Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Monday, December 15, 2014

December Ember Days

Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of this week are the traditional December Ember Days. The Ember Days are days for prayer and fasting which over time became associated with ordinations. Their origins are not totally clear, but they may go back to ancient pagan agricultural observances around Rome. In the early third century, Roman Christians may have started adopting them to Christian use. Gradually, certain customs became established at Rome and spread throughout the Western  or Latin church. The name "Ember" may be a deformation of the Latin Quattuor Tempora, "Four Times/Seasons."

Originally, the December Ember Days were probably associated with sowing winter grain, but they soon became associated with prayer and fasting in preparation for Christmas. In addition, because of Advent emphasis on the ministry of John the Baptist, the days became an appropriate time to stress prayers for the ordained ministry of the Church. In our commercialized and often frantic Advent, these days can also be a good time to slow down and meditate on humanity's great need for redemption.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Third Sunday in Advent

For Advent III this year, my thoughts are drawn to the theme of ministry as expressed in the Collect and Epistle. The collect reads thus:
O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Epistle is from 1 Corinthians iv. 1--5.
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.
Of course, all Christians are called to ministry or service for Christ, and all too often we forget this, at least in practical daily speech and behavior. Every human being is called to serve his/her Creator. Every person baptized has been set aside and transformed in the name of the holy Trinity. Every person confirmed by a bishop has been strengthened for ministry by the Holy Spirit.
Yet, from the days of Christ and the Apostles to the present, the ordained ministry of bishops, priests and deacons has been set aside, dedicated, and given grace for special service. We fail in many ways. We do not always live as recipients of special graces and responsibilities. But ordained ministers have been, among other things, called and ordered as "stewards of the mysteries of God." These mysteries are the teachings of Christ's Gospel- from the Annunciation, Visitation, and Nativity to the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. And these mysteries become concrete and immediate for us in the sacred mysteries or sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
The clergy are called and ordained to honor, administer and share these mysteries with the whole people of God and to proclaim them to all people near and far. So during this Advent, and especially on the approaching Ember Days, let us pray that all the ordained and all men considering or approaching ordination may be constantly renewed by divine grace that they may be faithful stewards of God's mysteries.

Saint Lucy- December 13

Lucy from Syracuse in Sicily was a young Christian martyred in the Diocletian persecutions of 304 A.D. Although there may be some truth in other stories about her, they mostly seem to be legends which became more elaborate over the centuries. She was soon included among lists of early martyrs, and became especially popular in Italy and later Scandinavia. Because of her name (related to lux, "light"), and because of her feast date in December, her celebration has often become a feast of lights. The 1662 English Book of Common Prayer retained her feast as a minor feast or "black-letter day." The 1928 American Book of Common Prayer does not mention her by name, but it still uses December 13 to determine the occurrence of the winter Ember Days.
May we always give thanks for the martyrs, known and unknown, who have given their lives because of their faith in Christ. Even when we do not know the details, they have passed on the light of Christ.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Second Sunday in Advent

In the Book of Common Prayer, the Second Sunday in Advent emphasizes the importance of Holy Scripture. On occasions, I have been asked by people from other backgrounds if Anglicans believe in sola Scriptura, which is usually translated as "only Scripture." The answer is that it depends on what the slogan means. In a sense, no one depends on "only Scripture" in its most literalistic meaning. There are always other factors such as prior knowledge of language, grammar, history, personal experience, or philosophical and theological presuppositions. Furthermore, all Christian groups acknowledge that true understanding and acceptance of Scripture depends upon divine grace and the working of the Holy Spirit. In addition, we are all indebted to other Christians who have taught us and witnessed to us so that in some sense we cannot separate Scripture from the universal Church. Anglicans of all parties have in varying degrees stressed the teachings of the ancient Church, and we do not think that we constantly have to come up with new interpretations of every passage. Thus, there is a sense in which Anglicans do not stress sola Scriptura like some other Christians.

Having pointed out certain limitations, there is a sense in which we Anglicans can value the slogan. We do believe in the primacy of Scripture. It contains God's self-revelation, and it is the supreme authority for all generations of Christians. Despite some difficult passages, the general teachings of the Bible are clear. Thoughtful believers of different times and backgrounds agree on the basics, and even those who say that they do not accept tradition or creeds still come up with summaries of Scripture that are very similar to the ancient Creeds. As Anglicans, we do affirm the supremacy of the Bible by saying that Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation.

 For further thoughts on the topic, please consult previous posts- and

Sunday, November 30, 2014

First Sunday in Advent

As I thought of Advent I, I was struck by a Morning Prayer lesson from Isaiah.  Indeed, although there are a few lessons from other prophets, most of the Old Testament lessons during Advent are from Isaiah. An important Advent theme occurs in today's selection: divine judgment.
In Isaiah 28:14-16, we read these words-
Wherefore hear the word of the Lord, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem. Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves: Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.

Advent is a time to remember that divine righteousness means that there is divine judgment against sin. The leaders of Judah during the sixth century B.C. were corrupt. They  were in league with death and hell. So they were about to experience divine wrath as a consequence. Isaiah still hoped that some people would turn from evil, and he also hoped for future redemption. Nevertheless, the corruption was real and deep, and there would be difficult times before things got better. Isaiah's words apply to some degree throughout human history, but there is a special application in our day and age. Traditional Christian beliefs and values have declined in many places, even among supposedly Christian leaders. For convenience, profit, popularity and other reasons, many people have made agreements with death and hell. So before we rush headlong into holiday celebrations, we need to pause, contemplate divine righteousness, and turn from sin.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Ordering of Priests

God willing, a friend will be ordained to the Anglican priesthood on Saturday, 15 November 2014. Of course, he has been and  will be in my prayers. While reflecting on his ordination this morning, I decided to re-read The Form and Manner of Ordering Priests as published with the 1928 American BCP. The entire service is full of good theology and beautiful words. One could spend a lot of time meditating on the text, but I decided to concentrate on a couple of selections from the Bishop's charge to the Ordinand(s) (1928 BCP, pp. 539-541). These selections stress the responsibilities of the priest and the divine grace needed to fulfill the priestly calling.

First, there is the following paragraph on the responsibilities of the priestly office:
"Ye have heard, Brethren, ... of what dignity, and of how great importance this Office is, whereunto ye are called. And now again we exhort you, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye have in remembrance, into how high a Dignity, and to how weighty an Office and Charge ye are called: that is to say, to be Messengers, Watchmen, and Stewards of the Lord; to teach, and to premonish, to feed and provide for the Lord's family; to seek for Christ's sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for his children who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ for ever."

In addition to Ordinands, all clergy and laity need to take these words to heart. Every priest has the serious responsibility to care for souls, souls that are tempted in a fallen world and need the salvation offered by Christ in Word and Sacrament. All to often, the world leads us to consider ordained ministry as simply another profession, but we need to remember that it is a far higher spiritual responsibility.

Secondly, all human beings, including priests, are both weak and sinful, and no one can fulfill the responsibilities of the priesthood without divine grace and assistance.
"Forasmuch then as your Office is both of so great excellency, and of so great difficulty, ye see with how great care and study ye ought to apply yourselves...Howbeit, ye cannot have a mind and will thereto of yourselves; for that will and ability is given of God alone: therefore ye ought, and have need, to pray earnestly for his Holy Spirit. And seeing that ye cannot by any other means compass the doing of so weighty a work, pertaining to the salvation of man, but with doctrine and exhortation taken out of the Holy Scriptures, and with a life agreeable to the same; consider how studious ye ought to be in reading and learning the Scriptures....
and that ye will continually pray to God the Father, by the mediation of our only Saviour Jesus Christ, for the heavenly assistance of the Holy Ghost..."

Priests, like all Christians, need to be firmly rooted in Scripture and prayer. Without such a foundation, they are not open to the grace they need to fulfill their vocation. Furthermore, it is a great help to each priest when his superiors, colleagues, and parishioners are likewise rooted in Scripture and prayer. So let us pray for God's grace for ordinands, all clergy, and the whole people of God that they may fulfill their callings .

Saturday, November 01, 2014

All Saints Day

For a general comment on this day, see the post for 2010 (  This morning, I was particularly impressed by the liturgical epistle- Revelation 7: 2ff:
AND I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four living creatures, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. 
The underlined words point us to key aspect of All Saints Day. On this day we commemorate and give thanks for those known and unknown Christians across times, places, ethnic backgrounds, languages, and so forth who have remained faithful to Christ and continue to sing His praises. May we be among that fellowship, now and forever.