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!

Some History of the Daily Office Lectionary

With the sole exception of the 1979 Prayer Book, the Prayer Book pattern has always been two lessons.  With perhaps one additional exception these two lessons have always been Old Testament and New Testament.  The original Daily Office Lectionary of the 16th–19th centuries appointed one chapter per reading (the 1549 Book actually preceding the current English Bible versification), with one exception for Luke 1.  Its Old Testament lessons were continuous between Morning and Evening Prayer, starting with Genesis in January and proceeding in canonical order, albeit leaving Isaiah for the end of the year.  The Gospels and Acts were read three times through in Morning Prayer and the Epistles were read three times through in Evening Prayer.  The books of 1 & 2 Chronicles and Revelation were omitted, as well as substantial portions of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Ezekiel.  Among the Books Called Apocrypha, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, and Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) were read in full.  Besides this pattern, there were appointed Old Testament lessons for each Sunday morning and evening in the year, providing a yearly highlight of Old Testament content for the benefit of those who did not attend the Office daily; this started Genesis on Septuagesima Sunday, in accord with pre-reformation practice.

In the 20th century, many Prayer Book Daily Lectionaries switched to being built on the liturgical calendar instead of the secular calendar, a pattern uniquely broken by the 2019 Prayer Book.  The trend had been one of increasing complexity and attention to liturgical time and holy days, to the loss of continuous reading and wide coverage of the Bible.  Thus this Book returns to the simplicity of the first English lectionary, with due consideration for current needs and practice.  In line with evangelical concern for the distinction between the Books Called Apocrypha and the Hebrew Old Testament, the 2019 Daily Lectionary has the smallest coverage of those additional books than any previous Prayer Book.

The dialogue “This is the word of the Lord. / Thanks be to God.” was first introduced into the Prayer Book in 1979, having been imported from the Roman Rite of the Mass.

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!

The Great Litany has three different endings?

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The Great Litany is the oldest piece of liturgy in the English language; it was the first “worship service” that Cranmer assembled, a few years before the first Prayer Book was promulgated.  It has been changed a little bit over the centuries, but on the whole is probably the “most original” piece of Reformation Anglican liturgy in our (or any) Prayer Book.

It’s also supposed to be very simple: start at the beginning and finish at the end, but in the 2019 Prayer Book (similar to what you see in the 1979 Book) it has three different endings!  What gives?  Welcome to Weird Rubric Wednesday.

Ending #1

The earliest rubrical ending is on page 96.  When the Litany is sung or said immediately before the Eucharist, the Litany concludes here [between the Kyrie and the Lord’s Prayer] and the Eucharist begins with the Salutation and the Collect of the Day.  This is a modern option inherited from the 1979 Prayer Book.  The standard pattern set out in the English Prayer Books was that the Litany followed Morning Prayer, but the American Prayer Book tradition de-coupled the Litany from its usual standard times, and permitted it to be tacked on the end of both Morning and Evening Prayer and the beginning of the Communion service.  What the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books have done is simply chop off the end of the Litany and the beginning of the Communion service so they run into one another more smoothly and briefly.

Ending #2

The second natural place to stop is on page 97; this seems to be the default expected use of the Litany in the 2019 Book.  One who is used to the 1662 Prayer Book Litany may be surprised here: why has the traditional ending been chopped off?  This goes back at least to the 1928 Prayer Book (or maybe earlier; I haven’t checked), where a rubric on its 58th page notes that the majority of the last two pages of the Litany may be omitted.  This last section has been given a section heading in modern prayer books: “The Supplication.”

Ending #3

The longest form of the Litany includes The Supplication, skipping the top half of page 97 and concluding on page 98.

That’s weird.  How should I choose?

Well, it depends upon the situation.  If you’re planning the Sunday morning worship service and you want to include the Great Litany, the easiest way to start your congregation out with it is to attach it to the service they’re most familiar with: so either as a special extended ending for Morning Prayer or a special prefix for the Communion service.  The rubric on page 97 also states that the Supplication portion is especially appropriate in times of war, or of great anxiety, or of disaster.  So, like, right now.  We’re in the midst of a pandemic, race riots and protests are rocking the country, millions are unemployed or recovering from unemployment, and to top it all off it’s an election year.  Pray the darn Supplication!  We need it.

O Lord, arise and help us; And deliver us for your Name’s sake.

On the Daily Office Lessons

The single most time-consuming part of the Daily Office is the reading of the two lessons of Scripture.  This indicates to the worshiper that this is a high point in the liturgy.  Furthermore, where the majority of the liturgy is relatively static from day to day, the content of the lessons is appointed by a Daily Office Lectionary such that every morning and evening throughout the year has its own unique set of lessons.  This suggests that the public reading of Scripture is even the highest point in the Office liturgy.

The tradition, with very few exceptions in modern Prayer Books, is that the first lesson is from the Old Testament and the second is from the New.  This allows for multiple readings of the New Testament in a year (originally three, now two) and one read-through of the Old Testament in the year.  Several chapters from several books have been omitted from the Daily Office Lectionary in every Prayer Book, most notably Leviticus, Numbers, and Ezekiel.  Further examination on the lectionary itself will have to be provided later; here it should suffice to note that the basic pattern of Old & New Testament readings each day provides both a deep familiarity with the contents of the New Testament and a cursory-but-constant familiarity with the Old Testament.

Because the Daily Office Lectionary is designed to read through the Bible in continuous readings, there should be no attempt to harmonize the two lessons on any given day; they are independent of one another, and only overlap in theme or content on a very few holy days in the year.

Proper 12: a Collect that could be a Sermon

Yesterday’s Collect of the Day, to be used throughout this week, is robust enough a prayer it could easily be a sermon in miniature.

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray,
and to give more than we either desire or deserve:
Pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid,
and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask,
except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

It follows the classic formula for a Collect: Address, Petition, Purpose, Praise.

The Address: One could technically break this into two parts (Address & Attribute), since God is addressed and then described.  This prayer describes him as more ready to hear and give than we are to pray and desire/deserve.  This prayer asserts that God is better than us, kinder than us, more merciful, and loving.  Divine condescension is more in our favor than we expect, or even want.  This may be an echo of Isaiah 65:24, where God promises “Before they call I will answer.”

The Petition: This is simply a prayer for mercy.  Like the Address & Attribute, this simple request is followed by a more elaborate “purpose” to explain the request and ground it in God’s being, or, more importantly for this form of prayer, linking the request back to the attributes of God previously detailed.

The Purpose: Forgiveness and “good things” are the purpose of God’s mercy in this case.  We all sin, and we typically have secret sins that we keep to ourselves and are afraid to confess – to God or to others.  Our conscience is afraid of what might happen if such darkness came to light.  This prayer directs us to turn those sins and fears over to the Lord.  Accompanying that is the request for good gifts that we don’t deserve – for which we are not even worthy to ask! – yet are promised in God.  One can think of Sunday’s Old Testament lesson (in Year A) from 1 Kings 3 as an example, where God gives King Solomon riches and power beyond his deserving, and for which he didn’t even ask.  We learn that, in Christ’s merit (sinlessness) and mediation (atonement on the Cross), we are made worthy of the greater honor of eternal life because he he has overcome the world (John 16:33).

The Praise: Like most Collects in the modern Prayer Book tradition, this Collect ends with a Trinitarian formula, praying through Christ to the Father in unity with the Holy Spirit.

As you can see, this could easily be an entire sermon in miniature.  Indeed, the best of Collects are tiny expositions of the Scripture they are paired with.  This, for example, was historically paired with 2 Corinthians 3:4-9 and Mark 7:31-37.  That Epistle lesson addresses human unworthiness of God’s glory being overcome by the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement.  The Gospel lesson is the story of Jesus healing someone who could not speak, and was therefore incapable of speaking for himself and asking for God to heal him.  He had to be commended to Jesus by others.  This, too, illustrates the point of the Collect and how our very salvation is not in our own hands.  We did not, and could not, present ourselves to God with a worthy request for salvation; we were spiritually mute, or dead.  It is God’s grace that reaches beyond the barrier of our unworthiness, often preempting our own impulse and initiative.

What rich theology and pastoral work these Collects contain!

Anticipating the next day’s feast

We just celebrated St. Mary Magdalene a couple days ago, and this Saint-filled end of the month is about to bring us to one of the twelve apostles, St. James.

Last year we looked at St. James Day with a nod to the Collect of the Day and a couple of the Scripture readings associated with this day.  That’s worth a quick re-read in preparation for tomorrow’s holiday.

For today, though, I’d like to remind you of a tradition that has been a subtle part of Prayer Book practice, though not always explicit: the “Eve of” a holy day.  You may be familiar with the Easter Vigil, or Christmas Eve.  You may also be familiar with the fact that many (most?) Roman churches have a Saturday evening Mass in addition to Sunday morning.  All of these are examples of “liturgical time” starting a day on the evening before, rather than on the morning of.  This is part of the Church’s Hebrew legacy, wherein every “day” begins at sundown – though in Christian liturgy we only tend to do this for Sundays and other feast days.

The 2019 Prayer Book, explaining the calendar on page 687, makes this much explicit:

Following ancient Jewish tradition, the celebrations of any Sunday begins at sundown on the Saturday that precedes it.  Therefore at Evening Prayer on Saturdays (other than Holy Days), the Collect appointed for the ensuing Sunday is used.

It does not go on to say that we are to apply this principle to the other Holy Days.  But such an extension of the rule is not forbidden, and some Prayer Books in the past have operated that way, so it is a traditional option that we are free to make use of.

In short, applying these rules, here are the Collects of the Day for the Daily Office this weekend:

  • Friday Evening: Collect for Saint James Day or Proper 11
  • Saturday Morning: Collect for Saint James Day
  • Saturday Evening: Collect for Saint James Day
  • Sunday Morning: Collect for Proper 12

Weekly Update to the Customary

Hello hello everyone, another Thursday means another update to the Customary is up!  The first half of the Evening Prayer liturgy is covered, now.  You can check that out here: Customary: Evening Prayer

So you know what to expect, what these Customary pages are doing, basically, is walking through each section, header by header, in the worship service, and giving direction for when and how its rubrics and options may be implemented.  For example, there are three Opening Sentences provided at the start of the liturgy, and an appendix with many more.  How do you choose between all these sentences?  This Customary can guide your choices, with a little bit of insight into why these patterns are being made.

Yes, many of these points are quite fine points of detail.  And taken individually they are quite subtle and probably not easily realized what they’re doing.  However, taken as a whole system, the aim of a Customary like this one to order the use of the Prayer Book by arranging the “small things” to echo a bigger picture – a life of worship rooted in Prayer Book tradition, general Western liturgical tradition, and sensible and intentional discipleship and spiritual formation.

St. Mary Magdalene: From her love all fear hath fled

Happy Saint Mary Magdalene Day!  One of our scripture readings at Morning Prayer is special for observing this feast day: Luke 7:36-8:3.  This is an interesting case, so let’s take a closer look.

Like several New Testament characters (most notoriously the various men named James), the identity of Mary Magdalene has undergone some scholarly debate.  She has at times been identified as the same person as Mary of Bethany, though that theory is not in vogue today.  She has also been identified as the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears.  I’m not sure how commonly-held this view is today, either, however, our Prayer Book does retain the possibility that this is true.  The evidence, such as it is, can be found in the appointing of Luke 7:36-8:3 as a single lesson on her feast day.

The tail end of chapter 7 of St. Luke’s Gospel tells the story of “a woman of the city, who was a sinner” who brings an alabaster flask of ointment into a pharisee’s house to wash Jesus’ feet with it and her tears and kisses.  An overkill scenario to a sensibility for sure, but it is unmistakably a picture of unadulterated love.  Jesus uses this immediately as an illustration for a parable.  He concludes with a word of gospel: “her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.

Chapter 8 then opens, “Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out… and many others, who provided for them out of their means.”  There is no explicit connection between the woman in the previous story and Mary Magdalene here, but the ancient writing style might imply that the previously-unnamed woman is now a named follower of Jesus.  After all, if Mary Magdalene was able to bring expensive perfume to the literal feet of Jesus, she must have been a woman of some means, and likely able to continue providing for him and apostles, as verse 3 describes.  And there are other instances in the New Testament where people refer to themselves very obliquely (like Mark and John), and refer to others by differing names (Nathaniel = Bartholomew, and Thaddeus = Jude).

At the very least, the woman of Luke 7 has a similar spirituality to Mary Magdalene: both are very emotive and physical about their love for Jesus.  Perhaps you know the sort in your own church or Christian connections: people (usually women) who have such a profound emotional love for Jesus, who smile at his name and sigh with arms outstretched as if they’re in love.  For those who are more intellectually-minded it can be easy to scoff at these enthusiasts and their apparent crush on Jesus.  But the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume, tears, and kisses, and Mary Magdalene clinging to Jesus in the garden after his resurrection both testify to a legitimate spirituality of emotive love and adoration.  If the woman of Luke 7 and Mary Magdalene are not the same person, they sure had a lot in common.

So let’s take a look at how this feast day – and theory of Mary’s identity – can play into the liturgy of the Church.  There is a song I came across in the Saint Dunstan Hymnal (related to the Saint Dunstan Plainsong Psalter) which is an Office Hymn from the 17th century, and it illustrates a way of acknowledging her spirituality and example.

O Father of celestial rays, When thou on Magdalene dost gaze,
The flame of burning love appears, Her icy heart dissolves in tears.

Wounded by love, she hastens o’er The feet of Christ her tears to pour,
Anoints them, wipes them with her hair, And prints adoring kisses there.

Fearless, the Cross she will not leave: And grieving, to the Tomb doth cleave:
No ruthless soldiers cause her dread: For from her love all fear hath fled.

O Christ, true Charity thou art; Purge thou the foulest of our heart,
Fill ev’ry soul with grace and love, And give us thy rewards above.

All laud to God the Father be; All praise, eternal Son, to thee;
All glory as is ever meet, To God the Holy Paraclete.  Amen.

The testimony of her devoted love ranges from the time of her conversion and repentance, through the Cross, to Jesus’ resurrection.  “For from her love all fear hath fled”, applying in her example the teaching perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

This example she has left us is valuable.  You can love God with your emotion.  Your devotions can be expensive and extravagant, if that is your honest offering.  God’s love, mercy, kindness, and forgiveness should have a serious impact on the sinner’s outlook.  The more you realize how much has been forgiven, the more you can love God and others in return.  For all the intellectual considerations of right doctrine, and all the logistical considerations of right worship, the value of a exultant heart can never be overlooked.  The Gospel is worth “thinking about” correctly, yes, absolutely; but it is also worth celebrating with the fullness of human emotion.