Word, bath, meal: the raw materials of Christian spirituality

Abendsmahlbild, St Nikolai’s Church, Luckau

Christians meet for worship on Sunday. Christians pray, together or singly, on all days of the week at morning and evening, perhaps also at noon or night. They pray in praise and intercession. In their Sunday meetings Christians gather around the scriptures. They also hold a meal. They teach faith to those who would join community, then they bathe them. These are the root elements of an ordo, of a pattern of scheduled rituals.

Gordon Lathrop, Holy Things, p.35 (src)

I came across this quotation the other day, and it’s been bouncing around my head ever since – partly because it resonates with me, partly because it leaves me feeling that more needs to be said (and to be fair, Lathrop does describe this as just the “root elements” of a Christian ordo: more needs to be added).

Lathrop’s structure of “word, bath, meal” is helpful, though there is a risk of reductionism in saying, simply, baldly: “they hold a meal”; “they bathe them.” After all, Luther tells us in the Small Catechism that baptism “is not simply water [a ‘bath’], but it is the water included in God’s command and connected with God’s Word” (emphasis added). Similarly, in the Sacrament of the Altar, “it is not the eating and drinking [that is, the ‘meal’ in and of itself] that do these things, but these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the remission of sins.’” It is the word that makes the bath and the meal what they are; it is the bath and the meal that thus become indispensable means of bringing that word to us.

But as a reminder of the deep structure of Christian spirituality, corporate and individual, there is a lot to reflect on in Lathrop’s words. There are three patterns at work here:

  • a pattern of corporate worship, in which Christians meet together each Sunday to “gather round the scriptures” and share in the Lord’s Supper;
  • a pattern of personal devotion, in which we pray, either alone or with others, in the morning and the evening, with an emphasis on praise and intercession;
  • a pattern of spiritual formation, in which Christians are taught the faith and baptised.

These three elements are not wholly separate and distinct, but are intertwined together in the day-by-day, week-by-week life of the church.

This reminds both of the threefold Rule described by Martin Thornton, and also of Thornton’s emphasis on the Book of Common Prayer as the basis of a spiritual “rule” rather than simply a set of liturgies. More practically, immediately and personally, it has also highlighted that in recent months I’ve probably let the element of “praise and intercession” slip away in my own patterns of personal devotion: a useful corrective.


The mystery of the missing “O”

O_SapientiaToday is O Sapientia – and so was yesterday.

In the western church, the “O antiphons” have traditionally been sung at Vespers before and after the Magnificat, in the period from 17 December to 23 December.

However, in the calendar for the Book of Common Prayer, 16 December is marked as “O Sapientia”. Why the 16th rather than the 17th?

As this post explains, 16 December was the date the O antiphons began in the Sarum Use. In this scheme, eight antiphons (rather than seven) were used, the extra antiphon being O virgo virginum, sung on 23 December:

O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud?
Quia nec primam similem visa es nec habere sequentem.
Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini?
Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

Cranmer drew heavily on the Sarum Use in writing the Book of Common Prayer, which explains the retention of 16 December as the date for O Sapientia. Except it doesn’t, because beyond that mysterious reference in its calendar the Prayer Book makes no provision at all for the O antiphons. As the post linked above observes:

Interestingly, while the 1662 Calendar preserved the pre-Reformation English date, there is no evidence for the use of the O Antiphons in Anglican worship in the 17th century, and the Marian antiphon appointed for December 23 in Sarum Use would not have been sung in the reformed Church of England at the time.

Finally, as Wikipedia observes, the inclusion of O virgo virginum changes the acrostic formed by the initial letters of each “O” (written in reverse order) from ERO CRAS (“I shall be with you tomorrow”) to VERO CRAS (“truly tomorrow”).

Distributing the psalms

If you use the Liturgy of the Hours as a daily office, you may sometimes wonder how much of the psalter it covers. (If you don’t use the Liturgy of the Hours, this post probably isn’t for you. Ditto if you do use the Liturgy of the Hours, but aren’t a massive liturgy nerd…)

Some time ago, I came across a page which listed the psalms for all the different hours. Sadly the page has now disappeared, but an archived version is available here. Using this, I’ve prepared a table showing where each psalm is used in the Liturgy of the Hours (click the preview image to open as a PDF):

Liturgy of the Hours psalm distribution - click for PDF

One practical effect of preparing this table a few months ago was to encourage me to be more disciplined in saying Daytime prayer and Vespers more regularly. Doing so adds a huge number of psalms to the cycle compared with only saying Lauds and Compline. Saying the Office of Readings would fill in most of the remaining gaps, so I’m thinking about trying this during Lent.

What about the psalms that are omitted altogether? These appear to fall into two categories. First, psalms 57(58)82(83) and Psalm 108(109), all of which are “cursing” psalms. Second, psalms 104(105) and 105(106): no idea at all why these have been omitted. Possibly seen as too long, or duplicating other “historical” psalms (such as psalm 77(78))? (Note that the numbering scheme used in the LOTH gives the Hebrew numbering, more familiar to Anglicans, Lutherans and other non-Catholics, in brackets.)

Finally, what this table doesn’t show is the psalms which are not said in their entirety – for example, psalm 136(137), from which the “notorious” final verses are omitted, or other psalms which are edited simply for length. But it does show how the full Liturgy of the Hours covers the psalms almost in their entirety.

Just passing through

Roman Missal, New TranslationI’ve written before about the painful contrast between Archbishop Cranmer’s translation of the collect for the fourth Sunday after Trinity, and the translation used by the Catholic Church between 1973 and 2011.

In his essay “An Apology for Grief, Fear and Anger”, from his book Faith of our Fathers, Eamon Duffy discusses the same collect, and draws a similar conclusion. Prof Duffy begins by quoting the Latin version of the prayer:

Protector in te sperantium, Deus, sine quo nihil est validum, nihil sanctum: multiplica super nos misericordiam tuam, ut, te rectore, te duce, sic transeamus per bona temporalia, ut non amittamus æterna. Per Dominum Nostrum I.C.

Duffy then quotes Cranmer’s version, which “translates this almost perfectly”:

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal: Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake our Lord. Amen.

The one point on which Duffy criticises Cranmer is his “not sufficiently bringing out the meaning of the phrase bona temporalia“. The tension in the original prayer arises from the need to pass through the good things of this world; to affirm the goodness of this world, but still to “keep moving”. As Duffy observes:

To us who live in a grossly materialist culture, which rates people’s value by their earning and spending power, and assesses human happiness by the possession of good things, it is difficult to imagine a more salutary and necessary emphasis.

Prof Duffy then turns to what was, at the time he wrote his essay, the current version in use in the Catholic Church:

God our Father and protector, without you nothing is holy, nothing has value. Guide us to everlasting life by helping us to use wisely the blessings you have given to the world.

Why is this so awful? Because, as Prof Duffy notes, it robs the prayer of its tension; it removes “the notion of danger, and the sense of journeying“:

All that is left is a rather banal prayer for the sensible use of a good creation. No message here for post-Thatcher Britain.

However, since Prof Duffy wrote his essay, the Catholic Church has adopted the New Translation of the Mass. This, by all accounts, strongly divided opinion when it was introduced, and the new version of this collect perhaps provides a good example of both why the new Mass is loved by some and loathed by others:

O God, protector of those who hope in you,
without whom nothing has firm foundation, nothing is holy,
bestow in abundance your mercy upon us
and grant that, with you as our ruler and guide,
we may use the good things that pass
in such a way as to hold fast even now
to those that ever endure.

Overall, this is much better than the ICEL translation, and restores something of the Latin prayer’s tension. Equally, though, I can see why the new translation is not to everyone’s taste. As a piece of English prose, this new collect falls a long way short of Cranmer, lacking his sense of rhythm and his economy of language.

Personally, though, I think the improvements outweigh any remaining deficiencies. Using this collect as an example helps me understand why, on my own relatively limited exposure to both the old and new translations, I’ve found myself preferring the new – that and the fact that, every time I hear the response “And also with you” in modern Lutheran or Anglican liturgies, I now find myself hankering for “And with your spirit”…

Note: for more on the Prayer Book version of this collect, see this 2004 post discussing C.S. Lewis’ essay, “A Slip of the Tongue”

Worthy of all thanks and praise!

He Alone is Worthy!Now this forthcoming book looks interesting: He Alone is Worthy! (PDF) by Naomichi Masaki.

It remains to be seen whether I dare to add it to my groaning shelves of not-yet-read books, but the blurb alone has some fascinating points to make about the distinctive nature of Lutheran liturgy, and its influence on other parts of the church (as we’ll see in a moment).

In this book Dr. Naomichi Masaki highlights the liturgical thinking of Theodor Kliefoth (1810–95). Kliefoth served as Oberkirchenratspräsident in Schwerin, Germany, and found his liturgical ideal in the Reformation era liturgy. Fundamental for him were the interaction in the liturgy between the Lord’s giving and our receiving, between sacramentum and sacrificium, and His service to His people in the means of grace through the means of grace office.

This idea, of our worship (in particular, though not only, the Lord’s Supper) as being about God’s service to us, rather than the other way round, was fundamental to Luther’s understanding of the liturgy. As I posted on some years ago, Luther:

made a distinction between worship as sacrificium – a sacrifice offered to God – and worship as beneficium – a gracious gift of God to His people.

Luther regarded the medieval church’s understanding of worship as sacrificium to be one of its greatest errors. As Bard Thompson (quoted at more length in that post) put it, for Luther:

All of worship, and the Mass in particular, must be viewed as a beneficium of God, “who gives but does not take” – who gives freely out of pure mercy for the undeserving, asking only to be confessed and glorified.

It sounds from the first paragraph of his book’s blurb, though, as if Dr Masaki sees the Lutheran position as being slightly more nuanced than an outright rejection of sacrificium. The point is that our sacrificium is our response to the beneficium that has already been bestowed upon us (concretely, in the word and sacraments) by a gracious God. This is captured well in Norman Nagel’s introduction to Lutheran Worship:

Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. Saying back to him what he has said to us, we repeat what is most true and sure. Most true and sure is his name, which he put upon us with the water of our Baptism. We are his. The rhythm of our worship is from him to us, and then from us back to him. He gives his gifts, and together we receive and extol him. We build each other up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our Lord gives us his body to eat and his blood to drink. Finally his blessing moves us out into our calling, where his gifts have their fruition.

This understanding of the liturgy is expressed concretely in how Lutheran liturgies treat the words of institution in the Lord’s Supper: not as part of a prayer directed towards God, but as words spoken by Christ, through his minister, to the congregation. Christ gives, we receive. This is one of the distinctives of the Lutheran liturgy that I appreciate the most.

One other interesting point from the blurb to Dr Masaki’s book:

When the thinking of Kliefoth in the 1850s started to influence the liturgical thinking in Sweden, one consequence was that the culmination point of the Lord’s Supper’s Preface should no longer be formulated as Det är rätt och tillbörligt (“It is right and proper” or “It is meet and right so to do”), but instead as Allena han är värdig tack och lov! (“He alone is worthy of thanks and praise!”). This acclamation becomes the prism through which Dr. Masaki studies how a number of Swedish theologians drew consequences of Kliefoth’s theology and eventually let them have their way into the liturgy of the 1894 Kyrkohandbok / Church Agenda.

It would seem that the Swedish liturgy has influenced contemporary Anglican liturgies here. One of my favourite parts of the Church of England’s communion service in the Alternative Service Book was its rendering (taken from the ICET texts) of the end of the Sursum Corda and the start of the preface:

P: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
C: It is right to give him thanks and praise.

P: It is indeed right, it is our duty and our joy…

The Swedish Lutheran influence can perhaps be seen in the wording of that response: “It is right to give him thanks and praise” having clear echoes of “He alone is worthy of all thanks and praise!” (Though see the first comment to this post.)

The Lutheran Service Book uses the same response (“It is right to give him thanks and praise”) in its first communion setting, Divine Service 1. The more traditional setting, Divine Service 3, has “It is meet and right so to do”. Similarly, the response in the new translation of the Catholic mass is the rather pedestrian “It is right and just”.

As for the phrase “it is indeed right, it is our duty and our joy”, this is surely one of the finest expressions ever of what should motivate us as Christians, not only in the liturgy, but in our private prayer, our vocations, and in every other area of life: our sacrificium in response to God’s beneficium.

Worship for snow days

Wilberfoss church in the snow
© Copyright Keith Laverack and
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

I first posted this some years ago, but am reposting in view of today’s snowy weather keeping some people (including us) from church.

It was originally prompted by a (now long-deleted) thread on the Ship of Fools forum, which discussed this order for “spiritual communion” for those unable to attend Holy Communion. I decided back in 2006 to adapt it into a modern English form using texts from the Lutheran Service Book, and this is reposted (with a couple of very minor changes) after the fold. Feel free to use it or adapt it as you wish.

Continue reading “Worship for snow days”

Bridging the divide between liturgy and awakening

I recently posted a quotation from Bo Giertz’s essay Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening (itself a chapter from Bishop Giertz’s introductory letter, or herdabrev, to his diocese on becoming bishop of Gothenburg in 1949).

Pastor James Kellerman has written an interesting series of posts (1 | 2 | 3) in response to Bp Giertz’s essay. Pr Kellerman observes that Bp Giertz’s “high-church Pietism” often seems like a contradiction in terms to US evangelicals, for whom spiritual awakening has generally presented itself as “the mortal enemy of previously established churches and their liturgies and sacraments” – a tendency also found among UK evangelicals. However, Pr Kellerman argues that Bp Giertz’s approach in Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening provides a means by which we can come to see that:

the liturgy is not the enemy of genuine spiritual awakening and vice versa, but that the one leads to the other.

Sometimes, as Pr Kellerman observes in his second post, awakening’s dismissal of liturgy arises from “self-righteousness and egocentricity”, from an unwillingness of the “awakened” to submerge the self in the “common service of worship”. But often there is a more “humanly understandable” reason for people’s dislike of the liturgy: simple differences of taste and temperament, that make the liturgy more congenial to some than to others. Bp Giertz writes:

There are people who find it difficult to feel at home in the liturgical forms. … [T]here are forms for reverent worship which are very natural to some people, so that they immediately feel at home in them, while other people find it hard to become accustomed to them.

How should the church respond to this? One answer is a “levelling down” of the Sunday worship service to remove all elements which some might find difficult or alienating: in short, to allow “awakening” to supplant “liturgy”. However, as Giertz observes in the quotation I posted previously, the end result is usually only a new form of liturgy that is quite as regular and predictable as the old, but which is “poorer, less Biblical, and less nourishing to the soul than the discarded ancient order”.

Equally, though, no church or Christian who cares about the world around can ignore the fact that liturgical worship often is more alien and unfamiliar than it was to previous generations – making it “solid food” for those whose constitutions are only able to bear “milk”.

In his third post, Pr Kellerman summarises Bp Giertz’s alternative proposal for bridging this divide.

He suggested that the liturgy of the common Divine Service held on Sundays and other festivals should be kept intact, but he allowed greater freedom for other, more informal gatherings of the church. The Divine Service is the common heritage for all Christians and is rich in biblical quotations and symbolism that give real sustenance to the mature. It should not be abandoned or drastically changed. But the church also needs to “speak to the children of the age in the language of the age about those things which have been forgotten but need to be heard again” (p. 14). This will take place outside of the Divine Service, in informal Bible studies and prayer groups and other activities that bring the unchurched, the de-churched, and the unbeliever into contact with God’s Word.

In Bp Giertz’s own words, the church must be “generous, open-minded, and tolerant”, while never allowing anything to “displace or be a substitute for the great fellowship of the Sunday common service”.

I’d be interested to know what people make of this. Is Bp Giertz’s approach correct or workable? Can it be translated from the setting of the Church of Sweden in the 1940s to the very different circumstances in which the churches (not least Lutheran churches) find themselves in today?