Receiving the newly-baptized

The liturgy concludes with symbols of the baptized persons’ new life being given to them, and the congregation verbally welcoming them into the Church.

The 1549 Prayer Book did this with two traditional acts: bestowing a white garment (with accompanying verbal explanation) and anointing with oil, followed by a final exhortation to the parents and godparents to raise the children accordingly, teach them, and bring them to Confirmation when they’re ready.  The external symbolism was reduced in subsequent Books, the minister instead reading a pair of declarations, affirming the efficacy of Holy Baptism: “We receive this Child into the congregation of Christ’s flock…” wherein the Priest shall make a Cross upon the Child’s forehead, and “Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this Child is regenerate and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church…”  Our rite contains the first of these statements, the phraseology having been reworked, and with express permission to make the sign of the Cross with Oil of Chrism.  A second, shorter statement is also provided as an option, which is a holdover from the 1979 Prayer Book.

Additional traditional baptismal symbols (garments and candles) are also permitted at this time, both of which have their accompanying verbal texts in the Additional Directions on page 172. Where the classical Prayer Books contain the minister’s second statement about the regeneration of the candidate, followed by the Lord’s Prayer and a final thanksgiving, the present rite skips straight to that thanksgiving.  Although the emphasis on regeneration has been diminished by way of word count, the prayer contains the same elements.  It should also be noted that the reduction of this prayer’s length already began in the American and Canadian Prayer Books of the 20th century.

comparison across four Prayer Books, assembled by the Rev. Matthew Brench

Most of the classical Prayer Books follow this thanksgiving with a final charge to the baptismal sponsors, but that is omitted in the modern liturgy because the substantial exhortation to them has already been given during the Presentation of the Candidates.  Instead, the celebrant turns to the congregation and bids them welcome the newly baptized.  This, and the congregation’s words of welcome, originate with the American Book of 1979.

The exchange of Peace at the conclusion of the liturgy is both a transition point leading to the remainder of the Communion liturgy and natural outflow from the act of welcoming new members into the Church.

thinking devotionally

A secondary act, primarily symbolic yet still charged with powerful meaning, is tracing the sign of the Cross on the forehead of the baptized person(s).  This may be done with or without holy oil, and (as the celebrant here says) it betokens the banner of Christ under which the newly-baptized is hereafter charged to fight against evil.  For the entry to new life through Baptism sadly entails entry into the age-old war against sin; thus the first thing that the Church does for her new members is give them armor and encouragement.  The alternative text, upon the signing of the Cross, side-steps the militaristic imagery and focuses singly upon the “seal” of the Spirit.  This, too, can be a deeply powerful statement of assurance, protection, and love, if rightly understood.

After the newly-baptized have been marked with the Cross (and perhaps received baptismal garments and candles), the celebrant once again gives thanks to God.  In a way, this prayer reflects the Thanksgiving over the Water on the other side of the font, as it were.  Once again we thank God for bestowing the forgiveness of sin, for adopting the candidate(s) as his own children, incorporating them into the Church, and giving them the grace of new life.  We pray that these good things will last unto eternity, by God’s sustaining (or persevering) grace.

Last of all, the minister invites the congregation to acknowledge what God has done, and welcome the newly baptized accordingly.  The worshipers, with one voice, receive the baptized into their fellowship and give a three-fold charge.  First, the new member(s) are to confess of faith of Christ crucified.  This speaks especially to the call to catechesis: learning the truth attested in the Scriptures and growing in the knowledge and love of God.  Second, they are to proclaim his resurrection, which is largely a call to worship.  Similarly, third, they are to invited to share in “the royal priesthood”, which indicates both a worthiness to be in the presence of God (participating in the life and sacraments of the Church) as well as a responsibility to represent God to the unbelieving world around.  A priesthood, after all, is a form of intermediary, and all Christians are called to be go-betweens on God’s behalf to those who are still lost and dead in sin.  Baptism is much to be celebrated, but it is also just the beginning of a truly new and different life than came before. The sharing of the peace, in this context, is bound to be less a time of reconciliation (see the commentary of the Communion liturgy) and more a time of solidarity and mutual encouragement to face up to the common task before us as baptized persons – God’s people in the world.

Anglican Baptism: dunk or drip?

The climax of the Rite of Holy Baptism is threefold: the Naming, the Baptism, and the Reception.

The 1549 Prayer Book asked the child’s name earlier, during the Presentation of the candidate(s), but the established pattern ever since then has been stable: the minister asks for the child’s name, and immediately performs the baptismal act.

Classically, three components are essential to the formula of a sacrament: Word, Intent, and Matter.

Word & Intent

The baptismal formula put forth here is the standard Western liturgical text.  Eastern Churches have minor variances from this, the Greek Orthodox Church for example putting forth the following: “The servant of God (Name) is baptized in the Name of the Father.  Amen.  And of the Son, Amen.  And of the Holy Spirit, Amen.”  At each invocation the Priest immerses him (her) and raises him (her) up again. After the baptizing, the Priest places the child in a linen sheet held by the Godparent.  The front matter “I baptize you” verses “Name is baptized” is different, but the trinitarian formula is the same.  Most clearly, this is in fulfillment of Christ’s words of institution reported in Matthew 20:19.

Over the course of the Church’s history, the occasional controversy has arisen regarding the baptismal formula, especially with regards the validity of Baptism performed by Arians or other heretical sects.  Some people then, as well as some churches today, followed the example of Acts 8:16 and 19:5 and baptized people in “the name of Jesus” only – is this valid?  This is where the matter of sacramental intent comes into the picture.  The testimony of the Church’s great theologians, especially in the early centuries, admits that Baptism in the Name of Jesus can be valid if the faith of the one performing the baptism is orthodox – he is simply making an error.  If the full trinitarian formula is used, then the intention to baptize the candidate into Christ’s Body the Church is reasonably assured.  On that basis, even if one is baptized in a heretical sect in the Triune Name, that person does not need to be re-baptized in the true Church; but if a heretic baptized someone only in the name of Jesus, that person does need to be baptized properly.

In more recent years, additional controversy has arisen in the Roman Church regarding the phrase “We baptize you” instead of “I baptize you.”  This, they declared, was invalid, and thousands of people have been tracked down for emergency baptism.  Such strictness with the part of the formula not explicitly ordained by Christ is not, however, in keeping with the Church’s historic witness (much less with the Eastern Church’s current practice, which is not explicitly rejected by Western churches).  Ministers who edit the front matter of the baptismal formula are acting disobediently and ought to be corrected, but the change of “I” to “we” does not invalidate Christ’s Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

As in other cases, conformity to the liturgical norms is not a matter of mere pickiness with details (as some Protestant brethren assert) nor or is it an absolute necessity for validity (as some Roman brethren assert), but such conformity is key to the principle of common prayer, of orthodoxy – the meeting-place of “right praise” and “right doctrine”.  This applies not only to the words of the liturgy but also to the physicality of the liturgy, as shall be considered next.

Matter

The Greek word for baptize means “wash.”  Water is necessary.  A child dedication in a Baptist or non-denominational Church, therefore, is not equivalent to Baptism.  A personal and public declaration of faith, likewise, is not equivalent to Baptism.  As with bread and wine in Holy Communion, Christ instituted that water be used for the washing of regeneration in the New Covenant, and to omit or replace water with another substance is to reject his command and invalidate the offer of grace.

The controversies, past and present, surrounding the waters of baptism have instead concerned the mode or method.  The 1549 Prayer Book ordered three-fold immersion: Then the priest shall take the child in his hands, and ask the name.  And naming the child, shall dip it in the water thrice.  First dipping the right side: Second the left side: The third time dipping the face towards the font: So it be discreetly and warily done.  Subsequent Prayer Books dropped the specific instructions for three-fold dipping and further admitted “if they certify that the Child is weak, it shall suffice to pour Water upon it, saying the foresaid words.”  The language in the present Prayer Book, “the Celebrant immerses the Candidate or pours water upon the Candidate three times” is largely the same rubric; the difference is that the pouring of water should be thrice (with the name of each Person of the Holy Trinity) and dipping the person into the water may be either a full or partial immersion.

Opinions have varied over the course of history regarding the appropriate contact between the water and the candidate: from full immersion, to partial immersion, dipping in water, pouring water on the head, or finally to a mere sprinkling of water.  Historically, all of these have been considered valid; only certain sects or denominations have developed legalistic attachments to particular choices of mode.  Chapter 7 of the late-first-century document known as the Didache, for example, puts forth the following order of preference: “But if you have not running water, baptize into other water; and if you can not in cold, then in warm.  But if you have not either, pour out water thrice upon the head ‘in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.’”  As Christians moved further North, baptizing infants in cold running water naturally became less desirable, and the favored modes changed accordingly.  With the improved availability of clean heated water in modern times, full immersion has risen in popularity in North America and Europe, and the warmer climes of the Global South have made it convenient to follow suit.  The Prayer Book tradition’s sensitivity to availability and health on this matter provides enough leeway to protect us from legalism on the one hand yet sets a standard wherein the visual symbolism of the act is preserved: baptism is the washing of regeneration.

Reflecting on the liturgy as we have it

The naming of the candidate is not merely a matter of logistics, reminding the minister of the person’s full name right before it is spoken in the baptismal act.  Rather, this is itself a meaningful act.  The parents (or other sponsors) actually name the candidate.  For much of European history, this has doubled as a legally-binding moment when a child receive his or her name and is recorded in the official registers.  Baptismal records in church archives is how much genealogical work is done, as well as verification of inheritance rights and other family-related matters.  Although the context is different, this carries significance for adults as well: being named at this time is the capturing of their identity, which is about to be given to God and baptized into his Name.  Some may even take on a new, or additional, “Christian name” at this time, betokening their newfound identity as a Christian.

Water then is poured upon the candidate(s), and the minister speaks the baptismal formula.  “The Name” of the trinity, as the biblical uses of the word imply, is a richly-layered invocation.  It refers to the power and presence of God.  It refers to the divine authority invested in the minister’s act.  It also refers to the identity of God and the unity of the three Persons of the Trinity.  In all these senses, the fullness of God is brought to bear on this poor sinner, with water blessed by the Spirit, to bring about new life that is ripe for eternity.

Paedocommunion: a feature or a bug?

There are a couple inconsistencies in the 2019 Prayer Book that I would like to address, gently, carefully, and with respect. Both involve doctrine and practice that were changed in the 20th century and are accepted by some otherwise-conservative Anglicans today without even batting an eye, yet grumpily condemned by the more traditionalist brethren. And the 2019 Prayer Book, perhaps predictably, has ended up awkwardly with a foot in each camp, so to speak. Is this a feature or a bug?

The issue that I’m going to address here is paedocommunion, the practice of serving Holy Communion to infants and small children, requiring only that they first be baptized. From what I have seen, this practice has been found among some of the more strictly traditional Anglican provinces, not just the ACNA, but there are still people in our midst who are hesitant or outright opposed to this practice. Historically, the Prayer Book tradition has required that one be Confirmed, or at least “desirous to be confirmed” in order to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. That loophole exception proved useful in the early years of the Episcopal Church in the USA when bishops were scarce, but that temporary situation soon went away and regular discipline was eventually resumed, as far as I know. Other Protestant (as well as Roman) traditions were all on the same page: receiving Communion requires a confession of faith, repentance of sin, and the desire to commune with Christ. Basically, if you just read 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 at face value, you get the rule that all of Western Christianity observed for over a thousand years.

But there are rumblings concerning the varied practices in the Early Church, and there is the ongoing witness of Eastern Orthodox practice wherein a child is baptized and “confirmed” (properly, chrismated) all at once, and then go on to receive Communion before what Westerners would call the Age of Reason. But we’re not confirming our infants, like they are, so what changed in Western Christian thought that has led so many Anglicans (and certain other traditions) to make such a radical change in practice?

The answer is largely found in the doctrine of Holy Baptism. It is no secret that the 1979 Prayer Book contains a severe shift in baptismal theology compared to the Prayer Book tradition previously. It became less about cleansing from sin and the beginning of the new life in Christ and more about joining the family of God and belonging to the mission of the Church. The Preface to the 2019 Prayer Book, on page 4, even calls this out:

Baptismal theology, especially in North America, was affected by radical revisions to the received Christian understanding, and came perilously close to proclaiming a gospel of individual affirmation rather than of personal transformation and sanctification.

The poster child for this was “The Baptismal Covenant”, which took some traditional elements of the examination of the candidates and set them in a context that shifts the emphasis from Baptism being a gracious gift of God toward Baptism being a commitment that we make as individuals.

All that being said, the question now arises: what does the 2019 Prayer Book do about all this? The Preface expresses clear concerns about the previous baptismal liturgy, and the 2019 Baptism service does a good job of bringing back several elements of historic prayers. There is still a thread of emphasis on “welcome to the family of God”, but that’s fine because it is (first of all) correct, and (secondly) not a theme original to 1979 but already cropping up in 1962 and 1928 alongside the historic liturgical forms. One might quibble over the quality of the balance between “welcome to the family” and “this child is now regenerate”, but it can safely be said that our baptismal liturgy is once again within the bounds of Anglican orthodoxy.

And yet, nearly the entire ACNA communes its not-yet-Confirmed members. And so do some of the Continuing churches who never even adopted the 1979 Prayer Book in the first place. So when you look at the 2019 Prayer Book and observe the utter lack of direction over whether not-yet-Confirmed children may receive Holy Communion or not, one has to conclude that this is a feature and not a bug as such. It is an inconsistency, yes, because we’ve called out the baptismal errors of the Episcopalians since the 70’s and yet we often retain their practice of communing our children on the basis of their Baptism alone. But it’s an inconsistency that we share with others, and therefore one that we cannot simply “solve” in our new Prayer Book alone.

If you or members of your congregation are uncertain about the practice of paedocommunion, I highly recommend you avoid it. If there are scruples or doubts about doing something, then it would be done in fear and not in faith, and therefore should not be done (Romans 14:23).

If this is a subject you’ve never thought about before, then please go read 1 Corinthians 11 and the Exhortation to Holy Communion in our Prayer Book. I have a doctrinal walk-through of it here for you, and an historical summary of it here.

Whatever you decide on this, make sure that you are able to do so in the confidence of the Holy Scriptures and the directions of your Church.

The 2019’s “Rite II”

Much ink has been spilled on the subject of a modern eucharistic canon in an Anglican Prayer Book.  Until the mid-20th century there was indisputably one set of Anglican Communion Prayers, in a few minor variations between England, Scotland, America, Canada, and other former colonies of the British Empire.  Accusations were leveled, often justly, that Anglican doctrine was being tampered with in the writing and promulgation of so many new alternative prayers.  Admittedly, 20th century ecumenism has blurred the borders of many denominations and traditions both for their betterment and their detriment.  In light of the great influence of the classical Prayer Book upon Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman liturgies in the English language, traditionalists have a fair point in being wary of the need for such modernist intrusions.

Yet, for better and for worse, the Liturgical Renewal of the mid-20th century has left a lasting mark on the liturgical practices of the Church, and has become a part of the history of Anglicanism.  The present Prayer Book, therefore, does not roll back the stone and seal it off forever, but gathers it up and encapsulates it into a single option: the Renewed Ancient Text.  Where previous modern Prayer Books offer as many as five, six, or even ten sets of Prayers of Consecration, this one offers two: the standard historic rite and a single representative of the past half-century of liturgical experience and development – the Renewed Ancient Text.  It is authorized here with the intent that its theology and doctrine should be understood as fully consonant with the historic Anglican faith.


This set of prayers is derived from a document known as The Apostolic Tradition, attributed to one of the earliest Anti-Popes, Hippolytus.  Writing near 200AD, Hippolytus was reacting to a succession of bishops in Rome who were tolerating various heresies such as Montanism and what came to be known as Sabellianism.  Tensions grew over the years and eventually sought episcopal ordination himself to set himself up as the truly catholic Bishop of Rome over against Zephyrinus and Callistus.  The Apostolic Tradition is his rebuttal to the now-unknown liturgical practices in Rome at the time, and because he wrote in Greek rather than in Latin his liturgical writings have seen influence in Eastern liturgy far more than in Western.  The Apostolic Tradition was reexamined in the mid-20th century and became hugely influential in the Liturgical Renewal Movement that guided the Second Vatican Council in the Roman Church and resulted in several new Communion liturgies both in Roman and Anglican churches.  Modern rites, such as Prayers A and B in the American Prayer Book of 1979, and Prayer B in the Church of England’s Common Worship (2000), as well as the present Renewed Ancient Text, are inspired by the work attributed to Hippolytus. These prayers most closely resemble Prayer A from the 1979 Prayer Book.


One of the most noticeable differences between the two rites is the theological scope.  Where the Standard Text is narrowly focused, delving deep into the doctrine of the Cross, and Christ’s death and resurrection, the Renewed Ancient Text is shallower yet marks of a far larger picture of the Gospel, connecting the dots from Creation to the Last Day.  This is most noticeable in the first paragraph, perhaps giving these prayers a particular fittingness to the seasons of Advent, Christmas, or Epiphany.

The first paragraph is the anamnesis.  Our creation, the fall, and the incarnation are recalled, specifically naming the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary (which is the primary contribution from 1979’s Prayer B).  Christ’s obedience unto death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension close the anamnesis, concluding that the worshipers therefore have confidence to approach the throne of grace.

The Words of Institution follow, and are identical to the form found in the Anglican Standard Text.

Then follows a Memorial Acclamation, or “the mystery of faith”, giving the congregation a voice amidst the Prayers of Consecration.  Although this has no representative in historic liturgies, this call-and-response element has become popular in modern liturgies, particularly in the several rites offered in Common Worship.  This part of the prayers corresponds to the first paragraph of the Oblations in the Standard Text (“Therefore, O Lord and heavenly Father…”) in that both introduce the prayers of self-offering with a recapitulation of the anamnesis or remembrance. The Memorial Acclamation doesn’t just give the congregation more lines to read, but also thereby gives common assent to the celebrant’s prayers beyond the final “Amen.”

The Oblation of “these gifts” follows, acknowledging the Church’s sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, now drawing from the language of historic Anglican liturgy. “We celebrate the memorial… and we offer you these gifts” summarizes elements of the first two paragraphs of the Standard Text’s oblations.  “Sanctify them…” is an epiclesis, similar to the placement of the epiclesis in the classical American Prayer Books.  “In the fullness of time…” concludes the oblations with a prayer for the final glorification of God’s people.  The Prayers of Consecration of the Renewed Ancient Text thus ends as it begins – with a broader scope of the Gospel story than the Anglican Standard Text.  This advantage is gained, however, at the cost of the detailed centrality of the Cross.

The epiclesis has already been discussed before.  Its placement here amidst the prayers of oblation is both a return to the order of the first three American Prayer Books and a subtle way of de-emphasizing the blessing of the bread and wine, because it continues immediately with an epiclesis of the people: “Sanctify us also”.  As in historic Prayer Book piety, there is greater concern for right reception of the Sacrament than for the metaphysics of the Body and Blood in the bread and wine, as the end goal of participating in Holy Communion is not knowledge per se but unity with Christ: the mutual indwelling of he “in us and we in him.”  This unity is for eternity: that the worshipers will be so fed unto eternal life that they will enter into God’s heavenly kingdom with all the saints, beholding the face of God.

The final Doxology is the same as in the Standard Text, only with a different lead-up text.

A Catechetical Lectionary

It is popular, across Christian traditions, to read non-biblical devotions as daily devotions. Historically this particularly drew upon the writings of the Church Fathers. (You can see this still in practice today in the Roman Liturgy of the Hours with its Office of Readings.) It was also a practice in some monastic orders to hear a chapter from the Rule of St. Benedict in the course of the daily liturgy. In that vein, I’ve crafted an extra-biblical, or Catechetical, lectionary rooted in the Anglican tradition.

I would like to publish most of this in the coming year or two, but some of it will take a while to prepare. A longer week-by-week summary is below, but here’s the basic rundown.

Christmas, Epiphany, and Lent begin with the Early Church Fathers, common to all Christianity. Christmastide is on topic with On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius. The Apostolic Fathers (or several of the earliest Ante-Nicene Fathers) occupy our reading during Epiphanytide, and spill over into the first few weeks of/after Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. For Lent I intend to republish a book of daily readings from the likes of Sts. John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, and Cyril of Jerusalem, which is arranged in a largely topical fashion appropriate for that season.

The season of Easter is where the foray into Anglicanism begins. The first 39 days are given to reading the 39 Articles of Religion – one per day. The 40th day, Ascension Day, begins ten days of reading from the “Foundational Documents” and short essays in the Book of Common Prayer.

The majority of Trinitytide (July through November) takes us through the official catechism of the Anglican Church in North America: To Be A Christian. Its tiny Part One, which is a Gospel summary, is actually covered in the few days before Ash Wednesday to fill that space.

Finally, in Advent, with the major Early Church and Anglican material covered, we take time to slow down and meditate on a different form of written piety: the poetry of early Anglican divines such as John Donne and George Herbert. This piece is currently available in print for sale in my bookstore.

While most of this is on my wish-list to arrange nicely for publication in print, there will be some rights issues: the catechism is probably not licensed for commercial re-use, so I will have to find another way to commend that for use without actually reprinting it myself.

Weekly Summary of the Catechetical Lectionary

  • Advent 1-4 Anglican metaphysical poetry…
  • Christmas 1 Athanasius On the Incarnation 1-29
  • Christmas 2 On the Incarnation 30-57
  • Epiphany 1 1 Clement. 1-30
  • Epiphany 2 1 Clement 31-65
  • Epiphany 3 Epistles of Ignatius : Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians
  • Epiphany 4 Ignatius Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrneans, Polycarp
  • Epiphany 5 Epistle of Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp
  • Epiphany 6 Didache2 Clement
  • Epiphany 7 Mathetes ad Diognetus, Justin Martyr 1-4
  • Epiphany 8 Justin Martyr’s First Apology 5-27

As in the Communion lectionary, the last week of Epiphany interrupts the numbered weeks.
Skipped weeks will be picked up after Pentecost.

  • Epiphany Last Catechism Questions 1-17, Lent Fathers Daily Devotional
  • Lent 1-6 Lent Fathers Daily Devotional
  • Easter 1 Articles of Religion 1-7
  • Easter 2 Articles 8-14
  • Easter 3 Articles 15-21
  • Easter 4 Articles 22-28
  • Easter 5 Articles 29-35
  • Easter 6 Articles 36-39
  • Ascensiontide Foundational Documents of the 2019 BCP

Starting on the Day of Pentecost, the “Proper” weeks are to be used for this lectionary.

  • Proper 1 Didache2 Clement
  • Proper 2 Mathetes ad Diognetus, Justin Marty’r First Apology 1-4
  • Proper 3 Justin M. 5-27
  • Proper 4 Justin M. 28-50
  • Proper 5 Justin M. 51-68
  • Proper 6 Athenagorus 1-12
  • Proper 7 Athenagorus 13-22
  • Proper 8 Athenagorus 23-37
  • Proper 9 of the Anglican Church in North America, “To Be A Christian” 18-39
  • Proper 10 Catechism 40-55
  • Proper 11 Catechism 56-75
  • Proper 12 Catechism 76-94
  • Proper 13 Catechism 95-113
  • Proper 14 Catechism 114-133
  • Proper 15 Catechism 134-153
  • Proper 16 Catechism 154-169
  • Proper 17 Catechism 170-187
  • Proper 18 Catechism 188-204
  • Proper 19 Catechism 205-220
  • Proper 20 Catechism 221-236
  • Proper 21 Catechism 237-251
  • Proper 22 Catechism 252-265
  • Proper 23 Catechism 266-279
  • Proper 24 Catechism 280-295
  • Proper 25 Catechism 296-310
  • Proper 26 Catechism 311-324
  • Proper 27 Catechism 325-341
  • Proper 28 Catechism 342-356
  • Proper 29 Catechism 357-prayers

Before the Sunday service starts

Sunday mornings can be very busy times for pastors and other ministers, there can be a lot of preparation involved before the liturgy begins, especially a Communion service, and double-especially a Communion service with any semblance of high church ceremonial – candles to light, vestments to don, ministers to assemble and coordinate. It’s wonderful when everything goes to plan and everyone does their part and the whole result is a dignified and beautiful offering of the people of themselves unto God and a faithful reception of His Word and Sacrament.

But, as Mother Teresa said when her sisters warned her that the work was getting to be too much, the answer to a busy situation is not to pray less, but to pray more. Sure, it’s “inconvenient”, but it’s often what we need. So, straight to the point, what or how should we pray before the Sunday Communion?

There are a number of possibilities.

Some like to gather the ministers together beforehand and offer/prompt spontaneous prayers unscripted.

Some like to use traditional forms of preparation descended from the traditional “Fore-Mass” (prayers before the Introit where the Mass formally begins). There are also traditional prayers for the minister to consider the Gospel in the donning of each vestment, as well as prayers that are written to prepare priests and other servers for the liturgy. There are also some preparatory prayers in the draft ACNA Altar Book; you should check them out if you haven’t yet!

If you want something more middle-of-the-road in terms of churchmanship – you don’t want to troll an Anglo-Catholic agenda, and you don’t want to go all loosey-goosey about it either, how about grab the Prayer Book for a 5 minute block of time sometime before the liturgy starts?

the Great Litany in the Prayer Book (2019) next to my photogenic Bible (left)

Yesterday I grabbed a few minutes to pray the Great Litany before people arrived for Holy Communion. It was a little hectic with my kids running around and I must admit I had to interrupt myself at one point (and not just to take this picture!). Still, it was a moment of stillness for my soul, which would then go on to share the burdens of my parishioners and feel rather more clogged up thereafter. Praying for them, the whole church, and the world, in the words of the Litany prepared myself for ministering to them. It also just plain gave me a chance to worship and pray on my own, which can be something that priests and ministers sometimes struggle with, especially in small congregations where the leadership roles are not as widely shared.

The Litany is a great traditional choice for an Anglican, also, because the original Prayer Book order for Sunday morning expected Morning Prayer, Litany, and Communion all in a row! So bringing some of that back, even if only by yourself (as a clergyman or as a lay person) can only be good and upbuilding for us.

Any other tips or approaches that you like which help you (and/or the ministry team) prepare spiritually for the worship service? Leave a comment!

Learning to sing or chant mass parts

I have always served a small church. And for all but one year of my pastoral ministry I have doubled as the musician, which is how I actually began my service for Grace Anglican Church. As a result (by necessity) the selection of music has been part and parcel of liturgical planning. This is sometimes a fair bit of extra work for me, but also can be pretty rewarding for all of us in that the songs we sing usually tie closely with the Scriptures and prayers of the day. In fact, I’ve even started working on a booklet to collect the “best practices” I’ve developed (and learned from others) which will be available for sale sometime in the coming months.

One thing which is common in many Anglican (and Episcopalian) churches which we’ve only dabbled in, however, is the singing or chanting of mass parts. “Mass parts” is a phrase that refers to the parts of the mass, or Communion service, that are traditionally sung or chanted by a choir and/or the congregation. Traditionally there are quite a few of these, but the main ones are:

  1. the Kyrie
  2. the Gloria in excelsis
  3. the Sanctus
  4. the Agnus Dei

In the classical Prayer Book tradition, there is no Kyrie but instead the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) which could have chanted/sung responses, and the Gloria is placed near the end of the liturgy instead of near the beginning. And most of the old Prayer Books had no place for the Agnus Dei, either, come to think of it. But contemporary Prayer Books (and contemporized versions of the classical Prayer Books) restore all four of these to the liturgy one way or another. Every Anglican hymnal these days worth its salt has at least one (if not a handful) of different musical settings for these parts of the liturgy.

The main reason my church never got into these is because we used the 1940 hymnal for years, and then switched to the 2017 hymnal. The former only has the traditional-language texts for the liturgy and the latter has only one setting for the contemporary language that we use 96% of the year. When we had a different music minister for a little while, he brought in a contemporary Gloria and Sanctus, which we appreciated, but I was not able to keep them up when he was gone. In fact, after his departure I quickly became a hymnal-only musician, no longer having the energy to learn and teach contemporary-style worship songs. The demographics of our congregation matched this preference anyway, so it was not an issue one way or the other.

But this past year, coming out of COVID-tide, I’ve started taking these mass parts seriously. It was time to start singing or chanting these parts of the liturgy again. I started at the Easter Vigil this year, introducing the Gloria in excelsis Deo. The contemporary-language set in our new hymnal is the New Plainsong set by David Hurd, first copyrighted in 1981 and featured in the 1980 Episcopal hymnal. It’s not an especially ground-breaking new and exciting set of music, nor is it a re-make of one of the old classics, but it is stately and singable. Since Easter, we’ve sung that Gloria on the major Sundays of the year, but not every Sunday… yet.

Shortly thereafter I introduced the Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy), which went over pretty well. We’ve been singing it ever since.

And now that we’re moving our worship indoors for the season I’m about to introduce the Agnus Dei which is nicely similar in sound and contour to the others. After about a month to get used to that, I’ll add the sung Kyrie (just threefold, not ninefold), and then we’ll have all four together for a solemn few Sundays before Advent.

In Advent it is traditional to omit the Gloria, so we will not sing or say it at all for those four weeks until it returns at Christmas. From there I will be free to use or omit some or all of these sung parts to emphasize the tone of the church calendar. We can sing everything on the most celebratory Sundays and other feast days, sing some of them on more ‘normal’ Sundays, or simply just speak them at penitential times. The solemnity of the liturgy style can become a tool in the celebration of the Gospel from week to week, and season to season.

As I was planning this, though, and preparing to type this up, I could just hear in my head the anti-traditionalists, as the ACNA is sometimes a bit infamous for, asking the question “and how will this help the mission of your church and its growth?” To which I will confidently reply that it will neither help nor hinder the missional character of Grace Anglican Church… at least directly. Instead, it will help teach us to worship with reverence, and perhaps to respect the Lord just that little bit more. And, with its periodic use and omission to accentuate the gospel that we proclaim over the course of the year, it may just help people grasp that gospel more nearly to their hearts. In which case, I dare say, we may become a people more apt for the missio Dei.

Vigil fast today!

In the 1662 prayer book there are several fasts appointed on the eve, or vigil, or day before several of the holy days in the church year. Curiously, not all of the holy days in that prayer book get their own fast day beforehand; perhaps about 75% do and the rest do not.

Today is one such vigil fast, preparing us for the feast of the nativity of Saint John the Baptist tomorrow! This pairing of fasts and feasts is both an ancient and a sound practice:

Here, the great Anglican theologian, Richard Hooker, points out that grief and joy are two states of heart and mind which excellently summarize human life, and in her fast and feast days the church uses grief and joy to help Christians grow in virtue and holiness.

So if you are not normally one who observes days of fasting consider adopting the prayer book tradition of vigil fasts today!

On the Collect for Purity

Before the Reformation, this was a vesting prayer said by the celebrant before the Mass began. Archbishop Cranmer moved it to the second prayer of the Communion liturgy (following the Lord’s Prayer) in the Prayer Books.  The celebrant was to pray this kneeling at the Altar Table.  When the Communion liturgy was substantially re-ordered in the 1979 Book, this collect was rendered optional, but was still the second prayer (now following the Acclamation).  The present edition has retained the position of this prayer in the liturgy, returned it to a required piece of the liturgy, but opened it up to be a prayer said also by the congregation rather than only by the minister on their behalf.

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid:
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

When reception of Holy Communion was less frequent, greater efforts were taken by the typical church-goer to prepare for its worthy reception.  Special acts of self-examination and other devotions on the holy mysteries of God’s grace toward sinners were standard fare for Christians of many stripes and traditions.  In this age of weekly Communion as the standard practice, the strictness of preparation and the depths of eucharistic piety have waned.  This prayer, when said by the congregation with the celebrant, reclaims an aspect of historic devotion in preparation for the Sacrament.

The Collect for Purity also provides for the worshiper both instruction and a model concerning right preparation for worship in general.  When we come to worship the Lord, we do not invite God’s presence among us, but rather seek his aid in preparing “the thoughts of our hearts” to enter into his.  God is already with us by virtue of his Word and Spirit; it is we who must be invited and aided to love him perfectly and worthily magnify his holy Name.

On the Decalogue

In the classical Prayer Books these commandments were the first words the priest spoke to the congregation in the Communion liturgy (although Communion at that time would almost never be celebrated alone, but typically after Morning Prayer with the Litany). The inclusion of the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, in the Prayer Book began in 1552.  After praying the Lord’s Prayer and the Collect for Purity, the priest would stand and turn to the congregation, reading each commandment, and the people responding “Lord, have mercye upon us, and encline our heartes to kepe this lawe.”  Apart from the 1979 Prayer Book, these responses have remained unchanged.

The anomalous change to the responses in 1979’s Rite II to “Amen.  Lord have mercy” expressed godly sorrow but not the full resolution to the amendment of life.  Proposed improvements included the phrase “give us grace to keep this law”, but even this was an ironic misappropriation of the doctrine of grace: we need not only grace or assistance to live holy lives, but our very hearts need to be “inclined” or redirected by the Holy Spirit.

As for the text of the commandments, the first American Prayer Book added the option of reading the Summary of the Law after the Ten Commandments (“Here also what our Lord Jesus Christ saith”), and in 1892 a rubric was added permitting the Decalogue to be skipped entirely, in which case the Kyrie should follow the Summary of the Law.  It was stipulated that the Decalogue should still be read at least once per month.  In 1928, the very text of the commandments was given an option to be shortened, which then became the normative text for the Decalogue in 1979 and the present edition.

Although the Decalogue remains optional in modern liturgies, it is a significant part not only of our history but of the Communion Rite in the Anglican (and broader reformation) tradition.  It is not only the biblical standard which the Summary of the Law only summarizes, but it is one of the three definitive texts of Christian catechesis alongside the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.  It is vital that our tradition uses all three of those texts in the course of regular worship – putting the foundational words of belief (Creed), spirituality (Lord’s Prayer), and ethics (Decalogue) upon the lips and ears of every worshiper.