The Collect for St. John’s Nativity

Today we celebrate the birthday of Saint John the Baptist!
We’ve looked at this holy day in the Church Calendar before; here you will find three brief takes on the significance of this feast: Happy Birthday, John the Baptist!  You can also read a little about his life and of some lectionary history for his feast day here.

This year, I’d like to look at the Collect for this Day.  Here it is in the 1662 Prayer Book:

ALMIGHTY God, by whose providence thy servant John Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour, by preaching of repentance; Make
us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching, and after his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the most part, this is the same as what we’ve got in the 2019 Prayer Book today.  The first half is virtually identical; only the word doctrine is now swapped out for teaching, which means the same thing, though the connotations have changed slightly.  Today the word doctrine more often is used to refer to a specific area or type of teaching, rather than biblical-theological teaching as a whole.  So that’s a subtle language update that helps preserve the original meaning of this prayer.

It’s also important to note that doctrine/teaching is paired with a holy life.  An unvirtuous teacher is not a good Christian example, neither is a virtuous man with sloppy theology.

The “purpose” section of the Collect, in the second half, is a bit more rearranged, however.  We pray that we may follow John’s doctrine and example so that…

that we may truly repent (2019)
that we may truly repent according to his preaching (1662)

Both versions start with this, and rightly so!  The call to repentance was the most obvious and prolific subject of his preaching that we find in the Gospels, most especially in Luke 3.  The phrase “according to his preaching” is not in our text of the prayer, probably dropped for its redundancy with the subject of his doctrine/teaching in the previous phrase.

boldly rebuke vice (both)

This is the second purpose for our following his teaching and life.  This, too, was a major part of his recorded preaching, as the identification of vice and sin is rather necessary for a genuine call to repentance.  The difference is that the modern prayer puts this second while the 1662 prayer puts this in the middle of the list.

patiently suffer for the sake of truth (2019)
patiently suffer for the truth’s sake (1662)

Third in the modern prayer and last in the old, suffering for the cause of God’s truth is part of St. John the Baptist’s example.  Being last in the 1662 form of the prayer, this has a place of subtle emphasis; it’s the last thing we hear, a sobering “last word on the matter”.  John was a martyr, after all, and many, many others would soon follow him.

and proclaim the coming of Jesus Christ our Lord (2019)

Absent from the traditional collect is the theme of proclaiming the advent of Jesus.  Some might read this to be pretentious: John the Baptist was a unique herald, The Forerunner, specially imbued by the Holy Spirit to “prepare the way of the Lord” and point people to his relative, Jesus, when his ministry began.  We are not called or qualified to anything on par with that!  But we do proclaim the coming of Jesus Christ our Lord, even though we don’t know the day or the hour of his return, nor even have a promise that he will return within our lifetimes.  The return of Christ is a reality that permeates the New Testament epistles, and has also characterized the liturgy (particularly that of Holy Communion) ever since as we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  So we follow in John’s footsteps in this ministry of proclamation, albeit on a different level of the scale.

 

St. Alban, Britain’s Protomartyr

Today is the commemoration of Saint Alban, one of the early British Saints whose name appears in the calendar of the 2019 Prayer Book.  His death date is listed as “c. 250” – the c. is for circa, Latin for “approximately”.  In this particular case, this approximation is more of an average… dates given for his death in early sources have discrepancies ranging from 209 to 304.  Also, if you’re curious about the word “protomartyr,” it means “first martyr”, or more technically, first recorded martyr.

You can read his abridged hagiography on Wikipedia if you like; two of our major sources on his story are the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and The Ecclesiastical History by St. Bede – both are major source of information for Christianity in Britain in the first millennium A.D.  In short, Alban was a Briton who harbored a Christian priest hiding from state persecution.  Alban came to respect the priest’s faith and holiness and converted to Christ also.  When soldiers came to arrest the priest, Alban put on the priest’s garments and offered himself in the priest’s place.  His self-sacrificial subterfuge was soon found out, but he was tortured and eventually executed instead of the priest anyway.  On the way to his execution a river was miraculously dried up so the execution party could avoid a crowded bridge and a spring appeared to quench his thirst, both incidents heavily reflecting stories of Moses and Jesus.

The tricky thing about hagiographies, of course, is that this is a very stylized way of writing which only gets more elaborate over the course of history.  And even if the religious content was not an issue, there is also the simple reality that we don’t have a lot of original information from this many centuries past.  It may be that these miracle tales are historically accurate, but it’s also very likely that these stories have been told and retold in particular ways and with particular embellishments to teach the hearers something apart from the actual history of these Saints.  I would suspect, for example, that the crossing of the river on dry ground and the appearance of the water-spring are additions to the “real” history of Saint Alban, added not make Alban look super-special nor to trick posterity into believing a lie, but to illustrate the virtue of Alban’s faith by adding biblical allusions to the crucifixion of Christ and the Exodus led by Moses.

You who read this probably already know: I love history.  I even wrote a short article entitled Why History Matters a few years ago.  You might be puzzled, then, why I’m so positive about sharing a hagiography that even I admit is probably not strictly historically accurate?  The answer is this: we learn from hagiographies in much the same way we learn from history.  These old writings bring us into worlds that are different from our own, where people think differently and conceive of similar ideas in dissimilar ways.  How we understand and relate to history is very different from how they understood and related to history before them.

So as we go through Saint Alban’s Day, I encourage you to give thought to the witness of those who would die for the faith, for the name of Christ.  Regardless of what historically happened on his way to his execution, his example of truly committed faith is instructive and inspiring.  And, I daresay for most of us comfy Americans, a healthy humbling shock.

As we remember martyrs according to our Prayer Book (from page 637),

Almighty God, you gave your servant Alban boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The June Major Feasts

Most months of the year have about three major feast days; June is right on the average with that number: Saint Barnabas on the 11th, The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on the 24th, and Saints Peter and Paul on the 29th.

Being in the first half of the month, Saint Barnabas’ Day often lands close to Trinity Sunday or Pentecost.  While this can sometimes cause a little trouble with displacing the Ember Days or transferring Barnabas away from those highest of Sundays, it also makes a lot of sense to celebrate him in proximity to the Day of Pentecost.  The reason is simple: the book of Acts is associated with the season of Eastertide as well as the Day of Pentecost, so there’s a biblical-chronological sense to getting to the story of Barnabas on the heels of Pentecost.

The Nativity (birth) of St. John the Baptist, meanwhile, is in June for historical reasons; it’s linked with the dates for the Annunciation to Mary and the birth of Christ.  You can read more about that here!

Saints Peter and Paul were both martyred in Rome.  It happened at different times, possibly in different years, although both within a few years of one another in the mid-to-late-60’s.  Their martyrdoms have traditionally been observed together on the same date, June 29th.

Among the Optional Commemorations there are a few that the Saint Aelfric Customary would highlight as Minor Feasts:

  • 1 June: St. Justin Martyr, one of the first major apologists
  • 14 June: St. Basil the Great, one of the Cappadocian Fathers, great theologians
  • 22 June: St. Alban, the first martyr in Britain
  • 27 June: St. Cyril of Alexandria, a key leader at the Council of Ephesus
  • 28 June: St. Irenaeus, a major 2nd century Christian writer

Annunciations to Mary and to the world

In the 2019 Prayer Book, Luke 1:26-38 is the New Testament reading at Morning Prayer on March 25, as well as the Gospel lesson for the Communion service on this holy day – The Annunciation to Mary.  It may be obvious, but it’s easy to miss, that we are now nine months ahead of Christmas Day, the exact relative timing between this gospel story and the birth of Christ.  I’ve written about its timing before, and how it can assist our reading of Scripture in the daily lectionary, compared it to other Marian holy days, and even shared a hymn appropriate for the Annunciation.  So my backlog of blog posts provide quite a few opportunities for devotional reading.

I also put together a trilogy of theological explorations of various doctrines concerning our Lady, soberly examining the biblical and traditional foundations behind a few popular beliefs.  So you can read about typologies of Mary in the Old Testament and their theological implications, the motherhood of Mary from various angles, the significance of the virginity of Mary, and the potential extent of the blessedness of Mary.  If you like to learn and study, there you go, have fun!

Rabbit trails aside, let’s settle down with the text mentioned at the start.  The angel (traditionally considered one of the Archangels) Gabriel appears to Mary with a message.  Gabriel has appeared before, to prophets like Daniel, and will promptly appear again to Joseph.  As one great hymn puts it, Gabriel is the “herald of heaven”, always appearing with a message, invariably about the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus.  While there is a lot about angels that we simply don’t, and can’t, know, the angelic role of messenger is one that is very informative for the Christian calling – we, too, in our own ways, are messengers or ambassadors or witnesses, proclaiming to the world in some fashion or another that Jesus is here.  Just as Gabriel appears, surprises Mary, and gives her good news, so too do we go about the world with surprising news that’s hard to believe: God loves his world such that he came among us in the humblest of ways!  We proclaim a Jesus who is great, and is called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God has given to him the throne of his father David, and Jesus will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.  Gabriel’s message to Mary, almost verbatim, is the message of the Church to the world to this day.

How will this be?”  How can we proclaim the reality of Christ to a world that so rarely seems interested in listening to us?  This is hard question and the answers look different, according to the situation.

Sometimes we must wield the hammer of the Law – identifying the sins of the people and pointing out the dire demands of divine justice.
Sometimes we must apply the salve of the gospel – announcing the prodigal love of a merciful God.

Sometimes we need to proclaim the truth with emotion – that through our fervency the world will realize how serious we are.
Sometimes we need to proclaim the truth with carefully reasoned argumentation – that through such apologetics we may show ourselves a people who are thoughtful and wise, even “scientific” in the truest sense.

Whatever the details, the underlying reality is the same: God is a worker of miracles.  He made the barren womb bear life, the made the virgin womb bear life, “for nothing will be impossible with God.”

At the end of the day, our posture before God is perfectly embodied in Mary’s response at the climax of this text.  “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  Car puns aside, this is Mary’s fiat.  The first fiat is God’s, in Genesis 1: fiat lux, “let there be light.”  That is how the old creation begun.  The new creation begins in the second fiat from the Second Eve, the mother of all re-living, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum, “let it be to me according to your word.”  This is then simplified and codified forever in the Lord’s Prayer: fiat voluntas tua, “thy will be done.”

I daresay there is no holier, no more humble, prayer than this.

A colorful week ahead

If you look at the Calendar of Commemorations in the 2019 Prayer Book, you’ll find a few Saints Days of particular note in rapid succession this week.

  • Tuesday the 17th commemorates Saint Patrick, bishop & apostle to the Irish.
  • Wednesday the 18th commemorates Saint Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem and teacher of the faith (or “Doctor of the Church” in Roman terminology).
  • Thursday the 19th is a red-letter day, the feast of Saint Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary and Guardian of our Lord Jesus.
  • Friday the 20th commemorates Saint Cuthbert, abbot and missionary bishop of Lindisfarne.
  • Saturday the 21st commemorates Thomas Cranmer, the first reformation Archbishop of Canterbury, author of the first Prayer Book, and martyr.

Of all these days, only St. Joseph’s Day is an official break from the Lenten fast; the rest are optional commemorations that you and your church may or may not choose to observe.  The Saint Aelfric Customary names all of these particular commemorations as “minor feasts”, the highest rank of such commemorations, and thus to be given pride of place in any midweek eucharistic celebration.

The way these observances are probably going to look in my household, for example, is that I’ll replace the purple candle on the family prayer table with a white one for Tuesday through Friday (each a saint’s day), and a red one for Saturday (a martyr’s day).  It’ll then go to a pink candle after that – for the 4th Sunday in Lent!  ‘Tis a colorful week indeed.

Collects of the Day this week

Last week was a bit complicated for tracking the Collect of the Day in the Daily Offices.  In a normal week, you start the Sunday’s Collect on the Saturday evening before, and use it through Saturday morning until the next Sunday Collect kicks in.  Last week, however, had two holy days, one of which redefined the rest of the week:

  1. Sunday morning: Collect for the Last Sunday of Epiphany
  2. Sunday evening through Monday evening: Collect for St. Matthias Day
  3. Tuesday morning and evening: Collect for the Last Sunday of Epiphany
  4. Wednesday morning through Saturday morning: Collect for Ash Wednesday

This week we have the Lenten/Spring Ember Days, causing a similar mix-up of the Collect of the Day:

  1. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday: Collect for the First Sunday in Lent
  2. Wednesday: Collect for an Ember Day
  3. Thursday: Collect for the First Sunday in Lent
  4. Friday, Saturday: Collect for an Ember Day

One of the things that makes this tricky is the fact that we, in the 2019 Prayer Book, only have two Collects for the Ember Days.  Sometimes, like in Advent a few months ago, this works out fine because a holy day (in that case, St. Thomas) sometimes cuts in and overwrites one of the Ember Days, allowing us to use both Collects on one day each.  But now that we have three Ember Days unfettered, and only two Collects to use, how should we handle this?  Perhaps the simplest approach is to use the first Collect each morning and the second Collect each evening.

Another tradition worth mentioning is the fact that the classical prayer books (that is, those before 1979) call for the repetition of the Ash Wednesday Collect after the current Collect of the Day throughout the season of Lent.  The 2019 Prayer Book does not direct for this to be done, but with the rubrics the way they are, there is nothing “illegal” about applying this tradition in our recitation of the Daily Office.  So give that possibility due consideration also!

Commemorating King Charles the Martyr

January 30th is the commemoration of King Charles the Martyr.  In the 1662 Prayer Book (though later removed) this day was one of special devotion and fasting.  A particular set of Collects, Scripture readings, Psalms, both for the Daily Offices and the Communion of the Day, and even a unique anthem in place of the usual Invitatory Psalm was prescribed.  I suppose it was deemed to nationalistic or something, as it has since disappeared from that book.  And with its heavy pro-monarchy language, it’s no wonder that it didn’t proliferate even into the “black letter day” commemorations of the American Prayer Book until (as far as I know) 2019.

I have written about the Martyrdom of Charles I before, once on my pastor’s blog and once on here last year, and I commend those to you if you want or need an introduction to his commemoration from an historical perspective.  You can also get it straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were, and check out the actual 1662 prayer book material.  Just scroll to the bottom and click on “Form of Prayer for the 30th Day of January.”

This entry, today, here and now, is turning instead to the question of how one can commemorate King Charles I in accordance with the 2019 Prayer Book.

The simplest approach would be to celebrate Communion or Antecommunion using the Propers For a Martyr as set forth int eh 2019 Prayer Book.  But if you want to get fancier…

The Collect of the Day

This Collect is one of the two presented in the 1662 Prayer Book.  Although it is not explicitly authorized in the 2019 Prayer Book, its use can be justified because it is an authentic piece of prior Prayer Book tradition (only “translated” to modern English) and because the ACNA is preparing a Lesser Feasts & Fasts book which will most likely put forth a Collect for this and other commemorations.

Blessed Lord, in whose sight the death of your saints is precious; We magnify your name for the abundant grace bestowed upon the martyred King, Charles the First; by which he was enabled so cheerfully to follow the steps of his blessed Master and Savior, in a constant meek suffering of all barbarous indignities, and at last resisting unto blood; and even then, according to the same pattern, praying for his murderers.  Let his memory, O Lord, be ever blessed among us; that we may follow the example of his courage and constancy, his meekness and patience, and great charity: and all for Jesus Christ’s sake, our only Mediator and Advocate.  Amen.

The Lessons at Holy Communion

The Epistle and Gospel here are those appointed in the 1662 Prayer Book.  The Old Testament lesson is from the same book’s Morning Prayer Office for this day, and the Psalm, likewise, is a part of the Psalms Appointed for the Morning of that day.

2 Samuel 1; Psalm 10:1-12; 1 Peter 2:13-22; Matthew 21:33-41.

Midday Prayer

The Supplemental Midday Prayer Lectionary provided here appoints 2 Samuel 1 as the commemorative reading for today.  But if you are reading it for Communion or Antecommunion today, then read a different option from the 1662 book, like Jeremiah 12.

Singing of St. Paul’s Conversion

January 25th is one of the holy days in the Church year, and a momentous event in the early years of Christianity: the conversion of St. Paul.

Last year I wrote a note about the Collect of the Day which you’re welcome to peruse.

Today I thought I’d highlight a hymn verse appropriate for today, from Horatio Nelson’s 1864 fill-in-the-blank hymn, From all thy saints in warfare.

Praise for the light from heaven,
Praise for the voice of awe,
Praise for the glorious vision
the persecutor saw.
Thee, Lord, for his conversion,
we glorify today;
So lighten all our darkness
With thy true Spirit’s ray.

What we have here is such wonderful Epiphany language – the star the Magi followed, the light to lighten the Gentiles, the light from heaven that blinded St. Paul before his conversion and until his baptism.  The light of the Gospel lightens our darkness, it made St. Paul (and us) truly see.

Think on that today; what has the Light of the World done unto you?

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.