Eve of the Epiphany

As the ACNA calendar introduction notes:

Following ancient Jewish tradition, the celebration of any Sunday begins at sundown on the Saturday that precedes it.  Therefore at Evening Prayer on Saturdays (other than Holy Days), the Collect appointed for the ensuing Sunday is used.

With today being the 5th day of January, that makes this evening the liturgical beginning of The Epiphany.  So when you settle down for Evening Prayer tonight, feel free to start using the Epiphany-specific features, such as: the Opening Sentence (Isaiah 60:30, Nations shall come…).  More definitely, the Collect of the Day this evening will be the Collect for the Epiphany:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

Although the Scripture readings tonight (Jeremiah 4 and Galatians 5) are not chosen to match the feast day, one can observe the bulk of Jeremiah 4’s prophetic description of an invasion of Gentiles as a sort of pre-cursor to the Epiphany.  In that reading, the Gentiles are enemies of God’s people; in the Epiphany, Gentiles start becoming God’s people!

Happy twelfth day of Christmas, and enjoy the Epiphany starting tonight.

Christmas Day versus Sunday

Imagine if Easter wasn’t always a Sunday, but sometimes a weekday.  What would we do in church on that following Sunday?  Well, given that the resurrection of our Lord is rather a big deal, it would make sense that we would continue to celebrate that holiday on Sunday, perhaps with slightly different lessons so as not to make Sunday a total re-run for those who showed up on Easter Day itself.  That’s how it is with Christmas Day and the First Sunday after Christmas: the Gospel is the same (John 1:1-18) but the other Scripture readings are different.

The Collect is changed, too.  On Christmas Day it’s much more direct to the event:

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen

Whereas for the Sunday it’s a bit more general:

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

This is consistent with the analogy I began with.  The “primary” Christmas celebration is on the day itself (December 25th), but the Sunday after is a second pass at the holiday so that those who missed Christmas in church will still get the holiday covered, and that those who attend both will have an enriched experience of the season, not simply repeats.

However….  Something that is often overlooked is the fact that the First Sunday after Christmas is expendable.

If that First Sunday is December 26th, 27th, or 28th, then the Major Feast of that particular day is to be observed that Sunday.  That is the traditional way to handle this Sunday and our Calendar for the Christian permits (if sadly doesn’t mandate) this method.

Furthermore, if Christmas Day is itself Sunday, the “First Sunday after Christmas” is to be omitted.  Traditionally, what you do on that Sunday instead is celebrate the major feast of the Circumcision of Christ (now “the Holy Name”) (January 1st).  Our Prayer Book also authorizes use of the Second Sunday after Christmas on that Sunday, but don’t.  Just celebrate the major feast days in our calendar when they land on Sundays like that… most folks in our congregations have sadly lacked such experiences for the majority of their lives!

Anyway, tomorrow is the First Sunday after Christmas.  Enjoy it!

Happy Holidays: Saint John

Happy Holidays!

No, I’m not being politically correct, I’m being liturgically correct.  The end of December is a rapid-fire collection of major holy days: Saint Thomas on the 21st, Christmas on the 25th, St. Stephen yesterday, St. John today, and the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem tomorrow.

december

Just as, at the principle Communion service on Christmas Day, we read from the Gospel of John about the Light that was coming into the world, so at today’s Communion service do we see the light of Christ in the reading from John’s epistle – the Church is called to “walk in the light” (1 John 1).  Using the Old Testament story of Moses preparing to see God’s glory, this holiday reminds us that John, as one of the Apostles, saw Jesus face to face, and learned from him for three years as one of his closest friends.  This didn’t make John perfect (for in the Gospel [John 21:9b-25] it’s pointed out that John would still die someday), but it did make him a powerful witness and teacher of the faith.  Today’s Psalm (92) describes the kind of man that John became: a righteous man who bore fruit even to old age.  This holiday reminds us to sit at the feet of St. John and listen to his witness of our Savior, Christ Jesus.

Hosanna to the Son of David!

This evening’s New Testament lesson in the Daily Office Lectionary is from Luke 19, and features our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.  Normally, these days, we hear that text and the liturgical context we assume for it is Holy Week.  Palm Sunday begins with the festive procession with palm branches, and shouts and songs of “Hosanna!”  The Gospel of the Triumphal Entry, also, is typically read that morning.

However, in the traditional Communion lectionary, the Gospel of the triumphal entry was also appointed for the first Sunday in Advent.  If you’re unfamiliar with this tradition, your first reaction to this might be one of confusion – what does the beginning of the first Holy Week have to do with the Advent season?  It is the second part of that story where the connection is made: the cleansing of the Temple.  Take a closer look at some of the Advent hymns: “then cleansed be every breast from sin, make straight the way of God within,” “Let every heart prepare a throne, and every voice a song,” “O let us not, weak sinful men, be driven from thy presence then”, “Cast away the works of darkness O ye children of the day.”  As Jesus cleansed the Temple of the sinful riffraff, so we are invited to cleanse ourselves in preparation for his return in our midst.

So, while it’s nice that we have the Liturgy of the Palms in our Prayer Books at last (it wasn’t officially part of printed Anglican liturgy until the ’79 book), it is simultaneously a loss not to have the same gospel available to us at the beginning of Advent (or indeed in Advent at all).  Luckily, we at least have this evening’s entry for the Daily Office to read of the triumphal entry and the cleansing of the Temple in the context of Advent and reflect upon the cleansing of the spiritual Temple of the Holy Spirit – ourselves, the Church.  Try to keep this in mind this evening when you take up and read.

Revelation begins today!

In Evening Prayer today, the daily lectionary begins its course through the book of Revelation.  Just as this book has an interesting place in the biblical canon, it also has an interesting place in the liturgical tradition.

Even in the Early Church there was widespread disagreement over how to interpret this book.  Some theologians, especially in the East, took a largely preterist view, seeing the vast majority of its fulfillment in the first century.  That being the case, there was little need to preserve it in the active canon of Scripture.  To this day, the book of Revelation is barely ever read from in East Orthodox liturgy (though its several hymnic sections, I’m sure, deeply inform their hymnody).  In the West, too, there was dispute on how to interpret this book, and although I cannot comment on its liturgical use through the medieval era, I can point out that the original Anglican daily lectionary omitted the book of Revelation.

Despite how modern Evangelicals love Bible-in-a-year plans, this was hardly scandalous at the time.  It had long been understood that some parts of the Bible were more readily edifying than others.  Most of the books of Leviticus and Numbers, and much of Ezekiel was left out of the original lectionary as well, along with 1 & 2 Chronicles.  Genealogies, finicky Old Covenant Laws, and obscure Old Testament visions and prophecies, although all Scripture, are not as relevant to forming and informing the ordinary Christian life as other parts of the Bible.  The book of Revelation was cast in the same light – much of it was obscure, controversial, and liable to stir up further controversy.  Indeed, radicals and revolutionaries had a tendency to use images from writings like Revelation to bolster their crazy ideas… the time of the Reformation was tumultuous enough already.

Unfortunately this backfired.  The lack of familiarity with the book of Revelation eventually gave rise to new and theologically dangerous interpretations of the book throughout the following centuries, most noteably that of Nelson Darby, who essentially invented the near-heretical Dispensationalist theology which rewrote the doctrine of the Church and sundered the entirety of Scripture between “Israel” and “the Church” in a new and complicated way that very nearly undoes the entire Gospel.  Today’s popular doctrine of the Rapture rose to prominence through this false teaching, and the various End-Times views that populate the religious landscape right now are a testimony to how poorly-understood the book of Revelation has been.

Anglican lectionaries have since restored this book, always at the end of the year.  Its eschatological and apocalyptic content lends itself perfectly to the mood and theme of the Advent season, and the culmination of the New Creation at the end of the book is matched (at least emotionally) by the arrival of Christmas.  In the modern Sunday Communion lectionary, the book of Revelation shows up on a couple holy days here and there, but gets its most thorough treatment in the season of Easter in Year C (the year which has just begun).  The context of the Easter season also befits this book, as it begins with an image of the resurrected (and ascended) Christ and looks ahead to his victory not only over death but over all evil.  It takes Easter and projects it into all of time and space!

So as you begin reading Revelation tonight, try to keep in mind that although this is a mysterious book with a great deal of controversy about it, the context of Advent’s anticipation of the return of Christ can be a helpful benchmark for understanding this book.  Also, try to take it in as a whole and tuck it into your memory, so that when Easter rolls around in a few months, and you hear parts of it read on Sundays for a few weeks, it’ll be more familiar to you.

Sample “Daily Mass” Schedule for Advent

If you’re a highchurch sort of person, perhaps you dream of a day where you have the opportunity to celebrate or attend a daily Mass.  This is a staple of Roman Catholic practice, and only the most devotedly-Anglo-Catholic Anglican parishes have brought this practice back in full.  The season of Advent, being so explicitly thematic and conveniently short, is a great time of year to consider taking on a special sort of devotion beyond what you usually do throughout the year.

Holding a Communion service every day of the week is nearly impossible for most of us these days, but what can be done is to read and pray parts of the Communion service on your own.  This is basically the “Antecommunion” liturgy – follow the Prayer Book service up until the Offertory and end it there with a few extra prayers.  Given the resources available to us in the 2019 Prayer Book, there is no one way to do this.  As an example of how one might go about this, here is what I’ve mapped out, and hope to observe as a special daily devotion in addition to the Daily Office.

(Remember if you’re an Anglican, especially a clergyman, it’s more true to our tradition to be praying the Office daily before adding optional extras like daily Mass!)

2018 advent

A few words of explanation so you can see where this comes from and why I did it this way…

Contemporary versus Traditional: The classical prayer books have a different logic for Advent than the modern calendar, and is worth learning from.  So I have appointed the “traditional” lessons for Advent on each Monday.  (With the 2019 Prayer Book, the Collects for each Sunday are the same as the traditional ones, unlike in the 1979).

Votive Mass: This is a Roman Catholic term for what the 1979 Prayer Book called “Occasional Observances” or something like that.  In this case I’m electing to repeat, essentially, Christ the King Sunday’s collect & lessons as an Advent devotion.

O Sapientia: in the Episcopalians’ Lesser Feasts and Fasts book, a number of optional seasonal observances are offered.  “O Sapientia” refers to the final week leading up to Christmas Eve, and are related to the “O Antiphons” from which the hymn O come, O come Emmanual is derived.  In a break from tradition, I decided to spread these eight observances out throughout the season.

Hybald of Lincolnshire: No, you’re not crazy, this guy isn’t on the ACNA calendar of commemorations.  He’s on a list of Anglo-Saxon Saints that I compiled a few years ago.  When the new Prayer Book comes out, then I will finish my and my church’s transition to full conformity with its rubrics.  This is on my last flings with extra commemoration days.

Ember Days: These are in our Prayer Book, and I’m sure I’ll write about them when they approach, later this month.  Noteworthy this year is the fact that Ember Friday will be replaced by the feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle.

December 24th: In Latin Christian discipline, a Priest had to get permission from his bishop to “binate” – celebrate two masses on the same day.  Assuming we’ll just be doing Antecommunion, or even just reading the Collect & Lessons as an extra devotion during the day, there’s no reason to pay that old custom any heed.  Besides, it’s good to finish the Advent Sunday contemporary & traditional pairings, even if it is a little crowded with Christmas Eve.

Whether you choose to copy this or do something else entirely, I hope this at least gets you thinking about how to approach a special daily Advent devotional this year.  You could get really creative, and make these observances part of the family devotion, or link it to an advent wreath, or something else like that!

Prophecy Watch: Isaiah

Tonight in Evening Prayer, with the current ACNA draft daily lectionary, Isaiah 40 will be read.  Chapter 40 is the beginning of what some people call Second Isaiah.  Modernist scholarship posits that the original Prophet Isaiah only wrote the first 39 chapters, and that the remainder of the book was written by one or more of his disciples in subsequent years.  While many Evangelicals regard this theory with mild to severe suspicion, it is mutually agreeable that a noteworthy change of pace takes place in the book at this point.

Most of the book up to this point has read like most of the other Old Testament Prophets; warning God’s people and various other nations of God’s judgment for their wickedness, lamenting the idolatry of Israel, and providing numerous “specific” prophesies – that is, oracles addressing particular persons or situations in Isaiah’s present.  This culminated in chapters 37-39, telling an actual story of Isaiah and King Hezekiah also found in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.

But now, with chapter 40, begins a series of somewhat more “generic” prophecies with a longer view of the future in mind.  Beginning right here, with “Comfort, comfort, my people…!” we start to find numerous texts that are used in the Sunday lectionary and other places surrounding the great Christian holidays like Easter and (especially) Christmas.  The first part of Isaiah 40 is one of the famous texts associated with John the Baptist.  Throughout the 40’s, 50’s, and all the way to chapter 66, this latter portion of the book of Isaiah throws us pictures of Jesus and his redemptive work thick and thin.  At the lectionary’s pace of reading one chapter a day, the discerning reader is pretty much guaranteed to see Jesus and the Gospel every day for the remainder of the book’s duration.

Enjoy it!

Ecclesiasticus / Sirach starts soon

Like all its predecessors, the ACNA daily office lectionary brings us a series of readings from the Ecclesiastical Books towards the end of the year.  If you’ve been using the current draft, you’ll be nearing the end of Judith today and tomorrow, and beginning Ecclesiasticus or Sirach on Thursday.  As many Anglicans today tend to be under-eductated about these “additional books” listed in Article 6, perhaps it’d be prudent to have a quick preview of what that book is about.

Ecclesiasticus, or more formally, The Wisdom of Jesus ben-Sirach is a wisdom book.  It reads a lot like the book of Proverbs, especially the first few chapters of that book which favors discourses of 10-20 verses; Sirach has very few individual proverbs by comparison.

Its first few chapters are largely focused on the benefits of wisdom, frequently using the female personification (Lady Wisdom) introduced in the book of Proverbs.  If you read these discourses keeping in mind the traditional interpretation that Jesus is the Wisdom of God, then you’ll find much good fruit to savor in these pages.

There are parts of the book that exalt the Law higher than a Christian should – after all, the New Covenant was not yet known.  There are parts of the book that seem elitist, classist, or even misogynist in a couple places – again, its cultural context is very different from ours, and again the New Testament sheds better light on the breaking down of human-imposed barriers.

Starting in chapter 44, the book takes a grant tour of Old Testament history, much like “the hall of faith” in Hebrews 11, except much longer.  These chapters highlight the great men of the past, telling of their faithfulness to God and the Wisdom displayed in them and through them.  It must be remembered, reading this, that the intention is not to teach history, but to uphold positive role models.  The author, ben-Sirach, is not sugar-coating history, but pointing out the good things God’s people should imitate and learn positive lessons from.

Unlike the original Prayer Book lectionary, we’re not going to get to read the whole book.  But you will see a decent majority of its contents over the next month or so.  Enjoy it!  I have found this book very quotable, in my own experience.

It’s Saint Aelfric’s Day!

November 16th is the traditional date of the feast of Saint Aelfric!
Trouble is, he’s not in the ACNA calendar, so you kind of have to add this day in.  Double trouble: today is already occupied by St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland.  Solution: move her aside, to the 15th, to make room for Aelfric today.  Is this allowed?  Yes, because….

  1. at the official level, all of these commemorations are optional anyway;
  2. moving Minor Saints Days around to make room for more days of higher rank (including other Saints’ Days) is already part of Western tradition;
  3. if you’re a fan of this ministry, then celebrating its patron saint is actually quite appropriate.

Let’s say you even want to commemorate him at the daily Eucharist today, or just in an Antecommunion liturgy on your own.  There are about nine sets of Propers (that is, collects & lessons) for commemorations like these, and Aelfric fits the bill for Monastic, for Pastor, and for Teacher of the Faith.  I haven’t made my own final decision on which Collect to choose for him, but these are the lessons I prefer for his commemoration:

  • Proverbs 3:13-26 & Psalm 119:89-106 (from for a Teacher of the Faith)
  • Acts 2:42-47 (from for a Monastic)
  • Matthew 24:42-50 (from for a Pastor)

Now it should be noted that these Propers are not meant to be mixed and matched like this.  For the optional commemorations, we are meant to pick one, wholesale.  Each set is ordered such that they speak to a common theme, or type of Saint, and if you mix them up you run the risk of creating an incoherent scattering of liturgical bits and bobs.  The reason I’m breaking this rule for the commemoration of St. Aelfric is because I aim to treat this day as if it were a Major Feast Day with a unique set of Propers.

Finally, whether you celebrate Aelfric in the liturgy today or not, you can still read more about him.  I’ve prepared a brief biography of him over at leorningcnihtes boc, and you can also read about why he is the patron of this Customary on this page.

A Minor Saint: Alfred the Great

The Prayer Book tradition has always included “black letter days”, that is, commemorations listed in a calendar of various saints of old.  They are distinct from the Major Feast Days: those each have their own Collect and Lessons in the Prayer Book, at least one special reading in the Daily Office, and are expected to be observed by all.  The commemorations in the calendar, variously called “lesser feasts” or “minor saints days”, however, are optional.  The early Prayer Books didn’t even contain resources by which these days could be observed in the liturgy, they were simply points of reference and remembrance.

As time has passed, standard resources for the observance of these lesser feasts have come together.  Typically, the idea is to have a small selection of Collects and Lessons for different types or categories of saints (one for Bishops, one for Martyrs, one for Monastics, etc.).  Over time, however, more and more of the minor saints received unique sets of Collects and Lessons.  The Episcopal Church, USA, ended up with many of these in its volume, Lesser Feasts and Fasts.  So far, it seems that the ACNA is moving back toward the simpler approach by providing 9 thematic Collects and Lessons for these minor saints days.

Let’s say you want to observe today’s commemoration, King Alfred the Great, at a Friday Eucharist service.  He is known for his work in fixing up the church in his realm, and renewing Anglo-Saxon society, so the categories Reformer of the Church and Renewer of Society both fit, as well as the generic “Of Any Commemoration” options.  The Collects are the end of this document, and the Lessons at the end of this.

As an aside, if you want the new Prayer Book to print the Collects and Lessons together to cut down on unnecessary page-flipping, please join my cause and send them an email! liturgytaskforce@anglicanchurch.net

Or, if you want to make use of what the Episcopalians came up with a little over ten years ago:

O Sovereign Lord, you brought your servant Alfred to a troubled throne that he might establish peace in a ravaged land and revive learning and the arts among the people: Awake in us also a keen desire to increase our understanding while we are in this world, and an eager longing to reach that endless life where all will be made clear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wisdom 6:1–3,9–12,24–25 (wisdom literature about wise kings and rulers)

Psalm 21:1–7 (a king who trusts in God) or 112:1–9 (the blessedness of the righteous)

Luke 6:43–49 (good and evil fruit; wise and foolish builders)