St Ambrose on Scripture

2-volume 19th-century Bible, The Tollkeeper's House, Toronto
2-volume 19th-century Bible, The Tollkeeper’s House, Toronto

I missed getting this post out time for Advent 2 — called ‘Bible Sunday’ in some circles because the Book of Common Prayer’s collect (at the bottom of this post) is a masterpiece about Scripture. Here’s a bit of St Ambrose for you:

The Divine Scripture is a sea, containing in it deep meanings, and an abyss of prophetic mysteries; and into this sea enter many rivers. There are Sweet and transparent streams, cool fountains too there are, springing up into life eternal, and pleasant words as an honey-comb. Agreeable sentences too there are, refreshing the minds of the hearers, if I may say so, with spiritual drink, and soothing them with the sweetness of their moral precepts. Various then are the streams of the sacred Scriptures. There is in them a first draught for you, a second, and a last. (Letter 2.3: To Constantius, A Newly Appointed Bishop)

Taken from the blog Classical Christianity: Eastern Orthodoxy for Today.

My previous Bible Sunday posts:

Some Cassiodorus for “Bible Sunday”

In light of Bible Sunday … (a catena of quotations)

Happy Bible Sunday!

The Collect for Advent 2:

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.  

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Advent 4, Sarum: Raise up Thy power and come!

Walters Ms. W.34, Carrow Psalter (fol. 178r)

And so comes the final week of Advent. On Thursday, the season will climax and close with the arrival of Christmas, the Feast of the Nativity. Following the Use of Sarum, this Sunday’s collect is:

O Lord, raise up, we pray Thee, Thy power, and come, and with great might succour us; that whereas through our sins we are sore let and hindered, Thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us. Who livest …

This is what the Advent longing is about — the coming of the Lord. There is a straining and a wrestling in it. A struggle. We feel the ache of life without Emmanuel (God-with-us) in Advent. This year, I have found this particularly true not only reflecting upon these Sarum collects with their crying out for God to give us his aid and be ever-present to us in time of need and in the face of sin, but also in my daily readings.

Although I don’t pray Vigils, I started reading the lessons for Vigils from Benedictine Daily Prayer partway through Advent this year. The Old Testament lesson was usually from Isaiah, and usually about the dread day of the Lord’s coming, or a weighty pronouncement about judgement. The New Testament lesson was usually from the epistles, usually more cheery, about Christ’s fulfilment of the Old and future coming in glory.

When you read such Bible passages regularly, combined with the average sorrows of daily life and the great burden of a world torn by strife, the Advent ache for a Saviour becomes much more pronounced. You feel with the liturgist the request for the Lord to succour us with His great might!

But it’s not mere, run-of-the-mill suffering the Sarum points us to. It is about the suffering we inflict on ourselves — through our sins we are sore let and hindered. St John Cassian, joining the Stoic ethical tradition, argues that the only evil inflicted upon you is the evil that you yourself commit. When someone else wrongs you, if you do not sin, no evil has been done to you; that person has done evil to himself.

The phrase ‘through our sins we are sore let and hindered’ is Englishing the Latin, ‘nostra peccata prepediunt’, ‘our sins shackle/bind/entangle/fetter’. I like ‘fetter’, myself.

And is not the bondage of the will, this human shackling to our sins, precisely what Jesus came to unloose? As the angel said to Joseph, ‘You shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ (Mt 1:21; NKJV)

To turn from Sarum to Cranmer (who sourced the Litany from ancient texts; below is Canada’s BCP, 1962):

From all evil and mischief, from sin, from the crafts and assaults of the devil; from thy wrath, and from everlasting condemnation,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From all uncleanness in thought, word, and deed; and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil,
Good Lord, deliver us.

By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation,
Good Lord, deliver us.

Deliver us, O Lord.

Advent 3, Sarum: Give ear to our prayers

First, the Collect for the Third Sunday in Advent from The Sarum Missal in English:

Lord, we beseech Thee, give ear to our prayers, and by Thy gracious visitation lighten the darkness of our hearts. Who livest …

This collect is barely a collect. Barely there at all, really. Usually, a collect has a description of one of God’s divine attributes or mighty deeds, ‘O Lord, who ….’, followed by the entreaty. These Sarum collects do not always follow that traditional pattern. The requests, however, are very traditional. Give ear to our prayers. Lighten the darkness of our hearts.

And there is a request for God’s ‘gracious visitation’ as that which lightens the darkness. The immediacy and immanency of God are remembered when we are confronted with our own darkness and feel far from Him. Although we are faithless, He will be faithful.

But this week doesn’t end with a Sunday collect. Since at least the days of St Leo the Great (pope 440-461), the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of the Third Week in Advent have been days set aside for solemn prayer and fasting. In English we call them the Ember Days.

Yesterday, I did a little to observe the Ember Day by going to Morning Prayer. Hopefully I will do something tomorrow as well; I’m notorious for thinking I’ll observe a feast or fast and then failing, though!

Thus, the Sarum Collect for Wednesday is:

Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that the approaching solemnity of our redemption may both afford us succour in this present life, and abundantly bestow on us the rewards of eternal happiness. Through the same…

There’s a lot that could be meditated upon in this collect, but I’ll leave that to you. Be aware that ‘happiness’ translates ‘beatitudo’…

Tomorrow’s collect from the Use of Sarum is yet another ‘Stir up’ prayer:

Stir up, O Lord, we beseech Thee, Thy power, and come; that they who trust in Thy lovingkindness may speedily be delivered from all adversity. Who livest…

And Saturday’s deals once more with the visitation of the Lord:

O God, Who seest that we are afflicted by our own wickedness, mercifully grant that by Thy visitation we may be comforted. Who livest…

And so go the collects for the Ember Days of Advent according to the Use of Sarum. I hope that they may be of use to you in your prayer life this week as we prepare for Christmas, which comes a week from tomorrow!

Advent 1, Sarum: ‘Stir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord’

Given my recent series about the sources for early mediaeval liturgy,1 I thought it would be appropriate to do some Advent blogging about these prayers. However, I discovered last night that the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries do not have collects for Advent. Sarum Use, however, does. And the Sarum Collect for Advent 1 is familiar yet foreign to Prayer Book Anglicans:2

Stir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy power, and come, that we may be accounted worthy to be rescued by Thy protection; from the threatening dangers of our sins to be set free by Thy deliverance. Through Jesus Christ our Lord…

Because of ‘Stir up, we bessech Thee, O Lord,’ we automatically think of the Collect for the Sunday Next Before Advent (aka ‘Stir-up Sunday’ —  the day the Christmas puddings are made). However, in Sarum Use, that Collect is for Trinity 24, just like in the BCP:

Sir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of Thy lovingkindess be more plenteously rewarded. Through Jesus Christ our Lord…

Two differences exist between this collect after the Use of Sarum and Cranmer’s version in the BCP: 1. ‘of Thy lovingkindess’ becomes ‘of thee’ in the Prayer Book, and 2. ‘more plenteously’ is simply ‘plenteously’. I admit to having no theories as to why the former change was mode. The latter seems to be made to make the sentiment more Protestant. That is, we are hoping to be plenteously rewarded, full stop. No ‘more plenteously’, since our good works do not change the acting of God’s grace and lovingkindess upon us. This, at least, is my theory. Feel free to disagree/offer your own.

I like the connection between Trinity 24 and Advent 1 in Sarum. The final Sunday in the Church Year is thus intimately linked with the first. Endings are united with beginnings. We are asking the Lord to stir up for us. In Trinity 24, it is our own wills we want Him to stir up. As the Prayer Book collect for Trinity 19 says, ‘forasmuch as without [God] we are not able to please [God].’ So we ask Him to stir up our wills that we may do the good works he requires of us.

In Advent 1, we are beseeching God to stir Himself up. We are asking Him to come, seeking His Advent in the here and now (this is, in some ways of thinking, e.g. St Bernard of Clairvaux, the second coming, whereas Christ at the Final Judgement is the Third). I have no doubt this is precisely the sort of prayer that Reformers were wary of; observe its lack of presence in the BCP! The prayer asks ‘that we may be accounted worthy’, and the oft-repeated refrain of the Reformation is that our worthiness has nothing to do with it. To many ears, this sounds like a diminution of grace.

But perhaps it is not.

I mean, we are asking to be ‘accounted’ worthy. Not to be worthy. If anyone is aware of his own unworthiness, it is the mediaeval Christian. Read St Thomas a Kempis if you don’t believe me. We are not worthy, but God can account us worthy, see us as worthy. This is entirely His own free gift. This is grace.

And what do we want, having been account as worthy by God? His deliverance. We want to be rescued from our sins.

At the beginning of this holy season of preparation for the Feast of the Nativity, we are asking God to deliver us from our sins, to make us holy. A good place to start, don’t you think?


1.  Ancient and Early Medieval Prayer 1: An Invitation; 2: Why; 3: Sources
2. Taken from The Sarum Missal in English from 1868, I don’t know who translated it!

Easter and the Book of Common Prayer

It is a commonplace amongst those of us fond of the church year to observe that Christmas is not one day but twelve. Well, let it be known that Easter is not one day, either; it is 50. Or 40, depending on whether Ascensiontide is Easter or not.

To emphasise the fact that we should be celebrating the glorious truth of the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for more than a single day, I’m going to post some Easter-ish thoughts and what-have-you from the Great Tradition at least for the Easter Octave. Since it is the 350th anniversary of the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, here are some of the collects for this blessed Eastertide.

Easter Day:

Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life: We humbly beseech thee, that as by thy special grace thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

If that one isn’t Eastery enough for you, Easter Day gets a second collect:

O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the resurrection from the dead of thy only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we who celebrate this Paschal feast may die daily unto sin, and live with him evermore in the glory of his endless life; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Octave Day of Easter — that is, the Sunday following — gives us this:

Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification: Grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may alway serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

These three collects, prayers to ‘collect’ the minds of the faithful gathered for worship, all have an ethical bent to them. There is no hint of cheap grace in Cranmer’s reformation and translation of the mediaeval sacramentaries. We recall the glorious redemption and justification wrought for us through Christ’s resurrection from the dead. And we ask that God would enable us to therefore and thereby live holy lives.

Sounds good to me.

Ascension

The Ascension by Phoebe Anna Traquair at the Mansfield Traquair Centre, one of Edinburgh's empty churches

GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Liturgical Translations

Tonight I began translating the Gelasian Sacramentary (a digitised version is here). Given that a. my current research is into sixth-century Greek & Syriac saints’ lives and b. my future research is into fifth-century papal correspondence, this project will take a while.

Nevertheless, I believe a translation of this sacramentary is a worthwhile and important object — and not only of this sacramentary but of the Leonine and Gregorian Sacramentaries as well. Why?

I’ve been thinking about the (New) Liturgical Movement — the move for modern liturgies that began in the 1960’s and has given us the Book of Alternative Services (BAS) for the Anglican Church of Canada, the Alternate Service Book and Common Worship for the Church of England, the Novus Ordo for Roman Catholics, similar liturgies for Lutherans (Book of Worship?), a host of prayer resources such as Celtic Daily Prayer or Celebrating Common Prayer, and a proliferation of liturgies for special occasions or individuals at the local church or small group level. And the Taizé office and music.

All of this is well and good, although sometimes I have my reservations about particular moments in the Liturgical Movement. One of the reservations I have is that sometimes the Liturgical Movement, like the evangelical equivalent of Contemporary Worship, does not drink deeply enough.

Edith M. Humphrey, before she became Eastern Orthodox, recommended that writers of new songs of worship begin by drawing on the Psalms. I would echo that, calling them also to immerse themselves in the old hymns both musically and textually for a while.

For the liturgists, an immersion in the Psalms would be helpful. Also helpful would be the vast resources of the ancient and mediaeval church. For the liturgical reformers of the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries, this was a real possibility. Men like Quignon, Luther, Cranmer, and the editors of the 1570 Roman Missal, all knew Latin and probably Greek as well.

This meant that as they sought to reform the liturgy, they had access to centuries of liturgical writing, and we can see that Cranmer certainly put this to good use in his famous Collects that draw heavily upon the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries and his daily office includes a prayer from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (which, incidentally, is also present in that of St. Basil the Great).

Today’s liturgists, be they clergy or worship leaders or diocesan committees or church-wide committees often lack this knowledge of obsolete languages. Thus, it is harder for them to drink deeply as did their forebears. One result is collects that aren’t even properly collects, for example (as lamented somewhere on Liturgy).

Accessible translations of ancient and mediaeval liturgical texts is a worthy endeavour. As you can see, I have already done some of this with the Mediaeval Wedding and the Mediaeval Vespers (both Sarum Use). More needs to be done, for although the Sarum Missal has been translated into English (here for the Mass, here for the book on Amazon), the Sarum Breviary has not (at least, not in its entirety).

I believe that translations of liturgical texts from the long and venerable tradition of western liturgy would be a blessing to the Liturgical Movement. What do you think?