St Mark’s liturgy: Theology and Gospel at Prayer

Christ in Glory, Ethiopic Gospel ms, British Library Or. MS 481, f.110v. 17th century

Today is the feast of St Mark. According to tradition, St Mark who wrote the Gospel that bears his name was a disciple of St Peter, and he went to Alexandria to preach the Gospel there. As a result, the traditional Egyptian Eucharistic liturgy bears his name. Our oldest surviving copy of this liturgy dates to the fourth century; given the highly traditional(ist) nature of ancient Christian liturgical texts, I am fairly sure we can safely say that most of what we find in this liturgy is ante-Nicene — that is, before all of the alleged Constantinian corruptions of the “pure” liturgy.

You can read this liturgy in the Victorian translation from Ante-Nicene Fathers over at New Advent. This version is definitely post-Nicene — it contains the sixth-century Trisagion as well as calling Jesus “co-eternal”, and I suspect that Arius would not have got so far as he did if the traditional liturgy of his hometown contained that word?

It contains a number of lovely prayers, such as this prayer of the entrance:

O Sovereign Lord our God, who hast chosen the lamp of the twelve apostles with its twelve lights, and hast sent them forth to proclaim throughout the whole world and teach the Gospel of Your kingdom, and to heal sickness and every weakness among the people, and hast breathed upon their faces and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit the Comforter: whosesoever sins you remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins you retain, they are retained: Breathe also Your Holy Spirit upon us Your servants, who, standing around, are about to enter on Your holy service, upon the bishops, elders, deacons, readers, singers, and laity, with the entire body of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

We see that the ancient church in Egypt believed in the Real Presence, as well:

We pray and beseech You, O Lord, in Your mercy, to let Your presence rest upon this bread and these chalices on the all-holy table, while angels, archangels, and Your holy priests stand round and minister for Your glory and the renewing of our souls, through the grace, mercy, and love of Your only-begotten Son, through whom and with whom be glory and power to You.

One of the things I love about reading historic liturgies is the family resemblance they have — the Apostolic Tradition, the BCP, the Roman Mass, the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, and there, the Divine Liturgy of St Mark, begin the anaphora in the same manner:

The Lord be with all.

The People.

And with your spirit.

The Priest.

Let us lift up our hearts.

The People.

We lift them up to the Lord.

The Priest.

Let us give thanks to the Lord.

The People.

It is meet and right.

The Priest begins the Anaphoral prayer.

O Lord God, Sovereign and Almighty Father, truly it is meet and right, holy and becoming, and good for our souls, to praise, bless, and thank You; to make open confession to You by day and night with voice, lips, and heart without ceasing;

From there, as in the other members of the family, we launch forth into the Gospel (as I discussed in relation to the Divine Liturgy of St Basil), describing salvation history:

To You who hast made the heaven, and all that is therein; the earth, and all that is therein; The sea, fountains, rivers, lakes, and all that is therein;

To You who, after Your own image and likeness, has made man, upon whom You also bestowed the joys of Paradise;

And when he trespassed against You, You neither neglected nor forsook him, good Lord,

But recalled him by Your law, instruct him by Your prophets, restore and renew him by this awful, life-giving, and heavenly mystery.

And all this You have done by Your Wisdom and the Light of truth, Your only-begotten Son, our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ, Through whom, thanking You with Him and the Holy Spirit,

We offer this reasonable and bloodless sacrifice, which all nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun, from the north and the south, present to You, O Lord; for great is Your name among all peoples, and in all places are incense, sacrifice, and oblation offered to Your holy name.

Next come sundry supplications, and then we have a very dramatic prelude to the Sanctus:

For You are far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but in that which is to come. Round You stand ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands of holy angels and hosts of archangels; and Your two most honoured creatures, the many-eyed cherubim and the six-winged seraphim. With two they cover their faces, and with two they cover their feet, and with two they fly; and they cry one to another for ever with the voice of praise, and glorify You, O Lord, singing aloud the triumphal and thrice-holy hymn to Your great glory:—

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth. Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.

(Aloud.)

You ever sanctify all men; but with all who glorify You, receive also, O Sovereign Lord, our sanctification, who with them celebrate Your praise, and say:—

The People.

Holy, holy, holy Lord.

After the Prayer of Consecration comes the epiclesis, the calling down of the Holy Spirit upon the gifts. I know that there is some historic controversy over the use of the epiclesis in Protestant liturgy. Nevertheless, the description of the Holy Spirit warms the heart:

O Lord our God, we have placed before You what is Yours from Your own mercies. We pray and beseech You, O good and merciful God, to send down from Your holy heaven, from the mansion You have prepared, and from Your infinite bosom, the Paraclete Himself, holy, powerful, and life-giving, the Spirit of truth, who spoke in the law, the apostles, and prophets; who is everywhere present, and fills all things, freely working sanctification in whom He will with Your good pleasure; one in His nature; manifold in His working; the fountain of divine blessing; of like substance with You, and proceeding from You; sitting with You on the throne of Your kingdom, and with Your only-begotten Son, our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Send down upon us also and upon this bread and upon these chalices Your Holy Spirit, that by His all-powerful and divine influence He may sanctify and consecrate them, and make this bread the body.

The grace of God is, as ever in Eastern liturgies, visible in abundance, saving us and setting us free:

O God of light, Father of life, Author of grace, Creator of worlds, Founder of knowledge, Giver of wisdom, Treasure of holiness, Teacher of pure prayers, Benefactor of our souls, who givest to the faint-hearted who put their trust in You those things into which the angels desire to look: O Sovereign Lord, who has brought us up from the depths of darkness to light, who has given us life from death, who has graciously bestowed upon us freedom from slavery, who has scattered the darkness of sin within us, through the presence of Your only-begotten Son, do Thou now also, through the visitation of Your all-holy Spirit, enlighten the eyes of our understanding, that we may partake without fear of condemnation of this heavenly and immortal food, and sanctify us wholly in soul, body, and spirit, that with Your holy disciples and apostles we may say this prayer to You: Our Father who art in heaven, etc.

I like the tendency to pile on the properties of God:

O Sovereign and Almighty Lord, who sittest upon the cherubim, and art glorified by the seraphim; who hast made the heaven out of waters, and adorned it with choirs of stars; who hast placed an unbodied host of angels in the highest heavens to sing Your praise for ever; before You have we bowed our souls and bodies in token of our bondage. We beseech You to repel the dark assaults of sin from our understanding, and to gladden our minds with the divine radiance of Your Holy Spirit, that, filled with the knowledge of You, we may worthily partake of the mercies set before us, the pure body and precious blood of Your only-begotten Son, our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Pardon all our sins in Your abundant and unsearchable goodness, through the grace, mercy, and love of Your only-begotten Son:

(Aloud.)

Through whom and with whom be glory and power to You, with the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit.

In case it hasn’t become abundantly clear, I appreciate the richness of this theology. This sort of liturgy makes it hard for me to maintain contentment at low-church evangelical worship events. Would your pastor ever pray something like this:

O mightiest King, co-eternal with the Father, who by Your might has vanquished hell and trodden death under foot, who has bound the strong man, and by Your miraculous power and the enlightening radiance of Your unspeakable Godhead has raised Adam from the tomb, send forth Your invisible right hand, which is full of blessing, and bless us all.

This has gone on long enough. Go read the whole thing. May it stir you up to greater love and devotion of the God Who made everything, Who breathed life into the first man, Who become incarnate, died, rose, breathed the Spirit into His Apostles, and now dwells with us daily.

The Collect for Purity

One of the most famous collects in the Book of Common Prayer is the Collect for Purity which begins the order for Holy Communion:

ALMIGHTY God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

I recently began reading The Cloud of Unknowing, a famous fourteenth-century English mystical/contemplative book. It begins thus:

GOD, unto whom all hearts be open, and unto whom all will speaketh, and unto whom no privy thing is hid. I beseech Thee so for to cleanse the intent of mine heart with the unspeakable gift of Thy grace, that I may perfectly love Thee, and worthily praise Thee. Amen.

Very, very similar to the BCP; a prayer that was popular 200 years before Cranmer. Not that being Anglican means getting spirituality from exclusively English sources, but it is interesting to read the notes from Blunt’s Annotated Book of Common Prayer:

This Prayer … also formed part of the Introductory Prayers of the Celebrant in the Sarum rite [the medieval liturgy of England], and is not found in any other of the English Liturgies or in the Roman. It appears again in a “Missa ad invocandum gratiam Spiritus Sancti” at the end of the Sarum Missal, a Mass which is attributed by Muratori [ii. 282] to St. Gregory, Abbot of Canterbury about A. D. 780. It is found too in the Sacramentary of Alcuin, and it also occurs among the prayers after Mass in the Hereford Missal, and at the end of the York Litany: so that it is probably a Prayer of the early Church, but preserved almost solely by the Church of England. (p. 371)

The Collect for Purity is one of those Prayer Book gems that turns up today in contexts where non-Anglican ministers, or Anglicans running without rubrics, incorporate bits of the liturgy. However, what I have observed is that the context is often totally changed — it is usually a penitent context, whereas in the BCP, Sarum, and the Cloud — despite a general penitential tone in the BCP — it is not.

In all three of these instances, BCP, Sarum, Cloud of Unknowing, the Collect for Purity is preparatory for what follows. We are not confessing our manifold sins and wickedness (yet) — we are simply preparing our hearts and minds to worship almighty God. In the two liturgies, we are about to engage in the archetypical Christian act of worship, the thanksgiving and reenactment of Christ’s lifegiving sacrifice for us. We are about to be ushered into the presence of Almighty God through the embodied praise and worship of the liturgy. So, meekly kneeling upon our knees, this collect is uttered.

In The Cloud of Unknowing, a text is about to be bodied forth that is precisely about pure hearts and minds, about perfect love and worthy praise — about focussing our hearts and minds on nothing but God himself — not even his acts in history. Pure prayer is the highest calling of the Christian — priest, laity, monastic. Purity of heart, according to John Cassian is a prerequisite.

So perhaps we could all adopt this prayer as preparatory for our own times of worship and devotion, seeking pure hearts as we seek the holy God.

Inescapable Anglican identity

Due to the varied circumstances of my life, if my family were making it to a bricks and mortar church, we would not be attending an Anglican one. Not only that, but, for reasons of my own, I have become a lay president of Holy Communion at the Free Methodist Church we attend. You would think that this would mean that I have shaken my Anglican identity. After all, in some ways, Anglicans would seem to have a weaker identity than some other Christians. For example, we have no single theologian or founder we lionise like Calvin, Luther, or the Wesleys.

Nevertheless, there is such a thing as Anglican identity, and I have never escaped it.

I remember when I first realised my own Anglican heart. Back in undergrad, I wanted to be a “mere” Christian, not necessarily deeply committed to any particular expression of the Faith. However, when my faith was challenged in any way, my answers always came up Anglican: a leaning towards liturgy, agreeing with the 39 Articles on everything but predestination, that sort of thing.

Lately, worshipping at home via Internet has reinforced for me my own Anglican identity. Certainly, I’ve never given up using or loving the Book of Common Prayer. And when I want to think about certain issues, such as how to do moral theology or the theology of the sacraments, I find myself referring to the 39 Articles. I do, however, greatly prefer the historic Anglican liturgical process to modern evangelical worship events.

This has become apparent because there is no nursery full of volunteers where we can send our children when their attention spans run out during the livestream of our own church service. As a result, the few Sundays we tried joining our church’s livestream, we found ourselves attempting to quieten preschoolers or just missing the majority of the service, including most if not all of the sermon.

Furthermore, sitting at a computer for church makes you aware of how much of a spectator you are at these events. There are two or three songs prerecorded, but for the rest of the church event, we sit and listen to the children’s pastor and the main pastor talk to us. The live chat helps mitigate these feelings to a degree, but it’s not actually instantaneous. And preschoolers just don’t care.

So after making it through one week of that, we started adding my brother’s rural Anglican church via Zoom right after. They do a modified Morning Prayer from the Canadian Book of Alternative Services. My brother leads the liturgy, one parishioner leads the hymns with her piano at home, and there is one reader each for the Scripture readings, plus yet another parishioner for the Prayers of the People. We are expected to say the Lord’s Prayer, responsory Psalm, and Creed together, although it was learned early on that Zoom doesn’t deal well with that, so we end up keeping our mics on mute.

There is a lot of congregational participation at an Anglican service. The minister leads the worship — although he need not do so for Morning Prayer — and preaches. Various other voices join in, and we pew-warmers have things to say and do as well.

We are not spectators but participants. This is the nature of historic liturgy — even if sometimes, a High Mass by the Anglo-Catholics or Roman Catholics, and some Orthodox congregations might give you the wrong idea. We not only give our, “Amens,” we also give our “Kyrie eleisons”, our “Pater Nosters”, our “Gloria Patris”, our “Glorias in excelsis Deo”, our “Alleluias”, our “Credos”.

And when we are able to gather in the flesh, we give our bodies — standing, sitting, kneeling.

Richard Hooker may make me want to be an Anglican (as I recently told my brother). I may agree with most of the 39 Articles. But even without these, the Anglican order of worship draws me in and ushers me to the throne of grace. It doesn’t really matter if I don’t go to an Anglican church regularly, or how many Orthodox, mediaeval, patristic books I read, or how I feel about the larger structures of Anglicanism, or how often I pray the Jesus Prayer, or how many postcards of Byzantine mosaics adorn my desk.

Anglican identity is inescapable.

Easter in the BCP

These Anthems shall be sung or said instead of Venite at Morning Prayer, and may be used at the Holy Communion except when the latter Service is combined with Morning Prayer.

CHRIST our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast;
Not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness; / but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
1 Corinthians 5. 7.

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; / death hath no more dominion over him.
For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, / but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 6. 9.

Christ is risen from the dead, / and become the first-fruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death, / by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, / even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
1 Corinthians 15. 20.

GLORY be to the Father, and to the Son, / and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, / world without end. Amen.

Easter Even: “he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed”

The Gospel Lesson for Holy Saturday in the BCP is Matthew 27:57-67.

Jesus is dead. Joseph of Arimathea has laid him in a sepulchre and departed. From what can be seen by human eyes, the story is over.

All that promise, snuffed out by the cruelty of a Cross.

We know the rest of the story — Sunday’s coming! And, indeed, Christ is at that moment trampling down death by death. The Harrowing of Hell is going on at this moment (pictured below not — as you might expect from me — in the Orthodox icon of the Anastasis but in a fresco of Fra Angelico).

The Prayer Book, however, does not point us to that event, it does not point us forward to Sunday, either. It points us to that tomb, not yet empty. And the Collect points us to baptism, to the sacrament of initiation where we die with Christ. Let us mortify “our corrupt affections.” As Sergei Bulgakov said, “Kill the flesh in order that you may acquire a body.”

GRANT, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the death of thy blessed Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with him; and that, through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for his merits, who died, and was buried, and rose again for us, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Good Friday: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain”

In the 1962 Canadian BCP, we find this for Good Friday:

These Anthems shall be sung or said instead of Venite at Morning Prayer.

BEHOLD the Lamb of God, / which taketh away the sin of the world.
St John 1. 29.

He was wounded for our transgressions, / he was bruised for our iniquities:
The chastisement of our peace was upon him / and with his stripes we are healed.
Isaiah 53. 5.

Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, / and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
1 St John 4. 10.

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, / and honour, and glory, and blessing.
Revelation 5. 12.

The Venite is Psalm 95, the opening canticle at Morning Prayer, if you were wondering.

BEHOLD the Lamb of God, / which taketh away the sin of the world.

He was wounded for our transgressions, / he was bruised for our iniquities:
The chastisement of our peace was upon him / and with his stripes we are healed.

Fresco by Fra Angelico in the Louvre

Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, / and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, / and honour, and glory, and blessing.

To close, the Collects for Good Friday:

ALMIGHTY God, we beseech thee graciously to behold this thy family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers, which we offer before thee for all estates of men in thy holy Church, that every member of the same, in his vocation and ministry, may truly and godly serve thee; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Maundy Thursday: “the same night in which he was betrayed…”

The focus of the Maundy Thursday Epistle in the BCP is the Lord’s Supper, giving St Paul’s treatment of the words of institution from 1 Corinthians 11 — it is this version that makes its way in the liturgy. Some argue that it is the other direction — that the primitive liturgy made its way into St Paul.

Most Anglicans today (in Canada, at least) celebrate Holy Communion every week. I have been a member of two congregations that celebrated the Eucharist every other week and had a service of Morning Prayer every other week. Both sacraments instituted by Christ are bound up with this season of Passiontide and Easter. In baptism, we are baptised into Christ’s resurrection. In Holy Communion, we eat his broken flesh and drink his shed blood.

Holy Communion is the constitutive act of the Church, some argue. When we assemble and meet together, we partake of our Lord, are bound to Him, bound to each other. The liturgy takes us out of the mundane to the supramundane. Some fantastically beautiful meditations on the sacrament of Holy Communion have been written in time past. The liturgy binds us corporally into the history of salvation — this is the point of the anaphora of St Basil, which I blogged here once, as it rehearses salvation history. The climax of salvation history is the Cross, and we are made partakers of Christ’s body and blood broken and shed on that Cross in the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion, of His Blessed Body and Blood.

The night this sacrament was instituted — this was the night of deepest darkness. Steve Bell sings a hauntingly beautiful song with a refrain that begins, “Into the darkness we must go, gone, gone is the light.” In the Gospel of St John, when Judas leaves the Last Supper, “it was night.” And into that night Christ goes to be betrayed, abandoned, forsaken, beaten, scourged, nailed to a Cross, cursed, and slain for the sins of many.

That is the act we memorialise in the Eucharist. The act we are transported into by means of sacred time.

A few more items, then, from the Canadian BCP 1962. The second Maundy Thursday collect:

O GOD, who in a wonderful sacrament hast left unto us a memorial of thy passion: Grant us so to reverence the holy mysteries of thy Body and Blood, that we may ever know within ourselves the fruit of thy redemption; who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Prayer of Humble Access from the Order for Holy Communion:

WE do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, Trusting in our own righteousness, But in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy So much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, Whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, So to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, And to drink his Blood, That our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, And our souls washed through his most precious Blood, And that we may evermore dwell in him, And he in us. Amen.

From the catechism:

Catechist. Why was the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper ordained?
Answer.For the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ, and of the benefits which we receive thereby.

Catechist.What is the outward part or sign of the Lord’s Supper?
Answer. Bread and Wine, which the Lord has commanded to be received.

Catechist.What is the inward part, or thing signified?
Answer.The Body and Blood of Christ, which are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the Lord’s Supper.

Catechist. What benefits do we receive thereby?
Answer.The strengthening and refreshing of our souls and bodies unto eternal life by the Body and Blood of Christ.

Catechist. What is required of those who come to the Lord’s Supper?
Answer. To examine themselves, whether they truly repent of their former sins, stedfastly purposing to lead the new life; have a living faith in God’s mercy through Christ, with a thankful remembrance of his death; and be in charity with all men.