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.

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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.

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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:

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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

Daily Office: Psalms and Readings

Ok–having written the Calendar section in part as an extended apology for the Collect of the Day, we’re back to the Daily Office. I’m not including here my section on the Fore-Office and instead we’ll start with the Psalms and Readings. At this point it’s only right to give a shout out to Scott Knitter and Chris Yoder for their work in putting the psalms and readings respectively into some great spreadsheets. That material gives the overview essential for seeing the patterns described below.

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The Invitatory and Psalter

These are the elements of the Invitatory and Psalter:

Element

Required?

Variation (if any)

Opening Versicles Yes A little
Invitatory Antiphon No Seasonal
Invitatory Morning: Yes, Evening: Optional Morning: Seasonal
Appointed Psalms Yes Choice of Pattern

 

This section gives us a great big block of musical material, chiefly psalms, after a short dialog that gets things going. Most of this material is not optional as it forms one of the great theological centers of the Office. If the Office is a “sacrifice of praise,” then this is a big part of where that offering actually happens!

As mentioned above, the Opening Versicles of Morning Prayer (“O Lord, open our lips…”) come from Psalm 51 and were literally true in a monastic environment; most orders observed a Great Silence from the end of Compline to the beginning of Matins where no talking was allowed. These words would be the first words spoken in the morning. The Opening Versicles of Evening Prayer (“O God, make speed to save us…”) are from Ps 70:1 and reflect the breath prayer taught by John Cassian and the Desert Fathers. These are the normal opening versicles of the Offices from before the Reformation. In the English prayer books, they were included at Morning Prayer as well right after the morning versicles.

The only variation here is that the “Alleluia” gets dropped in Lent and Holy Week.

The invitatory antiphons are sentences used with the invitatory to communicate a sense of the season or occasion. Morning Prayer has them, Evening does not. Options are given for seasons and for Holy Days. (Lesser Feasts do not receive their own antiphon and would use the appropriate seasonal option.) The first part of the antiphon establishes a sense of the season or event; the second is an invariable call to praise, “O come, let us adore him” from Ps 95:6 (although our present prayer book rendering of this phrase is: “O come, let us worship/bow down”…). And, yes, the Christmas hymn “O Come All Ye Faithful” is a deliberate riff on the structure of the invitatory antiphon.

We’re not given any clear direction as to exactly how the antiphon is to be used with the Venite or other Invitatory Psalm (it’s not used with the Christ our Passover as it has its own internal Alleluia antiphon). There are two common ways to use it. The easiest is simply to use it before and after the psalm. The other, and more traditional, method is to include it several times within the psalm; the musical settings in the hymnal confirm that this should be done at each section break.

The invitatory is an opening song or psalm that literally invites the worship of God. The prayer book contains five different options for Morning Prayer and a single for Evening Prayer. Three of the morning options are all shades of the same text, Psalm 95. It’s customary to refer to the psalms by the first couple of words in Latin. The monks didn’t memorize the numbers, so they simply referred to the opening bits. This custom was continued by Cranmer at the Reformation and has stuck. In our case it’s particularly useful because our Venite, the first word of Psalm 95 is actually not identical with the psalm.   The Rite I Venite contains the first 7 verses of Psalm 95, then substitutes Ps 96:9, 13 in place of the condemnatory verses at the end of Ps 95. The Rite II Venite simply omits these verses. However, at points (particularly Fridays in Lent and Friday and Saturday in Holy Week) all of Psalm 95 is appointed. Psalm 100, the Jubilate, is also an option and was historically used when Ps 95 appeared amongst the Morning Prayer psalms. For Easter, the Christ our Passover (Pascha Nostrum) is provided. It must be used during Easter Week and may be used for the rest of the Easter season. I prefer to use it throughout the season, as it’s a good daily reminder that Easter is 50 days long. The Evening Prayer invitatory is an ancient hymn from the Greek Church, O Gracious Light. It doesn’t need antiphons nor are any provided.

At the heart of the concept of the invitatory is an invitation. The appointed texts urge those praying them to worship. Psalm 95 holds such a privileged place because it does it three times in rapid succession. It opens with a repeated call to worship in verses 1 and 2: “Come let us sing…let us shout for joy…Let us come…and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.” The call repeats in verse 6:  “Come, let us bow down.” The other element of Psalm 95 that made is so attractive is found at the end of verse 7: “Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!” Although this passage logically goes with the next section of the psalm which gives the rebellion of the people under Moses as an example of what not to do, the Rite II Venite ends here. In addition to the call to come and worship, we are reminded to also listen and take heed of what God is telling us. The Rite I Venite preferred not to include any of the condemnatory section, but swaps in additional encouragement to praise from Psalm 96 and retains the notion that God is also coming to meet us in our worship.

The Jubilate contains these elements as well. It opens with an exhortation to worship: “come before his presence with a song” (Ps. 100:1), and repeats it “Enter his gates with praise; go into his courts with praise; give thanks to him and call upon his Name” (Ps 100:3).

The Easter time Christ our Passover is Cranmer’s compilation of Sarum antiphons drawn from the writings of Paul. The repeated “Alleluia” is its own internal antiphon, so it doesn’t need an invitatory antiphon to accompany it. As appropriate for the resurrection season, this text focuses on the passage from death to life and Christ’s victory over the grave. The repetition at the beginning of the second and third sections, “Christ . . . raised from the dead,” and the conclusion with its triumphant “all shall be made alive” is one of my favorite pieces of the Easter experience.

The Evening Prayer invitatory, O Gracious Light, served as the Eastern lamp-lighting hymn for centuries. In an electric-lit culture we usually miss the symbolic moment when the day moves from light to dark; this hymn helps remind us. At its heart, this is a simple hymn of praise to Christ as the Light of the world that praises the Trinity at the hinge of the day.

The appointed psalms come next. As I have said, this is the historical and theological center of gravity of the Office, and the next chapter is devoted to exploring the psalms within their Office context. The main decision at this point is which psalm scheme to adopt. The book gives a choice of two; the first appears in the Daily Office lectionary while the second is found in the section of the prayer book containing the psalms.

The first option is the lectionary cycle. This cycle spreads out the 150 psalms across seven weeks. The cycle begins on the first week of Advent, the first week after Epiphany, the eighth week after Epiphany (if there should be one…), the second week of Easter, with Trinity Sunday and Proper 2, Proper 9, Proper 16, and Proper 23. The earlier iterations of the cycle often are not complete because of a number of proper psalms around Christmas, the length of the Epiphany season, proper psalms for Holy Week and Easter, and on what Proper the season after Pentecost begins. The last three cycles, though, are only interrupted by occasional Holy Days.

If you look at the layout of this particular lectionary, a pattern emerges. Psalms were specifically picked for Saturday evening, Sunday morning, and Sunday evening. Next, the many parts of the lengthy Psalm 119 were assigned to Wednesdays, alternating between evening and morning. Then, the remaining psalms were distributed to each week, trying to balance out the number of verses and placing some penitential/passion psalms on Fridays (i.e., Pss. 22, 51, 69, and 88). Psalm 95 falls in the evening—thus you need not worry about it appearing right after you’ve used it as the invitatory at Morning Prayer! (Psalm 100, though, falls on Tuesday morning of week 6.) The pattern shows that the emphasis was upon having appropriate psalms for public worship on Saturday nights and Sundays. In addition to this, provisions are also made for dropping verses of psalms or whole psalms that might be deemed offensive or problematic to congregations. On the balance, each Office prays just under 30 verses of psalms.

The second option is the monthly cycle found within the psalter itself. On turning to page 585—the first page of the Psalter proper—you’ll see a note in italics right above the title of Psalm 1: “First Day: Morning Prayer.” On page 589 before the start of Psalm 6 is another note: “First Day: Evening Prayer.” These notes are given for thirty days, morning and evening. If a month has a 31st day, the psalms given for the 30th are repeated. On the average, this cycle provides about 45 verses of psalms for each Office. (The longest is the evening of the 15th with 73 verses; the shortest is the evening of the 2nd with 24—most counts fall between the high thirties or low fifties, though.)

The monthly cycle foregrounds the catechetical role of the Office. That is, it emphasizes the continuous repetition of the psalms for the purpose of learning them. It presents a less flexible cycle that is not particularly responsive to seasonal awareness. Most of the people I know who use this cycle (myself among them) only deviate from it for the Principal Feasts. This can lead to unusual combinations when a particular angry psalm might show up on a happy festival or a joyous one occur where it doesn’t seem to fit. Often it’s in these moments that I learn something important—either about the psalm or the occasion—that had always been present; I just hadn’t noticed it before. The odd combination cast it in relief and made it stand out.

In contrast, the eight-week lectionary covers the psalms, but over a longer period. Its strength is that it lends itself to occasional use. That is, the monthly cycle is used best and works best when it is prayed daily. The eight-week cycle is specifically set up so that the days when newcomers might appear—as on a Saturday or Sunday service of Evensong or Morning Prayer or even a mid-week Wednesday—it neither assumes nor requires a previous discipline. Similarly, using proper psalms for Holy Days is the better option if a parish that doesn’t normally pray the Office together decides to hold an Evensong.

The Lessons

These are the elements of the Lessons:

Element

Required?

Variation (if any)

Old Testament Lesson Morning: Yes, Evening: Optional Daily
Canticle Yes, if reading Variable
New Testament Lesson Yes Daily
Canticle Yes Variable
Apostles’ Creed Yes None

 

This section contains the biblical readings and the sung canticles. It concludes with the Creed which reminds us of the Church’s interpretive lens for the Scriptures.

The Daily Office lectionary provides for three readings per day over a two-year cycle: an Old Testament reading, an epistle reading, and a gospel reading.  Both Morning and Evening Prayer can accommodate—and have traditionally had—two biblical readings each for a total of four per day. As a result you’ve got a choice—you can use the three readings as appointed and distribute them through the Offices (usually two at Morning Prayer and the third at Evening Prayer), or you can find another reading. The normal way to do this is to use the Old Testament reading from the off-year and place it as the first reading for Evening Prayer.

In terms of completeness, the lectionary does a good job with the New Testament. Of the Gospels, all of Matthew and Mark are read each year. Luke is missing about 50 verses (4% of its length) but these are the genealogy and the iconic birth story and his appearance in the Temple at age 12 which get play in the Eucharistic lectionary. John is missing about 80 verses (9% of its length) and these are all sections from the passion and resurrection narratives which, again, are well represented in the Eucharist.

Of the New Testament apart from the Gospels, the large stand-alone books of Acts, Hebrews, and Revelation are read in their entirety each year. We read 97% of both the Pauline Epistles and the General Epistles. Missing from the General Epistles is one section from 1 Peter 3 dealing with wives being submissive to their husbands; most of the material missing from the Pauline Letters, mostly from 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, similarly deals with the social roles of women and slaves.

When we come to the Old Testament the percentage drops. Overall, across both years—or in one year if you read two readings—we read just under half of the Old Testament. When you look at it by category, we read more percentage-wise of the Minor Prophets than any other grouping (72% as opposed to the others in the 40%’s) due mostly to the brief length of these books. By year, Year One reads through about 22% of the Old Testament and contains more of the Histories and the Major Prophets. Year Two reads about 25% and contains more of the Minor Prophets, the Law, and the Wisdom literature. There is some overlap where certain passages are read in both years (apart from the Holy Day readings) and this occurs mostly in Isaiah, the Histories, and Genesis and Exodus, but it accounts for under 10% of what is read each year.

Why so little of the Old Testament by percentage? It’s pretty simple: math. The gospel readings and other New Testament readings average to be about eight verses and seven verses long respectively. If you want to keep the length of the three readings balanced, than this is the problem you’re going to have to face. The Old Testament readings currently average a little under ten verses in length. If you were going to get through the entire Old Testament, you’d have to more than double that amount!

To put it another way, the original Daily Office lectionary scheme that Cranmer came up with when he compiled the first Book of Common Prayer, went through most (but not all) of the Old Testament each year. Readings were typically assigned by chapter not verse; thus, on January 4th, for example, you’d read Genesis 5 in the morning with Genesis 6 in the evening. The corresponding New Testament and Gospel readings which were of an equal length went through the full cycle three times in a year! That’s a lot more reading than what we have now. In fact, looking over the almost 500 years from then to now, we’ve seen the length of the readings steadily drop over time. The goal is to get people to pray the Office and read their Scriptures. The trend has been to reduce the time it takes by reducing the amount of Scripture required.

Just as in the eight-week psalm cycle, the Daily Office lectionary has two different things going on for the sake of occasional use. For the most parts, biblical books are read through continuously. That is, a reading will generally stick with a book and read straight through it or, when it does skip material, it usually does so sequentially. However, this sequence is interrupted for Sundays. A different cycle of readings appear on Sunday for the benefit of those who only experience the Offices once a week—or less—and who may have occasion to experience a Sunday reading and not any of the others.  Thus, the Daily Office lectionary will jump on Sundays to a different place and pick up a different story than what has been read through the rest of the week.

Posted in Daily Office, Spirituality | Tagged | 7 Comments

On the Collects

This chapter will round out the section on the Calendar before I move on to the Office.

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The Collects: An Integral Link of Prayer Book Practice

The Liturgical Manifestations of the Church Year

The Church Year establishes fundamental organizing principles that direct our common liturgical life. The Daily Office and the Eucharist both exist within and are guided by it. When we look back to the liturgies of the medieval period, there was quite a lot of material that was used to mark the liturgical year and its passage. Remember, before the mid-20th century and the reforms of Vatican II, there was no three-year cycle; there was only a one-year cycle which repeated in an invariable fashion. In the medieval books—taking those of 10th century England as an example—each Sunday Eucharist had its own particular set of liturgically proper materials:  four prayers (the opening collect, a prayer over the gifts at the offertory, a proper preface, and a post-communion prayer), two readings (an Epistle and a Gospel), and four or five minor propers (usually one or two-line biblical texts sung by the choir at the entrance, after the Epistle, before the Gospel, during the offertory, and during the communion).

That’s a lot of stuff. And it doesn’t stop there either!

Turning to the Daily Office, parts of the Eucharistic propers—especially the biblical readings—would be interwoven among the various elements. The Gospel in full would be read in the Sunday Night Office and a line from it would usually appear as an antiphon on the Song of Mary at the Evening Office. The Epistle too might appear in gospel canticle antiphons through the week and was frequently found tucked into the suffrages of the mid-day Offices. Of course, the opening collect of the Eucharist would reappear as the closing collect of each Office.

In Archbishop Cranmer’s simplification of the liturgy and in his construction of the first Book of Common Prayer, he swept away most of these proper elements. In his 1549 book he retained only four of the Eucharistic propers: the opening collect, the Epistle, the Gospel, and the psalm sung at the entrance. In the even more radical revision of 1552 the psalm at the entrance was dropped as well. With the stripping of the gospel canticle antiphons, psalm antiphons, and variable Suffrages from the reformed Daily Offices, Cranmer eliminated even the possibility of retaining the delicate tissue of interactions between the Sunday Eucharist and the Office through the following week.

The only unifying element from the Church Year cycle that held together the liturgical experience of the Eucharist and the Office was the collect.

Cranmer could easily have done away with this too—but he didn’t. Instead, he worked his way through the Sarum Missal, translating and retaining many of its collects where they were in accord with his understanding of the Faith, crafting new collects when they were not. The English-speaking church owes him a great debt of gratitude for this, because his work of translation and adaptation was masterfully done. Through him, we have access to ancient prayers that have sustained the Church over centuries, drawn into luminous, gem-like models of prayer and praise.

Since Cranmer’s day, prayer book people the world over have embraced the collect. Hundreds of collects have been translated, adapted, and composed to fill our prayer books and resources. Collects are not unique to Anglican churches, but they are a definitive aspect of our spiritual heritage.

While our last few prayer books have begun recovering seasonal elements in the Eucharist and the Office, the collect remains the single point of calendrical continuity that has the potential to unite the two liturgical services. Particularly as the notion of a one-year cycle has been shattered with the moves to a two-year Office lectionary and the three-year Eucharistic lectionary, the collect remains the sole consistent element. The consistent practice of Anglican prayer books up to the present is the use of the Sunday (or prior festal) collect at the end of Morning and Evening Prayer. However, our current prayer book has made the use of the Collect of the Day optional. Let me say in the strongest possible terms that I believe this is a mistake! The use and repetition of the Eucharistic collect within the Daily Office is the last common element that connects these two liturgical movements together under the overarching aegis of the Church Year. Without this element, they become disconnected; we will have lost the last intrinsic link and they can be seen as two entirely different and unrelated devotions rather than the complementary pair that they were designed to be.

I’d like to explore the collects from two different directions. First, we’ll examine what a collect is. Second, we’ll look at how the collects function within the liturgical year and serve as key unifying units.

What is a Collect?

The original meaning of the term itself is lost in the mists of liturgical prehistory. The earliest Roman books refer to these prayers simply as “oratio” or “orationes;” the Gallican books produced in Gaul (modern France) in the 7th and 8th centuries used the term “collecta.” The Latin word is closely related to the English word it sounds like—something has been collected—but what? There seem to be three main answers with no good away to adjudicate between them. One suggestion is that the term refers to the prayer that should be prayed after all of the people have collected together. Another is that the collect brings together in one succinct statement the principal themes of the service being celebrated. The third is that, after a bit of silent prayer at the beginning of the service, the celebrant prays this prayer as a means of collecting together all of the prayers that have been prayed silently and individually. This last certainly seems to reflect the practice of bidding prayers which is of great antiquity. I favor the last, but we’ll probably never know for sure. One thing we do know is that the practice of the whole congregation reading it together aloud is a modern anomaly!

One modern liturgist, Fr. Bosco Peters, emphasizes the third option in his description of the four parts of a proper collect when it appears as the opening prayer of the Eucharist:

    • The bidding: The presider invites the community to prayer – “Let us pray”. Or in a more extended way, something like: “Let us pray in silence that God will make us one in mind and heart”.
    • The silence: This is the heart of the collect. This deep silent praying of the community is what the collect is collecting. No silent prayer and it is not a collect, there is nothing to collect. Without this silence the “collect” is reduced to merely another little prayer cluttering the vestibule at the start of our service.
    • The collect: After sufficient silent prayer the presider proclaims the collect, gathering the prayers of the community, and articulating the prayer of the church – the body of Christ. As Christ’s body the collect is addressed in Christ’s name, on Christ’s behalf, to God the Source of all Being, in the power and unity of the Holy Spirit.
    • Amen: The community makes the collect its own by a strong “Amen” – “so be it”. (Peters, “Collect – four parts”)

His subversion of the notion of a four-part scheme refocuses the collect as a summation of the whole community at prayer.

As for what a collect is and the nature of its essential character, Anglican writers have fallen over themselves for years singing its praises in very extravagant ways. I find that one of the clearest and most helpful introductions to the collect comes from the radical of the English Sarum Revival at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, Percy Dearmer. In his usual acerbic tone Dearmer writes:

The collect is a definite literary form, a prose form with something of the character that a sonnet has in verse, but with a far more loosely defined structure; so that, though it is easier to make a poor collect than a poor sonnet, it is perhaps more difficult to make a good one. A collect is not merely a short prayer: many prayers are short—some, like the Kyrie eleison, extremely short—but they are not collects; on the other hand, it would not be difficult, though the result would be unpleasing, to write a prayer of some length that kept strictly to the collect form.

Unity is the essential characteristic of the collect. To be good, it must have colour, rhythm, finality, a certain conciseness as well as vigour of thought; but it must be a unified petition, or it becomes something else than a collect. We might indeed say that it must be one complete sentence, an epigram softened by feeling; it must be compact, expressing one thought, and enriching that thought so delicately that a word misplaced may destroy its whole beauty. We cannot safeguard this balance, which is so easily upset, by setting down any definite rules, such as that a collect must consist of four parts. There is a real danger of a notion like that obtaining currency, and of everyone who tries to write a collect fitting his material into a Procrustean bed, and finding fault with every example that does not conform to his imaginary rule. As a matter of fact, many if not most of the finest collects do not consist of those four divisions. (Dearmer, The Art of Public Worship, 149-50)

True to his usual style, after airily dismissing the four-part structure of the collect, Dearmer goes on to explain it (but doesn’t number the final element giving him four where we will speak of five)… Dearmer makes some excellent points here; in particular, I’d like to take up two in the form of comparisons. One is obvious and explicit; the other is less so, but I one that I think Dearmer would approve of. First, the collect is like a sonnet; second, the collect is like a haiku.

Dearmer’s comparison of the collect to the sonnet is quite apt. Sonnets are poems defined by a certain structure, rhythm, rhyme scheme, and topic. Certain poets have defined these parameters through particularly notable examples of the genre—notable Petrarch and Shakespeare—and their work shapes the convention. Skilled poets are able to work within the form and experience the rules and structures as canvasses to define an area of play rather than rigid guidelines. Truly remarkable poets are able to bend or break the rules, subverting the form and their readers’ expectations in order to achieve something sublime. And yet, this subversion works because they have grasped a deeper structure to which they are adhering beyond the more basic guidelines.

The same is true of collects; there are rules and guidelines. The rules guide the process of understanding and crafting the collect. A collect generally consist of a single sentence. It may be a quite long sentence with several relative clauses thrown in, but is a single sentence. As a result of being a single sentence, it has one main point—the “unified petition” that Dearmer speaks of. Then there are five components that are usual:

  1. The Invocation—this is the naming of the Person of the Trinity to whom the prayer is addressed.
  2. The Relative Clause/Acknowledgement—this clause often begins with a “who” and usually says something about the identity of God that will relate to the rest of the prayer; it often ends with a colon.
  3. The Petition—this is what is being asked for. Sometimes there may be a second petition that is related to the first. Classically this may start with “Grant” or even “Grant, we pray…”
  4. The Statement of Purpose/Result—this clause explains why we’re asking for what we’re asking for or describes what we hope will be the result of the request. This often starts with “that.”
  5. The Ending/Doxology—we end by bringing in the rest of the Trinity (or, at the very least, Jesus).

Here’s an example of how these five parts break down on a common and well-known text, the Collect for Purity that appears in the early part of the Eucharist:

The Invocation Almighty God,
The Relative Clause/Acknowledgement To you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid:
The Petition Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
The Statement of Purpose/Result That we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name;
The Ending/Doxology Through Christ our Lord.

The unifying concept here is that we are requesting the God who knows our secret thoughts to cleanse them for the proper worship of him.

Another example is the collect for the Fifth Sunday of Easter:

The Invocation Almighty God,
The Relative Clause/Acknowledgement Whom truly to know is everlasting life:
The Petition Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life,
The Statement of Purpose/Result That we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life;
The Ending/Doxology Through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The unifying concept here is a riff off John 14:6 asking that we might know the truth in order to follow that way to share in life.

Dearmer throws in an example of a short prayer that is not a collect but which could be confused with one if someone were not paying attention. It was composed and distributed in England during World War I:

O Lord God Almighty, look down with pity upon those who are suffering the miseries of war. Have compassion on the wounded and dying; comfort the broken-hearted; make wars to cease; and give peace in our time; for the sake of him who is the Prince of Peace, even thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Now, this is a perfectly fine prayer—it’s just not a collect; there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s simply another sort of prayer following different guidelines that should be mistaken for a collect simply because it might appear on the service to share some characteristics.

Let’s take a look at why it’s not a collect. It looks “collect-shaped” because it’s short, it starts with an invocation, and ends with a standard collect ending. However, what follows the Invocation isn’t a Relative clause or an Acknowledgement—it’s a petition. And four more petitions follow on after that. Consider—after the first sentence and where each semicolon falls you could easily insert “Lord, in your mercy,/Hear our prayer” without any problem. This is a brief, private intercession rather than being a collect. Its unity is difficult to assess; generally speaking, the prayer is about the miseries of war, but the content of the petitions is more wide-ranging than what we would expect to find in a collect.

The five-fold form (it depends on whether you count the Ending or not—I would) is another example of how the prayer book teaches us to pray. When you’ve spent a sufficient amount of time with collects and you’ve memorized the structure listed above, it isn’t too hard to produce an extemporaneous prayer that follows these guidelines.

However, as Dearmer mentions, there is more to it than simply following the rules. Some collects don’t follow this structure like the collect for Proper 3:

The Petition Grant,
The Invocation O Lord,
The Petition, cont. That the course of this world may be peaceably governed by your providence
Secondary petition And that your Church may joyfully serve you in confidence and serenity
The Ending/Doxology Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Now, this one comes close to edging the line that the prayer above falls over. Like that one it only contains an Invocation, Ending, and petitions. The difference is that we have fewer petitions (two instead of five) and that the thought is more unified.

Another differing structure is that of the collect for Monday in Easter Week:

The Petition Grant, we pray,
The Invocation Almighty God,
The Petition, cont. That we who celebrate with awe the Paschal feast may be found worthy to attain to everlasting joys
The Ending/Doxology Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

This is probably the shortest a collect can be in terms of components and still be considered a collect.

The point here is that the not every collect of the prayer book fits the rules—nor needs to fit the rules—but they all share in the same fundamental concept and approach. The five part structure is normal and typical, but it’s not uncommon to see some variations in the wild. As we gain facility with it as an extemporaneous prayer form, it’s good to stick to the rules, but they need not be considered straight-jackets either.

Just as a collect has rules regarding its form, elements, and content as a sonnet does, there’s something about its character that is also like a haiku. This classical Japanese poetic form also has rules around it, but the central experience of a haiku is that it is very short—only 18 on (which are roughly comparable to syllables)—unified, and has a seasonal reference. A good haiku evokes an effect. The use of language is intentional and particular. Because it is so short, every word matters; the placement of every word matters. While the seasonal reference is an important part, most Westerners miss them because there are specific words or turns of phrase that have seasonal resonance within Japanese culture; the use of the loaded phrase is important. The master Bashō ­­demonstrates these elements (in Higginson’s translation):

old pond . . .

a frog leaps in

water’s sound

It deftly creates a single experience, the translator’s first line setting a scene, the second providing a glimpse of action.  Rainy springtime is evoked by the frog—but the frog itself is part of what makes the poem what it is: classical poetry often uses this kind of frog for its haunting call; Bashō keeps it silent, but gives the water a voice instead!

A good collect should be like a haiku in that it gives a unified experience, communicating a single, self-contained thought. Furthermore, this thought may be allusive, using loaded language to point outside of itself to references that a cultural literate interpreter should pick up. Finally, a good collect should leave us with a feeling, an intention, or a resolve to enact that for which we have just prayed. Let’s return again to Cranmer’s collect for the First Sunday of Advent:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The unified concept here is about receiving the grace to turn from darkness to light and to live according to the light in the presence of Christ, teacher and judge. The language of light and dark connects to key Advent themes where the coming of Christ is often spoken of as the coming of light and the dawn (…a people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light…; …more than watchmen for the morning…; sleepers, awake!; …be watchful…; etc.). Furthermore, Cranmer is making a very specific biblical allusion. In the old one-year cycle that he knew, the Epistle for Eucharist on Advent 1 was invariably Romans 13:8-14 which includes these verses:

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day… (Rom 13:11-13a).

The collect’s phrase foreshadows the Epistle and, when the collect was repeated after hearing that Epistle, the connection should be remembered. (Of course, in our current three-year cycle, this Epistle only appears on Advent 1 in Year A.) The season, the Scripture, and the practice of the moral life are united in the collect.

Note, too, that the structure is altered a bit from the usual. There is no Acknowledgement following the Invocation, however there is a relative clause in the petition that could easily be one. This is what would happen if we attempted to “fix” the collect:

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

What gets lost here is the effect of the multiple comings of Advent. Cranmer’s collect creates a balanced structure by evoking an advent at the end of the petition clause with one in the result clause; they mirror each other. Moving the Acknowledgement to the Acknowledgement position obscures the parallelism and weakens the collect. By separating the coming of Christ “in great humility” by a greater space of words and phrases from the coming “in glorious majesty” the juxtaposition between the two and the sense of paradox is diminished. Where the words and phrases go matters in terms of the overall effect.

When we encounter collects, therefore, we want to be attentive to these factors. What is the theological and spiritual center of gravity of the collect? What is it inspiring in us and leading us towards? Is it leading us deeper into the season or a particular mystery of life-in-Christ by using allusions or references?

The final point that we should note about collects in general is that, just as particular poems take on a life of their own and shape the cultural vocabulary, the same is true of collects. The collects of the prayer book span an enormous amount of Christian history. When Cranmer prepared the first Book of Common Prayer, he took most of the collects directly from the Sarum Missal and Breviary. Many of these, in turn, went back to the Gregorian and Gallican liturgies that spread throughout the Christian West in the seventh and eighth centuries. Those that Cranmer found objectionable he either adapted or replaced entirely with compositions of his own. As time went on, more collects were added by significant figures in Anglican history like Bishop Cosin who was responsible for the 1662 English prayer book that lays behind so many of the colonial prayer books and is still England’s official text. As more collects have been added, we have gathered recent collects from around the world and as well as going back to the earliest Western sources in the Leonine sacramentary which scholars date to the sixth century.

Many of the collects that we read have been forming Christian theology and spirituality for well over a thousand years. It’s one thing to claim continuity with the Christian tradition of the ages; it’s another to demonstrate it—and our collects do. They are a direct connection into the oldest streams of the tradition enriched by fertilizations from later ages as well.

Collects and the Liturgical Year

Having taken some time to explore the collect form, let’s turn to how the collects function to give a more concrete sense of shape to the liturgical year.

While the prayer book is filled with a variety of collects, the most influential are those appointed for Sundays and the Principal Feasts. This is because these get repeated so often in practice. A collect appointed for a regular Sunday can be prayed through at least fifteen times over the course of the week: in addition to the Sunday Eucharist, it could be repeated every day of the week at Morning and Evening Prayer. The repetition is both intentional and important. The Anglican Churches are not confessional in a technical sense; that is, our beliefs are not established by a confessional document in the same sense that the Lutheran and Reformed churches are. The center of our unity is the prayer book; the collects as bite-sized crystallizations of doctrine, interpretation, and practice are a primary source of our theology. Repeating them day after day, week after week, year after year, instills within the praying community a shared theological vocabulary.

As a result, maintaining the weekly repetition of collects is a significant part of how we acquire and recall our theological heritage. In recent years, there has been a tendency to multiply collects. With the introduction of a more complete sanctoral Calendar in the current prayer book and in subsequent expansions, more and more Days of Optional Observance are receiving their own proper collects. Too, collects have been provided for every day of Lent and many of the days of Easter. Incorporating these new collects alongside a commitment to the faithful use of the Sunday collects—particularly in the Daily Office—is a challenge. There are two main options: the first is to retain the Sunday collects to the exclusion of the supplementary material. The second is to use both: the supplementary Collect of the Day would be used first, the weekly collect would then follow.

Short yet meaty, the collects are ideal candidates for memorization. As each Sunday rolls around, I try to take a few minutes and memorize the collect. As I move through the week, I can stop and reflect on it, rolling its words around in my mind. Instead of passively receiving the piety and theology of the prayer book, I can actively engage it as it fits both into my life of prayer and my daily experiences.

The Seasonal Collects

There is another way that the collects used to reinforce the liturgical year. Starting with the English prayer book of 1662, several collects were appointed to serve as seasonal collects. A note after the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent designated that this collect should be read after the Collect of the Day throughout Advent:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, p. 211)

A similar note after the collect for Ash Wednesday requires that this collect be read after the Collect of the Day through Lent:

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  (BCP, p. 217).

The collect for Christmas wasn’t used throughout the season but it was given its own octave; it was appointed to be read every day after the Collect of the Day up until the Feast of the Circumcision:

 Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

This concept was greatly expanded in our American 1928 prayer book: the collects for Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, the Ascension, Pentecost, and All Saints’ Day were all given octaves—for the whole week after they were read after any other appointed collect falling in this time. Thus, on the Sunday after All Saints’ (which would vary based on where Easter fell) the congregation would hear first the collect appointed for the Sunday, then the collect appointed for All Saints’ Day. This accomplished two things: first, it emphasized the importance of these feasts; second, as more collects were introduced—as in Holy Week—the repetition of the Octave Collect helped give a better defined shape to the period.

The current prayer book no longer requires these seasonal or octave collects, but they remain an effective practice for securing the intentions and purposes of the chief seasons and feasts in our minds.

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Final Calendar Section (Anatomy, Part 4)

Here’s the last section on the Anatomy of the Calendar running from Holy Week through the end…

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Holy Week

Holy Week constitutes the space of our deepest yearly meditation upon the passion of Christ and ushers in the Three Great Days that are the highlight of the Church Year. It’s also the space of a single week and, if a family follows typical American church-going habits, it’s possible for them to miss all but one day (Palm/Passion Sunday) or even the whole season altogether! It can be said without exaggeration that this is the season where faithful attendance at—or at least attention to—the public liturgies of the Church matters the most and renders the most. Both the prayer book and the Revised Common Lectionary provide material for every day of the week, with The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday receiving their own distinct liturgies in the block between pages 270 and 285 of the prayer book.

Palm Sunday was conflated with Passion Sunday in the mid-20th century by the Roman Catholic Church; this move worked towards the process of leveling the grades of Lent, but also recognized by means of the title what was actually going on in the service. That is, Passion Sunday didn’t have a passion reading—Palm Sunday did. Indeed, there is little in the liturgy of Passion Sunday to signal a further shift towards the cross and passion than other Lenten Sundays: neither the Gospel (John 8:46-59) nor the other propers seem more passional than normal. By contrast, the celebration of Palm Sunday had included the reading of the entirety of Matthew’s Passion (chapters 26-7) from at least the 7th century!

For most Episcopalians this change makes no difference—the 1928 prayer book was the first American or English book to identify the Fifth Sunday in Lent as “Passion Sunday” and it directed no liturgical changes at this time. Only those who followed old traditions or Roman Catholic customs of the timing for veiling images and crosses, dropping the Gloria Patri from the end of the psalms, and singing different hymns at the Office noticed and then had to decide whether to keep doing it following the Fifth Sunday in Lent or whether to shift these practices to Holy Week.

All of the days of Holy Week have been prayer book service days since the very first prayer book. Following the traditional pattern, the passions from the four gospels were read through the week: most of Matthew’s passion was read on Palm Sunday, Monday and Tuesday recounted Mark’s passion, Wednesday and Thursday read through Luke’s passion, and John’s passion was read on Friday; Saturday finished off the end of Matthew’s passion with the burial of Jesus. Our current Holy Week chooses to move in a chronological direction rather than a comprehensive one: the Passion Gospel of Passion Sunday comes from the gospel appointed for the year, the days of Holy Week read from John’s narrative beginning at chapter 12 which begins “Six days before the Passover…” (The Revised Common Lectionary only offers John’s sequence; the prayer book lectionary that it replaced offered both the John readings and alternatives from Mark on Monday and Tuesday, Matthew on Wednesday, and Luke on Thursday.) Oddly enough, the Daily Office lectionary of Year One also prescribes similar but not identical readings from John 12 for Monday through Wednesday.

Holy Week is fundamentally about the journey to the cross. We accompany Jesus, his apostles, and the disciples on the last walk into Jerusalem and through the days that follow. The services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil are best seen as a single liturgical unit with long pauses between its movements. For me, I can’t help but hear strains of Renaissance settings of the Book of Lamentations floating all through Holy Week—as Lamentations was the heart of the Daily Office services and some amazing settings were composed for Tenebrae, the Office of Shadows that occurred in the early mornings at Matins and Lauds. We can take our cue from them: Holy Week has a restrained grandeur in order to communicate in beauty the horror of human hatred that we unleashed upon the Lord of Life.

Recognizing that, it’s important to take a moment and consider our perspective: how we interpret these moments and where we find “us” within the events of the passion. Some of the greatest devotions of the Passion—like the Stations of the Cross—come from the imaginative-affectional tradition of devotion. In these sorts of devotions, we use images, readings, hymns, and prayers to give ourselves the sense of being there, to imagine exactly what we would have seen and heard, and then to feel the emotions that seeing these things would bring upon us. Certain traditions are better at this than others. For instance, I’d suggest that “Were you there?” from the African-American experience stands strongly in this tradition. And, while we may not normally think of them as “feely” type people, many of the passion devotions from late Sarum England, just before the Reformation, place great emphasis upon this imaginative-affectional spirituality. However—as I have spent time working with and ready through these devotions, I have identified what I believe to be a fundamental flaw in their imaginative construction.

These materials tend to identify heavily with the disciples and with the women who accompanied Mary. That is, we see images or texts will describe vignettes where we have graphic depictions of what is suffered by both Jesus and Mary in the events of the capture, the judgment, the torment, the crucifixion and the death. (The Fifteen Oes of St. Brigit are a classic example of this should you desire to see them for yourself.) The problem here is that the identification of “us” is consistently and relentlessly with the disciples. We gain a clear sense of “us” and “them.” “We” are those who follow Jesus; “they” are those who slay Jesus. The devotions themselves with this stark contrast lead us to experience the crucifixion of Jesus not as humanity’s inhumanity to the Son of Man, but as the experience of what the Jews did to Jesus. Given the emphases of these devotions, it’s no surprise that medieval and renaissance pogroms sometimes coincided with Palm Sunday and Good Friday. This kind of Christian anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism is absolutely deplorable and has no place in our faith. In addition to that, it’s also bad spirituality.

This kind of devotion which allows us to create and foster an “us” and “them” perspective on Holy Week misses one of the big patterns of Scripture and undermines a proper understanding of the season and its liturgies. We misconstrue the basic teachings of the Church and the Scripture on sin if we fail to account for the fact that “we” are “them.” This is not a new insight. Indeed, in the period of the Reformation itself and in a lot of Counter-Reformation Roman Catholic spirituality this point is made sometimes to the point of excess. A good example of the proper reversal is “Ah, holy Jesus.” The second verse in particular makes the turn that the Sarum materials lack: “Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus hath undone thee. ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee: I crucified thee” (Hymnal 1982, 158). We stand both as the disciples and as the crucifiers. The impact of Palm Sunday is muted if we fail to make the connection that the same crowd that shouted “Hosanna” was the same crowd that shouted “Crucify him!” and that, we need to be able to locate ourselves within both crowds. It is only with this perspective that we can hear the Good Friday Reproaches properly as words directed at us rather than condemnations of “the Jews.”

It is a shame that more people don’t come to the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. Again—I realize they’re not on Sunday and thus fall outside the usual pattern. However, patterns lie at the heart of this. We say that God is love. We say that Jesus is God incarnate and, therefore is the most perfect exemplar of love. But love is a very broad word. Considering all of the things that the word “love” is used for in American culture these days it includes quite a range of things! Surely we mean something more significant, something more meaningful. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are about a life patterned by love and therefore about the nature of love and the consequences of love. Christ came to preach love. Had the content of love been some ooey-gooey feel-good message of self-satisfaction, no one would have demanded his death. That’s not the love that Christ preached incarnate. He preached a love—and enacted a love—that made people deeply uncomfortable, that challenged the status quo, and that was not afraid to speak openly against sin, hypocrisy, and pride—particularly amongst those who saw themselves as most religious. Holy Week warns us of the consequences of preaching true love.

Maundy Thursday lays bare the strength and power of humble service. The maundy or commandment from which the day gets its name is the Gospel exhortation to love one another as Christ has loved us. All three of the great liturgical actions of the evening offer a powerful—and disturbing—example of what this love and service looks like. The Last Supper is an intimate gathering of friends, yet its elemental symbols and pregnant words reveal a host of deep meanings. The washing of the feet offers a vision of a leader who is strong enough in humility to perform the role of a menial servant in the midst of his friends. (And, in this present age can be far more intimate and therefore intimidating when a relative stranger offers to touch and wash our feet!) Lastly, the stripping of the altar portrays in symbolic terms the stripping away, the falling away of all supports and defenses and shields.  Don’t kid yourself—Jesus could have run. But he didn’t. Therefore it is only fitting that we give John the last word: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13)

Good Friday is our great festival of paradox: we celebrate the day that mortals slay the immortal, the day the Lord of Life gives himself up to death. And we call it “good,” firm in the conviction that in his dying the power of death will be destroyed. Most of our acts this day involve paradox in one form or another. We lift high and venerate a very simple yet effective instrument of torture.  We address a long series of collects to the one who did not respond to his own Son’s cry from the cross. We receive from the reserve sacrament in the absence of a consecration a meal which proclaims his presence and power.

If not many make it to Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, fewer still appear for Holy Saturday and yet we do have a service for it in the book. It’s a simple Service of the Word about which there’s not much to say. It’s the last service of Holy Week for as the sun sets we prepare to turn the corner and head into Easter.

The Easter Season

Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Liturgical Renewal Movement is the restoration of the Easter Vigil. The dual emphases on Baptism and Easter come together in full flower in the splendor of a well-celebrated Easter Vigil. I can say without exaggeration that hearing the singing of the Exultet before a newly-lit Paschal candle in the midst of a darkened nave at the end of a long Lent is truly one of the top spiritual moments of my year.  The Vigil sets the tone for the rest of the Great Fifty Days as the Church celebrates the coming of Easter and the on-going power of the resurrection. Another related thrill comes the next morning as Morning Prayer kicks off with the Alleluia-laden “Christ our Passover (Pascha Nostrum).” Likely the oldest season of the Church year, it follows gospel chronology effortlessly, celebrating the bodily Ascension of Christ on the Thursday forty days after the resurrection and ending with Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the birth of Church on the fiftieth day after the resurrection.

The first week after Easter, from the Sunday of the Resurrection to the Second Sunday of Easter is another special octave; every day is a prayer book Holy Day with special readings assigned for Eucharist and the Office, and no other feasts are allowed to fall within this week. If March 25th (the Annunciation) or a feast of the apostles falls within its span, they are transferred out to the days after the Second Sunday.

Easter is the season when we meditate upon the resurrection and acquaint ourselves with the affection of joy. As I said of the affections earlier, this is not an emotion or an expression—it is a pattern of being. It is—thankfully—not about feigning a feeling or attempting to put on a happy face. It is more subtle, deeper, richer, than that. This is simply the joy of living, the joy of resting in the presence of God, and in being in the presence of those you love. It takes its cue from the resurrection, the triumph of life, the ultimate sign that love is stronger than death.

The Church does not follow its usual pattern of fasting during Easter because of the celebratory nature of the season. Likewise, in some churches it is the custom to not kneel during Easter for the same reason. This prohibition of kneeling is sometimes connected to a canon from the Council of Nicaea—the church council back in 325 AD that agreed on the wording of what would become the Nicene Creed. A canon from that council does prohibit kneeling both on Sundays and throughout the Easter season. However, it comes from a liturgical environment where kneeling and multiple prostrations was the regular rule. It was a liturgical culture entirely unlike ours. Thus, it seems odd to impose one part of its practice during Easter (standing) and ignore the more regular and consistent part throughout the rest of the year (kneeling and prostrations). Furthermore, the council was attempting to establish liturgical uniformity upon the Church through this canon. It is, therefore, ironic that John Cassian and his friend Germanus coming from Gaul by way of Palestine questioned the Egyptian monks about it during their tour there around the year 385; apparently they were used to both kneeling and fasting during Easter from their time in the Palestinian monasteries. Whatever uniformity the council was attempting to achieve, it did not achieve.

The Season after Pentecost

The Season after Pentecost is referred to in some Calendars as Ordinary Time. This is not supposed to suggest that it is ordinary in the sense of being normal and not important, but rather that the Sundays are counted in an ordinal fashion. Unfortunately, this fine distinction is usually easily and quickly lost. This is the long green season that occupies somewhere between twenty-three and twenty-eight weeks out of the year depending on when Easter falls. As far as I’m concerned, it is most closely connected with the affection of faithful endurance!

The beginning of this season can be a little tricky particular for those who are diligent in their use of the Daily Office. Sundays in this period are counted, as the table on page 32 of the prayer book shows us, as Sundays after Pentecost. However, the collect and the readings are established be reference to a numbered Proper which is anchored around a calendar date. Thus, an ordinary average Sunday like Proper 15 will be whatever Sunday falls closest to the date of August 17th (and we can find this out by looking through the Season after Pentecost either in the collects, the Eucharistic lectionary or the Daily Office lectionary.) The logic here is that the fixing of Propers to calendar days minimizes the effects of a constantly moving Easter season. Thus, we can always count on the same readings showing up in the summer and fall. The difficulty comes at the very start. The season after Pentecost begins on the Monday after Pentecost. The problem is that the collect for the week is typically that of the preceding Sunday—but not in this case. Instead, we locate the Proper that falls closest to the date of Pentecost, use its collect, and begin lectionary readings from this point. The first Sunday of the season itself is the Feast of the Holy Trinity, one of our Principal Feasts. The week following the feast continues with the collect of the Sunday that would have been and continues the lectionary readings in course. Thus, due to the placement of Pentecost and the Feast of the Holy Trinity, the two earliest possible Propers, Proper 1 and Proper 2, will never actually be celebrated on a Sunday, although their collects and weekday readings may be used when Easter falls at its earliest dates.

As noted above, the Sundays of the Season after Pentecost hold the lowest order of precedence and it is permissible to celebrate a Holy Day in place of the Sunday if it should happen to fall on a Sunday. Note, however, that it’s not proper to move a feast that falls in the week onto a Sunday unless it is the feast of the parish’s title (i.e., the saint or mystery that it is named for) or its patron (i.e., any saints whose relics might be enshrined in the church). The only other feast that may be transferred to a Sunday is the Feast of All Saints because of its status as a Principal Feast. Anything else requires the bishop’s permission.

The Last Sunday after Pentecost is officially titled in the prayer book as just that: “The Last Sunday after Pentecost” and is “Proper 29, the Sunday closest to November 23.” Just as the Revised Common Lectionary placed Transfiguration Sunday at the end of its Season of Epiphany, the Lectionary and the Roman Catholic Calendar appoint the final Sunday after Pentecost as the Feast of Christ the King. Again—as with the end of Epiphany—the prayer book has not adopted the title but has taken the concept: the collect and the readings celebrate the reign of Christ.

The Days of Optional Observance

Having spoken about the Principal Feasts, Sundays, Holy Days and the Days of Special Devotion, that leaves only one more category of days to be reckoned with from the prayer book’s section devoted to the Calendar: the Days of Optional Observance. These are the “ferial days” or “ferias” which means any day that isn’t a Sunday or a feast. If you add together the 7 Principal Feasts, the 49 Sundays (as three are Principal Feasts), and the 32 Holy Days, that gives a total of 88 prayer book feast days, leaving 277 ferial days in a regular year.

The monthly listing of days between the Calendar rubrics and the list of titles of feasts give us a potential set of people to be celebrated as Lesser Feasts on these days. When Lesser Feasts were first introduced in 1963, there were 115 recommended Lesser Feasts on the list; the latest set of recommendations brought before the church for approval in 2009 (which is still pending as I write in 2013) contained 288 occasions. One of the issues over the latest list is the sheer volume of names brought forward; as you can see, even accounting for some of these falling on Sundays in any given year, it doesn’t leave a lot of open days. The thing to remember, though is this: they’re all optional! You can choose to celebrate as many or as few as you would like.

Because of the cyclical nature of the Daily Office, Days of Optional Observance don’t impact it much—the only effect is whether you choose to change the Collect of the Day. If a Eucharist is being celebrated on a ferial day, the prayer book provides a range of six possible options. They are:

  1. To celebrate a Major Feast that has fallen elsewhere in the week as provided in the prayer book,
  2. To celebrate a Lesser Feast as a Day of Optional Observance appointed in the Church’s Calendar,
  3. To celebrate a Lesser Feast as a Day of Optional Observance not appointed in the Church’s Calendar by using the Commons of Saints,
  4. To celebrate the season by using the propers of the preceding Sunday,
  5. To celebrate the season by using the propers appointed for a day in the given week of the season, and
  6. To celebrate an occasion provided for in the propers for “Various Occasions.”

Because the celebration is optional, all of them have equal standing.

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More Calendar (Anatomy, Part 3)

Christmas

The Christmas season lasts a spare twelve days—but at least half of them are prayer book Feasts if the two possible Sundays are included! The season begins on Christmas Day, December 25th, and runs up to the eve of Epiphany. It is a season of rejoicing that focuses on the Incarnation and on the mystery of Immanuel: God with us. Yet, the rejoicing of the season is tempered a bit by the character of the Holy Days that, very early on, became associated with Christmas. This season is one of the most complicated in terms of rubrical gymnastics because there are four fixed Holy Days in a row, any one of which could be a Sunday in any given year: Christmas Day, Saint Stephen, Saint John, and the Holy Innocents. A note in the collects section establishes that if a Sunday happens to fall on any of the latter three days, that day and any successive day are pushed back by one. (For instance, if Sunday falls on the day after Christmas, the 26th is celebrated as the First Sunday after Christmas, the 27th honors Saint Stephen, the 28th honors Saint John, and the 29th honors the Holy Innocents.)

These Holy Days have been attached to Christmas for a very long time; they tend to put some perspective on the joy of Christmas. St. Stephen is referred to as the “Protomartyr”—the first of the martyrs. He is the first of Christ’s followers who suffers death because of the faith, and the story is consciously told in such a way to mirror the death of Christ himself. This death is recorded in Acts 7; parallel to Jesus, Stephen commends his soul to God and forgives his persecutors—the young Paul among them.  Historically, the liturgies of the Church have focused on two aspects of the feast of Stephen. First, in his death like Jesus, his prayer is effective: Paul is himself converted and this conversion is greatly attributed to Stephen’s prayer. Second, both prayers and hymns catalogue a number of antitheses or dramatic and ironic reversals between the Nativity and the death of Stephen: Christ was born to the world, but Stephen died to the world; Christ conferred life, Stephen endured death; Christ descended to humanity, Stephen ascended; Christ came to earth, Stephen went to heaven, etc. The underlying reminder here is that while Christ came to share the life of God with the world, this way is none other than the way of the cross.

Next, we celebrate St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. The only apostle not to suffer a martyr’s death, the connection between John and Christmas comes preeminently through the famous opening of his Gospel—which has been read at the third Eucharist of Christmas ever since we have records of such readings. No other gospel account captures quite so effectively the sense of Incarnation as John’s Prologue (John 1:1-18) and the high point of that passage is verse 14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, as of the only Son from the Father” (ibid.).

The third Holy Day is the feast of the Holy Innocents which, like Stephen, gives Christmas a darker turn. While it commemorates an event from Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 2:16-18), its inclusion in this cluster of feasts around the Nativity itself underscores that we know how the story will go: innocence is no guarantee of safety and the innocent Lord of Life—himself an infant at this point—will in his own turn be condemned to die.

The next feast of Christmas is more benign even if it celebrates an occasion that may seem an odd liturgical moment: the feast of the Holy Name. This is a Feast of the person of our Lord and, as such, should be celebrated even if a Sunday falls on this day. It’s also our first “octave” day of the year. Under the pre-Reformation systems, certain important feasts would be celebrated for a whole week afterward—liturgically if not otherwise—and Christmas was certainly one of them. Thus, January 1st falls the week after December 25th—seven days after, but eight if you begin counting with Christmas itself. What’s interesting about this day is that, in addition to being the octave of Christmas, it also celebrates a biblical event: the Circumcision of Jesus which, as with any good Jewish lad, occurred eight days after his birth as recorded in Luke 2:21. The ceremony of circumcision also included the naming rite; our current prayer book prefers the more delicate “Holy Name” rather than former books’ “Circumcision of our Lord.”  More than just recording a biblical event, this feast reminds us of an important corollary to the fact of the Incarnation: it explicitly reminds us of the scandal of particularity—that Jesus was born as a specific person in a specific culture (which is not our culture). Circumcision brought him into God’s covenant with the children of Abraham, locating him within a people, affirming and confirming his Jewish identity.

The doctrine of the Incarnation sometimes gets short shrift because the season dedicated to it is so brief and falls at a time that is so often given over to travel, family, and holidays rather than church. Nevertheless, it is one of the most important doctrines of the faith and it can—and has—been argued that Anglicanism in particular has a special affinity with it. Indeed, the statement of the Incarnation was one of the greatest stumbling-blocks of Christianity in its first few centuries. People could get behind a God who loved them. People could get behind a God who worked wonders, even the resurrection. But the idea that a God, a divine spirit-being, would stoop to sully himself with matter—fallible, corruptible, imperfect, decaying matter—was crazy talk to the dominant Neoplatonic perspective that said that spirit was better than and fundamentally opposed to both body and matter. And yet, this is what the Church insisted upon even in the face of a variety of potential explanations of how spirit and matter stayed appropriately separate in the person of Jesus. Instead, we chose, and defended, and fought for Incarnation: the belief that God cares about us enough to become one of us. This is the miracle of Christmas: God took on humanity so that we might take on divinity. This, in and of itself, totally apart from crucifixion, totally apart from resurrection, is a fundamental act of God reconciling humanity and all creation to himself. Of course, crucifixion and resurrection are also part of the equation, but take on greater and deeper meaning for the fact of the Incarnation. They mean more when we acknowledge that it was a truly human Jesus who suffered and died and was raised than if it was a spiritual projection who only seemed to suffer.

Epiphany

One of the principles observed and standardized in the mid to late 20th century Calendar reforms is the notion that seasons tend to begin and end with feasts. As a result, it is often said that the feast of Epiphany concludes the Christmas season. In one sense this is true—in another it is not. On one hand, if you count out the famous “Twelve Days of Christmas” by modern reckoning, they will end on January 6th, the Epiphany. On the other, if you count them out following the standard classical method (counting the day you start with), the twelve day period ends on the 5th.  According to the prayer book’s list of feasts (BCP, p. 31), Epiphany is the first entry under the “Epiphany Season” while the Second Sunday after Christmas day closes out Christmas proper.

Whether there is such a thing as the “Epiphany Season” is a point of some debate. In my graduate student days, a famous professor of preaching once paused a lecture to inquire specifically upon this point! The confusion was likely compounded by the fact that she was attending an Episcopal parish at the time (dedicated to the Epiphany no less!): according to the prayer book, there is an “Epiphany season”; according to the Roman Catholic reform of the Calendar, Christmas runs through the Sunday after the Epiphany and everything after that is Ordinary Time designated as “Sundays after Epiphany.” The Revised Common Lectionary attempts to split the difference; it retains the title “Season of Epiphany” yet breaks into an Ordinary Time sequence after the Second Sunday after Epiphany, beginning with the Third Sunday and thus functionally siding with the Roman Catholic removal of the season. With the Episcopal adoption of the Revised Common Lectionary, we find ourselves in the odd situation of keeping the season yet losing its character.

The original point of the season is that it was about epiphanies. “Epiphany” comes from the Greek word meaning “manifestations” or “showings-forth.” Actually, many of the medieval calendars retained the Greek name of the feast, Theophany, which means “manifestation of God.” The point here is that the Epiphany season focused on the ways that the divinity of Christ was revealed to the world. The season as whole was about how God was made manifest within Jesus and how he was shown to be both fully human and fully divine. As a result, the Gospel readings of the period cycled through the first miracles in each of the Gospels and some of the earliest teachings of Jesus. These were all understood as differing ways that the Christ made himself known to the world.

So—why does this matter? What’s the point?

As far as I’m concerned, the point has to do with the degree to which we accept an over-simplification of our Calendar. The Roman Catholic reforms and the Revised Common Lectionary following them attempt to make the Church Year more tidy; they place it into neat classifications. According to these schemes, there are two cycle: one celebrates Incarnation, the other celebrates Redemption. The first includes the preparatory season of Advent, then the festal season of Christmas; the second includes the preparatory season of Lent, then the festal season of Easter—everything outside of these is relegated to “Ordinary.” I resist this, though, because it feels just a little bit too tidy! If God’s work of reconciliation is packaged into these two boxes, we lose a variety of shades of meaning through which these two interact with and interpenetrate one another. Retaining an independent Epiphany season recognizes that the earthly ministry of Jesus contained redemptive moments possible through his incarnate nature, that redemption includes more than simply crucifixion and resurrection—as central and important as these rightly are!

There’s one more oddity here that ought to be mentioned…  In accordance with the concept that feasts should begin and end liturgical seasons, the Revised Common Lectionary created a feast to conclude the Season of Epiphany, Transfiguration Sunday. This actually makes quite a bit of sense if the theme of the Epiphany season is manifestation as this is one of the more dramatic manifestations of Jesus’ two natures in the gospels.  In hindsight it does seem ironic, though, to create a new feast to underscore the meaning of the season after having functionally gutted it by turning it into Ordinary Time! Furthermore, the prayer book already contains a feast of the Transfiguration on August 6th. The prayer book’s original solution was to offer the feast without the name—the Gospel reading was of the Transfiguration and the collect mentioned it, but the day itself was simply referred to as “The Last Sunday after the Epiphany.” Now, with the official adoption of the Revised Common Lectionary, its status and title is unclear.

Lent

The season of Lent engages the affection of penitence. During Lent we consider ourselves from two vantage points. The first concerns the human tendency to sin—individually and corporately. Sin is a reality of human existence. The other unavoidable reality of human existence providing the second vantage point is death. Lent opens with Ash Wednesday’s stark acknowledgement of the reality of death. Lent isn’t about being morbid, or punitive, or tearing ourselves down, or whipping ourselves into a lather of self-condemnation. It is, rather, about that word I’ve used twice now: reality. It’s about taking honest stock of who and what we are in the face of eternity and in the face of God. We are limited; we are fallible. In a short life of uncertainty we make choices that lead us deeper into separation and chaos—cutting ourselves off from those who love us and whom we would love. Lent is a deliberate exercise in owning up.

Of all the seasons that were altered in the 20th century reforms, Lent was changed the most. The best way to look at the historic Calendar is that it saw Lent as a graded movement into practices of penitence. That is, it started off easy, then, at designated points, ramped things up as you progressed further in the season. The season began with Septuagesima on the Sunday ten weeks out from Easter creating a three week Pre-Lenten period. Then Ash Wednesday hit with the liturgy of the ashes. The Lenten liturgical round started on the First Sunday of Lent. Then Passiontide moved the bar higher two weeks before Easter. Finally, Palm Sunday kicked off Holy Week. So, there were a series of four grades that moved us deeper into Lent and its exercises. However, this process did not fit within the 20th century emphasis on idealized 4th century baptismal practices. In the move to realign the Lenten experience with the 4th century catechumenal process, the principle of grading was rejected and the Lenten experience was reduced to a period of forty days beginning with Ash Wednesday. The Pre-Lenten season was trimmed away; Passion Sunday was merged with Palm Sunday to make Holy Week even more distinct. The Revised Common Lectionary does not recognize Holy Week as a distinct season—it is the final week of Lent. The prayer book, however, does give Holy Week its own heading equal with Lent so we shall consider it separately though recognizing its intrinsic Lenten character.

The fullness of the intention of the 20th century renovation of Lent is not entirely clear without the catechumenal liturgies contained in the Book of Occasional Services. Within the Pastoral Services a set of liturgies is provided for those to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. On the First Sunday in Lent, the candidates for Baptism are enrolled; on the Third Sunday, they are given the Creed; on the Fifth Sunday, they are given the Lord’s Prayer. I have only ever experienced the fullness of a “catechetical Lent” once—and that was in the context of a Roman Catholic college chaplaincy (I sang in their choir). It was a moving experience to share the Lenten journey with those preparing for Baptism, and it did give that Lent a deeper character. On the other hand, I have never seen this process take place within an Episcopal Church! While the prayer book envisions and provides resources for a return to adult baptism and its communal celebration during Lent and Easter, our evangelism seems to have fallen behind our liturgies… The potential here is all too often left on the table. We have trimmed away some of the traditional richness of the season to make room for another facet of the season that, all too often, is lacking.

Lent is a time to get back in touch with holy habits. The prayer book reminds us that all of the weekdays of Lent are “observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial” (BCP, p. 17); Ash Wednesday’s exhortation to the observation of a holy Lent spurs us to both penitence and faith “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word” (BCP, p. 265). In a work such as this, I would certainly be remiss if I did not offer the reminder that Lent is a perfect time to recommit ourselves to the regular practices of the faith—including the praying of the Office and attendance at Eucharist. These are not great ascetic works—they’re actually fairly easy—but are more useful in the long run than attempts at greater feats of penitence.

On a practical liturgical note, the Lenten liturgies receive a more austere tone. The Gloria in exclesis is not sung; “alleluia” is not said. If a “Hallelujah” does appear in a psalm, the word can simply be omitted. Penitential options are provided for the opening of the Eucharist and as the invitatory antiphons at Morning Prayer. Sundays are always feast days (which is why we speak of Sundays “in” Lent rather than Sundays “of” Lent), but it’s appropriate that the rejoicing be a bit more subdued. (And, of course, on Sundays you may—within moderation—indulge in those things that you have given up for Lent if it is your choice.)  The veiling of images, statutes, icons and crosses is common, but different authorities give different periods as to when this should be done. Some suggest that it is done on the First Sunday in Lent; others suggest Passion Sunday. Of course, with the transference of Passion Sunday to Palm Sunday a decision must be made whether Passiontide is retained as a two week period or, following the prayer book, is reduced to Holy Week itself.

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