THROUGH THE LITURGY
By Peter Toon
The Prayer Book Society Publishing Company, 1992
Preface Through Chapter 6 – this page
1. The American Experience
2. Liturgy since Cranmer
3. What knowing is4. Covenant with God
5. Baptism and Confirmation
6. Morning and Evening Prayer
7. Praying the Psalter Chapters7–12
8. Holy Communion
9. The Church Year
10. Common Prayer
11. Language for God
12. God is Love
It is a privilege to be invited by the Prayer Book Society to write a book to be published under its name. To be an Anglican is for me to be committed to that Common Prayer Tradition which began in England in 1549 and continued through a series of editions of Books of Common Prayer throughout the world until the 1960s.
My title recalls a booklet I wrote for Grove Booklets of Nottingham, England, in the early 1970s entitled. Knowing God through the Liturgy. I hope that over the last twenty years I have grown in knowledge and wisdom and that this much longer study is a vast improvement on the previous effort. My recent writing has been in the area of meditation and contemplation [see, e.g. my Meditating as a Christian (1991); and Spiritual Companions: Introducing 100 Spiritual Classics (1992)] but it has been a joy to switch to the theological reflection upon liturgy.
This book has been written during Lent in my fifteenth and sixteenth months as a resident alien in America. Its themes have engaged my mind at all times when I was not teaching in class or preaching in various parts of the country. I hope that though written fairly quickly it has within it the fruit of my thinking over two decades or so since my ordination as a priest of the Church of England.
I must thank my wife, Vita, for her careful reading of the text, and my daughter, Debbie, for her patience with an absent father. My learned colleague, the Revd Dr Charles Caldwell, has passed on his wisdom to me in frequent conversations, and John Jamieson, an enthusiast for the Common Prayer Tradition has helped me gain access to important sources. Crews Giles, a student at Nashotah House, has kindly assisted me with word processing and in technical matters while John and Diane Ott in Florida have given me their courteous and professional help in producing the book for publication by the Prayer Book Society. I must also mention the help and encouragement of Graham Eglington, the National Director of the Prayer Book Society of Canada, and his colleagues.
Of course I take responsibility for what is written and I place it in the hands of God to do with as is pleasing unto Him.
I have written it in such a way that it speaks both to the American Episcopal and Canadian Anglican Churches. I hope also that friends back in England will appreciate its contents. The book is dedicated to four East Texans and their friends who gave me gracious hospitality recently. May our Lord bless them abundantly.
Nashotah House, Wisconsin
Holy Week, 1992.
1 THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
We arrived in this country on December 31, 1990, and, having missed our connection in New York at JFK for Milwaukee, had to spend New Year’s Eve in the city before leaving very early on January 1, 1991 for Wisconsin, via St Louis. The culture shock of New York City on New Year’s Eve has been as nothing compared with the culture shocks I’ve felt within the Episcopal Church, which is so different in many ways from the Church of England.
The first shock was to discover that many bishops actually forbade the use of the BCP (1928) and did so even at funerals of people who had used the Book for most if not all of their lives. My surprise and dismay were increased since it was from the mouths of bishops who I thought to be reasonably conservative that I heard the defence of this action. I had come from a situation where there were two Books in use, the BCP (1662) and the Alternative Service Book (1980). In the land of the free and in the Episcopal Church I found that freedom to be a traditional Anglican in public prayer worship and devotion was virtually forbidden. However, my spirits were raised as I gradually learned that thousands of laity and a few clergy felt as I did and quietly preserved the use of the BCP (1928) in parishes and homes.
I have often asked myself why it is that clergy of all kinds seem so committed to the BCP (1979) and generally support bishops who forbid the use of BCP (1928) in parishes. Two possible reasons come to mind. First of all this Book is a genuinely American hook, produced by Americans for Americans after painful and long trial use. In contrast BCP (1928) is only an American adaptation of a basically British (both English and Scottish) Book. Thus there is a sense of pride in this all-American production, which was published before the new English ASB (1980), and which may still claim to be the best of the new type of modern Anglican books of services.
In the second place, this Book is comprehensive, in that it provides for, and reflects in its contents and arrangement, a new pluralism. This provision fits well into a complex society such as America now is, satisfying at a symbolic level a felt religious need to provide for the individual parish but to affirm some unity of the whole denomination. Thus the Book has both traditional and modern language liturgies, with a decided bias towards the modern: in fact it surprised and pleased many Anglo-Catholic priests and parishes by incorporating as options most of their long standing demands (e.g. the Easter Vigil, provisions for the Reserved Sacrament and auricular Confession). Further, it gives vast scope for choice in what is used or not used in the services and, with respect to the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist, it presents not one but six Eucharistic Prayers from which to choose. Then also it seems to avoid that concentration on sin, atonement and justification, on account of which vocal critics had long judged the BCP (1928) as being glued to older theology.
Faced with this breadth and these possibilities, how could any reasonable person oppose or not use such a Book! Those who cry out for the BCP (1928) ought to realize (it has often been said), that Rite I of the new Book provides for their needs. Thus let them leave the past and cease to bury their heads in the sand and enter into the modern experiment – otherwise they will get left behind. (The defence and commendation of the Common Prayer Tradition, as represented in the BCP (1928), will he offered throughout this book by a cumulative argument concerning the nature of Common Prayer, the priority of Holy Scripture, and the nature of Catholic dogma.)
The second shock came upon me gradually and it began at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church at Phoenix in July, 1991. It was as a result of the realization that there is an equating of the zeitgeist (spirit of the age) with the Holy Spirit by much of the leadership of the Church. The nature of the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of Christ, is presented in Scripture for our study and meditation in such places as John 14–16 and Romans 8. He is the Spirit of holiness and wholeness, of regeneration and renewal, of goodness and faithfulness, and He leads us in the way of Christ. What He guides disciples of Jesus to be and to do stands in contrast and opposition to the secular spirit of the world, the raw desires of the flesh and the temptations of the devil. The Holy Spirit is on no account to be confused with the spirit of the age or the modern spirit – however this contemporary spirit is defined. I have been profoundly disturbed to hear of such things as the right of human beings to name God as they choose, and the practice of homosexuality and lesbianism, described as examples of the way the Holy Spirit is showing us new values and truths today. Is this not coming near to that sin our Lord said was not forgivable – sin against the Holy Spirit? (See Matt. 12:31; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10.)
As I shall explain in the next two chapters this confusion of the Person of the Holy Spirit with the modern, secular spirit is in part possible because of the various doctrines of God being taught in the Church. These are of such a nature that they give great emphasis to the immanence and omnipresence of God as Spirit and little if any emphasis to the utter transcendence of God, apart from and above the created order. If God is reduced to the cosmos then it is only a short step to identifying cultural and historical movement as the expression of God as Spirit.
The third shock which also came upon me slowly rather than suddenly was to discover just how deeply the liberal or modernist agenda has penetrated the process of liturgical revision since the 1970s. In fact the whole Liturgical Movement which began with good intentions seems to have gone off course and to have become the vanguard for the revision of the Faith through the revision of the services we use. It is to he seen in the way in which BCP (1979) and the Canadian BAS (1985) are being used (e.g. the rubric allowing the omission of the confession of sins being taken as a rule always to omit confession of sins, or to omit the confession for the fifty days following Easter), but also in the plans for further and more radical revised services (to which Prayer Book Studies 30, with its inclusive language liturgies, points).
I recall how concerned C. S. Lewis was about the moves in England to update the Liturgy and wrote:
I would ask the clergy to believe that we, laymen, are more interested in orthodoxy and less interested in liturgiology as such than they can easily imagine... What we laymen fear is that the deepest doctrinal issues should he tacitly and implicitly settled by what seem to he, merely changes in liturgy. A man who is wondering whether the fare set before him is food or poison is not reassured by being told that the course is now restored to its traditional place in the menu or that the tureen is of the Sarum [i.e. old Salisbury] pattern. We laymen are ignorant and timid. Our lives are ever in our hands, the avenger of blood is on our heels and of each of us his soul may this night he required. Can you blame us if the reduction of grave doctrinal issues to merely liturgical issues fills us with something like terror? (God in the Dock, 1970, p.332.)
On the next page Professor Lewis has a further word on the relation of liturgy and belief. “I submit that the relation is healthy when liturgy expresses the belief of the Church, morbid when liturgy creates in the people by suggestion beliefs which the Church has not publicly professed, taught and believed.” As we go on our journey in this book (especially chapter ten) we shall notice some of these grave doctrinal issues being covered up through claims that the new lex orandi is the new lex credendi (the new law of prayer is the new law of faith, for which see chapter 10).
I also recall the words of the late W. H. Auden, who took part in some of the early work on revising the Psalter in the 1960s. He saw a wonderful tradition of prayer-language slipping away in the euphoria of revision and wrote in his Commonplace Book:
The Episcopal Church...seems to have gone stark, raving mad... And why? The Roman Catholics [after Vatican II have had to start from scratch, and as any of them with a feeling for language will admit, they have made a cacophonous horror of the mass. Whereas we had the extraordinary good fortune in that our Prayer Book was composed at exactly the right historical moment. The English language had already become more or less what it is today...hut the ecclesiastics of the 16th century still possessed a feeling for the ritual and ceremonious which today we have almost certainly lost. (A Certain World, 1970, p.85.)
My concern is primarily with the doctrine and spirituality but I fully recognize that these must he expressed in excellent English.
My purpose in writing
Therefore I write this hook as a way of saying that I am an Anglican, that I want to be a biblical and catholic Anglican, and that I see no hope of being an honest Anglican only within the context provided by further developments of the revisionist tradition of liturgy contained in the BCP (1979) and the BAS (1985). Therefore the witness of the Prayer Book Societies in the USA, Canada, England and elsewhere is necessary. Classic Anglicanism in which sacred Scripture has central place, and where truly Common Prayer, with its unique asceticism and spirituality arising from the prayerful reading of Scripture and receiving of Holy Communion, must not be allowed to disappear for want of effort!
If I were asked for a biblical text to set forth what I have to say, I would choose the word of the Lord through the prophet, Jeremiah. “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls” (6:16). I call upon Anglicans to survey the history and experience of the Churches to which they belong, to contemplate and think seriously about the Common Prayer Tradition, and then to compare the old with the new. I hope they will choose the old way, not to bury their heads in the sands of the past but with the intention of working to see its perfection for the Anglican Way for today and tomorrow. For, in the new way upon which parts of the Anglican Communion are travelling I do not see any long-term “rest for souls.”
At the moment it is just possible, I believe, by the judicious use of the new Books to be an Anglican in terms of biblical faith and public worship; but the process of revision which seems only to have just started will surely make that possibility an impossibility soon - unless a halt is called to further revision and doctrinal change, and unless we put the whole process into some kind of reverse gear, by rediscovering the primacy of biblical faith.
My pessimism concerning the new mix-and-match tradition in modern Anglicanism stands in contrast to that confidence which once was so widespread with respect to the Common Prayer Tradition. Here is what J.P.K. Henshaw, Bishop of Rhode Island wrote in 1831:
Among the many causes of gratitude to Almighty God which distinguish our lot as Protestant Episcopalians, it is not one of the least that we are favored with a scriptural and established LITURGY; which is entitled to the warmest commendation, not only as a directory for public worship, but also as a standard and preservative of sound doctrine.
The Prayer Book has been beautifully and appropriately styled “the daughter of the Bible”; and, probably, there is no other work of human composition which has embodied so much of the substance and spirit of the heavenly Oracles. Extracts from the Bible, in the form of Gospels, Epistles and Psalter, constitute the greater part of the volume – and throughout the collects and prayers the spirit of the divine Word breathes and glows and animates the whole. What can be more chaste and spiritual than its devotional services? What more humble and meek than its penitential confessions? What more fervent and comprehensive than its acts of intercession? What more full, ardent and seraphic than its adorations and thanksgivings? How many of the followers of Christ in this day have felt their hearts glow with heavenly ardor – as if touched with a live coal from the altar – and experienced the sublime delights of spiritual communion in the use of those prayers and praises in which saints and martyrs of every age have poured forth their devotions to the Lord? And eternity only can disclose the multitude of instances in which the use of them has alleviated the pains of disease, assuaged the fears of the mariner amidst the terrors of the ocean, cheered the desolations of prison and softened the bed of death.
The LITURGY is entitled to veneration not only as a devotional work but as a compendium of sound Christian theology. All the fundamental and important doctrines of the Gospel are interwoven throughout its various offices; and while our congregations statedly use it they will he secured against the introduction of gross and flagrant heresy. (The Communicant’s Guide, 1831, p.3.)
The Bishop goes on to speak of the “Order for the administration of the Lord’s Supper” as being nothing less than the condensing of “the excellencies of the ancient liturgies” into a wonderful English liturgy.
In this book I shall be saying something similar to what Bishop Henshaw and many others have said about the Common Prayer Tradition, but with less eloquence. However, my primary interest is in showing that a major purpose of Common Prayer is to enable believing sinners to know God in a personal way through corporate worship.
Our God is the LORD and we are made in His image and after His likeness to be His adoring creatures not only in this age but for all eternity. Therefore to begin to know Him now in corporate worship is to prepare to know Him in heaven in the Liturgy of the angels and saints.
[Note. To those who wish to reflect further upon the religious, liturgical and theological divide in the Episcopal Church (as well in other similar American Churches) I commend James Davidson Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, Basic Books, 1991.]
2 LITURGY SINCE CRANMER
The tradition of an English Book of Common Prayer began in 1549 and passed through important new editions in 1552 and 1662 in England, with later revised editions in the English-speaking world of the British Empire and the nations which evolved from it. There were of course editions in foreign languages as well, especially for churches founded by missionary endeavor. In North America the last revised editions which embodied this Common Prayer Tradition were those of 1928 in the USA and 1962 in Canada. Because of this shared tradition by world-wide Anglicanism it was possible until fairly recently to go to Anglican worship anywhere in the world and soon feel at home with the forms of divine service.
In the 1990s we are experiencing a growing variety of forms of worship not only in different countries but also within countries. This variety is usually based upon authorized books of prayer which still use the title or claim the concept of “Common Prayer” (e.g. The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, in the USA and The Alternative Service Book, 1985, in Canada). However, these Books of varying titles have begun a new tradition of public worship and prayer for Anglicanism not only in North America but also around the world (cf. the ASB, 1980, in England).
Their creators have often claimed and still claim to be restoring valuable ancient forms and ways to modern worship without changing the basic doctrine. However, their primary thrust seems to be that of encouraging a seemingly endless variety of possibilities into divine worship and thereby introducing a dull mediocrity into worship. In this way they claim to speak to contemporary persons in modern language. Gone is one excellent form of words and in its place are several alternatives, none of which is aesthetically memorable or theologically satisfying. Gone also is the clarity of biblical and patristic teaching on fundamental matters and in its place is at best a fuzzy or careless presentation of certain basic doctrines. Further, while it is argued that this modern way involves the participation of the laity (as the people of God) in worship much more than was the case in former years, the usual position in practice is that the priest becomes the expert to choose between the variety of possible forms of service in the Book.
Of course I am not claiming that the classic tradition of Anglican Common Prayer was or is perfect. I am not saying that the American BCP (1928) and Canadian BCP (1962) would not benefit from some wise and gentle revision and from a new preface to explain the logic of saving and sanctifying faith on which this type of worship is based and from which it proceeds. It is possible that some of the new services introduced into the recent Prayer Books (e.g. Easter services) could be incorporated, adapting them to the theology and ethos of the Common Prayer Tradition. Then provision could he made for the use of a revised Psalter, the kind, for example, authorized in England in 1966, and called The Revised Psalter, which had both C. S. Lewis and T. S. Eliot on its revision committee.
However, the major point is that the Books of 1928 and 1962 can he improved or their contents adjusted for contemporary use because their basic tradition is sound and well tried in all important respects. Since the foundation is solid there is possibility for a limited number of optional additions here and there as long as they are done in the same ethos and doctrine as the original. The grandeur and glory of the tradition of Common Prayer is that there has been a shared, excellent form of worship to he used by all who belong to a particular branch of Christendom – in this case the Anglican Way. The excellence is not only in the form of words but also in the way this tradition reflects the ethos and doctrine of Holy Scripture as well as the classic, patristic, Trinitarian doctrinal and devotional heritage of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
In contrast, the BCP (1979) and the BAS (1985) were intended, at least by some of their advocates, to create a different and opposed tradition of Christian worship. In justice, they may be called revisionist Books for, if widely or universally used, their impact will be to destroy the received, classic tradition of Common Prayer which has been at the very center of the genius of Anglicanism. In fact this destruction is well advanced already in North America, since a generation now exists for whom the tradition of authentic Common Prayer has not been a living experience.
The charge that these new Books are revisionist can be substantiated on three major grounds. First of all, as we have been noting, they introduce a new concept and practice of public worship. Out of the church door goes a common or shared form and in the door comes a variety which is only intended to be a stage on the way to more variety. Already Liturgical Commissions have produced and even now they continue to produce more experimental forms of public worship. Soon there will he only a loose-leaf book of possible options.
One important development since 1979 has been the move to produce services based on the principle of inclusivism with non-excluding language. Already in the Psalter of BCP (1979) this principle had been utilized, but Prayer Book Studies 30 (1990), given further limited approval by the General Convention of 1991, is an example of this novelty: with the continuing trial use of its inclusivist liturgies a further nail is hammered into the coffin of the Common Prayer Tradition and in the authority of Holy Scripture in the Church. For, if God he the LORD who reveals Himself to us through the words of Scripture, then God may be said to name Himself: as mere sinful creatures we cannot choose to name Him but we address Him after His own self-naming and direction. I shall return to this theme in chapter eleven below.
In the second place, there is a definite weakening of basic Christian doctrine in the new Books. In fact it is not claiming too much to say that there is evidence of a definite move to revise Christian doctrine in some places within them. One does not have to look very far with a trained eye to see that the doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the glorious Person and saving Work of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the nature of God’s salvation have all been either modified or revised. Many good and faithful Episcopalians have not noticed this doctrinal change because they have in charity assumed that the BCP (1979) has the same doctrine as that of the BCP (1928) and have read classical doctrine into the words they have read.
Take for example the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine has been preserved in the old form in the Gloria (“Glory he to the Father...” etc) used at the end of the Canticles and Psalms in the BCP (1979) as well as in the Blessing, given at the end of public worship by the bishop or priest. It has been lost, however, in other places, most obviously in the opening Blessing of God in Rites I and II of the Eucharist. Instead of “Blessed be God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (for our God is One God in Three Persons) we are given a formula which is a form of the ancient heresy of Modalism (God is One hut has three names). The definite articles are left out and thus instead of “the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” we are given “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”.
Another obvious example of change is in the use of a revised form of the Apostles’ Creed. Though in the original Latin and in the long-used English translation the virginal conception of our Lord is clearly set forth in the words, “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary,” the revised form in Morning Prayer Rite II has the words “He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.” The aim of the new words is to allow people who do not believe in the miraculous conception of Jesus to think of His conception as if it were like that of Isaac or John the Baptist – normal but special. Such an interpretation is, of course, heresy. In fact, as you survey the theological content of the BCP (1979) you notice a general tendency to treat and present Jesus as the Perfect Man in whom the divine presence dwells. That is, He becomes for all of us a supreme example of God’s presence and as well of our response to God in faith. To think of Jesus only as a revelation of God and as a perfect example to us is surely something short of confessing Him as “my Lord and my God.”
Further changes are made later in the Apostles’ Creed when the “descent into hell” is made into another less important journey (“a descent to the dead”) and the adjective “almighty” which follows “right hand of the Father” is omitted. Then serious changes are made to the translation of the Nicene Creed as that is printed in Rite II of the Eucharist (and taken from the International Commission on Liturgical Texts). I urge my readers to compare the old translation “I believe...” with the new one “We believe...” in Rites I and II. There are so many significant changes and it is inappropriate to examine them all here. I simply note that to say “we believe” is not the same as saying “I believe”. We are there together at Holy Communion as the Body of Christ and each believer who is present is a member of that Body: thus each of us has to respond to the God who has revealed and given Himself to us: therefore, the right response is “Lord, I believe!” Though the members of the Council of Nicea composed the Creed and said together against heretics, “We [as a body standing together] believe” they each confessed the same faith in the Eucharist in personal terms, “I believe” (as the ancient Liturgies of St Basil and St Chrysostom show).
Thirdly, there is a definite change in the doctrine and use of the Bible. Take, for example, the translation of Psalms 1:1 and 51:6 in the Psalter of 1928 and 1962 on the one hand and that of 1979 and 1985 on the other. In 1:1 the original speaks of the blessed man (male and singular): this is faithfully translated by the old Psalter and by the Revised Standard Version and other versions of the Bible; but, in the American 1979 and the Canadian 1985 Psalters (which are virtually identical) we have a third person neuter, “happy are they...” To make matters worse there is no note anywhere in the American 1979 Psalter to let the faithful know that they have been given an inclusivist translation which is informed by the ideology of anti-sexism. In contrast, the Canadian Psalter does have a preface which recognizes the inclusivist nature of the translation and allows the use of other versions.
Then if you compare Psalm 51 in the old and new translations you find that the full extent of the nature of sin is diminished in the 1979 Psalter. The human condition of sin as inherited from others and then personally exercised, is replaced in 1979 by a notion of individual freedom of choice as exercised only from one’s mother’s womb. Regrettably this diminution of the nature of sin harmonizes with the reduced doctrine of sin presented in the rest of the Books.
The Lectionary which accompanies BCP (1979) has certain attractive features to it but it also has some pernicious aspects. There is a selective dropping of those sections of Scripture which obviously stand in definite opposition to the insights of the revised religion – this is particularly so with respect to the Letters of Paul. Where the modern mind judges him to be passing on rabbinic rather than specifically Christian teaching on the relation between the male and female or the immorality of the practice of homosexuality then that rabbinic teaching is left out (see e.g. the omission of parts of Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 11 & 14).
To some people the above examples of revision of doctrine may appear trivial and of little consequence. Yet to those who are familiar with the history of Christian doctrine and spirituality they do represent important changes or deviations which will have evangelistic and pastoral repercussions. Therefore if truth means anything at all these changes must be made explicit by those who care for truth.
Old but excellent
My primary purpose is not to attack the new approach to and ways of worship which the Anglican Communion is being increasingly led to experience through its new Books of Prayer. Rather it is to show that the old tradition of Common Prayer, despite its seemingly old-fashioned look, is an excellent way to know God, the living God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in public worship; further it is to recognize that from this knowing, trusting, and loving Him comes the serving and obeying of Him in daily life. However, to develop my theme and substantiate my arguments it will he necessary from time to time to contrast the old and the new ways; thus there will be some further criticism of the new ways. I do not apologize for this. It is unavoidable if it be the case that the modern way (as I have come to see it) is in fact truly inferior as a spiritual offering and sacrifice to God in holy worship. My concern is that at the level of revealed truth and devotion there be genuine knowing of God as our Father and Saviour.
The seeking after God and the knowledge of Him is the most deeply fulfilling journey upon which we can embark. We need a sure road to travel on, an accurate map to use and a faithful guide to direct us in our search for the living God and fellowship with Him. I believe that wise people will take that road, use that map and employ that guide which have proved themselves over the centuries to achieve what they promise. Modern forms of transport may he better than older ones: modern houses may be warmer than older ones; but, knowing God is not like using transport or buying houses. In this human quest we need to pay attention to the accumulated wisdom and tested practice of the centuries: this is more likely to lead us where we want to go than are modern insights and untested ways.
While the old way necessarily bears traces of the historical and cultural situation in which it was first put together, it has been so pruned and finely tuned over the centuries that it has achieved the position of being immediately adaptable and available to people who wish to take the call to Christian prayer seriously.
My plan for this book is governed by two major considerations. First, I want to strengthen the commitment of those who now use the BCP (1928 or 1962) and, secondly, I desire to encourage people who have not used a classic BCP to use one for the first time, if not in public then for their personal prayer and devotion. Then there are also those who probably once used it and, being overtaken by the new ways, ceased to use it. I hope they will pick up where they left off and do so with enthusiasm. Therefore I seek to explain first of all what is unique about knowing God and how this knowledge can only truly be received and experienced in a Liturgy where there is faithfulness to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and to His self-revelation recorded in Holy Scripture.
Having shown what it is to know God both personally and corporately, I proceed to comment on the major services and provisions of the Common Prayer Tradition in order to show how the knowing of God is presented and achieved in each (e.g. through saying Daily Prayer, reading Holy Scripture, receiving Holy Communion on the Lord’s Day and participating in the Church Year). Finally, I offer my thoughts on such topics as inclusive language and the doctrinal content of knowing the Lord our God.
Through this process I show that Liturgy (the corporate worship of Almighty God through written services of worship for Baptism, Confirmation, Daily Prayer and Holy Communion) is truly the work (ergon) which the laos (people) of God do before God. Liturgy has to do with people and work – God’s believing people engaged in God’s holy work, the work He has called them to offer to Him. In Hebrews 8:6 the word liturgy is used of what Jesus Christ Himself is now doing for His Church in heaven before the Father: “Christ has obtained a ministry [liturgy-leitourgia] which is as much more excellent than the old ministry [of the high priest] as the covenant He mediates is better [than the old Mosaic covenant], since it is enacted on better promises.” The Church at worship is united within the new covenant to the liturgy of Christ, His precious death and glorious resurrection, His ascension into heaven and His ministry there as our King, High Priest and Prophet. In the Common Prayer Tradition this union with Christ is expected, anticipated and wonderfully achieved by the grace of God; and to this, I believe, millions in the Church Expectant or Triumphant now testify! Thanks he to God.
All in all my aim is to show that by God’s good providence there is within the Common Prayer Tradition a logic of faith, derived from the New Testament. This is intended to operate both corporately in God’s people gathered as Christ’s Body and in individual persons in their relationship with God through Jesus Christ. If this logic of faith is disturbed or, worse still, repudiated, then the Common Prayer Tradition as a biblical tradition is lost and great, maybe irreparable, harm done to the Anglican Way.
3 WHAT KNOWING IS
Our subject is an exalted one – knowing God, the LORD, Himself, not His creatures but knowing Him, our Creator and Redeemer. In what we call His high priestly prayer Jesus prayed that they (His disciples) “might know thee, the only true God” (John 17:3). To know the heavenly Father is the highest of privileges and the greatest of experiences. In order to begin to understand what such knowing is all about we need first of all to spend a little time reflecting upon what we mean when we claim, “I know him or her” or “I know this or that thing.”
To know my next-door neighbor is a more complex business than to know a place, book, language or even an animal. I can know a book or a language through learning it and a place such as Pikes Peak in Colorado by visiting and climbing it. I can know a dog by being its owner over a period of time and exercising, feeding, training and being dependent upon it. If it were as easy to know human persons as it is to know things and animals the world would probably be a different place!
I believe that there is a tendency in all of us to boast about important people with whom we have been acquainted. For example, I might claim in a conversation, “I know Margaret Thatcher.” This claim could he based on my living on the same street as she did and having had several conversations with her over the garden wall. Or you might claim that you know President Bush because you belonged to the same social club as he did twenty years ago and chatted with him at the bar.
When we speak of knowing a person we may he referring to minimal or maximum knowledge of him or her for there are degrees and depths of knowledge of persons. For example, I know about a lot of people through watching them on the TV screen and seeing their pictures and profiles in the newspapers and magazines. I know what they look like, how they speak and what kinds of things they do in their career and public lives. With few, if any, of these people do I have any personal relationship. I merely know about them. And even if what I know about them is a lot, it is still the case that I only know about them. Though I may feel I know one or two of them in a personal way the truth of the matter is that I really and truly only know about them for I have no personal relationship with any of them.
Further, I can say much the same about most of the people I meet day by day at places where I work, enjoy leisure and do my shopping. This also probably applies to most people in my church. Certainly I may know a lot about some of them for I may carefully study their personality, facial expressions, words, dress, relationships and lifestyles; but, it remains true that I only know about them.
However, there are certain persons whom I really know. Not only do I know about them but I have such a personal relationship with them that I actually do truly know them rather than merely know about them. This is possible because each of them has in different ways and by various means disclosed his or her inner life, thoughts and being to me. Usually this personal knowing works both ways through friendship or within family ties or in happy marriage. You reveal yourself to me and I open up myself to you – not all at once but gradually and as circumstances allow. However, it can be the case that I as a pastor am allowed to know a person because he or she has freely disclosed his or her inner life confidentially to me in order to seek my help.
Who is God?
When we speak of knowing God we have in mind, I think, both knowing about Him and knowing Him in personal friendship. We need to know something about God, Creator and Redeemer, in order to accept His gracious call to enter a personal relationship of faith in Him and love of Him. However, if we take the “Ministration of Holy Baptism” seriously then we must rejoice in the fact that God places infants in a right relationship with Himself from the time of their baptism. Then within this growing personal friendship with the Lord in the fellowship of the church the child learns about this God in whom he trusts.
Let us first reflect upon what it is to know about God. As Anglicans and Episcopalians our knowledge of God is the same as that of the whole Church, Eastern and Western, Catholic and Protestant, for we all trace our history back to the same source, the apostolic Church. This knowledge is given the technical name of “classical Christian theism” by theologians in order to distinguish it from other ways of stating a claimed knowledge of God. For example, we do not accept the ever-popular doctrine of pantheism, the doctrine that God is equivalent to nature and that the natural order is either God or the external expression of God. There have always been pantheists in western culture, poets like Walt Whitman for example. Anglicans who take their Bible and Prayer Book seriously do not believe that God is the equivalent of nature. They confess that He is the Lord of nature.
Further, we do not accept deism, a doctrine of God popular in the eighteenth century both in America and Europe, and intimately associated with the Enlightenment. Deism is the teaching that God created the world and then left it all alone to get on with its existence. That is, like a great clockmaker, He made a clock and then wound it up to let it get on with the job of keeping time. Rejecting this approach Anglicans believe that God the Creator is also God the Sustainer and Redeemer: God cares for the world that He made ex nihilo (out of nothing); and by His mighty word He keeps it in existence and order moment by moment. This belief is expressed often through the use of the Psalter in the Daily Office (e.g. Ps.29), as well as in the Canticle, Venite, at Morning Prayer. So what is theism? It is the belief in one God who is the Creator of the world; He is infinite, self-existent, incorporeal, eternal, immutable, impassible, simple, omniscient and omnipotent. These words are here used in their technical or philosophical meaning. A shorter answer is to say that God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. A simpler way to answer the question is to say that theism is belief in one God who totally transcends (is above and wholly distinct from) the world that He made and who is perfect in wisdom, power and love.
Historically the two chief rivals to theism have been polytheism (the belief in many gods, as in ancient Rome and Greece and in popular Hinduism today) and pantheism (the view that the world itself is divine because it is the self-expression of God’s very being). Today there is also a sophisticated form of pantheism called panentheism which teaches that the self-development of God is inextricably connected with the evolution of the universe. This is usually expressed through the process philosophy of the late A. N. Whitehead which sees God as constantly changing and growing in perfection through including within His being the experiences of the world – which may he called “God's body” (as in some feminist theology).
Deism, to which we referred above, is a rational form of theism and still is accepted and/or taught by those who do not think that God actually involves Himself in or acts within the world. It is probably fair to say that some old-style biblical scholars who reject the intervention of God through miracles are deists. (Do you remember the collection of essays entitled The Myth of God Incarnate, published in 1977? Much of the thought in that hook arose from or was an expression of deism. See, further, David Brown, The Divine Trinity, 1985, pp. 3-50.)
Modern living forms of theism include Judaism and Islam. There is of course a profound continuity between Jewish and Christian theism for the first disciples were Jewish theists who were wholly committed to the LORD, their God. Yet, through their encounter with Jesus, they eventually went forth gladly and committedly to baptize converts to Christianity “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” They moved from the confession of One God to the confession of One God in Trinity.
Therefore what distinguishes classical Christian theism from any other form of theism is that Christians believe, teach and confess that God eternally exists not only as the One and Only God but as One God in Three Persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Further, Christians also hold that the eternal Son became incarnate as Jesus, the Christ, and that He alone is the means of their salvation. Thus it may rightly be claimed that the “extra” beliefs concerning God which Christians hold and Jews do not share are based wholly on divine revelation, as that is received in and through Jesus Himself. The confession that Jesus is Lord and that Jesus is the Son of God incarnate lead on in the life of the Church to the confession that the eternal God is One God in Three Persons. Under the general guidance of the Holy Spirit Christian experience of God in worship and in daily life, together with reflection upon the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, led to the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine arose to explain the vital, spiritual and moral experience of God within the fellowship of Christians, for the Church knew and worshipped the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.
Of course the confession of the Holy Trinity has to be stated with great care for it can he so easily misunderstood. For example, it can be carelessly stated and taken to mean that God is One God with three major names (Father, Son and Spirit) – this was called Modalism or Sahellianism in the Early Church. (Regrettably this error seems to have entered into the BCP 1979 at several significant places – e.g. the opening Blessing of the Eucharist in Rites I & II.) Or the Trinity can be taken to mean that there are three equal Gods called the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is tritheism. Then there is the concept of the Trinity as a descending hierarchy of three related but not equal expressions of deity. First is the Father; at a lower level of deity is the Son and at an even lower level is the Holy Spirit. Thus only the Father is really God – the Son and the Spirit are superior angels. The fact that these pitfalls are there ought to cause us to be thankful that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is stated with great care and accuracy in the Common Prayer Tradition, especially where that contains the Quicunque Vult, or The Athanasian Creed.
A typical Anglican devotion for Trinity Sunday will be something like this:
Come let us adore the Sacred Trinity, Three Persons and One God.
To Thee, the eternal Father, made by none;
To Thee, the increated Son, begotten by the Father alone;
To Thee, the blessed Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son;
To this one, holy, consubstantial and undivided Trinity, be ascribed all power and wisdom and glory, now and for ever:
Holy holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of thy glory.
Further, the constant appearance of heresies and errors ought to make us keen to learn sound and edifying knowledge about the God whom we worship.
The living God
There is much to know about God, for He is like a glorious, everlastingly inexhaustible Fountain from which we drink and continue to drink. He is super-essential Being and the more we know about Him the more we realize that there is to know. Knowledge of the LORD as the Holy Trinity is fundamental and without this knowledge we can make no progress in worship and devotion; but, there are many other aspects to the knowledge of God that we need to know in order that we might grow in our personal relationship with Him.
For this reason we study and meditate upon the Holy Scriptures. Anglicans have always claimed that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the first source of our knowledge of God. For the Anglican who devoutly follows and uses the Lectionary there is a daily immersion in the vital source of our knowledge of the Lord our God. Further, the major aspects of the whole doctrine of God as that is provided in the Bible are woven into the wording of the various services provided in the Common Prayer tradition. For example, the teaching that God is the dynamic Creator and Sustainer of the universe and that by His providence He works all things for the purpose of His glory is clearly and reverentially stated in the Collects and Prayers.
Over the centuries Christians have learned about God from being taught the Creed and the Catechism, by hearing and reading the Bible, and by accepting the teaching about God which appears in the text of the Prayer Book. This has been augmented by sermons, by further teaching, by home study groups and personal study and reflection. In the daily services of Morning and Evening Prayer there is the requirement that the participants confess their faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed – “I believe in God the Father almighty...” In the Order for Holy Communion there is also the requirement that the Nicene or the Apostles’ Creed he used. The Nicene, like the Apostles’, begins in a personal way “I believe in one God...” and goes on to state with a marvelous economy of words what I called above, classical Christian theism – Trinitarian Theism. There is yet a further official confession of faith in Anglicanism which fell into disuse from the eighteenth century onwards in America but which is, to my mind, a moving and succinct statement of the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the Person of Christ. I referred to it above as the Quicunque Vult or the Athanasian Creed: it has an integral place in the BCP (1662) of the Church of England.
In saying “I believe...” each Christian present is speaking for himself and stating the faith of the Church. It is a confession that points not only to knowledge and beliefs about God but also to a truly personal relation with God the Father through God the Incarnate Son. The Creed may be seen as the response of the believer to the revelation of and salvation from God in Jesus Christ given to each of us. On the basis of what God has said and done, I say to Him, “Lord I believe...” Thus something of importance is lost in modern Anglican services where the Creed begins, “We believe...”
This Trinitarian Theism expressed in the Nicene Creed informs the whole approach to and content of worship. Even though it is only stated explicitly here and there (e.g. in the Gloria at the end of the singing or recital of each psalm and in the final Blessing) the knowledge of God the Holy Trinity is present as the great unifying doctrine and dogma of the whole Common Prayer Tradition. Knowledge about God is intended to be the expression of personal knowing of God in the services of worship, be they the Daily Office or the Administration of the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. We are to worship the Father through and in the Son by and in the Holy Spirit. The trinitarian structure of the services therefore exists as the vehicle for our faith-knowledge of God as Holy Trinity so that we may both pray together and as individual persons in common (i.e. genuine communal) prayer. Joined to Christ Jesus in faith and through the Holy Spirit, we join in His prayer, which He offers perpetually for His brethren at the right hand of the Father (Rom. 8:34). We lift up our hearts and through the Holy Spirit we are united to Him as our Mediator and High Priest. He is the Head and we are the members of His Body and therefore being in Him we are united to the Holy Trinity.
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.
In the words of the Quicunque Vult: “the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.”
4 COVENANT WITH GOD
We need to take time now to reflect upon the nature of the relationship which we have with God since the way we understand this relationship will determine to a large measure our attitudes within common prayer and worship. If I come to common worship thinking that my relationship with God is that of an equal or near-equal partner with God then my attitude will reflect that mindset. If I come thinking that I am doing God some kind of favor or showing Him some special loyalty then my attitude will reflect this mindset. In contrast, if I come in gratitude and humility, conscious of my sins and unworthiness but overwhelmed by God’s mercy to me in Jesus Christ then my attitude will be very different.
In the Bible God enters into a relationship with believing sinners through what is called His covenant. We tend to think of a covenant as an agreement or contract between two parties who are of the same kind or who are equal in some way or another. The Bible contains references to such covenants – e.g. agreements between kings. However, God’s covenant with man is not an agreement between equals and it is not a contract to which both sides agree. It is a totally one-sided affair because God alone establishes it and in doing so He sets out its terms and conditions. Then to remind us of our sinful, creaturely status and reduce our pride God tells us that we can only fulfill the conditions of the covenant as His junior covenant partners with His help. In fact without the help of the Holy Spirit we cannot even enter, let alone live rightly within, His covenant.
On first consideration this may seem to be dictatorial and tyrannical action by God. Yet, if we take time to reflect upon such a covenant, we shall see that we are not talking of two equal partners but of the Lord God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, whom the angels serve and adore and who is infinitely above our being and our thought. He is God and we are mere creatures – sinful, spiritually and morally diseased creatures! Further, if we recognize that His covenant is truly a covenant of grace and is established for our good and eternal welfare that we may become His children and be restored to genuine knowing and loving of Him for all eternity, then we shall probably admit not only that He has every right to act as He has but that He has acted in mercy and compassion towards us by establishing His covenant of grace. For the simple fact is that we of ourselves cannot help ourselves in terms of lifting ourselves up to God in order to negotiate with Him. He must come towards us. His covenant of grace is His coming towards us so that we can draw near to Him.
The initiative and grace of God in our salvation is most clearly understood and presented in the BCP (1928), as in BCP (1962). The First Office of Instruction of the Catechism in BCP (1928) begins with this Collect:
Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things; graft in our hearts the love of thy name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is also the Collect for the seventh Sunday after Trinity. Its words clearly point both to the initiative of God towards us and of His help to us in fulfilling our duties of His covenant. He is the “author” and “giver” and it is He alone who can “increase”, “nourish” and “keep” His believing children in His grace and covenant. Our genuine freedom is to do His bidding with His gracious help.
In contrast the BCP (1979) does not have this clarity of commitment to the initiative and assistance of God in His relationship with His people. There is lurking there both in its Catechism (An Outline of the Faith) and in some of the Collects (e.g. that of the First Sunday after the Epiphany, which refers to the covenant as being made by those who are baptized!) the tendency to treat human beings as if they were negotiating, near-equal covenant partners with God! This tendency reflects, of course, the pride of modern man who refuses to recognize that he is not merely in rebellion against God (which BCP 1979 seems to teach) but that he is so sick and diseased by sin that he cannot truly help himself (which BCP 1979 appears to downplay or reject).
The biblical teaching
God’s relationship with human beings is established and begins with His relationship of Creator to created. This can never change for, however ennobled man is, he can never be God. He will always be a finite and dependent and contingent being looking unto God in whom, as Paul declares, he lives and moves and has his being (Acts 17:28). However, within this relationship which man has marred by sinfulness and rebellion God has moved to establish a further relationship, a relationship of grace and unmerited favor, whose full content is a new creation.
The Lord God began this new relationship when He declared, “I will establish my covenant” (Gen.6:18; Ex.6:4–5). Then the essence of the covenant was captured by God’s declaration: “I will take you to me for a people and I will be to you a God” (Ex.6:7; see also Gen.17:7 & Rev.21:2–3). The covenant is unilateral in origin and establishment: it is not only offered but it is given unto Abraham and his descendants. Thus it is two sided when it comes into practical effect for the recipients (Israel and then the Church) become by God’s mercy and choice His covenant partners. He is to them their LORD and they are to worship, trust, love and obey Him as He directs (Deut. 7:9, 13; 1 Kings 8:23).
God established His covenant of grace with Abraham (Gen.17:7) and his descendants. On Mount Sinai a special administration of this covenant was established with Israel through Moses (see Ex. 19ff.). In the Five Books of Moses (Genesis to Deuteronomy) we learn not only of what God’s initiative and relationship meant but also what were the covenant obligations of the people of Israel. While God promised to be the living God who would guide, protect and bless them and care for them as His elect people, they in turn were committed to be His people on His terms and according to His conditions. In their relationship to Him there were no negotiating possibilities for He was their God who brought them up out of the land of Egypt and who would lead them into the promised land. The Ten Commandments began with a statement of faith – the God who commands is the living God who has redeemed and will guide His people (see Ex.20:1–2).
In the rest of the Old Testament (= Old Covenant) we read both of God’s continuing faithfulness to His elect people and of their imperfect response to His gracious mercy and guidance. The story of the Books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles is the story more of failure to be His faithful covenant partners than of success in that vocation. Much of what the prophets declared was a word from heaven calling upon the Israelites to fulfill their covenantal duties. The people were called to know their Lord God and in knowing Him to reject other gods; but so often they chose not to know Him and to go after Baal and the gods of Canaan. Yet, despite their apostasy and pride, God, Yahweh (Jehovah) remained their God never forgetting them.
Speaking through Jeremiah the Lord God addressed His covenant people in these words:
Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understands and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth; for in these I delight (9:23-24).
The LORD delights to see in His creatures a true knowledge of Himself. Through Hosea He said: “For I desired mercy and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (6:6). Within the Mosaic covenant what God looked for in and through the use of the Temple, the sacrificial system and priesthood was a people who knew Him and thus worshipped from within knowledge.
With the Incarnation of the eternally begotten Son of God, the Word made flesh, God revealed the length and breadth, height and depth, of His mercy and of His covenant of grace. In and through Jesus Christ, God the Father established what Jesus Himself called “a new covenant” (see Matt. 26:26–30) – the fullness of His covenant of grace. In the atoning, reconciling work of Jesus, God made possible for people of all races and all times what He had offered and given to Israel in a limited space and time. By His sacrificial death and shed blood Jesus established the covenant of grace on new foundations. He became the Mediator through whom believing sinners come to God and call Him “Father”.
Jesus Christ is now the Way, the Truth and the Life and no-one comes to the Father except through Him. And those who come in faith to the Father in and through Him are not only adopted as the children of God but also in their souls God deigns to dwell as He promised through Jeremiah, the prophet. “ Behold... I will make a new covenant... I will put my law in their inward parts and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people... They shall all know me from the least of them unto the greatest of them” (31:31–34). This is not merely knowing about God but it is the knowing through direct communion with God in personal prayer and trusting relationship.
Anyone who carefully reads the New Testament (the account of how the new covenant was established by God the Father through God the Son by God the Holy Spirit) must see and understand that the relationship with God through faith and by the agency of the Holy Spirit is genuinely personal and dynamic. It is a relationship which operates in both directions with the human movement to God through Jesus Christ being always dependent upon His primary movement through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit to His children. Within this covenant God calls His people into ever deepening fellowship, union and communion with Himself for He delights to be known by His redeemed creatures. Has he not made them in order that they might enjoy and love Him forever? Human knowing of God begins in personal and corporate prayer but it is extended from prayer into the whole of life, for God calls His people to walk with Him and to be aware everywhere and at all times of His presence with them. Paul himself wrote of knowing God in his sufferings with and for Christ as he proclaimed the Gospel in the Roman Empire (see e.g. 2 Cor. 4–6).
In his marvelous Letter to Rome, Paul made much use of the word “justification”, a word closely tied to “righteousness” and “justice”. He used it to explain what it means to be in a covenant relationship with God through believing the Gospel (see Rom.1:16–17; 3:21–31 & 5:1–2). It is to be placed by God Himself in a right relationship with God because of the merits of Jesus Christ through whom our sins are forgiven and the way to communion with God restored. It is to be declared righteous or just (in God’s heavenly court) and to be placed in the way of becoming righteous and just. To be justified by faith is to be in God’s covenant of grace and the recipient of His covenant mercy and faithfulness. lt is to be able to know Him as God for He has placed believers in a right relationship with Himself. Previously in their sinfulness they were in a wrong or non-relationship but now by grace they are in the most intimately close relationship possible with Him for they are heirs and joint-heirs with Christ of the kingdom of God (Rom.8:17). In fact Paul makes it clear in his Letters that we only know God because He first knew us (see 1 Cor.8:3; 13:12 & Gal.4:9). God entered into personal contact with sinful human beings through the Incarnate Son and by the Holy Spirit. Only on this basis of His knowing them can they know Him.
To be placed in the way of personal, practical righteousness, which is the inner life of the new covenant, means being united with Jesus Christ in faith and by the Holy Spirit. Thus in Romans 8 Paul describes the intimacy which God, the Father, establishes with His adopted children. He places in their hearts the Holy Spirit whom He names the Spirit of Christ. By His presence believers are enabled to cry out from the depths of their beings, “Abba” (the familiar name for father in the Jewish home). Further, they experience the Spirit Himself praying through them, uttering prayers they themselves could never compose. Their prayer and their life is a response to the heavenly Father’s gracious, loving initiative and continuing faithfulness. The response becomes a life of maturity in faith, hope and love.
Taking the broad range of images used in the New Testament of the relationship of God to those who are united to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith, we may notice their personal nature by briefly mentioning four. God is the heavenly Father and believers are His adopted children, the brethren of Christ and joint-heirs with him of the Father’s kingdom. Thus we pray, “Our Father.” Further, God (or Jesus Christ as God-Man) is the Lord and King and believers are His subjects and servants, who live to render to Him humble service. Then God (or Jesus Christ) is the Shepherd and believers are His sheep. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd and know my sheep...my sheep hear my voice and I know them” (John 10:14ff.).
God (or Jesus Christ as God-Man) is the Bridegroom who loves the Church and in response the Church is the Bride who likewise loves and obeys the Bridegroom. The last image points to a vital intimacy and it is interesting to observe that the Hebrew verb “to know” can and does refer sometimes in the Old Testament to the intimate act of sexual intercourse (e.g. 1 Sam 1:19, “Elkanah knew Hannah, his wife). Therefore the knowing of the Bridegroom (Jesus) by the Bride (the Church) points to deep spiritual union and communion within the souls of the faithful with Christ Himself and because with Him, with the Father.
God and Self
Archbishop Cranmer and those who assisted him in the composition of the first Books of Common Prayer in the sixteenth century were greatly influenced by the Letter to the Romans. Traces of its teaching can he found at many points, not least in the service of Holy Communion. Another theme which is found in Common Prayer is the ancient Christian wisdom that all Christian holiness is contained in two things – the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self. Often Augustine of Hippo, whose Confessions is a true classic and whose writings have always been prized by Anglicans, exclaimed, “Lord, that I may know thee and that I may know myself.” To claim that this prayer is a summary of the Common Prayer tradition of piety and devotion would not be an excessive claim! I think it is generally true.
The knowledge of God elevates the Christian believer while knowledge of self keeps him humble. Knowing God is that ascent wherein the believer contemplates the divine perfections and glory while knowing self is that descent which makes him see his own nothingness and sinfulness. That knowledge of God which raises the believer up to God also simultaneously humbles him by the comparison of himself with God as He is revealed in Jesus. Further, genuine self-knowledge, though it humbles the believer, also lifts him up through the necessity of approaching God to find comfort, forgiveness and solace through Christ Jesus. The true elevation of man is inseparable from his true humiliation – which is made crystal clear in the Anglican Common Prayer Tradition. To elevate man without humbling him is to cause pride; and to humble him without exalting him is to bring misery without hope. Thus to complain as do some modern teachers of liturgy that the Common Prayer Tradition is preoccupied with concerns of guilt, sin and justification is to go against the wisdom of Scripture and tradition. Unless worshippers see their sin, guilt and hopelessness how can they see that in Jesus Christ alone is salvation?
To know self is as necessary for holiness as is the knowing of God. To know self is to treat the self justly for to know ourselves as we really are is to see ourselves as God Himself sees us. Consider the question, Who am I? I am nothing in and of myself for from all eternity I was not and there was no reason why I should exist or be what I am. My existence is the effect of God’s will alone – not mine or anyone else’s. Were God to withdraw His powerful, sustaining word and power my being would cease to be. All I am and can be comes from God and is dependent upon Him and thus there is nothing in myself to love. In fact since I have sinned against my Creator I justly deserve His punishment. I have offended and continue to offend the Lord my God. I have become His enemy and I transgress His law. I fail in essential duties to Him and my fellow creatures for in me the tendency to sin has become a fixed habit and a strong inclination. Further, I cannot help myself out of this mess. God Himself must lift me up if I am to be raised.
A significant statement is left out of the General Confession in Morning Prayer in Rite I of BCP (1979). On first sight the Confession from BCP (1928) and (1979) appear to be the same but the reality of original sin or the diseased, deceitful heart (Jer.17:9; Mark 7:18–23) is missing from the latter. “There is no health in us” is profoundly true and is wholly recognized by those, tutored by Holy Scripture, who see themselves as God sees and knows them.
Thus we learn from our Bibles and Prayer Books that to be genuine Christians we must recognize and admit that we are nothing of ourselves, that we receive all things from God, both in the order of nature and of grace; and, further, that we expect all things from Him in the order of glory in the age to come. As the Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity puts it:
O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This knowing of God and self inspired by the Holy Spirit is in part intellectual but it also is a knowing by the heart. By this knowledge of God the whole soul is penetrated, reformed, renewed and ennobled so that it begins to want to know and to love what God Himself commands and loves. To know God is to possess a lively faith, a firm hope, an ardent love, a filial fear and reverence, a total trust in times of trial and testing, and an entire submission to His gracious and perfect will. This is the form of knowing taught and encouraged by the Common Prayer Tradition.
To know God is thus a knowing by the whole soul. It is to know God in and through the mind (to have right thoughts about Him and to contemplate Him through His self-unveiling in Revelation), in and through the heart (to direct one's affections to Him so as to trust Him and His Word, to delight in Him, love Him, rejoice in His grace and fear His holy name) and through the will (in the obedience of faith in daily life). Of course people are different – some are more intellectual than others, while some are more affective than others. For some the mind descends into the heart in knowing God while for others the heart rises to contain the mind in knowing God. There is of course place for both types of personalities and the Common Prayer Tradition is wide enough for all kinds of people who come to the knowledge of God in faith in different ways. What this tradition does not cater for is merely an affective knowing – that is, a religion only of feelings. Instruction in basic Christian doctrine and biblical teaching is fundamental to the Anglican Way and this intellectual understanding ought to be there even in people who are primarily affective or feeling persons.
One of the great losses in modern worship – and thus modern Christianity – is that of the inner sense of the glorious Majesty, the wonderful transcendence and greatness of the Lord our God. “The Lord reigneth, he is clothed with majesty” (Ps.93:1); “I will speak of the glorious honor of thy majesty” (Ps.145:5). This recognition of Majesty has been called “a sense of the numinous” and “the fear of the Lord.” So often Anglicans have sung: “The LORD is a great God and a great King. ..O come let us worship and bow down” (Ps.95). In the Bible one of the most obvious examples of the recognition of Majesty is the abasement and attitude of Isaiah in the Temple when he saw the glorious majesty of God, the King above all kings, and heard the angelic cry of worship, “Holy, Holy Holy” (Is.6).
If this deep conviction and inner sense of the transcendent, awesome Mystery (Mysterium Tremendum) who is God, is absent, then the resulting low view of God, (which regrettably can occur and has even occurred where there is a general commitment to Trinitarian Theism) has not only been the cause of a general diminishing of a sense of awe and wonder in worship but also of a host of practical errors and evils within the churches. Apparently so few seem to be aware of this loss because any vital sense of divine transcendence is absent from the surrounding culture as well as from the popular religious mind of today.
Further, so much emphasis has been placed in popular piety on God as personal, that is, personal in the sense that we are personal – weak, ineffective and inadequate – that we have lost the sense of the omnipotent and almighty LORD who is our God. Certainly He is personal but personal as the LORD, who is majestic and great and who in His sovereign freedom establishes personal relationships with His creatures.
Few Christians and even fewer preachers appear to have high and lofty thoughts of the LORD our God: instead of being lost in wonder, love and praise at the thought of His Majesty we tend to think of Him only as around us and with us here and now. Of course He is omnipresent in the created order by the Holy Spirit and thus immanent in this world; hut, He is only immanent because He is first transcendent, high and lifted up as Isaiah saw and knew Him in his vision. Perhaps the problem is that we think from the immanence of God towards His transcendence rather than from His transcendence to His immanence. In fact, it is probably true to say that there is an emerging sense of the irrelevance of the older Christian doctrine of the transcendence of the Lord our God, for modern people appear to need a God with whom they can easily identify and be a part of or negotiate with.
If we could regain the conviction in mind and heart that it is only by the creating and sustaining dynamic word of the LORD that each of us and everything around us actually exists and is kept in being then we would realize that God, the Creator, must he transcendent to be immanent. And if to recognize that He is the transcendent Creator, the infinite, eternal Majesty on high, glorious in holiness and perfect in purity, wholly beyond our thoughts and aspirations, then we would also both begin to appreciate His mercy and grace in revealing Himself to us and His infinite condescension in becoming Man, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. To this end we could do nothing more useful than meditate upon Isaiah 40:12ff. where the greatness and majesty of God is so very powerfully presented – “To whom will ye compare me that I should be like him? says the Holy One” (verse 25).
We learn in the Book of Proverbs, that the fear of the Lord is not only the beginning of wisdom but also the beginning of knowledge. There can only be godly fear in the soul when there are large views of God and small views of man. Filial fear is not fear of being judged and cast into hell but it is the awe, reverence, humble dependence and profound sense of dependence of the child of God upon the holy Lord God of hosts. This godly fear is encouraged in the Common Prayer Tradition by the repeated addressing of God as “Almighty God” at the beginning of Collects (and happily it is generally preserved in the BCP, 1979).
The Lord our God is holy with an absolute, almighty holiness that knows no degrees and this He cannot impart to His creatures for He is God and they are the work of His creative power. Yet there is a relative and contingent holiness which the Lord shares with the holy angels in heaven and with believing sinners on earth. The will of God is the sanctification of mankind in Christ and His command in both the Old and New Testaments is, “Be ye holy for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44; I Pet. 1:16). God shares His holiness with those who know Him through imputation of Christ’s righteousness (in Justification) and impartation of the indwelling Holy Spirit (in Sanctification). The Common Prayer Tradition faithfully sets forth this sharing.
5 BAPTISM AND CONFIRMATION
Knowing God as His adopted child begins for the Christian at holy Baptism. In the case of adults there will have been a preliminary and preparatory knowing as they are drawn to Christ in what we may call an initial conversion and as they begin to prepare for full incorporation into Christ, crucified and risen, and membership of his Body, the Church. In the third and fourth centuries adults went through a long period of preparation in the catechetical schools before the final preparation in Lent leading to baptism on Easter Eve. In modern times we have made the preparation less exacting, but there are moves afoot to recover a longer and deeper preparation for entry into the full fellowship of the church. This preparation is so necessary today for the tentacles of secularist culture have entered our minds and hearts and corrupted them so deeply that we need a new view of the world and of God in order to develop Christian thinking, feeling and acting. One problem is – do we have the clergy and lay leadership to do this teaching?
With infants there is no obvious preliminary knowing of God and thus their knowing of God – or more strictly God’s gracious knowing them as His adopted children – begins at Baptism and comes to fruition with Confirmation. At least this is how it ought to be but in this instance God’s grace coming to fruition in their lives is in part dependent upon faithful nurturing and teaching of the baptized by parents and godparents (sponsors). Therefore the actual coming to know God in a personal way seems to occur more readily and easily when the baptized infant is surrounded by faithful prayer, godly example and sound teaching.
Originally what we call Baptism and Confirmation belonged together and were one, occurring in the one service and usually at Easter Eve in the early centuries of the Church. However, from the fifth century onwards, and with the great increase in the number of people professing Christianity, many more babies than adults were brought for Baptism and so the separation of Confirmation (really the last part of the rite of baptism) from Baptism developed in the West (but not in the East where the priest administered chrism [anointing with oil] as part of Baptism of infants). Thus in the West, from the Middle Ages to the modern day, the precise relation of Baptism and Confirmation has sometimes not been as clearly stated as it could have been: and this is reflected in the question whether or not baptized children ought to be brought to, or encouraged to, receive Holy Communion before their Confirmation – and in fact whether Confirmation is truly necessary.
There is provision for both the baptism of adults and infants in the BCP (1928) and BCP (1962). The rite of holy Baptism has five parts to it: (1) the Preparation (which represents what has survived from the ancient catechetical ceremonies of the early Church); (2) the promises of the candidates or their sponsors/godparents taking on the duties of the covenant of grace; (3) the Blessing of the water in the Font; (4) the act of Baptism, and (5) a final Thanksgiving.
In the first part consisting of an exhortation, prayers and reading of the Gospel, the truth that it is God who calls and brings people into covenant with Him and thus into His Kingdom and Church is most clearly acknowledged. In fact this understanding is summarized in the prayer: “Almighty and everlasting God, heavenly Father, we give thee humble thanks that thou hast vouchsafed to call us to the knowledge of thy grace and faith in thee: increase this knowledge and confirm this faith in us evermore. Give thy Holy Spirit to this child... etc.”
The promises made by the one to be baptized or the sponsors of the infant may be described as the response to the grace of God offered to mankind in Jesus Christ. They can only promise because God has come to them, called them and promised them the riches of His grace. It is of note that they say, “I will, by God’s help,” and that human promises are immediately followed by four supplications which, in addressing the God of all mercy for help, give expression to the mystical, spiritual and moral meaning of baptism. For example, the first supplication is: O merciful God, grant that like as Christ died and rose again, so this child [or this thy servant] may die to sin and rise to newness of life.”
The Blessing of the Font is an ancient practice since prayers for the sanctification of the water formed a part of the baptismal liturgy from earliest times. The physical water does not change its chemical composition through prayer but it is consecrated or set aside to be the outward and visible expression of an inward and spiritual cleansing. In fact it is related in its spiritual function to the water and blood which flowed from our Lord’s pierced side (John 19:34). Once again therefore, we see that the initiative is with God; human beings are the recipients, not the initiators, of grace. All that they have is from God and by God in grace.
The formula of Baptism is taken from Matthew 28:19 and is a fully Trinitarian formula. To pronounce the threefold name of the One God over a person is to state and confess that he or she belongs to God and is His forever. The Name of God here stands for God Himself and thus we hallow the name of God. In other words, God is admitting this person into full membership and relationship of His covenant of grace. To sign him or her with the sign of the Cross makes clear that the covenant of grace is in, by and through Christ crucified: thus those who are in Christ are to take up their cross and follow Him and continue in His name the war against the world, the flesh and the devil, until he comes again in power and glory.
Finally, grateful hearts offer Thanksgiving for the union of the baptized with the Lord Jesus Christ, who was crucified and died but who is risen from the dead and reigns in glory. They have died to sin and are alive to God and must now put this divine truth into practical daily living with the help of the Holy Spirit. With infants the responsibility to make the presence of Christ effective in their lives devolves of course upon parents and sponsors.
There is a solemn duty laid upon the local church to pray for those who have been baptized as infants and await their Confirmation. A Collect provided in BCP (1928) for children encourages this constant prayer:
O Lord Jesus Christ, who dost embrace children with the arms of thy mercy, and dost make them living members of thy Church; give them grace, we pray thee, to stand fast in the faith, to obey thy word and to abide in thy love; that, being made strong by the Holy Spirit, they may resist temptation and overcome evil, and may rejoice in the life that now is, and dwell with thee in the life that is to come; through thy merits O merciful Saviour, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest one God, world without end. Amen.
To pray thus is to encourage the duty of bringing children up in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
The substance of the teaching to be given to baptized children before they are brought to Confirmation is given in the Catechism or Offices of Instruction. As the covenant partners of God they are to know what His law is (Ten Commandments) what their faith is (the Apostles’ Creed) and how to pray (the Lord’s Prayer). Further, they are to know what are the sacraments of the new covenant and who are the ministers of Christ in the Church. The Collects which are included in the Offices make it abundantly clear that it is only possible to please God through the assistance of His grace. For example:
O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men; grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Another Collect asks that the baptized may have “the spirit to think and do always such things as are right” for in and of ourselves we cannot do any good [good that is good before God himself].
I often think of a Latin expression used by Martin Luther. Each morning as he arose from his bed he would say aloud, Baptizus sum (I have been baptized or I am a baptized Christian). In saying this he was reminding himself of what it means to be baptized (and confirmed) and he was expressing his prayer that each day he would live as one who in Christ has died to sin and who in Christ is to be filled with the new, resurrection life of Christ, which is the life of the kingdom of God. There is a very intimate connection between the state of being baptized and the vocation to live a genuinely Christian life. Although all is of grace there is a real sense also in which all is of the baptized believer. This truth is wonderfully captured in the words,
I would not work my soul to save
For that my Lord has done.
But I would work like any slave,
For love of God’s dear Son.
I believe we can learn and profit from what Luther said and practiced for we all are called to demonstrate in daily living the meaning of our baptism into Christ. And, as Confirmation makes clear, we can do so because – and only because – of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who indwells the souls of the baptized.
There has been much discussion and dispute in recent times within the Anglican Communion on the nature and purpose of Confirmation. Is it a sacrament in its own right or is it the completion of Holy Baptism? And if in the case of infants it is only the completion of Baptism is it really necessary? Should baptized children who are not confirmed be admitted to Holy Communion?
It seems to me that Confirmation is the conclusion of the sacrament of Holy Baptism. It may be called a sacrament in the sense that it is the final part of the rite of Baptism which has been held back until such time as the child truly understands and appreciates what is the content of the covenantal obligation to God that already by grace he or she stands in. Thus as long as the Church advocates and practices infant baptism so long ought she to take Confirmation seriously. And First Communion should normally follow Confirmation.
Confirmation is necessary in terms of providing the opportunity for the fulfilling of the human side of the covenant of grace (i.e. public commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord) and it is most useful as the opportunity to provide the reason for sound, preparatory instruction to those who are now seriously taking on the duties of the baptismal covenant (already promised by their sponsors). Here preparation for Confirmation functions in much the same way as did preparation for Baptism in the Early Church and as catechetical teaching functions in missionary situations today.
Where the local church is truly concerned for the spiritual and moral welfare of those to be confirmed she prays for them. A Collect is actually provided in BCP (1928) for this obligation:
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.
The making ready is both a work of God and a work of man. God does His work invisibly through the ministry of the Holy Spirit but the local church does her work through wise teaching and fervent praying for the confirmands.
Now to the service itself, which is simple and brief. Those to be confirmed are presented to the bishop, who asks them whether they are ready to renew the solemn promises and vows made by or for them at holy Baptism. They are to ratify and confirm these and in response they say, “I do”. Then he asks them: “Do ye promise to follow Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?” (which faith and following, we may note, is surely the very heart of the Christian religion and the essence of what it is to know God).
Following responsive versicles from the Psalter, there is an ancient prayer, offered by the bishop for those about to be confirmed. It is informed by Isaiah 11:2 (not from the Latin or Hebrew but from the Greek translation known as the Septuagint) where the seven (rather than six) gifts of the Holy Spirit are found. These are the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness, and holy fear.
Commenting on the sevenfold gifts the late A. J. Mason made the following observations which I find helpful:
None of the gifts are directly of moral virtue. They are gifts which set a man in a position to acquire moral virtues, and incline him to practice them; but they do not in any way supply him with virtues ready-made, or relieve their possessor from the necessity of carefully forming right habits of action and feeling. It seems that all the sanctifying work of the Holy Ghost is done by an inward teaching, which commends to us the true principles of moral choice, and an inward strengthening, by which the forces of Christ are imparted to us, that we may act, and act perseveringly, upon the convictions which the Holy Ghost has wrought in us. (The Relation of Confirmation to Baptism, 1891, p.481.)
I would add that this is entirely what the New Testament leads us to expect and think, for the indwelling Spirit (whose work Paul so lovingly describes in Romans 8 and elsewhere) prompts, guides and inspires us so that we may be and do what is pleasing to God. Only in this way of being treated as persons can we know God personally.
Though there is no required anointing with oil (chrism), the Bishop does lay his hands upon each person and call upon the Lord to defend and empower His child (through humble reliance upon the Holy Spirit’s presence and power) to live faithfully and come unto His everlasting kingdom. And following the Lord’s Prayer there are two prayers before the Blessing. In the first, the bishop prays thus:
Let thy fatherly hand, we beseech thee, ever be over them; let thy Holy Spirit ever be with them; and so lead them in the knowledge and obedience of thy Word, that in the end they may obtain everlasting life...
Like other confirmed Christians the newly confirmed are to walk under the protection of God and in the power of His Spirit as they prayerfully meditate upon, and thereby are prepared for obedience to, the written Word of God. Knowledge of the Word is the route into the knowing of God as God. And, as we shall see, this knowledge is increased through the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer (for which see chapter six) and is enhanced and made personal in Holy Communion (for which see chapter eight).
6 MORNING AND EVENING PRAYER
For Christians the obligation and tradition of daily prayer is traced not only to the Jewish discipline adopted and developed by the early Church but to Jesus Himself. As a boy he was taught the Jewish custom of praying three times a day. The morning prayer consisted of the meditative recital of the Shema (Deut. 6:4–7) which confesses the Oneness of the Lord and the duty to love Him, and the Tephilla, a prayer made up of eighteen acts of blessing God (benedictions) – e.g. “Blessed art thou, O Lord, God of Abraham...” The afternoon prayer required only the Tephilla while the evening prayer was the same as morning prayer. Of course the use of the Shema and Tephilla was only the basic structure and around it and with it the pious Jew prayed the Psalter and offered his own petitions. Jesus obviously used it and in using it made it the means of communion with His Father in heaven, for at the age of twelve He told His mother, “I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49).
The services of Morning and Evening Prayer, sometimes called Matins and Evensong and referred to as the Daily Offices, the Choir Offices and the Divine Office, are directly descended from the system of daily services or Canonical Hours of the medieval Church. These developed from the simple morning and evening prayer of the early Church and are to be found in the Breviaries used by the monastic and secular clergy.
It is generally recognized that the creation of Morning and Evening Prayer in the sixteenth century was an important advance in engaging the laity in the duty and joy of daily worship and prayer. The late Massey H. Shepherd Jr. put it well when he wrote:
It was the genius of the great Reformers, such as Luther and Cranmer, to see the potential advantage to the Church of making the Daily Offices a means of corporate worship for all the faithful, the laity as well as the clergy, and, in particular, a vehicle for the recovery of a knowledge of the Holy Scriptures by all the people of God. To achieve these ends required not only the translation of the offices into the vernacular, but a very practical simplification and reduction in both the number of these offices and their content. The artistry of Cranmer’s accomplishment of these purposes has been the admiration of all succeeding generations. (The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary, 1950, introduction, p.1.)
We certainly admire the literary artistry but we are also grateful to God that the daily services can and were intended to be, under the blessing of God, a wonderful vehicle for the knowledge of God through the encounter with Him through His Word and in prayer.
In Prayer Book Studies VI published in 1957 the Standing Liturgical Commission stated:
The genius of our Common Prayer is in no instance more clearly exemplified than in the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. Out of the elaborate, complicated Canonical Hours of the medieval Breviary the sixteenth century Reformers produced a pattern of daily praise and prayer that was loyal to tradition, solidly Scriptural in content, simple and convenient in execution, balanced and artful in design. The older Latin Offices had been a primary duty of the clergy, the monks and friars, upon whom their recitation was imposed by canonical law. But the Reformers intended their simpler, vernacular forms to be a means of corporate worship and edification in the knowledge of God’s Word for all the laity no less than the clergy. In this purpose their labors have borne abundant fruit. To no other part of the Prayer Book have the lay people shown greater attachment and responsiveness.
These are fine words and it is interesting to note that after Vatican II the Roman Catholic Church caught up with Cranmer! I refer to the provisions in the document, General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours (1971).
It is perhaps impractical to expect all faithful Anglicans to go twice daily to their parish church in order to say the Daily Office. However, there is no reason why either or both of the services should not he used in the home as the basis for personal and/or family prayers. Alternatively church members who live near each other can gather in homes on a regular basis to pray one or both of these offices. Where there is a desire and a will to pray them a way will be found.
The logic of the services
The daily services are for the covenant people of God, for those who walk by faith in faithfulness – or at least desire so to do. Thus Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer begin with a call from God through his minister to his people to engage in penitence, praise and thanksgiving, instruction from God through His Word and petitionary prayer. This call is achieved through the recital of sentences from Scripture and an Exhortation, which fully recognizes the sinfulness of the human condition before God.
Having been summoned and having come before Almighty God as believers or people of faith, the covenant people of God must confess their sins, recognizing that in and of themselves they have nothing good to offer unto their gracious, faithful, covenant Lord who is the God of all mercy. So kneeling down and thereby submitting to the sovereign mercy of God, His people confess not only their rebellion against Him (“we have offended against thy holy laws”) but the actual sinfulness of their souls (“There is no health in us”).
The Declaration of divine absolution and remission of sins pronounced by the priest or bishop is composed of a medley of scriptural sentences. To all who repent of their sins and believe the promises of the Gospel there is full and free forgiveness as there is also a call to “be pure and holy.”
The rest of the service may be described as an expression of responsive faith. The faith which has responded to God’s call and heard His promise of forgiveness and eternal life now speaks to God and hears from Him. It is entirely fitting and appropriate therefore that believers begin their response by saying the prayer composed by our Lord Himself – the Lord’s Prayer, which is the model for all prayer and the summary of all prayer. And following this the heart, now warmed by God’s gracious presence and word, is ready to praise His name. This is done through the versicles taken from Psalm 51:15 which lead into the Gloria Patri or the “little doxology” – “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit...” Christian souls are now ascending in and with Christ to heaven to bow before and adore the One God, who is a Trinity of Persons. They not only affirm trinitarian theism but they worship this LORD God.
Responsive faith continues to praise the Lord through the Venite (Ps 95) which celebrates the Majesty of God, the Creator, Sustainer, Provider and Judge. Then follows the meditative reading or chanting of the appointed psalms. These are prayed in, with and through Jesus Christ, and not merely as prayers from the Old Testament (see below chapter seven for a full treatment of the Psalter). This contemplative, reflective hearing is continued with the listening to what God has to say and teach from the first lesson, read from the Old Testament. It is heard not merely as a reading but as a lesson (i.e. a teaching from God Himself through the illumination of the Holy Spirit on the mind).
Having heard the Word of God read, the people of faith join again in the worship and praise of Almighty God. This is achieved through the use of the Te Deum laudamus (the magnificent hymn of praise to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) or the shorter Benedictus es, Domine (from the addition to the Book of Daniel in the Apocrypha) or the longer Benedicite, omnia opera Domini (from the same source as the Benedictus).
God has yet more to say unto His believing people and so there is read the Second Lesson, this time from the New Testament, to be heard with obedient, reflective faith. Following it, there is again a wholly appropriate song with which to join in the praise of God. This is achieved through the recital of either the Benedictus (the Song of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist) or Psalm 100, the Jubilate Deo.
Now praising, believing souls are ready to speak to God and tell Him what they believe as baptized Christians on the basis of His Revelation to them through sacred Scripture. Thus they join in the Apostles’ Creed, each one making his or her personal profession of faith, “I believe.” On some occasions they may use the longer and more theologically developed confession of faith, the Nicene Creed. The Creed is a word addressed to God, a word shared with fellow Christians and a concise word of hope and good news offered to the world.
Finally, forgiven, praising and believing souls express their faith and commitment to Jesus as Lord by engaging in petitionary and intercessory prayers for themselves and others, especially those with heavy responsibilities in State and Church. Believers pray for others in the confidence that the Lord God who has blessed them will also bless those for whom they pray. They pray in the name of the Lord Jesus to the Father in heaven, in the power of the Holy Spirit. The set prayers, which are all memorable in style and theology, include the two great prayers which all Anglicans ought to know by heart – the Prayer for all Conditions of Men and the General Thanksgiving. The final prayer of the service is the Grace, taken straight from the Bible (from 2 Cor.13:14).
Such is the logic of faith of Morning Prayer – and the same logic is there in Evening Prayer. Modern usage often begins the Office at the Versicles and thereby destroys the logic of faith which requires us to begin where we are, in our sin, in order to rise by and in Christ as forgiven people to the praise of God Almighty. This is why in the Common Prayer Tradition the confession of sin is not optional. Such is the human condition, even of the best of us, that we always need to confess our sins of commission and omission, and to recognize both the bias to sin which is deep in our souls and our participation in the sins of mankind as a whole.
One important dimension of the Daily Office often mentioned by the saints is that it is the voice of the bride addressing her Bridegroom and it is the very prayer which Christ Himself, in and through His Body, addresses to the Father. Thus by offering praise to God the Church on earth joins in the heavenly litany and canticles of praise of the angels and archangels. Earth and heaven combine in the heavenly liturgy.
Intimately connected on earth to the Daily Office is the Litany or General Supplication. It is to be used after the Third Collect of Morning or Evening Prayer. The Litany is composed of (a) solemn addresses to the Holy Trinity; (b) petitions for deliverance from evil; (c) entreaties addressed to the Lord Jesus recalling His saving deeds for us; (d) petitions and intercessions ending with the “O Lamb of God...”, the “Lord have mercy” and the Lord’s Prayer, and (e) a final supplication, composed of responsive versicles and collects. The entire Litany, apart from the beginning and the ending is addressed to the Lord Jesus.
The aim of all prayer is to know God and thus the Litany ends with this prayer:
We humbly beseech thee, O Father, mercifully to look upon our infirmities; and for the glory of thy Name, turn from us all those evils that we most justly have deserved; and grant, that in all our troubles we may put our whole trust and confidence in thy mercy, and evermore trust thee in holiness and pureness of living, to thy honour and glory; through our only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
To know God is to live in utter dependence upon His mercy and strength.
Faith hears and reads Scripture as the Word of God. Therefore it hears prayerfully and meditatively. This spirit is captured in Psalm 19, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer” (verse 14). It is stated with clarity in the Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent:
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; grant that we may in such wise hear them, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou has given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
This Collect assumes what the Church of God has always believed – that the Holy Bible is the record, inspired by the Holy Spirit, of God’s self-revelation to human beings. Further, it assumes that it was written under God's superintendence for our benefit, that we may learn therein by the illumination of our minds by the Holy Spirit of the nature of God and of His salvation offered to us in Jesus, the Christ. To hear or read Scripture prayerfully and in faith is to place oneself in the position to he taught by God, where the Lessons become truly teaching sessions of the Holy Spirit.
In the Collect we pray that we may hear the Lessons (that is hear not only with our physical ears but with the spiritual ears of our soul and thus allow the Word of God to enter our minds and hearts and wills); that we may mark them (that is notice the particular message or teaching, doctrinal, moral or spiritual which God is giving us through the Lesson); that we may learn (that is take to heart to be obeyed and learn off by heart in order to meditate upon later, where appropriate); and that we may inwardly digest them (that is allow the teaching of the Word of God to become food for our souls through our inward receiving of its contents in the mind, with the affections and by the will). By such receiving of the Word of God we gain knowledge about and grow in the knowing of the living God and thus embrace and hold fast “the blessed hope of everlasting life” through Jesus Christ.
Some may raise the problem of the agnostic assumptions of modern Biblical Studies and claim that they make such meditative, prayerful reading of Scripture to be impossible today. I do not think that truly modern, scientific study of Holy Scripture in any way puts a barrier in the way of meditative reading. However, I can see that a small dose of it can have this effect; regrettably too many people today get a small dose of it from second-best practitioners and make their judgments on inferior knowledge and understanding. I have every confidence that the Word of God can and does speak to us as clearly and effectually today as it did when the Prayer Book was first written in 1549-1552.
In my book, Meditating as a Christian (Harper-Collins, 1991) I made a distinction between informative reading and formative reading, as a way to state the nature of biblical meditation which is possible in the Daily Office (or, of course, at other times as well). Most of the reading we do is to gain information – from newspaper, book, letter, report, journal and magazine. The information may be for work or leisure or for another purpose. Now to read the Bible for information, that is informatively, is to study it as a historical, religious book. Biblical Studies are usually sophisticated forms of informative reading. The reader is here in charge and looks at the Book as an object which he or she is examining.
In contrast, formative reading is to read in such a way as to be formed by what is read. It is to read slowly, preferably aloud, so that the Word can be seen, heard and tasted. It is also to read prayerfully and expectantly. In this approach the intention is to put Jesus Christ in charge so that He can speak to the reader and hearer through the Word and by the Spirit. To read and hear in this way in the Daily Office is an art to be cultivated and cannot be achieved overnight. To develop the art may require returning to the Lessons at the end of the Office and re-reading them in the formative mode. Or it may require preparing for their reading in the Office by looking at them or studying them in advance. At first it may only be possible to treat one of the Lessons seriously. We must begin where we are and grow in grace and in the knowledge of God for God is a tender Father who leads us on by His gracious hand.
One of the aims of modern Liturgy appears to be to keep people from staying with one form of worship, one set of texts and prayers. However, there is great spiritual benefit in the use of the same texts day by day, especially if they are, as in the Daily Office, excellent Canticles and Prayers in fine, memorable English. However this benefit only applies if they are said, sung or prayed in faith with the mind in the heart. They will become utterly boring if they are merely repeated because that is what is required. To the heart which is seeking to know and love God they become the very words through which that knowledge and faith is expressed. Familiarity with them increases their usefulness as the content of the human response to God’s gracious invitation to draw near to Him and behold His glory.
If they are learned off by heart then each day as they are prayed the mind is able both to see and to pour into them ever deeper meaning, the affections are able to be raised in delight, peace and love towards God, while the will is moved in resolve to obey God at all times. Further, the stability of the structure of fixed Canticles and Prayers provides the appropriate context for the changing Psalms and Lessons. The latter can be appreciated and their content spiritually received because of the devotional and theological reliability of the structure in which they are placed.
In fact the logic of faith, which we have noticed informing Daily Prayer is the logic of the whole of Common Prayer. We are summoned by God to daily prayer to hear His Word, utter His praise, offer prayers and supplications and be strengthened for our vocation in daily life. We are further summoned to the Lord’s Table each Sunday, the first day of the week and the day of the Resurrection of the Lord in order to meet Him in Word and Sacrament – in the most spiritually intimate communion as we hear again His Word and receive His Body and Blood.
The lectionary of weekdays and of Sunday is also harmonized by this logic of faith. The lectionary is an ordered program of readings from Scripture for the public worship of the Church. The Common Prayer Tradition presents in the lectionary readings both for Sundays (and the week after) and Holy Days, and also for the Sunday and week-day offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. The interrelation and inter-dependence of these programs of readings, together with the comprehensive doctrinal unity which they create, is the fruit of a long development. Guiding this development has been the principle of Holy Scripture understood as a doctrinal instrument of salvation (which means that Holy Scripture has a content, that this content is thinkable and that its intelligible content is doctrine). All this is to say that by such an arrangement the Church consciously puts herself under the rule and authority of Scripture.
Perhaps a final comment is needed on the singing of hymns. Where they are used they ought to become a part of the logic of faith and not disturb or stand in opposition to that logic. Not all hymns are suitable and some are suitable only at specific points in worship.
Advice from William Beveridge
[Writing nearly three hundred years ago William Beveridge, Bishop of St Asaph in Wales, gave some first-class advice on how to prepare for and participate in corporate worship. This is what he wrote in his The Great Necessity and Advantage of Public Prayer, 1708.]
Here then is the great task we have to do in all our public devotions, even to keep our spirits or hearts in a right posture all the while that we are before God, who sees them, and takes special notice of their motions... Blessed be God, by His assistance we may do it, if we will but set ourselves in good earnest about it, and observe these few rules...
First, when you go to the house of God at the hour of prayer, he sure to leave all worldly cares and business behind you, entertaining yourselves, as ye go along, with these, or such like sentences of Scripture: Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God; my soul is athirst for God, yea, even the living God. When shall I come to appear before the presence of God? (Ps. 42:1, 2). O how amiable are thy dwellings, thou Lord of hosts! My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God. (Ps. 84:1, 2). We will go into His tabernacle and fall low on our knees before His footstool. (Ps. 132:7).
When ye come into the church say with Jacob, How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God; and this is the gate of heaven (Gen. 28:17), or something to that purpose. And as soon as ye can get an opportunity, prostrate yourselves upon your knees before the Master of the house, the great God of heaven, humbly beseeching Him to unite your hearts unto Himself, to cleanse your thoughts by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit, to open your eyes, and to manifest Himself unto you, and to assist you with such a measure of grace in offering up these spiritual sacrifices, that they may be acceptable to Him by Jesus Christ.
And now set yourselves, in good earnest; as in God’s sight, keeping your eye only upon Him, looking upon Him as observing what you think, as well as what you say or do, all the while you are before him.
While one or more of the Sentences out of God’s Holy Word (wherewith we very properly begin our Devotions to Him) are reading, apprehend it as spoken by God Himself at first, and now repeated in your ears, to put you in mind of something, which He would have you to believe or do upon this occasion.
While the Exhortation is reading, hearken diligently to it, and take particular notice of every word and expression in it, as contrived on purpose to prepare you for the service of God, by possessing your minds with a due sense of His special presence with you, and of the great ends of your coming before Him at this time.
While you are confessing your sins with your mouth, be sure to do it also in your hearts, calling to mind every one, as many as he can, of those particular sins which he hath committed, either by doing what he ought not to do, or not doing what he ought, so as to repent sincerely of them, and steadfastly resolve never to commit them any more.
While the minister is pronouncing the Absolution in the name of God, every one should lay hold upon it for himself, so as firmly to believe, that upon true repentance, and faith in Christ, he is now discharged and absolved from all his sins, as certainly as if God Himself had declared it with His own mouth, as He hath often done it before, and now, by His ministers.
While you, together with the minister, are repeating the Psalms or Hymns, to the honour and glory of God, observe the minister’s part as well as your own; and lift up your hearts, together with your voices, to the highest pitch you can, in acknowledging, magnifying and praising the infinite wisdom, and power, and goodness, and glory of the most high God in all His works, the wonders that He hath done, and still doth, for the children of men, and for you among the rest.
While God’s Word is read in either of the chapters, whether of the Old or New Testament receive it not as the word of men but (as it is in truth) the Word of God, which effectually worketh in you that believe (1 Thess. 2:13). And therefore hearken to it with the same attention, reverence and faith, as you would have done, if you had stood by Mount Sinai, when God proclaimed the Law, and by our Saviour’s side, when He published the Gospel.
While the Prayers or Collects are reading, although you ought not to repeat them aloud, to the disturbance of other people; yet you must repeat them in your hearts, your minds accompanying the minister from one prayer to another, and from one part of each prayer to the other, all along with affection suitable to the matter sounding in your ears, humbly adoring God according to the names, properties or works, which are attributed to Him at the beginning of each Prayer, earnestly desiring the good things which are asked Him in the body of it, for yourselves or others. And steadfastly believing in Jesus Christ for His granting of them, when He is named, as He is at the end of each prayer, except that of St Chrysostom; because that is directed immediately to Christ Himself as promising, that when two or three are gathered together in His name, He will grant their requests, which is therefore very properly put at the end of all our daily prayers, and also the Litany (most part whereof is directed also to our Saviour) that when we have made all our common supplications unto Him, we may act our faith in Him again for God’s granting of them according to His said promise. And so we may be dismissed with, The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God the Father, and the Communion or Fellowship of the Holy Ghost; under which are comprehended all the blessings, that we can have, or can desire, to make us completely happy, both now and forever.
After the Blessing, it may be expedient still to continue for some time upon your knees, humbly beseeching Almighty God to pardon what He hath seen amiss in you, since you came into His presence; and that He would be graciously pleased to hear the prayers, and to accept of the praises, which you have offered up unto Him, through the merits of Jesus Christ our only Mediator and Advocate.
Next Section Toon Home