Introduction to the Epiphany season

Part 3 of the church year is Epiphanytide.  This is part of my year-long video series on the church calendar, check it out:

For further reading:

Subject Index:
* 00:30 Introduction to Epiphanytide
* 01:02 Major Themes
* 02:44 Historical features
* 7:26 Walk-through with the 2019 BCP
* 18:36 Summarizing the season with the “Surge illuminare”

Readings Review – The Epiphany Special

Our usual Monday fare is going to look a little different today.  Instead of looking at the lessons of the whole weeks (past and present) we’re just going to narrow in on the feast of the Epiphany.  But first, the quick run-down…

Last week: Wisdom 9-11 Genesis 1-4, Revelation 21-22, John 1-3:21, Song of Songs 6-8, Jeremiah 1-3, Luke 23-24, Galatians 1-4

This week: Genesis 5-11, John 3:22-6:21, Jeremiah 4-10, Galatians 5-6, 1 Thess. 1-4:12

Special reading for the Epiphany on Monday morning: Matthew 2:1-12
Special reading for the Epiphany on Monday evening: John 2:1-12

As I noted last week the Epistles of St. Paul in evening prayer are being read in their estimated chronological order, so after Galatians we’re moving to 1 Thessalonians.

The Epiphany Lessons

The major highlight this week is today – January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany.  It’s one of the seven Principle Feasts listed in the 2019 Prayer Book on page 688, putting it essentially on par with Christmas and Easter (and four other holy days).  As a result, both Morning and Evening Prayer get a special reading, out of the daily sequential sequence, to mark this day.

In the morning is the obvious choice: Matthew 2:1-12, in which we read of the magi and their journey and the gifts for the young Jesus.  This is the “primary” celebration for the Epiphany.  It’s also doubling with today’s gospel lesson at the Communion, which previous daily lectionaries never really did before, but ours does due to the sad reality that very few churches hold communion services on weekday feasts anymore.

The other special reading, in Evening Prayer, is John 2:1-12, which is perhaps less obvious: the Wedding at Cana.  If you go back to the original prayer book daily lectionary you will see three major gospels featured: The adoration of the magi (at the Communion), the baptism of Jesus (in Morning Prayer), and the Wedding at Cana (in Evening Prayer).  Those are three big “epiphanies” that start off the season.  Each of these gospel stories, in their various ways, proclaim the divinity of Jesus – his reception of gifts, the testimony from God the Father, and finally the power at Jesus’ own command.  The wedding at Cana would go on to be the gospel lesson for the Communion in one of the early Sundays of the Epiphany season, and in the 20th century the baptism of Jesus began to take over the first Sunday of Epiphanytide also.  But in the modern lectionary that we have in the 2019 Prayer Book, the wedding at Cana in John 2 is no longer a mainstay gospel.  It’s read on the second Sunday in Year C, but not not Years A & B.  Therefore our lectionary makes a point of retaining this story on Epiphany Day itself to make sure it’s still part of our annual observance of Epiphanytide.

The Circumcision & Holy Name of Jesus

It’s January 1st, and you know what that means… it’s the eighth day of Christmas, when our Lord Jesus got circumcised!  Happy Feast of the Circumcision, everybody!  Let’s turn to the Bible:

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Luke 2:21

Yeah, I’m not kidding.

The handling of this holy day in the 2019 Prayer Book is actually one of the last-minute changes that have proved a pleasant surprise for me to discover.  Last year, as I described it here, the draft texts suggested that this would be the feast of the Holy Name and Circumcision, but in the actual book the order has been switched to Circumcision first, Holy Name second.  This represents a rare recovery of old tradition that had been largely lost in the course of modernist revision.  The 1979 Prayer Book replaced the Circumcision with the Holy Name.  Even the Roman Catholics replaced the Circumcision, in their case with a solemnity of Mary, because apparently they didn’t have enough Marian feasts already, I guess?

If you’re new to the concept of this holy day, or to the idea of circumcision in general, consider checking out this write-up I made two years ago.  Some of its liturgical references are out of date, or non-applicable to the 2019 Prayer Book, but that’s alright, the information is still useful, and Scripture is still Scripture.

So how do we go about celebrating the circumcision of Christ according to the 2019 book?  Let’s start with the Collect of the Day, which should be read last night (Evening Prayer on December 31st) at at Morning Prayer, the Communion service, and Evening Prayer today.

Almighty God, your blessed Son fulfilled the covenant of circumcision for our sake, and was given the Name that is above every name: Give us grace faithfully to bear his Name, and to worship him with pure hearts according to the New Covenant; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

The daily office, sadly, only give us one special reading for this day, where the historic prayer books always had more.  It’s Luke 2:8-21, which is simply the post-birth narrative of Jesus, leading up to his circumcision and naming in verse 21.  This serves as the Gospel lesson at the Communion service as well.  If you follow this customary’s midday prayer supplemental lectionary then you’ll get back one of the historic readings for this feast day, Genesis 17:9-end, in which Abraham first receives the covenant of circumcision from God.

Turning to the Communion lessons, we’ve got Exodus 34:1-9, Psalm 8, Romans 1:1-7, and Luke 2:15-21.  The Gospel is a shorter version of the Evening Prayer lesson already mentioned.  The reading from Exodus 34 tells of the re-establishment of the covenant with Moses during which God declares one form of his name: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”  Psalm 8 responds with a celebration of how majestic God’s Name is, and Romans 1 opens a striking christological statement.  The line about “the obedience of faith” is a key tie-in with the Old Covenant concept of circumcision, and the call to “belong to Jesus Christ” is a pointer to the New Covenant.

Something that is, perhaps, a missed opportunity, is the Epistle lesson appointed for this day in the classic prayer books, before 1962.  It was Romans 4:8-14, which deals more directly with the question of circumcision and its relation to the justification offered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you have time today, I encourage you to look at the articles and pages linked to in this entry, as they will help you explore and discern the richness of this ‘unlikely’ holiday.

Happy Holidays!

After Christmas Day follows three more major holy days in the church calendar, of varying degrees of likelihood for Christmas-themed celebration: St. Stephen (the 26th), St. John (the 27th), and the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem (the 28th).  This picture from an old children’s book captures their summary quite neatly:

december

It should be noted that the word martyr in Greek means “witness”.  These all witnessed to the gospel of Christ in powerful ways.  Stephen was killed for his faith and preaching.  John was almost killed for the same.  The Holy Innocents were slaughtered when King Herod sought to kill the baby Jesus.  You can read more about these holy days in last year’s posts:

Another fun fact with these days is that because they land on consecutive days, none of them have an “Eve.”  The evening of the 25th is the “second vespers” of Christmas, so all of the 26th is St. Stephen, all of the 27th is St. John, and all of the 28th is Holy Innocents.  Normally, liturgical time begins at sundown – at Evening Prayer – but Christmas Day is significant enough that it keeps its “second” evening to itself, starting a sort of chain reaction of major feast days that don’t get extra time before their morning begins.

The Incarnate Word

Happy Christmas Eve!

Here’s a brief homily for Evening Prayer today, looking primarily at the Psalm appointed (the beginning of 119).  I hope you enjoy the holidays ahead!

The First Feast

Happy Saint Andrew’s Day!

Landing within a week of the beginning of Advent and the new church year, having this as the first major saints day of the year is quite fitting: Andrew was the first one called by Jesus to follow him (or at least, the named among the first two that followed Jesus).  The point is, he was quick to follow Jesus, and the Collect highlights this fact:

Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Feel free to check out last year’s two posts for more insights into the observance and celebration of this holy day.

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope you all have an enjoyable day ahead of you.

Most merciful Father, we humbly thank you for all your gifts so freely bestowed upon us: for life and health and safety, for strength to work and leisure to rest, for all that is beautiful in creation and in human life; but above all we thank you for our spiritual mercies in Christ Jesus our Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The 2019 Prayer Book appoints the following lessons and psalm for the Communion service today:

  • Deuteronomy 8
  • Psalm 65:1-8(9-14)
  • James 1:17-27
  • Matthew 6:25-33

I can even give you a tiny sermon outline I used a couple years ago with these propers.

How to Give Thanks like a Christian

Introduction: The Collect sets the stage and previews where we’re going.

Step One: Deuteronomy 8 is a sermon, warning us against thanklessness.

Step Two: Psalm 65 is an example of giving thanks.

Step Three: James 1 makes us look inside ourselves, at how thankfulness should change us.

Step Four: Matthew 6 proclaims the Gospel: God cares for you!  You are free to pursue him without worry or fear.

Take-away: Return to the Collect; pray it heartily!

Thanksgiving Hymns

Thanksgiving Day, in the USA, is always the 4th Thursday in November, which makes it land on the 22nd (at the earliest) through the 28th (at the latest).  This year it’s on the 28th, the latest possible date.  There’s a fun fact for you!

But that’s not why we’re here.  The point of Thanksgiving is not its unusual calendar date challenge, but in taking time to be particularly attentive to the great virtue and practice of giving thanks.  You know that never-ending question “What is God’s will for my life?”… well, consider this as one of the answers:

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Anyway, if you look in most hymnals (American hymnals at least, I don’t know for sure about other countries) you will find a section of Thanksgiving Hymns.  Most of them are keyed to the harvest, which is one of the major sources for the timing of Thanksgiving in the US (and probably also Canada… theirs is a month earlier, but perhaps their growing season ends earlier than ours?).  And so, when constructing a sing-the-hymnal-in-a-year plan, the simple idea in my mind was to spread out the Thanksgiving Hymns through the period of time in which Thanksgiving Day might land.  When I originally did this with the 1940 hymnal, I keyed it to Thanksgiving Day and the weekdays leading up to it and following it, but the 2017 hymnal, Book of Common Praise, has more Thanksgiving Hymns, so instead they are lined up with the seven days in which Thanksgiving Day could land, plus an extra day before and after.  Here’s the list:

  • 21 Nov. #199 We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing
  • 22 Nov. #200/201 Now thank we all our God
  • 23 Nov. #202 Give thanks with a grateful heart (1978 praise song)
  • 24 Nov. #203 Come, ye thankful people, come (Harvest Home)
  • 25 Nov. #204 We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land
  • 26 Nov. #205 Thank you, Lord (African-American spiritual)
  • 27 Nov. #206/207 For the beauty of the earth
  • 28 Nov. #208 Praise God, from whom all blessings flow
  • 29 Nov. #209 Sing to the Lord of harvest

Some of these have two numbers because in this hymnal alternate tunes for the same lyrics get separate numbers – not all hymnals handle this the same way.

If you have a different hymnal at home, feel free to find these songs in your book, or simply read/sing through what you’ve got at an appropriate time.  I sometimes wish we could have a “Thanksgiving Sunday” instead of Christ the King Sunday, so we could have a chance to sing some of these truly marvellous songs with the whole congregation, rather than the weekday chosen few.

St. Aelfric Day 2019

Happy Saint Aelfric Day, everybody!  I don’t have a clever, witty, controversial, or even educational entry prepared for today, mainly more of a round-up of links to other things.  There’ll be a few more round-ups in weeks to come, but we’ll worry about that when we get there.

Today is the commemoration day for Saint Aelfric, the namesake of this Customary and (insofar as there is such a thing within Anglican sensibilities) my patron saint.  A note on commemorating him in the liturgy can be found in last year’s entry.

If you haven’t already, please take a moment to read about who Saint Aelfric was.  He might actually have been two people, which just adds to the intrigue; though in the simpler world inside my head I like to hope, with the scholars of the pre-critical age, that he was indeed one man.

In the broader sense of things, Aelfric is actually one figure of three who together embody the mindset behind this Customary and my general approach to liturgy. You can read about them here.

And, of course, there is the Customary.  I’ve started to make plans to begin writing of the customary itself in earnest in January, with an aim to completing essentially the whole thing in 2020.  Although it may be revised, the Preface for the Customary is already up, and if you haven’t read it before then you probably should, as it lays out the major principles under which this whole project operates.

Last of all, on an unrelated note, today is the annual synod for my diocese (Anglican Diocese in New England), and we could really use your prayers.  Read that in whatever tone of voice you wish, depending upon your churchmanship and theology.  Let us pray.

7. FOR A PROVINCIAL OR DIOCESAN CONVENTION OR SYNOD

Almighty and everlasting God, by your Holy Spirit you presided in the council of the blessed Apostles, and you promised, through your Son Jesus Christ, to be with your Church to the end of the world: Be with the council of your Church assembled in Amesbury, Massachusetts, in your Name and presence. Save us from all error, ignorance, prejudice, and pride; and of your great mercy direct, sanctify, and govern us in our work, by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit; that the order and discipline of your Church may be maintained, and that the Gospel of Christ may be truly preached, truly received, and truly followed in all places, breaking down the kingdom of sin, Satan, and death; till all your scattered sheep, being gathered into one fold, become partakers of everlasting life; through the merits and death of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

8. FOR A PROVINCIAL OR DIOCESAN CONVENTION OR SYNOD

Gracious and everliving Father, you have given the Holy Spirit to abide with us for ever: Bless, we pray, with the Holy Spirit’s grace and presence, the Bishops, Priests, Deacons, and all the Laity who assemble in your Name; that your Church, being preserved in true faith and godly discipline, may fulfill the will of him who loved her and gave himself for her, your Son Jesus Christ our Savior; who now lives and reigns with you and the same Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

There are a lot of commemorations this month…

Looking through the calendar of commemorations for the month of November, it seems as though there are rather more commemorations this month than in a lot of others.  And not just popular saints days, but particularly quite a few early British ones.  We’ve got:

And beyond them a few memorials of recent great Anglicans include Richard Hooker, William Temple, Charles Simeon, the Consecration of America’s first Bishop, and C.S. Lewis.  Not to mention a few classic saints from early times like St. Leo the Great, St. Martin of Tours, St. Cecilia, St. Clement, and St. Catherine of Alexandria.

The four names in bold, above, are people about whom I’ve written articles myself.  The rest of the links are to Wikipedia.

Now, whether you want to make a point of remembering these men and women in a Communion or Antecommunion service is up to you and/or your priest.  And you may wish to consult this Customary’s guide to handling the sanctoral calendar for advice.  Whatever so, this is a month with commemorations that particularly remind us of the deep roots we have in English spirituality and tradition.

The Lord is glorious in his saints.  O come, let us adore him!