Incense – The Morning Offering

Source: Incense – The Morning Offering

From Old Testament times believers have burned incense as an offering when worshiping God… Ancient pagan kings were often escorted with large fans of peacock feathers and burning incense when entering their palaces. Early Christians took both these symbols for their worship in recognition of Christ as their Sovereign King and Lord.

St. Bede’s does not currently have a location where we can use incense! But if or when, God willing, we do, I hope and plan to use it at least for high feasts!

“Let my prayer be set forth in thy sight as the incense [O Lord]; and let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice.”

~ Psalm 141:2 (Coverdale Psalter, as found in The Book of Common Prayer 1928)

Trinity Sunday

sbHoly Trinity in images - stained glass - small

Good morning, all, and happy Sunday! Wishing my Christian friends a holy and blessed Trinity Sunday: the only Feast in the Christian Year which is devoted to a doctrine, thus pointing to the importance of this doctrine – the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, one God in three Persons – to the Faith itself.

Why is it so important? Because it protects two of the key insights of the Christian faith: that God is One – Christianity is not tritheism; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three gods – and yet, at the same time, God is relational – not just with regard to His Creation, but in His very nature. And of course, it explains how, without tritheism, Christ can be God, as the Prologue to the Gospel of St. John (“… and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…”) and many of Jesus’ own sayings, recorded in the Gospels, assert.

Indeed, the great battle in the Christian Church has always been the precise identity and nature of Christ Himself. Is He merely a gifted and inspired human teacher and prophet, or is He in fact God? And if so, how is it that He is Divine? Was He created by God, adopted by God, or is He actually Divine in and of Himself? This was a major struggle in the 4th century – between the Arians (disciples of a presbyter named Arius) and the orthodox, catholic Christians, led by St. Athanasius – and it remains a struggle to this day.

Many today, Christians as well as non-Christians, believe Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ – the Messiah, the Anointed One of God – to be the Son of God, if at all, through adoption: that he was a great human religious and moral teacher, perhaps indeed “anointed by God,” but nonetheless human. The problem with this is that, if true – if Christ was only a human teacher, however great – then Christianity is but one human philosophy, one school of thought, among many in the “supermarket of religions.”

Orthodox, catholic Christianity – what some call “the Great Tradition” of Christianity – teaches something more radical, and ultimately far more rewarding: that Jesus the Christ was the Incarnate Word of God: that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” as the Prologue to St. John puts it. That the very Word of God Himself became Man for our sake, walked among us, taught us by word and example, died for us and rose again.

It is this which, to me, gives Christianity its power: not necessarily or primarily its moral teachings – many of which, as others have pointed out, may be found in other religions and philosophies. This is not surprising, if one believes that the human religious impulse comes from God and tends toward God, and that there is such a thing as natural, or general, revelation. But, orthodox Christians believe, Christ is the reality which pre-Christian myths foreshadowed, and toward which pre-Christian philosophies reached. To borrow the Platonic analogy of “the Cave,” they were the shadows on the wall; He is the thing itself.

But as I say, this is a debate which has raged since the earliest centuries of the Christian Church. Is Christ simply a man, however gifted? Or is He God? The solution reached at the Council of Nicaea, 325 AD, under (as Christians believe) the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was to affirm that Christ was indeed homoousios (of one single identical substance, essence, or nature) with God the Father, not (as the Arians would have had it) homoiousios, or “of like substance.” That is to say, Nicaea affirmed the full personal divinity of Christ: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.” The first Council of Constantinople (381 AD) further affirmed that the Holy Spirit was the full Third Person of the Trinity; thus, what we nowadays call the “Nicene Creed” should properly be called the “Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.”

The Definition of Chalcedon (451 AD) more fully defined the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ Himself, and the Athanasian Creed (so-called, it was not actually by St. Athanasius; dated c. late 5th/early 6th century AD) provided further explication on both the Doctrines of the Holy Trinity (one Nature in Three Persons) and the Incarnation (two Natures in one Person), while adding some imprecations against those who do not hold the fullness of these doctrines.

Trinity Sunday, the observance of which developed over time, celebrates the Holy Trinity, one of these two most distinctive and important doctrines of the Christian Church. It is important to note that the Holy Trinity, like the Incarnation, is a Holy Mystery: we can say what we can say about it, but ultimately, the details of this sacred reality are known but to God (“now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face,” as St. Paul said).

As one commentator has put it,

“By mystery the Church does not mean a riddle, but rather that the Trinity is a reality above our human comprehension which we may begin to grasp, but ultimately must know through worship, symbol [see the image in stained glass, above], and faith. It has been said that Mystery is not a wall to run up against, but an ocean in which to swim.”

Rather a fine metaphor, in my opinion! And it reminds me of the analogy of the Eastern Orthodox mystic St. Symeon the New Theologian, who compared our knowledge of God to a man standing beside a vast ocean at night, holding up a lantern… Here, at any rate, is the traditional (English language) text of the Nicene Creed, as used in the Western Church:

nicene-creed

And here is another graphic image in stained glass, reminding us (in Latin) that the Father is neither the Son nor the Holy Spirit; the Son is neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son: but all are God.

Holy Trinity in Latin

Wishing everyone, once again, a holy and blessed Trinity Sunday!

The First Book of Common Prayer, 1549 | For All the Saints

The first Book of Common Prayer came into use on the Day of Pentecost, June 9, 1549, in the second year of the reign of King Edward the Sixth. From it have descended all subsequent editions and revisions of the Prayer Book according to the use of the several Churches of the Anglican Communion.

Source: The First Book of Common Prayer, 1549 | For All the Saints

A “high holy day” indeed, for us Anglicans! The use of The Book of Common Prayer, and more broadly the Common Prayer tradition of which it is the centerpiece, is the hallmark of the particular Anglican expression of Christianity. Nor for nothing is the BCP often referred to as “Thomas Cranmer’s immortal bequest”! Read on for more…

The Book of Common Prayer 1928, which is the Prayer Book of my (and our, if you are a member or friend of St. Bede’s Anglican Mission) ecclesiastical jurisdiction, the United Episcopal Church of North America (UECNA), is the last American Prayer Book to be unquestionably in the direct line of descent from the 1549.

The 1979 Prayer Book, as used by The Episcopal Church (TEC, formerly Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, or PECUSA), while it has its pluses, is more of a “book of alternative services,” and its theology can get a bit hazy, at times.

I don’t share the dislike, bordering on downright antipathy, of some traditional Anglicans for the ’79, so long as it’s understood for what it is – a book of alternative services – and is not confused with being “the” Book of Common Prayer, and as long as it is interpreted in accordance with the classical Common Prayer tradition: 1549-1662 in the UK, 1789-1928 in the US. With those caveats, it contains useful resources.

But the 1549 is the original! “The” Book of Common Prayer, as it were… although the 1662 has been the standard for three-and-a-half centuries, and remains so, for the Church of England, today. And it is that first Prayer Book – the one that began it all, so to speak – that we celebrate today!

Rogation and Ascension

Source: Rogation and Ascension

A wonderfully complete and informative treatment of Rogationtide, and the upcoming feast of the Ascension, from the excellent Anglican-focused blog, “Full Homely Divinity.” Especially noteworthy: helpful suggestions and recommendations for the liturgical celebration of this Feast, including the Rogation Procession.

Some of the historical notes are interesting, too, such as this:

“The route of the walk was around the boundaries of the parish, which was a civil as well as a religious unit. Thus, the processions were useful in teaching people, particularly the young, their parish boundaries. Known as ‘beating the bounds,’ the processions customarily stopped at boundary marks and other significant landmarks of the parish, such as a venerable tree, or a great rock, or perhaps a pond.

“The priest would read the Gospel and perhaps affix a cross to the landmark. Then the boys of the parish would suffer some indignity intended to help them remember the spot. Boys were bumped about against rocks and trees, thrown into the water, held upside-down over fences, thrown into bramble patches, or beaten with willow wands – and then given a treat in compensation. In later times, the marchers beat the boundary marker with the willow wands, beating the bounds, rather than the boys.”

I suspect the village lads may have appreciated the change! But whether they remembered the boundaries as well is open to question…

Wishing all a happy, holy, and blessed Rogation Sunday, and Rogationtide!

Rogation-Sunday
Circa 1950: The vicar and Sunday school children go out into the fields to bless the crops. The little boy is carrying a symbolic tree of plenty.

So, what are Rogation Days, and what is Rogation Sunday?

Here’s one account:

Traditionally, these are the three days before Ascension Day on which the litany is sung (or recited) in procession as an act of intercession. They originated in Vienne, France, in the fifth century when Bishop Mamertus introduced days of fasting and prayer to ward off a threatened disaster. In England they were associated with the blessing of the fields at planting. The vicar “beat the bounds” of the parish, processing around the fields reciting psalms and the litany. In the United States they have been associated with rural life and with agriculture and fishing.”

The 1979 Prayer Book “widened their scope to include commerce and industry and the stewardship of creation,” which I personally believe is an appropriate and salutary expansion of the tradition.

And here’s another:

“Rogation” means “asking,” which is a theme particularly prominent in the Gospel text for this Sunday (St. John 16:23-33). We call this Sunday “Rogation Sunday” because the 3 days which follow it are ancient Rogation Days, these being the 3 days leading up to the great Feast of the Ascension of our Lord (a much neglected holy day!)… Rogation Days are days of prayerful supplication before God. In the agrarian culture of yesterday, it was common for the church to gather on the Rogation Days to ask God to bless the crops being sown. We would have asked Him to send rain and to bless us with a good harvest later in the year. Often the prayers would have been said (or sung) as the church processed around the boundary lines of the parish. It is from the Rogation Day prayers (as found in the Sarum Sacramentary) that Archbishop Cranmer formulated the Litany (1545), which was his first work of liturgical reform.

So to sum up: Rogation Sunday, and the three traditional Rogation Days which follow, leading up to the Ascension, are days of supplication and prayer for God’s blessing and protection upon us in the year ahead, with a special focus on the fruits of agriculture, on which we all rely for our survival. To my mind, it has always provided a suitable opportunity, within the Calendar of the Church, to turn our grateful attention to God’s tremendous gift to us of this good Earth, our physical home and the material source and sustainer of our continued existence, to express our thanks to God for this great gift, and to pray for its continued well-being, and ours.

May God grant us a blessed Rogationtide!

The Official Catholic Beer Blessing | The Catholic Gentleman (slightly modified…)

Source: The Official Catholic Beer Blessing | The Catholic Gentleman

Now, who – Roman Catholic or otherwise – can help liking this…?

One of the great things about being Catholic is that the Church has quite literally thought of everything at some point or another. Some inventive cleric even thought to include a beer blessing in the Rituale Romanum… Creation is good. Beer is good. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

And one of the great things about being Anglican is that one can reasonably “borrow” things from both “sides” – Roman Catholic and Reformed (not to mention Eastern Orthodox, just ask the Scots Non-Jurors who ordained Samuel Seabury and provided the American Church with the model for our classic Prayer of Consecration) – so long as they do not conflict with the Book of Common Prayer and the XXXIX Articles!

Here is a version of the beer blessing slightly modified to suit Anglican sensibilities, and to turn it into a prayer that can be said by lay-persons:

V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who madest both heaven and earth.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.

Let us pray.

O Lord our God, who dost cause grain to spring up from the earth for our sustenance: do thou bless, we pray thee, this thy creature beer, which thou hast deigned to produce from that thy good gift of grain, fruit of the earth and product of human labour, that it may be a salutary remedy to the human race; and grant, for thy mercy’s sake, that whomsoever shall drink of it may gain both health in body and peace in soul: Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

V. Let us bless the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us and remain with us, now and always. Amen.

For the original forms, in both English and Latin, click through to the linked blog post!

Beauty Matters

Beauty Matters.png

Indeed it does.

Nor is it limited to the Roman observance, although traditionalists in the Roman Catholic Church (and more generally, the liturgical, sacramental Churches, including Eastern Orthodoxy and – when it is being true to itself – the Anglican tradition) are often acutely aware of its importance:

“The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced, and the art which has grown in her womb. Better witness is borne to the Lord by the splendor of holiness and art which have arisen in the community of believers than by the clever excuses which apologetics has come up with to justify the dark sides which, sadly, are so frequent in the Church’s human history. If the Church is to continue to transform and humanize the world, how can she dispense with beauty in her liturgies, that beauty which is so closely linked with love and with the radiance of the Resurrection? No. Christians must not be too easily satisfied. They must make their Church into a place where beauty – and hence truth – is at home. Without this the world will become the first circle of Hell.”

Pope Benedict XVI: The Ratzinger Report, p. 129

Beauty, however, is the birthright of all Christians – ours is, after all, a sacramental and incarnational faith, and therefore one which values the created order as an important source of God’s self-revelation to us. The Scriptural warrant for this goes back at least to the Psalmist:

“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”

Psalm 29:2, 96:9

And of course the classical Christian tradition, at least in the West, has repeatedly cited the “three Transcendentals” (Goodness, Truth, and Beauty) as not only pointing toward God, but being aspects or attributes of God – ones that we should seek to mirror and live out in our own lives:

[The] Three Transcendentals of ancient philosophy (which has so greatly shaped Christian Tradition) [are] the True, the Good and the Beautiful. To destructively compress Plato and the Neoplatonists, all truth points to the transcendent Truth; all good points to the transcendent Good; all beauty points to the transcendent Beauty; and in turn, the transcendent True, Good and Beautiful is the One, the source of all being, which classical theism identifies as God, and is in turn identified with the God of the Bible by orthodox Christianity.

In short: for Christians, “Beauty Matters.” It is not an extrinsic, superficial adornment to our lives and our liturgy; it is an intrinsic, essential element of them.