Saturday, November 28, 2009

Advent Comes Again!

Tomorrow is the Advent Sunday and in accordance with the old usage we will be blue again. That will take us away from those to whom Ritual Notes is the authority for Catholicity, and will set us apart from even those who think themselves Anglicans but would never bother to consider obeying the Ornaments Rubric. They now that they have compromised their principles by using stoles over their surplices almost universally do so with the Roman colours.

Advent is one of those strange seasons which I long ago decided that essentially eluded the comprehension of those who gave us our prayer book. I know that some of their reasoning was based upon economics. England had been made poor by a hundred years of civil war and needed to get back to work. The liturgical system of the medieval church was beyond the comprehension of what we would think of as "the man in the pew" because it was in a language which he didn't understand and about a subject that was open to him only by the pictures painted on the church's walls. And the climax of the season was the feast of Christmas which seemed to be about the nativity of Jesus - until you started reading the appointed scriptural lessons and the prayers which accompanied the service.

That is not to say that the Sarum liturgy or those of Lincoln, York or Bangor were not beautiful. As one who spent too much of my late teen years reading through the volumes of the Henry Bradshaw Society how marvelous, how incredibly beautiful they were and were intended to be. But be cause of the language issue they were open and understood only by an intellectual and educated elite while the ordinary Christian knelt on the floor of his or her parish church and said their beads. They had been present at mass; there duty had been done but they were really at a closed door.

The first Book of Common Prayer opened that door for them. I am not sure that they appreciated it. Kneeling there and saying their paters and aves was easier. Now they were being assaulted by a load of Scripture that was almost more than they could take in and digest. The psalms, the Old Testament lessons, the Gospels and more; and then there were the clerical fights over just how it was to be done and how much they would be allowed to actually participate. The change was too quick and too radical for most of them to comprehend or make their personal piece with. Indeed we have seen the same thing with the Roman Church when they switched their liturgy from the old Latin rite of Pius V for the Novus Ordo of Paul VI. They went from full churches to ones almost as empty as those of the Episcopal Church after thirty years of their version of the new Roman liturgy.

And us? Well, we have more than four hundred years of it now and we still can't seem to get it right. High and crazy; low and lazy, broad and hazy with each insisting that they are the real Anglicans. And then we enter the occasional church which seems to be praying of itself. When the services begin the majority of the people seem to know what they are doing and refer only to the service sheet for the number of the hymns. They know where they are and what they are doing and do it well. They do not seem to be noticing each other but are all focused on something, somewhere beyond themselves and the present moment. If it were not for the sense of joy and peace which prevails we might think to be frightened.

And so it begins again, the new liturgical year replacing the one just past. We have said or sung the same songs, the same canticles and heard the same prayers, the same lessons and the same gospels for all of our Christian and Anglican lives - and yet it is always new, taking us almost by surprise. What we once said in our innocence is now said with tingling anticipation it has become so intense, so quietly thrilling. Are these not in the most the same people who have always been here, but how has it become greater, sharper than the last time that we were here and saying these words. Didn't we understand then; do we now? And when will we know? And why is our body responding so strangely? Is it because we know that He is coming and that we must be ready?

What do you think?

No comments: