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Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

Father Robert at The Curate’s Desk throws down the gauntlet and reminds us again what the church’s primary calling in the world is, and how all else that we may undertake springs from that source:

It may sound nonsensical or naive but I truly think the most crucial task for the Church is not growth, justice, discipleship, survival, nor restructuring. The most crucial task facing the Church is worship…

The world’s, and the Church’s, desperate need now is for that expanded awareness of the presence of God –

TCD elaborates the point beautifully and eloquently:

The Incarnation has sanctified the whole of creation. Adoring God made known to us in the flesh of man opens us to sharing in his love for all of humanity. One part of the Eucharistic action is that we are made one with Christ – not so that we are made ever more privately holy – but so that we can approach the world around us as ever more blessed – ever more worthy of love and thanksgiving because it is beloved of God.

“Do this in remembrance” was not a command given so that we would remember any one earthly event. “Do this in remembrance” is commanded that we might know where our true hope and glory lie.

Through the Sacraments, prayer, thanksgiving, and adoration we are drawn ever more to the source of our peace – that place where we can dwell and know that we are the beloved of God. Where we are held by the Good Shepherd – are branches of the vine – may drink of the Living Water – dwell within the refuge – be protected by a mighty warrior whose name is Yahweh. In all of these images, God longs to be with us and protect us, for all eternity, in a way that no one image can capture. It is this God that we come before in praise and thanksgiving.

Ultimately our hope and our salvation and our joy are not found in the worries of the day – nor even in the answers we find to those everyday worries. Our joy comes when we can surrender and know the hope of things eternal – when we see the totality of our life as the Body as bound to the eternity of God.

The liturgy is the expression of the Body’s questing for unity with the Divine in the person of Jesus Christ. In its use of pattern, connection, arrangement, movement, and varying celebrations of more and less significance. Its mirror of life is natural for it reflects the lived and living experience of a Body. Gregory Dix cites S. Augustine in writing, “The spiritual benefit which is there understood is unity, that being joined to His Body and made His members we may be what we receive.” We receive not simply the sacramental grace of the Body and Blood but become that Body. Moreover, we become a constitutive part of the passion narrative as we take on the form and incorporate the meaning of offering and sacrifice. Meaning and order are mediated by the reality we take in at the Eucharist so that we become not so much pattern-seeking but become part of the very pattern of the divine order – we become the Body.

The individual is ill-equipped to search for meaning or form in isolation. I would broaden this to individual parishes, denominations, and Churches. We need one another. The liturgical enactment of the community mediates the ebbs and flows of personal perception of and receptivity to divine love. The action of the Eucharist is not simply a recitation or re-creation of history but a process of creation of new living meaning within the Body of the faithful. The ebbs and flows of individual perception are moderated and mediated in the corporate action of worship. Gregory Dix claims, “As the anamnesis of the passion, the eucharist is perpetually creative of the church, which is the fruit of that passion.” New meaning is found and incorporated as the community enacts the liturgy together so that the individual is not left adrift in wonderment, but is drawn ever deeper into the realization of divine promise – we are woven into the pattern.

Our participation in the life of the Holy brings about a kind of cognitive dissonance in which we recognize that our imperfections and those of the world around us may be brought into greater harmony with the divine. Moreover, we gain a sensitivity to those things which are out of balance in ourselves and the world around us as we are exposed to patterns of holiness and divine love. The individual can fail in apprehension when they discern the essence of Holy Communion either to be too individual an affair or too global. Without understanding the convicting power of the Sacrament, they are not truly coming into the realization of the divine order that is promised nor the sacrifice that is called for.

The call to properly discern is part of the mission of the Church at large and is essential to the edification of its members. Dix states, “the idea of the Holy Communion as a purely personal affair, which concerns only those persons who feel helped by such things…is nothing less than the atomizing of the Body of Christ.” Worship can never be a personal affair, nor can true religion. Worship which loses sight of the totality of creation, of our relationships, of the world around us, ceases to be worship and becomes another form of individual therapy. We are called to worship, to the work of adoration, which is necessarily not an act of self-regard but of oblation and self-giving. The model for this oblation is, of course, Christ and we enter into that oblation as a community which discerns the Body and seeks its restoration.

This oblation of self is taught in the unfolding of the Eucharist. In the actions of offering and breaking, we see the model of self-giving enacted and re-enacted and we are provided the grace of the Sacrament so as to be empowered to do likewise and to be so offered and willing to offer. This experience is brought about by an encounter with the Christ of heaven and earth. The Christian, with this model of self-offering, enters the memorial action that has been repeated across time and space and makes his or herself one with the sacrifice once offered and passes into the loving and guiding hand of God.

It is the perpetual dying of the person and the perpetual new life in Christ that is made possible by the action of the Spirit and in the memory and action of the community. This new experience of life and potential are mediated by Christ for he is the center of the action and memory of the community.

Any human advancement that is made by the Church must be an advance in our understanding of the life and death of Christ. This revelation of our life in and with Christ not only calls us to ever-offer that which we are to that which we may be, but also, paradoxically, affirms the value of humans to God. As objects of divine love, we are called to closer and deeper relationship to God through Christ. The men and women of the Church are an offering that is acceptable in the sight of God. It is in the striving to be worthy of offering and the yearning for holiness that the nexus of the divine-human relationship is found – in that moment when our sacrifice is joined to Christ’s.

So how does all this make a difference in the world?  Father Robert answers:

If we celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation in the Mass – how do we look upon God’s children with anything less than love and adoration?

If we adore the Body of Christ – how do we then condone torture done in our name?

If we participate in the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice – how do we allow so many around us to be sacrificed to the zeal of nations or plots of terror?

If we glory in the Resurrection – how do we condemn others to the grave in our hearts?

If we ask for forgiveness for thoughts, words, and deeds – how do we then turn our minds to hate?

If we anticipate his coming again with power and glory – how do we allow the use of power to be glorified?

If we present an offering and sacrifice to God for his use – how do we allow our wealth to be used to degrade those around us?

If we anticipate that heavenly country – how do we allow the one around us to be lost to anger and despair?

If we know, are drawn to, are called by Christ made present on the altar – how can we surrender to despair?

In other words, worship feeds justice. Justice flows naturally from true adoration.  The Church, to be the Church, must offer both with passion and joy.

If Anglican praying, thinking, and writing continues in this direction… we might just have something exciting on our hands.

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“Those who don’t read  have no advantage over those who can’t read.” — Mark Twain

For Anglican purposes, you could (less poignantly) restate Mark Twain’s quote by saying, “Those who don’t use their prayer books have no advantage over those who can’t.”  Myself and others could go on and on about the beauty of the language, the importance of communal worship and prayer, the strength of the Catholic & Patristic tradition, the wisdom of Benedictine/Monastic spirituality, the benefit of an aesetical approach to growth in holiness….

Yet, if people don’t understand their prayer books and how to use them, and further if they don’t actually use them, it is all for naught.  Dr. Derek Olsen has written something recently along similar lines.  Some of his more helpful thoughts include

So—in a nutshell, here’s how I’d go about doing it. First a big-picture, then attention to some of the actual parts.

  • Christianity has a variety of valid spiritualities—the BCP enshrines one of them: the liturgical system [and I’d add /sacramental] approach
  • The key logic operative here is the disciplined recollection of God with the intention that following these disciplines will lead to the habitual recollection of God.

The fundamental mechanisms for achieving this goal are threefold:

    • The kalendar which leads us to view time through a salvific lens
    • The Daily Office which is fundamentally catechetical in nature
    • The Eucharist which is fundamentally mystagogical in nature

I especially like his thoughts about the recollection of God.  It reminds me of Eastern Orthodox ideas about “mindfulness.”

So—here’s why this is important and the meat of how it relates to the issue at hand. The purpose of any spiritual system is to bring the practitioner and their community into a deeper relationship with God—to create a family of mature Christians. Through their increasing awareness of who God is, how much God loves them and all of creation, they translate that love they have been shown into concrete acts of love and mercy in the world around them. There are several different strategies that different spiritual systems use to accomplish this. One of the classic ones—referred to in St Paul’s direction to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17)—is the recollection of God. The idea here is that if we can continually keep in mind the goodness of God, the constant presence of God, and an awareness of the mighty works of God on behalf of us and others, that we will more naturally and more completely act in accordance with God’s will and ways. Continual recollection is nearly impossible, but there are methods to help us in this habit.

A primary goal of liturgical spirituality is to create a disciplined recollection of God. Thus, if we specifically pause at central points of time—morning and evening; noon and night; Sundays and other Holy Days—to reorient ourselves towards God and the mighty acts of God, whether recalled to us through the Scriptures or experienced by us through direct encounters with the sacraments, then this discipline will lead us towards a habitual recollection of God.

In the liturgical round, the Book of Common Prayer gives us specific moments to stop and orient our time and ourselves around the recollection of God. As a result, one of the most important parts of the book is the Daily Office section that provides forms for prayer at morning, noon, evening and night. These prayer offices are our fundamental tool for disciplined recollection; they provide the foundation for our spiritual practice. This foundation, then, is punctuated by the Eucharist on Holy Days (at the least). And, conceptually, this is how we should view Sundays—not the day of the week on which we go to church—but as a Holy Day which recurs on a weekly basis.

With all of that in mind, here are a few of my suggestions for making the BCP part of your life and the life of your parish.

1. Create Prayer Book Studies similar to Bible studies.  Study the Church Kalendar.  Study the various liturgies.  Think about why various Scripture readings are chosen for certain occasions.  Try to discern what the Prayerbook teaches about ordination, baptism, creation, marriage, etc., etc.  Read commentaries on the prayer book(s).  And don’t forget to spend time in the “Historical Documents”, especially the 39 articles.  If done properly, study of the Prayer Book(s) can be a very rewarding, life-long process of not only learning but spiritual formation and growth.

2. Develop a lay “officers” program at your parish to encourage the public praying of the office daily.  If you can get 30 officer volunteers trained and licensed, then you can have the office said daily in your parish with only a once-a-month commitment from each volunteer.  If you can get 60 officers trained, then you can have morning and evening prayer daily in your parish without overburdening the clergy, without running your volunteers ragged, and all the while increasing lay involvement and public worship.  Ring the bell.  If you don’t have one, get one.

3. Make sure basic, but thorough Prayer Book education is part of the confirmation curriculum.  Shame on the parish whose confirmands have no idea how to navigate the office or the lectionary, or are lost if the whole service isn’t printed for them on Sunday.  Do more than tell them it was compiled by Cranmer, revised in 1979, that we now use the Revised Common Lectionary for xyz reasons, yada yada yada.  That information is important, but it isn’t vital.  Praying and worshiping is vital. Printing the Sunday liturgy is fine, but all Anglicans should learn to use the prayer book with their eyes closed.

4. Make sure the actual Book of Common Prayer is the foundation and de facto form of worship in your parish.  Books of alternative services, books of occasional services, and the like are fine, but they are exactly that: alternative and occasional.  They should never be the meat and potatoes of Anglican spiritual formation and worship.  If the liturgy you regularly use on Sunday (Eucharistic prayers, Prayers of the People, etc.) is not found in The Book of Common Prayer, don’t be surprised if the parishioners can’t articulate to their neighbors what it means to be an Anglican Christian, and don’t be surprised if they leave your parish when the next cool thing comes to town.  If you treat the church like a commodity on the religious marketplace, don’t be surprised if people respond in kind.

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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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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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