The Absolution and Comfortable Words

Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
who in his great mercy has promised forgiveness of sins
to all those who sincerely repent and with true faith turn to him,
have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins,
confirm and strengthen you in all goodness,
and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The priest’s word of absolution in the Communion service has remain essentially unchanged since 1549, with the sole exception of the absolution of 1979.  In that version, all three persons of the Trinity are invoked, referencing their typical scriptural roles with regards to our salvation:

Almighty God have mercy upon you,
forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ,
strengthen you in all goodness,
and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.

But the opening line about the Father’s merciful promise to forgive sins is omitted, and the stipulation that the people “sincerely repent and with true faith turn to him” was also omitted, drastically truncating the biblical doctrine of the forgiveness of sins and sharply clericalizing the sacramental act of absolution.  Thus, the 1979 absolution was not retained for the Renewed Ancient Text, as other elements of that book were.

Far from a perfunctory word from the priest or bishop, this absolution is a solid piece of biblical theology that fully embraces catholic history and protestant reformed doctrine.  It is formatted similar to a collect: it begins with the identification of God and certain attributes relevant to what follows, and then proceeds to the main statement.  However, the absolution is not a prayer, but a statement – or as some might term it, a “speech-act” – in which the priest addresses the people.  It differs from a prayer for forgiveness in that the words of mercy, pardon, deliverance, confirmation, strengthening, and bringing to everlasting life are subjunctive (similar to imperative/command) verbs.  The speaking of these words conveys the actions they describe.  Thus we see the promise of Christ (in Matthew 16:19 and John 20:23) at work: whomever God’s ministers forgive, they are forgiven.  See also the absolution in the Daily Office.

But these are not unconditional benefits infallibly bestowed by the power of the ordained priesthood.  Unlike contemporary Roman absolutions, the Prayer Book absolution makes sure to describe the character or properties of God that pertain to such forgiveness: he has “great mercy” and “has promised forgiveness of sins.”  Specifically, though, such forgiveness is for the sincere penitent who turns to him in “true faith.”  Thus the power of absolution is tempered.  The priest cannot simply issue absolutions and expect infallible results; the grace of this ministry must be received by faith.

The worshiper is therefore reminded, in this moment of absolution, to continue in faith and to make good the repentance voiced in the prayer of confession.

The words of comfort, following, were introduced in the first Prayer Book and remained a mainstay of the Communion liturgy until they were removed in 1979.  They return in the 2019 Book as optional, and without the intervening texts “Hear also what Saint Paul saith” and “Hear also what Saint John saith.”

The words of comfort stand as a sort of reassurance of pardon.  They serve as a sort of biblical seal upon the priest’s word of absolution.  This emphasizes that the ministry of the Church is grounded upon the authority of the Word of God written. Furthermore, these are not casually-arranged memory verses to encourage the penitent; rather, they form a logical sequence that carry the message of the Gospel in a subtle but heartfelt way.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 begins with the condition and desire of the weary sinner for rest, or refreshment, in Christ. 

God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 follows this with God’s desire to give life to such a weary sinner, opening a reciprocating relationship. 

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1 Timothy 1:15 then shows us what God has done to address our need: sending his son Jesus. 

If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. Finally, then, 1 John 2:1-2 gives us the closing action of the Gospel with Christ as our advocate before God.

This is the Gospel of the God who condescended to rescue us from sin, repeated and summarized here for our comfort and our joy.  In the classical Prayer Books, this would be followed immediately with “Lift up your hearts” – eucharistic thanksgiving being the logical response to such good news and comfort.

Compline: a different confession

Compared to other liturgies and offices, Compline has changed more gradually, retaining its several features and ingredients with gentle rearrangements over the centuries.  Its first inclusion in an official Prayer Book was in Ireland in 1926, with the proposed English 1928 Book and the Scottish 1929 Book quickly following suit.  Canada, India, and the USA added Compline to their Prayer Books later in the 20th century.  Apart from those, devotional manuals have abounded since the 16th century with English-language versions of the traditional monastic office of Compline.

The prayer of confession in Compline (as found in the 2019 Prayer Book) is based upon both the Confiteor (the traditional confession in the “Fore-Mass” of the Roman Rite) and a confession from the Sarum Rite.

Almighty God and Father, we confess to you,
to one another, and to the whole company of heaven,
that we have sinned, through our own fault,
in thought, and word, and deed, and in what we have left undone.
For the sake of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ,
have mercy upon us, forgive us our sins,
and by the power of your Holy Spirit,
raise us up to serve you in newness of life,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Just as the Daily Office and Communion services contain different prayers of confession, so does Compline provide another form.  Some obvious similarities are found, particularly the beloved phrase “in thought, word, and deed,” but it is the unique features of each confession that makes them shine in their own right.  This confession, drawing upon traditional predecessors, sets our admission of guilt into an ecclesial context: “we confess to you, to one another, and to the whole company of heaven.”  Other ancient versions of this prayer even mention specific saints, or the priest with whom the confession is being made.  This is not an invocation of the saints, “Almighty God and Father” is the addressee of this prayer.  Rather, this confession sets the worshiper into a crowd; we must confess our sins to one another and we forgive those who have trespassed against us.  This is pertinent to the devotional theme of Compline, as we are reminded to make amends and restitution with our neighbor, not just with God, before our earthly life is ended.

About Private Confession

Private confession of sin to a priest is a subject of some controversy among Anglicans. Some argue that it has no place in our tradition whatsoever, while others advocate it as a good and proper practice worthy of normalization. A look at the historical Prayer Books reveals something in between: this practice was allowed, but not normal. Two references to private confession stand in the old Prayer Books:

  1. The Communion of the Sick provide an absolution for the Priest to say if the sick person wants to make a confession to him.
  2. The Exhortation at Holy Communion (the one announcing an upcoming celebration of Holy Communion) invites people to make a private confession if their consciences are particularly troubled, “to remove all scruple and doubt” and receive godly counsel.

Thus we find a clear outline of an authentically Anglican approach to private confession: it is a special pastoral ministry whereby a priest can provide more particular spiritual guidance to his flock and bring the benefits and comforts of the regular liturgy to those who are shut up sick at home.

To this end, modern Prayer Books (like our new one) provide an actual form for private confession. In the 2019 Prayer Book, the absolution from the old 1662 Visitation of the Sick is retained for this very purpose! It’s an excellent resource for priestly/pastoral ministry, drawing upon both ancient and specifically-Anglican tradition, in our modern context.

One of the things that people new to the practice often misunderstand is the issue of secrecy. Our Prayer Book notes that “The secrecy of a confession is morally binding for the confessor and is not to be broken” – no exception is provided. As far as the East is from the West, so far has the Lord put away our sins from us.  That established, it must also be noted that a true confession involves contrition.  The penitent concludes “I am truly sorry” and “I firmly intend amendment of life” and “ask for counsel.” The confessional is no more a place for ‘cheap grace’ than the Holy Table or the pulpit. For more specific guidance on how to use this rite, and how to handle the issues of particular sorts of sins that may be confessed, read the full Customary entry here:

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them”

At the Sunday Eucharist a few days ago we read or heard the following utterance from Christ:  Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld”  (John 20:22-23).  This and its counterparts in the Gospel of Matthew can be rather contentious verses among Protestants today.

As jarring as this might be for modern evangelicals, Jesus meant exactly what he said.  He invested his apostles with the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive and withhold (or retain) sins.  In Matthew’s Gospel book this is expressed in the language of “binding” and “loosing” – people are bound to their sins or loosed from their sins by the power of the Holy Spirit.  This is called The Power of the Keys (after how Jesus introduces it in Matthew 16), and is a feature not only of Roman theology but of classical protestantism as well.

“But only God forgives sins!” scoffs the pharisees and evangelicals alike.  Naturally, this is a valid point, and the whole point of that objection in the Gospels is to highlight the true divinity of Jesus.  However, Jesus unapologetically tells his apostles to forgive and retain sins.  Saint James would go on to reflect on this in chapter of his epistle: “Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”  So there must be a way to connect the dots.

Thankfully, as Anglicans, we have hard-wired our theological answer to this conundrum into our liturgy.  In the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer the absolution read by the priest contains this sentence:

He has empowered and commanded his ministers to pronounce to his people, being penitent, the absolution and remission of their sins.

That is the wording in the 2019 Prayer Book, but it’s essentially the same in all historic Prayer Books.  The interpretation is clear: John 20:23 is a granting of authority to Christ’s ordained ministers.  But what it also does is link the minister’s words to the power and authority of Christ, who

pardons and absolves all who truly repent and genuinely believe his holy Gospel.

Thus the forgiveness of sins is not a special power of the priest so much as it is the promise of God to all faithful penitents; the priest or bishop is merely the mouthpiece for God in the congregation for that role.

In the Communion service the words of absolution are different.  But they are followed up with The Comfortable Words, which provide the Word of God as a more sure foundation of the absolution spoken by the priest.  In short, it is God, in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit working through an imperfect priest, who forgives sins.  The priest has a solemn and fearful duty and role in this, but has no magical or divine powers of his own.

Learning the Daily Office – part 6 of 12

So you’ve heard about the Daily Office, specifically the Anglican tradition of daily prayer and scripture reading, and you want to enter into this beautiful and formative tradition?  Great, grab a prayer book and go!  Except, maybe someone already said that and you don’t know where to start… or worse, you did try it and it was just too much?  The length of the Office was overwhelming and the contents too complicated to navigate when you’ve got no experience with liturgy.  We understand, we’ve all been at that place before!  Some just don’t remember it as well as others.

Diving into the full Prayer Book life of worship doesn’t work for everyone; sometimes you have to work your way up toward that discipline, adding one piece at a time as you grow comfortable with each feature and learn how to “do” them all.  This post series is basically a twelve-step program to help you advance in the life of disciplined prayer from zero to super-Anglican.  The pace is up to you – the goal of this sort of spiritual discipline is consistency, not “how much” you do.

Step One: Pray a Psalm followed by the Lord’s Prayer.
Step Two: Add a Scripture Reading
Step Three: Add more Psalms and Lessons
Step Four: Add the Apostles’ Creed
Step Five: Add Canticles

Step Six: Add the Confession

Alright, it’s time for something distinctly Anglican: the prayer of confession at the daily office.  While confessing our sins before God is a universal practice (if grossly underutilized among many Evangelicals and Pentecostals today), it is a distinctly Anglican practice to include it in the Daily Office.  You will find it starting on page 11 for Morning Prayer and page 41 for Evening Prayer.  There is a paragraph that the Officiant (the person leading the Office) reads aloud, followed by the prayer of confession itself, followed by a choice of three responses.  Two of those responses are statements of absolution to be read by a priest or bishop, but the third is a prayer for forgiveness that is to be read by anyone when no such minister is present, and that is what you’ll read when you’re doing this alone.

You’ll also see three “opening sentences of scripture” listed before this Confession set; feel free to read one of these first, too, as they serve as a sort of “call to worship”, beginning to direct your focus upon God and his Word before the act of self-examination and confession.

In the Daily Office we confess our sins at the beginning of the liturgy.  This teaches us:

  1. that it is only in repentance that we find salvation;
  2. that we can only approach God in humility, not pride or presumption;
  3. that true worship comes from a “broken and contrite heart”;
  4. that there is no “health” (salvation) in us apart from God’s grace.

So it’s time to start your morning and evening prayer times with this confession.  Sometimes you’ll read it quickly and move right along.  Sometimes you’ll dwell on the words, or need to dwell on the words, along the way, letting their truth sink in and sober you up to reality.  Sometimes a moment of silent self-examination will be necessary – think on your sins in the past day and release them to the Lord for forgiveness and healing.  Sometimes this will feel merely a perfunctory feature of the Daily Office… remember this is a discipline, after all, so it’s there to shape and form you.  Your heart will not always be as “into it” as other times, just like how certain psalms may appeal to you less or more than others.  The point is that this is the pattern of worship you are growing in to, and that you have this opportunity to repent every time you approach the Lord in prayer.


Your Morning & Evening Offices are now looking like this:

  1. The Confession of Sin
  2. The Psalm(s) Appointed
  3. Old Testament Lesson (occasionally the first lesson is from the NT instead)
  4. First Canticle
  5. New Testament Lesson
  6. Second Canticle
  7. The Apostles’ Creed (consider standing up for this!)
  8. The Lord’s Prayer

This makes your recitation of the Daily Office about fifteen minutes in length each morning and evening.  Apart from the Canticles, the format and order of Morning and Evening Prayer are identical for you.  But that will soon change.

Kneeling to confess our sins

So wrote John Cosin in the 17th century:

Kneeling is the most fit gesture for humble penitents, and being so, it is strange to see how in most places men are suffered to sit rudely and carelessly on their seats, all the while this confession is read; and others that be in the church are nothing affected with it.  They think it a thing of indifferency forsooth, if the heart be right.

Does this description match your own congregation’s experience?  Are there those who sit instead of kneel during the confession of sins?  Do people assert that their bodily position is irrelevant as long as their heart is truly contrite?  Against such, Cosin makes a comparison to the practice of kneeling to receive Holy Communion:

it is as fit we should have the like order taken, that this following absolution be pronounced to none but those that kneel neither.  For else there will be no excuse for us, nor no reason left us to render the puritans, why our Church should more punish them, or hinder them from the benefit of the Sacrament for not kneeling then, than it doth punish other men, or hinder them of the benefit of absolution, for not kneeling in the time of confession.  It is a like case, and would be better thought on by men of wisdom and authority, whose neglect and carelessness in this kind gives not only cause of great offence and scandal to them that are reverently and well disposed, but withal is a cause of great impiety and scorn of our solemnity in God’s service; and it is objected to us by the puritans, in their Survey, and by the papists….

Apparently the Puritans objected to kneeling, and complained that they were being picked on for refusing to kneel for Communion when a lot more people were already failing to kneel for the confession.  Answering these concerns, Cosin asserts (with the Prayer Book and the Canons of the Church of England) that men must kneel in both instances, and be reproved for their disobedience equally in both cases.

After the confession, note that the priest alone stands up to read and declare the absolution.  This is a part of his divine ministry, per the order of Scripture and the Church, and ought to be received as the word of God himself.  The absolution in the Daily Office specifically states our theology of the ordained ministry performing this function, and the absolution at the Communion service is followed by Comfortable Words that bring God’s Words to bear on that part of the liturgy.

Granted, there are cases today where kneeling can be difficult, especially for the elderly.  There are situations of church architecture where there is nowhere to kneel to receive the Sacrament.  Strictly speaking, the 2019 Prayer Book does not even mandate kneeling for the reception of Holy Communion, and the rubric about kneeling for the confessions may be softened by an Additional Direction that notes that all referencing to standing imply the caveat “as able.”  These are, I think, legitimate pastoral provisions.  But in general, a lot more people can and should be kneeling a lot more regularly than is customary in many places.

Not Inviting God’s Presence

Let’s jump into something that may be a bit of a shock to some people.  We do not “invite God’s presence” in worship.

In this I am referring to the now-popular practice in the “praise and worship” movement to say, pray, or sing things like “we invite you here”, “come be with us, O Spirit,” or “you are welcome in this place.”  While perhaps seemingly innocuous at first – expressing, after all, a healthy desire for the presence of God – this can be theologically and doxologically troublesome.  Such invitations espouse a particular theology of worship, and since they originate from a movement of musicians typically with no theological education, one should be very careful about normalizing such prayers.

The idea of inviting God to be with us (in worship or otherwise) fits nicely into image of the domesticated deity of post-modern times.  God is my friend, Jesus is my boyfriend, we’re just generally chummy with the Holy Spirit.  This mentality was an understandable, almost needed, backlash against the dry and distant deity of the modernists, but it is a response of one bad extreme to another bad extreme.  God is both transcendent (or above us) and immanent (among us).  However, Scripture and tradition do not teach us to invite God’s presence in worship, but rather the opposite.

We prepare ourselves to enter into God’s presence. Yes, there is a sense in that he condescends to us, but the primary “motion” of worship is us going to him, approaching the throne or altar of grace (cf. Hebrews 12:22-25)…

you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  See that you do not refuse him who is speaking.

In accord with this, the wisdom of the liturgical traditions is that we acknowledge our unworthiness, or confess sins, or pray for the Spirit’s purification of our hearts, at the beginning of every worship service.  To “invite God’s presence” is to turn that paradigm around completely, and assumes that we are so worthy of God’s glory among us that he should come under our roof.  At best, that’s ignorance; at worst that’s blasphemous presumption.

Specifically, the Daily Office begins with a sort of exhortation leading to a confession of sin; the Litany begins with pleas to the Holy Trinity for mercy; the Communion service begins with the Collect for Purity and continues with some form of penitential rite.  These devotions and forms teach and remind us that we are not worthy of God’s presence apart from his grace, and that he invites us to worship him.  More than that, it is right, our duty and our joy always and everywhere to give him thanks and praise, as our Communion Prayers proclaim.

So don’t “just invite your presence this morning” in prayer to God at church… prepare yourself to approach his throne and listen to him.

The Comfortable Words

After the Confession and Absolution in the Service of Holy Communion follow The Comfortable Words.  In my planning notes, this entry was to be entitled “The Comfortable Words (old & new)” which I can only assume was a joke to myself, as the comfortable words are always the same four quotes from Scripture.  Both their function and their content are the same in the classical Prayer Books and in the 2019 Prayer Book.  All that differs are what the rubrics say.  Also, for the many people who are used to the Roman Rite, or the 1979 book, or similar liturgical revisions, the Comfortable Words may be a “new” feature of the liturgy to them.

This lovely graphic explanation of the Comfortable Words made the rounds on Facebook last month, and it’s worth sharing here:


I’ll let the commentary there stand for itself.  What we can explore from a liturgical perspective is the question of what these “words” do, and how we use them.

Classically, all four of these statements were read by the priest after the Absolution, and were introduced individually: “Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith… hear also what what St. Paul saith… hear also what St. John saith…”  But in the 2019 there is one introduction: “Hear the Word of God to all who truly turn to him.”  This is matched with a rubric that states The Celebrant may then say one or more of the following sentences.  Basically, this means that the rubrics allow us to skip any or all of these Words.

It is the recommendation of this Customary that you go all-or-nothing on this.  The Comfortable Words have always been the same group of four ever since Thomas Cranmer first appointed them in 1549, and the logical progression they form together makes the omission of one or more a loss to overall coherence.  Besides, if you just read one, then it runs the risk of just being a “random Scripture reading” floating out there, whereas if you read all four it makes a more bold and clear statement about the forgiveness of sins.  The liturgy will survive without them, so either embrace them as a whole or leave them be entirely.

Their function is to stand as a sort of reassurance of pardon.  Beyond the Anglicans and the Lutherans (the only two Protestant traditions that retain any sense of sacramentality of Absolution from a minister) an “assurance of pardon” is about all a minister can give, after a confession, and quoting the Bible is the best way to go about it.  For us, then, who do have an Absolution pronounced, the Comfortable Words serve as a sort of biblical seal upon the priest’s word of absolution.  This emphasizes that the ministry of the Church is grounded upon the authority of the Word of God written.

Priest, if your congregation already has a high view of Scripture, and a clear understanding that your ministry is derived therefrom, then the function of the Comfortable Words has been fulfilled whether you read them or not.  This does not make them extraneous, however.  The Word of God is living and active, arguably even more alive and active than you are.  Therefore we should not treat the Comfortable Words as “extra add-ons”, but words of great significance and comfort.  The rubrics permit us to skip them, but tradition and wisdom together exhort us to make regular use of them.

Anecdotally, I find myself using them throughout Advent, Lent, and Easter, and only occasionally reading them through the rest of the year.  Like many priests, I feel pressed for time: so-and-so wants to get home on time for the Patriots game, the kids only have so much attention span left, and wasn’t the sermon already long enough?  Perhaps there are good reasons for omitting the Comfortable Words from time to time.  But as a norm, we probably ought to be reading them far more often than we omit them.

The Confession at Communion

After the Prayers of the People and the Exhortation comes the general confession of sins.  As Anglicans we may take this for granted… very few evangelical churches out there have any regular confession of sin in their worship services.  And the Roman Catholics only kinda-sorta do, at best.

In the old days, there was the confiteor, a prayer of confession, said during the “Fore-Mass”, which I believe was said at the bottom of the steps before approaching the altar during the Introit, and that was the Roman Catholic pattern until the 1960’s. Pope Benedict XVI’s revisions may have brought that back a little bit, but for the most part Roman piety traditionally expected people to make their confession in private the day before coming to Mass.  The English Reformation de-emphasized private confession (though despite what some say, we never abolished it!) and favored a corporate public confession within the Communion liturgy itself.  If private confession is needed, one of the Exhortations encourages people to go make that happen before coming to Communion next week.

The confession we’ve got in the Anglican Standard Text on pages 112-113 is a modern rendition of the traditional Anglican confession prayer for this liturgy.  The confession in the Renewed Ancient Text on page 130 is the “economy class” prayer from the 1979 Prayer Book – shorter, simpler, but arguably cheap.  So we’re going to leave that prayer be, and focus on where the 2019 Prayer Book is in line with Anglican tradition, rather than out of line.

2019: Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, maker and judge of us all:
1662: Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men:

We’ve trimmed it down a bit here, doing away with the language of “men” in favor of something more gender-neutral by contemporary standards.  We’ve exchanged the Maker of all things for the maker of us, which takes away from the cosmic scope of things.  Fortunately, there’s plenty of other imagery in this prayer, so the loss of that little detail shouldn’t make a big difference overall.

2019: We acknowledge and lament our many sins and offenses, which we have committed by thought, word, and deed, against your divine majesty, provoking most justly your righteous anger against us.
1662: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.

Again our trend to streamline and trim the language down a little.  “Bewail” has become “lament”, which is conceptually is a toning down of our response to sin, but “bewail” runs the risk of sounding melodramatic today, given it’s a word that we don’t really use anywhere else anymore.  The phrase “from time to time” has been removed without replacement, largely because the implication of that phrase today is “occasionally” rather than the original sense “from moment to moment”, and that would be too unwieldy to say. Other phrases, “most grievously” and “wrath and indignation” are also simplified.  It was a common feature of English liturgical language (and likely rhetoric and poetry in general) to produce strings of pairs: “this and this, that and that”, which sometimes we keep for sake of aesthetic, but sometimes we simplify so it doesn’t get too cumbersome.

2019: We are deeply sorry for these our transgressions; the burden of them is more than we can bear.
1662: We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable

It is curious, now that I look at this closely, that in all our streamlining, “repent” is not a word we kept.  This really is the heart of the confession prayer – the previous lines lead to this statement, and the remainder of the prayer grows out from here.  The language of our sins being a “burden” though, is good to note, as it brings us to the biblical language of Christ bearing our sins for us on the Cross.  For us, sin is an “intolerable” burden, or “more than we can bear”; only Christ can bear that sin, and bear it on the Cross he did.  Thus, though the Cross is not explicitly named, the Cross remains at the heart of our confession of sin.  Yes we have this sacramental moment in the liturgy, complete with an absolution from a priest, but it is the Cross of Christ where that absolution ultimately originates.

2019: Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father;
1662: Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father;

Why, in the final draft of the 2019, did we bring back this full phrase?  Why not simply “Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father”?  This is an ancient piece of prayer.  The three-fold miserere (appeal for mercy) is traditionally where the priest (and people?) beat their breast three times, with the word “mercy.”  When you pray this, whether you make that gesture or not, make sure you’re saying it slowly enough that you could be striking your breast at each “mercy.”  The point is not to hurt yourself, as if this were an aggressive penitential discipline; it’s an expression of penitence and humility, which can be found mentioned throughout the biblical narrative.

2019: for your Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may evermore serve and please you in newness of life, to the honor and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
1662: For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The phrase “ever hereafter” has become “evermore”.  Otherwise, we’re praying the same way Anglicans have been praying for centuries, here.

All in all, there is an extra layer of richness and beauty, as well as theological profundity, if you dig into the classical prayer books.  What we’ve got here in the 2019 Prayer Book is the same prayer in essence, but there are a few nuances that got streamlined out of the picture.  (Whereas the confession from the “Renewed Ancient Text” is barely the faintest echo of Anglican penitential piety.)  So we can pray this with confidence that we are praying in communion with our millions of forebears, drinking of the same fountain as those great divines of centuries past.  Just, I encourage you, dip into the classical language from time to time.  It’s not just historical interest, or liturgical legacy or context, but actually an enriching worship that has inspired and informed the entire English-speaking world.

Book Review: A Manual for Priests of the American Church

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.

One of the most useful supplementary liturgical texts on my shelf is A Manual for Priests of the American Church by Earl H. Maddux.  Originally produced in 1944, it reached a fifth edition in 1968.  Its subtitle is “Complementary to the Occasional Offices of the Book of Common Prayer” (paired with the 1928).  After the 1979 Prayer Book was released, I don’t believe this book had a successor.  This is partly because the 1979 Prayer Book added to its pages a few things supplied in this book, and partly because what remained useful in this book didn’t really need any updating for those who were disposed to its it.

The book consists of three sections: Offices, Blessings, and an Appendix of extra material.

The “Offices” supplement what’s in the 1928 Prayer Book, adding some instructions for emergency and conditional baptism, admitting catechumens, sacramental confession, communion from the reserved sacrament, blessing civil marriages, ministry to (including anointing of) the sick, prayers for the dying and departed, particular situations for Burial services, and the like.  Much of this is found in the 1979 Prayer Book in one form or another.  The 2019 Prayer Book provides a form of most of this material too.  If you’re a 1928 Prayer Book user, this part of the book is still immediately practically useful; for the rest of us it’s informative reference material to see how some of the “new” parts of our prayer book were previously rendered.

The “Blessings” section is the part that I don’t know if can be found in any newer books.  It begins with a set of rubrics about how priests and bishops are to handle priestly blessings, how to vest, what sort of contexts and permissions are necessary, and starts the list with the blessing of holy water, as that is what’s typically used in blessing nearly any other object or locale.  If you are open to this line of tradition, this collection is invaluable, as it represents an Anglican adaptation of traditional Western liturgical material.  My congregation is not particularly high-church in their devotion and piety, but there have been times when they’ve asked me to bless new crosses, bibles, and the like.  Rendering some of this book’s blessings into contemporary English has been a handy resource for me!  It’s got blessings for advent wreaths, vestments, pictures, pregnant women, children, books, candles, houses, other types of buildings, prayer beads, vehicles, even including…


you know… just in case you’re the chaplain to NASA or something.  Clearly the star-gazing 60’s had an impact on the later editions of this book!

The Appendix section of this book is a sort of catch-all for various bits and bobs.  More blessings and offices, including the Asperges, the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, imposition of ashes for Ash Wednesday, and large pile of additional blessings and prayers, fill another 70 pages of the volume.  A few of these features (like ashes for Ash Wednesday) have found their way into modern prayer books, and therefore make for interesting comparative liturgical study as we consider how mid-20th-century highchurchmen sought to restore ancient traditions such as the imposition of ashes into the Anglican context.

The book closes with a set of indexes, making its rather scattered contents much easier to find, especially if you find yourself “is there a blessing/prayer for this?”

As you can probably tell from a number of the features listed in this book by now, this is a decidedly highchurch, Anglo-Catholic, resource.  It is to such a degree that many would consider this in violation of the Anglican formularies by (re-)introducing prayers for the departed, traditions that suggest a “sacerdotal” priesthood, and so-called Roman superstitions concerning the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  A lowchurch or charismatic Anglican may find elements of this book useful on a careful pick-and-choose basis, but on the whole this book is unashamedly Anglo-Catholic.  However, before you dismiss this book entirely on theological-party grounds, it should be noted that this book is presented as complementary to the Prayer Book; nothing in here replaces the authorized Prayer Book.  So let us not regard this book as representing a divisive element who wanted to replace the Prayer Book; that is an extreme to be found elsewhere, not here.

The Saint Aelfric Customary, apart from its primary role of parsing out the execution of the 2019 Prayer Book liturgy in a traditional manner, also aims to provide some supplemental liturgical material, and many of the blessings in this book will be drawn upon, adapted into contemporary English to match our new Prayer Book’s style.  If you are priest with even just a little bit of high-church interest, I recommend this book very highly; it is a useful resource to have around, even if it’s only practically useful once in a blue moon!

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 4/5
Because it’s been through a few additions, some of its sections, especially the Appendix, aren’t as logically ordered as one might wish.  But the index section in the back is simple, making it easy to find what you’re looking for.  The fact that its material is in traditional English may also be a slight deterrent for those unused to it.

Devotional Usefulness: 2/5
It’s hard to rate this book on this scale.  If you’re an Anglo-Catholic Priest, in a high church 1928 Prayer Book parish, then this book is probably a 4.  For the rest of us priests, though, this is much more of an occasional resource.  If you’re not ordained, this book will almost never be “useful” to you at all.

Reference Value: 3/5
From the standpoint of the History of Liturgy, or liturgiology, this is a really cool text.  You get see, here, several examples of Anglo-Catholic recoveries of traditional liturgical material before it gets appropriated the Liturgical Movement of the 1960’s as represented in the 1979 Prayer Book.  In this sense, then, this book is a fascinating study to anyone interested in the subject.

By way of a last word, this is a book that I think all Anglican priests should know about, most should have, even if only a few will use.