Before the Sunday service starts

Sunday mornings can be very busy times for pastors and other ministers, there can be a lot of preparation involved before the liturgy begins, especially a Communion service, and double-especially a Communion service with any semblance of high church ceremonial – candles to light, vestments to don, ministers to assemble and coordinate. It’s wonderful when everything goes to plan and everyone does their part and the whole result is a dignified and beautiful offering of the people of themselves unto God and a faithful reception of His Word and Sacrament.

But, as Mother Teresa said when her sisters warned her that the work was getting to be too much, the answer to a busy situation is not to pray less, but to pray more. Sure, it’s “inconvenient”, but it’s often what we need. So, straight to the point, what or how should we pray before the Sunday Communion?

There are a number of possibilities.

Some like to gather the ministers together beforehand and offer/prompt spontaneous prayers unscripted.

Some like to use traditional forms of preparation descended from the traditional “Fore-Mass” (prayers before the Introit where the Mass formally begins). There are also traditional prayers for the minister to consider the Gospel in the donning of each vestment, as well as prayers that are written to prepare priests and other servers for the liturgy. There are also some preparatory prayers in the draft ACNA Altar Book; you should check them out if you haven’t yet!

If you want something more middle-of-the-road in terms of churchmanship – you don’t want to troll an Anglo-Catholic agenda, and you don’t want to go all loosey-goosey about it either, how about grab the Prayer Book for a 5 minute block of time sometime before the liturgy starts?

the Great Litany in the Prayer Book (2019) next to my photogenic Bible (left)

Yesterday I grabbed a few minutes to pray the Great Litany before people arrived for Holy Communion. It was a little hectic with my kids running around and I must admit I had to interrupt myself at one point (and not just to take this picture!). Still, it was a moment of stillness for my soul, which would then go on to share the burdens of my parishioners and feel rather more clogged up thereafter. Praying for them, the whole church, and the world, in the words of the Litany prepared myself for ministering to them. It also just plain gave me a chance to worship and pray on my own, which can be something that priests and ministers sometimes struggle with, especially in small congregations where the leadership roles are not as widely shared.

The Litany is a great traditional choice for an Anglican, also, because the original Prayer Book order for Sunday morning expected Morning Prayer, Litany, and Communion all in a row! So bringing some of that back, even if only by yourself (as a clergyman or as a lay person) can only be good and upbuilding for us.

Any other tips or approaches that you like which help you (and/or the ministry team) prepare spiritually for the worship service? Leave a comment!

On Prayers for the Departed

“Why would you pray for the dead? They’re already with Jesus!”

Such is the common well-meaning retort from most Protestants today when they hear us pray for the faithful departed. This is an ancient practice of the Church, but it seems that the Romans have cornered the market when it comes to explanation. They, famously, believe in Purgatory, wherein the souls of ordinary Christians are purged of their lifetime of sin before beholding the fullness of the Beatific Vision, or (more crassly), going to heaven. While this doctrine could be interpreted in a benign fashion – simply the clearing of our spiritual eyes after a life of sin and darkness – it has typically been presented in very penitential terms: the soul is tortured, exposed to the pains of hell for a period of time depending upon how much sin went unconfessed, lightened by indulgences and prayers and masses on their behalf.

Anglican prayers for the departed has no place for that.

Actually, some say that Anglicans have no place for any prayers for the departed. We had some in the first Prayer Book, and got rid of them a few years later, only to see the extreme Anglo-Catholic wing bring them back in the 20th century and the liberals tolerating it under the guise of “tradition.” But this explanation is not strictly true. The Prayer Books have always included prayer for the departed.

If we look at what our reformed liturgy, 1549 to the present, actually says, we will find that our practice is quite far from Roman superstition.

The Prayers of the People in the 1549 Prayer Book’s Communion liturgy prayed for

all other thy servants, which are departed hence from us, with the sign of faith, and now do rest in the sleep of peace: Grant unto them, we beseech thee, thy mercy, and everlasting peace, and that, at the day of the general resurrection, we and all they which be of the mystical body of thy Son, may altogether be set on his right hand, and hear that his most joyful voice: ‘Come unto me, O ye that be blessed of my Father, and possess the Kingdom, which is prepared for you, from the beginning of the world’.

This was dropped from subsequent Prayer Books until the American book of 1928, which prayed

for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service, and to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom.

In between, the 1662 Prayer Book contained a similar, if more subtle, prayer for the departed in the penultimate prayer of the Burial rite:

Almighty God… we give thee hearty thanks, for that it hath pleased thee to deliver this our brother out of the miseries of this sinful world; beseeching thee that it may please thee, of thy gracious goodness, shortly to accomplish the number of thine elect, and to hasten thy kingdom; that we, with all those that are departed in the true faith of thy holy Name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in thy eternal and everlasting glory

The final Collect in the 1662 Burial service reuses some of the material from the 1549 Prayer Book quoted above, acknowledging the future consummation of the Christian hope of resurrection unto eternal life.  This is the common acknowledgement throughout the Prayer Book tradition – that God’s will, or plan, for his people has not yet reached its conclusion.  We pray for the departed no longer with the fear or urgency of late medieval piety, which errantly believed in the departed souls’ need to move through Purgatory, but instead with personal affection and biblical hope that all is not as it yet should be.

The Prayers of the People in the 2019 Prayer Book summarize it this way:

We remember before you all your servants who have departed this life in your faith and fear, that your will for them may be fulfilled

The 2019 Litany offers a more specific explanation of this will:

To grant to all the faithful departed eternal life and peace, We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

Thus the prayers for the departed in the Prayer Book tradition is drawn from biblical doctrine rather than from later superstitions.

When and how should we use the Litany?

One of the most neglected pieces of historic liturgy in the Anglican tradition is the Great Litany.  Steps have been made in the ACNA, and the 2019 Prayer Book, to make it more visible, which is great, but it has a long way to go (and a lot of history to overcome) to return to the average worshiper’s awareness.

The Saint Aelfric Customary is here to help, suggesting ways to use the Litany both in your private prayers and in your church’s Sunday worship.  Check it out!

The Great Litany has three different endings?


The Great Litany is the oldest piece of liturgy in the English language; it was the first “worship service” that Cranmer assembled, a few years before the first Prayer Book was promulgated.  It has been changed a little bit over the centuries, but on the whole is probably the “most original” piece of Reformation Anglican liturgy in our (or any) Prayer Book.

It’s also supposed to be very simple: start at the beginning and finish at the end, but in the 2019 Prayer Book (similar to what you see in the 1979 Book) it has three different endings!  What gives?  Welcome to Weird Rubric Wednesday.

Ending #1

The earliest rubrical ending is on page 96.  When the Litany is sung or said immediately before the Eucharist, the Litany concludes here [between the Kyrie and the Lord’s Prayer] and the Eucharist begins with the Salutation and the Collect of the Day.  This is a modern option inherited from the 1979 Prayer Book.  The standard pattern set out in the English Prayer Books was that the Litany followed Morning Prayer, but the American Prayer Book tradition de-coupled the Litany from its usual standard times, and permitted it to be tacked on the end of both Morning and Evening Prayer and the beginning of the Communion service.  What the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books have done is simply chop off the end of the Litany and the beginning of the Communion service so they run into one another more smoothly and briefly.

Ending #2

The second natural place to stop is on page 97; this seems to be the default expected use of the Litany in the 2019 Book.  One who is used to the 1662 Prayer Book Litany may be surprised here: why has the traditional ending been chopped off?  This goes back at least to the 1928 Prayer Book (or maybe earlier; I haven’t checked), where a rubric on its 58th page notes that the majority of the last two pages of the Litany may be omitted.  This last section has been given a section heading in modern prayer books: “The Supplication.”

Ending #3

The longest form of the Litany includes The Supplication, skipping the top half of page 97 and concluding on page 98.

That’s weird.  How should I choose?

Well, it depends upon the situation.  If you’re planning the Sunday morning worship service and you want to include the Great Litany, the easiest way to start your congregation out with it is to attach it to the service they’re most familiar with: so either as a special extended ending for Morning Prayer or a special prefix for the Communion service.  The rubric on page 97 also states that the Supplication portion is especially appropriate in times of war, or of great anxiety, or of disaster.  So, like, right now.  We’re in the midst of a pandemic, race riots and protests are rocking the country, millions are unemployed or recovering from unemployment, and to top it all off it’s an election year.  Pray the darn Supplication!  We need it.

O Lord, arise and help us; And deliver us for your Name’s sake.

Rogationtide at home

The Rogation Days are here!  Today, tomorrow, and Wednesday are the three “purple days” at the turning point of the season from Easter to the Ascension.  As the liturgical color implies, these are days of fasting and prayer.  They’re not penitential, as such – certainly not in the way that Lent or even Advent is – but they are days of particular supplication to the Lord of the harvest for our safety and the safety of our land.  If you want to see last year’s introduction to the Rogation Days, click here.

The question I want to focus on today is how you might observe the Rogation Days at home.  Most of us still have closed churches, after all, so there wasn’t much we were able to do to mark yesterday (Rogation Sunday) as particularly special.  Here are few traditional ideas and resources to draw upon.

The most obvious thing we’ve got is the set of Collects for the Rogation Days, on page 635 of the 2019 Book of Common Prayer.  In addition to praying them in the Daily Office on these three days, consider using them in family devotions, private prayers, before a meal, or in the context of a small group for prayer or worship or study.  You can read more about those Collects in this post from last year.

Similarly, you can sing the hymn O Jesus, crowned with all reknown, a classic song for the Rogation days, and the only one labeled as such in the 1940 hymnal.  To that, the 2017 hymnal adds O God of Bethel, by whose hand and the 1940 recommends also We plow the seeds, and scatter.

Another resource that should not be overlooked is the Great Litany.  Rogation Sunday was one of the major days of the year in English tradition for a grant procession out of the church building, with prayer and supplication, and the Litany was the primary tool for such a public devotion.  It would be a marvelous thing to make use of the Litany on your own through these three days – the most traditional time to pray it would be at the end of Morning Prayer, but the tradition has evolved over the past near-century such that you should feel free to pray the Litany in any context, even on its own!

You could even combine the Litany with a version of the historical tradition of Beating the Bounds.  On Rogation Sunday the grand procession would encircle the entire parish, literally surrounding the village in prayer.  As the great Anglican divine, George Herbert, described it:

The Country Parson is a Lover of old Customs, if they be good, and harmless; and the rather, because Country people are much addicted to them, so that to favour them therein is to win their hearts, and to oppose them therein is to deject them. If there be any ill in the custom, that may be severed from the good, he pares the apple, and gives them the clean to feed on. Particularly, he loves Procession, and maintains it, because there are contained therein 4 manifest advantages.

  1. First, a blessing of God for the fruits of the field:
  2. Secondly, justice in the Preservation of bounds:
  3. Thirdly, Charity in loving walking, and neighbourly accompanying one another, with reconciling of differences at that time, if there be any:
  4. Fourthly, Mercy in relieving the poor by a liberal distribution and largesse, which at that time is, or ought to be used.

Wherefore he exacts of all to be present at the perambulation, and those that withdraw, and sever themselves from it, he mislikes, and reproves as uncharitable, and unneighbourly; and if they will not reform, presents them. Nay, he is so far from condemning such assemblies, that he rather procures them to be often, as knowing that absence breeds strangeness, but presence love.

George Herbert, A Priest to the Temple Or The Countrey Parson, chapter 35

What you see there is very rooted in centuries of history that are, on the practical level, defunct and so far removed from us that it would be impossible to replicate.  But in spirit, these are very “earthy” practices that can be recaptured pretty easily.  Obviously with social distancing in place it would be rather difficult to form a town-wide parade!  But at the level of the home, this could be an opportunity for the household to walk around the property line, praying for one another and for the neighbors.  It could be an opportunity to chat with the neighbors over the fence or across the road, pray for them or even with them!  With the Spring planting now in full swing in many places, pray for your gardens or fields.  Consider how you might use your bounty to bless others, especially the poor or needy.

Andm, if you want yet more ideas and background history, I commend to you The Homely Hours, a lovely blog with a wealth of historic Anglican insight, with a particular high-church-like attention to the traditions of our forebears.

Friday Devotions

Hey, everyone, it’s Friday again.

It’s all well and good to enjoy the appropriate Cross-related prayers that modern prayer book tradition has given us.  But there are even more traditional options that should be considered for our praying of the Office on Fridays.

#1 – Read the whole Venite.  The American Prayer Book tradition, I think from the very first in this country, has shortened the Venite (Psalm 95) and provided either additional options or alternative endings for it.  Our new prayer book represents an almost-complete-return to the English order on this point, except the “wrathful” second half of the Venite is optional.  The rubrics direct it to be added during Lent and other penitential occasions.  Consider every Friday (with a couple seasonal exceptions) a penitential occasion.  Read the whole Venite this morning.

#2 – Pray the Great Litany.  As discussed some time in the past, the Litany was originally appointed for the end of Morning Prayer on every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday, plus any other occasion deemed appropriate.  The 2019 Prayer Book is not so specific in its direction for the Litany, but absent of any other plan for regular use, we’re best off simply continuing what the classical tradition appoints.  Say the Litany today.

#3 – Oh, and don’t forget to fast.  It’s not a “Roman thing”, it’s a “catholic thing”, and the Reformers (especially English reformers) saw themselves as the true catholics over against the Papists who had deviated from the catholic tradition.  Fasting on Fridays is thoroughly Anglican; only in recent times have prayer books gotten lazy about that.  The easiest way to fast is to have a small breakfast and eat nothing else until dinner.  This gives you lunchtime, at least, to spend in prayer and rest before God where one might normally be attending to one’s bodily hungers.

Don’t neglect the Litany

The Great Litany was the first liturgy put out by the Church of England, before the Prayer Book as a whole was compiled.  It has undergone little edits since then in just about every edition of the prayer book, yet is arguably the least-changed piece of the prayer book to this day.  I suspect this is due, in part, to the fact that it has been slowly declining in prominence.  The fewer people pray it, the fewer changes people bother to make to it.

You can even trace this decline in prominence from book to book.  In 1662 the Litany was appointed to be read after the three collects in Morning Prayer every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday.  By the American prayer book of 1928, it was broadened to be after the three collects in either Morning or Evening Prayer, with no directions of how often it was to be used.  The 1979 prayer book broadened the options further by allowing it to be used immediately before the Eucharist (which is probably how it’s best-known in American parishes right now – as a solemn procession maybe once a year if at all).  But in that book, it’s physically located in a very cluttered part of the volume between the Daily Office and the Communion services, physically isolating it, sending the tacit message that it’s just window-dressing and there for the sake of tradition.  They didn’t even bother updating its language to match “Rite II.”

The 2019 Prayer Book, now, keeps the broad options open but provides a little more direction and accessibility.  The Litany begins on page 91, between the Office and Communion liturgies which is not quite so cluttered compared to the 1979 book.  There is also this suggestion on page 99:

It is particularly appropriate to use the Great Litany on the First Sunday of Advent and the First Sunday in Lent.  It is also appropriate for Rogation days, other days of fasting or thanksgiving, and occasions of solemn and comprehensive entreaty.

In one sense this is a “toothless” rubric.  It’s not rule, not even an authorization, but merely a suggestion.  The phrase “it is appropriate” appears in a few such rubrics, and is so gentle that it almost doesn’t count as a real rubric (or rule).  But as a suggestion, it does help point us in the direction of how we might implement the Litany in parish life in accord with some semblance of tradition.  Originally the Litany was supposed to be a thrice-weekly affair at the end of Morning Prayer, so having two Sundays and a short list of other occasions when the Litany is “appropriate” is extremely gentle indeed.  But, as things stand in the American church, once a year is about as often as the Litany is used, if at all, so by making these suggestions explicit in the book, and by making the Litany a bit easier to find (and connect to the primary liturgies) there is a definite intention here to restore this excellent service of prayer.

In your own devotions, I heartily encourage you to pray this Litany often.  Every Sunday, between Morning Prayer and Holy Communion, is a good place to start; or perhaps every Friday as a sort-of-penitential discipline.  It is longer than modern worshipers tend to be used to, so it can be an overwhelming experience for some.

But if you can bring it into your church, definitely start with the rubric’s suggestion: the beginning of Lent and Advent.  From there you can also add it to Epiphany II (when the festive part of the Christimas-Epiphany cycle has ended), Lent V (Passion Sunday, signalling the approach of Holy Week), the Sunday after the Ascension (following the apostolic spirit of prayer between the Ascension and Pentecost), and periodic Sundays after Trinity such as Propers 10 and 20 (even spaced out between Ascension and Advent).  The more, the better, in my opinion, but it’s usually easier to introduce new & different things to people when there’s an easy liturgical explanation.

Anyway, today’s a Wednesday, so how about you give it a go in your own prayers after Morning Prayer?

Don’t forget the Great Litany!

It’s a Friday in Lent.  If you haven’t already, you probably should go back and pray the Great Litany today.  Lent is, after all, a season of heightened spiritual discipline, especially in the areas of fasting, alms-giving, and prayer, as we were reminded on Ash Wednesday, and praying the Litany is probably one of the basic-but-important ways we can fulfill the latter discipline.

Besides, in historic prayer books, the Litany was appointed to be said at the end of Morning Prayer on every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday, regardless of the liturgical season.  So the least we can do is pick it up during Lent if we normally neglect it.

An interesting feature of the Great Litany’s structure, which perhaps originated in the 1979 book, is the separating of its ending (the “Supplication”) into an optional section.  Classical Prayer Books were much simpler, the Litany was one distinct string of prayers to be used wholesale.  The modern distinction of the Supplication in its final section is handy if you want to shorten the Litany a little bit, or evade its particularly “grim” tone toward the end.  It also means that we can draw upon the Supplication portion by itself as an extra devotion “in times of trouble or distress” as the rubrics suggest.

But for Fridays in Lent, we probably should just pray the whole thing and not cut any corners.

The January 1st Feast

Happy feast of the Holy Name and Circumcision of Christ!
(What, did you expect to see “happy new year”?  This is a liturgy blog, not a social calendar!)

For many people, today’s commemoration might seem a bit strange.  Why are celebrating the “holy name” of Jesus?  Is this day like those over-emotive worship songs that repeat endlessly about how precious is it to say the name “Jeezus” over and over again for five minutes?  Is this something more “catholicky”, where we silently meditate on the sacred name of Jesus in a mood of affected piety?

First of all, it’s probably helpful to observe that this feast day might better be termed the Naming of Jesus.  The Gospel lesson at today’s Communion service is Luke 2:15-21, in which Jesus is circumcised and given the name Jesus.  This takes place on the eighth day, according to the Law of Moses, which (in case you haven’t noticed yet) is literally today.  On the 8th day of Christmas, Jesus got circumcised and named.

Second of all, it should be further noted that until 1979, the Anglican tradition called this day the Circumcision of Christ – making that rite the primary feature of the day, and his name/naming secondary.  Unlike the 1979 Prayer Book, though, our Collect still acknowledges the old emphasis alongside the new:

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 for ever. Amen.

This double focus, as you can see, is expressed well in our Collect.  To honor and bear the name of Jesus, and to join with Christ in the New Covenant because he has fulfilled the Old, are both concepts close to the heart of the Christian faith.  But it’s also worth looking back at what used to be…. this is the original Prayer Book Collect for today:

Almighty God, who madest thy blessed Son to be circumcised, and obedient to the law for man: Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit; that, our hearts, and all our members, being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey thy blessed will; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Notice, free to be more specific, how this Collect draws us to covenant faithfulness, or obedience.  To worship God “with pure hearts” in the new Collect is an accurate summary, but when you take the time to pray about “being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts”, you get a better picture of what such “pure hearts” actually look like.

All this besides, Jesus’ keeping of the Law is what proves his innocence, his sinlessness, and thus what sets the rest of the Gospel in motion.  If he wasn’t bound to the Law, his obedience to it would not have the significance that it had.

Along those lines, if you deign to pray the Great Litany today, perhaps this is a good opportunity to re-write one phrase back to its original form.  Near the beginning when it says “by your holy nativity and submission to the Law” feel free to pray what this petition originally said: “by your holy nativity and circumcision“.  This may not be the most popular part of the Gospel and Nativity story, but it’s one of the many moments of key importance, hence its place among the great feasts of the church year.

Scripture in the Litany

One of the taglines people like to use today, when describing the Prayer Book, is “The Bible arranged for worship.”  This is, indeed, a fair assessment of the Prayer Book tradition and the specific contents.  And this is accomplished in many ways: praying psalms and canticles, reading scripture lessons, quoting specific verses a particular times throughout the liturgy, as well as a great many references that are not highlighted or specifically cited along the way.

One example of this is in the Great Litany.  If you take a look at the Supplication toward the end of it, you’ll find the dialogue:

O Lord, arise and help us;
And deliver us for your Name’s sake.

O God, we have heard with our ears, and our forebears have declared to us, the noble works that you did in their days, and in the time before them.

O Lord, arise and help us;
and deliver us for your Name’s sake.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

O Lord, arise and help us;
and deliver us for your Name’s sake.

The first, third, and fifth pair of prayers & responses (“O Lord, arise…”) are an antiphon – a repeated verse that provides structure and theme to the contents it surrounds.  The second prayer & response (“O God, we have heard…”) is Psalm 44:1.  The fourth pair is the Gloria Patri.  For the most part this is a very traditional devotional layout: antiphon, psalm, gloria patri, antiphon.  It’s a bit unusual to repeat the antiphon between the psalm and the gloria patri, and I don’t believe the classical Prayer Books did that.  Whateverso, the operating Scriptural text in this section is Psalm 44:1, remembering the great works of God in the past.  This forms the basis of our plea, “help us; and deliver us”.

If you don’t pray the Supplication very often (or the Great Litany at all, for that matter), perhaps the upcoming season of Advent is a good time to start using it regularly for a while.  The classical prayer books ordered for it to be prayed every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday, so feel free to dive in!