Thursday, February 28, 2008

I Remember Mama

This coming Sunday, the fourth in Lent, is Mothering Sunday. To some it is Refreshment Sunay or Midlenting Sunday, but I prefer the title of Mothering Sunday. I am told and have read that in medieval England it was the custom to go back to the Church of your baptism on this Sunday with the reference being to 'our mother, the church." That would make it also a day on which we went back to our mother's house. This title would appear to come from the epistle which is taken from Galatians, "But Jerusalem, which is above is free, which is the mother of us all." Paul's reference is to the heavenly Jerusalem as in the previous sentence he states that the "Jerusalem which now is" is "in bondage with her children." And the Jerusalem of his time was indeed in bondage to Rome.

So what we are interested in is the Jerusalem "which is above," the heavenly Jerusalem. This always brings back memories of a talk by Dom Anthony James, OSB, given in San Francisco many, many long years ago. In it he referenced a book by the French Benedictine, Dom Jean LeClercq, part of whose thesis was that the Benedictines of the middle ages intended to make their monastaries a little incarnation of the heavenly Jerusalem by the liturgy, the keeping of the rule and by their life in common. To Dom Anthony this had some as bit of surprise because he had always believed that Benedictines had no special purpose as he felt the case was with the later monastic orders of the middle ages. Fortunately, I had read LeClercq's book, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, when I was a teenager and always felt that this purpose was always carried over into the faithful Anglican prayer book parish. In a church or mission where the offices of daily morning and evening prayer were recited and the eucharist was celebrated on all those days for which the prayer book provided propers or indicated in the rubrics that a celebration was appropriate, it seems that there is indeed a sacramental touch of the heavenly Jerusalem.

In such a setting the chief way in which Holy Scripture touches us and in which we touch Holy Scripture is in the readings from the liturgy as in Anglican liturgy is indicated by the collect for the second Sunday in Advent. There the phrase "hear them" which comes before the much more remembered "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" should remind us that our liturgy was introduced into a world in which books were rare and the ability to read and write far from usual. The result was that the average Englishman heard and understood the Bible first from having it read to him long before he was able to read it for himself. But, having heard it and in a language which he understood, the desire, indeed, the necessity of being able to read it for himself was born and nurtured. And it came with a revolutionary excitement which we, in our age, can hardly understand and appreciate. We, I think, have nothing which is its equivalent with the possible exception of the exchange of information which we find in the internet.

On the other hand, it must be admitted that the Benedictine liturgy does have an advantage over common usage among Anglicans in that their liturgy is generally sung rather than merely said. Given what we now know about the human brain that anything which is sung goes much deeper into the memory and is much more likely to be remembered, the ancient practise of the sung office has a great deal to recommend it. But I was extremely fortunate in my first parish, the parish of my 'baptism' into Anglicanism - if you will - in that the daily seclection from the psalms was always sung during the Sunday liturgy to Anglican chant. Up until that time it had never occured to me that the psalms could be sung and especially not by an average congregation. But there, smack dab in almost the very middle of the country, what seemed a very ordinary gathering of Americans was singing the psalter as if it was the most ordinary and unexceptional thing a Christian could and should be expected to do. And for us then, it was!

The result was that we actually learned the psalter without even noticing. At the point at which we were doing it, we were much more concerned with singing it properly, hardly paying attention to the words which we sang. But the content went deep into our hearts and memory. I first realized this when as an Air Force cadet one of our pilot instructers told a class that he had been forced to park his airplane "out where God left his shoes." I knew immediately he was an Anglican from the reference to the psalter. And he was.

If we can with Jesus cry "Abba," Daddy to the eternal other which is God, then we should be able to remember our holy mother the church with the same familiarity. We are not a set of public school educated English aristocrats who refer to their parents with the Latin formality of "Mater" and "Pater," but prayer book Anglicans who with "full homely divinity' find not only in the parish church of our baptism, of our being brought into the full mystery of Catholic Christianity, but also in whole church universal a mother at whose knee we have learned our faith and begun to practise it. And having given us in the fullness of prayer book Anglicanism an adult Christianity, she has made us free. Further she has made the countries which at one time fully embraced their Anglican faith the freest countries in the world as an extenstion of their bringing this "Jerusalem which is above" into their lives by their worship.

So this Sunday I will remember just how I came to be what I am, remembering the parish and the Church which by use of the prayer book made me so. I will also remember sadly what that parish has forgotten and destroyed by the embrace of something which is not the old religion of the prayer book and classical Anglicanism. And in doing so with great fondness, I will remember Mama.

Monday, February 18, 2008

All My New Springs Are in Thee

That phrase occured in the reading of the psalms last Sunday. It is one of those memorable phrases which almost spring from the page as you are reciting (or singing) the psalter. From my teen years I have always appreciated such phrases and have spent a good deal of time meditating upon them. I write them down; they show up in my doodles and they become central to my short prayers from the heart which I have attempted to learn from the desert fathers.

In reard to this particular phrase, it occurs to me that it is our only path back to orthodox Anglicanism, to orthodox Christianity. We can not put our faith in the writers and theologians of the past and what we might learn from them if we do not first put our faith in Him, the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob and hopefully of ourselves. That, to me, means that we should not so much attach ourselves to the writings and theology of Luther and Calvin neither of whom are Anglicans or in their lives and writings the inspiration of anything like the spiritual life which the classical Anglican prayer books set forth, as we should to Holy Scripture itself. How can we know the God who revealed himself to the patriarchs and prophets and finally to us in the person of Jesus, if we do not know the texts of the Old Testament and the New. Even the writings of the earliest bishops and Catholic fathers, as important as they were to the framers of the prayer book tradition, should be less important to us than the Bible itself. And I write this as one greatly influenced by those writers. But as much as I have been influenced by them, the words that have become central to my personal prayers are those taken from Holy Scripture itself.

In this time when we find classical prayer book Anglicanism almost destroyed by the very bishops, priests and deacons to which we have entrusted it, the large question which faces every Anglican is how do we recover the tradition? My answer is a simple and straight forward one: by useing it faithfully in accordance with its own presuppositions. The Preface of the first American prayer book, that of 1789, states of the book itself, "In which it will also appear that this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or futher than local circumstances require." To me, this requires that we know and follow the English prayer book tradition as it is to found in the rubrics and prescriptions of the books of 1559 and 1662. These were omited from the American book as they have been omited from Peter Toon's recent 'translation' because of their reference to England's royal history and the American church's reaction to their recent independence from England and the English Church. But when they, as we, had to answer the question of who they were and what they believed and why, they had to turn back to the English Church and the prayer book tradition. And this is what we are going to have to do as well.

This does not mean that we should look to the current Church of England and what it is doing at the moment. Instead, we should attach ourselves to the heart of the prayer book tradition itself and to its most faithful adherents and practitioners. In short, we must become faithful Anglican Christians who are neither low church 'Evangelicals' or Roman imitating Anglo-papists. We must look to the last authentic and legitimate American prayer book as illuminated by the English prayer books of 1559, 1662 and 1928 as well as the Scots' books descending from the non-juroring tradition of liturgical scholarship. This means that our bishops, priests and deacons must recite the daily office as it is found in the American prayer book and make every attempt to celebrate the eucharist on all those occassions for which it provides propers or in its rubrics indicate a celebration is appropriate. That will be very difficult, but it is better than pretending in one form or another to be something which we are not.

And then we must wait on God! And we must do so with faith - not in ourselves or even in our tradition, but in Him.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Back To The Future

This is not only the title of a famous movie, but it is also the way in which both societies and the Church seem to function best. It is what the framers of our American Constitution intended. That is, they built the future of this country on an idealized version of the Roman and Greek past. They looked to the ancient democracies of both Rome and Athens for the principles which they wrote into the American constitution. I wonder, since the majority of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia were Anglicans, if they realized just how great the contribution of historical Anglicanism was to the manner in which they framed the Consitution of the United States. As strange as it may seem, the Constitution of this country has as its foundation what was the constitution of the English Church from the eighth century to almost modern times.

But the real point of this posting as we approach another meeting of the Lambreth Conference later in this year is to quote from another Lambreth Conference over a century ago. I found the quote in The Rev'd F. W. Puller's The Continuity of the Church of England Before and After its Reformation in the 16th Century. The Conference in 1867 said,

"We do here solemnly record our conviction that unity will be most effectually promoted by maintaining the faith in its purity and integrity, as taught in the Holy Scriptures, held by the primitive Church, summed up in the Creeds, and affirmed by the undisputed General Councils."

Now it seems to me that this is wonderfully close to what Elizabeth I said in her famous letter to the Emperor Frederick and what was ordered in the English canons of 1571. Unfortunately, it is only what a very few of us find in the actions and words of the archbishops and bishops of establishment Anglicanism in the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and, of course, the United States. Instead various of the prelates of these great countries seem more to be applying to be accepted by Unitarian Universalists than expressing their belief and conformity to the formularies of classical prayer book Anglicanism - and this in a time when American evangelicals are beginning to look to the past, to the faith and practise of the primitive Church as a cure for their own ills.

So what is to be done? How do we address this present crisis?

The answer, it seems to me, is the same as always: we go back to the future! This is what the Church of England did at the time of its reformation. It went both to Holy Scripture and to the writings of the "earliest bishops and Catholic fathers" to find a way to navigate the intellectual revolution of that time. And, surprise, it worked! Oh, not without difficulties as there were many in England and without that would have prefered that England choose the path of the Continental "deformers" who chose a path much closer to Islam than to the traditional practise of any part of the historic Church, but it did work. Not only did it work for 17th and 18th centuries, but it proved itself capable of continous self reform and also of being carried into countries and civilizations far from that of its English origins and adapting itself to them without losing or diluting the central principles to which it adhered.

And now it appears that we are going to have to do it all over again. Cleanse, renew, revive! With our precious Lord we are going to have to drive the money changers out of the temple to make sure that it - and we - remain a house of prayer. We are also going to have to remember that it is and will remain impossible to substitute secular politics for the Gospel of our Lord and have any claim left for the Church.

And this is the perfect time to begin, and begin and begin. Lent. The perfect time for a little 'Spring cleaning' not only of our households but of our souls. And how should we begin? By reading, of course, as if there were any other course open to those who are people of The Book. We must read and re-read the Bible as if it were entirely new to us. And to this we need to add the fathers and the other works of the earliest Church. We desperately need to have, as C. S. Lewis wrote in his introduction to Sister Penelope's translation of St Athanasius's work on the incarnation, "the wind of the ages" blowing through our brains. We need to test the thinking of our own age on the gospel and the Church with and against the thinking of the saints of the Church's springtime. We need to hear them more than Rowan Williams or N. T. Wright - or even minus Katherine Jefferts Schori.

So let us take this Lent and read the offices, Daily Morning and Evening Prayer as we find them in the traditional prayer books with their offerings of the Psalms, Holy Scripture and the Canticles. And let us add to them some serious reading of the earliest fathers, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr and Polycarp while turning off the radio, the TV and what passes for polular music. Let us make a little room for quiet in our lives and in our prayers and see if what we have that passes for the Church can not make it back to the future.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday

Yes, I should have prepared posts for both of these days, but the sad truth is that this is just when old priests are the busiest. So no can do; no have done.

But let me as briefly as possible acknowledge that true Christians, even Anglicans should remember that they have sins to confess and that confession to a priest is truly Anglican and prayer book. Simply look at 1662. We will take this up again.

And Ask Wednesday is one of the two major fasts of the Christian year. And, yes, I know that fasting has gone out of fashion and even that old fogies such as myself are supposed to watch that we don't over do it. But this is a major fast and we must find some way to honour that.

But Lent is beginning and has begun. And the real purpose of Lent is that we find our way to a closer walk with Jesus. And that, not just with words but in reality. And the truth of that is that there is no way that you will ever know Jesus without coming to know Holy Scripture better and beliving and living it more completely. Read your bible and make it count in your life. Now; you may not have tomorrow.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Commencement Sunday - 2008

One of the great advangages of being a prayer book Anglican is that you continue to use one of the historic Books of Common Prayer. That fact alone keeps you in touch with over a thoushand years of Christian history and liturgy. Today was Quinquagesima, the last Sunday in the pre-Lenten season, which was abolished by the Roman Church and her worshipers a number of years ago. But if you are a prayer book Anglican and worship in a prayer book Anglican parish the ancient collect and its set of lessons were still read to you this Sunday, the last of the three pre-Lenten Sundays.

The first of these was Septuagesima or Invitation Sunday. After the peace of the Church when it was no longer illegal to be a Christian in the Roman empire this was the Sunday on which the "hearers" - those who attended services but who had yet to be baptized - were invited to put in their name as potential candidates for baptism. On the next Sunday, Sexagesima or Exhortation Sunday, they were quite forceably reminded of the dangers of being a Christian and what they might yet be called upon to do or bear if they proceeded through the Lenten training and were actually approved to be baptized upon Easter Even. And, finally on Commencement Sunday, the class and rituals which accompanied the journey to baptism would actually begin.

In time, as the world had seemingly become totally Christian, Lent became a period in which we re-evaluated the state of our commitment to Jesus and his Church and made a pentitential preparation for our Easter communion. There were seemingly no more pagans to be converted to the Christian and Catholic faith so that part of it gradually receded into the background. Not so now! There are now hordes of our neighbors who desparately need to be converted to real Christianity, the kind left us by the apostles and their immediate successors and not the kind invented in the sixteenth century or since then. Unfortunately we have largely forgotten how to do so and have been terrorized by modern secularism into being embarassed about asking others if they are real Christians or not. For that, I have no answers except that we must screw up our courage and again talk to our neighbors about Christianity and what it really is and means. I remember how easy it was to do it when I was a teenager and first in college; I just wonder what has happened to me and others in the long interval between then and now.

So what we really need Lent for at the present is to go back and ask our Lord what he expects of us as Christians in the present age as well as for the grace and strength do actually do what he has commanded. None of this giving up chocolate or whiskey; instead we must forswear the world, the flesh and the devil and get about converting others to the faith once delivered to the saints - and to us!

Quinquagesima Sunday, 2008.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

How Do We Begin?

This blog will consist of the ravings of a prayer book Anglican who believes that that the prayer book was made to be obeyed and that those who attempt to twist Anglicanism into something other than a strict (or fairly strict) use of the classical prayer books just might be happier as something other than Anglican. I, for one, would be much happier if they would identify themselves as something other than Anglican.

First, I don't believe that an Anglican as a Biblical Christian has a choice in being either high church or low church. To do so is to identify yourself with a party and St Paul was fairly clear that parties were forbidden in the Church. You signed on and that means that you intended to obey the rules and not make them up for yourself. After all, you don't play football (European or American) according to the rules of baseball or crikket. And if you don't know the rules, you take the time to learn them before you begin playing.

I also believe in "wearing the uniform." When you put on the clerical habit, you wear that appropriate to who you actually are. If you are an Anglican, you don't wear a soutane; you wear the classical double breasted Anglican cassock along with the other gear that instantly identifies you as who you are. After all, we all get our first and most important opinion from our visual images, from what we see as do others. Consequently we should want to tell the truth about ourselves in the way in which we present ourselves to the world. This, again, was the point of the Ornaments Rubric included in every English prayer book from Elizabeth I. If you want to appear to the world to be either a Presbyterian or a Roman Catholic, maybe you should really join the appropriate Church. (Why is it that Anglican priests and bishops so rarely want to appear as if they were Eastern Orthodox or Armenian clerics? Is it something about the beards?)

Actually, given the terrible state of 'official' or 'establishment' Anglicanism, I am terribly surprised than anyone wants to be Anglican at all. You would think that between Rowan Williams and Katherine Jefferts Shori there would be no sane person in the entire world willing to be identified as "one of them." But then neither of the two nor many of their followers have touched a real prayer book in years, maybe decades. They use very funny books instead which will only too shortly have in them even stranger rites for the blessing of things and persons which Holy Scripture quite rightly condemns. Why at this stage of things they even bother trying to pass themselves off as Christians I can't quite understand. It makes it really difficult for the folk whose good manners make it inappropriate to titter in their faces - or openly do so behind their backs.

But those of us who value and continue to use the classical prayer books do so because they bring us spiritual stability and a sense of history and continuity in a world where those very things seem to be rapidly disappearing. After all, in a world where the Roman Church, the curia and the pope can't quite decide how they are supposed to be worshipping, switching rapidly between Latin and the local language, there have to be a few of us in the Western world, especially in the English speaking world with a taste for old things, old services and the old religion. In my case, for good or for ill, I happen to be one of them.