Wrapping Up All Souls’

In Eastern and medieval Western practice, many Major Feast Days had “octaves” – eight days of celebration and observance.  None of these survive in the Prayer Book tradition today (nor really in modern Roman Catholicism for that matter), though echoes are found in our observance of the Baptism of Christ on the Sunday after the Epiphany and the usual practice of observing All Saints’ Day on the Sunday following when November 1st is a weekday.

Today is the “octave day” of All Souls’ Day – that is, a full week has passed since the commemoration of the faithful departed.  To my knowledge, there was never any such thing as an “All Souls’ Octave;” rather, All Saints’ Day was and is the primary celebration going on in early November.  But, just for kicks, sometimes it’s worth re-visiting recent commemorations, and doing so a week later is a convenient time for doing that.  I’m not proposing anything crazy or complicated; how about just grabbing the hymnal off the shelf and adding once of the Burial hymns to the Daily Office today?  The following came to mind:

Now the laborer’s task is o’er;
Now the battle day is past;
Now upon the farther shore
Lands the voyager at last.
Father, in thy gracious keeping
Leave we now thy servant sleeping.

There the tears of earth are dried;
There its hidden things are clear;
There the work of life is tried
By a juster judge than here.
Father, in thy gracious keeping
Leave we now thy servant sleeping.

There the penitents, that turn
To the cross their dying eyes,
All the love of Jesus learn
At his feet in paradise.
Father, in thy gracious keeping
Leave we now thy servant sleeping.

There no more the powers of hell
Can prevail to mar their peace;
Christ the Lord shall guard them well,
He who died for their release.
Father, in thy gracious keeping
Leave we now thy servant sleeping.

“Earth to earth, and dust to dust,”
Calmly now the words we say,
Left behind, we wait in trust
For the resurrection day.
Father, in thy gracious keeping
Leave we now thy servant sleeping. 

On a practical, unrelated, note, it is wise for ministers to have the “occasional services” like the Burial Rite periodically refreshed in memory whether we have any planned or not.  These are events that can crop up suddenly without warning, and it is very helpful when ministers have the liturgical mindset behind those services intuitively grasped ahead of time!

Looking ahead: Thanksgiving Day

Two weeks from today, in the USA, is Thanksgiving Day.  Apart from family traditions that may involve your efforts in the meantime, let us give consideration to some of the liturgical resources we have available for the observance of that day.

The Collect of the Day could be imported into the Daily Office:

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 lessons for a communion service that morning (or perhaps the evening before):

  • Deuteronomy 8; Psalm 65:1-8(9-14); James 1:17-27; Matthew 6:25-33

Additional prayers (link) and thanksgivings #20-22 and #114-123 are also excellent additions to the Daily Offices or other devotions for Thanksgiving.

Hymn ideas:

  • Come, ye thankful people, come (also known as Harvest Home)
  • We plow the fields (refrain “All good gifts around us“)
  • Praise to God, immortal praise
  • For the beauty of the earth
  • Let us, with a gladsome mind
  • Now thank we all our God

If you among the growing number of people who want to push back against the Black Friday shopping craze, consider adding these prayers and hymns to your private and/or congregational worship from Wednesday through Sunday, or even the whole week!

Offering Imperfect Praise

A shortcoming of contemporary worship music is a frequent sense of overconfidence in one’s own worthiness.  There is a severe lack of penitence and contrition among the popular spiritual songs of today, particularly in the mainstream.  There are, of course, more excellent local and grassroot corners of the contemporary worship music movement that are much more biblical, especially Psalms-based, but you kind of have to know where to look in order to find them.

One of the issues this relates to is the idea of offering God worthy praise.  There is a common assumption (usually taken up and reinforced) in contemporary music that our heart-felt worship is worthy of God.  This falls apart at the definition of heart-felt, however.  The human heart, the Scriptures tell us, is full of evil and deceit.  No matter how much emotion and enthusiasm we muster up, our worship of God will always be imperfect, as long as we are sinners.  Only the fully redeemed, sanctified, and glorified Church in Heaven offers God truly perfect praise.  The Psalms are full of reminders of our imperfect praise: Psalm 51’s prayer “open my lips and mouth will proclaim your praise” shows that it is the Lord who opens our lips and enables us to worship him; Psalm 15 reminds us that only the sinless Saint is truly worthy to enter into God’s presence.

John Mason’s hymn Now from the altar of my heart is another example of this reality.

Now from the altar of my heart
Let incense flames arise;
Assist me, Lord, to offer up
Mine evening sacrifice.

Minutes and mercies multiplied
Have made up all this day;
Minutes came quick, but mercies were
More fleet and free than they.

New time, new favor, and new joys
Do a new song require;
Till I shall praise thee as I would,
Accept my heart’s desire.  Amen.

Like many contemporary songs, this hymn expresses the desire to worship God in an honest heart-felt manner.  But it also devotes its second stanza directly to the issue of our sinfulness – the need for God’s mercy was more frequent than the passage of minutes!  To many modern ears, such an assertion sounds like an exaggeration… we’re not really that sinful are we?  Regardless, the hymn ends with the acknowledgement that we desire to worship God for all his mercies, and asks him to accept what we do offer until we reach the point when we finally can and do worship him as we wish we could.

Give this some thought today, and perhaps pull it up to sing at Evening Prayer tonight?

Evening Hymn: The day thou gavest

Evening Prayer used to be a a much more common feature of Anglican worship than it is today.  You can tell just by looking at old hymnals (such as the Episcopalian hymnal of 1940) and observing that there are far more Evening hymns than Morning hymns.  And several of the Evening hymns in the Anglican repertoire are absolute gems of English hymnody!  If you’re an American under the age of 50, or new to the Anglican tradition at any age, chances are you’ve hardly ever heard any of these beauties before.

There are two points in our Evening Prayer liturgy where inserting a hymn comes most naturally.  The first place is after the Invitatory: the Phos hilaron has a rubric above it saying “The following or some other suitable hymn or Psalm may be sung or said.”  Because the Phos hilaron itself is a new addition to the Prayer Book (only dating back to 1979) we are well within our traditional rights to sing something else in its place.  The second spot in the liturgy is after the three Collects: “Here may be sung a hymn or anthem”.  This is the most traditional placement for a hymn, and is a great way to break up the formal collects of the liturgy and the additional intercessions and thanksgivings that may follow.

Might I recommend, this evening, one of the best of the best?  The day thou gavest is a beautiful hymn, both musically and lyrically, reflecting upon the practical and theological meaning of the end of the daytime, awareness of the cycle of daily prayer across the globe, and the subsequent unity of Christ’s Church.

Check it out on YouTube if you want to hear it first, grab the lyrics online, or pick up any Anglican hymnal and sing or read it at Evening Prayer tonight!

A Special Pastoral-Liturgical Opportunity

A month from today is 11/11 – Veteran’s Day in the USA, Remembrance Day in several other countries; originally Armistice Day, commemorating the end of the Great War (WW1) in 1918.  This year is the centenary of the Armistice and the institution of this multi-national state holiday.  And it falls on a Sunday!

Normally state holidays like this do not take precedence over the regular Sunday Propers (Collect & Lessons), though in England, I believe Remembrance Day is big enough to observe on Sunday.  Given the special timing of this particular November 11th, however, it struck this small-church Vicar as an opportune moment to break the usual rules of precedence in our Calendar and plan to celebrate Armistice Day on Sunday 11/11.  And yes, I got my Bishop’s permission to do this!

If you have veterans in your congregation, as I do, this could be a very special opportunity to honor and minister to them.  That’s why this article is entitled a “special pastoral-liturgical opportunity.”  How can you implement this in your church?  Let us count the ways:

  1. Go all-out and use the Collect & Lessons for Remembrance/Veteran’s/Memorial Day (copied below).
  2. Reference poetry contemporary with the War such as Dulce et Decorum est or For the fallen.
  3. Reference the origin of Veteran’s Day in the USA.
  4. Include hymns such as the second stanza of I vow to thee my country, or Faith of our fathers! or God bless our native land or In Christ there is no East or West or O God of earth and altar or even Silent Night (referencing the Christmas Day Armistice of 1914, and providing a haunting double meaning to the phrase “sleep in heavenly peace”).
  5. Browse the Church of England’s vast collection of resources surrounding their observance of this day for other bits and bobs you might incorporate locally.

There are so many directions this observance can go: the noble call of patriotic service to one’s country, the devastating idolatry of nationalism run wild, commemorating the departed (not unlike All Soul’s Day back on November 2nd), praying for our current service-men and -women and veterans.  For sure, do what makes sense for your congregation!  But it strikes me as a very special opportunity to seize.

Collect and Lessons in Texts for Common Prayer

O King and Judge of the nations: We remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our armed forces, who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy; grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, now and forever.  Amen.

Wisdom 3:1-9, Psalm 121, Revelation 7:9-17, John 11:21-27 or 15:12-17

NOTE: the reading from Revelation is also an option for All Saints’ Day, so if you go for this commemoration be aware that you might end up with the same Epistle lesson twice in a row unless you plan carefully.