3-Step Spirituality in Ezekiel 3

Yes, yes, this is a liturgy blog, not a Bible Study blog, but I’m a pastor, not just a priest, so some crossover is going to be inevitable from time to time.

But, to encourage you to watch this anyway, I actually do use the liturgy as an illustration for the biblical point I was exploring.  If you sometimes struggle to teach your congregation about the liturgy, this may be an example of one way of employing it in your preaching.

Introduction to Ascensiontide & Pentecost

Time for another video!  The quarantine lifestyle has thrown a lot of my previous plans off track so this is a bit later than I would have liked, but at least it’s ready before the Day of Pentecost.  Here is a video introduction, especially for those new to the Prayer Book tradition, to the mini-season of Ascensiontide and the great holy day of Pentecost.

Subject Index:

  • 00:00 Name & Meaning
  • 04:18 Major Themes
  • 08:20 Outline in traditional Prayer Books
  • 11:55 Outline in the 2019 Prayer Book
  • 16:35 Other liturgical features in the 2019 Prayer Book
  • 19:37 Closing Prayer: for the Sunday after the Ascension

For further reading:

Saint Augustine of Canterbury Day

May 26th is the commemoration of Saint Augustine of Canterbury, who is an immensely significant figure for Anglicans.  He was the first Archbishop of Canterbury.  He was the leader of a mission to re-evangelize the British Isles after the Anglo-Saxon invasion had pushed the old Celtic churches somewhat to the margins.  Sometimes today we romanticize Celtic Christianity, but it needs to be remembered that their unique traditions and style of spirituality did wane over time, and the land later to be known as England was not truly “won for Christ” for the long haul until Augustine’s second wave of evangelists beginning at the end of the 6th century.

St. Augustine had been sent by Pope Gregory the Great, and entrusted with the difficult task not only of evangelizing the warlike Saxon kings but also reconciling his new churches with the old Celtic ones.  It would be over 60 years later, at the Synod of Whitby, that the Anglo-Saxon Church finally settled a peaceful accord between the Augustinian churches and the Celtic churches.  In this sense, Augustine represents a sort of “catholicizing” influence on the English church, pulling local traditions more into alignment with the rest of the Church across the world.  I wrote about this last year, too.

By the way, much of what we know about Augustine and his mission, we owe to the Venerable Bede.  So it’s kind of fitting that their feast days are next to each other in this order!

The Venerable Bede

If you have an interest in medieval English history, Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England, or the now-ubiquitously-popular concept of “Celtic Christianity”, there is one giant of literature that you have to get to know: the Venerable Bede.  His body resides in Durham Cathedral and you can read a bit about him on their website if you like.  As that page notes, Bede’s “most famous work is The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the first ever written history of England.  Completed in 731, it is a key source for understanding early British history, details about St Cuthbert’s life and the arrival of Christianity.”

It is from his writings that we have the oldest-preserved poem in English, Cædmon’s Hymn (which I had to memorize in Anglo-Saxon and translate for an exam in college), and from his students we have another gem of a poem that he recited on his deathbed:

Before the journey that awaits us all,
No man becomes so wise that he has not need
to think out, before his going hence,
What judgment will be given to soul
after his death: of evil or of good.

He died 1,285 years ago tomorrow, but his commemoration day is today.  The reason for that is tomorrow is the commemoration of another saint, August of Canterbury, whose feast is traditionally of a higher “rank” than Bede’s.  Although the Prayer Book tradition only acknowledges two ranks of saints days (the red-letter days appointed with Collects and Lessons, versus the black-letter days listed in the calendar and left as optional commemorations) we still follow the old precedent of celebrating Augustine on May 26th and moving Bede up a day… and besides, it’s easiest to have just one saint per day.

But let’s go back to that poem.

It is, first of all, a reflection upon death and judgment.  It is not simply a momento mori (remembrance of death) like became popular in medieval piety over the centuries, but a remembrance of judgement and eternity.  No one should grow presumptuous (or worse, lethargic) about the state of one’s soul.  Before we die, we all must contemplate eternity, we all most think on our sinfulness and on God’s grace.  Bede does not say we should live in fear, as some accuse medieval Romanism of preaching, nor does he swing in the direction of easy-peasy pop-evangelicalism that focuses on God’s loving-kindness and tends to forget about our sinfulness.  He does not swerve in either direction, but stays simply in the middle: one must be mindful of judgment.

This poem navigates the balance between different sorts of biblical texts, such as:

  • Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).
  • Judgement begins at the household of God (1 Peter 4:17).
  • They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand (John 10:28).

I wish I knew more about Bede himself.  Hopefully I’ll make some time to his Ecclesiastical History in the coming year or two.  For now, though, this should be a good spiritual introduction to Bede’s sort of sober spirituality.

An Ascension Hymn: Crown him with many crowns

Last year we looked at the song See the conqueror mounts in triumph, so let’s look at a different one today.

Crown him with many crowns,
The Lamb upon the throne;
Hark! how the heav’nly anthem drowns
All music but its own;
Awake, my soul, and sing
Of him who died for thee,
And hail him as thy matchless King
Thro’ all eternity.

This stanza is steeped in imagery primarily from the book of the Revelation.  The lamb (that was slain) upon a throne, thousands of worshipers singing in unison through all eternity… some pretty grand and epic descriptions adorn that book and this verse of the hymn.

Each of the following verses of the hymn explore a different epithet for Christ.

Crown him the Son of God
Before the worlds began…

This is paired with Crown him the Son of Man, giving us a summary of orthodox christology: Jesus is a one person with two natures in their entirety, fully God and fully man.

Crown him the Lord of life,
Who triumphed o’er the grave

This is where the Ascension gets mentioned – His glories now we sing, Who died and rose on high… This is all part of the joyful proclamation of his victory over death itself.

Crown him of lords the Lord,
Who over all doth reign

This is the hardest to sing because we’re used to the phrase “the Lord of lords” but it’s switched around a bit.  The meaning is the same, though: his kingship extends over all creation because he is the incarnate Word who now lives in realms of light.

Crown him the Lord of heav’n,
Enthroned in worlds above;
Crown him the King, to whom is giv’n
The wondrous name of Love.
Crown him with many crowns,
As throne before him fall;
Crown him, ye kings, with many crowns,
For he is King of all.

There are other verses and versions out there, but this should suffice to give one a picture of what this hymn is doing.

One curiosity about these lyrics that is worth mentioning, however, is the fact that this is not a prayer.  Most old hymns are, but this one is not.  It speaks of Christ in the third person – crown him.  From a lyrical perspective this is a devotional hymn; the singer is addressing a human audience, one’s fellow worshipers, one’s own soul.  If you are appointing this song for a worship service, take this fact into account.  It would make a good hymn of response (like to a reading, or an anthem after a sermon or something else), but doesn’t strictly fit the bill for a hymn of praise or adoration, as it never directly addresses God himself.  This hymn exhorts the hearers to extol God, rather than actually extols God outright. Obviously it praises God most highly by implication, but it’s important to be honest about the function and content of the words we sing.

Anyway, sung to the tune DIADEMATA, this is an unforgettable hymn, unabashed to kneel before Jesus and afford him the fullness of fealty that our earthly images can muster.

Ascension Day – Antecommunion

For Ascension Day under the COVID-19 closure, I thought it would be nice to try something different.  Please forgive the box of kid’s toys in the background, and my hair’s a bit of a mess (I’m taking advantage of social distancing to regrow my hair into a ponytail while nobody has to look at it).  This is a reflection of the simple reality that worshiping at home can be difficult.  Nevertheless, whatever the challenges, the prayers of the Church never cease!

If you want a generic outline for Antecommunion, you can view or download one here: Antecommunion leaflet

The hymn I sang after the Peace (in the place of the Offertory) is See the conqueror mounts in triumph, #151 in the Book of Common Praise 2017.

Evening Prayer Audio: Eve of the Ascension

For a special treat I decided to prepare an audio recording of Evening Prayer today

To follow along, here’s the outline:

  • Opening Sentence: Hebrews 9:24 (BCP 55)
  • Confession through Invitatory (BCP 41-43)
  • Evening Hymn: O blest Creator of the light (2017 hymnal #240)
  • Psalm 104 (BCP 403)
  • OT Lesson: Ecclesiastes 6
  • Canticle: Magnificat (BCP 45)
  • NT Lesson: 3 John
  • Canticle: Nunc Dimittis (BCP 46)
  • The Apostles’ Creed (BCP 46)
  • The Prayers (BCP 47)
    • The Collect of the Day: Ascension Day (BCP 613)
    • Collect for Protection (BCP 50)
    • The 2nd Prayer for Mission (BCP 51)
  • The Anthem: O Jesus, crowned with all reknown (2017 hymnal #148)
  • Homily: Being Rich Is Pointless?
  • Occasional Prayers #48-51 (BCP 660)
  • The General Thanksgiving (BCP 51)
  • The Grace (BCP 53)

Psalms for the Daily Office on the 31st of the month are not clearly defined.

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One of the more curious features of the 2019 Prayer Book’s handling of the Psalter in the Daily Office is this rubric on page 735:

If there is a 31st day of the month, psalms are chosen from among the Songs of Ascents (120 to 134).

If you want to know more about the Songs of Ascents, I wrote about them a couple weeks ago here.

But today we’re looking at this Weird Rubric.

The 31st day of the month has always been a monkey wrench in Thomas Cranmer’s arrangement of the Psalms, which is a 30-day rotation.  The solution in Prayer Books before ours was that the 31st day of the month would simply repeat the Psalms from the 30th day.  There was at first a more complicated exception to this rule to account for the shortened month of February, but that faded from the Prayer Book tradition.  But in the 2019 Book we now have this murky instruction to choose the Psalms from a particular range.  What this, in effect, does is make the 31st day a repeat of the 27th day or 28th morning.

Now there are two “outs” if you (like me) find this rubric a little too weird.  Your first alternative is to use the 60-day cycle of Psalms, which is printed along with the Daily Office Lectionary.  This has the advantage of begin easy to look up, and perhaps the shorter psalmody will be a welcome “break” if you struggle to keep up with the 30-day standard.  The other solution is to take advantage of this text on page 734:

For any day, the psalms appointed may be reduced in number according to local circumstance, provided that the entire Psalter is read regularly.

This could be interpreted as a “Lazy Clause”, authorizing practically anything.  For example, you could literally read one Psalm, or half a long Psalm, each Office, and take a quarter of a year to get through the whole psalter!  If you do that “regularly” then you’re obeying the rubric here.  And, hey, if you’re new to liturgical prayer and new to the psalms, or you’re helping a child learn to pray, that may be a good idea.  But a seasoned Christian should not use this rubric as license for simply being lazy.  However, the license afforded here does mean that on “any day”, such as the 31st day of the month, you can deviate from the chart on page 735, provided you are covering the entire Psalter regularly.  In short, this is your “out” for praying the Psalms the traditional way, repeating Day 30’s psalms on Day 31.

But if you want to turn Day 31 into a grab-bag of Psalmody, replicating Day 27 and the morning of 28 in some fashion or another, go for it!

Summarizing Eastertide

I know Eastertide is about to shift gears, or even end, depending upon how you understand the bounds of the Easter season, but it’s better late than never… here is the next video in my series on the Church Calendar.

Subject Index:

  • 00:00 Definition & Major Themes
  • 05:38 Historical Features
  • 09:06 Walk-through in the 2019 Prayer Book
  • 12:40 Daily Office & other features
  • 17:36 A Collect for Strength to Await Christ’s Return

Links for further reading: