Loving the Book of Common Prayer 2: Protestant

What follows is likely to be less popular than discussing the catholicity of the Prayer Book. But I am a Protestant, so it only follows that liturgy I love would also be Protestant.

220px-Thomas_CranmerThinking on this proposed series of 3 posts about loving the BCP, I’ve decided to add a fourth after catholic, Protestant, and beautiful, and that is theological. This is because, as I think on the ‘Protestant’ aspects of the BCP, I realise that many of the theological moments that I love and that come to mind are actually simply sound theology, and could easily be embraced by the Church catholic outside our small corner of Protestantism. Nevertheless, I think it is important to point out that the BCP is, in fact, Protestant.

So is Anglicanism.

It seems to have become fashionable in many Anglican circles these days to deny our status as a Protestant church. This, I think, is related to the use of the word Protestant by evangelical, dissenting churches such as Baptists, the Alliance Church, varieties of Methodism/Wesleyanism, varieties of Reformed, etc. There is also a long and strong tradition within the Anglican Church of seeing connections with the past in theology and liturgy, especially with the Church Fathers but also, to a degree, our forebears in the English Middle Ages and the best of mediaeval theology and devotion on the Continent, such as Sts Thomas Aquinas and Thomas a Kempis.

Nonetheless, by strict definition Anglicans are Protestant.

And so, as I said, is the BCP — hence its modification by both the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics when they use it.

Now, it could easily be said that the BCP is Protestant because it tends to be a one-volume compendium of Anglicanism, containing the orders of service, the Psalter, and the doctrinal documents of our faith. The Articles of Religion, containing such words as ‘popish’ are obviously Protestant. What about the liturgy, though? When we consider the idea of lex orandi, lex credendi, we would expect to find Protestantism in the BCP.

Justification by faith is the most important Protestant doctrine that sets us aside from the Church of Rome. Does the Prayer Book teach justification by faith through grace alone? Yes it does, but more by aggregation than any single articulation. It is a doctrine that undergirds the BCP’s understanding of grace and sin. Here are some excerpts from Canada’s 1962 BCP, starting with the Communion:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all them that with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him …

And although we are unworthy, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences.

…most humbly beseeching thee to grant, that by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we and all thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion

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

Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.

…although we are unworthy, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences

Morning & Evening Prayer:

He [God] pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel.

Evening Prayer:

Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord.

As I say, it is the aggregate of passages, combined with what they do not say. If you read the Litany, for example, while it is not perfectly, explicitly justification by faith all spelled out, and while much of it is common to Anglicans, Catholics, and the Orthodox, there is a vein of such doctrine running through it. It would be tedious (albeit profitable, I have no doubt!) to go through all of Cranmer’s collects as well as the Exhortations, but I think you get the idea.

Justification by faith alone through grace alone is a rich vein of theology running through The Book of Common Prayer.

More easily spotted is the fact that Protestants do not believe in the sacrifice of the Mass:

who [Jesus Christ] made there [upon the Cross], 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.

You will not find the following (from the English translation of the Sarum Use of the Roman Rite):

But after the offertory, let the deacon hand the cup with the paten and the sacrifice to the priest; and let him kiss his hand each time. But let him, receiving the cup from him, place it carefully in its own due place above the middle altar, and with bent head, for a little while, let him elevate the cup with both hands, offering the sacrifice to the Lord, saying this prayer:

Receive, O Holy Trinity, this oblation, which I, an unworthy sinner, offer in honour of thee, of the blessed Virgin and all the saints, for my sins and offences, and for the salvation of the living, and the rest of all the faithful dead. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Let this new sacrifice be acceptable to the omnipotent God.

Or this:

Therefore most merciful Father, suppliant we beg and beseech thee, through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.

    Here let the priest rising kiss the altar on the right hand of the sacrifice, saying: that thou wouldst receive and bless these cross gifts, these cross presents, these cross holy unspotted sacrifices.
And the sins being made over the chalice, let him elevate his own hands, saying thus…

Likewise, the Prayer Book has cut this:

Here again let him look upon the Host, saying: Which oblation do thou, O Almighty God, we beseech thee, vouchsafe in all respects to make cross hallowed, cross approved, cross ratified, reasonable, and acceptable, that it may be made unto us the cross body and cross blood of thy most dear Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

I think you get the idea. In pre-20th-century Prayer Books, the Canon of the Mass ended with the words of institution. In the Canadian Prayer Book of 1962, things have been rearranged, and we come dangerously close to offering a sacrifice:

And we entirely desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, most humbly beseeching thee…

That prayer was intended for after Communion. Indeed, besides Christ’s sacrifice once offered for the sins of the whole world, the only other sacrifice, in a prayer after Communion, is:

And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee.

Now, you may not be a Protestant. You may be Orthodox or Roman Catholic. You may believe that the Eucharistic sacrifice is an integral part of the service of Holy Communion. You may not think there is a sharp difference between justification by faith as represented by the Prayer Book and the concept of condign merit.

I’m not condemning you.

But I am praising The Book of Common Prayer. In this small, maroon-coloured book, the wisdom of the Church has been distilled, bringing us a beautiful book that is not only Protestant but catholic. Not only catholic — connected with the church universal throughout time and space — but Protestant, connected to the reform movement of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Sure, there are problems with a lot of what Protestantism has got up to since 1517.

The Book of Common Prayer is not one of them.

Hm … what WOULD my preferred worship service look like?

The Evangelical Meaning of High Church WorshipThe question arose in the comments to one of my posts (The difficulty of the ‘high-church’ evangelical) some weeks ago as to what my ‘perfect’ worship service would look like. This is an interesting question, and probably unanswerable. Half in jest, I am tempted to say, ‘1662’, but, then, maybe not…

Nonetheless, there are some elements that I would like to see for a regular Sunday morning service:

  • Regular communion. Preferably weekly or biweekly. I grew up with weekly, but in Toronto biweekly worked well with BCP 1959/62 Morning Prayer the other weeks.
  • Lots of Bible. Whether Communion or not, read out at least two, if not three or four, passages of Scripture. They don’t need to all be the text preached on. The Bible just needs to be proclaimed to us as a people and assimilated into our hearts. The regular reading aloud of the Word before the congregation helps that. It is an ancient component of Christian worship.
  • Psalms. Sung, preferably. A cappella if possible. I’m not joking. The Psalms were Israel’s hymn book/prayer book. These are the prayers and hymns of Jesus’ worship life. Make them those of your church as well.
  • Liturgy. For some, the perfect church service is obviously 1662 or the Divine Liturgy of Our Father Among the Saints John Chrysostom or the Roman Mass. For many, and for the sort of Protestants I have in mind, pure, undiluted liturgy may be too much. Worship is about giving glory to God. If you are distracted by the printed words or the incense or the procession with candles, you aren’t glorifying God. There is a place for out-and-out high liturgy, but I don’t think it’s necessary all the time, nor preferable.

    What I’m thinking of is something basic and structured, especially for the Communion. I think a regular service of Holy Communion is not only to include the words of institution from the Last Supper but is best done with a liturgy that ties in traditional liturgy running from ‘Lift up your hearts’ to the receiving of the elements — words that have been in use since the late 100s in Hippolytus.

    Responsive/antiphonal readings/prayers are also part of my preferred service — litanies, for example. And a set-piece confession can provide us with theologically precise words to express our sorrow and the lowly state of the human soul before Almighty God.

  • Confession — a time of silence to offer a private confession, whether accompanied by liturgy or not, is worthwhile. Obviously, we are to confess every time we sin in real life, but this sort of communal activity in public helps teach us and remind us what to do in private. It is a healthy part of public worship not only to revel in God’s glory together but to look into the depths of our murky hearts as well.
  • Old and new. The Christian faith has produced hundreds — nay, thousands — of hymns over the centuries. Churches ignore the treasure house of hymns to their peril. If your church is going to be using contemporary worship, I recommend adding at least two hymns into the mix each Sunday. Alongside the latest hits from Stuart Townend or Matt Redman, sing also the old hits from Prudentius, Charles Wesley, or J M Neale.

    As regards the new, while I prefer classic hymns, I do not disparage all new music. I simply urge discretion — why sing something simply because it’s new and popular? Is it poetically, theologically, and/or musically worth singing? While people approach the Lord’s Table for Communion is a good time to sing new songs, I have found.

  • Sermon. Sermons are good. In a service such as this, where we are worshipping God, praying, confessing sin, receiving Eucharist, reading Scripture, and so forth, I don’t think the sermon needs to be big and long and even the central or most important aspect. I think people should be encouraged to get into the meat of Scripture in smaller Bible studies during the week, not in long, lecture-style sermons on Sunday. Preach from one or more of the given texts, clock in at 20-25 min (which is long for Anglicans!).
  • Other trappings? I like candles. I admit it up front. Sometimes I like incense, too. The presence of beauty in the worship space is important to me. If I were to blend traditional and low-evangelical worship styles, I’d go for candles at least. Robes preferably, maybe even copes and chasubles on occasion. The latter two, I think, should only appear on super-special feasts, though. 🙂

That is to say: My ideal worship service is liturgically structured with words and truths grounded in Scripture and tradition but with a flexibility of certain pieces of content — new songs and hymns are to be used with wisdom, similarly new litanies for the prayers of the people.

One final element is the occasional liturgical sermon. Every once in a while, have a sermon that helps explain why and what is going on in the worship service. Or preach a sermon that investigates the biblical basis for some of the popular words and phrases in the prayers and songs. Or investigate the theological foundations for the sacraments. Run a series on the Creed(s). This sort of preaching will help keep the liturgy from becoming a dead beast performed by rote.

The question should always be about the end goal of worship, of the showing to God His worth, the praising of Him, the offering Him thanksgiving, and the beseeching Him of our prayers. As the BCP puts it:

…we assemble and meet together to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at his hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy Word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as the soul.

Do our worship and liturgical practices encourage this? That is the great question.

Too Awesome Not to Share

The Eucharistic Prayer of Addai and Mari, ll. 14-18:

Thy majesty, O my Lord, a thousand thousand heavenly beings and myriad myriads of angels adore and the hosts of spiritual beings, the ministers of fire and of spirit, glorifying thy name with the cherubim and the holy seraphim, ceaselessly crying out and glorifying and calling to one another and saying: Holy, holy, holy … (Trans. A. Gelston)

The prayer whence comes this quotation is a mediaeval East Syrian (ie. ‘Nestorian’) Eucharistic prayer, still recited to this day in Syriac in the Assyrian Orthodox Church and not much changed from its reconstructed fifth-century predecessor. This Eucharistic prayer is interesting to me because it has an unequivocal statement of God becoming incarnate and suffering and dying — the sort of thing one would expect from my Monophysite friends of the Syrian Orthodox Church. It serves as a reminder that to box in the living Church according to the disputes and anathemas of centuries past can make one lose sight of the true faith of the people involved.

Of course, the reason I draw your attention to this prayer is the passage quoted above. It is beautiful. It is a beautiful, lyrical passage, clearly stemming from the same people whence Ephraim the Syrian sprang. This brief moment from the East Syrian liturgy stirs my heart to worship the Almighty God — and much more so than the worship song the radio plays right now that has been repeating the line, “I’m so deep in love,” about ten times before getting around to, “with you.” (With whom? I was too focussed on myself and forgot.)

Noting the incongruity, I am now playing Striggio’s Missa “Ecco Si Beata Giorno”the Mass in 40 Parts.

I’m not actually here to rag on the contemporary worship music scene. I trust God enough to know that He does great work through it and receives due glory from those who worship with it. However, I am here to draw attention to the magnificent beauty of the ancient, Mediaeval, and Renaissance liturgies — their hymns, their prayers, their music.

“When through the woods and forest glades I wander / And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees, When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur, / And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze,” not only does my soul want to sing, “How great Thou art,” unto the wondrous Creator God, it also wants to sing, “How beautiful thou art!’

God has created a wondrous, beautiful world, and it is only fitting that our worship of him be beautiful as well. This is part of the fabric of the Eucharistic Prayer of Addai and Mari. This is what drove men like Striggio to compose wondrous things like a mass in 40 (40!!) parts. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised!

Plunging into the tradition, rediscovering the riches of things like the Gelasian Sacramentary (as I currently am) is as important as rediscovering the ancient and mediaeval theologians. Often when we look upon the offerings from Patristic blogs or at the upcoming Oxford Patristics Conference or anywhere interested in the Fathers, we find a lot of thoughts about the theology and doctrine of the Fathers, maybe some information about Church History in the Patristic Age, but less about the worship of the Fathers.

Now, I realise that part of this is because of how complicated the liturgical legacy of the Fathers is. If you take any of the Eastern divine liturgies, such as the one quoted above, or those attributed to Sts. John Chrysostom and Basil the Great, you find the words and order for worship of something that has been in constant use since the fourth or fifth century (with roots stretching earlier than that).

How can we disentangle Chrysostom from the later Byzantine worshippers? It is a task scholars spend entire careers doing. However, we still have many individual prayers from the Patristic age as well as other poems and songs, such as:

St. Ambrose’s hymns (remember this from before?), St. Ephraim the Syrian’s hymns (such as those on the Nativity), St. Romanos the Melodist’s hymns (as here), and the hymns and poetry of Prudentius (as here) would probably be good places to start. They are allusive and beautiful, tuning and turning our thoughts upwards towards God Almighty and the worship of him alone.

John of Damascus, Martin Luther, and Monstrances (Pt 1)

Idolatry?

Back in 2005, when JP2 died, a lot of people had a lot of really nice things to say about him.  In response, an evangelical started circulating an e-mail full of nasty things about JP2 and the Church of Rome at large. This e-mail made its way to me, including a preface by a friend of a friend calling bowing to the Host ‘rank idolatry’ and said that, when the monstrance came out, he and his family

felt like Shadrack [sic], Meshack [sic] and Abednego, as most everybody bowed down around us and we remained standing there, sticking out like sore thumbs, in faithfulness to Christ and God’s 2nd Commandment.

Recently, I’ve been wondering if there’s not a way out of such a situation and if we may not find it profitable to form a synthesis of St. John of Damascus (saint of the week here), the ‘last’ Church Father of the East, and Martin Luther, Protestant Reformer.

John of Damascus on Holy Images

First, if you haven’t read St. John of Damascus, you really should. Now. Here’s the link.

John of Damascus speaks about veneration of the holy images rather than adoration. Veneration is the sort of thing you might do, for example, to an emperor, or a potentate, or a something like that. It is not what we would call, in current English usage, worship. Worship, or adoration, is reserved for God alone. Veneration can go around. It is a way of treating people or things with a special honour due to them.

When we kiss an icon or a cross, we are not adoring them. We are venerating them. In and of themselves, they are but

Idolatry?

wood, paint, metal — they are things crafted by human hands. The sort of thing that is here today and firewood tomorrow. An icon cannot talk to you. An icon cannot answer your prayers. However, by treating this physical objects that are here in front of us with a special honour, we are reminding ourselves of the greater honour due to the invisible God.

FACT: You cannot kiss Jesus. He is in Heaven.

FACT: You can kiss an icon of Jesus. It’s right in front of you.

Kissing these objects is a way of honouring Christ, whom, in an Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern world, you would kiss. Not full-out on the mouth or something, but on the hand or maybe the cheek, the former because He is the Great Teacher, the latter because He is our Brother.

Luther: ‘The Adoration of the Sacrament’ (1523)

Martin Luther, in ‘The Adoration of the Sacrament’ annihilates many points of view concerning the Lord’s Supper. Is means is, not signifies, not is a participation in. Thus, when our Lord and Saviour says, ‘This is My Body,’ and, ‘This is My Blood,’ He means just that. They are not symbols or signs thereof. They are not a participation therein.

Furthermore, the Body and Blood are there, but the sacrifice cannot be repeated, and the bread and wine are not destroyed. The text of Holy Scripture calls them bread and wine. While they must be Body and Blood, transubstantiation is merely Aristotle playing Sacramental theology. Finally, the action that takes place on the altar is not a sacrifice of Jesus. That only happened once.

FACT: You cannot touch Jesus. He is in Heaven.

FACT: You can eat Him. He is in the Sacrament of the Altar. It’s right in front of you.

If Christ’s life-giving ‘Body and Blood are truly present,’* then that little bit of Bread is His Body. While what matters most to Luther is the spiritual act of worship that goes on in our hearts, we are allowed to engage in physical acts of worship as well. Therefore, monstrances are allowed but not necessary.

Synthesis?

Now, not everyone believes in the Real Presence. These people are wrong. However, they exist, and they love Jesus.

If John of Damascus is right, we can kiss an icon or a cross or a book of the Gospels and do so out of honour and love for the immortal, invisible God only wise. Our physical acts are in front of physical objects, but our hearts are turned to the metaphysical divinity, worshipping Him in spirit and in truth.

If we consider this along with Luther’s contention that monstrances — Host-holders — are indifferent, then there is no

This is a monstrance

reason why anyone who believes in the Real Presence or not need feel uncomfortable. Right? You are not bowing to a piece of Bread. You are bowing to the living, dynamic Christ Who is in your very midst, Who is glorious beyond compare, Who can see into your heart.

What matters is the inward person and the intention thereof. The Host is bowed to not because we think a bit of stale, circular bread is special but because we think that the living, risen Christ is superspecial, beyond special, holy, magnificent, majestic, glorious, all-powerful, worthy of all praise and all honour.

Part 2: What this means for me, and where on earth I’m going.

*’Corpus et sanguis vere adsint’ — Augsburg Confession, Article 10.

Medieval Marriage Ceremony (trans. by me)

If you are interested, I have translated and posted the Order for the Consecration of Marriage, Sarum Use, in the right-hand sidebar.

If you were wed in mediaeval England, this ceremony would have been what you’d have used — except that everything save the vows would be in Latin.  This ceremony, like all traditional liturgies, is rich in symbol and beauty.  When the groom gives the ring, he also places a bag of silver and of gold on the priest’s Bible for all three items to be blessed.  Thus, he says by his action that he can support the new family that is made that day.  Once the ring is blessed, it is given thus:

With this ring I thee wed, this gold and silver I thee give, and with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.

Then the husband shall place the ring on the thumb of his wife, saying: In the name of the Father,

Then on the forefinger, saying: And of the Son,

Then on the middle finger, saying: And of the Holy Ghost,

Then on the ring finger, saying: Amen.

Then he shall release the ring.  For it is [taught] in medicine that there is a certain vein proceeding all the way to the heart, and in the melodiousness of silver is symbolised internal love, which now young ought always to be between them.

That manner of exchange of rings — without the gold and silver — was that used by my sister in her mediaeval wedding.  Thus is the Holy Trinity invoked in the most common symbol of marriage, the endless circle of a ring.  God is present with us in our marriages, Father, Son, Holy Ghost.

I like the canopy that is held above the bride and groom as the priest blesses their marriage.  My sister also used this aspect of Sarum in her own wedding ceremony, and I understand that it symbolises the new household the bride and groom are creating that day.

Something you may wonder at in the ceremony is the Pax during the Communion.  The Pax was a physical object, of wood or stone, with a picture of Christ or a saint on it, that was kissed and passed around during the Eucharist in the Sarum Use.  This was a tangible symbol of Christ’s peace which He communicates to us in the Eucharist.  We share it with him.  We share it with one another.  And with the Pax, it is sealed with a holy kiss.

This ceremony, as is common in mediaeval liturgies, comes complete with a wide variety of prayers, chiefly blessings upon the couple.  The blessing upon the bride following the Sacramental benediction includes this lovely phrase:

May she endure among the saintly women.  May she be as loveable as Rachel to her husband; as wise as Rebecca; as long-lived and faithful as Sarah.

Liturgy is not simply words upon a page, as we often imagine when we think of “liturgical” vs. “non-liturgical” churches or worship.  Liturgy, or leitourgeia, is the work of the people.  It include standing, sitting, kneeling.  It includes hymns and prayers.  It includes symbolic actions, powerfully demonstrated herein with the canopy, the exchange of rings with gold and silver, the Pax.  In liturgy, we enact in the sanctuary the spiritual reality of our lives.  We worship God there and leave there to bring the truths and symbols of the liturgy into “daily life” — the blessings upon our homes (canopy), the provision for our families (gold & silver), endless love between husband and wife (the ring) bound up in the Trinity, the peace of Christ that passes all understanding and permeates our entire existence (the Pax).

These symbols are all evangelical truths enacted for our benefit.  Alas that the liturgies of today are so bereft of such depth and beauty!

Eucharist and Christ’s Sacrifice

A few Sundays ago, we had a modern variant on the Eucharistic liturgy at my local Anglican church.  The Eucharistic prayer had a few lines in it regarding us congregants “giving” and “sacrificing” things to God.  The Rev. Chris King, our priest, warned us beforehand that he would be saying things a bit differently from what was printed, for he believes the idea of us bringing anything to the Communion Table is nonsense — the sacrament is entirely a gift from God and our action does not make it happen and adds nothing to it.

I agree with Chris.  And what he had to say was the reason I am a bit uncomfortable at some of the Anglo-Catholic doings of the Eucharist, for they tend to include a prayer beseeching God to accept the sacrifice we or the priest offers.  I am not sure how old that prayer is, and I don’t really have the time to research it right now.

However, the idea of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, or the Holy Eucharist, or the Mass being a sacrifice is, indeed, very ancient.  You can find a Patristic catena testifying to this fact at Biblical Evidence for Catholicism.  I dare not presume to say that the Fathers were pre-Reformation Evangelicals.  Clearly they thought of the Sacrament of the Most Precious Body and Blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as a sacrifice.

Today, reading Worshiping with the Church Fathers, I became a bit more comfortable with the idea.  Christopher A. Hall, in discussing the Eucharist as a memorial of that His precious death, notes that “Holy Communion is a remembrance that makes Christ’s sacrifice present to the church in time and space.” (65)  When that sacrifice is made present in the Eucharist, the crucifixion is not repeated.  This is what many Protestants think the Roman position on the question is, including some former Catholics.  Rather, Hall writes, “It is the introduction into present time of a past event.” (65)

He quotes St. John Chrysostom:

We always offer the same oblation: therefore it is one sacrifice. . . . Christ is everywhere one, entire in this place and that, one body . . . and so, one sacrifice. . . . We offer now what was offered then, an inexhaustible offering. . . . We offer the same sacrifice: or rather we make a memorial of that sacrifice. (66, Homilies on Hebrews 3.17)

Just as the Eucharist brings back into our time the future marriage banquet of the Lamb, the eschatalogical feast we shall enjoy in the ages of ages, so also does it bring forth the past sacrifice of Christ, a sacrifice once offered, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.  We are not offering the sacrifice; Christ already has.  Yet we are seeing it reenacted with the elements of the bread and wine, and Christ’s saving grace is poured forth upon those elements, the same grace he shed with his blood on the Cross.

Sarum Again

I have posted previously on the Use of Sarum here and have a translation of Sarum Vespers available here.  The Use of Sarum was the most popular liturgy in the British Isles at the time of the Reformation and is the foundation for the Book of Common Prayer and other traditional English liturgy.

Last night, the Classic Christian small group went on a field trip to St. Thomas’ Anglican Church on Huron St.  There we worshipped as our ancestors would have worshipped 500 years ago.  We worshipped in Latin*, using England’s most popular pre-Reformation liturgy.  This event was more than a re-enactment of a deceased/little-used ritual.  It was more than a performance for our benefit.  It was, indeed, worship — “To pay homage to or, literally, to ascribe worth to some person or thing.  Hence, worship embraces the whole of the reverent life, including piety and liturgy.” (Eerdmans Bible Dictionary)

The occasion for our worshipping in this archaic yet beautiful manner was Candlemas, aka The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, aka The Presentation of the Lord Jesus in the Temple, aka the Occursus Domini (Simeon’s encounter with the Lord Christ).  It’s called Candlemas because before the Mass there is a procession with lighted candles through the church — both the processing and the congregation hold said candles in hand.

Before the procession, there were some prayers in Latin sung in plainsong by the priest (the congregation had, here and elsewhere, the role of singing, “Et cum spiritu tuo.”), and then they processed — clergy in fancy robes, three crucifers walking abreast with quite a tall cross in the centre, a banner-carrier (Andrew from the small group, in fact), a choir (which included four “Rulers” in white copes), various other people.  Two large tapers were borne before them all.  The choir sang beautifully in Latin throughout, concluding with “Videte Miraculum” by Thomas Tallis as they stood at the back of the church.

During this procession, the incense was abundant.  I have said on other occasions, “The air was thick with incense.”  This time it was very true, up to the ceiling, with a haze of smoke between us and the holy table.  When the censer was near our pew, I even had trouble breathing.  Smokey Tom’s, indeed!

Following the procession was a form of the Sarum Ordinary of the Mass.  It was an interesting experience.  The choir sang beautifully in Latin, singing a psalm and the Kyrie while the priest prayed the Preparation and Confession quietly at the holy table.  This was the general practice throughout, in fact.  We heard the Collect of the Day, the lessons, the Gospel, the Creed, the homily (of course), the offertory sentence, the preface, and a few other prayers, but the bulk of the actual Eucharistic liturgy was said silently by the priest, including the Words of Institution.

While the priest prayed quietly, the choir sang beautiful things, mostly by Thomas Tallis, and all focussed on the feast of the day.  It was very beautiful, the sort of singing that raises the spirit up to God.  I spent some of the time while the choir prayed praying quietly, some just listening, sometimes thinking, sometimes reading the prayers of the priest.  When the choir sang the Creed, I joined because a loud man behind me also did.

Liturgy, however, is not just the words.  This was evident in the engagement of all my senses in the worship last night.  The incense and the thrice-snuffed candle in my hand drew my sense of smell into the worship.  The vestments, the banner, the statues, the crosses, the light from the candles at the front drew my eyes into the act of worship.  The sound of beautiful, heavenly singing engaged my ears.  At the Eucharist, I felt the Body of Our Lord on my hand, on my tongue.  I tasted the bread and the wine.

We also stood, bowed, sat, and knelt.  Apparently, kneeling is not part of the Use of Sarum, but old habits die hard, and after the choir had sung the Sanctus, we all hit our knees.  The leaflet told us when to bow; most of the rest of the time we stood, though we sat for the homily and part of the Canon of the Mass.  When the time came for us to partake of Holy Communion, we walked to the front of the church to the holy table, and knelt at the railing.  This, too, is a liturgical act, a reenacting of our choice to stand and walk to Christ every day of our lives.  So we stand and approach his Table and feast on the Marriage Banquet of the Lamb.

Thus, although we of the congregation did not pray aloud as much as I prefer, I worshipped the Lord last night.  I read the prayers in my heart as the choir sang, I prayed the Jesus Prayer several times, I praised Him for his beauty and the majesty set forth before us.  The rarity of such beautiful, majestic worship is one of the tragedies of the Reformation (and Vatican II).  I’m not sure I could worship according to Sarum Use every Sunday, but I would not be opposed to worshipping in such an ornate, florid, beauteous manner on occasion.

*If an English translation is provided, does it still contravene the Articles of Religion?