Book Review: Saint Augustine’s 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.

Are you an Anglo-Catholic?  Or do you have high-church leanings?  If yes, then this is a book you’ll probably appreciate: Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book.  Despite the name, it’s not a Prayer Book in the sense of the Common Prayer Book; this little volume does not deal with liturgy as such.  In the three-fold rule of prayer scheme of things, this deals primarily with personal or private devotion and prayer.

Note: This review pertains to its 2014 edition; it has predecessors which may be rather different.

The Table of Contents give you a good idea of what’s inside here.

  • The Christian’s Obligations
  • Daily Prayer
  • Penitence and the Sacrament of Reconciliation
  • The Holy Eucharist
  • Eucharistic Devotions
  • Devotions through the Christian Year
  • Topical Devotions
  • Litanies
  • The Holy Hour

The Daily Prayer and Holy Eucharist sections contain prayers and explanations of the primary liturgies of the Prayer Book tradition, approximating or summarizing the Daily Office in short form and providing devotional aids for following along in the Communion service.  The Penitence section includes a re-print of The Reconciliation of a Penitent, found in the 1979 Prayer Book.

The Eucharistic, calendar-based, and other topical-based devotions and prayers are drawn from a wide swath of Church history and are unashamedly catholic in outlook.  I wouldn’t say it’s so Papist as to be un-Anglican, though some of its content definitely would be rejected by the more ardent low-churchmen, and it does admittedly slightly stretch the boundaries set out in the Anglican formularies (an issue that virtually all ‘parties’ of modern Anglicanism are guilty of in one way or another, to be fair).

As a parent, I have enjoyed the prayer for one’s children.  As a priest, I have enjoyed the “Nine Days of Prayer for One Deceased” both for my own grieving and for being ready to help others in theirs.

There are two cautions I must raise regarding this book, however.

  1. It is written to integrate with the 1979 Prayer Book.  As we’ve seen in a previous review, the 1979 Prayer Book is not the best representative of Anglican tradition by a long shot.  For most of my readers that book is also now completely obsolete, if you ever used it at all.  That makes some features of this book, especially its walk-through of the Communion service, rather out of date (if not just plain incorrect).
  2. It shows signs of current Episcopalian liberalism.  Because this is offered as a source of traditionalist devotional material, it does have an inherent liturgical conservatism to it, but certain issues like sexual morality in the examination of conscience end up reading a bit oddly.  Theological precision has long gone out the window in Episcopalianism, too, so one cannot count on the content of this book being well-tethered, to the Anglican formularies or otherwise.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 5/5
This is a very user-friendly book.  It’s meant for quick & easy use, without training; you don’t have to know your way around the Book of Common Prayer.  It has explanations and introductions in each chapter or section, much of which is useful to non-Episcopalians.

Devotional Usefulness: 3/5
This is where mileage may vary.  The fact that it’s conformed to the 1979 Prayer Book is an inconvenience for us in the ACNA.  The fact that it’s specifically Anglo-Catholic may take it down a notch or two if you’re opposed to Anglo-Catholicism (making it a 1 or a 2).  But if you’re comfortable with that tradition, there are plenty of things in here one can still enjoy and use.

Reference Value: 2/5
Again, the 1979 connection decreases its reference value outside of Episcopalianism.  But if you want to look at some classic catholic devotions (like devotions to Mary and the Saints, prayers for the departed, stations of the cross, etc.) through some sort of Anglican filter then this can still be pretty educational.  It’s primarily a devotional book, though.

All in all, I’m happy to have received a copy, and was happy to pass along another copy to someone else.  It’s nice to pick up every now and then.  I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy or recommend it to others at this point, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a revised edition compatible with the 2019 Prayer Book being made someday.

Planning Ahead: Trinity Sunday

Until the revisions of the 1970’s, Trinity Sunday was the hinge of the Church Year.  That was the day the first half of the cycle (Advent through Pentecost) reached its culmination and turning point.  All the revelation about God covered in those seasons find their apex in the doctrine of the Trinity: God is One and Three.  As the Collect of the Day begins:

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who has given unto us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity…

But this day is also a turning point.  We have not only received this faith throughout the year to confess and worship God, but also:

We beseech thee, that this holy faith may evermore be our defence against all adversities; who livest and reignest, one God, world without end.  Amen.

That is what the season of Trinitytide used to do: unfold like a discipleship course in how this faith may be our defence against all adversities.

I beseech you, readers, if you have the slightest interest in Anglican Prayer Book spirituality and history, to take a look at this essay: http://www.lectionarycentral.com/trinity/Phillips.html  It brilliantly lays out how the season after Trinity served as a multi-layered course of dealing with our chief adversary: sin.  The life and doctrines of Jesus are presented with Epistle lessons that together work to demolish our pride, our lusts, all our vices.  There are, for sure, other ways to analyze the Trinity season, but the general agreement is that it’s an application of the teachings of the first half of the year to help us conform our lives thereto.

It’s popular now to say that the first half of the year is “the story of Jesus” and the second half is “the story of the Church.”  This is wrong.  The first half is the story (or better, doctrines) of God, and the second half is the application of the story/doctrines of God to us.  Trinity Sunday is the hinge: it sums up all the teaching about the Father, Son, and Spirit, and presents it to us to believe, worship, and follow.

Enough with the theory, now for some advice.

how to mark Trinity Sunday

A fairly long-standing tradition, now recommended or encouraged in the general rubrics at the end of the Communion service in the 2019 Prayer Book, is to say the Athanasian Creed in place of the Nicene at the Communion Service on Trinity Sunday.  It is uncomfortably long, for the average worshiper, but a paltry once a year won’t kill them.  Plus, it’s honestly the best teaching tool we have when it comes to spelling out the doctrine of the Trinity without falling into one of many accidental heresies.  The 1662 Prayer Book called for this Creed to be read at Morning Prayer about 13 times a year, so once a year on Trinity Sunday is really quite lenient in that light!

If you haven’t used the Great Litany with your congregation in a while, that’s another possibility to consider for this day.  Its strong beginning with a Trinitarian invocation is a standard staple of Christian prayer, and extemporanous prayer these days very easily falls into Trinitarian confusion – addressing Jesus yet ending with “in Jesus’ name we pray”, or mindlessly switching from “Father-God” to “Jesus” as if it’s the same Person.  The Great Litany, or indeed any collect or liturgical prayer, can be a helpful teaching example of how to pray in an orthodox manner, rightly praising the triune God without confusing the Persons or denying the Unity.

There are lots of hymns that address God as Trinity, verse by verse.  If you’ve got an Anglican hymnal then the “general hymns” section usually starts with such hymns.  (If you’ve got a generic Protestant hymnal, that could be a problem here.)  If you opt for contemporary praise music, take care to make sure the lyrics handle the doctrine of the Trinity rightly; it’s very easy to make theological mistakes here!

Last of all, for you preachers out there, for God’s sake (literally), preach the doctrine of the Trinity.  Yes it’s complicated; yes it’s difficult; yes it’s easily seen as boring, or even stilted and of minor importance.  But this is basic Christian dogma; the doctrine of who & what God is the foundation of all Christian teaching.  If we don’t get it right, our congregations definitely won’t get it right, and eventually the whole church will be the sicker for it.  Grab a hold of the many resources in the liturgy that you’ve got, use them to your fullest advantage, and disciple your flock!

Ascensiontide Old & New

The ten days between the Ascension of Christ and the Day of Pentecost form a mini-season or sub-season called Ascensiontide.  There is debate between modern and traditionalist views of the calendar over just how independent this season is from Eastertide, and you can read about that here.  What one finds upon closer inspection, however, is that whether Ascensiontide should be considered part of Easter or a season in its own right, it is very strongly linked, liturgically, both to Easter and to Pentecost, marking the transition from one to the other, not unlike the transitional Pre-Lent Sundays of the old calendar.

At a length of ten calendar days, Ascensiontide has two “days” in the Prayer Book: Ascension Day (the Thursday in the 6th week of Easter) and the Sunday after Ascension Day.

Ascension Day

This day has not substantially changed from the traditional calendar to the 2019 Prayer Book.  The Collect is the same, and the two original lessons are among the 2019 options: Acts 1:1-14 and Mark 16:14-20 both speak of the ascension of Jesus and his last words to his disciples.  The 2019 Prayer Book adds Psalm 47 (or 110:1-5) and Ephesians 1:15-23, and also supplies Luke 24:44-53 as an alternative to the traditional Gospel from Mark.

For the Daily Office, the 1662 Prayer Book identified Ascension Day as one of the six days of the year that merited a unique set of Psalms: 8, 15, and 21 at Morning Prayer, and 24, 47, and 108 at Evening Prayer.  Psalm 47 is perhaps the most obvious ascension-related Psalm (“God has gone up with a triumphant shout!“) and thus is offered as the psalm for the Communion service in the modern lectionary.

Ascension Sunday

In both traditional and modern lectionaries, the Sunday after the Ascension shows signs of influence from both Eastertide and Ascension Day.

The Collect (same in old and 2019 prayer books) is thematically built on the same foundation as that for Ascension Day, but adds the element of looking ahead to Pentecost: “Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit” – a reference to the traditional Gospel for the day of Pentecost.  It’s lovely: we pray this prayer on one Sunday, as if with the original apostles-in-waiting, and then we hear it answered the following Sunday as the apostles experienced it too.

The lessons are rather more different.  The course of Epistle and Gospel lessons in the traditional Eastertide are continued on this day, ending in 1 Peter 4 and John 15.  The modern lessons also complete the modern Eastertide sequence: a different part of 1 Peter 4 or the end of 1 John 5 or Revelation 22; and a Gospel from John 17, which appropriately brings us Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity in preparation for the day of Pentecost.  Readings from the book of Acts continues as an Old Testament replacement option on this day: on two years of the cycle looking appropriately at Acts 1, and in Year C reading from chapter 16 to finish off the Eastertide sequence instead of addressing Ascensiontide.

Ascensiontide as a transition

Whether you choose to consider this period of time as the final of Easter’s 50 days or a distinct ten day season of their own, tradition both old and new connects this time fluidly to its predecessor (Easter) and its successor (Pentecost).  We move from the resurrection to the resurrection life to the ascension of Christ with our human nature to Jesus’parting blessing to us in the descent of the Holy Spirit, and this season marks the turning of the page between Easter and Pentecost.

As we observed the other day, this is a period of time that is ripe for quiet inward-focused prayer.  If your or your church doesn’t normally pray the Great Litany, this is an excellent time to make use of it.  This is a good time for special prayer meetings or vigils, for rest and discernment before the Lord.  Like the Apostles who spent this time in preparation and prayer before the explosive activity of Pentecost, it is good for us to seize times such as this for the same, preparation and prayer, before starting the next round of outward-focused activity that we normally like to think about at Pentecost.  This often lines up with the end of the academic school year, and may easily match the transition period for students between school work and summer jobs.  It may also be a good time to look inward at our Sunday School or Christian Education teachers and thank them for their labors and grant them some rest.

Hymn for Ascensiontide: See the conqu’ror

One of the things I really like about the 2017 hymnal is that it’s got about twelve hymns about the ascension.  It’s nice to have choices, rather than appoint the same couple every year, even if they are really good.  Despite that, I figured I should just stick to “one of the greats” and walk us through a classic ascension hymn, See the conqu’ror mounts in triumph.  It’s as if each verse brings in a different theological layer to this momentous Gospel event.

See the Conqu’ror mounts in triumph;
See the King in royal state,
Riding on the clouds, his chariot,
To his heav’nly palace gate.
Hark! the choirs of angel voices
Joyful alleluias sing,
And the portals high are lifted
To receive their heav’nly King.

This is focused on the kingship of Christ Jesus.  He is a conqueror, his ascension is a victory march, the heavens are opened to welcome him in.  Verse two is similarly awe-filled, but quite different.

He who on the cross did suffer,
He who from the grave arose,
He has vanquished sin and Satan;
He by death has spoiled his foes.
While he lifts his hands in blessing,
He is parted from his friends,
While their eager eyes behold him,
He upon the clouds ascends.

This is about the humanity of Jesus.  The conqueror and savior is a man – the one who suffered and died, the one who had friends.  The context of his death and resurrection is perhaps the most obvious place to start approaching the ascension (and probably is the overriding context by which many people deal with the ascension at all), and although it is the most ‘simple’, it is by no means unimportant.

Verse three may be my personal favorite.

Now our heav’nly Aaron enters,
With his blood, within the veil;
Joshua is come to Canaan,
And the kings before him quail;
Now he plants the tribes of Israel
In their promised resting place;
Now our great Elijah offers
Double portion of his grace.

The Old Testament imagery is out in full force!  Jesus is like Aaron: a great high priest; his ascension is his entering into the true holy of holies.  Jesus is like Joshua, leading God’s armies to inevitable victory.  Jesus is like Elijah, ascending into heaven but leaving behind a spiritual legacy that will surpass the scope of his own earthly ministry.  The three offices of Priest, King, and Prophet, as applied to Jesus, make their offerings in this verse.  Personally, I think we need more celebration of Christ’s priesthood, Ascensiontide is well-suited to that, and this verse is a good step in the right direction.

The final verse also touches upon the priesthood of Christ, if obliquely.

Thou hast raised our human nature
On the clouds to God’s right hand;
There we sit in heav’nly places,
There with thee in glory stand.
Jesus reigns, adored by angels;
Man with God is on the throne;
Mighty Lord, in thine ascension,
We by faith behold our own.

If verse 2 can be said to be focusing the ascension upon the context of the death and resurrection of Jesus, verse 4 brings in the context of his incarnation.  Because Jesus is both God and man, and because Jesus has bodily ascended into the heavenly places at the right hand of the Father, we can say in no uncertain terms that humanity is enthroned with God!  He took on our flesh in order that there might be communion between the divine and humanity; it’s a two-way street.  He shares our sufferings, we share his glory.  He shares our death, we share his victory.  So we sing the great mystery of the ascension: we are seated with him on the throne!

This reinforces and echoes the Scripture lessons from Ascension Day, and the Collects from both Ascension Day and Sunday.  We’ll take a closer look at those tomorrow.

Planning for Pentecost

Chances are by now that most of the big decisions for the worship service on Pentecost have already been made by now.  Nevertheless, let’s take a moment here to consider ways to celebrate this great holy day.

The Languages Thing

Obviously one of the big features of the story of that first Day of Pentecost is the preaching of the Gospel in a dozen or so different languages.  If you have a multi-lingual congregation, this is an opportunity to celebrate that: invite readers to read one of the Scripture lessons in their own language, immediately before or after it’s read in English.  Take the Latin text of the Gloria in excelsis Deo and have it read or sung before or after (or instead of!) the English version.  If you use printed bulletins, perhaps you could put the Hebrew and Greek text for some of the readings in parallel with the English.

Obviously, you don’t want to go so far into this that you lose or confuse your congregation.  Keep it simple, keep it “easy to translate”, make it a feature yet not a burden.

The First Prayer Book

Jumping off the languages point, Pentecost in 1549 was the day the first English Prayer Book was mandated to begin its use across England.  So Pentecost is an anniversary for us Anglicans and there are ways we can honor and celebrate that too.  You could make use of the rubrics in the 2019 Prayer Book to re-order the Communion service according to the 1662 Prayer Book’s liturgy.  You could make it a traditional-language service (if you don’t normally have one).  The clergy could even make a point of vesting in historic English fashion – cassock, surplice, hood and preaching scarf (if they don’t normally).

The Old Covenant Echo

One of the Jewish Pentecost commemorations was/is the giving of the Law to Moses on the mountain.  While the glory of that gift is vastly surpassed by the gift of the Holy Spirit, there is still merit to observing the first giving of the Torah – have the Decalogue read at the beginning of the liturgy instead of the Summary of the Law!  (This coincides with the 1662 Order suggestion, by the way.)

Baptism

Although less prominent than the Easter Vigil, the Day of Pentecost is another fine opportunity to hold baptisms or renew baptismal vows.  The topic move from the Holy Spirit to Creation to the New Creation to Holy Baptism is very easy and natural to make; I’ve enjoyed it before.  It’s also a great opportunity for confirmations, but unless you’re a bishop you don’t have much say over that.

This is not when the disciples were scared

We’re sort of cheating today… this isn’t liturgical advice so much as it is Bible-teaching and preaching advice.  Now that we’re in Ascensiontide and Pentecost is approaching, you need to make sure you don’t mess this up for your congregations: this is not when the disciples were hiding and scared.  I see this error on the internet almost every year, and it’s even in my sons’ otherwise-pretty-good children’s Bible.  After Jesus ascended into heaven the disciples were not hiding behind locked doors in fear, wondering what was to happen next.  The biblical account we have of these ten days is Acts 1.  There we read of the ascension of Jesus following his final instructions:

to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So while yes, the disciples were waiting for the Holy Spirit to descend, they were not hiding away and frightened.  Furthermore, there were not waiting passively either, but actively preparing for that gift from on high.  In particular:

All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.… So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

They then proceeded to identify who the new twelfth apostle would be, chose Matthias, and ordained him so.  (Some modern calendars place St. Matthias Day on May 14th, which generally lands around this time of year, making a stronger link between his story and its situation in the time between the Ascension and Pentecost.  Our calendar, however, keeps him in a more traditional date, February 24th.)  So, far from scared and hiding, the apostles were active during these days between Ascension and Pentecost; make sure you don’t misrepresent them in your Pentecost sermon!

Additionally this is worth noting because the “activity” and “mission” that is frequently brought up regarding Pentecost is often presented at the expense of the quiet prayer, preparation, and planning that went on in the days before.  We must be sure we present a healthy spirituality; one that not only pushes out “outwards” towards ministry and mission, but also equally draws us “inward” to worship and prayer.  That is one of the purposes of a Customary like this one, after all, to help the church order her prayers in a healthy manner so to under-gird a fruitful Christian life for all her members.

Book Review: The Bay Psalm 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.

Today we’re stepping outside the Anglican tradition and looking at a gem of American history.  The first book ever published and printed in North America was The Bay Psalm Book in 1640, a mere twenty years after the pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts.  It has gone through many re-printings since then, and probably has some more legible successors in recent times, but I happened upon a facsimile print of the first edition, complete with blocky type and funny 17th century spelling.  On its own, it’s a cool historical curiosity.  But its actual contents have proven useful to me, and even found their way into my church’s worship from time to time.

The Bay Psalms Book is basically a psalter: all the psalms are re-translated such that they conform to common poetic meters in English such that they can be set to hymn tunes.  This book does not assign any tunes, it’s simply the text of the metric psalms.  What I have done, then, is take up some of a psalm from this book, fix up the spelling (and modernize the grammar a little if possible) and pick a tune that my congregation will know.

Psalm 67, for example (odd spelling and italics included), reads thus:

God gracious be to us & give
his blessing us unto,
let him upon us make to shine
his countenance alſo.*

That there may be the knowledg of
thy way the earth upon,
and alſo of thy ſaving health
in every nation. **

O God let thee the people prayſe,
let all people prayſe thee.
O let the nations** rejoyce,
and let them joyfull bee:

For thou ſhalt give judgement unto
the people righteouſly,
alſo the nations upon earth
thou ſhalt them lead ſafely.

O God let thee the people prayſe
let all people prayſe thee.
Her fruitfull increaſe by the earth
ſhall then forth yeilded bee:

God ev’n our owne God ſhall us bleſſe.
God I ſay bleſſe us ſhall,
and of the earth the utmoſt coaſts
they ſhall him reverence all.

* The “long s” – ſ – looks like an lowercase f, but if you look carefully it doesn’t have the horizontal line through the center.  There was a general rule when to use ſ or s, but it doesn’t seem to be strictly followed in this book.

** Twice in this psalm you have to pronounce “nations” with three syllables: na-ti-ons.  This kind of thing happens with similar words throughout the book, making it rather difficult for the modern reader to pick up on.

Now try singing that to the hymn tune AZMON (popular with the song “O for a thousand tongues to sing“).

Pretty cool, huh?  What you can do with a book like this is look up the Psalm for the Communion service on a given Sunday, check if its verses are readable and singable for your congregation, and then bring them into the worship service set to a tune they know… then they’ll both read/pray the Psalm and sing a paraphrase of it!

A note on Psalm-singing: in liturgical worship, Anglican or otherwise, the text of the liturgy is very important.  It matters what we say, and why we say it.  To mess around with the wording or translation, therefore, is not good practice.  So I would never recommend metric psalms as a replacement for the Psalmody in the Daily Office or Communion services.  Let the official psalter translation do its work.  Metric versions such as in The Bay Psalms Book can be refreshing and interesting and even beneficial at times, but should never replace the actual text of our liturgy.

The ratings in short…

Accessibility: 5/5
This book is nice and simple; there’s an explanatory introduction, the text of 150 psalms, and nothing else.  The header tells you what psalm(s) are on the page below, so you can thumb through the book quickly and easily as you search for the one your want.

Devotional Usefulness: 3/5
You have to supply the music.  You have to be able to read the imperfect print (if you get a facsimile edition) and ignore the funny spellings.  You have to figure out how to pronounce some of the words like a 17th century British colonist.  It can be done, and it can be beneficial, but much of this book just “won’t do it” for worshipers in the 21st century.  Whenever I’ve used it in my church, it’s always been limited in scope and edited for clarity of language.

Reference Value: 3/5
There are modern metric psalm translations out there, so you don’t really need to seek this one out.  This is great if you like colonial American history, or the history of bible/psalm translation, or the history of Christian worship.  The introduction provides a little insight into puritan theology of worship, too.

Mary Thrice-Blessed

I know, two re-blogs in a row, has Fr. Brench run out of ideas that he’s just plagiarizing himself now?

Ascension Day is a major holy day – among the top seven at least. Today, the 31st, is another major feast day: The Visitation. This is when the Virgin Mary visited her relative Elizabeth when they were both pregnant. And this is a holiday that is pregnant with meaning. American evangelicalism invented a “sanctity of life sunday” held each January, but in the liturgical tradition this holiday is our closest equivalent, considering the activity and recognition of two unborn characters here (John the Baptist and Jesus).

But this is also a ‘Marian’ holiday. Like any other Saint’s Day this is an opportunity to draw near to our Lord through the eyes and footsteps of one who has gone before – and in the case of Mary one who was literally closer to Jesus than anyone else who ever lived, past or present. So without further ado, let’s take a moment today to consider Mary Thrice-Blessed.

Leorningcnihtes boc

The feast of the Visitation may seem like an odd holiday at first glance.  It commemorates Mary’s visit to her relative, Elizabeth, recorded in Luke 1:39-56.  That passage is also the Gospel reading for the Communion service that day.  What is so special about this visit?  Three prophecies are recorded in the encounter.

Elizabeth says of Mary “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  The first sentence has been traditionally enshrined as part of the “Hail Mary” prayer popular in Western Catholic piety.  The whole statement reveals Elizabeth’s great reverence for Mary on account of her motherhood of the Lord – God himself in the flesh.  Elizabeth added this a couple verses later: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what…

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Learning from the Liturgy: Ascension Day

Happy Ascension Day, everyone!
Here’s what I wrote for my congregation last year about this holy day:

Leorningcnihtes boc

Ascension Day is perhaps the most under-celebrated important holiday in the calendar.  Representing one of the lines of the Creeds (“he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father”), this holiday marks a significant turning point in the Gospel story and sets the stage for how the Christian’s relationship with God is defined.  We often think of it as an awkward point between the Resurrection of Jesus (Easter) and the Descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), but even in itself the Ascension is a major event.  What I’m setting out to do in this post is draw from the various Scriptural and traditional resources of the Church’s liturgy to explore some of the basic teachings and implications of this great and underappreciated day in the year.

The Event of the Ascension

Christ’s ascension is described in three books: Mark, Luke, and Acts.

In Mark’s Gospel…

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A Hymn for Rogationtide

Monday, Tuesday, and today are the Rogation Days – days devoted to prayer for the year’s crops.  We’ve mentioned ‘Rogationtide’ briefly recently and looked at the Collects for these days.  On this last day of the trio, let’s take a look at a rogation hymn.  The 2017 hymnal has two hymns for Rogationtide, and the 1940 hymnal has just one, so let’s look at that.  (Sing it to the tune KINGSFOLD.)

O Jesus, crowned with all renown,
Since thou the earth hast trod,
Thou reignest, and by thee come down
Henceforth the gifts of God.
Thine is the health and thine the wealth
That in our halls abound,
And thine the beauty and the joy
With which the years are crowned.

Lord, in their change, let frost and heat,
And winds and dews be giv’n;
All fost’ring power, all influence sweet,
Breathe from the bounteous heav’n.
Attemper fair with gentle air
The sunshine and the rain,
That kindly earth with timely birth
May yield her fruits again.

That we may feed the poor aright,
And, gath’ring round thy throne,
Here, in the holy angels’ sight,
Repay thee of thine own;
That we may praise thee all our days,
And with the Father’s Name,
And with the Holy Spirit’s gifts,
The Savior’s love proclaim.  Amen.

Just as the days, and the first Collect, enjoin us, this hymn expresses a prayer for a successful harvest, as well as attention to the purpose of a good harvest: to feed the poor, make offering to God, praise the Lord, and proclaim Christ’s love to the world.

As a child and teenager, that second stanza would have struck me as silly.  Who sings about the weather?  Plants just grow, crops are produced, if something goes wrong in one place you buy from another.  A child of the 20th century, I did not appreciate the significance of the natural order; many people today probably think this way their entire lives.  And to a large extent, much of the Developed World is able to live that way: if disaster strikes part of the country, certain food prices might increase a little as we import from other places, but on the whole we have the luxury of being unaffected by the weather.  Unless you’re the one whose livelihood just got destroyed, of course.

So singing a song like this is made all the more important in our day and age; it reminds us just how much is involved in the background of growing our food, and providing the many natural resources that go into various other products of commerce and industry.  Our lifestyles may only tangentially be impacted by the weather, even severe weather, but for others it’s critical.  The Rogation Days, and hymns like this one, can help us remember that.

Note: There are other layers to the Rogation Days which have not been explored, or even mentioned, in recent posts on this blog.  Perhaps next year we’ll hit upon some other aspects of Rogationtide, and how they can be observed in the course of private and congregational worship.