Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Embertide: A Litany of the Holy Spirit

This litany is one of the main tools I use each Embertide. While it was written for clergy (or those about to be ordained), much of it is easily adaptable to lay members of the Church.

In spite of its being written in older style English (or, perhaps, because of it being so), I think this litany works as a sort of prolonged meditation on the ways in which we know, honor, and receive guidance from the Holy Spirit in our lives as Christians. I encourage you to pray it slowly, taking time between petitions. You might wish to take some time in silence afterwards, either simply to stand before God, or to journal your own response to what is revealed through this prayer.

One of the effects of this prayer on me is a deeper sense of reverence and gratitude for the ministry I have been given. Each one of us, no matter where we serve or in what order, must continually seek nourishment from the author of our ministry so that we will neither become overwhelmed or arrogant in our work. I pray that you will find this a worthy prayer, adapt it as needed, and use it with profit.

A Litany of the Holy Spirit
(Especially for use at the Embertides)

Lord, have mercy upon us.
            Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

O God the Father, of heaven;
            Have mercy upon us.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world;
            Have mercy upon us.
O God the Holy Spirit, the Comforter;
            Have mercy upon us.
O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three Persons and one God;
            Have mercy upon us.

O Holy Spirit, who at the beginning didst move upon the face of the waters;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, by whose inspiration holy men of old spake as they were moved;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, power of the highest, that didst overshadow Mary;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, through whom the holy Child Jesus waxed strong in spirit, and was filled with wisdom;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, who didst descent like a dove, and lighten upon Christ our Lord, at his baptism;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, of whom Jesus was led up into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, eternal Spirit, through whom Christ our Priest and Victim offered himself without spot to God;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, who on the day of Pentecost didst descend upon the Apostles in the likeness of fiery tongues;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, by whom we have been brought out of darkness and error into the clear light and true knowledge of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, by whom the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, by whom we were new-born in Baptism;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, who didst strengthen us with they sevenfold gift at Confirmation;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, who makest intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, by whom the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts;
            Have mercy upon us.
By thy eternal procession from the Father and the Son;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thy glorious work in the mystery of the Incarnation;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thy lighting as a dove upon Jesus at his baptism;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thy descent in likeness of fire on the day of Pentecost;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thy life-giving power and might;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thine all-powerful intercession;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thy continual abiding in the Church;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From all sin;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From presumption and despair;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From impenitence and hardness of heart;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From impurity, whether of mind or body, and from all that has ever defiled thy temple within us;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From the spirit of thoughtlessness and levity;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From the spirit of covetousness and self-seeking;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From the lust of honor and pride of life;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From deafness to they call and warnings;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From neglect of thy graces and inspirations;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From that sin against thee which has no forgiveness;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
 [In our preparation for the work of the ministry;
            Help us, O Holy Spirit.
In the solemn hour of Ordination;
            Help us, O Holy Spirit.]
In our dealings with souls committed to our charge;
            Help us, O Holy Spirit.
In success and in failure;
            Help us, O Holy Spirit.
In the solemn account that we must one day give;
            Save us and help us, we humbly beseech thee, O Lord.
We sinners do beseech thee to hear us, O Holy Spirit, that it may please thee to guide thy holy Church universal into all truth, and to fill it with thy love;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may give diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That, as we live in the Spirit, we may also walk in the Spirit;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may renounce the devil, the world, and the flesh;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may mortify the deeds of the body;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That with sincerity of purpose we may aim in all things at God’s greater glory;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That, in all our thoughts, words, and words, we may be confirmed more and more to the life and passion of the Lord Jesus;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may be gentle, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may rightly and duly administer thy holy Sacraments;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may ever reverently handle and devoutly receive the blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may be enabled to shew forth thy light in the world, and be holy examples to the flock of Christ;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may be filled with thy sevenfold gift; the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness, and the spirit of thy most holy fear;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That in our ministry we may not care to please, nor fear to displease, any but him who has called us to his service;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may count not our lives dear unto us, so that we may finish our course with joy, and the ministry received of the Lord Jesus;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may ever be mindful of that solemn account, which, for ourselves and others, we must one day give at the judgment-seat of Christ;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may have grace to persevere unto the end;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit;
            We beseech thee to hear us.
Lord, and Giver of life;
            We beseech thee to hear us.
Thou who didst descend at Pentecost;
            Have mercy upon us.

Lord, have mercy upon us.
            Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

Our Father, &c.
V. The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost;
R. He shall teach you all things.

Let us pray.
God, who didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people by the sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savor, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of thy faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers which we offer before thee for all members of thy holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and godly serve thee; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen

[And these prayers may be added or used as alternatives.

Let us pray for those who are to be ordered Priests.

O God, great in power, unsearchable in understanding, wondrous in counsels toward the children of men; Fill, we beseech thee, with the gift of thy Holy Spirit those who at this time humbly desire thy holy office of the Priesthood; that thy may be worthy to stand before thy holy altar unblameably, to announce the word of thy truth, to offer gifts and spiritual sacrifices unto thee, and to renew thy people in the laver of regeneration; that at the second coming of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, thin only-begotten Son, thy may go forth to meet him, and by thy multitude of thy mercies receive their reward: through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Let us pray for those who are to be ordered Deacons.

O Lord, our God, who by thin own presence dost shed the abundance of thy Holy Spirit on those who are set apart by thine inscrutable power, to become ministers and to serve thy spotless Mysteries; Keep thy servants who humbly desire the holy office of Deacon, that they may hold the mystery of the faith in pure conscience, with all virtue; enable them to discharge according to thy good pleasure the office assign to them by thy mercy; and fill them with thy holy and life-giving Spirit, with all faith and love, all power and sanctification. For thou art our God, and to thee we render glory, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

We pray and beseech thee, O Lord, in thy love and goodness: Send out from the height of thy holy dwelling-place, on all these thy servants for whom we have now made supplication unto thee, the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, the Holy, the Lord, the Giver of life, who spake in law and prophets and apostles, who is everywhere present and filleth all things, and worketh by his sovereign choice in whom he will, sanctifying them after thy good pleasure; that thy great and holy name may be glorified through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.]

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Starting the Lenten Journey

Sin’s Round
By George Herbert (1593-1633, commemorated February 27)

Sorry I am, my God, sorry I am,
That my offences course it in a ring.
My thoughts are working like a busy flame,
Until their cockatrice they hatch and bring:
And when they once have perfected their draughts,
My words take fire from my inflamed thoughts.

My words take fire from my inflamed thoughts,
Which spit it forth like the Sicilian hill.
They vent their wares, and pass them with their faults,
And by their breathing ventilate the ill.
But words suffice not, where are lewd intentions:
My hands do join to finish the inventions.

My hands do join to finish the inventions:
And so my sins ascend three stories high,
As Babel grew, before there were dissentions.
Let ill deeds loiter not: for they supply
New thoughts of sinning:
wherefore, to my shame,
Sorry I am, my God, sorry I am.

In this poem, Herbert makes a “round” by connecting each stanza through repeated lines, and by ending the poem with its beginning. In so doing, he shows the obsessive, self-referring character of sin that traps us in a life of frustration, degradation, and (ultimately) despair. 

Using images of destructive and futile imaginings (“cockatrice’s eggs”), Mt. Etna’s seething, poisonous fumes (“Sicilian hill”), and pride leading to chaos (“As Babel grew…”), Herbert creates a finely-wrought miniature study of the sinful, willful, and passion-bound inner life without God’s loving, healing grace. This poem invites us to put our own sinful behaviors and selfish attitudes in the place of Herbert's list, learning anew what "sin's round" is like in our own life.

On Ash Wednesday we began Lent in penitential sorrow—sorrow for the sins, the indifference, the cruelty that marks all life apart from God’s will. On that day, we took the formal step of confessing the truth of our diminished life, making the first steps on the trail of humility and honesty that leads back to wholeness and joy. Early Lent is focussed on such clear-eyed examination of our character and life. It is a necessary step: avoid it, and Lent dissolves into utter hypocrisy. Embrace it, and the fog of self-deception begins to lift by God's illuminating, purifying grace.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Three Disciplines of a Holy Lent

Christ Jesus taught us about the centrality of mercy, fasting, and prayer (see esp. the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 6). Our Lord assumed we will practice all of these, and the Anglican Tradition (where practiced faithfully) makes provision for this each week and especially in Holy Lent.

There are many ways to pray, fast, and offer works of mercy. Entire libraries might be constructed from books on these subjects. More importantly, however, we must have the right intention for this work—holding these three forms of spiritual discipline in the right balance and offering them for the right reasons.

The sermon below, one of the masterpieces of St. Peter Chrysologus, Bishop of Ravenna, is perhaps the most succinct statement on this matter. If you offer Holy Lent’s practices in the manner described below, you will experience a growth in holiness, justice, peace, and mercy. Call first upon God to bless your Lenten devotion: then walk forth in faith on your way to Easter…

There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.
            Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.
            When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.

Let this be the pattern for all men when they practise mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.
            Therefore, let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defence, a threefold united prayer in our favour.
            Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God, as the psalmist said in prophecy: A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.
            Offer your soul to God, make him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused, for if you are to give him yourself you are never without the means of giving.
            To make these acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.
            When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.
From a homily by St. Peter Chrysologus (the “golden-worded”), 
406-450 A.D. bishop of Ravenna, Italy

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Holy Shrovetide, As It Should Be

In our society, the days leading up to Lent, if they are known for anything special at all, are usually associated with Mardi Gras in New Orleans or other places where excess of many kinds is practiced without regard to the true purpose of this season. The original meaning of Shrovetide is not simply about "wine, women, and song." It is connected to spiritual preparation for Lent.

To be "shriven" means to received absolution when making a confession prior to Lent. During the Middle Ages, Christians would make their pre-Lenten confession and then spend much of Lent itself doing the penance given by the confessor. This penance was meant to soften the heart and open it to God's grace poured out freely and abundantly upon the Cross, but often ignored by us in our sinfulness. By making a confession and then offering the penance, the Christian was being prepared to receive the message of Holy Week and Easter deeply, rather than merely on the heart's surface.

Today in many parishes, Shrovetide has been reduced to a Pancake Supper on the day before Ash Wednesday, but this is hardly enough to encourage a rich and holy use of this season.

In the old calendar of the Church (the one before the current 1979 Book of Common Prayer's Calendar), the three Sundays before Ash Wednesday were set apart as a pre-Lenten season of preparation. While it was true that such a pre-Lent was, in effect, a time to prepare to prepare to prepare for the three great Holy Days of Maundy Thursday-Good Friday-Holy Saturday/Easter (pre-Lent, Lent, and Holy Week up to Thursday being the three stages of preparation being referred to), there was much wisdom in this old custom. While these Sundays are now connected with Epiphany instead of Lent, the Prayer Book (and our parish) has retained some elements of this older understanding of Shrovetide.

The readings and prayers in the weeks leading up to Lent often contain thoughts about the way our sin distorts the light that we celebrate flowing from Christ into the world during the season after the Epiphany. This invites us to think about the state of our own discipleship and what shape our Lenten Journey should take so that sin and its distortions have less power in our life. Those weeks immediately prior to Ash Wednesday can be viewed as something like packing for a trip: what route should we take? what is essential to have? what must we leave behind?

The Lenten Table in the narthex has many publications and spiritual tools for this work. The Lenten Rule forms found there await our prayerful use, and a commitment form to go into the offering plate and be kept at the altar during the Lenten season accompanies it. This blog has a section dealing with Lenten devotion, as well. All of this is in aid of moving deeper into the life we have been given, the life of Christ that beckons and shines with indescribable joy, yet which we often set aside for something lesser, something promising a life that is not Life. But, this journey cannot be taken without some thought.

Yesterday the Church commemorated Christ's appearing Transfigured in the Uncreated Light of God on the Holy Mountain. The prayers, readings from scripture, and hymns were radiant and glorious, yet the Collect of the Day prayed God to "strengthen us to bear our own cross," thus joining Christ in turning our face towards Jerusalem and what must be done there. The Transfiguration was, and can never be, about capturing a holy moment in spiritual aspic: it must always point towards a fulfillment of which it is but a glorious and mysterious foretaste. We join Our Lord and his Apostles in coming down off the mountain: now the harder, more grueling part of following Christ begins.

This means that Shrovetide, while a delightful time for parties and pre-Lenten merriment, is not really about lapsing into worldly sordidness or spiritual decadence: it is about attending to those last-minute but essential errands we must make before heading out on the Lenten journey, the trip accompanying the Prodigal back to the embrace of the loving Father...a journey not so much about physical distance as the distance of the heart. It is a voyage we cannot make alone: only with God's blessing and power can we come to our hoped-for destination. To make that journey means prayer, preparation, and courage.

It is the last hours before Lent now, and the time to leave on the pilgrimage before us is soon. May this Shrovetide be a truly holy time of joyous preparation, so that we may greet Ash Wednesday not only as a fast of repentance, but a fast of joy as we set out on our way home.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Candlemas: Carrying the Light of Christ

The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.
(from a sermon of St. Sophronius of Jerusalem, 
c. 560 – March 11, 638)

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also known as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Candlemas.

That last name comes from the ancient tradition of worshippers forming a procession into the church building on this Feast, each bearing a lamp or candle in commemoration of the words of St. Simeon recorded in the Gospel for this day (from Luke 2):

…for my eyes have seen your salvation,
  which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
  and for glory to your people Israel."

Light in the midst of darkness has always formed a major part of this feast’s significance, long before Christianity came to the Northern regions of long winter nights. One of the central themes in the New Testament is that of light—the Light of Christ—shining out in the darkness of this world. There are many kinds of darkness that afflict us, and Christ is the One Light capable of confronting and overcoming them all.

In a sermon on this feast quoted above, St. Sophronius likens the use of lamps held by worshippers at Candlemas to the Theotokos (the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God). This brings up some points to ponder in our “light-bearing” ministry.

The Blessed Virgin was a first-time mother when she brought the infant Jesus to Jerusalem. Like all new mothers, she had a great deal to learn about how to take care of a child. There were likely times when she experienced the exasperation in this new role, and there may have been moments when she did not practice the craft of mothering smoothly or effectively.

How many new moms have confidentially told me of forgetting their baby asleep in the crib and starting to go out on an errand, or not knowing quite what to do at the signs of an illness and panicking, or putting their newborn through a great deal of unnecessary misery in order to follow a system or technique someone else suggested as the best way to get “good results” in children? The birth of a child is just the beginning: life afterwards can be confusing, frightening, and often laced with humbling failure.

It is much the same with being a Christian. Baptism is just the start. Like the young Holy Theotokos, we carry the Light of Christ into the world each day. The way we bear that Light often shows our inexperience: we are unskilled, anxious, or occasionally willful or even negligent. When we forget what and whom we bear, this can become lethal; not to Christ, but to our discipleship in him.

The Holy Eucharist, the Daily Office, spiritual direction, confession, and the various occasions of prayer and service in a Christian’s life are opportunities to be renewed in the knowledge of just what we carry. In these encounters, we are recalled to the truth of what it means to be a “Little Christ” (the true meaning of “Christian”)—one who should be likened to Christ Jesus in our being, our mind, our will and actions.

We also shown our true identity and purpose by looking upon the Blessed Virgin in today’s Gospel lesson. Though uniquely called and graced, we share with her a common humanity, a common need to learn, grow, and risk everything for the Messiah. The Scriptural record tells us that, while there were times she did not grasp the fullness of her son’s nature or ministry, she did not “put out the light” or give up in bearing it.

This day also recalls the Blessed St. Simeon’s words to the Most Holy Theotokos: "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed-- and a sword will pierce your own soul too."

St. Simeon's prophesy reminds us there is no way to be associated with Jesus Christ and be insulated from the very real confrontation between life and death, love and sin, good and evil. That confrontation is essential to the Incarnation. It began at Christ's birth, and continued through his earthly ministry…and goes on still in the world and in the Church (and its members) today. We still are accountable for the light we were given at baptism and how we are carrying it. That light is no trifle: it is a flame of love and truth.

If we become careless, that flame might burn us, or we might cover it up, or (worse still) let it be snuffed out in us through our own neglect. And this would mean the loss not only of light for our own journey, but for others who are groping in the darkness of this world and crying out for the “Morning Star who knows no setting” we celebrate at Easter in the Exultet. This great Holy Day, listed as one of the Feasts of Our Lord, points us back to the true path and purposes of the light we bear. Let us be about this work with renewed delight and purpose.

The Collect for the Feast of the Presentation
Almighty and everliving God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.