Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Originally published by Resonance: A Theological Journal in Vol 4.3 on “The Trinity.”

Trinitarian worship has often been described as “to the Father, through the Son, and by/in the Spirit.”[1] While this is true, very little has been articulated as to how this reality is envisioned and enacted liturgically. This essay will seek to examine the liturgy, from synaxis to dismissal, in order to demonstrate the Trinitarian nature of our worship, the participation/inclusion of each member of the Trinity in the liturgy, and what the liturgy implies about the Trinity.

This article focuses on the Eucharistic liturgy from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer because it has been the standard for Anglicans over the last 350 years. In addition, this project is more in line with approaches by Alexander Schmemann[2] and Leonel Mitchell[3] (chronological assessment) than Nicholas Wolterstorff’s most recent book[4] (more plucking bits and pieces from liturgy). Wolterstorff and J. Todd Billings[5] have both written about the implicit and functional theologies found within our liturgies, and while these are both very necessary and real, this article will focus instead on the explicit and stated theologies of the 1662 Eucharistic liturgy. It is my contention that the liturgy is profoundly Trinitarian and that attention to the language of the liturgy will reveal a plurality of moments and movements through which the Triune God is active in very specific ways.

A brief word: the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) was not the first Anglican prayer book in England, nor was it the last. Cranmer worked tirelessly on his editions of 1549 and 1552 and other books/services (1559 most notably) were introduced in the intermittent period between 1552 and 1662. However, the 1662 has long been the standard of Anglican liturgiology for it represents the most fundamental and agreed upon common ground for liturgical efforts. Modern liturgies and liturgists use the 1662 as their starting point and/or sounding board as they seek to embody the liturgy in more meaningful, relevant, or theologically accurate settings. While North American Anglicans (Episcopalians very much included here) utilize the 1928, 1979, or more recent liturgies, the choice to focus on the 1662 for this present project was obvious: very few, if any, Anglicans will disagree on the ongoing strengths and vitality of the 1662.

Following in the footsteps of Alexander Schmemann and Leonel Mitchell, our examination of the Eucharistic liturgy of the 1662 BCP does not begin with the anaphora of the Eucharist. We do a great injustice to the Eucharist when we separate it from the rest of the liturgy as if there are two separate entities: Word and Table. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Table make up one complete whole: Eucharist. For this project, then, the beginning is found at the opening of worship and the ending at the dismissal for we miss the robust beauty of Trinitarian worship if we focus solely or exclusively on one portion or moment of a whole event.

1662 Liturgy [6]

The Lord’s Prayer serves as the opening of “The Administration of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion” for the 1662 BCP.[7] Immediately, worshippers are pointed to the fact that there is a Father who is in heaven and whose name is holy. Simple though it may seem, this prayer makes explicit that the Father exists and that he is engaged in specific work: provision, forgiveness, and protection. The language of prayer demonstrates that those praying are asking the Father actively to do these things.

The Collect for Purity immediately follows the Lord’s Prayer. This was once a prayer privately said by the priest prior to processing into the nave and to the chancel, but now it is a prayer to be said amidst the whole worshipping people. Each member of the Trinity is referenced in this prayer: “Almighty God” references the Father; “holy Spirit,” and “Christ our Lord” references the third and second persons of the Trinity. Here we find the Father as the recipient and knower of all our thoughts and prayers and as the one who shall cleanse our hearts by his Spirit. This is all done that we might “perfectly love” and “worthily magnify” God’s name through Jesus.[8]

Next is a recounting of the Ten Commandments and a series of responses by the people all addressed to the Father. Recounting YHWH’s mighty deeds on behalf of Israel, the church then prays that God would “have mercy on us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.”[9] The prayers suggest that God is capable of such mercy and action in the innermost chambers of the human heart (read affections/kardia here). Although no specification is given as to how such work is achieved (e.g. by the Spirit, through the Son), the Father is invoked here as an active agent who has such power and affect.

One of two prayers is then prayed for the Sovereign.[10] The prayer follows the traditional form of a collect and is therefore addressed to the Father, through the Son, and in keeping with the traditional form, the second collect acknowledges that both Father and Son live and reign with the Holy Spirit. Both collects focus on the reign of Charles, that his leadership and life may be strengthened by the Father. Implicit here is the belief that God has power over the hearts and affections of humans.

Following the Collect for the Sovereign, the people move more completely into the Liturgy of the Word and encounter the Collect of the Day, the Epistle, and the Gospel. The Collect follows the same form of to the Father, through the Son, and by/with the Holy Spirit thereby enjoining the Trinity in whatever action or activity is earnestly prayed for. Prior to the sermon, the Apostles Creed is proclaimed aloud by the people and a paragraph is devoted here to each member of the Trinity, stating specific beliefs about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The sequence from sermon to the Lord’s Table begins with prayers for “Christ’s Church militant here in earth.”[11]The prayer is addressed to the Father and he is implored to “receive these our prayers,” “save and defend all Christian kings…”, “Give grace…to all bishops and curates,” “to comfort and succor” all who are in need.[12] This is all done for “Jesus Christ’s sake our Mediator and Advocate.” There is a lot of activity jammed into this one page of liturgy. We learn from the liturgy that Jesus is mediator and advocate—this is why our prayers are through him, because we believe he stands before the Father interceding on our behalf. The Father is revealed as healer, defender, protector, giver of grace, and the one who receives our prayers. The Father is not a passive spectator of this prayer, he is the one to whom it is directed and of whom action is expectantly implored.

The priest then has the charge of preparing the congregation for Communion, either for the current day or for a Sunday in the future. He entreats the people to examine their hearts because it is “right to render most humble and hearty thanks to the Father.” Why? Because “he hath given us his Son our Savior, Jesus Christ.”[13] The liturgical preparation for Communion is a lengthy recounting of God’s actions in Christ and reminder to “trust in God’s mercy.” The language suggests that what has been done once and for all can still be of benefit to the gathered faithful many centuries later; the story is both the foundation and hope of our belief. God has revealed himself as faithful through Jesus and is therefore worthy of our praise and thanksgiving.

Finally, the priest exhorts the people one last time in a bit of liturgical language that is teeming with rich imagery and action. We are instructed that to eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus is to “dwell with in Christ, and Christ in us.”[14] Through the lens of his passion, we are exhorted to repent and amend our lives. We are told to “remember the exceeding love of our Master” as he died for us and procured for us the way to salvation. All of this is Trinitarian, though, for the prayer closes, “To Him therefore with the Father, and the holy Ghost, let us give (as we are most bounden) continual thanks, submitting ourselves wholly to his holy will and pleasure, and studying to serve him in true holiness and righteousness.”[15] While humans may be the subject of the exhortation and the ones spurred on to action, the previous activity of the Father is in view here and is dragged into the present as though it has current meaning for the church.

Having recounted the mighty acts of God, it seems most natural to proceed to the table through confession. Father is seen as “Almighty God,” “Make of all things,” and “Judge of all men.” The Father is beseeched to “have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us;” “Forgive us all that is past,” and “Grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee.”[16] Why? Again, for Jesus’ sake. The Father is asked to have mercy, forgive, and grant the ability to live holy lives in the Kingdom.

The Comfortable Words are a touchstone of classical Anglicanism and while they are constituted by verses from the Gospels of Matthew and John, they are introduced by the priest as words Jesus speaks to the faithful here, now, in the present. Somehow, in this liturgical action, Christ is present. The priest says, “Hear the Comfortable Words Jesus saith unto those who truly turn to him.”[17]  In this moment, it is believed, Jesus is speaking. The second person of the Trinity is speaking to his people gathered in worship; Jesus comforts his people with promise of rest, restoration, and wholeness.

The Comfortable Words flow seamlessly into the Anaphora in the 1662 liturgy. This transition between Confession and Eucharist through the words of Jesus makes a great deal of sense theologically. The Eucharistic Prayer references the previous and ongoing work of the Trinity while only calling the Triune God into action. Here we see the response of the gathered church to the work of God in thanksgiving. God’s many and mighty deeds are recounted, and God’s people give thanks and praise, but the focus here is not what God is doing presently, liturgically, but what he has already done and the hopeful anticipation of what he will do.

We “Lift our hearts to the Lord” because it is “meet, right, and our bounden duty.”[18] This is the response of gratitude. We join our voices with the whole company of heaven rendering praise and thanks in the “Holy, holy, holy” for what God has done for us. The inclusion of the Prayer of Humble Access early in the Eucharistic Prayer is important because it locates both our humility and our request for God’s action and help within the context of the Eucharist proper. We come to the table trusting not in ourselves but in God and we pray that he may “grant us” the ability to partake of Jesus’ body and blood and be cleansed in the process.

The Eucharist moves into the anamnesis-memorial in which we “beseech” God to allow us to be partakers not only of the bread and wine but of the body and blood of Jesus as well.[19] Jesus’ words of institution here are remembered and re-presented as being efficacious unto us as we celebrate his meal some 2000 years later. This paragraph locates our celebration within the context of Jesus’ own passion, thereby infusing meaning and significance within salvation history and not simply/solely the context of the local gathering.

The Eucharist comes full circle in 1662 with the inclusion of the Lord’s Prayer once more. There is something significant that the liturgists and reformers are trying to show us by having the Lord’s Prayer prayed twice: something about the Eucharist is the embodiment of Kingdom life and living. Again, we pray for provision, forgiveness, and protection but done within the context of the Eucharist proper, we have a more tangible understanding that the meal itself will be our nourishment, a sign of our forgiveness, and effect a sense of spiritual protection.

The Eucharistic Prayer thus concludes with one of two collects, thereby entreating the Trinity by name/person to be present and active. The whole of the liturgy is prayed to, by, through, and with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for they all live and reign together, both now and forever. The Collects and the Lord’s Prayer highlight this kingdom reality and the entirety of our liturgical action can be seen as human participation in Kingdom life.

Liturgical Verbs: Trinity in Action

There is a difference between referencing the previous work of the Trinity (Collects, anamnesis-memorial) and imploring and invoking members of the Triune God to be present and active in the moment. This section will focus on the latter before working toward a conclusion.

The first triplet of verbs is found in the opening Lord’s Prayer where the Father is asked to “give, forgive, and lead.”[20] These verbs will make appearances elsewhere throughout the liturgy and they demonstrate in the first offering that the gathered church intends far more than to simply retell God’s story. The Father, who is in heaven and who is holy, is asked to give nourishment to his people, forgive their iniquities, and to lead them away from temptation and deliver them from evil. Implicit here is the belief that the Father has the ability to do this, that he is able to give and forgive, lead and deliver.

The Collect for Purity is perhaps the best example of Spirit action in this liturgy.

The Father is then asked to “cleanse” us by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit.[21] We are somehow impure—having already arrived at the need for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer—and the Father is able to purify us through his Spirit. The Spirit will inspire the people which will have the effect of cleansing the heart and mind. We know from elsewhere in the liturgy that the Spirit lives and reigns with the Father and Son, but in this collect we see the Spirit as actively working amongst the people; the Collect for Purity provides a fantastic glimpse into idea of prayer “by” the Spirit.

The Father is next asked to “have mercy,” to “so rule” the heart of the King or to “govern” his heart.[22] Later, worshippers ask the Father to “receive” their prayers, to “inspire” the universal church, to “save and defend” all Christian rulers, to “give grace,” to “comfort and succor.”[23] Three times in this very prayer does the community ask God for his grace.

The Confession is a great example of the Father’s liturgical action. We implore the Father to “have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us” and the priest proclaims this truth on God’s behalf in the Absolution: “Have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and bring you to everlasting life.” This pronouncement is a speech-act of God’s work in, through, for, and over us.

The Son is referenced throughout the liturgy primarily in what is done for his sake or what is done through him. This should not be dismissed as in-activity. Any time we encounter the phrase “through Christ” it means that our prayers are presented to the Father by the Son. As we are praying on earth we believe that the eternal High Priest is mediating our prayers before the Father, interceding on our behalf. One of the prayers even references Jesus as our “mediator and advocate.” He is active in the liturgy in this way. Additionally, the Comfortable Words, as mentioned above, are read with this opening clause, “Hear what comfortable words our Savior Christ says unto all that truly turn to him.” Jesus is saying those words in the present.

Conclusion

The primary focus on Jesus in Eucharistic praying is our enjoining and participating with Christ in his passion. This is somehow made possible through the remembering of his Passion, and while the 1662 liturgy does a poor job of explaining this liturgically, other liturgies make clear that such dangerous memory and re-presentation takes place only by the power of the Holy Spirit. However, the Spirit is not completely absent from this liturgy despite the fact that most references of the Spirit take the form of a Collect demonstrating that the Spirit lives and reigns with both the Father and the Son. Missing from the 1662 is any formal epiclesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit whereby the priest prays that the Spirit descend upon the gifts and the people and sanctify them; the Epiclesis is perhaps the clearest form of the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the liturgy and many Anglican liturgies have included a formal Epiclesis for this purpose.

The 1662 Eucharist begins with the Lord’s Prayer and ends with the blessing of God being proclaimed in the name of “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Just as the Triune God is living and active in the world he loves and created, so too should our liturgy reflect that reality. While other liturgies make their Trinitarian claims more explicit, the 1662 should be seen as a wonderful proclamation of the majesty of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


Endnotes

[1] James Torrance, Didsbury Lectures, vol. 1994, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996).

[2] Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 3rd ed., trans. Asheleigh E. Moorhouse (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986, 1966).

[3] Leonel L. Mitchell, Praying Shapes Believing: a Theological Commentary On the Book of Common Prayer (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub., 1991, 1985).

[4] Nicholas Wolterstorff, The God We Worship: an Exploration of Liturgical Theology, Kantzer Lectures in Revealed Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015).

[5] J. Todd Billings, Remembrance, Communion, and Hope: Rediscovering the Gospel at the Lord’s Table (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018).

[6] All references to the 1662 liturgy throughout this article will be from The Book of Common Prayer: the Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662, Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

[7] Ibid, 389.

[8] Ibid, 390.

[9] Ibid, 390-391.

[10] Ibid, 391-392.

[11] Ibid, 394.

[12] Ibid, 395-397.

[13] Ibid, 396.

[14] Ibid, 398.

[15] Ibid, 398-399.

[16] Ibid, 399.

[17] Ibid, 399.

[18] Ibid, 400.

[19] Ibid, 402.

[20] Ibid, 389.

[21] Ibid, 390.

[22] Ibid, 391.

[23] Ibid, 395.

Photo by Emre Can on Pexels.com

Originally published in Resonance: A Theological Journal for their issue on the Trinity.

“Alleluia, Alleluia. Let us go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirt. Thanks be to God. Alleluia, Alleluia.”[1] These words, or something very similar, are exclaimed on Sunday mornings throughout the world as the gathered faithful are dismissed from the liturgy of the Eucharist and ushered, nay catapulted, back into the world from the nave. Too often, though, this dismissal is nothing more than an ending to the liturgy rather than an invitation into deeper, more robust gospel living. The disconnect between Sunday worship and daily life often feels as though it is getting wider rather than narrower; the (false) dichotomy between sacred and secular or holy and profane is growing rather than diminishing. All too often we hear comments about public spheres and private life as though the two are somehow mutually exclusive. As Christians, we struggle to effectively be both in the world but not of the world, and to answer the question: what does this [liturgy/worship] mean for my “ordinary” life?

Liturgy can all too quickly be relegated to that which we do on a Sunday morning or a text to be read during the week for study and examination. This misses the mark entirely and we have no one to blame but ourselves. At some point along the way, and it does not matter from whom or whence this came, liturgy ceased being the experience of heaven and earth meeting at the altar and instead became a structured form used for right praise and thanksgiving. Liturgy as a noun will always be understood this way, but what if liturgy was understood and experienced as an action, as a verb, as a mission? This essay will explore liturgy as an action event, one which contains language about the missio dei, because ultimately the liturgy we celebrate on Sunday is tied explicitly to the leitourgia of Jesus.

One result of the Reformation has been the (almost) universal translation among Protestants of liturgy as “the work of the people.” The culmination of this interpretation can be seen through the documents of the Second Vatican Council, specifically Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC).  While SC was produced and is used authoritatively by the Roman Catholic Church, many Protestants have seen it as the validation for their earlier shift in liturgical understanding. SC highlights the participatory role of the laity in the liturgy, giving further (if only unintentional) credence to the Reformation claim.[2] Unfortunately, though, this translation is not the most accurate understanding of leitourgia. The ergon of the people in leitourgia is robbed of great meaning if it is resigned solely to referring to the laity. In Jesus we find a different understanding.

Leitourgia was used during the centuries before and after the time of Jesus, particularly in Greece, to mean a “public work of an individual/people on behalf of the whole.”[3] Often this would take the form of a wealthy benefactor paying for a road to be used by a community, city, province, or something similar. The addition of “on behalf” to “of” locates the focus of the work as being two-fold rather than singularly absorbed. The question for us becomes two-fold: who is performing the work and for whom?

Sunday liturgy is first and foremost about the worship of the triune God. If our liturgical worship is not doxological in telos then it is not Christian and should not be enacted. In addition to being a focused form of doxology, liturgy is performed by the Church on behalf of the world. Not only does the liturgy give us clues as to essence and meaning of the missio dei, it is also a microcosm of the missio dei enacted and embodied. Liturgy reflects the heart, activity, and mission of God because it flows directly from Christ’s own leitourgia on behalf of the world. The structural elements of liturgical worship, the very nature of worship itself, points to this reality: what we do in worship as doxology is meant to flow into everyday living as praxis. Who we are meant to be, who we are in Christ, is formed, shaped, and expressed presently and eschatologically in eucharistic celebration.

The Lord’s Day liturgy begins even before the faithful gather in the nave on Sunday morning.[4] The liturgy actually begins with the prompting invitation of the Holy Spirit and the response of men, women and children to come and engage in the worship of Almighty God together. If God’s mission is to redeem and restore all of creation, then the gathering up of his people from the ends of the earth (read city, county, etc.) is part of that mission. Even before the opening acclamation, God and humanity have been engaging in the dialogue of call and response, and just as God’s word does not return empty (Isaiah 55), so too should we see that those who are part of the throng on Sunday morning have in some way responded to God by grace and in faith.

Beginning with the standard, “Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And blessed be his Kingdom, now and for ever. Amen,”[5] we can see that the telos of liturgical worship is the Kingdom of the triune God. That is, worship is ever moving toward something, God is ever inviting and drawing creation toward a specific end. When the Kingdom of God is the goal or destination of worship, our prayers and praises, laments and confessions, thanksgivings and silences are all part of the journey to and from the Kingdom as we are shaped and transformed by God into agents of the mission dei.[6]

The whole liturgy is a dually-climactic pilgrimage as we move “further up and further in.”[7] In constant motion forward, in consistent movement toward the goal, we first reach one climax in the sermon. The people of God who are on mission with God cannot be separated from the Word of God. Through the public reading of God’s Word and the further proclamation of the Gospel through the Sermon, the Church is instructed, illuminated, challenged, convicted, encouraged, exhorted, and so much more. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is present as the Word in the word, and the readings and sermon provide the hermeneutical foundation for Kingdom work. Simply put, upon further reflection of letters from Paul, proclamations from the prophets and kings, the wisdom of the Psalms, and the Gospel accounts themselves, the sermon turns from exposition toward explication, beckoning the listener toward discipleship, relationship with Jesus, and mission in the world.

However, the journey does not end with the sermon. Contrary to perception of many evangelical worship services, the point of the sermon is not to fill our heads with religious ideology before walking out of church, stepping over the beggar on the doorstep, and moving on with our public lives until we gather again next week for another information download. The sermon is always or should always be pointing toward the Table. Again, not to belabor the point here, Eucharist is not Table against or over Word but is instead the union of the Liturgy of Word and Table. Each interprets the other, each acts upon and grounds the other that our thoughts and actions, our words and embodiment, might all praise God.

The transition from Word to Table is important and not to be missed. A standard progression from one liturgy to the next includes the Nicene Creed, the Prayers of the People, the Confession of Sin, and the Exchange of the Peace. These elements are far more than liturgical time killers or clerical vamping; in fact, these elements speak directly to the mission God is carrying out in creation and into which we are invited.

The proclamation of the Nicene Creed during the Eucharist is not only a statement of doctrinal certainty and clarity, it (re)tells the soteriological story and mission of God from creation through fall and redemption and on toward the hopeful anticipation of consummation in the Kingdom. The Creed alerts those who are affirming their faith to the fact that in and through Jesus of Nazareth, the one who is both fully God and fully man, the world is being put to rights. “For us and for our salvation…and his kingdom will have no end…”[8] These are the words we say publicly, corporately, and expectantly every Sunday and they carry with them the imbibed hope and meaning of a people already redeemed joining in the work of redemption and reconciliation.

The Prayers of the People provide the first explicit opportunity for our worship to extend beyond the gathered faithful and to encompass the whole of the cosmos. While worship is the gathering up of creation’s praise and directing it back to the Creator, these prayers allow the worshippers to bring before Almighty God every relationship, every person, place, thing, job, city, etc. and to lay them upon the altar of grace and mercy. The prayers are offered—offered as part of the Eucharistic/anaphoric journey—for the Church, nation, the just use of creation, civil leaders, specific prayer requests and thanksgivings, and for the departed. There is not a single area or layer of life which is not represented in these prayers and that is the point: the mission of God encompasses the totality of life so that there is no false dichotomy between public and private or sacred and profane, and the Prayers of the People reflect this truth, too.

God’s mission in the world, as seen most clearly and prominently through the Passion, includes reconciling all things unto himself. The liturgy joins in this ministry of reconciliation through the use of public confession of sin and absolution by the priest. Note, it is important to bear in mind here that the priest is not forgiving sins based on her own merit or righteousness but is rather announcing and assuring those present of a forgiveness already graciously bestowed upon them by God. In other words, the priest is extending the forgiveness of sins found upon the cross (“Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing”) and invites the people to approach the Table as a people of forgiveness. Both being forgiven and extending forgiveness are marks of the Kingdom of God, are integral to the mission of God, and are central to Eucharistic living.

The seal on the confession and absolution of sin can be seen through the lens of the Exchange of the Peace. This is often viewed as a time for greeting one another, making plans for brunch after the completion of the service, or an opportunity to stretch one’s legs after a long sermon. However, the origins of this practice depict a much different scene: we exchange the peace with one another because we have been once again reminded of our reconciliation to God in Christ through the Spirit. If I am reconciled and my brother or sister has also been reconciled unto God, then the natural and theologically appropriate next step is to reconcile one unto another. For how can we heed Paul’s exhortation in his epistle to the church at Corinth, or even approach the Table, if/when we still harbor anger or malice in our heart toward another? At the heart of the Christian life and the mission of God is the understanding that in and through Christ all things are being made new and being drawn toward the Father. The Peace is therefore the final opportunity for individuals to extend or receive forgiveness from a brother or sister before proceeding to the Table and eating and drinking judgment. Ultimately, it is “the peace of God” which we are extending to one another.

The Liturgy of the Word has been pointing toward the Liturgy of the Table from the opening acclamation and the Table seals and interprets the Word as we partake of the bread and wine, body and blood. Jesus’ Passion is recounted here and it is this anamnetic and anaphoric narrative which explicitly details the night that Jesus “was handed over to death” and the end toward which his Passion was pointed. The Church offers herself, her tithes, and her thanksgiving upon the altar as she “remember[s] his death, proclaims his resurrection, and awaits his coming in glory.”[9] The language used in the Eucharistic prayer evokes scenes of willing obedience and submission to the Father, arms stretched out upon the cross for the benefit and salvation of humanity and creation, and the sanctification of both gift and recipient that each may be transformed by the Spirit for holy purpose and use.

It is here, in the middle of recounting Christ’s Passion during the Eucharist, that we see the missio dei explained most fully. This is the point where Schmemann focused his attention for his classic For the Life of the Worldbecause it was through the willing submission to the Father’s will, through the arrest and betrayal and mocking and trial without complaint or resistance, through the cross and resurrection that we see Jesus’ actions were always for the life of the world. While Rome and the religious leaders may have thought they were silencing a troublemaker, and while many may view the crucifixion as nothing more than an execution, the Passion of Jesus is the ultimate affirmation, validation, and vindication of God’s creation. Christ died that all of creation, the whole of the cosmos, might be reconciled unto God; that all might be put back into right relationship with him. This is the Passion and the Passion is the central and defining element of Eucharistic worship.

Just as the bread is taken, blessed, broken, and given unto the disciples and those gathered around the table, so too are we a people to be dispersed and distributed among and amidst the world that others might see Christ. The elements are sanctified by the Spirit just as Christ was glorified upon the Cross and then the priest turns her prayer outward toward the congregation an she prays for the Spirit’s sanctifying work upon them as well. To what end? That they might become the body of Christ and be empowered for mission and ministry, of course.

The final act(s) after partaking of the Holy Meal include the final blessing by the priest which is nothing more or less than the acknowledgment of God’s blessing which he has already and always continues to pour out over his people. Finally, they are dismissed with a charge to go into the world, their mission field, as a people sent out.

If we can agree that the liturgy on Sunday is fashioned and formed after the leitourgia of Jesus, then it would follow that everything we do in liturgy is tied directly to the missio dei. In fact, the internal logic of the liturgy—the liturgical coefficient as it was dubbed by Schmemann[10]—shows a consistent and cohesive flow from entrance to dismissal, a flow which reveals to us the nature of our calling and sends us back out into the mission field. Jesus’ leitourgia was a (very) public work performed on behalf of the whole (cosmos) and the call for the church at liturgy is to join in this work: offering her own praise and prayer, thanksgiving and lament, joy and confession, in short her worship on behalf of the world that the world might see Christ and know him fully.


Endnotes

[1] Book of Common Prayer, 366.

[2] SC 14, In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else.

[3] “The liturgy was an institution of compulsory public service in the classical Greek world, best known from Athens, in which the wealthiest citizens (and, for certain liturgies, metics) were compelled to shoulder the financial burden of some project or activity of benefit to the polis (MacDowell, 1978, p. 161). When used in Athens in the Early Classical period, the term referred to a set of specific duties designated by law. In the fourth century, however, it began to be used more generally, to designate a service or obligation performed for any beneficiary; our modern comes from its use to refer to religious obligations in the Septuagint (Lewis, 1960, p. 181).” Sterling Garnett, “Liturgy, Greece and Rome” in The Encyclopedia of Ancient History edited by Roger Bagnall et. al. (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

[4] Sunday morning is used here as the normative time for Christian worship, but it is acknowledged that churches around the world also meet on Saturday or Sunday evenings as time, space, or circumstances dictate. This essay uses the Eucharistic liturgy of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer throughout.

[5] Book of Common Prayer, 355.

[6] “It means that we acknowledge and confess it [the Kingdom] to be our highest and ultimate value, the object of our desire, our love, and our hope. It means that we proclaim it to be the goal of the sacrament—of pilgrimage, ascension, entrance.” Schmemann, The Eucharist, 47.

[7] C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle.

[8] Book of Common Prayer, 358.

[9] Book of Common Prayer, 368.

[10] Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 19.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

Originally published by Resonance: A Theological Journal in Vol 3.4 “Sabbath.”

For the Christian, it is a routine struggle to tell time accurately and appropriately. We live in a fast-paced, high-tech, sound-bit driven, communicate in 140-characters or less, advertising-saturated world. Between smart phones, tablets, smart watches, and smart televisions, it is near impossible to remain separated from the rest of connected civilization. One could easily argue that our time-telling abilities are therefore also affected. To suggest just a few methods, time might be told according to the Julian calendar, to the solar/lunar calendar, or by social occurrences (Game of Thrones starts tonight, or tomorrow night is the “big game”). It is not that these things are inherently bad, but that rather than pointing to the One who made time, they point inward, to the self and to triviality. Channeling Luther and Augustine, we are a world constantly bent in on ourselves. How, then, can and should Christians tell time?

Without overstating the obvious, time is a tool of measurement marking the duration from one event to another. We keep time to assess our passage around the sun, our rotation on the earth’s axis, or the days between events such as our engagement and marriage rite. Alternatively, the Gospel of John orients time around the days of the week leading both to and from the resurrection of Jesus. The church has told time according to Caesar’s calendar for too long.

Embedded in liturgical time is the concept of sabbath. Both the liturgical calendar and the Mass are intimately connected with the biblical principle of sabbath rest and holy worship. The center of the Christian calendar is Easter, and the center of the week is worship on the Lord’s Day. The way that we tell time, as believers, is based on these high points. We focus almost exclusively on the “highs” of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. We hear sermons preached about living from Sunday to Sunday. Yet, before Palm Sunday is Lazarus Saturday; sandwiched between Cross and Resurrection is the rest and waiting of Holy Saturday. Rest and worship, participation and community, year and week cannot be separated.

The weekend has become a respite from physical labor rather than a holy sabbath given over to worshipping the Lord on his day. Learning to tell time liturgically is therefore an immersion into the salvation narrative of Jesus of Nazareth and is an active form of resistance against the rulers, powers, and authorities fighting for our primary allegiance. Liturgical time is not an alternative or counter-cultural form of marking the passing of days but is rather telling time as it really is. Even more than resistance, for the act of resisting seemingly places another in the role of primary agent/actor, sabbath is a form of participation in and engagement with the life and work of Jesus and the ongoing ministry of his body, the church.

Sabbath

The themes of rest and sabbath are integral to the Bible, central to Israel’s identity as God’s chosen people, and are still placed upon the church and the Christian as activities befitting believers. YHWH commanded his people on the slopes of Sinai to observe the sabbath and keep it holy.1 Bear in mind that YHWH gave the Law to a people already redeemed. This command would form the heart of Israel’s calling as she would pause every seventh day to rest, to pray, to worship. Her trade and commerce would cease; her movements would come to a shattering and silent halt; Israel looked radically different from the other civilizations of the world. YHWH states from the onset that he was freeing the Hebrews from Egypt that they might be his people and worship him in the desert.2

Throughout the Old Testament we find more rules and regulations surrounding sabbath, and the New Testament provides a picture of 2nd Temple Judaism in which sabbath observance is still of the utmost importance. The Pharisees constantly attack Jesus and his followers for their lack of proper observance. Jesus heals on the sabbath and the Pharisees, those devoted protectors of the Law, would have him thrown out or silenced completely.3 By using the example of David and his men entering the temple to eat the consecrated bread as an example, Jesus’ response is poignantly simple: “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”4 In a sense, sabbath had become the object of worship for the Pharisees and portions of the Jewish population. Whereas YHWH created the sabbath as a both a form of rest for his weary and already-redeemed-people and as the time set aside for worship, the religious leaders had placed sabbath above all other principles thereby inadvertently establishing yet another form of religious oppression.

Liturgical Time – Church Calendar

Even in her earliest centuries, the nascent church was already forming a calendar according to a different set of events and guiding principles. The measurement tool was no longer chronos (minutes, days, years, etc.)—though it certainly involved this method. The new standard for measuring time was the life and work of Jesus. The early Church understood Easter to be the central event in history, the hinge upon which the whole of history turns; and it certainly became the center of the liturgical year.5 Placed at the center of the calendar, Easter thus gave meaning and placement to every other liturgical day, feast, fast, and rite.6 Beginning with the season of Advent, the Christian calendar traverses through the story of Jesus as follows: Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide, Pentecost, Ordinary Time. This takes place every year. Without question, without fail. A glaring omission from any conversation about Easter or liturgical time is Holy Saturday. As Christians, particularly evangelically shaped Christians—for better or for worse—in the West, we are quick to focus on Cross and Resurrection. What about the beautiful tension that is Holy Saturday? YHWH rested on the seventh day of the week after his work of creation was completed. Jesus rests in the tomb after his work upon the cross is complete. The pathway from cross to empty tomb, from throne to resurrection is through sabbath, through rest.

The Orthodox Church highlights another significant Saturday in the liturgical calendar that receives little to no recognition from Protestants and other liturgical traditions. Lazarus Saturday is the day before Palm Sunday on which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead en route to the palms, the Last Supper, the cross, and the empty tomb. The significance and meaning that Lazarus Saturday has on Palm Sunday is astounding and yet it is never mentioned—or at least rarely so—by those outside of the Orthodox Church. For it was on this sabbath that another body lay resting in the tomb, another family mourned their loss, another bit of proof that death affects us all. And yet Jesus comes to Mary and Martha, he announces himself as the Resurrection and the Life, and he raises Lazarus on the sabbath. There was to be no work on the sabbath and yet Jesus does what no one else can: he brings the dead back to life. It is then, and only then, that he rides into Jerusalem humbly triumphant.

Liturgical Time – Weekly and Daily Office

Christians do not simply tell time on an annual basis. The Christian life is centered around two smaller circles, as well: the weekly and daily offices. Central to the week is Sunday worship; every Sunday is a little Easter and calls to memory the victory and joy that is the Resurrection.7 The passage of time is not from one Sunday to the next—that is shallow Christianity, a hollow and vacuous version of what we know to be true. This is a short excerpt on the meaning and function of Sunday in the Christian calendar:

Sunday is the first day of the week and the first day of creation. It is the day of the Sun of Righteousness, given that Saturday is the sabbath, the day of rest. It is the third day, because it was on Sunday that our Lord was raised from the grave, having conquered sin, death, and the devil; having “trampled down death by death,” he was raised to new life, echoing his bold claim from earlier in John’s gospel, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Finally, Sunday is the eighth day because the resurrection changes everything: it is the first day of the new week, the first day of the new creation. It is the breaking in of God’s Kingdom in the here and now. John marks his Gospel according to days, and the Sunday of the resurrection is both a continuation of the first day but also its fulfillment.8

This is taken from the picture given by John’s Gospel and it represents the uniqueness of Sunday. To arrive at each Sunday, however, one must first go through sabbath rest.

Similarly, the Daily Office has Sunday as its referent. That is, Sunday worship is the blueprint for observing Morning and Evening Prayer (or Matins, Lauds, Vespers, etc. if you are particularly adventurous). Embedded deep within the rhythm of daily prayer are pauses, periods of silence, and rest. The very act of praying throughout the day can be seen as a mini-sabbath or rest because it represents the cessation of all other activity in order to devote oneself to prayer, meditation, and worship.

Formed By Sabbath

The church calendar and the Christian life should be informed and shaped by both the joy of Easter Sunday and the rest of Holy Saturday. It is in fact the connection between the two that leads to participation, to worship, to whole and holy living because at the core, liturgical time is about participation in the life and love of Christ. The early church told time differently than the Romans and oppressive emperors surrounding them; indeed their timekeeping may be viewed by some as subversive, counter-cultural, and resistant, but that would be putting the cart in front of the horse. Just as the Eucharist may have a political element to it, or can be understood through political or social lenses from time to time, the point of the Eucharist is not first and foremost political. It is worship. Nothing more, nothing less. Liturgical time is participation before it can be considered resistance.

The question, Christian, then becomes simple: how do you tell time? In what narrative of the world are you actively participating? Our cue must be taken from our worship practices, from the liturgies that form and shape us, from the deep structures and rhythms of our week and calendar. We, as Christians, are a people of worship but can we truly claim to be a people of sabbath? Our weekends are filled to overflowing with sporting events, yardwork, chores, duties, tasks, and more. We set aside an hour, perhaps two at most, for Sunday worship but very little more than that. Observing sabbath, however, shows that the rat race of life does not win in God’s kingdom, that timekeeping is done on another level, and that we can afford to give over our time in worship to God even if the rest of the world thinks us foolish, irresponsible, or different.

Sabbath is a time of pregnant pauses, anxious awaiting, and emotion-filled worship. It is the gift of time back to the Timekeeper because the day given to prayer is one less day afforded for work and monetary/economic gain. It represents an alignment or re-ordering of values according to heavenly principles rather than earthly standards.


Endnotes

1 Exodus 20:8

2 Exodus 7:16

3 N T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, North American ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 432.

4 Mark 2:27-28

5 Thomas J. Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, 2nd ed. (Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 1991), 1.

6 An Orthodox priest once commented to me that he could fill out the whole of the liturgical calendar if he was given but one date: Easter. The knowledge of Easter’s date in any given year would allow him to fill out the rest of the calendar because liturgical time is consistent, it is measured, and it is formative.

7 Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, 13-14, 70.

8 This was originally written in a post for The Living Church. The whole piece can be accessed here: http://livingchurch.org/covenant/2015/11/20/learning-to-tell-time-liturgically/

This is the first installment of a new series entitled Language Lessons. The goal here is to take terms/phrases/words from liturgical theology and explore their meaning, especially when the meaning given publicly is often wrong or incomplete.

Alternatively titled: Is it really the work of the people?

Doubly-alternatively titled: liturgy for the life of the world. Yes, that is my nod to Schmemann, first, and then to Kavanagh, second.

Perhaps its my Protestant upbringing—the majority of my time spent in low-church evangelical, Anglican parishes—or maybe it’s the overwhelming feeling in a post-Vatican II environment, but it has become all too common to hear that liturgy is “the work of the people.” That’s all well and good, it’s certainly empowering for laypeople as they cast off the shackles of medieval clericalism. Isn’t that the picture that we (in)advertently paint when describing the Reformation? But my research and dissertation writing has led me to one question:

Is that what the word leitourgia really means?

I’m not entirely convinced that it is does. At least, not in the way that everyone thinks. Leitourgia when used in its historical context does not mean “the work of the people” but more accurately “a public work on behalf of the people.” Sometimes the public work was performed by an individual and at other times it was performed by a small group/portion of the population, but it was always on behalf of the larger whole.

It would be all too easy at this point to write me/this translation off as suggesting that clergy perform liturgy on behalf of the laity. Isn’t that precisely what many of the Reformers were rejecting? Just as the Gospel is for all people so too is gospel-centered, liturgical-focused worship. So, let me state unequivocally, that I am not arguing for liturgy as a work done by those with collars on behalf of those without.

The comfort we take when claiming liturgy is the work of the people is extremely self-centered. We haven’t been able to escape the self-focus of the Reformation in over 500 years. I think that last sentence may get me into trouble with some of you. In this popular sense, liturgy means that I am a participant, that I offer liturgy as work, that the purpose of liturgy is to make every member an active part of the worship. You’ve heard it all before, right? The focus thus becomes the church itself. The “I” and the “We.” But where is the “they”?

Stick with me. You’ll soon find out where I’m going if you haven’t gotten there already, yet.

Liturgy directs of worships and aids our encounter with the Living God. Yes, it allows clergy and laity alike to actively engage in prayer, praise, lament, confession, baptism, communion, and so much more. But have we so forgotten the mission into which God has invited us that our liturgy/s is some how separated? Similarly, and I’ll explain the connect, haven’t we been arguing for decades that the church’s mission and her worship are one in the same??The mission of the church is to help heal and restore a broken, hurt, and lost world to the loving relationship of the self-giving Trinity, to direct the praise of creation back to the Creator, to fulfill the Great Commission.

So, liturgy then isn’t necessarily a work of the people in the democratic sense—wish though we might for the early church to adhere to our sense of self and liberty—but is more logically and accurately a work of the church on behalf of the whole world. Aidan Kavanagh put it this way:

Rather, they [the church] assemble under grace and according to the canons of Scripture and creed, prayer and common laws, in order to secure their unity in lived faith transmitted from generation to generation for the life of the world.[1]

Ah, now we’ve arrived. Let’s stay awhile.

In and through the liturgy, the church shows the world the way the world is meant to be done (Kavanagh). In the liturgy we have blueprint and design for healthy and holy living: gathering, prayer, praise, song, lament, Word, Body, Blood, confession, thanksgiving, dismissal. The Eucharistic liturgy, the very source and summit of our faith and worship (Sacrosanctum Concilium) involves the self-offering of the Church before Christ and the offering of the entire cosmos before her Creator. We make our offering on behalf of the cosmos and for the salvation of the cosmos. Our prayer and worship is a cry to the triune God that all may come to know, love, and serve him fully.

As you think through the meaning of leitourgia, as you wrestle with what I (and others before me) have said, keep in mind that liturgy viewed thus is a charge to always be thinking of the Other: God and our fellow humans. Liturgy is not an act engaged in by many or something that we all do together. It is something that the church engages in together for the benefit, blessing, and uplifting of all creation. It is the public work of Christ’s body on behalf of the cosmos, that she might be transformed in Christ to what she was always intended to be. A subtle, simple shift? Yes, but it is a shift in our understanding that makes all of the difference when we gather together for prayer and praise, for Trinitarian worship, for bath, body, and blood.

You May Also Enjoy: Fridays With Fr. Kavanagh and Liturgy and God’s Redeeming Work.

[1] Aidan Kavanagh, On Liturgical Theology (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, A Pueblo Book, 1984).

A Sonnet for Pentecost

Let your Spirit fall on your people once again,
Enable and exalt the praise of our corporate, “Amen.”
Fill our hearts and minds with your unending power,
That with adoration and thanksgiving you we shower.
Fulfilling the promises of prophetic days gone by,
Sent from the Godhead seated in the throne on high,
Ever active, ever moving, ever giving life
Guiding the Church as comforter and midwife.
Our hearts burn with a good and holy desire,
To see your flame and be kindled by your fire.
Anoint and sanctify us that we might know your will
Your presence is sufficient, then and still.
You are welcome here, you are welcome in this place;
Come, O Holy Spirit, bless us with thy gift of grace
 

I like the rich theology of the appointed Collect and Proper Preface for the Feast of Pentecost found in the Book of Common Prayer. However, I felt inspired to offer up a slight variation to be used in either one of those places. As with any Preface/Collect I compose, you could also use this prayer—should you so desire—as an opening preface or closing collect for the Prayers of the People.

Come Holy Spirit!

We praise you O God, who on this day did sent your Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost giving birth to the church. You opened up the gates of eternal life to all people: slave and free, male and female, young and old, Jew and Gentile. Empower us to share your Gospel to peoples of all nations, tribes, and tongues. Grant that we may be anointed afresh by your Spirit, equipped for your ministry, led into all truth, and consecrated for service in your Kingdom, and all for your glory.

church-painting-1206933_640

This is a guest post from Dr. Eugene Schlesinger, lecturer at Santa Clara University, a Rev. John P. Raynor, SJ Fellow at Marquette University from 2015-2016, author, Missa Est! A Missional Liturgical Ecclesiology with Fortress Press. It was originally posted on my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian. Dr. Schlesinger is also contributed a fantastic essay on Fr. Alexander Schmemann and ressourcement in my edited volume, We Give Our Thanks Unto Thee.

Editor’s Note: This is the inaugural post in the new series, “Everyday Ecumenism.” Stay tuned for more fantastic content like this!

Ressourcement or Reinventing the Wheel

Perhaps the most significant event in my theological development was getting fired from the church I’d helped plant, whose culture I’d helped to shape, and to which I’d devoted three years of my life.[1] For the five years between my seminary education and the beginning of my doctoral studies, I served in pastoral ministry. Most of it was at an Evangelical church plant. We were a missional church: seeking to live out a missionary vocation in all areas of life as individual Christians and as a congregation. One of the ways this played out in the church’s life was in a drive to try new things and find better ways of “being the church.”

During my time at this church, I fell in love with the liturgy,[2] and found it to be an incredible source of renewal in my life. As I experienced liturgical renewal, I sought to share this with my congregation, bringing liturgical elements into our worship. While some parishioners found this a source of refreshment, plenty of others found it unacceptable. I was consistently told that we couldn’t adopt liturgy because we were a missional church. Liturgy was “Catholic” (in a negative sense) and probably “legalistic,” and certainly not missional. I could never figure out why liturgical worship and missional ecclesiology were incompatible. Eventually it became clear that my theological convictions and my vision of the church were no longer compatible with this church, and the ministry relationship ended, and I found a new ecclesial home as an Anglican.

Evangelicals and the Reinvented Wheel

As I delved deeper into the liturgical tradition, I realized that so much of Evangelicals’ efforts at finding new ways of being the church were really just reinventing the wheel. For instance, what were multi-site churches with a head pastor if not dioceses overseen by a bishop? But there was a crucial difference, the Evangelical reinvention of the episcopate lacked a coherent theological rationale, and a connection to the historic succession that grants Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican bishops their validity. Beyond this, a historical ignorance had kept us from recognizing what we were doing, and kept us flying blind. We didn’t realize that the church had long ago figured out about bishops, and might have wisdom about how this aspect of the church’s life should be ordered. Instead, we were stuck making things up as we went along.

The impulse for renewal, and even novelty, was a good thing. As Irenaeus wrote, so long ago, Christ brought all newness when he brought himself (Against Heresies 4.34.1). Genuine encounter with Jesus Christ will always result in renewal, and so when church life grows stagnant, something is badly wrong. This lies behind the call for a new evangelization that has arisen within the Catholic Church over the last several decades. But apart from some sort of historical awareness and engagement with the tradition, the impulse towards renewal quickly devolves into novelty for novelty’s sake, and winds up being a shallow renewal indeed.

An Alternative: Ressourcement

And so I thought: What if instead of just making stuff up, we looked to the church’s traditions to find the answers for how we do things? Without realizing it at the time, I was setting out on the path of ressourcement. At its heart, ressourcement is a strategy of retrieval, returning to the sources that lie at the heart of the church’s heritage: Scripture, the liturgy, and the church fathers. In the first half of the twentieth-century, several French Catholic theologians sought to perform such a retrieval in order to breathe new life into the somewhat dry and dusty theological life of the church. Their approach was not well-received at first. It was dismissed as la nouvelle théologie (the new theology), and Henri de Lubac, a key proponent of “the new theology” was censored and forbidden from teaching theology for nearly ten years. History has vindicated him, though, at the Second Vatican Council, he served as a peritus (theological advisor to the bishops), and was eventually made a Cardinal.

Here the point isn’t with the history of ressourcement, though, but the instinct that drives it: a turn to the past, in light of current problems, with an eye to the future.

Eventually I undertook doctoral studies, intent on resolving this question of whether or not a liturgical church could also be a missional church. Certain missional theologians warn that a focus on the church’s liturgical life will distract it from its missional identity and vocation.[3] Faced with this criticism we have three options: we can ignore them, go the dead-end route of wheel reinvention (get rid of the liturgy and find new ways of being the church), or the way of ressourcement, returning to the sources at the heart of traditional ecclesiology and find in them a source of missional renewal.

If we ignore their criticisms, we miss an opportunity for renewal. Even Pope Francis has called for a pastoral and missionary conversion of the church, and called for a re-evaluation of every aspect the church’s life to be sure that we are living faithfully to our missionary vocation.[4] Rather than ignoring these missional criticisms, we need to see them as an opportunity to more faithfully articulate who and what the church has always been.

My book with Fortress Press, Missa Est! A Missional Liturgical Ecclesiology takes this route of ressourcement and uses traditional sources: Scripture, the church fathers, and the liturgy, to construct a missional ecclesiology. By returning to the sources, I show that a missionary understanding of the church has always been implicit in them. The presenting problem of missional criticisms of the liturgy proves to be an opportunity to make this implicit understanding of the church more explicit.

The thing I want us to see here, though, is not just the liturgy-mission conundrum I resolve in my book. I think that’s an important problem to address, but I raise it to show the ongoing importance of ressourcement for the church. The church is in need of continual renewal. But the way to that renewal is not by abandoning the past as something “old,” and “irrelevant.” Instead, it’s a turn to the past, in light of our current problems, with an eye to the future. I’ll say frankly, ignoring or rejecting the past is the way for churches to lose their Christian identity, and be subject to whatever cultural whims, personal predilections, or ideological forces they happen to encounter. At the same time, ressourcement is not a call to just “do what we’ve always done,” instead, it’s a return to the past to rediscover things we’ve forgotten, but desperately need to remember

We are not slaves to the past, uncritically repeating what’s come before. But if we ignore the past, we’ll simply be slaves of the present moment, to the spirit of the age. A proper engagement with the church’s tradition brings renewal through the Holy Spirit, who has breathed life into Christ’s body for the last two millenia.

[1] I wasn’t formally “fired” from the position, but I was, essentially shown the door. None of what I’m writing here is by way of complaint against that church. I’ve made my peace with what happened. Instead, the events that led to my departure from the church also set me on the path to discovering the importance of ressourcement.

[2] I’m going to go against my own preference here and use “liturgy” in a more restrictive sense: namely formal, set liturgies grounded in particular texts (such as a Breviary, Missal, or the Book of Common Prayer). Every church has a liturgy, though. There aren’t liturgical and non-liturigcal churches. Some of us are just honest about it. However, it makes for really clunky writing to belabor this.

[3] E.g., John G. Flett, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010); Nathan R. Kerr, Christ, History and Apocalyptic: The Politics of Christian Mission (Eugene: Cascade, 2009).

[4] See his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium.

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.

This was originally posted on Anglican Pastor and you can find the original text here.

O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! – Psalm 95:6

There used to be a time—and it wasn’t too long ago!—when pews or sitting furniture of any kind were completely absent from the sanctuary.

Let’s be honest, we’re a bit removed from the ancient traditions of the Church when it comes to furniture and prayer. We now live in an age when pews are being exchanged for comfortable chairs, kneelers have gone by the wayside, and comfort is more important than anything else. But be it the triclinium of the early church or the empty naves of the ecclesia and great basilicas, the fact is that our tradition of prayer and worship is almost exclusively based on standing and kneeling.

Whole-Bodied Worship

It cannot be overstated that liturgical worship is participatory and whole-bodied in nature. Whereas many traditions and churches have separated themselves from the faith and worship of the historic church and thereby relegated their experiences to the purely mental, liturgical worship incorporates sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Rather than a 45-minute sermon geared toward one’s ability to think—and I think that right doctrine is good!—worship according to the ancient practices and ordoof the church engage the whole person, intentionally, because God desires the worship of all who we are. According to James K.A. Smith, “In rationalist worship spaces, even the wallpaper is didactic.”[1]

It is common to kneel during all prayer, during the confession and absolution of sins, during the Eucharistic prayer after the Sanctus, and during the blessing given by the priest. Kneeling in such contexts is far more than keeping to tradition or the status quo, it is the intentional decision of the individual and parish to honor the Lord verbally and physically. To kneel is to submit, it is to worship, and it is to recognize that He is King and we are not. This is why actions are just as important as words: when the Lord of lords “enters” into our worship through the assembly, Word, and Eucharistic elements it is only natural and right to proclaim our loyalty to him through word and deed. Failure to do so, while not inherently wrong, would be to separate our minds from our hearts and bodies.

All of this is to lead us to one simple question: why do we kneel in prayer?

The biblical witness, the ancient practices of Jewish and Christian worship, and a whole-bodied theology of worship offer insight into this rich and robust experience.

Biblical Witness

Laced throughout Scripture are the powerful stories of individuals who gestured with their bodies when in pray to honor God. It is abundantly clear that the position of our bodies can and should match the spiritual realities and attitudes of our hearts. Offerings, sacrifices, gestures, movements, songs, proclamations, actions, rituals, and ceremonies have been at the heart of Christian worship since the time of the Garden when Adam and Eve were to direct the worship of creation back to the Creator.

In Exodus 3, Moses encounters the Living God in the burning bush and is commanded to remove his shoes because, “they place where [he’s] standing is holy ground.” The simply removal of sandals demonstrated and acknowledged the holiness of God. David danced “undignified” before the LORD when the Ark of the Covenant was returned from Philistia.

Daniel 6 records Daniel’s thrice-a-day practice of kneeling in prayer to YHWH, a practice which brought about his evening stay in the Lion’s Den (Daniel 6:10). Solomon knelt before the altar and the LORD in prayer with his hands stretched toward heaven (1 Kings 8:54). Ezra falls on his knees before the LORD at the evening sacrifice (Ezra 9:5). In his epistle to the church at Ephesus, St. Paul writes a prayer and says that he “bows his knee before the Father,” (Ephesians 3:14). The prophet Isaiah and the New Testament writers all point toward the day when “Every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Even Jesus knelt in prayer to the Father (Luke 22:41) while in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest and subsequent murder.

Perhaps most obvious is the verse from Psalm 95 when the psalmist urges the assembly, “O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” (Psalm 95:6). There is an inherent connection between kneeling and worshipping: that which we do with our bodies is as expressive as our words, if not more so.

Ancient Practices

The book of the Acts of the Apostles is the earliest glimpse we have into the most primitive years of the church and throughout its pages we find Peter and the other apostles kneeling in prayer. Peter knelt before raising Tabitha (9:40), Paul after speaking before a crowd (20:36), and Luke recounts another experience in Acts 21:5. The earliest Christians believed firmly in the act of kneeling for prayer.

I have already pointed out the two most obvious practice of Jewish worship and the worship of the early church in the verses above: daily prayer. Counter to semi-popular belief from the early 19thcentury, the worship of the church grew up in and continued the practices of Israel as she worshipped YHWH in the Temple and synagogues. Our worship is appropriately Judeo-Christian in nature and the offering prayer at set times throughout the day is not a Christian invention. As early as Daniel—and perhaps earlier—we see prayer occurring three times a day.

Daily prayer involved kneeling, a la Psalm 95:6 and Daniel 6:10, as a gesture of humility and reverence. The Church began facing toward the East—in order to look for the Lord’s second coming in the sky—during Sunday worship and the celebration of the Eucharist. To kneel in prayer while facing toward the East was to submit yourself fully to God’s story, plan, and holiness.

It became common in the church’s worship to kneel during the words of the Eucharistic prayer as the pinnacle moment of the liturgy. The traditions of both Judaism and Christianity point to the fact that kneeling is the most primitive and basic of gestures and it cannot be separated from prayer.

We are whole people made by a Holy God and our worship of Him ought to acknowledge such a reality: to kneel is to worship through prayer.

[1] Preface to Liturgy as Way of Life by Bruce Ellis Benson

Photo: Public Domain

This post was originally published on my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian. You can find and read it here.

Crumbs

A troubling (to me) blog post has been going around over the last few weeks regarding the Reformation and the Eucharist. Dr. Kelly Pigott, a blogger on the Patheos Progressive Christian channel, has argued that the meal Jesus instituted in Jerusalem with his disciples some 2,000 years ago has been distorted and misappropriated through centuries of infighting and disagreement. Ultimately, Pigott argues that Communion is more about the transformation of the partaker into Jesus than anything else. He suggests that the “eternal question one must ask of Communion is…what happens to me?’

For the sake of clarity, you can and should read the original post here before continuing below.

Unfortunately, I believe Pigott’s post to have been historically inaccurate at best and full of mischaracterizations at worst; or perhaps vice versa. The Reformers, and I’m not only talking about Anglicans, would agree that the Communion was about grace, that this was not about being part of the “spiritual-elite”, and that those partaking are somehow affected deeply. More importantly, the Early Church witness agrees with these statements as well. The real issue at hand here is Pigott’s decision to focus the Eucharist on the individual rather than the on Jesus.

Some of the comments have suggested that focusing on the bread and wine is akin to answering the question about how many angels can fit on the head of a needle. This is utter nonsense! One does not have to chose between two extremes—those of self-focus or elemental transformation—in order to have a meaningful and orthodox conversation about the Eucharist. Embracing mystery does not punt the proverbial ball down the field nor does it ignore the question of presence, it simply seeks to assert that Christ is in fact present without feeling the need to define his presence concretely.

As an example, the Eucharistic prayers from the 1549 and 1552 Books of Common Prayer both include the Prayer of Humble Access. I have included the prayer below and the reader should note two things: first, I have updated the old English, and second, the parentheses denote lines removed between the two editions:

We do not presume to come to this thy table (o merciful lord) trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies: we be not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table: but thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore (gracious Lord) so to eat the flesh of thy dear son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood (in these holy Mysteries), that we may continually dwell in him, and he in us, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood. Amen.[1]

Honestly I feel as I though I can end my post here without comment based on the thick theological language of this prayer. But for the sake of clarity, and because I’m passionate about this, I will go on. I have italicized some pertinent statements in the prayer to unpack below.First, the entire prayer is grounded in the belief that no one can earn or merit access to the Lord’s Table. This is not the result of being part of the spirituality elite but is instead based solely in the work of Christ. This belief was not new to Christianity when Archbishop Cranmer wrote this prayer in the 1540’s; the Early Church also believed that to eat and drink at the eschatological banquet table was a gift of the highest kind.

Second, the humility embodied in the prayer is given further credibility by the grace of God. It is God’s property (or nature) to always have mercy and therefore although we are unworthy to partake we are still invited. Again, nothing spiritually elite here.

Third, Communion with God is bedrock to this prayer, to the Reformation, and to the Early Church. Read Schmemann, Ziziuolas, Pope Benedict XVI, and the Eucharistic theologies of the Early Church and you will find example after example of people believing that Communion is union with God. John Calvin did not come up with this idea on his own, he simply recovered it and insisted upon it.

Fourth, it was the belief of Cranmer, Hooker, and many of the Anglican reformers and divines that the Eucharist did indeed effect some type of change in the believer. The Prayer of Humble Access makes clear that the cleansing of the body and the washing of the soul was part of the sacrament. However, this was not the purpose behind the sacrament’s institution nor was it the ultimate goal of individual. The early church fathers and the reformers all believed that Communion was nourishment and healing for the soul, a gift from God that transformed those partaking, but the focus was always on Christ’s once and perfect oblation, and the triune Godhead, rather than on the self.

In the Eucharist the Church is at the summit of her worship, in the throne room of Almighty God, and the concept of the self could not be further from the equation. The moment we begin focusing on ourselves and what we “get” out of worship, or what “happens” to us is the moment we have misunderstood the Eucharist entirely.

Sure, Church history is fraught with examples of fighting and arguments over Eucharistic theology. Indeed there are numerous denominations within the Church that have differing views on what takes place in the sacrament of the kingdom. That being said, the answer to this conundrum, to finding common Eucharistic ground in the catholic church is not to be sought inward but upward, heavenward.

In view of God’s absolute otherness, his holiness, we are not worthy to approach his table. But God has approached us in the form of Jesus his Son, the second person of the Trinity, who has prepared a place for us at the wedding feast. Accepting the grace-filled invitation of a loving and merciful God is neither arrogant nor elite, it is worship. It is worship the way God intended it to be and our charge is to draw others into worship as we extend to them the Body and Blood of our Lord.

[1] Brian Cummings, The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662, 261.

Photo Credit: Sacred Space Kingston