Saturday, 28 February 2015

Rhythms and echoes in 1662

It's far from being an answer to the reigning orthodoxy established by Buchanan's What Did Cranmer Think He Was Doing?, but it is interesting to note some of the rhythms and echoes in 1662 (which, of course, was not Cranmer's rite and has a definitively different eucharistic theology):

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table ...

From the Prayer of Humble Access.

Lord Jesus Christ,
I approach your banquet table in fear and trembling,
for I am a sinner,
and dare not rely on my own worth,
but only on your goodness and mercy ...

From a Prayer of St Ambrose before Holy Communion.

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us, who have duly received these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favour and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people ...

From the Prayer of Thanksgiving.

Give me the grace, most merciful God, to receive the Body of your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, in such a manner that I may deserve to be intimately united with His mystical Body and to be numbered among His members ...

From a Prayer of St Thomas Aquinas before Holy Communion.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Lenten meditation: the Sign of the Cross

During the Fridays of Lent, a series of Lenten meditations will be posted. Each meditation, based on the Gospel of the coming Sunday, will reflect upon devotional practices which lead us to enter more fully into the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection.

The Gospel of Lent II is Mark 8:31-38.

Lenten meditation 2: the Sign of the Cross

"Brothers and sisters in Christ: since early days Christians have observed with great devotion the time of our Lord's passion and resurrection" [1].

We heard these words in the solemn liturgy of Ash Wednesday.

They remind us that Lent, at its heart, is about orienting us afresh to the core of the Christian faith ...

The Paschal Mystery of the Cross and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Each year we prepare during these forty days for the commemoration of the Lord's Cross on Good Friday and the celebration of His Resurrection at Easter.

We do so because these events are not, for the Church, mere history ...

They are not merely past events.

We spend forty days in prayer and fasting and preparation because our lives are given meaning, they are defined by the Cross and Resurrection.

These are a living reality shaping and defining our lives.

The Gospel of this coming Sunday, the Second in Lent, powerfully demonstrates this:

 We hear Jesus say in Mark's Gospel:

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."

Our lives are meant to be Cross-shaped.

Our lives are meant to be conformed to the faithful, self-giving, reconciling love which the Cross embodies.

And so, from earliest times, Christians have reverenced the sign of the Cross ...

Seeing in it the heart of what it means to be a Christian, to be conformed to Jesus.

As Anglican Christians, we continue this.

When anyone, child or adult, receives the Sacrament of Baptism in this and any Anglican community, the first thing that happens to them as a new Christian is the priest signing their forehead with the Cross ...

"Christ claims you for his own. Receive the sign of the cross" [2].

There, at the very start of our Christian life, the Sign of the Cross is made on us.

Our Book of Common Prayer also makes provision for the time when the end of our earthly life approaches.

In the liturgy for 'Preparation for Death', as the prayer of commendation is said, we read:

"The commendation may be accompanied by making the sign of the cross on the forehead of the dying person, recalling his or her baptism into Christ" [3].

And in between the beginning of the Christian life in the waters of Baptism, and the ending of our earthly journey, we are again and again brought before the Cross.

Above our high altar.

At the front of the procession which commences each Sunday Eucharist.

When the priest absolves and blesses us, she or he makes the Sign of the Cross over us.

Often on altar frontals.

On the front of our Prayer Books.

Some of us will wear a Cross around our necks.

Some will have a Cross or Crucifix in our homes.

Some of us will make the Sign of the Cross during the absolution and blessing, and as we receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

It's not a lucky charm.

Nor is it a tribal symbol, belonging only to one part of the Church.

As Anglican Christians, following the practice of the early Church ...

We honour and reverence the Sign of the Cross in our liturgy and worship and devotion ...

As a means of continually renewing our discipleship.

Each time we see, receive or make the Sign of the Cross, we are receiving afresh the vocation to be disciples ...

As those called by Jesus to take up the Cross and follow him.

When we see, receive or make the Sign of the Cross ...

We are being renewed in our fundamental identity as those forgiven, healed and reconciled by the Cross of Christ ..

And thus those called to forgive, heal and reconcile in all aspects of our daily living.

Cyril of Jerusalem, a great teacher in the fourth century Jerusalem church, said:

"Let us not then be ashamed to confess the Crucified.  Be the cross our seal, made with boldness ... in everything; over the bread we eat and the cup we drink; in our comings and goings; before our sleep, when we lie down and we awake; when we are travelling, and when we are at rest" [4].

Let us, then, this Lent renew our devotion to the Sign of the Cross ...

The means of the world's forgiveness, healing and salvation ...

And that which shapes our life as disciples of the Crucified One.


[1] Church of Ireland Book of Common Prayer 2004, 'Service for Ash Wednesday'.

[2] BCP 2004, 'Holy Baptism Two'.

[3] BCP 2004, p. 454.

[4] Quoted in 'The Sign of the Cross', Gospel Imprint series.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

For the Parish, part ii?

From Leah Libresco's blog:

My parish hosts two Dominican brothers, who assist at Mass and run an Adult Sunday School, where they give excellent weekly talks on matters of faith.  They’re so integrated in to the parish that, when our RCIA director was choosing sponsors for my class of converts, she had a Dominican step in to be my godfather.  Once a month, I go to the “Christopolis” lecture, where a Dominican father introduces a speaker (not infrequently a Dominican) to speak on the underpinnings of our religion and how to live them out.  When I had a free afternoon, I stopped by the House of Studies to join the friars and their guests for Evening Prayer (and used to do it a lot more often, when I had a job with “summer hours”) ... And, just a couple months ago, I saw a lot of my friends when we all gathered at the priory for the Dominicans’ Vigil of All Saints ...

Living supported by the Dominicans does more for me than cultivating piety on my own or even being involved in my church.  The brothers (and the sisters studying at their school) offer infusions both of knowledge and of joy for us.  They open up the faith so we can study in in greater detail, not just in order to amass more knowledge, but so that we can delight in beauty.  They also clear out space for us to experience this delight.

It's a wonderful example of the significance of religious communities in providing centres of prayer, teaching, spiritual direction, and excellence in liturgical worship.  We might suggest that the theme provides something of a supplement to For the Parish.  In an essay on the contrast between medieval and Tridentine understandings of ministerial priesthood, Eamon Duffy also leads us to understand the life of the parish:

The Middle Ages had a vision of priesthood which was modest and limited.  The priest was to be to the Church what the local blacksmith or carpenter was to the secular community, a conscientious workman providing essential services.  He must provide with decency the sacraments and sacramentals, he must instil the bare essentials of Christian doctrine and moral into his people, dispense charity to the poor, make peace when neighbours quarrelled ... He was not expected to be a preacher, or a guru, nor indeed, in any very serious sense, a spiritual expert of any sort [unlike the Tridentine vision].

Here we can see what the parish should be - the community which nurtures us in the basic, life-long, fundamental experience of the creedal, sacramental life.  The parish is the means through which Trinitarian and Christological faith is first encountered, it will shape our growth as disciples from initiation, will break for us the bread of Word and Altar that we may be sustained, will commend us in death and beyond, burying us and then continually upholding us in prayer.

It is other centres which will provide the means for particular, deeper exploration of the creedal, sacramental life, whether this be through contemplative prayer, spiritual direction or doctrinal reflection. Obviously, religious communities are key to this, and this is precisely the role religious orders have played within Anglicanism since the restoration of the monastic vocation during the 19th century catholic renewal.  This adds further significance to the priority ++Justin has given to "the renewal of ... the Religious Life".

We might also, however, consider the role of cathedrals and churches with 'cathedral-like ministry' in this context, reflecting the Benedictine origin of the Anglican cathedral model.  While it did not factor greatly in the very useful Church Growth Research Programme paper on 'cathedrals and greater churches', this vocation to be a centre of spiritual direction, teaching and prayer is increasingly evident in very many Anglican cathedrals.  Ensuring that it is understood and properly resourced has significance not just for cathedrals but for the mission of the local parish as this aspect of the cathedral vocation should be oriented to enriching the vocation and mission of the parish.

A rich diversity sustained the life of the medieval Church, with the parish as the communal and sacramental mainstay of the Christian experience, and cathedrals and religious communities providing centres of prayer and learning which renewed the experience of the parish.  With the vision and confidence witnessed in Anglican cathedrals, and ++Justin's explicit emphasis on the need to renew the Religious Life, can catholic Anglicans retrieve and re-apply this vision as a means of renewing the contemporary Church's mission?

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

"Unless chastened by watchings and fastings": Newman on impediments to self-knowledge

John Henry Newman's sermons as an Anglican priest - Parochial and Plain Sermons - are proving to be a treasure trove during Lent.  Here (Volume 1, Sermon 4) Newman reflects on the call of Psalm 19, "cleanse thou me from my secret faults", and the impediments to self-knowledge.  While this sermon dates from very early in the catholic renewal (1834), it does articulate a pastoral and moral theology which discerns a need for sacramental confession and spiritual direction, and a renewed understanding of the significance of the Lenten disciplines:

1. First of all, self-knowledge does not come as a matter of course; it implies an effort and a work. As well may we suppose, that the knowledge of the languages comes by nature, as that acquaintance with our own heart is natural. Now the very effort of steadily reflecting, is itself painful to many men; not to speak of the difficulty of reflecting correctly. To ask ourselves why we do this or that, to take account of the principles which govern us, and see whether we act for conscience' sake or from some lower inducement, is painful. We are busy in the world, and what leisure time we have we readily devote to a less severe and wearisome employment. 

2. And then comes in our self-love. We hope the best; this saves us the trouble of examining. Self-love answers for our safety. We think it sufficient caution to allow for certain possible unknown faults at the utmost, and to take them into the reckoning when we balance our account with our conscience: whereas, if the truth were known to us, we should find we had nothing but debts, and those greater than we can conceive, and ever increasing. 

3. And this favourable judgment of ourselves will especially prevail, if we have the misfortune to have uninterrupted health and high spirits, and domestic comfort. Health of body and mind is a great blessing, if we can bear it; but unless chastened by watchings and fastings, it will commonly seduce a man into the notion that he is much better than he really is. Resistance to our acting rightly, whether it proceed from within or without, tries our principle; but when things go smoothly, and we have but to wish, and we can perform, we cannot tell how far we do or do not act from a sense of duty. When a man's spirits are high, he is pleased with every thing; and with himself especially. He can act with vigour and promptness, and he mistakes this mere constitutional energy for strength of faith. He is cheerful and contented; and he mistakes this for Christian peace. And, if happy in his family, he mistakes mere natural affection for Christian benevolence, and the confirmed temper of Christian love. In short, he is in a dream, from which nothing could have saved him except deep humility, and nothing will ordinarily rescue him except sharp affliction ...

These remarks may serve to impress upon us the difficulty of knowing ourselves aright, and the consequent danger to which we are exposed, of speaking peace to our souls, when there is no peace.

Many things are against us; this is plain. Yet is not our future prize worth a struggle? Is it not worth present discomfort and pain to accomplish an escape from the fire that never shall be quenched? Can we endure the thought of going down to the grave with a load of sins on our head unknown and unrepented of? Can we content ourselves with such an unreal faith in Christ, as in no sufficient measure includes self-abasement, or thankfulness, or the desire or effort to be holy? for how can we feel our need of His help, or our dependence on Him, or our debt to Him, or the nature of His gift to us, unless we know ourselves?

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

'Who is my neighbour?' and the poverty of the Right

Every celebration of the mass is an act of faith in which our eyes see with the soul’s longing for God.  The way we encounter those in need is as much an act of faith.  Christ is revealed to faithful eyes.  It is easy to scoff at the Body of Christ veiled beneath the form of simple bread.  It is just as tempting to scoff at the Presence of Christ in someone who is too easy to dismiss because of poverty.

These words from The Subdean's Stall are a potent reminder of why the recent pastoral letter from the Church of England's bishops - Who is my neighbour? - is not, to quote commentator Tim Montgomerie's summary of the Times editorial, a case of 'Red bishops'.  It is, rather, a case of bishops taking the Incarnation (and the sacramental economy flowing from it) seriously.  To quote from the pastoral letter:

Christ's incarnation confirms the fundamental truth that every human being is created in the image of God. Because of this, we are called to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is the starting point for all of the church’s engagement with society, politics and national life. This is the truth that lies behind everything we have to say here (11).

Why does the Church speak into the political realm?  Because "for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man".  Because it is a Christological imperative.  It is, in other words, a requirement of creedal orthodoxy. As long as the Incarnation is confessed and the Mass celebrated, the Church is compelled to speak into the political realm.

This, to say the least, makes the response of the Right very interesting.  Rather than affirming the Christological basis of the pastoral letter and its concerns, and then debating the best policy mechanisms for addressing these concerns, the Right attacked both the concerns and the fact that the bishops had ssued the letter.  The Right's response was to call for a tame, domesticated Church - the sort of Church the Left has traditionally sought.  Take, for example, the comments of Conservative MP Nadine Dorries:

I would much rather the church stuck to becoming involved in issues where people are really seeking the church's voice, such as gender abortion, late term abortion, issues to do with the human tissue and embryology bill.

The Church is always silent when people are seeking its voice and yet seems very keen to dive in on political issues when actually no one is asking it to.

Now, Dorries has a very valid point.  Who is my neighbour? does not mention abortion, despite abortion embodying the "atomised individualism" critiqued in the pastoral letter (123).  Even a sentence incorporating some of the powerful reflection of Rowan Williams on the subject - as, for example, in his Lost Icons - would have been appropriate.

But Dorries valid point here is lost - utterly, entirely lost - in light of the rest of her comments.  What sort of emaciated, shallow 'pro-life' agenda is it which declares it right for the Church to comment on abortion but which then says that "no one is asking" the Church to comment on poverty, immigration or nuclear weapons?  It gets worse when Dorries raises the matter of debt:

Where were the Bishops' voices when the last Labour government went on a spending frenzy. Where were the warnings then? The bible is very clear about the immorality of leaving our children and our grandchildren with debts to pay.

Does Nadine Dorries really want the bishops to address the immorality of debt and money-lending?  Bishops publicly reflecting on the traditional Biblical and theological critique of usury would, one might think, not be the best thing for the contemporary Right to urge.

What is more, such responses reveal the lack of theological (and historical) imagination on the political Right. In their determination to attack the pastoral letter, commentators from the Right have entirely ignored its critique of the Left.  Somewhat ironically, Labour MP Jon Cruddas has pointed to this:

It is as much a challenge to the left, and our commitment to the state and centralisation, as it is to the right with its unquestioning embrace of the market ... It is a profound, complex letter, as brutal as it is tender, as Catholic as it is reformed, as conservative as it is radical. It draws upon ideas of virtue and vocation in the economy that are out of fashion ... Conservatives and socialists have shared these assumptions and they could be the basis of a new consensus.

In terms of responses from the Right, there are two honourable exceptions.  Firstly, 'Red Tory' thinker Phillip Blond - who briefed the bishops in May last year, together with 'Blue Labour' thinker Maurice Glasman:

Congratulations to the Church of England ... 'Who is my Neighbour' is a superb letter: both visionary & prophetic.

Secondly, historian and Telegraph columnist Timothy Stanley:

The Church of England has published a document on voting that some people feel is a damning indictment of its Left-wing drift. I think that’s unfair ... if you examine the nitty-gritty of Anglican doctrine (yes, it does exist), you’ll find it thoughtful, mainstream and – at least – socially conservative. 

What is it that Blond and Stanley see that those who led the knee-jerk response from the Right missed/ignored?  Elizaphanian tells us:

I am most particularly delighted that the document is rooted in the language of virtues and character – clearly the influence of Alasdair MacIntyre.

Yes, MacIntyre is no cheerleader for the Free Market Right.  His philosophical works, however, are no less a critique of the contemporary Left and its social vision.  Which brings us to one of the concluding paragraphs of Who is my neighbour? - a statement which challenges the social libertarianism of the Left no less than the economic libertarianism of the Right:

Strong communities are schools of virtue – they are the places where we learn how to be good, how to live well and how to make relationships flourish. They build on the traditions through which each generation learns its national, local and family identity. Virtues are ways of living that can be learned, but which too many trends in recent decades have eroded (124).

A theologically-informed and imaginative Right would welcome this vision, set forth policies which are oriented towards it, and critique the Left for undermining strong communities.  It takes a particularly unimaginative and theologically uninformed Right to tell the Church that in articulating this vision - flowing from the Church's understanding of the created order and its confession of the Incarnation - it is "div[ing] in on political issues when actually no one is asking it to".

Monday, 23 February 2015

"To be the centre of a sort of world": the gift of self-denial

From John Henry Newman's sermons as an Anglican priest - Parochial and Plain Sermons - a Lenten sermon (Volume 7, Sermon 7) on self-denial. It is a quite striking call in the context of the commercial society of early Victorian England, an indicator of the counter-cultural character of the catholic renewal than began in 1833. It also perhaps points to the significance of the Lenten fast and a retrieval of the disciplines of self-denial for contemporary catholic sacramental communities living and witnessing in the midst of the 21st century Marketplace, in which 'consumer' is the primary identity and the act of consumption is given a sacramental significance:

Self-denial, then, is a subject never out of place in Christian teaching; still more appropriate is it at a time like this, when we have entered upon the forty days of Lent, the season of the year set apart for fasting and humiliation ...

I hope I have made it clear, by these instances, what is meant by Christian self-denial. If we have good health, and are in easy circumstances, let us beware of high-mindedness, self-sufficiency, self-conceit, arrogance; of delicacy of living, indulgences, luxuries, comforts. Nothing is so likely to corrupt our heart, and to seduce us from God, as to surround ourselves with comforts,—to have things our own way,—to be the centre of a sort of world, whether of things animate or inanimate, which minister to us. For then, in turn, we shall depend on them; they will become necessary to us; their very service and adulation will lead us to trust ourselves to them, and to idolize them. What examples are there in Scripture of soft luxurious men! Was it Abraham before the Law, who wandered through his days, without a home? or Moses, who gave the Law, and died in the wilderness? or David under the Law, who "had no proud looks," and was "as a weaned child?" or the Prophets, in the latter days of the Law, who wandered in sheepskins and goatskins? or the Baptist, when the Gospel was superseding it, who was clad in raiment of camel's hair, and ate the food of the wilderness? or the Apostles, who were "the offscouring of all things"? or our blessed Saviour, who "had not a place to lay His head"? Who are the soft luxurious men in Scripture? There was the rich man, who "fared sumptuously every day," and then "lifted up his eyes in hell, being in torments." There was that other, whose "ground brought forth plentifully," and who said, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years;" and his soul was required of him that night. There was Demas, who forsook St. Paul, "having loved this present world." And, alas! there was that highly-favoured, that divinely-inspired king, rich and wise Solomon, whom it availed nothing to have measured the earth, and numbered its inhabitants, when in his old age he "loved many strange women," and worshipped their gods.

Far be it from us, soldiers of Christ, thus to perplex ourselves with this world, who are making our way towards the world to come. "No man that warreth, entangleth himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please Him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. If a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully." This is St. Paul's rule, as has already been referred to: accordingly, in another place, he bears witness of himself that he "died daily." Day by day he got more and more dead to this world; he had fewer ties to earth, a larger treasure in heaven. Nor let us think that it is over-difficult to imitate him, though we be not Apostles, nor are called to any extraordinary work, nor are enriched with any miraculous gifts: he would have all men like himself, and all may be like him, according to their place and measure of grace. If we would be followers of the great Apostle, first let us with him fix our eyes upon Christ our Saviour; consider the splendour and glory of His holiness, and try to love it. Let us strive and pray that the love of holiness may be created within our hearts; and then acts will follow, such as befit us and our circumstances, in due time, without our distressing ourselves to find what they should be. You need not attempt to draw any precise line between what is sinful and what is only allowable: look up to Christ, and deny yourselves every thing, whatever its character, which you think He would have you relinquish. You need not calculate and measure, if you love much: you need not perplex yourselves with points of curiosity, if you have a heart to venture after Him. 

(The illustration is from the Newman window in the Newman Oratory, Oriel College, Oxford.)

Saturday, 21 February 2015

"See, then, the Church offers you this season"

From John Henry Newman's sermons as an Anglican priest - Parochial and Plain Sermons - a Lenten sermon (Volume 6, Sermon 2) on Genesis 27:34, Esau's call to his father after being deprived of his birthright:

From the earliest times down to this day, these weeks before Easter have been set apart every year, for the particular remembrance and confession of our sins. From the first age downward, not a year has passed but Christians have been exhorted to reflect how far they have let go their birthright, as a preparation for their claiming the blessing. At Christmas we are born again with Christ; at Easter we keep the Eucharistic Feast. In Lent, by penance, we join the two great sacraments together. Are you, my brethren, prepared to say,—is there any single Christian alive who will dare to profess,—that he has not in greater or less degree sinned against God's free mercies as bestowed on him in Baptism without, or rather against his deserts? Who will say that he has so improved his birthright that the blessing is his fit reward, without either sin to confess, or wrath to deprecate? See, then, the Church offers you this season for the purpose. "Now is the accepted time, now the day of salvation." Now it is that, God being your helper, you are to attempt to throw off from you the heavy burden of past transgression, to reconcile yourselves to Him who has once already imparted to you His atoning merits, and you have profaned them ...

Come down, then, from your high chambers at this season to avert what else may be. Sinners as ye are, act at least like the prosperous heathen, who threw his choicest trinket into the water, that he might propitiate fortune. Let not the year go round and round, without a break and interruption in its circle of pleasures. Give back some of God's gifts to God, that you may safely enjoy the rest. Fast, or watch, or abound in alms, or be instant in prayer, or deny yourselves society, or pleasant books, or easy clothing, or take on you some irksome task or employment; do one or other, or some, or all of these, unless you say that you have never sinned, and may go like Esau with a light heart to take your crown.

(H/t Newman Lectures.)