Saturday, September 29, 2012

Of Angels and Mortals: A Litany of the Angels



Litany of the Holy Angels
Especially for prayers in times of great need, on Monday or Tuesday (traditional days associated with the creation of the Angels), or on the feast of St. Michael and All Angels.

God the Father, Creator of the Angels,
Have mercy on us
God the Son, Lord of the Angels,
Have mercy on us
God the Holy Spirit, Life of the Angels,
Have mercy on us
Holy Trinity, delight of all the Angels,
Have mercy on us
Holy Mary,   
Pray for us
All you Choirs of Blessed Spirits,
Pray for us
Holy Seraphim, Angels of Love,
Pray for us
Holy Cherubim, Angels of the Word,
Pray for us
Holy Thrones, Angels of Life,
Pray for us
Holy Angels of Adoration,
Pray for us
Holy Dominions,
Pray for us
Holy Powers,
Pray for us
Holy Principalities,
Pray for us
Holy Virtues,
Pray for us
Holy Archangel Michael,
Pray for us
Conqueror of Lucifer,
Pray for us
Angel of Faith and Humility,
Pray for us
Guardian of the Anointing of the Sick,
Pray for us
Patron of the Dying,
Pray for us
Prince of the Heavenly Hosts,
Pray for us
Guide of souls to the judgment seat of God,
Pray for us
Holy Archangel Gabriel,
Pray for us
Angel of the Incarnation,
Pray for us
Faithful Messenger of God,
Pray for us
Angel of Hope and Peace,
Pray for us
Protector of all servants and handmaids of God,
Pray for us
Guardian of Baptism,
Pray for us
Patron of Priests,
Pray for us
Holy Archangel Raphael,
Pray for us
Angel of Divine Love,
Pray for us
Conqueror of the hellish fiend,
Pray for us
Helper in great distress,
Pray for us
Angel of suffering and of healing,
Pray for us
Patron of physicians, wanderers and travelers,
Pray for us
All Holy Archangels,
Pray for us
Angels of service before the throne of God,
Pray for us
Angels of service for mankind,
Pray for us
Holy Guardian Angels,
Pray for us
Helpers in all our needs,
Pray for us
Light in all darkness,
Pray for us
Support in all danger,
Pray for us
Admonishers of our conscience,
Pray for us
Intercessors before the throne of God,
Pray for us
Shield of defense against evil spirits,
Pray for us
Our constant companions,
Pray for us
Our safest Guides,
Pray for us
Our truest Friends,
Pray for us
Our wisest Counselors,
Pray for us
Our models of prompt obedience,
Pray for us
Mirrors of humility and sincerity,
Pray for us
All you Holy Angels,
Assist us
During Life,
Assist us
In Death,
Assist us
In heaven, we shall be grateful to you!

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
Spare us, O Lord
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
Graciously hear us, O Lord
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
Have mercy on us
O Christ, hear us,       
Christ graciously hear us.

Lord, have mercy
    Christ, have mercy,
Lord, have mercy.

V. God has given his charge over you
R. To guard you in all your ways

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Of Angels and Mortals: Michaelmas




The 29th of September is a Holy Day of particular significance to Anglican Christians. It is our annual celebration of the ministry of angels in our lives and in the common life of the Church. This feast day is official named "St. Michael and All Angels," but is often referred to in the English tradition as Michaelmas (the Mass of St. Michael, and by extension, all the Angels).

In addition to those Archangels whose names Scripture shares with (Michael, Gabriel, Raphael), we are told that each of us has an angel given to us individually—rather a behind-the-scenes friend—who is both guide and guardian. No attempt is made to go much deeper into this relationship than that, and indeed St. Paul cautions us about taking this very secondary relationship and turning into something greater than the primary relationship with God the Holy Trinity. Its importance is not lodged in some sort of Christian “magic,” but in the mystery of God’s workings in us and in the whole of Creation.



The Prayer Book Collects often give us a succinct statement about what we as Anglican Christians believe and how to live that belief out. The collect for St. Michael and All Angels does this beautifully:

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Created versus Everlasting
First of all, we are told that God is everlasting, whereas all else is the result of God’s creative love—including the Angels. They are an order of creation, not beings who have always been there. Some traditions in Christianity keep Mondays, and others Tuesday, as the day of the week commemorating the creation of the angels (with special prayers to be offered).

Ordained and Constituted
Then, we are told that there is a divinely-appointed order of angels and mortals that exists by the command and plan of God. Here we are reminded that all orders of Creation are meant to work together harmoniously. God has constituted (created as part of a whole, made equivalent) this relationship between beings with the capacity to choose, will, and decide. It is not by chance or happenstance. It is an action by God made in order for the Creation to be complete. In living as we were meant, angels and mortals glorify God and make beautify the Creation just as planets, stars, and comets beautify the night sky.

A Wonderful Order
The collect tells us that this order of humans and angels is wonderful in its original sense: full of wonder. It is a joy to behold, a mystery to contemplate—not a specimen to be boxed up and filed under “Interesting Spiritual Tidbits.” Just as modern science unfolds greater and greater mystery before us (each new discovery pointing to things more and more beyond our comprehension), the order of mortals and angels points us to the fantastic  interconnection between the infinite of God and finite of Creation. To think of the angels is an active work of contemplation: considering things glorious and inspiring rather than yet more “data” in order to produce a “product”—something the modern American Christian has come to do far too infrequently. Ancient Christianity understood such contemplation as essential to a truly Christian attitude and life.

In Service and Worship
At each Holy Eucharist, we sing or say the triumphal angelic hymn of Isaiah’s vision of God in the Temple: “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.” We do this because it is the destiny of all Creation to share in the joy of God’s presence through worship. The Eucharist is always a direct participation in this heavenly worship, recalling us to our true dignity and purpose. This sets the pattern for our earthly service, in which we continually recall God through mental prayer and works of mercy. Just as the angels in heaven always serve and worship, so may we in our lives of ministry.

To Help and Defend
The holy angels are not personal “servants,” but are helpers and defenders. They come to us with a message (the Hebrew word for angel means “messenger”), not as bodiless doormats. In a sense, the Golden Rule applies to our relationship with them, as well. That relationship is one of partnership, not of servitude or conjuring. The angels bear God’s message to us, whether that message be for our direction, safety, encouragement, or our call to witness to the Gospel in decisive and costly ways.

By God’s Appointment
We must remember, however, that the message the angels bear is always God’s message. Like us, the Good News the angelic order bears is never its own. This is why angels are not, for orthodox Christians, a mere tool to escape from tricky situations. Like us, they are ministers of God's work. Ministers are never to be the point themselves: they are to point to God. The message they--and we--share in must run through us, permeating our lives,  announcing the Gospel in word and deed.

* * *

Taken as a whole, the collect for the Feast of All the Angels is a solemn reminder that all Creation has an underlying unity of purpose and role to play in the great drama of the Triumph of God’s Love. Some roles are very public; others are very much more hidden: all are essential in the mystery of salvation.

Thank God as you rejoice in the ministry of angels and mortals this Michaelmas—and remember that all of us in our various ways are to be messengers of the Gospel.



Antiphon on Magnificat for the Second Evensong of Michaelmas:
"In the presence of the angels, I will sing your praise, O Lord."

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Ember Days: Food for Ministry in a Hungry Time




Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. (John 4:31-34)


On Wednesdays in Embertide, the Gospel lesson appointed at the Holy Eucharist is taken from Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman in chapter 4. The portion read is during something of an interlude in that conversation, where Christ speaks to his disciples, who had been absent from him for a time, while the Samaritan woman gathers up many fellow villagers with the Good News of her encounter with “the One who has come into the world.” This interlude has profound meaning for all Christian ministry—and with a particular verdict on our own day.

The disciples assume that Jesus is hungry—which he may well have been. But Jesus is concerned with deeper things than the mere satiation of physical passions. This is, right off, a lesson that we need to internalize. It has been said that one of John Wesley’s maxims was that each minister of the Gospel should be ready to do three things with only three minutes’ preparation: pray, preach—and die. This complete openness to God’s immediacy, an access to grace borne of a deep inner communion with God, is not somehow “optional.” It is at the heart of effective lay or ordained ministry. How much is this being taught or encouraged in the contemporary Episcopal Church?

Jesus’ response to the Apostles’ delightfully Mediterranean suggestion: “Rabbi, eat!” is to state that he has food of which they know nothing about. They immediately assume someone must be bringing him food secretly. Perhaps they want to know who is “horning in” on their unique access to Jesus. Maybe they were concerned with their failing to provide for their teacher—and especially afraid that a woman (and a Samaritan, at that) had done so. The possibilities are endless.

But the point is that Jesus is speaking of spiritual sustenance—a food that fills the soul rather than the stomach. This food, he tells them, is to do his Father’s will and to complete his work. Here is, metaphorically-speaking, the meat of the exchange.

Jesus is telling the Apostles, and by extension all his disciples through the ages, that the “food” of ministry is doing God the Father’s will. Our share in the Gospel ministry is nourished solely by this food. A diet of anything else will lead to spiritual malnutrition and (potential) death.

Each Embertide, I think about the state of my own ministry. I read Scripture and use various prayers to do this diagnostic work, rather like the blood draw and subsequent report I get from my doctor a couple of times a year. These prayers (such as the Litany of the Holy Spirit and the Litany of Remembrance—a.k.a. “The Southwell Litany”) help me to analyze the condition of my spiritual health as an ordained minister of the Gospel, to see where my diet is leading to healing, growth, and life…and where I have been eating and drinking of the things of this world, resulting in imbalances costly to me personally and all to whom I am sent to share Christ’s Good News.

In doing this Embertide reflection, I always trace new ways God is working in my life—and ways in which old, familiar patterns of illness seek to keep me locked in sin and sickness. The former are causes for thanksgiving and praise; the latter are fruit for sacramental confession.

Fasting is one of the Embertide disciplines I have continued to wrestle with over the years. I have a natural aversion to being a bit hungry. Now, I can go for days without eating at all—the total fast of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday—but the ascetic fast of Fridays, Lent, and the Embertides…this is very much harder. These hunger pangs of a skipped or reduced meal force me to see how much I substitute earthly food for that heavenly food Jesus speaks of in the passage from John. It really grates on that “false self” that still somehow thinks it can live apart from God to find out exactly how puny, fragile, and limited it really is.

I find that the best recourse to my aversion for ascetic fasting is consciously to seek that heavenly food Jesus alone gives—to go and pray before Christ in the Holy Sacrament reserved in church. When I do this, I come face to face with the reality of my poverty, my need—and God’s overflowing grace. I actually feel myself being filled up with that heavenly food. By the end of such times, I know hope anew, and my sense of sharing in God’s mission is re-energized.

This, in turn, leads me to look out beyond my usual quest to satiate myself on earthly things, toward the world God calls me to love and serve in Christ’s Name. This is precisely the pattern in John 4. Jesus turns the disciples from the fixation on physical food, material sources of strength, and towards the fantastic opportunity he calls the Plentiful Harvest. Time “wasted” with God yields fruit giving energy and vision beyond what any ordinary meal could grant. Isn’t this one of the meanings of the Eucharist we share each week? That meal is the “meal for mission” par excellence. Yet, I am not convinced we understand it as such, what with all our focus on trying to make the Eucharist about comfort, ease, and no-cost discipleship.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing things I see in our Diocese—and around the Church generally—is a tremendous lack of energy. We hear, almost from the get-go at meetings of clergy and lay leaders, of a sense of fatigue. Our vision so easily moves from Jesus’ Plentiful Harvest to the level of institutional survival or the replication of worn-out patterns and slogans. Clergy whisper despairingly about the seemingly insurmountable odds facing them in trying to “make churches grow” (as if it were their job, rather than God’s). Lay people are often quick to remind clergy that they have “real jobs” in the “real world,” presumably meaning the secular world, as opposed to the apparent hobby of the Church world. Anyone visiting from outside could be pardoned for believing us to be on our last legs. And, perhaps we are.

I say this because of a profound belief that we are at the end of an era, a season when we still contrive to believe that by tweaking one or another thing, or by simply peddling religion, we can find the magic formula that will lead to growth and “success,” whatever that means. The seemingly endless programs, gimmicks, sure-fire techniques trotted out by our hierarchy and various consultants over the last decades lead one to think—much like a yo-yo dieter—that this time, the secret has been found. In reality, of course, the real issue is much greater and more global. It has to do with one’s relationship to food itself.

This is true for the Church, as well. Ministry is hard work. The reality of what it means to live the Gospel in our world can quickly become overwhelming, and anyone who thinks otherwise is either foolish or ignorant. It demands a right form of nutrition.

Our food cannot be the empty calories of the consumer culture, the damaged fats of division, the gluttony in turning a blind eye to injustice, or the caffeinated buzz of carnality in all its forms. It must be the Gospel. I think our fatigue, our simple lack of zeal for the Church as Christ’s Body and thus truly Good News, is deeply connected to the food we are eating. Whether it be the toxicity of much mainstream Christianity, or the spiritual eating disorder in our own church brought on by decades of divisiveness and the search for an illusory and ideological “purity,” we really must stop dumpster-diving from spoiled leftovers and get back to the one diet all Christians crave: the will of the Father. This is the diet the authentic Church eats and serves. Anything else will lead to ruin.

The way we will know we have begun to recover as a Church is when we grow in energy and vision, when we recover a sense of the joy of unity and of sharing life in the Body of Christ the way we might enjoy sharing a new product from Trader Joe’s today. It has been so before…and when God wills it and we respond, it will be so again.

Until then, Jesus words to the Apostles will remain the verdict upon us: “I have food to eat you do not know about.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Ember Days: Because They Matter


Christian ministry -- lay or ordained -- is a gift of the Spirit
that must be nourished in prayer and study.

Ember Days: Four times in the year, set by ancient custom, consisting of a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday in which we pray for the ministry of all Christians, with special focus on the discernment and selection of persons for leadership in those ministries (lay and ordained). Special prayers and scripture readings are provided for them in The Book of Common Prayer.

In our church’s current fondness for “persistent spiritual amnesia,” the Embertides have largely been allowed to wither away. Once a vital encounter with the themes of calling, holiness of life, and the high obligations undertaken in leading Christ’s flock, today these venerable days are known only to a few – primarily those who are in the process of ordination, or those who are required for various canonical reasons to report the shape of their ministry to a bishop. The Embertides are now essential the province of specialists, reduced by ecclesiastical atrophy to the “fulfillment of institutional righteousness.” But, it was not always so.

Once, these were seasons when many clergy were ordained amidst solemn rites of fasting, prayers, reflection, and other preparation. The need Christian leadership has for continual reflection and humility was heightened during these short periods at the change of the seasons. Many clergy made their confessions, reviewed their vows, and spent time with a trusted spiritual guide or companion in connection with the Ember Days.

Now, we are fortunate to see them referred to in the calendar, if at all. It is true, the current Book of Common Prayer has enriched the concept of the Ember Days considerably by expanding their intended focus to include all orders of ministry in the Church; but to what extent has this “taken flesh” in the contemporary Church? Very little, it seems. There has been much talk about ministry in the Church, but there seems little accountability for all that talk in terms of prayer. We can change this.

First of all by knowing that these commemorations are concerned with the welfare of the ministry of the Whole Church. Healthy ministry concerns us all; we need spiritually-nourished and godly leadership at all levels in order to do the work of the Gospel.

Then, we as individuals can offer the prayers associated with the Embertides. At St. Timothy’s, a section of the Rector’s blog is set aside for just this.

Finally, parishes can eventually begin to put a focus on Embertide Eucharists, prayer services, and educational offerings about effective ministry. Perhaps, someday, our diocesan priorities will change to the point where the Embertides will be times for gatherings of the lay and clergy leadership with the bishop, and when we re-commit to the notion that all who minister the Gospel must make a priority for reflection, renewal, and re-commitment in that ministry. Otherwise, the Church comes across as just one more bureaucracy, one more moral improvement program run on strictly human terms.