This was originally posted on Anglican Pastor. You can find the original post here.

It is likely that you’ll hear a variation of the following words at an Anglican Church on Sunday morning, “Please be seated to be instructed from the Word of God.” It’s clear that the Bible is going to be read aloud for the purpose of teaching and formation, but who assigns the lessons? Is it left up to the whims and fancies of the priest or is there some standard by which our lessons are selected?

Every Sunday, on the Lord’s Day, the church gathers together for the worship of almighty God through both Word and Sacrament. The Liturgy of the Word is comprised of the opening acclamation and collect(s), sung worship, the public reading of God’s word, canticles in response, the sermon, the Creed, the prayers of the people, and the confession. This ordo may vary based on higher or lower churchmanship, but the structure is going to be the same in the overwhelming majority of Anglican parishes.

The regular, sustained, and robust use of Scripture was a cornerstone of the English Reformation and remains to be central to Anglican worship and spirituality. The witness of John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Miles Coverdale and others is lasting proof that to be Anglican is to be heartily and fully committed to the Bible. Likewise, Thomas Cranmer famously penned a collect about Scripture, he wrote, that we may…hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.” The earliest liturgies of 1549 and 1552 both made provision for the reading of the Old Testament, Psalter, New Testament epistle, and the Gospels during worship. If Anglicans read four lessons every Sunday, how are these lessons chosen? Does it matter what is read? Yes and yes, it absolutely matters.

What is a Lectionary?

Simply put, a lectionary is resource (printed or electronic) that contains appointed Scripture readings for Sunday worship. Lectionaries can be devised according to different methods for different purposes, but the goal is always to produce something that can be used in the church, for the church, and to the glory of God. Cranmer composed a Sunday lectionary as part of the prayer book in order to help guide the English church through the entirety of Scripture on a regular basis.

In more modern times, the Revised Common Lectionary has been compiled as an ecumenical resource for Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and others who order their worship similarly. We could delve into the pros and cons of Cranmer’s lectionary versus the RCL versus other models, but that is another post for another time. The bottom line is that the use of a lectionary is both historic and authentically Anglican.

The Whole Witness

One of the problems with needs-based, thematic sermons is that it places the onus of Scripture selection and content solely on the preacher. In our individualistic, consumerist culture this is not a problem. It is common—even preferred—in many western churches for the preacher to be the authority over Scripture rather than the other way around. Thankfully, the use of a lectionary places a necessary safeguard over such a model as it lets Scripture dictate content and preaching.

Likewise, the use of a lectionary in its entirety guarantees that the pilgrim people of God will be fed fully from the full witness of Scripture. Far too many churches focus exclusively on the New Testament or even the gospels alone as if the rest of Scripture didn’t matter. “We’re New Testament Christians,” they claim, or, “We’re Christ alone people.” I’m a New Testament and Jesus person as much as anyone, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Tanakh became part of the Church’s Scripture and thus the Old Testament is not simply a place to “find” Jesus but is part of our collective memory and story. The lectionary makes sure that we are being honest to our identity as the people of God.

How Does it Work?

The lectionary helps orient the church calendar; or rather, it works with seasons and themes already prescribed throughout church history. You’ll find that the readings during Advent have to do with the first coming of Christ, Epiphany season readings have to do with the revelation of God in Christ, so forth and so on. It’s quite simple really: readings on Sunday should match the Church’s journey through the life of Christ.

As an example, the RCL has a three-year cycle: Years A, B, and C. During Ordinary Time each year focuses on one of the synoptic Gospels while the Gospel of John is reserved for holy days and Lent(among others). Likewise, the Old Testament selection during Ordinary Time offers two tracks. The lectionary readings will often flow in harmony with the Collect for the Day, thus providing a thematic wholeness for the sermon and the celebration of the Eucharist.

The goal is to provide the gathered people of God with a steady diet of God’s Word, a diet that makes sense and treats the Bible as one consistent and contiguous whole rather than as a confederation of individual and unrelated episodes. When used properly, a parish will read almost every word of Scripture in three years.

Using the Lectionary as a Church

Here are some thoughts for using the lectionary in a local church:

  1. If you elect to use a lectionary then please recognize it is not a suggestion but a standard to be followed. To “use” the lectionary and alter it based on your own whims or fancies is just the same as not using it at all.
  2. Always, always preach on the sections that are bracketed off. Don’t avoid them, lean into them!
  3. Begin reading from the whole lectionary if you aren’t doing so already.
  4. When selecting a track for Ordinary Time stick with it! Don’t jump between Track 1 and Track 2 because the lessons get tough—stay on your track and help the people of God learn from a consistent witness.

The fruit of such labor is multi-faceted: individuals learn how to read the Bible well; a parish joins millions of Christians around the world in reading the same thing; a parish is formed by God’s word in a holistic sense.

Postscript: There will soon be a post highlighting the unique offering of a traditional, one year lectionary as an alternative to the 3 year cycle.

This was originally posted on Anglican Pastor. The original text can be read here.

As you are browsing through the Daily Office of your 1979 BCP or “Texts for Common Prayer” for the ACNA, you will run into an order of liturgy called “Compline.” Maybe you’re familiar with Compline and maybe you’re not. It doesn’t really matter…yet. In either case, this ancient prayer hour is prayed at the conclusion of every day and ought to be embraced as a powerful tool and beautiful liturgy. My goal in this post is to inform, equip, and empower you that you might add Compline to your daily routine and continue telling time liturgically rather than chronologically.

Origins

Compline was a late addition to the Anglican liturgical repertoire; the 1979 BCP is the first American edition of the prayer book to include this service. The Americans, per usual liturgically, were 50 years late to the party as the English, Irish, and Scottish all included Compline in their 1920’s texts (both published and proposed revisions) and the Indian and Canadian books made the same move some 15-20 years prior to the Episcopal Church.

Do not be deceived however, by the lack of Anglican liturgies including Compline because the service itself is not new; it is in fact quite ancient. Dating back to the fourth century, and referenced by St. Benedict, St. Basil, and St. John Chrysostom, Compline has been prayed for century after century and forms part of the whole Daily Office (cf. Liturgy of the Hours). Compline was the last service of the day, to be said by the monks in their dormitories before bed. It was a simple service without flourishes or flashes. St. Benedict had this to say about the simplicity of Compline:

Let Compline be limited to the saying of three psalms, which are to be said straightforwardly without antiphons, after which let there be the hymn of that hour, a lesson, a versicle, the Kyrie, and a blessing to conclude.[1]

To this day, Psalms 4, 31, and 91 form the backbone of the service. Psalm 134 is often included as an additional, optional reading. Whereas Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer were designed as Cathedral offices, to be prayed corporately, Compline has always been a monastic, private office used in the comfort and seclusion of one’s habitation.

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer made an important liturgical move as part of the English Reformation which saw Vespers and Compline combined into a single service known as Evensong. This was a cathedral service and was—or has been—often prayer chorally. Cranmer did the same thing when forming Matins—what we now know as Morning Prayer—when he combined Matins, Lauds, and Prime. Cranmer left a legacy of two chief prayer services at the beginning and end of the day filled with Scripture, hymns, and prayer. However, and this is a small “however,” Cranmer also boiled 8 prayer hours into 2 and I think we as Anglicans have lost a significant amount of liturgical catechesis and formation because of this.

Why Compline?

Compline was a service to close the day, an opportunity to give thanks for the joys and graces experienced, a chance to confess the (many) sins committed throughout the day, and the perfect moment to close the day the same way it started: in doxological prayer. If Morning Prayer—or whatever service you use to begin your day—is designed to start the day off right then Compline is designed to end it well.

It is the monastic roots of Compline upon which I want to focus. We cannot properly understand the significance or importance of Compline apart from its place within the whole of the Daily Office. The monastic prayer cycle of Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline was designed as a means of devoting the whole of one’s daily life to the Lord. If we are going to church every Sunday but nothing else then only 1-2 hours of a 168-hour week are truly spent in prayer, meditation, or hearing from God. Church thus becomes an escape from the “real” world, an opportunity to pause a reflect during a day when the world sets our agenda. Routinely praying the Daily Office teaches us the exact opposite. Regular engagement in Morning, Noonday, and Evening Prayer and Compline teaches us that God and his Kingdom are first and foremost the reality of our lives and we learn how to view the world through that lens rather than the other way around.

Compline doesn’t magically accomplish something different from the rest of the Daily Office. And that’s the point. Compline, along with Morning, Noonday, and Evening Prayer, teaches us how to pray and for what we should pray. We learn the language of liturgical prayer as used since the early church; we discover that our prayers are a) directed to the triune God and b) focus on our surroundings as much (if not more) than they do on us; we are daily transformed through the confession of sin and the assurance that God loves us and lovingly calls us to a higher form of living.

Suggestion

Compline is perhaps the easiest office to add to your daily prayer life. The others require you to remember to pray before/after you do something or to pray at seemingly random times throughout your schedule. Compline, however, takes place right before bed and unless you are an insomniac: everyone sleeps. Keep your prayer book or a printed liturgy by your bed and pray it every night before you sleep.

Let’s make a commitment together. Let’s promise that we will pray Compline every night for the next week and see what happens. Come back to this post and leave comments, questions, and reflections during your week of prayer.


[1] Marion J. Hatchett, Commentary On the American Prayer Book, HarperCollins Publishers. (San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 144.