Thin Places, Saints, and Eucharist

On Sunday, my Northern Irish colleague who preached the homily brought in the concept of thin places (or thin spaces — I’ll stick with places) to his exposition of Revelation 7. I wasn’t there, what with my whole family ill with colds (although somehow it feels wrong to simply be ill these days), so I don’t know what he said. Nonetheless, given that it was All Saints’ Day on Sunday, when he mentioned that this was going to bring thin places into play, the thought crept into my mind that the saints are, in essence, thin places with legs. Moveable thin places.

But the Eucharist is the thinnest place of all.

Except I don’t believe in thin places, so let’s go through these ideas systematically — What is a thin place? Why don’t I believe in them? What is a saint? What goes on in the Eucharist?

What is a thin place?

A thin place is a place where people have intense encounters with God (or the numinous or whatever) that are stronger, more palpable, more clear than how they experience and encounter God elsewhere. In a lot of popular discussion of thin places, thin places themselves are objectively thin, that the numinous is more easily encountered there than elsewhere by anyone.

If the concept fits with historic orthodoxy, the thin places of Scripture would be Bethel, Mount Sinai, the Tabernacle, the Temple, and the thin places of Christian history would be places like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Mount Athos, St Antony’s Cave, St Peter’s in Rome, Canterbury, Santiago de Compostela, Lourdes, and other famous pilgrimage sites.

However, most people use the term in a looser, more subjective sense — thin places are where I feel God’s presence more tangibly. The chapel at Wycliffe College in Toronto, the Rocky Mountains, Bede’s tomb at Durham Cathedral. I take no issue with this concept as to whether or not it is true.

Why don’t I believe in them?

Nonetheless, after reading this thorough investigation of the topic by Mark D. Roberts, I came to the conclusion that there was no scriptural support for the idea that specific places in and of themselves are closer to God. Rather, God, Who is an entirely free Agent, has chosen to interact with human history at specific times and places.

Furthermore, I have been having trouble finding a source for the concept in the literature of Early Middle Ages, despite it being dubbed “Celtic” — but I am, as noted elsewhere, a Celto-skeptic, anyway. If someone could direct me to primary source literature on the topic, I would be grateful.

Third, if there were “thin places” in the Old Testament, Jesus destroyed them all. I am fairly certain that this is biblical theology — that, although God is a free agent, people before Jesus had to go to the Temple and that is where the Presence of the LORD truly resided. But in Jesus, who is God-in-Flesh, the veil was torn in two, and the Temple became unnecessary. Jesus, being the God-man, is a walking Temple. Wherever Jesus is, there is fulness of the Presence of the LORD. Roberts makes this point, and I keep coming back to it whenever people bring up thin places.

And where do we find the Body of Christ today? Two places: The mystical company of all his faithful disciples and in the Lord’s Supper.

What is a saint?

Saints, literally, are holy persons. They are those people who we know are already with Jesus beyond the shadow of a doubt. They lived and/or died here on earth in such a way that it was evident to everyone that the saints were especially close to Jesus.

The original saints commemorated and celebrated by the Church were those witnesses to Christ who died for the faith — martyr being a word for witness. Later, other Christians who had led noteworthy lives of holiness were also celebrated, adding the missionaries, monks, and mystics alongside the martyrs.

As a result of their closeness to our Lord and Saviour, God has performed miracles through saints, whether directly, as when St Peter says to the paralytic at the Temple, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”, or indirectly, such as cloths blessed by the Apostles being used to heal the sick in Acts.

I am not, however, entirely sold on relics. Yet. But it makes sense to me that if there are places that are intrinsically closer to God, then they won’t be the Rocky Mountains but those Christian persons who dwell there.

It is the Christian, the holy person, the saint who is a thin place. No piece of creation is closer to God than any other.

Eucharist

There is only one other candidate for thin place that I am comfortable with, and that is the Sacrament of the Most Blessed Body and Blood of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ — the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion.

In the words of St Ignatius of Antioch, the medicine of immortality.

The Eucharist, instituted by the Christ:

who, in the same night that he was betrayed, took Bread; and, when he had given thanks, he brake it; and gave it to his disciples, saying, Take, eat; this is my Body which is given for you: Do this in remembrance of me. Likewise after supper he took the Cup; and, when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all, of this; for this is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins: Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me.

Book of Common Prayer, quoting 1 Corinthians

Is means is. Now, I am currently leaning towards Richard Hooker’s theology of the Eucharist, as explained in this post. However we parse the Real Presence, it has always struck me as sound, biblical theology. Where do we meet the risen, ascended Lord of the cosmos?

His body, broken by our teeth.

His blood, spilled into our mouths.

Whether we “feel” it or not.

Me versus subjectivity

In the end, I think I dislike the concept of thin places because of the subjectivity of it all. Christ, being the heart of creation as well as its creator, embraces the whole world, as in the Ebstorf map. If we start to think that he is actually more available to us on Holy Island or at Melrose Abbey or sitting on a Munro in the Scottish Highlands, then we’re missing Him singing off-key at church beside us, and maybe not realising what a dread and beautiful thing we do every Sunday morning with the bread and wine that are more than bread and wine.

Christ is objectively present in His body, the church, whether we like the Church or not.

Christ is really present in the Eucharist whether we feel it or not.

Thin places focus on how I feel closer to God and where I feel that I have encountered Him. And I’m not saying that God Himself has not made Himself palpable to people at various “thin places.” I can, myself, think of places where I have been more able to focus my thoughts and pray thereby becoming more aware of His Presence — some of the less famous churches of Rome where you can slip in and pray quietly and meet with God without hustling and bustling tourists and pilgrims.

I’m just saying that He is equally available in places where you may not be ready for Him — your fellow believer and the Eucharist, even at churches with poor singing, bad music, and wretched preaching.

The saints went to tombs and pagan temples to wrestle with demons and meet with God. They sought ugly, barren, barely sustainable places to meet with God. And they met Him. St Seraphim knelt on a rock, for Pete’s sake! (Actually, one could non-blasphemously say, “For Christ’s sake!”)

This is what the tradition hammers home to me all the time: God comes in power and can do so anywhere. Most of the time, it is not the physical place that matters but the spiritual.

Happy Feast of St Francis

Today is the Feast of St Francis. Now that I’m on the pastoral team at a church (more on that another time), I got to have a two-minute moment introducing the saint, lead everyone in the Peace Prayer falsely attributed to him, recommend to the musicians that we sing “All Creatures of Our God and King” (we did), and project this image by Count von Imhoff, the German painter resident in Saskatchewan a century ago:

St. Francis of Assisi by Count Berthold von Imhoff

That over which I have zero control, of course, is the Revised Common Lectionary, which had Psalm 19 for today. Verses 1-6 are notably Franciscan:

THE heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
One day telleth another: and one night certifieth another.
There is neither speech nor language: but their voices are heard among them.
Their sound is gone out into all lands: and their words into the ends of the world.
In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun: which cometh forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a giant to run his course.
It goeth forth from the uttermost part of the heaven, and runneth about unto the end of it again: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

Coverdale trans.

However, let it be said that 7-end hit an equally Franciscan note, one less tuned to birdfeeders and warm, cozy “spirituality”:

The law of the Lord is an undefiled law, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, and giveth wisdom unto the simple.
The statutes of the Lord are right, and rejoice the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, and giveth light unto the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, and endureth for ever: the judgements of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey, and the honey-comb.
Moreover, by them is thy servant taught: and in keeping of them there is great reward.
Who can tell how oft he offendeth: O cleanse thou me from my secret faults.
Keep thy servant also from presumptuous sins, lest they get the dominion over me: so shall I be undefiled, and innocent from the great offence.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart: be alway acceptable in thy sight,
O Lord: my strength, and my redeemer.

Coverdale trans.

2020 has brought out the worst in many of us. It strikes me that the Franciscan word we most need is not the Canticle of the Sun but his preaching of repentance, calling people back to Jesus and the worship of the one, true, and living God.

Things to like about Anglicanism

I have already blogged here about my inescapable Anglican identity. I would like to talk briefly about the things that consciously attract me in the Anglican church.

Historic liturgy

I love the Book of Common Prayer, as this blog can attest very well. Part of what I love about the BCP is the fact that it maintains more than a superficial link with tradition. It is a living part of the great tradition of liturgies that includes the Roman Mass, the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, the Divine Liturgy of St James, the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, and more. It was born in the midst of Reform and schism, yet it keeps all that is best of the weight of the tradition, such that Protestants can safely use it, and Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox only tweak it just a little to make it their own.

Sacraments

We have sacraments! A whole two (2) of them! Even if we’re five short of Roman Catholics and a bazillion fewer than the Orthodox, these two (2) sacraments are at the heart of the communal Anglican encounter with God. Yes, we have historic liturgy to order our worship — but that could just as easily be Morning and Evening Prayer as the Lord’s Supper. But today, and growing up, most Anglicans celebrate the Eucharist on a weekly basis, which is how it was done for, like, 1500 years (until the Reformation, that is). Meeting together to meet Christ in the mystery of the bread and wine is important. This importance is difficult to articulate sometimes.

Protestant(?) theology

The official doctrine of the Anglican church is found in the 39 Articles of Religion. In their positive affirmations, they are for the most part fairly standard, western/Latin Christian orthodoxy: 1 God, Trinity, 2 natures in Jesus, 1 Bible with 2 Testaments, salvation only through Jesus, predestination, etc. It has some anti-Roman polemic, but if you remove the archaic pejorative adjectives such as “Romish”, these points are mostly ones where, frankly, if you disagree with the 39 Articles, you’d best convert to Roman Catholicism or maybe Eastern Orthodoxy. Except perhaps the bit about the saints.

Anyway, the theology of the 39 Articles is basic Protestantism, by and large: Scripture contains everything sufficient for salvation (Article 6); justification by faith (Articles 11-14); no Purgatory (Article 22); no praying to saints (Article 22); no transubstantiation (Article 28); no sacrifice in the Mass (Article 31). Fine with me.

The Fathers of the Church

That stream of the English Reformation that established what we call “Anglicanism” has always been friendly towards the Church Fathers. We may cringe a little at the idea that Archbishop Matthew Parker was helping Queen Elizabeth reset the church to how it was when St Augustine came to Canterbury in 597, but his earnestness and that of many other Anglican Reformers and divines was simply this: A lot of bad stuff has gone down, but most of it was fairly recent. Cut our losses with Rome, keep what is good from before, and rediscover the ancient Church.

Remember that the era of the Reformation was also a time when large quantities of editions of the Church Fathers were being printed. English clerics were purchasing them. The Protestant Reformation, especially Lutheran, Reformed, and Anglican, was in many ways a rediscovery and appropriation of St Augustine of Hippo (not the guy who went to Canterbury). Anyway, the Fathers and the dogmatic definitions of the ancient councils are used by Anglican theologians from Parker and Hooker to Wesley through, of course, the Oxford Movement, and up to today in the likes of Rowan Williams, Oliver O’Donovan, and Sarah Coakley.

Poets

John Donne. Sir John Davies. George Herbert. Samuel Taylor Coleridge. William Wordsworth. C. S. Lewis. W. H. Auden. T. S. Eliot. Luci Shaw. Malcolm Guite. Need I say more?

History of Christianity 4: Reform and the Disciplines (1500-1700)

Here’s this week’s video for the History of Christianity. Here’s the Reformation Handout.

Recommended Reading – If this were a university course, I would assign the following readings:

Three Protestants

Hooker, Richard. 1585. A Learned Discourse of Justification. https://ccel.org/ccel/hooker/just/

Luther, Martin, “On Faith and Coming to Christ,” a sermon from 1528 https://ccel.org/ccel/luther/sermons/sermons.vii.html

Taylor, Jeremy. 1550. The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living, chapter 1: https://ccel.org/ccel/taylor/holy_living/holy_living.iii.html

A Carmelite

John of the Cross. 1575. “The Dark Night of the Soul” (the poem). https://ccel.org/ccel/john_cross/dark_night/dark_night.vi.html

 

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Book of Common Prayer. 1549: http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/1549/BCP_1549.htm

—. 1662: http://www.eskimo.com/~lhowell/bcp1662/index.html

Calvin, John. 1550. The Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life. Available on Scribd with subscription.

—. Institutes of the Christian Religion. https://ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes/

de Brébeuf, Jean. 1642. “The Huron Carol,” on YouTube in Wendat, French, and English: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6IG6F6E5Ac. The popular English lyrics are not reflective of the Wendat, which the Wendat themselves still sing on Christmas Eve. Here’s a translation of the Wendat: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huron_Carol#English_Translation_of_the_Wendat

Dositheus of Jerusalem. 1672. Confession. http://www.crivoice.org/creeddositheus.html

Hooker, Richard. 1589-1600. Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/hooker-the-works-of-richard-hooker-vol-1 However, see the modernised version of W. Bradford Littlejohn from the Davenant Institute: https://davenantinstitute.org/product/laws-4-volume-set/

John of the Cross. The Dark Night of the Soul. https://ccel.org/ccel/john_cross/dark_night/dark_night?queryID=3647298&resultID=730

Lucaris, Cyril. 1629. Orthodox Confession. http://www.crivoice.org/creedcyril.html

Luther, Martin. 1517. 95 Theses in Latin and English: https://ccel.org/ccel/luther/theses/theses?queryID=3645877&resultID=1818

—. 1520. The Freedom of a Christian. https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1911

—. Commentary on Romans. https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/luther/romans/

—. Commentary on Galatians. https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/luther/galatians/

Teresa of Avila. 1565. The Life of St Teresa (her autobiography). http://www.carmelitemonks.org/Vocation/teresa_life.pdf

—. 1577. The Interior Castle. https://ccel.org/ccel/teresa/castle2/

 

Modern Studies

Endo, Shusaku. 1966. Silence. (This is a novel, not a study.)

Hoskin, Matthew J. J. “Becoming Holy with Richard Hooker,” Ad Fontes, web exclusive: https://davenantinstitute.org/becoming-holy-with-richard-hooker

Littlejohn, W. Bradford. 2015. Richard Hooker: A Companion to His Life and Work. Eugene, OR. Available on Scribd with a subscription.

Peters, Greg. The Story of Monasticism. Baker Publishing, 2015. Available on Scribd with subscription.

Ryrie, Alec. Protestants: The Faith the Made the Modern World. New York, 2017.

History of Christianity 3: Medieval Christianity

In this week’s History of Christianity video, I cover 1000 years in 20 minutes! Insane! And I have a handout this week: Medieval christianity handout

Recommended Readings

If this were a university course, I would assign the following online readings.

Medieval Sources

Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, 1.25-26 (Augustine), 4.27-29 (Cuthbert)

The Inscription from the Xi’an Stele

The Assisi Compilation, ch 34: St Francis gives away his cloak

Modern Studies

R. W. Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages, pp. 214-239, 272-299 -Available at openlibrary.org

Bibliography

Medieval Sources

Adomnán of Iona. Life of Saint Columba.

Bede. Life and Miracles of St Cuthbert.

Life of St John the Almsgiver. From Three Byzantine Saints: Contemporary Biographies of St. Daniel the Stylite, St. Theodore of Sykeon and St. John the Almsgiver, trans. Elizabeth Dawes, and introductions and notes by Norman H. Baynes, (London: 1948).

Thomas of Celano. First Life of St Francis of Assisi.

Turgot of St Andrews. Life of St Margaret.

Modern Sources

Armstrong, Chris R. Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians. Baker Publishing, 2016. Available on Scribd with a subscription.

Cameron, Averil. Byzantine Christianity: A Very Short History. London, 2017. Available on Scribd with subscription.

Farmer, David. The Oxford Dictionary of Saints. 5th edn. Oxford, 2011. (I used this for St Kilian/Killian/Cillian and Alexander Nevsky; it’s a tremendous resource with proper bibliography for each entry.)

Jenkins, J. Philip. The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia—and How It Died. 2008. Available on Scribd with subscription. Available on openlibrary.org

Markides, Kyriacos C. The Mountain of Silence. New York, 2001. -Available on openlibrary.org

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.