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.

Thursday, February 28, 2013


This post is based on a class for an adult study group as we anticipate an upcoming Confirmation. It is somewhat longer than most recent posts, but it is a topic about which I have not written much on this blog.

Most Anglicans are familiar with Confirmation. We often recognize it as a rite of passage for adolescents or as an act of commitment for adults. Unfortunately, we don’t always think very much about its deep meanings. Briefly, let us review its general character and then look at the details of the service in the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer.
Confirmation which basically means “strengthening” is a rite of the Church that goes back to apostolic times.  Basically, it involves the Laying on of Hands accompanied by prayers for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the Anglican tradition, Confirmation is done by a bishop. In some other traditions, Confirmation may also be administered by a presbyter.

Confirmation is closely related to Baptism. As Baptism marks a birth into the life of grace, Confirmation marks a growth into that life. The gifts of the Spirit associated with Confirmation are traditionally the seven mentioned in the Greek text of Isaiah 11:2 (Piety is not in the Hebrew text): Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, ghostly/spiritual Strength, Knowledge, true Godliness or Piety, holy  Fear. These are all gifts for living a mature spiritual and moral life.

Now let us turn to the Confirmation ritual in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. This service differs in some ways from the 1662 English BCP.  One notable difference is the omission of the preface or introduction. Although containing important exhortations about the training of confirmands, this preface mainly applies to adolescents who have been baptized in an Anglican context as infants. As we shall see, the 1928 BCP also adds a few items not in the 1662 service.

We may divide the 1928 American service into four basic parts: 1) presentation of the candidate(s), 2) a lesson from Acts viii, 3) an affirmation of the promises made at Baptism and 4) the laying on of hands with prayer.
First, the Presentation of the candidate(s) was added in 1892 in the US and in 1922 in Canada. It is similar to the presentation of candidates at Ordination and reminds us that Confirmation is a sort of  "ordination of the laity.”
Secondly, the lesson from Acts 8:14-18 shows a scriptural basis for Confirmation in the work of the Apostles. This was another addition, by the Americans in 1892 and the Canadians in 1922.  This text has been used in discussions of Confirmation for centuries, but it seems to have been added to North American rituals because so many groups questioned the origin and value of Confirmation. This Scripture points out the value of laying hands on those already baptized. It does not mean that the Holy Spirit was missing at Baptism; it means that Christians need to keep growing in the gifts of the Spirit.

Thirdly, there is a Renewal of Baptismal vows. This renewal was long implied or assumed, but was not actually included in medieval Roman Catholic versions or in the 1549, 1552 or 1559 Prayer Books. The first question was included in the English BCP in 1662. The second question about following Christ was added in 1928 American BCP as a personalization of the first question.  Canadian revisions and the 1927/28 English proposed Book added questions about the Apostles’ Creed and following the Commandments.

Fourthly, with the versicles, we begin the oldest part of the Confirmation ritual. The prayer for the confirmands is rooted in a prayer from the third century.  In medieval Latin rites and in the 1549 BCP, the Bishop would sign the forehead of the candidate with chrism as he said, “N, I sign thee with the sign of the cross, and lay my hand upon thee, In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” This action was omitted from 1552 through 1928, and the laying on of hands was accompanied by the prayer “Defend, O Lord, this thy Child….” The 1662 BCP added the Lord’s Prayer. The next prayer is from Cranmer in 1549, and the final prayer taken from ancient sources was added to confirmation in 1662. The first of these prayers is for the confirmands and the second for all present. The final blessing is the usual episcopal blessing from the ancient Church.

In summary, Confirmation is rooted in apostolic practice. It slowly developed as a rite separated from Baptism in the Western churches in ancient and medieval times, and it has continued in the Anglican Prayer Book tradition. Anglicans have added an emphasis upon instruction and the renewal of Baptismal vows, but they have also maintained the ancient idea of  laying on of hands with prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Second Sunday in Lent

This year, I would focus on the Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent: 
Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

This prayer is a reminder not to be over-confident or self-centered in our Lenten devotions. Lent is not about what we do of our own power, but what the grace of God enables us to do. We all need renewal and growth in the Christian life. And we do need to put forth efforts during this season, as always. However, if we do not depend upon God's power working in our lives, our human efforts are feeble exercises in futility.

For comments in previous years, see these links:

Saturday, February 16, 2013

First Sunday in Lent

In other years, I have already posted comments on this Sunday, especially on the Gospel from St. Matthew 4 on Christ's Temptation. In praying the Litany this week, I was struck by a relationship between the temptation Gospel and the liturgical phrase on the temptations or "deceits of the world, the flesh and the devil." Although there are other ways to approach our Lord's Temptation and although the Gospel order is different, we can also see this Gospel in terms of the three temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil. Although the devil is at work in all the temptations, Christ's first temptation to turn stones into bread is primarily a temptation of the flesh. The second temptation to jump from the Temple to impress people is a temptation of the world. And although the third temptation involves worldly power, it is directly about serving the devil.

So whenever we remember the Baptismal liturgy or say prayers such as the Litany, there is a connection to our Lord's Temptation. He has overcome the flesh, the world and the devil for us, and through His grace, we can grow in our resistance to such temptations. Lent is a season for us to increase our awareness and improve our discipline in this spiritual arena.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Litany

During Lent, saying a Litany has often been an important devotional practice. Christian litanies or responsive prayers go back into the early days of Christian worship. The earliest litanies were probably simple amplifications of the Kyrie eleison. In Italy during the fifth and sixth centuries, more elaborate responsive and processional prayers developed. Such litanies continued to develop during the Middle Ages. As they became more elaborate over time, more and more of the intercessions were directed to the saints.
In the 1529, Martin Luther revised a popular litany by removing the invocations of the saints and emphasizing the work of Christ. Influenced by Luther's model, Thomas Cranmer issued the first version of the English Litany in 1544 while Henry VIII still ruled. So the Litany was the first official part of the English Liturgy. This Litany was later included in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. The rubrics directed that the English Litany be said on Wednesdays and Fridays as well as its usual inclusion on Sundays after Matins and before Holy Communion.

Most contemporary Anglicans spend less time in church than our sixteenth-century forebears. So we are not likely to see the whole Sunday array of services or find the Litany recited every Wednesday and Friday in many places. However, the Litany is a very meaningful form of prayer, and its tone is particularly suitable for our Lenten devotions. I would encourage its inclusion in private prayers and its more frequent use in Anglican parishes. This year, in the parish where I assist, we will be using the Litany as a noon service on the first six Fridays in Lent (Good Friday will naturally have other observances).

St. Valentine

The Feast of St. Valentine, more popularly known in the marketplace as Valentine's Day, is one of those days rooted in Christian tradition that has been sundered from its roots.  It has developed from an ancient martyr's day to a medieval identification with courtly love to a nineteenth-century emphasis on romance to a twenty-first-century association with commerce and crude sexuality. It is so commercialized that one would just as soon ignore it if one could without offending tenderness.

What does this day have to do with the Book of Common Prayer? Not very much, except for its presence among BCP black-letter days. One Valentine, possibly two, (Lat. Valentinus) was among Christian clerics martyred ( possibly on February 14) in late third-century Rome. Anything else about him seems to be legend or outright fantasy.  So from a churchly point of view, we can simply give thanks for all those early martyrs who loved God and fellow-believers enough to die for their faith. As loving folk, we can also use this day to express affection for those close to us.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

First Day of Lent, commonly called Ash Wednesday

Today, we begin our disciplined season of preparation as we look to Good Friday and Easter. In other years, I have commented on the lessons from the Book of Common Prayer. In my reflections this time, I have been drawn to the traditional words used on this day: "Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return."  These word are based on Genesis 3:19 where God speaks to Adam after the Fall.

As fallen descendants of Adam, we all hear these words addressed to us. Ash Wednesday is a special reminder of the life of penitence that we need to live daily. We have all rebelled against God and continue to sin against Him. In doing so, we have all turned from eternal life with God, and as a consequence, our bodies will eventually dissolve into dust and ashes. Yet, this message of judgment is not the last word. Both because of and despite our failings, God calls us to turn from sin, accept the grace of God in Christ and seek to live the holy life that He offers. We are called to repentance and renewal daily throughout our earthly lives; Lent is just a special time set aside by the Church to emphasize this ongoing call to all who would follow Christ. And so let us pray without ceasing, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us sinners.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Quinquagesima or the Sunday next before Lent

In previous years, I have commented on the Collect, Epistle and Gospel for this Sunday; so readers may certainly consult those posts. This time, I would briefly focus on the Epistle from I Corinthinians 13 and its significance in approaching Lent.

As we look to Lent, we should keep charity or love (agape) foremost. During this season, most Christians rightly stress the need for greater dedication and special acts of devotion. There is much talk about disciplines such as prayer, Scriptural reading, acts of mercy, special offerings, and so forth. We need to do such things. Yet, we must also be careful lest we pursue discipline devoid of true charity or love.  Any externally good actions without Christ-like faith, hope and love prove spiritually worthless.  So we must remain open to the grace of God which is the true source of love for God and our neighbor.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Sexagesima or the Second Sunday before Lent

This Sunday, the traditional calendar continues the pre-Lenten season of preparation. Both the Epistle and the Gospel are rich passages. Briefly, I would focus on the Gospel from St. Luke 8:4ff, the parable of the sower. This passage can be interpreted and applied in many ways. The key theme is the Word of God, the message of Christ. Although the message does not prosper in every setting, God's Word is powerful, and where human hearts allow it to grow, it produces abundant fruit. May we, by the grace of God, be good ground for the Word of God.

See also previous posts on this blog-

Friday, February 01, 2013

Presentation of Christ/Purification of St. Mary- 2 February

February 2 has several names in church history. Traditionally, in the Western Church, one name was Candlemas because liturgical candles were blessed on this day. However, the real meaning of the day is shown by the Gospel from St. Luke 2.

On the fortieth day after Christ's birth, His mother came to the Temple to undergo the purification rites prescribed by Jewish Law (St. Luke 2:22). At this time, Jesus was also presented to the priests and  redeemed as His mother's first born son. St. Luke reminds us that the Holy Family chose to fulfill all righteousness, to follow the Law perfectly. In doing so, they pointed to the general human need for purification and redemption. In the words of the Prayer Book Collect for the Day, the divine "Son was this day presented in the temple in substance of our flesh, so we may be presented unto [God] with pure and clean hearts ... by Jesus Christ our Lord."