This is Andrew Russell’s second installment in his mini-series on Anglican Spiritual Formation for our “Ecclesia Anglicana” series. You can read his introductory post here.

The Christian life is fundamentally a life of worship. More than growth in holiness, proclamation of the gospel, or working toward social justice, the Christian Church exists to sing praises to God, offer her gifts to him at the table, be nourished by the Scriptures and sacraments, and commune with him in worship (though holiness, evangelism, and social justice are all natural outgrowths and consequences of that worship). This article is concerned with an Anglican view of spiritual formation and the central role worship plays in the formation of an Anglican Christian. However, Anglicans have often found help for explaining the importance of worship—and the world’s value for assisting human beings in their worship—in the writing of the great Orthodox liturgical theologian Alexander Schmemann:

All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man. God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation. (For the Life of the World)

This means the entire world is a temple in which worship of the triune God is eternally being performed. Humanity’s decision to love the world more than God—to love the world for its own sake—caused the death of the world. But Jesus Christ, in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, has “taken up all life, filled it with Himself, made it what it was meant to be: communion with God, sacrament of His presence and love” (Schmemann). The cosmos again worships God, as it was originally created to do.

It is the joyous responsibility of Christians to take part in this grand cosmic worship service. This is done, of course, by daily living, but also—and perhaps most meaningfully—in the liturgy of the Eucharist.

Liturgy is essential in worship. The Church inherited liturgical worship from the Jews. It is as old—and perhaps even older!—than the Scriptures themselves, and it follows a pattern because the God of Israel is a God of order. This, along with the conviction that liturgy creates an atmosphere of beauty and reverence, is summed up nicely in the catechism of the Anglican Church of North America: “Anglicans worship with a structured liturgy because it is a biblical pattern displayed in both Testaments, and because it fosters in us a reverent fear of God.” In the liturgical traditions, the command to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” is taken seriously.

Though Anglicans differ amongst themselves on Eucharistic theology, it is universally accepted that the Eucharist strengthens believers and communicates the grace of God to them. More specifically, the Eucharist unites believers with Christ. It is the means through which we repeatedly receive the benefits of his atoning work and sacrificial death. In the Eucharist, we enter into the joy of the resurrection and sit at the festal table with the triune God in the Kingdom. The world to come is brought to this world, and we are able to see that all of creation is shot through with the presence of God. The world [again] becomes sacrament.

In the Anglican tradition, the Daily Office is also central to spiritual formation. The Daily Office is more than a time of prayer; it is a time of praise, confession, study of Scripture, intercession, and thanksgiving. Furthermore, the Daily Office claims the time of the day for God and recognizes that time itself benefits from the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. American society tells us to frame our days with rush and relaxation, but the Scriptures tell us to frame our days with worship and prayer: “From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised.”

As far as what makes up Anglican worship, Anglicans are in keeping with the vast majority of the Christian tradition: Word and sacrament. The Word of God is the foundational witness to the saving work of God in the world. It is the source of our belief and practice, and because of this it is one of the most precious possessions entrusted to the Church. This is why, every day, Anglicans sing psalms and read passages from the Old and New Testaments, with the end result of reading the entire Bible once a year (or once every three years, depending on which lectionary you use). Not only does the Bible provide the raw materials for our worship and doctrine, it also recounts our history as the people of God. Gerald Sittser is worth quoting here:

The Bible tells a story of human resistance and God’s persistence. The story is full of flawed heroes and strange twists of plot, of the wretchedness of evil and the triumph of good, which was accomplished in a way that no one could have predicted, namely, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a wonderful story; it is also a true story that speaks to the depths of the human condition. This story provides us with the truths we need to make sense of our own stories. What God accomplished then he can accomplish now because he is the same God who works in the same way. Even more, we come to realize that our stories are given meaning not because they are our stories but because they are located within the story of salvation history. (Water from a Deep Well)

Sacraments are the other element of worship in which Anglicans undergo spiritual formation. We believe that the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ signifies not only the union of God and humanity, but also the resanctification of matter itself.

As we discussed earlier, all of creation may in some sense be seen as sacramental. There is no location where God is not present, and there is no activity in which God is not working. Jesus Christ is the perfect demonstration of this as the quintessential sacrament. He is the place where heaven and earth meet. He is the foundation and proof that God works with human beings in ways they can most easily understand. Thus this world is not a necessary evil; it is, for humanity, a necessary good.

Anglicans believe that God forms human beings spiritually through material things, in keeping with the Great Tradition going back to the ancient Church. Through mundane things like bread and wine, human beings are united to God and transformed into who they were made to be. However, it is important to remember that the sacramental nature of reality is only made possible and sustained by the Word of God (both the personified Word, Jesus Christ, and the written Word). It is both together that form the basis of an Anglican view of worship and, consequently, spiritual formation.

Andrew Russell is an M.Div. candidate at Beeson Divinity School. He is an ordination candidate in the Anglican Diocese of the South and hopes to serve the Church as a parish priest. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Anna. Follow him on Twitter: @andrew_05.

This post is part of “Ecclesia Anglicana,” a series devoted to all topics pertaining to Anglicanism. Stay tuned for more!

            I did not grow up in the Anglican church. My teenage years were split between a Messianic Jewish synagogue and a Grace Brethren congregation. So, at a distance, the sacrament of confirmation looked like a cool rite of passage for my Episcopalian friends. But on February 11th, 2018, I received the laying on of my Bishop’s hands with this blessing: 

“Defend, O Lord, this your servant, Hunter, with your heavenly grace, that he may continue yours for ever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more until he comes into the fullness of your everlasting kingdom.”

            This same confirmation prayer occurs in every iteration of the Book of Common Prayer, always emphasizing mature perseverance as an intended fruit. I received this sacrament as an adult who, at that point, had served as a youth minister for six years, yet I experienced a new vigor in receiving the Eucharist and participating in parish life. Perhaps my own confirmation experience makes me acutely aware of a common disparity between the theology of confirmation and the practice of confirming youth in the Anglican church. It seems to be the case that parish catechesis risks merely preparing youth confirmands for the rite of confirmation while the liturgy and theology of confirmation treats the sacrament as an initiation into life-long, Holy Spirit-filled perseverance. The result of this disparity is a generation of youth fully initiated into a Body they are unprepared to participate in long-term. Thus, the Church risks perpetuating another achievement for youth to attain without life-long practices and perspective. So, the question, “Are you initiated?” may not be as helpful for confirming youth as, “What are you initiated into?”

            Now, there is no ecumenical consensus on the timing of confirmation. Our Eastern Orthodox friends do not separate baptism and chrismation, while Anglicans, like our Roman Catholic friends, withhold confirmation until a child or adult may take reasonable, mature ownership of their faith. However, the question of what youth are initiated into remains for every Christian tradition. In what follows, I will explore the way a strong method and theology of confirmation moves youth beyond the words of a catechism and the works of piety into a persevering desire for the Triune God.

Words, Works, and Desire

            What prepares a young person for confirmation? The numerous catechisms written since the Protestant Reformation seem to answer: systematic content. The Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Sacraments become jumping off points into a didactic process whereby the catechumen ought to know what these teachings mean and why they occur in the Church’s liturgical life. Now, it may be unfair to diagnose this method as overly cognitive in its scope, yet youth confirmands experience that, in order to be confirmed, you must learn what these words mean. Under this view, catechism concerns the meaning behind the words and works of the Church. William Cavanaugh addresses a similar problematic method at work in the Eucharist. “The problem is that the Eucharist has been reduced to the message, to a piece of information for the mind to grasp. … The key is not what the Eucharist means, but what it makes. And it makes the Church.”[1] Surely the sacrament of confirmation also ought not be reduced to merely confirming what someone knows.

            Since a little ressourcement goes a long way, let us consider a catechetical method from the early church. In De Catechizandis rudibus, St. Augustine responded to Deogratias, a deacon in Carthage, regarding how to deliver a proper catechism. This deacon, celebrated in doctrinal knowledge and eloquence, struggled to deliver the scope of the Christian faith without boring his catechumens. What is Augustine’s advice?

The narration is complete when the candidate has received instruction from that first passage in Scripture, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” all the way up to the present age of the Church. But this does not mean that those of us who have memorized the whole Pentateuch, all the books of Jewish kingdoms and Ezra, the whole Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, should rehearse them verbatim. … Rather we should offer a brief and general summary, selecting particular passages that occasion wonder and pleasure in the hearer and also form the sinews of the story.[2]

Certainly, Augustine is not implying that parts of the Biblical narrative are unimportant. His narrative method is intentional, knowing that where one starts affects the whole and must fit together with all other pieces.[3] The goal of catechetical instruction is “love proceeding from a pure heart, good conscience, and unfeigned faith.”[4] Much like the hermeneutic instructions in De Doctrina Christiana, Augustine emphasizes the desire for and enjoyment of the Trinity as the ultimate end of all instruction.

            So, how does Augustine’s narrative method answer what catechumens are initiated into? A catechism beginning with a selective biblical narrative (1) shows that the catechumen/confirmand is part of and participates in the public story of God’s redeemed people and (2) assumes this story will inspire wonder and pleasure for a life-long pursuit of God. If I might expand Augustine’s illustration, the sinews of the biblical narrative are sufficient for the catechism because they prepare the confirmand to be a full part of the Body of Christ, rather than an individual initiated solely on their mature knowledge.

            Confirmation gives young people something to long for beyond the moment of initiation: a daily strengthening by the work of the Holy Spirit. The theology of confirmation points to this very reality. In baptism, the Church is united to Christ’s death and resurrection. In the Eucharist, the Body is united to Christ and one another through receiving His body and blood. In confirmation, each believer participates in Pentecost. A narrative catechism emphasizes a young person’s participation in a public story; initiation is participating and receiving that act of God which initiated and constituted the Church.

            Throughout De Catechizandis rudibus,Augustine exhorts the listener to consider what they really rest their hope upon. If you place it upon your personal character, you will not persevere. If you place it upon the character and piety of others, you will not persevere. Augustine’s interest in the chaff among the wheat takes a pastoral turn towards perseverance and the purpose of Christian practice.

This is fulfilled by no one save the man who has received the other gift, the Holy Spirit, who is indeed equal with the Father and the Son, for this same Trinity is God; on this God every hope ought to be placed. On man our hope ought not to be placed, of whatsoever character he may be. For He, by whom we are justified, is one thing; and they, together with whom we are justified, are another.[5]

Here lies the mysterious hope in the sacrament of confirmation: that, by grace, we will persevere in our desire for the God on whom, alone, our hope truly rests. Christian practices form persons who daily put their hope in God, awaiting the fullness of His everlasting kingdom.

A Practitioner’s Perspective

            Discipling teenagers is not an easy task. I studied youth ministry at a Christian college, served in youth ministry a non-denominational church for six years, and now I am a student ministry director at an Anglican parish. I write as a practitioner seeking clarity and conviction for my own students, more like Deogratias than Augustine! Yet I find that the Anglican tradition offers a uniquely helpful perspective and practice for forming youth.

            First, Anglican youth ministry is free to learn from any Christian tradition and practice. Youth ministry, at least in the United States, began from a larger sociological shift when the institution of public education functionally created a distinct people group: teenagers.[6] The Anglican Church can learn from every kind of response to this phenomenon, from movements emphasizing family-driven faith to methods presupposing teenagers are largely unchurched. I have every reason to study the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, Orange’s “It’s Just A Phase” curriculum, Hillsong Worship, St. Augustine’s understanding of the Imago Dei, and missiologist Leslie Newbigin in order to catechize and disciple students well.

            Second, the Anglican tradition can be locally adapted for a variety of post-Christian contexts. I serve a diverse, urban parish in the heart of a city nicknamed the Holy City for all the church steeples on the skyline. Yet my students attend schools, have jobs, and form friendships in spaces that relegate religious beliefs to private preferences. Thus, the methods of reaching teenagers and equipping parents will look different in a diverse, urban setting compared to a suburban, like-goes-with-like context. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Table will form parishioners in a Kingdom reality, but parish catechesis must adapt to the spaces where parishioners will go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

            Third, the Daily Office is an ideal rhythm for worship and discipleship. It is relatively easy for young persons to read Scripture with the multitude of Bible apps and reading plans one download away. Yet the Anglican tradition gives youth ministry a true gem: a pattern for how to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Scripture as a Body. Our parish now requires all confirmands, youth and adults alike, to learn and practice the Daily Office as a rule of life.

            Finally, Anglican youth ministry benefits from strong sacramental theology and practice. On one morning of a youth service weekend at a nondenominational church, I struggled to teach Christ’s words, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”[7] I realized I could not teach this passage without treating the Eucharist as a true sacrament and not just a memorial ordinance. Christ’s words surely go beyond daily devotions and into the constitutive reality of a Church united to Him in the sacraments. Youth ministry, at least in the United States, risks merely moralizing Christian practices without a historic sacramental theology, a risk still present even in Anglican parishes. The challenge of parish catechesis will always be to pierce beyond the meanings of a catechism into the mysterious initiation into a Body united to Christ, “from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”[8] May our youth always persevere in their desire for God and participation in the Body.


Hunter Myers is a Student Ministry Director at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke & St. Paul in Charleston, South Carolina. He earned his BA in Youth Ministry & Philosophy at Columbia International University. He is from a small town called Golden, Colorado. 

[1] Cavanaugh, William. “Eucharistic Bodies in an Excarnated World.” Lecture, The Intersection Conference, Atlanta, May 17, 2019.

[2] Personal unpublished translation by Dr. Andrew Alwine, Associate Professor of Classics, College of Charleston.

[3] See Dr. Sarah Coakley’s understanding of systematic theology. Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self, 41.

[4] De Catechizandis rudibus, Chapter 2.6.

[5] Augustine, De Catechizandis rudibus, Chapter 27.55

[6] John Berard, Rick Bartlett, James Penner, Consuming Youth: Leading Teens Through Consumer Culture.

[7] John 15:5, ESV.

[8] Colossians 2:19, ESV.

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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 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

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This post was originally published on my former blog, “The Liturgical Theologian.” It can be read in full here.

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

As I was preparing my sermon notes for the Third Sunday of Easter, I was struck by the Collect. It recounts how the Risen Lord revealed himself to his followers through the breaking of bread. Specifically, though not exclusively, this is a reference to Luke 24 when Jesus walked the road to Emmaus with two disciples, who did not recognize him until he took, blessed, broke and gave them bread. I think the revelation of Jesus through the breaking of bread and our weekly celebration of the Eucharist calls us to something great.

We are called to the Eucharistic Life.

New Testament Witness

Every biblical account of the Eucharist provides the same basic structure: bread was takenthanks was given, the bread was broken and then given.

The Synoptic (Matthew, Mark, Luke) accounts of the Last Supper are similar, but John’s Gospel does not contain the Last Supper; instead John connects Jesus’ words of institution with the feeding of the 5,000. In this story he “took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them.” Jesus then says, “I am the bread of life,” which Paul Bradshaw explains as a possible variation of “This is my body.” He writes, “Several scholars have already suggested that this latter statement is John’s version of the saying over the bread at the Last Supper.” (Bradshaw, Reconstructing Early Christian Worship,p. 4)

In 1 Corinthians 11 recounts Jesus’ words and actions during the Last Supper. Paul records that which had been handed down to him. Paul places the meal in the context of the crucifixion and resurrection: “On the night he was betrayed…Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said…” This summary has provided the foundation for Eucharistic prayers since the time of the Didache and The Apostolic Tradition.

The same structure was recorded in Acts 27 when Paul celebrated the Eucharist as he was sailing to Rome as a prisoner.

During the Last Supper, Jesus instituted four key actions (and corresponding words) that have been modeled and replicated in Eucharistic offerings for 2,000 years. These four words form the foundation of the Eucharistic life.

The Eucharistic Life

If the Eucharist is both “the sacrament of the Kingdom” (Schmemann, The Eucharistp. 28) and the sacrament that constitutes the church, and if in the Eucharist the church is not doing church but is doing the world the way it was meant to be done (combination of Alexander Schmemann and Aidan Kavanagh) then the Eucharist has meaning for the entirety of our lives. To live the Eucharistic life is to live a life that is taken, thanks-given, broken, and shared.

Taken

“Take my life and let it be,” O Lord! We offer our lives up unto the Lord that he might take them, consecrate them, and send us out with purpose. The act of offering is an act surrender and reverent submission to the triune God.

The Eucharistic life offers not just us but creation as well. Jesus took the bread and the wine, the most common food and drink in the world, and in so doing he celebrated the goodness of God’s creation. He did not comment about the nature or quality of the bread and wine, nor did he suggest that they were somehow bad because they were material. Instead he took the elements and transformed them in an act of oblation. “All things come of thee, O LORD, and of thine own have we given thee.” We are called to stewardship in God’s Kingdom as we recognize that God is the creator, sustainer and owner of all things.

Thanks-given

Eucharisteo means “the giving of thanks.” The Eucharistic life is one that recognizes the kindness and generosity of God in all things; it is a life that overflows with gratitude for God’s redeeming work throughout human history and above all in Jesus. In both the Eucharist and the Eucharistic Life we celebrate “the memorial of our redemption,” through our “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” Our very lives proclaim the grace of God which leads us to a lifestyle flavored with gratitude, thanksgiving, and adoration. May we be the kind of people for whom the Doxology is ever on our lips. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below. Praise him above ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

Broken

Brokenness always comes with a purpose. Christ was broken that we might share in his eternal life and kingdom. We are broken that Christ may live in us. The bread was broken and the wine poured out that all may share in the feast. “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the Feast.” Jesus taught that a kernel must fall to the ground and die that it may be opened up and give new life.

To be broken does not require tragedy or great loss—indeed I pray that you never have to suffer such sadness. Rather, to be broken is to daily die to self and to rise to life in Christ; it is to pray that the Holy Spirit would convict us of our sinfulness and transform us daily into Christ’s likeness. It is to walk humbly before our God. It is to show the world that the only reason we can be an Easter people singing “Alleluia” is because we were first a Good Friday people shouting “Crucify him!” (Pope John Paul II)

Shared

When we live the Eucharistic Life, our desire to share the Good News flows from our gratitude. It is to be always pointing people back to the One who is worthy of our praise and thanksgiving. We are distributed to the corners of the earth that others may, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” We are shared not for our own glory but for the glory of God and for the life of the world.

The Eucharistic life is not for the faint of heart. We go back to the Altar weekly to partake of Christ’s self-oblation that we might receive spiritual nourishment and encouragement for the pilgrimage that we might:

Serve them with the very substance of your life. Paint them a picture of the Kingdom, weave them a shawl of love, sing them a Psalm of praise, write them a sonnet of promise, play them a symphony of grace, build them homes of compassion, mold them a pot of mercy. Demonstrate the Resurrection to them with your words and your actions to tell them that He loves them.

– The Rev. Canon Ellis E. Brust, Church of the Apostles, Kansas City

Jesus’ life was taken by God and consecrated. It was a life that constantly gave thanks to the Creator. It was a life broken by sin and the cross. It was a life shared with all that we might come to know God. The call of discipleship is the call to follow Him and live the Eucharistic Life.

This post was originally published on my former blog, “The Liturgical Theologian” and it can be found here.

Thomas-Cranmer

As we approach Reformation Day within the Protestant corners of the one holy catholic and apostolic church there is a tendency to romanticize the true nature of the various reformations to the point that the baby is all but thrown out with the bathwater. As an Anglican, and as one who believes in the branch theory of the church, to misread history in this manner is not only negligent: it is also lazy. My goal is to briefly outline the lasting and true legacy of the English Reformation in the remainder of this post.

My friend and former mentor, Bishop Fitzsimmons Allison, once said to me, “Anyone who believes the English Reformation was about King Henry VIII truly deserves King Henry.” Though we may not agree on imputation or the new perspective on Paul, I have to agree with Bishop Allison wholeheartedly on this point. To resign the English Reformation to King Henry’s need for a divorce or control over his church is to miss the point entirely. The English Reformation wasn’t the byproduct of a judicial or ecclesiastical statement on the King’s marriage, rather it was the culmination, fulfillment, and realization of a spirituality that far preceded the Tudor dynasty, dating back to the second and third centuries after Christ.

A reformation was already afoot in the fourteenth century as John Wycliffe began translating the Bible into the English language. An influencer of Jan Huss, William Tyndale, and Martin Luther, Wycliffe set in motion the movement toward giving the English people a Bible in her own tongue. Translating the Bible out of Latin is seen as a benchmark of the various sixteenth century reformations but too often it is forgotten that an Englishman had started the trend over 150 years earlier. Wycliffe died some 150 years before Thomas Cranmer became Archbishop, but he is still remembered as the “Morning Star of the Reformation.” Continuing his great work, Tyndale and Coverdale also translated portions of the Bible into English ultimately climaxing decades later with the production of the King James Version in 1611; thus setting the biblical standard for centuries.

Similarly, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer worked his liturgical genius during the 1540’s and early 1550’s under Kings Henry and Edward to reform English liturgy. Cranmer was responsible for the first piece of liturgy written in English (the Great Litany of 1544), much of the Book of Homilies, the inclusion of the Great Bible in parishes around the nation, and the 1549 and 1552 Books of Common Prayer. These landmarks insured one thing: a common language for the faith and worship of the Church in England. Every parish in the country would now read the same Bible, hear the same homily, and pray the same prayers in the exact same language.

The 1549 Prayer Book was a compilation of various ancient sources from the early church and post-Council period. Elsewhere I have written:

The 1549 book was adapted from many sources in use at the time. The Sarum Rite as used in the Diocese of Salisbury was perhaps the most important component. Other primary sources for Cranmer’s liturgical compilation include: Quinones’ Breviary, the Archbishop of Cologne’s Church Agenda, the Pie, and Bucer’s Ordination Service (for the 1550 Ordinal) amongst others. Cranmer’s work should be labeled as both reform and return because he introduced new elements—chiefly his original collects—and yet he also returned to ancient practices and prayers. Bard Thompson suggests four vital reasons for the introduction of the 1549 book: exposing people to the whole of Scripture, using English to reach the “hartes”, simplifying the service, and creating uniformity within England. Duffy stresses the significant change for English Christianity and spirituality in the 1549 book, perhaps resulting in spiritual “impoverishment.”[1]

Additionally, Cranmer relied heavily upon the Gelasian Sacramentary as part of his liturgical revival and reform which can only really be described as a return to the words and forms of ancient liturgical worship. By the time the second prayer book was produced in 1552, England was worshipping liturgically together on a weekly basis reminiscent of the Didache and Justin Martyr’s Apology. The English Reformation was not without its dark moments.

One of the saddest events was the “stripping of the altars” and the destruction of the monastic tradition during the reign and at the order of King Henry. A wealth of liturgical, ecclesiastical, monastic, and artistic brilliance was lost and as a result many pockets of evangelical Anglicanism are didactically rational rather than being beautifully holistic.

Bishop Lancelot Andrewes said it best when describing the hooks upon which the Church of England can hang her theological hat: “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of fathers in that period – the three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.”[2] To be Anglican, therefore, is to celebrate the rich and vast history of liturgy and theology (one might say liturgical theology) of Christ’s Church over the last two millennia; it is to be rooted in the Great Tradition of the Church and firmly committed to ecumenical efforts; it is to embrace the heritage of Christian thought and spirituality stemming from missionary efforts, monastic soil, and an unwavering desire to read and pray in one’s own language.

What then is the true legacy of the English Reformation? A common Bible and a common prayer book in a common language for a common people.

[1] From “The Edwardian Prayer Books: A Study in Liturgical Theology” as posted on Academia.edu

[2] http://datsociety.blogspot.com/2012/09/11-lancelot-andrewes-1555-1626-private.html

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

This was first published on my former blog, “The Liturgical Theologian.” The original can be read here.

1549 BCP

Almighty and everliving God, whose servant Thomas Cranmer, with others, restored the language of the people in the prayers of your Church: Make us always thankful for this heritage; and help us so to pray in the Spirit and with the understanding, that we may worthily magnify your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

English Spirituality Before 1549

The landscape of English Christianity in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries before the Reformation, was deeply sacramental.[1]  Clergy and laity alike believed that God had not only created the natural order but that he participated freely within it through his own creation.  However, the abuses of the Magisterium—indulgences specifically—and a highly uneducated and neglected laity led away from sacramentality toward magic and superstition.  Many believed that sacramentals carried power and could be wielded in the spiritual battle, “The blessing of these ‘sacramentals’, as such sacred objects were called, put into lay control powerful spiritual weapons.”[2]  Objects became spiritual weapons in the hands of laypeople; the name of the Triune God was used as an incantation or charm against all sources of evil.[3]

It is therefore interesting that Calvin and Cranmer would insist upon the use of the Sursum Corda and the idea that partakers of the Eucharist were transported spiritually into God’s throne room where Jesus is locally present given that deeper sacramental understandings of the Eucharist and confession were ignored for spiritual and memorial views held by many continental Reformers.  The shift from sacramentality to rationality introduced the possibility of stripping Anglican spirituality of all meaning just as the altars themselves were stripped and the monasteries destroyed.[4]  James K.A. Smith playfully quips, “In rationalist worship spaces, even the wallpaper is didactic.”[5]

Furthermore, liturgical services were confusing and overwhelming in England prior to the compilation and introduction of the Book of Common Prayer in 1549.  The mass was said in Latin—a language that most churchgoers did not understand—up to six books were required for the mass, and a parishioner was a spectator rather than a participant within the liturgy.  Eamon Duffy believes that “participation” took place through watching but it was this very act of “watching-rather-than-acting”—almost waiting for something magical to take place—against which the Reformers reacted. Specifically the Reformers combated the ringing of the Sanctus Bell, the Latin phrase hoc est corpus meum(hocus pocus), and the gestures and ceremonies performed by the celebrant in the liturgy.[6]  Lay spirituality prior to the reformation(s) was highly visual and infused with a sense of magic rather than awe and wonder because Eucharistic piety was primarily a spectacle for the unlearned.[7]  While the Reformers sought to “break from traditional ways of thinking about the sacred”[8] by no means were the “Windsor committeemen…iconoclasts.”[9]

The Book of Common Prayer, 1549

Operating within this spiritual and religious context, Thomas Cranmer began introducing the language of the people into the liturgical worship of the church.  Cranmer and Tyndale built from the foundation laid by John Wyclif some 130 years before.  This was a multi-step process and involved the 1539 printing of the Matthew Bible, the Litany printed in English in 1544, the Order for Communion in 1548 and finally the Book of Common Prayer in 1549.

The 1549 book was adapted from many sources in use at the time. It was often lamented that more time was spent during the service searching for the proper page than in actual worship. The Sarum Rite, as used in the Diocese of Salisbury, was perhaps the most important component. Other primary sources for Cranmer’s liturgical compilation included: Quinones’ Breviary, the Archbishop of Cologne’s Church Agenda, the Pie, the Gelasian Sacramentary, and Bucer’s Ordination Service (for the 1550 Ordinal) among others. Cranmer’s work should be labeled as both reform and return because he introduced new elements—chiefly his original collects—and yet he also returned to ancient practices and prayers of the early church.  Bard Thompson suggests four vital reasons for the introduction of the 1549 book: exposing people to the whole of Scripture, using English to reach the “hartes” of the English, simplifying the service, and creating uniformity within England.[10]The Prayer Book included a Table and Calendar for lessons and Psalms, liturgies for Morning and Evening Prayer (Matins and Evensong), an Order for “The Supper of the Lord and Holy Communion, Commonly Called the Mass”, liturgies for baptism, confirmation, marriage, and burial, the visitation of the sick, and the churching (purification) of women after childbirth. In short, the 1549 Prayer Book was the first truly English liturgical book that offered in one place the forms, orders, and words for all of life’s circumstances.

Conclusion

Let us celebrate the 1549 Prayer Book for what it was and is rather than what it (arguably) was not. The 1549 Prayer Book was the first comprehensive book of liturgy printed in English and is part of the lasting legacy of the English Reformation. Cranmer compiled a prayer book that was at once both a continuation of the Great Tradition and an innovation in offering the liturgy in the language of the people. The 1549 Prayer Book represents one of two liturgical schools within Anglicanism (1549/1637 as one and 1552/1662 as the other) and is still approved for use (or adaptation) in Anglican provinces throughout the world. It was the fruit of ongoing liturgical reform and renewal within England that has given birth to countless liturgies over the last 500 years and can trace many of it’s prayers to the earliest centuries of the Church. We should rejoice with gratefulness in the work of Thomas Cranmer and his colleagues for the gift we have in this prayer book. May we continue to set our hearts and minds on Christ, and may we continue to worship him in the language of the people with our brothers and sisters worldwide to the glory of God!

A Word to (Anglican, Evangelical) Naysayers

In light of such a unique theological enterprise, while Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was the “creative compiler” of the 1549 and 1552 prayer books, a brilliant liturgiologist, and a liturgical “mastermind” his personal and private writings are a secondary source. Anglicanism is both creedal and liturgical and not confessional in nature, and it is expressed most fully in the Book of Common Prayer.  Before one can examine Cranmer’s writings or consider Cranmer’s theological formation and development, one must look directly at the texts of the two prayer books and there determine what is and is not being said.  An analysis of the Edwardian prayer books that is historically driven is insufficient because such an approach sees the liturgy as but one locus theologicus rather than as the locus theologicus par excellence.  Fr. Aidan Kavanagh pushes further when he suggests, “The point is that in first order matters, anonymity is the rule, intentions are obscure, and meaning is less precise than it is richly ambiguous.”

[1] Hans Boersma argues, “until the late Middle Ages (say, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries), people look at the world as a mystery.” Hans Boersma, Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2011), 21.

[2]Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, C.1400-C.1580, 2nd. ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), 282.

[3] Duffy, 282.

[4] Duffy, 476.

[5] Bruce Ellis Benson, Liturgy as a Way of Life: Embodying the Arts in Christian Worship, The Church and Postmodern Culture (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2013).10.

[6] “But even here what the Tudor laity would most have noticed was the removal of the symbolic gestures which were often the aspects of the rite which impinged most directly on the lay imagination.” Duffy, 466.

[7] Ibid, 464.  “At the same time, however, he [Cranmer] took steps to eliminate the focus which had given meaning and power to that spectacle, by forbidding any elevation or showing of the Host.”

[8] Ibid, 472-473.

[9] Bard Thompson, Liturgies of the Western Church (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980, 1961), 231.

[10] Ibid, 230.

Photo Credit: Today in British History

(This article was written for “The Anglican Digest,” Volume 57, No. 3, Fall 2015. It can be read online here. The theme for this edition of the Digest was the “Communion of the Saints.” Many thanks to the (Rt.) Rev. Anthony Clavier for the invitation to submit my writing for consideration.)

Orthodox Church - Saints - Communion

In the fullness of time, put all things in subjection under your Christ, and bring us to that heavenly country where, with all your saints, we may enter the everlasting heritage of your sons and daughters; through Jesus Christ our Lord, the firstborn of all creation, the head of the Church, and the author of our salvation.

1979 Book of Common Prayer, Eucharistic Prayer B, Rite II

The celebration of the Eucharist is the sacrament par excellence of the church and the primary locus of her communion with the triune God. Any theological conversation about the often-ambiguous “communion of the saints” must begin and end with a robust understanding of koinonia in, with, and through the Trinity. The powerful imagery of heavenly worship portrayed in Revelation 4-5 comes to earthly fruition in our own sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. It is my contention that the church militant is most connected to the church triumphant through her doxological and eucharistic worship.

Koinonia and the Godhead

In line with the writings of John Zizioulas, our first step toward true communion (koinonia) must begin with the self-contained, mutual, and self-giving fellowship of the Trinity. Our koinonia with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is based on the invitation to participate in the love that overflows from and has eternally existed within the Three-in-One. To be truly human is to be in communion with God for there is no existence outside of and apart from Him.

Throughout Scripture, God made it possible for his people to commune with Him: he “tabernacled” with Israel as she wandered through the desert; God “took up residence” in the Temple in Jerusalem; He spoke through prophets, judges and kings and delivered his people time and time again. He was most fully revealed through the incarnation, life, teachings, ministry, healings, crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus of Nazareth. Through Christ we have been adopted into the covenant family of God and made co-heirs of his kingdom.

The sacramental life of the church draws us into deeper relationship with the Trinity. In the waters of baptism we are initiated as covenant family members and united with Christ’s death and resurrection in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we have communion with God when we celebrate the Eucharist as both the reaffirmation of our baptismal vows and the realization of our priestly (of all believers) calling to be the church.

Communion of the Saints

The hymn “The Church’s One Foundation” states profoundly, “Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One; And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.” Communion with the saints only comes in and through the union the church experiences with the Trinity. As both the “sacrament of the kingdom” and the “Sacrament of sacraments,”[1] the Church most fully experiences this union in her regular celebration of the Eucharist.

Whether you believe in life after death or the preferred “life after life after death”[2] there is the hope and promise of union with those saints who have gone before and those who will come after. The Eucharist is not a form of religious magic but is rather the mystical, sweet union of God and Church transcending time and space through the power of the Holy Spirit. As we “lift up our hearts” in the Sursum Corda and sing the Sanctus we are, “Joining our voices with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven who forever sing…” Our oblation is local to our historical context but it is most importantly part of a universal, ongoing offering of praise and thanksgiving.

Scripture offers a few glimpses at the communion of the saints. Both the letter to the Hebrews and John’s vision in Revelation provide the biblical framework for our participation in a covenant family much larger than the visible church. Additionally, Hebrews and Revelation should be seen as liturgical books—or at the very least letters containing liturgical visions and imagery. The reference to the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12 and John’s vision in Revelation 5:13), “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,” are liturgical in nature. It is not that the communion of saints is impossible apart from liturgical worship, but rather that our worship of the Godhead is what makes any understanding of communion both possible and tangible.

Christ the Qualifier

Eucharistic worship is to the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit. In order to avoid talking about a vague religious order we must first add a qualifier to the phrase “the communion of the saints.” Who or what is the qualifier? Jesus the Christ. We conclude our Eucharistic Prayer with the words, “By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and for ever. AMEN.” The foundation of the church’s communion—the very underpinnings of the combination of church militant and triumphant—is the second person of the Trinity whose sacrifice we remember (anamnesis) and whose flesh and blood we do eat and drink.

It is through the words and actions of our heartfelt praise and gratitude that we are connected to believers across all generations in a real and tangible sense. We have the hope that when the kingdom is fulfilled we will sit around the table in that heavenly country with brothers and sisters whom we have never met. Until that day, we are called to bring our oblation before the Lord with the confidence that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who are proclaiming, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” Communion begins and ends with the throne of God – may we find our fellows saints as we approach with humble confidence.

[1] Both quotations are references from Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom by Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann.

[2] N. T. Wright, Surprised By Hope

Twisted Church Spire

Several years ago, I was privileged to contribute a piece as a guest to the Covenant blog of The Living Church. Many thanks to the blog’s (former) managing editor, Zachary Guiliano for publishing this piece on the liturgical nature of time. You can read this article below or in its original format here.

This post really covers two different topics. First, how does the Church tell time daily, weekly, and annually? This much should be obvious. Second, and perhaps more importantly, how does the incarnation, life, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus the Christ influence our understanding of time? Further, is liturgical time real time?

It is safe to say — and perhaps overly apparent — that the Church tells time differently than the rest of the world. Rather than marking time by the seasons, political and military holidays, or the movement of plants and stars named after Roman gods, the Church tells time according to Jesus of Nazareth. Beginning with the first Sunday in Advent as we await the birth of the boy who is King, and ending with Christ the King Sunday, every aspect of the Church’s life can be understood within the context of Jesus’ own story.

Annually

As such, the new year is not the first of January but the first Sunday of Advent; the highest and holiest day of the year is not the fourth of July (America) or even Christmas (Hallmark) but the annual celebration of the Paschal Mystery: Easter. The feasts and the fasts of the Church help us to remember the saints and exemplars who have gone before, those who have embodied the way of Christ tangibly among us. The year then flows accordingly: Advent for the first coming of the Messiah, Christmastide as we celebrate his birth, Epiphany as we embrace the manifestation of God in Christ, Lent to recount the temptation of the Lord as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter, Holy Week as we journey through Jesus’ last days on earth, Easter for the church’s celebration par excellence, Eastertide as a reminder of Jesus’ post-resurrection and pre-exaltation days, Pentecost to remember the gift of the Holy Spirit, Ordinary Time as a corporate journey through Israel’s history and the teachings of our Lord, and finally Christ the King Sunday as we once again proclaim his kingship.

Such an annual cycle has a profound influence theologically and within the constructs of Christian formation. This is a time that is other than the time of the world, it is counter to the story and narratives of the powers and principalities that be, it is in short real time.

Weekly

The same is true of our week. We mark our week around one day: Sunday. Sunday is the first, the third, and the eighth day of the week. This is bizarre; it sounds as confusing as attempting to explain the Trinity, but it is nonetheless true.

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.

Nothing can ever be the same after the resurrection of Jesus, and time is no exception. Our week centers around the Church’s Sunday worship and celebration of the Eucharist — all other days gain their meaning in relation to this day.

Daily

Even our daily time is accounted differently. For those who follow the ancient tradition of the church time is marked by hours or offices of prayer. The Book of Common Prayer (1979) lists several such times: morning, noon, evening, and compline. Time then is measured by our ability to intercede and worship before the Lord, offering all that we are and all that we have to him, rather than by the workday or weekend schedule. The daily prayers coincide with both the Sunday Eucharist and the Church calendar, taking on new dimensions as we progress through the week and year. As we trek through the Psalter and the canon of Scripture, and as we sojourn together through the life of our Lord, our time is transformed into something different, something more, something almost whole.

Liturgical Time

What then do we do with liturgical time? It has often been said that as an individual steps into the nave for the liturgy “time ceases.” The indication here is that liturgical worship is somehow an escape or removal from time, that it is somehow against time as we know it. Not only do I find this unhelpful, I also find it untrue. Liturgical time is not the cessation of time; this could not be further from the truth. Liturgical time is in fact the thickening and deepening of time, it is time made more real; no, it is time made most real. Just as Jesus’ Kingdom is utterly for this world, so too is liturgical time absolutely for time as we know it in the Church.

The Sunday ordo celebrates the annual, weekly, and daily cycles of the Church’s prayer,and it proclaims, presents, and enacts the story of God in Christ. The dually climactic nature of Word and Table reaches a crescendo in the Eucharistic prayer when this sense of time is most fully revealed. The anamnesis is the reaching back into the past, dragging forward into the present, and making real of the sacrifice of Jesus. Similarly, we look forward to the day when God will be all in all; our eschatological hope gives us a foretaste of glory eternal and divine in the Eucharist. What we presently encounter is the crashing in of past and future into the now; it is the meeting of Christ’s salvific actions at the time of Passover and his coming again at time unknown. And yet we somehow experience it in a real, tangible, and robust sense on a weekly basis.

Liturgical time is thick. It is different. It is new. And it is utterly real. Our experience with and encounter of the living God through the sacrament of sacraments is the pinnacle of the Church’s worship. It is living with the reality, and in the light, of Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation as he reigns over all things. Our understanding of time is irrevocably and undeniably tied into the Paschal Mystery. We ought to be more intentional about telling time liturgically because to do so is to tell time according to Jesus rather than the competing and counterfeit narratives of this world.