Welcome to the First Week of Ordinary Time 2021

As of midnight last night which ended the liturgical day of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Christmas season has official come to an end and we moved into the First Week of Ordinary Time for the year of Our Lord two-thousand and twenty-one (technically the Baptism of the Lord counts as the First Sunday of Ordinary Time but we don’t need to get too technical here).

Many catholic churches, my own local one included, do not use Ordinary Time as part of their liturgical calendar (which makes following along each week with the Liturgy of the Hours super fun and confusing at times). The period between Christmas and the start of Lent is called Epiphany-tide and includes Sundays that count away from Epiphany. This is based on the older liturgical calendar of the Roman Church where Easter and Epiphany were the two major festivals that all of time were rendered through. If you’ve ever seen “Fifth Sunday after Epiphany” vice the “Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time” than you’ve probably stepped into a church that uses the old calendar. But for most catholic churches, the readings and responses all remain the same whether you are using one way of counting or another thanks to the Revised Common Lectionary. And this is important because my beef with people who insist in keeping Epiphany-tide and poo-poo Ordinary Time I think overlook the fact that the readings and responses are not connected in such a scheme.

So why have Ordinary Time? Why not use the traditional calendar and still have a period of Epiphany. Well, this is a bit of a controversial topic. Many people take issue with the innovation of a new calendar for the liturgy but this is not really warranted because changes were made in the past and no doubt will be made in the future. There is no set liturgical calendar. I think a lot of the angst around Ordinary Time is also based on misconception. Many English speaking people think it means the time is ordinary or plain and marks a time outside of feasts and celebrations. I’ve even read before (from learned people) that the colour green was picked precisely because green is a typical boring colour in nature. This is simply not true. Nor is calling the Sundays “X after Epiphany” an extension of the celebration of Christmas because the readings at Mass and the antiphons used in the Liturgy of the Hours during this period do not directly reflect anything about the celebration of Epiphany (aside from being about God and Jesus which is a very loose approach). It is actually kind of misleading to read that the Sunday has something to do with Epiphany when it actually doesn’t. And about the liturgical colour? Green is in fact the colour of ordinary time and it was always the colour of ferial days within the church. Some people say that because of Vatican II we have more green because of Ordinary Time, again this is simply not true, we have more green because many feast days of Saints that used to replace the Sunday worship were suppressed or moved before Vatican II even started and this meant actually celebrating Sunday as Sunday each week as opposed to it giving way to the celebration of Saints. This actually makes a lot of sense because Sunday ought to be considered a Feast of the Lord in some sense, and indeed traditionally was considered the most important liturgical day of the week. Going back to wearing more green signalled a return of Sunday to its proper place within the hierarchy of liturgical celebration in the periods between major seasons.

Ordinary in the this sense means ordinal, which is the ordering of numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc) and is the root of the word order. Ordinary Time is thus the time when we count the Sundays ordinally (accurate) and we live our lives in an ordered states governed by the supremacy of Christ (accurate). With this understanding Ordinary Time makes sense. It also links up with what is happening in the world, in time itself, which is important for any liturgical calendar that first and foremost exists within the same time, indeed sanctifies said time. After Christmas, we put away our decorations and we go back to the ho-hum of life. There are bills to be paid, semesters to start and friends to see. And this again makes Ordinary Time fitting because it is in these everyday encounters that we in fact order our own lives with Christ as the center. It is a time of order and process and right worship and living.

Welcome to the First Week of Ordinary Time 2021.

In your love, Lord,
answer our humble prayer:
give us the grace to see what we have to do
and the strength to do it.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Collect (Office of Readings), Monday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Cover photo by Thays Orrico on Unsplash.

A Closer Look at the Office of Readings

In the format of the Liturgy of the Hours the Office of Readings is a unique Hour that stands alone among the others. It is the only Hour which does not have a traditional fixed time associated with it and among all of the Hours it is the youngest although it replaced the oldest Hour in the former Roman Breviary in 1970. You’ll often hear people say that the Office of Readings replaced what was formerly known as Matins, but in many respects this is a whole new Hour that wasn’t merely a reform but a complete change. However, there are vestiges of the traditional form of Matins as a Vigil that remain within the rubrics around this Hour.

The fact that the Hour is not linked to a particular time of day makes is unique in many ways. In the English four-volume Liturgy of the Hours books approved for use in North America, the Hour starts with the antiphon for the Invitatory but this is purely optional and dependant on whether the Office of Readings is the first Office being recited for the day. It can be said alone as its own Office or it can be attached to another office such as Morning Prayer or even Evening Prayer if that is how you wish to pray the Hours for that particular day. Matins was always the first Hour of the day (and was usually said at night or very, very early in the morning before dawn) and thus always included the invitatory. This is not the case with the Office of Readings.

The Office of Readings is made up of three psalms or three parts of a large psalm and two readings of notable length; the first reading being from Scripture and the second from a selection of the Holy Fathers usually related to the season, feast or memorial. This is another marked departure from Matins which at its peak had over 12 psalms which formed nocturns that included up to three readings each. The readings in Matins were shorter in sections but together formed sections of Scripture and patristic readings that are comparable to what we get today with the Office of Readings.

On Sundays and solemnities one can add a vigil part to the Office that include three canticles and a reading from the Gospel (usually from an alternate year of the Lectionary from that of the current Mass). This retains the ancient understanding of the word vigil as the prayers and preparations before Holy Mass on Sunday evening after sundown on Saturday night. The Te Deum is also recited on these days just prior to the collect for the day.

There is no doubt that the Office of Readings remains controversial among Catholics. Significant changes were made to the liturgy and thus also to the Roman Breviary and Divine Office in the wake of Vatican II. Among those changes was the introduction of the Liturgy of the Hours, which brought us this new and wonderful devotion in the Office of Readings. There are people who take issue with the Liturgy of the Hours because of the many options, the four-week psalter, the omission of controversial psalms and the creation of a new Hour in the Office of Readings. But when understood in light of the overall intention of the Church Fathers during Vatican II to truly make the Divine Office accessible and palatable to lay people as well as clergy it all actually makes a lot of sense.

I’ve prayed a one-week psalter before and it is certainly wonderful and rich and but only if you have the time. Not many people have an hour in the morning to read 12 psalms (plus another five if they decide to do Matins and Lauds together which is the norm). This routine quickly goes from being wonderful and rich to being a burden and terrible. The four-week psalter is made for lay people, so that we can have access to all 150 of the psalms (the accepted ones, at any rate) but at a pace that works for ordinary life. The same goes for the creation of hinge Hours in Morning/Evening Prayer which follow a pattern typical of how laity live in the 5 day work week and eight hour work day. Remember that how the Roman Breviary of the past was developed was at a time when we didn’t use any unnatural light after sundown, people usually slept in two four or five hour periods and woke in the middle of the night to work and sometimes eat (and in the case of monks, pray). This is simply not the reality for lay people today, for anyone really, and so the changes make sense within this light.

The Office of Readings has become a key within my own prayer life. We are all called to read Holy Scripture often and we could all use more exposure to the insight of the church fathers. Having an Office that is devoted to reading the Bible and the church fathers gives me a vector to do this task which is part of my commitment to pray the Hours regularly. I find they enrich my life from a liturgical perspective and keep my mind focused on God and on the particular season or celebration of the church. There are some days when I can only complete one Hour and I am not ashamed to say that I choose the Office of Readings over all of them (usually with a confession added at the start for good measure). It really is the best of both worlds when you can pray the psalms and do some readings relevant to the season of the church or particular celebration.

Collect – 13th Sunday after Trinity

Another beautiful Collect for this Sunday from the BCP that again highlights the importance of worship in the vernacular.

ALMIGHTY and merciful God, of whose only gift it cometh that thy faithful people do unto thee true and laudable service: grant, we beseech thee, that we may so faithfully serve thee in this new life, that we fail not finally to attain thy heavenly promises. Through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Collect, 13th Sunday after Trinity

This Collect from this Sunday is prayed each week for all ferial days. Integrating the Collect into my daily prayer each week is an easy way to stay focused on the liturgical season of the church in between going to Mass. Whether you pray the Divine Office or not, you can incorporate the Collect into your daily prayer as well. They can be found in your missal or prayer book and are easily searchable online.

Maundy Thursday

From the General Decree of 1955 which restored the liturgy of Holy Week (Maxima Redemptionis) in the Roman Catholic Church (emphasis added):

Let the faithful be taught about the love with which Christ our Lord ‘on the day before He suffered’ instituted the sacred and holy Eucharist, Sacrifice and Sacrament, the perpetual memorial of His Passion, to be offered day by day though the ministry of His priests. Let the faithful be invited to render due adoration after the end of the Mass to the most holy Sacrament. Finally, wherever to illustrate the Lord’s commandment of brotherly love the Washing of the Feet is carried out according to the restored rubrics, let the faithful be taught the deep significance of this holy rite, and let them spend this day in works of Christian charity.

The Mass today, which by order of Pope Pius XII should not begin before 5 p.m. or after 8 p.m. local time, is specifically focused on the commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper and the Ordination of the Apostles and is therefore a Mass of joy and thanksgiving. It is for this reason that the church sets aside her penitential purple vestments and the priest wears festive white vestments. The Gloria is also sung during Mass which is a piercing difference from the last 40 days which has seen that part of the Mass shelved (often replaced by the Lenten Prose). In churches with bells, it is tradition for the bells to be run through-out the Gloria during this Mass and then they not rung again until Easter Sunday.

The derivation of the word Maundy reminds us of the ceremony of washing of feet, called Mandatum, from the first words of the Antiphon: Mandatum novum do vobis (John 13:34). The Mandatum takes place today because Jesus washed the feet of His Apostles before He instituted the Holy Eucharist. After the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is processed to the Altar of Repose where it remains until the following day. All of these rites are meant to commemorate the institution of the Holy Eucharist.

Before the liturgy of Holy Week was codified by the Church, this day was the Feast of the Holy Eucharist– and was the only commemoration of its kind. Private Masses are forbidden on this day. In the early Middle Ages there were three separate Masses that were celebrated today. The first was in memory of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, the second was the Blessing of Holy Oils and the third was for the reconciliation of public penitents. The second Mass was particularly interesting as it took place at the local cathedral by noon on this day and was presided over by the Bishop who was “surrounded by his priests” in like manner to Christ during the Last Supper. All that remains of the public re-welcoming of penitents in the third mass is the Deus a quo in the extraordinary form which is a very ancient piece. The Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday Mass that we celebrate today is what remains of the first celebration from the medieval church.

After the Sacrament is left at the Altar of Repose, all other altars within the church are stripped and washed. This is to provide a clear image of the Eucharist not being offered again until the conclusion of Holy Saturday. As the altars are stripped the priest recites Psalm 21(22):

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!

Featured image by euroeana.eu on Pinterest.

LOTH: Why you might like to pray the Hours and setting up

This is the first instalment of a series that I have planned on the Liturgy of the Hours. Given that many of us are undoubtedly stuck within our homes and are unable to attend Sunday mass this weekend (and the many to come in the foreseeable future), this is a great opportunity for you to rekindle or discover a very powerful and important prayer of the church. It is in fact the official prayer of the church, next to the Eucharist of course, and together form the official liturgy of the Body of Christ– a literal breath of constant prayer and thanksgiving that rising before God and acknowledges the sanctification of time itself.

Be sure to check out:

The Hours themselves are not popular at all with laity unfortunately– especially in the modern church. Medieval Christians would have been much more familiar with the form of the Hours as they would have attended regular Morning and Evening services. The Hours were especially accessible to laity at the time because the psalms themselves could be easily memorized and the repetitive form of prayer lend itself to being learned very easily without the aid of books and the requiring the ability to read. Anglicans in particular have always had a particular association with their own form of the Hours present in the Book of Common Prayer. In many Anglican churches, even to this day, this form of worship overtakes a Eucharist by frequency during the liturgical year. And it is a tradition rich in the music of Evensong which has become a hallmark of Anglican worship for centuries.

Four-volume ‘Liturgy of the Hours’. (https://www.osvnews.com/)

The Second Vatican Council did not open up the Liturgy of the Hours to the laity because the Hours themselves had always been opened up but they re-emphasized their importance within the daily lives of faithful Catholics. Alongside the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours forms the backbone of prayer within the church which is why all seven canonical hours are mandated for priests and religious. A burden which is carried by most pious men and women with tremendous joy and gratitude for the blessings that flow from the Hours themselves through dedicated and disciplined prayer. But while this is probably what has historically deterred laity from the prayers themselves, this should not be the case at all, because none of the Hours are required by laity and therefore any and all for that matter could be done. In fact, after some restructuring following Vatican II, their are only two major or hinge Hours. And the fact they are called Hours should not lead one to believe that they take hours to pray, the hinge Hours themselves (being the longest liturgically) take only about 20 minutes when done properly and earnestly. And with a slow of apps for your phone or tablet to help you out, there is no reason you cannot read or listen to the Hours during your commute or when you have a moment alone in the mornings and evenings.

But what I would really recommend (and what will help you for this series) is that you track down a Christian Prayer book or the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours set from the Catholic Book Publishing Company. And you can always check out all of the Hours for the day at Universalis.com. You can still use the apps and listen to the Hours, and they certainly help for learning, but I have found through years of prayer the Hours themselves that the most effective form of prayer and feeling of taking oneself out of the world to join the church militant and triumphant in prayer is through a physical book– especially as more and more of our lives move to our phones, tablets and computers.

In this series we are going to explore the history and structure of the Liturgy of the Hours and then we are going to dive into how to pray the Hours themselves in a simple and easy to understand way that will leave you with a firm grasp of the form of the prayers themselves. It is my hope that during these grey days of uncertainty and fear, you develop a stronger relationship with God through dedicated prayer and the Liturgy of the Hours can become a fantastic vehicle for doing so and for living liturgically.

Lord, open our hearts to your grace.
Restrain us from all human waywardness
and keep us faithful to your commandments.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Feature image by Samuel Martins on Unsplash.

COVID-19 and Mass

My church diocese has officially announced that masses indoors are cancelled until the Easter season (and even then, they were clear that more direction based on how things look at that time will be provided). Many people are already feeling the pinch, myself included. However, even with churches cancelling their services in light of strong science that indicates an increase risk of spreading the virus in group settings of 50 or more people, there is a pastoral need among the faithful, arguably more so during times of crisis such as these.

It falls to the leadership of churches, our ministers and pastors, to enact creative solutions to the challenges currently being presented in providing pastoral care to faithful. These solutions ought not to ignore the science before us, not only would that be irresponsible because it places individuals at risk for contracting the virus but it also becomes scandalous for the church (just see the responses from non-believers to what happened to the church in Korea when the spread was just starting). With due consideration for the science and a serious regard for one’s pastoral duties to tend to the flock, ministers and pastors can come up with creative solutions– and ought to.

One suggestion that is being considered by my Anglo-Catholic parish is celebrating mass outdoors at a local park. There is more than enough room for people to gather with enough space between them and mass can be slightly altered so that people remain in their places while a single minister distributes the Eucharist. Another option is to arrange for outdoor prayer services based on the Liturgy of the Hours. People can gather (again not too closely) and pray together knowing that they are praying prayers that are part of the whole church, the whole breath of the faithful rising before God. You can also consider learning and starting to pray the Hours yourself while you are stuck at home for long days.

I am considering putting together a video (perhaps with a live feed so people can join in) on how to organize and pray the Liturgy of the Hours. If this is something you’d be interested in helping out with or participating in to learn please let me know. You can find all of the Hours organized online here at Universalis.com and as always you can shoot me a message or email and I would be more than willing to help you out personally.

It is also Lent, we cannot lose sight of our own need for preparation, pentenance, prayer and almsgiving. You can do the Stations of the Cross without the icons that are present with the church around your own home. The prayers and reflections are easy to find online and you can move throughout your own home and conduct the stations. To add even more flavour to the prayer, find out where East is and face toward that direction while your pray.

All of this recalls photos of the past when Priests celebrated mass on whatever surface could be found around the battlefields of the World Wars. I’ll end with a few inspirational photos.

Feature photo by Diana Vargas on Unsplash.

Reflections on Lent – Denying ourselves we open up to God

Lent in the year of Our Lord two-thousand and twenty is well-underway. And if you are like me, it caught you by surprise. It seems only yesterday that we were celebrating the birth of Jesus and ushering in the New Year. Now with all of the decorations gone away, and the snow and cold beginning to lose its grip in the world, all of creation is springing back to life after a winter of slumber.

Lent captures the dichotomy of our faith perfectly, dare I say divinely. While the world is in enthralled in a spring bloom and “love is in the air” we Christians enter into a season of denial, prayer, penance and almsgiving. While the world triumphantly celebrates the cycle of creation, we stand back in silence, preparing ourselves for the Easter season to come. This is a dichotomy. We are both overfilled with joy at the love and beauty of our Creator and we are also aware of our sin and transgressions before Him.

When I was a child Lent was about giving stuff up. I was fortunate to attend a catholic school and every year around this time we were challenged by our teachers to give up pleasures. The usual stuff would always come up: pop, candy, television. Sometimes someone would be bold and try to give up chocolate or meat for the entire 40 day period. When I was a child I thought that Lent was about giving something up and proving to God how much you loved Him and were willing to give up for Him. But as I got older and as my faith became older as well, I learned that this kind of thinking about Lent was pointless. God knows already how much I love Him (or how little at times that I do). And the price for my salvation has already been paid, so there is little that I can do to effect that at any rate. And wasn’t Jesus clear when He told us not to go around sad and moping while fasting and not to pray in public with loud, long phrases that have empty meaning. Why then are we putting ashes on our heads and going around telling everyone what we’ve given up and how hard it is to do so during this period? These are confusing because it is not what Lent is about at all, and I fear that even many mature adults still possess child-like faiths that see Lent as this today as well.

Lent is about denying ourselves that is sure. But it is about understanding that in that denial we are opening ourselves and our lives to God. Falling to our knees and acknowledging our sin is not the end of the prayer, we fall to our knees and empty ourselves so that we can be filled up by God in the manner He wants us to be.

This Lent I took a practical approach to my Lenten obligation. I have given up all frivolous things in life. No milk or sugar in my coffee, no butter for my toast and no desserts or sweets added to my meals. This is not about giving up things, it is about denying myself pleasures so that I can open myself up to God. Each extremely hot and bitter black coffee that I make in the morning, each dry toast that I choke back is not just a badge of honour because I have given it up, but a spiritual exercise that invites God to come into my life. I am serious, during Lent my daily coffee ritual and my breakfast become a spiritual exercise, a divine movement, because I remind myself why I am doing what I am doing and what is to come. That my friends is the intent of Lent; to deny ourselves and allow God to fill the void.

So ask yourself this year, regardless of what you are giving up, are you following through and allowing God to fill the void? Are you denying yourself the harvest that you work in vain in order to reap the larger and greater harvest of the Saviour?

Look with favour on your family, Lord,
and as at this time we restrain the desires of the body,
may our hearts burn with love of you.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Cover photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash.