How to celebrate St. Mary today

Today is the feast of St. Mary the Virgin, Mother of our Lord, or in the language of the ecumenical councils, the Theotokos (God-bearer).  Sticking with the liturgy that we have, and not violating any rubrics, let’s look at some ways we can mark this holy day in the course of our formal worship today.

Morning Prayer

For the Opening Sentence, consider Habakkuk 2:20, from among the extended provision on page 28.  It’s from a lesson that tends to show up around Christmastime, albeit not in the spartan daily lectionary of our new prayer book.  Let all mortal flesh keep silence, an awesome hymn from an Eastern eucharistic liturgy, is also drawn from this verse, and in many protestant hymnals is considered a Christmas hymn.  Granted, the biblical appearances of Blessed Virgin Mary are not limited to the Christmas story, but it is her most prominent placement.

For the Venite (the invitatory psalm) use a seasonal antiphon.  There are two that work well for this holy day: the one on page 29 for the Presentation & Annunciation (which are both Marian feasts to some extent) and the one on page 30 for All Saints’ & Other Major Saints’ Days.  As the rubric on page 14, above the Venite, explains, an antiphon is used both before and after the psalm or canticle in question.  Time and time again I’ve seen people misuse antiphons… think of them as book-ends to start and finish the song.  Or if etymology is your thing, look at the word itself: anti-phon… opposing sound: use the antiphon on opposing sides of the psalm.

The Canticles should be the traditional two: the Te Deum and the Benedictus.  This makes the holy day feel the same as a Sunday, and has the added bonus that the Te Deum actually does mention Mary briefly (Christ “humbly chose the Virgin’s womb”).

The second lesson for Morning Prayer in the Daily Lectionary is Luke 1:26-38, which is the story of the Annunciation.  ‘Nuff said there, I think!

The Collect of the Day, starting at Evening Prayer last night, is on page 631.  As discussed previously it may be read in light of the traditional (but not official) doctrine of the Assumption if one is so inclined.

Evening Prayer

The Opening Sentence could be drawn from the extra one suggested for Christmas (on page 54) or perhaps one of the standard options – Psalm 26:8 – noting that St. Mary herself was a notable place where God’s “honor dwells”.

The Canticles should be the traditional two: the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis.  This makes the holy day feel the same as a Sunday, and has the obvious bonus that the Magnificat is itself the Song of Mary.

The second lesson for Evening Prayer in the Daily Lectionary is John 14:1-14, which although simply part of the lectio continuo (continuous reading) of Scripture from day to day, proves fitting closure to this holy day in Jesus’ proclamation that he is the Way and the Truth and the Life.  The Blessed Virgin Mary, as do all saints of the Church, ultimately points us to Christ.

Holy Communion

Chances are that most of us don’t have the opportunity to host or attend a celebration of Holy Communion today, but you can always resort to Antecommunion.

The Opening Acclamation should be the last seasonal one on page 146 from the song of the saints in heaven (Revelation 4:11).

As this is a festal occasion, not penitential, the Summary of the Law with the Kyrie is a more appropriate choice than the full Decalogue.  The Gloria in excelsis should follow, as this is a major holy day.

The Collect of the Day has already been commented upon.  The Propers from Scripture are:

  • Isaiah 61:10-11 (typologically, Mary is the garden from which Christ springs)
  • Psalm 34 (“let us magnify the Lord” akin to Mary’s Song)
  • Galatians 4:4-7 (Christ’s birth points to our own adoption in Christ)
  • Luke 1:46-55 (the Magnificat itself)

The Creed should be said, as per the rubric on the bottom of page 108/126.

The Blessed Virgin Mary should be mentioned in the last “N.” in the last petition of the Prayers of the People on page 111.

If there’s an Offertory, consider Galatians 6:10 for the Offertory Sentence (on page 149), since a Saints’ Day (especially Mary!) is an excellent opportunity to reference “the household of faith“.

For the Proper Preface, I’ve seen some lovely Mary-specific ones out there, but since we’re trying to get used to our new prayer book let’s not introduce anything new yet.  The official Preface appointed for this day on page 631 is the one for Christmas (on page 152).

Other Resources & Opportunities

The fourth collect in Midday Prayer (on page 38) references Mary.

Occasional Prayer #125 on page 683, the Thanksgiving for the Saints and Faithful Departed, also lists Mary among its several commemorated holy ones.

This Customary’s Order for Daily Hymnody appoints hymn #178 God himself is with us for today (check the index to find its number if you don’t have this hymnal).  Surely there are other hymns for Christmas or the Annunciation (and so forth) that will also be appropriate to adorn this feast day.

The Transfiguration: Living Between Two Worlds

The feast of the Transfiguration, celebrated today, August 6th, is a special holiday to me in the Church calendar.  As a child, the story of the transfiguration was (ironically) utterly veiled to me.  It was a weird story of Jesus glowing on a mountain and confusing the three disciples with him, and it made no sense to me at all.  Only in the liturgical tradition, seeing the various texts of Scripture appointed for this day, did I piece together the biblical significance of the transfiguration, and the way it points to (and prepares for) the Gospel events surrounding our Lord’s death and resurrection.

This holiday also ended up being my wife’s and my second-born’s birthday.  It was a funny story – he was due around the 10th of August, so my last Sunday serving our church before paternity leave for the rest of the month was August 6th, Transfiguration Day.  I was responsible about it, though, and made sure I had my sermon fully written out just in case our baby was early and I would have to hand the sermon to someone else to read in my place.  Sure enough that’s exactly what happened.  I even got some positive feedback on it, so I’ve dubbed it “my best sermon I never preached”.

So now, two years later, I’ve recorded it, so others can celebrate this feast day and begin to put the pieces together too, if you haven’t before.  The Gospel text of the transfiguration event is from Luke 9, which you should probably read before listening to the sermon about it.  If you’ve said Morning Prayer already, then you’ll have read Mark’s account of the transfiguration, which I’m sure should also suffice.

The August Major Feasts

As mentioned a little while ago, we’ve got a major feast day coming up next week: the Transfiguration (August 6th).  Hopefully that will adorn your worship of our Lord on Tuesday!

But let’s take this moment, today, to cast our eyes upon the rest of the month.  There are two more major feast days coming up: St. Mary’s on the 15th and St. Bartholomew’s on the 24th.  On the surface these are pretty straight-forward commemorations, honoring the Virgin Mary, mother of our Lord, and Bartholomew (or Nathaniel), one of the twelve apostles.  If you dig deeper you can make further connections to tradition and history.

St. Mary’s Day (August 15th) was not in the classical prayer books.  This was for two reasons: first it was likely considered sufficient to commemorate Mary in the Purification/Presentation (February 2nd) and the Annunciation (March 25th) and having a third holy day for her would be redundant; and second, August 15th was originally a more specific holy day in Western tradition: the “Assumption” of Mary.  The assumption refers to the post-biblical event of Mary being taken up (or assumed) into heaven.  This is different from Christ’s ascension into heaven in a key way: Christ ascended, which is an active verb; Mary was assumed, which is a passive verb.  Like Elijah and Enoch and presumably post-mortem Moses, the original holiday of August 15th was to commemorate when Mary was taken up into heaven like those Old Testament predecessors.  I call this “extra-biblical” because it takes place after most of the New Testament was written, and thus is not preserved for us as a sure doctrine within the Scriptures themselves.  The Reformers, thus, did not typically teach the Assumption of Mary (nor did they necessarily deny it); it’s purely a diaphora from our perspective.  Thus we are free to read the doctrine of the Assumption into the Collect for this day or not:

O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

For St. Bartholomew’s Day we can also look back at the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, a riot of angry Papists who killed thousands of Protestants across France in 1572.  Feel free to Google it if you want to know about the history, just be careful you don’t end up reading about the Doctor Who story about it!  Or do; Doctor Who’s a cool television show. I review stories from that franchise as a for-fun activity.  Anyway, even though there’s no real logical or thematic link between Bartholomew and the massacre of Hugenots, other than the common incident of martyrdom, it’s worthwhile taking note of how major events in history that concur with church holy days can leave deep impressions in popular memory.  Shakespeare helps us do this with St. Crispin’s Day too, for example.

So consider yourself forewarned for a Thursday and Saturday later this month.  We’ll probably take closer looks at the liturgical observances of these days when they arrive, but it’s important for the worshiper to be aware of feast days before they make their appearance.  We’re invited to anticipate them the same way we anticipate Sundays, after all.

Singing of Saint Anne

Here’s another holy day that we noted ahead of time: “The Parents of Saint Mary.”  Tradition remembers them by the names of Joachim and Anne, and Anne in particular has been the recipient of some devotion in certain parts of Europe – to this day it’s not unusual to find a Catholic church named St. Anne’s.

Because the couple celebrated on this day are closely related to Jesus (in this case literally his grandparents) this is one of the few “black-letter days” appointed in the 2019 Prayer Book’s calendar that this Customary acknowledges with a hymn appointed for the day.  In this case it’s #188 (in the 2017 hymnal), “Faith of our fathers“, a well-known classic.  As the title itself suggests, it is a celebration of the continuity of faith from the past through the present into the future.  It is in the All Saints section of this hymnal, though in other sections in previous hymnals, if I recall.

If you’re curious, even skeptical, why this commemoration should be so elevated when the people commemorated are barely (or not at all) known in Scripture, consider the implications of their identity.  As I wrote for my 4-year-old today:

Jesus had a grandma
they say her name was Anne.
So although Christ is God,
he’s also fully man!

I also took the opportunity to include this commemoration in a sermon a few years ago, which you’re welcome to check out.  In that sermon I mentioned a hymn that we’d sung.  It was a traditional hymn that someone translated from Latin, and I re-tuned to the melody of a contemporary praise song: “Lamb of God” by Twila Paris.

Nocti succedit Lucifer, trans. c. 2009 Kathleen Pluth.

The morning star is on the rise
And soon the dawn will fill the skies,
Foretelling of the coming Sun
Whose light will shine on everyone.

The Sun of justice, Christ, true Light,
And Mary, grace’s dawning bright,
And Anna, reddening the sky,
Have caused the night of Law to fly.

O mother Anna, fruitful root,
From you came your salvation’s shoot,
For you brought forth the flow’ring rod
That bore for us the Christ of God.

Christ’s mother’s mother, by the grace
Your daughter’s birth brought to our race,
And by her merits and her prayer
May we her favors come to share.

O Jesus, Virgin-born, to You
All glory is forever due.
To Father and the Spirit, praise
Be sung through everlasting days.

Note in verse 3 (the first refrain the way this is arranged) how Anne (Anna) is addressed: “faithful root, flowering rod” – these are some biblical images in the Old Testament used to point to the Messiah.  The family tree leading to Jesus is often described in root-tree-branch-flower imagery, and is especially appropriate for St. Anne and the Virgin Mary.

However you choose to spruce up your worship of God today, may it be a blessed time!

St. James’ Day

It’s July 25th, you know what that means!  No, no “Christmas In July”… it’s Saint James’ Day, I warned you this was coming!  One of the “inner three” of Christ’s apostles, James’ story comes to an abrupt end in Acts 12.  Let’s start with prayer though:

O gracious God, your servant and apostle James was first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ: Pour upon the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service, by which they may have true authority among your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Though he tends to get less press than a few of the other apostles, James is one of the ones we know the most about from the New Testament.  This is reflected in several of the Scripture readings appointed for today.  The special reading for this feast day in Morning Prayer is from Mark 1, where we see the call of James with his brother John, sons of Zebedee.  At the Communion today the Gospel (from Matthew 20) has Jesus’ subtle prediction of James’ death, and the reading from Acts 11 & 12 (in the place of the Epistle) accounts for James’ death directly.

If you chose to make use of the Midday Lectionary provided by this Customary, you’ll also read from 2 Kings 1 today – a curious story in which the prophet Elijah calls down fire from heaven upon multiple groups of soldiers until a group entreats him with the honor due his office as a Prophet.  This sets the Old Testament background and precedent for another story of James (and John) in Luke 9, wherein they ask Jesus if they should call fire down from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village that rejected Jesus’ teaching.  One can see that St. James was indeed a zealous disciple of our Lord!

So, as the Collect of the Day, how about taking a little time today to pray for pastors, deacons, priests, bishops, that they might be ready, like St. James, to lay down their life for you and those whom else they serve in the name of the Lord?

Let’s pray Evening Prayer together!

We’ve got a daily hymnody plan available, an order for using the Occasional Prayers, and some insight on how to sing Simplified Anglican Chant.  Let’s put it all together and see what Evening Prayer can be like. We did this with Morning Prayer last week, but now let’s add some chanting to spruce up this feast day commemorating St. Mary Magdalene.  I should warn you that there are a couple of stumblings, hesitations, and even mistakes as I read, pray, and sing.  That’s life, that’s reality.  I’m not here to perform for anyone, and I just want to encourage you to pray and sing, yourself, too.  Anyway, grab your 2019 Prayer Book, ESV Bible, and 2017 Hymnal, and listen and pray along!


Order of service (so you can get your books ready)…

  1. Opening Sentence (BCP 41)
  2. Confession *
  3. Invitatory Dialogue with Hymn #444 instead of the Phos hilaron **
  4. Psalms 108 (tune #748) and 109 (tunes #747 & 746)
  5. Old Testament: Ezra 10
  6. Magnificat (tune #743)
  7. New Testament: John 1:1-28
  8. Nunc dimittis (tune #750)
  9. The Apostles’ Creed
  10. The Prayers
  11. The Anthem (Hymn #175)
  12. Brief homiletic reflection
  13. Occasional Prayers #11-15
  14. The General Thanksgiving ***
  15. Closing Sentences

* I don’t read either absolution after the general confession when I’m praying the Office alone because there’s no “you” for me to speak to, so I take on the words of the laity in the prayer for forgiveness instead.

** The rubric at the top of page 44 allows for a hymn to replace the Phos hilaron.  Since the Phos hilaron is not a feature of classic prayer books I typically prefer to replace it with an Evening Hymn (or other hymn as in this case).

*** I tend not to pray the Prayer of St. John Chrysostom when alone, as the rubric indicates it’s optional, and because its language of being gathered for corporate prayer is not exactly fulfilled in private.

Sanctoral Calendar

When you look at the liturgical calendar of the Roman Church, with all its various types, classes, or ranks of feast days, you will quickly appreciate the simplicity of the Prayer Book tradition.  It’s either a “red-letter day”, that is, a holy day mandated in the book, or it is a “black letter day”, a commemoration that you can celebrate if you want to, or ignore if you want.

But the priest may find, after considering how best to celebrate some of the names in our calendar, that not all commemorations ought to be treated equally.  Certainly, yes, all God’s children are equal in His sight, but as we look to the examples of those who have gone before us, there is a marked difference in the impact of Augustine of Hippo and, say, Samuel Shoemaker.  Pastorally, it’s worth helping our flocks identify who the ‘major players’ are in church history, who the great theologians and teachers are, who lived truly holy lives that we can strive to emulate.  And thus we stumble back into the Western tradition of feast days of different ranks.

The Saint Aelfric Customary sets forth a four-tired rank of saints days, and it’s very simple.

  1. The Major Feast Days (“red-letter days”) are the ones specifically named and mandated in the prayer book.  They each have their own set of Collect and lessons for Holy Communion that day, and usually impact the Daily Office Lectionary with at least one special reading.
  2. The Minor Saints Days are “black letter days” which are identified as the most prominent.  If you have a weekday communion service on one of these days, they ought to be celebrated, as if they were a major feast.  Unlike major feasts, though, these aren’t celebrated on Sundays, and don’t impact the Daily Office.
  3. The Commemorations are the “black letter days” entirely unchanged – they’re still optional, at the discretion of the celebrant to observe or not.
  4. The Memorials are the “black letter days” that are set aside as not for observance at Holy Communion.  This is born out of a respect for the liturgical tradition of not naming new Saints without either due process or clear consensus.  And since the Anglican tradition has no official process, we can only gain new saints by martyrdom or by clear consensus.  The names in our calendar that do not meet these terms are therefore categorized as Memorials.

You can download the Saint Aelfric Customary version of the Sanctoral Calendar here.

Note also that this calendar “elevates” three commemorations to Major Feast Day status:  Aelfric, Augustine of Canterbury, and King Charles I.  This is due to the fact that they are the three “patron saints” of this Customary, and therefore ought to be especially available to those who use this Customary.

Looking Ahead: Holy Days in late July and early August

We’re in a quiet couple weeks right now, but let’s take a look at the “red-letter days” that are coming up toward toward the end of the month.  Because none of these are on Sundays, and therefore are not likely to directly impact the life of most congregations (as the sad reality is that our culture rarely considers going to church on weekdays), it is all the more helpful and important to take note of these dates beforehand as they approach, so we can be prepared to give due consideration to these commemorations when they arrive.

July 22nd is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene.  The Gospel at the Communion service is a little Easter flash-back, and the special Gospel lesson at Morning Prayer is the story of the the women who washed Jesus’ feet, whom for much of church history was identified as Mary Magdalene.  She sinned much, was forgiven much, and therefore loved much, devoutly anointing the feet of her dear Lord and scrubbing them with her own hair.  Modern exegesis doesn’t seem to share this assumption that she’s the same person, but it’s certainly in keeping with her physically-expressive character in John 20.

July 25th is not Christmas in July, but actually St. James’ Day.  As you’ll read in the beginning of Acts 12, which takes the part of the Epistle at the Communion that day, James was the first of the apostles die, martyred for the faith.

There are also some optional commemorations at the end of the month whose days this Customary would especially point out as worthy of celebration.

  • The Parents of the Virgin Mary, traditionally given the names Joachim (or Heli for short) and Anne, are commemorated on July 26th.  Depending on the flavor of the spirituality of different cultures, they are sometimes known instead as the grandparents of Jesus.  In either case, they are people we know nothing about from the Bible, yet must have had a tremendous impact on our Lord’s early life.
  • Lazarus, Mary, and Martha of Bethany are commemorated on July 29th.  They are prominent characters in the Gospel books, particularly that of St. John, and are known as beloved friends of Jesus.  Some people in history have even identified Mary of this family with Mary Magdalene, though again this is an assumption widely disregarded today.  The similarity of their affections for our Lord, however, is noteworthy.
  • St. Joseph of Arimathea is commemorated on August 1st.  He is the rich Jewish elder who donated his tomb for Jesus’ body on the day of the crucifixion, rather than let him be tossed into a mass grave for common criminals.  This showed great (even risky) devotion on his part, substantial reverence for our Lord, and made the proof of the resurrection all the more clear, as a common mass grave would have been harder to guard, and the accusation of the disciples stealing the body harder to refute.

August 6th, finally, is the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord.  The modern calendar does kind of double it at the end of the Epiphany season, but if you take the time to compare the Collects and lessons for that day and this, you’ll notice a marked difference in emphasis.  The former sets out the transfiguration as a precursor to the passion and death of Christ; this feast day simply revels in the divine glory of Jesus.  Eastern Orthodox custom calls for a 40-day fast beginning at Transfiguration Day, which we don’t have in our tradition, obviously, but can give us pause for thought concerning our spiritual devotions at that time of year.

Happy Birthday, John the Baptist!

This is one of the big feast days of the year, in some country’s traditions the most-celebrated of all Saints’ Days (especially in Scandinavia for some reason).  Rather than give you a single write-up about this feast day in Prayer Book tradition, we’re offering you a variety of angles to explore at your leisure.

#1 – the Natural Connection

#2 – the Christmas Connection


#3 – the Calm Before the Storm

“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.