Book Review: Worship Old & New

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.

Worship Old & New by Robert E. Webber is, in some circles, a modern classic.  Webber (1933-2007) was a respected American theologian and known particularly for his work in the Convergence Movement, which is the ideology of combining catholic, evangelical, and charismatic spirituality together into a cohesive whole.  In short, he was a leading thinker behind the Three Streams model which was a huge fad in Anglican circles, though (I think?) is finally quieting down.  I was a fan of the Three Streams idea when I first heard of it – as most young people tend to be fans of the, exciting, promising trends, but as early as 2012 I started to have my doubts.  Now, seven years later, I’m comfortably opposed to the Three Streams model, and have even mentioned here briefly in the past that it smacks of broad church liberalism, and doesn’t ultimately produce the coherent discipleship one might have hoped for.

I open with that rabbit trail because what you read in Worship Old & New is exactly the mindset behind the Convergence Movement and Three Streams ecclesiology.  Citing Hippolytus and leaning heavily on the now-controversial work of Gregory Dix, Webber argues for a “shape” to the liturgy (primarily the Communion service) which provides structure for all, and walks through various traditions across historical and traditional lines.  He is explicitly critical of medieval liturgy, denigrating the use (or abuse!) of symbol and sign during that period of history, and argue that it was increasingly twisted from its proper meaning.  While there is much to be said about medieval excesses, his hostility to that period is not adequately backed up because:

  1. Lutheran and Prayer Book liturgies are very much informed by their medieval forebears.  Yes, some Reformers went all-out in rewriting the liturgy, but many of us only required gentle trimmings of the fat, rather than wholesale revolution.
  2. He begins the “medieval” excesses at Constantine, which is patently ridiculous when in the world of dogmatics and creedal theology we look at the 4th and 5th centuries as a veritable golden age of sound normative teaching!  Consider Webber’s own words:

Gradually, however, beginning with the Constantinian era, worship changed by the increasing addition of ceremony and the subtle influence of the mystery religions.  These new emphases became more extreme in the medieval period.  Although the basic structure and content of worship remained continuous with the past, the meaning of worship for both the clergy and the laity underwent some major changes.  Worship became a “mystery” in which God was made present (an epiphany).  This was accomplished through and allegorical view of the Mass and the doctrine of the bodily presence of Jesus in the bread and wine.  In this way the Mass assumed a character of a sacrifice and was celebrated for the benefit of both the living and the dead (creating a multiplicity of Masses and other abuses).

To be fair, this is not the lynchpin of the entire book.  But if this is the kind of scholarship he’s doing, and he’s willing to paint over history with so broad a brush stroke that (for example) even the Lutherans don’t count as reformers, I’m going to have to hesitate to trust his analysis of other periods of history and interpretation of the liturgy.  He looks too closely at two Early Church documents (by Hippolytus and Justin Martyr) and the late-20th-century milieu of change, and seems to re-shape everything in the middle according to the agenda he derives from the two extremes, rather than tracing the actual history and development along the way, and I think that causes him to miss out on a great deal of clarity and correction.

Another irksome feature of this book is that when it references “The Book of Common Prayer” it only means the American 1979 book.  He is either ignorant of prayer book tradition before the radical changes of the 1970’s, or he is oversimplifying things for his readers.  In either case, that makes this book significantly less helpful for an Anglican reader.

It’s not all bad, though.  His sections on biblical backgrounds of worship are quite refreshing for those brought up in non-denominational settings where worship is never really considered, just “done”.  It may also be refreshing for those who grew up in dry liturgical settings and similarly took worship for granted and never connected the dots.  Webber won’t make anyone an Anglican with this book, but he can engender liturgical awareness.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 4/5
The book is very well organized, complete with introduction and summary paragraphs bookending each chapter, making a quick synopsis of its contents very easy to ascertain.  The only reason this isn’t a 5 is because it can be so dry at times.

Devotional Usefulness: N/A
The insights of this book are a mixed bag and might not necessarily improve your engagement with the liturgy.

Reference Value: 3/5
In terms of liturgical formation, this book stands more in a “pre-Anglican” state, more useful for showing non-liturgical evangelicals how they could think about worship differently.  If you’re committed to Anglicanism, the perspective and information are too generic to be of much help growing within our tradition.

Recommendation?  Don’t buy this for an Anglican, it will only water down their understanding of liturgy.  But if you know someone in the free church tradition who wants or needs an eye-opener into what they’re missing, this book is a fine option for that.  Its strength for them is also its weakness for us: it won’t ruffle very many feathers because it never gets specific enough to make hard stances on anything.  Worship Old & New exists to transform chaotic generic evangelicalism into orderly generic evangelicalism.  Actual specific traditions or denominations need not apply.

A Pre-Advent Hymn: Behold! the mountain of the Lord

Recently we discussed the transitional features of the month of November, how All Saints Day kicks off a sequence of Sundays in calendars both old and new, that increasingly anticipate the season of Advent.  You can revisit that here if you need.  Today I thought I’d put theory into example – let’s look at a hymn that fits into this time of year.

Behold! the mountain of the Lord is not a hymn that’s super famous, as far as I know.  I didn’t pick it with any special interest in mind; it’s simply the hymn appointed for Friday in the week of Proper 26 in this Customary’s daily hymnody plan.  As you get toward the back of most hymnals (at least Anglican ones), you start getting into the eschatological stuff – church triumphant, kingdom of God, sabbath rest… themes like that which play perfectly into this season’s thematic features.  So that’s where this hymn comes in.

Behold! the mountain of the Lord
In latter days shall rise
On mountain-tops above the hills,
And draw the wond’ring eyes.

To this the joyful nations round,
All tribes and tongues, shall flow;
“Up to the hill of God,” they’ll say,
“And to his house we’ll go.”

This is a pretty close approximation of Isaiah 2:2-3 and Micah 4:1-2.  As I recall, Micah picked up a lot of Isaiah’s themes and ideas in his prophetic writings, so the close similarities between those two texts should be no surprise.  Let’s continue.

The beam that shines from Zion shill
Shall lighten ev’ry land;
The King who reigns in Salem’s tow’rs
Shall all the world command.

Among the nations he shall judge;
His judgments truth shall guide;
His scepter shall protect the just,
And quell the sinner’s pride.

Micah 4:3 and Isaiah 2:4 are particular inspirations behind these two stanzas.  Curiously, this hymn is so faithful to the biblical text that it never actually names the King as Jesus for us.  Hopefully that much is obvious to the singer.  The section header, KINGDOM OF GOD, in this hymnal, helps direct our interpretation of these words too – we’re directed to look past earthly-kingdom fulfillments of the Prophets’ words, and look to the heavenly kingdom that Christ is inaugurating even now in his Church.

No strife shall rage, nor hostile feud
Disturb those peaceful years;
To plowshares men shall beat their swords,
To pruning hooks their spears.

No longer hosts*, encount’ring hosts,
Shall crowds of slain deplore;
They hang the trumpet in the hall,
And study war no more.

Come then, O house of Jacob! come
To worship at his shrine;
And, walking in the light of God,
With holy beauties shine.

Wrapping up with adaptations of Isaiah 2:4-5 and Micah 4:3 and 5, we celebrate the great peace of heaven in the age to come.

In a culture that is much better at writing and singing celebratory Christmas music, hymns like these, which draw out forward-looking Advent themes, are very helpful for us.  Lyrics like these are meditations on the Last Things, the Christian goal, the telos** of creation.  And that’s a great way to get into the Advent spirit!

* hosts means armies
** telos is Greek for end (in the sense of a purpose, or goal)

The Prayer of Humble Access

We now come to one of the most cherished and beloved prayers in the Prayer Book tradition: The Prayer of Humble Access.  If your training in Anglican liturgy is primarily via the 1979 Prayer Book or another such modern book or text, you may not be very familiar with this prayer.  This was the case over on Twitter a couple weeks ago, resulting in a brief-but-intense #humblegate incident complete with penance.  So let’s dive in and see what this prayer is all about.

The text of the prayer in our 2019 prayer book is:

We do not presume to come to this your table, O merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness,
but in your abundant and great mercies.
We are not worthy so much as to gather up
the crumbs under your table;
but you are the same Lord
whose character* is always to have mercy.
Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord,
so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ,
and to drink his blood,
that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body,
and our souls washed through his most precious blood,
and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.  Amen.

The only major difference between the wording here and the traditional wording is the word “character”, marked above with an asterisk*.  The classical prayer book word is “property” – it is a property of God that he has mercy.  Earlier drafts of our prayer book used a different term and phrase there; “character” is a better update to “property” than our previous draft “who always delights in showing mercy.”  In that draft, mercy is God’s delight, but the original (and now also 2019) text identifies mercy as property of God’s very nature or character.  It is the same as how we speak of God’s love – God is not simply loving, rather, God is love.  God does not just delight in showing mercy, God’s character is to have mercy.  If you think on that for a moment, you will find this a very comforting and moving reality.

Lots of Scripture references went into this prayer.  These are the main ones I know of:

  • Exodus 34:6-7 = God’s character of mercy and forgiveness
  • Daniel 9:18 = we pray not in our righteousness but in God’s mercy
  • Matthew 15:27 = dogs eat the crumbs from their master’s table
  • John 6:47-58 = Jesus’ flesh & blood are to be eaten & drunk for eternal life
  • John 17:20-26 = that we may be in Christ, and Christ in us
  • 1 Corinthians 10:14-18 = partaking in the bread & wine is partaking in Christ

Three Challenges

One of the challenges to which some people are probably responding negatively today, especially without previous exposure to this prayer, is the strong realist language: “Grant us so to eat the flesh of your dear son… and to drink his blood.”  We must remember, though, that just as there are different theological interpretations of our Lord’s words of institution and of his Bread of Life discourse, so too will this prayer take on different tones according to one’s theology.   A Lutheran can see this as an affirmation of the Real Presence – Christ’s human and divine natures actually present in the bread and wine.  A Calvinist an see this as an affirmation of the Real Spiritual Presence – Christ’s body and blood actually communicated to us sacramentally as we receive the bread and wine.  So there is no problem with this prayer from either end of the churchmanship spectrum.

Another question that might also get raised is the “effects” of the bread/body and wine/blood of Christ.  A simplistic reading of this prayer might indicate that Christ’s body cleanses our bodies, and his blood cleanses our souls.  But that is not the intention of this prayer – the historic belief has always been that Christ’s body and blood go together, just as any other real creature.  It’s like talking about the Father creating, the Son redeeming, and the Spirit sanctifying – all three persons of the Trinity actually do all three of those things… there’s a convenient prominence of different Persons with different roles, but never an actual division between them.  Similarly, this prayer affirms, poetically, that the body and blood of Christ together sanctify our entire being – body and soul.  (Honestly, though, I’ve never actually heard anyone confused about this before.  I explain this only because I imagine someone somewhere has probably wondered about it before.)

One misunderstanding and mistreatment of this prayer that I have heard about, however, concerns its penitential tone.  Some people claim this prayer is extraneous in light of the confession and absolution already offered in the liturgy.  Such a claim is to miss the point of this prayer.  This is not a confession of sin, this is an acknowledgement of unworthiness.  Even with our sin absolved we are still unworthy participants at the Lord’s Table.  Even with the grace of divine forgiveness upon us, “blessed are they who are invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9).  Furthermore, some of the language in the prayer – “that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us” – is echoed in the 8th paragraph of the prayer of consecration, plus the language of unworthiness is echoed in the 9th paragraph of the same.  So this prayer is integrally connected to the rest of the communion liturgy.

A Wandering Prayer for Wandering Pilgrims

Our prayer book (I think for the first time?) puts this prayer in the mouths of the whole congregation.  Some users of the 1928 Prayer Book may have already started using it as a congregational prayer, in violation of the rubrics (that’s just a story I heard, no idea how true it is), but especially because of its thematic and linguist connections to the consecration this is a great prayer for all the people to pray together, because it gets everyone involved in some form of eucharistic piety.  In pre-modern times, preparation for receiving Holy Communion was a big deal both for Protestants and Papists alike.  Now that Communion is received weekly by the majority of (liturgical) Christians, we tend to kind of take it for granted, and many of us have lost a sense of preparation and piety for the Sacrament.  This prayer is a helpful, powerful, and beautiful treasure to that end.

But since I’ve mentioned its history of being spoken only by the priest, let’s now look at its placement in the liturgy.  It’s something of a “wandering prayer” in the history of the Prayer Books.  In the 1662 Prayer Book, the Prayer of Humble Access was said by the Priest immediately between the Sanctus and the Prayer of Consecration.  The language echoes I mentioned above, then, connected to one of the two options to pray after the reception of Holy Communion, providing a before & after dynamic when it comes to the theme of unworthy reception.

The American Prayer Book of 1928 moved this prayer after the Consecration and Lord’s Prayer, immediately before the Ministration of Communion.  That is essentially where it is placed in the 2019 book too, the only visual difference being that where the 1928 book says a hymn may be sung, the 2019 book prints the Agnus Dei as an anthem that may be sung or said after this prayer and before the Ministration.  So, functionally, 2019 and 1928 are doing the same with the Prayer of Humble Access.

I’ve heard of other churches in the Anglican Communion doing other things with this prayer, like lining it up alongside the Confession, Absolution, and Comfortable Words, but that’s just playing into its penitential tone and missing its eucharistic piety and preparation.  Perhaps such a misunderstanding could be due to a misuse of the original 1549 prayer book, where this prayer follows immediately after the Comfortable Words, but in that book the Confession/Absolution/Comfortable Words sequence took place after the Consecration and Lord’s Prayer and Fraction!  So in actuality, the 1549 placed this prayer directly before the reception of the Sacrament, much like the 1928 and 2019.

It was in the Prayer Book of 1552 that the Prayer of Humble Access moved earlier, between the Sanctus and Consecration, where it then remained, through to 1662.

But it’s optional…

Last of all, it must be noted that the 2019 Prayer Book says this prayer “may be said“, meaning it’s optional.  This is largely a concession to the 1979 fan club; in light of historic Anglican tradition we should always say it.  Some people have suggested we pray it during penitential seasons like Advent and Lent.  That is bad advice, because that sends the message that this is primarily a penitential prayer, and it’s not!  It’s an expression of eucharistic piety, not penitence as such.

Also, from an ecumenical standpoint, it should be noted that the Roman Rite has a different (shorter, less elegant) sort of prayer of humble access.  The wording may have changed over time, but the one I was familiar with in the mid 2000’s was:

Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.

This prayer draws from the words of the faithful centurion whose servant was healed by Jesus’ word, rather than actual visit and contact.  And it communicates the same basic premise: we are unworthy of God’s presence (regardless of how recently absolution has been pronounced) and approach him only by his grace.

So, in short, yes, pray this prayer at every Communion service.

And if your church doesn’t, and you’re not the celebrant, then pray it silently yourself before receiving the Sacrament.  This is our tradition, this is our theology.

All Saints’ to Advent

Autumn is my favorite time of year.  Autumn in New England, in terms of nature’s visual beauty, can’t be beat.  September has my ordination anniversary, and October my birthday.  And then there’s November with All Saints’ Day and Thanksgiving, and the excitement for Advent to begin after that.  And in the liturgical calendar, November is also an interesting time of year.  Both the traditional calendar as well as the modern anticipate the transition from Trinitytide to Advent in the last couple weeks (or last few weeks) before Advent.

In the traditional calendar (assuming Trinitytide is long enough on a given year) you’ve got the culmination of the massive discipleship course on the 24th Sunday, where a focus on absolution and perfection can be found.  The “last epiphany” often chimes in there too, making a connection to the return of Christ; and the Last Sunday before Advent translates that into one last kick in the seat to get on with good works as the next season is about to start.  Thus, on the heels of All Saints’ Day, the traditional calendar points us in the direction of sainthood, bringing the liturgical year full circle.

In the modern calendar (and the Revised Common Lectionary family), the context of what’s going is extremely different, but the effect at this stage is actually very similar.  Trinitytide is not a discipleship course in the modern lectionaries, but rather a survey through the Gospels and Epistles, cycling through different books in each of its three years.  Towards the end of the season, though, the gospels reach the last parables and teachings of Jesus, bringing us to the final calls to holiness (like the parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25) and the great eschatological discourse.  Christ the King Sunday, in its modern position directly before Advent, plays well into this scheme, transitioning the modern Trinitytide into the season of Advent.

(Yes, there are those who argue, quite fairly, that Christ the King is primarily supposed to be a feature of Ascensiontide instead, but that’s a debate for another time.)

Advent, then, both old and new, begins with the same end-times emphasis in the Gospels, smoothly picking up where the previous season left off, because the lectionary has prepared us for it.

For those planning the worship, particularly choosing the music and writing the sermons, this transition can be a great gift for the congregation if we just let it shine forth.  In these few Sundays between All Saints’ and Advent, we can mix in a nice pile of hymns for All Saints, or the Church Triumphant, the Kingdom of God, the Kingship of Christ, the return of Christ and Advent.  How to execute this mix and transition of themes will vary depending upon which calendar & lectionary you’re using, and what exactly the preaching plan is, but in general this all works together.

Fun fact: over in England, their modernization of the calendar is a little different than ours.  For them, Trinitytide ends in October, and All Saints’ Sunday kicks off what is essentially a Pre-Advent season, sometimes called ‘Kingdomtide.’  The liturgical color is recommended to be red.  This strikes me as somewhat unnecessary – the traditional lectionary and the RCL already provide a Pre-Advent time without specially marking one out.  This Kingdomtide addition also makes the removal of the traditional Pre-Lent Sundays rather hypocritical.  If you poke around the Anglican Communion today, you will find some provinces have a modern calendar like ours – the American style – and others will have one like the English one.  So if you ever travel abroad at this time of year, be aware that there may be some noteworthy lectionary divergences this month.  The good news is that, despite the various methods, the general effect is mercifully similar across the board.

There are a lot of commemorations this month…

Looking through the calendar of commemorations for the month of November, it seems as though there are rather more commemorations this month than in a lot of others.  And not just popular saints days, but particularly quite a few early British ones.  We’ve got:

And beyond them a few memorials of recent great Anglicans include Richard Hooker, William Temple, Charles Simeon, the Consecration of America’s first Bishop, and C.S. Lewis.  Not to mention a few classic saints from early times like St. Leo the Great, St. Martin of Tours, St. Cecilia, St. Clement, and St. Catherine of Alexandria.

The four names in bold, above, are people about whom I’ve written articles myself.  The rest of the links are to Wikipedia.

Now, whether you want to make a point of remembering these men and women in a Communion or Antecommunion service is up to you and/or your priest.  And you may wish to consult this Customary’s guide to handling the sanctoral calendar for advice.  Whatever so, this is a month with commemorations that particularly remind us of the deep roots we have in English spirituality and tradition.

The Lord is glorious in his saints.  O come, let us adore him!

Readings Review & Planning Propers 11/4

What we’re doing on this blog on Mondays is looking back and forth at the Daily Office readings (or lessons) so we can better process together what the Scriptures are saying, and list the recommended Propers for the Communion or Antecommunion service for each day of the week.

Readings Review

Last week: 2 Kings 15-17, 2 Chronicles 28-29, Acts 5:12-9:31, Isaiah 9-15, Mark 8:11-11:26

This week: 2 Kings 18-22, 2 Chronicles 30-33, Acts 9:32-13:12, Isaiah 16-22, Mark 11-14

Both in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer we are hurtling toward some major endings.  In Morning Prayer we are powering through the last century of the kingdom of Judah, recorded in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.  We’re in the reign of Hezekiah at the moment, who was one of the last great kings of Judah.  He’s featured heavily not only Kings and Chronicles but also in the middle of Isaiah, so we’ll hear some of his stories again from that book later this month.  We’ll then bounce through the lows and highs of Manasseh and Josiah over the coming week, and finally crash into the destruction of Jerusalem early next week.

In Evening Prayer we have been moving through Mark’s Gospel.  Last week we entered the second “half” of the book, where Jesus’ teachings and claims are increasingly tested.  Disagreements and questionings, even from St. Peter, characterize this half of the book, and things only continue to escalate this week.  We’ve just had the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, so now we’re in “holy week”, leading up to the crucifixion.  It’s an interesting experience reading through the Gospel books at this pace – you discover just how much attention is given to the death and resurrection of our Lord.  In this lectionary, for example, it takes about four weeks to read Mark, which means a quarter of the book is spent on Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem!  You’ll also note here (as in the other gospels) that the chapters dealing with the trial and crucifixion and death are the longest chapters in the book.

Many of us are used to thinking of the resurrection of our Lord as being “more important” than his suffering and death, so it’s thought-provoking to see the Gospels give more attention to the death than the resurrection.

Planning Propers

This is the week of Proper 26 (or 20th after Trinity in the traditional calendar), so keep in mind that the historic Prayer Book default is that a mid-week Eucharist will repeat the Collect & Lessons (the propers) for yesterday.  Especially this week a weekday communion service probably should use “Proper 26” if it was not used on Sunday!  Otherwise, we recommend…

  • Monday 11/4 = Votive *
  • Tuesday 11/5 = Elizabeth & Zechariah
  • Wednesday 11/6 = Votive
  • Thursday 11/7 = Votive or St. Willibrord
  • Friday 11/8 = Votive
  • Saturday 11/9 = Votive

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

Is it All Souls’ Day?

Day two of the All Saints Octave is known, among the Papists, as All Souls’ Day.  A lot of Anglicans use this term also, though what our prayer book actually offers for November 2nd (on page 709) is the optional Commemoration of the Faithful Departed.  Granted, that rolls off the tongue far less easily than “All Souls”, but it’s more theologically accurate: we can only commemorate the faithful departed, not the damned departed.

Another reason to consider avoiding the name “All Souls Day” is because of the false doctrines that the Papists put forth with respect to this day.  They teach of a place of Purgatory, where most Christians souls go after death, to complete their process of sanctification and finally be completely purged of their sins.  Although traces of this sort of concept are almost see-able in the Bible, it makes for rather untenable doctrine.  All Souls’ Day, in Roman reckoning, is a special day to pray for the souls in purgatory; it’s a neat complement to All Saints Day, celebrating the souls now fully glorified in heaven.

Indeed, there is a neat three-fold structure of the church that they put forth: the church militant (us on earth, still fighting sin), the church expectant (in purgatory, awaiting full release), and the church triumphant (in heaven, at rest).  But the Scriptures don’t permit us to make a full distinction between the last two.  The dead are both at rest with Christ and awaiting their resurrection unto glory.  (The tension between these two realities plays heavily into divergent traditional & modern approaches to the Burial service.)

On those grounds we can still have All Saints’ Day (to emphasize their glorious rest) and Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (to emphasize their yet-unfinished story).  Indeed, it is the recommendation of this Customary to treat this day as if it were a major feast day, using Occasional Prayer #113 as the Collect of the Day:

O eternal Lord God, you hold all souls in life: Shed forth upon your whole Church in Paradise and on earth the bright beams of your light and heavenly comfort; and grant that we, following the good examples of those who have loved and served you here and are now at rest, may enter with them into the fullness of your unending joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

If you still want to nickname it “All Souls’ Day” that’s fine… the phrase is in that collect after all.  But it’s best to think of it as a complement to All Saints’ Day, considering the faithful departed from a slightly different angle.

Will the real All Saints’ Day please stand up?

Happy All Saints’ Day!  Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve has brought us safely here at last.

Wait, Father Brench, my church is transferring All Saints’ Day to Sunday instead.

Actually that’s not quite how it works.  Our prayer book, on page 688, explains:

All Saints’ Day may also be observed on the Sunday following November 1, in addition to its observance on the fixed date.

Notice that this scheme gives us “two” All Saints’ Days.  What’s really going on here is the last vestige of the ancient “Octave of All Saints.”  We’ve discussed Octaves before, but it’s worth summarizing again: an octave is an eight-day period of time devoted to a special celebration.  All the highest feasts of the year had one: Easter Octave (Sunday to Sunday), Pentecost Octave (Day of Pentecost through Trinity Sunday), All Saints’ Day (November 1st-8th), and I believe a few other holidays here and there also here.  Modern prayer book tradition, with its allowance to celebrate All Saints’ Day on the Sunday within its octave, therefore preserves a piece of that ancient octave!

In short, if you’re celebrating All Saints’ Sunday, remember that today is still All Saints’ Day.  The Daily Office lectionary has a special reading for this feast day in both Morning and Evening Prayer, which is exceedingly rare in the 2019 lectionary.  So enjoy the holiday today, don’t fast, and sing For all the saints loudly on Sunday!

Happy Halloween or Reformation Day?

Perhaps the strangest thing I remember hearing in seminary was around this time of year when a classmate commented in class with great frustration that Halloween must be a satanic plot to obscure Reformation Day.  … yeah, he was actually serious.

Halloween, as most of you probably know, is a mash-up of the words “hallows’ eve”, referring to All Hallow’s Eve.  (Hallow means holy, just like in the traditional translations of the Lord’s Prayer.)  All Saints’ Day has been celebrated on November 1st for a great many centuries – I believe I read somewhere that it was previously at a different time of year, but 1,000-year-old liturgical detail is neither my forte nor the goal of this blog.  The noting of the Eve of this great feast day had been known for centuries before the Reformation began.  Furthermore, Reformation Day as a holiday is quite a recent introduction to the evangelical world.  German Lutherans have been observing it in some way for a long time, which makes sense.

Honestly, there’s something terribly strange about a church celebrating Luther’s Reformation when its own doctrines are violently at odds with Luther himself.  The fact that most evangelicals today refuse to baptize their babies and treat the sacrament of the altar as a bare symbol would be enough to earn them outright excommunication in Luther’s mind, not to mention the host of other theological disputes that would come up.  Although as Anglicans we are much closer to Lutheran theology than most other protestants out there, it still makes less sense for us to celebrate Reformation Day… we’re better off celebrating our own Reformation events – the promulgation of the first prayer book is a good example that I’ve advocated before.

Plus, the present Lutheran pattern of celebrating Reformation Sunday a week before All Saints Sunday is a liturgical faux pas.  The way the calendar works, “Proper 26” is usually overwritten by All Saints Sunday; occasionally Proper 27 is instead.  But with another holiday adjacent to All Saints Sunday, that means Proper 26 will never be observed at all, and Proper 25 will also rarely be observed.  So that’s a liturgical-logistic argument against Reformation Sunday, too.

Anyway, enjoy Halloween.  And here’s a halloween homily to go with Evening Prayer tonight:

People of the Books

The phrase “people of the book”, as far as I’m aware, originates in Islam, and is usually used referred to the three religions that respect the Torah: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Obviously the way in which we each “respect” the Torah is worlds apart, not to mention how we interpret it; the only thing we have in common is that really just the book.  Several Christian traditions have come to refer to themselves as “people of the book”, in reference to the Old and New Testaments together, and I’ve read that there are some Jews that refer to themselves along similar lines also.

And why not?  It makes sense: our respective religions are particularly focused on a central book that defines us.  Most of the rest of the major world religions have no single identifiable constitution or text that sets the precedent for or holds authority over its members like we do.

And so, at least in the sort of evangelical circles I grew up in, there is a culture of having a Bible for everywhere you go.  You have one at home, you have one under the bathroom sink, one in the car, one at the office at work, and so on.  You have one to study and take notes in and another to read to the kids.  Always gotta have a Bible nearby.  I suppose now that most people have smart phones, this trend may have lessened somewhat.

But you know what isn’t on a phone app (yet)…?  The Prayer Book.  As Anglicans we’re not just “people of the book”, we’re “people of the books.”  The Bible is our rule for doctrine, and the Prayer Book is our rule for worship.  There’s no comparing the two when it comes to ultimate authority, but on the level of practical use we are a two-book people.  (And if you want a singing congregation, add the hymnal as the third book!)

Imagine, especially if you’re a clergyman, making a point of having your prayer book (or an extra prayer book) virtually everywhere you go.  If you came from that evangelical culture that did this with Bibles, perhaps you can make the jump with the Prayer Book too?

Just a thought. 🙂