Book Review: An Anglican 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.

In 2008 the Anglican Mission in the Americas (then AMiA) published An Anglican Prayer Book to provide their congregations with historic Anglican liturgy in contemporary idiom.  The project was aided by the late Rev. Dr. Peter Toon, then President of the Prayer Book Society of the USA.  I don’t know how widely-used this book ended up being, given the colorful and complicated history of AMiA’s founding, leaving, and partially re-joining the ACNA, eventually splitting from its parent province Rwanda, and the complicated leadership debacle surrounding its founding Bishops.  Their Prayer Book, sometimes nicknamed “the blue book”, however popular or obscure, was a gem of a resource.  It contains an entire Prayer Book, omitting only a Psalter, and very closely preserves traditional Anglican liturgy in contemporary English.

Its language style is plain and simple, and strikes me as a little less awkward than that found in Common Prayer 2011.  It might even go in the other direction, feeling a bit calm and informal by comparison.  Also in contrast to CP2011, this book seems to produce more of a low-church feel to it.  Take, for example, this excerpt from the Absolution in the Daily Office:

He has commanded and authorized his Ministers to assure his people that they will receive absolution and forgiveness of their sins when they repent of their sins.

Compare this to the historic wording:

[He] hath given power, and commandment, to his Ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins…

The language of the original may be understood to say that the Minister actually declares or enacts God’s pardon upon the penitent, whereas the language of An Anglican Prayer Book specifies that the Minister merely assures the penitent of God’s pardon.  Similar subtleties can be found throughout this book, especially in its contemporary version of the 39 Articles of Religion, where the minutiae of wording and grammar have sparked centuries of theological debate.  Thankfully, this book isn’t trying to re-write the Articles of Religion according to a particular agenda (in this case low-church evangelical), but admits up front that this translation is provided for ease of reading, and only the original text is authoritative.  Still, the nature and style of this book is clearly better-suited to the evangelical than the anglo-catholic.

One of the unique features of this book is that it combines Morning and Evening Prayer together into one liturgy, noting which Canticles and Collects belong to which time of day.  Because it sticks with the traditional material and adds nothing of what is supplied in the 1979-2019 tradition, this doesn’t take up a ton of space, and very much helps to shorten the length of the book overall.

Another interesting feature of this book is that it the Communion liturgy has three Prayers of Consecration: one based on the English 1662, one based on the American 1928, and one based on the Canadian 1962.  This allows for variation in churchmanship, local tradition and familiarity, and just plain variety.  The first half of the liturgy is the same, and the last section is presented one version at a time; you have to skip to the correct page in order to follow along.

Because of its simplicity, small size, and traditional brevity, you’d think that this book should be easy to use.  But it actually isn’t all that user-friendly.  Part of it is the typeface: the rubrics are in a lighter grey color, and not in italics, which often makes them harder to distinguish from the regular spoken text.  The page-flipping, while not as complex as in the 1979 Prayer Book, is more cumbersome than the historic Prayer Books, and there are no page number guides within the liturgy texts to tell you where to go.

The greatest triumphs of this book, however, are the lectionaries.  The Daily Lectionary (bafflingly stuck near the back of the book instead of the front near the actual Office liturgy) is very simple to use.  It is the 1871 version of the 1662 Prayer Book’s daily lectionary, which sticks close to the original one-chapter-per-read method, but breaks up the longer chapters in half so they’re less cumbersome for the average reader.  I haven’t studied it carefully (let alone used it before), but I think it may give the new ACNA daily lectionary a run for its money in terms of overall quality.

The Communion lectionary, too, is assembled in what I consider the best way possible: united with the Collects.  The traditional Prayer Books printed the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel each in full text together for every Sunday and Holy Day of the year.  This makes a book quite lengthy of course, so the space-saving option (and especially smart in this age of multiple options for Bible translations) is to print the Collect with the verse references for the lessons.  Behold:


In my opinion, this is what the 2019 Prayer Book ought to do.  Granted, with a 3-year lectionary you’d need to specify “Year A: OT, Psalm, Epistle, Gospel“, but that wouldn’t take up a ton of space and would cut out an extra bit of page-flipping situation from having the Collects and Lectionary in two different places (like the 1979 book does).  I fear this is not a lesson our book will learn, though I did suggest it to them a couple times.

Also, this book is noteworthy for adding an Old Testament lesson & Psalm to the historic lectionary which featured only an Epistle & Gospel.  This, I believe, was the right way to contemporize the Communion lectionary, not rehash another version of the modern (or modernist!?) 3-year lectionary, as the 2019 book is doing.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 3/5
While not as simple as traditional Prayer Books, this book still has a relatively small learning curve.  As I noted above, its primary hindrances are due to presentation, not structure.

Devotional Usefulness: 4/5
Although some features in this book lean in the low-church direction, it still has everything you need for an Anglican devotional life.  The lectionaries are sound and the daily prayers are thorough.  It lacks all the bells and whistles of modern Prayer Books (such as special liturgies for Palm Sunday and similar days), but that’s not an issue for personal use.

Reference Value: 2/5
This book has had a relatively low impact in American Anglican liturgical development; I’ve never met anyone who uses (or used) it as their congregation’s primary prayer book.  I’ve known someone who used its daily lectionary, and I’ve known a church that uses its additions to the historic Communion lectionary, but never the book wholesale.  Really, apart from the added lessons to the Communion lectionary, this book has nothing to offer the liturgical world.  There are quite a few modern adaptations of the old liturgies out there, these days, making this book feel like one of the most redundant prayer books on my shelf.

At the end of the day, this isn’t a book I’d recommend adding your liturgy collection unless

  1. you really like collecting different prayer books, or
  2. your parish uses the historic lectionary and you want an OT & Psalm added, or
  3. you like studying different ways traditional language can be modernized.


Introduction to Baruch

One of the greatest blessings about the Bible’s contents is that it provides us with multiple accounts and perspectives on a large portion of the major events, stories, and people within.  There are four Gospel books, each telling the story of Jesus in a different way.  Echoes of several events recorded in the book of Acts can be found throughout the New Testament Epistles.  And in the Old Testament there are a number of books that overlap with one another in their historical coverage.  Sometimes this can be seen as a problem, for there are a number of instances that don’t seem to match.  The exact sequence of events at the last supper, at Paul’s life-changing encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, and the lifespans and reigns of several Israelite kings are difficult to reconstruct with the conflicting information found in different accounts throughout the Bible.  Many, if not most, of these issues can be harmonized with more careful study of the text, and an attentive eye to the writing style and emphasis of the particular authors.  But even as some of these challenges remain, it is a source of blessing for us.  It keeps us honest about the human element in the authorship of the Sacred Scriptures; it reminds us that the Bible exists to communicate Christ, and not to quibble over minor and inconsequential details like how long a particular Old Testament king lived in Jerusalem.

The book of Baruch, with appended Epistle of Jeremiah, is an offering of further perspective to the ministry and book of the Prophet Jeremiah.  The prophet Baruch is mentioned several times in the book of Jeremiah as his scribe and assistant (cf. chapters 32, 36, 43, 45).  For the most part this book serves as an answer to some of Jeremiah’s instructions to those who were going to Babylon in exile.  Chapters 1 and 2 in particular match up with Jeremiah 29, suggesting that some of the exiles were indeed beginning to live in faith and penitence, respecting their new masters in their temporary exile home.  The Epistle of Jeremiah, sometimes treated as chapter 6 of Baruch, is a further treatise against idolatry.

Those are what I tend to consider the major features of the book of Baruch, but oddly enough the ACNA Daily Lectionary only gives us two chapters of this short book to read, and it’s none of the above!  Instead we are to read chapters 4 and 5 which speak words of comfort to the Jewish exiles in Babylon.  As chapters 1 & 2 indicate, there were some among the exiles who did come to understand that the destruction of Jerusalem was God’s punishment for their idolatry, and they repented of their sins.  To such penitent believers, hope and comfort could be preached: God had a future for his faithful people.  These chapters are like the “Words of Comfort” in our Communion liturgy that follow the Confession and Absolution.

As you delve into these chapters this evening and tomorrow, think of this as the “light at the end of the tunnel” that Jeremiah yearned for in his long and painful prophetic ministry and his assistant finally gets to see.

A Pre-Lent Hymn: Come, labor on!

Although we don’t officially have the Pre-Lent season on the books, there’s no reason we can’t learn from that mindset and explore ways of incorporating the old wisdom of the church into modern practice.  For example, let’s consider a hymn that encapsulates something of the Pre-Lent spirit.

Come, labor on.
Who dares stand idle on the harvest plain
while all around him waves the golden grain?
And to each servant does the Master say,
“Go work today.”

Come, labor on.
The enemy is watching night and day,
To sow the tares, to snatch the seed away;
While we in sleep our duty have forgot,
He slumbered not.

Come, labor on.
Away with gloomy doubts and faithless fear!
No arm so weak but may do service here;
By feeble agents, may our God fulfill
His righteous will.

Come, labor on.
Claim the high calling angels cannot share;
to young and old the gospel gladness bear.
Redeem the time; its hours too swiftly fly.
The night draws nigh.

Come, labor on.
No time for rest, till glows the western sky,
till the long shadows o’er our pathway lie,
and a glad sound comes with the setting sun,
“Servants, well done!”

This song links to the Gospel both on Septuagesima Sunday (Matthew 20, the parable of the successively-hired laborers in the vineyard) and on Sexagesima (Luke 8, the parable of the sower and four types of soil).  The call to join in the Lord’s labor, to bear fruit, to put in our all for Christ, is excellent preparatory thematic material to rally the troops, as it were, before the spiritual disciplines of Lent begin.

It may already be too late to appoint this hymn for your Sunday morning worship services in the next two Sundays, but there’s nothing stopping you from using it on your own and recommending it to others as a great-ready-for-Lent sort of devotion!

The Suffrage in the Daily Office

One of the fun perks of watching the liturgical revision process carefully and attentively over the past 3 or 4 years is noticing what has been pretty consistent from the start, and where the pinball machines are located.  The Suffrage (also known as the Lesser Litany or the Preces & Responses) in the Daily Office is one such instance, having gone through a subtle edit or two almost every year.

Is a “subtle edit”, you may ask, really worth mentioning?  Sure, some changes are bigger than others, and there’s no major doctrinal conflict at stake in this Suffrage, but the fact that it’s part of the Daily Office – a service of prayer common to all Christians as opposed to the Prayers of Consecration only ever read aloud by priests and bishops – makes it a point of contact for real common prayer.  This is the sort of thing that people memorize after a while, so even the small and subtle changes can be jarring for regular pray-ers of the Daily Office (especially if you’ve sung these at Choral Evensong or something).

The starting point for these call-and-response prayers seemed to be the version found in the 1979 Prayer Book, and the constant question seemed to be how much further they should be rolled back towards the style and wording of the classical books.  Let’s take a look at how these have been translated and adapted.

It should be noted, further, that the ordering of these prayers is a little different in the 1979 book.  We’re following the order as found in our own 2019 prayer book, which matches the historic order with one addition.

The First Pair (Psalm 85:7)

1662: O Lord, show thy mercy upon us; And grant us thy salvation.
2018: O Lord, show your mercy upon us; And grant us your salvation.
2016: O Lord, show us your mercy; And grant us your salvation.
1979: Show us your mercy, O Lord; And grant us your salvation.

This one is subtle.  The difference between “show us your mercy” and “show your mercy upon us” is significant.  The former, as in the 1979 book and 2016 draft, is a general request that could be answered in any form.  The latter, as in the historic and probably-final draft of the new book, asks for such a show of divine mercy to be enacted upon us specifically.  It’s just like the translation of the Kyrie – “Lord have mercy” versus “Lord have mercy upon us.”

The Second Pair (Psalm 20:9)

1662: O Lord, save the King. And mercifully hear us, when we call upon thee.
2018: O Lord, guide those who govern us; And lead us in the way of justice and truth.
2016: O Lord, save our nations;  And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
1979: Lord, keep this nation under your care; And guide us in the way of justice and truth.

This is an inevitably tricky one, as the verse needs “translating” the moment it leaves England.  A traditional option was “O Lord, save the state”, but that’s actually quite divergent from the original – praying for a country or government rather than a specific person or leader.  And so you can see the sweep of thinking and re-thinking as this prayer is adapted into North American life while still seeking to be faithful to the original verse.

I don’t know why “and hear us when we call upon you” hasn’t been restored though, as that’s what our Revised Coverdale Psalter now reads.  Force of recent American habit, perhaps?

The Third Pair (Psalm 132:9)

1662: Endue thy Ministers with righteousness; And make thy chosen people joyful.
2016: Clothe your ministers with righteousness; And make your chosen people joyful.
2018: Clothe your ministers with righteousness; And let your people sing with joy.
1979: Clothe your ministers with righteousness; Let your people sing with joy.

Our Revised Coverdale Psalter translates the second half of this verse “And let your saints sing with joy.”  There’s an interesting balance in the 2018 version, as a result: we’re making closer use of our psalter’s translation of the verse, yet also retaining a rhythm (or syllable count) that matches the 1662 almost exactly.  This especially makes it easier for those who chant or sing these prayers to adapt to the new wording; though even just reading it with a similar cadence is a pleasant experience.

The Fourth Pair (Psalm 28:9)

1662: O Lord, save thy people; And bless thine inheritance.
2018: O Lord, save your people; And bless your inheritance.
2016: O Lord, save your people; And bless your inheritance.
1979: Let your way be known upon earth; Your saving health among all nations. (Psalm 67:2)

The 1979 Prayer Book omitted this one entirely and used a different verse instead.  It’s a fine prayer (it’s all Scripture), but we’re going back to the original.

The Fifth Pair (Leviticus 26:6)

1662: Give peace in our time, O Lord; Because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only thou, O God.
2018: Give peace in our time, O Lord; And defend us by your mighty power.
2016: Give peace in our time, O Lord; For only in you can we live in safety.
1979: Give peace, O Lord, in all the world; For only in you can we live in safety.

I secretly suspect that the double-length of this response is the bane of every modern liturgist, who I’m assuming wants every line to look close to the same length.  The question, of course, is how to shorten it faithfully.  That half is not directly in Leviticus 26:6, but is simply implied in the context (and throughout the Old Testament), so, unless there’s something I’m missing, we are at liberty to rephrase it without direct scriptural appeal.  I can see why the more radical end of the modernist revisionists wouldn’t want to talk about God “fighting” and prefer to emphasize our “safety” in him.  But it makes more sense to me, as with the 2018 probably-final version, to be a little more explicit about God defending us by his might power.

The Sixth Pair (Psalm 9:18)

1662: (This one wasn’t added until 1979 as far as I’m aware.)
2016: Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten; Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
2018: Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten; Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
1979: Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten; Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.

This one’s a bit of an anomaly.  The 1979 Prayer Book added this one in, for what I believe was the first time in Prayer Book history.  It’s a fine prayer, straight from the psalter in that book.  What amuses me is the fact that we haven’t updated its wording to match more closely our psalter, which reads:

For the poor shall not always be forgotten; * the patient hope of the meek shall not perish for ever.

It’s possible that the 2019 book will make some final edits here, but it’s probably more likely that the “inertia” of liturgy will result in this prayer remaining the same as in 1979.

The Seventh Pair (Psalm 51:11)

1662: O God, make clean our hearts within us; And take not thy Holy Spirit from us.
2018: Create in us clean hearts, O God; And take not your Holy Spirit from us.
2016: Create in us clean hearts, O God; And take not your Holy Spirit from us.
1979: Create in us clean hearts, O God; And sustain us with your Holy Spirit.

This verse is a classic point of argumentation among Christians; there are those who argue that such a concern/prayer is no longer applicable to us under the New Covenant.  The 1979 Prayer Book certainly cracked under that pressure and changed “take not from us” to “sustain us with”, completely sidestepping the issue and rewriting the Bible verse.  As I’ve said a few times before, it’s a fine prayer, but we’re sticking with the original.

Echoes of Lent in Epiphanytide

Traditionally this Sunday is/was Septuagesima, the third Sunday before Lent.  The modern calendar, however, continues the Epiphany season through these final weeks, all the way to Ash Wednesday.  What’s interesting is that some of the Collects for these final Sundays are lifted from the traditional Lent and Pre-Lent observances.  This week’s Collect, for example, Epiphany VI, is as follows:

Almighty God, look mercifully upon your people, that by your great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Traditionally this was the Collect appointed for Lent V, or Passion Sunday.  Compare this to the Good Friday Collect and you’ll see a very similar prayer: “behold this your people O Lord…”

This was no accident: Passion Sunday (Lent 5) was the beginning of Passiontide, the last two weeks of Lent, which direct our attentions to the suffering and death of Jesus.  Lent 5, being the Sunday immediately before Palm Sunday, provided something of a theological background to prepare the worshiper for Palm Sunday, by exploring the concept of sacrificial atonement such as found in Hebrews chapter 9.  Good Friday, being the intensification of Palm Sunday and Holy Week and Passiontide, naturally brings the some sort of prayerful approach as Lent 5.

But now we have that Collect here on the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany.  Although diminished in effect by being so much farther away from Good Friday, it can still be a signal for us that something different is coming.  Instead of hailing the beginning of Passiontide like it did at Lent 5, it now hails the approach of Lent, giving us a foretaste, an echo back in time, of the Good Friday subject: may God graciously look upon his people and govern and preserve us evermore.

Martin Luther & the Baptismal Liturgy

February 18th is the commemoration of Martin Luther, the first of the great Protestant Reformers.  He was born in 1483, ordained a priest in 1507 at about age 24, began his public protest of ecclesiastical abuses with his 95 Theses in 1517, and was excommunicated by the Pope in 1521, thus kicking off the Protestant Reformation.  He died on this day in 1546 at the respectable age of 62.

When examining the history of the English Reformation and the birth of Anglican tradition, more attention is usually paid to the influence of the Calvinist reformers of Geneva than to the German Lutherans.  So today let’s take a look at a significant Lutheran feature in Anglican liturgy: the “flood prayer” in the Baptismal service.  When Luther was revising the Roman liturgy for the German Protestant churches in the 1520’s he abbreviated the baptism service a couple different times, streamlining its attention upon the baptismal act and the grace of God therein.  But one thing he added to the liturgy was this “flood” prayer which carried over into the English Prayer Books a few decades later.

Let’s take a look at this prayer in three versions: the Lutheran Service Book as used by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (which I’m hoping is a close representative of the German original), the 1662 Prayer Book (the Anglican standard), and the most recent draft version I’ve got from the ACNA website.

Baptism - Flood Prayer

Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice is the modern love of brevity.  The long, eloquent, and often verbose prayers of the 16th and 17th centuries have been eroded through the 20th century for the modern ear.

The next obvious feature is that our new version is missing two sections with biblical references.  Before people start complain about the ACNA watering down the baptismal liturgy (if you’ll forgive the wonderful, wonderful pun), it should be pointed out that those omitted references to the crossing of the Red Sea and the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan are found elsewhere in the modern liturgy.  Rather than hitting us with all of them at once in one glorious prayer, it’s spread out among a few medium- and short-length prayers.

It’s also interesting to note the theme of the judgment of the wicked – it’s present in each version of the Flood Prayer but ours seems to be less prominent than its Lutheran forebear.  We just get a shout-out to God’s wrath in the penultimate section, while the Lutheran version mentions those condemned in the Noahic Flood, hard-hearted Pharaoh, and the inherited sin of Adam.  This, perhaps, flies in the face of certain negative stereotypes regarding the Reformed theological camp.

Whateverso, despite its reduction in length, and its spreading out through different parts of our baptismal liturgy today, the Flood Prayer is a beautiful prayer, deeply expressive of our baptismal theology, and we have Martin Luther to thank for writing the original version!  If you want to read more about the origin of the Flood Prayer, this article is a nice place to start.

Book Review: The Anglican Service 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.

If you were an Anglo-Catholic, or other sort of tradition highchurchman, in the Episcopal Church, and not one of the 1928 hold-out parishes, The Anglican Service Book was the thing to have.  Originally printed in 1991, and going through at least three more printings over the following decade-and-a-half, the ASB is the go-to text for Episcopalians who love and prefer the traditional language style of our Prayer Book tradition.  In accordance with the rubrics of the 1979 prayer book, the ASB is a collection of re-writes of nearly everything the ’79 book back into traditional English, with a number of suggestions, resources, and rewrites of various rubrics along the way.

One of its immediate points of usefulness is the use of bold print to denote words spoken by the congregation, making an otherwise-difficult prayer book just a little more user-friendly.  Besides that, it cuts down on some of the options offered in the 1979 book and reformats some of the liturgies to reduce page-flipping, making this book a bit easier to use overall.

There is one significant omission from this book that makes it fall just short of being called an actual Common Prayer Book: it has no lectionaries.  This, I expect, was a strategic choice.  It was designed carefully such that it technically obeyed the rubrics of the 1979 Prayer Book so that anyone under the authority of that book could use this one without having to ask for special permission – half the point of this book was to enable a parish to be as close to a 1928-using parish as possible.  But, also perhaps being used as a supplement by 1928-using parishes, this book strategically omitted re-printing any lectionary so it wouldn’t step on anyone’s toes.  So if you want to use this book for your Daily Office or Communion service, you have to look elsewhere for the readings. Though it does have the full traditional psalter, which is quite nice.

As I said, this book was made primarily with high-church parishes in mind.  It provides a number of additional liturgical materials and resources which lean in that direction.  For example, here is the index of the Additional Devotions occupying the last 66 pages of this volume:

  • Antiphons on the Benedictus
  • Antiphons on the Magnificat
  • The Sarum (Gregorian) Canon
  • Canon of 1549
  • The Athanasian Creed
  • The Solemn Reception of a Bishop
  • Stations of the Cross
  • Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament
  • Tenebrae for Wednesday of Holy Week
  • Blessing of the Font
  • The Angelus and the Regina Coeli
  • The Marian Anthems
  • The Walsingham Blessing

Nearly all of these are obviously quite Anglo-Catholic in nature, and a similar emphasis on the (seven) Sacraments can be found throughout the rest of the book.  You don’t have to be a Anglo-Catholic, yourself, to appreciate the usefulness of much of this book, but there’s definitely a lot of material in here that quite a few Anglicans would find needless, inappropriate, or even blasphemous.

Now, of course, those of us in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) are not under the authority of the 1979 Prayer Book, and are about to receive our own 2019 book.  The obvious question may be what use we have for a traditionalist re-write of the 1979!  In terms of structure, and a fair bit of content, the 2019 is looking a lot like the 1979 book.  Looking at how the ASB “traditionalizes” the 1979 book is a helpful model for highlighting how we, too, can draw out a traditional emphasis from the 2019 book.  Indeed, the ASB is a similar sort of project to what the Saint Aelfric Customary is intended to become!

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 3/5
While more user-friendly than the 1979, it’s still not quite as streamlined as traditional Prayer Books.  And the lack of lectionaries requires you to lift them from another source.

Devotional Usefulness: 4/5
Whether you appreciate or use the extra Anglo-Catholic features or ignore them, the liturgical formation offered by this book is excellent.  For a member of the ACNA, this book is still pretty close to matching our official liturgy, so if you like the traditional language then there’s little stopping you from appreciating this on its own.  (It should be noted that a sub-committee is in the process of making a traditional-language version of the 2019 Prayer Book, so depending upon how that turns out it may ‘replace’ this book’s usefulness to us.)

Reference Value: 3/5
Because it is primarily a re-write of the 1979 book, the ASB isn’t quite as valuable as for reference material.  Like Common Prayer 2011 it does have a number of section introductions that are valuable lessons in traditional liturgy (as long as you don’t mind the churchmanship showing through).  Plus, the way it re-presents the 1979 material to highlight its historical aspects can help one see the historical aspects of the 2019 by simple comparison.

All in all, this is a neat book to have around.  It was definitely more useful to me before the ACNA’s liturgical texts started coming together, and a bit less relevant now.  I’m also not sure if it went through another printing since 2007, so finding a physical copy of it today may be difficult and expensive.  But it can be found in its entirety as a pdf online, or in parts at the link I included at the beginning of this review, and honestly that’s all I’d recommend to my readers: unless your spirituality is particularly high-church and this really appeals to you, having it as a reference document on the computer is all you need from it.

The Pre-Lent Mini-Season

This coming Sunday, as some liturgical calendars indicate, is (or was) known as Septuagesima.  This is the beginning of a distinct mini-season in the traditional calendar.  Although the ACNA calendar no longer retains or authorizes these three Sundays, it can be beneficial to know about them.  They are part of the treasure of Church Tradition that reaches back well past a thousand years, and, rightly received, can be of great benefit to our spiritual formation as we work with the Church’s calendar to learn and grow in Christ.

The three Sundays before Ash Wednesday were known as “the -gesima Sundays.”  -gesima is a Latin partial word, from Septuagesima and Sexagesima and Quinquagesima and Quadragesima.  These mean 70 days, 60 days, 50 days, and 40 days, respectively, and they refer to the approximate amount of time remaining until Easter.  Quadragesima is a Latin name for Ash Wednesday, when Lent officially begins, but the three Sundays before it (with increasingly ‘rounded’ approximations of the Easter countdown) form a sort of Pre-Lent season.

These three weeks were a transitional period: the Lenten spiritual disciplines had not yet begun, but some of Lent’s liturgical features were put in place, like the “burial of the alleluia” and the wearing of purple vestments.  Those who practiced especially severe fasting during Lent would use these three weeks to begin the fast in stages, giving their bodies time to adjust safely to the austere self-denial that awaited.

The Gospel lesson on the first Sunday (Septuagesima) was the Gospel of the Landowner paying his workers the same, even to the 11th hour (Matt. 20).  This prepared the Church for the labor of Lenten disciplines.  The second Sunday (Sexagesima) proclaimed the Parable of the Four Soils (Luke 8).  This reminded us of right reception of the Word of God.  The third Sunday (Quinquagesima) recounted Jesus’ announcement that he was going to Jerusalem where he’d be arrested, killed, and rise again (Luke 18:31ff).  This was an apt sort of announcement that the penitential season of Lent was about to begin.

As it happens, our Collect for the “Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany” is essentially the same as the Collect for Sexagesima Sunday, so on the very rare occasion that we get to use that 8th Sunday, we’ll have the historic Pre-Lent Sunday Collect with us, even on the correct date in relation to the beginning of Lent.

Why have the Roman Catholics and most Anglicans abolished this part of the liturgical calendar?  Perhaps some people think it redundant with Lent.  Perhaps others wanted to lengthen the Epiphany season.  Perhaps its function in the larger scheme of the calendar was not properly appreciated by the revisionists.  Whateverso it is a tradition largely gone from the Church today, observed only in the Eastern Orthodox traditions and the relatively few Anglicans who continue to use traditional prayer books.

If you want my personal opinion, which I suppose you probably already tolerate since you’re reading this article, I hold the third theory above: I believe the demise of Pre-Lent was a poorly-considered decision.  Yes, it simplifies the calendar, but I don’t think such simplification was necessary.  Some localities (and even the whole province of the Church of England and those influenced by their liturgical revisions of the past couple decades) have developed a sort of pre-Advent season, sometimes called Kingdomtide.  Why Advent can get a new pre-season and Lent cannot is beyond me, apart from the slightly-cynical observation that modernists don’t like penitential material.

In my own congregation, I had the liberty to use the traditional calendar for three years before the ACNA calendar appeared and we conformed to it.  Some people asked me about the Pre-Lent Sundays: “isn’t it redundant?  If Lent is about preparation for Easter, doesn’t that make Septuagesima (et al) a preparation for the preparation?”  My answer to that is a rejection of the assertion that Lent is primarily about preparation.  It points and leads to Easter, yes, but it is a season in its own right.  Lent focuses on penitence, purification, sin and death.  Only in its final two weeks did it traditionally start sliding toward Easter.  Lent, therefore, understood on its own terms and in relation to the rest of the calendar, is perfectly entitled to a three-week lead-up.  And that practical consideration of having some “warning” before it starts actually helps, too.

Sadly, this probably doesn’t help much with the liturgical planning for your congregation.  But if you have a regular weekday worship service, perhaps there you can make use of the Pre-Lent Sundays.  Or you can always just pray an Antecommunion service with these traditional Sundays!  They may be gone from the general life of the church, but that doesn’t mean that can’t live on in our private devotions.


This article was adapted from “Learning from the Liturgy: The Pre-Lent Sundays” on leorningcnihtes boc, originally posted on 4 February 2018.

Happy Saints Cyril & Methodius Day?!

It’s February 14th, you know what that means…


Wait one sec… <checks calendar> …well we were all expecting St. Valentine’s Day, but no, it’s Sts. Cyril and Methodius.  Isn’t Valentine a Saint?  Yes, and he’s actually older – earlier – than Cyril and Methodius.  This probably only heightens the question, therefore: why do our calendars highlight those guys instead of Valentine?  I mean, Valentine was a martyr, and that usually puts one at the “top” of a list of Saints.  Insofar as one can rate “saintliness,” martyrdom is usually top-rate.

But there is one “category” of sainthood that tops a martyr: Apostles.  Obviously, Cyril and Methodius are not among the original twelve, or even among the first generation of Christians.  Rather, they were apostles of a later sort – what we might call missionary bishops.  They were sent to a new unreached people-group, the Slavs of Southeastern Europe, to preach the Gospel and establish the church among them.  They became bishops in time, and were thus the “Apostles to the Slavs.”

And their efforts, not without controversy at first, went beyond what we normally read about with historic apostolic missionary bishops.  Far from the imperialist mindset that frequently follows well-meaning missionaries, Cyril and Methodius actually learned the local language, began to invent an alphabet for them to write their language down, and began to celebrate the divine liturgy in their local language too.  This was in the 800’s, a point in which everything Christian was generally either in Greek or in Latin (the Coptic, Assyrian, and Armenian churches had departed by this point), so the adding of a third major liturgical language was viewed with some suspicion at first.  Nevertheless, the Cyrillic alphabet survives to this day, used by churches and nations that represent a massive portion of the world today.  Old Church Slavonic is also now considered an “ancient” standard in Eastern liturgy.

Now, obviously, all Saint are important.  Even further, all Christians, members of the Body of Christ, equally belong in Christ.  In that sense, there’s no comparing or ranking that can be done.  But liturgically speaking, you can only really have one commemoration per day.  Because Cyril and Methodius were brothers who worked together in the same mission, they get teamed up to share a holy day (14 February is understood to be Cyril’s death date).  And because their contribution to the global church makes a bigger splash than St. Valentine, who was executed on the same day of the year, they usually get liturgical priority over him.

So if you want to combine these commemorations today, perhaps you take someone out for a Valentine’s Day date, but write him or her a note in Russian or something 😉

The Collect(s) for Epiphany V

Sorry for the late post this time.  Nothing especially ground-breaking was planned for this post, mainly just some observations.  The “Collects for the Christian Year” document for our up-and-coming prayer book has undergone a few subtle changes here and there over the past three or four years, and to be honest this is the part of Texts for Common Prayer that I have monitored the least.  There’s only so much one pair of eyes can keep track of, I guess.

Still, I’ve noticed that this week’s Collect has undergone some interesting little edits over the years.  Here it is in its current form (at least, as of September 2018)…

O Lord, our heavenly Father, keep your household the Church continually in your true religion, that we who trust in the hope of your heavenly grace may always be defended by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

Compare that to how it appeared previously in 2016 and/or 2017:

O Lord, our Creator and Redeemer, we ask you to keep your household the Church continually in your true religion; so that we who trust in the hope of your heavenly grace may always be defended by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

The address to God has shifted from “Creator and Redeemer” to “our heavenly Father”.
The petition previously was “we ask you to keep” and is now more terse: “keep…”
The purpose clause had the word “so” but has since dropped it.

Before we can make too many inferences about the reasons for these changes, we should consider the original, traditional, collect for Epiphany V:

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Notice that the address here is simply “O Lord”… the question of the modern version seems to be concerning how to expand that.  We can see that “we beseech thee to keep” was initially recast as “we ask you to keep”, and then apparently ruled too clunky for modern English.  Considering the Great Litany still uses the phrase “we beseech you to hear us, O Lord” I’m not sure why this simplification was ruled necessary.  There’s also a style difference – traditional English prayer language tends to use third person (them/those who do lean…) where modern tends to prefer first person (we who trust…).  This is, I’d argue, a good adaptation to current language use; one rarely refers to oneself in the third person anymore 😉

Sometimes it’s just fun to explore how things have developed over time, and discover the strengths and weaknesses of modern language and style.