Liturgy for Removing a Face Mask

Let me just preface this with a disclaimer, since humor on the internet can be very subjective: this is a satire entry. Satire, when written correctly, is not rude and mean-spirited, but uses humor or unexpected juxtapositions to criticize an issue. Hopefully this remains in that vein.

Yesterday I offered a negative example of a prayer for putting on a face mask; today I’m offering a different kind of bad example of liturgy, this time for the removing of a face mask.


A Liturgy for the Removal of Face Masks
especially before a meal

OPENING SENTENCE

Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. LUKE 12:2

PSALM 32:1-2

Blessed is the one whose unrighteousness is forgiven, *
and whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the one to whom the Lord imputes no sin, *
and in whose spirit there is no guile.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

THE LESSON

When one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
2 CORINTHIANS 3:16-18a

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

The officiant and people remove their face masks.

THE PRAYERS

The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Let us pray.

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in the fullness of his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. ROMANS 15:13


I put this together to contrast the errors of yesterday’s prayer with a different set of errors. The first was very unorthodox in the theology it espoused, putting personal definitions over biblical definitions. This liturgy, however, is very traditional in its order and content. The problem with what I’ve put together is that it, yes, is super tacky, but that it demonstrates a lack of discernment or understanding regarding the use of prayer and scripture.

One of the popular assumptions about Anglican worship, these days, is that the “shape” of it is of primary or near-primary importance. The exact content can vary, they say, so long as the general order of things and thematic movement is basically the same. While this argument can be accepted on a limited level, particularly when comparing the Prayer Book of different Anglican provinces, or even comparing liturgies across different Christian traditions, this does not pan out in reality nearly as generously as some would claim. So I made this “liturgy” to help illustrate how wildly wrong that preference for “shape” can go.

The outline is sound: (1) Acclamation / Opening Sentence, (2) Psalm, (3) Lesson, (4) Prayer, (5) Closing Sentence / Blessing. But the content, despite being literally all quoted from the Bible or the Prayer Book, is utterly ridiculous.

The Opening Sentence and the Psalm refer to sin that are “covered up.” In the Opening Sentence, Jesus warns that he will uncover the sins of all, implying that we must live lives of repentance. In Psalm 32, God covers our sins, in the sense that he will clothe us with his righteousness. This is an awkward contrast, using the concept of “covering up sin” in two very different ways. It might make for a useful juxtaposition in a sermon, but it makes for poor liturgy. You can’t just give two opposite uses of the same word in a row like that and expect people to follow along on the first try.

The lesson, too, is atrocious. I literally just ran a search through Biblegateway for the word “veil” until I found something that I could use. The text itself refers to the “veil” of ignorance covering the eyes of those who don’t know Christ and are therefore unable to see him in the Old Testament Scriptures. You can’t simply lift a text out of the Bible and plunk it down in any old setting like this! That’s not how this works! Biblical interpretation and liturgical use must go hand-in-hand; a lesson or reading must be read in the right context or its interpretation will be twisted. As it stands here, 2 Corinthians 3 sounds like a condemnation of face masks – to wear one is to stifle our freedom! There are folks out there making claims along those lines, and, well, I feel sorry for their neighbors. But whatever your view of the “politics” of face masks during a global pandemic, it must be understood without a doubt that these verses having literally nothing to do with wearing face masks. Beware the “word search” approach to finding Bible verses that fit the subject or occasion you’ve got in mind… right interpretation of the text is vital for its right liturgical use.

The Collect and Closing Sentence, following from that, continue the theme of “sight” and “open eyes” being equated with “faith” and “believing.” There is nothing particularly offensive about this closing, but it is largely a non sequitur after the tone of what came before, and (honestly) still has nothing to do with face masks. The use of this prayer and sentence highlights another mistake that some Anglicans make with the Prayer Book: cobbling together bits and pieces from across the Book to make something new. The Prayer Book is not a cafeteria! It is not the Book of Common Prayers, but the Book of Common Prayer, full stop. We cannot treat it as a collection of resources. Rather, it is a system of whole liturgies, a complete life of worship, built in discrete blocks of worship services. Can we adapt pieces of it for private use? Absolutely. But that is not what the Prayer Book is for, primarily, and we have to be very selective and discerning about how we create our own devotions. Just like the text of the Bible, taking prayers and things out of context and putting them into new roles and situations can completely transform their interpretation.

So what have we learned here, folks?

  1. The “shape” of the liturgy is not as crucial as the content of the liturgy.
  2. Raw Bible quotes can be utterly meaningless if taken out context.
  3. Interpretation and liturgical function belong together.
  4. The Prayer Book is not a cafeteria to pick and choose from.
  5. Fr. Brench has a very silly sense of humor.

Prayer for Donning a Face Mask

There is a prayer flitting about the internet these days, “for putting on a face mask.” On the face of it (haha!) this is not necessarily a bad idea; there are several ancient “vesting prayers” said by priests and other ministers as they don their vestments before the Service of Holy Communion. And there are many other prayers and devotions that are meant to “sanctify” the ordinary actions of life. So the idea of a prayer for donning a face mask, if weird, is not in itself a bad one. However, the particular prayer getting a lot of air-time online is not a good example. Here it is:

Creator,
as I prepare to go into the world,
help me to see the sacrament
in the wearing of this cloth –
let it be “an outward sign
of an inward grace” –
a tangible and visible way
of living love for my neighbours,
as I love myself.

Christ,
since my lips will be covered,
uncover my heart,
that people would see my smile
in the crinkles around my eyes.
Since my voice may be muffled,
help me to speak clearly,
not only with my words,
but with my actions.

Holy Spirit,
as the elastic touches my ears,
remind me to listen carefully –
and full of care –
to all those I meet.
May this simple piece of cloth
be shield and banner,
and each breath that it holds,
be filled with your love.

In your Name
and in that love,
I pray.

May it be so.
May it be so.

The first problem is the treatment of the Trinity. You can see this in many liberal or progressive churches today: the Father and the Son are regularly neutered and de-personified into mere roles: Creator and Redeemer. Here, the Redeemer is at least “Christ”, but the lack of clarification that the Christ is Jesus of Nazareth, the man who was God, is a red flag. After all, in a prayer this long there should definitely be room for him. But he is carefully and intentionally omitted. And it’s worse that the Father (alone) is called “Creator” – although the orthodox faith admits no gender for God the Father, it has always put forth the first person of the Trinity as “The Father”, in line with both Old and New Testament witness. To evade this most basic label is to evade Christian orthodoxy.

The next major no-no here is the assertion of a sacramental nature to wearing a face mask. It is, indeed, an outward sign of an inward love, as we wear masks primarily to prevent ourselves from spreading COVID-19 to others, but love is not grace, at least not in the biblical sense. We are being gracious to others by wearing masks, but we certainly do not confer grace upon anyone else by any action we undertake. Grace in the theological sense is the gift of God alone. This prayer betrays a fatal lack of understanding of grace and sacramentology.

The second stanza, addressed to the nebulous Christ, contains good advice but nothing of theological substance. This is better embroidered on a cross-stitch than uttered as a prayer.

The third stanza, finally, is actually a decent prayer. It may not be in the formal voice that good liturgy strives for, but the sentiment is worthwhile.

But that ending… please don’t pray in the Name of Creator/Christ/Holy Spirit… that’s just not sound theology, liturgical or otherwise.

So, by all means, if you can take ordinary actions and bathe them in prayer, that’s fantastic. Just don’t use this prayer going around, and let us learn from the mistakes of others.

Christian Fellowship in its Fullness

Happy Saint Aelfric Day! Today we’re just going to look at one of the Scripture readings from today’s Communion Propers. Acts 2:42 may be a popular verse in some circles, but hopefully there is a fresh and inspiring aspect to its contents this time around:

Leorningcnihtes boc

In the wake of the enormous events of the Day of Pentecost comes this oft-quoted description of the Apostolic fellowship among the first Christians:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe/fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47

Here we see what is, presumably, a healthy Christian community being established. Here we see what is, presumably, a set of…

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Jesus and Apostolic Authority

Happy Saints Simon & Jude Day! Here is a homily exploring the subject of unity in Christ through his apostolic witness.

Leorningcnihtes boc

Part One: Division

I was having a little dialogue with someone on Facebook last week about the intersection of politics and religion.  It was once of those situations where the other person and I actually were in general agreement concerning the subject at hand, but he seemed intent on convincing me to become more vocal about our concerns.  Pastors should preach these socio-political and religious issues from the pulpit every week, if our country is to be saved!  I pointed out that the preacher’s first concern is preaching the Gospel, and as the texts of Scripture speak to one contemporary issue or another then we address those issues.  However, in doing so, I quoted from the New Testament Epistles, to which the other fellow replied “Are you saying Jesus did not kick over the money changers’ tables? Do you risk putting so-called Saint Paul before Jesus?

As if…

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Customary Update: Holy Communion part 1

The first half of the Communion liturgy is now covered by the Saint Aelfric Customary. You may already have seen the prologue on how to choose between the two Communion Rites in the 2019 Prayer Book, and now the first half of the actual worship service is summarized.

There is clarification on the use of the Acclamations at the very beginning, ideas about the Collects, guidelines for including the Decalogue periodically, notes about handling the lessons, and even some of the music around them.

Notes on parts of the liturgy that are often taken for granted or ignored (the Gloria, the Creed, the Prayers of the People, the Exhortation) may also give you pause for thought. And, perhaps most unexpectedly, we’ve got a recommended use of the full list of Offertory sentences. Just think how few of them are normally read, and how many of them sit unused, unheard by the majority of our congregants!

You can read the whole thing here: https://saint-aelfric-customary.org/customary-for-the-holy-communion/

The Collect for Grace (Morning Prayer)

The Collect for Grace is rich in Scripture references. After acknowledging the beginning of the day, we pray as in Psalm 43:1 “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause.” The Collect expresses a trust in God’s refuge akin to that described in Psalm 62:7 (verse 8 in the Prayer Book numeration) and Psalm 91:2. We pray this “That we may do what is righteous in your sight” (Deuteronomy 6:18), putting the prayer together in much the same way as part of Zechariah’s Canticle does in Luke 1:74-75.

This Collect is the second of the standard Morning Prayer Collects appointed daily in the classical Prayer Books. It also references the Psalms, and has versions in the Sarum and earlier liturgies that bring it to Morning Prayer in the Prayer Book by way of the minor Office of Prime. The wording of the final phrase shifted from the English to the American Prayer Books: “that all our doings may be ordered by thy governance, to do always what is righteous in thy sight” became “that all our doings being ordered by thy governance, may be righteous in thy sight”. This is a subtle shift of emphasis: the English version places God’s ordering of our works as the primary goal of the prayer, with the righteousness of our deeds as a consequence; the American version places the righteousness of our deeds as the goal, assuming God’s ordering of our works as a necessary cause. The difference comes down to whose works are more important in the Christian life: recognizing God’s grace at work in us (English) or carrying out our work in response to God’s grace (American). The phraseology in the 2019 Prayer Book, carried over from the translation of 1979, remains in the American tradition.

O Lord, our heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God,
you have brought us safely to the beginning of this new day:
Defend us by your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin nor run into any danger;
and that, guided by your Spirit, we may do what is righteous in your sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Customary update for Compline

The service of Compline in the 2019 Prayer Book has a small number of options to navigate: four Psalms, four readings (plus another seven in the Additional Directions), and a handful of collects to choose from among the prayers.

Although the saying of Compline is usually a private devotion, and thus highly subject to personal preference, familiarity, or brevity, I’ve got a Customary entry for Compline, too, by which you can order your use of the options in this brief service of prayer and meditation.

You can find it here: Customary: Compline

When to skip the Nicene Creed!?

Happy September!  I am finally easing out of a writing hiatus, now that my family’s move is more or less completed and the school year has more or less begun.  We won’t quite be jumping straight into five posts per week, but, as I announced a few months ago, the focus on quality over quantity will continue.

Today we’re tossing another “Weird Rubric Wednesday” into the collection.

wrw

So you’re going along through the Communion service in the 2019 Prayer Book, and you get to page 108 or 126 and you come to this rubric:

On Sundays, other Major Feast Days, and other times as appointed, all stand to recite the Nicene Creed…

So this is curious.  Most of you are probably used to the Nicene Creed being a static part of the Communion service – always there, unchanged, unchanging.  Indeed that was the pattern set out in 1662: And the Gospel ended, shall be sung or said the Creed following, the people still standing as before.  By that point it was assumed that Holy Communion was being celebrated, at most, on Sundays and Holy Days.  The Roman tradition of Daily Mass was pretty much gone from English practice.  So practically every Communion was a Sunday or Holy Day, and there was no need to mess around with options.  After the Gospel, just say the Creed.  (Yeah, the sermon used to be after the Creed.)

But eventually things got a bit more loose.  The 1928 Prayer Book, usually upheld as the last bastion of traditional Anglican liturgy in America, actually has quite a strange rubric about the Creed – I daresay more worthy of “Weird Rubric Wednesday” than its 2019 counterpart.  This is what it says:

Then shall be said the Creed commonly called the Nicene, or else the Apostles’ Creed; but the Creed may be omitted, if it hath been said immediately before in Morning Prayer; Provided, That the Nicene Creed shall be said on Christmas Day, Easter Day, Ascension Day, Whitsunday, and Trinity Sunday.

You see, in the 1928 Book, people have the option of saying either the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed in Morning Prayer, and the same choices at the Communion too.  The “defaults” were still Apostles’ in the Office and Nicene in the Communion, but the expansion of options was such that one could choose either at any time, with only five exceptions.  Omitting the Creed entirely was also an option if Morning Prayer had just been said!

But this isn’t simply wild and crazy liberalism and choose-your-own-adventure liturgy building.  I mean, that could happen, but that’s not the intention.  Rather, this option to omit the Nicene Creed is in line with a retrieval of pre-Reformation tradition that was going on at the time in the growing Anglo-Catholic movement.  In the Roman calendar there are several “classes” or “ranks” of feast days, and they are celebrated with different levels of liturgical complexity.  Among those levels include the saying/omitting of the Gloria, and also of the Nicene Creed.  These options have been codified among traditional Anglo-Catholics, as demonstrated by this Ordo Kalendar put out by a group of the Continuing Churches:

aug-sample

In this picture you can see August 27th-29th, with notes for the daily mass.  St. Augustine of Hippo’s feast day merits both the Gloria and the Creed, whereas the Beheading of St. John the Baptist omits the Creed.  The Feria (or empty) day before them omits both.  So, coming back to the 2019 Prayer Book, when we read On Sundays, other Major Feast Days, and other times as appointed, this is an opportunity for those who want to follow some sort of “ranking” of feast days to make distinctions in how we celebrate Communion in honor of different saints’ days.

Livestream amidst hiatus

Hello again, the hiatus continues.  Moving house is a slow process of settling in.  But next week I’ll have one child in preschool and we will be just about finished with the last bits of moving, so hopefully next week is when I’ll resume writing here again!  It probably won’t be five posts a week immediately, though.

In the meantime, though, I have been experimenting with livestream Evening Prayer services.  Sunday and Monday evening of this week I held them, and plan another one tonight: Wednesday 19 August at 8pm EST.  It will be streamed via YouTube, though the link will also be shared on this Customary’s Facebook Page about an hour in advance.

Until then!

Brief Hiatus

As the future King, David, is running around finding new places to hide in the later chapters of 1 Samuel (which we’ve been reading lately in morning prayer), so now have my family and I just moved a few miles to a new home too. It’s wonderful to have space for the kids to play outside without having to watch out for cars, and (soon) set up a home office where I can write for you all from a proper workspace rather than the couch or the kitchen table.

This means, however, that I will not be able to keep up these posts for a few days, until our internet is connected and the boxes are a little more unpacked.

Back soon!