More insights into the lessons

Every now and then I’ve provided some comments on the scripture readings from the Daily Office Lectionary.  That’s something I will continue to do on an ad hoc basis, but with less urgency, as I am happy to share with you all a couple new resources out there to help people along in the process of reading the Bible according the 2019 Prayer Book’s plan.

First there’s The Daily Office Vlog, by Fr. Brian Barry who serves at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church in Danvers, Massachusetts. (For those not in the know, “vlog” is a modern term for video log.  “Web Log” –> “Blog” –> “Video Blog” –> “Vlog”)  Like my videos, it’s nothing fancy, just cutting straight to the subject at hand.  He comments on any or all of the four sets of readings in the Prayer Book, and is aiming to produce approximately one video per week, summarizing a week’s worth of readings in about ten minutes.

The other resource is a podcast from Adverseria, run by an Englishman named Alatair Roberts.  He has been producing daily podcasts focusing on the two readings from Morning Prayer (currently Genesis and John), and I believe his goal is to cover the Evening Prayer readings next year, and/or to get to a point where he can provide a podcast study for every reading in the lectionary!

So if you want Bible Study aids that run concurrently with the lectionary, I heartily recommend the ministries of these two gentlemen.

In the beginnings

As we’ve noted before, it’s nice starting to read John and Genesis at the same time.  Both deal with “the beginning” in wonderfully complementary ways, and better appreciation of that might save us some interpretative heartache.

And then, once I read from Jeremiah 4 and caught another reference to the language of Genesis 1:1-2, I knew it was time to write something about it.  It took me about a week longer than anticipated, but I finally got ’round to it.

* * *

One of the coolest things about the Bible’s text is that the first book literally starts “In the beginning…”  I mean, of all the things it could start with, it just makes perfect sense that it would start with the beginning.  And when you finish that sentence you find that the “beginning” is eternity past – before time itself was created.  In the beginning, God created.  You learn so much about God in that phrase – his distinction over against all created things, his omnipotence over the same, his very being belonging beyond not only physical existence but also beyond time.  I’m really into science fiction, especially Doctor Who, which deals constantly with the ins and outs and paradoxes of time travel.  So it’s kind of strange, in a marvellous way, to find a truly “timeless” deity proclaimed in the opening words of Sacred Scripture.

But then you get through the first couple chapters and the debates start flying thick and fast – how did God create the world?  Are there conflicts between the various pieces of the text?  Are these writings meant to be taken literally?  What, even, is the literal meaning?  All this and more quickly rises to the forefront of a Bible Study, sermon, or discussion on the opening chapters of the book of Genesis; it’s almost inescapable.  So let’s side-step that direction of argumentation and look at Genesis from a birds-eye view.

“In the beginning, God created…”

Read the rest here.

Book Review: The American Psalter

A couple years ago I jumped on a rare offer: someone was selling a pile of old and out-of-print books of liturgical music and I managed to procure a nice stack.  The downside with them is that they are keyed to the traditional lectionary and calendar, so very little of it is stuff that I can use in my own church without careful adaptation and re-purposing.  But if I do end up in a 1928 Prayer Book parish some day, or start up a traditional service, this vintage materials could be super handy.

The book I’ve ended up using the most, in my own devotions, is The American Psalter, published by The H. W.  Gray Company in 1930, for the Protestant Episcopal Church.

The Preface provides a quick history of Anglican Chant, noting John Merbecke and dwelling particularly on Thomas Tallis, both from the first century of the English Reformation.  Some people accuse Anglican Chant of being an Anglo-Catholic invention of the 19th century; historical information like this helps bust that myth.  The method of “pointing”, that is, matching the text to the chant tune, is outlined, noting its diverse methods over the years since, and works its way toward explaining how the present volume works, and how to sing its contents.

The American Psalter contains chants for the “Choral Service” (that is, the main prayers and responses of the Daily Office), Anglican Chant tunes for the various Canticles of Morning and Evening Prayer, and all 150 Psalms.  A handful of other anthems are provided after, and every chant tune is indexed in the end.  Of course, the text of all these canticles and psalms match the 1928 Prayer Book, but now that we have the New Coverdale Psalter in the 2019 Prayer Book, with verbiage that closely resembles the original Prayer Book Psalter, it is pleasantly easy to line up this 90-year-old book with our brand-new Prayer Book.  I used it pretty frequently this past summer, as I began to settle into the 2019 BCP and got into a chanting mood for a while.

Now, this book is probably hard to find these days, so in a sense writing about it today, in 2020, seems a bit silly.  How are you, the reader, going to benefit from this?  I’ll share an example of an insight from this book that may spark creativity from my fellow modern-day chanters.  Several Psalms are quite long, and using the same chant for fifteen minutes could get monotonous.  What The American Psalter does is break up a long psalm into multiple chants.Psalm 107This isn’t the whole of Psalm 107, but you can get the idea.  It begins (on the previous page) with a cheerful Single Chant in D Major for three verses “O Give thanks unto the Lord…” followed by a somber Single Chant in D Minor for verses 4 & 5 “They went astray in the wilderness…”  Then, on the pages shown in the picture above, the Psalm switches between about three different-but-related chants reflecting the different voices and moods as the narrative of Psalm 107 unfolds.

This is probably the most complex example; other long psalms receive more simple treatment.  Psalm 109 spends verses 1-4 in a pleasant C Major Double Chant, changes to an A Minor Double Chant with a similar melodic contour for verses 5-19, and switches back to the original chant for verses 20-30.  Even simpler is Psalm 44, wherein verses 1-9 are sung with a Double Chant in G Major, and verses 10-26 sung in the exact same chant tune transposed to G Minor.

The underlying lesson here is that chanting does not have to be boring or unimaginative.  The wealth of chant tunes, and the ease with which one can edit them, opens up a world of musical possibilities.  Opting for Anglican Chant in your church does not have to mean that your skilled musicians are out of a job!  Yes, chanting is extremely simple, and you don’t need particularly talented musicians to make it happen (which is kind of the point of chant, really, being something simple for all voices to join in), but there is still room for talent, creativity, and skill to step in.

Anyway, don’t go out of your way to track down a copy of this book unless you’re particularly trying to build a church music resource library.  Instead, keep your eye on the ACNA committee for music’s Psalter Page.  They’re still pretty early in their work of compiling chant psalters for the 2019 Prayer Book, so if you’ve got ideas, encouragements, or questions, now’s your chance to make a difference!

A New Epiphany Hymn: “On this clear night”

One of the things I quite enjoy about the Book of Common Praise 2017, or as its latest edition is named, Magnify the Lord, is that it has a number of contemporary songs and hymns.  Yes, contemporary hymns too.  Hymn #87, in the Epiphany section, was written by Cynthia Erlandson in 1997.  Like the older classic Songs of thankfulness and praise, this new hymn outlines the Gospel themes of the traditional Epiphanytide, and does so brilliantly.

On this clear night, led by a star much brighter than the rest,
Wise Gentiles travel west to see God’s Wisdom manifest:
Emmanuel has come to earth in human vesture dressed.

Incense and gold they give to him, the King whom Herod fears,
To those who see the Light of lights, salvation now appears,
Ordained before all times until the fullness of the years.

The boy Messiah’s wisdom in the temple soon is heard,
The wond’ring scribes astonished by God’s flesh-encompassed Word,
More powerful, more piercing than a soul-dividing sword.

In Jordan, God’s beloved Son fulfills all righteousness,
Baptized by John, the prophet, crying in the wilderness,
“Prepare a highway for our God, the way of holiness.”

Thus marked, the Groom-to-be as guest performs a wondrous sign:
At wedding feast, the Word-made-flesh turns water into wine,
The best has been withheld till now: the fruit of Christ the Vine.

To one born blind, the world’s true Light reveals a radiant sight:
The vision of his kingdom, coming into earth’s dark night.
Unto his saints, once blind to Truth, the healer shows his might.

Unto the Father, Son, and Spirit, Holy Trinity,
The Three in One, the one and only glorious Deity,
All praise and honor be for Jesus’ great epiphany.  Amen.

This is set to the tune MORNING SONG, which is better known for the text Awake, awake, to love and work.

The poetry of Mrs. Erlandson’s lyrics are striking, often matching similar names and titles for Jesus in the first and second lines of a given verse.  Several of them are hyphenated, or at least multi-word titles, drawing from the rich treasures of biblical language to expound our Savior in the various epiphany gospel stories recounted here.  The best poems, lyrics, and songs are really just sermons in artistic format, and this one definitely fits the bill.

If you want to see what else she has written, I would point you to the book The Slumbering Host, which is just now being released from Little Gidding Press.  I had a small role in wrangling the typesetting and formatting of this book, and would be very happy to see the fame of its many poet-contributors spread abroad.  You’ll find that Mrs. Erlandson’s contribution to this book is of a similar style to this epiphany hymn: another poem that explores a foundational Christian doctrine sequentially in three-line stanzas.

Introduction to the Epiphany season

Part 3 of the church year is Epiphanytide.  This is part of my year-long video series on the church calendar, check it out:

For further reading:

Subject Index:
* 00:30 Introduction to Epiphanytide
* 01:02 Major Themes
* 02:44 Historical features
* 7:26 Walk-through with the 2019 BCP
* 18:36 Summarizing the season with the “Surge illuminare”

Readings Review – The Epiphany Special

Our usual Monday fare is going to look a little different today.  Instead of looking at the lessons of the whole weeks (past and present) we’re just going to narrow in on the feast of the Epiphany.  But first, the quick run-down…

Last week: Wisdom 9-11 Genesis 1-4, Revelation 21-22, John 1-3:21, Song of Songs 6-8, Jeremiah 1-3, Luke 23-24, Galatians 1-4

This week: Genesis 5-11, John 3:22-6:21, Jeremiah 4-10, Galatians 5-6, 1 Thess. 1-4:12

Special reading for the Epiphany on Monday morning: Matthew 2:1-12
Special reading for the Epiphany on Monday evening: John 2:1-12

As I noted last week the Epistles of St. Paul in evening prayer are being read in their estimated chronological order, so after Galatians we’re moving to 1 Thessalonians.

The Epiphany Lessons

The major highlight this week is today – January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany.  It’s one of the seven Principle Feasts listed in the 2019 Prayer Book on page 688, putting it essentially on par with Christmas and Easter (and four other holy days).  As a result, both Morning and Evening Prayer get a special reading, out of the daily sequential sequence, to mark this day.

In the morning is the obvious choice: Matthew 2:1-12, in which we read of the magi and their journey and the gifts for the young Jesus.  This is the “primary” celebration for the Epiphany.  It’s also doubling with today’s gospel lesson at the Communion, which previous daily lectionaries never really did before, but ours does due to the sad reality that very few churches hold communion services on weekday feasts anymore.

The other special reading, in Evening Prayer, is John 2:1-12, which is perhaps less obvious: the Wedding at Cana.  If you go back to the original prayer book daily lectionary you will see three major gospels featured: The adoration of the magi (at the Communion), the baptism of Jesus (in Morning Prayer), and the Wedding at Cana (in Evening Prayer).  Those are three big “epiphanies” that start off the season.  Each of these gospel stories, in their various ways, proclaim the divinity of Jesus – his reception of gifts, the testimony from God the Father, and finally the power at Jesus’ own command.  The wedding at Cana would go on to be the gospel lesson for the Communion in one of the early Sundays of the Epiphany season, and in the 20th century the baptism of Jesus began to take over the first Sunday of Epiphanytide also.  But in the modern lectionary that we have in the 2019 Prayer Book, the wedding at Cana in John 2 is no longer a mainstay gospel.  It’s read on the second Sunday in Year C, but not not Years A & B.  Therefore our lectionary makes a point of retaining this story on Epiphany Day itself to make sure it’s still part of our annual observance of Epiphanytide.

The Circumcision & Holy Name of Jesus

It’s January 1st, and you know what that means… it’s the eighth day of Christmas, when our Lord Jesus got circumcised!  Happy Feast of the Circumcision, everybody!  Let’s turn to the Bible:

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Luke 2:21

Yeah, I’m not kidding.

The handling of this holy day in the 2019 Prayer Book is actually one of the last-minute changes that have proved a pleasant surprise for me to discover.  Last year, as I described it here, the draft texts suggested that this would be the feast of the Holy Name and Circumcision, but in the actual book the order has been switched to Circumcision first, Holy Name second.  This represents a rare recovery of old tradition that had been largely lost in the course of modernist revision.  The 1979 Prayer Book replaced the Circumcision with the Holy Name.  Even the Roman Catholics replaced the Circumcision, in their case with a solemnity of Mary, because apparently they didn’t have enough Marian feasts already, I guess?

If you’re new to the concept of this holy day, or to the idea of circumcision in general, consider checking out this write-up I made two years ago.  Some of its liturgical references are out of date, or non-applicable to the 2019 Prayer Book, but that’s alright, the information is still useful, and Scripture is still Scripture.

So how do we go about celebrating the circumcision of Christ according to the 2019 book?  Let’s start with the Collect of the Day, which should be read last night (Evening Prayer on December 31st) at at Morning Prayer, the Communion service, and Evening Prayer today.

Almighty God, your blessed Son fulfilled the covenant of circumcision for our sake, and was given the Name that is above every name: Give us grace faithfully to bear his Name, and to worship him with pure hearts according to the New Covenant; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

The daily office, sadly, only give us one special reading for this day, where the historic prayer books always had more.  It’s Luke 2:8-21, which is simply the post-birth narrative of Jesus, leading up to his circumcision and naming in verse 21.  This serves as the Gospel lesson at the Communion service as well.  If you follow this customary’s midday prayer supplemental lectionary then you’ll get back one of the historic readings for this feast day, Genesis 17:9-end, in which Abraham first receives the covenant of circumcision from God.

Turning to the Communion lessons, we’ve got Exodus 34:1-9, Psalm 8, Romans 1:1-7, and Luke 2:15-21.  The Gospel is a shorter version of the Evening Prayer lesson already mentioned.  The reading from Exodus 34 tells of the re-establishment of the covenant with Moses during which God declares one form of his name: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”  Psalm 8 responds with a celebration of how majestic God’s Name is, and Romans 1 opens a striking christological statement.  The line about “the obedience of faith” is a key tie-in with the Old Covenant concept of circumcision, and the call to “belong to Jesus Christ” is a pointer to the New Covenant.

Something that is, perhaps, a missed opportunity, is the Epistle lesson appointed for this day in the classic prayer books, before 1962.  It was Romans 4:8-14, which deals more directly with the question of circumcision and its relation to the justification offered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you have time today, I encourage you to look at the articles and pages linked to in this entry, as they will help you explore and discern the richness of this ‘unlikely’ holiday.

Renewal of Baptismal Vows

Coming up in a couple weeks is the First Sunday of Epiphany, which is one of the four traditional Baptismal occasions of the church year.  I say “four traditional occasions,” but take that concept gently: any day is a good day for a baptism.  Don’t turn people down because it’s Advent or Lent; as it says on page 221, The minister shall encourage parents not to defer the Baptism of their children (emphasis added).  That being understood, when dealing with baptismal preparation for those of a riper age, there are four big days scattered fairly evenly throughout the year that have been identified as especially appropriate for Baptism and Confirmation: The Baptism of our Lord (the modern Epiphany 1), the Easter Vigil, the Day of Pentecost, and All Saints’ Day.  Of course, any day, a holy day or otherwise, is appropriate for such life-giving rites as baptism and confirmation, but insofar as a parish is able to plan and prepare for these milestones, those are the “best” four days in the year to aim for.

One of the interesting features of the 2019 Prayer Book, adapted from the 1979’s use, is the “Renewal of Baptismal Vows” – a rite appointed for use when there are no actual baptisms to be had.  Our prayer book, on page 194, notes that

If there are no baptisms or confirmations at the Easter Vigil, the Renewal of Baptismal Vows takes place after the Service of Lessons or the Sermon.  On other occasions, the Renewal of Vows follows the Sermon.  The Nicene Creed is not said.

This means that we are expected to use this rite at the Easter Vigil when no baptisms and confirmations are taking place, and we are permitted to use it at other times.  The four “big baptismal days” – Epiphany 1, Easter Vigil, Pentecost, All Saints’ – are arguably the “best” times to pull this rite out and observe it with your congregation.

The Incarnate Word

Happy Christmas Eve!

Here’s a brief homily for Evening Prayer today, looking primarily at the Psalm appointed (the beginning of 119).  I hope you enjoy the holidays ahead!

Walk-through of the Communion liturgy (BCP 2019)

Over the past few months we’ve been walking through the Communion liturgy in the 2019 Prayer Book, step by step, and just finished last week.  Now it’s time to share the full index of this summary so you can go back, catch up on anything you missed, or revisit what you might want to revisit.

This is not, of course, a complete commentary on every portion of the liturgy.  But it does give you something to think about, or context to consider, for each section of the worship service.  Plus some advice along the way!

  1. The Trinitytide Acclamation or The Advent Acclamation
  2. The Collect for Purity
  3. The Penitential Rite (Decalogue or Summary of the Law)
  4. The Gloria in Excelsis
  5. The Number of Collects and Lessons
  6. The Nicene Creed (translation)
  7. The Order of the Sermon & Creed
  8. The Prayers of the People
  9. The Exhortation
  10. The Confession
  11. The Comfortable Words
  12. The Offertory Sentences
  13. The Sursum Corda
  14. The Proper Preface
  15. The two(ish) Prayers of Consecration
  16. The Epiclesis
  17. The Fraction
  18. The Prayer of Humble Access
  19. the Anthem
  20. What the Minister says to the Congregation at the Communion
  21. The two Post-Communion Prayers
  22. The Blessing
  23. The Dismissal