It has been a fascinating experience live-streaming the Eucharist and other liturgies from the little Oratory at home. I am enormously grateful to the faithful who have remained constant companions in prayer, to those who have dipped in and said something warm, to those who have dipped in and have not pointed out the sad state of my singing voice. Most of all I am grateful to those of you who have entrusted to me your loved ones, relatives, friends and others known to you for prayer. To pray for people is at the heart of priestly ministry. Thank you for helping me feel so fulfilled as a priest during this lockdown.
In August we will be moving to Oxford which is going to disrupt things. From September I shall have the enormous privilege of worshipping daily in Christ Church Cathedral. Before either of those events it is possible that the Government will allow public worship in churches.
The bishops’ permission to celebrate the Eucharist with no other person present was a gracious and well received gift for this lockdown only. I will cease live-streaming the Eucharist on Saturday 11th July (the Feast of St Benedict).
Many people have asked me to continue to Livestream something, especially elements of Common Worship Daily Prayer sung to simple modal chant. I would also like to continue the ministry of intercession.
So, from 11th July I am going to Livestream about 25 minutes of Jesus Prayer, with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and prostrations, as I have done once or twice already. In between every 25 petitions of the Jesus Prayer I will pray the names of those for whom prayer has been requested. I will begin and end with simple chants (see below). Monday to Friday this will normally be at 6:30am which seems to work for many people. I know that some of those who have asked for prayer like to hear the name prayed out loud and this will allow that.
I will also Live-stream simple services of Morning and Evening Prayer, Compline and on Saturdays a Resurrection Vigil. These may be more intermittent and (apparently random) although I hope to be able to commit to Morning Prayer at 7:00am each day at the end of the Jesus Prayer. Evening Prayer is likely to be at 5:30pm and Compline at 8:30pm, perhaps just Monday to Thursday. Each of these will take about 15 minutes. At Morning and Evening Prayer there will be one psalm or selection from a psalm and one reading from the lectionary. Occasionally I may also Livestream Mid-Day Prayer, also from CWDP.
To follow the liturgy at home Compline is straightforwardly from the booklet below, as also the Resurrection Vigil. Morning and Evening Prayer will need the booklet for the Ordinary of the Office, the booklet for Ordinary Time (Hymn and Benedictus and Magnificat Refrains). But you will be able to follow using CWDP in the book or app. On saints days it may get more complicated but hopefully not too much so.
I will continue to post a request for prayer each afternoon or evening for the next day and, as at present, keep the list going for a fortnight before starting again. Please feel free to add the same names every time.
At some point I will be packing the Oratory up and finding a corner (no doubt surrounded by boxes) to pray in. It will be good to demonstrate that a simple corner is enough for our sacred space and if that happens before 11th July to celebrate Mass more simply.
“Don Cupitt,” said Bishop Paul in a conversation, “asks the right questions, but comes up with the wrong answers.” It was one of the many wise things that the Bishop of Liverpool has said to me, and one of several that I have gone away and written down. It’s spot on. I love reading Cupitt. He writes beautifully and he does ask the right questions.
Cupitt is interested in what language we use for the ultimate. Which idioms describe what is meaningful. He spends much time examining idioms including the word ‘life’, but is also interested in the way in which ‘it‘ carries meaning:
“A particularly interesting family of terms is the group It, It all, Things and Everything, which enter into dozens – perhaps hundreds – of idioms . In these idioms it seems to indicate the whole of a person’s circumstances, considered from a finalising point of view … it is evident that the It-group of terms could be shown to figure in a large number of idioms that have a markedly theological flavour … For when we say: ‘This is it, the real thing!‘ we posit a kind of divine completeness, a totality, an unsurpassable finality, more clearly than we ever do with the life-idioms. In its flowing contingency, life is closer to Being; whereas it is perhaps closer to the traditional God,”
The New Religion of Life SCM 1999, pp 104-105
I’ve been re-reading these books during the lockdown and they have worn well. What drove me back to them was a ministry of funerals that I have been exercising, in the area where I live, to help out the local clergy and friends and acquaintances who are vulnerable in some way and have been self-isolating.
When I was first ordained I took plenty of funerals in my two curacies. Since then I have been working full-time in education and I have tried to do one or two funerals during the school holidays to keep my hand in. But most of the funerals I have taken have been relatives, friends or, in tragic circumstances, members of staff, and even, children.
Observing regular funeral ministry from the outside has enabled me to notice two major developments. The rise of civil celebrants. Not just radical humanists and secularists opposed to religion in general, but non-clergy and sometimes ‘inter-faith’ celebrants who will perform ceremonies which are distinctly spiritual and often include elements of Christian liturgy. Most commonly Psalm 23 and theLord’s Prayer. Many clergy are deeply scathing of these services. To those of us who are committed, believing, Christians, there clearly is something missing. But many people I meet speak very highly indeed of the service provided by Civil Celebrants. Many of the Funeral Directors I have spoken to rate them highly. Yes, it can be more convenient to Funeral Directors to have people who are not doing other work and are easily available or who can even commit to certain periods of time a crematorium. However, what is always mentioned to me is the flexibility that Civil Celebrants show in crafting the service and the care they take to provide what the bereaved want. Many of them have clearly developed very high skills in pastoral care. A good number also offer continuing pastoral care, links to counselling, work with Undertakers to invite families to an annual memorial service.
The second factor I have noticed is the number of clergy who tell me that funeral ministry is a waste of time. Using exactly that language. In particular a sense in which funerals for very elderly non-churchgoers where there are no living family and friends are dismissed.
My, negative, reaction to these comments is based, I think on four things:
a) a catholic belief in praying for the dead and the importance of that
b) a strongly Anglican commitment to the Parish, although the parish system as a comprehensive totality was probably always somewhat mythological, recent decades and the events of the Corona Virus are seeing it moving from life-support to palliative care, I think we need to hold on to a theology of parochial-community life in which we genuinely serve the whole population
c) the pastoral instinct to provide care and nurture for those who mourn. In the Beatitudes Jesus, does, after all, declare those who mourn to be blessed.
c) my own experience that funerals are a profoundly missional opportunity. Some of the individuals who it has been my privilege to accompany on a journey to faith have been though funeral ministry. Some of them still keep in touch with me many years later and one is now a priest.
For the Church of England reduction in fee income from funerals (and weddings) is a very significant issue, particularly in a diocese, like my own in Liverpool where there are virtually no historic assets. Earning income should never be the purpose of pastoral ministry but good stewardship demands that we address this issue. As good stewards if clergy are not conducting funerals we need to suggest ways to replace this income.
An innovative approach taken in Liverpool has been the creation of the Good Funeral Company and the recruitment of a remarkable and gifted, priest, Mother Juliet Stephenson to run it (if you ever need clergy training on funeral ministry she is your woman!). You can read more about the GFC here. The mission statement is wonderfully simple and jargon free:
Making good Christian-based funeral services available, personalised, accessible, and affordable for anyone in the Diocese of Liverpool who wants to mark a loved one’s death through prayer.
As soon as it became apparent that I would have some funeral ministry in this crisis I emailed Mother Juliet to ask what she would recommend. Her email reply was enormously helpful, I reproduce it almost in full:
“I attach the service that I am doing in an hour. (it is not what we did as curates…because what we did as curates is not wanted by anyone who is fringe…and on the edge) …
Some bits from Iona / celtic stuff and reworked prayers from over the years.
AND…I do not cut and paste, I have several hundred ways of saying the Godloves everyone…
He forgives us all, because of JC…
I usually get a bible reading in there…but can be amazingly creative with lyrics from Eric Clapton songs too!
You will see the poems and reading and tribute, that the family have provided…
And I welcomed it all…that’s amazing, that’s wonderful…because this is what THEY want.
I am the MC…and the one who will bless.
I was asked, to do this…because the FD’s know that I do a celebration of life with prayers, and I am good.
The woman used to go to church, but the family have no connection at all….
If I couldn’t do it, they would have had a celebrant, and NOT a vicar …
Like I say, I think the success of the GFC, is that we are being offered as celebrants that pray…celebrants that pray and bless…and are authorised todo so.
This is what the FD’s like about what we do.
I get asked to do ‘celebrations of life’…because the perception of vicars is that we can only recite pre-prepared words from the book, and say very little about the woman in the box…
This is why we lose out, over and over again.
You will see very little of the purple book…
– we still gather, we reflect, we offer tributes, a bible reading and short ‘popular religion’ reflection and prayer.
We are (at least I operate now) in a world where people want white feathers as signs, robins for comfort, shooting stars across the sky to wishupon.
– rather than words from scripture about men they have never heard of…’Lazarus’
We are amidst folk who want Whitney Houston, YNWA, Perry Como and Monty Python.
– rather than hymns, psalms and symphonies…
And if we can’t connect with this world, with the grace of God, and stop being precious about ‘Lazarus’ or ‘penitential prayers’…we lose it.
We can still talk of hope, forgiveness, resurrection.
We can still offer formal prayers, encourage the corporate saying of the Lord’s prayer
And commend and commit and bless.
If we use comforting, and familiar phrases…like the words to enter into thechapel ‘Jesus said I am…’ that’s good.
If we say with conviction ‘in sure and certain hope…’ that’s good.
If we listen to their heartache, and connect where they are, and see how they gain comfort and assurance that God is real, and heaven is worth believing in…because a white feather drifted onto the windscreen of their car…then that also is very good.
This is what the civil celebrants can’t do effectively…they have to relywholly on the ‘universe’ and ‘stars’…
We have Jesus…
And we have Easter…
This may never be the way you would ever choose to do services…it works, and people pray at them.
I also asked members of the Sodality, the community of priests I belong to to send me their compiled texts and had a number of conversations with them. This was really helpful. As was a conversation with Fr Daniel Ackerley, a deacon-aspirant to the Sodality who is an experienced Funeral Director. Among many other things he said:
Somebody once said that a funeral service should be like a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winters day. Every word should be soothing.
There is a bit of me that baulked at this. No! We are here to admit that we are sinners, in need of a Saviour and to pray that the dead may have forgiveness! But then I got real.
Famously, a principle of mission for the Jesuits is to go in and learn a language, a culture to be able to speak to it and understand it. Fr Daniel knows well that what people are wanting in a funeral is that cup of hot chocolate. If we stand on our liturgical, theological preciousness and do no translation we will not be understood.
Having been taught early on never to throw anything away in ministry I also had the funeral service I developed in my second full-time parish (St Mary, Portsea). This drew on what must have then been ASB, but I had looked at books more widely, I can’t now remember which. There may have been some Iona, and possibly the Uniting Church in Australia. I had become a correspondent of Jim Cotter and he offered some helpful advice too.
The service I have developed is posted at the top and bottom of this post. I shared the original version with members of the Sodality and also with one or two others. One or two of the local Funeral Directors have also commented positively and with helpful suggestions. Last week I took a funeral for the partner of a woman who was a published poet and is a poet herself. She worked in great detail on the text we agreed and this was really helpful in improving the English. Finally, Fr Steven Shakespeare, an aspirant to our Sodality, and a well-known, published liturgist has published a book of liturgies TheEarth Cries Glory. I have used elements from this woven into the service (and one complete set of intercessions), these are marked SS. I am trying to persuade Fr Steven to produce a book of pastoral liturgies.
I am not making any great claims for my liturgy. It is a ‘work in progress’ and offered for discussion more than anything else. I would welcome any comments. I hope that you can see that I have taken Cupitt’s questions seriously particularly in using the word ‘life’, but also and perhaps less surprisingly ‘love’. ‘It’ is more complex but I do find myself using that sort of language in my more informal words. Using the language of everyday life is, of course, exactly what Jesus did, always talking about himself in this way and avoiding institutionally religious language: way, truth life, gate, bread, shepherd …
Don Cupitt perfectly captures the language that our culture uses around what is meaningful, how to describe the ultimate, the significant. However, he comes up with the wrong answers, a non-realist interpretation of God. Civil Celebrants are doing the same thing. The question is the right one, what language (not just words, but music, images actions) speaks to people where they are? As a Christian I know that their answer is not enough. The world does need a Saviour, but it is our task to speak of Jesus in ways that our culture understands, because Jesus is, yes, so much more than a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night, but he is that too and what more important time than now to need that. Each day as I kneel before the Blessed Sacrament I pray “Sweet Sacrament Divine”:
Sweet Sacrament of rest, Ark from the ocean’s roar, Within thy shelter blest Soon may we reach the shore; Save us, for still the tempest raves, Save, lest we sink beneath the waves: Sweet Sacrament of rest.
Sweetness indeed, sweetness on a cold winter’s night, sweetness in a time of death and pandemic.
What is very obvious from live streaming liturgies in a small space and using a fixed camera is the difficulty of liturgical action. Without any action it is really just audio, but the action is difficult to capture without camera movement.
Anyway, here is my attempt at a liturgy for Good Friday in this strange year. In the absence of the action of the veneration of the cross I am using the poem After the Seven Last Words by poet Mark Strand. I think it is a rather stunning meditation. I shall intersperse the readings with Responsorial psalms and end with the Beatitudes. I will be interested to see how it works. It may be a bit rich for Good Friday – losing the starkness of the liturgy.
I shall use the Grail Psalms for all but the final Psalm (Ps 22) which will be from the BCP and sung to a traditional plainsong tone.
I would have liked to use some recorded music. I thought Hania Rani‘s Esja would work really well. But then I would be adding the action of turning on the music etc which would spoil my own engagement with the worship and also probably break Facebook’s copyright rules.
UPDATE Good Friday – I tried rehearsing Stations of the Cross live in the garden; sadly it just didn’t work, there was no way of moving the camera (iPhone on a tripod) in a way that wouldn’t have made anyone watching seasick. So no lies team of Stations but I will livestream Compline each night at 7pm Friday and Saturday.
UPDATE 6 April, 15:30 – please note there will now be no Eucharist of the Day in the Oratory, I am leading worship for the parish on Zoom at that time. In addition to the liturgies below I will livestream Compline each day at 7pm BST except for Maundy Thursday when Compline will complete the Watch at midnight.
Several people have asked what I intend to do for the liturgical services of Holy Week. I had been due to preach at St George’s, Paris and am sad not now to be with Fr Mark and the people there. I normally ‘preach’ Holy Week as a guest preacher so I rarely have to organise the liturgies of the week or the Triduum, although I have done a few vacancies over the years and when I was a parish priest always enjoyed working out what would work and what wouldn’t. here’s a picture of the booklet from the last time I had sole responsibility which was at St Faith’s, Landport in 1997:
I have been live-streaming the Eucharist each day from my little Oratory in the garden over the last few days. I am so deeply moved to be joined by people, some I know and am fond of, some strangers to me. I shall continue doing this during Holy Week at the following times:
Palm Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday: Eucharist at 6:30am BST (GMT+1)
Maundy Thursday: Eucharist of the Lord’s Supper 8pm, I will keep a Watch until midnight and sing Compline at midnight. Eucharist and Compline but not the Watch streamed.
Good Friday – Stations of the Cross 10am
Good Friday: Liturgy of the Day at 2pm
Easter Day: Paschal Vigil and First Eucharist of Easter: 3:30am;
In terms of what I will do, those who tune in to the stream from the Oratory seem to appreciate the simplicity and silence. Others will be looking for something very different and there are many places offering sophisticated audio-visual material, and grander liturgies. Which is excellent. For this domestic Oratory as simple as possible seems to be best. For the Eucharistic liturgy the rite will be just as I have been doing and as described here.
Normally for a weekday Eucharist in the Oratory I just wear a stole over my usual clothes; to mark the solemnity of this week I will wear the usual vestments on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and at the Easter Eucharists and an Alb and stole on Good Friday at the Liturgy.
As you can see there is no blessing of the palms or procession, no Easter fire, no veneration of the Cross. Times and Seasons (T&S) gives different sets of readings for the Vigil with themes. I have chosen ‘Women in Salvation’. I will sort out what I am going to do at the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday morning in due course and post here when that is done. It will be very simple indeed. The Vigil will start early and be very leisurely which I have done before and works really well, with a rather informal feel. I’m hoping I can do this in the garden at a little bonfire. Vestments put on only at the move into the Oratory for the first Eucharist of Easter.
I love to sing and I love the psalms. So alongside a few simple chants from Taizé and the Iona Community there will be psalms with sung refrains, from Belmont Abbey (An English Gradual, Fr Alan Rees OSB), Br Reginald SSF (Lent, Holy Week and Easter – Services and Prayers). I won’t sing any hymns. I am not a great singer and singing hymns unaccompanied is pretty tough going. On Monday to Wednesday the Chants (sung with verses of psalmody) will be (Mon – Wed Introit Belmont 35, Psalm Belmont 44, Concluding Chant Belmont 42). Other music see below:
Introit Reginald 9
Commemoration of the Lord’s Entry Into Jerusalem (T&S 269 – 271 omitting prayer over the palms and procession
Liturgy of the Word – Psalm Belmont 35
Intercession T&S 272-273
Eucharistic liturgy continues as usual Concluding Chant Belmont 30
Introit Belmont 52
Penitential verses T&S 294
Psalm Belmont 111
Intercessions T&S 299
Preparation of the Gifts T&S 300
Eucharistic liturgy continues as usual
Concluding Chant Lamentations (traditional)
Watch until midnight before the Blessed Sacrament
Midnight Compline: traditional plainsong
Good Friday Stations of the Cross (10am) more detail later.
Good Friday – Liturgy of the Day
Gathering and Liturgy of the Word T&S 307 – 308 Psalm Belmont 181 (The Passion ends at Jn 19: 37)
Prayer around the Cross – Jesus remember me, (Taizé), Belmont 178 verses from psalm 26, poetry and silence
The Solemn Intercession at the Cross
T&S 316 -318
Holy Communion T&S 319 – 320 Gospel of the Burial of Christ (Jn 19: 38-42
The Paschal Vigil – Times & Seasons Pattern B ( 3:30 am – 5:30 am)
T&S Pattern B – outside (if not raining, or by the fireplace), at a fire
Introduction T&S 354 –
Readings T&S 373 (Theme ‘Women in Salvation’) Refrains for psalms, selected verses, from Sunday Psalms, Kevin Mayhew
1 Genesis 1 Psalm 104
2 Genesis 3 Psalm 51
3 Exodus 12 Psalm 77
4 Exodus 14 Canticle
5 Ruth 1 Psalm 61
6 1 Samuel 1 Canticle CWDP p 572
7 Proverbs 8 Canticle CWDP p 599
8 Isaiah 66 Psalm 113
9 Daniel 3 canticle Benedicite
The Paschal Candle is blessed and lit T&S 355
Move to the Oratory (5:30am)
Metrical Exultet T&S 358 Tune: Woodlands
Gloria mode viii
Liturgy of the Word Psalm Belmont 60
Blessing of Water Chant: Water of Life …
The Eucharistic Liturgy continues as usual
Concluding chant: Belmont 67
Eucharist of Easter Day
Usual Eucharistic Liturgy with Gloria and Creed, chants: