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.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Autumnal Ember Days

This Wednesday, Friday and Saturday are the traditional autumn Ember Days (after the feast of the Holy Cross on September 14). These seasonal days of fasting and prayer seem to have originated at Rome by at least the third century, and they were probably Christian days of fasting in contrast to pagan feasts near three of the seasons. Slowly the observance spread throughout the Western Church, and in the early Middle Ages, the days also became associated with ordinations.

Until liturgical revisions of the 1960's and 1970's, Anglican, Lutheran and Roman Catholic liturgies included Ember Day  prayers. However, newer liturgies made them optional, and the Ember Days practically disappeared in many places. Those who still use the 1662 Book of Common Prayer find two Ember Day prayers for those to be ordained included among the general prayers. The 1928 Book of Common Prayer has an additional general prayer for the increase of the ministry and a set of Ember Day propers. The Collect for the Day also focuses on the increase of candidates for ministry rather than on actual ordinations. The 1962 Canadian BCP includes propers for each set of Ember Days. The autumn theme focuses on Christian labor.

It is certainly appropriate to have seasonal days of prayer and fasting. It is also fitting for us to pray for ordained vocations. The Church always needs candidates with sound spiritual, moral and mental qualities to pursue ordination. Those already ordained also need the Church's prayers that they may fulfill their vocations in a godly manner.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Labor Day and Christian Vocation

I must admit that I have never considered American Labor Day an important holiday. I grew up in an area and in a family where Labor Day was often viewed as foreign, as an urban holiday. Farmers, carpenters, small businesses, and medical personnel where I lived tended to ignore the day. Even the schools in my county did not include this holiday till I was in my early teens. At most, it was sometimes an evening to fry fish, grill burgers or make ice cream. Over the years, the observance has slowly became a part of the landscape all over the US. Religiously speaking, in the churches where I have attended, the Sunday before Labor Day has often been a day to add a little prayer for all people in their work.

However, the concept of Christian vocation does deserve more attention than we often give it. St. Paul's epistles repeatedly remind believers that they have been called in various ways to various stations in life and to various forms of service. Although a vocation to ordained ministry is certainly important, Christian vocation is a broader concept. A vocation is also more than a job or an occupation, although a job or a profession can be part of the way an individual Christian expresses his/her vocation. In fact, every Christian has a general vocation or calling to faith in Christ expressed in all of life. Each Christian also has a unique combination of sub-vocations, including job(s), varied family and social roles, community responsibilities, and religious or churchly service. Such a view of vocation goes back to the Scriptures, and was renewed during the Reformation era by Luther and other reformers. In the BCP, the General Intercession in Family Prayer asks that every member of the Church "in his vocation and ministry, may serve thee faithfully" (1928 BCP, p. 590). And the Prayer "For Every Man in his Work" speaks of  "our several callings" (1928 BCP, p. 44). Labor Day is an appropriate time for us to pause and consider how we may be of greater service to God in all our callings or vocations.

Saturday, August 19, 2017


Over the years, I have done a lot of reflecting about my theological positions and the variety of Anglican expressions. Although often surrounded by different types of Anglo-Catholics, I have never fit into that mold. I value some "high church" points such as the ancient church fathers, the ancient creeds, historical continuity in the Church, and the centrality of the Eucharist, but the biblical principles of the Protestant Reformation have always embodied more of my basic ideals than the Oxford movement. Despite Tractarian attempts to interpret them otherwise, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion are a moderate Protestant document, first influenced by Lutheran statements and then modified to include some Reformed perspective. Such an understanding of Anglicanism seems most consistent with Anglican history and theology.

Personal reflections during this year of the five-hundredth anniversary of Luther's Ninety-five Theses have renewed and strengthened my Protestant ideals. As much as I love the Book of Common Prayer, I love its underlying Reformation and Scriptural theology even more. Some Anglo-catholic opinions about the Eucharistic sacrifice, the merits of the saints, the Tridentine missal, and the invocation of the Virgin and other saints cannot be squared reasonably with the Thirty-nine Articles or with Anglican tradition between 1549 and 1841 (the publication of Tract 90). Careful observers from different theological traditions recognize that Anglicanism is basically Protestant, and I for one am happy that this is true,

Monday, June 05, 2017

Pentecost 2017

Over the years, I have commented on Pentecost or Whitsun week in a variety of ways. The readings and liturgical resources from the Prayer Book are rich. All remind us of the special work of God the Holy Spirit that began among the disciples fifty days after Christ's Resurrection and ten days after His Ascension. This year, I would like to focus on the work of the Holy Spirit by juxtaposing two contrasting passages from the Gospel of John.

The first verse is John 3:8 -"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” These words of our Lord stress the mystery and the freedom associated with the work of God the Holy Spirit. It is not tangible and not always predictable. It goes beyond our normal human categories and expectations.

The other passage is John 16:13-14 - "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (ESV). These words of our Lord emphasize the truth and continuity of divine revelation. Although Pentecost marks a new phase in the work of God the Holy Spirit, the Spirit continues the work of God the Son, Jesus Christ. Despite the mystery and sometimes unexpected details, the truth is the same. The Spirit is free but orderly and not chaotic. If we want to understand the Holy Spirit's work in the Church and in our lives, we must always relate it to those things revealed in the life and work of Jesus Christ.
Thus, we Christians need balance in our responses to the work of the Holy Spirit. We need to be open to some new and surprising applications, but we also need to maintain a sense of continuity. There are three divine Persons but only one God and one divine revelation.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Ascension Day

Thursday May 25 was the fortieth day after Easter, the commemoration of Christ's Ascension. Because it falls on a weekday, modern Christians have often ignored this ancient and biblically based observance. However, the Ascension of our Lord is a teaching of Scripture and the ancient creeds, and if we pause to consider, it has deep meanings for us as believers.

Let us consider three meanings of the Ascension. 1) The Ascension marks Jesus' return to His heavenly Father and the completion of the earthly ministry He began at the Incarnation. Although God the Son, the eternal Word of God, was at work before and has been at work since, those thirty odd years were unique in human history and in God's work for human salvation. The Ascension marks a glorious completion of Christ's earthly ministry. 2) As Christ tells His followers more than once in the Gospel according to St. John, His return to the Father also prepares the way for a new and powerful working of God the Holy Spirit among human beings. As long as Jesus was physically present on earth, the disciples would tend to be localized in Palestine. His return to heaven and the new descent of the Holy Spirit means that the Chrisian mission can become universal. 3) Christ's return to the heavenly Father means that His followers everywhere have a heavenly mediator and intercessor at the right hand of the Father. Our Lord watches over us in all places and times and intercedes for our well-being and eternal salvation. So His Ascension is a strengthening reminder of all that He has done and is doing to pour His grace into our lives.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Rogation Sunday and Rogation Days

The Fifth Sunday after Easter and the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the following week are associated with the word "rogation"- from one Latin word for "pray." In past posts, I have commented on the Sunday Gospel about praying "in Christ's name" (
Another post spoke of the meaning and history of Rogation in the liturgical calendar (

In the last couple weeks, illnesses in the family have driven home again the importance, the privilege, and the graces associated with prayer in a variety of forms and from a variety of sources.
Whether from the Book of Common Prayer, the Bible,  other devotional sources, or extemporaneous promptings, prayer is so important throughout each day. May our prayers in all forms remain lively expressions of faith! May we never take this gift for granted! In the words of a nineteenth-century gospel song- "What a privilege to carry/Everything to God in prayer."

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Smells and Bells?

The expression "smells and bells" has often been used among Anglicans, Lutherans and others to refer to high celebrations of the Eucharist using incense and Sanctus or small altar bells. Technically speaking, both practices are adiaphora, or indifferent matters, which may or may not be used to embellish a particular service, Recently, I have heard several comments on these matters and have decided to add my observations.

First, let us switch the order and consider bells. Bells have a long history in many religions (except Islam). They have been used to get attention, to express sorrow, to express joy, and to mark especially significant moments. In Western Christianity, the Sanctus or altar bells date from the Middle Ages, and their increasing use seems related to the history of the development of the doctrine of transubstantiation. They have been rung at several points, particularly at each "holy" in the Sanctus and before and after Christ's Words of Institution. Because of their historic associations with transubstantiation, many Anglicans over the centuries have opposed the use of these bells at the Eucharist. Some people have also viewed them as a disruption in quiet said services. Personally, I am not fond of altar bells, and find them distracting.

Now, let us turn to the use of incense. Incense also has a long history in many religions, in particular in the Jewish Temple. Incense has several uses: the smoke symbolizes  prayers rising heavenward, it has been a costly (and for some a lovely) offering to divine honor, and in some cases, it has been a practical cover for the smells of a sacrificial cult (or in some European churches for a musty building). In the pre-Constantinian Church, incense seems to have been avoided because of the association with pagan emperor cult. After the fourth century, Christian use of incense seems to have slowly increased, and in the Latin Church, it became associated with ideas of the Mass as a repetition of Christ's sacrifice. For this reason, most Anglicans and others influenced by the Reformation tended to abandon the use of incense in worship. Despite occasional exceptions, incense did not make a come back among Anglicans till the Tractarian and Ritualist movements. Even then, its use was infrequent. Again, it is possible to use incense in ways that do not reflect pagan, Old Testament or medieval Roman views of sacrifice, but I see no really positive reason to use incense.

There is also another consideration regarding incense. Some people, including the writer, have allergic and asthmatic reactions to some scents such as incense. At times when I have been involved to participate in services using incense, I have had an adverse physical reaction and had to leave during the service or rush to find an inhaler afterward. Many other Anglicans have told me of similar reactions. So if a cleric is determined to use incense on occasion, he should should give advance notice and make sure that there is another service available without incense. Pastoral ethics require no less!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter 2017

I always find myself a little lost for words about Easter. The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the overwhelming expression of divine power and grace in all human history. Sermons, hymns, and liturgies are important and humanly necessary responses, and yet they only scratch the surface. So for me, the reading of a resurrection Gospel and basic prayers of thanksgiving, including a simple early Communion service, make the point as well as the largest and most elaborate theatrical liturgies.

The Lord is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Thanks be to God. Alleluia!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Thoughts on Good Friday

I did not manage to observe Good Friday the way I anticipated. Frankly, I was frustrated that several different family responsibilities intervened in my planned schedule. Nevertheless, I did hear some impressive homilies/meditations and music over the media. In my drives, I also dropped in on two three-hour services, and I thought about a moving evening service that I failed to make. The clergy and others who make these services possible are to be commended for their efforts and their witness to the cross of Christ. And it was important to me that I was able to be present in churches with other Christians who were also thinking of Christ's sacrifice for our salvation.

Most importantly for my spirituality, there were a few moments when I really meditated on some of the collects and the Passion Gospel from St. John. My heart and mind focused on the meaning of it all. I prayed the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us sinners") for myself and all the people I know, and a sense of simple gratitude for divine love and grace flooded over me. So although  my personal plans for spending the day were derailed, God still used Good Friday to speak to me. Thanks be to God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit for the mighty and fearsome deeds of redemption and for His loving grace!

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Palm Sunday?

Most contemporary Christians, even those who do not use medieval rituals/ceremonies,  know the Sunday before Easter as Palm Sunday. And on the first day of the week before Christ's Crucifixion and Resurrection, the Gospel account of people praising Jesus and waving or strewing palm branches is lovely and meaningful. As believers, we certainly think that Jesus was the Christ and deserved to be honored as a king coming in peace. So reading the Palm Gospel is appropriate, and there is nothing inherently wrong with having a few leaves of palms or willows in commemoration.

Unfortunately, there are problems associated with this day from the first century onward. The crowd that praised Jesus did not really understand or appreciate Him. Five days later, some of the same people may have been yelling "crucify him."
In addition, from about the 8th century, the medieval church got carried away with the ceremony of the Palms. It became more and more elaborate, and in the popular consciousness overshadowed the more ancient liturgical emphasis of the Passion Gospel. So it should not be suprising that in 1549 Archbishop Cranmer tried to shift the emphasis. The ceremony of the Palms was abolished, and from then through 1662, Anglican Prayer Books simply called the day "The Sunday next before Easter." Even under Anglo-Catholic pressure, the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer remained subdued in calling the day "The Sunday next before Easter, commonly called Palm Sunday."

Over the years, it seems that we have seen a repeat of the medieval corruption. Ceremonies, palm leaves, music and processions have become more and more widespread and elaborate. And in many Anglican and other churches, these cute rites have come to overshadow the ancient and Reformation emphasis on Christ's Passion. While I do not necessarily advocate the abolition of the observance, I do think that we should see why Cranmer did so. I also think that the Palm part of the Sunday need to be kept simple and low-key.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Too Much Lent?- or Not Enough?

In a previous post, I spoke of some basic Lenten devotions, and certainly Lent is an important time of preparation. Observing this season devoutly can help us commemorate our Lord's crucifixion and resurrection more deeply. Yet, sometimes I wonder about our observances. In our parishes, we often have special services, more people at Wednesday night studies with simple meals, extra devotional booklets,  etc. I don't deny the the devotional and disciplinary value of such observances. Each one of them can be good and useful.

However, sometimes we may overdo them. The Lenten schedule may lead us to exhaustion or to a jaded feeling. And at times, we seem to be seeking merit before God just as much as the medieval church did. Furthermore, we sometimes seem to expend so much time and energy during Lent that we have little left for Easter and the season commemorating the Resuurection. So as we approach the last two weeks of Lent, let us assess our seasonal devotional life. If we have been lazy, then it is a good time to dedicate ourselves to new efforts. And if we have been hyperactive and bordering on works righteousness, let us calmly focus on the meaning- which is what God has done in Christ, both His atoning suffering and death and His gracious offer of new and eternal life.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Lenten Devotions

There are many devotions around for Lent. Some of them are good or useful. Yet, as a prayer book Anglican, I never quite understand the fascination with the exotic or novel approaches that abound. Anglicans do not really need to go searching in diverse places and traditions. The Book of Common Prayer in its various editions has various possibilities.
One can do a full or abbreviated Morning and Evening Prayer from the 1928 BCP. The 1962 Canadian BCP has a lovely form of Compline. And those who do not have the time or understand all the rubrics for the standard offices could read a Psalm and/or New Testament lesson from the daily lectionary and use the Family Prayer section in the morning, at noon, or in the evening. The traditional collects for Ash Wednesday and the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Easter could also be used appropriately on any day in Lent. Finally, the Great Litany which is under-utilized in our time makes an excellent corporate or personal devotion during Lent.

So personally, I don't see the need for a new book of contemporary Lenten meditations, especially those that ignore our Anglican heritage. Nor do I see the need to borrow Roman traditions such as the Rosary, the Stations, or other devotions invoking the saints. The Prayer Book is rich and scriptural, and it is adaptable, especially in personal devotions. It has helped me to pass many a blessed Lent.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Anglican Article of Religion XXII and the Protestant Character of Anglicanism

Anglican Article of Religion XXII. Of Purgatory.
"The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God."

Since the publication of John Henry Newman's ingenious but false interpretation of the Thirty-nine Articles in Tract 90, there have been purported Anglicans who have denied the essentially Protestant character of Anglicanism. Such interpreters try to escape the plain facts of history and the plain meaning of the Thirty-nine Articles, especially Article XXII. They like to claim that the word "Romish" does not refer to official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, at the Council of Trent, or since. They sometimes maintain that "Romish" merely refers to abuses that Thomas Cranmer saw in the 1530's and 1540's when he first started to formulate his theology and compose the Articles.

However, in fact, no one of any theological perspective really viewed the Articles that way until the development of an extreme Anglo-Catholic party among some supporters of the Oxford Movement during the 1840's. Neither Elizabethan Anglicans who modified and published the Articles in 1563 and 1571 nor Tridentine and post-Tridentine Catholics understood the plain meaning of the Articles or general Anglican teaching in that way. Anglicans (high, broad, and low), Roman Catholics, and various Protestant observers from the 17th century onward all knew that Article XXII was a rejection of Roman Catholic doctrine (official and unofficial) on issues such as purgatory, indulgences, images, relics, and the role of saints.

Even John Henry Newman came to realize that his interpretation was forced. He acknowledged that Anglicanism was and intended to remain Protestant, and he had the integrity to leave the Anglican Church for the Roman Church.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Epiphany- A Time for Reflection on the Light

Of course, Epiphany is one of the oldest observances of the Christian calendar. It is certainly older than Christmas which receives so much attention in both religious and secular circles. Now Christmastide has ended. Only a few of us still have any Christmas decorations out, and most of those will be put away today or this weekend. Yet, as in the early centuries of the Church, this is still a good time to reflect upon the varied manifestations of the light of Christ: His Nativity, the manifestation of the Saviour to the Gentile Magi, His trip to Jerusalem at age 12, and the beginning of Christ's public ministry at His Baptism. In all these events, the glory and light of the eternal Word made flesh shines in sin-darkened world. May His light shine in our lives in this new season.