Inner Renewal through the Word

One of the great principles of worship that informs how liturgy is shaped and filled is lex orandi lex credendi – the rule or prayer is the rule of faith, what we pray is what we believe.  It’s not a one-way street: the deposit of faith ought informs our prayer and the way we pray informs our faith.  So it is very important especially when we pray together that we adhere to a faithful liturgy that promulgates orthodox belief.

One of the major points of faith to an Anglican, and our Protestant brethren, is the authoritative primacy of Scripture.  Arguably the most famous prayer that has originated in the Anglican Prayer Book tradition is the “scripture collect” for Advent II – “grant us to so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them…”  But today let’s highlight a different one.  Occasional Prayer #70 on page 667 is entitled For Inner Renewal through the Word.  It reads thus:

Gracious God and most merciful Father, you have granted us the rich and precious jewel of your holy Word: Assist us with your Spirit, that the same Word may be written in our hearts to our everlasting comfort, to reform us, to renew us according to your own image, to build us up and edify us into the perfect dwelling place of your Christ, sanctifying and increasing in us all heavenly virtues; grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.

My goodness this prayer is packed full!  Let’s break it down.

  • God is a gracious and merciful Father.
  • The Bible is a rich and precious jewel granted us by God.
  • The Spirit helps write the Bible in our hearts.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible comfort us.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible reforms (corrects and redirects) us.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible renews us in the image of God.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible builds and edifies us into the perfect dwelling place of Christ Jesus.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible makes us holy.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible increases heavenly virtues (such as faith, hope, and love).
  • For the sake of Jesus Christ, we pray the Spirit would do all this in us.

For many Christians the language of the Word being written on our hearts is commonplace.  For some, especially for onlookers in other faiths or none in particular, this may sound strange.  What’s the difference between having the Bible “written in our hearts” and having the Bible “memorized”?  Think of the Pharisees in the Gospels: they had memorized the Scriptures flawlessly, and outwardly conformed their lives to what they understood them to say, but inwardly many of them were still very crooked people.  Think of the words of St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3: “the letter kills, the Spirit gives life.”  Think of the words of our Lord in John 6: “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is no help at all.”  The literal words of the Bible are not its power.  It is the god-breathed nature of those words, and the application of those words in the human heart where their true power is made manifest.

One can say the same thing Lord of the Rings or Doctor Who or any other story: there is a real difference between memorizing the contents and knowing all the trivia and the behind-the-scenes stuff, and being inspired and changed from the experience.  Good poetry, good music, good arts – these have the potential to change one’s perspective on life, to touch the heart in ways that the mind cannot explain or words express.  That is the beginning of what it means to have the words of sacred scripture written on our hearts.  It has been heard, it is been read, it has been marked (or studied), and it is being learned and inwardly digested to nourish and strengthen the reader.  You know the saying “You are what you eat”?  It’s not only true about a healthy diet of food, but the same principle applies to the ingesting of the Word of God.  (And to Holy Communion too, but we’ll save that for another time!)

Anyway, go read this prayer in the Daily Office today.  It’s good for you. 😉

Prayers to Note

Teen suicide rates are on the rise in the US.  The economy and workplace situations are worsening, as many people are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, causing in loss of stable schedules, often minimal benefits, health insurance, and vacation time.  Depression and anxiety is commonplace, and the pressures of 21st century life can be crushing when exacerbated with social media.  To these and similar challenges, our new Prayer Book presents a number of Occasional Prayers that can direct our attentions and affections, and possibly ease the weary soul.  There are three I want to point you to today, on pages 663-665.

#59 FOR THE DISCOURAGED AND DOWNCAST

O God, almighty and merciful, you heal the broken-hearted,
and turn the sadness of the sorrowful to joy,
Let your fatherly goodness be upon all whom you have made.
Remember in pity all those who are this day destitute,
homeless, elderly, infirm, or forgotten.
Bless the multitude of your poor. Lift up those who are cast down.
Mightily befriend innocent sufferers,
and sanctify to them the endurance of their wrongs.
Cheer with hope all who are discouraged and downcast,
and by your heavenly grace preserve from falling
those whose poverty tempts them to sin.
Though they be troubled on every side, suffer them not to be distressed;
though they are perplexed, save them from despair.
Grant this, O Lord, for the love of him who for our sakes became poor,
your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

#62 FOR THOSE AFFLICTED WITH MENTAL SUFFERING

Almighty God, whose Son took upon himself the afflictions of your people:
Regard with your tender compassion those suffering from anxiety,
depression, or mental illness [especially _______];
bear their sorrows and their cares; supply all their needs;
help them to put their whole trust and confidence in you;
and restore them to strength of mind and cheerfulness of spirit;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

#63 FOR THOSE IN BONDAGE TO ADDICTION

O blessed Lord, you ministered to all who came to you:
Look with compassion upon those who through addiction
have lost their health and freedom.
Restore to them the assurance of your unfailing mercy;
remove from them the fears that beset them;
strengthen them in the work of their recovery;
and to those who minister to them,
give patient understanding and persevering love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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.

Here a Proper Preface is normally sung or said.

Following on the heels of the Sursum Corda, the celebrant comes to the Proper Preface.  Together, this whole sequence forms the “Great Thanksgiving” or prefatory prayers of the Eucharistic Canon.  Make sure you read about the Sursum Corda before reading this, so you have the context settled.

The “Preface” is essentially a single-sentence addition to the Great Thanksgiving.  It specifies a particular reason why it is “right, our duty and our joy always and everywhere to give thanks” to God.  It is called a “Proper” Preface because it is proper to a particular occasion or season.

The 1662 Prayer Book offers five Proper Prefaces:

  1. upon Christmas Day, and seven days after
  2. upon Easter Day, and seven days after
  3. upon Ascension Day, and seven days after
  4. upon Whitsunday, and six days after [that’s Pentecost Week]
  5. upon the Feast of Trinity only

Because there were just five, these were provided directly in the liturgy itself, rather than in an appendix after the main text.  This state of affairs continued until the 1979 Prayer Book brought in a larger number of Proper Prefaces to cover every season of the church year.  I’m assuming these are, for the most part, imported from general Western Catholic practice, and not entirely made up by 1970’s Episcopalian revisionists, though I haven’t personally investigated their history.  Feel free to comment if you know!

Remarkably, the 2019 Prayer Book did not roll back this expansion, but actually added to them.  A few from the 1979 book’s list have been removed, but several more have been added, such that we have 34 Proper Prefaces to choose from!  Before the traditionalists chime in with renewed accusations of choose-your-own-adventure liturgies, however, it should be noted that these are not all “choices”, but Proper to particular occasions.  You can read them in full at this link; here I will just list them:

  1. The Lord’s Day (that is, any Sunday between Trinity and Advent)
  2. At Any Time (these two are for your weekday services not celebrating a saint)
  3. At Any Time
  4. Advent (throughout the season)
  5. Christmas (throughout the season, unless it’s one of the major saints’ days)
  6. Epiphany
  7. Presentation, Annunciation, and Transfiguration (some books nickname this Preface “Theophany”)
  8. Lent
  9. Holy Week
  10. Maundy Thursday
  11. Easter
  12. Ascension (all ten days!)
  13. Pentecost
  14. Trinity Sunday
  15. All Saints’
  16. Christ the King
  17. Apostles and Ordinations (including Ember Days)
  18. Dedication of a Church
  19. Baptism
  20. Holy Matrimony
  21. Burial or Commemoration of the Faithful Departed
  22. Penitential Occasions (because of the reference to the temptation of Jesus, this is a good one to use on the First Sunday of Lent!)
  23. Rogation Days or Thanksgiving Day
  24. Canada Day or Independence Day
  25. Remembrance Day or Memorial Day
  26. Common of a Martyr
  27. Common of a Missionary or Evangelist
  28. Common of a Pastor
  29. Common of a Teacher of the Faith
  30. Common of a Monastic or Religious
  31. Common of an Ecumenist
  32. Common of a Renewer of Society
  33. Common of a Reformer of the Church
  34. Common of Any Commemoration

Those last ones, #26-34, line up with the “Commons of Saints” Collects and lessons.

Now for a big question: How do I know which one to use?

The answer is usually simple: look at the Collect for the Day on pages 598-640.  Underneath each one, it will tell you which Preface to use.  Propers 1 through 28 do not note any Preface, which indicates three things:

  1. You can go with the classical prayer book pattern and not use a Preface at all.
  2. You can use the Lord’s Day Preface if it’s a Sunday.
  3. You can use the “At Any Time” Preface if it’s a weekday.

There, simple, all decided.

Perhaps, on very rare occasions, you may find it appropriate to use a Preface that is not normally appointed.  If the congregation (or greater social context) is experiencing a major crisis or a major celebration, perhaps a more penitential or thankful Preface, respectively, will be appropriate.  But on the whole, the Prefaces are not things to play mix-and-match with; they are Propers, just like the Collects and the Lessons, and are to be used as appointed.  They reinforce the liturgy as it stands; to meddle with them on your own is to seize control of the liturgy beyond your pay-grade, O priest!

And, a word of advice to those who publish service programs or bulletins… don’t make it a habit of including the full text of the Preface.  It’s just one sentence, let the people listen to their priest for ten seconds.  Besides, at certain times of year it changes fairly rapidly, and unless you’re really on top of the liturgy yourself you might make an error with it.  Best leave it in the hands of the celebrant and let him take the blame if something goes wrong! 😉

If you peruse other liturgical books, like the ASB, you will find some more beautiful Prefaces that are not included in the 2019 Prayer Book.  The jury is still out if The Saint Aelfric Customary will recommend any such extra Prefaces.

Praying Amidst an Impeachment Inquiry

I am not one known for being particularly #woke.  Following the news is (for me) a low-priority necessary evil.  There’s a lot of distraction out there, far too much commentary posing as facts, and let’s not even talk about the Comment Sections on news-related websites and social media.  Except this blog; comments here are pretty sparse and polite… thanks for that!  For the politeness I mean, I wouldn’t mind if they were less sparse.  Not that I’m begging.

Anyway, it did not escape my notice that a formal call to investigate the President of the United States of America and his conduct regarding foreign relations and electoral procedures, with an eye toward an impeachment inquiry, has been issued.  I had a few emotional knee-jerk reactions deep down inside, and I’m sure lots of people are going to have much stronger, and more public, reactions to this news also.  So I thought this would be a good thing to address in the realm of liturgy and prayer.

To a large extent, liturgical intercessory prayer is a matter of fill-in-the-blank.  We have a standard collection of prayers that we offer for the state, for society, and for leaders in particular.  On that level, our prayers for the nation do not change just because the word “impeachment” is officially on the table in Washington D.C.  We must not, on the one hand, devolve into that silly “sports fan” scenario of prayer, pray that we crush the Angry Orange Man of Doom.  Nor must we, on the other hand, devolve into that nationalism-over-faith sort of idolatry that we’ve seen from certain health-wealth and pentecostal extremes lately, and pray The Lord’s Anointed will be protected from such a demonic assault.  No, the President is still the President, and the inquiry is a perfectly legal procedure, whatever our personal opinions may be about either.  And so on one level we must continue to pray as we always pray:

We pray that you will lead the nations of the world in the way of righteousness; and so guide and direct their leaders, especially Donald Trump, our President, that your people may enjoy the blessings of freedom and peace.  Grant that our leaders may impartially administer justice, uphold integrity and truth, restrain wickedness and vice, and protect true religion and virtue.

2019 BCP, page 110

What does change is the context of our prayers, rather than the content.  With this new inquiry in mind, we must be sure we heartily pray for:

  1. impartially administer[ed] justice” – that these proceedings will go forward wisely, without assumption of guilt without evidence, and without scorn of evidence without analysis;
  2. uphold[ing] integrity and truth” – that all involved will proceed with due dignity and gravity of the task before them, without bombast or frivolity, and earnestly seeking the truth of the matter;
  3. restrain[ment of] wickedness and vice” – if the President is guilty of crimes that he will be held accountable for them; that the proceedings will not be sullied by ad hominem tactics, and our observation will not be an occasion for sin;
  4. and the “protect[ion of] true religion and virtue” – referencing James 1:27 as well as the general plea for clear heads and pure hearts to prevail.

These are four of the major purposes of earthly governments, as we understand the teaching in the Scriptures, and we ought to keep these in mind as we pray.  Whether you want to see Trump out of the White House for good, or whether you want him to remain there, in prayer we learn to set our political preferences aside and come before the Father with a more pure request: to fulfill his Word, to mete out judgement in his own time and on his own terms, and to deliver each of us from temptation and evil in the midst of all this.

We’ve also got Occasional Prayers #29, 30, 33, 37, 38, and 39 on pages 654-7 to help spell this out further.  Resist the temptation to go on internet rampages; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Praying concerning 9/11

The 11th of September has been dubbed “Patriot Day” by the US government, but is popularly known simply as “9/11”, and it commemorates those who lost or gave their lives on this day back in 2001 when four airplanes were hijacked by terrorists and used as weapons against iconic American buildings.  (Those of us in Massachusetts are perhaps especially resistant to the name “Patriot Day” because we already have a state holiday called “Patriots Day” which commemorates the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, close to April 19th.)

The American Church is not required to observe this day, of course, being a minor national observance.  But although it is of lowly status compared to other national days such as Independence Day, it is a day that weighs heavily on many of our hearts.  Ask someone “where they were on September 11th” and you’ll usually get a vivid answer (provided you ask someone who’s not much younger than 30).  This being the case, it will probably “feel right” bring this into our prayer life today.  Let’s explore some possibilities.

Occasional Prayers #27 & 28 for the Peace of the World are good places to start.  #33 for our Enemies is also an important prayer to take up, lest old anger set in.  Any other prayer for the nation in that section could be appropriate for today, as we take in the scope of how 9/11 impacted civil and foreign policy, and the way we’ve looked at ourselves and the rest of the world ever since.  More generally, #40 for all sorts and conditions of men is a traditional prayer recommended for Morning Prayer, and although it is more sweeping in scope and generic in the specifics, it can be helpful for putting things in context and perspective.

If you want to make a bigger splash in your prayers today, so to speak, pray the great Litany, making sure to include the “Supplication” section at the end.  Wednesday is one of the traditional days of the week that the Litany was appointed to be said anyway, so this is definitely worth considering.

Book Review: Shorter Christian Prayer

Welcome to Saturday Book Review time!  On most of the Saturdays this year we’re looking at a liturgy-related book noting (as applicable) its accessibility, devotional usefulness, and reference value.  Or, how easy it is to read, the prayer life it engenders, and how much it can teach you.

My first exposure to liturgical worship was when I played piano for Mass at a Roman Catholic church during my undergraduate years.  The beauty and purpose of liturgy didn’t really strike me until after I graduated, but during that time I did gradually get used to the different “style” of prayer involved and got curious enough to join a brief service of Vespers, which is akin to our Evening Prayer service except that it’s all psalmody and prayer with only one few-verse Scripture reading.  We did this ten-minute liturgy from a little red book called Shorter Christian Prayer, which is a compact and simplified version of the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours that forms the full current Roman Breviary (Daily Office).  When I graduated, I bought my own copy and used it sporadically during the summer and into my first year of seminary.

Shorter Christian Prayer was for me a gentle introduction to the discipline of daily prayer.  The Anglican Daily Office is much longer and more robust – definitely a healthier spiritual diet, but there’s a lot more to bite off.  This Roman book was like a stepping-stone on the path toward the real deal.  It features a four-week rotation of psalms, which is close to our Prayer Book period of time, except this doesn’t manage to include all 150 psalms, even with a separate Night Office included.

Functionally, this book is tricky to use; you need to use it with someone who knows what they’re doing with it first, before forging off on your own.  It’s very compact, abbreviating things as much as possible, printing the “Ordinary” (unchanging) elements in one place, the four-week-rotating elements in another section, and the seasonal “propers” in a third section.  The Morning & Evening Gospel Canticles (Benedictus and Magnificat) are printed on the inside front & back covers, respectively, for ease of access.  It all makes sense once you understand the system, but the learning curve is unpleasant.  I don’t think I ever quite used this book right when I actually used it, ca. 2008.

shorter-christian-prayer

Look at the Evening Prayer service start here.  Those opening sentences are short for: “God, come to my assistance.”  “Lord, make haste to help me.”  “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.”  “As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.  Amen.  Alleluia.”

A hymn follows, and there’s an appendix of hymns in the back (lyrics only).  Then you get the psalms.  To decipher what you see there on pages 208-209, there is an antiphon, followed by the Psalm (123), the “Glory to the Father,” then a psalm-prayer, then you repeat the antiphon.  Then you repeat that sequence with the next psalm (124).

There is often a third psalm or canticle from elsewhere in Scripture, followed by a reading (which is barely ever more than 5 verses long).  A brief responsory follows, which is sort of like an antiphonal prayer, then the Gospel Canticle (of Mary, in Evening Prayer here), with its own antiphon again.  Then follow intercessions which are like our suffrages, wrapped up with the Lord’s Prayer, a concluding prayer, and the concluding blessing.  You can get through all this in ten minutes or less, where the Anglican Daily Office is typically twice that length at least.  And yet, the Roman office manages to be more complicated in a shorter amount of time.

Visibly, this book is attractively bound and its use of red ink for rubrics and black ink for text-to-be-read-aloud is very helpful.  The typeface and artistry smack of 1980’s weirdness, but (being largely unfamiliar with liturgy at the time) I just took it as part of its charm.

On the whole, the daily office that this book gives you is one that is complex but short, varied in its content but frequent in its repetition of said content.  You don’t get all 150 psalms but you do get a nice array of other canticles mixed in.  The liturgical seasons have a much larger impact on the office than we experience in the Anglican tradition.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 2/5
Unless you really know your way around liturgy in general, this book is probably too complicated to figure out how to use on your own.  I think it’s meant either 1, for priests who don’t want to have to carry the full Liturgy of the Hours volume with them, or 2, for laymen who are following along the Office in the pews and are being guided through the service.  Or perhaps, 3, for enthusiastic laymen who have already learned the Office and want to pray it on their own.

Devotional Usefulness: 2/5
It’s just the Daily Office, which is only part of your spiritual life.  And given how anemic its treatment of the Scriptures is, you’re not going to get much meat here.  The antiphons and psalm-prayers can really bring the experience of praying the psalms to life, though – it’s what woke me up to the joy and virtue of praying psalms.

Reference Value: 2/5
This is a modern version of what probably used to be a much richer and more complex liturgy in the Roman tradition.  Looking at this book probably won’t give you significant insight into the depths of Papist liturgy, so its reference value is likely pretty low.  That said, its rubrics are pretty specific (once you find them), and comparative study between this and our Prayer Books can be pretty interesting.

As a last word, I should add that apart from the Liturgy of the Hours, Roman liturgy also has an “Office of Readings” which includes more substantial readings from the Bible as well as certain Church Fathers and theologians.  I doubt it still measures up to our Daily Office Lectionary, and the post-biblical readings are undoubtedly going to be unabashedly Papist in doctrine, so we’re not going to have much use for that.  Though the idea of devotional readings from the divines of our tradition is one worth considering, albeit not in our Daily Office itself.

I am thankful for this book.  Once in a blue moon I pick it up and pray the appropriate Office from it, mostly out of nostalgia and gratitude for the role that Roman Catholic chapel played in my Christian growth.  But that’s not reason enough for me to recommend anyone else get a copy.  Only do so if you plan on some comparative-liturgical study.

An Apt Prayer for a Friday

Since the first century, Fridays have been a day of special devotion and discipline in Christian tradition.  You can see this spelled out in the Didache – Wednesday and Friday are put forth as the two normal weekly fast days for Christians, as opposed to the Jewish Monday and Thursday.  The Prayer Book tradition receives, upholds, and passes along to us the practice of a regular Friday fast with few exceptions.  (Modern prayer books like the 2019 tend to be pretty soft on this this point, but if the 1662 is our liturgical standard, we should take note that the modern language “day of special discipline” really ought to be understood as “fast day”.)

The particular reason for Friday to be one of the regular fast days (or the primary one, as Wednesday seems to be seen as a ‘lesser’ fast than Friday) is linked to why we worship together on Sundays: as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord on the Lord’s Day, we observe the death of our Lord with a fast on Friday.  It is the part of the weekly rhythm of the Christian spiritual life: fasting and penitence upon our Lord’s death, sabbath rest on the day of his repose, and gathering with joy to worship the risen Lord on his resurrection day.

Imagine if that’s what you thought of first when someone mentioned “the weekend”.  Wow.

Anyway, what I thought might be nice to observe together today is one of the Collects for Evening Prayer that is suggested for Fridays.  This is not one of the historic Daily Office Collects, but an addition in the 1979 Prayer Book that has been retained in the 2019.  You don’t have  to use this Collect on Fridays; the rubrics allow you to stick with the traditional two (for Peace and for Aid Against Perils) if you like.  But the prayer suggested for Friday is very appropriate for the penitential tenor of this day of the week.

A COLLECT FOR FAITH

Lord Jesus Christ, by your death you took away the sting of death: Grant to us your servants so to follow in faith where you have led the way, that we may at length fall asleep peacefully in you and wake up in your likeness; for your tender mercies’ sake.  Amen.

In the scheme of “every Sunday an Easter” and “every Friday a Good Friday”, this prayer directs us right to the death of Christ, celebrating the victory Jesus wrought thereby, referencing Hosea 13:14 and/or 1 Corinthians 15:56.  We then turn to the reality of our own death – we pray that we would die a “peaceful” (that is, prepared-for and accepting) death, faithfully following Jesus through death toward our own resurrection unto glory.  It is an eschatological prayer, looking ahead to the end of all things, through and beyond even death itself.

Is this prayer traditional?  Not strictly speaking; only 40 years of the past 470 have seen this prayer in the Office.  But is this prayer appropriate?  Absolutely.

Reading Pace, with video

Back in October I wrote a short piece about reading pace – how talking too quickly or slowly, either as a leader in the liturgy or concerning the congregation as a whole, can be the death knell of intelligible worship.  I decided it was time to re-visit that subject, not because I just had another bad experience with it, but because it was on my mind and I made a video.  The original post is repeated below.  Enjoy!

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!

Prayers of the People (Old & New)

One of the primary improvements found in the 2019 Prayer Book over its predecessor in 1979 is the restoration of a great of deal of classical prayer book content that was displaced, obscured, or even omitted in ’79.  The “Prayers of the People” in the Communion service was once of the hardest-hit features of classical liturgy in the ’79 which is substantially restored in the 2019’s Anglican Standard Text.

The classical approach was to read through all those prayers, straight through, and the 2019 puts in congregational responses – “Lord in your mercy / Hear our prayer” – which is hardly more than a cosmetic update to help people keep focused.  A few changes of wording have been made, and at least one new addition made (namely the petition for the advancement and spread of the Gospel), and one slightly-controversial line in the final petition pointing back toward the 1549 Prayer Book’s approach to handling prayers for the departed. A sober and attentive article on this subject can be found here, in case you’re curious or concerned.

What we’re going to look at today though is not so much the content of the prayers (I dare say the above paragraph and link are a sufficient headstart into your own comparison if you really want to do that), but instead the function of the prayers.  In modern liturgy, the Prayers of the People are a sort of thing unto itself.  The Sermon has been delivered and the Creed has been said, and now it’s time to pray for a little while.  When we’re done we move on to the Confession, absolution, and Offertory.  It all fits together into a logical progression: intercede, confess, receive absolution, and celebrate with offering.  It’s logical and sensible, but it’s not particularly profound; as far as I understand it thus far, this is primarily a functional progression of liturgy.

The classical prayer book order was more, for lack of a better term, mystical about the Prayers.  Until the 1979 book changed things up, the Sermon was followed by the Offertory, and the monetary gifts would be brought up front along with the bread and wine for Holy Communion, and then the “Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church” began, read by the Celebrant (rather than a Deacon or lay reader).  These prayers included an optional line for God to “accept our alms and oblations”, referencing the Offertory gifts, and in a sense anticipating Holy Communion itself.

In a way, the “Prayers of the People” were like the preparation for Communion itself!  As the people got ready to approach the throne of grace, their intercessions were sent ahead, along with the very elements that God would provide to feed them.  These Prayers would then be followed by an Exhortation, the Confession & absolution, and then the Communion prayers would follow immediately.  This is probably the most-changed part of the liturgy from old to new in terms of “order of service.”

If you find this appeals to you, and you want to capture this sense of eucharistic anticipation in the Prayers of the People in the 2019 book’s liturgy, there are things you can do.  You can go all out and use the instructions in the Additional Directions to re-structure the entire liturgy to the “1662 Order.”  *SEE FOOTNOTE*  But if that’s too radical a change for your context (or you prefer the 1928-informed order of the eucharistic canon over the 1662 order), there are three things you should do to help tie the Prayers of the People more clearly to the celebration of Holy Communion:

  1. Do not hold announcements after the Peace.
  2. Always appoint a Communion Hymn at the Offertory.
  3. Have the bread and wine brought up to the altar at the same time as the monetary gifts.

In most cases, those are the two things that separate the Prayers of the People from the Communion.  The Peace already easily turns into a greet-everyone-in-the-room moment, and when it’s followed by the weekly parish announcements the flow of the liturgy is basically dead at that point, only to be revived with the Offertory – but almost as if a second worship service is starting.  If you want the Prayers of the People to reclaim any semblance of Eucharistic preparation, you’ve got to hold those announcements somewhere else (the old order called for them after the Creed and before the Sermon).  And then you have to follow that up with Communion-themed offertory music, lest that anthem also break the link.  The bread and wine, too, need to be involved in the Offertory (as was its traditional purpose anyway), so it’s clearer that the money is secondary and the sacrament is primary.

If none of this interests you, or strikes you as necessary, that’s fine.  The modern liturgical order clearly has a different logic to it, and it’s not always easy or reasonable to use one prayer book and pretend it’s a different one.  But, as always, it’s important to know and understand how classical Anglican liturgy worked, so we can at least be honest about when we’re following it and when we’re doing something new.  And the opportunities for teaching and spiritual formation in our congregations, too, can be greatly enriched by such perspective!

 

** UPDATE **
It turns out that we do in fact have the option to conform the liturgy of the Anglican Standard Text not only to the 1662 Order, but to any subsequent book.  This permission is spelled both on pages 7 and 104, and a member of the ACNA liturgy committee confirmed that this is the intention of those rubrics.