We’re well into Advent…

You know we’re well into Advent when O Sapientia is approaching!  Our calendar notes its beginning on December 16th, and it runs each evening through the 23rd.  For those unaware, O Sapientia is the first several “O antiphons” leading up to Christmas Eve – that is, antiphons that start with the word “O”.

An antiphon is a repeated phrase that is used both at the beginning and end of a Psalm or Canticle.  The 2019 Prayer Book only appoints antiphons for one thing: the Venite (Psalm 95) at Morning Prayer.  The classical prayer book tradition hasn’t appointed any antiphons for anything.  But in general Western tradition, you can find antiphons for everything – every psalm, every canticle, and also most introits and many graduals are constructed with antiphons.  The idea is that the psalm or canticle is book-ended with this antiphon to give it a seasonal or occasional context that may perhaps bring out a different aspect or theme or idea in the central text that you might not otherwise notice.

The O Antiphons are used with the Magnificat in Evening Prayer, and the first seven of them address Jesus by different prophetic names: Wisdom, Key of David, Root of Jesse, and so forth.  You can read more about them here.

These Antiphons begin on Monday, and count us down the final eight days until Christmas Eve.

Personally, I’ve long wished for a set of Mass Propers (Collects & lessons for a Communion service) for each of these days, but there are just too many interruptions to make it worthwhile: St. Thomas’ Day is always December 21st, the winter Ember Days land in the midst of this week, and at least one Sunday also butts in.  It’s a busy time of year, liturgically, not just culturally!

Anyway, if you want to pray the Evening Office with the O Antiphons, this Daily Office website provides for it. Have fun!

An Ancient Advent Hymn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harvest Home (but which one?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Note about the last Sunday before Advent

It’s the last Sunday of the season – Advent starts in one more week!  A lot of us are probably celebrating “Christ the King Sunday” today, so I thought I’d drop a quick reminder here before we misrepresent our own tradition.  The traditional prayer for this Sunday anticipates the tone of Advent:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The modern prayer for this Sunday, now called “Christ the King” but perhaps more subtly and appropriately “Christ the Judge”, also prepares us for Advent quite well:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

If you want to know more about Christ the King as an observance, here are some links:

Introduction to Advent

With Advent just over a week away at this point, let’s have a proper introduction to the season.  This is the first of about twelve videos I’m going to make about the different parts of the church year.

The season of Advent begins the church year with a focus on the advent (or arrival) of Jesus, both in as a baby at Christmas and as a glorious king upon his awaited return. Our place, in response to both those themes, is to prepare and make ready.
For further reading:
Subject Index:
* 01:10 Introduction to Advent
* 01:29 Major Themes
* 07:13 Historical features
* 12:19 Walk-through with the 2019 BCP

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)

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.

From Advent to Christmas

Today is a day of two liturgical colors.  For the morning and afternoon it’s simply Monday in the fourth week of Advent.  If you were to have a morning Communion service today, it’s still purple.  If you were to hold Morning Prayer in a church or chapel, the Advent colors would still be up on the altar.  But then in the evening, out comes the festal white: Christmas Eve will begin!

Evening Prayer today is when Christmas begins, the season changes, Advent ends.  For the big picture, revisit Saturday’s post about the several worship services of the Christmas Eve/Day liturgy.

If you have an Advent Wreath, tonight is when the Christ candle will be lit for the first time.  The purple and pink (or violet and rose) candles have given way to the white one in the center.  The liturgy police will finally start saying “merry Christmas” this evening after vespers, haha!

All the more reason to make sure you don’t miss Morning Prayer today, as this will be your only chance besides yesterday to enjoy the stirring Collect for the Fourth Sunday in Advent:

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and as we are sorely hindered by our sins from running the race that is set before us, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

Hosanna to the Son of David!

This evening’s New Testament lesson in the Daily Office Lectionary is from Luke 19, and features our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.  Normally, these days, we hear that text and the liturgical context we assume for it is Holy Week.  Palm Sunday begins with the festive procession with palm branches, and shouts and songs of “Hosanna!”  The Gospel of the Triumphal Entry, also, is typically read that morning.

However, in the traditional Communion lectionary, the Gospel of the triumphal entry was also appointed for the first Sunday in Advent.  If you’re unfamiliar with this tradition, your first reaction to this might be one of confusion – what does the beginning of the first Holy Week have to do with the Advent season?  It is the second part of that story where the connection is made: the cleansing of the Temple.  Take a closer look at some of the Advent hymns: “then cleansed be every breast from sin, make straight the way of God within,” “Let every heart prepare a throne, and every voice a song,” “O let us not, weak sinful men, be driven from thy presence then”, “Cast away the works of darkness O ye children of the day.”  As Jesus cleansed the Temple of the sinful riffraff, so we are invited to cleanse ourselves in preparation for his return in our midst.

So, while it’s nice that we have the Liturgy of the Palms in our Prayer Books at last (it wasn’t officially part of printed Anglican liturgy until the ’79 book), it is simultaneously a loss not to have the same gospel available to us at the beginning of Advent (or indeed in Advent at all).  Luckily, we at least have this evening’s entry for the Daily Office to read of the triumphal entry and the cleansing of the Temple in the context of Advent and reflect upon the cleansing of the spiritual Temple of the Holy Spirit – ourselves, the Church.  Try to keep this in mind this evening when you take up and read.

Advent Ember Days

As we were forewarned last week, the Advent Ember Days are here!  Although in some places the purpose of these days have changed somewhat, their original purpose was to be a time of fasting and prayer for the clergy, those preparing for ordination, and those discerning a call to ordination.  Positioned fairly evenly throughout the year near the changes of the season, these were often the days when ordinations would take place and people would have a quarterly reminder to pray for their clergymen.

Those who are discerning for holy orders, including transitional deacons awaiting the priesthood, typically write an Ember Day letter to their bishop, updating him on their ministerial progress and how the discernment process has been proceeding.

Each seasonal group of Ember Days is a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after an anchor date.  For Advent that date is December 13th (Saint Lucia Day): the first Wednesday after that day starts off the Ember Days – that’s today!  This time around, however, we only get two Ember Days, as the Friday one coincides with a “greater” or “higher ranking” liturgical observance: Saint Thomas’ Day (December 21st).  I haven’t done the math, but I can add that the Advent Ember Days almost always land in the third week of Advent, which has a Collect that is very appropriate for the Ember Days:

Lord Jesus Christ, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries may likewise make ready your way, by turning the hearts of the disobedience to the just, that at your second coming to judge the world, we may be found a people acceptable in your sight; who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

This reference to the role of the clergy in preparing God’s people for His return is an excellent set-up for the Ember Days of prayer for the clerical state.

Today and on Saturday, feel free also to use one of the Ember Day Collects in the Daily Office as the Collect of the Day!