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?

Commemorating Saints during Lent

Looking at the calendar of optional commemorations, there are four in a row this week: F. D. Maurice yesterday, Henry Budd today, James Lloyd Breck tomorrow, and Martin Luther King Jr. on Thursday.  Next week has four such commemorations also.  But should we observe these commemoration days?

The first answer is: it’s up to you / your rector.  These are all optional, and the Prayer Book does not mandate how one must handle a weekday Communion service apart from the Red Letter Days.

But if you want to take longstanding tradition and practice into account, things get a bit pickier.  As a penitential season, Lent is best served by maintaining the tenor of penitence at the public worship services.  If four out of seven days in a week is a celebration of a Saint, then there isn’t really much time left for actually observing Lent.  There are also sets of Collects and Lessons for each weekday in Lent that you can find in Lesser Feasts and Fasts and the Anglican Missal and in the Roman liturgy.  I haven’t studied these sources against one another but I suspect they all represent a very similar tradition.  The idea, simply, is that the Church provides for a Lent-focused Communion service every day in Lent, leaving potentially no room for Saints’ days.

Of course, the “Red-Letter Days” take precedence over these; we celebrated the Annunciation last Monday for example.  But among the optional commemorations, there is room for further consideration.  Roman practice has a complex system of liturgical hierarchies: different sorts of holy days take different levels of precedence.  And although post-Vatican-II reforms have simplified their system somewhat, it’s still more developed than most Anglican sources are on the matter.  When it comes down to it, the Romans expect daily mass in their churches and we don’t, so it’s a matter of priority and emphasis.

So if you’re looking for what to do at a weekday Communion service in your church, or for your own devotions at home, you would do well to consider which of the optional commemorations you would “elevate” to observe during Lent, and which you would leave be in order to keep the Lenten disciplines the priority throughout the week.

Ultimately what this is doing is to create a middle class of holy days – what I would prefer to call Minor Feast Days – to stand between the official Major Feast Days and the Commemorations.  How you decide which saints to so elevate is a big question, and one that is better served on its own.  For now, at least, let us remember that Lent is a time of penitence, and it would not serve us well to get carried away with celebrating every commemoration that comes our way.

Fasting Tips

It’s a Friday, and it’s Lent, that means the Prayer Book expects us to be fasting today.  But, unlike the Roman tradition, we aren’t given strict definitions of what to fast from, or how to fast from things in general.  We’re left to the “spirit of fasting”, in danger of a liberal neglect of the discipline, as opposed to the danger of rote fasting out of merely outward obedience.  That said, it probably helps to have some advice, suggestions, and tips regarding how to implement a fast.

If you are not accustomed to fasting (on Fridays, during Lent, or at all) here are some ideas to try:

  • Skip a meal and replace it with a longer prayer time than usual.
  • Simplify your eating for the day: no fancy spices, sauces, or flavors.
  • Eat less: halve all your normal portion sizes.
  • Cut out the extras: no soda, alcohol, desserts, or snacks.
  • If you normally buy a coffee or a snack on the run, don’t.
  • Quantify the money you saved on food (as far as you’re able) and give it away to a homeless person on the street, or to a charity that cares for the poor.

Remember fasting is not a discipline that ultimately is meant to be pursued on its own, but alongside prayer and alms-giving.  Isaiah 58 has a well-known denunciation of ungodly fasting, and as you read through it you’ll find that it props up alms-giving and prayer as correctives to such abuse.  That chapter was often an Office reading for Ash Wednesday for that very reason.

Just remember, both the Prayer Book and Jesus expect God’s people to fast.  Yes, you’re free to do so in your own way, but just be sure you actually do!

Laetare Sunday coming up

The Fourth Sunday in Lent is known by two nicknames: Laetare Sunday and Mothering Sunday.

The first name, Laetare, comes from the Introit (the opening hymn, if you like) in Latin.

Lætare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum lætitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestræ.

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may suck and be satisfied with her consoling breasts.

These words are from Isaiah 66:10-11a, and serve as an antiphon to Psalm 122, Laetatus sum (“I was glad”).  This joy-filled antiphon, paired with a joy-filled Psalm, start off the 4th Sunday in Lent with a noticeably cheerful mood compared to the rest of the season.  This is, roughly, the midpoint of Lent, and thus serves as a sort of breather from the rigors of the season where the congregation can take their noses off the grindstone, so to speak, lift up their heads, and take a good look at the joy of Easter fast approaching.

This is traditionally matched with slightly “lightened up” vestments from violet to rose, and the historic Gospel is the feeding of the 5,000, adding to the theme of God strengthening us with provisions along the long hard road of the great penitential season.

The modern lectionary’s take on this Sunday, however, is not quite as noteworthy, and undercuts (or at least diffuses) the impact of “Laetare Sunday” compared to the historic lectionary.  It almost doesn’t make sense to retain the rose vestments for this day anymore, and indeed a great many churches, both Roman and Anglican, have not.

The other nickname for this Sunday is Mothering Sunday.  This largely stems from a tradition of masters giving their household servants this day off from their duties so they can go visit their own mothers.  I couldn’t say where this particular custom originates, though it’s probably not a coincidence that the traditional Epistle of this day begins in Galatians 4:21, discussing the allegory of Hagar the slave woman and Sarah the free woman.

Other traditions associated with this day also add to the enhanced cheerfulness of the occasion: the organ, normally silenced during Lent in pre-Reformation practice, was permitted to be used on this Sunday.  Flowers might be placed on the altar.  And weddings, traditionally disallowed during the penitential season of Lent, could be held on this one day of the season.

Given that many of those old Lenten traditions are not in place in many of our churches today, there aren’t many ways that we can “lighten up” the 4th Sunday of the season anymore.  Plus, given that our Lenten disciplines and modern lectionary and calendar are also a great less rigorous than the days of old, there is far less cause or need for such a day as this.  But sometimes knowing about how things used to work can help us reshape our modern practice, and rediscover some of the discipline and mentality that were nearly lost in the 20th century.

For glory and for beauty

This morning’s Old Testament lesson is Exodus 28 (or excerpts thereof) in the ACNA Daily Lectionary.  Shortly after chapter 20 is where lots of people who attempt to read the Bible cover-to-cover start to falter and lose momentum… all this stuff about the Tabernacle and its furnishings starts to wear on the reader.  Chapter 28 details the vestments for Aaron the Priest and his sons.  This might be interesting at first, but 43 verses of it can feel rather tedious.  So let’s give a bit of insight into this chapter, which will perhaps stir up some interest and clarity!

A refrain that bookends this chapter (found in verses 2 and 40) is “for glory and for beauty.”  This is a significant structural device in the writing style of this chapter, which is related to a variety of literary devices and structures found throughout the Old Testament.  This simple refrain both introduces and concludes the entire “vestment law” contained in this chapter, and sheds light on the purpose of everything therein.  All the attention to detail, all the colors and pieces that come together to form the whole.  Even the symbolism which is explained in the text, such as the Breastplate of Justice having twelve precious stones that represent the twelve tribes of Israel that the priest bears on his heart, is subject to this “glory and beauty” principle.  It’s not just symbolic, but it’s glorious and it’s beautiful.

Some traditions are (or are a least stereotyped to be) overly-focused on one side of this or the other.  “Everything about the OT vestments was symbolic, and we can preach the Gospel from that!” says one group of people, who often overlook the “glory and beauty” principle and thus fail to make any connection to the use of vestments in the New Testament.  Others may focus on the glory and beauty and forget about the explicit symbolism, and thus go on to make up their own symbols for their own modern sense of vestiture.  But it is important that we take in the whole teaching of chapter 28: vestments exist to glorify God and to be beautiful to the human eye, and they carry with them explicit symbolic weight.

Therefore, as we look to Christian vestments, we must remember the same principle: is the detail and appearance of our vestments glorifying to God, or is it simply thrown together?  Is it beautiful, or merely functional?  Further, various Christian vestments carry certain symbolic meanings – are these symbols known to our congregations?  Does the appearance of a particular vestment cooperate with its symbolic purpose or reinvent it?

Liturgical vestments aside, the “glory and beauty” principle could even be considered, to some degree, for how everyone dresses when going to church.  The reason for wearing one’s “Sunday best” is not mere tradition, but actually has a root in seeking to be glorifying to God (testifying that He is Worthy) and beautiful to the human eye (that person values worship)!

I’m not going to get into the specifics of Anglican vestments here, but if you want to read some of the absolute basics, the Anglican Pastor blog has a beginner’s guide.  It’s very much from a “current practice” perspective, without much historical scope, but it’ll get you started toward understanding what you’ll see today in a lot of churches.

Glorious Lent: a hymn for the season

“You’re fasting during Lent?!  What are you, a closet Catholic?”  Alas, these all-too-common accusations are born of great ignorance of Christian history (including Anglicans and Protestants), not to mention ignorance of the Scriptures.  This penitential season is a time, among other things, of fasting.  It simply is a part of the season; to omit fasting is to ignore everything that the Church announces, in her liturgy, on Ash Wednesday.

And this fasting is glorious!

Consider this 6th century hymn that has adorned Anglican hymnals for a while:

The glory of these forty days
We celebrate with songs of praise;
For Christ, by whom all things were made,
Himself has fasted and has prayed.

Alone and fasting, Moses saw
The loving God who gave the law;
And to Elijah, fasting, came
The steeds and chariots of flame.

So Daniel trained his mystic sight,
Delivered from the lions’ might;
And John, the Bridegroom’s friend, became
The herald of Messiah’s name.

Then grant us, Lord, like them, to be
Full oft in fast and pray’r with thee;
Our spirits strengthen with thy grace,
And give us joy to see thy face.

O Father, Son, and Spirit, blest,
To thee be ev’ry pray’r addressed,
Who art in threefold name adored,
From age to age, the only Lord.  Amen.

What a glorious thing it is to observe a holy Lent!  Fasting so often comes with negative baggage; disciplines of self-denial are so easily looked down upon with disdain today.  Yet songs like this capture the glorious end of self-denial such as fasting: strengthening in God’s grace, similitude with great saints of old like Moses, Elijah, Daniel, and John the Baptizer, not to mention our Lord Jesus himself.  It is a curious thing for a Christian to imagine that he or she could aspire to holiness without utilizing even the most basic of tools championed by the great cloud of witnesses that have come before us.

Let hymns like this encourage you and build you up, this Lenten season.  Yes we have great sins to bewail and repent of, but we also have much to celebrate in the healing- and strengthening-power of God!

Consecrating a Bishop

Perhaps the least-often-used portion of any Prayer Book is the liturgy called “The Form and Manner of Ordaining and Consecrating a Bishop“.  Granted, the original Prayer Books actually did not include the Ordinal (saving those liturgies for a separate volume), and perhaps the nomenclature has varied a little over the centuries, but it remains consistently true that the least-often-observed liturgy is that for the consecration of a new bishop.

The Lenten Ember Days are upon us (today, Friday, and Saturday), which are a set of days, quarterly throughout the year, set aside for fasting and prayer for those preparing for ordination.  And because we in my diocese (the Anglican Diocese in New England) are on the cusp of consecrating our second diocesan bishop, this seemed like a good opportunity to look at the liturgy for such an occasion.

The liturgy begins, as for other ordinations and for Confirmation, and even as an option for Holy Matrimony, with a presentation of the candidate: the Bishop-Elect is announced and he is asked to re-state his commitment to the Scriptures and the Church.  The Archbishop (or other Bishop serving as the Chief Consecrator) then makes this statement:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, it is written in the Gospel of Saint Luke that our Savior Christ continued the whole night in prayer, before he chose and sent forth his twelve Apostles. It is written also in the Acts of the Apostles, that the disciples at Antioch fasted and prayed before they sent forth Paul and Barnabas by laying their hands upon them. Let us, therefore, following the example of our Savior and his Apostles, offer up our prayers to Almighty God, before we admit and send forth this person presented to us, to do the work to which we trust the Holy Spirit has called him.

What follows is the Litany for Ordinations, common to the Ordination liturgies for Deacons, Priests, and Bishops, but it should be noted that the repeated Scriptural references to fasting and praying are things that the people should have been undertaking before this point.  If you’re in the New England diocese, you’ve got only a couple days left to meet this biblical expectation before the consecration service is upon us.  If you’re resident elsewhere, you’re certainly welcome to fast and pray for us and with us, also!

The Propers (Collect and Lessons) follow the Litany:

Almighty God, who by your Son Jesus Christ gave many excellent gifts
to your holy Apostles, and charged them to feed your flock;
give your grace to all Bishops, the Pastors of your Church,
that they may diligently preach your Word, duly administer your Sacraments,
and wisely provide godly Discipline;
and grant to your people that they may obediently follow them,
so that all may receive the crown of everlasting glory,
through the merits of our Savior, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

Isaiah 61:1-11; Psalm 100;
1 Timothy 3:1-7 or Acts 20:17-35
John 21:15-19 or John 20:19-23 or Matthew 28:18-20

A Major Feast Day or Sunday may override those lessons, but in our case in New England, with a Saturday ordination scheduled, no such exception applies.

After these readings, the homily, and the Creed, follows the Exhortation and Examination.  Where the Deacon and Priest get a somewhat-lengthy exhortation first, which outlines the definition and duty of those Orders, the Bishop-Elect is brought almost immediately to the Examination.  Curiously the Examination for the new bishop is almost but not quite the same as the Examination for a new priest.  In brief the questions are about:

  1. The supremacy of the Scriptures for doctrine and teaching
  2. The study of the Scriptures in order to teach and correct
  3. The diligent removal of false doctrines
  4. The renunciation of ungodly desires and commitment to being an example of life
  5. The maintenance of peace among all people
  6. The faithful preparation and conferral of Holy Orders upon others
  7. The merciful posture towards the poor and needy

For contrast, the Priest’s vows are

  1. basically the same as #1 above
  2. minister the doctrine, sacraments and discipline of the Church
  3. mostly the same as #3 above
  4. diligence in prayer and study of the Scriptures, like #2 above
  5. personal and family life as examples, like #4 above
  6. mostly same as #5 above
  7. obedience to the bishop and other ministers as appointed

So a progression of duty can be discerned by this comparison.  The authority of the Scriptures, and the teaching thereof, is the utmost priority of the ordained minister.  That is then applied to the correction of false teachers and the living of a godly life to be an example to others and an agent of peace.  The final vow(s) are the most specific to the particular Order.  In general, the Bishop-Elect is subjected to greater scrutiny and stricter vows than the Priest, and it should be remembered that the Bishop has already undertaken the Priestly and Diaconal vows.

Just like in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, and most (if not all) of the other sacramental rites, the heart of the Ordination liturgy is summarized in a central prayer and declaration (or speech-act).  The Archbishop prays:

Almighty God, and most merciful Father, of your infinite goodness you have given your only Son Jesus Christ to be our Redeemer, and to be the author of everlasting life. After he had made perfect our redemption by his death and resurrection, and was ascended into heaven, he poured down his gifts abundantly upon his people, making some Apostles, some Prophets, some Evangelists, some Pastors and Teachers, for edifying and perfecting his Church. Grant to this your servant such grace, that he may be ever ready to propagate your Gospel, the good news of our reconciliation with you; and use the authority given to him, not for destruction, but for salvation; not for hurt, but for help; so that, as a wise and faithful steward, he will give to your family their portion in due season, and so may at last be received into everlasting joy.

This, more than anywhere else in the liturgy up to this point, summarizes the Order of Bishop: he is to be a minister of the propagation of the Gospel, and receives authority that is meant to help people attain to salvation.  The words of consecration are what some call a speech-act, a pronouncement or declaration in God’s name:

Receive the Holy Spirit for the Office and Work of a Bishop in the Church of God, now committed to you by the Imposition of our Hands; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

which is then followed by a further prayer:

Most merciful Father, send down upon this your servant your heavenly blessing; so endue him with your Holy Spirit, that he, in preaching your holy Word, may not only be earnest to reprove, beseech, and rebuke, with all patience and Doctrine; but may he also, to such as believe, present a wholesome example in word, in conversation, in love, in faith, in chastity, and in purity; that, faithfully fulfilling his course, at the Last Day he may receive the crown of righteousness, laid up by the Lord Jesus, our righteous Judge, who lives and reigns with you and the same Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.

The new Bishop is then handed a copy of the Bible, accompanied by further words of exhortation for his new ministry.  Traditionally (provided for in our liturgy, though not required) he also receives a crosier (pastoral staff) symbolizing the shepherding role, anointing with holy oil on his forehead symbolizing the grace of God upon him as a Spirit-endued leader, a pectoral cross symbolizing the authority whom he will continue to serve, an episcopal ring symbolizing his marriage to Christ, and a miter symbolizing the authority he bears and whence it comes.

The celebration of Holy Communion follows, and that’s that!