XVI – The Difficulties of the Christian
O Almighty God, who pourest out on all who desire it, the spirit of grace and of supplication; Deliver us, when we draw nigh to thee, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with stedfast thoughts and kindled affections, we may worship thee in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– For the Spirit of Prayer, Family Prayer.
When a Christian tries seriously to fulfill his obligations, he at once finds difficulties in his path. And there are different sorts of difficulties. Some are moral difficulties such as temptation and sin. Others are spiritual and intellectual problems arising from a Christian’s attitude to prayer, worship, belief, and loyalty to the Church. This chapter treats of difficulties of the latter sort, leaving temptation and sin to be discussed separately.
Some of the difficulties with the practice of our religion are caused by things which the Christian finds in the world around him; others spring from within his own heart. Let us examine first the things about us in the world which create problems for us.
The world is largely pagan. To support this statement it is not necessary to look to countries which have persecuted and suppressed Christianity. In the United States, which is supposedly a Christian country, only half the population has even nominal membership in any sort of Christian body. And a large percent of these nominal members are probably less loyal to Christian convictions than to pagan ideas and practices. The world around him will not encourage the Christian in his practice of his religion. He will be scoffed at, mildly persecuted at times, left out of things, and continually asked to compromise with his principles.
There is an intellectual side, too, to the world’s paganism. One does not have to talk with many people to discover that incomplete and one-sided ideas about God are widespread. Large numbers of people suffer from lack of any mature instruction about God. The world is full of religious prejudice and ignorance. The Christian will find that many will disagree with his belief in the God of the Trinity, and that some will even try to destroy his faith.
To meet the general pagan spirit in the world, we might learn a lesson from the early Christians. They had precisely the same problem. They met it by faith, courage, and determination. The Christian must be willing to be called names, scorned, and regarded as a fool. He must think out his convictions, work out a rule for his life, and keep his standards.
To refresh and reinforce ourselves while living in a pagan world, we should live in constant touch with other Christians. It goes without saying that we should be faithful in our Church worship. But we should also take an active part in our parish organizations, Church summer schools, conferences, and retreats, where the program and membership make it possible for us to be for a time in a truly Christian atmosphere.
On the intellectual side we should read, study, and learn the ideas and teachings of great Christian writers, ancient and modern, as well as those of philosophers and scientists who have made undying contributions to human knowledge. To know the plain facts of Christian doctrine and also to know what various great thinkers really did say will prevent much misunderstanding of our religion and difficulty in holding the Faith.
The Church is divided. This sad situation has caused serious difficulties. In the United States alone are more than two hundred different Christian bodies, called sects or denominations. It is obvious that many of the people we know will have different ideas of the Christian religion and its practice.
We can meet this situation by being friendly and sympathetic toward the members of other Christian bodies, by working ceaselessly for the re-uniting of Christendom, and by understanding and respecting the strong points of every Christian body. At the same time we must remember that we have as our guide the teaching of the Catholic Church as it has come down through the ages. We should not allow this teaching to be obscured by the fact that some denominations of Christendom have overemphasized certain parts of the Faith and totally rejected or ignored other truths.
The Church moves slowly. A tremendous body like the Christian Church, with roots so far back in the past, does not change overnight. To people who are impatient for reforms, the Church may seem to be behind the times. The Church does work for reforms, but it works slowly and wisely so that it is sure that the changes are truly God’s will and that they may be established on a sure foundation. For every great cause there is a group or movement in the Church. The zealous reformer can easily get in touch with this group and work to his heart’s content. Through the rightness of the cause and the enthusiasm of its supporters the Church as a whole may eventually come to support it.
“I get too much Church.” This complaint is sometimes heard from boys and girls in Church boarding schools where daily chapel attendance is required, or from those in parish life whose parents rightly hold before them their Christian obligations. It is even made an excuse for not attending church later on in life. In admitting this as a difficulty in our own lives, we should be very honest with ourselves. What proportion of our day is devoted to prayer? How does this proportion compare with the time we have to be in school, or that we spend at play? Are we just repeating an old slogan because other people are saying it? If we spent the time of Church services in trying to worship God sincerely, would it seem “too much”?
“There are too many distractions.” We have so many things to do and so many people to see that it is hard to find time for prayer and the other Christian duties. It is true that with all the factors that make the pace of modern life fast and furious, we find little time left for quiet and privacy. The answer is that we have to make time. Martin Luther said that he always prayed for an hour every morning; but on days when he had a particularly busy schedule ahead of him, he used to pray for two hours! The more we have to do, the more we need prayer to meet it. If we work out a schedule for ourselves, with time allowed for our Christian duties, and if we keep it and make other people respect it, we can find time for everything.
“Church people are hypocritical.” A man goes to church, looks about him, and thinks: “These people act as though they feel perfectly good and holy. And yet I know they are far from perfect. Why should I go to church and worship with a lot of hypocrites who are no better than I am?”
The Church is a fellowship of sinners, not one of people who are conscious of superior righteousness. The people we see in church are sinners, and so are we. They are there because they realize their sinfulness and their need of the Church’s help in meeting it. They are also there to help one another overcome sin.
“But,” the man says, “though they are sinners, they act as if they thought they were not. This is what offends me.”
If there are people in a congregation whose Christian profession is really very insincere, it will take all our self-discipline, and all the power of Christ in us, to love them. But love them we must, for it is only as we love them that we can help them see and hate their own insincerity.
As we come to know and love them we often find that what we thought was pride or self-righteousness is really shyness or some trouble in their lives. Sometimes those who are keenly aware of their faults are outwardly most self-confident. We should be very careful indeed before we label a person as a hypocrite.
Difficulties that seem to come from the world outside us often come from conditions inside our own hearts. The pressure of the world and the failings of the Church may seem to create difficulties which are really the result of our own laziness or indifference. Unsparing self-examination will help us to see these things in their true light and will keep us from a habit of blaming other things and people for our spiritual shortcomings. Self-examination will also show us that fairly often difficulties which we like to think of as spiritual or intellectual are really moral difficulties. In such cases, when the moral trouble is set right, doubts disappear and prayer and worship recover their power and freshness. Some of the difficulties which arise in our hearts and minds are these.
“My prayer seems unreal.” We all go through what experts in the spiritual life call “dry times,” when God seems very far from us and our prayer appears to come back to us like a hollow echo. We must not lose courage at such times. Even the greatest saints experienced this. But what shall we do?
First, make sure that selfishness or sinfulness is not interfering with our communion with God. This does not mean that we are ever without sinfulness, but if we take the wrong attitude about it and persist in sin, we will find prayer becoming almost impossible. If we have eliminated this possibility as the cause of our spiritual dryness, we should relax and wait. We can also continue in our prayers, no matter how empty they may seem. In His own good time God will restore life to our prayers, and we shall feel close to Him again. The great thing is not to get discouraged, but to wait calmly for the dry time to pass.
“My prayer gets mechanical.” If we find that we are repeating the same things over and over again in our prayers, in what seems a mechanical way, we can change our prayers, add new ones, or even change the order. The fact that they may seem mechanical to us does not necessarily mean that our prayers are becoming ineffective.
We should not be disappointed when we do not feel a thrill or some emotional comfort from our prayers. Feeling is no test of whether our prayer is effective or not. Often our best prayers are wrung from our souls when we are far from feeling joy or comfort. God is the judge of our prayers. If we do our best, He will take care of the results.
“I cannot believe some of the things in the Creeds.” The Creeds represent the belief of mature minds which have passed through the fullness of Christian experience. We should not be alarmed if we, as comparatively unseasoned theologians, feel an honest doubt as to this or that article of the Creed. At the same time it is our duty to accept the Creeds and to live up to them. If we keep open minds, God will open His truth to us. An article of the Creed with which we have difficulty may become the very one that later is richest in meaning to us.
Remember that we have to accept many things on authority. We do this every time we take a doctor’s advice, consult a railroad timetable, or accept an expert’s word for anything. We can accept the Creeds also on the authority of the Church and pray to grow in their understanding. We can all start from the central ideas of the Creeds: “First, I learn to believe in God the Father, who hath made me, and all the world. Secondly, in God the Son, who hath redeemed me, and all mankind. Thirdly, in God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifieth me, and all the people of God.” [P.B., pp. 284–285.] And from here we can go on to a fuller and deeper belief.
“I don’t like . . .” It may be the clergyman, the hour of service, the conduct of the service, the choir, the music, people in the congregation, or anything we dislike! And so we find it difficult to worship as we should or to take an enthusiastic and active part in the Church’s work. The Christian puts God’s will first. This means that his personal likes and dislikes are relatively unimportant. It is a form of selfishness to allow them to interfere with the important duty of worshiping and serving God. It will help to remember that we go to Church to please God and not ourselves.
As far as disliking people is concerned, this is something we have no right to do. We are here to learn to like them. First, we must make up our minds we are going to like them. Then we must pray to God to help us like them. If we deliberately set out to do something helpful for people, we shall find our dislike fading away rapidly. Difficulties caused by our likes and dislikes are serious, for if we have many of them they may show that we are badly in need of self-discipline. The person who is always finding fault probably needs to deal drastically with his own character.
Difficulties are a part of life. They occur plentifully in every undertaking that is worth while. Students expect difficulties in their lessons. Athletes find difficulties in learning sports and playing games. The salesman has to overcome many difficulties in selling his product. It is not surprising that difficulties occur also in the spiritual life. Religion has its special problems, but they can be overcome like any others.
When we meet difficulties we should not worry or despair. If we approach them with humble faith, we can usually overcome them ourselves. If we cannot, we can always ask the help and advice of our parish priest or teachers and masters. It is life with God we seek – a simple, natural thing. If we really want it, He will give it to us.
XVII – Temptation
Lord, we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil; and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Collect for Trinity XVIII; p. 214.
Of all the difficulties a Christian encounters in this world, the most common is the impulse to think or to do something wrong. There is no boy or girl, man or woman, who does not know what this means. We do not need to learn about it from books. We know it from experience. Nearly every day there comes some urge to think about a person in some way, to do a certain act, or to take toward life an attitude which by every standard we know is not right. Yet the urge is there, and we must deal with it. Some people call this “a kind of natural desire which ought to be controlled.” Others speak of it as “the expression of a man’s lower self.”
A Christian is more exact. He calls it temptation to sin. Sin means anything which separates us from God. The one thing which does this is our willful disobedience to what we know God desires. God has given us a standard. We are to worship Him with our whole being; to treat our neighbors with the kind of love which means justice, respect, and fairness; and to treat ourselves as temples of God’s Holy Spirit. The deeds and thoughts which break down these standards are sin. The impulse which prompts us to do and to think them is temptation. Temptation is not sin; it is a serious difficulty which we must meet and overcome.
It does not matter for the moment from where these impulses come. Sometimes the voice which prompts people to commit a sin seems to spring out of some evil depth in their own hearts. At other times it appears to come from some wicked power outside. The fact is that all people feel this disturbing pull toward sin. It comes when they least expect it. It comes when they are completely off guard, having drifted away from God, thinking they can look out for themselves. Then suddenly a temptation overwhelms them, and they sin grievously. The result is fear and despair. People are afraid of an evil voice which seems stronger than they are. They despair of overcoming old habits or of mastering new impulses.
St. Paul warned us that temptation would assail us when we are least prepared for it. He said, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” [1 Corinthians, 10:12.] We do not need to learn much about the fact that temptation assails us, but we do need to learn something about this difficulty, and how to overcome it. Our Faith has a good deal to say to help us. First, some basic facts:
Temptation is universal and constant. It has often been said, “Temptation is man’s life on earth.” So it is, for temptation comes to everyone. No one escapes it. Even our Blessed Lord Jesus was tempted, and far more grievously than we are. His temptations began in the Wilderness and continued all through His Ministry. “Ye are they,” He said to His disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, “which have continued with me in my temptations.” [St. Luke, 22:28.] So it is with us. Temptation strikes everyone and lasts all through our lives. When we are young we are torn by sudden and impulsive temptations to anger, covetousness, and impurity. When we are old we are assailed by the more subtle ones of pride, greed, and selfishness.
All this should remind us of two important facts. First, no one person is tempted more than any other. Sometimes, especially when we are young, we carry around our temptations as a dark secret which makes us feel that we are different from our friends and companions. It helps us to realize that we are not different, and that no one is uniquely tempted. The temptations of all are understood by Jesus who was Himself “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” [Hebrews, 4:15.]
Secondly, the fact that temptation is man’s life on earth should make us pause when we are eager to condemn those people who fall before temptations which we ourselves do not feel. The beam which is in our own eye may be different from the mote in our brother’s, but only in shape. One blinds as surely as the other. God’s forgiveness removes one as lovingly as the other.
We should not be afraid of temptation. When we are afraid of our temptations we always act in one of two ways. Either we invent some excuse to explain away these evil impulses and so avoid facing them, or we belittle the temptation and try to forget it as soon as possible. Both these actions are dangerous. If we excuse or forget temptation we are fooling no one but ourselves. All we succeed in doing is pushing the thought down into the back of our minds. There it stays and grows, like a slow cancer. One day it comes out again, stronger and more evil than before. It is as though a man who drops his lighted cigarette into a wastebasket, should, when it flames up, seize the burning mass, thrust it into a closet, and close the door. The fire is out of sight and forgotten, but only for a little while.
We must not, therefore, be afraid of temptation. If we have no fear of it, we will not try to avoid facing it or to belittle it. If we can meet our temptations bravely and calmly, we can finally master them. If we are cowards about them, we are handicapped from the start.
Temptations are not always bad. The third fact which our Faith tells us is that temptations are not always entirely bad for we can often find them to be a source of strength in the development of our character. In other words, temptations are frequently tests and trials through which real fineness of spirit can come. The most valuable qualities in a man’s personality nearly always come to him through some affliction. It may be sickness, suffering, sorrow, hardship, or some other kind of pain and distress. It may be temptation which, if mastered and overcome, adds by God’s grace a little more strength and holiness to the character we are trying to shape in ourselves.
We must never lose hope and give in. It often seems to people that they can never succeed in defeating the evil impulses which come to them. Yet if there is one thing our Lord Jesus Christ taught us never to do, it is to give up, to lose hope, or to lie down on the job. After all, we never know how much strength we really have until we have tried to the very end. Someone has wisely said, “No man is beaten until he is beaten inside,” that is, no man is defeated until he has given up trying. “The team that won’t be beat, can’t be beat” is a familiar saying. That team is man and God together. We shall win with God’s help if we can endure to the finish.
These are the facts which the Church puts before us so that when we think we are standing most firmly, we take heed lest we fall. From these facts we can see more clearly the way to master and overcome our temptations. St. Paul gives us the secret of how this can be done. “There hath no temptation taken you,” he said, “but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” [1 Corinthians, 10:13.]
What are these ways God has provided us to master and defeat temptations?
Avoid temptations which come from outside. We often think that the impulse to evil lurks down in our own hearts. That is not exactly true. What is inside us is a tendency to respond to temptations coming from the outside, and to respond so strongly that we lose control of ourselves. Certain people, things, or places arouse sinful desires in us. The first thing to do is to keep away from them as far as is humanly possible. It may be a certain type of entertainment or reading, or a particular kind of self-indulgence, or a certain crowd of companions – no matter how harmless they seem to others, if they stir an evil response in us we must avoid them. This takes some discipline and will power, but surprising results can be gained from a very little firmness. Such firmness will not free us completely from temptation but it will make us less fertile ground for every bad seed which falls on us.
Most of these temptations from the outside are not found when we keep to the path of life God wants us to follow. In that path His companionship is always our strength and safeguard. It is when we wander off into little by-paths of our own selfish and indulgent choice that we encounter the worst of these outside temptations. We have then deliberately weakened our resistance by playing with fire, and left the presence of our powerful Divine Protector.
Kill the temptation in its infancy. But we must go a little farther than keeping away from outside temptations. The conquest of temptation, like charity, really begins at home – that is, in our very inmost thoughts.
Too many people fool themselves into thinking that because their thoughts are unseen and unknown to others they are unimportant and harmless. Actually, thoughts are most important. Remember how hard Jesus was on men’s sinful thoughts. He knew that to encourage them was to feed and build up that tendency to respond to evil, so that one day it would destroy us. The time to conquer a temptation is when it first enters the mind. Then, just born, it is weakest. The longer it lives in our mind, the stronger it becomes. The only way to master it is to kill it. The surest death for it is starvation. The temptation just born in the mind feeds on the little bits of envy, jealousy, impurity, and selfishness that we harbor in our thoughts. Take away these and it starves to death.
Rely on the help of God. Above all, the way God has made for us to master temptation is by His Divine strength. Even at its very best our resistance is feeble. As our prayers truly say, again and again, of ourselves we cannot order our unruly wills and sinful affections, and because of the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without God’s help. God is always at hand with His help. We must turn to Him at every point of conflict with evil. Even if we should be overcome and sin, we must go to Him at once with our confession, our sorrow, and our new resolve.
Do not wait until the next time we go to church. Do not wait until we have forgotten it a little and feel less ashamed to face God. If we wait the temptation will leave us weaker than before rather than stronger. To rely on God means that we must make constant acts of remembrance of His presence throughout the day. It means that there is only one thing to do whenever we are assailed by an evil impulse: pray, and pray hard. Wherever we are, whenever it comes, stop to pray. We may pray silently, unnoticed by others, but we must pray continuously until the conflict is over and we are better prepared for the next experience. This was one of our Lord’s last commandments to us: “Watch and Pray, that ye enter not into temptation.”
We watch by avoiding the occasions of sin which come to us from people and things outside ourselves; by keeping to that path of life in which God is our companion; and by being hard on our temptations of thought. We pray that we may always keep open the channel by which God’s help can reach us in our conflict.
XVIII – Sin
O Lord, we beseech thee, absolve thy people from their offences; that through thy bountiful goodness we may all be delivered from the bands of those sins, which by our frailty we have committed. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen.
– Collect for Trinity XXIV; p. 223.
In trying to think more clearly about temptation, we defined sin briefly as something which separates us from God. But the only thing which can separate us from His love is our own disobedience to what we know God desires of us. He has given us a standard which our Lord Jesus Christ revealed. He said,
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Laws and the Prophets.
These commands reveal the three-fold will of God. Our duty toward God is to love Him and to worship Him with our whole being. Our duty toward our neighbors is to love our fellows and to treat them with justice, respect, and fairness. Our duty toward ourselves is to treat ourselves as temples of His Holy Spirit.
Willful indifference or disobedience to these standards is sin. The unwillingness or refusal to respond to God is what breaks our companionship with Him and cuts us off from His presence. Sin, therefore, is something which intrudes into the relation between man and God; it is not merely something which may be called “wrong.” The world is full of ideas of what is “right” and what is “wrong.” These ideas have grown into what we call moral codes. They govern the behavior of men and women living in groups and nations, and all moral codes are not the same among people. For example, where the moral code has been reinforced by the laws of the state, it is “wrong” to kill, to commit a murder. Yet among the codes of some savage peoples, it is “right” in certain circumstances to kill. Again, in civilized countries it is “wrong” for a man to have more than one wife, or a woman more than one husband. Yet, among some barbarous tribes the practice of polygamy is still “right.”
The point is that these moral codes are man-made; what is considered right or wrong by men is not necessarily the same as God’s standards of right and wrong. This is not always easy to see, for it so happens that the moral codes of most civilized people have been strongly influenced by Judaism and Christianity. God’s standards have been partially accepted and made a part of the moral code. Nevertheless, His code still exists over and above all man-made codes, and it is the refusal or failure to respond to His desires which is sin. Perhaps this is more clearly seen when we reflect that man-made codes of right and wrong deal with outward actions and behavior. Not even in the most civilized land does the moral code restrain a man from thinking wrong thoughts or harboring evil desires. But God’s code deals as much with the inner thoughts and desires of our hearts as with our outward actions or behavior.
What is sin? We have answered this first question. It is that disobedience or neglect of God’s standards – either in thought or word or deed – by which we separate ourselves from Him and from His loving care and protection. To a Christian this separation is the worst evil in the world. In every other evil, in sickness, pain, poverty, sorrow, hardship, even in death, God is with us to help bear our burdens and to show us the way to make something fine and strong out of our affliction. But in sin we are alone, by our own act deprived of the love with which God sustains us. Man cannot live without God. If we continue in our sins we shall destroy our souls.
We must, therefore, try to answer some further questions about this matter which is so vital to our existence. We have seen what sin is. Our next question is:
Are there different kinds of sins? Yes. There are sins committed willfully and knowingly, with deliberate intent to hurt God or others or ourselves, or with intent to further our own selfish ends without regard for the love due to God or for the rights of other people. These are justly called “sins of malice.” But because sin may also be committed through fear, or by reason of some illness which has weakened the character or because of an old habit which is hard to break at once, some sins are called “sins of infirmity or weakness.” Furthermore, because sin is not only thinking or doing something we ought not to do, but also failing to do something we should do, there are “sins of omission or neglect.” It is not enough simply to try to keep ourselves from evil thoughts and wicked actions; we must earnestly strive to do what is good and right. Neglect of our plain duty is just as sinful as outright wickedness. Finally, there are those sins which might be termed “sins of ignorance,” committed by those who do not know God’s desires, or who have not taken the trouble to find them out.
What are particular sins? There is a very old list called the “Seven Deadly Sins” which groups all sins under these few headings:
Pride Anger Covetousness Lust Envy Sloth Gluttony
A little thought about each one will quickly reveal most of the sins which come under that heading. The meaning of each of the Seven Deadly Sins becomes clearer if we set down beside each one the corresponding Godly Virtue which God desires us to practise, and which overcomes the sin.
Are we responsible for our sins? To a large degree sin is a matter of choice. God created men and women free beings with wills of their own, and He created us that way in order that we might serve Him because we wanted to and not because we had to. He does not compel us. God might have willed us always to be righteous and never to be sinful, but instead He willed that we should be free to choose the good and reject the evil. When men and women choose to sin, the choice is for the most part their own. To a large degree they alone are responsible.
Yet our responsibility for our sins is not complete and absolute because our freedom is not complete. There is more guilt attached to “sins of malice” than to “sins of ignorance” or “sins of weakness.” But our freedom is limited by the fact that we are human beings, living in an imperfect world, equipped with physical bodies, and with a strong tendency to sin in our nature. Sometimes we do not consciously choose to commit a sin; we are impelled to it by an urge which is difficult to control.
Nevertheless, there is still one great responsibility on us: the responsibility always to seek God’s help in mastering such impulses. By ourselves we cannot always cleave to the good and avoid the evil. This is why so many of our prayers and collects acknowledge that “we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves,” or “we cannot put our trust in anything that we do,” or “because of the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without God’s grace and help,” or “from God alone comes the spirit to think and to do always such things as are right.” We pray constantly for the grace and power to be able “to do what things we ought to do.” Our chief responsibility is to ask God constantly to keep us from all sin. However limited our freedom may be, we can always choose Him. The real guilt of sin lies in failure to do that.
What is the effect of sin? Sin is very far-reaching in its effects. Unless it is conquered, it spreads its destructive evil out like a cancer, poisoning everything it touches. Our sins have their effect upon others, those whom we hurt by them. They have serious effects upon our social life, upon the world itself. We say that we live in an imperfect world, full of hatred, greed, poverty, war – in short, a “wicked and a naughty world.” This wickedness springs from the sin of men and women who live in the world. Theirs is the hatred and the greed, the failure to love each other and to desire God’s will for all mankind.
Sin, too, has a terrible effect upon the sinner himself. When we consent to a thought or an act against God’s standards of love, we desert His Presence – turn ourselves adrift, as it were. We may find our way back or we may continue in sin. The more we continue, the harder it is to break away and return to God. The image of God which each one of us bears in his heart is tarnished over as we gradually becomes slaves to sinful habits or evil impulses. In the end, we may accomplish our own utter destruction.
Sin also has an effect upon God. It is the most deadly and far-reaching evil in this world, but one thing reaches further and is more powerful than sin. That is the love of God. The sin which obstructs God’s good will and desires, and arouses His wrath, at the same time calls forth His love, in all its fullness, to seek out the sinner and save him from his sins. That fact is the very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God so loved this world of sinful men and women that even while they continued to separate themselves from Him, He gave His only-begotten Son to die for them upon the Cross that they might be drawn back once more to the everlasting life which God gives to His children. This leads us directly to our last question:
Can sinners be restored again to God? The answer is simply, “Yes – through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” But that answer needs some further explanation. It is not easy to understand why the life and death and resurrection of Jesus makes it possible for us to find our way back from sin to God. We shall never fully understand it, but we must at least learn why it is the great truth of the Gospel.
God restores us by forgiving our sins. On our part we must be forgivable, that is, willing and able to receive the forgiveness which He freely gives. That requires of us three things: (1) contrition, which is sorrow for our wrong-doing and grief at having offended God; (2) confession, which is the free acknowledgment to God that we have sinned against Him; (3) amendment, which is a firm resolve that by the help of God we shall not sin in the future.
Those things are what forgiveness requires, and with God’s help we can accomplish them. But sin itself has its demands to make. Sin carries destruction in its wake. It exacts a penalty of death which must be paid. We cannot meet this cost of our own wrong-doing and still live, and so God because of His great love has Himself paid the price of sin for us. When He became incarnate in Jesus Christ, God and Man were united in One Person. Jesus Himself, the perfect sinless man, took upon Him the burden and penalty of our sins and paid their cost by His death upon the Cross. And the Son of God could be victorious where, without Him, we could not be. He rose again from the dead that, through our companionship with Him now, we too might be united once more with God in eternal life. That is the mystery of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. In this life we may not fully understand it, but because it is true we shall one day be able to live a greater life beyond the grave, a life of deeper knowledge of God. Now we can but keep the Cross of Jesus before us, with the hope and forgiveness it brings to all sinners:
He died that we might be forgiven,
He died to make us good,
That we might go at last to heaven,
Saved by His precious blood.
There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin,
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven, and let us in.
O dearly, dearly has He loved!
And we must love Him too,
And trust in His redeeming blood,
And try His works to do. [Hymn 65.]
Added Note on Self-Examination:
One of the chief spiritual duties of a Christian is the practice of self-examination. At the end of each day he should review briefly his thoughts, motives, words, and acts of that day, trying to see where he has fallen short of the standards of our Lord; where he has ignored or omitted his Christian duty; where he has offended against God, others, or himself. He should ask God to give him true repentance for all his sins and strength to amend his ways in the future. Once a week – generally before receiving the Holy Communion – this self-examination should be conducted with special care. At least once a year – generally during Holy Week, after the season of Lenten penance and recollection – the Christian’s whole life should be reviewed in the same way.
The purpose of self-examination is not primarily that one should know one’s sins, but rather to know one’s self. We pay particular attention to our sins only because they are the things that we tend to ignore or refuse to face. Careful and humble self-examination is essential. Without it, there can be no progress in the Christian life.
The essential of self-examination is to see our imperfections against the perfection of Christian character shown in Jesus Christ. This is done by seeing ourselves in the light of God’s standards. We need, as it were, a measuring-stick to apply to our lives. Several things will serve as this spiritual measure: the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Seven Godly Virtues, or any other convenient group of standards setting forth God’s law of love for Him and others. Most of the little books of devotion or of preparation for the Holy Communion given us at Confirmation contain outlines for such simple self-examination. The Prayer Book itself contains material for an examination based on the Ten Commandments. [P.B., pp. 288–289.]
XIX – The Forgiveness of Sins
O Lord, we beseech thee, mercifully hear our prayers, and spare all those who confess their sins unto thee; that they, whose consciences by sin are accused, by thy merciful pardon may be absolved; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Collect from A Penitential Office; p. 62.
Most of us have heard the familiar and discouraging remark: “You can’t change human nature.” It is one of the pet catch-phrases by which people try to excuse their bad qualities or to avoid responsibility for actions of which they are ashamed. Like most popular slogans this remark is only a half-truth. You and I cannot change human nature, but God can and does change human nature. He not only alters men’s hearts and desires but also makes anew their whole personalities. The one great miracle of Christianity is that God brings good out of evil. He does it by the forgiveness of sins. He does it by that Cross on which our Saviour Jesus Christ died for us and for our sins. To say, as we do in the Creed, “I believe in . . . the Forgiveness of Sins” is to say, “I believe that our heavenly Father can so change human nature that sinful man becomes a child of God.” That, as we shall see, is the basic meaning of the Crucifixion.
Have you ever seen an old coin, passed from hand to hand for so long that it is worn thin? The image and the value are effaced. The same thing happens to our words and ideas. Forgiveness is one of those vital words, the meaning of which lies at the heart of the Christian Faith. But by careless use we have worn its meaning thin. People have used “forgiveness” to mean everything from merely excusing and pardoning to ignoring and forgetting. Can we rediscover its true Christian meaning?
Let us suppose that we have been injured by a friend. It may have been a cruel word, a disloyal act, or the betrayal of some trust we reposed in him. What is the result? The friendship is broken. A barrier has come between us. The relation which was built upon mutual love and trust has now been undermined by suspicion and disloyalty. How can the broken friendship be restored? We may try to ignore the whole thing, to forget that it ever happened; but though that may cover up the wound for the time being, it does not seem to heal the breech.
The only thing which will completely restore the relationship and, indeed, make it deeper and finer than before, is forgiveness. This is not easy. The offender must realize what pain his offense has caused. He must face its consequences, swallowing his false pride and acknowledging sorrowfully that he has been to blame. And finally, he must determine not to act that way in the future. All that is not a simple task. To put aside our pride and face humbly the people we have wronged is a difficult task.
Yet it is perhaps more difficult for the one who is to forgive, if that forgiveness is to be really Christian. He must act as though the repentant offender were capable of change. He must restore the sinner to his love, putting aside his wounded pride and bruised feelings, even disregarding the effects which the offense has had upon him. He must trust again where trust has been betrayed, love again where love has been hurt. That is what makes real forgiveness. That is what works a change in human nature, and brings good out of evil. “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” [Ephesians, 4:32.]
That, then, is Christian forgiveness among human beings. But we have learned this kind of forgiveness from God. It is the kind that forgives our friends and enemies “as God for Christ’s sake” has forgiven us. Daily we ask in the Lord’s Prayer that God will forgive our sins exactly in the same way that we forgive others their offenses against us. “Forgive us our trespasses,” we pray, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It is no wonder that St. Augustine called that part of the Lord’s Prayer “a terrible petition.” We ask the identical treatment we mete out to others, to be shown precisely the quality of mercy and love that we show to our fellows.
Fortunately God’s mercy and forgiveness are neither limited nor bounded by the kind of people we are. He sees beyond our weaknesses and failures to the kind of person we can be and ought to be. No matter how shameful or grievous our sins, in His eyes there is something in each of us worth forgiveness. We break our companionship with Him by our sinful thoughts and words and deeds. Again and again we are disloyal to His good desires for us. Over and over we betray His trust in us. Yet in His infinitely tender mercy and love He reaches over the barrier we have set up, separates us from our sins, and sees us always as capable of the change to a new life. So much did God see in us worth forgiveness that our dear Lord died on the Cross bearing all the burden of shame and guilt for our sins. The Cross is what our forgiveness cost God.
The cost to us in comparison is very little. All that God asks of us is what most of us are secretly eager to give: Realization of how much our offenses have hurt God; sorrow for our betrayal of His trust; free and honest confession of our wrongdoing; and the firm determination that by His help we shall lead better lives in the future. This sorrow, confession, and resolution do not earn forgiveness for us. We cannot ourselves earn it. It comes to us only by the Cross on which Jesus has earned it for us. He made the great sacrifice (which because of our sinfulness we could not make) through the shedding of His Sacred Blood in His death upon Calvary. [P.B., pp. 80–81.] But through our faith in Him we can receive the divine forgiveness which He gave His life to bring to us.
Forgiveness is the one thing which is vital to every man or woman, boy or girl. It is the means by which we share in that new life which Jesus came to bring more abundantly, the kind of life to which death makes no difference and which will one day be lived in all its fullness in the Kingdom of God. Without it we are broken under an intolerable burden of shame and guilt, and our souls are deadened by the destructive effects of sin. Without it we can know nothing of the blessed joy and peace of God which pass all understanding.
Have you ever confessed a fault or a wrong act to someone who loves you, knowing that those who love will forgive? The kind of love that forgives is the mightiest force in this world, for by that act of confession and loving forgiveness there comes a cleansing and indescribable peace and a new strength for future goodness. Even human love can accomplish this. The divine love of God, the love which could pour itself out upon the Cross, brings all these rewards in a degree which human beings can hardly imagine.
God alone forgives sins. It is He alone to whom all hearts are open and every desire of man is known. He freely forgives and restores all those who confess their sins to Him “with an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart.” [P.B., pp. 5–6; 23–24; 62–63; 75–76.]
All He asks of us is that we be:
Humble, that is, coming before Him with a realization of what our sins have meant; filled with a sense of our unworthiness; acknowledging our dependence upon our Creator.
Lowly, that is, confessing our sins freely and frankly; putting aside all false pride; claiming nothing for ourselves.
Penitent, that is, ready to make all possible amends for our wrongdoing; to take whatever consequences we have brought upon ourselves, knowing that in God’s forgiveness we shall be given the strength to bear those consequences.
Obedient, that is, firmly determined that by God’s help we shall keep ourselves from sin in the future.
Forgiveness is such a necessary part of the Christian life that all the chief services in the Church’s worship contain a Confession of Sins. It is necessary that we be cleansed and restored to companionship with God before we can worship Him with all our hearts and minds and souls. Likewise our private prayers should always include a careful examination of our acts and thoughts, culminating in a confession of our misdeeds. This is especially appropriate at night when we are preparing for bed. [See the form of confession in Family Evening Prayer.]
In the services of Morning and Evening Prayer, and in the Holy Communion we say what is called A General Confession. That means that we confess our sins together in general terms as a single body of worshipers, each remembering his own sins in his own heart. At the conclusion of the confession the priest to whom power and commandment has been given to declare and pronounce the absolution and remission of sins, [P.B., pp. 7; 24.] turns to the people and assures them of God’s forgiveness of their sins. While our Lord lived among us on earth He declared the Divine forgiveness. When He ascended to Heaven He left to His Apostles and their successors in the Ministry of His Church the commission to pronounce in God’s Name the forgiveness He had brought through His Cross.
Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained. [St. John, 20:21–23. See also St. Matthew, 16:19; 18:18.]
This authority the Apostles and their successors have exercised in the Church of God ever since. [See the fourth rubric, P.B., p. 313, and the Sentence of Ordination for Priests in the Ordinal.] Let us have it clear, though, once and for all. The priest does not forgive sins. Only God can do that. What the priest does is to declare God’s forgiveness to those who have made a true confession in their hearts, conveying to them the grace of absolution.
Thus far we have touched only upon the confession of sins and God’s forgiveness in general. All Christians must make use of some kind of confession, whether it be the General Confession said in Church after a careful private self-examination, or the personal confession, said in one’s own words as one kneels in prayer at home.
But, beyond these two, there is a particular kind of confession which the Church offers to those who may need it. This is confession in the presence of a priest, sometimes called the Sacrament of Absolution, or the Sacrament of Penance. Many people are disturbed about this kind of confession. It arouses prejudice and suspicion. As a result, we hear a great many disparaging remarks about sacramental confession; but, it is to be noted, these remarks are never made by those who have experienced the peace and strength which come through this means of the assurance of God’s forgiveness.
In our Church, confession before a priest is not an obligation but simply an opportunity, “open for all, advisable for some, and obligatory upon none.” The Prayer Book plainly and clearly teaches that this opportunity is to be placed within reach of all who may feel the need for it. The Ordinal indicates that the hearing of confessions is an important part of a priest’s ministry, and the Second Exhortation to the Holy Communion states:
And because it is requisite that no man should come to the holy Communion, but with a full trust in God’s mercy, and with a quiet conscience; therefore, if there be any of you, who by this means cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort and counsel, let him come to me, or to some other Minister of God’s Word, and open his grief. [P.B., pp. 87–88.]
After all, there is nothing strange in confessing our sins and seeking aid in our troubles from our parish clergy. If a man feels physically ill or contracts some disease, he usually does not read a medical textbook and then try to diagnose and treat his case on the basis of the information he finds there. No, he goes to a physician, describes his symptoms and lets the doctor advise and prescribe. In the same way, if we are spiritually ill, troubled by some constant temptation, habitually addicted to a particular sin, we go to our pastor. He will give counsel and advice, and minister God’s healing gift of forgiveness to those who truly repent. Sin is a disease just as real as any bodily pain or infection. It must be treated as such or it will prove even worse than physical ailments. They may kill the body; sin unchecked will destroy the soul.
If, therefore, any man or woman, boy or girl, is gravely troubled, unable to quiet the conscience, powerless to break a sinful habit, disturbed by the memory of a sin long past – and old sins have the longest shadows – or badly in need of wise spiritual counsel, let him go to his parish clergy and open his grief. The priest is bound to secrecy by the seal of the confessional. Do not be ashamed to confess what is in your mind. It makes no difference to him what you are or what you have done. He sees in you a child of God whom he is eager to help, by his experience and knowledge, along the road which leads to eternal life. You see in him not only your spiritual physician, but also Christ’s chosen and ordained representative to whom God has given power and commandment to declare His loving mercy and forgiveness to all repentant sinners.
Many people, especially young people, are desirous of making a sacramental confession, but are shy because of their uncertainty as to how it is done. This is particularly true if it is their first confession. There is nothing difficult or mysterious about it. Before a confession you should make a careful self-examination of your life, your thoughts and deeds and words. This should take about a half-hour; and is best made on your knees, asking God to help you see what is wrong in your life. It will be helpful if you jot down notes, to be carefully destroyed afterward, to refresh your memory during the confession. The human memory is not to be trusted to bring to the mind everything discovered the night before in self-examination. If you need help in preparing yourself, your parish clergy will gladly give you some simple leaflets or books to aid in your self-examination. Remember that your self-examination is most important. It is in the midst of coming face to face with yourself and God that true repentance is found.
In many churches a specific time is set apart for the administration of the Sacrament of Absolution. If this hour is not convenient the priest will make a special appointment with you. At the time arranged go into the church or chapel five minutes early and ask God to help you in your penitence for past sins and your resolution for the future. Usually the priest sits vested in surplice and stole directly behind the altar rail. When you are ready, go forward, kneel at the rail, and in a simple and straightforward manner open your heart to God, confessing your sins, and asking of the priest his counsel and God’s absolution. Often there is a short form provided to assist you. It may run something like this:
Priest: In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. The Lord be upon thy lips and in thy heart that thou mayest rightly and truly confess thy sins.
Penitent: I confess to God Almighty, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, before the whole company of Heaven and thee, Father, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, through my fault, my own fault, my own most grievous fault. Especially since my last confession which was on I have sinned thus:
(Here confess your sins.)
For these and all my other sins, which I cannot now remember, I am heartily sorry and firmly purpose amendment, humbly asking God pardon and forgiveness, and of you, Father, penance, counsel, and absolution.
The priest will then give you his counsel. He will ask you to say, before you leave the church, a penance, as a sign that you are truly sorry – some prayer, Psalm, or other act of devotion. He will declare God’s forgiveness of all your sins. He will conclude with the Blessing, and those words which have brought joy and quiet strength to so many thousands who have known God’s forgiveness: “Go in peace for the Lord hath put away thy sins.”
XX – The Cycle of the Christian Year
O Almighty God, who hast called us to faith in thee, and hast compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses; Grant that we, encouraged by the good examples of thy Saints, and especially of thy servant [Saint ——], may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at length, through thy mercy, we, with them, attain to thine eternal joy; through him who is the author and finisher of our faith, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Collect for a Saint’s Day; p. 258.
In the past few chapters we have been considering the Christian’s obligations and difficulties, his prayer, worship, and service as his daily concern. Later, the chapters of Part III will treat of the orderly progress of the Christian’s whole life from beginning to end. Throughout each day of that life he lives by his Christian Rule, and that Rule is ordered on the basis of his life through the year.
Through long custom and tradition the Church has established its own yearly Calendar of Feasts and Fasts, called the Christian Year or the Church Year. The Prayer Book outlines the Christian Year in three ways:
By including the Calendar of the Christian Year among the tables at the beginning of the Book.
By providing a Collect, Epistle, and Gospel (to be used at the Holy Communion) for every Sunday and special day in the Church Year, including the “Octaves,” or seven-day periods following the greater Holy Days.
By providing a Selection of Psalms and Table of Lessons (to be used at Morning and Evening Prayer) for each day in the year.
As we celebrate birthdays and important anniversaries in our families, and holidays and patriotic days in our nation, so the Church observes its great days, anniversaries, and seasons. With us it is the life of Jesus Christ which is most important, and so the Christian Year is based on that. His Birthday (Christmas) and His Resurrection Day (Easter) are the greatest days of our year. Every Sunday reminds us of Easter Day, every Friday of Good Friday. To prepare us for the Feast of Christmas, the Church Year starts with Advent, near the end of November, instead of on January first. So it is with the remembrances of the entire twelve months.
The observance of the Christian Year has a three-fold purpose:
First, it teaches us. The pageantry and carols of Christmas teach us all, even the youngest, of our Saviour’s Birth. We learn of His Circumcision, eight days after His Birth, on the day which we also celebrate as New Year’s Day. The Epiphany tells us of the visit of the Wise Men, Palm Sunday of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Good Friday of His Crucifixion, Easter of His resurrection, Ascension Day of His return to His Father. Whitsunday reminds us that the Holy Spirit came to guide the Church, and Trinity Sunday teaches us the doctrine of the nature of God. We learn also of Saints and Martyrs, of special times to pray for those entering the Ministry, for the gifts of nature, for our Nation, and so on.
Second, it helps us grow in the Christian life. Year by year the Church gives us this means of becoming more loyal and better trained members. The Christian Year brings such periods of fasting and special discipline as Lent and Fridays. It fills us with joy at God’s great victories of the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Ghost. It provides spiritual food through the long succession of Sundays after Trinity, so that we grow like the green plant life all about us at that time. By holding before us not only the example of our Blessed Lord but also that of the Saints, who began as men and women like ourselves, it gives us encouragement and hope.
Finally, it identifies us with Christ. As we observe the Christian Year, our lives go through the general course of events of His Ministry. This allows us to enter into His own experience, and binds our lives more closely to His.
It also identifies us with His Body, the Church, with other believers who are on the same pilgrimage with us, as well as with the Saints of old.
The following is an abbreviated and simplified Table of the Christian Year:
SEASON OR DAY
Preparation for Christ’s Coming.
From the Sunday nearest St. Andrew’s Day to Christmas.
Season of Christ’s Birth.
The Birth of Christ.
The Circumcision of Christ.
From Dec. 25th to Jan. 5th.
Season of the Showing Forth of Christ to the Gentiles.
Visit of the Wise Men.
Presentation of Christ in the Temple and Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin.
From January 6th to Pre-Lent.
Preparation for Lent. Includes Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima Sundays.
The weeks of the three Sundays before Ash Wednesday.
A Period of Abstinence and Extra Devotion in Preparation for Easter.
First Day of Lent. A Day of Strict Fast.
Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem.
The Last Supper and Betrayal.
The Crucifixion. A Day of Strict Fast.
Christ’s Body in the Tomb.
40 week days.
40 week days before Easter.
Sunday before Easter.
Thursday before Easter.
Friday before Easter.
Saturday before Easter.
The Risen Christ Appears to His Disciples.
For 40 days after Easter.
See P.B. “Tables and Rules for Movable and Immovable Feasts.”
Christ’s Return to His Father.
Christ’s Ascension into Heaven.
For 10 days after Ascension Day.
40 days after Easter.
Season of the Holy Spirit.
Coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.
For one week.
Seven weeks after Easter.
God’s Work in Our Lives.
The Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Working together in the World.
Christ’s Transfiguration on the Mount before His Disciples.
For 20-Odd Sundays until Advent.
Eight weeks after Easter.
In addition there is a day (March 25th) to commemorate the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, when the Angel Gabriel announced to her that Jesus would be born, and days to commemorate the major Saints, beginning with St. Andrew on November 30th and ending with All Saints’ Day on November 1st.* On various days are honored the Apostles, the Evangelists, St. John the Baptist, St. Paul, St. Barnabas, St. Stephen (the first Christian martyr), the Holy Innocents (children slaughtered in Bethlehem by King Herod), and St. Michael and All Angels. [*Many of the greater Holy Days have “Octaves,” i.e., the seven days following are to be celebrated with the proper Collects and other parts of the liturgy so ordered, in order that the Holy Day may be kept with due solemnity. The Prayer Book provides Octaves for Christmas, The Epiphany, Easter, Ascension Day, Whitsunday, and All Saints’ Day.]
The Calendar also includes the Ember Days (occurring four times a year, on which we pray for those to be ordained to the Ministry), the Rogation Days (being the three days before Ascension Day, in which we pray for bountiful crops), Independence Day, and Thanksgiving Day.
The Collect, Epistle, and Gospel for “A Saint’s Day” [P.B., p. 258.] are provided that we may also celebrate the days of other Saints than those for whom specific provision is made. It is very appropriate that we should observe the feast of the Patron Saint of our church on the proper date. There are also certain other Saints, such as St. Alban, St. Patrick, St. Columba, St. George, St. Augustine, and St. David, whose special connection with our Anglican Communion makes it suitable for us to commemorate them each year.
There are a Collect, Epistle, and Gospel for the Feast of the Dedication of a Church. We may use these for the Holy Communion on the anniversary of the Dedication of our Church or Chapel. The Collect, Epistle, and Gospel at a marriage are used for the celebration of the Holy Communion before or in connection with a marriage ceremony. Those provided for the Burial of the Dead are used at the Holy Communion on the day of a burial. In many churches these are used regularly for a Eucharist of Requiem for the souls of the Faithful Departed.
Depending on the date of Easter, as much as half the year may be occupied by the Trinity Season. The Collects, Epistles, and Gospels for the Sundays after Trinity concern the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and God’s grace and forgiveness. The teachings of Trinity may be summarized by the following quotations from the Collects for that Season:
“Grant to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think and to do always such things as are right” (Trinity IX). “Lord, we pray thee that thy grace may always prevent [go before] and follow us” (Trinity XVII). “Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts” (Trinity XIX). “Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve thee with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Trinity XXI).
The Sundays through the summer and autumn were once reckoned as the “Sundays after Pentecost.” It was the Church of England that brought Trinity Sunday to its present important place in the Calendar. The emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit during this season harks back to the old reckoning from Pentecost, which is another name for Whitsunday, the Feast of the Holy Spirit.
The Church has always been aware of the value of appealing to the eye as well as to the ear. We worship God with all our being. Accordingly each remembrance in the Church Year has its appropriate color.
White, the color of pure joy, is used on the altar hangings and vestments for Christmas, Easter, and other Feasts of our Lord’s life, as well as for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, the Conversion of St. Paul, and St. John the Evangelist, who was the only one of the Twelve to escape martyrdom. White is also used for the whole week of All Saints’, for St. Michael and All Angels, for Holy Matrimony, and for the Burial of a Child.
Violet, the color of sorrowful penitence, is used for Advent, Pre-Lent, Lent, the Ember and Rogation Days, and Holy Innocents Day.
Red, the color of the Holy Spirit (from the flames that appeared over the disciples’ heads at Pentecost) and of the blood of the Martyrs, is used for the days of the martyred Saints, and for Whitsuntide, the season of the Holy Spirit.
Green, the color of nature’s growth and life, is used for the Sundays after The Epiphany and after Trinity.
Black, the color of mourning, is used for Good Friday, for Burials, and for Requiem Celebrations in memory of those departed this life.
Some of the Feasts of the Church have been taken over for official observance by the nation as a whole. Christmas and Easter, for example, are universally observed as special holidays. On the other hand, some of the national holidays, such as Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day, have taken their places in the Church Calendar.
The Christian will remember, in celebrating any day which finds a place in the Church Year, to give due regard to its religious significance. On Christmas he will attend “Christ’s Mass” (an old name for the Christmas Eucharist). He will start the New Year by observing the Feast of the Circumcision. Easter will mean primarily our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, and Hallowe’en will remind him of his Holy Communion on All Saints’ Day morning. He will celebrate the national holidays by giving thanks to God as the Church provides, and as the founders of those holidays intended.
So the Christian moves through the Church’s Year, welcoming the repentance and discipline of the penitential seasons, rejoicing in the feasts which celebrate the great victories of the Faith, and remembering in his own life the wonderful acts of our Blessed Lord and Saviour.
XXI – The Christian’s Rule of Life
And since it is of thy mercy, O gracious Father, that another day is added to our lives; We here dedicate both our souls and our bodies to thee and thy service, in a sober, righteous, and godly life: in which resolution, do thou, O merciful God, confirm and strengthen us; that, as we grow in age, we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
– The Self-Dedication, Family Prayer.
Christ has made us free. The early Jewish Christians compared their life under the Jewish Law, with all its ceremonial requirements and minute regulations, with their new-found liberty in Christ. They found that the Christian life brought them a joyful freedom to serve and worship God. This freedom is our heritage as followers of Christ.
But real freedom always requires orderly subjection to some kind of law. To be free from ill health, we have to obey the rules of hygiene. To assure freedom to its citizens, a nation has to enforce laws against crime and disorder. So it is even in the freedom of the Christian religion.
To achieve freedom in the spiritual life, we have to be subject to its rules. A rule of when and where and how to pray, worship, discipline ourselves, and serve, will set us free to give those obligations our best attention and effort. One of the most important steps toward our freedom as Sons of God is to undertake a Rule of Life suited to our age and spiritual growth.
Such a rule will be more than a list of things we are going to do. It will be a regular pattern for our life. It will be simple enough so that we can keep it faithfully until we are ready to exchange it for a better rule. It will have several parts, but will be a unified whole. It will be based on our obligations as Christians, helping us to fulfill them and to dedicate our lives daily to God.
For the outline of our rule we will take our bounden duty as members of the Church. This has five requirements:
To Follow Christ.
To Worship God Every Sunday in His Church.
And Pray) for the Spread of His Kingdom.
To Follow Christ. This is the foundation of our rule. It should help us look always to our Heavenly Father, as He did. It should spur us on to work ceaselessly for the Kingdom, as He did. It should make us unafraid of hardship and self-discipline, as He was. Our Lord said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” [St. Luke, 9:23.]
From this part of our duty we derive one definite step in our rule, that is, to fast on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays, and to observe Lent and the Ember Days by some form of abstinence or special discipline. But generally the admonition “to follow Christ” gives us the spirit underlying our rule; its details will come from the other duties.
To Worship God Every Sunday in His Church. Here is the heart of the Christian’s rule. Since the beginning of the Church it has been the custom to gather for worship on the Lord’s Day. Sunday worship in church is still the core of religion in every vital Christian community.
Our rule will therefore include attending church on Sunday, and preferably for the Eucharist. This has been the chief Sunday service since the first days of the Apostolic Church, and it is the act of worship which Jesus Himself gave us with the command “Do this in remembrance of me.” Here we may come closest to the Divine Presence.
It is not necessary, though it may be desirable, to receive the Sacrament every Sunday, but our rule should include how often we will receive. It is better to start with a number of times really within our ability to observe, and to increase the number as we find our spiritual capacity growing. There are certain days traditionally regarded as “Feasts of Obligation,” when it is obligatory for Church people to receive Holy Communion. These are Christmas, Easter, and Whitsunday. Our rule should include them, and Ascension Day and All Saints’ Day as well. In many parishes and schools weekly attendance at Holy Communion will mean attending the “early Service.” Here in the stillness of the early morning hours, before the cares of the day crowd in on us, we will find it especially easy to worship attentively and to find the presence of God.
Every time we receive Communion we must make a careful preparation. The Exhortations of the Prayer Book stress the importance of this and describe the means:
The way and means thereto is: First, to examine your lives and conversations by the rule of God’s commandments; and whereinsoever ye shall perceive yourselves to have offended, either by will, word, or deed, there to bewail your own sinfulness, and to confess yourselves to Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life. And if ye shall perceive your offences to be such as are not only against God, but also against your neighbors; then ye shall reconcile yourselves unto them; being ready to make restitution and satisfaction, according to the uttermost of your powers, for all injuries and wrongs done by you to any other; and being likewise ready to forgive others who have offended you, as ye would have forgiveness of your offences at God’s hand: for otherwise the receiving of the Holy Communion doth nothing else but increase your condemnation. [P.B., p. 87.]
As the outline for our self-examination we may use the Ten Commandments or the “Duty to God and My Neighbor.” [P.B., p. 286–289.] The Bible includes many excellent passages for this purpose, such as 1 Corinthians 13 or Galatians 5:22–23.
The Exhortation continues, as quoted in Chapter XIX:
And because it is requisite that no man should come to the holy Communion, but with a full trust in God’s mercy, and with a quiet conscience; therefore, if there be any of you, who by this means cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or to some other Minister of God’s Word, and open his grief; that he may receive such godly counsel and advice, as may tend to the quieting of his conscience, and the removing of all scruple and doubtfulness.
This suggests that we may well include in our rule an auricular confession before a priest several times a year, particularly before such great Feasts as Christmas and Easter. These will be special preparations for Holy Communion, and will ordinarily be made within a day or two before we are to receive it.
Directly after Communion, before we leave the Church, we should spend a few minutes in thanksgiving. We can use the General Thanksgiving and one or more of the joyous canticles of Morning or Evening Prayer.
To Work for the Spread of His Kingdom. This part of our rule will include:
(a) Spreading the life of the Kingdom by our example. A Christian’s own life is his greatest means of influencing others. In our self-examinations we should ask ourselves what kind of example we have been setting, and whether it is apt to win people to the Kingdom or repel them.
(b) Trying to keep our relations with others loving, helpful, and encouraging. This is another question for our self-examination. We should give it especially careful consideration when we prepare for Holy Communion. Ways to help other people will come to us in our prayers. We must always be ready for the tasks God wants us to do.
(c) Working through organizations. They may be church guilds, such as the altar guild or servers’ guild, or they may be organized primarily for service in the community. In any case our rule should include some time devoted regularly to the work of an organization which serves God and other men.
To Pray for the Spread of His Kingdom. If Sunday worship is the heart of our rule, daily prayer is its life-blood. A good rule will enable prayer to flow steadily through all parts of our life. According to such a rule our prayers will:
(a) Be said daily, in the morning to start the day right, gird us for its work and difficulties, and help us plan it in the presence of God; and in the evening so that we may thank God for the day, confess our failures and shortcomings, pray for the people whose needs we have learned, and compose ourselves for rest. “Save us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.”
(b) Include the saying of Grace before meals, constant remembrances of God at other times, and some Bible reading. The study of other religious books may be part of our rule. This will cover courses in Church School, sacred studies courses at boarding school, or the work of study groups in young people’s fellowships.
(c) Occupy at least fifteen minutes a day, and preferably more than that. Here again it is better to commit ourselves to a shorter time which will be observed regularly than a longer time which will often be skimped or neglected.
(d) Be varied and balanced. In general our daily prayers should contain the same kind of prayer, in about the same order, as are found in the Prayer Book Services of Morning and Evening Prayer and Family Prayer. If we have time to use Morning and Evening Prayer we will find all the elements of Christian prayer included in beautiful and moving language. They will take ten to fifteen minutes each. If we have less time to spend, Family Prayer for both the morning and night is an excellent basis for our devotions.
To Give for the Spread of His Kingdom. The Christian has a direct responsibility to use his possessions for the advancement of God’s Kingdom. We are to be faithful stewards of what He has given us. We should also pledge ourselves in a definite way to give something regularly to the work of the Church. Our gift will usually take the form of a weekly offering, presented in the weekly envelope. This usually has two sides, one for the home parish and one for the missions. We should always give to both.
When we give to local charities and worthy community projects, we are also giving “for the spread of His Kingdom.” It is a special joy to give for those whose needs we know at first hand. By our Lord’s own statement, if we do something for any one in His Name, we are doing it for Him.
We cannot overestimate the value of working out a good rule of life for ourselves and adhering to it faithfully. If we break it, and at times we will, let us express our regret to God, resolve to keep it more faithfully in the future, and turn from our failure to the success which lies ahead. If we keep our rule in the beginning, we will find that soon it becomes natural to follow it.
A rule of life gives the Christian religion form and balance. It helps us to be regular and systematic in performing our obligations as members of the Church. It enables us to follow Christ with increasing joy and strength, that as we grow in age we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour.
PART III: THE CHRISTIAN’S LIFE IN THE CHURCH
XXII – Holy Baptism
We receive this Child (Person) into the congregation of Christ’s flock; and do sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end. Amen.
– The Baptismal Service; p. 280.
Question: “When were you made a member of the Church?”
Answer: “I was made a member of the Church when I was baptized.”
[P.B., p. 290.]
You became a Christian, not when you adopted any particular Christian virtues or did certain good deeds, but when you were baptized with water in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Baptism is one of the Sacraments, one of those outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace which punctuate our whole life from the cradle to the deathbed. Baptism is the first of these Sacraments both in chronological order and in importance. It is one of the Sacraments essential to Christian life.
Why is Baptism so important? In the first place, our Lord Himself was baptized. To a Jew like St. John the Baptist, Baptism meant primarily a symbolic washing away of sins, as a sign of repentance and a new start in life. But Baptism was not only a sign of the washing away of sins; it was thought that in the same way the rite actually removed them. Among the Jews, Baptism was also used as a purifying rite for new converts when they entered the Jewish Church.
In the second place, Baptism was “ordained,” that is, commanded, by Christ Himself for His followers. To Nicodemus He said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” [St. John, 3:5.] His last command to the Apostles was, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” [St. Matthew, 28:19.]
In the third place, the early Christians clearly regarded Baptism as the essential means of entering the Church. “Repent and be baptized,” said St. Peter at Pentecost. St. Philip baptized the Samaritans, and the Ethiopian eunuch suggested Baptism for himself as he rode along in the chariot with him. [See Acts, 2:38; 8:12: 8:36.] Saul of Tarsus was baptized by the disciple Ananias at Damascus, becoming a new man and a Christian. All through its early history we find Baptism the one path to membership in the Christian Church. There has been continuous and complete agreement between all the great branches of Christendom that the door of entrance to the Church is Baptism.
Baptismal customs have varied. In the early Church most of those baptized were adults, though the Acts tell us of whole households being baptized, adults and children alike. Confirmation, which is the natural completion of the rite of Baptism, seems to have been administered at the same time, as it is still in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Nowadays in the mission field large numbers of adults are baptized, but in the Church generally, infant Baptism is more prevalent.
Early Baptism was normally by immersion, that is, going under the water – as certain Christian groups still do. But in the modern Church the more usual method is that of pouring water on the forehead. The Prayer Book still allows the minister to dip the child “in the water discreetly” if immersion is desired. These are simply differences of custom.
A writing called the Apostolic Tradition tells us of the baptismal customs of the Ancient Church. The candidates were first admitted as catechumens for a probationary period of three years. During this time the life of the catechumen was supervised by his Sponsor. He was under instruction in the Christian Faith, and allowed to attend the first part of the Holy Eucharist through the Gospel.
During Lent the instruction period was intensified. On Maundy Thursday the candidates made their final preparations. They fasted on Good Friday, and presented themselves for Baptism at dawn on Easter morning. Removing their clothing, they were anointed with oil which the Bishop had blessed. Then they entered the water which had been sanctified, gave assent to the Creed, and were immersed. After being clothed, and again anointed with the oil of thanksgiving, they were brought into the Church to the Bishop. He then laid his hands on their heads, confirming them in the Christian Faith in the Name of the Trinity, and making the sign of the Cross on their foreheads. They were then admitted to the Easter Eucharist.
In our time, we have separated these ancient rites into two services in order that Confirmation may be given when years of discretion are reached. But our Prayer Book Service of Holy Baptism preserves the Sponsors, the instruction, the questions to the candidate or to his Sponsors, the prayers, the blessing of the water, Baptism with water in the Name of the Trinity, the sign of the Cross, and the thanksgiving. In the mission field today candidates still undergo a long and serious preparation for Baptism, giving up their pagan customs and being fully instructed in the Faith.
We have seen that every Sacrament has an outward and visible sign, and an inward and spiritual grace. It has also requirements to be fulfilled, and privileges to be enjoyed. Let us see what these are in the case of Baptism.
The Outward and Visible Sign:
—The Sign of the Cross
—The Name of the Holy Trinity
The Inward and Spiritual Grace:
—Death to Sin
—New Birth unto Righteousness
—The Gift of the Holy Spirit
The death to sin was originally symbolized by the immersion or “burial” of the candidate in the water. The new birth unto righteousness was represented by his rising from the water as Christ rose from the tomb. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the grace which makes us children of God – that is, born into His Family, the Church.
—Renunciation of Sin
—Belief in the Christian Faith
—Promise to Keep God’s Commandments
In the case of a child the requirements are met, and promises made by the Godparents or Sponsors on behalf of the child. It is on their faith, repentance, and obedience to God that the child draws. Thus it is important that Sponsors shall be Christians in deed as well as in name.
—Forgiveness of Sins
—Birth into God’s Family
—Membership in the Church
—The Sign and Name of a Christian
We shall now consider some questions commonly asked about Baptism.
Question: When should children be baptized?
Answer: As soon as possible, preferably on Sunday, but any day will do.
Question: Where should they be baptized?
Answer: In the parish church, except when urgent cause requires otherwise. Since Baptism is the Sacrament of admission to the Church, it is only proper that it should be performed in church.
Question: How many Godparents are necessary?
Answer: Three. A boy has two Godfathers and one Godmother, a girl two Godmothers and one Godfather. These Godparents are also called Sponsors. A child’s parents may be his Godparents. An adult must have at least two witnesses present at his Baptism.
Question: Does an adult have to prepare for Baptism?
Answer: Yes, he must receive moral preparation and instruction in the Faith.
Question: Who may baptize?
Answer: Ordinarily a minister; in an emergency, any baptized person may, using water and the words, “I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” Such a Baptism must be reported to the authorities, and, if possible, the person later brought to the church for the rest of the service.
Question: Suppose it is not known whether a person has been baptized or not?
Answer: There is a form for Conditional Baptism as follows: “If thou art not already baptized, I baptize thee,” etc.
Question: What good does Baptism do infants, who can know nothing about what is going on?
Answer: The child is brought officially and publicly into the Christian community, there to receive care and nurture in the Christian faith and life. A good deal will depend on the seriousness with which the parents and Godparents take their responsibilities. [P.B., pp. 276–277.] Baptism should ensure a child’s being brought up in a good Christian environment. But the Church teaches that Baptism also accomplishes something in the person baptized. God loves little children. In their innocence, there is no barrier of sin against His love. He gives His grace to His children in ways we know not, just as the love of parents affects a child’s personality before we are really conscious of it. It is important to remember, however, that Baptism is not an act of magic. Its true value is seen in relation to the life of the Church as a whole.
Question: If an unbaptized infant dies, is it damned or cut off forever from the love of God?
Answer: God’s love is no less than ours. He is infinitely wiser and kinder than we. We can trust Him to take care of this problem in the right way. But we know that Baptism is a great channel of His grace and love, and we have no right to deny it to anyone. In fact, we have an obligation to make this channel of grace available to everyone in the world, as far as we can. God needs our cooperation in this, as in so many other things. He may not hold an unbaptized infant accountable, but He can hold accountable parents, relatives, and friends who neglect to have a child baptized.
Question: Can a person be a Christian without being baptized?
Answer: No. He may live what is called a “Christian life,” even more of a “Christian life” than many baptized people, but he is not truly a Christian unless he has received the baptismal rite of initiation into the Christian Church.
Question: Does a person “join the Church” at Baptism or at Confirmation?
Answer: At Baptism.
Question: Is a Baptismal certificate of any value?
Answer: Yes. It may be of use to you if you require legal proof of your age and parentage. Have the certificate framed and hung where you can see it; it will remind you and others of your enlistment as a soldier and servant of Christ.
XXIII – Instruction
O God, Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful, visit, we pray thee, this Congregation with thy love and favour; enlighten their minds more and more with the light of the everlasting Gospel; graft in their hearts a love of the truth; increase in them true religion; nourish them with all goodness; and of thy great mercy keep them in the same, O blessed Spirit, whom, with the Father and the Son together, we worship and glorify as one God, world without end. Amen.
– Collect from the Office of Institution.
When we were baptized, our Sponsors (Godfathers and Godmothers) promised to see that as we grew up we learned the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and “all other things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul’s health.” [P.B., p. 277.] Furthermore, they declared that they would take heed that, so soon as sufficiently instructed, we be brought to the Bishop to be confirmed by him.
Few boys and girls today have had all these things done for them by their Godparents. This is partly because Godparents are not generally selected (as they should be) for their spiritual qualifications. But chiefly it is true because the responsibility for the religious education of children has been assumed by the Church. The Church School, or Sunday School, and other instruction classes now discharge some of the promises of the Sponsors. Most Sunday Schools have a carefully arranged series of graded courses, taught by devoted lay people, together with some kind of liturgical service for the children, planned by the parish clergy as the means by which Christian prayer and worship may be practised as regularly as Christian instruction is given. The whole program has but one object – the Godparents’ promise – to teach boys and girls all things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul’s health.
People often complain that Sunday Schools are not very successful at this task. That is partially true, but the wonder is that they have any success at all in the face of the obstacles placed in their way. In many places there is very little cooperation from parents. Sunday School is often least in importance in the schedule of family activities.
Even at best the schools have at their disposal a very short period of time: a little over an hour, once a week, for only two-thirds of the year. When added up it does not amount to two complete days out of the whole year! To expect that a boy or girl, at the age of fifteen or sixteen, shall have completed a thorough Christian education (including the Old Testament, the Life and Teachings of Christ, the Faith, History, Practice, Prayer, and Worship of the Church) is obviously ridiculous. Of course the Sunday School cannot accomplish all that. What the school instruction, augmented by the Confirmation Class, can do, and what it attempts to do, is not to complete a Christian’s education, but only to start it in the right direction. The Church lays down in her children the foundation of knowledge, prayer, and worship, on which they may build a lifetime of ever-growing, ever-deepening Christian character and companionship with God.
Once this is clearly understood, it is seen that the task of the Church is both precise and definite. Instruction must center around the fundamentals of the Christian Faith, the basic moral demands of the Christian life, and the simpler forms of Christian prayer and worship. Moreover, it must show that these three – belief, conduct, and prayer – are inseparable from each other in the true Christian life. It is a sort of virtuous circle: the standards of good conduct are determined by right beliefs; right beliefs generate real prayer; real prayer finds its effect in good conduct.
The fundamentals of Christian belief, conduct, and prayer are summarized by the Prayer Book in two Offices of Instruction, inserted in the Book in the logical place, between Baptism and Confirmation. [P.B., pp. 283–295.] This position is logical because it sets out the Christian principles which must be learned before Confirmation, and which provide the foundation upon which the religious life is nurtured afterward. Confirmation is not the end of our instruction. It is in a real sense the beginning of our growth in a deeper knowledge and experience of Jesus Christ. The two Offices are in essence the old Catechism (now bound into the back portion of the Prayer Book), slightly modified, and arranged with hymns and prayers in order that they might be used as a Church service. The following summary of the teaching of these Offices will reveal clearly what are these fundamentals of the Christian Faith, life, and worship.
Outline of the Offices of Instruction
A Prayer: That God may keep us in all goodness and true religion.
Questions and Answers: These summarize the Baptismal Promises made by the Sponsors (P.B., pp. 276–277), and acknowledge the responsibility of every Christian boy and girl, man and woman, to keep those promises.
A Prayer: That God may give us grace to continue in the Christian life.
The Apostles’ Creed: Containing the articles of Christian Faith to which we have given our allegiance as soldiers and servants of Jesus Christ.
Questions and Answers: These summarize what the Creed teaches us about God.
GOD THE FATHER, who made us;
GOD THE SON, who redeemed us; and
GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT, who sanctifies us.
A Prayer: That we may love and keep God’s commandments.
The Ten Commandments: Containing the chief moral demands of the Christian life, which we have promised to live.
A Prayer: That God may give us strength to live according to His will.
Questions and Answers: Summarizing the teaching of each Commandment, especially regarding our
DUTY TOWARD GOD
(Commandments I, II, III, and IV)
To BELIEVE in Him,
To FEAR Him,
To LOVE Him,
To WORSHIP Him,
To THANK Him,
To TRUST Him,
To CALL upon Him,
To HONOR Him,
To SERVE Him truly.
DUTY TOWARD NEIGHBOR
(Commandments V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X)
To HONOR father and mother,
To OBEY all in authority,
To BE LOWLY and REVERENT,
To HURT none,
To BEAR no malice or hatred,
To BE CHASTE and SELF-CONTROLLED,
To BE TRUTHFUL,
To BE HONEST,
To SPEAK no lie or evil,
To LEARN and LABOR for ourselves,
To Do OUR DUTY, wherever it pleases God to call us.
At this point the First Office has outlined the fundamentals of both the Christian Faith and the Christian life. We have dealt with belief and conduct; there remains prayer. In order to emphasize the truth that Christian prayer is inseparable from the other two, the Office proceeds with what is perhaps the most significant warning in all Christian instruction:
Know this; that you are not able to do these things of yourself, nor to walk in the Commandments of God, and to serve Him, without his special grace; which you must learn at all times to call for by diligent prayer.
The First Office thereupon properly concludes with the Lord’s Prayer.
The Prayer Book does not assume that any boy or girl, man or woman, can hold the Christian beliefs, lead the Christian life, or practice Christian prayer outside the Christian Church. The three fundamentals outlined in the First Office are fundamentals for life in the Family of God, life in the Church. Belief is the Creed of the Church; Conduct is the life of the Church; Prayer and Worship are the service of the Church. Therefore, the Church itself, its Sacraments, its Ministry, our duties and responsibilities as members of this Family of God – all these form part of the basic instruction of a Christian. They are the subject matter of this Second Office. The Office opens with a series of versicles and responses, concluding with:
A Prayer: That we might be joined together in the Faith of the Apostles on which God has built His Church.
Questions and Answers Concerning the Church:
What is it?
The Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head, and all baptized people are members.
What is it like?
One; Holy; Catholic; and Apostolic.
What is our duty as members?
To FOLLOW Christ
To WORSHIP God Every Sunday in His Church, and
To WORK and Pray and GIVE for the Spread of His Kingdom.
What does the Church provide to help us to do these things?
The Holy Communion.
Questions and Answers Concerning the Sacraments:
What is a Sacrament?
The outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.
Outward sign – Water and the Name of the Holy Trinity.
Inward grace – New birth from sin unto righteousness.
Requirement – Repentance and Faith.
Outward sign – Bread and Wine.
Inward grace – The strengthening Body and Blood of Christ.
Requirements – Self-examination,
Repentance of sins,
A true purpose to lead a new life,
A true faith in Christ,
Charity for all men.
Questions and Answers Concerning the Ministry:
The Three Orders of Ministers:
The Office and Duties of Each Order.
This Second Office of Instruction then concludes with two prayers, the first for God’s grace and blessing upon those who receive Confirmation at the hands of a Bishop; the second that we may receive forgiveness of our sins and God’s heavenly benediction whenever we receive the Blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.
The foregoing outline has covered those fundamentals of the Christian Faith which everyone of us must know and believe to our soul’s health. There is much more about our religion which all Christians should know – such things, for example, as the history of our Church, the story of Christian missions, the contents of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, the facts about the life of Jesus, the rites and ceremonies of the Church, and so on. These things will all be part of our growth in Christian knowledge, a growth which continues far beyond our Confirmation – even beyond this life itself into the larger life with God. Yet the fundamentals in this outline are the things which lie underneath all growth and which form the basis on which the Christian life is lived.
XXIV – Creed and Conviction
Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity; We beseech thee that thou wouldest keep us stedfast in this faith, and evermore defend us from all adversities, who livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen.
– Collect for Trinity Sunday; p. 186.
The religious convictions of a Christian are set forth in the Creed of the Church. In our brief examination of the teaching in the two Offices of Instruction we discovered that the Apostles’ Creed stands first in those Offices. It lies at the heart of Christian instruction, just as it (or the Nicene Creed) lies embedded in nearly every service of corporate worship in the Prayer Book. The reason for this is solely to emphasize the necessity of believing the right things about God.
Some people seem to think that it does not matter much what a man believes as long as he leads a fairly decent life. This contention tries to separate our behavior from our faith and from our prayers. Such a separation is really impossible. In every aspect of man’s life he acts in a certain way because of definite beliefs. If we wish to go to India, for example, we may proceed east from New York or westward from California – and after we had arrived there we could return to the starting point by simply continuing in the same direction. But if we believed, as men once did, that the earth was flat instead of round, that belief would seriously affect the direction we took to return.
It is precisely the same in religion. What a man believes to be true about God seriously affects the things he says and does, the way he acts and prays. If there is something wrong with your conduct, it probably indicates that there is something wrong or lacking in your faith. Similarly, the kind of a life a person leads from day to day shows very clearly the kind of a God he believes in.
Still, there are yet other people who will admit the truth of this, claiming that they believe in God but do not hold any particular creed about Him. They want Christianity but not the Creeds of the Church. This is like saying that we believe in a peaceful, protected community, but we will not have any police force; or that we want education but we do not hold with schools. The Creeds of the Church are the safeguard of Christianity, protecting and preserving the Apostolic Gospel and setting forth the right beliefs about God. The Creeds preserve the truths which He has revealed to us about Himself in the work of His Holy Spirit and in the life and death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. We do not believe in a creed. We believe in God, for to “believe in” means to “have faith in” – that is, to give our loyalty, confidence, and trust, and that can only be given to a Person. We have faith in God, not a creed. We believe in Him, but we believe the Creeds of the Church as the right expression of that faith, holding fast for us the eternal truths about God revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
When we speak, as we have done, of the “Creeds of the Church” we mean the two declarations of Christian Faith which we call the Apostles’ Creed, and the Nicene Creed. The first is so called because it preserves for us the articles of faith held by the early Apostolic Church. The second receives its name from the meeting-place of the Church Council which in the fourth century declared it to be a true Creed of the Church. The Apostles’ Creed was in the early days the “Creed of the West”; the Nicene, the “Creed of the East.” Both Creeds proclaim the same truths about God, the same facts about our Saviour. While the simpler Apostles’ Creed merely states the Faith, the Nicene Creed adds certain additional clauses and phrases expanding it and safeguarding it from error.
In examining these expressions of our belief more closely, it is at once obvious that both of them fall into three distinct parts. This division again emphasizes that the Creeds express what we believe about God, for the three parts deal with the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Suppose we were to print the Apostles’ Creed thus:
I BELIEVE IN GOD THE FATHER
Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth;
AND IN JESUS CHRIST HIS ONLY SON OUR LORD
Was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried,
Descended into hell,
Rose again from the dead,
Ascended into heaven,
Sitteth on the right hand of God,
Shall come to judge the quick and the dead;
I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY GHOST
The Holy Catholic Church;
The Communion of Saints;
The Forgiveness of sins;
The Resurrection of the body;
The Life everlasting.
Such an arrangement shows exactly what we believe about God, the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. The Nicene Creed outlined in that manner makes it equally obvious just where it expands the Apostles’ Creed:
I BELIEVE IN ONE GOD THE FATHER
Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth
And of all things visible and invisible;
AND IN ONE LORD JESUS CHRIST, THE ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD
Begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God,
Begotten, not made,
Being of one substance with the Father,
By whom all things were made;
(for us men and for our salvation)
Came down from heaven,
Was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,
Was made man,
Was crucified (also for us) under Pontius Pilate,
Suffered and was buried,
Rose again according to the Scriptures,
Ascended into Heaven,
Sitteth on the right hand of the Father,
Shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead,
Whose kingdom shall have no end.
I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY GHOST
The Lord, the Giver of Life,
Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,
Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified,
Who spake by the Prophets;
I believe One Catholic and Apostolic Church;
I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins;
I look for the resurrection of the dead and the Life of the world to come.
Printing the Creeds in that fashion makes it clear that they are the proclamation of certain truths and facts about the God whom we worship. The Creeds do not necessarily explain those truths or interpret the facts; they simply state them as the basis of a Christian’s faith. We must look at them closely to penetrate more deeply into God’s revelation of Himself.
GOD THE FATHER
I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And of all things visible and invisible.
This simple declaration of our belief in God includes four things which we believe about Him. We know and believe many more things about God, but these four are fundamental to our Faith:
God is ONE: “God” is a word which has no plural. When we speak of “gods” we do not mean the same thing as we do by “God.” No other deity limits the power and love of our God; He is the sole divinity in all existence. Furthermore, He is completely ONE – that is, He cannot be separated into Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They share in ONE Divine Life. We speak of Them separately only because our human minds cannot do otherwise.
God is FATHER: He is the universal Father of all mankind, a truth about God which guards three vital facts:
(a) His attitude toward us is expressed in Fatherly Love.
(b) As He is our Father, we are all in a very real sense brothers and sisters in His Family.
(c) We bear the capacity and responsibility of becoming His faithful and obedient children.
Also, in a particular and unique way, God is the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is ALMIGHTY: He is all-powerful, sovereign over all creation, controlling it all to serve His purposes. This does not mean that God can “do anything.” He cannot do that which is contrary to His own nature or purpose. God cannot do evil. But to accomplish His purpose, He can turn evil into good.
God is MAKER: He is the Creator and Sustainer of all life and creation. This is something man can never fully understand for we are not creators of life. But it means that there is nothing in all creation which He did not make or allow. Hence, all things are part of His purpose, and can be made to serve His desires.
GOD THE SON
I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God; Begotten of his Father before all worlds.
This second part of the Creeds declares (1) certain eternal truths about God the Son; and (2) some temporal, historical facts about His incarnate life.
The Eternal Truths: We believe that Jesus is the Lord, the Christ, the only-begotten Son of God. By using the words “the Christ” we affirm that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the long-expected Saviour and Redeemer of mankind, foretold in Old Testament prophecy, and come to deliver man from sin. This is the central core of the Gospel. As He is the Christ, he deserves the divine description “Lord.”
But He could not be the Christ unless He had a unique relation to God the Father. In fact, He is the Christ because He is the Son of God. We are all called to be “Sons of God,” but not in the same way in which Jesus is the Son of God. We are called to be human sons. He is the Divine Son. Thus He is called “Very God of Very God,” and “being of one substance with the Father.” Jesus is God – God the Son, sharing the Godhead with God the Father “before all worlds.” We often say that Jesus shows us what God is like, that is He reveals God. But no personality can reveal another personality. People must reveal themselves by their words, actions, and attitudes. So it is with God. Only God can reveal God. Thus we affirm that Jesus the Christ is God.
But Jesus was also the Man of Nazareth, and therefore, the Creeds contain certain historical facts about the Incarnation of the Son of God.
The Historical Facts: The central fact is that God the Son was made man. He “came down from heaven” – a phrase which means that He came into the human life of men and women in this world from the Divine Life of God. He was “incarnate” – which means that He took flesh and blood, a body like ours. This flesh and blood He received by being born the son of Mary of Nazareth, conceived in her by the Holy Spirit of God. Thus He became truly man.
He suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried. And to emphasize this humanity of the Son of God, and preserve the historical character of God’s act for our redemption, the Creeds date this event as happening while a Roman officer named Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea.
He rose again from the dead – the greatest fact in all history – and ascended into heaven. He who is our Redeemer is also our Judge, both of the living and the departed. It is His rule and kingdom which shall endure forever.
GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT
And I believe in the Holy Ghost.
This final section of the Creeds, consisting of several parts, loosely connected, deals again with two main themes: (1) the nature of God the Holy Spirit – that is, what is He like? – and (2) the work of God the Holy Spirit – that is, what does He do?
The nature of the Spirit: Just as the Son comes to us, so also does the Spirit come to us from the Father and the Son. He is “the Lord,” truly God, and therefore to be worshiped and glorified. It is the Spirit who spoke through the Prophets of the Old Testament. It is the Spirit who gives and guides in life among us.
It is not easy for us to keep the Three Persons of the Godhead altogether clear. A simple illustration might help. When we kneel down to pray, it is God the Spirit who has (unknown to us, perhaps) guided us to our knees and inspired us to pray. It is through God the Son that we pray because He has won for us forgiveness and the right to approach God. It is God the Father whose love and protection we seek.
The work of the Spirit: At this point the Creeds begin to speak of things seemingly unrelated to the doctrine of God: the Church, Baptism, forgiveness, and so on. But we should be wrong to think of these things as extra Christian beliefs intruded into this place in the Creeds. They are all part of the work of God, and particularly connected with the activity of God the Holy Spirit among us.
The Church, for example, as we have already seen, is the New Israel, God’s Family, formed and guided by the Holy Spirit. Baptism is the means of our incorporation into that Family. The forgiveness of sins is the means whereby we become sons and daughters of God the Father because of the passion and death of God the Son. By forgiveness we receive the indwelling of God the Spirit in our hearts on which all Christian life and service depend. Finally, the resurrection of the dead expresses our conviction that we shall one day come to the everlasting life won for us by the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ over sin and death. It is this eternal life for which we have been created by God the Father, into which we have been redeemed by God the Son, and to which we are guided by God the Holy Spirit.
XXV – Holy Confirmation
O God, who through the teaching of thy Son Jesus Christ didst prepare the disciples for the coming of the Comforter; Make ready, we beseech thee, the hearts and minds of thy Servants who at this time are seeking to be strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, that, drawing near with penitent and faithful hearts, they may evermore be filled with the power of his divine indwelling; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Prayer for those about to be Confirmed; p. 43.
A group of boys settled into the chairs and sofa of the priest’s study. Standing with his back to the fire, the priest addressed them:
“You fellows are old enough to make many decisions for yourselves. You have arrived at what are called the ‘years of discretion.’ You know the difference between right and wrong, and you know at least something about the Christian Faith.
“When you were baptized as little children, three promises were made in your name by your Godparents: that you would renounce the devil, believe the Christian Faith, and keep God’s holy will and commandments all the days of your life. Suppose you think over these promises, and decide to take them upon yourselves, to take the responsibility for your keeping them from your Godparents, and put it squarely on your own shoulders. You will want to take this step publicly, and in the presence of your family and friends, your rector, and the highest officer of the Church, your Bishop. The service at which you do this is Confirmation.
“At Confirmation you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, through the laying of the Bishop’s hands on your heads. You will need the Holy Spirit more now. You are entering upon a part of your life which will bring you new temptations. The Holy Spirit will give you strength and wisdom to meet them. You are being given more and more freedom; the Holy Spirit will guide you into the right use of this greater freedom. . .”
As we have seen, it has not always been usual to separate Baptism and Confirmation by a considerable period of years. At the first Confirmation, when the Samaritan converts of St. Philip the Deacon were confirmed by St. Peter and St. John, [Acts, 8:4–17.] Confirmation followed Baptism almost immediately. St. Paul baptized and confirmed certain disciples at Ephesus, apparently without any great interval. [Acts, 19:1–6.] In the Eastern Church this is still the custom. Even in the Church of England after the Reformation, Confirmation was sometimes administered to infants. Archbishop Cranmer baptized and confirmed Queen Elizabeth when she was three days old.
But it was always required that Confirmation be administered by a Bishop, or in rare cases by someone empowered by him and using oil blessed by him. When it was no longer customary for the Bishops to perform all Baptisms, it was sometimes necessary to wait for some time after Baptism before a Bishop could be secured. Then people began to see the value of waiting for Confirmation until a child was old enough to take his Christian responsibilities upon himself. From this comes the more modern notion that Confirmation should be given to those who have arrived at mature years.
Confirmation has been an important Sacrament of the Church since earliest times. It is one of those good practices into which the Holy Spirit has guided the Church, and so it is especially appropriate that Confirmation is the great means by which the Holy Spirit is conveyed to us.
At Baptism, too, we receive the Holy Spirit. But then He acts more as a lantern to guide our steps, from outside us. In Confirmation the Spirit begins to work more and more inside us, becoming a part of our minds, hearts, and wills, consciously recognized by us, and welcomed. We may think of the difference in this way, also, that Baptism gives us entrance into the Family of God, while Confirmation gives us the strength and wisdom to live in it soundly and rightly.
Confirmation is one of the five rites of the Church “commonly called Sacraments.” It has the usual characteristics of a sacrament, which in this case are:
The Outward and Visible Sign:
—The Sentence of Confirmation
As he lays his hands on the head of each candidate, the Bishop says, “Defend, O Lord, this thy Child with thy heavenly grace; that he may continue thine for ever; and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until he come unto thy everlasting kingdom. Amen.”
The Inward and Spiritual Grace:
—The Holy Spirit
—Ordination into the “Priesthood of all Believers”
The Holy Spirit enters us and confers His gifts of grace: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness, and the spirit of the holy fear of the Lord. The Priesthood of all Believers is a figurative but important truth.
—Renewal of Our Baptismal Vows
—The Promise to Follow Jesus Christ
We now take full responsibility for performing our Baptismal vows, and promise to follow Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. The clergyman who has prepared us now presents us, with the words “Reverend Father in God, I present unto you these persons to receive the Laying-on-of-Hands.” Thus he vouches for our character, our knowledge of the Faith, and the seriousness of our intention.
—The Status of a Communicant
We are now fully entitled to receive the Holy Communion. We may also, when we are old enough, exercise certain privileges of participation in the governance of the parish and diocese.
We shall now consider some questions about Confirmation.
Question: Must I be confirmed to receive Holy Communion?
Answer: On page 299 of the Prayer Book we find a rubric which has come down to us in varying forms from the first English Prayer Book of 1549. It reads, “And there shall none be admitted to the Holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed.” Holy Communion is so great a privilege that it is only right to require, of those who receive it, serious preparation and the aid of those gifts of the Spirit which are received in Confirmation. [See the rubric at the end of Holy Baptism, P.B., p. 281.]
Question: Do we join the Church by being confirmed?
Answer: Baptism, not Confirmation, is the rite by which we join the Church. But Confirmation enriches and completes our membership. It represents our coming of age in the Family of God. It means that we are mature enough spiritually to eat and drink at the Family Table, at the altar where we receive the great Family Meal of the Lord’s Supper.
Question: How do we prepare for Confirmation?
Answer: By diligent study and careful self-examination. We should also make a positive rule about receiving Communion and saying our prayers. We should accept definitely our bounden duty as a member of the Church, and become regular and contributing attendants at church on Sunday.
Question: What is our status after Confirmation?
Answer: After Confirmation our names will be on the books of our parish as communicants. If we move to another parish, we should get a letter of transfer from our former rector to our new rector.
Question: Whom should we ask to attend our Confirmation?
Answer: Our Confirmation is a great occasion, and should be observed as such. Our Godparents, who promised that “this child, so soon as sufficiently instructed, be brought to the Bishop to be confirmed by him,” should be invited to attend and, if it is the custom of the parish, to stand with us during the Service. Certainly our parents, and other relatives and friends will be there, also. But theirs is no longer the decision nor the responsibility for our spiritual life. We ourselves decide to be confirmed; we ourselves, with God’s help, must carry out its responsibilities.
XXVI – Holy Communion
“And we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to hear us; and, of thy almighty goodness, vouchsafe to bless and sanctify, with thy Word and Holy Spirit, these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine; that we, receiving them according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood. . . .”
– The Invocation, Prayer of Consecration; p. 81.
The central Sacrament of the Church and the chief means of spiritual strength in the life of a Christian is the Holy Communion. This Sacrament was instituted and provided by our Lord Jesus Christ “for the continual strengthening and refreshing” of our souls.
Everywhere in human life God is near us. In all our thoughts and actions He is present. When we are faithful and just He fills us with His blessing. When we are in trouble or need He gives us His strength to bear our afflictions. When we are penitent and sorry for our sins He pours out to us His restoring forgiveness. When we persist in our wrongdoing or indifference we still cannot escape His judgment and rebuke. He is with us constantly. But in this world we live in the midst of cares and distractions and temptations which make it hard for human beings to find God. Therefore our Lord has left us a way to His Presence which is always easy and always open to us. It is the way of the Sacrament of His Blessed Body and Blood. Some truths about this Sacrament every Christian must know and understand. We may consider them under three headings:
The Institution of the Sacrament.
The Meaning of the Sacrament.
The Presence of Christ in the Sacrament,
By thinking of each of these briefly we shall come to see a little more deeply into the mystery of the Holy Communion, and understand better how our souls are nourished by the sacred gifts of our Lord’s own Body and Blood.
The Institution of the Holy Communion
In the evening of the day which we now remember on Maundy Thursday, Jesus gathered His disciples together, following the Jewish custom, to eat with them the sacred Passover meal. The story of that Last Supper in the Upper Room in Jerusalem is well known. But it was like no other Passover meal which the disciples had ever experienced, for in the course of the Supper our Lord instituted the Holy Communion. Before Him on the table lay the bread and wine which had been used in the remembrance of the Passover. Before Him in His mind lay the suffering and crucifixion on the next day in which His body would be broken and His blood outpoured on the Cross. And so Christ
. . . in the night in which he was betrayed . . . took Bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you; Do this in remembrance of me. Likewise, after supper, he took the Cup; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of this; for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you, and for many, for the remission of sins; Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me.
That is the story of the institution as it is recited in the Prayer of Consecration. [P.B., p. 80.] So important was this act to the disciples that four times in the New Testament the events of this Last Supper are carefully described.* St. John, writing his Gospel for people who knew the events well, does not recount them again. Instead, he devotes the entire sixth chapter of his Gospel to interpreting to his readers the meaning of this great act of God. [*St. Mark, 14:22–25; St. Matthew, 26:26–28; St. Luke, 22:9–20; 1 Corinthians, 11:23–25.]
Immediately the celebration of the Lord’s Supper became the chief act of worship of the disciples and the early Christians. We find in the Acts of the Apostles that “they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers”; and again St. Paul is recorded as preaching upon the first day of the week when they came together “to break bread.” [Acts, 2:42; 20:7 ff.] In these sacred gifts of the Body and Blood of Jesus under the forms of bread and wine the disciples found communion and companionship with their Risen Lord. So it has been in the Christian Church to this day. God still provides for us the food for our souls, the very life of the Lord Jesus Himself in the Sacrament of the Holy Communion.
The Meaning of the Holy Communion
No single explanation can exhaust the meaning of the Holy Communion. The Divine Gift is experienced in many ways, and only the total of them all will convey the whole significance of the Sacrament. Christians have for centuries employed different names to describe the Holy Communion. In part at least, each name emphasizes one of the various meanings of the Sacrament. If we list the descriptive titles we shall approximate the meaning of the whole.
The Breaking of Bread. This is the name used in The Acts of the Apostles. It signifies that this Sacrament is the Food of Life which strengthens and nourishes our souls, just as our daily bread is the staff of life which feeds our bodies. As the body cannot live without earthly food, so the soul cannot live without the gift of divine life which comes through this heavenly food. Said Jesus, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever.” It is this significance of the Sacrament as the Food of Life which is set out in the Second Exhortation and in the Office of Instruction. [P.B., pp. 87; 293.]
The Holy Communion. Communion is a word which means simply “fellowship” or “companionship” with another person. As we come to receive the Food of Life at God’s own table we show our fellowship with Him. We put into action the first Great Commandment that we should love God with all our hearts and minds and strength. And at the same time the Sacrament is the means by which our fellowship with God is deepened into a companionship which nothing can break. It is such a close companionship that we allow God to give us His strength to live our lives in accord with His will. That is what is meant by our prayer that in this Sacrament we “may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.” [P.B., p. 81.]
The Lord’s Supper. This title reminds us that in every celebration of the Sacrament we make a solemn memorial of that Last Supper which Jesus held with His disciples on the first Maundy Thursday. Each time we approach the altar rail we have the privilege of those Apostles who were present in that Upper Room. Thus in our Prayer of Consecration we make a most solemn remembrance, not only of the Last Supper itself, but of the whole suffering and death of our Lord whereby we are saved from our sins. [See The Oblation, P.B., pp. 80–81.] Just as when we think of the Sacrament as “The Holy Communion” we realize that it deepens our fellowship with God, so when we think of it as “The Lord’s Supper” we know that it strengthens our fellowship with each other as we gather together at His Holy Table to receive the Food of Life. It helps us not only to obey the first Great Commandment to love God, but also to keep the second, to love our neighbor.
The Holy Sacrifice. The Sacrament is often referred to as “The Holy Sacrifice,” a name which brings before us the sacrifice which Jesus made for us on the Cross. In the Holy Communion we must make our sacrifice as “we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee.” We offer to God everything which we possess, every corner of our hearts, every part of ourselves, to be used in His service and in living according to His will. Our sacrifice is often imperfect and unworthy. We are not fit to offer any perfect sacrifice to God, yet because of the true and complete sacrifice which Jesus made for us on the Cross, our poor efforts are acceptable. God receives us and strengthens us for Christ’s sake.
The Holy Eucharist. “Eucharist” means simply “thanksgiving.” The Sacrament is the solemn thanksgiving to God for all the benefits we have received through our Lord Jesus Christ, and chiefly, of course, for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life which He has won for us.
The Divine Liturgy. This is the name by which the Sacrament is known in the Eastern Church. It emphasizes the fact that the Holy Communion is the highest act of corporate worship on the part of the Church.
There are more titles for the Sacrament than these six, one other being the popular term Mass, but these indicate the chief meanings the Holy Communion has for us: the Food of Life, the means by which we achieve real and loving fellowship with God and our neighbors, the solemn memorial of the passion and death and resurrection of Jesus, our sacrifice of ourselves in the service of God, the constant thanksgiving to God for our salvation, and the greatest act of corporate worship of the Church. Perhaps we shall never comprehend all that those meanings signify, but each time that we come to the Holy Communion we are led deeper into the mystery, for each time we truly come into the very Presence of Christ in His Body and Blood. This fact transcends all other aspects of the Sacrament, for in that Presence we are brought as close to God as possible in this world.
The Presence of Christ in the Sacrament
Under the forms of Bread and Wine, we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. He is present in the Holy Communion in a special and perfect way. He comes to us that “our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.” How He is present we cannot tell. How Bread and Wine can remain Bread and Wine, and yet be truly the Body and Blood of our Saviour is a mystery to human minds. No one has ever explained the Consecration satisfactorily. Men have tried again and again, and always failed. But explanations are not important. The fact remains that our Lord is ever true to His promise to be with us in the Breaking of Bread. Therefore we reverently sing in the words of the Liturgy of St. James:
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly-minded,
for with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand. [Hymn 197.]
XXVII – Holy Communion
Grant, O Father, that when we receive the blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, coming to these holy mysteries in faith, and love, and true repentance, we may receive remission of our sins, and be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Final Collect. Second Office of Instruction; p. 294.
Our aim now is to understand more clearly the form for the administration of the Holy Communion contained in the Prayer Book, and how we as Christians should approach and share in the Eucharistic worship of the Church. By considering the service in its natural divisions we shall more easily grasp the essentials of each part, and also other spiritual privileges and responsibilities in the Sacrament as a whole.
No one can come to our Lord entirely unprepared for that solemn event. Proper preparation has been urged on every Christian since St. Paul’s admonition, [1 Corinthians. 11:28.] and proper preparation is of two sorts: (1) Preparation of both the spirit and the body in advance, before coming to church; and (2) Preparation of the heart and mind in church before the service.
The advance preparation is of first importance. The requirement upon those coming to the Lord’s Table is threefold: faith in God, charity toward all men, and repentance for their sins. [P.B., p. 293. See also 75; 86 ff.] Nowhere is this more strongly stated than in the Exhortation, and it lays upon us the responsibility for a careful self-examination and confession of our sins. For some this may involve the use of the Sacrament of Absolution, for, as the Exhortation says, “if there be any of you who . . . cannot quiet his own conscience . . . let him come to some Minister of God’s Word.” In addition, meditative reading in the New Testament or some book of Christian devotion helps to lead the spirit from worldly preoccupations back to the things of God. We sometimes hear people say, “I don’t think I will go to Communion today. I don’t feel good enough.” Proper preparation should always induce a feeling of unworthiness, but no one should stay away from the altar because he does not feel “good enough.” All that God requires is a firm purpose to lead a new life with His help. The time to worry is when we think we are good enough, for then we have forgotten our own sins and shortcomings.
Such advance preparation of the spirit must be supplemented by advance preparation of the body, in order that every faculty and part of us may be devoted to the worship of God, and alive to His Presence. This advance physical preparation is accomplished through fasting. We must clearly understand that there are two kinds of fasting. The first is disciplinary fasting, or denying ourselves some food or drink in order to strengthen the will and to deepen our dependence upon God alone. This is the kind of fasting which is enjoined upon us in Lent. The second is preparative fasting, or carefully regulating our food in order that every physical power and faculty will be at its keenest when we come to the Holy Communion. Most of us will find that our bodies are best prepared by abstaining from food altogether, but many, either very young, ill, or aged, will discover that a small amount of light food is necessary.
The immediate preparation in church before the service is that of prayer and devotions. It may be the service of Morning Prayer (the Church’s own preparation for Holy Communion); or perhaps Psalm 43 (part of the preparation of the priest and acolytes); or some other suitable prayers which will lay our hearts and minds open to God. We should also at this time of preparation form our particular intention for the service. It may be that we are that morning to give thanks for some special gift from God; or pray for a loved one who is ill, in trouble, or departed this life; or offer to God some habitual sin that by His power we might be given victory over it – whatever it may be, each time we come to the Eucharist we should have such a particular intention.
The Approach to God (pp. 67–71)
The Holy Communion itself begins with the Collect for Purity which sums up all our preparation. We are then ready to approach the throne of God. There follow:
The Christian Ideal of Love.
The Kyrie Eleison.
The Collect, Epistle, and Gospel for the Day.
The Nicene Creed.
Each one is a step toward God. Each one grows naturally out of the last and leads us to the next. When we hear the two great commandments of Jesus of love for God and love for neighbor, in the face of our sins against God and our failures to love our neighbors, we can say no other than “Lord, have mercy upon us.” This cry for forgiveness and strength to build a new life is threefold: to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. It might be written thus:
LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, HAVE MERCY UPON US, and forgive us.
LORD JESUS CHRIST, HAVE MERCY UPON US, and give us strength to grow more and more like Thee.
LORD GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT, who dost dwell within us to give us power to do our work and Thy will, HAVE MERCY UPON US.
We are then ready to join in the Collect for the Day which sets before God the Church’s intention or remembrance on that day. These Collects in our Prayer Book are among the most ancient Christian prayers (many of them over a thousand years old), setting forth day after day, week after week, the supplications of the whole Family of God.
Seated, or kneeling, in quiet meditation, we hear the words of the earliest Christian teachers in the Epistle, men whose experience of God was deeper than ours, whose companionship with Jesus was more nearly perfect.
The greatest reverence surrounds the reading of the Gospel. It is the Good News of salvation by Jesus Christ. Standing, we hear the voice of the Church proclaiming her message to the world. We give glory to God when it is announced, and praise to Christ when it is proclaimed. God has revealed Himself to us; we stand together for that proclamation of the Gospel which symbolizes our missionary duty. Then with one voice we repeat the eternal truths upon which our salvation rests. We have been drawn to the very throne of God.
The Offertory (pp. 72–73)
The Offertory is far more than the giving of money. That is a part of it, but in the complete Offertory there are three distinct actions:
The offering of alms. To discharge our obligations to the needs of others we give a part of those possessions we hold in stewardship from God – usually in the convenient form of money.
The offering of the elements. The priest at the altar offers the bread and wine to God, later to be consecrated by our Lord as His most precious Body and Blood. This, too, is our offering, symbolized by the acolyte who brings the elements to the priest on our behalf. We remember here the offering our Lord made of His Body upon the Cross for us and for our salvation.
The offering of ourselves. Finally, we offer to God, ourselves – our souls and bodies – to do His will, to serve His purpose, to walk in all His ways. This is the offering which God most desires. No substitute for the offering of ourselves is acceptable to God. The more completely we break down the barriers of sin and selfishness and give ourselves wholly to God, so the more perfectly we shall know Him when He comes to us in the Blessed Sacrament.
The Intercession (pp. 74–75)
When we give ourselves to the service of God, He sends us forth to serve others in His Name. The first service we can render to our fellows is to pray for them. Thus here we join in the prayer for the whole state of Christ’s Church. Successively, we pray for the Church, the Nations and their Rulers, the Clergy, all Christian People, all present in church, all those in any trouble or adversity, all the Faithful Departed, and for ourselves. Too often we allow this familiar prayer to be read by the priest without much effort on our part to pray.
As we follow this intercession, we should broaden our own prayers to include the whole state of the Church and its people. For example, when the Church and its ministers are prayed for, we ought to remember our diocese and Bishop, our parish and clergy, the missions which we help to support throughout the world, and the reunion of the separated Christian bodies. When those in trouble, need, or affliction are remembered, it is our privilege to pray for all those we know are in tribulation. And so on, in each section of this great prayer for all men. This is a prayer not for wandering thoughts, but for traveling thoughts – prayers which travel into the lives and needs of all those we know, and then travel back to God again bringing those people and their needs before Him.
We Lift Up Our Hearts (pp. 76–79)
At this point those who are drawn toward communion with their Saviour once more make a general acknowledgement and confession of their sins, and remember with humility their unworthiness to enter the Presence of God our Holy Father. Then the priest bids us lift up our hearts and give thanks unto Him, and with one voice the whole Church, on earth and in heaven, cries “Holy, Holy, Holy” before God, who is our Almighty Creator and Loving Redeemer. We may also hail Him who is to enter our hearts and strengthen our souls with the words reminiscent of the greeting to our Lord on the first Palm Sunday as He entered Jerusalem: “Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord: Hosanna in the Highest!”
The Consecration (pp. 80–81)
We have come to the very heart of the Sacrament. Now it is God who acts for us. The long prayer is the consecration of our offering of bread and wine into the Sacred Gifts returned to us as the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Notice how the Consecration brings every meaning of the Eucharist into one sharp focus.
The Consecration may be analyzed as follows:
1. Remembrance of the sacrifice upon the Cross made by the Son of God for the sins of the world.
2. Recollection of the Last Supper of Jesus and His disciples.
3. Recitation of the words which Jesus used as He gave them the Bread and Wine.
4. Acknowledgment that we are following Jesus’ command in repeating His action.
5. Prayer that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we who have faithfully followed Jesus’ command might be partakers of His Body and Blood.
6. Petition that God will accept our imperfect offering because of our Lord’s perfect offering on our behalf, and grant us forgiveness of our sins.
7. Offering of ourselves once more to God.
8. Acknowledgment again of our unworthiness to make any completely pure offering unto God.
9. Plea that God will accept even our unworthy sacrifice and pardon our offenses in the Name of Jesus Christ.
And now, kneeling in the very Presence of God, we say as Christ taught us, the Lord’s Prayer. This is followed by the Prayer of Humble Access, in which the lovely little remembrance is made of the Phoenician woman pleading to Jesus for her child. We do not claim even the privilege of gathering the crumbs from under His Table, but our need is so great that we beg that in His mercy “our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood.”
The Communion (pp. 82–83)
Humbly kneeling in thankfulness and faith at the altar rail, we receive the Bread of Life and the Wine of Salvation. Our souls are nourished and strengthened by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This is the climax of the Eucharist. We are like the two disciples who walked and talked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They did not know who their Companion was until, arriving at the village, they sat down to eat with Him.
And it came to pass, as he sat down at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them, And their eyes were opened, and they knew him. . . [St. Luke, 24:30–31.]
He was known to them as He is to us, in the Breaking of Bread.
The Thanksgiving (pp. 83–84)
Glory be to God on high! We thank Thee, O God, that in these Holy Mysteries Thou dost feed us with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of Thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ.
As we were careful with our preparation before Holy Communion, so we are generous and grateful in our thanksgiving after Holy Communion. We remain quietly kneeling in gratitude for the Sacred Gifts imparted to us. We make an act of praise to God:
Praise the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me praise his Holy Name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul: and forget not all his benefits;
Praise the Lord, all ye heathen: praise him, all ye nations.
For his merciful kindness is ever more and more toward us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever.
Praise the Lord.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.
And as we leave the church our minds should linger upon new resolves with a final prayer:
O Heavenly Father, with lowly penitent hearts we thank Thee for all these glories; and now, as we leave Thy Holy Altar, we do resolve by Thy Grace, and by the gift of Jesus’ very Presence within us, to show forth Thy praise not only with our lips but in our lives by walking before Thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with Thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.
XXVIII – Holy Matrimony
O ETERNAL God, we humbly beseech thee, favourably to behold these thy servants now (or about to be) joined in wedlock according to thy holy ordinance; and grant that they, seeking first thy kingdom and thy righteousness, may obtain the manifold blessings of thy grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– The Collect at a Marriage; p. 267.
Before Creation began, the Bible says, the Spirit of God was brooding upon the face of the waters. Reverently we may imagine God pondering many things which Creation would bring forth, and for none of these must He have yearned more deeply than for beings able to know Him and to share eternal life with Him. One of His great purposes in creating the universe was the creation of souls made in His own image.
Life started in very simple forms and these had simple ways of reproducing. As living organisms became more complex, so did their ways of transmitting life. In man, the most complex creature of which we know, reproduction is most demanding on the parents who help God to create and nurture new souls.
Because human parenthood, when properly exercised, makes such demands on the parents, God had to make sure that many people would become parents. And so He placed in us a strong and compelling urge, an instinct called sex.
Since sex is one of the most important forces in human life, God has commanded us to control it, and to use it only according to His will. For its proper expression He has given us the institution of Holy Matrimony, to be a life-long sacramental relationship between a man and a woman. In Christian marriage – the union of man and wife “till death us do part” – the sex instinct finds its fullest and highest outlet.
When we use God’s gifts rightly, He bestows added blessings. Christian marriage brings children to bless their parents’ homes. It also brings the most perfect union of human souls. It fulfils the desire for children. It fulfils the deepest longings of the personality and spirit. Marriage is a sacrament, and as such concerns both the bodily and the spiritual. Both sides of our nature find in it their realization. But out of the urge of uncontrolled sex come some of our greatest temptations. The driving force of instinct constantly tries to express itself, and sometimes in wrong ways.
“But what has religion to do with a person’s private life?” is the question often asked. The Christian religion has to do with every corner of one’s life. It cannot neglect purity in thought and deed in our private life. Our Lord enjoined upon us that purity which He practised so perfectly in His own life. He knew well how impurity can cause untold trouble and pain not only to those who indulge themselves but to others as well.
The Christian’s model must be our Lord Jesus Christ, who was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. There are voices in the world which proclaim that purity is foolish or impossible. To us sinful mortals the absolute purity of Christ is perhaps impossible. But that does not mean that we must not aim at it. As a matter of fact purity through self-control is possible, and possible to a very large degree. The voice of defeatism is constantly being given the lie by the wonderful examples of Christian men and women who lead lives of radiant purity. The power of Christ is sufficient to overcome their temptations.
How can we control our desires? We must begin by realizing that purity in thought, word, and deed is an attainable ideal. We must deliberately choose Christ’s standard as our goal.
Next we must build up habits to help us achieve that ideal. First, the habit of diverting our thoughts, when tempted, to some pure object or even to our Lord Himself. A great help in any temptation is to visualize our Lord with us quietly aiding us to overcome it.
Second, the habit of turning to God for help, particularly in our prayers and in the sacraments of the Church. The fight against any temptation has been described as “the battle that is best fought on one’s knees.” Our morning prayers will arm us against temptation during the day; our evening prayers, during the night. The gift of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation helps greatly to deal with temptation to impurity. Regular Communions, with honest preparation, establish a strong defense against, temptation of all sorts. For many the Sacrament of Penance will be of untold help in building up purity of life.
Last should be mentioned the importance of fellowship. Healthy companionship with others, in work, study, sport, and play gives us the atmosphere of victory over temptation.
What if we find the struggle for purity hard? We must never be discouraged, never give up. If we fail at any time, we should realize that we need more of God’s help, and place more reliance on Him and less on our own efforts. Perhaps we need the advice and encouragement of some wise and trusted friend, priest, or physician. If so, let us seek it without delay. Our goal in all this is to attain that purity which is God’s will for us, making our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit.
The power of sex is a gift, from God to us, by which He allows us to share in His creation of souls. As it is God’s gift, we must use it as God wills. We must accept the standards for its use that He has given us through His Son Jesus Christ. And we can do this only by asking God to help us always, and by using every means which He has, in our religion, put at our disposal.
Christian marriage is a Sacrament. Its outward and visible signs are the free and mutual consent of a man and a woman to live together for the rest of their lives, and the giving and receiving of a ring. Its inward and spiritual grace is the union and love between them. Its requirements are the mutual promise to live faithfully with each other, “keeping only unto him (or her) till death us do part,” and conformity of the laws of State and Church regarding marriage. Its privileges are the right to live together as a new family, to have children, and to bring them up in the household of faith.
The two sides of this Sacrament, the physical and the spiritual, are each infinitely important. Marriage is neither merely a satisfying physical relationship nor a beautiful spiritual comradeship. It is both, and each side enhances, strengthens, and glorifies the other.
The marriage ceremony is brief and clear. In it the bride and groom marry each other. The state legalizes the ceremony, and the Church blesses it. But the couple themselves actually perform it. The best man, maid of honor, and other guests are there as witnesses. The clergyman acts both as an officer of the state and also as the priest of the Church. The Solemnization of Matrimony [P.B., pp. 300–304.] is divided into two parts. It begins with the betrothal at the chancel steps. This part of the service is a heritage from the time when the betrothal was a separate service preliminary to the marriage. The actual marriage is performed at the altar rail, and ends when the couple, newly pronounced man and wife, kneel for God’s blessing.
The essence of Christian marriage is that it is the permanent union of one man and one woman. Based on the Old Testament revelation that man and woman were to be lifelong companions, it is made clear in our Lord’s teaching. He declared that those whom God has joined together man is not to put asunder. [St. Matthew, 19:6.]
Permanent marriages are easy to require, but not so easy to achieve. The state’s laws regarding divorce are apt to be comparatively lax. The Church’s regulations can never be entirely satisfactory. They must be strict enough to uphold the standard, but not so strict as to make it impossible to deal mercifully and wisely with exceptional cases.
The Church is aware that legislation alone cannot pro. duce happy, and permanent marriages. It is the basic Christian traits of character that make a marriage successful and joyful. A Christian home is the product of such a Christian marriage. For this the Church holds up a high standard of loftiness and purity. By ourselves we could not attain it, but God never meant us to attain it by ourselves. At every step He extends His direction and aid. His Church forms our characters, instructs us, teaches us to pray and gives us the sacraments. She offers us fellowship and counsel. She brings our dear Lord into our marriage as the silent partner who transforms it and keeps it a beautiful and precious thing.
XXIX – Holy Orders
O Holy Jesus, who hast purchased to thyself an universal Church, and hast promised to be with the Ministers of Apostolic Succession to the end of the world; Be graciously pleased to bless the ministry and service of him who is now appointed to offer the sacrifices of prayer and praise to thee in this house, which is called by thy Name. May the words of his mouth, and the meditation of his heart, be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
– Collect from Office of Institution; p. 572.
This question and answer appear in the last part of the Second Office of Instruction. [P.B., p. 294.]
Question: What orders of Ministers are there in the Church?
Answer: Bishops, Priests, and Deacons; which orders have been in the Church from the earliest times.
We read also in the Preface to the Ordinal:
It is evident unto all men, diligently reading Holy Scripture and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church – Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. [P.B., p. 529.]
Our Lord Jesus Christ entrusted His Apostles with the Divine Commission to proclaim God’s Gospel of salvation to all the nations upon earth. Moreover, Jesus endowed His disciples with the power to do this by giving them a special gift of the Holy Spirit to enable them to carry on in their ministry His work of bringing men and women to God. “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” [St. John, 20:21–22.] They were ordained and sent to do as Jesus Himself had done – to teach God’s truth, to preach God’s Word, to administer God’s Sacraments, to declare God’s forgiveness of sins, and to guide God’s Family.
It has often been pointed out that Christianity differs from other world religions in that its Founder left behind Him nothing save a group of men, but a group fired with a new message of salvation to all mankind, and empowered with a Spirit which was God Himself. Confucius left his writings to the Chinese; Buddha left a system of instruction to the Hindus; Mohammed left the Koran to the Arabs.
But Jesus Christ left only His disciples. He neither wrote a book nor devised a system. He simply provided for the continuance of His Divine work through His followers. Long before the books of the New Testament were written or the Creeds formulated or any written records of Christianity composed, the Church existed in the Apostles and disciples of our Lord. That is why we say in one of our prayers that God built His “Church upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the head corner-stone.” [P.B., p. 254.]
After our Lord had ascended into Heaven and the Holy Spirit had come upon the disciples at the first Pentecost, the Apostles were very careful to preserve and continue the Ministry into which Jesus had ordained them. [Acts, 1:16–26.] Inspired by the Spirit, they in turn ordained others with the same form of prayer and laying on of hands which He had used – a form which has been continued down to our day, and which the Church still uses in ordaining her clergy.
This continuation of the Ministry from age to age is what we call the “Apostolic Succession.” Jesus promised to be with the Ministers of this Succession to the end of the world. When our Lord ordained His Apostles it was not specified that they should be Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. They were simply made “ministers of reconciliation,” that is, to their hands was committed the sacred task of bringing God and sinful men together by every means of grace with which God has endowed His Church. [See Ember Day Collect, P.B., p. 260.]
In the very first days of the Christian Church, therefore, there were many different kinds of ministers. St. Paul tells us, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry . . .” [Ephesians, 4:11–12.] But as the new Church spread around the Mediterranean world, the Ministry gradually became fixed in a three-fold order. The leaders (Apostles) and their successors who governed large portions of the Church were known as Bishops; the Pastors or Teachers who taught the Faith and cared for the flock in particular places were called Priests; and the assistant clergy were termed Deacons. [See Acts, 6:3–6; 14:23; 20:17. 1 Timothy, 3:1. 1 Peter, 5:1. The Greek words for Bishop, Priest, and Deacon were “Episcopos,” “Presbuteros,” and “Diakonos,” and they mean “overseer,” “elder,” and “servant.”]
The early Church was guided into this three-fold Ministry by the Holy Spirit which God had sent to lead them into all truth. Thus we acknowledge in the collects of our ordination services that God “by Thy divine providence” or “by thy Holy Spirit” has “appointed divers Orders of Ministers in Thy Church.” And when we use this word “ministers” (as “the ministers of God’s Holy Word and Sacraments” or “all Bishops and other Ministers”) we mean the Bishops, Priests, or Deacons of the historic three-fold order. For nineteen hundred years the Divine Commission has been transmitted and exercised from generation to generation, and from land to land by these Holy Orders in the Church. It is this form of Ministry which our Church has received, and which it is the intent of our Church to continue as a sacred trust from the time of the Apostles.
The portion of our Prayer Book which provides for the continuation of the Ministry is called The Ordinal. [P.B., p. 529.] It includes the forms for the ordination of Priests and Deacons and the consecration of Bishops. As these three services are all built on the same plan, an examination of one of them will suffice to illustrate all. The Ordering of Priests runs as follows:
The candidate (already a Deacon) is first presented to the Bishop for ordination to the Priesthood, and, if no objection is raised to his ordination, the special Litany for Ordination is read, asking the grace of God upon the man about to be made Priest. Then the service of Holy Communion is begun, and continued as far as the Creed (with special Collect, Epistle, and Gospel). At this point the Bishop delivers a long charge to the candidate, emphasizing the duties and responsibilities of the sacred office and high calling to which he seeks ordination. He concludes with a series of questions, in the answers to which the candidate declares his faith and ecclesiastical obedience; avows his intention to be a true and diligent Priest; and makes his vow to administer the Doctrine, Sacraments, and Discipline of Christ as the Lord has commanded and as our Church has received them. This done, the Bishop leads in singing the ancient hymn Veni Creator, itself a prayer to the Holy Spirit to endow the candidate with the grace and character of the Priesthood. Then follow the laying on of hands, the words which are the sign of the actual ordination, and the granting of authority to the new Priest to exercise his office. The Holy Communion is then resumed, and the whole service is ended with special prayers for the newly-ordained Priest.
As will be seen from reading the ordination services of The Ordinal, or the questions and answers of the final section of the Second Office of Instruction, the three offices of the Ministry have distinct and separate functions and powers. They may be briefly summarized thus:
The Bishop. The Bishop is the chief pastor in the Church. On him fall the care and oversight of all the churches and Church people within a specified area called “the diocese.” He is elected to his office, and after the election has been approved by the whole Church, he is consecrated by at least three other Bishops. By this consecration he is entrusted with three functions beyond those of Priests: the powers (1) of governing, (2) of confirming, and (3) of ordaining. He governs the diocese; he administers the Sacrament of Confirmation; and to him alone is reserved the power to ordain Priests and Deacons and participate in the consecration of other Bishops. All the Bishops meeting together form the House of Bishops, which together with the House of Deputies (lower clergy and laity), composes the General Convention, the highest authority in the Episcopal Church.
The Priest. The chief work of the Priest is to preach the Word of God, to teach the Faith, and to minister to the souls entrusted to his care in a parish or a mission church. He administers the Sacraments of Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and Absolution, and the rites of Holy Unction and Matrimony – Confirmation and Ordination alone being reserved to the Bishop.
The Deacon. The Deacon’s office is to assist the Priest in his ministrations in the parish, and to teach the Faith and preach the Gospel under the direction of the Bishop and Priest. The powers of this Order are distinctly limited. The Deacon may neither celebrate the Holy Communion nor pronounce God’s Absolution or Benediction, though he may assist in the administration of any Sacrament.
To become a Deacon a man must be a baptized and confirmed communicant of the Church, at least twenty-one years of age. Before his ordination he passes through the preliminary stages of Postulant and Candidate for Holy Orders, during which time he fulfils the requirements of the Canon Law as to his studies, examination, and general preparation for the Ministry. After his ordination to the Diaconate, he normally remains in that office a year before being admitted to the higher Order of Priesthood.
Every young Churchman, as has been stated earlier, ought to consider carefully whether or not the Sacred Ministry is the calling which God has planned for him. The normal procedure for a young man who feels drawn to the Ministry is to make known his desire to his rector, or parish priest. If the rector is convinced, by the faithfulness and devotion of the young man, that he is in earnest, he recommends him to the Bishop, who makes him a Postulant.
In this status the young man remains during his college years, reporting regularly to the Bishop and seeking to prepare himself intellectually and morally for the great calling to which God has drawn him. Later the Bishop admits him to be a Candidate for Holy Orders, and he spends three years in a theological school, concentrating upon those studies which are the specific preparation for the Ministry. At the end of his course, having revealed his fitness, intellectually and morally, he may be ordained to the Diaconate and begin his work as a Minister of Jesus Christ.
The work of ministering to people for our Lord in His Church is not limited to the Bishops, Priests, and Deacons of the ordinary Ministry. There are special vocations of slightly different sorts open to both men and women. These are:
The Religious Orders. Since the very earliest days of the Christian Church some men and women have been called to a special vocation to dedicate their entire lives to the work and worship of God. They have renounced all money, ambition, family, and normal human society to live in communities with others possessed of similar convictions. They devote every energy and faculty to God and His work. It is commonly supposed that a monk or nun is a man or woman who has withdrawn from the world. This supposition is for the most part untrue. The members of these religious communities have drawn closer to God, and as a result have been inspired with such a great love for people that their work in the world is unceasing. For example, in England in our Church there are over forty Religious Orders for women, and a dozen monastic Orders for men. Five of these devote their time solely to the worship of God and prayer for others. The remainder combine their life of prayer with the management of schools, hospitals, asylums, hostels, orphanages, rescue and nursing homes for the delinquent, the aged and the crippled, and mission work in over a hundred parishes.
What is true in England is true throughout the whole Anglican Communion. There are convents and monastic communities engaged in this type of prayer and work in every mission field into which our Church has gone.
In the United States we have nine Religious Orders for men, including the St. Barnabas Brotherhood, the Order of the Holy Cross, the Society of St. John the Evangelist, and the Order of St. Francis. There are fifteen Religious Orders for women, chief among which are the Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity, the Community of St. John Baptist, the Sisterhood of St. Margaret, the Community of St. Mary, the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor, the Order of St. Anne, and the Community of the Transfiguration.
The work of all our American communities includes the management of over two dozen retreat and rest houses; about fifteen schools (from primary to junior college); thirteen hospitals and nursing homes for incurables, aged, and convalescents; a dozen orphanages or homes for boys and girls; some vocational schools; mission work in many parish churches and mission houses; and numerous works of mercy and charity.
The Order of Deaconesses. This is an Order of women, officially incorporated into the structure of the Episcopal Church, to make it possible for a woman (who does not feel drawn to the separated life of a religious community) to serve in a special vocation of prayer and service. The training of young women for this work is done in accordance with the provision of our Church Canons and includes moral, spiritual, and intellectual preparation similar to that which a young man undergoes when he prepares for the Ministry. There are Training Schools for Deaconesses, all having high academic standing and doing the special task of preparing Deaconesses for service in religious education, missions, parishes, nursing, and social service. At present there are nearly one hundred and fifty devoted women engaged in this work which comprises a great part of the Church’s Ministry for women.
Certain Bishops, Priests, and Deacons are frequently given special tasks in the dioceses, missionary areas, or in the Church at large. The particular positions men occupy while discharging these tasks have been given particular names. Sometimes these titles are confusing. A word of explanation about each one may be helpful.
The chief Bishop in any country or section of that country is usually called the Archbishop. His greater dignity does not lie in any authority he has over the other Bishops, but from the fact that he holds the most ancient or important See (or Diocese) in the land or in the province. In England, for example, there are the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York. In Canada the Anglican Communion has four Archbishops, one for each province. Frequently, this Bishop is called the Primate – as in Wales and Scotland; or the Presiding Bishop – as in our own Episcopal Church in the United States and in China and Japan.
A large diocese in which there are many parish churches cannot adequately be administered by a single Bishop. There must be one or more assistant bishops. These are called Suffragan Bishops.
If one of these assistant bishops is designated to succeed the Bishop of the diocese upon the death or resignation of the latter, he is called the Bishop Coadjutor to distinguish him from the Suffragan Bishop, who does not succeed to that office unless elected.
The Priest who is in charge of the Cathedral Church of a diocese is called the Dean. He is, in fact, the rector of the Cathedral.
Just as the rector of a parish church may have assistant ministers, so the Dean of a Cathedral Church has assistants called Canons. Sometimes the Canons of a large Cathedral are given particular tasks. The Canon Precentor is responsible for the music and the Choir School; the Canon Missioner has oversight over a number of small mission churches dependent upon the Cathedral; the Canon Residentiary has the pastoral care of the permanent parishioners of the Cathedral, and so on.
Most dioceses support many small churches and preaching stations which do a missionary work at home quite as real as any missions in foreign lands. This is particularly true in rural sections, mountain areas, among the Indians, etc. This work, generally scattered over a wide area, must be coordinated and directed by the diocese. One or more Archdeacons assume responsibility for this specialized charge.
The Priest in charge of the normal unit of our Church, the parish, is called the Rector. On him rests the responsibility for the administration of the parish and the cure of the souls therein. In a large parish the rector needs help in caring for his people. This is provided by assistant ministers, either Priests or Deacons, called Curates. Should a parish church possess dependent chapels for which it is responsible, the clergymen in charge of such chapels will be called Vicars.
XXX – Pain and Suffering
O MOST loving Father, who wiliest us to give thanks for all things, to dread nothing but the loss of thee, and to cast all our care on thee, who carest for us; Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which thou hast manifested unto us in thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– For Trustfulness, Family Prayer.
Like temptation, another universal experience shared by all of us in this world is that of suffering. On a wide scale, there are the brutalities of war and oppression, economic distress and starvation, the ravages of plague, flood, and natural catastrophes. In our own lives and hearts we feel the pains of sickness and disease, the hardships of poverty, the sorrows of bereavement, the bitterness of failure, the remorse for wrongdoing. The catalog of suffering is a long one. No one escapes some kind of affliction.
The questions often heard are “Why should this be?” “Why should God allow our happiness to be wrecked by these evils?” People speak of “the problem of suffering,” and they call it a “problem” because they are baffled when they consider that God is good and loves us beyond all understanding, and yet these evils of suffering and pain afflict us all the time. Why? What is the answer? Our religion must have an answer, for if our Faith cannot provide us with a path through this dark valley it is of very little use to us.
There is no satisfactory answer to the problem of pain and suffering in this world except in the Christian religion. Without Christianity it does not make sense. All the other religions of mankind and every philosopher of old have grappled with the question, but without success. The very best they have produced has been advice as to how to bear affliction without flinching, or how to escape from it temporarily. The attitude of Christianity is quite different. It comes to grips with this universal experience and shows how evil may be turned into good. Our religion gives us the power not only to bear suffering patiently but to use it for the purposes of God and the advance of our own holiness.
Suffering is one means to a Christian’s victory over sin and self. It could not be otherwise in a religion in which the Saviour Himself suffered upon a Cross. The answer which Christianity gives to the problem of suffering is the answer Christ gave upon Calvary.
In order to understand this clearly we must first try to see things in their proper perspective. Most people today, even though they be nominal Christians, labor under a terrible misunderstanding. They think that the worst evil which can happen to them is suffering. Ask any of your friends and hear what they say. Disease is regarded as a dreadful calamity, and if it is a long illness it is looked upon as completely ruining a person’s life. Hardship and physical distress are greatly feared. Poverty is as bad as plague. The death of a loved one is felt as a crushing blow, and one’s own death is anticipated as little short of the hopeless end of everything. So it goes.
Every experience which involves pain or hardship, sorrow or suffering, is thought of as the worst evil which can befall us. This attitude – which is the very height of self-centeredness – is not Christian in the slightest degree. Nowhere did our Lord suggest that suffering was the worst evil which could happen to us. On the contrary, sometimes it must be God’s will for us. It is not that He desires us to suffer, but that we may need it. If this is not so, then either suffering is purely imaginary or God is a demon. Christians do not take those alternatives seriously. The simple fact is that the worst evil which can happen to us is sin, the evil which destroys the soul. Jesus made this abundantly clear. Suffering, on the other hand, can be made the means to great good. Yet so far have people gone in their misunderstanding and selfishness that they will even deliberately commit sin to spare themselves some kind of pain or hardship. Nothing could be a greater or more tragic reversal of the values of Christianity.
We shall see at once that sin and not suffering is the chief evil if we think of our Lord’s own life, He endured every kind of affliction and hardship, every human experience of pain, sorrow, and suffering. All these He shared with us when He shared our troubled human nature. But one thing never touched Him, and that was sin. The sin which He bore on the Cross was ours, not His. Thus He becomes our Saviour from sin, sharing with us His victory over sin. We do not really expect that the disciple shall be above his Master, and that we shall escape the sufferings that are part of our humanity. Our Faith gives us no easy way of escape. What it does give us is a way through suffering, a way which Jesus showed us.
What, then, is the Christian answer? First, we must meet our afflictions as He did, fairly and squarely with hope and trust. This is not a simple matter. Nothing is harder to do than to keep on trusting and hoping and praying when one is beaten down by some hardship or distress. It often seems as though thick dark clouds have come between us and God. But those are clouds of self-pity. God is trying to break through them to help us, and when we turn to Him in trust, they are quickly dispelled. Even our Lord found suffering hard to bear. In the garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion He prayed that He might be spared the suffering which was before Him, but He kept on praying until He could rise calmly from His knees, ready to face the Cross as the will of God, sure of the presence of His Father with Him throughout the whole bitter experience. “Thy will be done” was His final declaration of perfect trust. In that spirit we must bear our pains and meet our afflictions.
But we need not do it alone. We could not, for our strength is too feeble. The greatest truth of Christianity is that our Lord Jesus Christ dwells in the heart of every faithful Christian. With His Presence He brings to us the strength and power to meet our affliction and suffering with a patient hope and perfect trust. God will supply from within us the courage and strength which we lack, if we will but turn to Him and rely upon Him to do it. Thus we shall meet our sufferings as did Jesus, and conquer them as He conquered the Cross, in faith and hope and trust in God.
Then, also, we must be prepared by meeting our pain and affliction in that Christian way for the blessings which accompany suffering when it is rightly met. Strangely enough, suffering does have its hidden blessings. God can bring good out of evil when evil is combated by His methods. The noblest gift which suffering or pain can bring is the strengthening of our character. Hardship, poverty, sorrow, sickness – every one of them will leave a mark upon us. It may be the mark of despair or cynicism or a twisted nature. But it may also be the mark of sympathy and understanding and strong moral fiber. Such is the mark of a man or woman who meets suffering with the strength of our Lord.
Think of the people you most admire in this world or look at yourself carefully and honestly. Usually those qualities in them or in you which are fine and lasting and admirable are marks of Christian character which have been added through suffering. Possibly in some sickness we first learned the secrets of real prayer. In loneliness we may have been brought to depend on the One True Companion. In failure people see the end of their foolish pride and egotism, and the beginning of a new life of humility. Many a man or woman has realized more of the reality and beauty of Eternal Life through grief and sorrow for a loved one departed. Often the overwhelming remorse for sin and wrongdoing has been the kind of suffering out of which come true repentance and resolves for a different life in the future. Perhaps the noblest line of English poetry is Shakespeare’s “Sweet are the uses of adversity.” It is by the right use of adversity that a Christian comes to possess that kind of character which is eternal, which shares a life with God that nothing can break or destroy.
The doorway to all this is prayer. Faith, hope, trust, the strength of Christ in our hearts, the grace and power to make the right use of all hardship and suffering, all come through prayer. Turn over the pages of the Prayer Book and see how many prayers are devoted to sickness, death, poverty, suffering, hardship, and every kind of human affliction, whether on a large scale or in the personal lives of individuals. True, one might say, “But that is natural. People don’t need to be told to pray when they are in trouble.” Of course we don’t, but we need to learn how to pray rightly, to pray for hope and trust, for the power of God, for the grace to use our sufferings as Jesus did. “Thy will be done. Strengthen me to do it.” That kind of prayer is the doorway to our ultimate victory over all evil.
The most common type of suffering is that inflicted by disease or bodily pain. Indeed, so universal are all forms of illness, physical incapacity, and disease that people sometimes forget that religion has a vital place in their cure and alleviation. We allow these afflictions to shatter our nerves and affect our personality, to destroy our prayer lives and embitter our existence, and chiefly because we tend to put aside our faith and deal with the suffering in our own feeble strength alone. We forget the Christian necessity of facing any suffering with firm hope and patient trust in the victory which the power of Christ within us assures to us.
The path to that victory is through prayer. For that reason the Prayer Book devotes many pages to leading us to understand the part which spiritual power plays in the conquest of illness. Notice the amount of prayer for the sick. In nearly every service in the Book sufferers from bodily afflictions are remembered.
There is a special section completely and wholly concerned with the sick. [P.B., pp. 308–323.] In this Order for the Visitation of the Sick not only are prayers for the sick person offered, but every source of spiritual strength is brought to bear upon his body, mind, and soul. He is “moved to make a special confession of his sins” before the priest who is attending him, in order that true penitence might bring him closer to God and the grace of absolution bring strength to his heart. Provision is made for intercessions and litanies for those who are ill unto death, together with a solemn Absolution of the dying and a Commendation of their souls into the hands of Almighty God. A service is provided for the Communion of the Sick, shortened from the ordinary Communion Service to meet the needs of sick persons who cannot bear the strain of a long service. It is intended that people who are ill shall receive their communions regularly in order that they may have the benefit of the strengthening power of Christ through His precious Body and Blood.
Finally, the Unction of the Sick is provided for the further quickening of the spirit of those who are in bodily suffering. This rite consists of the Laying-on-of-Hands by the priest or the anointing of the sick person with oil blessed by the Bishop. It is one of the most ancient practices of the Christian Church to anoint the sick in this way. St. James tells us in his Epistle: “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up.” [St. James, 5:14–15.] It is this Apostolic injunction which we are continuing in the service of Holy Unction.
Let no one make the mistake of thinking that our prayers or sacraments or anointing do something magical to the body to cure illness without medical aid or care and in defiance of the laws of nature. On the contrary, our prayers and spiritual assistances work directly with the laws of God, which govern all nature. It is our duty to observe the laws of health in every particular and to seek every healing gift which medical science can bestow. But man is not a being sharply divided into the three parts of body, mind, and soul. He is both a spiritual and physical creature, incomplete without all three parts united each to the other and all in good health. When one part is affected by sickness or sin, the others suffer accordingly, though we may not always perceive it. When the affected part is strengthened, it in turn strengthens the whole man.
Doctors today do not treat the body or mind as though they were separate and disconnected portions of a man. No more do priests treat souls as though they were existing independently of the mental and physical health of a person. The sickness of the body, the weakness of the mind, the sins of the soul – all must be treated simultaneously to bring us to complete health, both physical and spiritual, under the laws which govern all God’s creation.
Thus when we turn to our prayers and receive Holy Communion or Unction in our illness we are opening ourselves to God that He may deepen and strengthen our spirits. This power in turn communicates itself to our bodies and minds, enabling us to cooperate perfectly with the medical care which is devoted to our physical ills. There is a point beyond which all the power of science and medicine cannot go. The strength of God alone, through prayer, can give us victory over our afflictions then.
XXXI – The Christian’s Eternal Life
Finally, ye shall yield unto God most high praise and hearty thanks for the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all his saints, who have been the choice vessels of his grace and the lights of the world in their several generations; and pray unto God, that we may have grace to direct our lives after their good examples; that, this life ended, we may be made partakers with them of the glorious resurrection, and the life everlasting.
– From the Bidding Prayer; p. 48.
The final evening collect in Family Prayer ends with the petition that God may “grant us grace always to live in such a state that we may never be afraid to die.” Before every human being is the mysterious experience of death. Here we ask God so to direct our steps in our present daily life that we may never fear its final event, but may face the end with courage and hope and trust in Him. It is a prayer we all need to make each day, for the fear of death has paralyzed the minds of men and women for centuries. They have pushed it away from their conscious thoughts. They have tried to forget that it is inevitable. They avoid it with horror – until it strikes very near them and takes from them some beloved friend or relative. Then they treat it as though it were the worst catastrophe imaginable. Why should people be filled with these fears? It can be for only one reason. Death means to them the finish of life, the blotting out of everything.
Nothing could be farther from the beliefs of a Christian. For the Christian, death is not the finish of life, but only an event in the stream of life which leads not to death, but far beyond, to God Himself. True, we cannot see beyond death to plan our life there, but then, neither can we see the events of tomorrow. Yet we plan today for the events of tomorrow because we presume that it will be very much like yesterday. So is the whole of life to the Christian. He plans for the future because he knows it cannot be separated from the life he is now living. Death may look like a barrier across the road at the end of our earthly pilgrimage; but when we reach it, we discover that it is simply a gateway, and that the road of life leads on to God.
Death has no terrors for us. The grave has no victory. Why? Because our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead, making the dark valley of death a pathway of light in which we may follow in His steps. The triumphant message of Easter morning brings to us the certainty of life in the future. Just as Jesus died for us on the Cross, so God raised Him from the dead for us, that as we draw close to Him and share in His life now, so in death we may draw closer to Him and share in His life beyond the grave.
God’s purpose in the whole life, death, and resurrection of Christ was to bring men and women eternal life – that is, not life which would be finished by death, but which would lead on to Him. It is important that we know what is meant by this “eternal life” which God gives us. Men for centuries have hoped and believed in what they have called “immortality.” That means that each human being has a spark of life within him which cannot be extinguished, but which will survive the destruction of the physical body. The Christian is not interested in just the bare existence of some spark of life. The kind of immortality he believes in is “eternal life,” and that is not a prolonged meaningless existence, but a living companionship with God. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God,” says St. John. [St. John, 17:3.] Eternal life is brought to us by Jesus Christ, and it is a life of close comradeship with Him. [Romans, 6:23.] We are bound to begin that fellowship here and now. Death cannot part us from our Divine Companion who conquered the grave. We continue and deepen that fellowship beyond the barrier.
But there is one thing about death which ought to awaken our thoughtfulness. Are we prepared to meet it at any time? Are we always ready to move through the gate from this phase of life to the next? There is a prayer in the Litany, “from sudden death – Good Lord, deliver us.” It is not that sudden death is painful or shocking, but that it may find us unprepared. As the portion of life through which we are now passing cannot be separated from the part lying on the other side of death, what we do and think and say here has consequences there.
This present life is critical. Exactly as the sins of our youth cast shadows upon our old age here, so the sins of this life do not disappear at death. Poor seed sown in the present will produce poor grain in the future. If a man is selfish or vicious or un-Christian now, he cannot be different when he starts the next phase of his life. If a man follows a pathway of behavior which leads away from God in this life, he will be on the same path in the next. That is why we must be prepared to pass the barrier at any moment, and prepared by entering into companionship with Jesus Christ here and now that our lives may be directed and ordered by Him. If we are on the pathway lighted by our Lord, we shall find that road leading ever closer to God on the other side. Thus we pray that “we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.” [P.B., p. 194.]
Is it possible that because of our sinful thoughts and acts, and our selfish behavior in this world, we may lose the things eternal? Certainly it is true that everything in this life will be subject to the judgment of God. Already we are judged by each thought and motive, each word and deed. At death this continuous judgment will come sharply to a point, and we shall see more clearly the kind of character we have shaped for ourselves. If we lose the things eternal, we shall have passed sentence upon ourselves by the life we have led here. There have been terrifying pictures drawn of God’s judgment by Christians in past ages. They are only pictures. No one can portray the judgments of the heavenly Father. Yet even the most horrible picture of condemnation contains one grain of truth: God is righteous and good; sin and evil cannot stand in His presence. He is the loving and forgiving Father of us all, yet even God cannot forgive him who does not want forgiveness, the sinner who glories impenitent in his sin. That sinner condemns himself, for God does not condemn. He seeks to correct, to purify us from sin by His forgiveness. If we accept His judgment and receive His forgiveness our lives are reconstructed into a new companionship with Him – into eternal life. God’s judgment is not to be feared but to be welcomed by those who long for forgiveness, and seek a deeper comradeship with their Saviour.
What will life be like when we have left the flesh behind and passed through the gateway? What is it like for those who are there now? Do they know us? Shall we know them? These, and dozens of other questions like them have stirred the minds of men and women for ages. No one has ever answered them – no one except the Christian. Even Christians do not know the complete answers to all these questions. We are certain of the fact of eternal life, but not of each detail. Yet we have learned from our Lord enough to give a partial answer.
The phase of life beyond the grave is what we call Paradise. We sometimes speak of it as the abode of the Church Expectant. We here in our earthly journey are the Church Militant; those who have completed the road of life and are joined with God in Heaven are the Church Triumphant. But all are the Church of God, living on this side, living beyond, and living with God Himself. As life in Paradise is continuous with life on earth, so shall the “I” of each human being be continuous. Here we have an earthly body, formed to serve us in this world; there we shall have a spiritual body, designed for life in which flesh and blood have no place. As we know one another through our bodies here, so shall we know one another there. Personality and consciousness will survive with the soul within its new body. Growth of character, activity in God’s service, prayer – all will continue, and continue in greater nearness to our Lord Jesus Christ. Poverty, hardship, sorrow, suffering will be replaced by joy and peace and happiness for those who travel the pathway of righteousness which leads to God.
But as we are in some sense “on probation” here, we shall still be so in Paradise. Few of us are ready or fit to come directly into God’s presence when we pass the barrier of death. His loving forgiveness must do its work to purge us of all sin and build further the character of eternal life. If life cannot make “saints” of many people, it is foolish to think that death can transform them to that extent. We shall still need the prayers of those left behind on earth, those with us in Paradise, and those true Saints with God in Heaven. It is this indestructible bond of prayer which unites constantly the whole Church of God. We pray for the Faithful Departed that they may increase in the knowledge and love of God, and go from strength to strength in the life of perfect service; that they may at last reach the fullness of the vision of God in Heaven; and that their growth in God’s love and service may continue in Paradise. [P.B., pp. 75; 268; 332.] We believe also that the prayers of those who have loved us here and are now closer to God are constantly offered for us, that we may remain faithful in the life here.
Beyond Paradise there is Heaven. What will that be like? No man can tell. Human minds think in terms of time and space. The infinite riches of God’s eternity can be only feebly pictured by us. The old descriptions of the pearly gates, and the streets paved with shining gold, and the dazzling towers of pure ivory far above the clouds are not to be taken literally. No more is the picture of the Blessed as
Now with triumphal palms they stand
Before the throne on high;
And serve the God they love amidst
The glories of the sky. [Hymn 127.]
But there is a truth in all man’s attempts to visualize Heaven. Man expresses Heaven in terms which are the best and highest he can imagine. It will be the fulfillment of all the finest desires of man by the gift of the constant presence of Almighty God. We can never picture it, but we can know that all the goodness and love and joy we most long for will even be transcended by the blessedness of Heaven.
Heaven, we say, is the abode of the Church Triumphant, the Saints of God who have passed through Paradise to be rewarded with eternal light and peace. [P.B., pp. 268; 319–320.] With them are the souls of the innocent children, and surrounding them is the glorious power of the Holy Angels who defend and help us in our earthly pilgrimage. [P.B., pp. 251; 340–342.] Heaven is still part of the One Church, those on earth, those in Paradise, those in final blessedness, One Mystical Body of Christ, united in Him.
When all is said and done, one truth remains paramount: Heaven is the end for which we were created. It is our natural destiny. Our very nature as children of God needs the eternal presence of our Father and Creator. Human life is completed in Heaven.
And finally, What of Hell? Can it be that any soul will ultimately be denied the vision of God? Shall any human spirit be lost forever? Once again no man can say. We know that the terrifying pictures of damnation and hell-fire, of torture and devils, are only human imaginings. They are attempts to portray hell as everything most loathesome and undesirable to mankind. In this, at least, they are right. Just as Heaven is the natural destiny of men and women, so Hell is the final denial of our true nature as God’s children. What makes Heaven is the presence of God; what makes Hell is the absence of God. Our selfishness often blinds us to this, but it remains the greatest fact of the universe. God will not force men into Heaven. His way is the way of love and sacrifice, ever seeking to awaken in us the response of repentance which allows Him to pour upon us the forgiveness that saves us. His very nature is love. He cannot change His Being to compel human beings to walk in His ways. The hardened sinner, the rebellious impenitent creature who will not turn from his wickedness even to seek his own natural good end – that man will make his own Hell. And no human imagination can conceive what a hell it would be to be separated from the love of God.
But for the Christian who is the faithful soldier and servant of Jesus Christ there can be no such separation. There will be sorrow, perhaps, and suffering. There will be temptation – even sin, but there will be forgiveness and the steady strength of God throughout the tribulation of this world. Of those who endure to the end it may be truly said:
These are they who have contended
For their Saviour’s honour long
Wrestling on till life is ended,
Following not the sinful throng:
These who well the fight sustained,
Triumph, through their Lord have gained. [Hymn 130.]
For Teaching Use
Suggested Questions, Topics, and Projects for Review
It will be noted that this volume has been arranged to be used, if desired, as the textbook for senior Church School classes, upper form Sacred Studies courses in private schools, or weekday religious instruction on released time. It may be found equally useful for Confirmation instruction, or as a basis for study groups of young people or adults.
For some years this material was used experimentally with senior classes in Church boarding schools and in parish churches. As a result of this experience certain suggestions are offered to clergy and teachers. It must be borne in mind that the book is the student’s textbook. Regular reading assignments should be made. The instructor will cover the assigned material in class, amplifying the topic under discussion from additional knowledge of the subject matter of the lesson. The list of books recommended for teachers’ reference will generally be found sufficient for their preparation. Bibles and Prayer Books will suffice for students’ reference. They should be used constantly throughout the course.
The group of questions, topics, and projects for review included here are to be used at the discretion of the instructor. It will be found also that frequent review of allied chapters will be extremely helpful. These aids are intended to be suggestive rather than binding. Different circumstances require differing methods. The important thing is to teach the faith and practice of the Prayer Book, making this volume simply an assistance to that end.
Questions and topics are provided for each set of chapters dealing with different phases of the same subject. Related material is kept together. Thus, the first set covers Chapters I–IV on the self-revelation of God, culminating in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The next set reviews Chapters V–VIII on the nature and growth of the Christian Church. The third covers Chapters IX–X on the meaning of Christian Worship and the forms in which it is expressed in our Prayer Book, and so on throughout the different sections of the book. Experience shows such an arrangement is an aid to frequent and effective review.
Review of Chapters I–IV
1. What things in the natural world suggest that God is a God of systematic order? What suggest that He is One?
2. What in human experience leads us to think that God is righteous? That He has a purpose?
3. God’s laws operate in various realms. For example, one way in which He operates in the physical realm is by the law of gravity. In what other realms do His laws work?
4. How is man different from the other “higher animals”?
5. Is God’s plan for man individual or social?
6. What nation was chosen to receive a special revelation of God?
7. What and whom do we associate with Mt. Sinai?
8. What pattern of life did God show the Hebrews in the desert?
9. Do we live in God’s Family in this life only?
10. What happened to the personal and social morality of the Hebrews after they had settled in Canaan?
11. Name four chief Prophets of Israel. What new revelation of God’s nature did any two of them make?
12. Where do we find The Servant Poems? Whom did the author mean by “the suffering servant”?
13. What kinds of a Messiah did different Jews expect?
14. The ancient world was prepared for Christ’s coming by the Jewish ________ ; the Roman ________; and the Greek _________. Fill the blanks.
15. The core of Jesus’ teaching is what we call the Kingdom of God. How does the Lord’s Prayer explain this phrase?
16. What destroys God’s pattern of Family Life in His Kingdom?
17. What does the statement, Jesus is “Son of Man” and “Son of God,’ mean?
18. Why is it important for us that Christ rose from the dead?
19. Why was Jesus Christ unique?
20. Explain the meaning of the word “incarnation.”
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What reasons would you give, to one who doubted, for belief in God?
2. There is a famous epigram:
The world minus God equals nothing;
God minus the world equals God.
Is it true? Give reasons for your answer.
3. What are the characteristics of the family pattern of life? In how large a group is this pattern practicable today?
4. How can we say that God “chose” the Israelites any more than He chose any other nation?
5. What did Jesus Christ do for mankind?
On a map of Palestine locate the place and date of each Prophet’s preaching, and write below it a line to sum up what he taught about God.
Review of Chapters V–VIII
1. How does the Second Office of Instruction define the Church?
2. How do the Creeds describe the Church?
3. What do we mean by calling the Church “The New Israel”?
4. What effect in the past has the Church had upon society?
5. What is the relation between Christianity and other world religions?
6. What in the Church today would be familiar to St. John?
7. Was the chief characteristic of the Apostolic Church its liturgy or its missionary activity?
8. Who was the first English martyr?
9. Who was the first Roman missionary to England?
10. How did the Ancient Catholic Church meet persecution? How did it combat errors in belief?
11. In what three ways was the Medieval Church the central force in Europe?
12. The reformed Church of England is a Catholic Church. Explain.
13. In what way can we call the Church of England “Protestant”?
14. Why is the Church more like a family than a club?
15. Why may a word-picture of a tree be aptly used in describing the Church of God?
16. Name four essential institutions of the Church.
17. What are the two “Sacraments of the Gospel”?
18. What are the five “commonly called Sacraments”?
19. What would you say to people who claim that it is better to worship God in “their own” way?
20. What is meant by the “Anglican Communion”?
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Church unity is one of the greatest tasks before the Church in our time.
2. It is said: “The Holy Spirit is the hero of the book called The Acts of the Apostles.” In what sense is this true?
3. On the continent of Europe the Reformation became a revolution, In England it was a true reform. Explain.
4. A man says, “I can be a good Christian without any Creed.” Is he right?
5. The Church is a part of our Lord’s original Gospel. Explain.
On a large sheet of paper make a chart of four squares across and five squares down. In the squares down the left side print the names of the five periods of Church History with their approximate dates. Label the other columns: Missionary Activity; Relation of Church and World; and Inner Life of Church. Fill in each square with a few words summing up these three for each period of the growth of the Church,
Review of Chapters IX–X
1. What is the chief function of the parish church?
2. Why is the Prayer Book called a book of common prayer?
3. Why do we worship together in an orderly way?
4. What is meant by the word “liturgy”? Why do we use a liturgy?
5. What is a sacrament? Give examples of two sacraments found in the Church and two in everyday life.
6. Name the five parts into which the Prayer Book may be divided.
7. What portions of our Prayer Book have been handed down to us from the earliest days of the Church?
8. In the early Middle Ages what service books were used by the Priest? By the Bishop?
9. When was the first English Prayer Book compiled? When was the first Prayer Book issued by the American Episcopal Church? When was it last revised?
10. From what ancient service books do the following come: (1) Morning Prayer; (2) Holy Baptism; (3) Holy Communion; (4) the Burial of the Dead; (5) the Ordering of Priests?
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What is wrong with this statement: “It is more important to live rightly than to worship God,”
2. “Man’s highest activity is the worship of God.” Why? List some of man’s usual activities in the order of their relative importance.
3. What are the contents of the Book of Common Prayer? From what early service books do the various parts derive?
On a map of the world mark the various Churches which make up the Anglican Communion. Mark further those which are independent and those which are missions of others. Indicate which ones have Prayer Books of their own, and which use the Prayer Book of the Church of England.
Fold sheets of paper to make booklets representing the ancient service books of the Church. On the outside of each write its title and who used it. On the inside of each list briefly its contents.
Review of Chapters XI–XV
1. What are the chief obligations of a Christian?
2. What is your bounden duty as a member of the Church?
3. By what three steps are we enlisted and trained to fight sin in the army of Jesus Christ?
4. What plea is found in both the Lord’s Prayer and in Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane?
5. Are all true prayers answered? When? How?
6. What is the difference between meditation and intercession?
7. What is ejaculatory prayer?
8. When should a Christian pray? Why?
9. Which is the best attitude for prayer: (a) tense struggle; (b) alert composure; or (c) “making the mind a blank”?
10. Is attendance at public worship required in the Episcopal Church?
11. Why do we finish nearly every prayer with the phrase “through Jesus Christ our Lord”?
12. What is the symbolism in the arrangement of a Church with the Nave, Choir, and Sanctuary on three different levels?
13. Give three rules for intelligent and effective worship in Church.
14. “Churches are specifically designed for corporate worship.” Mention five things about the location of the church’s furnishings which show this to be true.
15. Are private prayers alone sufficient for our spiritual needs? Explain your answer.
16. What is the purpose of any discipline, whether mental or spiritual?
17. Why is real Christian discipline always self-discipline?
18. What is meant by “temperance”?
19. What is the rule of our Church concerning days of Fasting or Abstinence? What is the purpose of this rule?
20. What three “notable duties” should find a place in a disciplined Christian life?
21. In what ways can a Christian serve his parents?
22. What is meant by Christian stewardship?
23. Explain what St. Paul meant when he wrote: “While we have time, let us do good unto all men; and especially unto them that are of the household of faith.”
24. Is there a connection between serving God and serving your fellowman? Explain.
25. What is the Christian ideal of world peace?
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What does it mean to love our neighbors? Mention at least five ways in which this love may be shown.
2. Give some answers to the question, what is Prayer?
3. What would you say to a man who says: “I don’t mind worshiping God every Sunday, but I can worship Him anywhere. Why go to Church? He is everywhere, isn’t He?”
4. Our citizenship is in Heaven. What is the relation between this and our citizenship in the United States?
Make lists of the different kinds of prayer found in each of the following services: Morning Prayer, the Litany, the Penitential Office, and Family Prayer.
Review of Chapters XVI–XIX
1. Why should there be a connection between our spiritual difficulties and our moral difficulties?
2. What should the Creed mean to us?
3. What is the relation between conduct (action) and creed (belief)?
4. What attitude should Christians take toward the paganism of the world?
5. What attitude should Christians of one denomination take toward those of another? Does this mean we should tolerate error?
6. Explain what is meant by temptation.
7. Explain what is meant by sin.
8. Which of these describe temptation: (a) sin; (b) universal; (c) constant; (d) something to be feared; (e) always bad.
9. In what three ways may we overcome temptation?
10. Why was Jesus so stern with sinful thoughts?
11. Quote the two Great Commandments (The Summary of the Law).
12. Are man-made codes always the same as God’s standards? Are they ever the same?
13. Name the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Cardinal Virtues.
14. What is our absolute responsibility in regard to sin?
15. Name three steps necessary toward finding forgiveness for sin.
16. Is true forgiveness ignoring or forgetting a wrong?
17. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” What does this mean?
18. Name five services in the Prayer Book which contain a general confession of sins.
19. In the Episcopal Church is confession before a Priest (a) forbidden; (b) optional; or (c) obligatory?
20. What is meant by the words, the “Sacrament of Penance”?
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Difficulties which seem to come from the world outside us often come from conditions inside us. Comment on this statement.
2. What is the effect of sin on the sinner? On the world? On God?
3. “You cannot change human nature.” Is this true? Why?
4. What would you reply to a person who says: “What right has a Priest to forgive my sins?”
5. In the Prayer Book, p. 80, read the first seven lines of the Prayer of Consecration in the Holy Communion. What does it mean? How did Christ redeem us from sin by His death upon the Cross?
Make a list of ten kinds of information we accept on authority, that is, because we are told that it is true without being able to make firsthand proof of its truth.
Go carefully through a page of the daily newspaper, marking with a pencil all news items in which sin has been committed. If possible, classify each sin according to the list of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Let each member of the class make a list of ten standards for self-examination suited to his age. Put these standards together in orderly form, eliminating duplications, etc. Let the class copy the resulting list, and let each pupil use it for his next self-examination.
Review of Chapters XX–XXI
1. Give some reasons for the observance of a regular cycle of feasts and Fasts throughout the Christian Year.
2. How many times a year does the Church observe Ember Days? What is the purpose of these days? Are they feasts or fasts?
3. What is meant by a Requiem celebration of the Holy Communion? By a Nuptial celebration? Where do we find provision for these services?
4. List these in their correct order in the Church Year: Trinity Sunday, The Epiphany, Maundy Thursday, Advent, Easter, Whitsunday, Good Friday, All Saints’ Day, Lent, Ascension Day, Christmas.
5. What is the significance of All Hallow’s Eve, or, as we sometimes say, “Hallowe’en”?
6. Why is it necessary to live and to pray by rule?
7. On what days does the Church require fasting? In what season are special acts of devotion required?
8. What steps should be taken to prepare for the reception of the Holy Communion?
9. What kinds of prayer should find a place in our daily devotions?
10. Some people say: “I would never undertake a rule of life because I might break it.” What is your answer to this?
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What other things besides prayer and worship should be included in a truly Christian rule of life?
2. “Real Freedom always requires orderly subjection to some kind of Law.” Discuss this statement.
Take an ordinary calendar and color it properly according to the seasons and days of the Church Year.
Make a list of the more important Christian Saints for whom there are no special remembrances provided in the Prayer Book. This work might be divided among the class, with brief reports on events in the life of each Saint.
Divide the collects for the Sundays after Trinity among the members of the class, each member reporting upon the requests and petitions made in the collects assigned. This type of project might be extended to other seasons.
Let the class jointly outline a practical weekly rule of prayer and public worship. After keeping it for a week, let its modification and revision be a subject of class discussion.
Review of Chapters XXII–XXV
1. Why is the Sacrament of Holy Baptism important?
2. What is required of those who seek to be baptized?
3. Is one a Christian if one is unbaptized?
4. What does Baptism symbolize? What does it accomplish?
5. Who may perform a Baptism? When? Where?
6. What are the duties of Godparents?
7. What is the relation between conduct and prayer?
8. What does the Creed tell us about God?
9. Where in the Prayer Book is the meaning of the Ten Commandments explained?
10. How does The Office of Instruction define (a) The Church? (b) A Sacrament?
11. What is the difference between the Nicene and the Apostles’ Creed?
12. Into what three parts is each Creed divided?
13. What does the Nicene Creed tell us about God?
14. What historical fact is stated in the Creed?
15. Do we join the Church when we are confirmed?
16. When do we join the Church?
17. What is the outward and visible sign of the Sacrament of Holy Confirmation?
18. What gift is given us by God in Confirmation?
19. How should we prepare for Confirmation?
20. Have Baptism and Confirmation always been separate services? Explain.
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Would it be advisable for the Church to baptize only adult candidates who could assume their own Christian responsibilities?
2. How would you answer a person who says “I want Christianity but not the Creeds?”
3. What is the right age to be Confirmed? Why?
Review of Chapters XXVI–XXVII
1. Who instituted the Holy Communion? Under what circumstances?
2. What does St. Paul tell us about the Holy Communion?
3. Give five titles for the Holy Communion. What does each name signify?
4. What is the most important aspect of the Holy Communion?
5. Is our Lord present with us in the Holy Communion? How?
6. How do we prepare for the Holy Communion?
7. Why should we receive the Communion fasting?
8. What three things do we give in the Offertory?
9. What is “the Consecration”?
10. What is required of those who come to the Lord’s Table?
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. “The Holy Communion is the highest act of corporate worship offered by the Church.” How is the fact recognized in our Church?
2. Why are there moral requirements of repentance and the resolve to lead a new life laid upon those who come to Holy Communion?
Analyze the service of Holy Communion with regard to the elements of memorial, sacrifice, communion, and thanksgiving which are found in it. In what parts of the service does each of these elements come into prominence? Draw a chart of your analysis.
Review of Chapters XXVIII–XXIX
1. Why is remarriage after divorce contrary to God’s law?
2. What is the Christian ideal of personal purity? Where can we find help to overcome temptations which threaten this ideal?
3. What is the outward and visible sign of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony? Its inward and spiritual grace?
4. What is meant by saying “The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit”?
5. What is the permanent value of a Christian home?
6. Outline the steps by which a man may take Holy Orders?
7. Who were the first Christian ministers?
8. What are the three Orders of the Ministry? Which of these Orders performs the task of perpetuating them?
9. Explain what is meant by the Apostolic Succession?
10. Name three functions which may be performed by a Bishop only, and three which a Priest but not a Deacon may perform.
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What is the value of the Apostolic Succession?
2. In what way do the religious duties and standards of life of a layman differ from those of a clergyman? In what ways are they the same?
Review of Chapters XXX–XXXI
1. What is the worst thing that can happen to us?
2. Are pain and suffering meant to be endured in our own strength only? Explain.
3. Are there any benefits of suffering? If so, do those benefits come automatically or must we do something to secure them?
4. What provision does the Prayer Book make for ministrations of the Church to the sick?
5. What is the relation between the body and the spirit?
6. Should a Christian be afraid to die?
7. What is meant by the Church Militant? The Church Expectant?
8. What is Hell?
9. What do we mean when we say in the Creed “I believe in the resurrection of the body”?
10. Why must we be prepared for death at all times?
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Are there any other answers to the problem of suffering besides the Christian answer? Discuss their strength or weakness.
2. The older parts of the Old Testament taught that suffering was a punishment for sin. How did Jesus make clear that this was not true?
3. Compare the beliefs and practices of non-Christian peoples concerning the dead with those of the Church.
Books Recommended for Reference
Bayne, S. F., Jr., Christian Living. Seabury Press.
Bernardin, J. B., An Introduction to the Episcopal Church. Morehouse-Gorham.
Boss, N. R., The Prayer Book Reason Why. Morehouse-Gorham.
Dawley, P. M., Chapters in Church History. Seabury Press.
Dawley, P. M., The Episcopal Church and Its Work. Seabury Press.
Dentan, R. C., The Holy Scriptures. Seabury Press.
Garbett, C., The Claims of the Church of England. Hodder and Stoughton.
Griswold, L., The Episcopal Church: Its Teaching and Worship. Morehouse-Gorham.
Hodges, G., The Episcopal Church. Morehouse-Gorham.
James, E. O., A History of Christianity in England. Hutchinson’s University Library.
Pike, James A., and Pittenger, W. Norman, The Faith of the Church. Seabury Press.
Shepherd, M. H., Jr., The Worship of the Church. Seabury Press.
Wand, J. W. C., ed., The Anglican Communion. Oxford.
Wilson, F. E., An Outline History of the Episcopal Church. Morehouse-Gorham.
Wilson, F. E., Faith and Practice. Morehouse-Gorham.
Wilson, F. E., The Divine Commission. Morehouse-Gorham.