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, November 29, 2010

Saint Andrew the Apostle- 30 November

It is appropriate that St. Andrew is the first saint commemorated in the church year. He and his brother Simon Peter were disciples of John the Baptist (St. John 1:35) who became early followers of Jesus (St. Matthew 4:18). In fact, Andrew brought Simon Peter to Jesus (St. John 1:37). Post-biblical stories say that he was martyred in Achaia, and a medieval tradition adds that he was crucified in the form of an X (hence the St. Andrew's Cross).

The example of St. Andrew illustrates two important points. 1) Andrew is a person who responds to Jesus immediately and dedicates himself completely. 2) Andrew is also a reminder about the need for humble Christian witnesses. Andrew is not the obvious kind of leader that his brother Peter is. His witness is quieter and more one-on-one. Yet, Andrew is the one who brings his brother to Christ, and without him, the Church might not benefit from Peter's enthusiastic leadership. We will not all be the kind of leaders that Peter was, but day in day out, the Church also needs the Andrews who talk to others and bring them to Christ.

The Collect
ALMIGHTY God, who didst give such grace unto thy holy Apostle Saint Andrew, that he readily obeyed the calling of thy Son Jesus Christ, and followed him without delay; Grant unto us all, that we, being called by thy holy Word, may forthwith give up ourselves obediently to fulfil thy holy commandments; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, November 26, 2010

First Sunday in Advent

In the Western church, this Sunday begins a new church year and the season of preparation for Christmas. It was not always so. Advent seems to have started long ago as a season of preparation for Epiphany and baptisms. Then later, it was shortened and re-focused when Christmas entered the Latin calendar during the fourth century. Advent, which comes from the Latin word "coming," stresses the theme of Christ's coming in humility. Later, the theme of Christ's Second Coming was added as a second theme. The Advent Collect composed for the 1549 Book of Common Prayer combines these two themes in a beautiful way.

The Collect
ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

The Gospel (St. Matthew 21:1-13) also emphasizes Christ's Coming. At this time of the year, the account is not so much about the historical entry of Christ into Jerusalem at Palm Sunday; it is more of a reminder that Christ the Messianic King has come to humanity, keeps coming to us and will come again at the last day. He comes humbly and peaceably as our rightful ruler who does not have to prove Himself. Yet, even when He comes in this simple peaceful way, He is so holy that He automatically brings rebuke and judgment to human corruption, a corruption that had even perverted the purposes of the Jerusalem Temple. So as we begin our preparations for the great Christmas festival, let us also begin to examine our souls. Only through spiritual self-examination, repentance and renewal can we truly develop an appreciation for the good news that Christ's Coming brings.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Harvest Thanksgiving/Thanksgiving Day

Through the ages, many peoples have observed feasts and prayers of thanksgiving for harvests. Although they had other historical connections, the Jewish spring festivals of Passover and Weeks (Pentecost) were in part celebrations of spring harvests, and the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles was related to the autumn harvest. In medieval and early modern Europe, including England, there were various local harvest festivals. In 1862, the Convocation of Canterbury issued a form of service for an autumn harvest festival.
In the early history of America, English explorers and colonists gave thanks in many places and ways. When English explorer Martin Frobisher arrived in Newfoundland in 1578, he established a service of thanksgiving. In Virginia, there was a celebration of thanksgiving at Berkeley Hundred on December 4, 1619 (over a year before the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts). Of course, the case in Massachusetts in 1621 was a dramatic case of survival, and it was propagated and publicized by New Englanders. At the time of Independence, this New England practice was promoted by the Continental Congress. A few years later, the first American Book of Common Prayer of 1789 included a Thanksgiving Day Office, and parts of this office are still included in the 1928 BCP. Over the years, Canadian Anglicans and others have also developed forms for harvest thanksgiving.
It is a normal part of Christian worship to give God thanks for all things. It is also appropriate that we should pause in autumn to give special thanks for the products of the land which sustain and enrich life. "Now thank we all our God..."

The Collect
O MOST merciful Father, who hast blessed the labours of the husbandman in the returns of the fruits of the earth; We give thee humble and hearty thanks for this thy bounty; beseeching thee to continue thy loving-kindness to us, that our land may still yield her increase, to thy glory and our comfort; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Anglican Catechism- Exposition Pt. 2

Here is a second installment of my simple exposition of the Catechism found in the Book of Common Prayer. This part of the Catechism concentrates on the Ten Commandments and also refers to Christ's Summary of the Law. As with every section of the Catechism, one could use this section as the basis of thematic Bible study by refering to many texts or one could develop a more abstract and comprehensive theological statement. However, in this commentary, I confine myself to a few Scriptural references and simple comments.

Question. You said that your Sponsors did promise for you, that you should keep God's Commandments. Tell me how many there are? Answer. Ten.

Comment: Saying that there are ten basic commandments is rooted in Scripture and ancient custom. The Ten Commandments have been an important element in Christian catechesis since at least the time of St. Augustine, but different traditions have divided them in different ways. In general, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans and the Reformed groups have followed the enumeration we see in our Catechism. Roman Catholics and Lutherans organized the text differently. They have combined the command against having other gods with the one about worshipping idols, and they have divided the command against coveting into one against coveting relationships and another against coveting property.

Regardless of the organization, the ideas are the same, and the basic rules can be memorized by the average person with a little effort. There are many things that human beings should or should not do, but these ten cover basic principles and actions. These basics can be applied to all areas of human life.

Question. Which are they?

Answer. The same which God spake in the twentieth Chapter of Exodus, saying, I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

I. Thou shalt have none other gods but me.

II. Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them; for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, and visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and show mercy unto thousands in them that love me and keep my commandments.

III. Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless, that taketh his Name in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless, that taketh his name in vain.

IV. Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath-day. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all that thou hast to do; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt do no manner of work; thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, thy man-servant, and thy maid-servant, thy cattle, and the stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it.

V. Honour thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

VI. Thou shalt do no murder.

VII. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

VIII. Thou shalt not steal.

IX. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

X. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his servant, nor his maid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his.

Question. What dost thou chiefly learn by these Commandments?

Answer. I learn two things; my duty towards God, and my duty towards my Neighbour.

Comment: The Catechism follows our Lord's example by summarizing all the commandments in the two Great Commandments to love God and the neighbor (St. Matthew 22:37-40). Commandments I-IV are primarily about how to love God, and Commandments V-X are primarily about how to love one's neighbor.

Question. What is thy duty towards God?

Answer. My duty towards God is To believe in him, to fear him, And to love him with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength: To worship him, to give him thanks: To put my whole trust in him, to call upon him: To honour his holy Name and his Word: And to serve him truly all the days of my life.

Comment: This short summary of the teaching of the First Great Commandment is simple and in words that most people can still understand. Loving God is not merely some warm feeling; it involves belief, fear, worship, thanksgiving, trust, prayer, respect for divine revelation and service.

Question. What is thy duty towards thy Neighbour?

Answer. My duty towards my Neighbour is To love him as myself, and to do to all men as I would they should do unto me: To love, honour, and succour my father and mother: To honour and obey the civil authority: To submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors and masters: To order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters: To hurt nobody by word or deed: To be true and just in all my dealings: To bear no malice nor hatred in my heart: To keep my hands from picking and stealing, and my tongue from evil speaking, lying, and slandering: To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity: Not to covet nor desire other men's goods; But to learn and labour truly to get mine own living, And to do my duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me.

Comment: This summary of the teaching of the Second Great Commandment is beautiful, but unfortunately somewhat problematic for many modern English-speakers. Loving our neighbors is not merely or primarily a matter of kind or warm feelings; true love for people involves a number of actions and attitudes. This duty extends from the first people most of us know, our parents, to all those we encounter in the various states and stages of life.

Honoring parents extends to actually aiding them, and it extends to all those who have legitmate authority over us- teachers, clergy, supervisers and bosses of all kinds, magistrates and government officials. Not committing murder extends to other behaviors that harm people and to attitudes toward people (see St. Matthew 6:21-22). Not stealing implies being true and just in all dealings with others. Not committing adultery extends to more than outward sexual relations; it includes general attitudes about sex and other physical pleasures- such as moderation in eating and drinking. Not bearing false witness extends to the general need to be honest in our words. And not coveting is already a commandment which has mental and spiritual dimensions that overlap with all other commandments about dealing with other people.

So far the Catechism has dealt with rather general aspects of Christian life. It started with Christian identity by reference to Baptism and with general beliefs by reference to the Apostles' Creed. We have now seen basic religious and moral commandments. With this general background, the next section will move into the practices of Christian devotion.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sunday next before Advent/ Trinity XXV

The 1927/28 proposed English Book of Common Prayer, the 1892 and1928 American BCP and the 1962 Canadian BCP assign the propers traditionally used for Trinity XXV as those for "the Sunday next before Advent." In 2010, the Sunday next before Advent is in fact also the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity. The Collect, the Epistle (actually from the chapter 23 of the prophet Jeremiah) and the Gospel from St. John are all characterized by themes appropriate to anticipate Advent.

The Gospel (St. John 6:5-14 ) is the familiar story of feeding the 5000. In addition to its general significance, the story reminds us of expectations that Jesus fulfilled. When the people saw His miraculous act, they affirmed that He was "that prophet that should come into the world" (St. John 6: 14 ). Of course, orthodox Christian believers (unlike liberal modernists) think that Jesus is much more than a prophet, but we know that He is also a prophet. Indeed, prophet is one the three functions (along with priest and king) that Christian theology has often used to characterize the work of the Messiah or Christ. Jesus is not just any prophet but the long-expected one. He is the one who was to come. He is the prophet like Moses predicted in Deuteronomy 18:15,18. He is the one who brings a new age and establishes the New Covenant. He is the One who is really greater than Moses, the greatest prophet of ancient Israel. Not only is He greater than Moses by nature, He also mediates a covenant greater than the one established through the work of Moses (Hebrews 8:6).

As we end a Christian year on this Sunday, we are reminded of completion. Jesus the Christ was the One to come. He completed the work of redemption that was in progress from Adam, through Noah to Abraham and present in the ministry of Moses and subsequent Hebrew prophets. At the same time that we think of completion, we also anticipate a new church year and the continuing work of redemption. Jesus is the One has already come, but He is also the One who is to come again. Although He has completed the great acts of redemption, we still await the consummation of the age of the New Covenant. We live between the times, and such an existence provides us with both great challenges and great opportunities for growth and service.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Anglican Cathecism- Exposition Pt. 1

Some time ago, I posted a short article on the Anglican Cathecism ( This theme has been of interest to many, and it is dear to my heart- both as a priest and a parent. So I have decided to start a series of short expositions which may take me a good while to complete. In any case, here is the first installment.

QUESTION. What is your Name? Answer. N. or N. N.

Question. Who gave you this Name? Answer. My Sponsors in Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.

Question. What did your Sponsors then for you?

Answer. They did promise and vow three things in my name: First, that I should renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanity of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh; Secondly, that I should believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith; And Thirdly, that I should keep God's holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of my life.

Comment:The first three questions show us that this Catechism was not designed as a general or abstract discussion; it was originally intended for those young people preparing for Confirmation. It reflects a time when Baptism generally ocurred in the first days or at least weeks after birth. Baptism was also christening or giving of a Christian name. More of the theological beliefs about Baptism occur later in the Catechism, but here the stress is upon Christian identity or self-awareness. Among other things, Baptism gives us a Christian name and identity. Traditionally, it is the renunciation of the fallen world, corrupted fleshly desires and service of the evil one. It makes us part of the community of faith, and we are called to respond to what has been done through the sacrament.

Question. Dost thou not think that thou art bound to believe, and to do, as they have promised for thee?

Answer. Yes, verily; and by God's help so I will. And I heartily thank our heavenly Father, that he hath called me to this state of salvation, through Jesus Christ our Saviour. And I pray unto God to give me his grace, that I may continue in the same unto my life's end.

Comment:The call to respond to Baptism involves our basic beliefs and promises. Whether a person is aware or not, whether we agree or not, being born into a Christian family (even if it is not particularly pious) and receiving Holy Baptism puts us under obligation. Anyone exposed to even a minimal awareness of the Christian message responds to it in some way or another. God has called us to salvation through Christ. He has offered and continues to offer us grace. With His help, we must work to continue what started at Baptism.

Catechist. Rehearse the Articles of thy Belief.

Answer. I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary: Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty: From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost: The holy Catholic Church; The Communion of Saints: The Forgiveness of sins: The Resurrection of the body: And the Life everlasting. Amen.

Comment: The basic articles of Christian belief were summarized long ago in the Latin statement known as the Apostles' Creed. Although not literally composed by the Apostles in the first century, it summarizes their preaching and teaching contained in the book of Acts and the New Testament epistles or letters. We could spend much time discussing every word of this Creed, but for now let us notice the short summary in the next Catechism question.

Question. What dost thou chiefly learn in these Articles of thy Belief?

Answer. First, I learn to believe in God the Father, who hath made me, and all the world. Secondly, in God the Son, who hath redeemed me, and all mankind. Thirdly, in God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifieth me, and all the people of God.

Comment:The Apostles' Creed like many Christian statements of faith and acts of worship has a three-part form, a Trinitarian structure. The first part of the Creed is about God the Father, the Creator. All of Scripture and much in nature teaches us about Him. Since most of humanity has believed in a Creator, this part of the Creed is short, and we move quickly to the beliefs that are more uniquely Christian.

The second part of the Creed is about God the Son, Jesus the Christ. Our beliefs about Jesus are what make us Christians. We believe that He is the only and unique Son of God, conceived by the Spirit of God and born of the Virgin Mary. He came to earth to save us from our sins and offer us eternal life. Among the many things that He did during His life on earth, the central events include His death on the Cross for our sins, His resurrection to offer us new life and His return to heaven to pray for us and watch over us.

The third part of the Creed is about God the Holy Ghost or the Holy Spirit. Not only did God create the universe and come to earth in the man Jesus, He continues to reach out and work in the world in invisible but powerful spiritual ways. As He works in the world, He sanctifies or makes holy. He works through each individual believer, and as is shown in the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit works in a special way through the fellowship or communion of believers, the Church. Despite human failings, this Church is holy because it belongs to God. It is also catholic or universal. It extends across languages, races, cultures, political boundaries and time. It holds to the same basic beliefs and moral standards everwhere- in this world and beyond. The Spirit makes the Church a communion of saints, a fellowship of those made holy by the grace of God in Christ. And the Spirit brings blessings such as the forgivenesss of sins, the future resurrection of the body and eternal life in God's presence.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Trinity XXIV

On this next to the last Sunday of the church year, the collect stresses divine goodness in contrast to human frailty. The Gospel from St. Matthew 9:18-26 gives two interwoven examples of Christ's restoration of frail human beings- one young and one who has suffered for twelve years. The account begins with the ruler or synagogue official whose daughter is at the point of death. In response to the father's urgent appeal, Jesus sets out to see the girl. Along the way, the woman with the bleeding problem reaches out for what she hopes will be an anonymous cure. She does not escape unnoticed but is told that her faith has enabled her healing. The situation of the ruler's daughter is more serious. She seems to have died, and the official mourners have already arrived. Jesus, however, puts a stop to the mourning and lifts the girl up from her deathbed.

In these two situations, there are different example of human desperation: the urgent illness of the official's daughter and the chronic condition of the older woman. Jesus brings divine grace to both cases of human weakness. God in Christ is ready to reach out, but for healing to take place, there is need for faith. The faith that both the girl's father and the afflicted woman had in Jesus the Christ opened the way for divine power to work. Whatever our frailties- of body, mind or soul- may our faith in Christ open us to His restorative work.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Trinity XXIII

The Gospel from St. Matthew 22:15-22 is a famous passage concerning paying taxes. Here the Pharisees and supporters of the Herodian family's political arrangement with the Romans try to trap Jesus. They ask if it is lawful (that is, according to Jewish Torah) to pay the tribute demanded by the Romans. Jesus knows their true designs. He knows that these hypocrites could care less about Torah but simply want to cause problems. Almost any answer to their question will upset someone. If Jesus says not to pay tax, then the Romans (and the Herodians themselves) can say that He is a dangerous subversive. If He says to pay the tax, then both Jewish revolutionaries and pious conservatives can attack Him. The revolutionaries can reject Him for collaboration with Rome, and the super-pious can attack Him for being willing to use coinage they consider idolatrous. Outwitting His opponents, He requests to see a coin and asks about the image- Caesar's. Since it has Caesar's image, it must be his, and any person willing to use the coin must acknowledge Caesar's claims upon money. So Christ's answer is suited to the immediate context and marvelously avoids the trap.

Yet, Christ's answer is more than just clever debate. He enunciates an important general principle: Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's (St. Matthew 22:21b). Government, even that of an oppressive conqueror, serves certain purposes such as insuring a rough justice and stable economic exchange. Believers like other people benefit from whatever degree of stability government provides, and so believers are not anarchists. As seen throughout Scripture, especially as developed in the New Testament epistles, Christians pray for rulers and acknowledge that worldly power has certain legitimate purposes. At the same time, the claims of Caesar are limited. Money may bear Caesar's image, but every human being bears the divine image. Therefore, the highest human loyalty is to God, not to any political and economic system. It turns out that religious faith is both collaborative and subversive at the same time. To the extent that government restrains human evil and promotes the common good under God's Law, it deserves Christian support.

However, the Christian must always put God's requirements first. When any government (even a democratically elected one) claims too much for itself, it must either be ignored or opposed in some way. Caesar, for example, could claim taxes, but he had no right to claim to be worshipped as a god. In modern democracies, government can justly ask many things of us, but it has no rights when it asks us to accept practices such as abortion or euthanasia.