Category Archives: Holistic/Regular Life

Daily Regula

An important part of any decent, sustainable Rule of Life is its regular review. You gotta keep checking in to make sure everything is still working. In my case, given my home situation and the age of my kids, there are two points of the year where I review my schedule, my regula, and take another shot at getting it right. They are—predictably—when the girls get out of school and when they go back to school. Well—they’re back! This week was the first half-week of school consisting only of half-days is it was a weird liminal period that was neither fully on or off. The other piece of this is that Mother M is now a rector. (Yay!!) Since she’s got her fulltime work schedule and the girls have a new schedule and their activities have new schedules, I have to sit down and figure out how to make everything work again… (And this will take a little bit to come up with something fully functional…)

A Rule of Life or regula to me is fundamentally about living out (or attempting to) what we ask help doing in Ps 90:12: “So teach us to number (or, maybe, “reckon” and hence “organize”?) our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” It’s making sure that the things that I say matter are actually present in the things that I do and the way I arrange my daily schedule. Of course, doing all of the crazy things I do, there’s *never* enough hours in the day to do all of the things I want to do balanced against the things I must do including the day-job, the extra work, the books, driving to and from ballet, and giving my wonderful wife the attention she deserves.

Typically in churchy circles regula is about fitting in “spiritual” stuff. And—yeah—it is. Prayer, meditation, and lectio certainly are included here. But the physical stuff has got to be included here too. Not being disembodied souls, maintenance of the body is simultaneously care of the soul. Not only that, some of the things I do, like tai chi and running, are definitely part of my spiritual life. My focus, attention, and clarity suffer when I’m not doing them.

One interesting aspect of all of this—how I set up my time, how I give daily progressive time to those activities that maintain and improve physical and spiritual health, and the relation between the physical and the spiritual—has been given new energy from an unusual direction… For my birthday, M gave me a book I’ve been lusting after for a while, Chinese Martial Arts Training Manuals: A Historical Survey.  It’s got a fascinating discussion of the importance and ubiquity of weigong training which is quite frequently forgotten in many modern western interpretations of the classical Chinese martial arts. To clarify, weigong is the “external” physical muscular strength/aerobic capacity training stuff while neigong is the “internal” training. The latter gets a lot of press especially in the so-called Internal Styles (particularly in some of the more New Age-y Western interpretations of tai chi) because this is where qi gong and meditative practices and other exercises to develop the qi, the body’s internal power, fit into the schema. The authors emphasize, though, that this is a fundamentally skewed perspective:

Neigong and weigong are the two halves that when put together equal achievement in the Chinese martial arts. All skilled Chinese martial artists have both weigong and neigong abilities, and well-designed Chinese martial arts systems make use of both categories of training exercises. Oftentimes, especially in the West, there is an overemphasis on the more esoteric neigong side of training, but without a weigong basis, neigong is largely useless. (pp. 18-20)

Physical conditioning, basic technique practice, set routines, and sparring are the four corner-posts of traditional Chinese martial arts practice. (p. 26)

(And I’ll just note here that the principal author of this section is a xingyi practitioner and thus hardly in the anti-internal camp!) Too, I’m reminded here of the great discussion in Paul Gallagher’s Drawing Silk where he expresses his bewilderment at those who want to study aspects of a pretty effective and hardcore martial art (tai chi) without doing or having the physical cultivation in terms of strength, power, and flexibility that are proper prerequisites. (If you just want to do qi gong, just do qi gong—don’t do qi gong and call it tai chi!)

((It’s also occurred to me recently how good moving qi gong exercises (like the Eight Pieces of Brocade or the Five Animal Frolics) are for either cultivating and retaining basic mobility and flexibility. Whether you believe in qi or not,  the gentle movement and joint work is becoming increasingly more important to me as my body continues its slide into middle age!))

This trap—of isolating one aspect of training, especially the one that seems the most interesting and the most cool—isn’t just a phenomenon in the Chinese martial arts… I suspect we do it quite a bit in our spiritual lives too. And this, again, is why the concept of regula—patterned, disciplined habits—is so important. We have to take the periodic opportunity to stop, step back, and assess what we’re up to to make sure we’re not skewing our practice. Or, better yet, we make sure that we are adjusting our practice as needed (with the help of a spiritual director as needed?) to realize the long-term goal of a perspective that is healthy, mature, and well-grounded.

Interruptions & Observations

I have a post up at a new venue. I will be doing some occasional writing at Godspace, a site that connects the dots on practical spirituality, sustainability, and justice.  This piece is on interruptions and the positive side of the challenges of maintaining spiritual disciplines in a busy household.

I have a tendency to get very diffuse and given all of the commitments of a busy house, multiple jobs, and church duties, I’m looking to tailor my focus. Specifically, I’m identifying a center around liturgical spirituality and particularly those practices that are deeply bound up with the Scriptures and the psalms. This is not new, of course, but I will be working on being more intentional about it. Hence, expect to see a clear focus on things like:

  • The Daily Office in their pre- and post-Reformation forms
  • The Books of Hours and their spiritual traditions
  • The Psalms themselves
  • The practical doing and experience of Psalm-grounded spirituality

Another Name for Essentialism

When I saw this post, “Secular holiness, or how to be happy in the zombie apocalypse,” over on Covenant, I knew I had to pick up and read the book to which it was referring. The book is called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. The review on Covenant and conversations that M and I have been having for months made it a no-brainer.

M gave me the book yesterday for my birthday; according to my Kindle I’m 53% through it at the moment, and it is—indeed—what I expected and hoped for so far.

M and I have diagnosed the situation that we live in as one of constant and tragic over-commitment. Indeed, looking at our lives and the lives of our friends and family, we think that this is the condition of most folks in our general situation. Stated succinctly, middle-aged, middle-class parents have more going on than we can handle; busy-ness, anxiety, and turmoil are defining features of our mental and spiritual landscapes.

McKeown’s book offers a philosophy—Essentialism—to address this situation. It doesn’t offer a coping mechanism to help you handle it all better but advocates a complete shift of habits and intentions to root out the problem altogether: less but better.  The reasons why I feel so attracted to what he is saying in this slim volume is because, in the review above and in the brief sample I read, I recognized that McKeown is not saying anything new. Indeed, he’s been saying something that we in the church have had in our bag of tricks for a very long time.

“Essentialism” is business-speak for “simplicity.”

Christian simplicity and teachings about it—and even some of its secular variants like the Minimalism movement—often focus on “stuff:” specifically, having less of it. But that’s not what it’s really about. Simplicity isn’t about stuff, it’s about focus. You put your energy and your resources on the correct focus and pare away the distractions and irrelevancies that take up so much of our time and space. Yes, at the end of the day there’s less stuff and you’re better off for it—but you can’t get stuck in the stuff or even the lack of it lest you miss that the point is focus!

I haven’t said a whole lot about my Lenten project, in part because I’m still mulling it over—and this book and the lines of thought associated with it is helping me with concepts and vocabulary to better understand it. For instance, I realized this morning that when I added categories to to my time-tracker I did so on an ad hoc, as-needed basis. That is the perfect illustration of letting external people and projects define and claim my time! I’m thinking the far better way is for me to define my time and categories—and if something doesn’t fall within those pre-defined sections, it’s something to decline…

Church often presents itself as anther institution vying for my time and attention amidst the host of other demands. Too, often we as church people present and push it in this way and with this language. Just think—part of our accepted wisdom (likely through the channels of The Purpose-Driven Church and books of its ilk) is that once a person or family starts attending, you need to get them on a committee or plug them into a small group to keep them engaged. Really? I recognize the intention and it does make sense. I think the intention is good, but too often the language or application is off:  where I’m standing, this is precisely another demand on time, my most limited resource. If the option is to accept the time-demand or go away, many will choose (or are choosing, or have chosen) the easier of the two options and just go away…

McKeown makes a point fairly early in the book, “What if society encouraged us to reject what has been accurately described as doing things we detest, to buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like?” The society never will; these things are the grease that make it all go, the bedrock of a consumer-driven materialism.

But the church must.

I think this is part of where I’m heading with all of this. For people in my situation, the church can’t simply be one more demand on my time. Instead, it must offer a profoundly different vision of what the world is and what our place within it can look like. This is a central spiritual undertaking for our time: How do we conceive and communicate Christian simplicity as a workable means of focusing on what truly matters while yet addressing the fundamental practicalities of embodied existence?

Lenten Intentionality

I’ve been pondering Ps 90 and especially v. 12 quite a lot recently: “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a grand pronouncement. The single greatest challenge to lay spirituality in this modern age is busy-ness. Any attempt to engage a decent proportion of the people who are interested in having meaningful spiritual lives has got to tackle this issue head-on.

What specifically do I mean?

M and I have both had a major milestone birthday in the past six months, and that experience is forcing us to take stock of the kind of life we lead and the way we lead it ad to determine if this is the way we want to keep living and, if not, what to do about that.

As I look at the activities that I engage in, I’m starting to sort them into a couple of big buckets. First, there are things that I want to do daily that offer no or little immediate return, but are important for their long-term cumulative impact. So, I lump into this bucket things like:

  • Morning Prayer
  • Medidation
  • Tai chi
  • Stretching/rolling/flexibility
  • Running/Strength training
  • Scripture Study
  • Reading the Fathers
  • Evening Prayer

Add those things up and that’s somewhere around three hours every day. And yet, these are things that I believe are really important—yet each day I’m lucky if I can tick more than two or three of them off my list.

And then there are the things that bring in income:

  • The Day Job
  • Freelance Contracting work
  • Finishing up manuscripts

Then are the things that I have to do to keep things moving with any sort of sanity:

  • Driving girls to school
  • Picking girls up
  • Driving girls to Strings/Ballet
  • Cleaning the Kitchen
  • Packing Lunches
  • Doing Laundry

Let’s not forget:

  • Spend time with kids
  • Spend time with wife
  • Sleep!

Then there are the things that I want to do:

  • Anglican Breviary project
  • St. Bede’s Breviary Tweaks
  • Blog more!
  • Consider and start on one of the several book projects that are waiting in the wings
  • Start a podcast on the Psalms!

As I’ve said a few times before, I’m overcommitted and overwhelmed—but I don’t think I’m alone in that! I think that most of the people at my stage in life are at this point; it seems to be a very common situation as I survey my friends and the parents of my kids’ friends.

This Lent, I want to focus on simplicity and intentionality. Simplicity is often about stuff and getting rid of stuff. But the main stuff I need to deal with is the stuff that sucks up my time—which can be just as (maybe even more?) insidious than what sucks up my space.

My day-job does a lot with metrics: meauring things, tracking to goals, and crunching the numbers to turn them into pretty pictures that senior management is able to comprehend. I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to do a better job of this in how I manage my life… So, a key Lenten discipline for me this year will be a study of where my time really goes. I want to be intentional about what I do, and when I do it, so that I truly can align how I live my life with what I say my priorities are. And have graphs and pictures too!

I’m planning to leverage some Android apps to help me with all of this:

  • I’ve intermittently used MyFitnessPal to be intentional about how I eat; I’m going to try and use that more especially because this app now integrates with the next two items…
  • My awesome sister-in-law got me a Fitbit that I’ve been using a while already. It tracks both sleep and exercise.
  • I usually wear my Garmin when I run but am really bad about uploading the data and using it; hopefully the integration with the above two will help me do this more. I’ve put a training plan in this app to give me some clear direction on this count.
  • Toggl has a great time-tracking app and I’m going to use this to really sort out where my time goes.
  • I’m loving the Logos program for reading Scripture and the Fathers. I tend to use it most on my Kindle and use reading plans–hoping to blog quite a bit more on this tool…
  • And last but not least, the St. Bede’s Breviary serves for the Offices—again, chiefly on the Kindle.

Bottom line: as lives get busier, a sensible Rule of Life is more important than ever to help us stay focused on our true priorities. I have an implicit one—but that’s just not good enough. I don’t feel that I can construct an honest one without a solid baseline that establishes and quantifies the true sources of craziness and time-squandering in my life. Only when I have a good sense of the how can I tackle what needs to be done to live up to my calling. Thus, intentionality with the goal of giving up chaos and embracing a holistic simplicity! I’ll let you know how it goes…

Thinking about Lent and Books

Lent is officially here. At my house, among other things, we’re taking stock of the way that we do things and what stuff is lying around. It’s time to think again about if, when, and how our stuff is holding us back.

For me this is always challenging work. The bulk of my possessions is easily in one major area: books. I’ve been through lots of schools and accumulated books through my course of study. I’ve also had the opportunity to plunder two good clergy libraries (people who were retiring and gave me an opportunity to go through their shelves and grab what I liked…). I have more bookshelves than can easily be numbered let alone books. And yet—that’s an awful lot of stuff…

In our last cross-country move, I actually had to go back and do the trip again because we had too many things the first time around. And the bulk of it was books…

They say that in letting go of things, you have to remember that relationships are more important than stuff. Sometimes we hold on to clutter and crap because we received various things from various people; we hold onto the material as a way of holding onto the relationship or holding on to the memories. The great mental hurdle is the realization that the relationship doesn’t have to go just because the item does.

But a book is a relationship.

It’s an opportunity to connect with someone else and to see inside their mind.

To let go of the book is to let go of that opportunity.

At least, that’s the way I’ve always rationalized it to myself…

When M and I first discussed getting Kindles (several years ago now), one of the decisions to get them was because of the promise of the reduction of physical books. If you can just have it electronically, then you don’t need to have it physically. Yeah, well, the promise inherent there hasn’t quite materialized yet.

I am getting closer, though. Over the last few days I’ve started thinking more seriously about thinning out the book collection. I won’t say I’m quite ready yet, but forward progress is occurring.

Of course, one of the things making this easier is the growing availability of electronic materials. Amazon has been doing a great job of convincing/coercing publishers into publishing electronically. There are a number of hopeful movements out there. You’ll note that Forward Movement is doing a great job of putting out things electronically (like Fr. John-Julian’s Stars in a Dark World). The St. Augustine’s Prayer Book will be available there soon (I just got word today that it’s finally being sent off to the printer on Wednesday!)

I was going to link to an example of a scholarly book where the hardback was selling for over a hundred dollars and the Kindle version was available for under ten—which is definitely movement in the right direction!—but upon checking I now see that the Kindle version is back above a hundred bucks. Ok—things are still shaking out there.

Additionally, a little competition is never a bad thing… I’ve been a huge fan of Paulist Press’s Classics of Western Spirituality series ever since encountering the mystics through it in college. It’s bugged me for a while that none of these books aren’t available for the Kindle. However, I recently got word that Logos is preparing to put out the series for their reference system. Right now they’re offering it in very large chunks: the whole set; or the set in three sections: Pre-Reformation Christianity, Post-Reformation Christianity, and Judaism, Islam, and Native American Religions. They’re in a pre-order state right now; I can only assume that individual volumes will also be available for sale once the set is completed.

Now—once I get a hold of an electronic copy of Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler or Jeremy Taylor, does that mean I’ll be willing to part with my paper copy?

Hmm. I’ll have to keep pondering that…

Rubric Note on the Prayer Book System

As has been mentioned here before, we understand the Book of Common Prayer most clearly when we grasp that it is more than just a book of prayers—rather it contains an implicit rule of life. One of the difficulties in former days as well as our own is the full enacting of this rule. Because it is implicit rather than explicit, it requires a careful reading of the book to discern the collective wisdom of the church that has handed it down to us.

The really short form is this: The Daily Offices are our daily set prayers; Eucharists are for Sundays and other Holy Days; private prayers—whether extemporaneous or fixed—occur throughout the day and night.

Throughout most of our history, the Eucharist point has been problematic. For generations, puritan-prompted practices have prevailed in many places and the Eucharist has been infrequent at best. These days, naturally the tide has turned, certainly in the American Church, and now we seem in danger of losing the Office…

My point, though, is this. The current American BCP lays out the pattern in our first full paragraph of the book:

The Holy Eucharist, the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day and other major Feasts, and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as set forth in this Book, are the regular services appointed for public worship in the Church. (p. 13)

But where do we get the same sense from our predecessor books?Yes, the fact that there are Collects, Epistles, and Gospels appointed for all Sundays and Holy Days in the English BCPs does recommend it, but doesn’t determine it.

I stumbled across the answer quite by accident while looking through John Jebb’s The Choral Service of the United Church of England and Ireland: tucked into a rubric after the communion service in the 1662 book is this gem:

And in Cathedral and Collegiate Churches, and Colleges, where there are many Priests and Deacons, they shall all receive the Communion with the Priest every Sunday at the least, except they have a reasonable cause to the contrary.

In looking back, this principle isn’t clearly stated in the first 1549 book, but, oddly in the most protestant of our books, the 1552 revision, the rambling post-communion rubric of 1549 is trimmed and altered to this of which the 1662 rubric is only a slight expansion:

And in Cathedral and Collegiate Churches, where be many priests and deacons, they shall all [who all—the priests and deacons or all present?] receive the communion with the minister every Sunday at the least, except they have a reasonable cause to the contrary.

So—there you have it. Even in our most protestant book, we find the legislated rule on the reception of the Eucharist. Of course, as Jebb points out, this rubric (in its multiple forms) was widely ignored. Furthermore, in the rubrical abbreviation of the first American book, it disappeared. Nevertheless, its early presence despite its lack of practice reminds us that there is a fundamental pattern of piety taught in the Prayer Book even if it has only been followed in fits and starts.

For Gadget-Happy Americans: A Grim Reminder

As somebody who’s currently sitting in front of two computers and a smartphone, this is a must-read reminder of the costs of these devices:

The fact is, we’re going to keep buying our consumer electronics. The good news is, doing so is putting food in people’s mouths. The bad news is, it’s also putting blood on all our hands. That’s our world.

What is the Christian response?

On the Eucharistic Fast

Here’s a piece, lightly excerpted, written for a different context, but which may be of interest here…

What is the Eucharistic Fast?

The Historical Practice

The Eucharistic fast, stated most simply, is the practice of not receiving food or drink before the reception of the Sacrament. Exactly how long this fast should be is a matter of discussion and of personal piety relating to changes within broader catholic custom.

When the practice began in the Church is lost in the mists of the first few Christian centuries. Tertullian, writing around 200, appears to make an oblique reference to the practice in To his Wife 2.5. We can say with certainty, however, that by the fourth century, the reception of the Eucharist fasting was widespread. In his Letter 54, St Augustine writes to Januarius to clarify how different practices of liturgy and piety should be followed; in his discussion of Maundy Thursday practices mentions that the Eucharistic fast is a custom of the universal church (Ep. 54.6.8). A confirmation of this practice is found in canon 41 of the Council of Carthage from 419 which appears to be replicating decrees from earlier councils held in 393 and 397:

That the Sacraments of the Altar are not to be celebrated except by those who are fasting, except on the one anniversary of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper; for if the commemoration of some of the dead, whether bishops or others, is to be made in the afternoon, let it be only with prayers, if those who officiate have already breakfasted.

As a result, the custom of the Churches both East and West from as early as we can determine was to receive the Eucharist fasting, defined, in this case, as neither eating nor drinking from the preceding midnight after Mass. The eastern churches still follow this custom, but with differences in practice on exactly when the fast begins; some start at midnight, some start at Vespers or at sundown on the day before.

Pope Pius XII

In the liturgical revisions that led up to the Second Vatican Council, though, changes were made in the legislation of the Roman Catholic observation of this practice. In 1953, Pope Pius XII penned the Apostolic Constitution Dominus Christus that revisited the practice of the Eucharistic fast. The constitution is marked by both a reverence for the tradition and a realization that the practice could jeopardize frequent reception of the Eucharist given the structuring of time in the modern world. Indeed, the first canon confirms the traditional practice altering only the status of water:

I. The law of the Eucharistic fast from midnight continues in force for all of those who do not come under the special conditions which We are going to set forth in this Apostolic Letter. In the future it shall be a general and common principle for all, both priests and faithful, that natural water does not break the Eucharistic fast.

The second through the fifth rules allow non-alcoholic beverages if necessary, but prevents priests from drinking one hour before beginning a Mass. Not until the sixth rule is there a significant change; in this rule, evening masses on days of obligation (or any day in mission territories) are allowed and in regard to those only, the priest and faithful are required to abstain from food and alcohol for three hours and from other beverages for one hour.

In 1957, Pius XII returned to the topic again at the insistence of the bishops. In the Motu Proprio Sacram Communionem, he extended the new rules to all Masses:

2. Priests and faithful, before Holy Mass or Holy Communion respectively, must abstain for three hours from solid foods and alcoholic liquids, for one hour from non- alcoholic liquids. Water does not break the fast.

3. From now on, the fast must be observed for the period of time indicated in Number Two, even by those who celebrate or receive Holy Communion at midnight or in the first hours of the day.

4. The infirm, even if not bedridden, may take nonalcoholic liquids and that which is really and properly medicine, either in liquid or solid form, before Mass or Holy Communion without any time limit.

We strongly exhort priests and faithful who are able to do so to observe the old and venerable form of the Eucharistic fast before Mass and Holy Communion. All those who will make use of these concessions must compensate for the good received by becoming shining examples of a Christian life and principally with works of penance and charity.

Once again, the former fast is upheld as an ideal, but the changes are promulgated for the sake of continuing Eucharistic devotion in the new post-war world and economy.

The Second Vatican Council

In the broad changes across the liturgical board that occurred in Vatican II, three changes in quick succession altered the custom of the Eucharistic fast. In January of 1964, the means of calculating the fasting period was equalized—for both clergy and laity the fast was to be calculated according to when they would receive the Eucharist within the Mass. In November of the same year, Pope Paul VI announced a concession:

In view of the difficulties in many places regarding the Eucharistic fast, Pope Paul VI, acceding to the requests of the bishops, grants that the fast from solid food is shortened to one hour before communion in the case of both priests and faithful. The concession also covers use of alcoholic beverages, but with proper moderation being observed. (Documents of the Liturgy, 272, 2117)

Finally, the instruction Immensae caritatis from 1973 on reception in special circumstances allowed a fast of a quarter-hour for the sick and those who are in the act of ministering to them.

Why Follow the Eucharistic Fast?

Having discussed what it is, we now consider what it means. The first step is to state what it is not; the Eucharistic fast is not a penitential fast. In a penitential fast—as during Lent—we deprive the body of food as we remind the soul to abstain from sin; we deny the body in order to more perfectly discipline our members according to Christ’s will; we abstain from the pleasures of food and satiety as an act of contrition for sins committed, vices indulged, and virtues forgone.

But none of these are the purpose of the Eucharistic fast. Indeed, this penitential fasting is, by long-standing Church law, not permitted on Sundays, all of which are celebratory feasts of the Resurrection.

Now we turn to what the fast is. The proper purpose is proved by Augustine in the aforementioned Letter 54. He reminds Januarius:

…for from that time [of the earliest Church] it pleased the Holy Spirit to appoint, for the honour of so great a sacrament, that the body of the Lord should take the precedence of all other food entering the mouth of a Christian; and it is for this reason that the custom referred to is universally observed. (Ep. 54.6)

According to Augustine, this practice makes literally true what we believe to be spiritually true. The Eucharist is the first and greatest sustenance for Christians; it is to be preferred above all other means of nourishment, physical and spiritual. Through the Eucharistic fast our priorities are demonstrated physically as the Eucharist becomes the first food of the day for us. In Augustine’s context of daily Eucharist, then, the practice presented a great symbol to the Church: for the faithful, their “daily bread,” the first food that passed their lips each morning, was their spiritually-first and greatest meal, the very bread of angels. The Eucharistic fast, therefore, was a practice that honored the place of the Eucharist in the life of faith and promoted the proper ordering of Christian priorities: the intimate union between Christ and his faithful in the Eucharist should hold pride of place in our hearts and in our days.

In today’s Episcopal context it is very rare to find a parish that offers daily morning Masses where this symbol may be enacted. Even though our culture and its structuring of time prevents us from honoring the Eucharist in this way, the fast still provides an opportunity for recollecting that the Eucharist is our primary means of nourishment as Christians. Even when evening Masses are held and a full day’s fast is untenable, an afternoon’s abstinence can call to mind the importance and pre-eminence of the Sacrament; recollecting the bread of angels to be had that evening, a mid-afternoon snack may be deferred as we prefer the “bread that satisfies” over a nutritionally and theologically transient bag of pretzels or can of soda.

Best Practices for the Eucharistic Fast

Given the history and theology of the Eucharistic fast, we may note a few points. First, present Catholic Custom obliges us to fast for one hour before reception of the Sacrament. This represents a minimum rule enacted for the sake of maximal participation in the Eucharist—that all who are called to the supper of the Lamb may come. Second, in honor of the sacrament, however, a more robust practice may be recommended. Pius XII’s Dominus Christus seems to hit the best note given our cultural situation. That is, whenever possible and medically appropriate, the traditional fast ought to be kept. In the case of evening Eucharists, the three hour rule seems reasonable. This method gives pride of place to the traditional practice, yet understands the scheduling issues with which our patristic forebearers did not have to contend. Third, the fast is maintained for the glory of and preparation for the Eucharist. It should never be a legalistic or pharisaical tool to put down others. Like many worthy Anglican practices, no one should be compelled to follow it, but all should be invited to understand and participate in it.

Prayerbook Appreciation: Core Principles

Building on my previous post and the 3 axioms stated there, I’d like to talk out loud about how to maintain a consistent and coherent method of using the BCP.

I’ll confess, not everybody needs to do this… For some this may well be a very simple exercise—do what the book says. For me, as for many Anglo-Catholics, it’s not so easy. We know the richness and depth possible in the Western liturgy. At the same time, the BCP is supposed to be a reformed and streamlined version of the Western liturgy, a revolt against the flowering of excesses that required great and arduous study to perform a theoretically simple liturgy. We don’t really want to go back there—but neither do we want to miss out on what a properly reformed, patristic, catholic, Scriptural  liturgy could be. So, that’s the heart of the problem: can/how do we accomplish that within the bounds of the BCP and in coherence with its intentions?

The first principle must be:

1. Do what the book says when the book says you have to. No omissions, no substitutions.

This is pretty straight-forward. There are a number of items that are simply not optional. Morning Prayer proper starts with some variant of “Lord, open our lips.” Period. Unqualified items printed to be said and direct rubrics should be followed.

You can’t put in your own Creed or Eucharistic Prayer.

You can’t substitute the Confiteor for the Confession of Sin. (dang…)

2. Order matters, and the current shape of the rites should be respected. This especially goes for interpolations.

Furthermore, there’s an order concerning what things must follow what other things. That’s just the way it is—respect it. I’m guilty of offending this one…

As it currently stands the St Bede’s Breviary (hence SBB) interpolates the hymn in its pre-Vatican II place before the antiphon on the Gospel Canticle. However, this offends the shape of the ’79 Daily Office in three ways. First, it disregards that there is a place appointed for the hymn—after the Collects. Second, it interrupts the pattern of reading/canticle/reading/canticle by turning it into reading/canticle/reading/hymn/versicle/canticle. Third, it messes up the parallel structure with Evening Prayer since in the evening it’s reading/hymn/versicle/canticle/reading/canticle.

I think I’ve persuaded myself to put the hymn and accompanying versicle where the book says they ought to be. Which is OK. Having the hymn before the Gospel canticle made a lot of sense in the pre-Vatican II Offices—but it doesn’t function the same way in our Office and even putting it there now doesn’t make it serve that function.

3. The BCP contains intentions about its use;  some of these are explicit, some are apparent, some are only evident through study. Explicit intentions not directed by the rubrics should receive primary consideration. Apparent and the more concealed should be carefully weighed among the other options.

The point here is that not everything in the BCP is presented as law. Some are options or suggested recommendations. A case in point concerns the canticle tables on pp. 144-5. These are explicitly labeled as “Suggestions” but these suggestions reveal some clear intentions about the use of the BCP. For instance, I find these three principles at work:

  • Canticles generally move from OT to NT to Church Compositions. We’ve discussed this plenty on other posts.
  • More Scripture is the general rule… Again, we’ve discussed this before (along with the pros and cons thereof).
  • But, the more traditional options are engaged on Sundays and Feasts. This should be noted. The tradition appealed to is that of the ’28 and earlier BCPs and thus indirectly to Sarum/pre-conciliar practice. The Benedictus and Te Deum are appointed but reversed from their traditional order more in accord with temporal movement noted in the first point.

One of the consistent push-backs from Anglo-Catholic parishes is a half-way adoption of the morning table. That is, the first option is taken, the second is rejected and the Benedictus takes its place as the invariable second canticle in recognition of its foundational place in the pre-conciliar Office of Lauds and as affirmed in its place in the Liturgy of the Hours.

This, then, is one way that the intentions of the BCP have been honored, but where the Historic Western Liturgy has won out. We do have freedom in this matter, and the chosen policy described here is an accommodation of both the suggestion and long-standing practice.

But that brings me to the second canticle table. I’ve never liked this one, but I may be changing my mind. What’s changing my mind has nothing to do with the shape of Evening Prayer in the ’79 BCP but the recognition that this book (at last) includes Compline. As we recall, the classical form of Anglican Evening Prayer/Evensong was formed by the aggregation of the secular Sarum Vespers and Compline. The Magnificat was the invariable canticle for Vespers while the Nunc Dimittis was the invariable canticle for secular Compline (not monastic, I’ll note, which does not employ a canticle).

The change in the ’79 Book is that it is the first American BCP to contain Compline. (The English Deposited 1928 had it as well but no authorized English BCP has contained it either.)

Whither the Nunc Dimittis? If the rule of prayer laid down by the ’79 BCP is to pray all four Offices: Morning, Noon, Evening, and Compline, then it seems fitting that, if four readings are used requiring two canticles at Evening Prayer, it makes sense to utilize the very same adaptation as above: use the first canticle from the table and use the Magnificat as the invariable second canticle, reserving the Nunc Dimittis for its more appropriate place at Compline. (But what to do on feasts and Sundays—put the Nunc first?)

To back up a little, I’d like to emphasize a few things here about these decision-making processes and what they mean for use of the principles. First, parishes make decisions about their practice. Where there is suggestion rather than legislation, the intentions of the BCP are given a primary place but are balanced by other factors that matter to the parish, in this case Anglican practice and the traditions of the Historic Western Liturgy.

4. Where the intention of the BCP is not clear, if the liturgy in question is Rite II, a liturgist’s first recourse should be to the liturgical documents proceeding from Vatican II, particularly the General Norms on the Liturgical Year (PDF), General Instruction of the Roman Missal, and the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours. More general principles are found in Sacrosanctum Concilium, the declaration on the liturgy from Vatican II.

We’re obviously not Roman Catholic  and these documents are not binding on us. But as far as Rite II is concerned, it makes sense to recognize the relationship between Vatican II and the ’79 BCP. Again, I’m not necessarily saying we need to incorporate elements from these rites into our liturgy where the BCP does not have them, rather, these rites lead us to the intentions that may well be present in the BCP.

5. Actual elements to be added should privilege traditional Anglican, pre-conciliar Roman and specifically Sarum sources over Vatican II items, however.

This may seem a little counter-intuitive after the previous principle. The point here is that as much as the liturgical theology of the ’79 BCP participates in the same world-view as Vatican II, this council is not actually part of our Anglican heritage. Pre-Reformation Roman rites are part of our heritage, most specifically the Sarum Rite.

That having been said, this heritage principle must be balanced with what we’ll call the living tradition principle: Sarum’s great but it hasn’t been actually used in worshiping communities for centuries. Those who use it now (or embrace elements of English Use) are not in organic continuity  with Sarum practice. Sometimes continuity with present Roman tradition is a good thing. Clearly when both pre- and post-conciliar uses coincide, (or largely do), then it’s for the best.

Furthermore, when old Anglican and pre-Conciliar Roman materials are used they must be adapted for the current context. Specifically, anything dealing with the liturgical year must factor in the absence of the pre-Lenten season and the reality of the Revised Common Lectionary.

The obvious issues here would be the Minor Propers and the antiphons for the Gospel Canticles. The second is the easier of the two—since the whole point of the antiphon is that it picks up a line from the appointed Gospel, then a new sequence is required. As for the first, well, that goes back to the whole argument over the degree to which the Minor Propers are connected to the readings… I still haven’t made up my mind but am leaning towards using the Propers as determined by Vatican II.

6. Additions/interpolations to be added into the BCP liturgies should be added where directed, added consistently, added following the intentions of the rest of the liturgy, and should, ideally, come from a single source. If not a single source, then the sources to be used should be identified with a clear hierarchy of use.

For instance, page 935 allows the use of psalm and Gospel Canticle antiphons drawn from Scripture. How to go about implementing this?

The most obvious answer is to go back to Roman resources; the problem is that our Offices use the psalms differently. That is, we read through all of the psalms in Morning and Evening Prayer whether you use the new lectionary or the monthly method.  The Roman Little Hours tend to group several psalms under a single antiphon meaning that many of the psalms have their own antiphons but not all. So what’s an Anglican to do? Fill in the missing sections, groups psalms under antiphons (like A Monastic Breviary) or use a new sequence under a different guiding principle (like the English Office)? In the case of the SBB, I chose the latter.

One of Bede’s compositions was an abbreviated Psalter where he took a line or two from each psalm; in the SSB, I use those as the psalm antiphons when the antiphon is ordinary. Psalm antiphon propers come from the Tridentine breviary.

The Gospel Canticle antiphons required a similar decision, I use a modern Roman version for the Sunday antiphons that match with the RCL. Festal antiphons come from the Tridentine. Propers of the Season I compiled myself based on the Little Chapters of the pre-conciliar Office and appropriate lines from the most seasonally appropriate canticles.

7. Once a decision has been reached, use it for at least a season before changing it.

Liturgy must be lived with. When I say season, I don’t mean a set time. Jumping willy-nilly from option to option makes no sense for a community and isn’t that great for individuals either. So, explore the options, think them through, discuss them—especially if you’re going to be foisting them on other people in which case discuss it with them, then be prepared to live with them for a while before going on to the next great thing.

Ok—that’s all I can think of for now. What are your thoughts?

Thornton’s The Rock and the River

I recently finished Martin Thornton’s The Rock and the River thanks to recommendations from Fr. Cobb and others. Like his other books that I’ve read, it contains much valuable information that yet requires a  certain amount of translation for the current American context. Typically, the translation is pond-differences; the Church of England is a different beast from The Episcopal Church and expectations about knowledge and practices aren’t necessarily the same. The translation here was different—less a translation in space, more of a translation in time.

This book is Thornton’s attempt to wrestle with the new directions in Protestant theology that erupted after World War II, specifically in terms of the Existential turn in Tillich and Bonhoeffer but also the reassessments exemplified in Robinson’s Honest to God. Thornton’s central thesis is that as the authors attempt to construct new systems of religious thought, they are fundamentally restating standard Christian teachings and goals—but casting aside the traditional means for attaining these goals.

Thornton tells us that his editions of the works of the New Theologians (as he terms them) are littered with the acronyn “YBH?” (Yes—but how?)  indicating that here a great point has been made—but with no practical consideration of how the discussed spiritual state may be acheived. A case in point is one near and dear to my heart, Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship:

In The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer, having poured derision on rules, rites, sacraments, and formal prayers, pleads for “costly grace which demands a genuine discipleship of obedience and exclusive attachment to Jesus Christ”. All will aplaud his sentiment, but what, in daily life is such “obedience”? Obedience to what? A moral code? No, for we have seen that this is impossible without grace. To a system of prayer? No, because anything so “formal” has been rejected. How do ordinary men and women, bankers, typists, farmers and nurses, achieve “exclusive attachment to Jesus Christ”? Certainly not by a superhuman act of will, or by an intellectual decision that this is the right way. “It is achieved,” continues Bonhoeffer, “only when the form of Jesus Christ itself works upon us in such a manner that it moulds our form in his own likeness.” Yes, but how? “When” introduces a perfectly orthodox theory about the work of grace in the human soul; and we are given only the negative statement that “this is not achieved by dint of efforts ‘to become like Jesus'”. The alternatives appear to be either a predestinarian quietism, in which grace acts within the chosen soul by divine fiat—or even as a sort of magic—or there must be some particular, practical, concrete method of responding to grace offered: in other words a proven regula. If this latter alternative is rejected, and Bonhoeffer would certainly not entertain the former, then we are left with an impassioned plea for a wonderful theory. (pp. 30-1)

Now—I don’t know if Thornton was aware of Bohoeffer’s Life Together which may answer this (it’s not cited in the book and my copy is in hiding), but Bonhoeffer is the single one of the New Theologians who comes closest to what Thornton is talking about and even he falls short.

As I look around at the beginning of our brave new century, I see that the direction of the New Theologians has only accelerated. So many of the laity and laity-who-become-clergy seem to have seized on the popularizing works of Borg, Crossan, Pagels et al. as the only alternative to fundamentalism or a rote unquestioning orthodoxy. And these folks take the existentialism and iconoclasm of the New Theologians and push them to new extremes.

I think Thornton’s point is still true: many of the icons they think they’re breaking are not icons at all but golden calves against which orthodoxy has always warned; many of the psycho-religious states these books advocate are again not contrary to classical orthodox teaching—but in rejecting traditional expressions of faith, they have jettisoned the tools through which we attain them.

Too, these orthodoxies are also mingled with material heresies in these books as well…

What Thornton offers, it seems  to me, is a reminder that “Ascetical theology is the Church’s own built-in apparatus for taking intellectual and cultural change seriously and intelligently.” (15)

I need to think about this more, but all in all, Thornton once again points us in the right direction.