Monday, November 30, 2009

An ordination anniversary

The Collect of St. Andrew, my ordination patron:

Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

But mark well this: it will not be for the greatest feats of homiletic art, the most astonishing efforts of building new churches, or for having your name on the lips of well-positioned citizens that you will be accounted as a good and faithful priest. No, these things always pass both from men’s minds and from the Church's deepest approval. It will be for the countless hours of honest prayer for, earnest counsel with, and patient tending to the needs and souls of those whom God has called you to serve that you will be remembered and approved by Christians and our God. These are the marks of a true laborer in our Lord’s Kingdom. At His bidding, and in His grace go, and do them. In so doing, you will glorify God who calls you into His service and draw men’s eyes from their fallen condition to their rightful calling and purpose. – from an Ordination Sermon

On this, the 16th anniversary of being ordained to the Sacred Priesthood, I continue to feel both deeply humbled and extraordinarily joyful in a calling I so imperfectly fulfill but so greatly love. Pray for me.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Drop down, ye heavens

This is the Church’s “New Year.” With the First Evensong of Advent Sunday, we cross the threshold into the gift of a new liturgical year: fresh and as yet untested. For me, one of the great joys of the life of prayer is saying the first words of this evening’s prayers – full of hope, expectation, and the promise of another immersion into the Catholic Faith.

I have been blessed to serve in two congregations which use the Advent Prose. This ancient collection of passages from the prophets, originally connected to the Daily Office, serves as a probing entrance into the particular tonality of Advent. These days are both penitential and joyful in character, and the Prose we use to begin this Sunday’s liturgy expresses it so well:

Drop down, ye heavens, from above and let the skies pour down righteousness.

Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity for ever: the holy cities are a wilderness, Sion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation: our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee.

Drop down, ye heavens, from above and let the skies pour down righteousness.

We have sinned, and are as an unclean thing, and we all do fade as a leaf: and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away; thou hast hid thy face from us: and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.

Drop down, ye heavens, from above and let the skies pour down righteousness.

Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen; that ye may know me and believe me: I, even I, am the Lord, and beside me there is no Savior: and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

Drop down, ye heavens, from above and let the skies pour down righteousness.

Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, my salvation shall not tarry: I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions: Fear not, for I will save thee: for I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Redeemer.

Drop down, ye heavens, from above and let the skies pour down righteousness.

The antiphon (refrain) “Drop down ye heavens…" may be used before and after the Song of Mary (Magnificat) at Evening Prayer during Advent

These words combine majesty and solemnity, humility and hope in a way unlike anything else in our worship. They are worthy of prayerful consideration throughout these four weeks. I feel both deeply privileged and acutely humbled to offer them in the liturgy. May all of us enter into Holy Advent in peace, with open hearts, that we may hear God’s word to us in this season, joining the Blessed Virgin in preparation to receive the gift of Christ’s coming now and at the end of the ages.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving as an Anglican Observance

Some form of Thanksgiving Observance has been part of the Episcopal Church’s worship life since its first Prayer Book of 1789 – with provision of special readings from Scripture and prayers for both Morning Prayer and the Holy Communion. Indeed, Thanksgiving Day alone was a National holiday officially honored with a Prayer Book service.

The background to American Thanksgiving Day is widely found on the Internet, but it is less commonly known that this commemoration was observed by various churches in our nation as a vital religious holiday until fairly recently. In our current secuarlizing era – to which many parts of the Church are rapidly falling victim – Thanksgiving has joined other observances formerly marked by liturgical worship that have become sterile “consumer events.”

The current Prayer Book’s observance remains rich, with a collect, readings, and appropriate prayers for Morning and Evening Prayer as well as the Holy Eucharist. Along with Independence Day (which had to wait until 1928 for the honor), this is one of our two “National Days” enshrined in the Calendar. Both Feasts can be very moving and helpful expressions of the best relationship between Church and State.

Perhaps one of the best additions to the Book of Common Prayer in 1979 was the new “General Thanksgiving,” found on p. 836. Together with the General Thanksgiving found at the end of Morning and Evening Prayer, this prayer serves as a helpful tool in rounding out our prayer life, giving due place for considering the various gifts from God – some welcome, some not – in our life. In many Episcopal Churches, Thanksgiving Day is the only time this new General Thanksgiving is publicly used, but it certainly bears use, and consideration, throughout the year in our personal prayers.

A good Thanksgiving Day practice is to go around the table and have each person offer one of the petitions, after which those present may share a way that petition speaks to us about a particular experience, thing, person, or idea for which we are thankful. All may then offer the simple “Litany of Thanksgiving” that follows.

Another way to observe this day is to help out in a feeding program in your community, and to make sure you consciously serve the guests at that meal as Christ himself, rather than as a duty, obligation, or (worst of all) a way to earn points with God or expiate one’s own guilt. Offering thanks for blessings and the opportunity to serve Christ would be a good mental practice in this situation or at any time.

Whatever your parish or personal observance, let Thanksgiving Day be a Feast Day in the deepest sense: a feast for the soul as much as a feast for the body. Today is a day to delight in the good things of the Creation, the enjoyment of which is “meet and right.” Indeed, we in a consumerist society must work much harder to enjoy things properly, as we have learned mostly only how to consume them rather than savor them as a gift from God to each one of us individually as well as to all corporately.

As Thomas Traherne once noted in his Centuries of Meditations:

You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world.

May your Thanksgiving challenge your understanding of gratitude and enjoyment in new ways, freeing you to “sing and rejoice and delight in God,” the giver of all good gifts.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Bishop-elect for Oregon

Yesterday, the Diocese of Oregon in Convention elected the Rev’d Michael Hanley to be our next Bishop. Assuming the majority of Diocesan Bishops and Standing Committees in the Episcopal Church give their assent (and that seems highly likely), he will be consecrated the Tenth Bishop of Oregon on the Saturday after Easter. In the coming months we will look at the Consecration Liturgy from the Prayer Book in some detail, learning what the office of Bishop means to us, and what promises Fr. Hanley and we will be making at his ordination to the Episcopate.

For now, please keep him and his wife Marla in your prayers as they begin the often bitter-sweet process of moving from one part of God’s vineyard to another. Pray, too, for our Diocese that we may be given grace and guidance to return faithfully to the normal polity and operations of a Diocese of the Church after many months of operating in an irregular (though canonical) manner. We look forward to ministering the Gospel of Christ the King with our next Bishop.

Thanks be to God.

Christ, the True King

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The last Sunday of the Church Year has become known as “Christ-the-King Sunday,” even though the Prayer Book does not actually call it this (this name is borrowed from the Roman Catholic Church, which designated this Sunday as “Christ-the-King” in the 1920’s, after moving it from the Sunday prior to All Saints’ Day). The Sunday has become particularly familiar to us because of the popular hymns sung to commemorate it, particularly “Crown Him with many Crowns,” “All hail the power of Jesus’ Name,” and “King of Glory, King of Peace.”

The Feast takes up the many references in Scripture to Christ as both a member of the Royal Davidic line of Israel and his Kingship as Messiah, and then juxtaposes our presuppositions of what “royal” means with the reality of Christ’s particular way of being the “King of Glory.” His humility and his power through love rather than violence is made explicit, and we are all challenged to give our ultimate loyalty to Christ the King, rather than earthly claimants. For, no leader, no political party or economic system, no “life-style” or ideology may take the place of Jesus as Lord.

Christ-the-King, born out of the horror and violence of the First World War and the Communist Revolution in Russia, is a deeply relevant commemoration to our time. Our era finds it difficult to surrender ultimate authority to anyone outside the individual. We have become deeply “invested” in our autonomy – literally, in our being a law unto ourselves. This quest for autonomy has deepened the alienation between God and humanity, as well as between people – just when our technological capacity could help us recognize our common humanity, our need for the spiritual completion available in Christ.

Christ came as a totally new kind of king; He rejected earthly kingship’s trappings, the search for an existence apart from the Creation, apart from each other, apart from His Father’s will and love. He did this in order to lead by example, sharing with us the path each person, each family and society and movement of people must take. Until we accept this truth, human history will be the story of the rise and fall of empires built on death. When we as individuals and as nations give our loyalty to Christ the King and no other, we receive not servitude but freedom, the freedom to join Christ in service to others now, and in glory in heaven, where He lives and reigns for ever and ever.

(Picture: Stained glass window at the Melkite Catholic Annunciation Cathedral in Rosedale, Massachusetts, depicting Christ the King with the regalia of a Byzantine Emperor. January 2009 photo by John Stephen Dwyer.)

Presented in Holiness

O God, who on this day didst vouchsafe that blessed Mary Ever-virgin, the dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost, should be presented in the Temple: grant, we beseech thee; that by her intercession we may be found worthy to be presented unto thee in the temple of thy glory. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the same Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth forever and ever. Amen.

Today is, in the old Western Calendar, the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple. This commemoration features an event that is, of course, not found in the Bible. It was a late development in the Western calendar, originating in the Christian East and becoming one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the Church Year in that tradition. Not being recorded in Scripture, this feast was dropped at the time of the English Reformation and its observance falls among those many aspects of the Faith that cannot be enforced as “central” in Anglican thinking. However, the story of Mary’s presentation in the Temple by her parents in thanksgiving to God for the gift of a child in no way conflicts with the tenants of the Faith, and clearly prefigures Christ’s Presentation in the Temple as recorded in the Gospel according to Luke.

Today’s feast is first and foremost about the Virgin Mary: her growing up in the context of holiness, the model she presents for what it means to live a holy life, and her intercession for us. This is perhaps the best of Marian devotion. Yet, in addition to the Virgin there is the image and language of Temple to consider. The Temple in Jerusalem was the place wherein God’s Holy Name was enshrined. To it, the people came and made sacrifice in accordance with the Law. It was the locus of earthly holiness to the Hebrew people.

This feast recalls that, for us, the Virgin Mary is in some way the fulfillment of the Temple – now made of loving and willing flesh rather than built of cold and hard stone. St. Mary is dedicated, as was the Temple, to be the place wherein the “Holy Name of God” is brought into the world – but now, that Holy Name comes in the Flesh, rather than invisibly. The God-Bearer brings forth the Son of God in seamless continuity with the Law, for He is the very fulfillment of that Law.

As we contemplate all of this, we are inevitably called to consider our own lives: are they “holy places of encounter” with God for others, or is our life just lived as a collection of “to-do” lists, anxieties, or selfish ambitions that will soon pass into the oblivion of death? We were created for glory; our lives must shine with it, inviting others to share with us in God’s true purposes for His beloved people.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A life of great faithfulness: St. Leo the Great

Below are the collect (prayer for the day) for St. Leo’s commemoration and a passage from one of his sermons. He was a great preacher, teacher, and leader (you would have to be in order to face down Atilla the Hun!). His holiness and faithfulness, as well as his decisiveness as a leader, are all part of the reason he was accorded the honorific “Great.” Beyond this, however, was a great intellectual gift; it was his writing on the controversial topic of Christ’s two natures that ultimately carried the day at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

A wise and faithful pastor, one who lives a holy life of prayer and charity, a skilled teacher and theologian, a practitioner of God’s justice, a pillar of dynamic orthodoxy, a worthy successor to the Apostles: this is what the True Church has always sought in its bishops. May such bishops be known in our own day!

O Lord our God, grant that your Church, following the teaching of your servant Leo of Rome, may hold fast the great mystery of our redemption, and adore the one Christ, true God and true Man, neither divided from our human nature nor separate from your divine Being; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

“It is a great thing, no doubt, to have the right faith and possess sound doctrine; and sobriety, meekness, and purity are virtues that deserve high praise; but all these virtues remain vain if they are not coupled with charity. And we ought not to say that an excellent conduct is fruitful if it does not issue from Love.”

- From Sermon 48

(More on St. Leo's life may be found here and here)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Doing the Work of a Christian

Each day we are given the opportunity to live lives of renewed purpose. The gift of each morning begs to be received with joy, for it is a new day in which to pray to God, grow in his knowledge and love, serve our brothers and sisters, and delight in the good things the Lord has made. In some very real sense, the fullness of Christianity is found in this fundamental outlook, this basic attitude which greets life as a supreme gift, a continuous possibility for becoming more like Christ.

In November, we begin the month with the great Feast of All the Saints. These holy people form that “great cloud of witnesses” who intercede for us and show us that human lives are capable of shining with God’s goodness, mercy, and transformative power. The Saints – both the well-known and the little-known – encourage us to take our own lives more seriously, to realize our own calling to become the Holy People of God in our own day, our own circle of activity and contact.

As the month progresses, we recall our basic loyalty to Christ as King; all of the other obligations, priorities, and relationships in our lives must be under that banner: if they are not, our lives will be out of balance, and our capability to hear God’s word to us will be impaired. The communities we are part of desperately need us to be “on message” in the Gospel; this begins with a profound commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior, not “just another priority.”

Then comes the great Holy Day of Thanksgiving: yes, a “Holy Day.” This Prayer Book Feast is an annual reminder that all we have is, in fact, a gift from God. Once a year we make this crystal-clear by devoting an entire day to it. It is a good day to prepare for by thinking of those blessings we most take for granted, and those challenges which make us rely on God more deeply. When we do these things, we are more compassionate, more grateful, and need less “stuff” in order to be happy – for we are secure in the embrace of God. People secure in that embrace are much less likely to become fearful, greedy, and judging.

Doing the work of a Christian starts by being part of Christ’s Body, the Church, in worship and in study of the Scriptures and the Faith. It starts there, but it never stays there. It proceeds to service, witness, and a very special attitude about life: all has been given to us by God; we hold it in trust. The more we share, the more we have; the less we demand, the more we are given. Doing the work of a Christian frees us to be fully alive to God and to each other. It is what we were created for, what a recession-wracked and fearful world needs but does not understand, and what Our Lord made possible.

Today is a new day, a gift from God; let us do the work we have been given in peace and thanksgiving, knowing that we are loved and blessed by the Lord as his children.

A Short Daily Intercession

Having a simple form of prayer for others is a good way to begin a longer period of intercession. For days when we have but little time, remembering such a short list of matters before God keeps us faithful to a fully-rounded life of prayer. This form, taken from St. Augustine’s Prayer Book (Holy Cross Publications, West Park, NY) is a classic of both brevity and clarity. I have updated the language, but would be happy to provide the Jacobean-style English if that is desired. This prayer if often used at the end of the Morning Prayers.

Lord, I pray for all the peoples of the earth, that they may be brought to know, love and serve you. I pray for your holy Church throughout the world, and especially for our own part of the Church, for our Bishop (Name), and for the priests and people of my parish (Names). I pray for the employed, that they may work as for you, and not only as for another person. I pray for the unemployed, that they may find work, and be saved from despondency. Be their strength in adversity. May the sick be healed, the hungry fed, the mourners comforted, the poor succored, and the afflicted in mind and body be firmly held in your deep peace that passes all human understanding (Names). Bless my family, bless my friends, bless my enemies, and grant us all the spirit of penitence that we may receive your forgiveness poured out to all mankind, through the precious blood of Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns, world without end. Amen.

Friday, November 6, 2009

In Praise of God on Fridays

O Lord, when they broke your commandment and fell.
You did not despise nor reject them,
But as a tender Father, you visited them in so many ways,
Granting them your great and precious promise with the life-giving seed,
Opening to them the door of faith, and of repentance into life.
In the fullness of time you sent your Christ
To take on the seed of Abraham,
And in the offering of his life
He fulfilled, in perfect obedience
And in the sacrifice of death,
A ransom for the whole world,
And in his rising again, he gave us life.
O Creator of all things,
Your will is to return us to yourself,
That all should be partakers
Of your divine nature and eternal glory…
Blessed, praised, celebrated,
Magnified, exalted, glorified,
Hallowed be your name, the recalling,
The memory, and every memorial of it,
Now and forever.
Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626, Feast Day Sept. 26),
from the Laud Manuscript of the Preces Privatae,
as translated by David Scott

This portion of Bp. Andrewes' Private Prayers is a glorious example of his deeply scriptural, patristic, orthodox, and joyous understanding of the faith. It expresses well the Classical Anglican view of the Cross as not only the place of Christ's atoning sacrifice and holy sufferings, but also a "theatre of joys" (as Thomas Traherene spoke of it) and the gateway to sharing in the Divine Nature itself. 

Our Friday devotion through the year must be more than a recollection of human sin and the awesome love found on the Cross; it must be a realization of the new life we lead as Christians, and the continuous growth in grace and participation in God made possible through communion with the Risen and Ascended Lord. Only that makes our remembrance of the Crucifixion on Fridays complete and hopeful.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Living in the Kingdom of God Even Now

The below passage is a beautiful meditation on how heaven, for the faithful Christian, is not simply a matter of some future time, but is available by God's grace, in part even now. This is a sample of St. Anselm's particular wisdom, and the depth of his continuous conversation with God -- something we all may enter into through prayer, service, and humility.

Those who have the grace to reign in the kingdom of heaven will see the realization of everything that they desire in heaven and on earth, and nothing that they do not want will be realized in heaven or on earth. The love which will unite God with those who will live there, and the latter among themselves, will be such that all will love one another as themselves, and all will love god more than themselves.

Hence, no one will have any other desire there than what God wills, and the desire of one will be the desire of all; and the desire of all and of each one will also be the desire of God. All together, and as one single person, will be one sole ruler with God, for all will desire one single thing and their desire will be realized. This is the good that, from the heights of heaven, God declares he will put on sale.

If some one asks at what price, here is the response: The one who offers a kingdom in heaven has no need of earthly money. No one can give God what already belongs to him, since everything that exists is his. Yet God does not give such a great thing unless once attaches value to it; he does not give it to one who does not appreciate it. Hence, although God has no need of your goods, he will not give you such a great thing as long as you disdain to love it: he requires only love, but without it nothing obliges him to give. Love, then, and you will receive the Kingdom. Love, and you will possess it.

And since to reign in heaven is nothing other than to adhere to God and all the saints, through love, in a single will, to the point that all together exercise only one power, love God more than yourself and you will already begin to have what you wish to possess perfectly in heaven. Put yourself at peace with God and with others – if the latter do not separate themselves from God – and you will already begin to reign with God and all the saints. For to the extent that you now conform to the will of God and to that of the others, God and all the saints will concur with your will. Hence, if you want to rule in heaven, love God and others as you should, and you will merit to be what you desire.

However, you will not be able to possess it to perfection unless you empty your heart of every other love. This is why those who fill their hearts with love for God and their neighbor have no other will than that of God – or that of another, provided it is not contrary to God. That is why they are faithful in praying as well as in carrying on a dialogue in their minds with heaven; for it is pleasing to them to desire God and to speak of someone whom they love, to hear that once spoken about, and to think of the beloved. It is also why they rejoice with those who are joyful, weep with those who are in pain, have compassion on the suffering, and give to the poor; for they love others as themselves

- St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury in his Letter 112 to Hugh the Recluse [1109]; from Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, J. Robert Wright (emphasis mine).

The First Prayer of the Day

A Simple Office of Prime

For Use Upon Waking

First stand in silence, clearing your mind of all else but the gift of this new day and the presence of God. Then pray:

X In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Father...

V. O God, make speed to save us.

R. O Lord, made haste to help us.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen. Except in Lent, add Alleluia.


Now that the day light fills the sky,

We lift our hearts to God on high,

That He, in all we do or say,

Would keep us free from harm today;

Would guard our hearts and tongues from strife;

From anger’s din would hide our life;

From all ill sights would turn our eyes,

And close our ears to vanities;

So we, when this new day is gone

And night in turn is drawing on,

With conscience by the world unstained

Shall praise His name for victory gained.

All laud to God the Father be;

All praise, eternal Son, to thee;

All glory, as is ever meet,

To God the holy Paraclete. Amen.


Antiphon: Blessed are those who walk in the law of the Lord.

[On Fridays: You were slain and have redeemed us to God by your Blood.]

54 Deus, in nomine

1 Save me, O God, by your Name; *

in your might, defend my cause.

2 Hear my prayer, O God; *

give ear to the words of my mouth.

3 For the arrogant have risen up against me,

and the ruthless have sought my life, *

those who have no regard for God.

4 Behold, God is my helper; *

it is the Lord who sustains my life.

5 Render evil to those who spy on me; *

in your faithfulness, destroy them.

6 I will offer you a freewill sacrifice *

and praise your Name, O Lord, for it is good.

7 For you have rescued me from every trouble, *

and my eye has seen the ruin of my foes.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Antiphon: Blessed are those who walk in the law of the Lord.

[On Fridays: You were slain and have redeemed us to God by your Blood.]

The Lesson

On Sundays, Holy-Days, Eastertide.

To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:17

At other times

Love the truth and peace, thus says the Lord of hosts. Zech. 8:19-20


Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon us (Alleluia, Alleluia)

Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon us (Alleluia, Alleluia)

You that sit at the right hand of the Father,

Have mercy upon us (Alleluia, Alleluia)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;

Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon us (Alleluia, Alleluia)

O Lord, arise, help us;

And deliver us for you name’s sake.

Lord, hear my prayer;

And let my cry come to you.


O Almighty Lord, and everlasting God, direct, sanctify, and govern, both our hearts and bodies, in the ways of your laws, and in the works of your commandments; that through your mighty protection, both here and ever, we may be preserved in body and soul; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord, give me the strength to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely on Your holy will. Reveal Your will to me every hour of the day. Bless my dealings with all people. Teach me to treat all people who come to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unexpected events, let me not forget that all are sent by you. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me the physical strength to bear the labors of this day. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray in me. Amen.

For Fridays

O everlasting Jesus, who in the early morning gave yourself to be reviled and mocked by your enemies; visit us, we pray you, at this hour with your grace and mercy; that throughout this day we may find peace and joy in all that ministers to you praise and glory; who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

At the Conclusion

Satisfy us with your mercy, O Lord, at this morning hour; that we may go on our way rejoicing, and sing of your glory all the day long; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lord bless X us and preserve us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life; and may the souls of the faithful through the mercy of God rest in peace.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Love that Unites All in All

The love which will unite God with those who will live [in the Kingdom of Heaven], and the latter among themselves, will be such that all will love one another as themselves, and all will love God more than themselves.

- St. Anselm in a letter to Hugh the Recluse

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Worship, Liturgy, and Expectations

When I was growing up in the Protestant tradition, I believe the unspoken assumption about worship was that, in the main, we acted upon it. That is to say, the worship service was viewed as a blank period of time, occupying about an hour or so, during which certain things generally happened, but over which the clergy exercised almost exclusive control. The goal was to create a new experience each week, one which delivered a “message” and had a certain “relevance.” We acted on the worship in order for it to be “effective.”

When I encountered liturgy, I found something very different – the reverse, in fact: God, through the historic and largely unvarying Liturgy, acts upon us. The difference is really like that between night and day. In liturgy, the forms are not there first and foremost to be “relevant” or to “delivery effective messages,” but are the appointed portals through which we encounter the Kingdom of God. The eternal message of redemption in Christ is experienced anew each time, and the clergy have but little “control” over the experience.

Over the years I have seen a progressive decay of liturgy in the Episcopal Church; it is gradually being replaced, it seems to me, with the Protestant notion of “worship” I knew years ago. We continually “update” and “enrich” the various formulae and prayers, but in so doing their limited shelf-life is revealed, and we are back to understanding that it is somehow up to us to make worship be “effective.”

The search for novelty is never-ending, and it encourages an ever more aggressive approach to the question of measuring and assessing the “response” and the “product.” This accounts, I believe, for some of the nervousness and agitation in the Episcopal Church these days: we are, in a sense always “looking over our shoulder” with regard to the liturgy (much like the Mega-churches must do in their market-driven church environment) rather than looking forward into the mystery of God the Holy Trinity, and our share in that mystery.

I am thankful that, at least in some places, liturgy rather than generic “worship” continues to be offered, but I honestly wonder at times what room there will be for those of us for whom the difference matters a great deal.

In Praise of Richard Hooker

O God of truth and peace, who raised up your servant Richard Hooker in a day of bitter controversy to defend with sound reasoning and great charity the catholic and reformed religion: Grant that we may maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today we celebrate one of the great lives, minds, and practitioners of Classical Anglicanism: Richard Hooker. His gift for applying rigorous logic in the service of the Faith was not motivated by anger or obsession, but by a love of the Truth – something greater than all our systems and techniques can adequately express. In all of his profound and at times challenging writing there always remains a basic humility, a reticence in the presence of the Divine Mystery. For this example of the Theologian’s “art,” we must needs be truly thankful in our polarized, emotionalized, and often woefully-ignorant day. May God raise up more like him: a learned divine, a faithful pastor, a humble man of holy desire.

Monday, November 2, 2009

All Souls' Day Thoughts

November 2, though officially named the “Commemoration of All Faithful Departed” by the Church, is more commonly known by its old name: All Souls’ Day. The history of this commemoration is given in brief here, and some additional prayers for use on this day are located here.

There are many traditions around the Christian Church connected with this day. Most focus on offering prayers for the dead in Christ throughout the ages – linking the saints of the past with those of today very much in the New Testament understanding of sainthood. This day also connects the "big picture" of our faith with the personal side, the individual losses we bear. This is partly why it has a particular power, felt mostly by those who have felt death's capacity to distort and diminish life.

On All Souls’ Day proper, St. Timothy's usually offers two liturgies: one for those whose schedules and abilities permit a daylight observance, and another for parishioners needing an evening service. Both liturgies are Prayer Book Requiems – Eucharists offered to God in commemoration of the dead in Christ. The lessons from Scripture and the special prayers used are from the Burial liturgies, with one special addition: the reading of the necrology or memorial list, which includes all those names members of our parish (and others, as well) have asked to be read at the altar, and those who have been buried from this parish this last twelvemonth. When possible (i.e. when it isn’t a driving rain outside), we then make our way to the Memorial Garden chanting a Litany of the Saints for graveside concluding prayers. For us the grave is not the end of the journey, but the portal through which we all must pass into that "larger life" awaiting us with Christ in the Kingdom.

There are many theological reasons for this day: the centrality of the Communion of Saints in the Catholic Faith is deeply affirmed, the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection is shown forth by denying death’s power to separate all members of His Body in a final and decisive way, and a positive sense of connection between the “Church Militant” (those struggling against evil in this world) and the “Church Triumphant” in heaven is drawn – as shown so powerfully in the Book of Revelation.

Yet it is not only formal theology that counts in faith: the pastoral element, as an application of the “Faith once delivered to the saints” is also highly significant. On All Souls’ we experience deep emotions: loss, sorrow, anger, regret… the very stuff of our fallen and broken world. Yet, we do so in the embrace of the Gospel: the story of God’s victory over these things is the foundation for this openness to exploring a territory fraught with unseen dangers – yet a territory we must traverse as disciples of Our Lord. Because He has been here before, He knows the way. His victory is ours, but we must take His yoke upon us, and learn to share in His victory even as He has shared in our sufferings.

So, All Souls’ is at turns a somber, tearful, peaceful, comforting, and assuring day. I have seen many people break down in healing ways on these days; I have also experienced the unique way God performs soul-surgery in the liturgy – drawing connections, kindling hope, and shining light where darkness had reigned. This is a quiet day, really, but a day of profound significance. It is one of the great blessings of living in this tradition, respectful of the teaching of the ancient Church and the limits of what we can say. For this teaching and practice, I am deeply thankful.
May they rest in peace!
And, for an Anglican “take” on the prayers of the saints for us, here is a document from the Church of England which well describes our “official position” on this matter:
It is impossible to declare that departed saints cannot hear our prayers, and we therefore must not condemn as impossible direct address to them as private practice, provided this be to ask for their prayers whether for ourselves or for others; anything other than this seems to us both perilous and illegitimate. But also it is impossible to have well-grounded assurance that the saints hear us, so that direct address to them may well be thought inappropriate in the official worship of the Church. On the other hand, such formal expression within the liturgy of our fellowship with them in prayer as is contained, for example, in the Collect – “O God, the King of Saints” – appended to the Scottish Liturgy represents a true balance of thought and is a legitimate enrichment of worship
Doctrine in the Church of England, published in 1938

An All Souls' Day Prayer (suitable for use throughout the year):
O God, the King of saints, we praise and glorify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in your faith and fear: for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; and for all your other righteous servants, known to us and unknown; and we pray that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.