We got some bad news this week at church. Because of the second wave of COVID throughout our province and country there are stricter measures in place and we have been closed down. That didn’t stop us from safely putting together this Matins for Sunday the 22 November 2020, the Feast of the Reign of Christ.
We need prayer and community more than ever now. And our choir scholars still need to learn and hone their skills. And so we developed a plan to bring in a production company and produce this video for the benefit of all people of good will. This is traditional Anglican Evensong.
During Morning Prayer today, Psalm 101 stood out for me. Recently I have decided to renew my social media presence and in that process decided to delete my old Twitter account and start a new one that was entirely focused on Christianity, catholicism and Anglicanism. I have been at it for just over two weeks and it has been a complete change in my online activity. It is certainly a change for the better from the negativity of politics and news that flooded my timeline and thus my life with my old account.
But Psalm 101 today read like a clear Christian manifesto for following and blocking people on Twitter.
I will not set before my eyes whatever is base. The man who slanders his neighbor in secret I will bring to silence. There is some powerful stuff there for sure.
Increase in us, Lord, your gift of faith, so that the praise we offer you may ever yield its fruit from heaven. 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.
In the Anglican Breviary, Major Doubles such as today’s Feast of the Guardian Angels, have psalms that are taken from the Sunday section of the psalter. The day Hours on Sundays are a chopping up of the largest chapter in the entire Bible, Psalm 119.
A particular line of that psalm stood out for me today during Terce.
39 Take away the rebuke I am afraid of; for thy judgements are good.
This is an incredibly powerful line from the psalms, which are never cliché and are always raw emotion directed toward God. There is also a lot to unpack in that little line.
Psalm 119 is almost universally about how great God commandments are, how great God’s wisdom is and how awesome it is to be a follower of God and to share in the wisdom of God. It is an amazing psalm and is one of my favourites in the whole psalter. But there is an underlying theme in this psalm that admits that although following God’s commandments is great because you are smarter than the older people and wiser than your teachers, it is also a burden because people rebuke and hate you because of it. And the psalmist even admits that the problem isn’t with God and the commandments themselves– they are perfect and wonderful because they are from God– but with us.
The psalmist sings, “…the rebuke I am afraid of…” because it is our own fears and our own shortcomings that cause us to bear the burden of rebuke and hatred from the world. But the sentiment is still never lost, following the commandments of God, following His word and conforming to His wisdom is not an easy path in this world. We will be hated and we will be rebuked.
We can pray for this rebuke and our fear to be removed from us. It does not mean that we will not struggle and will not feel the pain of the hate and sin in this world, but it will have been sanctified because it would have been given up to God. That is the purpose of this line in the psalm, to illuminated that idea for us and to provide us a vehicle for prayer to begin that process with God in our own relation with Him.
O God, Who in thine unspeakable Providence hast been pleased to give thine holy Angels charge over us, to keep us, mercifully grant unto our prayers, that we be both ever fenced by their wardship here, and everlastingly blessed by their fellowship hereafter. Amen.
I thought that I would share the Collect for the 14th Sunday after Trinity (the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, depending on how you count) in the Book of Common Prayer and from the Roman Missal.
From the Book of Common Prayer,
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
From the Roman Missal (1962),
O Lord, we beseech thee, let thy continual pity cleanse and defend thy Church, and because it cannot continue in safety without thy succour, preserve it evermore by thy help and goodness. Through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, Our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
Monday the 14th of September is also the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Holy Cross Day to most Anglicans) which has a beautiful Collect in each of the liturgical traditions as well and I would like to share them with you today in advance. The similarity leads me to believe that the Anglican Breviary may have lifted and changed the language slightly to conform to BCP language and custom because there probably isn’t a BCP Collect specifically for this Feast day.
From the BCP,
O GOD, who dost gladden us upon this day by the festival of the Exaltation of the holy Cross: grant that we who have acknowledged the mysterty of redemption here on earth, may rejoice in the everlasting fruits thereof in heaven. Though Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord, who liveth and reignth with thee and the Holy Spirit; one God, now and forever. Amen.
From the Missal,
O God, Who dost this day gladden us by the yearly Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, grant, we beseech thee, that even as we have understood the mystery thereof upon earth, so we may worthily enjoy in heaven the fruits of the redemption which was paid thereon. Through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, Our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted our natural need for human interaction beyond what we get through pixelated screens and headphones. And this need is probably clearest in our churches.
When the world found itself in a similar period of upheaval and change, the Saints of our past look inward and oversaw the construction of massive structures that housed men and women of prayer who toiled in the name of Christ for the good of the church and their fellow humans on earth. A return to the monastery is probably not the best option for our church today, but the model of circling the wagons, supporting one another and our community directly around us and being united in prayer and common work is certainly within the realm of possible. And I would wager, needed more than ever in our post-COVID church.
The Mass will always be the chief prayer of the church– the sacrifice of Christ reenacted and shared again and again for the faithful who gather in His name. But when it comes to supporting the church in prayer, supporting one another in prayer and supporting our communities in prayer we also have the wonderful gift of the Divine Office. “Hours” of prayer set aside that sanctify the day that forms part of an unceasing hymn of praise that rises before God. A prayer that is done not just by the faithful on earth, but by the Saints and angels in Heaven, we enjoin our voice to them– just as at Mass– in our psalms of praise and devotion to God our Father.
This sort of structure prayer should not be done alone. Just like the Mass, the prayer is meant for the congregation of the church and should be celebrated whenever possible in a group setting. But the hours themselves are also said at set periods throughout the day, which means that even when the prayers are said alone, you are not alone in praying them. Especially if you have a group of people who have all agreed to work to pray together– to hold one another account and pray for a common purpose. We are told by Christ that when two or more agree and ask that the Father shall ensure they receive, and this prayer is a vehicle for that liturgical act with God.
We have something to learn from the so-called Benedictine model that can and should be applied to the post-COVID church. The importance of Christian fellowship, especially in this time of social isolation and fear, cannot be understated. A church is already a beacon for people who are isolated, alone and afraid because as a congregation we form a single body that together can and will overcome any challenge before us– this is the power of the church. When we are forced to break up, as we are now, it is even more important we lean on established prayers like the Divine Office to stay connect and inflame our Christian spirit.
O Lord, open thou my mouth that I may bless thy Holy Name. Cleanse my heart from all vain, evil, and wandering thoughts; enlighten my understanding kindle my affections, that I may pray to, and praise thee with attention and devotion; and may worthily be heard before the presence of thy Divine Majesty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
I’ve begun praying the canonical hours from the Anglican Breviary. It is an English translation of the version of the Roman Breviary of Pope Pius X commonly called Divino Afflatu with Collects and some other incidentals from the Book of Common Prayer vice the Roman Missal. In other words a truly and more– certainly so than the Morning and Evening Prayer in the BCP and the Liturgy of the Hours in the Roman Catholic today– catholic expression of the canonical hours.
Because of the English translation and insertion of BCP prayers, there are often delightful nuggets of extremely well-written prose. This is the advantage of worship in the vernacular and done right no less. See this example from the Collect for the 12th Sunday after Trinity (the Collect I prayed at each Hour during any feria this following week).
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we art to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve: pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord. Who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Collect, 12th Sunday after Trinity
The attribution of the character of God expressed in “who art always more ready to hear that we art to pray” and “art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve” is topped only by the admission that “those things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ”. Beautiful.