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!

The Rogationtide Collects

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow are the Rogation Days – days devoted to prayer for the year’s crops.  We’ve mentioned ‘Rogationtide’ briefly recently.  Now that they’re here, let’s narrow in on the liturgical feature of these days that is the most natural to into our daily rounds of prayer: the Collects of the Day.  (We can, and probably ought to, use these as the Collect of the Day in Morning and Evening Prayer on these three days.)

Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth: We humbly pray that your gracious providence may give and preserve to our use the harvests of the land and of the seas, and may prosper all who labor to gather them, that we, who are constantly receiving good things from your hand, may always give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This Collect reflects the more historical form of the Rogation Days.  It is not the same as the Collect in the 1928 Prayer Book, but takes a rather more expansive view in its petition, now praying for the harvest of land and sea, God’s gift and preservation of both, the prospering of those who labor in those harvests, and for our own sense of thankfulness.

But nowadays the majority of our population aren’t farmers or fishermen, so we’ve got a second Collect for other forms of employment:

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with your people where they work; make those who carry on the industries and commerce of this land responsive to your will; and give us all a right satisfaction in what we do, and a just return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

This Collect is a good expression of a biblical theology of work.  We recognize Jesus’ sharing in our labor (implying his decades as a carpenter with St. Joseph), the need to be responsive to God’s will in the workplace (that is, being a faithful worker, judging by several parables of Jesus), a healthy satisfaction in our labor (understanding we were made for work), and a just return (the biblical injunctions concerning paying workers properly).  On their own, any of these four elements of the prayer could be twisted – the first to insubstantial piety, the second to undirected zeal, the third to idolatry, and the fourth to un-tethered social justice championship.  But collected together they form a healthier balance of biblical teaching concerning work and labor and employment.

So make sure you make use of these prayers today and tomorrow! Perhaps one in the morning and one in the evening?  Or both each time?  If you’re a teacher/preacher, that second Collect can also make excellent Bible Study material, especially if you bring up the Scripture readings it’s paired with: Ecclesiasticus 38:27-32, Psalm 107:1-9, 1 Corinthians 3:10-14, and Matthew 6:19-24.

The Collect for Easter III

Yesterday’s Collect of the Day, which as usual serves throughout this week in the Daily Office, has an interesting history and pedigree.  In the historic Prayer Books it served for the Second Sunday after Easter, which was Good Shepherd Sunday.  In the 1979 Prayer Book, this Collect traveled to the another part of the year to serve for Proper 15 (mid/late August).  And now in the 2019 BCP it’s back in the same relative position in Eater, the Third Sunday of Easter.

Almighty God, you gave your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and an example of godly living: Give us grace thankfully to receive his inestimable benefits, and daily to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

So let’s take a look at what makes this Collect so versatile.

Theologically speaking, this Collect works incredibly efficiently at drawing together models and doctrines of the atonement.  Jesus is both a sacrifice for sin (substitutionary atonement or something like that) and an example to imitate (moral example).  These models then lend themselves to a double application: we are to be thankful in the reception of his grace and daily to follow (or in the classical and perhaps more honest wording, daily endeavor to follow) in the footsteps of his sinless life.  The call to thanks-giving, our Eucharistic sacrifice, and to faithful obedience, our Christian duty, go hand-in-hand.  With such lofty and gospel-central themes, this prayer could make its home nearly anywhere in the Christian year, though Eastertide is most natural as the celebration of the resurrection of Christ most directly begs the question of what we are to do next.  And since the Easter Vigil and Day collects tend to focus on baptism and the resurrection life, it is only logical to move on to a eucharistic (thanks-giving) theme thereafter.

Paired with the Good Shepherd readings in the historic lectionary, this collect serves as a first line of application for the image of Jesus as our good shepherd.  Recognizing what the Shepherd does for the sheep and recognizing his voice, we learn to give thanks and to follow him.

But now, in the 2019 Prayer Book’s version of the modern lectionary, this collect is paired with Gospel lessons that deal with post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in Luke 24 or John 21.  The good shepherd connection is replaced with a “response to the resurrection” sort of mentality. Rather than latching onto a specific image (Jesus the Good Shepherd) this Collect works in tandem with the general Eastertide theme: resurrection and new life.  It may make the prayer itself feel a bit more arbitrary, but it still gets the job done.

The Collect for Grace (Morning)

The Collect for Grace in Morning Prayer, recommended for Wednesdays in the ACNA liturgy, is one of the standard Collects for Morning Prayer in the historic prayer books – where there were always the same two after the Collect of the Day.  Our version of it reads thus:

O Lord, our heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God, you have brought us safely to the beginning of this day: Defend us by your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin nor run into any danger; and that guided by your Spirit, we may do what is righteous in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This one is rather rich in Scriptural references.  After acknowledging the beginning of the day, we pray as in Psalm 43:1 “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause.”  The Collect expresses a trust in God’s refuge akin to that described in Psalm 62:7 (verse 8 in the Prayer Book numeration) and Psalm 91:2.  We pray this “That we may do what is righteous in your sight” (Deuteronomy 6:18), putting the prayer together in much the same way as part of Zechariah’s Canticle does in Luke 1:74-75.

Note and remember, too, that although our new Prayer Book prints the same seven daily Collects as the 1979 book did, the rubrics identify which two are the traditional two Collects for the Daily Office, so if you want to “roll back” towards traditional Anglican liturgy the option and direction is provided right there!

Still using the Ash Wednesday Collect?

During the seasons of Advent and Lent, in Prayer Books before the 1970’s, there was a special tradition of repeating the first Collect of the season on every day throughout the season.  For example, this is what you find in the 1662 Prayer Book:

The first Day of Lent commonly called Aſh Wedneſday.

The Collect.
ALMIGHTY and everlaſting God, who hateſt nothing that thou haſt made, and doſt forgive all the ſins of thoſe who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our ſins, and acknowledging our wretchedneſs, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remiſſion and forgiveneſs; through Jeſus Chriſt our Lord. Amen.

¶ This Collect is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the day.

(I kept the “long s” typeface in for fun this time; usually I edit them to the regular S.)

Anyway, notice the rubric underneath the Collect: it is to be used throughout the Lenten season in addition to whatever the Collect of the Day normally would be.  For example, yesterday was the Second Sunday in Lent, so we could have read that Collect followed by the Ash Wednesday Collect near the beginning of the Communion service.  You could even be using this extra Collect in the Daily Office every morning and evening!

Now, there is no such rubric in the 1979 or 2019 Prayer Books.  But there is no prohibition against reviving this traditional practice either.  I’ve made a practice of retaining the Collect for Ash Wednesday (sometimes nicknaming it the “Collect for Lent” or “for the season”) on each Sunday in my congregation.  Yes, it does make an awkward break in the rhythm of the liturgy: people are used to sitting down after the Collect but suddenly they have to wait through a second one.

But this can be a good kind of awkwardness.  This Collect is one of the great gems of our Prayer Book tradition, capturing the wretchedness of our sin and the great love and mercy of God in one beautiful little prayer.  It’s a good interruption to receive in the ordinary course of worship.  I can’t say that anybody has ever come up to me after the worship service to comment on it before, but I do think it is a subtle-but-meaningful tradition to hang on to.

Know and Obey

When we looked at the logic of the season of Lent last week, as highlighted by the Collects and Gospels for each Sunday, I implied that our Collect for the First Sunday in Lent is the same as in the historic Prayer Books; this is not entirely true.  Our Collect functions the same way as the traditional Collect, and both make reference to the Gospel story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, but how exactly that is applied to us has changed.  In the 2019 Prayer Book, the Collect is going to look rather like this:

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations, and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ…

The premise of the prayer is temptation of Jesus by the Devil, followed by the reality that we, too, are assaulted with demonic temptation.  God, in his mercy and perfect knowledge, knows our weaknesses and so we pray for experiential knowledge: that God is “mighty to save.”  The historic Collect goes in a very different direction:

O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights: Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest…

The premise of this prayer is fasting of Jesus during those forty days, followed by a prayer that we would be enriched by our own fast during Lent.  Or rather, our abstinence.  Abstinence is a particular type of fast: to fast from something is to reduce its place in your life or your consumption or participation in something, while to abstain from something is to remove it from your life or to cease consuming or participating in something.  Eating smaller meals and cutting out snacking is fasting; giving up meat or chocolate or alcohol for Lent is abstinence.  Abstinence, in whatever specific form it takes, is one of our chief weapons in the subduing of the flesh to the Spirit, and this Collect prays that we would become more able to obey God’s commands “in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

Notice the modern Collect is focused more on experiential knowledge – knowing that God is our powerful Savior – while the traditional Collect is focused more on our obedience.  Surely both are necessary, and belong together, for a sincerely Christian life.  As such, I find I can’t make a personal judgment as to which one is “better” than the other.

The traditional Collect, by referencing the spiritual discipline, links back to Ash Wednesday more than the modern Collect does, so if you’re concerned about liturgical coherence from holy day to holy day then the old tradition preferable here.  But, on the other hand, perhaps one would prefer to see a balance: Ash Wednesday delivering the focus on our call to Lenten discipline and the First Sunday pointing us more to the example and power of Jesus rather than reiterating the disciplines we’re undertaking.

It’s all a matter of perspective and emphasis; certainly there is a place for both traditions.  And, as I said at the beginning, both function in the same way: they are making sure we are getting started into Lent on the right foot.

The Logic of Lent

The season of Lent is one of the more topically scripted seasons of the year, due in part to its relative brevity and narrow focus.  As is often the case, the traditional calendar is clearer than the modern calendar in terms of the ebb and flow of the season, the modern calendar losing some of its coherence due to the 3-year cycle of readings.  Nevertheless, a basic contour can still be discerned.  Rather than looking at traditional and modern Lent separately as we did for Epiphanytide, we can consider the tradition both old and new together.

The First Sunday of Lent is about the temptation of Jesus.  This has always been the case, and has not changed in modern practice.  Year B of the modern calendar almost drops the ball on this due to the fact that Mark’s Gospel only mentions the temptation in one sentence, rather than relating the whole story like Matthew and Luke.  The Collect, too, is the same in both traditions, seeking to imitate Christ’s abstinence that we may move towards holiness.  This is a strong “best foot forward” experience for the first Sunday of the season, making sure we’re on the right path with our spiritual disciplines that began on Ash Wednesday, with the right godly goals in mind.

The Second Sunday of Lent is a mixed bag in the modern lectionary.  The three years yield the Gospel sayings of Jesus ranging from “you must be born again,” “take up your cross and follow me”, and his lament over Jerusalem.  The latter two suggest a theme of looking ahead toward the liturgical culmination of Lent in the Passion of Jesus, while the former hangs back with another sort of starting place for the season.  Traditionally, the Gospel lesson was about the Syro-Phoenician (or Canaanite) Woman’s great faith over which Jesus marveled.  The Collect built off that, praying that God would keep us defended in body and soul because we’re defenseless (like that woman).  Although that Collect remains in our Prayer Book, it does not seem to have a strong connection with the modern Gospel readings.

The Third Sunday of Lent traditionally was very similar to the second, pairing another Collect asking God to look upon us and keep us defended with another healing story from the Gospel, this time an exorcism with subsequent teaching about demons.  Our Prayer Book supplies an expanded version of that Collect (first introduced in the 1979 Prayer Book) and pairs with the Gospel stories of the woman at the well, the cleansing the temple, and Jesus’ call to repent followed by the parable of the barren fig tree.  The traditional pairing makes this Sunday much like the previous, while the modern Collect and lessons lean more heavily on our “restless hearts” and “heartfelt desires” that need to be rightened, healed, or cleansed.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is interesting in that one of the three years in the modern lectionary lines up with the traditional Gospel: the Feeding of the 5,000.  The traditional application of this, in the Collect, was a prayer for relief instead of punishment, marking this Sunday as the lighter and more hope-filled Sunday in the Lenten sequence, visually marked by the wearing of rose vestments instead of violet.  Our modern calendar, however, puts in a Collect about Jesus being our true bread from heaven, emphasizing the original Gospel story but setting it in a different context, especially in years A and C when the Gospel lesson is about the man born blind or the parable of the prodigal son.  In that light, there isn’t as much reason to retain the “Rose Sunday” tradition in the modern Lent.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent, nicknamed Passion Sunday, is an anticipation of Palm Sunday.  A noteworthy feature of the traditional lectionary was that major Sunday commemorations tended to have a follow-up Sunday to further explicate its meaning, but in the case of Palm Sunday, that follow-up had to be a preview Sunday instead.  Originally, the Gospel was Jesus’ speech about “before Abraham was, I am” – asserting his divinity.  This was paired with a lesson from Hebrews about his priestly sacrifice, so the theological import of his death on the Cross would be better appreciated on the following Sunday.  The modern calendar carries out a similar function using the Gospel stories of the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus’ saying that “the son of man must be lifted up,” and the parable of the wicked tenants.  The traditional Collect was similar to those for the 2nd and 3rd Sundays, with a thematic similarity to the Collect for Good Friday, making it serve as another “preview” of the Passion to come.  The modern Collect, however, is a transfer from what was originally an Eastertide Collect, asking God to fix our hearts where true joy is to be found, despite our unruly wills and affections.  As far as I can see (thus far), this somewhat weakens the traditional Passion Sunday function.

The Sixth Sunday of Lent is usually called Palm Sunday, and it is the day we hear the great Passion Narrative as the Gospel.  The Collect is the same, old and new, drawing upon the Epistle (Philippians 2:5-11, also unchanged) to apply Christ’s passion to us; the only difference is that the historic lectionary sticks with Matthew’s Passion and the modern cycles between Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  We’ll look at this in greater detail when Holy Week draws nigh.

 

Echoes of Lent in Epiphanytide

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

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

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

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

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

The Collect(s) for Epiphany V

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pairing: a Collect & a Hymn

Our Collect of the Day from Sunday, the fourth in Epiphanytide, is the first Sunday Collect this season that matches the old Prayer Book tradition.  The first three Sundays have modern Collects to reflect the modern Epiphany emphasis on missions, and now this fourth one takes us back to the original Epiphany tradition.  Here it is:

O God, you know that we are set in the midst of so many and grave dangers that in the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: Grant us your strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through every temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

What I thought we’d do with this Collect today, rather than analyze it or link to a Scripture reading, is match it up with a hymn.  And, rather than dig up a lesser-known song as we’ve done a few times already, let’s pair this classic Collect with a classic hymn: O worship the King.

According to hymnary.org this song appears in nearly 1,000 different books, and probably hundreds more that aren’t compiled on that site.  The lyrics were written by Robert Grant in 1833, loosely based on Psalm 104.  It has been set to a couple different tunes, so I’ll let you readers fight over if LYONS or HANOVER is best, or if one should vote third party.

It is the 5th verse that especially links up with the Collect for Epiphany IV.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In thee, Lord, we trust, nor find thee to fail;
Thy mercies, how tender! how firm to the end!
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and friend!

Both the prayer and the hymn consider us in terms of frailty.  We are “set in the midst of so many and grave dangers”, we need God’s “strength and protection” that, unlike us, are “firm to the end!”  It seems appropriate to consider this hymn a sort of response or follow-up to the Collect: we pray for God’s promised protection, and then we sing joyfully of his steadfast love, his covenant faithfulness, by which we know that our maker, defender, and redeemer is also our friend.