For Ash Wednesday, I give you selections from the Rule of Benedict, chapter 49:
The life of a monk ought at all times to be Lenten in its observances but because few have the strength for this, we urge that in Lent they should maintain a life of complete purity to make up, during these holy days, for all the careless practices throughout the rest of the year.
In other words he must cut down on food, drink, sleep, talkativeness, joking, and should look forward to holy Easter with the joy of spiritual longing. (trans. Carolinne White)
May you have a holy and blessed Lent as we look forward to Easter.
Back in 1662, it wasn’t the plan to have a separate service of Morning Prayer from Holy Communion. On those Sundays that you didn’t administer the Lord’s Supper, a normal service would consist of Morning Prayer, the Litany, and the Antecommunion (basically the Liturgy of the Word part of the service). This is why BCP Sunday readings appear so few.
Anyway, I think the historic Prayer Books are the best expression of historic-traditional-biblical worship in the English language, expressing the fullness of Gospel truth in the fullness of the beauty of the English language. Part of the glory of the Book of Common Prayer is its relationship with the English Bible. Extensive passages of Scripture are read at Morning and Evening Prayer, multiple Psalms are recited, and, at Communion, more Scripture is read. Throughout the services, more set passages and verses are used, let alone the biblical phrases and ideas inextricably intertwined with the historic translations and prayers original to the BCP.
I have no doubt some Anglicans have a ‘low’ view of Scripture, insufficiently reverencing it and failing to trust in its authority. Such Anglicans have not taken the Prayer Book to heart. For the rest of us, we revel in the quality and quantity of Bible readings throughout a Prayer Book service.
For Easter, the 1662 readings for Morning Prayer are:
To highlight the glory of the Resurrection and our salvation thereby, 1662 replaces the Venite (Psalm 95) with these verses:
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 Cor. v. 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. Rom. vi. 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 Cor. xv.
The 1662 readings for Holy Communion:
Epistle: Colossians 3:1-7 – If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.etc.
In these passages of Scripture, plus those interwoven throughout the Prayer Book, we encounter the Gospel event, the ancient typologies, and the eschatological fulfillment. And, in the Psalms, the Praise of God Most High. There is so much more truth and beauty awaiting us in the treasurehouse of the Scriptures than we realise if all we ever meet are but one or two passages each Sunday.
Furthermore, the Resurrection is the fulfillment of the hope of Scripture, Old and New. In Christ all of God’s promises find their yes. Let us bless the Lord for the benefits he has given us through the prayerfully constructed lectionaries of His Church.
Last night, I set my alarm for 4:30 so I could get up for the 5:30 Easter Vigil at a local Anglican church. When I awoke in the middle of the night, I thought my alarm had lost its mind, because that screechy ringing sound was not the setting I put it on. Oh, wait. That was my landline.
I was informed that the hoped-for yet unexpected had happened — they had established a WiFi hotspot at my sister’s church so that my wife and I could participate in the baptism of our nephew in a faraway land called Saskatoon.* We are happy new godparents (this is godson number 2), and were disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to go oversea to the event itself. But, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we were able to witness the event!
In grand traditional fashion, making St Leo the Great well-chuffed, my sister and her husband chose to baptise the bairn on Easter Even at the Easter Vigil. Leo was quite adamant about people only baptising on Easter and Pentecost, and he devoted quite a long letter to it. Easter Baptisms are, of course, the ancient western tradition; and in Egeria’s day (late 300s) they were baptising at Easter in Jerusalem as well. In baptism we are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection through the water.
So my sis chose well.
When I logged into Skype, all was shrouded in darkness. Then a fire was lit, reminding us of Christ, the Light of the World. They blessed and lit this year’s Paschal Candle. The deacon sang, ‘The light of Christ,’ three times, and the people replied (in good Anglican fashion), ‘Thanks be to God.’ The Paschal Candle processed past the computer. Whither, I know not.
Now that things were lit by candlelight, we could see a few things. My mom passed by and typed some messages. We turned out the lights and settled under the blankets to await our role in the service. The computer faced backwards, since the font is at the back of the church.
The Cantor at their church sings deep and true. I enjoyed it. Also, the content was deep and true!
After the singing of the beautiful Easter Proclamation (Exultet) came the Liturgy of the Word. My brother-in-law read the first lesson, Genesis 1:1-2:2. At some point, my sister e-mailed us the leaflet so we could follow along. This was greatly helpful. Someone else read the second lesson, Exodus 14:24-15:1. Then Isaiah 4:2-6, followed by Deuteronomy 31:22-30. Each of the four lessons was followed by a prayer and then perhaps a sung paraphrase. The prayers and responses helped highlight the Gospel truth of the Scriptural passages.
Prayer-Book Anglicans love the Gospel and the Scriptures. We pull out all the stops for Easter. (This includes on our organs.)
Then a hymn, and then the blessing of the water for baptism. We could see things now — my sister, her husband, the wee bairn, the priest, and the other godfather had made their way to the font at the back of the church.
At this point, my wife and I unmuted Skype, for here was our chance.
What transpired next was The Ministration of Holy Baptism to Children, as in the Canadian BCP of 1962. At the appropriate moments, though an ocean and miles of boreal forest and prairie separated us, we made our vows, said our ‘I do’s and our ‘I will’s. We renounced ‘the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory fo the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh’; we affirmed the Apostles’ Creed; we agreed to pray for our nephew ‘and take care that he may learn and do all’ the things of the Christian faith.
I like baptisms. This may have been my first BCP baptism — I like it a lot. I especially like the duties — being a godparent isn’t just about being an extra-special aunt or uncle, or a fun friend of the parents. It is a solemn duty to be performed to help this young person grow up as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ in a hostile world.
Not to be taken on lightly. ‘I will, the Lord being my helper.’
They now turned the computer around so we could follow the rest of the service.
From the baptism, we moved on to the Litany, from the Litany to the BCP Order for Holy Communion. The Gospel of the Risen Crucified God is here in the Canadian Prayer Book. The Easter Preface:
But chiefly are we bound to praise thee for the glorious Resurrection of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord: for he is the very Paschal Lamb, which was offered for us, and hath taken away the sin of the world; who by his death hath destroyed death, and by his rising to life again hath restored to us everlasting life.
The Easter Collects:
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.
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.
And, of course, the usual Gospel truths present in the liturgy every single time you pray it.
Anyone who feels that Anglicans undervalue Scripture and Gospel must only know Anglicans who don’t apply their minds, hearts, and lives to their Prayer Books. God’s revelation to us in the Bible and His salvation of us through the life, death, and resurrection of the Incarnate Word (accepted by faith!) are the two great themes of the Prayer Book.
Today is Holy Saturday. I find today one of the most uncomfortable or awkward days in terms of feasts and commemorations of the Church. From Palm Sunday to Good Friday, we know what we’re about. The Triumphal Entry. Christ clearing the Temple. Christ on the Mount of Olives and disputing with opponents in the Temple. There’s nothing mentioned in Scripture for Wednesday — so we do Tenebrae to make up for it. Then comes the Last Supper and the Betrayal. And, of course, Good Friday.
After Good Friday, Easter Sunday — Resurrection, glory. Loosening our throats and tongues to shout, ‘Allelu–‘ you know the rest, ja?
Today the Disciples (soon to be Apostles, if they only knew!) are in hiding. The women — His Mother, Mary Magdalene, Salome, et aliae — are mourning His death.
On Holy Saturday, God’s body is lying dead in a tomb.
All there is to do is wait.
We aren’t good at that in our culture. I’m not that good at it, myself. I’d like Easter Sunday now, thank you very much.
But I think this awkwardness, this discomfort, this twitching while we wait is good.
It will make tomorrow morning, bleary-eyed but excited at 5:30 AM, that much more exciting.
The tension of today increases the release of tomorrow as we all respond to, ‘Christ is–‘ well, you know.
But not yet. For now, waiting. The Body of Our Lord in the Tomb.
Re-post from elsewhere in (I think) 2009. This year, Western and Orthodox Easter were only one week apart. Today, 12 April, is Orthodox Easter. Enjoy!
This year, Eastern and Western Easter were about a month apart (the farthest apart they can be, as well as ours being the earliest it will be for another 220 years). And so, as my Russian, Greek, Cypriot, Antiochene, Syrian, Alexandrian, Ukrainian brothers and sisters celebrate the Feast of Feasts, the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, I’d just like to say:
Crist aras! (Crist sodhlice aras!) (Old English)
Crist is arisen! (Arisen he sothe!) (Middle English)
Which is to say: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! (For how to say this traditional Easter greeting in more languages, go here.)
I like Orthodox Easter… [and] it was while abiding on the island of Cyprus I first encountered the Eastern celebration of Easter. Here in Toronto, I went to a Russian church which happens to be in my neighbourhood.
I showed up early, around 10:30 PM. I asked about the candles and whatnot from a young cantor and his wife. I bought two slender beeswax tapers for $2 each, then went into the sanctuary. There were people moving about at the different icons, as well as in what looked like a line for confession (?). I walked up and stood in the centre aisle for a bit, focussing on the focal point of the room and praying.
This church is very open; it’s an old Anglican building with pews relegated to the walls only, and a few rows of chairs at the back. The rest of the space is essentially empty, with icons along the walls and on the pillars. In the centre of the nave (what I would call the chancel is hidden behind the iconostasis, the icon screen) was a table covered in white flowers, daisies and lilies. And on the table, in the midst of the white flowers, was a red cloth, representing the shroud of Christ. Atop it were a book of the Gospel (I surmise) and a cross. The shroud itself, I believe, had Christ in the tomb on it.
After I had watched some others praying before this shroud, symbolising the fact that Christ died and went down to Hades, I approached it myself. Some had kneeled; all had crossed themselves; most had kissed at least the book of the Gospel, if not the shroud itself and the cross. I mounted the step in front of the shroud, crossed myself, and prayed to the Eternal Risen Christ, holding the candles in my hand. I crossed myself again, kissed the book of the Gospel, and crossed myself a third time.
Then I dismounted and and went to the candlestand on the right of the shroud. I lit one of my two candles and prayed to Christ, proclaiming Him the Light of World and smiled within since a city on a hill cannot be hidden. Then I stepped back, beside the lectern where a lector was reading the scriptures in Slavonic.
I occupied the next hour of my life in various ways. I stood before an icon of St. Nicholas for a while, noting that Russian icons are more three-dimensional than Byzantine ones. I sat for a while. I wandered past all the icons, praying to Christ for His glory. Before the icon of the Blessed Virgin, I sang the Magnificat quietly to myself. Throughout it all, I was often singing quietly to myself, especially this Taize chant:
Laudate Dominum! Laudate Dominum, omnes gentes! Alleluia! (repeat)
Eventually, it was 11:30, and the clergy came out in their fine robes. There was singing in Old Church Slavonic before the shroud, with the choir answering (also in Slavonic) from the balcony at the back. The singing was beautiful. A deacon appeared beside the priest and his deacon with a candle. Then they processed around the table with the shroud, the priest censing everything. Following was more singing, and the shroud was removed.
Next, they did things behind the Holy Doors of the iconostasis. I don’t know what. There was, undoubtedly, incense and Slavonic involved. The choir would occasionally sing. Then they got ready for the procession.
The procession was led by some servers carrying an icon of Christ surrounded by a great wreath. Following them were others with candles and the priests and deacons. Then regular laymen in street clothes carried six standards with icons on them, topped by crosses. Behind them went the choir. We lit our candles from the stands around us (they were equipped with Dixie cups to catch the wax).
We processed around the block. I wended my way through the procession so that I could spent the last bit close enough to hear the choir over the hubbub around me. Then, singing a hymn, we stopped at the church steps. The priest had a microphone and sang some antiphons, the choir responding with something to do with Christ every time. And then he declared:
To which everyone but me responded:
Fortunately, I could respond to, “Christ is Risen!” (Indeed, He is risen!) and “Christos Anesti!” (Alithos Anesti!) Next was French, and I didn’t know the response. None knew the German response. Then a smattering of other languages, to each of which a few knew the answer. He concluded with the Slavonic version seven times.
They sang a hymn and went in for the Divine Liturgy. I slipped away, since the Divine Liturgy takes three hours.
From the moment I stepped into that church, it felt right. You should all go next year!
I’ve joked this week with a couple of friends that if their church didn’t sing either ‘Christ the Lord Is Risen Today‘ or ‘Jesus Christ Is Risen Today‘, they didn’t ‘have Easter’. This, of course, isn’t really fair, but it’s interesting how deeply hymns can affect one’s experience of the feasts of the church year. For me, a great lover of Easter, no amount of confetti (actually used at an Edinburgh church), no size of chocolate egg (giant egg actually present at another Edinbugh church) can really make the festival feel complete without the ‘right’ hymns (plus the ancient, universal Easter acclamation — Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!). A sermon on the Resurrection is always good (that [Anglican] church in Toronto that once preached on the Good Samaritan one Easter Sunday missed the ball there), as are Easter lilies.
But for me, Easter without the ‘right’ hymns is like … Christmas with no presents. Or something.
Christmas carols and Advent hymns obviously make the season, so I’ll skip them.
In Toronto, we went to Little Trinity Anglican Church, and what makes Trinity Sunday there is the singing of ‘St Patrick’s Breasplate‘.
Long after the chocolate has been eaten, the lilies have withered, the sermon has been mostly forgotten, the hymns — the beautiful, triumphant Easter hymns — stay with us, dancing through our minds and hearts, drawing us to our risen Saviour.