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.

Wednesday in Holy Week: “Christ is the Mediator of the new covenant”

Continuing with the BCP lessons for Holy Week, today’s Epistle is Hebrews 9:15-28. Yesterday I gave the lesson in a modern translation; if you’d prefer one, here’s a link to ESVUK. But today, I give you the richness of the Prayer Book’s lessons:

WHEREFORE Christ is the Mediator of the new covenant, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions which were under the first covenant, they which are called might receive the promise of an eternal inheritance. For where a covenant or testament is, there must also, of necessity, be the death of the testator; for a testament is of force after men are dead; it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. And therefore the first testament also was dedicated with blood; for when Moses had spoken every commandment to all the people, according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book and all the people, saying, This is the blood of the covenant or testament, which God hath commanded you. Moreover, he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law, almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. It was necessary therefore that these symbols of heavenly things should be purified thus; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices; for Christ hath not entered into holy places made with hands, which are only figures of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us. Nor need he offer himself many times like the high priest who entereth into the holy place every year with blood that is not his own: for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world; but now, once for all, at the end of time, he hath appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgement: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time apart from sin unto salvation.

There is so much richness in this passage, where would I even begin? I think it is especially worth thinking on this year because the calculations for western Easter mean that Passover is today-tomorrow, so pretty close to when it would have been in relation to Christ’s death and resurrection. Now, Passover, of course, is not the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) mentioned here. Nonetheless, Christ dies at Passover as a sacrifice, a ransom for many. To quote the Prayer Book’s Order for Holy Communion:

by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world

This week we are entering into the very heart of the Christian Gospel. Keeping things Anglican, I recently read Richard Hooker’s A Learned Discourse on Justification. He says many worthy things there, asserting again and again, ” Salvation therefore by Christ is the foundation of Christianity.” All the other things which may be necessary or helpful for a healthy spiritual life — prayer, fasting, almsgiving, Scripture, the Holy Communion, etc., etc. — are of nothing worth compared with the sacrifice made by Christ to save us.

Whatever we do this Holy Week and Easter, let us throw ourselves at the foot of the Cross, where the blood spilled by God Himself may cleanse us and save us.

Processional Cross, St. George’s Anglican, Prince Albert, SK

Tuesday of Holy Week: “I gave my back to the smiters”

The Lesson for the Lord’s Supper today in the BCP is Isaiah 50:5-9a. I present it to you in the ESVUK:

The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;

I turned not backwards.
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.
But the Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
He who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who is my adversary?
Let him come near to me.
Behold, the Lord God helps me;
who will declare me guilty?

I have no great commentary for you. Here is foreshadowed the scourging of Christ. When I think on it, I remember watching The Passion of the Christ in the movie theatre and weeping in the darkness — He endured this torment for me. For you.

We weep as we praise in Holy Week. Even if the liturgy allowed it, “Hallelujah,” would stick in our throats.

Hence my favourite Orthodox icon, ‘The Bridegroom’:

Holy Week by the (Prayer) Book

Inspired by the post I shared from Biltrix about spending Holy Week in the daily readings, I thought I would post each day this week, drawing from the collects (special prayers for the day to collect our thoughts) and readings from the Book of Common Prayer. I missed yesterday (hence my re-post of a sonnet by Malcolm Guite in its stead earlier), so allow me to begin today with a few words of introduction.

It could be argued that the heart of the Prayer Book is not Cranmer’s soaring Tudor prose, nor is it the subtle reformational yet catholic Augustinian theology, but the Bible — consider how much of the book is taken up with the Psalter on the one hand and with the collects, Epistles, and Gospels for the Lord’s Supper on the other. And, of course, an important way the BCP differs from its mediaeval forebears is its daily lectionary for Morning and Evening Prayer, which thrusts the reading of Scripture into the forefront of the office. Finally, of course, the liturgies themselves include entire passages of Scripture as part of them as well as phrases, words, and concepts of Scripture woven throughout the finely crafted prayers.

So if we’re doing Holy Week by the Prayer Book, then the selected readings are a most important part.

The tenor for Holy Week by the Prayer Book is set by the collect, and lived in the readings. I am using the Canadian 1962 BCP, for those who are interested. And here we have, Monday through Thursday, the same collect (with an added one on Maundy Thursday):

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The readings for Holy Communion today are Isaiah 63:7-9 and Mark 14, which is the beginning of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every day, in fact, we read part of a passion narrative. Sunday: Matthew. Monday-Tuesday: Mark. Wednesday-Thursday: Luke. Friday: John. Saturday: The deposition and burial from Matthew.

Morning and Evening Prayer move us to the Cross as well. The Second Lesson (the New Testament reading) is from the Gospel of John at both offices every day, moving through the teachings of Our Lord at the Last Supper, His prayer in the Garden, His arrest.

The Book of Common Prayer is Christocentric and crucicentric overall. This week, these two centres of the book come out and come to the fore. There is nothing more worthy to consider, nothing more important to reflect on and pray through, than this. These Gospel lessons are woven together with prophetic readings from the Old Testament and with the reflections of the Epistles, bringing us to the climax of sorrow on Good Friday.

And as we feel the words of the hymn “never was grief like thine,” (“My Song Is Love Unknown”), as we consider the “Christ’s side-piercing spear”, we read and pray Psalms. Today, Psalms 20 and 21 (yet not 22: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”). The cross is the victory of God over the power of sin and death, especially when seen as part of the fullness of these days, in light of the power of Easter. And so, as we read the Passion narratives, we pray these words of Scripture:

We will rejoice in thy salvation, and triumph in the Name of our God: the LORD perform all thy petitions.

Now know I that the LORD helpeth his anointed, and will hear him from his holy heaven, even with the wholesome strength of his right hand.

Some put their trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the Name of the LORD our God.

They are brought down, and fallen; but we are risen and stand upright.

O LORD, save the king, and mercifully hear us when we call upon thee. (Ps. 20:6-9)

Hopefully you will find time in your devotional life to take the BCP’s cue and meditate on his priceless death, on the blood shed for our sin, on the fact that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The Crucifixion, Studenica, Serbia. 1310s.

Recapitulation and the Lord’s Supper

Over at Read the Fathers, we encountered Irenaeus’ idea of recapitulation, or anakephalaiosis, for the first time yesterday. I blogged Unger’s discussion of the word from the notes to his translation as part of our journey through the Fathers. Recapitulation is a powerful, potent, idea in Irenaeus. It is the idea that all things are brought together under the head of Christ, united to Him, and transformed by him through his Incarnation. In particular, Jesus is the second Adam, and he fulfils all the promise that Adam held but at which the first man failed.

All things come together in Christ, human and animal, visible and invisible. The Incarnation is cosmic in scale, and by it we are able to become like God. In the Preface to Book 5, Irenaeus writes that God has

become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.

I first encountered the concept of recapitulation in Robert E. Webber’s book Ancient-Future Faith back when I first started getting into ancient Christianity, where he gives a good, succinct covering of the concept on pages 58-61. However, if memory serves me correctly, Webber also uses this term in reference to the Lord’s Supper in his book Worship Old and New.

As I recall, Webber’s idea in that book is that in the Eucharist, we recapitulate the death and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, I would say that we recapitulate the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus (and maybe Webber does, too?). The question that passed through my mind on the commute home yesterday was:

Is this a legimate use of Irenaeus’ concept?

The question is valid. St Irenaeus teaches that God the Word has been present in all of history, and His incarnation was part of God the Father’s plan for creation from the beginning. Thus, when God the Word, who is both fully a person and the ordering rationality of the universe, becomes human, this … ruptures (if you will) the cosmos, and all things are drawn to Him, and ordered under Him.

Can the same be said to take place on the Communion table? Or is Communion only recapitulation in a loosely analogous sense, or in a different sense entirely?

After all, what God the Word did in taking on flesh, dying, and rising again is utterly unrepeatable. As an Anglican, I embrace the words of the Book of Common Prayer:

Blessing and glory and thanksgiving be unto thee Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to take our nature upon him, and to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there, by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world; and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memorial of that his precious death, until his coming again. (Canadian BCP 1962, p. 82)

The key words:

a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world

At first blush, then, the BCP would tell me that whatever happens at the Communion table is ‘a … memorial of that his precious death’. But the BCP also teaches me that the bread and wine truly are body and blood, that Jesus Christ is present in the sacrament, that my sinful body may be made clean by his body, and my soul washed through his most precious blood.

Indeed, as the priest gives me the host, he even says, ‘The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life …’ Likewise the cup.

This is, in second-century terms, the medicine of immortality (St Ignatius of Antioch).

How can a ‘mere’ memorial hold such power? Indeed, from what I have read, it would seem that the whole ancient Christian witness proclaims that Jesus Christ communicates something of Himself, something of the benefits of his Incarnation, death, and resurrection through the most blessed sacrament of His body and blood.

But does this relate to recapitulation?

St Ephrem the Syrian points us the way forward. I quote Sebastian Brock’s splendid book, The Luminous Eye:

Ordinary time is linear and each point in time knows a ‘before’ and an ‘after’. Sacred time, on the other hand, knows no ‘before’ and ‘after’, only the ‘eternal now’: what is important for sacred time is its content, and not a particular place in the sequence of linear time. This means that events situated at different points in historical time, which participate in the same salvific content — such as Christ’s nativity, baptism, crucifixion, descent into Sheol, and resurrection — all run together in sacred time, with the result that their total salvific content can be focused at will on any single one of these successive points in linear time. (29)

Brock goes on to explain how Eucharist and baptism are a fulfilment now of the future paradise. In the chapter about Ephrem and the Eucharist, he also discusses the intimate relation between Incarnation and Eucharist, specifically the epiclesis, that moment in the liturgy when the priest invokes the Holy Spirit to descend upon the elements and make them into Jesus’ real body and blood:

The mystery that occurred at the moment of the Incarnation and the mystery that occurs at the epiclesis in the Eucharistic Liturgy are seen throughout all Syriac tradition as intimately connected. (108)

Take all of this together, and I would argue that the vision of sacred time found in St Ephrem means that when we partake of the bread and wine in the Eucharist, when we enjoy the benefits of Christ’s passion, this is because we are entering into sacred time. There is only ever one full and perfect sacrifice. There is only one Body broken for us in history, as part of the recapitulation of all things.

And we encounter that body and that sacrifice at the altar every Sunday.

Moreover, our whole liturgy of Holy Communion reenacts that sacred drama, draws us back into the biblical narrative, ties us into sacred time, and we find ourselves on Golgotha, with a silver chalice in hand to drink the Blood of our Creator.

This vision of time is not unique to Ephrem, I hasten to add. It is part of the theological rationale given in Leo the Great, Ep. 16, as to why baptisms should only occur in Eastertide — because the divine economy performed different acts at different times, and it matters that when we are baptised into Christ’s death and resurrection, we do so at the same time as the death and resurrection in history.

This also, I would argue, does away with an argument I once heard from a post-Catholic Baptist, that if Christ is offered up on the altar every Sunday in the Eucharist, then his sacrifice on Calvary was not complete — and this is not the God of the Bible.

Christ is only ever offered up once, and that one time happens every Sunday, because the Resurrection Day, the Eighth Day of the week, ushers us into sacred time, and we find ourselves at the Tomb with the women, bewildered, amazed, rejoicing.

So, this Sunday, when you lift up your heart unto the Lord and give thanks unto him (for it is meet and right so to do), when your priest offers up the gifts of bread and wine, and the sacred drama occurs all around you — you are not in 2020 but at the foot of the Cross. And you are not eating bread but body. And this is more than a reenactment but a recapitulation of all things by Christ Himself, the Host at this feast.