Monday, March 8, 2010

An Anglican Lent

We are already too late in Lent with next Sunday being the fourth, Mothering Sunday, but I hope to make up for my failures by posting just a bit about how the true prayer book Anglican approaches the fast. First, we should all know that Lent was originally the period in which people were prepared for the sacrament of baptism. While they were previously allowed into the Church for the first part of the Eucharist, but were expelled before the prayers of the people. When they determined that they were ready to make the step of becoming Christians they were invited to give in their names on Septuragesima Sunday. On Sexagesima Sunday they were given what they pretty much already knew, the bad news about just what might happen to them if they were actually Christians. This was in those days 'Exhortation Sunday,' as even with the bad news they were exhorted to make good in their intent to be baptized. Quinquigesima Sunday was 'Commencement Sunday,' and the process of their training as Christians would begin.

That should tell us that what we who are already baptized should be doing with Lent is engaging in the process of re-newing our own Christian commitment, reminding ourselves of what we are supposed to know, believe and do not only as Anglicans, but as classic Catholic Christians because in this world we need constantly to be renewing our own baptismal vows. The first and best way of doing this is pointed out in the collect for the second Sunday in Advent in which we are urged to "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" the Scriptures themselves. That means that we not only need to attentively hear them in the offices of the Church and in the Communion Service, but to actively meditate upon what we have heard in our private prayers. It is there that we need to apply them to our own lives, own failings and falling from grace, our own need for grace and salvation in Jesus.

Lent is also a period in which we are expected to fast with the two most important fast days being Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. But after that the Book of Common Prayer also reminds us that "The Forty Days of Lent" are all fast days with the Ember days which occured on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday following the First Sunday in Lent. Now the Church does not tell you what you must do in terms of fasting because it does not believe that any Christian should injure their health by extemes of austerity, but this is a matter which each of us need to be reminded should be worked out either with our parish priest or spiritual director and adviser.
We should also remember that the money we have saved by fasting should be used for purposes of charity either through the church or of our own choosing.

There is also another thing which we should know and expect as Anglicans. And that is what the Ornaments of the Church and of its ministers are supposed to look like. Most of us know that in the Roman Church Lent is marked by the use of purple. The altar frontal is purple as are the vestments of the priest and attendant ministers. But this was not the case with the English church or indeed most of the Church in Northern Europe prior to the Reformation and the Counter Reformation in Trent. Then things were different. Rather than attempt to list them myself, I am going to give you what the Alcuin Club's Directory of Ceremonial has to say about was done and should be continued in Lent.


During Lent is is desirable to express the spirit of the season by as complete a transformation of the interior of the Church as possible. This can be achieved by adopting a practice at one time widely prevalent on the Continent and which in England survived in some places until the nineteenth century. The custom was to cover all crosses, pictures, statues, and other decorative work with veils of whitish linen or light holland, and the effect was to make these objects sink, as it were, into the background of th church's whitened walls. These veils were often marked with crosses or emblems of the Passion or other symbols relating to the object covered, in red or blue. In addition the leaves of triptychs were kept closed. This gives the church a quiet devotional aspect suitable to a pentitential season, while avoiding the gloom produced by purple or black hangings.

The colour prescribed by the older English Cathedral sequences was usually red, but in practice in parish churches the altar-frontal and vestments were universally of the same material and colour as the veils, up to Passion Sunday, when in fact the red came into use for vestments and frontals. It is desirable to emphasize the change of teaching between Lent and Passiontide by some such outward sign as this.

This whole arrangement is often referred to as the 'Lenten Array.' A special processional cross of wood, painted red, was often reserved for use in Lent and Passiontide. Three silver nails were sometimes painted on this processional cross.

To mark this season albes may be worn unapparelled. Deacon, Subdeacon and Clerk will dispense with dalmatic or tunicle, though maiples will be worn and the stole by the Deacon.

In addition it is an old and wholesome custom that unaccompanied singing should, so far as possible, be the rule during Lent, except on Refreshment Sunday, Palm Sunday (during the Procession only), and at the Eucharist on Maunday Thursday, and on any festivals (such as the Annunciation or a Patronal festival) which may occur during the season.

For those who would like to see what this looks like, I would ask readers to Google "Lenten Array," and follow the wonderful photographs which they are going to find on sites featuring medieval church art and on Flikr. You will find a beauty which is now particularly Anglican and which should be part of the tradition of any parish or mission which calls itself Anglican.


Anonymous said...

A most excellent post.

Personally, I believe a return to Lenten Array and "Sarum blue" for Advent would be a very helpful step towards towards the recovery of Anglican health. Tough potentially derided by some as a mater of mere externals, I believe that the rule of Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi applies here. Indeed, simple steps toward outwardly observing an Anglican Lent would, in turn, undoubtedly motivate the laity to ask questions about these too long dormant traditions and, therefore, would inexorably prompt fresh inquiry into and learning about in the rich treasury of peculiarly Anglican spirituality. The opening of the treasury of Anglican patrimony could not but help to have a sort of reverse Pandora-Box effect at a time Anglicanism find its moorings and tend to rescue it from its present trajectory of drift into absolute, global incoherence.

Canon Tallis said...


It is not just a case of Advent and Pre-Lent Blue and the Lenten Array, but the whole question of a separate Anglican identity. The current TAC/ACA debacle is directly the result of the almost unintended teaching that Rome is the ultimate authority brought about by the use of the missals and Roman ceremonial and colour sequence. And it will continue as long as any parish in the Continuum is allowed to play at being anything other than what it alledges itself to be, i.e., more truly Anglican than even His Grace of Canterbury.

The unwillingness on the part of many to accept Anglican authority over Roman is mainly laziness. It takes work and a good deal of it to actually know real liturgics, real church history and real theology. It is much easier to read Ritual Notes and have all your problems solved.

The Midland Agrarian said...

Hi Canon Tallis,
I would echo Death's previous comment, most excellent. While I think Laziness is a partial answer to losing our unique and rightful inheritance, Rome actively encourages this by an excellent and unending sales campaign that their way is the only ancient path in the West. The TAC folks just bought into their marketing. (Thanks for helping us be more informed "consumers")