Rev. Heather J. Blais
Part 1: Tradition of Morning Prayer, Opening Acclamation, Confession, & Absolution
Across religious traditions and cultures, people have been pausing to pray at particular times throughout the day for thousands of years. Some of you may be familiar with the phrase ‘praying the hours’, this idea that communities of faith stop at set times to remember that God is walking with us. Praying the hours binds a people of faith together, even as they are physically apart. Monastic communities have played a critical role in the development of these liturgies, such as the Benedictine practice to stop and pray at eight intervals throughout the day. When Thomas Cranmer offered the first prayer book, he simplified the number of set times for prayer, what we commonly refer to now as the Daily Office. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer features Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline. Today, we’ll focus on Morning Prayer.
Morning Prayer is a rich resource, which can be used by individuals at home, or as the chief liturgy on a Sunday. It may be led by the laity or the clergy. We begin with an opening sentence from scripture, praying that God open our lips in order that we might praise God. We then move into a confession of sin, where we confess not only our individual sins, but also our failures as a community--such as poverty, racism, and violence. At the heart of the confession is our recognition that sometimes we choose selfishness, instead of love for God and neighbor. Then in the absolution we pray for God to forgive us and strengthen our resolve to live a life of love.
Part 2: Venite/ Jubilate/ Christ our Passover, Lectionary, & Canticles
Morning Prayer is rich with poetry and song, most of which is drawn from scripture. One of the places we really notice this is in the selection between the Venite, the Jubilate, and Christ our Passover in Easter season.
The Venite is taken from Psalm 95, “Come, let us sing to the Lord…” The 1545 Primer of King Henry VIII calls the Venite a “...song stirring to the praise of God”.*
The Jubilate is taken from Psalm 100, “Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands…”. The psalm invites us to come before God’s presence with a song and to marvel at the goodness of our creator.
In Easter season we’ll say Christ our Passover, which draws from Paul’s letters’ to the Corinthians and Romans to celebrate the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
We will use the Sunday lectionary readings, just as we do when we have services of Holy Eucharist, featuring lessons from the old and new testaments. For those interested in praying the daily office at home, I will be posting links to many resources with this sermon, including links to the daily lectionary. One difference with Morning Prayer, is that we have the psalm prior to the first lesson, followed by the Glory Patri, more familiar to us as “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…”
The most unique and beautiful part of Morning Prayer may be the canticles which follow the lessons. Depending on the number of lessons, we will have one or two canticles. For those of you who are longtime Morning Prayer fans, you may notice that we are using a more diverse selection of canticles than what is found in the prayerbook, as we are also drawing from canticles found in Enriching Our Worship 1. The word canticle is derived from latin, and simply means a ‘little song’. Canticles are generally drawn from biblical texts other than the psalms, though three of the ones adopted in Enriching our Worship 1 are taken from other sacred texts written by Anselm of Canterberry and Julian of Norwich.
Today we will get to hear one of the Julian of Norwich canticles, as I know we have several Julian of Norwich fans in our faith community. If now is not the time to embrace Julian’s teaching that ‘all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’ then I’m not sure when it is!
Part 3: The Apostles’ Creed, Prayers, Suffrages, & Collects
One of the differences we’ll notice with Morning Prayer is that in lieu of the Nicene Creed, we say the Apostles’ Creed. The Apostles' Creed dates back to at least the fourth century, and is sometimes referred to as the baptismal creed because it is what we say at our baptisms. It is a brief summary of the core beliefs we embrace when we seek to follow Christ, which we remember at every baptism, daily office, marriage, and burial service.
Following the creed, we then transition into a series of prayers, suffrages, and collects focused on expressing our concerns to God. We begin with the Lord’s Prayer, which is the prayer Jesus offered to the disciples, and we use it in every service. Then follows the suffrages, which are responsive prayers of petition. You may notice we are using an unfamiliar form of suffrages today--these too are taken from Enriching Our Worship 1. Like many other parts of Morning Prayer, suffrages are composed of various psalms assembled in a call and response format. Following these suffrages, are a series of collects. A collect simply means a prayer that collects the thoughts and prayers of all.
The Collect of the Day is focused on tying together the themes of that day’s assigned lectionary readings. We will hear a variety of other collects during Morning Prayer, such as the one for Sundays, for the renewal of life, for peace, for grace, for guidance, and for mission. This time of lifting up our concerns to God concludes with intercessory prayers where we are all invited to lift up our thanks, prayers, and praise.
Part 4: Peace, Offertory, General Thanksgiving, Prayer-St. Chrysostom, Dismissal
Next comes the Peace. The Peace is an ancient Christian practice where we share a sign of reconciliation, love, and renewed relationships by greeting one another. While the Peace is not formally a part of Morning Prayer, it is an important part of our primary worship as a faith community. Similarly, the offertory and doxology are not routine parts of Morning Prayer, but they are an essential part of our communal life and so we include them. At the offertory, we offer ourselves as well as our material gifts to God and we conclude by singing the doxology as a means of praising God: our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.
Morning Prayer offers two concluding prayers. The first is a General Thanksgiving, which may have been inspired by a private prayer of Queen Elizabeth I. We know part of why it appeared in the prayer book was pushback from Puritans, who were frustrated by a lack of prayers focused on thanksgiving. The second is a prayer attributed to Saint John Chrysostrom. Saint John was Bishop of Constantinople and is remembered throughout history for his way with words. You might remember hearing his famous Easter sermon at one of our Easter vigil services. The very last part of the service is the Dismissal. The Latin phrase that describes this portion of the service translates to, “Go, it is the sending.” At this point, the worship service has ended, but our service as ministers of Christ is just beginning. We are to go into the world in the name of Christ.
* Mariot J. Hatchett in Commentary on the American Prayer Book, pg. 105.
Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
This week Heather and I went through another round of reflecting on and adapting the way in which we at Saints James and Andrew are worshipping God. The corona virus pandemic has changed our lives in so many ways, and among these is the way in which we function as the Church, the Body of Christ.
These last couple of months, figuring out how to move forward in a new set of circumstances, has stretched us is good ways, even as they have been painful and often exhausting. I think this is true for other aspects of our lives, and it has certainly been true for us as the Church.
Much of our concern as clergy has been around the outward and practical aspects of adapting worship:
Which media platform gives the best audio-visual results?
What do we have the technological capacity to use?
What’s going to be most accessible and comfortable for our members?
One thing we didn’t anticipate, as we embarked on this crazy and unsolicited corona virus adventure, was the degree to which managing worship in a pandemic was going to raise deep and complicated questions of theology – for us, and for the larger Church.
Beyond thinking about the outward and practical aspects of offering worship in a pandemic, clergy in the Episcopal Church, at least, have also been forced to think about how we understand the very nature of our worship:
How critical, really, is the centrality of the Eucharist in our worship?
What elements in the way we worship are necessary to make Eucharist happen?
Whose prayer matters in the Great Thanksgiving?
Does separation in space matter?
A few days ago we sent a message to you over email and social media to let you know about changes to our worship that we are beginning this morning, as a result of a Directive we received this week from Bishop Doug. I hope you’ve had a chance to read it. In it we wanted to offer explanation of why we are making changes in our worship yet again. During this service this morning, we also wanted to take the opportunity to dig a bit into the theological challenges that underlie these changes. So, please, consider this to be “Instructed Eucharist, Chapter two”. It is also an interesting case study in the way the Episcopal Church functions.
When the pandemic took hold and social distancing and stay-at-home directives were first issued, it was up to individual parishes to figure out how to worship; our first considerations, as I mentioned, were practical. Bishop Doug encouraged us to be pastoral in considering the needs of the community.
We adopted the practice of “virtual communion” for this parish, inviting members to receive the eucharistic bread and wine at home with the conviction that God would bless and be fully present in that bread and wine even though we were separated in space. Honestly, we knew that this practice was a bit “out there”, and was not something that had ever been given official sanction by the Church. We were not alone in taking this direction, either in the Diocese or in the national Church.
Concern and controversy about Virtual Communion quickly surfaced, as not all of the clergy of the church shared the view that Virtual Communion was an approach that ought to be accepted in the Episcopal Church at this time. (Virtual Communion was not the only practice drawing attention, by the way: other creative liturgical approaches were likewise up for debate.) Columns, blogs, podcasts and commentaries blossomed. Heather and I followed the conversation closely.
This week Bishop Doug informed us that, after considerable prayer and reflection, he was offering the Pastoral Directive that while we are unable to gather for worship as we would wish, we can practice any of four liturgical options. Virtual Communion is not among those four.
Receiving the Directive and figuring out what different approach to take actually provided a wonderful opportunity for the clergy and wardens of the parish to talk with one another about what we feel – as individuals, and on behalf of members of the parish – is most important and most meaningful for our worship. It wasn’t even remotely difficult to reach consensus on how we wanted to go forward, and so, as our letter explained, for the forseeable future under the quarantine, we will worship through a combination of Morning Prayer and Eucharist with Spiritual Communion.
So why is Virtual Communion not authorized? What’s wrong with it?
Basically, theologians have put forth the reasoning that physical gathering of the community of faith is critical to the celebration of the Eucharist. Embedded in this reasoning is the theological reasoning that it is the combined prayer of the people and the priest praying “in one voice”, that constitutes the Eucharist.
You’ll recall that in an earlier instructed Eucharist we spoke about the fact that it is through “the Great Amen” that comes at the end of the eucharistic prayer - which offers praise and thanksgiving, which invokes the presence of the Holy Spirit to bless the bread and the wine so that we might receive the presence of Christ – completes the prayer and confirms the unity of the Church in praying it.
Bishop Doyle of Texas points out that “The Episcopal Church has always held that the Eucharist is not an act done by the priest and received by the people; it is an act in which the Body of Christ, otherwise divided and separate from one another, are reunited with one another and with God.”
The theology of the Church, according to this reasoning, is that this kind of union and unified prayer simply cannot take place from a dozen – or a hundred – separate living rooms.
A second concern raised in relation to a Virtual Communion liturgy is the fact that the way we pray affects what we believe. Those who have taken Episcopal 101 will remind us of the maxim lex orandi, lex credendi: the words we say and the things we do in worship shape the way we think and understand our relationship with one another and with God.
A potential implication of embracing Virtual Communion is that, in the words of Bishop Mark Eddington, “We’re saying that people don’t need to gather, and that community is second to individual preference.”
Again, from Bishop Doyle:
When we hold to our Eucharistic theology, we are reminded that we are not meant for individual flourishing alone. We are meant for communal flourishing. We are not a group of individuals gathered to get our own needs met. Instead, we understand the corporate grace of salvation and the reuniting of God's created kin and family. We come to understand that without us, others may not receive what is needed. It is an awakening to the idea that when we are not present with each other, we are not whole.
To be truthful with you, while I respect the reasoning in all of these arguments and am moved by the sentiments, I don’t think we were wrong in adopting Virtual Communion. Equally compelling arguments in support of the practice have been offered by theologians for whom I have profound respect.
What I AM fully persuaded by is that we are part of a bigger whole – playing on a team, and not just doing what makes sense to us as a particular parish. It is a hallmark and, I think, the genius of the Anglican way that we discuss, and compromise, and work things through together. We’ve lived through this before - in relation to the ordination of women and the ordination and blessing of marriages of gay/lesbian/bi/transgender and queer persons. Frustrating as it sometimes is, we in the Episcopal Church don’t make quick or facile decisions. We believe that the Spirit speaks through the Church (and not into my own individual ear) and so we pray and discern and listen. And this frequently requires patience.
As it does now as we at James and Andrew transition to another liturgical practice. I absolutely believe that engaging in Spiritual Communion and Morning Prayer will provide us new insights and new spiritual growth. We need to open our hearts to the mysterious ways in which God continues to speak, among us.
Heather and I so much appreciate the support and patience that all of you have shown as we slog through this together. It will not be forever: we will be breaking bread together again in one place, praising God together, singing the music we love together, in God’s good time.
In the name of the living God.
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