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.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Sunday called Septuagesima

Traditional Books of Common Prayer preserve the long-standing custom of a pre-Lenten season. From the sixth century until the 1960's, calendars in the Western Church called the third Sunday before Lent "Septuagesima," the Latin for "seventy." Although other possible interpretations have been offered, the names of this Sunday and the following two seem to be based on a rough approximation of the number of days before Easter. Septuagesima is actually 63 days before Easter, Sexagesima (Latin "sixty") is 56 days before Easter and Quinquagesima (Latin "fifty") is 49 days before Easter.

Two factors may have been involved in establishing the pre-Lenten season: 1) the need for special supplications during Lombard invasions of Italy and natural disasters of the sixth century, and 2) the fact that the Eastern Orthodox had a longer season of Lent. In any case, we might call these Sundays "semi-penitential." They are not quite like Lent, but traditionally they have used somber-colored vestments and have omitted certain joyful praises such as the GLORIA IN EXCELSIS. In such ways, worshippers are reminded of a shift in emphasis, of a transition from the glorious celebrations of Christmas and Epiphany to serious reflections during Lent.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Conversion of St. Paul

Since the sixth century, January 25 has been the date to commemorate the conversion of the great persecutor of Christians into the great missionary of the Gospel. Whatever the original reason for the choice of this date, it is certainly appropriate for us to remember St. Paul during the Epiphany season. Once again, there is an epiphany or manifestation of Christ, this time the revelation of the risen Lord to Paul on the road to Damasus. The glory of this manifestation is blinding in the short term and transforming in the long term.

The Conversion of St. Paul has a personal significance for Christian believers. Because the vast majority of Christians are Gentiles, we owe a personal debt of gratitude to God's work in converting Paul who became the great apostle to the Gentiles. St. Paul provides us with an example, and through him we have half the New Testament Scriptures. So on this day, let us give thanks for St. Paul, let us follow "the holy doctrine which he taught," and let us consider how we too may participate in Christ's mission to all people.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Third Sunday after Epiphany

The 1928 Book of Common Prayer shifted the traditional Gospel (St. John 2:1ff) for the Second Sunday after Epiphany to this Sunday. Since in this particular year the Prayer Book season of Epiphany is ending this week, the themes of the Gospel have a heightened significance in our meditations. The account of the Wedding at Cana is rich and is recognized by some because of its mention in the Form of Solemnization of Matrimony. Certainly, we can take this event as one indication among others of our Lord's honor for traditional marriage. In addition, the story points to Jesus as Lord of creation who can do things that no one else can. There are also other themes such as the transformation of traditional Jewish rituals into the "new wine" of the Gospel- and indeed not just any wine but the best wine.

All of these themes point to the conclusion in St. John 2:11- "This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him." Once again, we have the manifestation or epiphany theme. Even as a wedding guest, Jesus shows forth divine glory. The miracle is a sign; it leads His disciples to believe. They certainly do not understand everything, but they do have faith in Him. All God's works of creation, redemption and sanctification can be signs for us. One of their great purposes is to lead us to believe in Christ Jesus. And in faith, we can end the season of Epiphany saying the antiphon that we started with: "The Lord hath manifested forth his glory; O come, let us adore him."

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Prayer for Babes within the Womb

Almighty God, by whose Providence new life is conceived, look with mercy upon all thy handmaidens who are with child and upon the babes within their wombs. Strengthen them during the months of waiting and growth, and bring them in safety through the time of birth. And grant that each child may increase in wisdom and stature, and grow in thy love and service, until he or she come to thy eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Prayers for Christian Unity, especially among Anglicans

In recent decades and in some Christian groups, the week from January 18 through January 25 has become a time to emphasize prayers for Christian unity. For some traditionalist Christians, this particular observance may seem suspect because of its associations with liberal Protestant groups or the Vatican bureaucracy. Nevertheless, praying for greater Christian unity in the truth of the Gospel is a good thing, and those of us who follow traditional Books of Common Prayer are constantly praying for the Church and our fellow baptized Christians at the Eucharist, in the Daily Office, in the Litany and in other ways. In the Prayer for All Sorts and Conditions of Men, we pray "that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life."

Such a prayer is more appropriate than ever. In our time, many who profess to be Christians may talk of peace and unity, but often they have ceased to be concerned about truth and righteousness of life. Many so-called "nice" Christians, especially in Western societies, do not really accept the basic truths of Scripture as summarized in the ancient Creeds and traditional Christian understandings of the Commandments. With this in mind, we do need to pray for greater unity in truth across denominational lines.

Beyond such general prayers for all Christians, it also seems that traditional Anglicans need to pray more specifically for unity. Since the late 1970's, conservative Anglicans have fragmented into so many groups. There have been some real issues on theology or practice, but all too often, our divsions have had to do with personalities, power struggles and narrow mindedness about some favorite minutiae. If we can agree on central issues such as the Creeds, the Commandments, the historic three-fold ministry and use of prayer books, then it seems that we should at least be talking to one another in brotherly affection and sincerely praying to find ways forward beyond our sad divisions. So I will keep praying and hoping for greater unity among continuing Anglicans.

O GRACIOUS Father, we humbly beseech thee for thy holy Catholic Church; that thou wouldest be pleased to fill it with all truth, in all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, establish it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of him who died and rose again, and ever liveth to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Second Sunday after Epiphany- Baptism of our Lord

Following the usage of Sarum, most traditional Books of Common Prayer did not have an Epiphanytide Gospel on Christ's Baptism. The 1928 American BCP re-introduced a Gospel to observe this important event. By coming to John to be baptized, Jesus fulfilled all righteousness. Although sinless, our incarnate Lord expressed His solidarity with sinful human beings who all need cleansing. He received a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as He began His public ministry. And the heavenly voice acknowledged Him as the Son of God. This moment is a unique manifestation or epiphany of the divine glory in Christ. It also points to His whole public ministry and work for human salvation.

Because of Christ's uniqueness, there are certainly historical and theological differences between His Baptism by John and the later institution of Christian Baptism. Yet, in part, the Baptism of Jesus is also a model for us. He underwent Baptism to point to the human need for the washing of regeneration. He was pure but we need to be cleansed. He was already in unity with the Spirit while we need to be strengthened by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He was the Son of God by nature, but we need to be adopted as children of God. And we need to notice that Baptism is a beginning of ministry. All those who have been baptized into Christ are called to continue Christ's ministry in this world.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

First Sunday after Epiphany

Some liturgical traditions observe the Baptism of our Lord on the first Sunday after Epiphany. In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the Baptism is cited in a Morning Prayer lesson on January 7 and in the Gospel for the second Sunday after Epiphany. However, from the 1549 Prayer Book through that of 1928, the first Sunday after Epiphany continues St. Luke's account of Christ's childhood. Indeed, although I don't recall ever reading such a description, we might say that this Sunday is in effect the Anglican feast of the Holy Family. For the life of the Holy Family is central in the Gospel for Epiphany I.

As we look at this Gospel, we see that St. Luke stresses that Mary and Joseph were observant Jews who customarily went to Jersusalem for the Passover. And as Jesus approached maturity, He also fulfilled the precepts of the Law by going to Jerusalem for the great feast. Furthermore, He did not merely attend the observance; He delighted in the opportunity to discuss the Law with the great teachers.
Of course, in the confusion of the festival, we know that Jesus was left behind, that His parents eventually noticed His absence from their Galilean group and that they went back to find Him in the Temple. Obviously, they were worried while the young Jesus was content to be about His heavenly Father's business. In most families that I have seen, this would have been a tense reunion. However, the Gospel tone is filled with a gracious and loving spirit from the parents and the child.

So it seems that among other things, this simple account teaches us about family ideals. Respect for God's commandments should be the over-riding concern for a sound family life. And if that piety is sincerely followed, then the glitches that are bound to arise in even the best family can be handled with love and grace. Even as Mary and Joseph took their responsibilities seriously, they recognized that their special son was going to develop spiritual independence. Even as the adolescent Jesus pursued His heavenly Father's business, He respected His earthly parents' authority. May we have the grace to follow the Holy Family's pattern in our troubled society.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Epiphany

Aside from Good Friday-Easter and Pentecost, Epiphany is the third oldest Christian observance. Yet, it is a Christian feast barely noticed in American society. The irony for me is that the neglect of this holy day by our society seems to make it even sweeter. On Epiphany, there aren't a lot of semi-pagan revelings. There aren't a lot of things to buy or eat. There aren't a lot of visits to relatives. So except for the usual demands of daily life, one can focus on the religious meanings of Epiphany. One can begin to focus on the various epiphanies or manifestations of Jesus the Christ. The historic associations of this feast can help us pull together thoughts about Christ's birth, His manifestation to the gentiles represented by the Magi and the beginning of His public ministry with His baptism.

So today let us think about the manifestation of the glory of God for our salvation. Into our everyday world- a world of cold dark winter nights, of sniffles and sick children, of household chores and repairs, of the daily grind of work, of aging loved ones, of disturbing news from around the globe- into this world, God shines the glorious light of His truth, love and grace. Whether into our private prayers, readings and contemplation or into a low-key weekday Eucharist, this same God is reaching out to manifest Himself to us. "The Lord hath manifested forth his glory; O come, let us adore him."

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Te Deum

As Christmastide draws to a close, it strikes me that one of the great things about the season is saying the Daily Office with the Te Deum. Of course, this canticle is said at other times, but its beauty and meaning are highlighted for me after its absence during Advent. Regardless of who wrote it and despite any translation issues in the American BCP version, this magnificent creedal hymn brings home the truth of the Incarnation. It also gives me the sense of joining in with 15 or so centuries of the faithful. And although I haven't heard it sung for a while, it still echoes in my head as it was beautifully and prayerfully done by small Episcopal choirs in the days of yore. It has aided my appreciation of the faith "of the holy Church thoughout all the world."

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Second Sunday after Christmas

This Sunday which only occurs four out of seven years has tended to be neglected. Christmastide is winding down, and Epiphany is not yet here. The collect and lessons reflect this interim quality. The collect refers to the light of the Incarnation and moves on to the light shining forth in our lives. The Gospel continues from the account of Holy Innocents in St. Matthew 2. It reminds us of the dangers to the Christ Child from worldly rulers. And thus it points us to another aspect of His humility, growing up in a Galilean village rather than in a royal Judean city.