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.

Planning Prayers & Readings Review 1/20

On Monday, most weeks these days, we’re looking at the liturgical schedule to highlight the propers, prayers and scripture readings, that we’re holding in common according to the 2019 Prayer Book.

Communion Propers

Yesterday was the 2nd Sunday of Epiphany, so the first traditional prayer book option for a weekday Eucharist is to repeat yesterday’s Collect and Lessons.  Another good option would be to use the traditional Collect and Lessons for Epiphany 2, which deal with the wedding at Cana.  Because of the missional tone that the modern lectionary brings to the fore in this season, good second choice for a weekday Eucharist is For the Mission of the Church, noted on page 733, using the propers for World Mission Sunday.

And, of course, Saturday is a major feast day, so be sure to observe the Conversion of St. Paul – the Collect for that Day beginning at Evening Prayer on Friday, and carrying through Saturday evening.

Apart from that, some commemorations to consider are St. Fabian today (Monday the 20th), St. Agnes tomorrow, and St. Vincent of Saragossa on Wednesday the 22nd.

Readings Review

Last week: Genesis 12-18, John 6-8, Jeremiah 11-17, 1 Thessalonians 4-5, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians 1-2
This week: Genesis 19-24, John 9-13, Jeremiah 18-24, 1 Corinthians 3-9

Special reading for the Conversion of St. Paul on Saturday morning: Acts 9:1-22.  This is not one of the lessons appointed for the Communion service that day, but it is similar – the reading in the place of the Epistle is Acts 26:9-21, which is one of St. Paul’s re-tellings of his conversion on the road to Damascus, whereas the morning’s reading from Acts 9 is the initial account of that event in this book.

Our readings from John’s Gospel complete the “Book of Signs”, or, the first half of the book.  For the most part this is a forward-looking section of the book, anticipating the “glorification” of Jesus which is to take place on the Cross.  If you search this book for the words glory and glorify and glorification you’ll find a massive concentration of them in chapter 12, where the book makes its turning point – “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified!”  The last supper follows, and does his final discourse before his arrest, trials, suffering, and death.  That is the “Book of Glory” where all the “signs” finally pay off.

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!