Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ordinary prognostications

Before the New Year begins, I usually do some prognostications. In the realm of Anglican interest would be the appointment of an ordinary for the establishment of an Anglican Ordinariate in the United States on January 1. Since I supposed the announcement will be made just before the new year, I wanted to get this post out before then.

Anglicanorum Coetibus indicates that former Anglican bishops would be the most likely candidates for ordinary, but not necessarily so. There are six TAC bishops who are joining the ordinariate. Of those, perhaps Archbishop Louis Faulk could serve as a transitional figure to get things off the ground until a more permanent ordinary could be appointed. He might be a good choice given that his ministry was occupied in building up the continuing Anglican movement and leading it toward reconciliation with the Holy See (on the other hand, some might think that he would be a bad choice for precisely the same reason). What I'm not sure about is his age and health (he will turn 77). Faulk is retired now, and may not be up to the task.

Four bishops of the Episcopal Church became Roman Catholics in recent years. Two of those converts became reverts--Bishops Clarence Pope and Daniel Herzog. The other two have now been ordained as Catholic priests, Fathers Jeffrey Steenson and John Lipscomb. Of those two, Steenson is the more accomplished with an Oxford doctorate in theology. Interestingly, Pope and Steenson visited with Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II in the early 1990s to propose the establishment of a structure for Anglicans in the Catholic Church that was very similar to what eventually was established with Anglicanorum Coetibus. The Bovina Bloviator seems confident it will be Steenson.

In choosing an ordinary, preference is given for Anglican bishops, but he does not necessarily have to be one. And there are many former Anglican/Episcopal priests now serving as priest in Roman Catholic dioceses throughout the country. Of these, Fr. George Rutler is (like Steenson) the most theologically accomplished and has many years of pastoral experience on both sides of the Tiber. He is also unique in being unmarried and if chosen to be the ordinary, would be ordained to the episcopate. It might in itself be worth having at least one of the Anglican ordinaries be a bishop.

There are also priests who have been serving in the seven Anglican Use parishes and who would be able to bring those years of experience to the table. The most experienced would be Fr. Christopher Philips of Our Lady of the Atonement parish and school in San Antonio. He was instrumental in forming the Anglican Use in the first place and has been a great resource to those interested in the ordinariate throughout the country.

Another possibility is Fr. Scott Hurd, who has been the liaison for Cardinal Wuerl for the implementation of the ordinariate in this country, and there are many other unsung heroes who have been faithfully ministering as priests.

One question is whether the new ordinary will need to be a priest already. I suspect so. In England, the ordinary was received and ordained and made the ordinary right away. In that case, he was one of several Anglican bishops who converted for the establishment of an ordinariate. The situation is not the same in the US, where there have been Anglican Use parishes for years, and there is not the same need for an "all at once" approach.

So who will the ordinary be? My prognostication (which is a total guess based on no inside information whatsoever) is that it will not be anyone named above. I guess we'll find out in a matter of days.

Update: As usual, my prognostications are worth less than the paper they're written on. As everyone else anticipated, the new Ordinary for the US is Father Jeffrey Steenson. I'm sure he will prove to be a wise choice. If it's any consolation, I also predict that President Obama will be re-elected this November.

Also, just for fun, here is a magazine article from 1911 about what life will be like 100 years from now. Some of the guesses were not too far off the mark.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Such a healthy perspective!

It is refreshing to have such a healthy perspective on the whole issue of living with sexual brokenness as a faithful Catholic. According to Steve Gershom, it's just an ordinary life, and he's right. Have a look at his blog post "Gay, Catholic, and Doing Fine."

Here's an excerpt:
"Is it hard to be gay and Catholic? Yes, because like everybody, I sometimes want things that are not good for me. The Church doesn't let me have those things, not because she's mean, but because she's a good mother. . . . So, yes, it's hard to be gay and Catholic -- it's hard to be anything and Catholic -- because I don't always get to do what I want. Show me a religion where you always get to do what you want and I'll show you a pretty shabby, lazy religion. Something not worth living or dying for, or even getting up in the morning for. That might be the kind of world John Lennon wanted, but John Lennon was kind of an idiot."

Friday, December 02, 2011

Birth names and regal names

This Advent, I'm reading through Raymond Brown's monumental The Birth of the Messiah. I his commentary on Matthew's genealogy of Jesus, he noted something of which I was unaware. The kings of Israel often (perhaps always) had both a birth name and then a new name bestowed at their coronation. In his list, Matthew chose a birth name (Jeconiah) in one instance and a regal name (Uzziah) in another.

That got me wondering if there is a Christian parallel. In the resurrection, Christians are to receive new names. St John records Jesus' promise, "To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it" (Revelation 2:17). Since we are to be joint-heirs with the Son in the kingdom of God, perhaps this is analogous to a regal name.

Jesus is also said to have a new name; perhaps this indicates a regal name. Again, St John records Jesus' promise, "The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name" (Revelation 3:12).

What is this new name? St Peter gives us an indication in his speech on Pentecost. He says, "Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36). These new titles of "Lord" and "Christ" are bestowed by God the Father in virtue of Jesus' resurrection, which serves as a kind of coronation (by analogy), giving us the regal names "Lord and Christ"--names which are above every name.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

A Christmas without Anglicans?

One of the things I like most about the Christmas season are the carols. It only occurred to me recently that so many of them came to us from Anglicans. That reminded me that even our popular image of jolly old St. Nick was shaped by a professor of biblical studies at (of all places) an Episcopal seminary.

“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” is a poem first published anonymously in 1823 and generally attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, a professor of classics at Columbia and then lay Professor of Hebrew and the Bible at the General Theological Seminary in New York, which was built on land he donated. The poem, which has been called “arguably the best-known verses ever written by an American,” is largely responsible for the conception of Santa Claus from the mid-nineteenth century to today, including his physical appearance, the night of his visit, his mode of transportation, the number and names of his reindeer, as well as the tradition that he brings toys to children.

And what about the carols? The text of the popular Christmas carol “O little town of Bethlehem” was written by Phillips Brooks, an Episcopal priest who was the long-time Rector of Trinity Church Trinity in Boston, and later the Bishop of Massachusetts. He was inspired by visiting the Palestinian city of Bethlehem in 1865. Three years later, he wrote the poem for his church and his organist, Lewis Redner, added the music. Redner’s tune, simply titled “St. Louis,” is the tune used most often for this carol in the United States.”

John Mason Neale was an Anglican priest, scholar, and hymn-writer. He translated many ancient hymns, such as the Christmas classic “Of the Father’s love begotten.” He was also responsible for much of the translation of the Advent hymn “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” based on the “Great O Antiphons” for the week preceding Christmas. Neale’s most enduring and widely known legacy is probably his own original Christmas contributions, most notably “Good Christian men, rejoice” and his Boxing Day carol, “Good King Wenceslas.”

The Anglican priest Charles Wesley, penned the classic “Hark! The herald angels sing.” The original words were reworked by his friend and fellow priest George Whitfield into the verses familiar to us today. The “Father of English Hymnody” Isaac Watts, a nonconformist minister in England, wrote the famous carol “Joy to the world!” The Anglican bishop Christopher Wordsworth penned the famous carol, “Sing, O sing, this blessed morn.”

Christina Rossetti was an English poet and a devout Anglo-Catholic. Two of her poems, “In the bleak midwinter” and “Love came down at Christmas,” became popular Christmas carols. Cecil Alexander, wife of a priest and then bishop in the Church of England, wrote the hymn “Once in royal David’s city.” Nahum Tate, who was the son of a priest and became England’s poet laureate, wrote the hymn “While shepherds watched their flock by night.” At the age of twenty-nine, English writer and Anglican layman William Chatterton Dix was struck with a sudden near-fatal illness and confined to bedrest for several months, which resulted in a deep depression. Yet out of his traumatic experience, he wrote the lovely carol “What Child is this?”

What would Christmas be like without Anglicans?

Your pastor and friend,
Father Timothy

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Where is the new bishop of Fulham?

It was a little over a year ago now that the former Bishop of Fulham, John Broadhurst, announced his resignation at the end of 2010. He did so along with four other bishops, including the bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough. Last May, Father Jonathan Baker was appointed to the See of Ebbsfleet and Father Norman Banks was appointed to the See of Richborough. Both were consecrated on the 16th of June and have been serving for half the year now. So where is the new Bishop of Fulham?

In his final address to the Forward in Faith Annual Assembly in October 2010, Bishop Broadhurst noted that the Bishop of London stated that "he intends to replace me." So where is that replacement? Why the hold up? Is that appointment still coming? Last November, Bishop Chartres of London noted, "After consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury, I intend with the assistance of representative figures in the Diocese, to appoint a successor to the Suffragan See of Fulham. I envisage that any new Bishop of Fulham will be more closely related to me as the Bishop of London in serving the Two Cities Area. Earlier today I met with the College of Bishops to discuss the way ahead. With immediate effect the Bishop of Edmonton has agreed to assume responsibility for the pastoral care of those clergy and parishes who before today related to the Bishop Fulham."

The Bishop of Fulham is an "area bishop" (in America, we call them suffragans) of the Diocese of London charged to minister specially to congregations opposed to the ordination of women. It may be that the position is being reworked somewhat, perhaps in tandem with Southwark. A person who seems knowledgeable posted this back in June on a Ship of Fools newsgroup:

"In the Diocese, we obviously want to establish a new way of working for the next Bishop of Fulham. The previous occupant of the see made it more of a personal chaplaincy; our aim going forward is to ensure that it is a genuinely suffragan role, with clarity both about the episcopal responsibilities that are expected and about the way in which pastoral care will be exercised for those unable to accept women priests and bishops. This includes looking at how the role extends south of the River. Work is being done on that at present, as is some thinking about the rationale for the London Area system (which we believe to be robust and to continue to serve the parishes well). No doubt an appointment will emerge in due course."

And Father Jones of St. Peters, London Docks, commented on his blog on August 31st: "Why, I am asked has there been no appointment of a Bishop of Fulham. Alas, I have no answer. I do not meet with the councils of the great. That said The Bishop of London has, both verbally and in writing, assured me and others that an appointment will be made and it will be that of a Catholic traditionalist. . . . I am not inclined to think The Bishop of London as being other than a man of honour and of his word . . ."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pappa Ratzinger on "expiation"

In our Bible study at St Matthew's, Comanche, we are using Pope Benedict's second book on Jesus as our study guide. We used the first book in our study last year. I am appreciative of all the new things that have been covered that I've either never heard of or never thought about much before.

Some examples: the synoptic gospels "extends the timeline" to the eschaton when Jesus talks about the "time of the Gentiles" being fulfilled (i.e., the Gospel must first be preached to the whole world, then the end will come). The evangelical urgency of the apostolic era (especially St Paul's journeys) was due more to a desire to hasten Christ's return rather than a motive to maximize the number of Christians in the world.

According to Josephus, the Christian community had fled to the wilderness beyond the Jordan before the Jewish War and the destruction of Jerusalem occurred. The Christians did not defend the Temple because they understood that the era of the Temple was over, or superseded. Jesus is the new Temple, as it were. Likewise, in St Paul's arguments with the Judaizers (see Galatians especially), the issue of the Temple never came up, even though " a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7). Even the Judaizers understood that the era of the Temple was over.

Lastly, his treatment of the term expiation is absolutely masterful. Here is the passage:

"The Greek word that is here translated as 'expiation' is hilasterion, of which the Hebrew equivalent is kapporet. This word designated the covering of the Ark of the Covenant. This is the place over which YHWH appears in a cloud, the place of the mysterious presence of God. This holy place is sprinkled with the blood of the bull killed as a sin-offering on the Day of Atonement--the Yom ha-Kippurim (cf. Lev 16) 'whose life is offered up to God in place of the life forfeited by sinful men' (Wilckens, Theologie des Neuen Testaments II/1, p. 235). The thinking here is that the blood of the victim, into which all human sins are absorbed, actually touches the Divinity and is thereby cleansed -- and in the process, human beings, represented by the blood, are also purified through this contact with God: an astonishing idea both in its grandeur and its incompleteness, and idea that could not remain the last word in the history of religions or the last word in the faith of Israel.

"When Paul applies the word hilasterion to Jesus [in Romans 3:23-25], designating him as the seal of the Ark of the Covenant and thus as the locus of the presence of the living God, the entire Old Testament theology of worship (and with it all the theologies of worship in the history of religions) is 'preserved and surpassed' (aufgehoben) and raised to a completely new level. Jesus himself is the presence of the living God. God and man, God and the world, touch one another in him. The meaning of the ritual of the Day of Atonement is accomplished in him. In his self-offering on the Cross, Jesus, as it were, brings all the sin of the world deep within the love of God and wipes it away. Accepting the Cross, entering into fellowship with Christ, means entering the realm of transformation and expiation" (pp. 39-40).

Friday, September 16, 2011

How often must I forgive?

History is replete with turning points. For the Moslem Turks of the Ottoman empire, the most decisive turning point came in 1683. The heretofore conquering Islamic armies of the Sultan were met, held, and thrown back at the gates of Vienna, Austria. The leader Poland’s Christian army, John Sobieki, sent a letter of victory to Pope Innocent XI in which he wrote, similar to Julius Caesar, “I came, I saw, God conquered.”

Historians would note that the Ottoman empire never recovered from that defeat. From then on, the world stage was set. It was nearly assured that Western Christian powers would dominate the world stage, forever undermining Moslem domination through Europe. For Eastern historians, and especially more enthusiastic religious devotees, the moment was remembered as a humiliation for Islam, and a prelude to more humiliations later on. The date was September 11, 1683.

If anyone had doubts about the Battle of Vienna, those were erased at the Battle of Zenta. The Moslems had made a last ditch effort to destroy Christian civilization in the old Byzantine empire. Fourteen years later to the day, on September 11, 1697, Prince Eugene of Savoy killed 20,000 Turks, seized the Ottoman treasury, and took captive 10 of the Sultan’s wives. By treaty, the Ottomans were forced to cede Croatia, Hungary, Transylvania, and Slavonia to Austria.

Unrest in this part of the world later blossomed into “the Great War,” or World War I. A number of territories in Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East changed hands through the war. And following that conflict, it was on September 11, 1922 the British mandate came into force in Palestine over and against unrelenting opposition from Arabs, who declared it a day of mourning. In 1998, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared the 11th of September as an annual International Day of Peace, dedicated “to strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among nations and peoples.”

And in 2001, on a cool Tuesday morning, the 11th of September, the United States became part of a conflict she did not begin and, very likely, will not see finished. It is, perhaps, fitting that on this day of national remembrance we dedicate a memorial in New York city which is essentially two giant holes in the ground—decorated scars on our collective memory.

In today’s Gospel, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often must I forgive my brother who sins against me?” I suspect he was at least partly looking for permission to give up. Jesus wants us to understand today that it is part of his plan that the Church be a place of healing and forgiveness and mercy.

What is forgiveness? Most of us probably think of it incorrectly. So often another person does something wrong and says, “I’m sorry.” And then we respond by saying, “That’s alright. It was nothing. Don’t worry about it. No problem. It couldn’t be helped.” But that’s not forgiveness—it’s called being polite.

Forgiveness requires an acknowledgement that a true wrong has been committed. An apology is a self-accusation of guilt, and often a request for mercy. Forgiveness is when the injured party shows the guilty mercy. Mercy means giving someone better that what they deserve. In terms of forgiveness, it means forgoing our rightful claims of vengeance. Forgiveness means to surrender my right to hurt you for hurting me. But there are many things that disrupt this process.

Forgiveness is very often an extremely difficult thing to do. The more grievous the sin, the more difficult it is to forgive. There is something to be said for the analogy of forgiving debts—the more expensive the amount to be forgiven, the higher the personal sacrifice on the part of the injured party.

What gets in the way of forgiveness? It can be a general reluctance to forgive or to be merciful—a hardness of heart. It can be our sense of injustice—that they’d be getting away with it. It can be our pride, or simply a natural competitive spirit—it would feel like the other person won if you backed down.

Jesus shows us today how the unwillingness to be merciful ourselves keeps us from enjoying the mercy of our heavenly Father. You must forgive to be forgiven. You must be a healer to be healed yourself. In the book of Sirach in the Old Testament, we read, “Anger and wrath, these are abominations, and the sinful man will posses them. He that takes vengeance will suffer vengeance from the Lord,and he will firmly establish his sins. Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.”

Also, St. Paul warned us today to be careful how we judge others. “Each of us shall give an account of himself to God.” And Jesus gave us the parable of a king who forgave the debt of a wicked servant. The servant was wicked because he did not forgive another person his debt as the first servant had himself been forgiven by the king. As it must be, he got caught, and he was no longer shown mercy. Jesus uses this to show how we should forgive others as God our King forgave us.

Jesus said, “The master delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all of his debt. So also my heavenly father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Jesus said virtually the same thing when commenting on the prayer he taught the disciples, which we now call the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus said, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive other their trespasses, your heavenly Father will not forgive you.”

Mercy is available to us in abundance, but it is the merciful who find mercy. If we do not forgive others, we should not expect forgiveness for ourselves. We should rather expect that God, like this earthly king, will throw us like this servant into a kind of “debtor’s prison.”

What is the debtor’s prison for paying the debt of sin? The prison is hell—a chamber of horrors, cut off forever from God’s goodness and mercy. As hard as one may try, no one can ever work off the debt of sin. There, in hell, a sinner remains trapped, imprisoned, doomed—held by the chains of his own sin, because he has refused the only key that can undue his shackles—the key of God’s mercy.

Peter said, “Lord, how often must I forgive my brother who sins against me?” Jesus tells him to keep on forgiving—there should be mercy without end. Why? because that’s how God is treating us—with mercy after mercy.

Patient, repeated forgiveness is a part of Jesus’ plan for his Church. As often as someone would turn to us to say, “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” we should be willing to show the same mercy that he wants to shower upon us—the mercy that we see time and time again at the cross.

Today is a day of remembrance. Let us recall our national wounds and our own wounds. Let us never forget what others have done to us. Let us remember so that we will never hold it against them. Let us never forget what they have done so that we shall never lose an opportunity to show mercy to others as God has shown mercy to us.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why did St Paul appeal to Rome?

Much of the Acts of the Apostles details the conversion and ministry of St Paul the Apostle. In chapter 21, he visits the great Temple in Jerusalem. Although Paul is careful to follow all of the Jewish customs, some in the crowd mistakenly believe that he brought Gentiles into restricted areas and thereby defiled the temple. A riot of sorts ensued and Paul was arrested before he was killed by the crowd.

At his hearing, Paul quickly finds that he is able to give his personal testimony and gain another venue for the proclamation of the gospel. Because he could not be executed by the Romans for Jewish ritual crimes (as with Jesus) the mob accused Paul of treason. As a Roman citizen, Paul exercised his right of appeal to the Emperor. The move got him out of a hot situation and probably saved his life.

After this, however, Paul was essentially shuffled around in custody for several years -- long after his accusers and the threat they posed had passed. The Romans wanted to release him (shades of Pontius Pilate, perhaps). Yet, Paul maintained his appeal rather than go free for no apparent purpose. At one point, Agrippa even remarked to Festus, "This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar" (Acts 26:32). In Acts, Paul himself says he feels guided by the hand of Providence, but does not know the ultimate reason why. In the face of a perilous journey, he later remarks to others on his ship,

I now bid you take heart; for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, `Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and lo, God has granted you all those who sail with you.' So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we shall have to run on some island" (Acts 27:22-26).

Perhaps he slowly came to see his appeal as a God-given opportunity -- an opportunity not just to proclaim the gospel in Rome, but to Caesar himself. Perhaps a hint of that opportunity is given in the selection of the Divine Office reading today:

Agrippa said to Paul, 'In a short time you think to make me a Christian!" And Paul said, "Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am -- except for these chains" (Acts 26:28-29).

What a possibility -- to get such a reaction from the Emperor himself! If he stayed the course, Paul could be guaranteed an audience for the gospel. With that opportunity, he could either glorify God by the conversion of Caesar or by Paul's own martyrdom.

Historically, God would grant both outcomes. Paul would glorify God by a martyr's death in Rome, receiving the mercy of a beheading according to his rights as a citizen. The church in Rome would grow strong on the dual apostolic foundation of the two Roman martyrs Peter and Paul as well as all the other early martyrs of the Roman church. When their number was complete, the first Christian Emperor was led to conversion by an event similar to that which changed the life of Paul, a sign in the heavens -- a vision and a message from the Savior of men.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

St Saviour, Hoxton--A blast from the past

Reading through Martin Travers: An Appreciation, by Rodney Warrener and Michael Yelton, I came to a section on St Saviour's Church, Hoxton. It's the parish that "went all the way" and now is no more. Here is an excerpt:

St. Saviour was a thorn in the side of the usually tolerant Bishop of London, Winnington-Ingram. Ironically, it was the Bishop himself who had intervened to procure the living for Father Ernest Kilburn in 1907, after it was proposed by the Crown, who held the right of presentation alternately with the Bishop, to introduce a Low Church incumbent from Leeds.

Kilburn was inducted as vicar on 26th October 1907. Initially his views appear to have been quite moderate, and he followed the English Use. However, by 1910 incense was being used, and by 1911 the magazines refer to 'Mass' instead of 'Holy Communion.' By the end of the First World War he had turned the church into a working replica of a Roman parish.
Mass after 1919-20 was always said in Latin, and all the usual Roman devotions were observed; the Sunday evening service was normally Vespers and Benediction. Dom Anselm Hughes, in his personal history of the Catholic Movement in the Twentieth Century, a sympathetic observer, wrote: 'occasionally an individual has made the mistake of moving too far ahead of the front line and so losing contact altogether. This is almost certainly true of E. E. Kilburn . . .' The problem facing the authorities was that Kilburn himself was a saintly figure, and the church was always full when others were not.
. . .
In 1927 Father D. A. Ross became vicar; he had to promise before his institution to revert to the vernacular for his services, although the church continued to be Papalist in tone. It housed the offices of the Confraternity for Unity from its establishment in this country in 1929. In 1932 Travers returned to tile the sanctuary.

In 1940 the church was severely damaged in an air raid and, being in an area which was rapidly being depopulated, it was not rebuilt. One of Travers' exotic but cheap schemes from this period was thus lost for ever, and it is fortunate that there is some photographic evidence of what was done there.

Below, the interior of St Saviour at the Dedication Festival in May of 1936, showing the Travers high altar, canopy, and cartouches.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

How to get more out of Mass

Homily for the Sunday after Corpus Christi

Today, we heard some words about discipleship from our blessed Lord that might seem shocking to us, but they should shape our perspective. Jesus says, “Don’t think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Jesus warns us that in some cases, his radical call of discipleship will bring hostility within the closest of bonds—the human family. He goes on to say, “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me, is not worthy of me.”

Jesus is speaking here of the stark reality of priorities—what is most important. When faced with tough choices, one turns to his or her priorities. Often that’s how we first find out what our real priorities are. It is said that conflict reveals character. That is, it’s only when we make tough decisions under real pressure that we discover what really is important to a person.

Jesus is warning his disciples: Before you go out there, before you face a hostile world, before things get messy in your life, you need to get your priorities in order. “In case you missed it,” Jesus tells them, “I am your number one priority.” Our main commitment as Christian disciples is to Jesus himself.

We have many things that are meaningful, important, and even crucial to us. But what is your highest priority? Food? Water? Shelter? Time? Your highest priority is not your job, your home, or your possessions; it is not your country nor your ethnic or family heritage; it is not your mother or father, nor your children, it is not even your husband or your wife or yourself. Your highest priority is Jesus Christ.

The Thursday after Trinity Sunday is the feast of Corpus Christi, the commemoration of the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ. Roman Catholics in the USA commemorate it the next Sunday (today). So today, I’d like to reflect on this sacrament and how to get more out of the experience of going to Mass.

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council noted: “The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows.” In terms of worship, the Eucharist is our highest priority.

And that priority is fitting in light of today’s gospel, for we celebrate the Eucharist in obedience to our Lord’s command to continue the memorial of his sacrifice on the cross, and it is even more fitting because the Eucharist is Jesus himself—his body, blood, soul, and divinity given for our salvation.

Although Jesus offers all of us the same gifts in his sacraments, the key to making better use of those graces, of getting more out of Mass, is twofold: it involves preparation and it involves participation.

Think back to moments in your life with this question, What has gone really well for which you were totally unprepared? On occasion, that does happen. Sometimes we hear about people doing extraordinary and heroic things in desperate circumstances. But those are the exceptions to the rule, and even then, consider this . . . How often is a drowning victim revived by one who does not know CPR? How often is a plane crash avoided by one who does not know how to fly? How often is conflict avoided by those who cannot talk to each other?

Preparation is the surest way to get the most out of any experience, including Mass. So how do you prepare for Mass? The most important way to prepare for Mass is through the regular examination of our consciences and through the discipline of regular confession. When the general confession comes along in the course of the liturgy, do you have specific faults to offer up at that moment? or are we on to the next thing before you can even give it some thought?

The Exhortation of the Prayer Book reminds us of St Paul’s admonition to prepare ourselves carefully before partaking in the Body and Blood of Christ. It says, “Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord. Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word, or deed. And acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life . . . then come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.”

We should not receive Holy Communion unless and until we are truly prepared. That means examining our lives, confessing our sins, and making amends. The general confession at Mass is not a substitute for a private sacramental confession to a priest, but it is rather a continual reminder of our need for it.

To get the most out of Mass, we need to prepare our hearts each time and regularly “take out the garbage” of our hearts to make room for God’s graces. Making a private sacramental confession of devotion to a priest seasonally (such as Advent and Lent) or monthly is a good habit to begin.

Next, it is a custom of the church to fast before receiving Holy Communion. A new rubric was added to the proposed English Prayer Book of 1928, saying “It is an ancient and laudable custom of the Church to receive this Holy Sacrament fasting.” Like so many things in our church, it is a matter of custom rather than law. It means that for Masses in the morning, you should avoid food from midnight. For Masses after noon, a three hour fast has long been deemed sufficient.

The idea is to break the fast with Jesus, to start the Sunday feast with the Lord, to hunger for him (first and foremost) in our Holy Communion. The elderly and young children as well as the sick are exempted from the fast. And if you are not able to participate fully, do what you can for the Lord. For example, I am a diabetic, so I’m not supposed to fast. So I have a light meal—something very simple like a banana or toast.

Another tip is to dress for Mass. This congregation is pretty casual, and people are not going to judge you here based on the clothes you wear. But this is about you and the Lord. A state of dress puts you in a state of mind. How would you dress if working in the garden? Going into outer space? Going to a job interview? Giving a speech? Going to meet the president? How would you dress if you were going to meet with God?

Along similar lines, do things differently on a Sunday morning. Avoid distractions, turn off the radio or TV, come early, look over the readings. Preparation is very important, but it is not all that matters.

Participation is another way to get the most out of any experience, including Mass. So how do you participate in Mass? We are here to worship God, so stay focused on that. Spend some time in silence with the Lord. Kneel down and pray before Mass, and spend at least a little time in prayer and thanksgiving after Mass.

Be careful to follow the liturgy—when to sit, stand, and kneel together. Make the sign of the cross in the traditional places. If a visitor is here, help them find their place in the book. Join in singing, even if you don’t like to. It’s your offering to God.

Especially at the offertory and during the Canon of the Mass (the prayer of consecration), intercede for others and intercede for yourself. Ask for graces from God. Didn’t Jesus tell us, “Ask and ye shall receive”? What better time to do so than during the Eucharstic prayer?

Pray for those around you and for those who couldn’t be here with you. Remember those who are sick or hurting. Pray for those you know who need the light of the Gospel or who need to come home to the Lord in a spirit of repentance. Pray for the work of the church and the spread of the gospel. Pray for God to use you in this work. Pray for God’s grace to keep you faithful, avoid temptation, and stay free from sin. Pray for our bishop and for all bishops, especially the pope in Rome. Pray for all the clergy and those in religious orders. Pray for the unity of the church. Pray for our governmental leaders and our courts. Pray for peace and safety at home and abroad. Pray for the faithful departed, especially your own loved ones. Pray for them to enter into the fullness of God’s presence and become saints. Pray for the intercession of the saints and the protection of the angels.

Join in their unceasing act of worship at God’s throne, singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts.” When the priest holds up the sacred Host for the congregation to adore, look upon the Body of Christ and say with St. Thomas, “My Lord, and my God!”

If your heart is not prepared for Holy Communion, invite Jesus spiritually into your heart, unite your soul and your will to his. If your heart is prepared, come with it filled with faith, hope, and charity and receive the Holy Communion, cherishing all the graces God offers you in this Holy Sacrament.

As St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Come to the Lord’s Supper, if you wish to come to the nuptials of the Lamb; there we shall be inebriated with the riches of the house of God, we shall see the King of glory and the God of hosts in all his beauty, we shall eat this Bread in the kingdom of the Father.”

For Corpus Christi

The 1928 Proposed Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England (the Church approved it, but Parliament did not, so it never became the official Prayer Book) added the following rubric to the communion rite:

¶ It is an ancient and laudable custom of the Church to receive this Holy Sacrament fasting. Yet for the avoidance of all scruple it is hereby declared that such preparation may be used or not used, according to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Why no rapture?

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As you probably know, the prediction of Harold Camping of Family Radio that the rapture will occur this Saturday has gotten a good deal of attention. In his prediction, the rapture will come in May and Judgment day will follow in October. I was once a big believer in the rapture idea. Some of you may be wondering what that is all about and how we know it is a false teaching.

The rapture teaching goes back to the mid 1800s, popularized by John Nelson Darby at various bible prophecy conferences and then by dispensationalism as represented in the Scofield Reference Bible. The idea of the rapture of the church is that sometime before the Second Advent of Jesus, the Lord comes secretly to remove the church from the earth--the last resistance to evil in the world. It's what you might describe as Christ's "Advent 1.5"--Jesus comes just close enough to pick up his followers before things get really bad. There are camps of those who believe this will happen before or during the great tribulation. Unfortunately, the teaching dogmatizes escapism and sometimes ends up producing a strange perspective on the world, as seen on wesites like

Of course, scripture reference are used to support this teaching, but each passage has to be used very selectively in order to fit, sometimes even requiring new doctrines to make it fit (e.g., a new secret resurrection of raptured believers before the general resurrection). Two passages commonly used in support of the rapture (apart from other "last day", second coming, and general resurrection passages) are 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Matthew 24:37-41.

The letter to the Thessalonians was perhaps the earliest written part of the New Testament. The believers at Thessalonica expected the Lord's return soon, but some in their church had died and they were concerned that those departed brethren might miss out on this great event. Paul writes to them and says don't worry; they won't miss a thing. At first glance, it sounds like a description of the rapture (indeed, this passage is where the word "rapture" comes from in the Latin translation). Verse 17: "We who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them [i.e., the resurrected dead] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord."

But there are problems. As mentioned before, to make the rapture fit, we now need a secret resurrection of departed believers, separated in time, before the general resurrection takes place. In the rapture view, life continues as it was on earth, but with all the Christians missing (at least the true believers). Also, the event described in this passage is not so secret; it is heralded with trumpet blasts and shouts of praise. Verse 16: "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God."

This is of course, an exact description of the traditional view of the Second Coming of Jesus--in power and glory, public and heralded for all the world to see and hear, instantaneous, momentous, and unmistakable. There is no secret advent envisioned in this passage. Along with the Second Coming of Christ, the dead are raised to stand for judgment. The believers rise "first" to go out and meet the Lord, to welcome him as he arrives with the saints and angels. This is the cultural way of greeting an arriving dignitary in biblical times.

It was for this reason that the Matthean Palm Sunday passage used to be read on the first Sunday in Advent. The version in John's gospel shows that practice best: "The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, 'Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!'" (John 12:12-13).

In Matthew 24:37-41, Jesus gives a description of the end times. Jesus tells the disciples that no one can know the time of the end, but you can heed the warning signs. This has the familiar quote in verse 40-41: "Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left." At first glance, it sounds like a description of the rapture. Indeed, this is the source for the title of the Left Behind series of novels (and movies and games, etc.).

However, context is everything. The context is that Jesus is describing the last day--the final judgment or "Day of the Lord." And he describes it by the analogy of a previous divine judgment--the great deluge of Noah's time. Verse 27-39:
"As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." The flood swept away the sinners. The coming of the Son of Man will be like that--the cleansing of the earth by the sweeping away of [unrepentant] sinners at the divine judgment.

In context, the sinners are "swept away" and the righteous are "left behind."
Which is to say again, context is everything. Do not let apocalyptic hysteria distort your perspective on the world. More importantly, do not let it distort your faith. Do not build a whole theological structure on a few scattered half-verses. That is as shaky as a house of cards. Read passages in the context of the times they were written; read whole chapters and books together; read selections in context with the whole teaching of Scripture, understood through the apostolic tradition preserved faithfully in the Church.

Make no mistake, you want to be left behind!
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View the above cartoon and others by John Rule at the Hal Lindsey Oracle Cartoons website.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Now it all finally makes sense

Like when he said in that famous convention speech, "If you have great relations with your staff, YOU are a Republican."

Watching over us from above

Above,Tracy Caldwell-Dyson looks down upon the earth from the the Cupola of the International Space Station. The whole complex is quite an achievement. The final modules are being delivered right now by Space Shuttle Atlantis, which docked with the station today. The irony is that when our shuttle program ends in July, we'll have to hitch a ride with the Russians to get to the space station which we mostly transported and assembled with our shuttle fleet. Below, Dmitri Kondratyev and Paolo Nespoli take pictures in the Cupola, with visiting spacecraft visible in the background.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Propers for the English Missal

My birthday gift to the world is a new blog which is a compilation of Propers from the (Knott) English Missal. After posting its prayers for every day in Lent, I decided to go whole hog and make a public resource for churches and any interested party. If this interests you, please add it to your bookmarks. If you are interested in helping out with transcribing, you can email me at frmatkin[at]verizon[dot]net. I need the pre-1955 version of the Holy Week rites to complete this project. I figure if I keep at least one entry a week, I should have the bulk of it done by next Easter.

Here's the Wiki entry for the English Missal:

The English Missal is a translation of the Roman Missal used by some liturgically advanced Anglo-Catholic parish churches. After its publication by W. Knott & Son Limited in 1912, the English Missal was rapidly endorsed by the growing Ritualist movement of Anglo-Catholic clergy, who viewed the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer as insufficient expressions of fully Catholic worship. The translation of the Roman Missal from Latin into the stylized Elizabethan Early Modern English of the Book of Common Prayer allowed clergy to preserve the use of the vernacular language while adopting the Roman Catholic texts and liturgical rubrics.

The only differences in content from the Roman Missal are the English Missal's inclusion of the ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Holy Week and certain texts from the Book of Common Prayer, including optional prayers from the ordinary of the Prayer Book's Communion Service and the lessons for Sundays and major feast days from the Prayer Book's lectionary, which was itself taken from the earlier Sarum Use Mass of pre-Reformation England.

After the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874 threatened imprisonment for priests using ritualist liturgical practices, a custom arose of the celebrant saying the Roman Canon in Latin to himself silently (i.e., sotto voce, in a soft voice) in addition to saying the official texts of the Book of Common Prayer aloud. While enforcement of the Public Worship Regulation Act ended in 1906, the custom persisted, due in part to the fact that in the pre-Concilliar Roman Rite the Canon of the Mass was always said silently. For this reason, the Latin text of the Canon of the Mass was included in the English Missal in addition to the English translation.

The English Missal went through five editions. The first three were based on the Roman Missal of Pius V as revised until the time of Pope Pius X. The latter two editions include the revised Roman Catholic Holy Week of 1958. One American edition includes material that conforms to the American 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

In the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council and the subsequent authorization of the typical edition of the Roman Missal in English, the use of the English Missal has greatly declined. Especially in England, the modern Novus Ordo Mass of Pope Paul VI in English is widely used in Anglo-Catholic parishes. However, the use of the English Missal continues in a small number of liturgically traditional Anglican parish churches in England, the United States of America, and West Africa.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Exultet from the English Missal

NOW LET THE ANGELIC HOST OF HEAVEN REJOICE: let the divine mysteries rejoice: And for the victory of the mighty King, let the trumpet of salvation sound forth. Let the earth also be glad, illumined by the rays of this great brightness, and enlightened by the splendor of the eternal King, let her know that she hath put away the darkness of the whole world. Let our mother the Church also rejoice, adorned with the brightness of so great a light: and let this temple resound with the triumphant voices of the peoples: Wherefore, dearly beloved brethren, who are here present in the wondrous clearness of this holy light, join with me, I beseech you, in calling upon the mercy of almighty God. That he who hath been pleased, for no merit of mine, to admit me into the number of his Levites: may pour on me the brightness of his light, and make me meet to proclaim the praises of this Candle. Through Jesus Christ his Son our Lord: Who liveth and reigneth with him in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God. Throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.
V. Lift up your hearts.
R. We lift them up unto the Lord.
V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
R. It is meet and right so to do.

IT IS VERY MEET and right that we should, with the whole affection of our heart and mind, and with the service of our lips, give praise unto the invisible God, the Father almighty. And unto his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Who paid for us to the eternal Father the debt of Adam’s transgression: and with his dear blood wiped away the reproach of our former offences. For this is the paschal feast wherein the very Lamb is slain, by whose blood the doorposts of the faithful are made holy. This is the night, wherein of old thou didst lead forth our fathers, the children of Israel out of Egypt, and didst make them pass as on dry land through the Red Sea. Yea, this is the night, that with the brightness of the pillar hath purged away the darkness of iniquity. This is the night, which throughout the whole world today doth separate them that believe in Christ from the wickedness of the age, and from the darkness of transgressions, reneweth them unto grace, restoreth them to holiness. This is the night wherein, breaking the chains of death, Christ ascended from hell in triumph. For naught indeed had it profited us to be born, if it had not profited us to be redeemed. O how wonderful the condescension of thy loving kindness! O how inestimable the goodness of thy love: who to redeem a slave didst deliver up thy Son! O truly necessary sin of Adam, which by the death of Christ was done away! O happy fault, which was counted worthy to have such and so great a Redeemer! O night truly blessed, which alone was worthy to know the time and the hour when Christ rose again from hell! This is the night whereof it is written: And the night is as clear as the day: and, Then shall my night be turned into day. The sanctifying power therefore of this night putteth to flight the deeds of wickeness, washeth away sins: restoreth innocence to the fallen, and joy to them that mourn; casteth out enmities, prepareth concord, and boweth down principalities.

THEREFORE in this night of grace accept, O holy Father, the evening sacrifice of this incense; which, by the hands of thy ministers, holy Church doth lay before thee, in the solemn offering of this Candle, made from the work of bees. But we already know the excellency of this pillar, which for the honor of God, the sparkling fire doth kindle.
WHICH, though it be divided into parts, suffereth not loss by the borrowing of its light. For it is fed by melting wax, which the bee the mother hath wrought into the substance of this precious Candle.

O NIGHT TRULY BLESSED, which did spoil the Egyptians, and made rich the Hebrews! O night wherein heavenly things are joined unto earthly, things human unto things divine. We therefore pray thee, O Lord: that this Candle, consecrated to the honor of thy name, may continue without ceasing to vanquish the darkness of this night. That, being accepted for a savour of sweetness, it may be mingled with the lights of heaven. May the morning star find it burning; that morning star, I say, which knoweth not his going down. That star, which, rising again from hell, steadfastly giveth light to all mankind. We therefore pray thee, O Lord: that thou wouldest vouchsafe to rule, govern and preserve with thy continual protection us thy servants, the whole clergy and thy most faithful people: together with our most blessed Father [Pope N.] and our Bishop N., granting us peaceful times in this our paschal joy.

Look also on those who rule us in power, and by the ineffable gift of thy goodness and mercy, direct their thoughts to justice and peace, that from the busy toil of earth they may attain unto the heavenly country with all thy people. Through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord: Who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God: throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

Monday, April 18, 2011

I love Bishop Sheen, but . . .

sometimes he just looks like he's ready to come down and kick your @$$.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Pontifical visitation in Dublin and Comanche

Behold, a great priest, who in his days was pleasing unto God. Therefore with an oath the Lord hath made him to increase among his people. He hath given unto him the blessing of all nations: and hath confirmed his covenant upon his own head. Therefore with an oath the Lord hath made him to increase among his people.

Today we had a visit from our diocesan bishop, Jack Iker. Services at Dublin and Comanche were well attended and Bishop Iker left both with a moving reflection on the gospel of the day as we move toward the close of Lent and the coming of Easter.

It was nice to have a young acolyte serving at Comanche.

Our people were very appreciative of this time together with our father in God. We even had some visitors from Trinity Church, Fort Worth at Comanche this morning (not pictured).

Monday, March 07, 2011

Preparing for Lent

Today, I prepared the ashes for Ash Wednesday. The ashes used in the ceremony come from the burning of palms from the previous Palm Sunday. They are sprinkled on the head as a sign of penance and mortification. For clerics, it is usually placed on the tonsure and for laity, it is put on the forehead in the shape of a cross.

The blessing and imposition of ashes concludes with this prayer in the old rite:

Grant us, O Lord, to begin with holy fasting this campaign of our Christian warfare: that as we do battle with spiritual wickedness, we may be defended by the aids of self-denial; through Christ our Lord. Amen

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Ministry of Word and Sacrament

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 4:1-2).

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Epiphany collects

I love the collects used for the final Sundays after the Epiphany. Because the date of Easter and thus of Ash Wednesday and Lent vary from year to year, they often go unused and unheard. But they are among the most beautiful in the Prayer Book. Easter must fall between April 22 and April 25 for all of them to be used. This year, Easter is on April 24th.

The collect for the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany in the 1979 Prayer Book is original to the first Prayer Book of 1549, and thus (I supposed) a composition of Dr Cranmer. Before the reworking of the calendar, it was the collect for Quinquagesima, the Sunday before Lent. I love it because it extols love and does so in such an antiquated diction.

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
O Lord, who hast taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth; Send thy Holy Ghost and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before thee. Grant this for thine only Son Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

As far as I can find, the collect for the Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany is original to the 1979 Prayer Book. It is a beautiful treatment of anxiety and faith.

Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany
Most loving Father, who willest us to give thanks for all things, to dread nothing but the loss of thee, and to cast all our care on thee who carest for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which thou hast manifested to us in thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The blessing of throats

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St Blase (or Blasius) was the bishop of Sebaste in Armenia during the fourth century. According to various accounts he was a physician before becoming a bishop. Veneration of this holy bishop spread throughout the entire church in the Middle Ages because he was reported to have miraculously cured a little boy who nearly died because of a fishbone in caught in his throat. From the eighth century he has been invoked on behalf of the sick, especially those afflicted with illnesses of the throat.

The blessing of the sick by ministers of the church is a very ancient custom, rooted in imitation of Christ himself and his apostles. An annual blessing of throats is a traditional sign of the struggle against illness in the life of the Christian. A blessing of throats with candles tied together in the shape of a cross on St Blase's feast day (Feb 3rd, but sometimes done after the Candlemas liturgy) is performed as a prayer for good health throughout the year.

With two candles held in the shape of a cross, the celebrant touches them to throat of each person, and says
Through the intercession of Saint Blase, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Purification of Our Lady

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Today we commemorate Candlemas, and I love the reading and five traditional prayers for blessing candles (below).

Luke 2:27-35
27And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29"Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation 31that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel." 33And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

Prayers for Blessing Candles
O LORD, holy Father, almighty and everlasting God, who hast made all things out of nothing, and hast appointed that the labors of bees should be formed into wax by thine ordinance, who likewise on this day didst fulfill the prayers of thy righteous servant Simeon: we humbly beseech thee that thou wouldst vouchsafe by the power of thy holy Name, and at the intercession of blessed Mary ever-Virgin, whose festival we this day devoutly celebrate, and of all thy saints, to bless + and sanctify + these candles for the use of men, and for their protection both in body and soul in all perils of land or sea; hear, O Lord, we humbly pray thee, from thy holy heaven and from the throne of thy glory, the voice of this thy people that seeketh to bear them forth to thy glory and to sing thy praises; and we humbly beseech thee that thou wouldest have mercy upon all that call upon thee, whom thou hast redeemed with the precious Blood of thy dear Son; who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who on this day didst suffer thy only-begotten Son to be presented in the temple and to be received in the arms of Saint Simeon: we humbly beseech thy mercy, that like as we thy servants, taking these candles do seek to light them and bear them to the glory of thy Name, so thou wouldst vouchsafe to bless + and sanctify + the same, that we being made worthy of offering them unto thee, our Lord and our God, and being enkindled with the holy flame of thy most gracious charity, may be found meet to be presented before thee in the temple of thy glory; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

O LORD Jesus Christ, who art the true light that enlightens every man that cometh into the world: we beseech thee to pour out thy blessing + upon these candles and sanctify + them with the light of thy grace; mercifully grant that even as with their outward flame they scatter the darkness of night, so our hearts being inflamed with the inward brightness of thy Holy Spirit may be delivered from all blindness of iniquity, and that the eyes of our souls being so enlightened may discern such things as are pleasing unto thee and profitable unto us for our salvation, that finally after the darkness and dangers of this world we may attain in the end to light everlasting; through thee, O blessed Jesus, Redeemer of the world, who in the unity of the blessed Trinity livest and reignest God, world without end. Amen.

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who by the mouth of Moses thy servant didst command the children of Israel to bring pure olive oil for the lamps to burn always before thy face: we beseech thee to pour the blessing + of thy grace on these candles, that like as they shed forth on us their outward beams, so of thy bounteous goodness the light of thy Holy Spirit may never fail to enlighten us inwardly in our souls; through Jesus Christ our Lord who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the same Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

O LORD Jesus Christ, who on this day appearing among men in the substance of our flesh wast presented by thy parents in the temple, whom Simeon in his old age, being enlightened by the light of thy Spirit, knew and blessed, taking thee in his arms: mercifully grant that we, being enlightened and instructed by the grace of the same Spirit, may know thee truly in our minds and love thee faithfully with all our hearts; who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What's wrong with this picture?

You will have to click on the photo and enlarge it to read the text.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Is it not time to end the schism?

"Is Christ divided?" (1 Corinthians 1:13).

Today concludes the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which runs from the feast of the Confession of St Peter (or "Chair of Peter") to the Conversion of St Paul. The octave of prayer began in the early 1900s with Franciscans in the Episcopal Church, the Society of the Atonement, who were searching for reconciliation with the See of Peter. They were reconciled in 1909.

This week, I was reflecting on the sermon series I gave over the course of last summer based on the catechism of the Prayer Book. If I were to one day become a Western-rite Orthodox priest or an Anglican-use Roman Catholic priest and want to pull this series out of my old files and deliver it again, I don't believe I would need to change a word of it (at least as far as statements of doctrine go).

I only mention it to point out how close we have come to Christian unity and yet how far away it still seems to be. We have overcome so many obstacles, and yet come up with new ones at the same time. God help his foolish people!

Is Christ divided? No. The truth is rather more bleak--we are divided from Christ. The timing of the octave of prayer reminds that unity is to be found when we return to the confession of Jesus as Lord and pursue unity with the continual conversion that knocked St Paul off his horse. It is time for us in the West to labor diligently to end our 450 year schism and for our eastern brethren to end their 1,000 year schism. We cannot do it on our own, but God will not bring it about if we harden our hearts to his will. Let us continue to pray for God's grace to accomplish his will.

"Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn" (Isaiah 51:1).

A Prayer for the Unity of the Church
O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The exorcisms of baptism

Unfortunately, one of the liturgical treasures we have lost is the baptismal exorcisms. Actually, it has made a somewhat diminished return in the rites of the adult catechumenate as found in the Book of Occasional Services.

In the first Book of Common Prayer of 1549, as in the liturgy used before the Prayer Books, there was an exorcism of the candidate for baptism. The three exorcisms (plus the "eph-phatha") were reduced to one by Cranmer.

Now, when you hear exorcisms, don’t think of all the exorcism movies you’ve seen. That’s not exactly what we’re talking about here (though it could come to that). It’s more what you might call a decontamination ritual. Elements such as salt and water are also exorcised before they are set apart for sanctification.

Remember, in the ancient world almost all converts are coming from paganism with its sometimes demonic rituals and incantations; it was but another way purging and leaving all those influences behind when coming to Christ and entering his church.

Of course, one could ask if the modern man have any less need for God to expel all the corruption, wickedness, and demonic influences that come from a life immersed in the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

In the first Prayer Book, after an opening prayer the minister is directed to makes a cross with the oil of catechumens on the forehead and chest of the baptismal candidate, saying, “Receive the sign of the holy cross, both in thy forehead and in thy breast, in token that thou shalt not be afraid to confess thy faith in Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner against sin, the world, and the devil, and to continue as his faithful soldier and servant unto life’s end.”

Then the priest says, “I command thee, unclean spirit, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, that thou come out and depart from this person whom our Lord Jesus Christ hath vouchsafed to call to his holy Baptism, to be a member of his Body and of his holy congregation. Therefore, thou cursed spirit, remember thy sentence, remember thy judgment, remember the day is at hand, wherein thou shalt burn in fire everlasting prepared for thee and thy angels. And presume not hereafter to exercise any tyranny toward this person, whom Christ hath bought with his precious blood, and by his holy Baptism calleth to be of his flock.”

This all became a simple line in most of the Prayer Books that followed: “…grant that all sinful affections may die in him…” Perhaps the anointing and exorcism of the first Prayer Book could be reintroduced just before the examination of the candidates for baptism. Or we could just go back to the baptismal rite of the first Prayer Book or the rite used before that, both of which are quite sound and don't really need to be improved upon.

A baptismal covenant?

Photo: Joseph Williams, PCUSA General Assembly.

I'm not sure what I think of the so-called "baptismal covenant" in the Book of Common Prayer. The collect for the baptism of Jesus on the first Sunday after the Epiphany even picks up the theme:

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan didst proclaim him thy beloved Son and anoint him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with thee and the same Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

When the sacraments that change your state in life are given (Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, and Ordination). They are prefaced by promises or vows. These help strengthen and focus us to make good use of the grace God gives on these occasions. Thus, we have wedding vows, ordination vows and the solemn promises often made for you at baptism, and reaffirmed by you at confirmation.

In the most recent edition of the American Prayer Book, we find what is called the "Baptismal Covenant." Sometimes a big deal is made from both perspectives of the fact that it is unique in the liturgies of Anglicanism. Sometimes liberals use it to justify practices that may be unique to our cultural and ecclesial context. Most often this comes around to justifying changes to teaching and practice about marriage and holy orders. It is assumed by revisionists that support for fornication and cross-dressing at the altar is somehow more respectful of human dignity. On the right, the baptismal covenant has been blamed as the Trojan horse which let all kinds of enemies into the citadel. For example, see the late Peter Toon's essay "Does each person in Baptism make a covenant with God? Yes, says The Episcopal Church. No, says the Bible."

I'll say right out, I'm no Peter Toon; I think he overstates his case, but it does give me some unrest. Actually, the uniqueness of the baptismal covenant in the 1979 American Prayer Book is more in the name than its content.

The covenant is prefaced by the traditional threefold renunciation of the world, the flesh, and the devil followed by the promises to follow Christ. At the center of that baptismal covenant is the baptismal symbol—-the Apostle’s Creed. What is new is that the 1979 Prayer Book expands on that commitment of faith. We go on to commit to regular attendance at Christian worship, resistance of evil, and repentance for sin, a Christian life that proclaims the Gospel, and the love of neighbor by seeking and serving Christ in the neighbor, striving for peace and justice and respecting human dignity. None of those are new ideas, just new to the rite of baptism.

What we need to be clear about, though, is that the baptismal covenant is a NOT new, unique, individual covenant between God and the believer. It's not like God made a covenant with Adam, then a covenant with Noah, then a covenant with David, and then he made a covenant with little old me.

Rather, when we are baptized into Christ, we become heirs of THE New Covenant of grace between the Father and the Son. It's unfortunate that the collect for today uses the language it does about "the covenant [we] have made." So when we talk about the baptismal covenant, we need to emphasize that it is the New Covenant we are talking about. We enter that relationship through faith and obedience, and the relationship is actualized through the sacrament of rebirth.