What does the + mean?

You’re reading something churchy and all of a sudden there’s a plus sign on the page.  What does that mean?  Typically it’s one of three things.

#1 Make the sign of the cross on yourself.

In Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and high-church Anglican tradition, making the sign of the cross is a common gesture in the course of prayer and worship.  Most often, one crosses oneself when the priest is pronouncing a blessing or absolution, or when the person praying says the triune name of God: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  The opening acclamation of the modern communion service is typically said with the sign of the cross, as is the beginning of the Gospel Canticles (the Benedictus, the Magnificat, and the Nunc dimittis).  If you’re a regular worshiper in a high-church context, you may be able to identify more points in the liturgy where people do this.

In certain liturgical texts, though not any official Prayer Books, a plus sign or cross is placed alongside or amidst the words to indicate when the worshiper should cross him-or-herself.

#2 The celebrant makes the sign of the cross over something.

During the celebration of a sacrament or sacramental rite, it was traditional for the priest or bishop to make the sign of the cross over the object being blessed or consecrated.  We saw an example of this last week in the 1549 Prayer Book’s eucharistic canon.  When holy water or oils are being blessed, it is customary for the celebrant to make the sign of the cross over those elements also.

I’ve seen occasions wherein people cross themselves while the celebrant makes the sign of the cross over the object(s) being blessed, and it’s frankly a bit comical.  There the bishop is, consecrating oil to be used in the anointing of the sick and whatnot, and there’s half the congregation crossing themselves at the same time!  The reader has to be aware of whether the + is meant for the congregation or for just the celebrant.  Usually context is perfectly clear.  If nothing else, this is a reminder that one must always keep one’s brain engaged in the liturgy. “What am I to do? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also” (1 Cor. 14:15).

#3 The priest or bishop is conveying a blessing in writing.

When writing a letter (or email, today) a priest or bishop may sign off with a blessing to his recipients by marking a + or † after his name if he’s a priest or before his name if he’s a bishop.  As deacons do not pronounce blessings, they do not sign their name in this manner.

This is by far the most misunderstood use of the sign today.  It’s frequently used as a name marker in internet communication:

Dear Fred+,

I was talking with +William and James\ about the conduct of a member of our vestry, and would like your input.

Thanks,
Lionel+

The only correct use of the sign is in the signature.  Father Fred and Bishop William should just be spelled out; the plus sign is not supposed to be a shorthand for ordination status.  Occasionally people have even used the \ to denote a Deacon, such as Deacon James in this fictitious example.  Yeah it’s kind of cute, imitating the slant of a deacon’s stole, but it’s also incorrect style.  The plus sign or cross with someone’s name in correspondence is meant to be a conferral or wish of blessing on the part of the bishop or priest writing the correspondence.  Hence, Father Lionel’s name is the only correct appearance of the + in the example above.

Anglican Churchmanship

It is no secret that the language of liturgy can be very complicated.  Roman Catholics have their Ordinary Form and Extraordinary Form, various Rites and orders, and a complicated calendar system with classifications of saints days.  The Eastern Orthodox Church has long and complex liturgies full of things that are named in Greek which they seem stubbornly to refuse to label in English.  Anglicans, although possessing a simpler liturgy since the Reformation, has different ‘parties’ or forms of ‘churchmanship’ that bring expression to Prayer Book worship in different (and sometimes conflicting) ways.

I’ve been asked about the terminology I use in this blog, and it seems only fair to clarify some of it.

During the English Reformation there were essentially two “parties” in the Church of England: Reformers and Traditionalists.  Reformers wanted to see the doctrine and worship of the Church amended, Traditionalists wanted to hold on to the medieval forms and beliefs.  Of course, this was also a sliding scale: there were those who wanted some reform and some tradition retained, all the way to radical reformers who wanted to throw away everything that even vaguely looked like Papism.

By the 1600’s, these two parties found a different definition: the traditionalists became known as ‘high church’ and the reformers (or Puritans) as ‘low church.’  Both parties were committed to the Prayer Book and the Articles of Religion (except for a few extremes, mainly of radical puritans, or separatists, in that century), so the difference between them was a matter of emphasis.  The terms ‘high’ and ‘low’ church reflected primarily a difference in the view of the authority of the traditions of the Church.  Highchurchmen valued continuity with previous tradition, Lowchurchmen did not.  Highchurchmen advocated for retaining clerical vestments and adorning church buildings; lowchurchmen preferred simplicity of externals in order to focus on “spiritual things” like preaching.

The 1700’s saw a revival of evangelicalism, the 1800’s saw a revival of traditionalism.  Both pushed the boundaries of Anglican practice in different ways: the former revolutionized the art of preaching and the latter brought back a number of pre-reformation traditions such as vestments, altar candles, and incense.  For the most part, both of these movements stayed within the bounds of the Prayer Book and Articles of Religion, usually bumping up against canon law.  From these movements we now have Anglo-Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics, and although a newfound tolerance of both parties was accomplished in the 20th century, the gap between the two has continued to grow.

In the middle stood the “broad-church” or “latitudinarian” position, which was a sort of precursor to Anglican liberalism.  This attitude can be found among many Anglicans today: happy to dress in chasubles like high-church Anglo-Catholics and preach heartfelt sermons like Anglo-Evangelicals, yet not being fully committed to all of the specific distinctions of either party.  The popular “Three Streams” fad is very much an expression of the “broad-church” tradition, attempting to draw lines of connection across different views.

As far as how all this impacts the liturgy, the Prayer Book used to stand aloof to all this; the 1662 was happily used by both sides for most of English history.  But once Prayer Book revision began, especially in the 20th century, the battles between low and high began.  The highchurchmen sought a return to the material of the more traditionalist 1549 Prayer Book, the lowchurchmen sought to return to the material of the more reformed 1552 Prayer Book.  For much of the 20th century, the high church tradition has held the upper hand on paper (most notably the 1928 Prayer Book and several features of the 1979 and 2019), though not in actual numbers of committed Anglo-Catholic practitioners.

It also should be noted that there is not quite a 1:1 ratio of Anglo-Catholicism and high-church liturgical preferences, or Anglo-Evangelicalism and low-church liturgical preferences.  That’s how it usually divides, but there is a spectrum stretching between them, and individual persons and parishes are not always neatly lined up in just one of two boxes.  Especially with the fracturing of the Anglican scene in the latter half of the 20th century, the various levels of churchmanship have become further divided from one another.  The ACNA has gathered up many broad-church-but-not-quite-liberal Anglicans, many of the few remaining classical low-church evangelicals, and a handful of high-church Anglo-Catholics, but probably most of the American Anglo-Catholics today are in other jurisdictions of the “Anglican Continuum.”

The Saint Aelfric Customary exists to help people use the 2019 Prayer Book with an eye on the long-standing tradition of Anglican practice.  That makes this project inherently conservative, but not explicitly high or low church.  In general, however, it is a highchurch mentality to pay closer attention to liturgical precedent and detail, so the deeper one digs into the formal liturgical options, a greater portion of high church material will be found than low church.  By nature, a lowchurchman is typically going to spend more time fussing about the sermon than about the liturgy.  Nevertheless, it is not the intention of this project to be “Anglo-Catholic,” as such, nor to promulgate Anglo-Catholic doctrine and practice.  A number of such options will be offered, explained, and presented, but it is my aim to make this Customary a resource useful to all users of the 2019 Prayer Book.

Prayer Book Error Correction

An issue that has been brought up across the internet in the past couple weeks is the fact that in the 2018 update to the new Prayer Book’s communion liturgies, the rubric concerning how to handle excess consecrated bread and wine underwent a change that many would consider sacrilegious.

In every Anglican Prayer Book I have read, regardless of high or low churchmanship, the rule for extra consecrated wine has always been that it is to be consumed (drunk) during or after the liturgy.  If special care is taken it can also be reserved for later distribution, though that is less common, less practical, and was not allowed in the early days of the Reformation.

Now, however, the new Prayer Book also lists “reverently poured in a place set aside for that purpose” as a means of disposing of extra wine.  When I first read it, I assumed that this was referring to pouring it into a flagon where it would be reserved for later distribution, but only after the recent internet hubbub did I realize that the rubric implies the pouring of extra consecrated wine into the ground or into a piscina.

piscina is a special kind of sink that drains directly into the ground.  It was used for disposing of ashes (after Ash Wednesday), old holy water, and the washing of the communion vessels lest any particles remain.  Some people have taken to pouring extra consecrated wine there, too, but that has never been permitted by any Prayer Book, much less by the Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic churches.

For a longer, fuller, explanation of the controversial rubric and the background of this issue, check out this page instead: https://timotheosprologizes.blogspot.com/2019/05/whats-wrong-with-2019-prayer-book.html

All I can say here is:

  1. if you’re a priest or deacon or sacristan, never follow that rubric.  Consecrated wine is supposed to be drunk by God’s faithful people, never thrown to the earth.
  2. if this malpractice concerns you, contact your ACNA bishop, and ask him to help vote this error out of our new Prayer Book as soon as possible.

 

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.

Learning from the Liturgy: Ascension Day

Happy Ascension Day, everyone!
Here’s what I wrote for my congregation last year about this holy day:

Leorningcnihtes boc

Ascension Day is perhaps the most under-celebrated important holiday in the calendar.  Representing one of the lines of the Creeds (“he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father”), this holiday marks a significant turning point in the Gospel story and sets the stage for how the Christian’s relationship with God is defined.  We often think of it as an awkward point between the Resurrection of Jesus (Easter) and the Descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost), but even in itself the Ascension is a major event.  What I’m setting out to do in this post is draw from the various Scriptural and traditional resources of the Church’s liturgy to explore some of the basic teachings and implications of this great and underappreciated day in the year.

The Event of the Ascension

Christ’s ascension is described in three books: Mark, Luke, and Acts.

In Mark’s Gospel…

View original post 2,092 more words

No Friday Fast Yet

Hey, TGIF y’all! I’m sure you’re all excited for the weekly Friday fast. I hate to disappoint you, but I’ve got to remind you, there is no fasting on Fridays this season. (Unless some extraordinary circumstances arise, I suppose.) As it says in the calendar section of our prayer book, on page 689:

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.

Fasting, in addition to reduced consumption, normally also includes prayer, self-examination, and acts of mercy.

So, during the 50 days of Eastertide (which includes the mini-season of Ascensiontide) we are not to fast: this is a season of feasting! Keep finding and enjoying that discount Easter chocolate and candy! Don’t be skimpy with that bottle of single malt or gin that your new favorite parishioner* bought you for Easter! Choose that nicer meal at the restaurant, give that server a bigger tip, and if you’re feeling really counter-cultural keep saying “Happy Easter!” to people.

Because, as we keep saying in church, Christ is risen; the Lord is risen indeed! It’s not just a church thing, it’s a liturgical thing, and that means we all can be involved. Remember how Ebeneezer Scrooge learned to keep Christmas in his heart every day of the year? If he could do that, surely you can keep Easter in your heart for 40 or 50 days!

(Okay, yes, some of you readers might be getting up-in-arms about whether Easter is 40 or 50 days long. We’ll deal with that later, I promise. For now, hush up and go eat more chocolate.)

* Sadly, this is purely a hypothetical situation. Oh well, there’s always next year, haha!

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…

Hold Your Peace

One Holy Week tradition that does not get a shout-out in the Prayer Book but has a standard following in some places is the practice of omitting The Peace after the Confession & Absolution in the Communion service.  The rubrics of our Prayer Book do not provide for such an omission, so it is a tradition that should only be adopted by the permission of your diocesan Bishop.

Or, if you want to explore this option without breaking the rubrics, keep the verbal exchange of peace (Celebrant The Peace of the Lord be always with you. People And with your spirit.) but halt the further exchange of peace, which the rubric identifies as optional: “Then the Ministers and People may greet one another in the Name of the Lord” (underline added).

The idea behind this practice is that in the Garden of Gethsemane Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss (Matt. 26:48-49, Mark 14:44-45, Luke 22:47-48).  As I wrote to my congregation a couple years ago:

This normal, friendly, even reconciliatory part of the liturgy is such a regular part of the service that its omission can be something of a shock, even a disappointment to some people.  The reason for its omission, though, is significant: in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was betrayed by Judas with a kiss.  Normally a sign of greeting and peace, Judas transformed it that night into a sign of betrayal and the marking of a target for the soldiers to arrest.

Thus, on Palm Sunday and throughout Holy Week, we also “hold our peace,” as it were.  We remember the wicked deception of Judas, and remind ourselves that we, also, all to easily use signs of peace as covers for internal hatred.  How easily we lie through our teeth to “get along” while harboring ill will towards our neighbor.  Or, how easily we go through the motions of the liturgy while harboring a coldness of heart against our Lord and our God!

It is also worth noting that the exchange or passing of the peace is not an element in traditional Prayer Book worship.  Until the liturgical revision of the mid-20th century, it simply was not a part of the liturgy for us.  Understanding that it is a modern insertion to our liturgy, between the Comfortable Words and the Offertory, may perhaps give us further cause for consideration as to how our liturgy works, what elements are truly needed and important, and hone our interaction with it.

 

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.

Passion Sunday Coming Up

After Lent’s lighter moment on its 4th Sunday, things really start to ramp up on the 5th Sunday.  This is nicknamed Passion Sunday, even the Passion Gospel itself is not read on this day.

As I introduced this day in a previous post, it is an anticipation of Palm Sunday.  A noteworthy feature of the traditional lectionary was that major Sunday commemorations tended to have a follow-up Sunday to further explicate its meaning, but in the case of Palm Sunday, that follow-up had to be a preview Sunday instead.  Originally, the Gospel was Jesus’ speech about “before Abraham was, I am” – asserting his divinity.  This was paired with a lesson from Hebrews about his priestly sacrifice, so the theological import of his death on the Cross would be better appreciated on the following Sunday.  The modern calendar carries out a similar function using the Gospel stories of the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus’ saying that “the son of man must be lifted up,” and the parable of the wicked tenants.  The traditional Collect was similar to those for the 2nd and 3rd Sundays, with a thematic similarity to the Collect for Good Friday, making it serve as another “preview” of the Passion to come.  The modern Collect, however, is a transfer from what was originally an Eastertide Collect, asking God to fix our hearts where true joy is to be found, despite our unruly wills and affections.  As far as I can see (thus far), this somewhat weakens the traditional Passion Sunday function.

One of the old traditions that typically began with this day is the covering, or veiling, of images in the church building.  All the statues, icons, even crucifixes, would have some sort of shroud or veil obscuring them.  In past days where church buildings were beautifully and vividly decked with visual splendor, this would have been a stark sight to behold.  On one level this tradition is easy to understand as an anticipation of the starkness of Holy Week: the mourning of Christ’s death on account of our sins, the injustice of his conviction, is aptly expressed in the covering of images that normally bring us joy.

But there are also connections to the liturgy of Passion Sunday itself that probably play a role in this.  The traditional Gradual, from Psalm 143, contains the verse

Hear me, O Lord, and that soon, for my spirit waxeth faint: * hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.

– a plea that is given an extra layer of personal devotion when the visual depictions of God and his Saints are literally hidden from your face that morning!

The traditional Epistle, from Hebrews 9, also contains a thematic link.  Starting in verse 11, “CHRIST being come an High Priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands; that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves; but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.”  It is fitting, therefore, to cover all the things in the church “made with hands”, to remind people that these images are merely images of the Truth to whom they must ultimately look.

Finally, and perhaps most bluntly, the traditional Gospel for the 5th Sunday ends with the Jews wanting to stone Jesus for claiming equality with God, “but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.”  Sure enough, as you look around the room back then, Jesus has hidden himself; his images are covered.  Suddenly you find yourself in the place of those who would kill Christ – he is hidden from you.  This is very much an anticipation, in tone, of the final rejection of Christ on the following Sunday: “Crucify him!”

Chances are, however, that your church building is not adorned with wall-to-wall pictures, icons, artwork, and lined with alcoves with statues of our Lord and our Lady and the Saints.  Directly appropriating that old tradition may not have anywhere near the usual impact in many church buildings today. So what might we do instead?

  • put a veil over the altar cross
  • print a service bulletin with no cover art
  • silence some or all of the instruments

Be creative!  How else might you ratchet up the experience of Lent?