The Suffrage in the Daily Office

One of the fun perks of watching the liturgical revision process carefully and attentively over the past 3 or 4 years is noticing what has been pretty consistent from the start, and where the pinball machines are located.  The Suffrage (also known as the Lesser Litany or the Preces & Responses) in the Daily Office is one such instance, having gone through a subtle edit or two almost every year.

Is a “subtle edit”, you may ask, really worth mentioning?  Sure, some changes are bigger than others, and there’s no major doctrinal conflict at stake in this Suffrage, but the fact that it’s part of the Daily Office – a service of prayer common to all Christians as opposed to the Prayers of Consecration only ever read aloud by priests and bishops – makes it a point of contact for real common prayer.  This is the sort of thing that people memorize after a while, so even the small and subtle changes can be jarring for regular pray-ers of the Daily Office (especially if you’ve sung these at Choral Evensong or something).

The starting point for these call-and-response prayers seemed to be the version found in the 1979 Prayer Book, and the constant question seemed to be how much further they should be rolled back towards the style and wording of the classical books.  Let’s take a look at how these have been translated and adapted.

It should be noted, further, that the ordering of these prayers is a little different in the 1979 book.  We’re following the order as found in our own 2019 prayer book, which matches the historic order with one addition.

The First Pair (Psalm 85:7)

1662: O Lord, show thy mercy upon us; And grant us thy salvation.
2018: O Lord, show your mercy upon us; And grant us your salvation.
2016: O Lord, show us your mercy; And grant us your salvation.
1979: Show us your mercy, O Lord; And grant us your salvation.

This one is subtle.  The difference between “show us your mercy” and “show your mercy upon us” is significant.  The former, as in the 1979 book and 2016 draft, is a general request that could be answered in any form.  The latter, as in the historic and probably-final draft of the new book, asks for such a show of divine mercy to be enacted upon us specifically.  It’s just like the translation of the Kyrie – “Lord have mercy” versus “Lord have mercy upon us.”

The Second Pair (Psalm 20:9)

1662: O Lord, save the King. And mercifully hear us, when we call upon thee.
2018: O Lord, guide those who govern us; And lead us in the way of justice and truth.
2016: O Lord, save our nations;  And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
1979: Lord, keep this nation under your care; And guide us in the way of justice and truth.

This is an inevitably tricky one, as the verse needs “translating” the moment it leaves England.  A traditional option was “O Lord, save the state”, but that’s actually quite divergent from the original – praying for a country or government rather than a specific person or leader.  And so you can see the sweep of thinking and re-thinking as this prayer is adapted into North American life while still seeking to be faithful to the original verse.

I don’t know why “and hear us when we call upon you” hasn’t been restored though, as that’s what our Revised Coverdale Psalter now reads.  Force of recent American habit, perhaps?

The Third Pair (Psalm 132:9)

1662: Endue thy Ministers with righteousness; And make thy chosen people joyful.
2016: Clothe your ministers with righteousness; And make your chosen people joyful.
2018: Clothe your ministers with righteousness; And let your people sing with joy.
1979: Clothe your ministers with righteousness; Let your people sing with joy.

Our Revised Coverdale Psalter translates the second half of this verse “And let your saints sing with joy.”  There’s an interesting balance in the 2018 version, as a result: we’re making closer use of our psalter’s translation of the verse, yet also retaining a rhythm (or syllable count) that matches the 1662 almost exactly.  This especially makes it easier for those who chant or sing these prayers to adapt to the new wording; though even just reading it with a similar cadence is a pleasant experience.

The Fourth Pair (Psalm 28:9)

1662: O Lord, save thy people; And bless thine inheritance.
2018: O Lord, save your people; And bless your inheritance.
2016: O Lord, save your people; And bless your inheritance.
1979: Let your way be known upon earth; Your saving health among all nations. (Psalm 67:2)

The 1979 Prayer Book omitted this one entirely and used a different verse instead.  It’s a fine prayer (it’s all Scripture), but we’re going back to the original.

The Fifth Pair (Leviticus 26:6)

1662: Give peace in our time, O Lord; Because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only thou, O God.
2018: Give peace in our time, O Lord; And defend us by your mighty power.
2016: Give peace in our time, O Lord; For only in you can we live in safety.
1979: Give peace, O Lord, in all the world; For only in you can we live in safety.

I secretly suspect that the double-length of this response is the bane of every modern liturgist, who I’m assuming wants every line to look close to the same length.  The question, of course, is how to shorten it faithfully.  That half is not directly in Leviticus 26:6, but is simply implied in the context (and throughout the Old Testament), so, unless there’s something I’m missing, we are at liberty to rephrase it without direct scriptural appeal.  I can see why the more radical end of the modernist revisionists wouldn’t want to talk about God “fighting” and prefer to emphasize our “safety” in him.  But it makes more sense to me, as with the 2018 probably-final version, to be a little more explicit about God defending us by his might power.

The Sixth Pair (Psalm 9:18)

1662: (This one wasn’t added until 1979 as far as I’m aware.)
2016: Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten; Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
2018: Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten; Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
1979: Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten; Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.

This one’s a bit of an anomaly.  The 1979 Prayer Book added this one in, for what I believe was the first time in Prayer Book history.  It’s a fine prayer, straight from the psalter in that book.  What amuses me is the fact that we haven’t updated its wording to match more closely our psalter, which reads:

For the poor shall not always be forgotten; * the patient hope of the meek shall not perish for ever.

It’s possible that the 2019 book will make some final edits here, but it’s probably more likely that the “inertia” of liturgy will result in this prayer remaining the same as in 1979.

The Seventh Pair (Psalm 51:11)

1662: O God, make clean our hearts within us; And take not thy Holy Spirit from us.
2018: Create in us clean hearts, O God; And take not your Holy Spirit from us.
2016: Create in us clean hearts, O God; And take not your Holy Spirit from us.
1979: Create in us clean hearts, O God; And sustain us with your Holy Spirit.

This verse is a classic point of argumentation among Christians; there are those who argue that such a concern/prayer is no longer applicable to us under the New Covenant.  The 1979 Prayer Book certainly cracked under that pressure and changed “take not from us” to “sustain us with”, completely sidestepping the issue and rewriting the Bible verse.  As I’ve said a few times before, it’s a fine prayer, but we’re sticking with the original.

Martin Luther & the Baptismal Liturgy

February 18th is the commemoration of Martin Luther, the first of the great Protestant Reformers.  He was born in 1483, ordained a priest in 1507 at about age 24, began his public protest of ecclesiastical abuses with his 95 Theses in 1517, and was excommunicated by the Pope in 1521, thus kicking off the Protestant Reformation.  He died on this day in 1546 at the respectable age of 62.

When examining the history of the English Reformation and the birth of Anglican tradition, more attention is usually paid to the influence of the Calvinist reformers of Geneva than to the German Lutherans.  So today let’s take a look at a significant Lutheran feature in Anglican liturgy: the “flood prayer” in the Baptismal service.  When Luther was revising the Roman liturgy for the German Protestant churches in the 1520’s he abbreviated the baptism service a couple different times, streamlining its attention upon the baptismal act and the grace of God therein.  But one thing he added to the liturgy was this “flood” prayer which carried over into the English Prayer Books a few decades later.

Let’s take a look at this prayer in three versions: the Lutheran Service Book as used by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (which I’m hoping is a close representative of the German original), the 1662 Prayer Book (the Anglican standard), and the most recent draft version I’ve got from the ACNA website.

Baptism - Flood Prayer

Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice is the modern love of brevity.  The long, eloquent, and often verbose prayers of the 16th and 17th centuries have been eroded through the 20th century for the modern ear.

The next obvious feature is that our new version is missing two sections with biblical references.  Before people start complain about the ACNA watering down the baptismal liturgy (if you’ll forgive the wonderful, wonderful pun), it should be pointed out that those omitted references to the crossing of the Red Sea and the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan are found elsewhere in the modern liturgy.  Rather than hitting us with all of them at once in one glorious prayer, it’s spread out among a few medium- and short-length prayers.

It’s also interesting to note the theme of the judgment of the wicked – it’s present in each version of the Flood Prayer but ours seems to be less prominent than its Lutheran forebear.  We just get a shout-out to God’s wrath in the penultimate section, while the Lutheran version mentions those condemned in the Noahic Flood, hard-hearted Pharaoh, and the inherited sin of Adam.  This, perhaps, flies in the face of certain negative stereotypes regarding the Reformed theological camp.

Whateverso, despite its reduction in length, and its spreading out through different parts of our baptismal liturgy today, the Flood Prayer is a beautiful prayer, deeply expressive of our baptismal theology, and we have Martin Luther to thank for writing the original version!  If you want to read more about the origin of the Flood Prayer, this article is a nice place to start.

Thankful Thursday

Thankful Thursday is an occasional theme on social media – religious or otherwise, people sometimes make a point of posting something online some sort of expression of thanksgiving each Thursday.  It’s a healthy way to live one’s life, and, of course, a key biblical aspect of the Christian life.

Naturally, the liturgy has a prominent place for thanksgiving.  In Morning and Evening Prayer, giving thanks is near the end of the Office, as if the culmination of the service.  The “General Thanksgiving” prayer is fantastic: it’s meaty, it’s biblical, it’s thorough, it’s even exhortative in the way it reminds us how to live thankfully.  The Communion Service also has a high place for giving thanks – the word Eucharist means “good grace” or (more loosely) “thanksgiving.”  The Communion Prayers are prefaced with thanksgiving, and the Post-Communion Prayer is also one of thanksgiving.

So maybe it’s a good idea to bring “Thankful Thursday” into your prayer life, too.  Our Prayer Book comes with a large collection of Occasional Prayers, the last section of which are thanksgivings.  Why not pull these out and add them to the Daily Office today?  This is especially wise for Evening Prayer, when you’ll have the opportunity to look back on your day and give specific thanks for the blessings of the day that is past.

Litany of Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, fellow residents of the USA!

Whether you’ve got a public worship service today or not, this is a great day to pull out some extra prayers of thanksgiving.  In particular, this is great opportunity to make use of the “Litany of Thanksgiving”, or #114 in the Occasional Prayers section of our up-and-coming Prayer Book.  Here’s the full text, so you don’t have to dig around for it:

Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so freely bestowed upon us:

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea,
We thank you, Lord.

For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends,
We thank you, Lord.

For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
We thank you, Lord.

For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
We thank you, Lord.

For all who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity,
We thank you, Lord.

For all who earnestly seek after truth, and all who labor for justice,
We thank you, Lord.

For all that is good and gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ,
We thank you, Lord.

For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
We thank you, Lord.

Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;
To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

You could use this in the Daily Office after the three Collects, in the Communion service as an extension of the Prayers of the People, in the Antecommunion service in place of the Communion Prayers, or simply in your own private devotions beyond the liturgy.  There are several other prayers of thanksgiving following this one in the Prayer Book collection; feel free to peruse and pray those too, today!  In a culture as materialistic as ours, we need to give thanks as much as we can, to counteract the I-need-more-stuff tendency that so easily creeps in.

Prayers for Veterans Day

Yesterday was Veterans Day in the US, but today is its “observed” day for many businesses and schools.  If you didn’t take advantage of yesterday’s centennial observance, today’s a good day to add some appropriate prayers to your daily rounds.

Pull up our “Occasional Prayers” collection: https://s3.amazonaws.com/acna/Occasional%20Prayers%20181017.pdf

There are plenty of appropriate options to choose from.  #25-37 are the national prayers, especially consider #25 & 26 For the Peace of the World and #30 For Those in the Armed Forces, and #120, the thanksgiving For Military Veterans.

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!

Praying on Election Day

Here in the US of A it’s an election day today.  Local and mid-term elections for various offices and a number of ballot questions sit before millions of Americans.  In our collection of Occasional Prayers we have a prayer for elections:

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide and direct, we humbly pray, the minds of all those who are called to elect fit persons to serve [in ___].  Grant that in the exercise of our choice we may promote your glory, and the welfare of this nation.  This we ask for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

This is, obviously, a good prayer to take with you to the polls, or to pull out in moments of anxiety, or to add to the Daily Office today.  If you feel so compelled to spend further time in prayer, or otherwise find yourself seized by fear or worry about this election, consider this ideas:

Prayers for wisdom: Psalms 1, 19, 37, 49, 73
Prayers for leaders: Psalms 82, 132
Prayers for forgiveness: Psalms 32*, 38, 51, 143
Prayers of praise: Psalms 145 through 150

* In the Daily Office, we’ll get Psalm 32 this evening anyway.

Remembering the Faithful Departed in the Liturgy

November 2nd is the commemoration of the Faithful Departed.  For the Roman Catholics, this is a holy day of higher rank, equal (or almost equal?) to All Saints’ Day itself.  The distinction is that All Saints’ Day remembers the Church Triumphant – Saints with a capital S – and All Souls’ Day remembers the Church Expectant – those at rest, awaiting the resurrection on the Last Day.  In Protestant theology, most of us generally don’t make much (if any) distinction between these two groups.  Some might posit that the “Capital S Saints” are enjoying the beatific vision to a greater degree than others among the departed, but I’m not aware of much talk along those lines.

As a result, the All Souls commemoration has typically been rolled into the All Saints commemoration in Anglican practice and piety.

However, there is a good reason for distinguishing these two holy days.  Two analogies present themselves.  The first is in our Prayers of the People in the Communion service: historically the last petition of those Prayers acknowledges both the departed at rest and the saints in glory.  Even if one believes these are not two different groups of people, they are clearly presented to us as two aspects of people.  We remember the Departed in a joyful glorified state and in a mournful “we miss them” sense.  The second analogy is the funeral/Burial service: the interplay between giving thanks and mourning is intricate and (occasionally) controversial.

In the standard Prayers of the People we have now, there is a lovely inclusio wherein you can add the names of the departed to your prayers:

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

My congregation makes use of this on a regular basis, but if yours does not, this weekend is the perfect opportunity to do so!

Remembering the Saints in the Liturgy

All Saints Day is upon us!  As one of the seven principle feasts of the Church Year this is (or ought to be) a grand occasion not only for celebration and worship but also for teaching and catechesis.  The greatest holidays of the year, after all, are built upon the greatest doctrines of the Christian faith.  All Saints’ Day draws our attention to the communion of saints, as the Apostles’ Creed puts it, that Body of Christ of which we are a part.  There are a few built-in features of the liturgy that can (or should) be highlighted to enhance the celebration:

  • The Collect of the Day is packed with Scripture and theology.
  • The heavenly multitude depicted in the epistle lesson from the book of Revelation is a beautiful picture of this holiday’s subject.
  • The Sursum Corda (or “Great Thanksgiving”) leads to a special Proper Preface for the occasion: “For in the multitude of your Saints, you have surrounded us with so great a cloud of witnesses that we, rejoicing in their fellowship, may run with patience the race that is set before us, and, together with them, may receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”
  • The usual prayers leading up to the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) are worth emphasizing today: “with angels and archangels and with the whole company of heaven“.

The unity of prayer and fellowship, between all saints in heaven and on earth, is wonderfully celebrated throughout the liturgy.

But is there something more we can do?

There are many ideas that could be brainstormed, but this is probably the simplest one.  The final petition of the standard Prayers of the People reads:

We remember before you all your servants who have departed this life in your faith and fear, [especially ______________,] that your will for them may be fulfilled, and we ask you to give us grace to follow the good examples of [N., and] all your saints, that we may share with them in your heavenly kingdom.

This is a direct invitation to fill in the blank, and All Saints’ Day (or Sunday, when most of us will be celebrating this holiday) is the perfect opportunity to expand the second blank.  You could draw up a list of saints who are well-loved in your congregation, or list all twelve apostles (replacing Judas Iscariot with Matthias), or list the Saints celebrated as Major Feast Days in the Prayer Book.  My church this year will just be listing categories: “give us grace to follow the good examples of Joseph and Mary the holy family, your Apostles and Evangelists, your holy Martyrs and Confessors, and all your saints…”

If you do include a list therein, note that the traditional ordering of Saints is basically:

  1. the Blessed Virgin Mary
  2. Joseph
  3. Apostles (not just the twelve, but including Paul)
  4. Evangelists (Mark and Luke)
  5. Martyrs
  6. Confessors
  7. Doctors (that is, “Teachers of the Faith”)
  8. Bishops and Kings
  9. Monastics or members of other religious orders
  10. Other Saints

The point of this is not simply “to be traditional” and “get things right,” but the general ordering tradition exists to denote a sort of hierarchy.  This is not to say that a Martyr is more holy than a Monk, per se, but that the witness of the former is generally greater than the latter, and so deserves a place of greater significance when presenting such names to the congregation.  If this sort of ordering offends your theological sensibilities, then be sure to use a different-but-clear ordering, such as alphabetizing their names, so it doesn’t just look like a hodge-podge thrown-together list.  Liturgy and worship always benefits from transparent forethought!

Reading Pace

A major feature of any liturgy is reading.  Appointed readers read Scripture lessons, a Deacon (or Priest) reads a Gospel lesson at the Communion service, everyone reads prayers and Creeds together.  Sometimes it’s like a dialogue, going back and forth between the minister and the people; sometimes it’s a block reading, like everyone reading a Confession together.  One of the issues that can crop up is the pacing of these readings.

On his or her own, sometimes a reader gets nervous.  This is perfectly understandable, and experience and practice works wonders here.  But it must be cautioned that a nervous or inexperienced reader can rush through the words, tripping over or slurring them together.  Or sometimes the opposite – the gravity of reading the Word of God overwhelms them such that they end up reading it very slowly.  Public readings ought to be read at a natural pace, such that the commas, semicolons, and periods are all clear and distinct.  We want the reading to have some dramatic weight, but we don’t want to overdo it, William Shatner style:

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The same applies to congregation readings.  Be it a Psalm, a Collect, Creed, or other prayer or reading, the people need to go at a natural pace.

If we read too fast together, the issues are many:

  • people could run out of breath
  • there’s no time to think about or process what you’re actually saying
  • it communicates a lack of care, value, or import to the words
  • visitors unfamiliar with the liturgy will feel swamped and overwhelmed

Similarly, reading too slowly can mask the overall coherence of the reading or prayer.

If your congregation has a pacing problem, it’s really upon the leaders to fix it.  The clergy or other ministers who lead the various services need to set the pace, even instruct the congregation to speed up or slow down.  Reading and praying together is a spiritual exercise requiring practice and intentionality.  Western culture sometimes makes this difficult for us – we don’t want to end up like the Borg from Star Trek, we don’t want to lose our individuality, we easily mistrust corporate liturgical action and prefer “personal” and “relational” things.  So for many people these acts of common prayer and common reading is a lost art that has to be re-learned.  Let’s not beat people over the head with this, but we do need to be aware that actual training, practice, and learning is involved!