Thanksgiving for the First Book of Common Prayer

On the day of Pentecost in 1549, churches across England cracked open a book to engage in common prayer in their own language for the first time in history. That Sunday was when the first Book of Common Prayer was appointed by royal authority to replace the various versions of the Sarum and Roman Mass that previously held sway.  As we noted recently, this is a significant event that can be worth celebrating in our own worship services on Pentecost.  Or, as we hinted a couple days ago, we could celebrate this anniversary today (Thursday) instead.

In the book Lesser Feasts and Fasts (2006) put out by the Episcopal Church (USA), the following Collect and Lessons are offered for this commemoration:

Almighty and everliving God, whose servant Thomas Cranmer, with others, restored the language of the people in the prayers of your Church: Make us always thankful for this heritage; and help us so to pray in the Spirit and with the understanding, that we may worthily magnify your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Acts 2:38-42, Psalm 96 or 33:1-5,20-21, John 4:21-24

If you are so inclined you could add 1 Corinthians 14:6-19 as an Epistle lesson, as it is a verse that is referenced in the Collect (“to pray in the Spirit and with the understanding“).

Why recommend this for Thursday?  Simply, every other day is taken, according to Anglican tradition.  Monday & Tuesday [used to] have their own Pentecost-themed propers, and Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday are Ember Days; only Thursday is left.

So if you get the chance to celebrate the Eucharist today, or just choose to pray Antecommunion, consider giving this commemoration a whirl!

Pentecost Ember Days

The Pentecost Ember Days are here!  It’s been a few months since we last talked about Ember Days, so let’s hazard some repetition of material.  Although in some places the purpose of these days have changed somewhat, their original purpose was to be a time of fasting and prayer for the clergy, those preparing for ordination, and those discerning a call to ordination.  Positioned fairly evenly throughout the year near the changes of the season, these were often the days when ordinations would take place and people would have a quarterly reminder to pray for their clergymen.

Those who are discerning for holy orders, including transitional deacons awaiting the priesthood, typically write an Ember Day letter to their bishop, updating him on their ministerial progress and how the discernment process has been proceeding.

Each seasonal group of Ember Days is a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after an anchor date.  For Advent (winter) that date is December 13th (Saint Lucia Day): the first Wednesday after that day starts off the Ember Days; for spring it’s in the first full week of Lent, for summer it’s in the Pentecost Octave (starting today), and for autumn the anchor date is September 14th (Holy Cross Day).

It’s a little tricky because the Ember Days appear in threes, yet our Prayer Book only gives us two sets of Communion Propers (Collects on page 634 and Lessons on page 732).  This may be easier to deal with in the Daily Office: choose one Collect of the Day for mornings and the other for evenings.

Although the Ember Day Propers are fixed, the context of Pentecost can afford these days a different teaching emphasis.  Consider the subject of ordination from the perspective of a spiritual gift.  Many Anglicans believe in the “indelible mark” or “ordination character” bestowed upon the imposition of the Bishop’s hands, akin to the baptismal change the Holy Spirit also brings about.  These summer ember days are good opportunities to meditate on (or teach about) that angle of the ministry.

The Pentecost Octave, or, the Whitsun days

A day or two ago I saw a question pop up online, “Why does Pentecost only get one day to celebrate it?”  The questioner went on to insinuate that the liturgical tradition has a bias against the Holy Spirit in favor of the person of Jesus, where there’s Holy Week and Eastertide and Ascension, on top of Christmastide and Epiphany.  Apart from the obvious biblical and long-standing theological answer to why Christians give more overt attention to Jesus, let’s take a look today at the additional fact that Pentecost is not just one day, and never has been.

For well over a thousand years of Western liturgical tradition, most major holy days have what’s called an Octave: a period of eight days beginning on the holiday and running for a week after.  The only octave tradition that directly impacts most Anglicans today is the All Saints’ Day Octave, wherein although All Saints’ Day is officially November 1st, the Sunday immediately following (within the Octave) is typically celebrated as All Saints’ Sunday.  But back in the day, Easter had an Octave (which Prayer Book tradition has always observed in one way or another), the patronal feast of an individual church or diocese would have an Octave, and, among others, Pentecost had an Octave – from Sunday to Sunday ending with the feast of the Holy Trinity.

In current Roman Catholic practice that Octave has been suppressed, though there is the half-joking plan of priests celebrating Votive Masses of the Holy Spirit on the weekdays following Pentecost in order to simulate an Octave.  In the Anglican Prayer Books we’ve never had instructions for a full Octave, but we have had special Collects and lessons for Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.

Older prayer books call this holiday Whitsun or Whitsunday, modern prayer books call it Pentecost.  The reason for the peculiarly English name of Whitsun is a story for another time – I’ll just link you to Wikipedia on that for now.

Whitsunday, the Day of Pentecost

The traditional Collect of the Day (which is the second listed in the 2019 Prayer Book for this day) is:

GOD, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by the sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.

With this would be read Acts 2:1-11 and John 14:15-31 (omitting the last phrase “let us go hence.”).  In the modern lectionary plan, part of Psalm 104 is added, and the OT and Epistle options are Genesis 11:1-9 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-13.  It should be noted that, although the 2019 Prayer Book doesn’t specify this, the Acts reading ought to be read.  The OT and Epistle lessons are both offered so that we have a choice of where to place the Acts reading.  Precedent from Eastertide and the 1979 Prayer Book suggest that Acts 2 should be in the OT position, precedent from the next two days of the week suggest that Acts 2 should be in the Epistle position.  So this is a legitimate choice; perhaps swap places every year so people hear all the potential readings most often!

Like Ascension Day, the 1662 Prayer Book appointed special Psalms for the Daily Office on Whitsunday: 48 and 68 in the morning, and 104 and 145 in the evening.

Unfortunately, according to the new prayer book (on page 614), “The Easter Season includes and ends with the Day of Pentecost. …The Collects, lessons, and prefaces for the Day of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday are not used on the following weekdays.”  Previous drafts of our new prayer book included the traditional Monday and Tuesday of Pentecost, but they seem to have dropped away from the final edition.  So it seems, at least officially, we in the ACNA are stuck in the same boat as the Romans, having to resort to appointing the “Various Occasion” propers “Of the Holy Spirit” on page 733 to fill out the old Pentecost Octave a little.  Or you can just grab the following from classical Prayer Books:

Monday in Whitsun Week

The traditional readings were Acts 10:34-end and John 3:16-21; a proposed addition was Numbers 11:24-30 and Psalm 98.  The 1928 Prayer Book added a new Collect:

Send, we beseech thee, Almighty God, thy Holy Spirit into our hearts, that he may direct and rule us according to thy will, comfort us in all our afflictions, defend us from all error, and lead us into all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

Together, this day gives us a collection of further teachings about the ministry of the Holy Spirit along with another “pentecost moment” from the book of Acts.

Tuesday in Whitsun Week

The traditional readings were Acts 8:14-17 and John 10:1-10; a proposed addition was Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Psalm 98.  The 1928 Prayer Book added a new Collect:

Grant, we beseech thee, merciful God, that thy Church, being gathered together in unity by thy Holy Spirit, may manifest thy power among all peoples, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

This day got a bit more specific about the work and power of the Spirit unite God’s people.

What about the rest of the week?

The Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following Pentecost are Ember Days, which occur quarterly throughout the year, so they don’t get special Pentecost-featured propers.  Some proposed Prayer Books (like the 2011 book) provide different Scripture readings for each of the Ember Days throughout the year, and thus provide the Pentecost Ember Days with a particularly Pentecost-appropriate theme regarding Spirit-empowered ministry.  But sadly, no such option is available in the 2019 Prayer Book.

That leaves Thursday yet untouched.  There is a small tradition of using that day to commemorate the Promulgation of the First Prayer Book, as Whitsunday 1549 was when the first Prayer Book was mandated to begin use across England.  We’ll look at that some more on the day.

So yes, sadly, in a way Pentecost is kind of reduced to a single day in the modern calendar.  But there is precedent in previous Prayer Books, both official and proposed, for the continued celebration of this great feast in various ways throughout the week.

Ascensiontide Old & New

The ten days between the Ascension of Christ and the Day of Pentecost form a mini-season or sub-season called Ascensiontide.  There is debate between modern and traditionalist views of the calendar over just how independent this season is from Eastertide, and you can read about that here.  What one finds upon closer inspection, however, is that whether Ascensiontide should be considered part of Easter or a season in its own right, it is very strongly linked, liturgically, both to Easter and to Pentecost, marking the transition from one to the other, not unlike the transitional Pre-Lent Sundays of the old calendar.

At a length of ten calendar days, Ascensiontide has two “days” in the Prayer Book: Ascension Day (the Thursday in the 6th week of Easter) and the Sunday after Ascension Day.

Ascension Day

This day has not substantially changed from the traditional calendar to the 2019 Prayer Book.  The Collect is the same, and the two original lessons are among the 2019 options: Acts 1:1-14 and Mark 16:14-20 both speak of the ascension of Jesus and his last words to his disciples.  The 2019 Prayer Book adds Psalm 47 (or 110:1-5) and Ephesians 1:15-23, and also supplies Luke 24:44-53 as an alternative to the traditional Gospel from Mark.

For the Daily Office, the 1662 Prayer Book identified Ascension Day as one of the six days of the year that merited a unique set of Psalms: 8, 15, and 21 at Morning Prayer, and 24, 47, and 108 at Evening Prayer.  Psalm 47 is perhaps the most obvious ascension-related Psalm (“God has gone up with a triumphant shout!“) and thus is offered as the psalm for the Communion service in the modern lectionary.

Ascension Sunday

In both traditional and modern lectionaries, the Sunday after the Ascension shows signs of influence from both Eastertide and Ascension Day.

The Collect (same in old and 2019 prayer books) is thematically built on the same foundation as that for Ascension Day, but adds the element of looking ahead to Pentecost: “Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit” – a reference to the traditional Gospel for the day of Pentecost.  It’s lovely: we pray this prayer on one Sunday, as if with the original apostles-in-waiting, and then we hear it answered the following Sunday as the apostles experienced it too.

The lessons are rather more different.  The course of Epistle and Gospel lessons in the traditional Eastertide are continued on this day, ending in 1 Peter 4 and John 15.  The modern lessons also complete the modern Eastertide sequence: a different part of 1 Peter 4 or the end of 1 John 5 or Revelation 22; and a Gospel from John 17, which appropriately brings us Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity in preparation for the day of Pentecost.  Readings from the book of Acts continues as an Old Testament replacement option on this day: on two years of the cycle looking appropriately at Acts 1, and in Year C reading from chapter 16 to finish off the Eastertide sequence instead of addressing Ascensiontide.

Ascensiontide as a transition

Whether you choose to consider this period of time as the final of Easter’s 50 days or a distinct ten day season of their own, tradition both old and new connects this time fluidly to its predecessor (Easter) and its successor (Pentecost).  We move from the resurrection to the resurrection life to the ascension of Christ with our human nature to Jesus’parting blessing to us in the descent of the Holy Spirit, and this season marks the turning of the page between Easter and Pentecost.

As we observed the other day, this is a period of time that is ripe for quiet inward-focused prayer.  If your or your church doesn’t normally pray the Great Litany, this is an excellent time to make use of it.  This is a good time for special prayer meetings or vigils, for rest and discernment before the Lord.  Like the Apostles who spent this time in preparation and prayer before the explosive activity of Pentecost, it is good for us to seize times such as this for the same, preparation and prayer, before starting the next round of outward-focused activity that we normally like to think about at Pentecost.  This often lines up with the end of the academic school year, and may easily match the transition period for students between school work and summer jobs.  It may also be a good time to look inward at our Sunday School or Christian Education teachers and thank them for their labors and grant them some rest.

Planning for Pentecost

Chances are by now that most of the big decisions for the worship service on Pentecost have already been made by now.  Nevertheless, let’s take a moment here to consider ways to celebrate this great holy day.

The Languages Thing

Obviously one of the big features of the story of that first Day of Pentecost is the preaching of the Gospel in a dozen or so different languages.  If you have a multi-lingual congregation, this is an opportunity to celebrate that: invite readers to read one of the Scripture lessons in their own language, immediately before or after it’s read in English.  Take the Latin text of the Gloria in excelsis Deo and have it read or sung before or after (or instead of!) the English version.  If you use printed bulletins, perhaps you could put the Hebrew and Greek text for some of the readings in parallel with the English.

Obviously, you don’t want to go so far into this that you lose or confuse your congregation.  Keep it simple, keep it “easy to translate”, make it a feature yet not a burden.

The First Prayer Book

Jumping off the languages point, Pentecost in 1549 was the day the first English Prayer Book was mandated to begin its use across England.  So Pentecost is an anniversary for us Anglicans and there are ways we can honor and celebrate that too.  You could make use of the rubrics in the 2019 Prayer Book to re-order the Communion service according to the 1662 Prayer Book’s liturgy.  You could make it a traditional-language service (if you don’t normally have one).  The clergy could even make a point of vesting in historic English fashion – cassock, surplice, hood and preaching scarf (if they don’t normally).

The Old Covenant Echo

One of the Jewish Pentecost commemorations was/is the giving of the Law to Moses on the mountain.  While the glory of that gift is vastly surpassed by the gift of the Holy Spirit, there is still merit to observing the first giving of the Torah – have the Decalogue read at the beginning of the liturgy instead of the Summary of the Law!  (This coincides with the 1662 Order suggestion, by the way.)

Baptism

Although less prominent than the Easter Vigil, the Day of Pentecost is another fine opportunity to hold baptisms or renew baptismal vows.  The topic move from the Holy Spirit to Creation to the New Creation to Holy Baptism is very easy and natural to make; I’ve enjoyed it before.  It’s also a great opportunity for confirmations, but unless you’re a bishop you don’t have much say over that.

This is not when the disciples were scared

We’re sort of cheating today… this isn’t liturgical advice so much as it is Bible-teaching and preaching advice.  Now that we’re in Ascensiontide and Pentecost is approaching, you need to make sure you don’t mess this up for your congregations: this is not when the disciples were hiding and scared.  I see this error on the internet almost every year, and it’s even in my sons’ otherwise-pretty-good children’s Bible.  After Jesus ascended into heaven the disciples were not hiding behind locked doors in fear, wondering what was to happen next.  The biblical account we have of these ten days is Acts 1.  There we read of the ascension of Jesus following his final instructions:

to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So while yes, the disciples were waiting for the Holy Spirit to descend, they were not hiding away and frightened.  Furthermore, there were not waiting passively either, but actively preparing for that gift from on high.  In particular:

All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.… So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

They then proceeded to identify who the new twelfth apostle would be, chose Matthias, and ordained him so.  (Some modern calendars place St. Matthias Day on May 14th, which generally lands around this time of year, making a stronger link between his story and its situation in the time between the Ascension and Pentecost.  Our calendar, however, keeps him in a more traditional date, February 24th.)  So, far from scared and hiding, the apostles were active during these days between Ascension and Pentecost; make sure you don’t misrepresent them in your Pentecost sermon!

Additionally this is worth noting because the “activity” and “mission” that is frequently brought up regarding Pentecost is often presented at the expense of the quiet prayer, preparation, and planning that went on in the days before.  We must be sure we present a healthy spirituality; one that not only pushes out “outwards” towards ministry and mission, but also equally draws us “inward” to worship and prayer.  That is one of the purposes of a Customary like this one, after all, to help the church order her prayers in a healthy manner so to under-gird a fruitful Christian life for all her members.

Eastertide: 40 days or 50?

The length of the Easter season is one of those subjects that can start internet fights.  Some say it’s 50 days long, beginning on Easter Day and ending on the Day of Pentecost.  Others retort that it’s 40 days, beginning on Easter Day and ending with the Ascension.  Meanwhile, perhaps the majority of church-goers look on in bewilderment or bemusement.  Why does it matter?  What’s the big deal?  Surely there are bigger fish to fry.

Let’s explore this debate in chronological order, so we can see how this disagreement came about, and why it matters to those who argue about it.

The Classical Prayer-Book Tradition

The changing of the seasons were not marked out quite so overtly in the old prayers books as they are in the new.  The Sunday Collects and Lessons were not typically marked out into season-based sections like they are in the 2019 book, so you had to rely upon the specific “name” of each Sunday, and the short list of Proper Prefaces early in the Communion prayers.  In both cases, Easter and Ascension are treated separately.  This sets out a demarcation: Eastertide ends when Ascension Day kicks in.  Thus we get images like this from Enid Chadwick’s beloved bookMy Book of the Church’s Year:

19

Note, “THE GREAT FORTY DAYS”… that’s Eastertide.

The emphasis this takes is on the gospel narrative of events: Jesus was raised from the dead, met with his disciples at various times, and ascended to the right hand of the Father 40 days later.  This also lines up the calendar with the Apostles’ Creed: “the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand…”  In the ascension we see Jesus as Priest, making intercession for us, and Jesus as King, seated at the right hand of God.  It is a festal season, and closely related to Easter, but it takes on a theological emphasis that is distinct from Easter before it and Pentecost after it.

The Modern (or modernist?) Prayer-Book Tradition

The 1979 Prayer Book (and probably others like it) changed this up quite dramatically.  First of all, the name “Sunday after the Ascension” was changed to “the 7th Sunday of Easter”.  Ascensiontide still got its own Proper Preface, but a new feature of the liturgy – the opening acclamation – was provided for various seasons of the year, and the Easter acclamation (Alleluia, Christ is risen / The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!) was appointed for the entire stretch from Easter to Pentecost.  Ascension Day and Ascensiontide were not removed from the calendar, but they were rolled into the Easter season, turning “the great forty days” into “the great fifty days.”

Now, there is a biblical precedent for this perspective: two of the primary Old Testament feasts (Passover and Tabernacles) are fifty days apart, and became the Christian Easter and Pentecost.  By emphasizing the fifty days, instead of the forty plus ten, the new calendar system highlights the Old Testament precedent for the Gospel.

The 2019 Prayer-Book Tradition

What we receive in the 2019 Prayer Book is something of a mixed bag when it comes to the length of Easter.  As usual, Ascension still has its own Preface.  Like the 1979 book, Ascensiontide has no acclamation of its own; it still gets the Easter call-and-response.  But the name of the Sunday in this season is back to “The Sunday after Ascension,” so there’s room for debate if it counts as Easter or not.  Room for debate, that is, until you read the calendar rubrics on page 689.  When discussing days of discipline, denial, and special prayer, it says:

The weekdays of Lent and every Friday of the year (outside the 12 Days of Christmas and the 50 days of Eastertide) are encouraged as days of fasting. Ember Days and Rogation Days may also be kept in this way.

This rather seals the deal: the 2019 Prayer Book sets forth a 50-day Eastertide.

HOWEVER,

Unlike the 1979 Prayer Book, there is a nuance, or a balance: the 7th Sunday of Easter is not “the seventh Sunday of Easter,” but the “Sunday after the Ascension.”  So although the “season” is still “Eastertide” in one sense, it has entered into a different phase: new Sunday nomenclature, new Proper Preface.

So if you’re a “50 days of Easter” kind of person, pay this balance (not to mention our historical tradition!) more careful attention.  We are apparently encouraged to use the 50-day language, according to our calendar rubrics.  But the Sunday after the Ascension is informed more by Ascension Day than by Easter Day.  Whether you call that ten day period the last part of Eastertide or Ascensiontide, be sure to afford it the distinct theological and Gospel-narrative emphasis it was meant to communicate.  On that Sunday, tell people “Christ is risen!” is no longer just about his resurrection, but about his rising bodily into heaven.  Make sure the Easter songs and hymns give way to songs and hymns about the ascension of Christ.  Crown him with many crowns and Hail the day that sees him rise are perhaps the two most famous examples.

If you want to read more about Ascension Day and its mini-season (or subset of Easter, if you insist), click here!  In my experience this is one of the most under-rated parts of the church year, and it has much to offer.