Thursday mornings are one of the high points of my week. Together with my partner Jim, I cycle down alongside the Taff to Cardiff University to our Welsh class. One of the things I love about it is its diversity. Twenty year olds to pensioners. A Muslim man, and the Dean of Landaff.
Welsh identity is fascinating. I have no Welsh genes, if such a thing exists. But I have been connected with Wales for over 20 years. One Welsh friend said “You’ve been Welsh for a long time.” It’s interesting, isn’t it, that Welshness is not based on genes? Which, in any case are a more messed up picture than we might like to imagine.
My former colleague and fellow Canon at Christ Church, Oxford, Nigel Biggar, has recently published a book, Colonialism. He had trouble getting a publisher. It is a good book. I don’t agree with everything he says and I don’t think he takes the actual experience of racism seriously. In my first sermon at Christ Church I preached about my time as Head of an almost all black school in Lewisham. He was puzzled by that. Racism is real.
However, Nigel has important points to make. I believe it is not a binary situation. This is the fundamental Christian position. The British Empire did terrible things. The British Empire did wonderful, liberating things. Both are true. I believe, as Nigel does, that liberal culture emerges from that Christian but imperialist world.
I don’t agree with Nigel’s phrase “Western Values”, I would prefer “Christian values”. My first degree is in world Religions. I love my fellow human beings who follow other religions, but I believe that Christianity is the truth, God is real; Jesus saves us. I would not expect them to think other of me.
Nigel says important things. He should be listened to even when I think he is wrong.
In 1969 the Roman Catholic church approved the Sunday and weekday Mass lectionaries that were the result of experimentation that had begun in the 1950s. They were the fruit of the Second Vatican Council and the Consilium that worked from 1964 – 1969 on the lectionaries. In 1979 The Church of England authorised the weekday Mass lectionary which then appeared in the Alternative Service Book of 1980. Later the three year Sunday cycle in the form of the Revised Common Lectionary was adopted as the Sunday Lectionary for Anglicans in England and at different times in much of the world.
Paul Turner has done a great service in producing this aptly named ‘biography’ of these lectionaries by examining the work of Study Group 11, the sub group of the Consilium entrusted with the work of liturgical reform after the Second Vatican Council.
“In liturgical celebrations, a more ample, more varied, and more suitable selection of readings from sacred Scripture should be restored.” (35)
Turner has examined the official record of the work of Sub Group 11 and created a history of their work; it is in that sense that it is a biography. This is not a commentary on the readings and it does not provide devotional material on them.
Several things stand out for me from Turner’s work:
Sub Group 11 was deeply ecumenical in its regard to the lectionaries of other churches; they were very aware of liturgical history and developments in the reformed and Anglican churches.
I am constantly surprised to be reminded of the deeply experimental work that was the fruit of the liturgical movement in the 1950’s. Sub Group 11 was not starting from scratch.
There was a deep regard to work with and from Tradition in the work of the members of the sub-group. The final section of Turner’s book is a Dossier documenting the work that the members of the sub group had published on liturgical lectionaries before being invited to join and form the group.
The emphasis of Vatican 2 to make the liturgy a participation in the paschal mystery is the fundamental drive of those compiling the lectionaries.
A real pastoral concern for what is suitable for parishes comes through at very turn.
Much thought was given to ways in which the lectionary of the previous Missal (largely the same as that used by Anglicans in the Book of Common Prayer) could be preserved in the new lectionary. There was for a time the idea that the older lectionary be one year of a three or four year cycle. In the end although many pericopes were preserved on their original days – notably in Lent – in general the new lectionaries were just new.
To give you a sample of the style of Turner’s work and the content it holds here is a random section from page 256 dealing with the use of the Gospel of Matthew on the weekdays of Ordinary Time (here in the 20th week):
The gospel for Monday of the twentieth week (19:16-22) appeared in none of the drafts. Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s (19: 23-30 and 20: 1-16) were in all but the first, which moved several verses (19:27-29) to the eschatalogical weeks. Thursday’s (22:1-14) was in the last two drafts. The first draft assigned some verses 22:2-3,8-14) to an eschatalogical week, but the second and third drafts puts them in semi-continuous order. The first draft called for similar verses in the last of its escahatological weeks (22:1-10). This passage skips several that the drafts proposed (21:28-31 and 21:33-43 in the first; and 20: 17-19; 20:29-34; 21:18-22; and 21:28-32 in the others).
This is only part of a single paragraph. It is, as you can see, detailed stuff.
At first I had thought that I would only recommend this book to liturgical geeks. But I think it has a wider value than that. The introductory section on the Conception of the new lectionaries and the Concluding Observations provide profound insight on the use of Scripture in liturgy. But more than that this detailed analysis of why passages of Scripture ended up being used on certain days provides new insights into the texts themselves and how they are being read christologically, as our participation in the paschal mystery, and ecclesiologically, as our sharing in the life of the church.
I have written before on lectionaries.There is, of course, no such thing as a perfect lectionary. I particularly like the two year cycle of readings for the Office of Readings which I think ideally needs to be used alongside the lectionary at Mass to provide longer passages, and in particular material from the histoical books of the Old Testament which are largely omitted from the Mass lectionaries.
Here, at Llandaff Cathedral, we have recently started using the Daily Eucharistic Lectionary at both Morning Prayer (which is combined with the Eucharist) and Evensong. So those of us who attend both hear the same readings twice. I find it really helpful to have this element of repetition which is an important pedagogical principle. The readings are of a digestible length both for the children in our choir and for those of us who gather in the mornings for whom I hope that the liturgy can be contained to thirty minutes. We also try and preach briefly on the Scripture readings. Because the gospel readings are in a one year cycle and for the seasons of the year outside of Ordinary Time so are the first readings, the principle of repetition is largely met. It also ensures that those who attend only Evensong (choristers, choir parents, clerks, many visitors) hear a portion of the gospel every day. For the clergy I would recommend using the two year cycle of the Office of Readings at a Daytime Office or an Office of Readings before Morning Prayer, more about lectionaries can be found on my blog here. I remain concerned about the three year cycle of the Sunday Mass lectionary and would consider moving to the traditional one year cycle with Old Testament readings (see the 1984 Book of Common Prayerof the Church in Wales, which Bangor Cathedral have already returned to).
I firmly recommend Turner’s book to everyone interested in lectionaries and to those fascinated by the liturgical reforms of the twentieth century. It needs to be read in conjunction with Annibale Bugnini’s The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975, which is essential reading.
I also recommend Turner’s work to those of us who simply use this lectionary. I will be keeping it in my stall and reading the section on the relevant weeks of the church’s year. Understanding why and how choices were made is deeply informative and enriching of our understanding of the liturgy and its effect on us as participants in the life of the church .
A further review of this book may be found on the Pray Tell Blog here.
Three readings. Three sentences, one from each reading:
‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’
the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.
“a servant does not know his master’s business”
In the name of the Father …
Reading the Gospel we have just heard. Full of beautiful phrases that leap out of the page I was struck by the words I’ve just quoted:
A servant does not know his master’s business.
We are called not to be servants, but friends. Friends of God, of Jesus and friends of each other.
If we were servants we wouldn’t know the father’s business. But because we are friends we do know. Or should know.
It would be very easy to concentrate on the love in today’s gospel. And that is important. But I want to think about this aspect of knowing the father’s business and what that means for our Christian, our spiritual lives.
In the 1980s, it seems so long ago now.
I trained as a teacher. Back in those heady days we believed in progressive methods of education. Children would learn by discovery. we wouldn’t make them learn things off by heart, there would be no tedious rote learning.
I have to say that over the 35 years I worked in schools my ideas changed somewhat as they have for many (although not all by any means) in education.
Knowledge based learning is at the heart of what human learning is. memorising is at the heart of acquiring knowledge.
This shouldn’t surprise us as Christians. When Jesus wanted to leave his followers the most sacred and important way that he would be present to them after his death he said as I shall say at the altar in just a moment
“Do this, in memory of me.”
We are what we remember.
So I want this morning on this Founder’s Day of your beloved community that has been so committed to education, to reflect on one of the disciplines of the spiritual life, indeed of the religious life: the discipline of study.
Study has always been linked closely to religious life. The Rule of St Benedict with it Lent books; the link between Benedictine monasteries and education. In Oxford the close link between religious life in all its variety on the Christ Church site alone Augustinians, Dominicans, Franciscans and, of course St Frideswide’s original community.
Christ Church has also produced the Wesleys whose ‘method’ was simply an ordered, systematic approach to the spiritual. Father Benson of Cowley, another Christ Church student and of course your own William John Butler (an Honorary Canon of Christ Church) both of whom died on this day. In some ways the religious life is itself just a systematisation of the spiritual life, the baptised life.
Religious life needs study: study for the proper and meaningful celebration of the Divine Office. The psalms are difficult. If they weren’t they would hardly bear singing for a whole lifetime, we would become bored and tired of them.
So what might the discipline of study look like for us in our time?
A book that I return to over and over again and have been recommeding to people for thirty years is Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline. It is a simple book for simple people. It has fed me in so many ways. I hope you will forgive me for reading a whole paragraph to you that begins the Chapter on the discipline of study:
“The purpose of the Spiritual Disciplines is the total transformation of the person. They aim at replacing old destructive habits of thought with new life-giving habits. Nowhere is this purpose more clearly seen than in the Discipline of study. The apostle Paul tells us that we are transformed through the renewal of the mind (Rom. 12:2). The mind is renewed by applying it to those things that will transform it. ‘Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’ (Phil. 4:8). The Discipline of study is the primary vehicle to bring us to ‘think about these things.’ Therefore, we should rejoice that we are not left to our own devices but have been given this means of God’s grace for the changing of our inner spirit.”
I would like to suggest three ways in which the discipline of study can be integrated into our lives.
Firstly, in our spiritual reading. It is always good, I find, to have some spiritual reading on the go. I think this is best something that we know fairly well. I return again and again to Julian. You will have your own favourites. Spiritual reading time is not time for novelty, or for innovation.
Secondly, in lectio divina, in light of today’s gospel on friendship with Jesus I have always thought of the four classic stages of lectio as stages in a relationship with a text.
Thirdly, formal study. And we need to be systematic about this. To have. a plan. What is my study going to be this year.
The best way I have found of managing this is around my annual retreat. For a number of years I have chosen a book of the Bible to use for me retreat. In the year beforehand I collect together books and articles on the book, spend six months or so reading them, and then, on retreat use lectio as my main study tool but with the reading I’ve done informing and enriching it.
It works for me, other techniques may work for you.
But the most important thing is to learn texts by heart. Yes, of course, poetry and literature and spiritual writing. But fundamentally we should fill our minds and hearts with the words of Scripture.
Eighteen months ago my mum died. It was one of the most beautiful deaths I have ever been privileged to witness. A faithful catholic her whole life my brother and sister and I prayed the Rosary with her in her last hours. She began being able to join in and then just her lips moved, finally there was just a movement of her lips at each Amen.
It was beautiful because these prayers, mostly words of Scripture were so embedded in her heart.
As we build the discipline of study into our lives may we embed the words of the Lord deep in our hearts so that we know the father’s business, but also so that we may fulfil in our lives those other two sentences of Scripture I began with.
If we have memorised Scripture so that it is part of the fabric of our being it will be the case that
‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’
And that even in the darkest times when fire tests the quality of our work, the Spirit in us will endure.
NOTE: I have had only a few days to look at DWDO if there are any factual errors in this review I would be delighted to correct them.
“To its great merit the Anglican Communion alone of all Western Christian Churches has preserved to some extent at least the daily services of morning prayer and evensong as a living part of parish worship.”
Jesuit scholar Robert Taft writes this ecumenical compliment in his seminal workThe Liturgy of the Hours East and West. The idea that there was a ‘people’s office’ (properly a ‘cathedral’ as distinct from ‘monastic’ office) was a persuasive part of liturgical renewal in the second half of the twentieth century. I wrote my dissertation at theological college (Chichester) on this in the early 90s and visited communities in France, Germany and the States to see what was being done. Often the use of liturgical action, candles, holy water, incense was encouraged. Elements of this are described, for example in Celebrating Common Prayer. Later in the parishes and schools in which I served I always promoted a Daily Office like this. Simple sung texts with liturgical action.
Like many ideas I have had in my life I now think I was wrong. Taft is right, alone among liturgies it is the absolute simplicity of the Prayer Book Office that has proved an enduring ‘people’s Office’. A simplicity that continues to draw people day by day to our Cathedrals and other churches.
Yet since very early on there have been those who seek a richer provision for the Office, notably Hours at other times of day. Perhaps the first was John Cosins’, A Collection of Private Devotions for the Hours of Prayer of 1627. The nineteenth century Catholic revival saw a multiplication of collections of prayer to enhance the Prayer Book Office orreplace it with translations of the traditional Western liturgy using the language and texts of the Book of Common Prayer. In the mid twentieth century two books represent the zenith of this tradition. The English Office and the Office Book of the Community of the Resurrection (produced for use of the community only).
Divine Worship: Daily Office draws heavily on The English Office. Like that book it adds much seasonal material, updated here for the current Roman Calendar. Hymn number references to the English Hymnal appear in both books. The English Office came in two editions with or without readings which (in the Authorised Version) were from the 1922 lectionary. In my view this is the best of the Anglican lectionaries and I am delighted to see it given new life in this book. I922 arranged Gospel readings in Ordinary Time in a sort of harmonised version. This was revised in 1961 to remove the harmonisation and replace it with lectio continua of the gospels, and it’s that form that appears in DWDO. Strangely the RSV second Catholic Edition is used rather than the English Standard Version which has been selected for future Roman Catholic liturgical books in English.
An addition to The English Office is the inclusion of the Little hours, Prime, Terce, Sext, None and Compline. I was delighted to hear this. The daily recitation of Psalm 119 – the norm in Latin Christianity until the 1910 reform of the Breviary – is dear to my heart and very much preserved by Anglican Religious communities. Disappointingly, rather than the very popular Prime and Hours being used as the source of these, which includes full seasonal Propers, the 1928 deposited book which included just Prime was used as the model. This has no seasonal material for these Hours. Much has been made of DWDO being an ‘all in one’ book but for me this lack makes it a book I would not want to use. I can’t imagine praying Terce on Christmas Day without Proper material.
There are two further disappointments for me, and one reservation. I am sad that no ferial antiphons are included for the psalter, a minor point. My other disappointment is in the arrangement of material, separating Collects from other Propres (put into a Supplement) it is easy to see why this has been done but it does make the book even more complicated to use. My reservation is that the lectionary, excellent as it is, was designed for use with the one-year Prayer Book Eucharistic lectionary (the use of which I much favour, but that’s another story). I haven’t had the chance to check but I wonder how much overlap there will be between this Office lectionary and the current two year Daily Eucharistic Lectionary and indeed, the three year Sunday cycle. Finally, I just don’t think I could cope with four substantial office readings in addition to the daily Mass cycle: six readings a day. A much better provision is the DEL with the Office of Readings’ two year cycle.
Not only is the lectionary designed to be used with the one-year lectionary for Mass, so are the proper antiphons. Thus on Epiphany 4 (Gospel of the day Matthew 8:23) the Gospel canticle antiphons all come from Matthew 8. The antiphons on the Magnificat at First Vespers of Sundays were traditionally drawn from the Vigils reading of the following day and The English Office does this from the 1922 lectionary, as does this book.
DWDO is designed to look like a liturgical book of a past era. The sense lines and spacious pages of post-Vatican 2 books have gone and the double columns, and small print of earlier books return. It will be a matter of taste if this appeals to you. For a certain generation (younger than me) the ‘return to tradition’ will make this attractive, but it remains to be seen if that is a niche audience based on a nostalgia for an era that has disappeared, or that perhaps never really existed.
DWDO includes a weekly cycle of Old Testament Canticles (from the old Roman Rite Lauds) to replace Te Deum/Benedicite at Mattins. This is helpful. The CR Office Book used these over Mattins and Evensong to replace Psalm 119 in the monthly course since that was prayed daily at the Little Hours.
DWDO is a thing of beauty. CTS, the publisher, have done a wonderful job. For those who want a traditional language Office for Matins and Evensong this is a superb book. I hope that Prime might, like Compline, become a popular household Office. That would be a very good thing indeed. However, it didn’t happen after 1928. I don’t think this complex book will make that happen, I hope the Ordinariate will publish equally beautiful but small books of just these Offices.
DWDO is an ecumenical gift and compliment to the Anglican Communion. The Prayer Book Office has been the principle means of grace for Anglican Christians since the break with Rome. That Rome now not only acknowledges this but encourages this prayer is a celebration of the Anglican gift to the church catholic. Anglicanism is a means to holiness, a gift of grace. The Ordinariate, eccentric as it is, as is, surely, all of Anglicanism, is welcomed within an authentically Vatican 2 ecclesiology. The ecumenical spring may seem like a distant memory, but we are still a long way from winter.
A Manual of Plainsong provides the basics. For the Gospel Canticle antiphons the Wantage, CSMV books provide the texts set to traditional Plainsong. The St Dunstan Plainsong Psalter is also a useful reource including the OT Canticles set to plainsong tones.
See my blog post here with links to plainsong for the BCP Office:
When we wrote The Manual, the way of life of the Sodality, the community of priests I belong to, we included this important paragraph:
Sodalists will be at the forefront of those seeking to understand what it means to ordain men and women to all orders of ministry; we will particularly celebrate women saints and integrate the writings of women and men into our experience and understanding of priesthood.
Slightly tongue-in-cheek, in the early days of the Sodality I described us as ‘Extreme Anglo-Catholics in favour of the ordination of women.’ Tongue-in-cheek as it was ( and far too limiting of the breadth of the vision God was calling us to) there was some truth in it. I quite liked it when the bishop of Croydon described us as the Trappists of the catholic stream of Anglicanism “of the Strict Observance.”
Rigour and high demands are important, and were what led to the flourishing of Anglo-Catholicism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They enabled the ministry to the poor and the work for social justice that was the essential outworking of that spirituality. Without outward facing work for justice, spirituality simply strokes the ego and enhances rather than crucifies the ego. Rigour and high demands are not rules to be kept or hoops to be jumped through. Better to think of them as a balloon flying freely into the sky, or a kite carried by the wind.
The Great Tradition (see footnote below) is ‘ever ancient, ever new’ (St Augustine). Drawing deeply from the tradition is vital, and it must bear fruit in the new. My great mantra for the Christian life is : Jesus centred – Spirit filled – bible based.
There is great flowering of creativity in the Sodality: blogs, litanies, such as the one above written by Mother Ayla, Mother Berni, Father Angela, Mother Sally and Father Steven.
The Litany is a great example of ‘ever ancient, ever new’. It is deeply rooted in the tradition and also creative and responsive to the needs of our time. I am deeply grateful for this gift.
Another example of this is the book Prayers for An Inclusive Church. by Fr Steven Shakespeare an aspirant to our Sodality. The title doesn’t quite reflect the content. It is a deeply traditional collection of Collects for the three year cycle of readings in the Revised Common Lectionary. Traditional in that each Collect is constructed with the ‘noble simplicity’ of the western Collect form, at which Cranmer was so gifted. Creative and new in the images used, which are truly Jesus-centred and Spirit filled, drawing on the Scriptures in the lectionary it is bible-based.
There is much in the tradition to help us pray this current pandemic. Christians have lived with plague in many circumstances and many times. I often find myself at the moment re-reading Julian of Norwich who experienced plague more destructive than our current afflictions and who saw in the cross a life-giving tree. Ever ancient, ever new.
“Three men, whom CSWG now accounts its joint-founders, not only shared a common experience of ministry among the disadvantaged and marginalised, they also shared the conviction that is was the specifically spiritual dimension in Christian life that was most in need of renewal. A saying attributed to Fr [William] Sirr has been seen as encapsulating their common belief:
“The mission of the church is weak because its prayer is weak.” Only though the renewal of the Church’s mystical and ascetic traditions – that is its vision of God and its tradition of conversion of life – could the life and witness of the the Church be renewed.”
Sermon at St John’s, Fulham for the meeting of the Sodality of Mary, Mother of Priests on 13 February 2020
My dearest friends, Mothers and Fathers. One of the the many things I love about our very own Church Of England is the variety of streams of tradition within it. While I think it best to drink deeply from a single stream. To be formed in one tradition. To know who we are so that we can be fully ourselves with others who are different to us is vitally important.
It is no less vitally important that we drink at other wells and learn from others. To realise that our differences never negate our common humanity, let alone our common baptism.
One of the elements of the evangelical tradition that I have come to love is the preaching of a series of sermons. If you look at well known evangelical parish websites you will find many sermons to listen to and even, sometimes watch.
On many occasions these will be based on individuals in the Old Testament. Nehemiah often comes up – and indeed I have led a number of study sessions on Nehemiah myself, including last October, for the Conference of Leaders of Anglican Religious Communities, our traditional, vowed monastic communities. Nehemiah is a great role model for Christian leadership, especially in a time when institutions seem to be in decline and some rebuilding of the walls is needed.
I imagine, perhaps I am guilty of stereotyping us! But I imagine that we are perhaps not as familiar with the liturgical book New Patterns for Worship, as we might be of certain other official liturgical publications.
Perhaps I am wrong, I hope so, because NPW includes some really excellent material. Not least among these are a series of modules of readings that can be used outside the seasons of the church’s year in place of the official lectionary. I recommend you get to know them and make use of them. Many feature significant individuals from the Old Testament such as Noah.
If you read my blog you will know that for pedagogical, educational reasons, I have become something of a fan of the traditional one year lectionary. I can imagine Sunday worship in which the ante-communion, the liturgy of the Word makes use of one of these series of readings for a first reading, followed by a sermon and then continues with the two short readings of the historic lectionary and on into the Eucharistic rite. In one church where I served we even broke for coffee after the liturgy of the Word so that some people could leave at that point and those who wanted to remained for the rest. It was very effective and worked well.
That is a somewhat long, and homiletically poor, introduction to looking at today’s first reading.
There is no series of readings in NPW on Solomon, which is a shame.
Solomon is best known, of course for being wise. But if that is all we know about him we have a rather weak and uninteresting character. Today’s reading fills that out a bit. We have to be a little careful that there is not some gender bias going on, the wise man led astray by his wives. But the important thing is not who leads who astray, but that Solomon exhibits some considerable foolishness.
Personally I find that quite helpful. We all, yes we do, all of us, do foolish things. We are all, yes all of us, unwise at times, perhaps very often. Tragedy appeals to us because deep down we know that at any point our foolishness might undo our lives.
I am glad to say that I do not have a number of pagan wives leading me astray. But I do know that I do not love the Lord wholeheartedly. I love God very much. Jesus is the centre of my life. But I know that I also am very attached to my nice middle class lifestyle. When I pray “do with me what you will”, when I say multiple times a day in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.” I really don’t mean it wholeheartedly …
We Anglo Catholics like to remind ourselves of our glorious past. The slum priests who gave up everything to serve the poor. But when I was a priest in Grangetown in Middlesbrough or Portsea where Fr Dolling had been a priest, or Lewisham. All areas of considerable deprivation (and how proud we can all be of our very own deprivation index!) I lived the same middle class life I could have lived anywhere. Yet in my work as Spiritual Director/Adviser to emerging new communities I meet young evangelicals, Anglicans and others, who give up everything to take their families and children into places of dire poverty, who open up their homes to live with recovering alcoholics, gang members and the generally socially inept. For whom dinner is a simple shared meal with strangers not a dinner party with too much gin and four crystal glasses.
Changing the way we live. The choices we have made and make is tough. But what is conversion if it is not that? In the story we have just heard in the gospel I imagine Jesus smiling when the Syro-Phoenician woman tells him that even the dogs deserve crumbs. He knows she is right. He changes his mind. And that is wisdom indeed.
Solomon, like the rest of us was both wise and foolish.
I am not especially keen n formal dinner parties so it’s easy for me to critique them. I know what my idols are. Thy will be done? I suspect in a month’s time there will be just as many Amazon parcels arriving as there have ever been …
It is impossible for me to hear or sing the stunningly simple Peregrine Tone of Gregorian chant without thinking of Holy Trinity church in Winchester. There, as an undergraduate in the mid 1980’s, Julian Chilcott-Monk taught me to sing plainsong from Procter and Frere’s A Manual of Plainsong. The Peregrine, the ‘wandering’ tone is the simplest of all the tones and hauntingly beautiful.
The recovery of Plainsong in Anglican liturgy in the nineteenth century was an essential part of the the Catholic-Revival. Wherever I have introduced some sort of chant liturgy it has brought young adults to church. A ‘Compline Choir’ I ran once sang only the music of Compline week after week ending with drinks in a local pub. Everyone that came was between 20 and 30 years old.
There is a profoundly contemplative quality to chant. It demands our attention to text and music and draws us away from our own mental roundabouts.
Many, like me have spent years collecting books of chant from second-hand bookshops and clergy clearing their libraries at retirement. This is interesting. Often there are so many variations in editions that it is impossible to use multiple copies with a group.
I am, therefore, deeply grateful to St Stephen’s House, the Anglo-Catholic theological college in Oxford for publishing their Office book. It is a great contribution to the much needed new revival of catholic Anglicanism and I hope that it will be well used and much bought. There are still, I am told, plenty of copies left but it was a limited print and there will be no re-print. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to order.
The Office book was compiled by Fr Kyle McNeil and is a superb piece of work. He deserves much congratulation and thanks. There is a fine foreword by the Bishop of Chichester, Martin Warner, who draws attention to the obligation on the clergy to pray the Office, the value of a physical book which “locates us in the material world of specific things, such as time and place, that are themselves part of the scandalous immediacy of encounter with God.” Bishop Martin continues:
“The book’s location in a stall or similar place of prayer in church calls us daily onto the threshold of sacred space, not only does the journey there witness to a habit of prayer, it also opens up the possibility that we might invite and inspire others to join us in the routine of prayer.”
There is also a fine introduction which places the praying of the Office in the context of the priestly life and gives practical information for the praying of this book. This is fundamentally a ‘Prayer Book Office’ but makes use of the 1963 Revised Psalter which lightly adapts the Prayer Book psalms to accord with better scholarship on the Hebrew text, and intelligibility to the modern reader. It loses none of the beauty. It is assumed that the contemporary liturgical year and calendar of Common Worship is being followed but enriched with some additional material for saints and a few other celebrations.
All psalms and canticles are pointed to be sung to the traditional plainsong/Gregorian tones. A complete collection of Office hymns for Morning and Evening Prayer is also provided each with the traditional Sarum (rather than Roman) form of the plainsong music. For many of us some of these hymn melodies will be too complex to sing either alone or with a small group but it is good to see these ‘authentic’ melodies present and other, simpler melodies in the book could generally, be used in their place.
The texts of antiphons for the Benedictus and Magnificat for the entire liturgical year are also provided and these are pointed for simple tones. The canticles are given in Solemn and Simple tones and the Venite and Gospel Canticles are given in four sets of tones to be used a week at a time over a four-week cycle.
No other reference is made to lectionary provision other than to state:
“The Church of England’s lectionary is highly complex … It should be consulted separately, or an alternative lectionary employed.”
A sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. As I have written on this blog recently.
For those wanting to pray a ‘traditional language’ office the provision of Collects in one place is extremely helpful and very usefully enriched by some collects not provided for in any form in Common Worship. Today’s Memoria of Saint John Bosco being a very good example. These are translated into traditional language liturgical English. These are generally well done although a smile of amusement might be needed on occasion. For St John Bosco “young men and maidens” certainly caused me to smile.
Innovations in the book are the provision of a set of Old Testament Canticles for use at Matins in place of the Benedicte which is reserved for Feasts and Solemnities. I am a great fan of the Benedicite with its creation emphasis and the repetition of it and the Te Deum don’t worry me, but I know that this is an issue for many people. However, it does mean that only one setting of Benedicite is given which seems very light. For Evensong a set of New Testament Canticles (as used in the Roman Office) is given in traditional language so that those who pray Compline every day can reserve the NuncDimittis for that. Both of these provisions are very helpful.
The Te Deum is reserved for its traditional Roman / western place, at the end of the Morning Office on Feasts and Solemnities, rather than the Anglican practice between the readings. It is provided in just one setting.
The traditional anthems to the Blessed Virgin Mary are provided in Latin with their Versicles and Responses and collects.
For those using the book outside of Oxford notes are given to adapt the rank of various Oxford specific celebrations.
I have very few criticisms of this book, it is an outstanding piece of work, handsomely produced. I would have liked to see provision for the Circumcision of Christ on January 1st in accord with Anglican and long-standing western custom, rather than an additional feast of Our Lady. It would have been useful to have the Prayer Book Collects in their traditional order and form as an appendix. But these are minor quibbles.
I am especially happy to see provision made for the Interior Life of Our Lord (on January 19th) and The Interior Life of Our Lady (on October 22nd). These are often seen as precursor devotions to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts but in fact they reflect something rather more about the imitation of Christ and his mother.
These commemorations of the interior lives are important because they emphasise the inner conversion that is at the heart of the Christian life. They also relate to the Sulpician tradition of training priests that has its origins in the French school of spirituality of Bérulle and Fr Olier. His beautiful prayer is an important part of the Manual of the Sodality and is worth praying by any ordained person. I know that it is a prayer much loved by Fr Robin, Principal at St Stephen’s House and many of the fine priests trained there in his time as Principal.
I hope that the SSH Office Book will be much prayed and form a significant part of the seriousness needed for a revival of the catholic stream in the Church of England:
How to Sit With God – A Practical Guide to Silent Prayer
Tr Kieran J. O’ Mahony
Jack is twenty-nine, he has been married for seven years and has two children under five. He and his wife both graduated with very good degrees from one of the UK’s best universities. They married that same year and moved to the northern town where they now live and work in full-time ministry for a ‘non-denominational church’.
Jack and his wife are fictionalised versions of many individuals and couples I have come to know in recent years. Their friends have high powered jobs in the City, Civil service or industry. But they became involved in large evangelical churches while at university, took part in summer activities and placements in various parts of the country. They have heard and responded to God calling them to ministry in places they would never have been to otherwise.
I am almost overwhelmed with awe when I see the sacrifice that couples and individuals like this have made. This is taking the option for the poor seriously.
It is not easy in so many ways. The energy and enthusiasm of a large church full of committed young people makes it easy to sustain faith, to feel confident and buoyed up. But the realities of life in places where there are no or few young people at church; where the levels of neediness, mental health issues and all the associated factors of poverty are the dominant reality can eat away at that.
Conferences, visits to and from friends, inspiring podcasts can all help. However, moments of spiritual renewal and refreshment can sometimes make the thirst seem greater at other times.
That’s the question Jack came to me with having followed me on Twitter. How can I sustain my prayer, my relationship with Jesus in the daily grind, the relentless cycle of family, children, pastoral work, ministry?
Like many others, Jack’s family are experimenting with forms of daily prayer. They bought Northumbria Community Office books, and tried other online materials – but found them unsatisfying.
Jack feels a need for silence – not just as an escape from family life! – but in his prayer.
I made two suggestions. For daily prayer just reading Scripture as it is. Beginning with psalmody, as much or as little as wanted at each sitting, and then readings from a ‘bible in a year’ plan.
My other suggestion was around finding some time every day for contemplative practice. Sitting still with God.
I wish I had found Jean-Marie Gueullette’s book How To Sit With God, when I first met Jack. Gueullette is a French Dominican priest teaching at the University of Lyon. I know nothing more about him. His book is an excellent introduction to Christian contemplative prayer. It is wise, unpretentious and practical. I have already bought multiple copies to share.
As I read How To Sit With God, I marked with a pencil important passages and quotations. My copy is very heavily underlined throughout. This is a rich source of teaching. Gueullette begins by showing how the prayer he is suggesting is the simplest possible form of prayer. This simplicity will have a strong appeal to those who are looking for an un-churchy, un-adorned gospel. Jesus in the raw.
Perhaps even more attractive to those formed by conservative evangelicalism will be Gueullette’s emphasis on faith as the fundamental requirement for contemplative prayer. In this short (176 page) book he goes on to describe how to do this prayer and places it within the context of struggle and discipline There is no pretence that this will be easy. He shows how it is one way of praying among others and finally gives an overview of the place of this prayer in Christian history.
It is this final section of the book that is weakest for the purposes for which I want to use it. here, Gueullette is writing very much from his tradition and nation. After the early centuries of Christian history is exclusively Roman Catholic and heavily weighted to France, with sections on Francis de Sales and the seventeenth century French spiritual tradition. That said the English mystics get surprisingly strong treatment in the main text of the book. In particular the Cloud of Unknowing; the source of English Benedictine spirituality (in the English Benedictine Congregation), Augustine Baker, and in its twentieth century flowering in the spiritual letters of Dom John Chapman of Downside. Although as Gueullette points out Baker lived in northern France for significant parts of his adult life and so might well be said to represent, partially at least, French spirituality.
My only other criticism of this book is Gueullette’s reference point in those Christians who have sought, and discovered, a practice of silence and stillness in the traditions of the Far East. I agree with everything he says about the need to be aware of the religious beliefs that underpin some of the practices, making them unsuitable for Christians. However, he never refers to the secular practices of mindfulness that are not rooted in an alien metaphysic. It may be simply a refection of his context in French Catholicism. Again, for my purposes this material is not useful. Most of the people I work with have not investigated Far Eastern traditions but come from evangelical Protestant traditions.
Gueullette presents the method of prayer he is describing simply and beautifully. Quite simply:
It consists of saying a word inwardly while sitting calmly.
Gueullette suggests words such as: Father, Abba, Jesus, Lord, God, Kyrie Eleison, Adonai. Fundamental to his teaching is that the word
… must be a name for God, not an idea about God or a description of God such as ‘love’ or ‘goodness’.
Throughout the book Gueullette stresses that this is a practice for a lifetime, and will bear fruit over many years. He distinguishes the practice from that of repeating a phrase or verse of the psalms or other parts of Scripture through the course of the day (as suggested by John Cassian).
Twenty five minutes a day is the time suggested for silence. Interestingly Gueullette suggests staying faithful to that amount of prayer even when the desire to sit for longer comes. For him it is important to be free of ‘feelings’ as the driver of prayer.
To those who think rules like this rob us of spontaneity he is clear that this practice is principally about faithfulness and discipline:
Faithfulness calls for a certain discipline, which today can appear contrary to authenticity or spontaneity. yet we are ready to accept it when it comes to dieting or keeping fit! In the case of physical exercise, as in the spiritual life, one can only progress at the cost of daily effort. It is not the extraordinary experience that make the life of prayer, but the humble fidelity to it every day, lived over many years.
Very few books on prayer are helpful on posture. This is extremely unfortunate because it is so important. When I began my first degree, in World Religions, I remember arriving at Buddhist monasteries, Mosques, Hindu Mandirs, Sikh temples and almost the first thing were told was how to sit, what posture to adopt. More than that, detailed instruction would be given on prayer and meditation at the very outset.
Gueullette knows what he is talking about when it comes to posture. He is clear on the role of the spine and pelvis and in using the abdomen (the diaphragm) for breathing.
It is mainly the spine that helps us stay awake: without being tense or stiff it stands, resting on the pelvis, supported by our breathing.
There are good descriptions of using prayer stools and meditation cushions with the lotus, half-lotus or sitting positions. Whatever posture is adopted the author is clear that it is sitting that is essential, and he quotes another English mystic, Richard Rolle:
It is the quiet sitting that makes the soul wise.
At the heart of sitting still is an activity we are engaged in as long as we are alive. Breathing. In this fascinating lecture at St Vladimir’s Seminary Bishop Alexander of the Orthodox Church in America shows how the roots of using the breath in prayer have textual evidence as early as the 5th to the 6th centuries. Again How To Sit With God gets this exactly right. Breath is not something for the author, that requires too much attention, but is significant. The ‘letting go’ that is the end of the out breath is particularly significant. If we think at all about breathing we tend to think of it as something that requires equal effort on the out and in breath but in fact once the contraction of the ribs that is the out-breath has reached its limit the air naturally fills the lungs again:
We do not need to look for air, we just have to empty the air inside us. … You just have to let go, to stop exhaling so that breathing in takes place spontaneously.
Theology of Sitting Still
Gueullette carefully addresses the apparent contradiction between faith and works in his explanation of this method of prayer. For him God’s action is paramount. His key conversation partner is, not surprisingly Augustine. Fundamental to his view is that:
The methods under discussion here act upon us and not upon God.
The one who prays does not seek to feel the presence of God, but rather is called upon to believe it.
One of the key issues facing anybody who tries to sit still and be with God, or even follow the breath in Mindfulness practice is thoughts. What are often called ‘distractions’. Gueullette helpfully quotes Abbot Chapman at length:
We want to use our will to ‘want God’, and not to keep our thoughts in order. We want to be ‘wanting God’, and detached from everything else. hence we want to let our thoughts run about by themselves … and not to control them; in order that our will may turn wholly to God. the result is naturally that, while our will is making its intense (but also imperceptible) act of love, our imagination is running about by itself, just a sir does in a dream; so that we seem to be full of distractions, and not praying at all. But this is contrary of the fact. The distractions, which are so vivid to us, are not voluntary actions, and have no importance; whereas the voluntary action we are performing is the wanting God …
(quoted on page 60)
For busy people
If you lead a very active lifestyle and feel there are never enough hours in the day, you are the ideal candidate for silent prayer.
Gueullette is clear that like breathing, thinking is what we do when we are alive, it is:
the signs of cerebral activity and it is not really helpful to dream of a time when the brain would no longer function.
Gueullette suggests ways in which this form of prayer will change our lives. Getting up earlier. Watching less television. Creating a place for prayer at home. Silent prayer will have ethical consequences in our lives.
Silent prayer is then a fight at every moment, where, each time the name is repeated, it is necessary to take oneself again in hand and to bring oneself back in the presence of God.
I understand the author’s (or translator’s) use of ‘struggle’ to describe this prayer, however, I am not entirely sure it is the most helpful image. “while the struggle is real, it is at the same time delightful” he says. Which seems to capture the balance better. I prefer to think of this as a serious business, a work. And like all hard work it is deeply satisfying; often most when most difficult.
It is always different after silence
Some time in 2013 a large group of headteachers came to visit Trinity, the school where I was Head in Lewisham. We had been practising Mindfulness as a school for three years. One of the places we used silence most effectively was in the Restorative Meetings that replaced sanctions on poor behaviour. One Year 11 (15-16 year old) pupils was describing this to the group and how when things became stuck in those meetings often someone suggests a time of Mindfulness using a five minute sand timer: “It is always,” she said, “different after the silence.”
Silence changes things. More importantly silence changes us. It make us more loving, more able to be attentive to others, to children, partners, those we minister to and with. As Gueullette so clearly shows silence isn’t the only way of prayer. It need not replace other forms of prayer and worship but take place alongside them in our lives.
Jack has been practising silent prayer in this way for almost 18 months now, “It has changed my life,” he says. It is always different after silence.