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.


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.


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!

Is it All Souls’ Day?

Day two of the All Saints Octave is known, among the Papists, as All Souls’ Day.  A lot of Anglicans use this term also, though what our prayer book actually offers for November 2nd (on page 709) is the optional Commemoration of the Faithful Departed.  Granted, that rolls off the tongue far less easily than “All Souls”, but it’s more theologically accurate: we can only commemorate the faithful departed, not the damned departed.

Another reason to consider avoiding the name “All Souls Day” is because of the false doctrines that the Papists put forth with respect to this day.  They teach of a place of Purgatory, where most Christians souls go after death, to complete their process of sanctification and finally be completely purged of their sins.  Although traces of this sort of concept are almost see-able in the Bible, it makes for rather untenable doctrine.  All Souls’ Day, in Roman reckoning, is a special day to pray for the souls in purgatory; it’s a neat complement to All Saints Day, celebrating the souls now fully glorified in heaven.

Indeed, there is a neat three-fold structure of the church that they put forth: the church militant (us on earth, still fighting sin), the church expectant (in purgatory, awaiting full release), and the church triumphant (in heaven, at rest).  But the Scriptures don’t permit us to make a full distinction between the last two.  The dead are both at rest with Christ and awaiting their resurrection unto glory.  (The tension between these two realities plays heavily into divergent traditional & modern approaches to the Burial service.)

On those grounds we can still have All Saints’ Day (to emphasize their glorious rest) and Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (to emphasize their yet-unfinished story).  Indeed, it is the recommendation of this Customary to treat this day as if it were a major feast day, using Occasional Prayer #113 as the Collect of the Day:

O eternal Lord God, you hold all souls in life: Shed forth upon your whole Church in Paradise and on earth the bright beams of your light and heavenly comfort; and grant that we, following the good examples of those who have loved and served you here and are now at rest, may enter with them into the fullness of your unending joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

If you still want to nickname it “All Souls’ Day” that’s fine… the phrase is in that collect after all.  But it’s best to think of it as a complement to All Saints’ Day, considering the faithful departed from a slightly different angle.

Will the real All Saints’ Day please stand up?

Happy All Saints’ Day!  Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve has brought us safely here at last.

Wait, Father Brench, my church is transferring All Saints’ Day to Sunday instead.

Actually that’s not quite how it works.  Our prayer book, on page 688, explains:

All Saints’ Day may also be observed on the Sunday following November 1, in addition to its observance on the fixed date.

Notice that this scheme gives us “two” All Saints’ Days.  What’s really going on here is the last vestige of the ancient “Octave of All Saints.”  We’ve discussed Octaves before, but it’s worth summarizing again: an octave is an eight-day period of time devoted to a special celebration.  All the highest feasts of the year had one: Easter Octave (Sunday to Sunday), Pentecost Octave (Day of Pentecost through Trinity Sunday), All Saints’ Day (November 1st-8th), and I believe a few other holidays here and there also here.  Modern prayer book tradition, with its allowance to celebrate All Saints’ Day on the Sunday within its octave, therefore preserves a piece of that ancient octave!

In short, if you’re celebrating All Saints’ Sunday, remember that today is still All Saints’ Day.  The Daily Office lectionary has a special reading for this feast day in both Morning and Evening Prayer, which is exceedingly rare in the 2019 lectionary.  So enjoy the holiday today, don’t fast, and sing For all the saints loudly on Sunday!

Happy Halloween or Reformation Day?

Perhaps the strangest thing I remember hearing in seminary was around this time of year when a classmate commented in class with great frustration that Halloween must be a satanic plot to obscure Reformation Day.  … yeah, he was actually serious.

Halloween, as most of you probably know, is a mash-up of the words “hallows’ eve”, referring to All Hallow’s Eve.  (Hallow means holy, just like in the traditional translations of the Lord’s Prayer.)  All Saints’ Day has been celebrated on November 1st for a great many centuries – I believe I read somewhere that it was previously at a different time of year, but 1,000-year-old liturgical detail is neither my forte nor the goal of this blog.  The noting of the Eve of this great feast day had been known for centuries before the Reformation began.  Furthermore, Reformation Day as a holiday is quite a recent introduction to the evangelical world.  German Lutherans have been observing it in some way for a long time, which makes sense.

Honestly, there’s something terribly strange about a church celebrating Luther’s Reformation when its own doctrines are violently at odds with Luther himself.  The fact that most evangelicals today refuse to baptize their babies and treat the sacrament of the altar as a bare symbol would be enough to earn them outright excommunication in Luther’s mind, not to mention the host of other theological disputes that would come up.  Although as Anglicans we are much closer to Lutheran theology than most other protestants out there, it still makes less sense for us to celebrate Reformation Day… we’re better off celebrating our own Reformation events – the promulgation of the first prayer book is a good example that I’ve advocated before.

Plus, the present Lutheran pattern of celebrating Reformation Sunday a week before All Saints Sunday is a liturgical faux pas.  The way the calendar works, “Proper 26” is usually overwritten by All Saints Sunday; occasionally Proper 27 is instead.  But with another holiday adjacent to All Saints Sunday, that means Proper 26 will never be observed at all, and Proper 25 will also rarely be observed.  So that’s a liturgical-logistic argument against Reformation Sunday, too.

Anyway, enjoy Halloween.  And here’s a halloween homily to go with Evening Prayer tonight:

St. James of Jerusalem Day

October 23rd is the feast of St. James of Jerusalem in modern calendars.  The traditional calendar didn’t give him a separate day of his own because for a large chunk of history he was identified as one of the twelve apostles, commemorated along with Philip on May 1st.  Recent trends of interpretation have preferred to see this James as a separate person, not one of the twelve.  You can read a little bit more about that in last year’s entry.  I suppose it’s better accidentally to commemorate one person twice a year than to forget to commemorate someone because we confused him with someone else.  We’ve got that same problem with St. Aelfric, too, to be fair.

Anyway, let’s move on and look at the Collect of this Day.

Grant, O God, that following the example of your apostle James the Just, kinsman of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

It’s interesting to come across this just as a public strife has arisen between fans of John MacArthur and Beth Moore surrounding recent comments of the former against the latter.  There is, indeed, something of a theological gap between the two of them, and, further, a theological gap between both of them and the Anglican tradition from which we could stand aloof to their quarrel – or at least the quarrels of their respective fandoms and supporters.  “I follow Johnny Mac!” and “I follow Beth!” are voraciously-defended causes right now.

St. James of Jerusalem presided at a church council in Jerusalem around the year 50.  The primary issue was responding to Judaizers – people who insisted that Gentiles had to become practicing Jews in order to be proper Christians.  Circumcision, the keeping of the Law of Moses, the Saturday Sabbath, dietary regulations, and the like, were the prominent visible aspects of their cause.  The apostles, including Sts. Peter and Paul, had already been teaching against the Judaizers’ cause, though the former had paid lip service to them in the recent past, much to St. Paul’s consternation.  But a case had been made against St. Paul and his company, and it was time to settle the matter formally.  The full story can be read in Acts 15, and I put together a walk-through of that text a few years ago if you care to read it.

The short of it is that James, acting as what we would now call the diocesan bishop of Jerusalem, heard the case, made a ruling, saw it confirmed by the assembly, and released an official statement to make their decision public.  Enmity and strife was resolved with a little bit of comprise, but primarily a restatement of gospel truth.  Remember, godly compromise is only possible when both sides are essentially correct and only peripherally in disagreement… many of the judaizers were outright heretics (cf. the epistle to the Galatians), so there was very little room for compromise anyway.

What makes this episode particularly noteworthy is that St. James was supposed to be a “safe” choice for the judaizer cause.  He had been a faithful Jew, like most of the first disciples and apostles, and he was known continually as a devout Jewish man even after his conversion to Christ.  Simply the fact that he continued to live, minister, and lead the church in Jerusalem when all the other apostles had fled due to persecution by Jewish authorities (cf. Acts 12) is a significant clue to how Jewish James must have appeared.  If the judaizers were going to get a bishop on their side, James would be their man.  But, of course, he wasn’t.  He had a strong personal affinity for the Jewish religion and culture, and he was among the least willing to give up the formal trappings of the Old Covenant, but despite that he understood that this was a voluntary choice and not a Gospel mandate.

Only with the Gospel mandate, or creedal orthodoxy, or however you care to summarize it, can “reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity” be achieved.  This speaks volumes to the MacArthur versus Moore conflict; this speaks to the ordination of women conflict within the ACNA; this speaks to the substantial disagreements between parties within the Anglican tradition, not to mention the many denominations beyond the confines of the Anglican Way.  Some compromises are possible, but ultimately one truth will prevail over the other(s) if unity is to be achieved.  Let us pray for leaders akin to the spirit and wisdom of St. James of Jerusalem – bishops who can discern biblical truth from personal preference and piety – through whom Christ can bring true reconciliation to his people in variance and enmity.

Celebrating Saint Luke’s Day

Happy Saint Luke’s Day!

How do we observe this day with the 2019 Prayer Book in hand?  I thought you’d never ask….

Morning Prayer

At the Invitatory (Psalm 95) use the antiphon for “All Saints’ and other major saints’ days” on page 30.

For the Canticles, use the traditional celebratory Te Deum laudamus and the Benedictus.

The second lesson is special for this holy day: Luke 1:1-4.  It’s very short, but it “introduces” St. Luke to us in the very first worship service of the day.

Use the Collect of the Day for St. Luke’s Day, not Proper 23.

It’s still Friday, so don’t forget the Great Litany at the end of Morning Prayer.  You can even name St. Luke in its commemoration of the saints near the bottom of page 95.

Holy Communion or Antecommunion

Use the Acclamation for All Saints’ Day: “Worthy is the Lord our God…

Make sure you include the Gloria in excelsis and the Nicene Creed, as this is a major feast day.

The lessons and Psalm are Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 38:1-14, Psalm 147:1-11, 2 Timothy 4:1-13, and Luke 4:14-21.

At the end of the Prayers of the People, feel free to name St. Luke in the fill-in-the-blank spot when mentioning the fellowship of the Saints.

Consider using Galatians 6:10 as the Offertory Sentence (page 149).

The Proper Preface to be used is the one for All Saints’ Day.

Midday Prayer

Consider using Psalm 125, as it is a festive option in the rubrics.

Evening Prayer

For the Canticles, use the traditional Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis.

If you use the second set of Suffrages on page 48, name St. Luke in the commemoration of the Saints.

Use the Collect of the Day for St. Luke’s Day, not Proper 23.

Check your hymnal for a song pertinent to St. Luke’s Day to sing or read as the anthem after the three Collects!