Filling in the Blanks: Leviticus

Today we begin reading from Leviticus in Morning Prayer, according to the Daily Office Lectionary in the 2019 Prayer Book.  But we aren’t reading the whole book.  Now, now, don’t show that sigh of relief too obviously; all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable, and that includes even the weirdest laws in Leviticus.  But the fact is that no Anglican lectionary has ever actually covered the whole book.  Leviticus and Numbers have always been truncated, presenting only the highlights or key samples from those books for the reader, thus saving space in the lectionary for other readings that will be more immediately beneficial to the reader, and fitting the reading plan as a whole into a single year.

But let’s see you’re a “completionist” like I am, and want to to read everything, even the weird, obscure, boring, or otherwise challenging material that lectionaries tend to skip.  This Customary’s Supplemental Midday Prayer Lectionary picks up the omitted chapters from Leviticus, starting this weekend, and gives you the opportunity to read every last verse of this book.

Why are parts of Leviticus omitted in the first place?

It comes down to the nature of Old Covenant law.  As our Article VII of Religion explains, there are different aspects to the Law of Moses – religious and ceremonial, civil, and moral.  Only the moral law is binding upon us under the New Covenant.  The religious laws expired with the Old Covenant and the civil law ended with the destruction of the Israelite kingdoms.  Those forms of laws are still useful for Christian instruction – they may model good civil laws for other countries or they might prefigure religious rites and ceremonies in the Church – but they are not binding for “what is right and wrong” the way moral laws are.

The Book of Leviticus deals largely with religious law, and to a lesser degree with civil law.  And therefore, for the average Christian reader, large chunks of this book are not as immediately useful as other parts.  So rather than bogging the reader down in the hard slogging experience of sifting through the complexities of Old Covenant religion, only the highlights that will profit us most are provided, and the rest is passed by.  It is not a suppression of Scripture, as some have argued, but a strategic move to deliver the Bible to people in a way that will most benefit them.  And so, different Anglican lectionaries through the course of our history have handled Leviticus in slightly different ways, but to my knowledge, none have ever simply appointed the book wholesale in its entirety.

If you want to read the omitted portions of Leviticus, feel free to join me in doing so at Midday Prayer over the course of this month.  Just see that you don’t condemn those who satisfy themselves with what the Church hath appointed.

Holy Week Readings all-in-one

There’s a lot going on during Holy Week.  Morning and Evening Prayer continue.  This Customary’s supplemental midday prayer lectionary appoints special readings for these days, and there are Communion propers for each day of the week as well.  So there are a lot of opportunities for deeper devotions, both in the following of the liturgy itself as well as in simply taking their Bible readings for individual reading and reflection.

So I’ve put together an all-in-one chart: Holy Week all-in-one 2020

There you’ll see for the day of the week the Psalm(s) and Lessons for: Morning Prayer, Holy Communion, Midday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline.  There are a couple of either/or choices in the 2019 Book’s lectionaries, and I picked them for you, according to what I’ve developed of the Saint Aelfric Customary thus far.  The goals, as usual are:

  • to be faithful to historic Anglican tradition whenever possible
  • to make the maximum use of the 2019 Prayer Book material
  • to avoid repetition of Lessons whenever possible

Since so many of us are home-bound during this time of plague, this is a golden opportunity to step up our disciplines of prayer, and observe more of our liturgical tradition than we might normally experience.  I hope this chart helps you so to do!

What’s different in the liturgy now that it’s Lent?

Welcome to Ash Wednesday, the common name for The First Day of Lent.  Occasionally you’ll see today called quadragesima because there are now 40 days left (excluding Sundays) until Easter Day.  Let the 40-day fast begin!

One of the main questions I get from non-liturgical Christians, concerning Lent, is “what do you differently during this time?”  This blog post is aimed at answering that question – partly for the benefit of those who are wondering the same thing, but also as a reminder to my fellow Anglican readers who might need a reminder of some of the changes, or possible changes, in the daily course of our liturgy.

Today’s  differences

For those of us using the 2019 Daily Lectionary, or one of the historic daily lectionaries that uses the regular calendar, we may need the reminder that today’s lessons for Morning and Evening Prayer are interrupted from the regular course.  At the bottom of page 740 in the BCP 2019 you’ll see the following readings appointed for today:

  • Isaiah 58:1-12 & Luke 18:9-14 for the Morning
  • Jonah 3 & 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 for the Evening

To that I would recommend another traditional-for-this-day reading, Hebrews 12:3-17, for Midday Prayer.

At the Holy Communion (or in place of it, if the Communion itself isn’t actually going to be celebrated) we have a special liturgy in the 2019 Book, starting on page 543, and prefaced by a handy introduction to this day (and Lent in general) on page 542.  It’s worth reminding ourselves that the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday is a custom that was removed from Anglican practice during the Reformation, and not formally put into a Prayer Book until 1979, though the Anglo-Catholic movement had provided extra-liturgical material to sneak the practice back into the liturgy before it was embraced by the church as a whole.  You can read last year’s note about Ash-less Wednesday here.

Also, remember that today’s Collect of the Day is now the Collect of the Day for the rest of this week!

Morning Prayer during Lent

There are some extra Opening Sentences of Scripture appropriate for this season on page 27.

The Venite (Psalm 95) should be said in full daily this season, if you don’t normally do so already.  Keep in mind that you can bookend it with a Lenten antiphon from page 30!

The first Canticle, Te Deum laudamus, is recommended in our Prayer Book to be replaced with the Benedictus es, Domine on page 18.  This Customary would recommend retaining the Te Deum on Sundays and other major holy days, however.

If you don’t normally do so, make a point of praying the Great Litany (page 91) after Morning Prayer on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Evening Prayer during Lent

There are some extra Opening Sentences of Scripture appropriate for this season on page 54.

The second canticle, Nunc dimittis, could be replaced by Canticle 3, Kyrie Pantokrator, most evenings.  We’d recommend doing so on Monday through Friday.

The Minor Offices during Lent

The “Alleluia” after the invitatory dialogue is to be omitted now.

For Midday Prayer, it may be a good idea to make use of one the Additional Directions and make more extensive use of Psalm 119 throughout the season.  Consider this two-week rotation of Midday Psalms:

  • <week 1> :day: <week 2>
  • 124, 126 :Sundays: 124, 126
  • 19 :Mondays: 119:81-96
  • 119:1-16 :Tuesdays: 119:97-112
  • 119:17-32 :Wednesdays: 119:113-128
  • 119:33-48 :Thursdays: 119:129-144
  • 119:49-64 :Fridays: 119:145-160
  • 119:65-80 :Saturdays: 119:161-176

Consider making more frequent use of Matthew 11:28-30 as the Lesson at Compline.

The Holy Communion during Lent

There is an Acclamation appropriate for Lent on page 146, and another one for Holy Week.

This is a good season to make weekly use of the Decalogue (page 100) instead of the Summary of the Law if you don’t normally already.

The Gloria in excelsis is traditionally omitted during Lent.  Consider replacing it with a hymn from the Lent section of your hymnal, just to emphasize the season difference in mood.

The First Sunday in Lent is one of the traditional days to read The Exhortation (page 147).

Consider using Offertory Sentences (page 149) that are more pointed about spiritual disciplines, such as Matthew 7:21, 1 John 3:17, and Tobit 4:8-9.  This could be especially effective if you normally use the same one every week, memorized from the list in 1979 Book.

The “alleluia” in the Fraction dialogue (on page 118/135) is to be omitted now.

If you don’t normally prayer the Prayer of Humble Access and the Agnus Dei (page 119/135), this is the season to start.  (Pro-tip: never stop using them!)

In fact, if your congregation normally uses the “Renewed Ancient Text”, I cannot heartily-enough encourage you to switch to the “Anglican Standard Text” at least for Lent.  You’ll get more direct prayers of confession and of consecration (not to mention historically Anglican prayers).

Other Spiritual Practices

The classical Prayer Books appointed the Collect for Ash Wednesday to be used after the Collect of the Day throughout the season of Lent.  I’m not so sure the 2019 Prayer Book intends to allow that, so consider making use of this Collect elsewhere – in the additional prayers at the end of an Office, or after the Prayers of the People at the Communion, or in your private prayers and devotions.

On page 689 our calendar directs The weekdays of Lent and every Friday of the year (outside the 12 Days of Christmas the 50 days of Eastertide) are encouraged as days of fasting.  The classical Prayer Books were more direct about the expectation (not just encouragement) that we should fast.  We’re not Romanists, so we don’t have elaborate standardized definitions of what “counts” as fasting; we have the freedom in Christ to fast according to conscience, as the Bible indicates.  Nevertheless, some advice is helpful, and our calendar provides some: Fasting, in addition to reduced consumption, normally also includes prayer, self-examination, and acts of mercy.  It is popular to “give something up for Lent”, or to “take something on for Lent”, and almost all of those particular expressions of Lenten devotion are summed up in that one sentence.  Consider how you might mark this season in your own lifestyle, and give it a go.

Filling in the Blanks: 2 Esdras

It’s time for another fill-in-the-blank entry.  Our Supplementary Midday Prayer Lectionary is beginning the book of 2 Esdras tomorrow, and this is one of those books that are not typically well known.  So let’s take a look at this, one of the most obscure of the Ecclesiastical Books.

The book of 2 Esdras is vastly different from 1 Esdras.  Whereas the latter is largely a historical document with potential legendary material, this book details some very lengthy visions attributed to Ezra, later in his life.  Much of it is apocalyptic, even referencing some of the prophecies of Daniel and noting their advancement in the past few decades.  Many scholars today assert that parts of this book are so new that they were actually written by Christians.  Whatever the case, the weaving together of Old Testament apocalyptic prophetic writing with some very Christ-centered imagery makes it a unique offering among the Ecclesiastical Books.  Both this book and 1 Esdras, however, suffer from a number of hiccups in their historical accuracy and chronology, betraying the immense likelihood that neither were written by same Ezra, but more likely just in his name.

In particular, the visions of 2 Esdras delve into the “four empires” imagery that pops up throughout the book of Daniel, even consciously referencing Daniel at one point.  The angel guiding “Ezra” in this book indicates that the fourth empire is already upon them, and the Savior therefore is coming very soon.  Normal Christian interpretation of the four-empire scheme typically posits the Greeks as the third and the Romans as the fourth.  This indicates that either Ezra’s angel got it drastically wrong (because he was around before even the Greeks invaded) or this vision involves someone different from the Ezra known in the Hebrew scriptures.  The latter is the only reasonable solution.

Despite these problems of historical accuracy and setting, the spiritual content of these visions are interesting and useful.  Perhaps not so useful for theology and doctrine as such, but then again, that exactly what the Ecclesiastical Books are not received for in our church anyway!  Instead, the insights here into an anticipation-of-Christ mentality provide us with a beautiful picture of longing and hope for the providence and victory of God.  And, on top of that, it contributes to the rich world of apocalyptic imagery that went into the writing and style of the book of Revelation, so this book is helpful background in the course of getting accustomed to this most elusive of writing styles.

You may also find my video introduction to the Ecclesiastical Books useful, if only briefly dealing with this particular book.

Why Baruch now?

For those of you who follow the Midday Lectionary promulgated by this page, you may be puzzled to find that the continuous reading through 1 Esdras is interrupted today and for the next couple days to make space for the first three chapters of Baruch.  This is in anticipation of the regular Daily Office Lectionary’s inclusion of Baruch 4 & 5 in Evening Prayer on February 23rd and 24th.

Okay, that makes sense I guess.  But why are we reading from Baruch between Jeremiah and Lamentations at Evening Prayer?

The bigger question is why are we not reading all of Baruch at that point!  In the Greek Old Testament, Baruch is connected to Jeremiah and Lamentations because of the authorship attribution.  The books of Jeremiah and Lamentations are ascribed to Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch, and thus the book of Baruch simply belongs with them.  What the 2019 book’s lectionary does (strangely, given historical precedent) is only appoint chapters 4 & 5 of Baruch, and omit the first three.

Chapters 1 & 2 in particular are poignant “answers” to the instructions left by Jeremiah in Jer. 29.  Perhaps that renders them redundant in the eyes of the suspicious-of-the-books-called-apocrypha editors?  Instead, Evening Prayer appoints chapters 4 & 5, which contain the tail end of a wisdom discourse and an extensive section of hope.  This is, again, in accord with the writings of Jeremiah, but both historically and thematically it is reasonable to follow up the dour ending of Jeremiah’s book the hopeful ending of Baruch’s little book.

Still, it’s best to read the whole thing if you can, which is why I created this Midday Prayer lectionary in the first place!

Filling in the blank: 1 Esdras

One of the interesting features of Anglican liturgical tradition is that one of our foundational documents (the 39 Articles of Religion) lists the canonical books of the Bible along with “the other books which the church doth read…” yet some of those other books are not actually covered in our lectionaries.  One such book is 1 Esdras.

You can learn more about this modest little book in some previous posts here, and even a video: The Least-read book of the Bible?

I bring it up now because in this Customary’s Supplemental Midday Prayer Lectionary we are starting in on 1 Esdras today.  If you’ve never read this book before and want to catch up on what you’ve been missing, now’s your chance to read a long, bit by bit, during Midday Prayer.  It’s only 9 chapters long, but several of them are quite lengthy so it’s spread out through 3 weeks so you don’t have to get drowned in too many long readings.

Though, if you’re already familiar with 2 Chronicles and Ezra, then you’ll already be familiar with the majority of this book!

Learning the Daily Office – part 3 of 12

So you’ve heard about the Daily Office, specifically the Anglican tradition of daily prayer and scripture reading, and you want to enter into this beautiful and formative tradition?  Great, grab a prayer book and go!  Except, maybe someone already said that and you don’t know where to start… or worse, you did try it and it was just too much?  The length of the Office was overwhelming and the contents too complicated to navigate when you’ve got no experience with liturgy.  We understand, we’ve all been at that place before!  Some just don’t remember it as well as others.

Diving into the full Prayer Book life of worship doesn’t work for everyone; sometimes you have to work your way up toward that discipline, adding one piece at a time as you grow comfortable with each feature and learn how to “do” them all.  This post series is basically a twelve-step program to help you advance in the life of disciplined prayer from zero to super-Anglican.  The pace is up to you – the goal of this sort of spiritual discipline is consistency, not “how much” you do.

Step One: Pray a Psalm followed by the Lord’s Prayer.
Step Two: Add a Scripture Reading

Step Three: Add more Psalms and Lessons

If all’s going well, your twice-daily round of praying a psalm and reading a scripture lesson has increased your appetite for both.  Individuals may well find more comfort and affinity with one of those over the other, but as you grow into the Daily Office tradition there’s still more of both to add.  When you’re consistently covering one Psalm and Lesson each morning and evening, it’s time to add a second Lesson and additional Psalms to each Office.  You will be reading all the Lessons in the Daily Office Lectionary, and it’s probably time also to upgrade from the 60-day Psalter to the Anglican standard monthly psalter.

The monthly psalter is outlined in a table that is provided on page 735, just before the Daily Office Lectionary begins, but the Psalms themselves are also in the Prayer Book, on starting on page 270.  If you weren’t before, it’s time to start using the Prayer Book Psalter.  Even though you’re reading from a Bible, there are a few reasons to prefer the Prayer Book for the Psalms:

  1. The Prayer Book Psalter clearly marks out where the psalms for each Office begin (every morning and evening for each day of the month, read sequentially).
  2. The Prayer Book Psalter translation is intentionally poetic and beautiful, which cannot be said about any mainstream Bible translation.  The ESV or NASB may be the best translations for study, but we’re here to pray the psalms, not analyze them.  (Not that you can’t study the psalms of course, it’s just that the Office is time of prayer.)
  3. Using the Prayer Book is a useful skill that you will be developing bit by bit from here on.

Logistically, what you probably want to do at this point is different from how the Office in its full form will work.  Ultimately, all these Psalms will be prayed in a row before the Lessons, and there will be different things after each reading.  But for now, start in the psalms for the morning and evening and save the last one or two to pray between the two Lessons, or perhaps after both Lessons.

The point of interspersing the Psalms with the Lessons is to provide a little distance between the two readings.  In the Daily Office Lectionary the readings are just moving sequentially through the Bible independently of one another, so by stopping to pray a Psalm after the first lesson you “clear your mind” a little bit before reading the next lesson.  You don’t want to conflate them in your head and attempt to link them together artifically; that’s not how a Daily lectionary works.  Taking a moment to pray a Psalm after each Lesson also helps keep your reading in a context of prayer, cutting down on the “study” mentality and enhancing the “worship” mentality.  Again, this is not to say that studying the Bible is bad, but that such should not interrupt the course of worship.  At most, make a highlight or note in your Bible or on a book mark so you can return to it when the prayer time is concluded.

Summary

Your Morning & Evening Offices are now looking like this:

  1. Psalm(s) to pray
  2. Old Testament Lesson (occasionally the first lesson is from the NT instead)
  3. Psalm to pray
  4. New Testament Lesson
  5. Psalm to pray (maybe)
  6. The Lord’s Prayer

The length of time to do all this is probably about five minutes, maybe as many as ten if the readings are particularly long and you’re reading them out loud.   Same with the Psalms – praying them means reading them aloud – and sometimes they can be a little lengthy too.

Learning the Daily Office – part 2 of 12

So you’ve heard about the Daily Office, specifically the Anglican tradition of daily prayer and scripture reading, and you want to enter into this beautiful and formative tradition?  Great, grab a prayer book and go!  Except, maybe someone already said that and you don’t know where to start… or worse, you did try it and it was just too much?  The length of the Office was overwhelming and the contents too complicated to navigate when you’ve got no experience with liturgy.  We understand, we’ve all been at that place before!  Some just don’t remember it as well as others.

Diving into the full Prayer Book life of worship doesn’t work for everyone; sometimes you have to work your way up toward that discipline, adding one piece at a time as you grow comfortable with each feature and learn how to “do” them all.  This post series is basically a twelve-step program to help you advance in the life of disciplined prayer from zero to super-Anglican.  The pace is up to you – the goal of this sort of spiritual discipline is consistency, not “how much” you do.

Step One: Pray a Psalm followed by the Lord’s Prayer.

Step Two: Add a Scripture Reading

With the daily rounds of psalm-praying every morning and evening in place, it is time to start reading the Bible too.  The Evangelical mentality may balk at this order – why not start with bible-readings and then add prayers?  This can be answered in a couple different ways:

  1. The Psalms are from the Bible, as is the Lord’s Prayer, so Step One was already completely biblical.
  2. Historically, most people didn’t learn to read, so Bible-reading was never really an option; instead they relied on what they could memorize – psalms to sing!
  3. The daily office is, first, a discipline of prayer.  We need to focus on the prayer before we move on to include “study”.

So once your psalm-praying is consistently in place, it’s time to put in a Lesson (a reading from the Bible) between that Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer.  Since you’re working toward the daily office tradition, you should start with a part of the Daily Office Lectionary.  Pick one reading “track” for Morning Prayer and one for Evening Prayer and stick to them.  It’d be best to make sure that one is Old Testament and the other is New Testament.  Eventually you’ll be reading from both the OT and the NT in both morning and evening, but you’re pacing yourself.  Get used to one reading first.  Depending upon your background and experience you may find some of our Lessons (especially from the Old Testament) to be rather longer than you’re used to.

You may be tempted, as you read, to look up what individual words mean, or who individual people are, or whatnot.  Resist such interruptions.  Finish the reading, round it off with the Lord’s Prayer to complete the Office, and then go look things up if you need to.  The Daily Office is not a Bible Study, it’s a time of devotion and prayer; the reading of Scripture in the Office is not (historically) followed up by an expository sermon, preaching usually lands in a different liturgical context.  Rather, these scripture lessons are first for exposure and second for familiarity.  If you endeavor to study everything you read, from the very start of your devotional-reading journey, then you may get lost in the details and end up swamped and discouraged.  Receive what you understand and pass along by what you don’t understand.  It may be that you will find the answer to your question in the next chapter, or in another part of the Bible.  Honestly it takes a couple read-throughs of the Bible to begin to develop a memorable sense of its scope and contents, so it isn’t fair to put too much pressure on yourself too soon.

Summary

It’s only step two and you’ve already got an identifiable “Office of Prayer” in place: pray a psalm, read a scripture lesson, and close with the Lord’s Prayer.  In a sense, everything that follows from here is an expansion upon this basic kernel.

In the beginnings

As we’ve noted before, it’s nice starting to read John and Genesis at the same time.  Both deal with “the beginning” in wonderfully complementary ways, and better appreciation of that might save us some interpretative heartache.

And then, once I read from Jeremiah 4 and caught another reference to the language of Genesis 1:1-2, I knew it was time to write something about it.  It took me about a week longer than anticipated, but I finally got ’round to it.

* * *

One of the coolest things about the Bible’s text is that the first book literally starts “In the beginning…”  I mean, of all the things it could start with, it just makes perfect sense that it would start with the beginning.  And when you finish that sentence you find that the “beginning” is eternity past – before time itself was created.  In the beginning, God created.  You learn so much about God in that phrase – his distinction over against all created things, his omnipotence over the same, his very being belonging beyond not only physical existence but also beyond time.  I’m really into science fiction, especially Doctor Who, which deals constantly with the ins and outs and paradoxes of time travel.  So it’s kind of strange, in a marvellous way, to find a truly “timeless” deity proclaimed in the opening words of Sacred Scripture.

But then you get through the first couple chapters and the debates start flying thick and fast – how did God create the world?  Are there conflicts between the various pieces of the text?  Are these writings meant to be taken literally?  What, even, is the literal meaning?  All this and more quickly rises to the forefront of a Bible Study, sermon, or discussion on the opening chapters of the book of Genesis; it’s almost inescapable.  So let’s side-step that direction of argumentation and look at Genesis from a birds-eye view.

“In the beginning, God created…”

Read the rest here.

Filling in the Blanks: Tobit

The Daily Office Lectionary exists to get us through the majority of the Bible in a year, and the one in our 2019 Prayer Book is one of the best on that account.  But it still has some gaps.  That is why I created a Midday Prayer Lectionary, to “fill in the blanks” where the Daily Office has left something out.  We’ll have a few of these entries scattered throughout the year to highlight a few of these opportunities.

Now that we’ve finished the book Wisdom which had been left off at the end of December, let’s move on to one of the Ecclesiastical Books that is completely omitted in the 2019 Daily Lectionary: Tobit.  Tobit was one of the books read in full in the original daily lectionaries… possibly every Prayer Book lectionary until this one, I haven’t checked them all.  At the very least it’s a shame that we’ve lost the truly excellent prophecy of the gospel in Tobit 14.

Unlike the story in the book of Judith, Tobit does not have any noteworthy historical anachronisms to challenge its setting and context.  Where Judith has to be read purely as a morality tale, mixing together different stories of biblical heroes (heroines, specifically), Tobit is more readily understood as a story of some actual Israelite exiles.  Their fidelity to the Law, and God’s provision of an angel to assist them, makes for an encouraging story for God’s faithful people in any age of exile and/or disillusionment.

So if you want to make your way through this book, pull up this Customary’s Supplemental Midday Prayer Lectionary and read along!  We’ll get through all 14 chapters, with a one-day break on the 18th to celebrate the Confession of St. Peter.