Who was St. Cyprian of Carthage?

There are several names that refer to early Christian Saints – John, Augustine, Clement, Theodore, Gregory, Basil, to name a few – so we generally have to give them suffixes to their names in order to distinguish them. Today’s commemoration in the calendar is one such example: St. Cyprian, from Carthage.

In many ways, Cyprian is the Augustine before Augustine. He was a Berber, a Roman African, born to a wealthy Pagan family, and he converted to Christianity at age 35. After his conversion he was ordained quickly, becoming the Bishop of Carthage roughly four years later. This was, perhaps understandably, a little controversial, but his actions in the ministry soon proved his sanctity-in-Christ. A wave of government oppression of the Church, called the Decian Persecution, swept through in the early 250’s, and Cyprian saw a lot of his flock cave in to the Roman demands to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods. Cyprian himself rode out much of that persecution in exile, believing it God’s will that he survive to shepherd his flock from a temporary distance, and be present to pick up the pieces when it was over, much like how the Apostles fled Jerusalem after the death of St. James, and how many Christians fled Jerusalem during the Roman-Jewish War culminating in the sack of 70 AD.

Needless to say, there was a controversy waiting for Cyprian when the dust settled: what do you do with the lapsi – the lapsed, who burned sacrifices to other gods? Cyprian’s initial demand was that they undergo public penance before being readmitted to Holy Communion, but a number of his earlier opponents thought this was too strict, and many priests took it upon themselves to invite people back under much more liberal conditions. As this controversy was brought to a local council, another party cropped up: a stricter group who argued that the lapsed could not repent and rejoin the church at all! The council stood with Cyprian, in between the too-liberal Novatus of Carthage and the too-strict Novatian of Rome.

As a pastoral and liturgical aside, this is insightful for us today, because we, too, see many lapsed Christians coming in and out of our churches these days. Do we admit them to Holy Communion without question? Or should we, as St. Cyprian ruled, call for public repentance of their wanderings from the Gospel before reinstating their place at the Holy Table? This is worth considering carefully, and we have resources in our Prayer Book to help us.

  • The Ash Wednesday exhortation explicitly mentions the ancient practice of public repentance.
  • The Exhortation in the Communion service warns us against unworthy reception of the Sacrament.
  • The Confirmation liturgy includes a variant for “Reaffirmation”, particularly for those who were previously confirmed, fell away, and have since returned.

It may well be that we have become too lax in our ministration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and need to re-learn, from the likes of St. Cyprian, what good Eucharistic discipline looks like.

This wrestling with the implications of the Gospel for those who fall away under persecution would return for St. Augustine of Hippo and the Donatists nearly 150 years later, though then it would be about the purported need for re-ordination, rather than readmission to Holy Communion. Cyprian was like an early Augustine in other ways too: his Latin writings were influential and beloved, his handling of controversy and good accord with other bishops was laudable. And they both saw disaster at the end of their lives. For Augustine, of course, it was the news of the sack of Rome and the arrival of barbarians at the gate of his own city. For Cyprian it was another round of government persecution, leading to his execution on 14 September 258.

The date of his commemoration isn’t so straight-forward, because 14 September has been taken by Holy Cross Day, forcing the Church calendar to shift St. Cyprian of Carthage to another day. Most Anglican calendars place him on an adjacent day – the 13th or 15th. The Roman Church has another observance (Our Lady of Sorrows) on the 15th, so they celebrate Cyprian on the 16th, and some other traditions follow suit.

When to skip the Nicene Creed!?

Happy September!  I am finally easing out of a writing hiatus, now that my family’s move is more or less completed and the school year has more or less begun.  We won’t quite be jumping straight into five posts per week, but, as I announced a few months ago, the focus on quality over quantity will continue.

Today we’re tossing another “Weird Rubric Wednesday” into the collection.

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So you’re going along through the Communion service in the 2019 Prayer Book, and you get to page 108 or 126 and you come to this rubric:

On Sundays, other Major Feast Days, and other times as appointed, all stand to recite the Nicene Creed…

So this is curious.  Most of you are probably used to the Nicene Creed being a static part of the Communion service – always there, unchanged, unchanging.  Indeed that was the pattern set out in 1662: And the Gospel ended, shall be sung or said the Creed following, the people still standing as before.  By that point it was assumed that Holy Communion was being celebrated, at most, on Sundays and Holy Days.  The Roman tradition of Daily Mass was pretty much gone from English practice.  So practically every Communion was a Sunday or Holy Day, and there was no need to mess around with options.  After the Gospel, just say the Creed.  (Yeah, the sermon used to be after the Creed.)

But eventually things got a bit more loose.  The 1928 Prayer Book, usually upheld as the last bastion of traditional Anglican liturgy in America, actually has quite a strange rubric about the Creed – I daresay more worthy of “Weird Rubric Wednesday” than its 2019 counterpart.  This is what it says:

Then shall be said the Creed commonly called the Nicene, or else the Apostles’ Creed; but the Creed may be omitted, if it hath been said immediately before in Morning Prayer; Provided, That the Nicene Creed shall be said on Christmas Day, Easter Day, Ascension Day, Whitsunday, and Trinity Sunday.

You see, in the 1928 Book, people have the option of saying either the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed in Morning Prayer, and the same choices at the Communion too.  The “defaults” were still Apostles’ in the Office and Nicene in the Communion, but the expansion of options was such that one could choose either at any time, with only five exceptions.  Omitting the Creed entirely was also an option if Morning Prayer had just been said!

But this isn’t simply wild and crazy liberalism and choose-your-own-adventure liturgy building.  I mean, that could happen, but that’s not the intention.  Rather, this option to omit the Nicene Creed is in line with a retrieval of pre-Reformation tradition that was going on at the time in the growing Anglo-Catholic movement.  In the Roman calendar there are several “classes” or “ranks” of feast days, and they are celebrated with different levels of liturgical complexity.  Among those levels include the saying/omitting of the Gloria, and also of the Nicene Creed.  These options have been codified among traditional Anglo-Catholics, as demonstrated by this Ordo Kalendar put out by a group of the Continuing Churches:

aug-sample

In this picture you can see August 27th-29th, with notes for the daily mass.  St. Augustine of Hippo’s feast day merits both the Gloria and the Creed, whereas the Beheading of St. John the Baptist omits the Creed.  The Feria (or empty) day before them omits both.  So, coming back to the 2019 Prayer Book, when we read On Sundays, other Major Feast Days, and other times as appointed, this is an opportunity for those who want to follow some sort of “ranking” of feast days to make distinctions in how we celebrate Communion in honor of different saints’ days.

The Gloria may be omitted

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On pages 107 & 125 of the Book of Common Prayer, 2019, the following rubric is found:

The Gloria or some other song of praise may be sung or said, all standing.  It is appropriate to omit the song of praise during penitential seasons and days appointed for fasting.

This in itself is not a particularly strange rubric.  The 1979 Prayer Book renders the Gloria optional, and it is already a widespread custom (rooted in Western liturgical tradition) that the Gloria should be omitted during Lent, Advent, and on other occasions of similar tone.

You can read more about the use (and even placement) of the Gloria in this article from last year’s series on the Communion liturgy.  You will also find there some notes about evaluating songs to replace it which are worth re-stating here:

  • If it is Advent or Lent, this is an excellent point at which to sing a hymn specially appointed for that season.  Or just let the Decalogue stand on its own strength!
  • At other times of the year, be sure it truly is a “song of praise”, as the rubric twice describes it.  A song of praise does NOT talk about me/us, but sings only of God – his character and his works.  The Gloria barely glances at “us”; let that set the standard for whatever replaces it.

What’s so weird about this, though?

I submit this under the banner of Weird Rubric Wednesday not because the rubric itself is weird, or even the reasons behind it are weird, but because some common executions of this rubric are pretty weird.  And it’s on a sliding scale from “okay” to “weird” to just plain “bad”.

Okay?

One approach to replacing the Gloria is to not simply put in one “song of praise,” but a whole set (say, three on average) of contemporary worship songs.  Singing multiple songs here stretches the language of this rubric – “song” is in the singular, after all – but it’s not necessarily an outright violation.  Besides, a lot of contemporary worship songs are shorter than hymns (in terms of word-count through the lyrics) so it’s not necessarily a bad idea to stack up two or three contemporary songs to form a substantial substitute for the Gloria or other single hymn of praise.

Weird?

Sometimes that “okay” idea gets taken a step further: it’s a contemporary “worship set” of three-ish songs in a row, but they’re not brief. Instead they repeat their refrains multiple times and include interludes within or between the songs for people to sing or pray extemporaneously.  This is popular evangelical worship practice, and has made its way into the practice of many Anglican churches.  If you’re going to import other traditions into the Prayer Book tradition, this is probably the least disruptive point in the Communion liturgy in which to do it, though it is worth observing that many Anglicans find contemporary pop-evangelical worship theology incompatible with historic Protestant (as well as Catholic) theologies of worship.  So music ministers and clergy alike should give careful thought to the use of music in the liturgy before stretching the rubrics this far.

Bad?

It is not normally the purpose of this blog to call out bad liturgy; there’s enough grumpy negativity on the internet already.  But occasionally problems in worship (just like problems in doctrine) do need to be confronted.  Moving from “okay” to “weird” to “bad”, the next step in this descent would be to add the excesses of Pentecostalism: speaking in tongues, inviting “words of knowledge” to be shared, and other extemporaneous expressions of charismata according to 20th-century Pentecostal theology.  Much of this runs in the face of St. Paul’s teachings in 1 Corinthians 14, let alone an historic liturgical theology, but this has been known to happen in some Anglican churches today.

So what do you suggest?

When in doubt, keep it simple and consistent.  Say or sing the Gloria for every Communion celebration on Sundays and Holy Days.  For a short mid-week service, perhaps skip it entirely.  During Lent, replace it with a Lent Hymn; during Advent, replace it with an Advent Hymn.  Or just don’t sing anything at all after the Decalogue during those seasons – there’s a lot to be said for stark simplicity in worship, especially in our culture that is over-drenched with activity and sound.

Ascension Day – Antecommunion

For Ascension Day under the COVID-19 closure, I thought it would be nice to try something different.  Please forgive the box of kid’s toys in the background, and my hair’s a bit of a mess (I’m taking advantage of social distancing to regrow my hair into a ponytail while nobody has to look at it).  This is a reflection of the simple reality that worshiping at home can be difficult.  Nevertheless, whatever the challenges, the prayers of the Church never cease!

If you want a generic outline for Antecommunion, you can view or download one here: Antecommunion leaflet

The hymn I sang after the Peace (in the place of the Offertory) is See the conqueror mounts in triumph, #151 in the Book of Common Praise 2017.

Anglicanism’s ONE Manual Ritual

Liturgically speaking, Anglicanism is remarkably simple.  Sure, the Prayer Book requires something of a learning curve, especially modern Prayer Books with all their options and possibilities and multi-year lectionaries.  But when you compare the historic Prayer Book tradition to the other great liturgical traditions, particularly Rome and the East, ours is greatly simpler to follow, understand, and implement.  This is, I believe, part of the Reformation principle: paring down the extraneous developments that clogged up the system to unveil the Biblical and Patristic core of historic Christian worship.

This doesn’t mean Anglicanism cannot be complex and beautiful – many rituals and traditions, both ancient and medieval, have been re-appropriated in our context.  We can have incense and chasubles, altar candles and art, icons and organs… but when it comes down to it the “smells and bells” are optional.  These beautify worship but are not integral to it.

And yet, amidst our grand simplification of Western liturgical tradition, there is one rubric – only one – that has survived every Prayer Book revision, dealing with the gestures (or manual actions) of the Priest.  The 1549 Prayer Book had a couple other gestures directed which are often used today, but only one survived through the course of the Reformation and is fixed in every Prayer Book since the beginning.  Here it is, according to the wording of the 2019 Book:

At the following words concerning the bread, the Celebrant is to hold it, or lay a hand upon it, and here* may break the bread; and at the words concerning the cup, to hold or place a hand upon the cup and any other vessel containing the wine to be consecrated.

There are other rubrics, too, that deal with movement and location, standing and kneeling, but these are the only instructions left that deal with the manuals, the hands.  The celebrant MUST touch the bread or the vessel(s) containing it; the celebrant MUST touch the flagon or chalice or other vessel containing the wine.  These are the only requirements, amidst the many traditional gestures and symbols that prior tradition demanded.

Why is this so?  There may be different answers to this question.  Perhaps it’s as simple and practical as to indicate to all gathered what is to be consecrated.  Perhaps it’s part of a larger system of sacramental theology in which the celebrant has to indicate the intent to consecrate particular elements.  Perhaps there’s something incarnational in the celebrant’s imitation of Christ, or service in the place of Christ, in physically handling the elements in the same way our Lord did on the night that he was betrayed.  The explanation may be different according to whom you ask, but the rule or rubric is the same.

One of the important realizations that we must take from this, today, is the fact that we are NOT permitted to consecrated bread and wine via the internet.  There are a lot of simplifications and extraneous traditions that were removed during the Reformation, but physical contact between the minister and the elements is the one thing we’ve made a point of keeping.  Sadly, a number of priests, and even bishops, have advocated a sort of “remote consecration”, where the congregation has bread and wine in front of their TV or computer screen and the priest or bishop they’re watching live “consecrates” them for the recipients at home.  This is not permissible according to the Prayer Book tradition.  And, depending upon one’s theological explanation of this rubric, it’s probably also not possible or valid.

So I urge you, dear readers, not to hold or participate in such liturgies involving “remote consecration.”  These are, admittedly, extraordinary circumstances; but that does not mean we can abandon our beliefs and godly authorities.  Whether we like them or not, the Prayer Book already has resources for this sort of situation: pray the Daily Office, pray Antecommunion, ask the parish priest to deliver Communion house to house after celebrating with a small group.  Use the prayer of Spiritual Communion; it’s #106 in the 2019 Prayer Book.  True, none of these are quite replacements for the regular participation in the liturgy of Holy Communion, but these measures exist precisely to keep the people of God fed and nourished, even in times of infrequent reception of the Sacrament.

We can get through this.  We don’t need to violate our beliefs, practices, or rubrics.  We certainly don’t need to introduce strange, novel , and illicit inventions as “remote consecration.”  Honestly, to do so reveals a surrender to worldly conditions and a lack of appreciation (let alone understanding) of the beautiful and robust tradition we already have.

The Acclamation can be anything “appropriate”

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How does the service of Holy Communion begin?  Many churches have a processional hymn or an opening song to start things off.  The 2019 Prayer Book notes this option with a rubric on pages 105 and 123.  But after that comes the Acclamation, the textual beginning of the worship service in the modern liturgy.  It says:

The people standing, the Celebrant says this or a seasonal greeting (pages 145-146)

When you turn to page 145 you find eight different Acclamations for different seasons and holy days of the year.  But they are introduced with this rubric:

The opening Acclamation may be replaced by a greeting appropriate to the season or the occasion, such as the following

This means that you can create your own acclamation!  That means you could do something like this:

Celebrant Hey there, fam!
People  ‘Sup, preacher!

This assumes, of course, that the celebrant deems this “appropriate to the season or the occasion“.  One would hope that the priest has better taste than this, haha, but it’s technically possible.

Yes, it’s Weird Rubric Wednesday, this is my chance to be silly.

Anything helpful to suggest?

Okay, yes.  First of all, it should be noted that this openness links smoothly with the Additional Directions on page 139 that authorize the assembly of a Penitential Order at the beginning of the liturgy.  It may be that an appropriate greeting be an immediate call to confession of sin, or the proclamation of the gospel of repentance, as the Daily Offices do.  In times of grave trouble, this might actually be a good idea.  The use of the Great Litany as the preface to the Communion liturgy is also appropriate to this scenario, and is provided for in the rubric on page 96, and certain dates of the year to do this are urged on page 99.

It may be that a particular situation or occasion may invite the use of a canticle for the celebrant and congregation to say at the start of the liturgy.  This is, in effect, what the Burial Service does.

It may be that a particular situation or occasion may benefit from a special address by the celebrant to the congregation, as the Marriage liturgy begins.

Most of us are currently in a closed-church situation where few-to-none of us can attend worship in person.  The first Sunday back may call for a special address, a call to celebrate and rejoice, and a reminder of why we do gather together and what worship is all about.  Priests and pastors across the country will be thinking about what to say and how to handle our eventual reunions, and this rubric for the Acclamation gives us leeway – not simply to mess with the liturgy for our own purposes, but to hand us the freedom to give thoughtful consideration to how we might usher the flock into a time of worship, given the particular occasion or circumstance.

Create Your Own Prayers of the People

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On page 140 of the 2019 Prayer Book, the following Additional Direction is found:

In both the Anglican Standard and Renewed Ancient Texts, other forms of the Prayers of the People may be used, provided the following concerns are included:

   The universal Church, the clergy and people
   The mission of the Church
   The nation and all in authority
   The peoples of the world
   The local community
   Those who suffer and those in any need or trouble
   Thankful remembrance of the faithful departed and of all the blessings of our lives.

For the most part this is a clone of the rubric in the 1979 Prayer Book, which also authorized a create-your-own-adventure approach to the Prayers of the People, providing a similar structure of required topics.  I think the wording of ours is a bit more positively specific, but the freedom is basically the same.

Now, this is “Weird Rubric Wednesday”, a new series of posts that I’m running about weird, strange, or surprising things that the 2019 Prayer Book permits.  As the intentionally horrific and obnoxious banner picture at the top of the page indicates, I’m running this partly for the humour, and cautioning against abuse of the system.  But some of these will have serious and positive suggestions, too.  How you deal with the Prayers of the People is going to be one of those mixed entries.

Ideally…

The two Communion rites in our Prayer Book provide their own default Prayers of the People.  Ideally you should just use them as-is.  Tampering with them is permitted, but almost never necessary.  The special occasion once in a while may be well-highlighted by an edited set of Prayers here, but on the whole this is supposed to be a stable piece of the liturgy.  If you always keep the congregation guessing from week to week, then you’re only teaching them to rely on you, or to rely upon their own spontaneity, rather than provide the spiritual formation available in the mature historic prayers.

Try your hand at Puritanism

One of the great practices of the Free Church tradition is the “pastoral prayer”, in which the pastor prays at length for, well, anything and everything.  This can be a train wreck if he’s unprepared, but it can also be a beautiful moment of pastoral love and care for the flock.  The Puritans, in particular, had a thing for insanely long prayers, and this rubric offers them a victory in our 2019 liturgy.

Personally I don’t recommend opting for this, but it may be a positive idea to pray, as a pastor (priest, deacon, or otherwise) for your congregation at the end of the traditional set Prayers.

Shaken, not stirred

Another thing you could try here is to pull out the Occasional Prayers near the back of the Prayer Book and grab a collect or two for each of the required topics to create your own Prayers of the People.  This would result in a very piecemeal set of prayers, with little-to-no sense of flow to them, so I would not recommend that for ordinary Communion services.  But that might be a cool idea to try out in an Antecommunion service on your own!  It’s also worth noting that the list of topics in the rubric above also closely matches the organization of the Occasional Prayers, so this scheme would be easier to fulfill than you might think.

Outsourcing

This rubric also gives you the freedom to grab any other Prayer Book, official or proposed or supplementary, and use their Prayers of the People, assuming they meet the simple required topics.  This could mean the 1979, or England’s Common Worship, or the Kenyan Prayer Book, or another province.  Or, to channel that #broke/#woke/#bespoke meme, you could go all-out #bespoke and use the 1662 or 1928 Prayer Book’s Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church.  How ’bout dat?

For ever and ever, Amen.

Pray the Great Litany as the Prayers of the People.  Pray some or all the Psalms.  Pray all the Occasional Prayers.  This liturgy could last all day, baby!  DON’T STAWP!

Preparing for Candlemas

Coming up in a couple weeks is one of those lovely opportunities to celebrate one of the Holy Days, or “red letter days” with the whole church on a Sunday: the feast of the Presentation of our Lord, or, the Purification of Mary.  It’s on February 2nd, which is about two Sundays away now.

First of all, if you need to freshen up your memory on the meaning and significance of this holiday, click here for my introduction from a previous year.  There you’ll get a run-down of several scripture readings, a collect, and a canticle that are associated with this celebration.

For many 1979-prayer-book-users, it is a hard adjustment realizing that we are “allowed” to celebrate holy days like this on Sundays.  It cannot be emphasized enough that before 1979 it was universal practice to observe holy days that land on Sundays outside of Lent/Easter/Pentecost, and Advent.  Be glad to reclaim another piece of our heritage!  Plus, holy days like these also help “break up” the predictability of the Sundays of the year somewhat, providing moments of something different.

Although in the case of this feast day, it’s not really that much of an interruption, because the Presentation of Christ in the Temple has strong connections to Christmas and Epiphany.  February 2nd is “the 40th day of Christmas“, matching the timing of the historical presentation in the Temple; and one of the key lines in the Gospel story of this holiday identifies Jesus as “a light to lighten the gentiles”, playing perfectly into one of the themes of Epiphanytide.  So it would really be a crying shame not to observe this day a couple Sundays from now.

One of the “extra things” that make this holiday stand out is the tradition of blessing candles for the church and the congregation.  There is a brief rite for this in A Manual for Priests in the American Church which I have adapted to our contemporary-language prayer book style, below.  Note that this is from a book that assumes a high churchmanship which many of you who read this may not be prepared (or even desirous) to implement.  But the ceremonial can always be simplified for your context, should you choose to do something like this at the beginning of the liturgy.

The Blessing and Distribution of Candles on February 2

 This ancient blessing, symbolic of Christ the True Light of the world, should take place immediately before the principle Mass on the Feast of the Purification of Mary (Presentation of Christ).  In many places it is customary to bless the year’s supply of candles together with the candles which are to be given to the people at this service.

The candles to be blessed and distributed are usually placed at the Epistle side of the Sanctuary, near the Altar.  The Altar should be vested in white.  The Priest who is to celebrate, vested in amice, alb, girdle, white stole and cope (if no cope is available the chasuble may be worn), having arrived at the Altar, goes to the Epistle side.  Without turning to the people, he begins the office of blessing, singing or saying:

The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Let us pray.

Almighty and everlasting God, who as on this day did present your only-begotten Son in your holy temple to be received in the arms of blessed Simeon: We humbly entreat your mercy, that you would condescend to +bless, +hallow, and kindle with the light of your heavenly benediction these candles which we your servants desire to receive and to carry, lighted in honor of your holy Name.  By offering them to you, our Lord and God, may we be inflamed with the fire of your love, and made worthy to be presented in the holy temple of your glory; through the same your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, world without end.  Amen.

Then the Priest [after putting incense into the thurible and blessing it] will thrice sprinkle the candles with holy water, saying once only,

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

[Then he censes them thrice.]

If another Priest is present, he gives a candle to the celebrant, who does not kneel.

Other clergy and acolytes receive their candles kneeling at the footpace; the people kneel at the Altar Rail.

During the distribution it is customary to sing the Nunc Dimittis, in the following manner:

Antiphon: A light to lighten the Gentiles: and the glory of your people Israel.

Lord, now let your servant depart in peace * according to your word.

Antiphon.

For my eyes have seen * your salvation,

Antiphon.

Which you have prepared * before the face of all people;

Antiphon.

To be a light to lighten the Gentiles * and to be the glory of your people Israel.

Antiphon.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son * and to the Holy Spirit;

Antiphon.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be * world without end.

Antiphon.

When all have received their candles, and returned to their places, the candles which the people are carrying should be lighted.  The light may be given by acolytes or ushers.

 As soon as the anthem is finished, the Priest shall sing or say:  Let us pray.

We beseech you, O Lord, mercifully to hear the prayers of your people; and grant that by this service which year by year we offer to you, we may, in the light of your grace, attain to the hidden things of your glory; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Then the Procession is formed.  [And first the Priest puts incense in the censer and blesses it.]  Turning to the people, he sings,

Let us go forth in peace.
In the Name of Christ. Amen.

During the Procession, all carry lighted candles, and appropriate hymns and anthems should be sung.  The Procession ended, the Priest lays aside his cope, and puts on the chasuble for the Mass of the feast.  It is an ancient custom for all to hold lighted candles during the reading of the Gospel, and from the Consecration to the Communion.

Walk-through of the Communion liturgy (BCP 2019)

Over the past few months we’ve been walking through the Communion liturgy in the 2019 Prayer Book, step by step, and just finished last week.  Now it’s time to share the full index of this summary so you can go back, catch up on anything you missed, or revisit what you might want to revisit.

This is not, of course, a complete commentary on every portion of the liturgy.  But it does give you something to think about, or context to consider, for each section of the worship service.  Plus some advice along the way!

  1. The Trinitytide Acclamation or The Advent Acclamation
  2. The Collect for Purity
  3. The Penitential Rite (Decalogue or Summary of the Law)
  4. The Gloria in Excelsis
  5. The Number of Collects and Lessons
  6. The Nicene Creed (translation)
  7. The Order of the Sermon & Creed
  8. The Prayers of the People
  9. The Exhortation
  10. The Confession
  11. The Comfortable Words
  12. The Offertory Sentences
  13. The Sursum Corda
  14. The Proper Preface
  15. The two(ish) Prayers of Consecration
  16. The Epiclesis
  17. The Fraction
  18. The Prayer of Humble Access
  19. the Anthem
  20. What the Minister says to the Congregation at the Communion
  21. The two Post-Communion Prayers
  22. The Blessing
  23. The Dismissal

Dismissals

The very last act of worship in the Prayer Book’s Communion service (unless you have a hymn or other music after this, as the rubrics permit) is the Dismissal on page 122 and 138.  This is an import from the Roman Rite (and the 1979 Prayer Book); the classical Prayer Book tradition didn’t include a dismissal, but ended with the Blessing.  That being said, most (if not all) of the 1928 Prayer Book parishes that I’ve visited have tacked on a Dismissal to the end of the liturgy anyway!  I guess it really helps for the celebrant, or deacon, to tell people that the liturgy is over.

The rubrics state “The Deacon, or the Priest, may dismiss the People with these words“.  This indicates three things:

  1. If there is a deacon serving, he is the one should say this.  The priest only says it in the absence of a deacon.
  2. The Dismissal is optional, and may be left off, according to the historic Prayer Book pattern.
  3. The Dismissals provided are the complete list of approved dismissals; we’re not technically supposed to re-word them or make up different ones.  (Not that this is a massively critical piece of the worship service that will undermine the entire Christian Faith if we mess it up, but at the very least it avoids confusion if we don’t go “off-script” too far.)

The four dismissals all have the same response by the congregation: “Thanks be to God.” though “Alleluia, alleluia” is indicated to be added from the Easter Vigil through the Day of Pentecost.  “It may be added at other times, except during Lent and on other penitential occasions.”  This is a concession to popular practice, I suspect; traditionally, additional Alleluia’s are only found in that Easter-Ascension-Pentecost block of time.

Identifying the choices and when to use them

The four dismissals provided are not accompanied with any suggestions about times of year for use, allowing a parish or deacon to stick to one favorite all the time, use whichever one catches the deacon’s fancy at the time, or make a choice according to liturgical mood or tone.

Let us go forth in the Name of Christ.

This is perhaps the most straight-forward dismissal, and the one I find myself using the most often.  The word “Name” is capitalized here, as it often is in liturgical texts, because “the Name of Christ” or of God is of particular theological significance.  The Name, in ancient understanding, is representative of the power, authority, even presence, of the one named.  Regarding both the Tabernacle (or Tent of Meeting) and the Temple in Jerusalem, God said he would make his Name dwell there.  So when we depart in the Name of Christ, the implication is that we carry Christ with us, out from the church gathering and into the ordinary world around us.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

The second dismissal is more like a “mission statement reminder”, giving the people particular instructions on their way out.  The call to love and service may make this dismissal particularly appropriate in penitential seasons, when there are concrete spiritual disciplines being preached from the pulpit, or otherwise commended in the lessons.

Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is the longest and most specific dismissal.  It points us out into the world, like the first two, but, rather than emphasizing good works like the second, it suggests a continued life of worship like the first.  Rather than centering us on Christ, though, this dismissal centers us on the Holy Spirit.  This perhaps makes it particularly appropriate for the Day of Pentecost and other occasions that share that emphasis.  And, lest one misconstrue a Pentecostal excess, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

Let us bless the Lord.

The appearance of this stark and brief dismissal in some of the Holy Week services in the 1979 Prayer Book suggested that this is an appropriate dismissal for that time of year, but I haven’t found it there in our new prayer book, which frees this dismissal to an “any time” status.  As it is found at the end of the Daily Offices too, this simplest of dismissals may find their natural home in brief weekday Communion services or the ordinary Sundays of Trinitytide.

The Dismissal historically

The most common nickname for the service of Holy Communion among the Papists is “the Mass”.  That name comes from the usual traditional Latin dismissal “ite, missa est.”  I have often heard it said that the word missa indicates “mission”, that we’re being sent into the world bring the Gospel to all nations.  While this is a fine sentiment, and perhaps even an implication of the idea of the dismissal, that’s not what the word really is.  There is some linguistic discussion on its precise etymology and origin, which you can read about on the Wikipedia page linked above, but basically the missa here refers either to the congregation which is being sent, or to the dismissal being said.  Mission is a fine and proper implication, but not the direct meaning of that dismissal.

This background insight translates pretty well into our four dismissals, in that some of ours indicate a “missional” character and others don’t.  Both are valid interpretations of the purpose and message of the dismissal.  In your own ministry context, be sure you don’t pigeon-hole the dismissal into an overly-narrow field of meaning.