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Below is a liturgy for the blessing of water, adapted from A Manual for the American Priest, originally made as a companion to the 1928 BCP, which underwent several editions.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!

Ash Wednesday

Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful, were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. In this manner, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need that all Christians continually have to renew our repentance and faith.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and alms-giving; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

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For a modern prayer book service, we still have very deep roots in some old traditions.  In calling the church to prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, we’re standing on a thousand years or more of Christian spirituality, asceticism, and even theological anthropology.  These are not arbitrary spiritual disciplines that happened to be popular at key times in history.  Rather, they are disciplines especially picked to combat our three-fold enemy: the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Prayer is our weapon against the Devil – spiritual enemies can only be fought in spiritual activity.  Fasting is our weapon against the flesh – denying our apparently-natural desires is how we learn to resist such passions.  Alms-giving is our weapon against the world, especially in a consumerist age such as ours where we’re told to spend, spend, spend (on ourselves of course!).

And the liturgy follows this up with the traditional Gospel lesson for Ash Wednesday: Matthew 6:1-6,16-18(19-21).  Technically, the traditional Gospel is just verses 16-21, so we recommend you include the verses that the ACNA lectionary considers as optional.  That way, the full reading is basically our Lord’s quick “how-to” guide for Lent.  “When you pray… When you fast… Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”  So really, the Ash Wednesday liturgy starts with a call to spiritual disciplines, and then in the Scripture lessons explain how we are to pursue them.  It’s all quite neat, really!

Ash Wednesday without ashes?

Did you know that the Book of Common Prayer historically has not authorized the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday?  If you grew up with the 1979 Prayer Book, you’ve probably assumed that we’ve always kept the ashes in Ash Wednesday.

But no, until 1979, we had “the Commination” (this link is the 1662 version, but feel free to look at it in the 1928 book or another if you prefer).  It was a service of serious remonstration and repentance.  Elements of it, such as the congregational praying of Psalm 51, survive in the modern Ash Wednesday service, but on the whole its accusatory character has been lost.  Perhaps modern (or modernist) liturgical revisionists found it too dour and depressing for the contemporary worshiper.  But in these times of blatant and rampant sin in the church, it may be worth drawing upon the old Commination once again.  Check it out!