“Corpus Christi” Anglican Style

In Western tradition, the Thursday after Trinity Sunday is the feast of Corpus Christi.  It and Trinity Sunday are, as far as I recall, the only holidays that primarily celebrate a doctrine rather than a person or event.  In its original (and present) Roman setting, Corpus Christi is a celebration of the doctrine of transubstantiation, which is the official Roman explanation for how the Body and Blood of Christ is present in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

It is often incorrectly assumed that transubstantiation is the same as the doctrine of the corporeal real presence; that is incorrect.  The former is an explanation of how the latter works; there are other theological theories that explain the doctrine of the real presence.  If that confuses or surprises you, or you want to look at this in a little more detail, check out this summary.

Anyway, transubstantiation is explicitly ruled out in our formularies, so why would we ever want to celebrate Corpus Christi?  Among the particularly high-church Anglo-Catholics, there have been a number of movements toward both reviving pre-Reformation tradition and aping the Church of Rome in the present.  Corpus Christi was a major holiday in popular devotion as well as the calendar of the church, and in light of how lax many (perhaps most) Protestants treat Holy Communion, it seemed necessary to some to re-emphasize the holiness of Holy Communion with a restored feast day in its honor.  Appropriated into Anglican tradition, one might call it “Thanksgiving for the gift of Holy Communion”, in a manner not unlike last week’s “Thanksgiving for the Promulgation of the First Prayer Book.”

Another angle of how and why Corpus Christi can be re-appropriated in Anglican tradition is the fact that the traditional Collect for this holiday was appointed by Thomas Cranmer to be the Collect for Maundy Thursday, and has remained unchanged ever since.  Seriously, compare the Latin Mass propers in English with ours; it’s the same prayer!  Combine this with the fact that one of the Scripture lessons is the same (Epistle is from 1 Corinthians 11), and you find that Corpus Christi is basically just a reiteration of Maundy Thursday outside the context of Holy Week, just as Holy Cross Day is a reiteration of Good Friday outside the context of Holy Week, and the (modern) Last Sunday of Epiphanytide is a reiteration of the feast of the Transfiguration in a different context.

If you want to commemorate an Anglican-style Corpus Christi, the easiest way to do it under the auspices of the 2019 Prayer Book is to do a Votive Mass of the Holy Eucharist according to the Various Occasion Propers on page 733, which instructs you to imitate Maundy Thursday.  That would turn out as follows:

Almighty Father, whose most dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it in thankful remembrance of Jesus Christ our Savior, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 78:15-26; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26(27-34); Luke 22:14-30

I took the liberty of removing the John 13 Gospel option as that is about the “maundy” and not about the Eucharist per se.

You might also consider other traditional Communion-related Psalms such as 34 or the latter part of 116.  John 6:47-58 is also traditional Corpus Christi material, if you don’t mind applying that text to Eucharistic doctrine.  Don’t forget, also, to grab a hymnal and sing or read some Communion hymns!  Anglican hymnals have some truly wonderful entries in this category that you can’t find in most of the rest of the Protestant world, and a couple of my all-time favorite songs are Communion hymns.  It’s definitely worth celebrating in song, too.

What is an Epiclesis?

If you poke clergymen who are passionate about liturgy, and start asking deep questions about the Communion Prayers (or prayer of consecration, or Eucharistic canon) in different rites and prayer books, sooner or later you’re going to run into a hot topic: the epiclesis.

Also called “the invocation”, the epiclesis (true to its Greek meaning) is a prayer that “calls down” the Holy Spirit.  Some think this is unnecessary, even inappropriate; some think this is important to include; some think it’s absolutely necessary.  Thus, the language of the epiclesis, and even its placement within the prayer of consecration, can be a real battleground among those of passionate theological persuasions.

There are too many Prayer Books and rites to survey here, so let’s just look at some representative examples in groups.

GROUP #1: The Epiclesis is Unnecessary

In the English 1552 and 1662 BCP there is no hint of an epiclesis.  Reformed (particularly Calvinistic) doctrine is generally hesitant to make room for transformation language regarding the bread and wine into body and blood, much less attribute the operation of the Holy Spirit to it.

In the Canadian Prayer Book of 1962, the epiclesis reads thus:

And we pray that by the power of thy Holy Spirit, all we who are partakers of this holy Communion may be fulfilled with thy grace and heavenly benediction;

This epiclesis is very mild.  The Holy Spirit is called upon as the power whereby the grace and blessing of receiving the Sacrament is applied to we who partake of it.  It reveals a theology of the Spirit’s activity, working in the Sacrament, but makes no particular commitment as to the nature of the consecration of the bread and wine.

GROUP #2: The Epiclesis is Important

2019 BCP, Anglican Standard Rite

And now, O merciful Father, in your great goodness, we ask you to bless and sanctify, with your Word and Holy Spirit, these gifts of bread and wine, that we, receiving them according to your Son our Savior Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood.

This epiclesis is a strong one: the Holy Spirit is named alongside the Word of the Father as an instrument of blessing and sanctifying the bread and wine so that we may be partakers of Christ’s Body and Blood.  Contexts of right reception and right remembrance further color and qualify this prayer such that being a “partaker” is not an automatic function of physically receiving the Sacrament.  (One may “eat unto condemnation”, as St. Paul warned, cf. the Exchortation.)  Also noteworthy is that this epiclesis is said before the Words of Institution, which, according to general historic Western theology, is the precise formula that actually consecrates the bread and wine.  The epiclesis in this rite, therefore, is best seen as preparatory for the moment of consecration.

The 1928 Prayer Book has essentially the same epiclesis text as this, but placed after the Words of Institution.  It therefore leaves room for interpretation: are the Words of Institution the moment of consecration?  Is the epiclesis that moment?  Is it both, together, that accomplishes it?  This debate can be pretty heated, depending upon where you poke your nose.  A good explanation of this debate from a Lutheran perspective is addressed here.

The original English Prayer Book, in 1549, and the first Scottish Prayer Book, in 1637, were a little more explicit:

Hear us (O merciful father) we beseech thee; and with thy holy spirit and word, vouchsafe to blSmCross.GIF (76 bytes)ess and sancSmCross.GIF (76 bytes)tify these thy gifts, and creatures of bread and wine, that they may be unto us the body and blood of thy most dearly beloved son Jesus Christ.

Complete with the priest signing the cross over the bread and wine, this prayer is an example of a high view of the Sacrament.  And because it’s followed immediately by the Words of Institution, this epiclesis can (like the first example in this group) be interpreted as preparatory for the moment of consecration, though also introduces room for the debate that the 1928 Prayer Book also invites.

GROUP #3: The Epiclesis is Necessary 

2019 BCP, Renewed Ancient Rite

Sanctify them by your Word and Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son Jesus Christ.

This epiclesis is explicit (like the 1549 version); God’s Word and Spirit is called upon to sanctify the bread and wine such that they will be Christ’s body and blood.  Furthermore, this is prayed after the Words of Institution, which logically contradicts the historic view that those words are the “true” moment of consecration.  The theology of the Renewed Ancient Rite, therefore, is that the epiclesis is the center of the prayer of consecration.

Most of the rites in the 1979 Prayer Book follow suit with this position.  The Non-Jurors‘ Communion Rite also does the same thing:

…send down thine Holy Spirit, the witness of the passion of our Lord Jesus, upon this Sacrifice, that he may make this * Bread the Body of thy Christ, and this * Cup the Blood of thy Christ…      [* the priest touches the paten or chalice]

What to do about all this…

If you’re a lay person, all this is primarily of instructive value.  Hopefully this gives you insight into the ways that even small changes to the liturgy can suggest or set forth different doctrines, and why some clergymen can get so uppity and argumentative about it, especially the Communion prayers.

If you’re a priest (or bishop, I suppose, if any actually reads this!) who hasn’t thought about this subject a whole lot before, this may be something of a challenge to you.  What do you believe about the Eucharist?

If you believe the Words of Institution “this is my body/blood” is the moment of consecration for the bread and wine, then an explicit epiclesis prayed after those words is errant, even blasphemous.  That means if you hold the traditional view, “consecrationism”, you cannot in good conscience use the Renewed Ancient Rite in the 2019 BCP!

If you believe an epiclesis is absolutely essential to a proper consecration of the Eucharist, you’re in luck, both rites in the 2019 book have a clear epiclesis.  But you have to contend with the fact that the “liturgical standard” of Anglicanism, the 1662 Prayer Book, has stood for centuries with no epiclesis at all.

So whatever your convictions are, there are challenges and consequences to address.

On the other hand, if you don’t have a firm opinion on this (admittedly somewhat minute) point of doctrine, it pays to take note of the rite(s) you typically use, to consider what it is they say, suggest, or refrain from saying, and to think about how these prayers have been shaping your beliefs over time.

So, as the Pentecost Octave begins to wrap up, take this opportunity to think about the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit in the sacraments.  What do you believe?  What do we pray?

Thanksgiving for the First Book of Common Prayer

On the day of Pentecost in 1549, churches across England cracked open a book to engage in common prayer in their own language for the first time in history. That Sunday was when the first Book of Common Prayer was appointed by royal authority to replace the various versions of the Sarum and Roman Mass that previously held sway.  As we noted recently, this is a significant event that can be worth celebrating in our own worship services on Pentecost.  Or, as we hinted a couple days ago, we could celebrate this anniversary today (Thursday) instead.

In the book Lesser Feasts and Fasts (2006) put out by the Episcopal Church (USA), the following Collect and Lessons are offered for this commemoration:

Almighty and everliving God, whose servant Thomas Cranmer, with others, restored the language of the people in the prayers of your Church: Make us always thankful for this heritage; and help us so to pray in the Spirit and with the understanding, that we may worthily magnify your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Acts 2:38-42, Psalm 96 or 33:1-5,20-21, John 4:21-24

If you are so inclined you could add 1 Corinthians 14:6-19 as an Epistle lesson, as it is a verse that is referenced in the Collect (“to pray in the Spirit and with the understanding“).

Why recommend this for Thursday?  Simply, every other day is taken, according to Anglican tradition.  Monday & Tuesday [used to] have their own Pentecost-themed propers, and Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday are Ember Days; only Thursday is left.

So if you get the chance to celebrate the Eucharist today, or just choose to pray Antecommunion, consider giving this commemoration a whirl!

Prayer Book Error Correction

An issue that has been brought up across the internet in the past couple weeks is the fact that in the 2018 update to the new Prayer Book’s communion liturgies, the rubric concerning how to handle excess consecrated bread and wine underwent a change that many would consider sacrilegious.

In every Anglican Prayer Book I have read, regardless of high or low churchmanship, the rule for extra consecrated wine has always been that it is to be consumed (drunk) during or after the liturgy.  If special care is taken it can also be reserved for later distribution, though that is less common, less practical, and was not allowed in the early days of the Reformation.

Now, however, the new Prayer Book also lists “reverently poured in a place set aside for that purpose” as a means of disposing of extra wine.  When I first read it, I assumed that this was referring to pouring it into a flagon where it would be reserved for later distribution, but only after the recent internet hubbub did I realize that the rubric implies the pouring of extra consecrated wine into the ground or into a piscina.

piscina is a special kind of sink that drains directly into the ground.  It was used for disposing of ashes (after Ash Wednesday), old holy water, and the washing of the communion vessels lest any particles remain.  Some people have taken to pouring extra consecrated wine there, too, but that has never been permitted by any Prayer Book, much less by the Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic churches.

For a longer, fuller, explanation of the controversial rubric and the background of this issue, check out this page instead: https://timotheosprologizes.blogspot.com/2019/05/whats-wrong-with-2019-prayer-book.html

All I can say here is:

  1. if you’re a priest or deacon or sacristan, never follow that rubric.  Consecrated wine is supposed to be drunk by God’s faithful people, never thrown to the earth.
  2. if this malpractice concerns you, contact your ACNA bishop, and ask him to help vote this error out of our new Prayer Book as soon as possible.


Hymn: At the lamb’s high feast

Easter is one of those holidays, like Christmas, that has some really famous, really well-loved, really satisfying hymns to sing.  Jesus Christ is ris’n today or its twin, Christ the Lord is ris’n today, are so classic I’m tempted to say “Easter just wouldn’t be Easter without singing that song!”  There are, of course, many other Easter hymns of lesser fame that are quite fantastic for the holiday, and one of my favorites in that middle category is At the lamb’s high feast we sing.  Set to the tune SALZBURG, it bears a grandeur both lyric and melodic that deserves higher praise than it usually seems to get.

At the lamb’s high feast we sing
Praise to our victorious King,
Who hath washed us in the tide
Flowing from his pierced side;
Praise we him, whose love divine
Gives his sacred blood for wine,
Gives his body for the feast,
Christ the victim Christ the priest.

That first stanza sets us firmly in the Easter celebration, makes a baptismal reference (as is traditional in the Easter celebrations), and then moves seamlessly to a eucharistic reference.  I especially appreciate how his sacrifice is described in the active sense: he gives his blood and body; he’s not just Christ the victim, but also Christ the priest!  This is, in my opinion, an emphasis that we often lack when discussing the atonement.

The second stanza continues:

Where the Psachal blood is poured,
Death’s dark angel sheathes his sword;
Israel’s hosts triumphant go
Thro’ the wave that drowns the foe.
Praise we Christ, whose blood was shed,
Paschal victim, Paschal bread;
With sincerity and love
Eat we manna from above.

The baptismal and eucharistic references remain, but are couched in more overtly Old Testament imagery, invoking the Passover and the Crossing of the Red Sea as the foreshadowings or prototypes of these two Sacraments of the Gospel.  It even manages (in the last two lines of this stanza) to reference the Easter Anthem (The Pascha Nostrum) and invoke the context of the teachings of 1 Corinthians 10, linking the Old Testament (particularly Exodus) waters and manna images to the New Covenant sacraments.

Mighty victim from the sky,
Hell’s fierce pow’rs beneath thee lie;
Thou hast conquered in the fight;
Thou hast brought us life and light;
Now no more can death appall,
Now no more the grave enthrall;
Thou hast opened paradise,
And in thee thy saints shall rise.

The brief Passover reference at the beginning of stanza 2 – the sheathing of the destroying angel’s sword – is explored here in full force.  The death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ has brought about a great victory.  Jesus is a “mighty victim from the sky”, yet, “Hell’s fierce powers” lie beneath him.  He has conquered, he has brought us from death to life, and those evils can never reign over us again; the hope of our own resurrection to eternal life is sealed for sure.

This leads the hymn to a great doxological ending:

Easter triumph, Easter joy,
Sin alone can this destroy;
From sin’s pow’r do thou set free
Souls new-born, O Lord, in thee.
Hymns of glory, songs of praise,
Father unto thee we raise;
Risen Lord, all praise to thee
With the Spirit ever be.  Amen.

That second line always bugs me – “sin alone can this destroy“… It is obviously meant that sin is the object, not the subject, of the verb destroy: Easter triumph and joy alone can destroy sin.  But there’s just no decent way to get the word order sorted out with perfect clarity without destroying the rhyme scheme of the lyrics.  You just have to roll with the poetry, which we moderns and post-moderns are not generally very good at doing.  Getting over that shortcoming in ourselves, however, this is a logical and fitting apex for the hymn.  Christ’s victory is over sin itself, and in his Gospel we find freedom.  And thus we praise the triune God, Father, Risen Lord, and Spirit.

There’s still plenty of Easter Sundays left… get it into your congregation’s hands if you haven’t already!  It works as a communion hymn, offertory/doxology hymn, processional, recessional… nearly anywhere in the liturgy where singing can be found!

Thirsty Thursday

It’s Thirsty Thursday, wooo!
No I’m not rewinding back to my university days… I wasn’t quite that wild anyway.  But we do have good reason, in the church, to think about wine on Thursdays.

Let’s think about the Christian conception of the week.  On one level we received the concept of the seven day week from pre-Christ Judaism.  The sabbath, or seventh, day was a day of rest to complete the week.  It set ordinary life into the context of creation: as God was described to have worked for six days and rested on a seventh, we were to work for six days and rest on the seventh (cf. Genesis 2, Exodus 20).  That sabbath was a day to replace the ordinary with the sacred, to gather with the community of the faithful and worship God.    That sabbath was also forward-looking, anticipating God’s promised “rest” for his people (cf. Psalm 95, Hebrews 3).

In light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, this theological accounting for the week got expanded.  The first day of the week was the day of Christ’s resurrection, and the apostles eventually dubbed it “the Lord’s Day” (cf. Acts 20:7, Revelation 1).  And although that resurrection day, Easter in English, quickly became an annual festival and holiday, it was also the theological raison d’etre of the first day of the week (or Sunday).  Some Christians also called it “the eighth day”, with a forward-looking anticipation of the new creation in Christ (cf. Justin Martyr’s First Apology ch. 67).  Thus every Sunday is a sort of mini-Easter.

Fridays, too, were drawn into this Gospel-centric scheme.  By the end of the first century Fridays were commonly considered a fast day (cf. Didache 8:1).  This tradition, of remembering Good Friday on most Fridays of the year, endures even into the Anglican Prayer Books, which we’ve noted here before.

What does this suggest to us about Thursdays?  Again, looking to the gospel narratives, we have Maundy Thursday, the day on which Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.  Our “Thirsty Thursday” is a weekly remembrance of the institution of the sacrament of the altar!  Now, to be fair, this particular tradition doesn’t have any echo that I’ve noticed in the classical Prayer Book tradition.  The closest we get, these days, is the Collect for the Presence of Christ recommended for Thursdays in the Evening Prayer liturgy:

Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread.  Grant this for the sake of your love.  Amen. 

Apart from that little shout-out, taking on a remembrance of the gift of Holy Communion on Thursdays is entirely up to the individual worshiper or worship planner.  You can keep it in heart and mind during the Office; you could read the Antecommunion service; you could choose Opening Sentences or Canticles that help you to reflect on the Sacrament in the midst of your daily worship.

How did this Maundy Thursday emphasis exist in the liturgical tradition before the Prayer Book?  It was part of the cycle of Daily Mass.  For centuries, every priest was expected or required to celebrate Mass every day.  In cathedrals or other churches with multiple priests available, this meant that there were more masses to be said than there were masses needed for the people to come to attend, and so while one or two priests would celebrate the “public” masses, the rest would have to celebrate a “private” mass – not meaning that nobody else could show up, but just that he would be using a side altar and probably serving the bread and wine to nobody but himself.  As the Western tradition flourished and grew more elaborate, more and more stipulations guided how this worked.  The “mass of the day” was the principle service, but could only be celebrated once or twice, depending upon the number of the congregations attending them.  For the rest of the priests, they’d be saying “votive masses”, that is, other topical devotions mostly divorced from the liturgical calendar.  And part of that tradition included a particular “votive mass” for each day of the week, and for Thursday it was – you guessed it – a mass giving thanks for the gift of Holy Communion, essentially repeating the theological themes of holy days like Maundy Thursday and (later) Corpus Christi.

Obviously, much of that tradition and mentality is incompatible with the Anglican Prayer Book tradition.  But the idea of taking on a different theological theme on different days of the week may well make its echo in our own private devotions, regardless of the potential excesses of medieval tradition.  So perhaps, tonight, you can raise a glass to our Lord Jesus, and give a toast to his saving health!

Looking Ahead: the Christmas Day options

Christmas is just a few days away, as you all are undoubtedly aware.  If you’re a liturgical planner for your congregation, chances are the big decisions have already been made.  If you’ve got family plans, chances are they’ve already been worked out.  In either case, perhaps there are still last-minute details to sift through – isn’t that always the way?

But perhaps there is still some room to consider the rhythm of worship through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  It is my preference, and the practice of this Customary, to start with a “maximalist” approach: assume that every option in the Prayer Book is to be used; individuals can then use that big picture to work out how it can be reduced and enacted in their own contexts.

Service #1: Evening Prayer on December 24th

Following ancient Jewish (as well as Christian liturgical) tradition, the holiday begins on the evening before.  Christmas, therefore, begins with Evening Prayer.  The ACNA lessons that evening are Song of Songs 1 and Luke 22:1-38.  That Old Testament lesson is an interesting choice, for reading the love poems coinciding with Christmas lends an allegorical interpretive aid: as we celebrate the spousal love described in the Song, we also celebrate the divine love of God that led to his incarnation as one of us.  The New Testament reading is just part of the sequential reading through Luke at the end of the year.  The Collect for Christmas Eve is:

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

This will be used at the following Communion service too.

Service #2: Evening Communion (or Vigil) on December 24th

Earlier drafts of our liturgy (I think following the style of the 1979 book) called this option Christmas Day I, but the most recent updates have gotten more specific: this is Christmas Eve with its own Collect and lessons.  The Collect is shared above.  The lessons are Isaiah 9:1-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, and Luke 2:1-14(15-20).  The parentheses refer to an optional lengthening of the reading.  Just as the angels appeared to the shepherds at night, and the birth of Christ seemed to happen overnight, so we get the Bible’s primary nativity narrative in the evening, or vigil, service.  Traditionally this would be a late-night service, after when Evening Prayer would normally be said, making it analogous in function to the Easter Vigil.

Service #3: Sunrise Communion on December 25th

Just as many churches have a sunrise service for Easter, the following collect and lessons are the Prayer Book’s option for a sunrise Christmas service.  This may be an “impossible” idea for families with children, who want to rush to the tree first thing in the morning.  But it’s worth noting that some traditions, particularly across the pond, left the Christmas day gift-opening festivities until after Christmas lunch or dinner, making an early morning service actually preferable.  The lessons for this service are Isiah 62:6-12, Psalm 97, Titus 3:4-7, and Luke 2:(1-14)15-20.  The Gospel is the same as the night before, basically for the same reason; but the the Old Testament & Psalm and Epistle lessons are different.  There are so many excellent Old Testament lessons for Christmas, the variety is just worth celebrating.  This Epistle (Titus 3) is found shortly after last night’s epistle (Titus 2), so there’s a sort of sequential logic to that as well.  The Collect for this day is:

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Service #4: Morning Prayer

Now the duplications start coming in.  The lessons at Morning Prayer are Isaiah 9:1-8 (the same as the Christmas Eve Communion service, plus a verse) and Revelation 17 (just part of the sequential reading of the month).  It’s more than a little unfortunate that chapter 17 is one of the more unpleasant chapters in Revelation; we’re stuck reading about the Whore of Babylon on Christmas morning.  I suppose you could redeem this unpleasant oversight with the observation that the precious baby Jesus came into the world precisely to deal with such evils.  Still, not a very festive reading… oh well.

Service #5: the Principle Communion

By “principle” I mean “primary.”  This is the one that best matches the historic Prayer Book lectionary, and therefore ought to be the one that a church uses if there’s only one Communion service on Christmas Day.  The lessons are Isaiah 52:7-12, Psalm 98, Hebrews 1:1-12, and John 1:1-18.  You’ll note that the three Communion services (the night before the sunrise, and the principle) make use of sequential psalms: 96, 97, and 98.  These are very festive psalms and lend themselves to celebrations of all sorts.  The non-liturgical Christian today may be surprised at the choice of John 1 for the Christmas Gospel: what about the delightful nativity story of Jesus and his family in Bethlehem?  The answer is theological.  John 1 tells us of Jesus’ true origins; his eternal divine pre-existence with the Father.  Hebrews 1 backs this up, and provides another observation of Christ’s incarnation in human history.  Where the Vigil and the Sunrise services capture the drama of Christmas, this Principle service captures the substance of Christmas.

Service #6: Evening Prayer on December 25th

Christmas Day ends with Evening Prayer, where the lessons are to be Song of Songs 2 and Luke 2:1-14.  This is another instance of duplication – we’ll already have heard this Gospel lesson at the Vigil and/or Sunrise Communion services.  I guess this way, if you don’t make it to any Communion service and only say the Office at home, you’ll at least get the nativity story here.

Applying this to your personal or family context

Ultimately, a Customary cannot tell you how to “take the liturgy” home, exactly.  Nor can I, as a writer, dole out universal advice on what works best for you.  Families with children have one situation, empty-nesters have another.  Some people travel and will be on the road at typical prayer times.  Some people have lots of church services to go to and others will have none.  You’ve got to work with the situation you’ve got.

In the case of my tiny congregation, all we’ve got is the Evening Prayer service on Christmas Eve.  Knowing that we won’t be offering any Communion service to attend, I’ve planned for the New Testament lesson (Luke 22) to be changed to Luke 2:1-20.  Song of Songs 1 will be staying.

As you look at how to handle your personal and/or family devotions, consider what your church will be celebrating together.  Plan your worship at home in conjunction with the corporate liturgy, so that you can have as rich a celebration of Christmas as possible!

And yet, the liturgical context for celebrating Christmas is even bigger: there’s still the following Sunday to consider! But I’ll save that for another entry on another day.  In the meantime, have a blessed final couple days of Advent.

The Advent Acclamation

One of the features of the modern order of the Communion service (that is, since the 1970’s) is that it begins with an “acclamation”, which is a call-and-response Call to Worship.  There are a number of seasonal options in our liturgy, most of which are found in the 1979 Prayer Book and a few that are newer than that.

During the season of Advent, the recommended Opening Acclamation is from Revelation 22:20.  The verse is “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”  And this is adapted liturgically into:

Celebrant   Surely the Lord is coming soon,
People    Amen.  Come Lord Jesus!

This simple versicle captures the essence of the Advent season more succinctly than most other verses can.  The Collect for the first Sunday (and traditionally the whole season) is fantastic for summarizing the season in a doctrinal and applicable manner, but here we have what could be said to be the gem at the center of it.  Jesus will be back “soon” or “suddenly,” and we look forward to that day!

Is that really a prayer on your lips, “Come, Lord Jesus”?  As an Acclamation we literally acclaim God – speak well of him, invite him into our hearts, affirm his holiness, answer his call to be with him.  In the season of Advent, we are reminded that “Come, Lord Jesus!” is not just a prayer of judgmental fundamentalists, or crazy cultists, or end-times nutters, but the biblical prayer of all followers of Christ Jesus.  With just a week left to go, this season, let’s keep this prayer fresh on our hearts and lips.

Sample “Daily Mass” Schedule for Advent

If you’re a highchurch sort of person, perhaps you dream of a day where you have the opportunity to celebrate or attend a daily Mass.  This is a staple of Roman Catholic practice, and only the most devotedly-Anglo-Catholic Anglican parishes have brought this practice back in full.  The season of Advent, being so explicitly thematic and conveniently short, is a great time of year to consider taking on a special sort of devotion beyond what you usually do throughout the year.

Holding a Communion service every day of the week is nearly impossible for most of us these days, but what can be done is to read and pray parts of the Communion service on your own.  This is basically the “Antecommunion” liturgy – follow the Prayer Book service up until the Offertory and end it there with a few extra prayers.  Given the resources available to us in the 2019 Prayer Book, there is no one way to do this.  As an example of how one might go about this, here is what I’ve mapped out, and hope to observe as a special daily devotion in addition to the Daily Office.

(Remember if you’re an Anglican, especially a clergyman, it’s more true to our tradition to be praying the Office daily before adding optional extras like daily Mass!)

2018 advent

A few words of explanation so you can see where this comes from and why I did it this way…

Contemporary versus Traditional: The classical prayer books have a different logic for Advent than the modern calendar, and is worth learning from.  So I have appointed the “traditional” lessons for Advent on each Monday.  (With the 2019 Prayer Book, the Collects for each Sunday are the same as the traditional ones, unlike in the 1979).

Votive Mass: This is a Roman Catholic term for what the 1979 Prayer Book called “Occasional Observances” or something like that.  In this case I’m electing to repeat, essentially, Christ the King Sunday’s collect & lessons as an Advent devotion.

O Sapientia: in the Episcopalians’ Lesser Feasts and Fasts book, a number of optional seasonal observances are offered.  “O Sapientia” refers to the final week leading up to Christmas Eve, and are related to the “O Antiphons” from which the hymn O come, O come Emmanual is derived.  In a break from tradition, I decided to spread these eight observances out throughout the season.

Hybald of Lincolnshire: No, you’re not crazy, this guy isn’t on the ACNA calendar of commemorations.  He’s on a list of Anglo-Saxon Saints that I compiled a few years ago.  When the new Prayer Book comes out, then I will finish my and my church’s transition to full conformity with its rubrics.  This is on my last flings with extra commemoration days.

Ember Days: These are in our Prayer Book, and I’m sure I’ll write about them when they approach, later this month.  Noteworthy this year is the fact that Ember Friday will be replaced by the feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle.

December 24th: In Latin Christian discipline, a Priest had to get permission from his bishop to “binate” – celebrate two masses on the same day.  Assuming we’ll just be doing Antecommunion, or even just reading the Collect & Lessons as an extra devotion during the day, there’s no reason to pay that old custom any heed.  Besides, it’s good to finish the Advent Sunday contemporary & traditional pairings, even if it is a little crowded with Christmas Eve.

Whether you choose to copy this or do something else entirely, I hope this at least gets you thinking about how to approach a special daily Advent devotional this year.  You could get really creative, and make these observances part of the family devotion, or link it to an advent wreath, or something else like that!

First Advent Sunday Checklist

Advent begins on this coming Sunday!  There are many customs, local and regional, that probably occupy the attention of you and your fellow church-goers.  Many people like to have advent wreaths in the church these days.  That’s fine, but don’t usurp a beautiful family tradition!  It’s a lovely devotion for the home setting, don’t let the church “take it over” and “liturgize” it, if I might coin a phrase.  Perhaps a new sermon series for the four Advent Sundays is being readied.  Perhaps the music is going to take on a different mood as the expectant, penitential, preparatory, and other connotations of the season.

But for the first Sunday in Advent, you need not look any further than the Prayer Book for ideas of how to especially mark this day in the life of the congregation (or at least in your own household, if you’re not a decision-maker).

Suggestion #1: Read the Exhortation

Back in 1662, despite a hundred years of reformation, people were still not going to Communion every Sunday, and many churches were not offering the Eucharist every week anyway.  So the three Exhortations that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer had written back in the 1540’s stuck around: one to announce that Communion will be celebrated in the near future, one to announce that Communion will be celebrated immediately next, and one to badger people into receiving Communion if they’d been neglecting it for a while.  Today, only the second one survives in modern American Prayer Books.  Weekly Communion is almost completely normalized across the board; there is no need to “give notice of a Communion” for the coming month.

In the 1928 Prayer Book, the Exhortation is instructed to be read thrice a year: the first Sunday of Lent, Trinity Sunday, and the first Sunday of Advent.  The current ACNA rubrics state:

The Exhortation is traditionally read on Advent Sunday, the First Sunday in Lent, and Trinity Sunday.

This means we are not obligated to use the Exhortation, but this is the minimum recommended usage.  Given the enormous theological value of the Exhortation, it is well worth everyone’s time for the celebrant to read it.  You don’t need to add it to the bulletin or project it on an overhead screen, just stand up and read it to the congregation.

Suggestion #2: The Great Litany

Some people today like to argue over whether Advent should be considered a “penitential season” anymore.  Regardless of where you stand on that debate, the Great Litany is an excellent way to prefix the Communion service this Sunday.  Remember that in the historic Prayer Book tradition the Litany was supposed to be said every Sunday (and Wednesday and Friday!) so bringing it back for special occasions like this need not have a “penitential” connotation.  The Advent call to watch and pray for our Lord’s return is more than sufficient cause for instituting the Litany at the beginning of the service.

There are rubrics in our text of the Litany that explain where to end the Litany and how to join it onto the Communion service.  And, although there are no rubrics about this idea, I have always omitted the Prayers of the People from the Communion liturgy on Sundays that we say the Great Litany at the beginning – partly for the sake of time and partly because the function of responsive prayer has already been fulfilled.  You could be a better liturgical purist than I and keep both sets of Prayers… power to ya.

If you’re not a liturgical decision-maker in your church, saying the Litany is something you and anyone can do before the service that morning.

Suggestion #3: Use the Decalogue

In the ACNA Communion liturgy there is a penitential rite near the beginning.  After the Collect for Purity we have two choices: the Summary of the Law & the Kyrie or the Decalogue (Ten Commandments).  The early Prayer Books provided only the Decalogue; the Summary of the Law was a later concession for a shorter option.  If your congregation normally just sticks with the Summary of the Law, hitting them up with the fullness of the Law (well, just the Decalogue) is another effective way of liturgically declaring “the seasons have changed!”

For my part, I use the Decalogue throughout the seasons of Advent and Lent, as well as a handful of other Sundays scattered throughout the year.