (One may “eat unto condemnation”, as St. Paul warned, cf. the Exchortation.)  Also noteworthy is that this epiclesis is said before the Words of Institution, which, according to general historic Western theology, is the precise formula that actually consecrates the bread and wine.  The epiclesis in this rite, therefore, is best seen as preparatory for the moment of consecration.

The 1928 Prayer Book has essentially the same epiclesis text as this, but placed after the Words of Institution.  It therefore leaves room for interpretation: are the Words of Institution the moment of consecration?  Is the epiclesis that moment?  Is it both, together, that accomplishes it?  This debate can be pretty heated, depending upon where you poke your nose.  A good explanation of this debate from a Lutheran perspective is addressed here.

The original English Prayer Book, in 1549, and the first Scottish Prayer Book, in 1637, were a little more explicit:

Hear us (O merciful father) we beseech thee; and with thy holy spirit and word, vouchsafe to blSmCross.GIF (76 bytes)ess and sancSmCross.GIF (76 bytes)tify these thy gifts, and creatures of bread and wine, that they may be unto us the body and blood of thy most dearly beloved son Jesus Christ.

Complete with the priest signing the cross over the bread and wine, this prayer is an example of a high view of the Sacrament.  And because it’s followed immediately by the Words of Institution, this epiclesis can (like the first example in this group) be interpreted as preparatory for the moment of consecration, though also introduces room for the debate that the 1928 Prayer Book also invites.

GROUP #3: The Epiclesis is Necessary 

2019 BCP, Renewed Ancient Rite

Sanctify them by your Word and Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son Jesus Christ.

This epiclesis is explicit (like the 1549 version); God’s Word and Spirit is called upon to sanctify the bread and wine such that they will be Christ’s body and blood.  Furthermore, this is prayed after the Words of Institution, which logically contradicts the historic view that those words are the “true” moment of consecration.  The theology of the Renewed Ancient Rite, therefore, is that the epiclesis is the center of the prayer of consecration.

Most of the rites in the 1979 Prayer Book follow suit with this position.  The Non-Jurors‘ Communion Rite also does the same thing:

…send down thine Holy Spirit, the witness of the passion of our Lord Jesus, upon this Sacrifice, that he may make this * Bread the Body of thy Christ, and this * Cup the Blood of thy Christ…      [* the priest touches the paten or chalice]

What to do about all this…

If you’re a lay person, all this is primarily of instructive value.  Hopefully this gives you insight into the ways that even small changes to the liturgy can suggest or set forth different doctrines, and why some clergymen can get so uppity and argumentative about it, especially the Communion prayers.

If you’re a priest (or bishop, I suppose, if any actually reads this!) who hasn’t thought about this subject a whole lot before, this may be something of a challenge to you.  What do you believe about the Eucharist?

If you believe the Words of Institution “this is my body/blood” is the moment of consecration for the bread and wine, then an explicit epiclesis prayed after those words is errant, even blasphemous.  That means if you hold the traditional view, “consecrationism”, you cannot in good conscience use the Renewed Ancient Rite in the 2019 BCP!

If you believe an epiclesis is absolutely essential to a proper consecration of the Eucharist, you’re in luck, both rites in the 2019 book have a clear epiclesis.  But you have to contend with the fact that the “liturgical standard” of Anglicanism, the 1662 Prayer Book, has stood for centuries with no epiclesis at all.

So whatever your convictions are, there are challenges and consequences to address.

On the other hand, if you don’t have a firm opinion on this (admittedly somewhat minute) point of doctrine, it pays to take note of the rite(s) you typically use, to consider what it is they say, suggest, or refrain from saying, and to think about how these prayers have been shaping your beliefs over time.

So, as the Pentecost Octave begins to wrap up, take this opportunity to think about the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments.  What do you believe?  What do we pray?

Pentecost Ember Days

The Pentecost Ember Days are here!  It’s been a few months since we last talked about Ember Days, so let’s hazard some repetition of material.  Although in some places the purpose of these days have changed somewhat, their original purpose was to be a time of fasting and prayer for the clergy, those preparing for ordination, and those discerning a call to ordination.  Positioned fairly evenly throughout the year near the changes of the season, these were often the days when ordinations would take place and people would have a quarterly reminder to pray for their clergymen.

Those who are discerning for holy orders, including transitional deacons awaiting the priesthood, typically write an Ember Day letter to their bishop, updating him on their ministerial progress and how the discernment process has been proceeding.

Each seasonal group of Ember Days is a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after an anchor date.  For Advent (winter) that date is December 13th (Saint Lucia Day): the first Wednesday after that day starts off the Ember Days; for spring it’s in the first full week of Lent, for summer it’s in the Pentecost Octave (starting today), and for autumn the anchor date is September 14th (Holy Cross Day).

It’s a little tricky because the Ember Days appear in threes, yet our Prayer Book only gives us two sets of Communion Propers (Collects on page 634 and Lessons on page 732).  This may be easier to deal with in the Daily Office: choose one Collect of the Day for mornings and the other for evenings.

Although the Ember Day Propers are fixed, the context of Pentecost can afford these days a different teaching emphasis.  Consider the subject of ordination from the perspective of a spiritual gift.  Many Anglicans believe in the “indelible mark” or “ordination character” bestowed upon the imposition of the Bishop’s hands, akin to the baptismal change the Holy Spirit also brings about.  These summer ember days are good opportunities to meditate on (or teach about) that angle of the ministry.

The Pentecost Octave, or, the Whitsun days

A day or two ago I saw a question pop up online, “Why does Pentecost only get one day to celebrate it?”  The questioner went on to insinuate that the liturgical tradition has a bias against the Holy Spirit in favor of the person of Jesus, where there’s Holy Week and Eastertide and Ascension, on top of Christmastide and Epiphany.  Apart from the obvious biblical and long-standing theological answer to why Christians give more overt attention to Jesus, let’s take a look today at the additional fact that Pentecost is not just one day, and never has been.

For well over a thousand years of Western liturgical tradition, most major holy days have what’s called an Octave: a period of eight days beginning on the holiday and running for a week after.  The only octave tradition that directly impacts most Anglicans today is the All Saints’ Day Octave, wherein although All Saints’ Day is officially November 1st, the Sunday immediately following (within the Octave) is typically celebrated as All Saints’ Sunday.  But back in the day, Easter had an Octave (which Prayer Book tradition has always observed in one way or another), the patronal feast of an individual church or diocese would have an Octave, and, among others, Pentecost had an Octave – from Sunday to Sunday ending with the feast of the Holy Trinity.

In current Roman Catholic practice that Octave has been suppressed, though there is the half-joking plan of priests celebrating Votive Masses of the Holy Spirit on the weekdays following Pentecost in order to simulate an Octave.  In the Anglican Prayer Books we’ve never had instructions for a full Octave, but we have had special Collects and lessons for Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.

Older prayer books call this holiday Whitsun or Whitsunday, modern prayer books call it Pentecost.  The reason for the peculiarly English name of Whitsun is a story for another time – I’ll just link you to Wikipedia on that for now.

Whitsunday, the Day of Pentecost

The traditional Collect of the Day (which is the second listed in the 2019 Prayer Book for this day) is:

GOD, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by the sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.

With this would be read Acts 2:1-11 and John 14:15-31 (omitting the last phrase “let us go hence.”).  In the modern lectionary plan, part of Psalm 104 is added, and the OT and Epistle options are Genesis 11:1-9 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-13.  It should be noted that, although the 2019 Prayer Book doesn’t specify this, the Acts reading ought to be read.  The OT and Epistle lessons are both offered so that we have a choice of where to place the Acts reading.  Precedent from Eastertide and the 1979 Prayer Book suggest that Acts 2 should be in the OT position, precedent from the next two days of the week suggest that Acts 2 should be in the Epistle position.  So this is a legitimate choice; perhaps swap places every year so people hear all the potential readings most often!

Like Ascension Day, the 1662 Prayer Book appointed special Psalms for the Daily Office on Whitsunday: 48 and 68 in the morning, and 104 and 145 in the evening.

Unfortunately, according to the new prayer book (on page 614), “The Easter Season includes and ends with the Day of Pentecost. …The Collects, lessons, and prefaces for the Day of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday are not used on the following weekdays.”  Previous drafts of our new prayer book included the traditional Monday and Tuesday of Pentecost, but they seem to have dropped away from the final edition.  So it seems, at least officially, we in the ACNA are stuck in the same boat as the Romans, having to resort to appointing the “Various Occasion” propers “Of the Holy Spirit” on page 733 to fill out the old Pentecost Octave a little.  Or you can just grab the following from classical Prayer Books:

Monday in Whitsun Week

The traditional readings were Acts 10:34-end and John 3:16-21; a proposed addition was Numbers 11:24-30 and Psalm 98.  The 1928 Prayer Book added a new Collect:

Send, we beseech thee, Almighty God, thy Holy Spirit into our hearts, that he may direct and rule us according to thy will, comfort us in all our afflictions, defend us from all error, and lead us into all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

Together, this day gives us a collection of further teachings about the ministry of the Holy Spirit along with another “pentecost moment” from the book of Acts.

Tuesday in Whitsun Week

The traditional readings were Acts 8:14-17 and John 10:1-10; a proposed addition was Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Psalm 98.  The 1928 Prayer Book added a new Collect:

Grant, we beseech thee, merciful God, that thy Church, being gathered together in unity by thy Holy Spirit, may manifest thy power among all peoples, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

This day got a bit more specific about the work and power of the Spirit unite God’s people.

What about the rest of the week?

The Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following Pentecost are Ember Days, which occur quarterly throughout the year, so they don’t get special Pentecost-featured propers.  Some proposed Prayer Books (like the 2011 book) provide different Scripture readings for each of the Ember Days throughout the year, and thus provide the Pentecost Ember Days with a particularly Pentecost-appropriate theme regarding Spirit-empowered ministry.  But sadly, no such option is available in the 2019 Prayer Book.

That leaves Thursday yet untouched.  There is a small tradition of using that day to commemorate the Promulgation of the First Prayer Book, as Whitsunday 1549 was when the first Prayer Book was mandated to begin use across England.  We’ll look at that some more on the day.

So yes, sadly, in a way Pentecost is kind of reduced to a single day in the modern calendar.  But there is precedent in previous Prayer Books, both official and proposed, for the continued celebration of this great feast in various ways throughout the week.

Book Review: Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book

Welcome to Saturday Book Review time!  On most of the Saturdays this year we’re looking at a liturgy-related book noting (as applicable) its accessibility, devotional usefulness, and reference value.  Or, how easy it is to read, the prayer life it engenders, and how much it can teach you.

Are you an Anglo-Catholic?  Or do you have high-church leanings?  If yes, then this is a book you’ll probably appreciate: Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book.  Despite the name, it’s not a Prayer Book in the sense of the Common Prayer Book; this little volume does not deal with liturgy as such.  In the three-fold rule of prayer scheme of things, this deals primarily with personal or private devotion and prayer.

Note: This review pertains to its 2014 edition; it has predecessors which may be rather different.

The Table of Contents give you a good idea of what’s inside here.

  • The Christian’s Obligations
  • Daily Prayer
  • Penitence and the Sacrament of Reconciliation
  • The Holy Eucharist
  • Eucharistic Devotions
  • Devotions through the Christian Year
  • Topical Devotions
  • Litanies
  • The Holy Hour

The Daily Prayer and Holy Eucharist sections contain prayers and explanations of the primary liturgies of the Prayer Book tradition, approximating or summarizing the Daily Office in short form and providing devotional aids for following along in the Communion service.  The Penitence section includes a re-print of The Reconciliation of a Penitent, found in the 1979 Prayer Book.

The Eucharistic, calendar-based, and other topical-based devotions and prayers are drawn from a wide swath of Church history and are unashamedly catholic in outlook.  I wouldn’t say it’s so Papist as to be un-Anglican, though some of its content definitely would be rejected by the more ardent low-churchmen, and it does admittedly slightly stretch the boundaries set out in the Anglican formularies (an issue that virtually all ‘parties’ of modern Anglicanism are guilty of in one way or another, to be fair).

As a parent, I have enjoyed the prayer for one’s children.  As a priest, I have enjoyed the “Nine Days of Prayer for One Deceased” both for my own grieving and for being ready to help others in theirs.

There are two cautions I must raise regarding this book, however.

  1. It is written to integrate with the 1979 Prayer Book.  As we’ve seen in a previous review, the 1979 Prayer Book is not the best representative of Anglican tradition by a long shot.  For most of my readers that book is also now completely obsolete, if you ever used it at all.  That makes some features of this book, especially its walk-through of the Communion service, rather out of date (if not just plain incorrect).
  2. It shows signs of current Episcopalian liberalism.  Because this is offered as a source of traditionalist devotional material, it does have an inherent liturgical conservatism to it, but certain issues like sexual morality in the examination of conscience end up reading a bit oddly.  Theological precision has long gone out the window in Episcopalianism, too, so one cannot count on the content of this book being well-tethered, to the Anglican formularies or otherwise.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 5/5
This is a very user-friendly book.  It’s meant for quick & easy use, without training; you don’t have to know your way around the Book of Common Prayer.  It has explanations and introductions in each chapter or section, much of which is useful to non-Episcopalians.

Devotional Usefulness: 3/5
This is where mileage may vary.  The fact that it’s conformed to the 1979 Prayer Book is an inconvenience for us in the ACNA.  The fact that it’s specifically Anglo-Catholic may take it down a notch or two if you’re opposed to Anglo-Catholicism (making it a 1 or a 2).  But if you’re comfortable with that tradition, there are plenty of things in here one can still enjoy and use.

Reference Value: 2/5
Again, the 1979 connection decreases its reference value outside of Episcopalianism.  But if you want to look at some classic catholic devotions (like devotions to Mary and the Saints, prayers for the departed, stations of the cross, etc.) through some sort of Anglican filter then this can still be pretty educational.  It’s primarily a devotional book, though.

All in all, I’m happy to have received a copy, and was happy to pass along another copy to someone else.  It’s nice to pick up every now and then.  I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy or recommend it to others at this point, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a revised edition compatible with the 2019 Prayer Book being made someday.

Planning Ahead: Trinity Sunday

Until the revisions of the 1970’s, Trinity Sunday was the hinge of the Church Year.  That was the day the first half of the cycle (Advent through Pentecost) reached its culmination and turning point.  All the revelation about God covered in those seasons find their apex in the doctrine of the Trinity: God is One and Three.  As the Collect of the Day begins:

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who has given unto us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity…

But this day is also a turning point.  We have not only received this faith throughout the year to confess and worship God, but also:

We beseech thee, that this holy faith may evermore be our defence against all adversities; who livest and reignest, one God, world without end.  Amen.

That is what the season of Trinitytide used to do: unfold like a discipleship course in how this faith may be our defence against all adversities.

I beseech you, readers, if you have the slightest interest in Anglican Prayer Book spirituality and history, to take a look at this essay: http://www.lectionarycentral.com/trinity/Phillips.html  It brilliantly lays out how the season after Trinity served as a multi-layered course of dealing with our chief adversary: sin.  The life and doctrines of Jesus are presented with Epistle lessons that together work to demolish our pride, our lusts, all our vices.  There are, for sure, other ways to analyze the Trinity season, but the general agreement is that it’s an application of the teachings of the first half of the year to help us conform our lives thereto.

It’s popular now to say that the first half of the year is “the story of Jesus” and the second half is “the story of the Church.”  This is wrong.  The first half is the story (or better, doctrines) of God, and the second half is the application of the story/doctrines of God to us.  Trinity Sunday is the hinge: it sums up all the teaching about the Father, Son, and Spirit, and presents it to us to believe, worship, and follow.

Enough with the theory, now for some advice.

how to mark Trinity Sunday

A fairly long-standing tradition, now recommended or encouraged in the general rubrics at the end of the Communion service in the 2019 Prayer Book, is to say the Athanasian Creed in place of the Nicene at the Communion Service on Trinity Sunday.  It is uncomfortably long, for the average worshiper, but a paltry once a year won’t kill them.  Plus, it’s honestly the best teaching tool we have when it comes to spelling out the doctrine of the Trinity without falling into one of many accidental heresies.  The 1662 Prayer Book called for this Creed to be read at Morning Prayer about 13 times a year, so once a year on Trinity Sunday is really quite lenient in that light!

If you haven’t used the Great Litany with your congregation in a while, that’s another possibility to consider for this day.  Its strong beginning with a Trinitarian invocation is a standard staple of Christian prayer, and extemporanous prayer these days very easily falls into Trinitarian confusion – addressing Jesus yet ending with “in Jesus’ name we pray”, or mindlessly switching from “Father-God” to “Jesus” as if it’s the same Person.  The Great Litany, or indeed any collect or liturgical prayer, can be a helpful teaching example of how to pray in an orthodox manner, rightly praising the triune God without confusing the Persons or denying the Unity.

There are lots of hymns that address God as Trinity, verse by verse.  If you’ve got an Anglican hymnal then the “general hymns” section usually starts with such hymns.  (If you’ve got a generic Protestant hymnal, that could be a problem here.)  If you opt for contemporary praise music, take care to make sure the lyrics handle the doctrine of the Trinity rightly; it’s very easy to make theological mistakes here!

Last of all, for you preachers out there, for God’s sake (literally), preach the doctrine of the Trinity.  Yes it’s complicated; yes it’s difficult; yes it’s easily seen as boring, or even stilted and of minor importance.  But this is basic Christian dogma; the doctrine of who & what God is the foundation of all Christian teaching.  If we don’t get it right, our congregations definitely won’t get it right, and eventually the whole church will be the sicker for it.  Grab a hold of the many resources in the liturgy that you’ve got, use them to your fullest advantage, and disciple your flock!

Ascensiontide Old & New

The ten days between the Ascension of Christ and the Day of Pentecost form a mini-season or sub-season called Ascensiontide.  There is debate between modern and traditionalist views of the calendar over just how independent this season is from Eastertide, and you can read about that here.  What one finds upon closer inspection, however, is that whether Ascensiontide should be considered part of Easter or a season in its own right, it is very strongly linked, liturgically, both to Easter and to Pentecost, marking the transition from one to the other, not unlike the transitional Pre-Lent Sundays of the old calendar.

At a length of ten calendar days, Ascensiontide has two “days” in the Prayer Book: Ascension Day (the Thursday in the 6th week of Easter) and the Sunday after Ascension Day.

Ascension Day

This day has not substantially changed from the traditional calendar to the 2019 Prayer Book.  The Collect is the same, and the two original lessons are among the 2019 options: Acts 1:1-14 and Mark 16:14-20 both speak of the ascension of Jesus and his last words to his disciples.  The 2019 Prayer Book adds Psalm 47 (or 110:1-5) and Ephesians 1:15-23, and also supplies Luke 24:44-53 as an alternative to the traditional Gospel from Mark.

For the Daily Office, the 1662 Prayer Book identified Ascension Day as one of the six days of the year that merited a unique set of Psalms: 8, 15, and 21 at Morning Prayer, and 24, 47, and 108 at Evening Prayer.  Psalm 47 is perhaps the most obvious ascension-related Psalm (“God has gone up with a triumphant shout!“) and thus is offered as the psalm for the Communion service in the modern lectionary.

Ascension Sunday

In both traditional and modern lectionaries, the Sunday after the Ascension shows signs of influence from both Eastertide and Ascension Day.

The Collect (same in old and 2019 prayer books) is thematically built on the same foundation as that for Ascension Day, but adds the element of looking ahead to Pentecost: “Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit” – a reference to the traditional Gospel for the day of Pentecost.  It’s lovely: we pray this prayer on one Sunday, as if with the original apostles-in-waiting, and then we hear it answered the following Sunday as the apostles experienced it too.

The lessons are rather more different.  The course of Epistle and Gospel lessons in the traditional Eastertide are continued on this day, ending in 1 Peter 4 and John 15.  The modern lessons also complete the modern Eastertide sequence: a different part of 1 Peter 4 or the end of 1 John 5 or Revelation 22; and a Gospel from John 17, which appropriately brings us Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity in preparation for the day of Pentecost.  Readings from the book of Acts continues as an Old Testament replacement option on this day: on two years of the cycle looking appropriately at Acts 1, and in Year C reading from chapter 16 to finish off the Eastertide sequence instead of addressing Ascensiontide.

Ascensiontide as a transition

Whether you choose to consider this period of time as the final of Easter’s 50 days or a distinct ten day season of their own, tradition both old and new connects this time fluidly to its predecessor (Easter) and its successor (Pentecost).  We move from the resurrection to the resurrection life to the ascension of Christ with our human nature to Jesus’parting blessing to us in the descent of the Holy Spirit, and this season marks the turning of the page between Easter and Pentecost.

As we observed the other day, this is a period of time that is ripe for quiet inward-focused prayer.  If your or your church doesn’t normally pray the Great Litany, this is an excellent time to make use of it.  This is a good time for special prayer meetings or vigils, for rest and discernment before the Lord.  Like the Apostles who spent this time in preparation and prayer before the explosive activity of Pentecost, it is good for us to seize times such as this for the same, preparation and prayer, before starting the next round of outward-focused activity that we normally like to think about at Pentecost.  This often lines up with the end of the academic school year, and may easily match the transition period for students between school work and summer jobs.  It may also be a good time to look inward at our Sunday School or Christian Education teachers and thank them for their labors and grant them some rest.

Hymn for Ascensiontide: See the conqu’ror

One of the things I really like about the 2017 hymnal is that it’s got about twelve hymns about the ascension.  It’s nice to have choices, rather than appoint the same couple every year, even if they are really good.  Despite that, I figured I should just stick to “one of the greats” and walk us through a classic ascension hymn, See the conqu’ror mounts in triumph.  It’s as if each verse brings in a different theological layer to this momentous Gospel event.

See the Conqu’ror mounts in triumph;
See the King in royal state,
Riding on the clouds, his chariot,
To his heav’nly palace gate.
Hark! the choirs of angel voices
Joyful alleluias sing,
And the portals high are lifted
To receive their heav’nly King.

This is focused on the kingship of Christ Jesus.  He is a conqueror, his ascension is a victory march, the heavens are opened to welcome him in.  Verse two is similarly awe-filled, but quite different.

He who on the cross did suffer,
He who from the grave arose,
He has vanquished sin and Satan;
He by death has spoiled his foes.
While he lifts his hands in blessing,
He is parted from his friends,
While their eager eyes behold him,
He upon the clouds ascends.

This is about the humanity of Jesus.  The conqueror and savior is a man – the one who suffered and died, the one who had friends.  The context of his death and resurrection is perhaps the most obvious place to start approaching the ascension (and probably is the overriding context by which many people deal with the ascension at all), and although it is the most ‘simple’, it is by no means unimportant.

Verse three may be my personal favorite.

Now our heav’nly Aaron enters,
With his blood, within the veil;
Joshua is come to Canaan,
And the kings before him quail;
Now he plants the tribes of Israel
In their promised resting place;
Now our great Elijah offers
Double portion of his grace.

The Old Testament imagery is out in full force!  Jesus is like Aaron: a great high priest; his ascension is his entering into the true holy of holies.  Jesus is like Joshua, leading God’s armies to inevitable victory.  Jesus is like Elijah, ascending into heaven but leaving behind a spiritual legacy that will surpass the scope of his own earthly ministry.  The three offices of Priest, King, and Prophet, as applied to Jesus, make their offerings in this verse.  Personally, I think we need more celebration of Christ’s priesthood, Ascensiontide is well-suited to that, and this verse is a good step in the right direction.

The final verse also touches upon the priesthood of Christ, if obliquely.

Thou hast raised our human nature
On the clouds to God’s right hand;
There we sit in heav’nly places,
There with thee in glory stand.
Jesus reigns, adored by angels;
Man with God is on the throne;
Mighty Lord, in thine ascension,
We by faith behold our own.

If verse 2 can be said to be focusing the ascension upon the context of the death and resurrection of Jesus, verse 4 brings in the context of his incarnation.  Because Jesus is both God and man, and because Jesus has bodily ascended into the heavenly places at the right hand of the Father, we can say in no uncertain terms that humanity is enthroned with God!  He took on our flesh in order that there might be communion between the divine and humanity; it’s a two-way street.  He shares our sufferings, we share his glory.  He shares our death, we share his victory.  So we sing the great mystery of the ascension: we are seated with him on the throne!

This reinforces and echoes the Scripture lessons from Ascension Day, and the Collects from both Ascension Day and Sunday.  We’ll take a closer look at those tomorrow.