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.

On Prayers for the Departed

“Why would you pray for the dead? They’re already with Jesus!”

Such is the common well-meaning retort from most Protestants today when they hear us pray for the faithful departed. This is an ancient practice of the Church, but it seems that the Romans have cornered the market when it comes to explanation. They, famously, believe in Purgatory, wherein the souls of ordinary Christians are purged of their lifetime of sin before beholding the fullness of the Beatific Vision, or (more crassly), going to heaven. While this doctrine could be interpreted in a benign fashion – simply the clearing of our spiritual eyes after a life of sin and darkness – it has typically been presented in very penitential terms: the soul is tortured, exposed to the pains of hell for a period of time depending upon how much sin went unconfessed, lightened by indulgences and prayers and masses on their behalf.

Anglican prayers for the departed has no place for that.

Actually, some say that Anglicans have no place for any prayers for the departed. We had some in the first Prayer Book, and got rid of them a few years later, only to see the extreme Anglo-Catholic wing bring them back in the 20th century and the liberals tolerating it under the guise of “tradition.” But this explanation is not strictly true. The Prayer Books have always included prayer for the departed.

If we look at what our reformed liturgy, 1549 to the present, actually says, we will find that our practice is quite far from Roman superstition.

The Prayers of the People in the 1549 Prayer Book’s Communion liturgy prayed for

all other thy servants, which are departed hence from us, with the sign of faith, and now do rest in the sleep of peace: Grant unto them, we beseech thee, thy mercy, and everlasting peace, and that, at the day of the general resurrection, we and all they which be of the mystical body of thy Son, may altogether be set on his right hand, and hear that his most joyful voice: ‘Come unto me, O ye that be blessed of my Father, and possess the Kingdom, which is prepared for you, from the beginning of the world’.

This was dropped from subsequent Prayer Books until the American book of 1928, which prayed

for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service, and to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom.

In between, the 1662 Prayer Book contained a similar, if more subtle, prayer for the departed in the penultimate prayer of the Burial rite:

Almighty God… we give thee hearty thanks, for that it hath pleased thee to deliver this our brother out of the miseries of this sinful world; beseeching thee that it may please thee, of thy gracious goodness, shortly to accomplish the number of thine elect, and to hasten thy kingdom; that we, with all those that are departed in the true faith of thy holy Name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in thy eternal and everlasting glory

The final Collect in the 1662 Burial service reuses some of the material from the 1549 Prayer Book quoted above, acknowledging the future consummation of the Christian hope of resurrection unto eternal life.  This is the common acknowledgement throughout the Prayer Book tradition – that God’s will, or plan, for his people has not yet reached its conclusion.  We pray for the departed no longer with the fear or urgency of late medieval piety, which errantly believed in the departed souls’ need to move through Purgatory, but instead with personal affection and biblical hope that all is not as it yet should be.

The Prayers of the People in the 2019 Prayer Book summarize it this way:

We remember before you all your servants who have departed this life in your faith and fear, that your will for them may be fulfilled

The 2019 Litany offers a more specific explanation of this will:

To grant to all the faithful departed eternal life and peace, We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

Thus the prayers for the departed in the Prayer Book tradition is drawn from biblical doctrine rather than from later superstitions.

Fasting has a Purpose

Fasting is perhaps the most prominent and well-known feature of the season of Lent, even though many people today don’t practice it. One of the issues that presents itself to people seems to be that fasting is often misunderstood. Since today is Friday, a fast day, let’s take a look at a few examples of what fasting isn’t, and what it actually is.

Fasting is not an end unto itself

Simply “giving something up for Lent” or refraining from eating certain foods at certain times does not make a person more holy. All foods were created for our enjoyment, provided we give thanks to God. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). Fasting, however, is a powerful tool in the toolbox of spiritual disciplines if used rightly. Fasting is a discipline that we can celebrate and use in conjunction with prayer and alms-giving. You can read more about that connection in Isaiah 58 and in part of this short article.

Fasting is not abstinence

It is not always clear in the Bible, but there is a difference between fasting and abstinence. Fasting is a reduction, abstinence is an elimination. When Moses, Jesus, or others fasted for 40 days, it does not typically mean that they ate or drank nothing at all – the human body can survive without food that long if properly prepared, but certainly not without water. One might appeal to divine providence in certain cases, but to belabor that point would be to miss the spiritual point: the discipline of fasting before special occasions or for special intercessory or penitential purposes is valuable to every believer. To fast is to reduce the amount or luxury of a thing. The biggest traditional example of this is to cut meat out of the diet because eating meat was associated with feasting, celebration, even worship. If you want some tips on what fasting might look like in today’s world, you can check out this article.

Fasting is not self-harm

Again, fasting is a spiritual discipline. It is geared toward exercising self-denial such that your spiritual attentions are provoked and improved in some way. Thus, fasting in such a way that your health suffers is not a true fast. The goal is redirect your passions, not make yourself sick. This is not about self-punishment, but self-control. This is why, traditionally, the young, the old, the sick, and pregnant women have been exempt from rules of fasting. It’s not that we’re going easy on “the weak”, but that people must not be encouraged to harm themselves. If you’re on medication, have dietary issues, or other food-related situation, fasting from food is something that you should not pursue without pastoral and medical advice.

Fasting is not just about food

Last of all, there are many other things that can be reduced or eliminated by way of the spiritual discipline of fasting. Social media, television, other activities of leisure or entertainment, are all excellent examples of things that can profitably be reduced or set aside for the sake of increased spiritual pursuits. Don’t get hung up on “I’m giving up chocolate for Lent!” when there are so many other possibilities out there. Look to where your habits and desires are found, and explore ways to curb and control those habits and desires – that is where you truly learn self-control.

Considering the Wedding and its Due Preparation

After the theological drift in the past two American Prayer Books, the service of Holy Matrimony in the 2019 Prayer Book is a breath of fresh air, its content rooted in the traditional material of the classical Anglican tradition. The format of the service is very much in the modern style, but language and doctrine it contains are long-awaited returns to historic orthodoxy.

The opening text on BCP 198-199 outline the doctrine of marriage and call for “great care” in the preparation of all candidates for Holy Matrimony. The word “candidate” should be taken seriously: just as in Confirmation and Ordination, those preparing for marriage are merely candidates, and the minister is well within his rights to deny officiating the wedding if the couple is not prepared or ineligible for marriage. The Banns of Marriage are one line of discernment, wherein the congregation is to be given at least three opportunities to offer any “cause, or just impediment” that the wedding should not go through. Furthermore, the minister is expected (and in many dioceses required) to have the couple sign the Declaration of Intention on BCP 200. This, and its accompanying liturgy on BCP 213, is essentially a formalized betrothal ceremony, and serves as the primary “gateway” to the path to marriage. If the couple is unable to sign the Declaration in good conscience they need further instruction and catechesis concerning Christian marriage before they can receive the Church’s blessing. The minister should take this role with grave solemnity, as many believers have slipped through the cracks in recent decades, entering into marriage with (at best) anemic views of biblical marriage.

What follows is but one way of approaching pre-marital counseling, which the minister can adapt to the strengths and weaknesses of the couple in question.

“Marriage is two people made one flesh in community bearing fruit for life before God.”

1. “Marriage Is”

  • Examine the Declaration of Intent study its four-fold purpose of marriage
  • Examine Holy Matrimony as an image of Christ & Church
  • Gateway: Sign the Declaration of Intention

2. “Two People”

  • Profile the personalities of the man and the woman with appropriate social and religious tools and measures
  • Consider their schedules, lifestyles, interests, personal spaces
  • Gateway: Make plans for Confirmation if not yet done

3. “Made One Flesh”

  • Consider the unity of the couple, especially their disciplines (spiritual and otherwise)
  • Examine their conflict resolution past and present, and where peace is found
  • Gateway: Have them paraphrase the Wedding Vows for their own understanding

4. “In Community”

  • Consider the community, especially the future in-laws, for this couple, and their relationships
  • Explore their baggage, expectations, history, and wishes about family and friends
  • Gateway: Offer Healing Prayer

5. “Bearing Fruit”

  • Explore the subjects of agape love that sacrifices & spreads, especially with regards to sexuality, family planning, and child-rearing
  • Examine their sexual desires, history, expectations, and ethics
  • Gateway: Offer private Confession & Absolution

6. “For Life”

  • Consider ordinary household plans like finances, spending & saving habits, occupations
  • Explore the subjects of homemaking and domestic duties and expectations
  • Gateway: Have them prepare a budget and list major milestones as a couple for their first year

7. “Before God”

  • Explore spiritual habits shared by the couple and pastoral accountability for the future
  • Consider the religious life of their family-to-be
  • Gateway: Plan the wedding ceremony’s liturgy together

Video: the Holy Days in the Prayer Book

The video series I started a year ago nears its conclusion. Here is a summary of how the Holy Days (commonly, the Major Feast Days) fit into the Christian Calendar.

Subject Index:

  • 00:00 Definition & Major Themes
  • 05:20 Historical Features
  • 10:13 Walk-through in the 2019 Prayer Book
  • 15:36 Daily Office & other features
  • 17:36 The Collect for All Saints’ Day

Links for further reading:

The Extra Directions for the Daily Office

Those who used the 1979 Prayer Book might know or recall that there were a couple of pages of “Additional Directions” for the Daily Offices. Perhaps the traditionalists scoffed at this – the increase in complexity and variation both distances the liturgy from the average person in the pews and distances parish from parish, as customs could diverge more and more.

So it is, perhaps, a relief to see that the 2019 Prayer Book only has a short list of Additional Directions. And most of them are rubrics that the 1928 Book had in-line with the liturgy itself; we simply have them moved to the end of the service to reduce clutter.

Nevertheless, some may question why additional directions are necessary for what should be a simple liturgy. Let’s check them out briefly.

The Confession and Apostles’ Creed may be omitted,
provided each is said at least once during the course of the day.

The 1928 Prayer Book afforded flexibility to the saying of the Creed in Morning Prayer, allowing its omission when the Eucharist was to follow. The 1979 Prayer Book’s Additional Directions standardized the Creed’s omission under those circumstances, and also permitted the dropping of the Confession and Absolution of Sin. It is worth noting that neither the Confession nor the Apostles’ Creed were used in the Daily Office until 1559.

So this isn’t a license for laziness, but an accommodation for pre-existing tradition. After all, if you only read through the liturgy, you’ll never even know that this is an option!

The Gloria Patri (Glory be…) in the opening versicles may be said in unison.
The following form of the Gloria Patri may alternatively be used:
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Due to widespread popularity, the 1979 translation of the Gloria Patri is permitted. Would it be better if everyone just used the common text? Yes. This rubric allows congregations that are used to the 1979 version to continue on for a while without having to be bludgeoned with the new text. It also gives a break to the singers who have Psalm and Canticle settings from the past 40 years that they still want to use. But, again, this is an additional direction; the default text is what most people will see, and it will eventually win the day.

The Officiant and People may join in saying “Alleluia” (except in Lent) as an alternative to the versicles “Praise the Lord. The Lord’s Name be praised.”

The saying of “Alleluia” at the end of the Invitatory dialogue was appointed in the 1549 Prayer Book from Easter until Trinity Sunday.

If an offering is to be received, it is appropriate to do so during the hymn or anthem following the Collects.

When weekly Communion was not yet normal, it was common practice in many parishes for the offering to follow the hymn or anthem, after the Collects.

A sermon may be preached after the lessons, after the hymn or anthem following the Collects, or after the conclusion of the Office.

The sermon, when added to the Daily Office, would traditionally be preached after the anthem and the offertory. This rubric also authorizes “after the lessons” to parallel the position of the sermon in the Communion service, and after the conclusion of the Office to allow for the integrity of the Office as it stands and freeing the preaching to follow on its own terms.

Meet John Jewel

He’s not in our calendar of commemorations but today is the death date of Bishop John Jewel, who was one of the great defenders of the Church of England during the Reformation. You can read about him on Wikipedia if you like, or this article I wrote inspired by his works last year, or better yet you can read his Apology or Defense of the Church of England, but what I’d like to put down here today is a general introduction to this man.

He was born in 1522; so the early stages of the English Reformation took place during his young adulthood, and was studying and teaching at Oxford throughout the 1540’s. His ministry as a vicar began in 1552, the year the second Prayer Book was published, and he survived the Marian persecution by fleeing to Frankfurt, Strausbourg, and Zurich. Like many of the Marian exiles, he returned when Queen Elizabeth took the throne, and by 1559 he was an official voice for the Church of England in the ongoing disputes with the Romanists. He had already opposed John Knox (the Scottish Presbyterian reformer), and so Jewel became a quintessential representative of the Elizabethan Settlement, standing between the Romanists at one extreme and the Puritans on the other. Some may retroactively called this the via media, but as you explore the polemics of Jewel and others, you’ll find that they were not seeking a middle ground to negotiate between extremes, but The Catholic Faith, to the opposition of heretics on either side.

His most famous and enduring work from these efforts is “An APOLOGY, or ANSWER in defence of the Church of England.” There he set out in passionate-but-sane detail the substance of the Catholic Faith, how the Church of England receives and proclaims it, and how the Romanists do not. Six sections to this work can be traced:

  1. Of true religion
  2. Doctrine received in the church
  3. Source and origin of heresies
  4. Popes claiming headship of church
  5. Church fathers & councils
  6. Of great councils, abused by papists

His sections on true religion and doctrine are informative for any Christian desiring to read a summary of the faith. His sections dealing with the Papacy and the Early Church are informative for any Protestant considering becoming Roman Catholic. Some of the issues he outlines are dated, but many of them remain relevant to this day. He makes the argument (contrary to how we normally use the word today) that the Roman Church is NOT CATHOLIC, and that to be truly Catholic is to be Reformed. Now, this doesn’t mean ‘Reformed’ in the Calvinist sense, but in the general sense of magisterial Protestantism, of which Calvinism is but one offshoot.

Reading this sort of thing could give the worshiper an extra kick of certainty and assertiveness when reciting the creeds – “we believe in the holy Catholic Church”! His legacy reminds us of our catholicity, neither fretting about the Roman deviancy from catholicism, nor being so lenient toward the radical reformers so as to stretch the term “catholic” to include virtually anything. Ours is a distinct heritage, firmly grounded in the Scriptures and the historic Church. We cannot allow Rome to steal the word “catholic” from us as if it rightly theirs, and we cannot allow the radical Protestants to expunge the word “catholic” from our vocabulary as if it is evil.