An Ancient Advent Hymn

There’s an Advent Hymn that I’ve wanted to point out to people for a while, and I figured I’d pull it up for you all at this blog.  It’s called Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding, and the reason why I’ve had it in mind is because it quotes the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent in its first verse.

… except, as I suddenly realized as I sat down to write about it, this hymn was written in around the 6th century.  So it’s probably not quoting the Collect as we know it.  But it’s making the same Romans 13 reference as the Collect, which means that the way we collect Scripture together to develop the themes of Advent is the way the Church has done it for over 1,500 years.  Let’s check it out.

Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding;
“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say;
“Cast away the works of darkness,
O ye children of the day.”

There it is, our “cast away the works of darkness” reference from Romans 13.  Christ is near, we are children of the day, so put on the armor of light.

Waken’d by the solemn warning;
Let the earth-bound soul arise;
Christ, her sun, all sloth dispelling,
Shines upon the morning skies.

The theme of waking up, or staying awake, is also a prominent refrain in Advent hymnody and Scripture.  Christ as the morning star, or the sun at dawn, is also a common Advent image, depicting his Return as the beginning of a new and eternal day.

Lo! the Lamb, so long-expected,
Comes with pardon down from heav’n;
Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
One and all to be forgiv’n.

Now we’ve got an echo of “Come thou long expected Jesus” (another Advent hymn).  And this third verse also highlights something that tends to get downplayed by a number of people today: Advent is a penitential season.

So when next he comes with glory,
And the world is wrapped in fear,
May he with his mercy shield us,
And with words of love draw near.

Honor, glory, might, and blessing
To the Father and the Son,
With the everlasting Spirit,
While unending ages run.

I think it’s nice to see the same conflicting emotions from the 500’s that we have today when it comes to the subject of eternity and judgment: fear, mercy, and love.

The Trinitarian doxology in the final verse, by the way, is characteristic of ancient hymns.  It’s impressive how many subtly different ways people find to praise the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the same meter.

Another great thing about this hymn is that it fits anytime during Advent.  The reference to the first Sunday’s Collect makes it especially good for the first Sunday (in modern prayer book tradition, which no longer repeats that Collect throughout the season).  It also appeals well to the Collect for the 4th Sunday, so the end of the season works as well for this song as the beginning.  But apart from that, the wide sweep of classic Advent themes make this hymn great for any time in the season.

The Blessing at Communion

The last part of the Communion service in the classical prayer books is the Blessing.  Specifically, this one (albeit with the 2019 wording)…

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always.  Amen.

Once this blessing is pronounced, people can get up and go.

Except, in the modern order, we now have an extra Dismissal that follows, and usually music as well.  But until the 1970’s (or perhaps the arrival of something like the Anglican Missal?) the Blessing marked the end of the liturgy.

I have heard it argued that the priest offering a Blessing at this point is redundant – what greater blessing could be conferred than receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord?  But there are a couple different answers.

First of all, ending a worship service with a blessing is biblical.  It is the Old Testament pattern – even though the sacrifice of animals and their oblation in the Temple and the eating of the meat was the “high point” of the Old Covenant liturgy, the priest was still to bless the people after.  It is the New Testament pattern too, in a way: St. Paul ended each of his epistles with a blessing of some sort.  It is a little ironic, though, that the blessing we use is not explicitly used as a blessing by St. Paul (cf. Philippians 4:7 – it was actually the Epistle reading a couple Sundays ago).

Secondly, the specific content of this blessing is appropriate.  In a general sense, the argument against a blessing after receiving Holy Communion does sound logical, but this objection is undermined by what this blessing calls for: that the people would be kept in the knowledge and love of God.  It is a blessing of perseverance – may the people, who have just celebrated their unity with and in Christ, always remain so.

Third, and finally, it is analogous to the Prayer of Humble Access.  If you reduce the meaning of this blessing to some sort of generic blessing, then yeah it’s lame.  Same deal with the Prayer of Humble Access: if you reduce the meaning of that prayer to some sort of generic confession, then it’s redundant and silly too.  But both of these prayers, although bearing similarities to other prayers and “functions” within the service, bring new and different lights to the table (or, from the Table in this instance).

Now, all that having been said… the 2019 Prayer Book states that

The Bishop, when present, or the Priest, gives this or an alternative blessing

But what is an “alternative blessing”?  None is supplied.  In the classical prayer books this choice didn’t exist: that blessing was the blessing.  But there is another blessing in the old prayer book tradition – the Burial Office ends with a different blessing, also found at the end of the Committal in the 2019 Prayer Book:

The God of peace, who brought again the from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight…

Notice in both blessings that these are not (strictly-speaking) prayers.  “May God ___” is a prayer, but these are more like statements (or perhaps subjunctive verbs, if I remember my grammar correctly): “God… make you perfect” and “the peace of God… keep your hearts and minds.”  Blessings are “speech-acts”, like when a minister declares a man and a woman husband and wife, or baptizes somebody.  However sacerdotal you may or may not choose to view these “sacramental rites”, the reality is that these are special acts of the Church through her ordained ministers.  Pentecostalism, especially in its Prosperity Gospel extreme versions, has yielded an unhealthy practice that is creeping into evangelicalism: “declarations” in the name of Jesus for one or another sort of blessing.  This practice is essentially usurping the special role of the ordained clergy, popularizing it for all Christians, and reducing its gravity and import often to crass hopes and dreams for health and wealth.  Be very careful what you do, or permit, along these lines in your ministry context.

One last note about the option for different blessings at the end of the Communion service.  I strongly suspect that the main reason the 2019 rubric permits an “alternative blessing” is to authorize the Seasonal Blessings that have been provided in supplemental books such as Book of Occasional Services and Common Prayer (2000).  If you are so inclined, you can peruse those materials for a variety of blessings – probably finding a unique one for every Sunday of the year.  Although modern liturgy trends seem to prefer such variety, classic Prayer Book wisdom does not support this, so I would advise priests not to deviate from the standard Prayer Book blessing very often.  Maybe grab a “solemn blessing” for Christmas Day and Easter Day; maybe use another blessing from the Bible or pre-existing tradition on other special and rare occasions; otherwise, be sure to use the standard historic blessing virtually all year.

If it’s always changing, it’ll never stick in the people’s minds, and go in one ear and out the other.  And, given the fact that the standard blessing is for our hearts and minds to kept, that would be sadly ironic indeed.

Overview of Revelation

The Revelation (or Apocalypse) of St. John, the last book of the Christian Bible, can be rather difficult to make sense of. And when you throw into the mix the wide range of conflicting teaching on how to interpret it, things can get very complicated indeed. Since we’re just getting into this book now in the 2019 Prayer Book’s Daily Office Lectionary, here’s my overview on what this book is about and how to read it profitably.
For further reading:
Subject Index:
* 00:00 Revelation/Apocalypse
* 02:46 Signs, Metaphors, and the Literal Sense
* 07:17 Examples: seven lamps, lamb that was slain, city dressed as a bride
* 12:58 Interpretive Approaches: preterist, historicist, futurist, spiritualist
* 20:18 The 1,000 Years: pre-millennial, post-millennial, amillennial
* 30:30 Concluding Summary

Back to basics: what is liturgy?

Some of the stuff that’s ended up on this blog has been pretty specific – to a particular occasion, or exploring a particular prayer within the liturgy.  But some of the entries and articles have been more broad and general.

Perhaps the most important sentence I’ve ever written (in the context of this blog) is this:

The Prayer Book is our liturgy.

It is, not contains, our liturgy.  If you think of the Prayer Book as a book that “contains” or “has” the liturgy that we use, then the book is still just a tool, and not your companion on the way.  Anglicanism doesn’t “use” liturgy, it “follows” or “goes with” liturgy.  The first article listed below, What is liturgy? explains this in further detail.

From there, feel free to peruse some of the other basic questions of liturgy that perhaps you’ve never quite managed to put into words yet.  Not that I’ve got all the answers either, but it’s a work in progress we’ve got over here 🙂

Liturgy in general:

Practical & Procedural Advice:

Planning Prayers & Readings Review 12/2

Planning Prayers

Although the full text hasn’t been finalized yet, I do have plans for how the Saint Aelfric Customary will recommend the implementation of most of the features in the 2019 Prayer Book.  In short, I can’t tell you why these suggestions are here yet, but if you want to order your prayers accordingly, here is the weekly guide!

Sunday 12/1

  • Morning Prayer Canticles: #1 Magna et mirabilia and Benedictus
  • Holy Communion: First Sunday of Advent (Year A)
  • Evening Prayer Canticles: Magnificat and #4 Quaerite Dominum

Monday 12/2

  • Morning Prayer Canticles: #1 Magna et mirabilia and Benedictus
  • Holy Communion: First Sunday of Advent (with the traditional readings)
  • Evening Prayer Canticles: Magnificat and #4 Quaerite Dominum

Tuesday 12/3

  • Morning Prayer Canticles: #1 Magna et mirabilia and Benedictus
  • Holy Communion: Votive: Ascension Day
  • Evening Prayer Canticles: Magnificat and #4 Quaerite Dominum

Wednesday 12/4

  • Morning Prayer Canticles: #1 Magna et mirabilia and Benedictus
  • Holy Communion: St. John of Damascus or Votive*
  • Evening Prayer Canticles: Magnificat and #4 Quaerite Dominum

Thursday 12/5

  • Morning Prayer Canticles: #1 Magna et mirabilia and Benedictus
  • Holy Communion: St. Clement of Alexandria
  • Evening Prayer Canticles: Magnificat and #4 Quaerite Dominum

Friday 12/6

  • Morning Prayer Canticles: #1 Magna et mirabilia and Benedictus
  • Holy Communion: St. Nicholas
  • Evening Prayer Canticles: Magnificat and #4 Quaerite Dominum

Saturday 12/7

  • Morning Prayer Canticles: #1 Magna et mirabilia and Benedictus
  • Holy Communion: St. Ambrose of Milan
  • Evening Prayer: Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, Collect for Advent 2

Sunday 12/8

  • Morning Prayer Canticles: #1 Magna et mirabilia and Benedictus
  • Holy Communion: Second Sunday of Advent (Year A)
  • Evening Prayer Canticles: Magnificat and Nunc dimittis

* A Votive is a “Various Occasion” (page 733 in the BCP 2019).  The traditional appointments are Holy Trinity on Sunday, Holy Spirit on Monday, Holy Angels on Tuesday, of the Incarnation on Wednesdays, of the Holy Eucharist on Thursdays, the Holy Cross on Fridays, and of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturdays.

Readings Review

Last week: Ecclus. (Sirach) 2-11, Acts 21-23, Isaiah 37-43, Luke 6:20-9:17
This week: Ecclus. (Sirach) 14,17,18,21,34,38-39, Acts 24-28, Isaiah 44-50, Luke 9:18-12:34

This week, as you can see, is where the “skipping” through the book of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) really takes off.  Last week it was sort jumping every other chapter some days, but now we really rocket through, just grabbing a few highlight chapters on the way to the ever-popular final quarter of the book which we’ll read in the second week of Advent, for the most part.  If you want to explore what this new daily lectionary has omitted, feel free to make use of this Customary’s supplementary Midday Prayer Lectionary.  It will get you caught up on all the missed chapters of this book just in time for Christmas.

The Gospel of Luke, meanwhile, gives us its middle chapters this week.  And important turning point in the book is shortly after the Transfiguration – in 9:51 Luke narrates:

When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

This “turning of his face” is just just a symbolic act on Jesus’ part, but also a literary marker: from this point on, we should take extra care to read every story and saying with an eye on the Cross.  Jesus already had predicted his death a couple times before this point, but it is after this point that we should start asking ourselves “what does this parable mean in light of the Cross?” or “how does this event prepare me, the reader, for hearing about the death of Christ?”  Here are a few things coming up in Luke that may find a more clear meaning if you put it next to the Cross:

  • “Do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?” (9:54)
  • “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (9:62)
  • “Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” (10:3)
  • The story of Mary and Martha (10:38-42)
  • “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace; but when one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoil.” (11:21-22)

The First Feast

Happy Saint Andrew’s Day!

Landing within a week of the beginning of Advent and the new church year, having this as the first major saints day of the year is quite fitting: Andrew was the first one called by Jesus to follow him (or at least, the named among the first two that followed Jesus).  The point is, he was quick to follow Jesus, and the Collect highlights this fact:

Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Feel free to check out last year’s two posts for more insights into the observance and celebration of this holy day.

Two Post-Communion Prayers

I can just hear the traditionalists gnashing their teeth at this title.  “Two post communion prayers?  What’s wrong with your new prayer book, couldn’t you just settle on one like the good old days?”  The funny thing, in this case, is that the 1662 Prayer Book actually did have two choices of prayer after the reception of Holy Communion.  The second option is essentially what we have to this day in American Prayer Books – the “post communion prayer.”  The first option might be called a Prayer of Oblation, and American prayer books have typically placed it as part of the Prayer of Consecration.  So where the 1662 Prayer Book has a one-or-the-other-prayer situation, books like the 1928 use both, having moved one to a different spot.

In the 2019 Prayer Book, though, with our two communion rites, we end up with two different versions of the post-communion prayer.  Before preparing this write-up, I’d not yet spent any time comparing the two prayers against one another, and was pleasantly surprised at what I discovered: they are essentially the same prayer.  Check it out:


Of course there are some differences, and even the slightest difference can imply a much larger shift in emphasis and focus.  So let’s take a look at some of the variations between these.  The Prayer on the left side is the Anglican Standard Text, and, minus a couple words and one phrase trimmed out, is the same as found in the 1662 Prayer Book.  If you’re interested in that “true standard”, you can find it at the end of this entry.

The first major streamlining in the Renewed Ancient Text (right column) is where the prayer makes an aside to further explicate the nature of the Church.  “The body of your Son, and heirs of your eternal Kingdom” is made to cover for twice as much material in the Anglican Standard Text.

The next noteworthy omission is in the petition.  The first prayer asks God to assist us with his grace, while the second prayer asks God to send us out.  Both involve doing the good works according to his calling, but the former leans first on a prayer for perserverance in faith and the latter leans more on mission.  Indeed, that reference to serving as faithful witnesses of Christ is the only element of the second prayer that is truly unique to it, rather than a reduction of the other.

In short, both Post Communion Prayers in the 2019 Prayer Book are based upon the historic Post Communion Prayer.  The Anglican Standard Text is slightly shortened from the original, and the Renewed Ancient Text is even more shortened, and given a “missional” flavor toward the end.  They still ultimately communicate the same thing to us, but they do send us in slightly different directions.

– – –

ALMIGHTY and everliving God
we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us,
who have duly received these holy mysteries,
with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood
of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ;
and dost assure us thereby of thy favour and goodness towards us;
and that we are very members
incorporate in the mystical Body of thy Son,
which is the blessed company of all faithful
and are also heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom,
by the merits of the most precious death and passion of thy dear Son.
And we most humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace,
that we may continue in that holy fellowship,
and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in,
through Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost,
be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope you all have an enjoyable day ahead of you.

Most merciful Father, we humbly thank you for all your gifts so freely bestowed upon us: for life and health and safety, for strength to work and leisure to rest, for all that is beautiful in creation and in human life; but above all we thank you for our spiritual mercies in Christ Jesus our Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The 2019 Prayer Book appoints the following lessons and psalm for the Communion service today:

  • Deuteronomy 8
  • Psalm 65:1-8(9-14)
  • James 1:17-27
  • Matthew 6:25-33

I can even give you a tiny sermon outline I used a couple years ago with these propers.

How to Give Thanks like a Christian

Introduction: The Collect sets the stage and previews where we’re going.

Step One: Deuteronomy 8 is a sermon, warning us against thanklessness.

Step Two: Psalm 65 is an example of giving thanks.

Step Three: James 1 makes us look inside ourselves, at how thankfulness should change us.

Step Four: Matthew 6 proclaims the Gospel: God cares for you!  You are free to pursue him without worry or fear.

Take-away: Return to the Collect; pray it heartily!

Harvest Home (but which one?)

Perhaps my favorite Thanksgiving hymn is Come, ye thankful people, come, also known in other books as Harvest Home.  Typically when dealing with hymns and songs on this blog, I stay away from the most popular entries, since people are more likely to have learned something about them already.  But this one… well, let’s just go for it and we’ll see what happens.

This is a great Thanksgiving Hymn, picking up immediately on one of the key origins for this holiday: the end of the harvest season.  Hence the first stanza:

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest-home;
All is safely gathered in
‘Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come;
Raise the song of harvest-home.

Pretty straight forward, yes?  God is the creator and supplier of all things, that time of year draws to its close, so let’s go worship and thank him.  Simple.  Almost too simple.  But the second stanza is where things start to transform:

All the world is God’s own field,
Fruit unto his praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown,
Unto joy or sorrow grown;
First the blade and then the ear,
Then then full corn shall appear;
Grant, O harvest Lord, that we
Wholesome grain and pure may be.

Suddenly, while keeping the same imagery, the theological meaning has completely changed!  Now the field is God’s creation, the purpose of creation is praise him, wheat and tares grow together in the church, and we are called (planted) to bear the fruit of praise and thanksgiving.  Several parables and teachings of Jesus can be seen here, both distinctly and discreetly, and whether you follow either the 2019 prayer book or the traditional prayer book Sunday lectionary, themes like these have become prominent in recent weeks.

But we’re not done yet; stanza 3 takes it to another level:

For the Lord our God shall come,
And shall take his harvest home,
From his field shall in that day
All offences purge away,
Give his angels charge at last
In the fire the tares to cast,
But the fruitful ears to store
In his garner evermore.

Woah.  The return of Christ!  Judgement day!  The angelic harvest of the church… again the same parables alluded to, but now with a distinctly Advent theme.  This song can singlehandedly transition the worshiper from late Trinity to Advent!  The 4th and final stanza turns this into a prayer:

Even so, Lord, quickly come
To thy final harvest-home;
Gather thou thy people in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified,
In thy presence to abide;
Come with all thine angels, come;
Raise the glorious harvest-home.  Amen.

“Come, Lord Jesus” is the prayer at the end of the book of Revelation, and a key theme of the season of Advent (indeed, it is the Acclamation at the beginning of the modern Communion liturgy.)

It helps a great deal that Thanksgiving Day normally lands three days before the beginning of Advent, like it does this year.  Occasionally Thanksgiving is early enough that there’s still one Sunday left before Advent, but however it works in a given year, this hymn is a fantastic end-of-the-year song to sing.  There are a handful of Thanksgiving songs that I really like, and even more available in most hymnals, so I kind of feel bad appointing it every year at the expense of the others… but you know what?  I think this one’s worth it.

Church Calendar & Backlog

Something I spent a lot of time exploring, studying, and writing about early in my ministry was the liturgical calendar.  It was a new and exciting thing for me, a former non-denominationalist who (at most) only ever celebrated Advent, Christmas Day, Easter Day, and occasionally Good Friday.  That the entire year could be redefined according to the Gospel was a breath of fresh air – the chilly muddy months of late winter and early Spring could instead be known as “Lent”, and the Easter celebration could actually be just the beginning of something larger, leading to the Ascension and Pentecost – the latter of which I’d at least heard of, but the Ascension was almost completely new to me (apart from an obscure reference to it in the Apostles’ Creed).  Add in the fact that my Christian peers at the time were also unfamiliar with the liturgical calendar (and generally uninterested in my new “discovery), and you got an enthusiastic me tapping away at his blog yammering on about the calendar without them.

It took me a while to settle down and get to know the actual Prayer Book calendars, undiluted from my initial experience with the calendar in a Roman setting.  But when the dust cleared I came out a calmer-but-resolved advocate for the Calendar of the Christian Year.  And the payoff here has been, according to some of the feedback I’ve received, that a number of readers have learned things about the calendar and the seasons that they never knew before, especially novus ordo folks discovering the differences in the classical prayer book calendar.

If you, or someone you know, needs a refresher in the most basic question – “why a liturgical calendar at all?” – I would direct you to this lovely recent article:  It lists ten bullet-point reasons at the end, but also explains some of the relevance of having the Gospel shape our accounting of time rather than the Government, the realities of all time being in God’s hands, and our roles as co-creators under God, making something with the time he has given us.

Furthermore, if you’re new to following this blog, or just want to peruse the past year and see where we’ve been, here’s a list of entries I’ve already written, in outline of the church year.

Calendar Seasons: