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Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

The Bishop of London recently gave us some wonderful words on the 350th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer.  A few of the brief remarks he gave were, to my mind, axiomatic for a good understanding of the Book of Common Prayer and its place in our little part of the Church:

 It was an audacious attempt to re-shape the culture of England by collapsing the distinction between private personal devotion and public liturgical worship in order to create a godly community in which all and not just the clergy had access to the “pure milk of the gospel”.

The BCP was an attempt to make a heavily Benedictine influenced spirituality of prayer and Eucharist available to all people.  I have heard it called “the monasticism of all believers,” but in the very least in was taking ascetical spiritual practices  from the monastery and putting them right in the bedrooms, kitchens, and parish churches of lay people.

But one of the functions of a liturgy is to preserve words and the possibility of an approach to God which is hard or impossible to express in the language of the street.

It much of contemporary western Christianity, we have forgotten the place of “liturgical language.”  We feel much more comfortable with t-shirts that proclaim, “Jesus is my homeboy,” than we do with fear and awe and reverence.  The Book of Common Prayer was and is a healthy corrective to this leisurely and  “Hey there buddy” approach to God which is so common these days, but would be difficult to find in the Holy Scriptures.

Cranmer distilled his liturgy from his studies of the Christian past and especially of the patristic period – the first five centuries; the springtime of the Church.

In the Preface to the First Book of Common Prayer, of 1549, he appeals to the authority of the “auncient fathers” as a guide in liturgical matters. Queen Elizabeth I, in her letter to the Roman Catholic Princes of Europe, amplified the point “that there was no new faith propagated in England, no new religion set up but that which was commanded by Our Saviour, practised by the Primitive Church and approved by the Fathers of the best antiquity”.

Some might say that what Cranmer did was not so much “write” the BCP, but to compile, edit, and translate it.  Cranmer was not trying to do anything new, per se.  He was trying to make sure that Biblical, Patristic Christianity was meaningfully and vitally practiced throughout England.

This next paragraph was so striking that I couldn’t help but include it here:

In a book published in 1662, Simon Patrick comments on the rites and ceremonies of divine worship and approves “that virtuous mediocrity which our church observes between the meretricious gaudiness of the Church of Rome and the squalid sluttery of fanatic conventicles.” Of course we would be too polite to say such things now but the Prayer Book offers a simple and moderate system for a whole life from baptism to last rites and seeks in its rubrics and ceremonies to embrace the whole person and not merely the cerebellum.

+London concludes with one of the finest single paragraphs about the BCP that I have ever read:

The Book of Common Prayer which immerses us in the whole symphony of scripture; which takes us through the Psalms every month; which makes available in a digestible but noble way the treasury of ancient Christian devotion has a beauty which is ancient but also fresh. If our civilisation is to have a future the roots must be irrigated and the texts which we choose to pass on to our children have the power to create a community which does not merely dwell in the flatlands of getting and spending but which sees visions with prophets, pursues wisdom with Solomon and lives with the generosity of the God who so loved the world that he was generous and gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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1. Pray seriously that the Lord would grant you to see your sins, and grant you true repentance and amendment of heart.

2. Make a confession to your priest or spiritual director.

3. Begin to say Morning and Evening prayers in full, or at least increase your prayer rule a bit; or resolve to pray with greater attention than usual

4. Read the passion narratives in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; or pick and read at least one.

5. Tie up loose ends and clear your schedule so that you will be completely free on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter (Pascha), and attend all the offered services of worship at your parish.

6. Visit your friends and family, especially those you haven’t seen lately and need to.  Be without haste and listen lovingly.

7. Ask forgiveness and be reconciled with whomever you have offended, either long ago or recently.

8. Take part in some act of charity.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen.  Give to someone you know is in financial need.  Visit the lonely.

9. Fast on Good Friday.

10. Gather food and drink and get ready to celebrate on Easter Sunday.

 

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Daily Offices Part I with Bishop Anthony Burton

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EXAMEN: Episode 1

A series of videos for Lent is being put together by the Church of the Incarnation.  I will post them here each week as they are released.  This week, Fr. Greg offers insights on examining our day, following, as a template of sorts, the prayer by Ignatius of Loyala entitled, “Examen”.

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In the provocatively titled article ‘Do Not Touch Me’: The Wisdom of Anglican Thresholds at The Telegraph, Steven Hough remarks:

The Church of England’s evening service, adapted after the Reformation from the monastic hour of Vespers, is a wondrous phenomenon. Even the word ‘Evensong’ is poetic, and it seems to chime in perfect harmony with England’s seasons: Autumn’s melancholy, early evening light; the merry crackle of Winter frost; Spring’s awakening, or the lazy, protracted sun strained through the warmed windows of a Summer afternoon.

Evensong hangs on the wall of English life like a old, familiar cloak passed through the generations. Rich with prayer and Scripture, it is nevertheless totally nonthreatening. It is a service into which all can stumble without censure – a rambling old house where everyone can find some corner to sit and think, to listen with half-attention, trailing a few absentminded fingers of faith or doubt in its passing stream…

Most religious celebrations gather us around a table of some sort. They hand us a book, or a plate, or speak a word demanding a response. They want to ‘touch’ us. Choral Evensong is a liturgical expression of Christ’s Nolle me tangere – ‘Do not touch me. I have not yet ascended to my Father’ (St. John 20: 17). It reminds us that thresholds can be powerful places of contemplation; and that leaving someone alone with their thoughts is not always denying them hospitality or welcome.

Last December, Catholicity and Covenant made a similar point in a blog about “reclaimers” and the renewed interest in choral compline and evensong:

Choral compline or evensong provide an accessible and non-threatening space within which young people can think about their lives and become accustomed to the idea of worship — to the possibility that worship might actually make sense.

In some ways, the Anglican choral tradition may well be entering a golden age — not necessarily a fresh, but certainly a refreshed and refresh­ing expression of Christian worship, fit for purpose in the 21st century.

That may appear counterintui­tive, although recent research from the United States, which seeks to identify characteristic types of reli­gious engagement among the young, suggests that a significant proportion of those becoming involved in Chris­tian worship can be described as “Reclaimers”. Like many others, they seek religious experience rather than instruction or dogma, but, unlike some, they reject most of the elements of contemporary worship, seeking instead to reclaim estab­lished traditions, finding within them a refuge from the super­ficiality of much popular culture, and the onslaught of the commercial world.

This thesis finds strong support in the increased engagement with Anglican choral worship, where young people can reconnect with the depths of human experience, in a context that allows, indeed en­courages, them to think things through for themselves. Unsurpris­ingly, under such conditions, many find an intelligent, imaginatively engaged Christian faith compelling.

Yes, the social context of Oxford and Cambridge is somewhat exclusive and Oxbridge college chapels are not parish churches.  But there are points here worth considering – the place of non-eucharistic worship in giving space to meaningfully reflect on the  Christian story; the counter-cultural nature of traditional liturgy, challenging the hegemony of the market and its culture; the phenomenon of the ‘Reclaimers’, suggestive of the extent to which in a post-Christendom society the Christian narrative can be authentically radical.  And all of this, of course, is given expression through the Anglican tradition, which surely speaks of the potential of this tradition even in the midst of our debates and divisions.

And I’ll give Derek Olsen the last word, from a similar vein a few months ago at the Episcopal Cafe:

In and amongst the photos of silver and smoke, we are invited to a mystery. Not so it can be explained away or talked to death—but that we can dive within it and find at the center of the mystery the key to our longing.

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Dr. Derek Olsen, who runs the blog Haligweorc, has written a tremendously thoughtful and helpful article on The Book of Common Prayer over at the Episcopal Cafe:

If we want to renew and strengthen the Episcopal Church in light of these very real challenges that are facing us, then the one thing that we dare not mess with is our commitment to the contents and spirit of our 1979 Book of Common Prayer

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I’m not saying the book is perfect. There are certainly some things that I’d change if I had the chance. But recognize this: 1) it is an authentic expression of the historic Western liturgy that has nourished literally millions who have come before us. 2) It is an authentic expression of the English devotional experience. (The importance of this is not that it’s English, of course, but that it is a rooted, embodied, inherited tradition that has been embraced and passed on by a diverse group over a period of centuries—not just dreamed up by a few people last week.) 3) It is an authentic expression of historic Anglican liturgy that balances reform of Western norms with Scripture and the theological and spiritual practices of the Early Church. That’s actually quite a lot of things going for it—and it’s more things than would be going for most services either you or I would dream up.

Most people I know don’t go to church on Sunday morning to experience the rector’s latest exciting innovation; they go to church because they hope to experience God and to get a concrete sense of what it means to live out love of God and love of neighbor. Using the book doesn’t guarantee any of this, but it is a big step in the right direction…

…[T]he Book of Common Prayer isn’t just the book for Sunday services. Instead, the Book of Common Prayer offers a full integrated spiritual system that is intended as much for the laity as the clergy and which is founded in a lay spirituality that arose in the medieval period. If you look at the book as a whole, it offers a program for Christian growth built around liturgical spirituality. The best shorthand I have for this is the liturgical round. It’s made up of three components: the liturgical calendar where we reflect upon our central mysteries through the various lenses of the seasons of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and in his continuing witness in the lives of the saints, the Daily Office where we yearly immerse ourselves in the Scriptures and Psalms, and the Holy Eucharist where we gather on Holy Days to most perfectly embody the Body of Christ and receive the graces that the sacraments afford…

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For me, this is where the church lives or dies. Are we forming communities that embody the love of God and neighbor in concrete actions? Not just in what programs the institution is supporting, but are we feeding regular lives with a spirituality that not only sustains them but leads them into God’s work in a thousand different contexts in no way related to a church structure? Are our parishes witnessing to their members and to the wider community in their acts of corporate prayer for the whole even when the whole cannot be physically there? Therefore this is why, when we worry about the fate of the church, my answer will be a call for more liturgy. Not because I like to worship the worship, but because of the well-worn path to discipleship found in the disciplined recollection of God that the liturgy offers.

My firm belief is that if membership is a problem, our best move is to head for spiritual revitalization. People who are being spiritually fed, challenged, and affirmed by their church will be more likely to show it, to talk about it, and to invite their friends and neighbors to come and see it for themselves. This won’t—it can’t—fix all situations, but even if it doesn’t, spiritual revitalization is what the Church is called to be about…

 

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I am currently reading  A History of the Church in England by JRH Moorman, and had I known it would be this enriching and illuminating I would have read it much sooner.  If I had my druthers, it would be mandatory reading for all confirmands and inquirers.  One of the most helpful sections comes in the chapter dealing with the Elizabethan settlement during the English reformation.  Specifically, it deals with the unique way that the English reformers approached the reform of the church in their country.  From page 212:

In the eyes of those who were shaping the destiny of the Church in England there was no sense of separation from the rest of the catholic church.  The Church in England was, as the title-page to the first Prayer Book had implied, a part of the catholic church, even though it had repudiated papal jurisdiction.  It was catholic, but it was also reformed.  Its roots ran back to the primitive church, but certain customs and ideas which had clung to it during the Middle Ages had now been cut away.  The fundamental doctrines and constitution of the Church remained the same, but a number of genuine reforms had been carried out, such as the vernacular liturgy, the administration of the Sacrament in both kinds and permission for the clergy to marry.

The key point for me here is that they were in no way trying to be anything other than catholic Christians, and the inheritors of the Holy Traditions of the church as they had been received in England.  They certainly believed there had been some medieval missteps that needed to be put right, but on the whole English “Protestantism” was less about being good protestants and more about being good catholics.  This is markedly different than the way the reformation proceeded on the continent (of Europe).

After the brief, but violent interlude of the Puritan commonwealth, the Caroline divines carried forward the torch of reforming the catholic church in England.  Their work was, again, not about creating a new church, but about being faithful as the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  From page 234:

The point of view… may be summed up in the dying words of Thomas Ken…, ‘I die,’ he said, ‘in the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolick Faith, professed by the whole Church before the disunion of East and West.  More particularly I dye in the Communion of the Church of England as it stands distinguished from all Papall and Puritan Innovations, and as it adheres to the doctrine of the Cross’…

Theirs was an atempt to get back to the early Church before the accretions of the middle Ages which the reformers had been so anxious to get rid of.  The Anglicans stood between two great religious systems.  On the one side was Rome, active and aggressive under the impetus of the Counter-Reformation, trying to rebuild a Christendom shattered by the cataclysms of the sixteenth century.  But to the Anglicans there could be no return to Rome since the faith which she taught was, in their eyes, impure — corrupted by the ‘innovations’ which were no part of the Holy Catholic and Apostolick Faith’ as taugh by the Primitive Chuch. As Laud said, they could not return to Rome ‘until she is other than she is.’  On the other side were the Calvinists and Lutherans, who had separated from catholic tradition and had magnified certain doctrines out of all proportion.  The Anglicans were equally clear that they could not fall into line with them since they had abandoned things which the Early Church thought essential.  The Caroline Divines, therefore aimed at a Via Media between two extremes; but the Via Media which they sought was not a compromise, a ‘lowest common denominator’; it was a real attempt to recover the simplicity and purity of primitive Christianity. (Bolding mine)

And here we have that famous phrase: Via Media.  It has been bandied about much in contemporary Anglican debates as a way of encouraging compromise, tolerance, and broad mindedness.  However, what we find in the minds and work of the Anglican reformers is no watered-down compromise.  It is a full-throated declaration and a full bodied working out of the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic faith as understood and passed down by the undivided church.  Now that is what I call, “change we can believe in.”  That is an Anglicanism we can believe in

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