Book Review: Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book

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.

Are you an Anglo-Catholic?  Or do you have high-church leanings?  If yes, then this is a book you’ll probably appreciate: Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book.  Despite the name, it’s not a Prayer Book in the sense of the Common Prayer Book; this little volume does not deal with liturgy as such.  In the three-fold rule of prayer scheme of things, this deals primarily with personal or private devotion and prayer.

Note: This review pertains to its 2014 edition; it has predecessors which may be rather different.

The Table of Contents give you a good idea of what’s inside here.

  • The Christian’s Obligations
  • Daily Prayer
  • Penitence and the Sacrament of Reconciliation
  • The Holy Eucharist
  • Eucharistic Devotions
  • Devotions through the Christian Year
  • Topical Devotions
  • Litanies
  • The Holy Hour

The Daily Prayer and Holy Eucharist sections contain prayers and explanations of the primary liturgies of the Prayer Book tradition, approximating or summarizing the Daily Office in short form and providing devotional aids for following along in the Communion service.  The Penitence section includes a re-print of The Reconciliation of a Penitent, found in the 1979 Prayer Book.

The Eucharistic, calendar-based, and other topical-based devotions and prayers are drawn from a wide swath of Church history and are unashamedly catholic in outlook.  I wouldn’t say it’s so Papist as to be un-Anglican, though some of its content definitely would be rejected by the more ardent low-churchmen, and it does admittedly slightly stretch the boundaries set out in the Anglican formularies (an issue that virtually all ‘parties’ of modern Anglicanism are guilty of in one way or another, to be fair).

As a parent, I have enjoyed the prayer for one’s children.  As a priest, I have enjoyed the “Nine Days of Prayer for One Deceased” both for my own grieving and for being ready to help others in theirs.

There are two cautions I must raise regarding this book, however.

  1. It is written to integrate with the 1979 Prayer Book.  As we’ve seen in a previous review, the 1979 Prayer Book is not the best representative of Anglican tradition by a long shot.  For most of my readers that book is also now completely obsolete, if you ever used it at all.  That makes some features of this book, especially its walk-through of the Communion service, rather out of date (if not just plain incorrect).
  2. It shows signs of current Episcopalian liberalism.  Because this is offered as a source of traditionalist devotional material, it does have an inherent liturgical conservatism to it, but certain issues like sexual morality in the examination of conscience end up reading a bit oddly.  Theological precision has long gone out the window in Episcopalianism, too, so one cannot count on the content of this book being well-tethered, to the Anglican formularies or otherwise.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 5/5
This is a very user-friendly book.  It’s meant for quick & easy use, without training; you don’t have to know your way around the Book of Common Prayer.  It has explanations and introductions in each chapter or section, much of which is useful to non-Episcopalians.

Devotional Usefulness: 3/5
This is where mileage may vary.  The fact that it’s conformed to the 1979 Prayer Book is an inconvenience for us in the ACNA.  The fact that it’s specifically Anglo-Catholic may take it down a notch or two if you’re opposed to Anglo-Catholicism (making it a 1 or a 2).  But if you’re comfortable with that tradition, there are plenty of things in here one can still enjoy and use.

Reference Value: 2/5
Again, the 1979 connection decreases its reference value outside of Episcopalianism.  But if you want to look at some classic catholic devotions (like devotions to Mary and the Saints, prayers for the departed, stations of the cross, etc.) through some sort of Anglican filter then this can still be pretty educational.  It’s primarily a devotional book, though.

All in all, I’m happy to have received a copy, and was happy to pass along another copy to someone else.  It’s nice to pick up every now and then.  I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy or recommend it to others at this point, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a revised edition compatible with the 2019 Prayer Book being made someday.

The Triduum as a single liturgy

An interesting interpretation of the modern liturgies for the Triduum is to consider all three as one single worship service that happens to be broken up across three days.  Before I get into the full explanation, this merits breaking down a bit:

  • By “modern liturgies” I mean what we’ve got essentially in the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books.  They’re new, or modern, to the Prayer Book tradition.  If you take a longer view of history, they can also be seen as restorations of pre-reformation liturgical tradition, conformed to the Prayer Book ethos and style.
  • The Triduum, in case it needs clarifying, is the three-day sequence of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.  (The Great Vigil of Easter is not part of the Triduum; it’s the beginning of Easter.)

So, since this sequence begins tonight, let’s look at how these three services can be understood as a single worship service.  I encourage you to take a look at them for reference.

Part One: Maundy Thursday

The Maundy Thursdayservice begins like most any Communion service: with the Holy Week Acclamation, though the Entrance Rite’s usual progression of penitence & praise (that is, the Summary of the Law/Kyrie/Decalogue and the Gloria in excelsis) is replaced with a special address, the fourfold “This is the night…”  The Collect & Lessons & Sermon follow, as normal.  Things really diverge from the norm after that, though.  Instead of the Creed we get the option of the Foot-Washing.  It might be a little pretentious to say this, but the priest(s) washing the feet of the congregation is a bit like an enacted Creed, demonstrating the servanthood of Christ in his own ministry.  The liturgy continues as usual with the Prayers of the People, through the Holy Communion, after which point the next big shake-up takes place: the Stripping of the Altar.  In this ritual (which is not broken down in any great detail in the Prayer Book), the holy table is denuded of its vessels, candles, linen cloth, and anything else upon it, and perhaps also “washed” with palm branches.  It’s a symbolic act that points to a few different things – the stripping of Christ before his crucifixion, the abandonment of Christ by his friends, the rejection of God by the world he created.  This is emphasized further by the lack of Blessing and Dismissal at the end.  Instead, “The Congregation departs in silence.

But wait, there’s more!  The Additional Directions note:

Consecrated elements to be received on Good Friday should be kept in a place apart from the main sanctuary of the church. They may be carried to that place at the end of Communion on Maundy Thursday, prior to the stripping of the Altar. An appropriate hymn or anthem, such as “Now my tongue the mystery telling,” may be sung.

This sets us up for the Good Friday portion of the Triduum liturgy, where the celebration of the Eucharist is specifically not appointed.  The altar will remain in its stripped state for the rest of the Triduum liturgy; the bread and wine consecrated on Thursday will have to last for Friday as well.  Also, the fact that the Maundy Thursday service doesn’t really “end” kind of indicates that there is more to come.  The Stripping of the Altar and the departure of the clergy without a word rather implies that things are not as they should be.  Christ is in custody – will we not keep watch just one hour?

Building upon that, there is also a tradition of a Vigil at the Altar of Repose.  It is not mentioned or directed in the Prayer Book, mainly because it does not strictly speaking qualify as “common prayer”.  Basically, it’s a time of constant prayer throughout the night, giving a liturgical-devotional expression to St. Peter’s waiting outside the gates while Jesus was tried before the High Priest and Herod and Pilate.  It also fills in the gap between Part One and Part Two.

Part Two: Good Friday

Where the Maundy Thursday doesn’t really end, the Good Friday liturgy doesn’t really “start” either.  Check out the initial rubrics:

On this day the ministers enter in silence.

All then kneel for silent prayer.

The Officiant rises and may say All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way,

People And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

If you ignore the fact that a night and a morning has passed, one could easily see this as “the next scene” of the story where the Maundy Thursday liturgy left off.  The Collect & Lessons that follow conform to the normal pattern, as does the sermon, but then come the Solemn Collects.  In the historic Prayer Books, Good Friday had three Collects of the Day, which sort of encapsulated the idea that got expanded into the Solemn Collects we have today.  What we’ve got here is a repeated sequence of bidding, silence, collect.  There are 10 iterations of this pattern, covering prayer for unity of the Church, the Bishops of the Church, the Clergy and People, leaders of government, those who are preparing for Holy Baptism on Easter, deliverance from evil and suffering, for the repentance of heretics and schismatics, the conversion of the Jewish people, the conversion of all peoples, and grace for a holy life in each of us.

Then follows the Devotions before the Cross.  This is comprised of a series of Reproaches and Anthems, the former set in the voice of God accusing (“reproaching”) his people for their history of unfaithfulness, and the latter taking up words from the Scriptures to express our faith in Christ’s work of redemption upon the Cross.  As I mentioned the other day with regard to the book of Lamentations, this is an opportunity to approach the crucifixion and death of our Lord from a penitential angle one normally perhaps would not consider on one’s own.

After all that, the Confession & Absolution follow, with the Lord’s Prayer, and the distribution of Holy Communion which was reserved from the evening before.  But then, instead of the usual thankful Post-Communion Prayer, we get this Collect (which is to be used at the end of the Good Friday service no matter what elements of the service are used or omitted).

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion, Cross, and death between your judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Give mercy and grace to the living; peace and rest to the dead; to your holy Church unity and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life and glory; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

If there is one statement that could summarize Good Friday, it is this prayer – “set your passion, Cross, and death between your judgment and our souls“.  At least, that’s my opinion.

But still, the liturgy doesn’t really end… the rubrics state “No blessing or dismissal is added.” and “The Ministers and People depart in silence.”  The Triduum hasn’t worked itself out completely yet.

Part Three: Holy Saturday

Just like Good Friday, this day’s worship service doesn’t have a proper beginning either.  Literally, this is how it starts:

The Officiant says Let us pray.

It’s the Collect of the Day.  And it’s followed by the lessons; the Gospel recounts the burial of Jesus.  Even the homily is optional.  In the context of the Triduum, there isn’t really anything left to be said; Christ has said his piece, been abandoned, arrested, tried, and crucified.  In the liturgical re-living of those days, there isn’t really much left to “do” on Saturday, we’re just sort of milling around wondering and waiting for something to happen.

After the homily comes one of the most moving anthems in the Prayer Book, Man born of woman has but a short time to live.  It has four stanzas, the first three of which are originally from the Committal in the historic Prayer Book funeral rite.  (Our own burial rite also makes use of this anthem.)  After the anthem comes the Lord’s Prayer and – finally – the closing sentence, or grace, or blessing, from 2 Corinthians 13:14.  This is the traditional verse that concludes the Daily Office, and signifies the end of the the Triduum liturgy, an ending that neither Maundy Thursday nor Good Friday provided.

In Sum…

The Triduum thus has much to commend itself when conceptualized as a single worship service broken up across the three days.  It begins in a solemn, but still familiar and normal manner, but then takes a dramatic turn in the Foot-Washing and a sudden downward pitch in the Stripping of the Altar.  After a pause, Good Friday brings us back together with Jesus only to hear him crucified in the Gospel, prompting us to turn to serious and considered prayer and to face God’s reproach for our many evils that brought about the Lord’s death.  Despite being fed with the reserved Sacrament one more time, we still come to an abrupt and awkward silence in which we plead the Cross of Christ and await an answer… an answer that does not come, for when we regroup on Saturday, Jesus is still dead and in the tomb.  All we can do is lament and mourn, though the Scripture readings do hint at what he is doing in his death.

The Triduum, therefore, is a liturgy like no other.  Rather than leading us upwards and onwards into the love of God and sending us out into the world rejoicing to do his will, the Triduum leads us downwards into the depths of our sinfulness, all the way to the grave.  The Triduum shows us the dead end of earthly life without Christ.

It will take something different, something completely new – a new fire – to bring us back out of the pit where the Triduum leaves us…

Blessing Holy Water

You may have heard the old joke… “How do priests make holy water?  They boil the hell out of it!”  Comedy aside, there is no boiling involved, but getting “the hell out of it”, properly known as exorcism, is actually part of the process.

Below is a liturgy for the blessing of water, adapted from A Manual for the American Priest, originally made as a companion to the 1928 BCP, which underwent several editions.  If you’re a priest, and you want to prepare holy water but don’t know how, consider this your best go-to American Anglican resource in contemporary language!

But first, perhaps a quick introduction is in order.  What is holy water and what is it used for?  Water imagery in the Bible is frequently associated either with chaos (the sea and its mysterious creatures) or with life (usually a fountain or river).  Sprinkling, washing, or cleansing with water is one of the most common images for purification and rebirth.  Holy Baptism is, of course, the Christian’s primary ritual use of water.  Holy water is subsidiary to that concept: the baptismal water is prepared in the Baptismal Rite itself, but water may also be blessed for lesser applications.  When blessing people on special occasions or objects for sacred use, it was customary since ancient times to sprinkle the subject(s) in question with holy water.  It was not a baptism of those objects, nor a re-baptism of the people, but it was a reminder of baptism, an application or enactment of the new life, the redemption of creation, that the Gospel brings.

Two possible uses for holy water are coming up in the next two weeks: blessing the palms for the Palm Sunday procession, and sprinking (or asperging) the congregation at the Easter Vigil or on Easter morning either in a procession or at the Renewal of Baptismal Vows.  Unless you’ve got a baptismal font of water already blessed for use, a separate blessing of holy water will need to be done.

One last note on the liturgy itself for blessing holy water: a second ingredient is used: salt.  Salt is another object used throughout the Bible to denote purification or preservation.  Elisha used salt in 2 Kings 2 to bless a bitter spring.  This was both miraculous and symbolic.  It was miraculous in that a handful of salt obviously wouldn’t make unhealthy water safe to drink (not to mention that salt water is far less good to drink than fresh water!) and it was symbolic in that the salt purified the water to make it clean.  So when holy water is made, first the salt is prepared and exorcised; then the water is prepared and exorcised; then they are mixed together and the whole compound is blessed.

With that introduction, here’s the liturgy (which I’ve adapted into contemporary English).  The + indicates when the priest should make the sign of the cross with his hand over the salt or water in question.  If at all possible, conduct these prayers with people around!  It will both de-mystify holy water somewhat for the hearers, and expose them to some of the rich biblical imagery behind this ancient custom.

BLESSING OF WATER

Salt, and pure and clean water, being made ready in the church or sacristy,
the Priest, vested in surplice and purple stole, shall say:

V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. The maker of heaven and earth.

And immediately he shall begin the Exorcism of the salt.

I adjure you, O creature of salt, by the living + God, by the true + God, by the holy + God, by God who commanded you to be cast, by the prophet Elisha, into the water to heal its barrenness, that you become salt exorcised for the health of believers. Bring to all who receive you soundness of soul and body, and let all vain imaginations, wickedness, and subtlety of the wiles of the devil, and every unclean spirit fly and depart from every place where you, O salt, be sprinkled, adjured by the Name of Him who shall come, to judge both the living and the dead, and the world by fire.  Amen.

Let us pray.

Almighty and everlasting God, we humbly beseech your great and boundless mercy, that it may please you in thy loving-kindness to bless+ and to hallow+ this creature of salt, which you have given for the use of man.  Let it be, to all who take of it, health of mind and body; and let whatever that shall be touched or sprinkled with it to be free from all uncleanness, and from all assaults of spiritual wickedness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Exorcism of the water

I adjure you, O creature of water, by the Name of God the Father + Almighty, by the Name of Jesus + Christ his Son our Lord, and by the power of the Holy + Spirit, that you become water exorcised for putting all the power of the enemy to flight.  Be empowered to cast out and send away that same enemy with all his apostate angels: by the power of the same, our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall come to judge the quick and the dead, and the world by fire.  Amen.

Let us pray.

O God, who for the salvation of mankind has ordained that the substance of water should be used in one of your chief Sacraments: favorably regard us who call upon you, and pour the power of your benediction+ upon this element, made ready by careful cleansing; that this your creature, fitting for your mysteries, may receive the effect of divine grace. May it so cast out devils and put sickness to flight, that whatever shall be sprinkled with this water in the dwellings of your faithful people may be free from all uncleanness and delivered from all manner of hurt.  Let no spirit of pestilence abide there, nor any corrupting air.  Let all the wiles of the hidden enemy depart from there, and if there be anything that lays snares against the safety or peace of those who dwell in the house, let it flee from the sprinkling of this water: so that the health which they seek through calling upon your holy Name may be protected against all things that threaten it; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Then the Priest shall cast the salt into the water in the form of a Cross, saying:

May this salt and water be mingled together: in the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.
Let us pray.

O God, who are the Author of unconquered might, the King of the Empire that cannot be overthrown, the ever-glorious Conqueror, who dominates the strength of the dominion that is against you, who rules the raging of the fierce enemy, who mightily fights against the wickedness of your foes: With fear and trembling we entreat you O Lord, and we beseech you graciously to behold this creature of salt and water; mercifully shine upon it and hallow it with the dew of you loving-kindness; that wherever it shall be sprinkled, with the invocation of your holy Name, all haunting of the unclean spirit may be driven away; let the fear of the venomous serpent be cast far from there; and wherever it shall be sprinkled, there let the presence of the Holy Spirit be given to all of us who should ask for your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

What is liturgy?

One of the most prominent differences between Anglicanism and other Protestant traditions is the liturgy.  We hold to a way of worship that is rooted not in the whims and wiles of the local congregation, but in the wisdom of the historic Church.  Although a great many local variances can be found in different times throughout history and places across the globe, the liturgical tradition puts into action a set of principles and practices regarding corporate worship.  In conversation with visitors and members of other traditions, therefore, one of the biggest questions we can be asked (and which we need to know how to answer) is “what is liturgy?

From a Greek verb and noun that appears several times in the New Testament, liturgy means “public work” or “work of the people.”  That second quote is the more popular definition offered, but it can be misleading with the connotation that it’s the work by the congregation specifically.  There are examples in the Epistles of St. Paul of “liturgy” or “ministry” being carried out by individuals on behalf of others.  Although the context does not concern worship directly, it is illustrative of the reality that congregational worship does not always necessarily take place at the initiative of the congregation.  Some aspects of worship are individuals-driven, other aspects are representative (or led by particular ministers on others’ behalf).

All corporate worship is by definition liturgical.  And our tradition is cognizant of that.  Something that comes up here and there today is the offering of multiple worship services according to different styles.  This is not inherently wrong, but something that is a very bad idea for an Anglican Church is to label certain services as “liturgical” and others as something else like “modern” or “contemporary.”  No, all worship services are liturgical.  To attribute the term “liturgical” as a label only for certain things we do is to turn the very nature of worship on its head.

Instead, we need to understand what it means for our worship to be specifically and properly liturgical.  Here’s a quick and easy answer that will help you and anyone else clarify your understanding:

The book of common prayer is our liturgy.

Putting our answer of Anglican worship in this way can be a valuable reorientation of common assumptions.

  1. It gets you away from thinking of liturgy as a style, which is the worst mistake that I’ve come across in conversation with other Christians.  Liturgical worship is not merely a flavor of Christian tradition, it is a set of biblical and theological principles in concrete ritual order and action that can be (and is) written down in a book for all to use.
  2. It gets you away from thinking of liturgy as the order of service, which is also a very common mistake but at least is closer to the truth.  There is a sense in which “the liturgy” does refer to the ordering and contents of a particular worship service.  But in its fullest sense, liturgy is bigger than that.
  3. It gets you thinking about liturgy as everything.  The liturgy includes the Daily Offices, the Communion on Sundays and Holy Days, the Calendar, Baptisms, Burials or Funerals, Marriages, everything.  The entire Christian life, as enacted and celebrated in worship, is the Church’s liturgy.  And the genius of Anglicanism, historically, has been that we’ve tied that together into one single book that’s accessible to anyone who can read.

In short, liturgy is the church’s life together.  It’s what we do when we’re together.  When Anglicans gather for worship, the Prayer Book is the expression (and rule) of how we go about it.  To eschew the Prayer Book in favor of the Roman Mass, other Protestant worship books, extemporaneous prayer and praise, or any other tradition, is to surrender that which makes us Anglican.  That doesn’t mean we can’t learn and borrow from other traditions at all.  But if we reach for those materials more instinctively or frequently than we reach for the Prayer Book, our “Anglican-ness” is not in good shape.

Tomorrow: Saint Francis Day!

October 4th is the commemoration of Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order, and beloved medieval Saint.  One of the popular traditions that accompanies his (minor) feast day is the blessing of animals.

Naturally, such a specific tradition is not mandated, nor even mentioned, in the Prayer Books.  But many parishes have preserved forms of this old practice.  If you want to take this opportunity to bless your pets or other animals, or visit those of your friends or neighbors, here is a sample prayer you could use:

Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures.  You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air, and animals on the land.  You inspired Saint Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters.  [We ask you to] bless this A.  By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan.  May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation.  Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures.  Amen.

If you’re a priest or bishop, you may omit the words “We ask you to” and gesture the sign of the Cross over the animal at that point.  Sprinkling with holy water is optional – be considerate of animals that might spook!

Just for fun: Can you bless the water in a fish tank?  What happens if you do?  Leave a note in the comments! 😉