Pre-orders for the New Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book

I just heard back from Scott Gunn that the final bits are mostly in place on the new revision of the Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book. After a brief delay, it’s scheduled to go to the printer before they leave for Christmas. 

The pre-order page is now up on the Forward Movement site! 

David Cobb, who I’m lucky to consider a mentor and a friend, did a great job with this volume; my chief role (as I’ve said before) was simply to gild the lily. It won’t be too long now before we have the printed texts…

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Brief Updates, Advent Edition

  • Advent is here. Yay!
  • Things are crazy, perhaps more so than usual.
  • I just drafted another provisional piece for discussion at the upcoming Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music meeting on the future of HWHM revision. I can’t say more about this yet, but I think we’re on the brink of making some very positive steps forward.
  • The spirituality of the prayer book (first draft) manuscript is done—except for about a third of a chapter. That would be the part where I directly tackle the content of the Eucharistic prayers. I’m not trying to say everything that can be said on the topic, but it’s daunting material to say the least!
  • The Kickstarter project write-up for the electronic Anglican Breviary is almost complete, I just need to finalize some of the business stuff and make a video. I hate the way my voice sounds on video…
  • However, I just got some great news on the Breviary front; I received a very generous offer last night from the Society of Archbishop Justus to host the projected Anglican Breviary as well as the St Bede’s Breviary on their servers free of charge! I’m thrilled, and very grateful for this offer which will solve the issue of on-going funding for server hosting.
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Anatomy of the Eucharist: Part 2

This is the second part of the Eucharist chapter that started here.


The Word of God

Rite One

Rite Two



[hymn, psalm, or anthem] [hymn, psalm, or anthem] Optional Weekly
Opening Greeting/Response Opening Greeting/Response Optional Seasonal
Collect for Purity Collect for Purity Rite I: Yes, Rite II: No
[Ten Commandments]/Summary of the Law Optional
Kyrie/Trisagion/Glory be to God on High Glory to God in the Highest/Kyrie/Trisagion At least one Seasonal
Collect of the Day Collect of the Day Yes Weekly
The Lessons The Lessons At least one Weekly
[psalm, hymn, or anthem] [psalm, hymn, or anthem] Optional
The Gospel The Gospel Yes Weekly
The Sermon The Sermon Yes
The Nicene Creed The Nicene Creed On Sundays and Major Feasts
The Prayers of the People [The Prayers of the People] Yes
Confession of Sin Confession of Sin May be omitted occasionally
The Peace The Peace

This section entitled “The Word of God” is the first half of the Holy Eucharist. It’s sometimes called the “ante-communion” where the Latin “ante” designations the portion “before” the communion. I’m not a fan of this term because it implies that these elements are merely the warm-up and are not integral elements of the Communion as a whole. But they are!

As we established before, this first half of the service offers us a direct encounter with the person of Jesus Christ who is the true Word of God. The highlight of this half is the exposition of the Gospel. By using the word “exposition,” I’m hedging my bets a little… This term can refer either to the sermon and its interpretation of the Word of God for a given congregation or, more narrowly, can refer to the act of reading the Gospel lesson aloud in a language understood by the people. Indeed—sometimes it’s necessary to go with the more narrow definition. Even when the preacher delivers a dud, the Gospel is still heard in its proclamation—in spite of the preacher’s potentially counterproductive attempts!

As the Gospel is the high point, the other elements are structured around it in order to help us hear it and respond to it most fully. The collect should help to set the scene liturgically as would various seasonal additions or deletions. The readings before the Gospel help give us a better context for its message within the scope of God’s prior relationship with humanity and in the Early Church’s own understanding of Jesus. After the Gospel we recite the Creed and once again remind ourselves of the Church’s guide for the proper interpretation of the Scriptures. Lastly, the intercessory prayers come out of our sense of the world’s need and the divine capacity to meet that need.

An introductory hymn usually opens the service and gives a liturgical space for an entrance procession.                                        It’s not required, but is quite common. Of course—as is the case with all hymns and anthems appointed—it does help if the hymn is somehow connected to the readings or the season, but this isn’t always possible or feasible.

The prayer book offers three opening greetings at the start of the Eucharist, an ordinary use opening, then special options for Easter and for Lent/penitential occasions. It’s well to remember, though, that it hides another away an additional bit for specific circumstances: when Baptisms occur, the opening is increased with an expanded dialogue (on page 299). This opening is the liturgical equivalent of saying “hello.” As a result, there’s no additional need for the clergy to begin with a literal “hello” or an introductory greeting of some other sort.

The Collect for Purity is a gem of Anglican devotion. An open admission to the God who knows our faults and shortcomings better than we do ourselves, we ask for the cleansing presence of the Holy Spirit that we might love and worship God rightly. It is rightly one of our most beloved prayers. Originally a private prayer of the priest as part of his preparation for Mass in the Sarum missals, Cranmer made an excellent choice in sharing it with the whole congregation. If you only memorize one collect in your life, this would be the one to pick! Rite One requires its use; Rite Two leaves it optional.

Following the Collect for Purity is the space provided in Rite One for either the Decalogue or Jesus’ Summary of the Law. Rite Two does not technically offer this same option unless the Penitential Order is being used.

The first principal element of the service is the song that appears at this point: the Kyrie, the Trisagion, or the Gloria in Excelsis. These are all hymns of praise sung or said corporately. Particularly when the Gloria is sung—but even when an alternative is used—this moment can be seen as the point where the gathered congregation purposely joins its voice to the great unceasing universal chorus of praise to God and to the Lamb. In this hymn, we stand alongside the angels who proclaimed “Gloria” at the birth of the Savior in Bethlehem and the saints and martyrs whose prayers have been received before the throne of God. Some of the great choral settings of the Gloria directly evoke the experience of standing in the midst of celestial choirs and contribute to the solemnity of this moment.

The Kyrie is a simple cry to God for mercy that acknowledges our dependence upon divine grace. In its simplest form it is the repetition of three brief sentences: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord have mercy.” We have the option of using either English or Greek (Kyrie, eleison). This is a thoroughly biblical phrase. Suppliants ask for Jesus’ help in the Gospels with these words, and the psalmists and prophets alike cry for help with them in the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was the Church’s first Bible.

The Kyrie can be used as written, a simple alternation between priest and people, or it can be more elaborate: the Additional Directions allow its “threefold, sixfold, or ninefold form” (p. 406). The basic alternation written in the prayer book is the threefold form; in the sixfold, the priest or cantor sings and line and the congregation repeats it; in the ninefold, each line is said three times either in alternation or together before moving on to the next line. While this may sound complicated, it’s not—the hymnal gives examples of the sixfold version in S85, S88, S94 and S95; the other settings represent the ninefold form.

The Trisagion means “three-times holy” because this Eastern acclamation names God as holy in three different ways. Like the Kyrie, it can be used alone or repeated three times. Unlike the Kyrie, when it is repeated, the whole unit is repeated three times rather than each line. Again, the hymnal contains settings for both: S102 gives it once; the other settings (S99-S101) use the threefold repetition.

The Gloria we already touched on when it appeared as a canticle in the Daily Office. Beginning with the words of the angels from Luke, it flows into the words of the Church and serves as the preeminent vehicle for joining us musically with the full heavenly host. Permission is given to substitute another “song of praise” for it, but this should be used sparingly if at all. The best options here would either be a hymn paraphrase (like 421, “All glory be to God on high”) or a canticle like the Te Deum or the Benedictus es.

The rubric with the Gloria indicates that it should be used “when appointed” but it doesn’t give any clues as to where that might be found… It’s tucked away in the Additional Directions on page 406. As usual, the directions are fairly permissive and leave a lot open to local interpretation or practice. Here are the directions in tabular form alongside the historic use:


Prayer Book

Historical Use

Advent Omitted during this season Omitted during this season
Christmas Every day in this season Every day in this season
Epiphany “as desired” Sundays/feast days only
Lent Omitted during this season Omitted during this season
Holy Week Omitted during this season Omitted during this season
Easter All Sundays, every day of Easter Week; other weekdays “as desired” Every day in this season
Post-Pentecost “as desired” Sundays/feast days only

Simply put, the Gloria is for our big celebrations. Thus, we use it throughout our festal seasons, we omit it during our more solemn seasons, and we use it for feast days in the seasons in between.

When the Gloria is omitted, either of the other two songs will take its place in Rite Two. Rite One gives the option of using the Kyrie consistently (or the Trisagion) and adding the Gloria when appropriate, following traditional Anglican use.

At this point, the Collect of the Day is prayed. As discussed in the Collect chapter, this is one of the great unifying moments that connects this particular Eucharist to the larger superstructure of Episcopal devotion. Sometimes the collect may have a strong enough emphasis to establish a theme for the day’s liturgy. However, between the reshuffling of collects in this prayer book and the introduction of the Revised Common Lectionary, themes in the collects rarely align neatly with the Scriptural texts anymore.

Following the Collect comes the Lessons. There is quite a lot of variety and potential possibilities at this point. At the most basic, at least one non-Gospel lesson is needed, there may be a psalm or music, and a Gospel lesson is read. Earlier prayer books had only one non-Gospel reading, almost always from a New Testament Epistle, and some Rite One services will use one Epistle reading in continuity with this practice. However, ever since the introduction of this prayer book with its Eucharistic Lectionary and especially since the adoption of the Revised Common Lectionary, most Eucharists will include an Old Testament reading, a selection from a psalm, a New Testament reading and a Gospel reading. Some parishes may choose to include a hymn between the New Testament reading and the Gospel, but an Alleluia verse is also common, frequently serving as music for a procession if the Gospel-book is read from the midst of the congregation.

Just as we spent some time talking about the pattern of the Daily Office readings, it’s worth spending some time talking about the pattern of the Eucharistic readings and about the thought process behind them as well.

In the Daily Office, we encounter biblical texts in the form of “pericopes” (pronounced “per-I-ko-pees”) or short sections. Nevertheless, the basic unit of encounter is on the level of a book. That is, the Daily Office moves through entire books piece by piece—or at least hits the major representative points of the book—in sequential order. In the Eucharist, the basic level of encounter has classically been the pericope rather than the book. In the superseded One Year lectionary of the historic Western liturgy more-or-less shared by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and some Lutherans, the Gospel and Epistle readings were selected based on how appropriate they were to a given liturgical occasion, the Gospels being selecting without regard from all four gospels. The orienting pattern was the liturgical year, not the narrative sequence of the book.

Consider a moment what this means… A Eucharistic liturgy that picks small sections out of Scripture on the basis of appropriateness is not a tool suited for basic education in the scope of the Scriptures; its primary purpose is not teaching the breadth of Scripture. This is compounded by the fact that there were only two readings—an Epistle and a Gospel. There was a serious lack of the Old Testament in the Eucharist under the former way of doing things! Frequently there was a thematic correspondence within the two readings. The Epistle would serve in some way to illuminate something within the Gospel.

The reason for this difference in structure comes down to purpose. The purpose of the Daily Office lectionary that engages at the level of the book is catechetical—it serves to teach the breadth of Scripture and to give worshippers a familiarity with Scripture on a basic level. The purpose of the Eucharistic lectionary is mystagogical—it serves to delve deeply into one particular aspect of the mystery of Christ, usually one singled out or at least suggested by the liturgical year. The two lectionaries were originally designed to work in intentional combination with one another. The Daily Office taught the broad scope of Scripture, while the Eucharist focused on particular moments of encounter with Christ assuming a prior familiarity with Scripture gained from the Office.

The reformers of the liturgy in the mid-Twentieth century chose to overhaul the Eucharistic lectionary in a fairly substantial way. Instead of a one year cycle that repeated year after year, they moved to a three year cycle. Instead of the Gospel readings being pulled from all four gospels, they focused each year of the cycle upon a single primary gospel—either Matthew, Mark, or Luke—and reading them in sequence whenever possible, interweaving John across the three for festivals. Instead of a single non-gospel reading, two were selected, one (usually) from the Old Testament, the other from the New Testament epistles. In order to convey the scope, the Old Testament readings in the Season after Pentecost moved sequentially through a particular type of Old Testament book, a type that complimented the character of the year’s selected gospel. Anglicans and Roman Catholics eschewed an entirely sequential approach to the Old Testament, though, and another set of readings provides Old Testament lessons related to the Gospel pericope. Hence, we now speak of “two tracks” for the Season after Pentecost: a sequential set of Old Testament readings and a complementary set keyed to the Gospel.

Consider what’s going on here—it’s an attempt to do both, to be catechetical and to be mystagogical, at the same time. Whether it’s actually possible to achieve both at the same time is an open question! If we criticize the two-year Daily Office lectionary for missing quite a lot of Scripture, it’s mathematically obvious that a three-year Eucharistic lectionary is going to miss a whole lot more. Too, the attempt to structure the Gospel pericopes sequentially for the main part of the year obscures the liturgical principles for selecting them in other parts of it.

On the other hand, this form of three-year lectionary does recognize the reality that most people in our congregations are not praying through the Scriptures in the Daily Office. It does give the average person in the pew a broader familiarity with the Old Testament, and hits some of the classic Bible stories that are disappearing from the vernacular of Western culture.

The Revised Common Lectionary is anchored around the Gospel reading. The three year cycle appoints a primary gospel for each year: Year A uses Matthew, Year B uses Mark, and Year C uses Luke. The Gospel of John appears on significant feasts and fills out a section of the summer of Year B to compensate for the shortness of Mark’s Gospel. The First Reading is usually an Old Testament lesson. Matthew, often considered the most Jewish of the gospels and the one that partakes of a rabbinic spirit is paired with readings from the Old Testament Law—Genesis and Exodus. Mark is paired with readings from the Historical books of Samuel and Kings. Luke, with its emphasis on social justice, is paired with the prophets, particularly Jeremiah. The chief exception to the “First Lesson is Old Testament” rule is Easter time; we hear from the book of Acts in this season and the events that happened to the Early Church after the time of the Ascension of Christ. The Second Lesson is always from a New Testament non-gospel text—usually an epistle, but Acts gets mixed in at points as well.

When the Early Church realized that it needed to formally expand its canon beyond the Old Testament, it addressed the issue by means of this question: what books do we read publicly in worship? This was the guiding criterion by which the dispersed Church communities assessed the books that would be gathered into our New Testament and into our Scriptures. This criterion underscores that, for Christians, our paradigmatic encounter with Scripture is hearing it in the liturgy. Don’t get me wrong—I think we need to read it, and that we have to read it outside of worship in order to truly learn it and gain the most from it. But our most important encounter with it is hearing it proclaimed in the midst of the worshipping community. We hear it most completely for what it is in this context.

The sermon, then, should flow naturally from the presence of the Scriptures within the liturgy. There are as many different approaches to preaching as there are preachers. However, a few basic principles should remain consistent across them. First, the sermon is a part of the liturgy, not a distinct and separate event apart from it. The sermon is located within a liturgical setting. The sermon and liturgy should inform one another or—at the least—not contradict one another! It follows from this that the sermon usually has some direct continuity with its liturgical surrounding. Typically, Episcopal sermons comment on the Scriptures appointed for the day, especially the Gospel.  Second, if the sermon is part of the liturgy, than it should be trying to accomplish the same basic thing that the rest of the liturgy is. Whether it emphasizes interpretation of the Scriptures, or teaching, or something else, its underlying aim should be mystagogical. That is, it should seek to open our eyes and hearts to some aspect of the mystery of Christ. It should show us the work and person of Christ—for us, with us, in us, and through us.

In some traditions, the sermon is the service—or at least the greater part of it. That’s not our tradition. The “success” of the service does not stand or fall on the sermon. The sermon is but one element within the whole scope of the liturgy. That’s no excuse for poor preaching, of course, but stands as a recognition that even if the sermon is a flop, the worship of God still goes on!

The next element in this portion of the service is the Nicene Creed. As we’ve said before, the creeds (whether the Nicene or the Apostles) belong in relation to the Scriptural readings and their interpretation because they are guides for the Church’s interpretation. Not only that, at this point—no matter how well or poorly the sermon was preached—we are reminded of the basic framework of our faith: the identity of the Triune God, Christ who took on our nature that all creation might be reconciled with God, and the ongoing work of the Spirit in the Church.

There are always a few who look askance at the presence of the Creed because it was not part of the 4th century Eucharist and was a later introduction to the service, and I know some clergy who omit it even when the prayer book requires it (all Sundays and other feast days), but I think that’s a mistake. When I read through the missionary preaching that swayed Europe and brought it into the Christian fold, one of the fundamental patterns of proclamation was a rehearsal of the Creed. In my corporate job, executives like to talk about the importance of an “elevator pitch”: a succinct summary of a product or a position. This is ours; the Creed is, in essence, a Christian elevator pitch. It’s not designed to persuade—that’s simply not its function—but it conveys the heart of the Christian belief in a quick, easy to memorize framework. In an increasingly secular culture, the Creed stands as a great tool for thinking through how we answer questions about what Christians really believe. Hearing it weekly in the Eucharist establishes in us the fundamental framework of the faith.

The Prayers of the People are a response to the Gospel call that we have heard in the readings, the sermon, and the Creed. Furthermore, they also enact one of the central roles of the gathered community. As Christ both interceded for and directly intervened to address the ills of his people and the world, his gathered Body continues to raise these same concerns and to identify the broken and hurting places of God’s world that cry for attention.

In order to ensure that our span is properly comprehensive, the prayer book establishes six areas of concern that must be addressed:

  • The Universal Church, its members, and its mission
  • The Nation and all in authority
  • The welfare of the world
  • The concerns of the local community
  • Those who suffer and those in any trouble
  • The departed (with commemoration of a saint when appropriate) (BCP, p. 359)

Rite One provides a prayer in continuity with those of past prayer books that covers all of these areas. It feels more communal to me when, following the direction at the bottom of page 328, the leader ends each paragraph with “Lord in your mercy,” allowing for a congregational “Hear our prayer.”

The six forms given between pages 383 and 393 all incorporate these concerns as well and may be used in either rite, adapting the language for Rite One should they be used there. These forms are examples, and they can be freely adapted—if necessary—to reflect the situations of local communities or to more closely connect them to the liturgical situation.

Local adaptations should be done with care. I’ve heard some that were preachy—it seemed the priest was trying to fit extra material that didn’t make it into the sermon into the prayers. Others turn to the gossipy, especially when the “concerns of the local community” are amplified with excessive detail. Still others can come across as consciousness-raising exercises where particular causes seem to dominate. The root problem with all of these is that the worship of God has taken a second place; the prayers have become speech to the gathered community rather than the community’s speech to God.

The invitation to Confession in Rite One serves as a great introduction to the next elements of the service: Confession, Absolution and the Passing of the Peace.  The invitation calls for those people to join in who are committing to making three changes in their lives:

  • “who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins,”
  • “are in love and charity with your neighbors,”
  • “intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God and walking from henceforth in his holy ways” (p. 330)

Under the earlier prayer books, the greater part of the congregation could leave at this point, and only those who desired to receive Communion would remain for the confession and the Eucharist that followed. Thus, this call was formerly extend to a self-selected set of the congregation. In its current location it invites the whole congregation to these three disciplines which are put into practice with what follows.

The Confession of Sin is a response to the Gospel proclamation no less than the Prayers. The classic human response to an experience of the holy is to draw near with wonder. An inherent secondary response is to draw back in recognition of our own limitation and sin—signs of our difference from the holy. The Confession gives voice to this experience. Too often penitence has been structured or explained as the religious process of feeling bad about ourselves. This is not the point of the exercise at all! Instead, the Confession gives voice to a realistic appraisal of who we are in the face of the Holy God. The Confession of Rite Two (which also has a Rite One version) is structured in a very specific way. The confession at its center is an exact reversal of the Summary of the Law. In the Summary, we hear the words of Jesus exhorting us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (BCP, p. 351). In the Confession, we acknowledge that we have not done this; we are acknowledging the reality of our human situation. We then ask not only for forgiveness, but for the grace to do better. But note how we phrase this hope of “doing better”: it’s not an intellectual change—it’s not about knowing—instead it’s about embracing God’s will with joy and then “walking” in his ways. This is a long-term full-body response. It’s not just thinking or doing, it’s the whole body responding in faith in words that recall to us the vision of the faithful laid out in Psalm 15 and Psalm 26.

The Absolution is the Church’s response to our congregational confession. There is a difference in wording between Rites One and Two here that is worth exploring. The Rite Two Absolution is characterized by its certainty. There is nothing conditional here; it is a straight-forward assurance of pardon: “Almighty God have mercy on you . . . forgive you . . . strengthen you . . . keep you . . .” (p. 360). The Rite One Absolution begins differently: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him, have mercy upon you . . . pardon and deliver you . . . confirm and strengthen you . . . bring you to everlasting life” (p. 332). That relative clause that identifies God names a promise with certain requirements, namely that forgiveness is given to “all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him.” We hear this absolution best when both versions are kept in mind. As we hear the Rite One version, we need to remember the assurance of pardon. As we hear the unconditional pardon of Rite Two, we need to remember our duty to conform to the Confession we have just said and enact the pardon we have received.

The difference between the Rites continues here. Rite One follows the absolution with one or more lines from Scripture, referred to as the Comfortable Words. These New Testament passages emphasize Christ’s victory over sin on behalf of the whole world. They explicitly name the promises alluded to earlier.

The final element in this half of the service is the sharing of the Peace. There is a significance to this action much deeper than just shaking the hands of the people around you; rather, we enact being “in love and charity with [our] neighbors.” If the Confession and Absolution have reconciled us with God—which they have—then we need to share active signs of our own reconciliation with our neighbors. Two gospel passages should be floating through our heads at this point. The first is a direct reflection of what has just occurred. In Matthew’s parable of the forgiven debtor (Matt 18:23-35), a king forgives a servant who owes him ten thousand talents (a ridiculous amount of money, like saying “a billion dollars” today), but the servant turns around and demands from a fellow servant a hundred denarii (a much more reasonable sum, a couple of hundred bucks). The king then throws the first servant back in jail and demands the full amount because he has failed to learn the lesson of mercy. In the same way, our recognition of the forgiveness given to us by God demands a similar action on our part. The classic summary of this concept comes from the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

The second passage that should be running through our heads leads us towards the next major portion of the service. Near the beginning of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt 5:23-24). Well—we’re at that point! We’re about to offer our gifts at the altar. Jesus is reminding us that reconciliation with God is not a personal endeavor; it’s social, it’s communal. Our reconciliation with God is incomplete if we aren’t actively advancing reconciliation with those around us.

To be honest, we don’t tend to emphasize this union between the Confession and the Peace very much, and there’s a good reason for that—it’s hard work! As much as I wish the hyperbolic overstatement in Psalm 51 were true (“Against you [God] only I have sinned and done what is evil in your sight” [Ps 51:4, BCP, p. 656]), it’s not. An honest confession of our sin reveals that we have sinned—in what we have done and in what we have left undone—against those around us, and particularly against those to whom we are the closest.  The sign of peace, whether it’s an actual kiss, a hug, or the token shaking of a hand, ought to be a sign of our deeper commitment to set things right and to honor, value, and love those closest to us. John’s First Epistle neatly—and uncomfortably—concludes this for us: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4:20-21).

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Anatomy of the Eucharist: Part 1

Ok—here begins the drive-by of the Eucharistic rites in the Book of Common Prayer…


The Shape of the Eucharist

Despite the variety of options available, any prayer book Eucharist still has a fundamental shape and character that defines it. Every Eucharist has two complementary halves, each of which celebrates the mystery of the presence of Christ. First, there is a celebration of Christ as the living Word of God who has been breathed by the Father and communicated through the Spirit. Second, there is the celebration of Christ as Incarnate Savior who offers himself in love to the Father through the Spirit. The highlight of the first half is the manifestation of Christ in the proclamation of the Gospel; the highlight of the second half is the manifestation of Christ in the celebration of the Eucharistic meal. These two highlights should be seen as parallel with one another.

It’s easy for Episcopalians (and others) to see the Eucharistic meal as the Main Event of the morning and to regard everything else as prelude to it. To do this, though, is to misunderstand the fullness of the revelation that we are receiving. We say that we are a people of the book and in a sense that’s true. However, Jesus is not a book—he’s a person. Like all people we are able to learn him by encountering in a variety of ways. Scripture gives us one angle of access into who Jesus is. But it’s incomplete if we don’t flesh that knowledge out with the Christ whom we meet in the sacraments. By the same token, we are in danger of misunderstanding the Living Jesus of our sacramental experience if our grasp of his identity and character is not deeply grounded in the words of Scripture. The two major parts of the service both show us Christ—but it helps quite a lot if we’re actively looking!

The Services

The Eucharistic liturgies are collected together towards the middle of the prayer book.

  • [Traditional Language Preliminary Material]
      • An Exhortation
      • The Decalogue: Traditional
    • A Penitential Order: Rite One
  •  [The Traditional Language Service]
      • Concerning the Celebration
    • The Holy Eucharist: Rite One
      • The Word of God
      • The Holy Communion
        • Eucharistic Prayer I
        • Alternative Form of the Great Thanksgiving
          • Eucharistic Prayer II
      • Offertory Sentences
      • Proper Prefaces
  • [Contemporary Language Preliminary Material]
      • The Decalogue: Contemporary
    • A Penitential Order: Rite Two
  • [The Contemporary Language Service]
      • Concerning the Celebration
    • The Holy Eucharist: Rite Two
      • Word of God
      • The Holy Communion
        • Eucharistic Prayer A
        • Alternative Forms of the Great Thanksgiving
          • Eucharistic Prayer B
          • Eucharistic Prayer C
          • Eucharistic Prayer D
      • Offertory Sentences
      • Proper Prefaces
      • Prayers of the People
        • Forms I-VI
      • The Collect at the Prayers
  • Communion under Special Circumstances
  • An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist
    • The People and Priest
    • At the Great Thanksgiving
      • Form 1
      • Form 2
  • Additional Directions

First, there are—broadly speaking—four different ways of doing the Eucharist within this section. The first two (Rites One and Two) are the normal means provided for Sundays and Holy Days. The third is reserved for those persons who cannot attend regular services, usually due to hospitalization, sickness or some other infirmity. The fourth is for explicitly irregular situations; the prayer book notes that it is not intended to serve as a principal service for a worshiping community.

Second, note that the organization of the Rite One and Two Eucharists are not strictly linear—especially the Rite Two version. The Rite Two Eucharist provides an outline of the service giving much of the material but, afterward, adds on five supplemental sections that may be used to fill in the service. To say it the other way, if you try to read through the Rite Two service starting on page 355, you’ll find yourself needing to flip to several other sections to read along with the whole thing. So, what texts exactly are we missing here? Here’s a chart of the Rite Two service:

Reading through the Service

Jumping to Another Place

Entrance rite (pp. 355-6)  
Collect of the Day (p. 357) Collects: Contemporary (pp. 211-61)
Lessons (pp. 357-8) The [Eucharistic] Lectionary (pp. 888-931)
Sermon (p. 358)  
The Nicene Creed (pp. 358-9)  
The Prayers of the People The Prayers of the People (pp. 383-93);

The Collect at the Prayers (pp. 394-5)

Confession of Sin (pp. 359-60)  
The Peace (p. 360)  
The Holy Communion Offertory Sentences (pp. 376-7)
The Great Thanksgiving: Eucharistic Prayer A (pp. 361-5) Alternate Forms: Eucharistic Prayer B (pp. 367-9); Eucharistic Prayer C (pp. 369-72); Eucharistic Prayer D (pp. 372-6)
The Great Thanksgiving [start] Proper Prefaces (pp. 377-82)
The Breaking of the Bread (pp. 364-5)  
[Post-Communion Prayer and Dismissal] (pp.364-6)  


On the surface, this way of arranging things looks crazy! Why do this? The collects and the Eucharistic lessons had always been a separate section; the real change here is the addition of all the material from the Creed on. We’ll look at the “why” of it in a second, I just need to observe an important point first before we go there.

Just because the service or the prayer makes a jump doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to follow it!

This may seem odd, but it’s not that odd once you spend some time with the material that we’re jumping to. The Offertory Sentence is just that—it’s a sentence. And it’s not something we say anything to respond to, either; the priest says it, and our liturgical response is to dig out our wallet. We don’t need to read it to get a sense of what’s going on. Same with the collect at the end of the prayers—the priest picks one and we say “Amen.” The priest definitely needs to know where to find the Proper Preface—and we should read them over and be familiar with them—but it’s a sentence fragment! By the time you’ve found it, it’s probably done and you’ve spent more time trying to locate it than you have actually listening to what it’s saying.

You should be seeing a theme here by this point… One of the great strengths of the Book of Common Prayer from its first beginnings is that it has all of the words: everything the priest says, everything the people say. There are no secret parts. Yes, some priests might have some devotional prayers that they say to themselves that may only be heard by God and the altar party, but the whole content of the “common prayer” is printed out in black and white. As lay people we have access to all of these as is our right as members of the Body of Christ. We should read them and learn them and know them—but we don’t always have to read along with them in the book at the time of the service; we can just listen to some of them! Priests tend to have one technological advantage over laity when it comes to these things: ribbons. It’s a lot easier to flip back and forth between these various parts if they’re all marked out before-hand with properly set ribbons attached to the spine of the book. Pew editions rarely have them; altar books always do.

The jumps that we need to be able to follow are the ones 1) where there’s more than a sentence or two of content and 2) where we need to provide responses. There are two of these: the Prayers of the People and the Eucharistic Prayers. (I’ve bolded them in the chart above.) If you hang around the Church long enough, you’ll probably memorize the forms that get used the most—and I’d encourage that whole-heartedly—but until that happens, these are the two jumps that make sense. It might not even hurt to check your bulletin when you first receive it and to mark where you’ll need to jump to before the service begins so that you’re prepared at the appropriate time. Who knows—you might even want to get yourself a couple of ribbons…

Ok—now that we’ve spoken about the logistics of these jumps, let’s take about the whys and wherefores.

First, one of the guiding principles of the revision that gave us our current prayer book is that diversity of form does not hinder unity in prayer. That is, we can pray using different forms and different words for the same service and still be accomplishing the same thing and expressing the same theology liturgically. Whereas in the past, a single service was given—actually, in the original English situation imposed by means of the State with the full weight of law behind it—this revision multiplied options and enshrined diversity as a theological principle. Hence, Rite Two gives us six different written forms for the Prayers of the People and four different Eucharistic prayers.

Second, different prayers use different parts. Specifically, the Proper Preface changes according to the season or occasion in most of the Eucharistic prayers, but not in Prayer C or Prayer D. They have their own fixed Proper Prefaces that are not meant to be swapped out.

Third, while Rite Ones and Two are basically comparable in the Daily Office, the differences are larger in the Eucharist. As with the Daily Office, Rite One retains a higher degree of continuity with the classical Anglican rites. To generalize, Rite One prayers tend to have a higher degree of penitential language—a greater acknowledgement of human sin and our need for grace—and also tend to draw closer connections between the Eucharist and the Passion of Christ than Rite Two prayers. Conversely, Rite Two prayers tend to emphasize the celebratory aspect of the Eucharist, and to speak more broadly of the redemptive work of Jesus—they don’t just focus on the Passion but include a greater sense of his other words and works as well.

Fourth, the six different Eucharistic prayers should be seen as more or less complementary to one another. There are not great theological differences between them. Rather they should be seen as differing in emphasis. We’ll talk a bit about what these emphases are when we turn to the various prayers. On the whole, though, they should be seen as being in continuity with one another.

Introductory Material

Rite One

Rite Two



[Exhortation →]   Optional None
Decalogue: Traditional Decalogue: Contemporary Optional None
A Penitential Order: Rite One A Penitential Order: Rite Two Optional None


All of the Introductory material is technically optional. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t perfectly good reasons and times to use it.

The Exhortation is placed at the head of the Eucharistic material and, in a sense, serves an introduction to all of it. While it is structurally placed alongside the Rite One material, it’s not actually Rite One in language. The introductory material doesn’t give a very good sense of where it would be used, but a note within the services themselves clarifies that it is used in place of the invitation to Confession.

The Exhortation exhorts the congregation to several different things, primarily the reception of the Eucharist, and is well worth hearing or reviewing several times a year. After offering a brief reminder of the nature and purpose of the Eucharist, we are reminded of the dignity of the Sacrament and of the need for spiritual preparation for its reception. This is something we need to hear more rather than less; one of the great concerns expressed in the move towards weekly Communion was the concern that the Sacrament would become less precious if it were experienced more often. The Exhortation is a useful reminder of the need to view the Eucharist within the whole context of our lives and faith—and to remind us that the pattern of our lives ought to be worthy of the Sacrament’s grace.

The Decalogue is another term for the Ten Commandments. The Rite One Eucharist recommends either the Ten Commandments or the Summary of the Law at its start. This is a particularly Anglican feature—the Decalogue isn’t used this way in the Historic Western Liturgy. The original reason for its inclusion was to make sure that it got used liturgically. From the earliest days of the Church, a minimum standard of knowledge about the Faith was reckoned as the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Even throughout the medieval period when the services were in Latin, Church councils reminded clergy that they were required to teach these three things to the congregation in their mother tongue. Now, of these, the first two appear at both Morning and Evening Prayer. If you’re following the prayer book’s rule of life, you’ll be saying these quite a lot—but the Decalogue has no equivalent liturgical rehearsal. As a result, it was introduced (likely following other Reformation liturgies) in the 1552 revision as a means of making sure that congregations heard it and learned it from regular use. Its use in the American prayer books has become more optional over the successive revisions, and yet it still deserves a place within our liturgical memory.

The Penitential Orders are a means for transferring the Confession of Sin and related material from the middle of the service and placing it at the start. If anything, the title of this section makes this material sound more penitential than it is in actual fact; indeed, if you take a good hard look at these, you’ll note that we’re not really adding much additional penitential material! The opening dialogue is the same as the regular Eucharistic opening; the text of the confession is the same as what ordinarily follows the Prayers of the People. The only true addition is the option to include the Decalogue and/or the Summary of the Law or another scriptural sentence. So while this element may sound penitential, it’s simply a means of reordering what’s already in the service and adding in one or more Scriptural pieces. The key thing here is that this is the only rubrically-approved method for including the Decalogue within the Rite Two service.

Posted in Anglican, Liturgy, Sacraments, Spirituality | Tagged | 4 Comments

Eucharistic Spirituality: The Body of Christ

This contains the (current) contents of what will likely be the last substantive chapter in the book. Again—all of that (order, contents, etc.) could change once the editors take a look at it, but that’s how I’m seeing it. I’m trying to stay on that fine line of being informative without getting too technical. I’ve noticed that I pull in a fair amount of Bible here; as a New Testament guy it’s an occupational hazard but hopefully should help you see what I’m driving at.


The Body of Christ

In order to wrap up our look at the Eucharist, and to connect some of the dots throughout the book, I want to focus on one particular term and what it means for us: the Body of Christ. Two little words in Greek (soma Christou), three in English, this term has several interrelated meanings that will lead us deeper into our consideration of the Eucharist, into the sacraments as a whole, and into the identity of the Church. In essence, it’ll take us full circle, and we’ll end by consider from a new perspective some of the topics with which we began.

The Physical Body of Christ

This is the absolute starting place; any proper discussion of the meaning of the term “Body of Christ” has to start here—with the physical blood, guts, bones, and bile of Jesus. His was a historical body that lived, occupied space, sweated, smelled bad, and performed all of the physical functions that a body does. The letter of 1 John affirms this body by taking the physical encounter with it as its literal opening point:

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)

And here we hit on our first key point concerning this body. The Johannine perspective, found both in this letter and in the Gospel of John, emphasize that this body is simultaneously the Word (of God, of Life) and is a real body. The most paradoxical aspect of John’s hymn-like start to his Gospel becomes the great antiphon of Christmas encircling it, encapsulating it, and proclaiming it:  “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Here we assert the perennial teaching of the Church: that Jesus Christ was fully human and fully divine. In his body, that born from his mother Mary, he was both completely human and completely God. Now—we all know that 100%+100% doesn’t add up to 100%! Countless explanations have attempted to fix the equation ranging from “all human pretending to be God (0%+100%)” to “a human body but a divine soul (50%+50%)” to “all God pretending to be human (100%+0%)”; at each explanation, the Church has looked, sniffed it a few times, and said, “No—this isn’t it.” The best answer that we’ve come up with is a mystical union. The Word of God united to physical flesh is both God incarnate and a true human being.

This is the body that got weary from walking up and down the hills of Galilee; this is the body that got exhausted after nights spent in prayer rather than sleep; this is the body that took bread, blessed it, and broke it saying, “This is my Body, given for you.” This is the body that was nailed to the cross and died and rose again.

The Resurrected Body of Christ

We affirm that it was the physical Body of Christ that died and was raised. And yet, the resurrected Body did things that normal living bodies do not. On the other hand, it also did things that only normal living bodies can do (so far as we know…). John goes to great pains in his gospel to affirm that there is a direct and fundamental continuity between the physical Body of Christ and the resurrected Body of Christ; as proof of his identity, the Risen Jesus shows his disciples his hands and his side (John 20:20). The story of Thomas serves to hammer this point home: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25) Of course, when Jesus comes to the disciples again, he invites Thomas to do just that: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (John 20:27). The wounds that Jesus received in his physical Body remain in his resurrected Body.

Furthermore, Jesus uses this resurrected Body in very physical ways. He breathes on the disciples (John 20:22). He cooks fish for them, and breakfasts with the clear implication that he ate some of it as well (John 21:9-14). And this isn’t just a John thing either; Luke spends some time with this as well. Jesus walked and talked with the men on the road to Emmaus. He took, blessed, and broke bread with them (Luke 24:13-35). He specifically invites the apostles to touch him, including his hands and feet, and asks for some broiled fish to eat in their presence (Luke 24:41-3).

On the other hand, both John and Luke record the resurrected Body doing things beyond the ability of physical bodies—entering locked rooms (John 20:19), appearing suddenly among them in a manner that seemed like that of a ghost (Luke 24:36-7), and ascending into heaven (Acts 1:9). Furthermore, disciples who knew him well—including Mary Magdalene—had a hard time recognizing him by sight in both Luke and John.

So, as Luke and John tell it, the resurrected Body is fully continuous with the physical Body but is beyond it in some quite important ways.

The Pneumatic Body of Christ

With the ascension of the resurrected Body, and its enthronement—literal, metaphorical, symbolic—at the right hand of God, we pass into various post-physical modes of the Body of Christ. The lines between some of these are admittedly fuzzy but are worth mentioning nevertheless because some of them shade into one another to a greater or lesser degree and some are distinct from one another to a greater or lesser degree. We’ll see that in this first one I’m identifying, the pneumatic Body.

From the Greek word pneuma (“spirit”), this is the Body that is mediated to believers by the Holy Spirit. I find this mode in Matthew in particular when Jesus promises, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). This seems to be the mode of presence that Paul invokes at the start of 1 Corinthians 5 when he tells the Corinthians that he is present with them spiritually “When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus” (1 Cor 5:4b).

Just as there is a special continuity between the physical and resurrected Bodies, this mode of the Body of Christ has a certain continuity with the next two as well.

The Mystical Body of Christ

The mystical Body of Christ is best captured in a single verb: “abide.” This is the mode of mutual indwelling where Christ dwells in us and we in him. Scripture speaks of it in a variety of ways:

[Jesus said:] I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. (John 15:1-8)

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (1 John 4:13-16)

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:19-20)

Perhaps most telling is this last selection which is one of my favorite passages in the Pauline letters:

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col 3:2-3)

Particularly significant here is the means by which our death of which Paul speaks has occurred: “…you were buried with him in baptism…” (Col 2:12)

When we are baptized, we are baptized into the Body of Christ and become partakers of the divine life of God. Specifically, this is the Body of Christ that we are being baptized into. And, being baptized into Christ we are also linked into all those who share that baptism. This is the Communion of the Saints spoken of in the Creeds. We share a common life in Christ through our connection in him.

The Social Body of Christ

The social Body of Christ is the visible institution of the Church. There is a lot of overlap between the mystical Body of Christ and the social Body of Christ; perhaps in a perfect world they would be identical, but in this present age that is not to be. The distinction between them is that the social Body is a human society, reinforced with human rules and administered by human beings. While we truly believe that it is of divine origin and receives divine guidance through the Spirit, the Anglican churches acknowledge the fallibility of such institutions.

We cannot be Christians properly by ourselves. Our binding into the Body of Christ obligates us to gather with one another into the visible institution of the Church. Both the Scriptures and the witness of the Early Church legislate particular forms of church life that include bishops, priests, and deacons alongside the main body of the faithful. As an “episcopal” church—that is, one whose name includes the Greek word for “bishop”—we believe that these structures are important and necessary channels for the maintenance and proclamation of the faith.

Furthermore, the Church has been granted means of grace as sure and certain channels of the grace of God. Chief among these are the sacraments and various sacramental rites. Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing, Marriage, Ordination, these rites and others like them have reference to the life of the Church and connect individuals, families, and communities deeper into the life of the Church, the social Body, and—hopefully—deeper into the mystical Body as well.

This social Body is one of Paul’s favorite uses for this multivalent term. In several of his epistles he makes reference to this metaphor, particularly to speak of the nature of the Church and its essential interdependence:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.  (1 Cor 12:12-31)

That’s long, but definitely worth citing in full. The reason is because here we see Paul talking about differentiation within the Body; not everybody has the same job—nor do they need to! Not everyone fulfills the same role, but all roles are important even if some of them are more visible than others. The fact of differentiation and the hierarchy or potential for hierarchical ranking within it emphasizes its social character as it grapples with the ways that the Church both is and is not (or should not be) like any other human social grouping.

But, continuing with the theme of differentiation within the body and with the different roles in it causes us to return to one of the fundamental places where we began. When we started speaking about the purpose of Christian spirituality, we began with Paul’s use of the Body metaphor in Ephesians, and this is the particular sense in which he was using the term:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. . . . The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. (Eph 4:4-8, 11-16)

Paul goes to great lengths to emphasize the unity of the Body, but—in addition—makes clear that being the Body is not enough. The Body of Christ is not yet fully matured. It is in the process of becoming filled out and strong, but is not at that point yet. The Body of Christ—this social Body—does not yet fully possess the Mind of Christ. Only when the Body grows into full unity will it most fully be what it is.

The Eschatological Body of Christ

“Eschatological” is a fancy word that simply pertains to “final things.” Theologians use it when referring to the ideal future state all of God’s plans have come to fruition, and humanity and are creation are finally and ultimately reconciled with God and one another. One way of grasping the great eschatological vision appears in Isaiah’s prophecies about the coming messianic rule which we recall at Christmas:

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.  (Isa 11:6-9)

Isaiah speaks of entire ecosystems being fundamentally realigned in order to communicate the radical nature of this idyllic state and to contrast God’s perfect image of reality with our current situation. This is a new Eden. Everything is as it was in the Garden, full harmony between Creator and creation.

Humans are included in this vision too, and a later author aligned with Isaiah’s vision uses similar imagery, combining it with undertones of the sacrificial meals in his description:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.  (Isa 25:6-9)

We’ll return to this image a little later—I’m sure you’ve noticed that it has some interesting interpretive angles on the topic at hand—but the key point I want to make right now is that this is a comprehensive gathering of all people.

So—what does this have to do with Christ?

Well, in the Stoic philosophy of the time the term Logos (“word”) was used to speak of the logic or pattern underlying the universe. It’s likely that when John’s Prologue speaks of Jesus as “the Word,” it is tapping into this sense of a cosmic pattern. Paul certainly has this notion in mind in Colossians:

[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.  (Col 1:15-18)

Imagining the fullness of time, all creation is reconciled back to Christ the Logos within the eschatological Body. All creation is conformed, in joy and perfect freedom, to the pattern intended for it by its Shaper.  Romans alludes to this when it speaks of creation’s groaning in anticipation of God’s birthing of the new age:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:19-23)

This, then, is the eschatological Body—looking forward in hope to the point when Christ is all in all. This mode of Christ’s presence exists for us now as a future state. It is something that our present activities can point towards, but cannot be full realized until the consummation of all things.

The Sacramental Body of Christ

Finally, we arrive at one of the most common—and most argued over—uses of the term. When the consecrated Eucharistic bread is distributed from the altar, the priest never just gives it silently. The prayer book gives three phrases to choose from:

  • “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in everlasting life,”
  • “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” or the expansive form found in Rite One,
  • “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.”

Whichever version your priest happens to go with, one thing is left abundantly clear: the Church makes the claim that the piece of bread being put into your hand at that moment is in some important way the Body of Christ.

How, exactly, do we mean this? Well—that’s part of the genius of the Anglican system… Our formularies and liturgies are quite careful not say exactly how we mean it, which permits a variety of acceptable interpretations and neatly side-steps one of the greatest and most pressing religious differences in the Western Church from the time of the Reformation to the present: the mode and means of how Christ is present in the Eucharist.

One end of this understanding is a theology that the final line above appears to recommend, a memorialist position. This theology suggests that the phrase “Body of Christ” is a metaphor and that the consecrated bread reminds us to remember Christ’s death on our behalf and to nourish ourselves and our faith through this fundamentally mental act. The other end of this understanding is a theology that seems most perfectly at home in the second line. This takes the identification of the bread with the Body of Christ literally and believes that Jesus is—somehow—truly and fully present in the bread. Different Anglicans have understood the mode of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist in a variety of ways with some advocating a memorialist position, some speaking of a purely spiritual presence, others speaking of a real presence, and still others explaining by means of minor nuances how their view differs from transubstantiation—a theory of Real Presence explained by means of Aristotelian metaphysics—which was officially forbidden under the English “39 Articles.”

I’m not going to try and persuade you one way or another—as I said, the prayer book permits quite a range. What I must insist upon, however, is that the every one of our Eucharistic prayers includes the words of Jesus at the Last Supper when he tells his disciples, “Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you” requiring every theory of Eucharistic presence to be grounded in Christ’s own words. There is a unavoidable continuity between the physical Body, the resurrected Body, and the sacramental Body. Likewise, all of the prayers forge a direct verbal connection between the bread of the rite and the Body of Christ:

  • Prayer I: “we, receiving [these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine] according to thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most Blessed Body and Blood” (p. 335)
  • Prayer II: “bless and sanctify these gifts of bread and wine, that they may be unto us the Body and Blood of thy dearly-beloved Son Jesus Christ” (p. 342)
  • Prayer A: “Sanctify [these gifts] by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him” (p. 363)
  • Prayer B: “send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and his Blood of the new Covenant” (p. 369)
  • Prayer C: “Sanctify [these gifts] by your Holy Spirit to be the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ our Lord” (p. 371)
  • Prayer D: “sanctifying [these gifts] and showing them to be holy gifts for your holy people, the bread of life and the cup of salvation, the Body and Blood of your Son Jesus Christ” (p. 375)

It is difficult to interpret all these in a purely metaphorical sense; the language seems to recommend something more substantial. Too, the practice of reserving the Sacrament—keeping leftover consecrated bread within a special box in the chancel or on the altar—within many Episcopal churches in recent years follows the logic of Real Presence. After all, if the bread is only a reminder or a metaphor, there’s no reason to put it in a special box…

No matter how we understand it or what the mechanics are, our prayers emphasize that the consecrated bread is the Body of Christ—this is the faith of the Church.

(I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one clarifying point… The Church has always taught that the fullness of both the Body and Blood of Christ subsist in each of the elements. That is, the “Body of Christ” is not restricted to the bread or the “Blood of Christ” to the wine; to receive one of the elements is to receive the fullness of Christ’s Eucharistic presence. Those who cannot drink wine or cannot eat gluten are not thereby excluded from it.)

Real Presences

The classic argument over the Eucharist is about the Real Presence of Christ within it. I can’t help but think this is the wrong way of asking the question. It’s not: is there a Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist? Rather, I’d ask: how many modes of Real Presence are we experiencing simultaneously within the Eucharist? Or—to phrase the same question another way—how many dimensions of the Body of Christ are operative within a given rite?

I’d argue that, quite frequently, several of these dimensions are active in most anything that we do. As we’re walking down the street, going to work, cooking dinner, we are functioning as members of the Body of Christ. We are participants—however passively at the moment—of the mystical Body of Christ through the basic fact of Baptism. When we pause with our families to say grace over dinner, we add a further dimension of the pneumatic Body as we unite in the Spirit through the act of prayer. When we pray the Daily Office, we connect to the social Body as well as the mystical Body and the pneumatic Body as we express prayer as a habit of the Church, whether gathered together or dispersed.

But it is in the Eucharist that we have the greatest possible confluence of the multiple senses of the Body. As members of the mystical Body of Christ, we have been invited to participate within the interior life of the Trinity and to experience the self-offering of the Son to the Father through the Spirit. We physically gather with the social Body to raise our collective voices in praise and thanksgiving. Our spirits mingle in the pneumatic Body as we share in the one Spirit that leads us. We receive into ourselves the sacramental Body—however we choose to understand Christ’s presence within the elements. And, together, as people gathered from all nations around the meal with God we foreshadow the eschatological Body when Christ will be all in all and the reconciliation of Creator and creation will be complete.

It’s too easy to get stuck in binaries. For a long time, the argument focused around the exact nature of the bread and wine: was he really there or wasn’t he? In more recent years, the focus has changed to a fixation on the worshipping assembly as the Body of Christ to the relative exclusion of other meanings. Instead of proposing a narrow set of mutually exclusive binaries, it seems to me that we engage in the spirit of the Eucharist most fully when we experience it as a solemn and holy game of hide-and-seek where we keep our eyes out, ever attentive, ever watchful, to locate the presence of Christ within it in a way that we had not expected or suspected before.

Furthermore, I’d suggest that our liturgies ourselves point us to this perspective. Within them we find, deliberately interwoven, intentional ambiguities, double-meanings, and turns of phrase designed to call to mind the many simultaneous modes of Christ’s presence. One of the reasons why I love hearing the Rite I liturgies is due to the way these Eucharistic prayers subtly reinforce the aspect of the mystical Body while making explicit reference to the sacramental Body. It begins most overtly in the Oblation of Prayer I when we ask that “we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and be made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him” (p. 336). The theme appears again in the Prayer of Humble Access where we ask: “Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us” (p. 337). It appears once more in the post-communion prayer—but not alone. Perhaps in recognition that an over-emphasis on this aspect can lead to an unhealthy individualist attitude of “just Jesus and me,” the post-communion prayer deftly ties this aspect to three others. Here’s a section of the prayer:

…we most heartily thank thee for that [A] thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; [B] and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical Body of thy Son, [C] the blessed company of all faithful people; [D] and are also heirs, through hope, of thy everlasting kingdom. (BCP, p. 339)

Starting with [A] the prayer begins by invoking the sacramental Body that we have just received. Then in [B], the mystical Body is brought in. However, this is immediately qualified and diverted from an individualistic focus in [C] with a nod towards the coexistence of the mystical and social Bodies. Finally, this chain concludes in [D] with a move towards the eschatological Body.

The other Eucharistic prayers are equally as rich in meaning. If we get in our heads an expectation that there is only one place where the Body can be and one form in which it can be found and one mode through which we can experience it, we close off a host of potential meanings and insights concerning the nature of God and God’s interaction with his creatures.

The Eucharist as a Gift to the Church

As we move into and through the Christian life, there is an order—a progression—through which we pass. Not all do it the same way, of course, but history and experience have shown that there is a regular channel that the Church has identified as the ordinary path of the means of grace. In this channel, some experiences and states of the Body of Christ are more foundational than others; there is a logical order. If one mode of the Body of Christ should be selected to hold the primary place amongst the rest in our experience as Christians, it should be the mystical. The mystical Body is the means by which we as individuals are plugged into the life of God, are welcomed into the interior dialogue of the Trinity and, in that connection, are united to our fellow brother and sister believers without regard to time and space, becoming heirs of the hope of the ultimate victory of love and life in the final consummation. Our entry into the mystical Body serves as the great gateway into the full experience of life in God. The writings of the New Testament emphasize the rite of Baptism because it is the means revealed for achieving this connection. Matthew’s grand ending pushes this point home as it encompasses the mystical, social, pneumatic, and eschatological Bodies in the words of the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20).

Baptism stands as our point of entry into the mystical and the social Bodies of Christ. The other sacramental rites proceed from and assume the mystical Body as a foundation for everything else.

The Eucharist did not appear one day, out of the blue, in the middle of a Galilean sidewalk. Rather, it is a rite that was bequeathed to the Church. It was given to the mystical Body as a deliberate act of the social Body. The sacramental Body of Christ is given context as an act of the social Body on behalf of the mystical Body as a sign of and for the eschatological Body.

As the Church, we don’t own the Eucharist—it’s not ours. And yet, we are called to be stewards of it, meaning that we should faithfully celebrate it under the conditions in which it was given to us. It is an act of the Church that provides grace for the Church as the Body of Christ to be transformed more completely into the Mind of Christ. Outside of the Church, and outside of the company of the baptized, it loses a host of meanings because the multiplicity of Bodies participating within the rite are not present in the same way.

There are voices within the Church that urge the communion of the unbaptized as a sign of hospitality. It’s hard to be against hospitality! And, indeed—we never should be. However, there is more present and at work in the Eucharist than simply that. The mystical Body is the foundational Christian reality that sheds light upon everything else that we do together. To be intentionally welcoming, our hospitality should focus upon welcoming the curious and the seekers into the mystical Body of Christ. They should be given the opportunity to perceive the context of the Eucharist for themselves—to see it as a culmination of Real Presences that bind us deeper into the life of God into which we were planted in Baptism.

St. Augustine, the 4th century Bishop of Hippo, offered an invitation to the Eucharist in one of his sermons that neatly captures the mechanics at work here. In speaking with reference to the Eucharist elements, he exhorts his listeners: “Be what you see; receive what you are!” He invites them, as the gathered Church, to receive the Eucharistic elements, then to enact the victory of life and love! He invites them to receive the sacrament, then to be the Church, to be the consecrated—set apart—Body of Blood of Christ in and for the world. This is the Eucharist’s true home; this is where it makes sense.

Posted in Anglican, Sacraments, Spirituality | Tagged | 3 Comments

On the Spirituality of the Eucharist

I stick this up with a certain amount of trepidation. There is so much that can, should, and needs to be said about the Eucharist—trying to figure out how to boil that down meaningfully into three fairly brief chapters that serve as an introduction to people not schooled in theology is a daunting task! That having been said, here’s the first section of my thoughts on the Eucharist for my work on the spirituality of the prayer book:


Spirituality of the Eucharist

There are a lot of different ways that we can talk about the Eucharist and many different angles that we can approach it from. Books, long books, multi-volume books, have been written on the Eucharist and on its spirituality. In a few short introductory chapters we can do no more than to lightly scratch the surface. I’m not going to try to be comprehensive in any sort of way, rather, I want to give you some perspectives, some lenses, through which to view the Eucharist in hopes that they can enrich your vision of what we do in this celebration and what it means for our Christian life together. I want to begin with  big metaphorical step back and gives us the broadest possible big-picture view before we head back in, take a look at our prayer book Eucharist and interact with what we find there.

Starting with sacrifice

We are modern 21st century people; we can’t be anything other than this. We know our world and, for us, Eucharist is a church ceremony that happens on Sundays. I want to start by taking us out of our environment and putting us in a completely different headspace. The reason why I want to do this is because a new perspective will help us get a different angle on something that we’ve seen done over and over again. Here’s where I want to approach it from: the Eucharist, as religious practice, is deeply rooted in the sacrificial customs of Mediterranean antiquity.

So, the place to start is the ancient Mediterranean mindset; we need to have a sense of what those people were thinking, in order to have a better sense of where Jesus and the early church were coming from. One particular element I want to highlight up front is this: when we think about sacrifice, and animal sacrifice in particular, we tend to focus on one particular aspect of it – the death of the animal. But when we do that, we miss so many other factors that are going on around it. We fixate on the moment and the concept of death, and we fail to see the other things that surround it.

To get in this alternate headspace, I would like us to start out in Homer’s Iliad. One of the great epics of world literature, the Iliad is a long poem originally composed and handed down orally that was written down in Greek probably at some point in the eighth century BC. It tells the story of the great siege of Troy, a Greek city on the coast of modern-day Turkey, and the struggle of other Greeks – Achaeans – against the Trojans. As a result, the Iliad it gives us a glance into Greek society at a time when it was more closely aligned with its ancient neighbors in the Middle East then it would be in its later Golden age.

The Iliad opens in the middle of a problem: there’s a plague occurring in the Greek camp. This plague is no accident; just before the scene opens, the Greeks have raided some towns and the leader of the army, Agamemnon, has taken captive a girl named Chryseis, the daughter of a priest of Apollo. Her father, Chryses, tries to ransom her back but Agamemnon isn’t interested. So, Chryses asks Apollo to send a plague upon the Greeks – and he does. In response, the Greek captains have a big meeting, Achilles, the central hero of the poem, makes Agamemnon give the girl back, and Agamemnon takes the girl of Achilles, thus setting up the poem’s key conflict. However, Odysseus goes on a mission to return the girl Chryseis to her father and takes along a hecatomb (100 cattle) as recompense. Once they get there, a sacrifice happens. That’s where we’ll pick up:

[A] When prayers were said and grains of barley strewn,

they held the bullocks for the knife, and flayed them,

cutting out joints and wrapping these in fat,

two layers, folded, with raw strips of flesh,

for the old man to burn on cloven faggots,

wetting it all with wine. [B] Around him stood

young men with five tined forks in hand, and when

the vitals had been tasted, joints consumed,

they sliced the chines and quarters for the spits,

roasted them evenly and drew them off.

[C] Their meal now prepared and all work done,

they feasted to their hearts’ content and made

desire for meat and drink recede again,

then young men filled their winebowls to the brim,

ladling drops for the god in every cup.

[D] Propitiatory songs rose clear and strong

until day’s end to praise the god, Apollo,

as One Who Keeps the Plague Afar; and listening

the god took joy. After the sun went down

and darkness came, at last Odysseus’ men

lay down to rest under the stern hawsers.

(Iliad, I.526-46)

I have added in some letters to help us keep track of the action. One of the ways to analyze what is happening in this scene is to break it down into four pieces: [A] marks the deaths of the animals; [B] is when the meat gets cooked; [C] describes the meat being eaten together; and [D] is where the god is praised.

I want to emphasize some points here. First, yes, a lot of animals are dying here. But notice how little emphasis is given to that fact. The animals die, but that does not seem to be the central point of this operation. Second, if there is a central point, it would be about the party and not the preparation. The emphasis is placed on the meal. Third, we should not miss the act of social reconciliation that is occurring. The men of Odysseus are not random guests who stopped in; they are pirates who sacked this town a short time before. The last time these men saw each other, they were likely trying to kill each other! The fact that the priest and his young men sat and ate with Odysseus and his men must not be overlooked. Fourth, there is an act of divine reconciliation going on as well. Apollo looks upon both the act (the restoration of the girl) and the sacrifice with favor, and is present with them – listening – in this event.

One of the things that church people love to argue about is the basic nature of the Eucharist: is it a sacrifice or is it a meal? The way we answer this question has broad implications. For example, it determines whether that thing in the front of the church is an altar or a table.

Well – what would Homer say?

Let me suggest three main takeaways from this description of a Homeric sacrifice. First, there is the fact of the hecatomb: that’s a lot of cow! Consider all of the economic effort that goes into raising 100 head of cattle. This is quite a lot of property, this is quite a lot of wealth, that is being dedicated to the god. It is given to the god, and the giving is motivated by the god, and the secondary result of the gift is that it is also shared with the community. Second, meal and sacrifice are intimately related. We cannot escape the way that these are inextricably bound to one another. It is not an either/or; it is definitely a both/and. The meal cannot happen without the deaths, and the deaths enable the meal. Now – did the Greeks ever have sacrifices where the meat was not eaten, when it was burnt entirely? The answer is yes, but typically that occurred when they were making sacrifices to the dark chthonic gods of the underworld – the gods they had no interest in eating with! And that leads to the third point… Third, the meal is bidirectional: the humans are communing with one another and communing with the god to whom the sacrifice is being offered. Again, it’s a both/and.

Now, I’m not suggesting that there is a direct line between Homeric sacrifice and the Christian Eucharist. Too much time and too many changes separate the two. However, there are broadly continuous themes here that we will also find when we look in the Old Testament record, and that are still found in the world of late antiquity which birthed the Church. If we take a look at the type of sacrificial events that show up in the Old Testament, we find three major categories. The first are the whole burnt offerings. As we discussed when talking about the Daily Office, you see this most in those alimentary offerings, when the point was to “feed” God in the temple. The second are the sin and guilt offerings. With these sacrifices, some of the meat was burned, the other portion was given to the priests to eat; you didn’t get to party if you are paying for a sin… The third are the thanks offerings and free will offerings. These were the occasions of rejoicing in God’s presence, or thanking God for his benefits. These sacrifices were shared with the priests and the community. This is the kind of meal most closely related to what we see in the Homeric vision.

Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 10 reveals just how prevalent these understandings remained in the life of the early church. In this chapter, Paul wrestles with the issue of whether Christians are allowed to eat meat sacrificed to idols. The question that he is dealing with here is whether eating such meat is itself an act of communing with the god to whom it was sacrificed. On one hand, he wants to deny that the old gods have any power over the faithful; on the other hand, he understands how powerful the associations remain and does not want weaker Christians to be harmed by what they see more mature Christians doing. What makes this issue even more complicated is that most of the meat sold in a Greek market of his day would have come from a temple sacrifice!

So, how does this peek into the past help us understand what we do today? Well, it gives us a bit of perspective when we say that the Eucharist is a “sacrificial meal of reconciliation.” No part of this phrase need stand in opposition to any other part of it. Sacrifice, meal, and reconciliation appropriately belong together. To argue otherwise seems to stand in contradiction with the milieu from which this rite is coming.

Eucharist as sacrifice

Alright—in what sense is the Eucharist a sacrifice? In a strictly literal sense, nothing dies. Your priest doesn’t get up on Sunday morning and kill something in front of you (murdering the sermon doesn’t count…). And yet, the Christian tradition emphasizes that the Eucharist is a sacrifice. Chronologically speaking, Paul’s letters represent the earliest Christian writings that we have – and it is his words that we use at the fraction: Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast. 1 Corinthians 10 (which we mentioned above) and the following chapter (after an aside at the start of 11 regarding women’s hair) speak of pagan sacrifices and the Eucharist as fundamentally analogous and competing rites:

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?  No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. (1 Cor 10:16-21)

Rhetorically, Paul is insisting upon the continuity between pagan sacrifice, Jewish sacrifice, and the Eucharist: the same intrinsic mechanism occurs – the act of sacrifice and the subsequent sharing in the meal is a sharing in and with the spiritual being with whom the sacrifice is performed, whether divine or demonic.

Now, exactly how the Eucharist is a sacrifice, and what we mean by that, has been a major point of argument between Protestants and non-Protestants (Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox alike) ever since there were Protestants. I have no interest in refighting these fights nor do I think we need to in order to get at what we are aiming for. To really get at the heart of the prayer book spirituality of the Eucharist, it is sufficient to agree on this central point: we are participating in Christ’s own self-offering at his own invitation.

We don’t believe that anyone is re-sacrificing Jesus. Indeed, the book of Hebrews goes to some lengths to note that one of the ways in which the self-sacrifice of Jesus is greater than that of the temple sacrifices is because they must be redone year after year; the act of Jesus was done once and accomplished for all time. Rather, our repeated actions are joined to his single great action.

And that’s where our attention focuses—the great action. In the Eucharist, the events of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion are superimposed upon one another through Christ’s own words and promise. Our Eucharistic prayers in both Rite One and Two do this:

All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst [A] give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption; [B] who made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world; [C] and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that his precious death and sacrifice, until his coming again. (BCP, p. 334)

So—here the prayer begins by specifically talking about the passion and death of Christ on the cross at [A]. Then, at [B], it moves into language that both identifies this action as an act of sacrifice, but also goes to great lengths (clearly with Hebrews 7-10 in mind!)  to establish several things: that this death was fundamentally a self-offering—not forced, that this one offering was sufficient for all times, and that this act in itself accomplished the everything that needed to happen to reconcile God and humanity. Having established these points, the prayer comes back to the Eucharist itself and identifies it as a regular reminder of that sacrifice (using the word again to make sure we don’t miss it…) for the Church.

Or, to say the same thing with some slightly different emphases, we also pray this:

Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself; and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, [A] you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, [B] to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.

[C] He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world. (BCP, p 362)

Here we see the same fundamental pattern. In [A] Jesus is sent to us. The mention of his death is balanced by mention of his life—a reminder of the redemptive action of the Incarnation—but it is clearly in focus here. Then [B] identifies the goal of both his life and death: reconciliation between God and humanity. While this prayer doesn’t use the same sort of legal language to proscribe the terms of the reconciliation as the Rite One prayer above, this section functions in the same way as the [B] part of the previous prayer, assuring us that the reconciliation promised was effected by the totality of Christ’s life and death. Continuing, [C] specifically moves to the cross and picks up a few remaining points. Again, it specifically uses the word sacrifice and, in direct reference to it, emphasizes that this cruciform death was a self-offering. It was not an accident nor was it compelled: it was a decision, freely given.

Sacrifice here is functioning as a central vehicle of reconciliation. In Antiquity, who you ate with carried great significance, particularly social significance. To eat with someone said something public about who you were and what sort of company you kept. Remember, one of the chief charges against Jesus was that he ate with tax collectors and sinners, the wrong kind of people. Just as in the Homeric sacrifice we saw former enemies sitting down together around a meal, the Eucharist likewise gathers together a broken humanity in an act of reconciliation. People are brought together over food.

But the bidirectional aspect we noted in the Homeric sacrifice is present here as well; this is also where we recognize that the Eucharist doesn’t just focus on the Last Supper and the Passion—it also connects us with those odd meals on the foggy lakeshore and the journey to Emmaus where the disciples break bread with the Risen Christ. This memorial of his passion is also a remembrance of his resurrection and of his resurrected communion with his disciples. And that brings home one of the key points about a sacrificial meal. It wasn’t just about sharing a meal at the temple with your family and the other people you brought with you to help celebrate, and it wasn’t just about sharing with the priests; you were all sharing a meal together with the god as well. Our Eucharistic meal isn’t just a remembrance of a dead Jesus, it’s eaten in the presence of the Risen Christ. Both of these factors play an important part in what’s going on in the Eucharist.

Recognizing and growing deeper into the spirituality of the Eucharist is bound up with our ability to grasp the sacramental paradox: in the Eucharist, the Body of Christ is eating with Christ and is eating Christ in order to participate within Christ’s work of the reconciliation of all creation.

Eucharist and Oblation

There’s one more point that I want to loop back to as we consider the relationship between the Homeric sacrifice and the Christian Eucharist. That’s the notion of the hecatomb. As we said before, the hecatomb was a sacrifice of 100 cattle. It represented a huge amount of wealth dedicated to the god. It was precious and costly.

Where is that element in our rite?

We offer bread and wine. That’s not terribly expensive—particularly given the sort of wine we normally get!

One of the historical characteristics of Anglican Eucharistic prayers is what’s sometimes referred to as the self-oblation; here are four examples from our current prayer book:

  • Rite I, Prayer I: “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee…”
  • Rite I, Prayer II: “And we earnestly desire thy fatherly goodness to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, whereby we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies.”
  • Rite II, Prayer B: “Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”
  • Rite II, Prayer D: “Grant that all who share this bread and cup may become one body and one spirit, a living sacrifice in Christ, to the praise of your Name.”

You see—if we take the language of our prayers seriously, we are offering something costly at the altar.

We’re not just offering Jesus—we’re offering ourselves as well.

Posted in Anglican, Liturgy, Sacraments | Tagged | 16 Comments

Enriching Our Worship Available in PDF

When I was appointed to the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music (SCLM) and became chair of the Digital Publication committee, I discovered in the course of my research that we had never actually acted upon General Convention resolution 2009-A102. This is the resolution that re-authorized provisional use of the “Enriching Our Worship” series under the authorization of a diocesan bishop or equal ecclesiastical authority. The second Resolve resolves “That these liturgical texts be freely available in electronic format on the internet.”

I can now report that we have accomplished this with the partnership of Church Publishing.

Enriching Our Worship 1: Morning and Evening Prayer, the Great Litany, and the Holy Eucharist

Enriching Our Worship 2: Ministry with the Sick or Dying; Burial of a Child 

Enriching Our Worship 3: Burial Rites for Adults, together with a Rite for the Burial of a Child 

Enriching Our Worship 4: The Renewal of Ministry and the Welcoming of a New Rector or Other Pastor 

Enriching Our Worship 5:Liturgies and Prayers Related to Childbearing, Childbirth, and Loss 

There is no news as of yet on the accompanying “Enriching Our Music” service music that goes with it.

Now, as some readers know, I am not EOW’s biggest fan. Indeed, I’ve only read through some of these liturgies, and have only experienced a few of the Eucharistic rites one or two times many years ago. On the whole, I was not overwhelmed.

There are some assumptions that EOW reflects what “the next prayer book” will look like. They are just that—assumptions. Per a discussion at the last meeting of the SCLM, these rites have no official status. There are certainly those who want to see them as the next step, and as heading in a prayer book revision direction, but that is not the mind of the SCLM now, and I am not eager to see any work of prayer book revision anytime in the near future.

What this move does do is signal a move towards a more digitally-friendly publication process. It’s a first step in a better direction. These liturgies are still under copyright and they remain in a PDF format. We still have a ways to go in order to get the kind of commitment to digital mission and evangelism necessary in the coming years. But we are getting there…

Posted in Anglican, Liturgy, Tech | 5 Comments

On the Penitential Orders

Or, more properly, on the “Penitential” Orders.

A little bit of back-story first…

Regular readers will know that I grew up Lutheran in an ELCA church. While it used the Service Book & Hymnal (aka “the red book”) in the first few years after my birth, it’s fair to say that I grew up as a child of the Lutheran Book of Worship (aka “the green book”). Every Sunday, worship began with the Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness. This has a few basic elements:

  • A Triune invocation
  • the Collect for Purity
  • 1 John 1:8,9 (If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…)
  • Confession of Sin
  • Absolution

Then the service starts as usual and goes on its merry way. (I’d love to know if it still appears this way in the new Evangelical Lutheran Worship aka “the cranberry book”)

As Episcopalians know, our Confession of Sin appears after the Prayers of the People (as long as we’re not using Prayer D…).

But, why…?

The Eucharist in the 1549 prayer book places the Confession of Sin at the very end of the service right before the reception of the Eucharist. The 1552 book adds in several more Confessions and moves it to what will become its normative spot in the Anglican rites. [Edited to fix my original error that Michael pointed out…] In this book, a Confession of Sin kicks off Morning Prayer (and thus the whole Sunday rota), then comes the Litany. Then, in the Communion service, another confession is added—but only for those (few) people who are remaining for the Eucharistic rite; everybody else gets dismissed beforehand. In both of these books, the reason for placing the Confession late in the service and in particular after the Prayers  derives from the (odd) custom of only a few people remaining for the act of Communion, and a redundant Confession being offered for them at that point. (For all the heinous sins they must have committed since being absolved at the beginning of Morning Prayer…)

In the Historic Western Liturgy, the Confession occurred before the proper start of the Eucharist: in the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. We see this in the Sarum and in the Tridentine books. Thus, the Lutheran placement that I grew up with is more “mainstream” in that it follows the classical placement better than the Anglican placement does which was related to a practice of restricted Eucharistic reception.

So—all of that having been said, the current Book of Common Prayer includes optional orders (one for each Rite) before the Eucharistic services proper with the ominous-sounding title “The Penitential Order.” What’s in these orders when used before a Eucharist (rather than as a stand-alone service)?

  •  The three standard options for the Opening Dialogue
  • The Decalogue (Ten Commandments) [optional]
  • One of three Scriptural sentences [optional]
    • Mark 12:29-31 (Jesus’ Summary of the Law)
    • 1 John 1:8,9 (If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…)
    • Hebrews 4:14, 16 (Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens…)
  • The Confession of Sin (just as it appears after the Prayers of the People)
  • The Absolution (just as it appears after the Prayers of the People)

Question: what exactly makes this penitential?

The Decalogue is penitential specifically because of how it’s framed. That is, following each commandment with “Amen. Lord have mercy” or “Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law” is an indirect acknowledgement that we have failed to do so.

But if the Decalogue is not used, what qualifies this order as penitential? Because it has one sentence of Scripture that may directly (1 John 1) or indirectly (Mark 12, Hebrews 4) refer to the fact that we have sin?

Hatchett’s commentary states: “A penitential order is provided for optional use in Lent or at other times when it is desired to emphasize the penitential element in the Eucharist or when a special service of preparation for the Eucharist seems appropriate” (p. 311). Personally—I’m not feeling it. In particular, I can’t help but notice that we have three options for the opening dialogue and they are—get this—the standard one (Blessed be God: Father Son and Holy Spirit…), the Easter one (Alleluia. Christ is risen…), and Lent/penitential one (Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins…). Silly me, if this were intended to be particularly penitential, I’d think we would only have the last, and would certainly not include the Easter one!

Maybe it’s my Lutheran roots showing, but the more I look at these, the more I think that they make perfectly good sense for regular Sunday use. Why?

  • They place the Confession back in its proper historical location and not where it was put for the sake of reduced-reception Communion.
  • We get at least a sentence of Scripture which reminds us of the reality of sin and our need for grace.
  • We provide a place for the regular (though optional) hearing of the Decalogue. The Church has historically maintained—even through the medieval period—that all congregants should know the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments in their native tongue; this gives us a liturgical framing for it.

There’s only one good argument against it to my mind: as currently written, the Penitential Order and the Collect for Purity sit in an either/or position. If a Penitential Order is used, the regular Eucharist picks up with the Gloria/Kyrie, omitting the Collect for Purity. The irony, of course, is that this “penitential” order is exactly where the Lutheran Book of Worship inserts the Collect for Purity!

Modern seminarians are taught to believe that “penitential” is a bad word. In turn, that’s what they teach their congregations. Saddling this rite with the title “Penitential Order” unduly prejudices what we find there. The reality is that it’s more a reassembly of elements into the classical order than the addition of a great liturgical or psychological burden. The truth is, I think its more frequent use would be a great benefit—particularly with the “unlawful” addition of the Collect for Purity in its natural spot. And, hey, if anyone gives you grief about the insertion, you can say you’re just honoring our Full Communion agreement by prefacing the Episcopal Eucharist with a Lutheran service…

Posted in Anglican, Liturgy, Lutheran | 27 Comments

On the Post-Academic Life

My uncle-in-law sent me a link to this article yesterday: The Repurposed PhD: Finding Life after Academia–and Not Feeling Bad About It. He has a PhD in Ethics from Yale and is working in the Virginia court system. Being PhDs outside of academia is one of the big things that we have in common.

It’s an interesting article, but it misses some important points and fails to connect some dots that it does bring up.

I think its biggest weakness is that it misses the central connection between academic shame and the adjuncting system.

Within the last several years, academia has increasingly moved to a heavy use of poorly paid adjuncts in order to keep the costs lower, and I have friends who graduated with me who try to survive by cobbling together a variety of courses at multiple schools. Some of them are on food stamps because they simply can’t make ends meet. What’s amazing to me is that they’re willing to do it! It’s a fundamentally exploitative system but it can only work because there’s so much pressure and shame around having an academic career. I got that message quite clearly from my department: a PhD without a tenure-track position is a failure.

Period pieces sometimes give a picture of cash-poor aristocrats who, although on the verge of starvation, wouldn’t consider taking employment below their proper station; academics seem to be their modern counterpart… For my part, I remember one point where I was near the end of completing my dissertation. I was adjuncting at my university while also working as an IT consultant. I had just arrived at the office from teaching my 8 AM class and was contemplating my life. It hit me suddenly that what the university was paying me for a full semester of teaching my own class—from writing the syllabus, doing all the research, all the teaching, all the grading, etc.—was equivalent to what I made in IT in two weeks… I am a scholar—but I’m a father and a husband first and when push comes to shove, I’ve got to support M and the girls. Academic dignity is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t keep you fed.

However, the adjuncting system can work because that notion of academic dignity is still firmly entrenched in programs of formation. No one in my department said it; my advisor clearly understood my situation—and yet it was in the water. Nobody said it—but nobody had to, either. If you didn’t follow an academic career then you were wasting all of the time and effort put into it. No one who has gone through that wants to waste it, and adjuncting positions get dangled like bait. The hope is always out there—if you do a good job as an adjunct, of course we’ll notice that and transition you to a tenure-track position. Why, just next year one might open up…!  In the vast majority of cases it’s a false hope.

Hand in hand with the connection between shame and adjuncting is the cost factor of a doctorate. A PhD is costly. And I mean that in a whole host of ways. It requires a huge emotional investment to get through the rigors of the process: at least two grueling years of coursework, then the horror of exams before you get to the proposal and dissertation stage.  In order to get through all of that and to put up with it, you have to form an image of your academic self. You put yourself through this pain and poverty because it’s who you are! To go through that process, to form that mental image of yourself, and then to consider doing something else—anything else—with your career and life is confront the reality of that image and to call into question the worth of the effort and therefore your own identity. And, some—I’m convinced—remain in the vicious circle of adjuncting because they are unwilling or unable to confront or deconstruct their own image of that academic self.

In doing a doctorate, you’re sacrificing quite a lot particularly in terms of time. Academics must delay certain things in order to focus and get their work done and that frequently includes serious relationships and having children (in addition to gainful employment). And that’s one of the places where we come out behind… My girls’ friends parents tend to have at least a good ten years of earnings behind them that we simply don’t have.

They were working while we were schooling.

Given the time-value of money, this is a cost that we will never get back.

Because of the costs—emotional, financial, familial—at what point do you decide that you’ve invested too much to be able to change course? There are some who hang on to the tenure-track dream because it’s the only visible return on investment. PhDs are chiefly valued within academia; outside of it, most folks don’t care. If anything, the credential makes you appear more expensive to a prospective employer with little benefit if it isn’t directly connected to the work at hand.

I sometimes have relatives and friends who ask me if I’m looking for a teaching job or who point out open positions to me. I’ve even had a bishop do it. And while I’m grateful to them, it’s more complicated than that.

At this point in my life, I’m okay with who I am and where I’m at. In the few years that I did send out applications to schools, I intentionally limited my inquiries to a few religious liberal arts schools and seminaries. I have no interest in teaching general religion courses outside of a confessional context.  I’ve always said that my purpose in earning a PhD was to be a doctor for the church. And I’m doing that. With my writing and my work on church bodies, I’m applying my learning in that way that I intended. While I certainly wouldn’t mind teaching in an Episcopal seminary, it’s an open question whether I’d be a viable candidate.

The issue isn’t with the quality of my PhD, it’s the time in between. I didn’t do the rat race. I didn’t cobble together adjuncting assignments. I didn’t maintain the expected commitment to the discipline. I haven’t been reading, writing and publishing in the proper venues. It’s all well and good that I’m okay with all of that—how about the professors on the search committee? Are they okay with that? Or do they want to see someone who traveled their own path as their next colleague?

I haven’t talked to anybody about this, but my own sense of things is that the more time that elapses between my PhD and getting a position, the lower the probability of getting one drops. I’d guess its around .5% right now…

And so I write.

I’m a husband and a father. And I’m a scholar too. And in that order. I am an academic—that’s just the way I’m wired. But I don’t need a position in academia to validate that.  It’s enough to just be me.

Posted in Academia | 9 Comments

Fall Updates

Things are finally heading towards normal around the house…

  • Fall Marathon season ended Sunday for us; M ran the Marine Corp Marathon and beat her Boston qualifying time by 20 minutes, chalking up a best time by 10 minutes.
  •  Seasonal costuming is in full swing. The girls’ new school has Christian Heroes Day rather than Halloween which means each girl needs two different costumes (of course…). Lil’ G is trick-or-treating as Queen Elizabeth I and is Christian Heroing as Joan of Arc. Needless to say, I’ve been constructing armor for the latter which is almost done—I’ll post some pictures when available. Lil’ H is making every radical protestants nightmare come true: she’s trick-or-treating as Athena and, with a few slight modifications, Christian Heroing as the Blessed Virgin.
  • The book manuscript is (hopefully) in its final stages. Sections 1-3 are done and sent off, Section 4 (on the Eucharist) is in progress. I’m writing chapters 11 and 12 simultaneously; chapter 13 popped into my brain spontaneously while G and I were discussing how the word “pacing” can be both transitive and intransitive…
  • I’ve been in conversations with the dean of the Companions of St. Luke, a dispersed Benedictine community within the Episcopal Church. They pray a modified version of the Office with a four week psalter and a set of additional antiphons. I’ll be working on offering these as options at the St. Bede’s Breviary. Shooting for mid-November for that one—we’ll see.
  • The Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book is getting a final work-over from the publisher and should be headed to the printer sometime next month. We hope to have them in our hands by the first month of 2014.
  • The Anglican Breviary Project is on! Hopefully… There’s enough interest that it makes sense to take the next few steps. In order to do it properly and within a reasonable amount of time, I’m going to be writing up a Kickstarter project proposal. The issue, of course, is that there are only so many hours in the day and our family situation is such that a significant portion of those needed to be devoted to income-generating projects. If the funding is there, it’ll be able to go forward; if not, it’ll have to take a back seat until I have more leisure time. My plan is to break the project up into three sections and fund them independently; the first section will include a crowd-sourcing component that will let you all help me with the data entry portion of sections two and three. The more help I get there, the less work I have to do, and—therefore—less money will have to be raised for the later two sections.
Posted in Random | 3 Comments