Sunday, May 29, 2016

Corpus Christi meditation on Benediction (John Macquarrie)

Dr John Macquarrie (1919-2007) was a Scottish theologian and philosopher. He was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry, and became an Anglican in 1962. He is best known as a key existential theologian. Among his many works are Principles of Christian Theology (1966), Jesus Christ in Modern Thought (1991) and Mary for All Christians (1991) Macquarrie was Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford, and a Canon of Christ Church, Oxford.

In this paragraph Macquarrie tells of a time when his world was falling apart and he discovered the little service of Benediction (which, in the Anglican tradition usually follows Evensong):

I was serving in the British army and had received notice of posting overseas. On the Sunday evening before we sailed, I was wandering through the streets of a sprawling suburban area near to where we were stationed. I came to an Anglican Church. The bell was summoning the people, and I went in. The first part of the service was familiar to me, for it was Evensong. But then followed something new to me - the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. This new service meant a great deal to me. I did not know what lay ahead of me or when I might come back to these shores again, but I had been assured of our Lord’s presence and had received his sacramental blessing. I was reminded of Jacob, when he was far from home at Bethel and he heard the divine voice: ”Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you.”

Subsequently, in a pamphlet on Benediction, Macquarrie writes:

Benediction is a beautiful word. It means a blessing, a greeting, and expression of kindness and love. Benedict- ion is also a beautiful service of the Church. It is a service that makes real to us in an impressive way the fact that God is always reaching out to us, to bless, to strengthen, to assure us of his loving kindness toward us. 

The greatest blessing that God could ever bestow upon mankind was the sending of his Son. That was like the beginning of a new day for the human race, like a new sunrise bringing light and hope. And it is a day that will never end, a sun that will never set, for the Eternal Son has promised to be with us until the end of the world. 

He is no longer with us in the physical body that was his in Palestine many centuries ago, but we believe that he is really present among us in the Sacrament which he appointed. 'This is my Body', he said over the bread at the Last Supper with his disciples. The same words are said over the bread at every Eucharist, that it may be to us the Body of the Lord, so that he may come again among us today as he came at his first appearing in Palestine. And just as that first appearing was like the rising of the the sun over a darkened world, so today when the Host is lifted up either in the Mass itself or in Benediction, it is like the rising of the sun upon us and we receive the radiance and warmth of God's blessing through him whom he has sent. 

Many people have the idea that Benediction has become out of date in the course of the liturgical renewal of the past few years. It is true that Benediction has now less prominence than it once had in Catholic worship, but it would be sad indeed if this service were to be undervalued for it is a very helpful item in our spiritual heritage and it has special contributions to make toward building up the life of prayer and devotion in these busy noisy times in which we live. 

Let me now say something about the meaning of Benediction. 1 shall do this by developing more fully the thought that the blessing conveyed to us in this service today is simply the vivid renewal of that great blessing of God in the sending of Jesus Christ. Just as men in ancient times were waiting for the Lord, eager for a glimmer of light through the gloom, so those who come to Benediction come with waiting, expectant hearts. 

Benediction is a popular service, that is to say, a people's service. The clever and sophisticated do not come much to Benediction, but the simple, the poor, those who acknowledge an emptiness in their lives that only God can fill. Even those who might not come to Holy Communion will sometimes come to Benediction where God reaches out to them though they think they are only on the fringes. I think of some of those with whom I have knelt at Benediction: harassed city-dwellers in New York, working- class people from the back streets of Dublin, soldiers serving in the deserts of North Africa, Indian Christians living as a tiny minority in a great Hindu city . . . They have all had the grace of humility - a quality which, alas, is not greatly encouraged in our new liturgies. But those who seek a blessing come with empty hands. 'How blessed are those who know their need of God' ' (Matthew 5:3 NEB). God cannot give a blessing to the proud, the self- sufficient, the superior, those who secretly despise the simple devotion of their brethren. So we can only come to Benediction waiting and expectant. As we sing the hymns and look upon the Host, we open our hearts to God, knowing that he who sent the blessing of his Son to lighten the darkness of the world still sends through the same Son his blessing to us. 

We do not wait on God in vain. Lifting up the Host in a monstrance (sometimes in a ciborium) the Those quiet opening moments of Benediction are very precious indeed. We take time to compose ourselves, to put ourselves together, as it were. These may be only a few minutes, but they have something of the quality of eternity. We put aside our own busy plans, policies, activities, and remain passive before God so that his voice may be heard and his grace received. This brief time of quiet alone is of inestimable value in that crazy hurried world in which we all have to live nowdays. officiating priest makes the sign of the cross in blessing over the worshippers. Christ, the Light of the world, shines upon us, and my comparison with the rising sun was appropriate because the monstrance is usually fashioned to resemble the sun's disc, with rays streaming out in all directions. Through Christ, God bestows his blessing upon us and all who are willing to receive it, just as the sun shines on all, bringing light and health. 

The seekers, the pilgrims, the weary are assured of the blessing of God in Christ, and every time Christ comes to men and women it is with the promise of a new life of hope and freedom. 'The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined' (Isaiah 9:2). 

Then a very remarkable thing happens. For we find ourselves saying the words of the Divine Praises: 'Blessed be God' Blessed be his holy Name' We came seeking God's blessing, and now we find that we are blessing God! This belongs so naturally to what might be called the spiritual logic of Benediction. A benediction is not something that we can selfishly keep for ourselves. It makes us too want to give a benediction. 'We love, because he first loved us' (1 John 4:19). We begin by coming in our need to God, seeking his blessing. He gives us that blessing, and our response is to bless and adore him. This is indeed the goal of all our worshipping - that we may come to love God better. And we cannot love God without loving our neighbours who are God's children, so that in seeking God's blessing, we are praying that in blessing us he will make us a blessing to others. This is how it has been since the very beginning of the people of God, when the Lord said to Abraham, 'I will bless you, so that you will be a blessing . . .' (Genesis 12:3). 

These, then, are some of the meanings contained in the service of Benediction and some of the reasons for prizing it. Let us not miss this time of precious quiet while we wait upon God in humility. Let us not miss the blessing he bestows through the Christ who conies into our midst. For in such acts of devotion we learn to love him better, and he can make us a benediction to all whom we meet.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Fr Sandys Wason's Corpus Christi poem

One of the more eccentric and colourful characters of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England was Father Sandys Wason (1867-1950). He was persecuted and suffered greatly for the Faith. A number of his poems have been included in the biography, Mr Wason . . . I Think, written by Roy Tickner. Here is Father Wason's poem written for the solemnity of Corpus Christi:


At every doorway of the rose-hung street,
On the stone stair-heads, in the angled shade,
Peasants in old-time festival brocade
Took refuge from the unrelenting heat;
These, all by some Mystery made one
With those who dozed or whispered, kissed or played
As silver trumpets rang through the arcade,
Leaned to the far-off sound like wind-blown wheat.

A dark-haired boy, sandalled and naked save
A shift of camel's hair, came first as John
The Baptist: in his wake a yearling lamb,
A crucifix, blest incense; next, a score
Of sunburnt singing-boys in lawn and black
Swept gaily on before a company
Of girls in long lace bridal veils and wreaths
Of oleander, telling rosaries,
But none so fervid that she failed to screen
The lighted taper in her small brown hand
Lest any love-lorn breeze mistake and woo
Its flame for some gold flower.

A group of children who from ribboned frails
Unendingly were flinging to the Host
Flowers of genista, poppy, myrtle, bay;
At last, as from a mist of frankincense
And candle-light and waving cypress boughs,
A priest in silver vestments flowered with gold
To which, as by a spell, his eyes were held;
He gazed, as if these transitory things
Were with the earth, all they had been before
They were created; as if our life were but
A greying garland doomed to pass away.

To him, within the pale orb of the Host,
All he had ever dreaded or desired,
Truth, wisdom, power, peace and righteousness,
As in a crystal mirror, stood revealed,
And so, adoring his uplifted God,
Wonder, profoundest wonder filled his soul.

This Host he held before him was, he knew,
But one of thousands he, with Christ's last words,
Had blessed and raised to God at break of dawn;
As known to him, as dearly natural
As his young olive trees, his violin,
The cedar press where lay the folded alb
He would at death be clothed in, the pale crown
Of 'everlastings' on his mother's grave.

This Host was close to these persisting things.
In this, then, dwelt the marvel; here abode
The Lord who made the beauty of the world,
The sun, the moon, and all the stars that be,
The solace and the menace of the sea.

Came holding, shaded by a baldaquin
Of white and silver tissue, thin with age,
A golden monstrance like an outspread fan.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Eucharistic flow of love

"Behold, the Lamb of God . . ."
May 2008 at St Stephen's Coomera, Quseensland, Australia

Be pleased, O Lord, to accept this our bounden duty and service, 
and command that the prayers and supplications, 
together with the remembrance of Christ’s passion, 
which we now offer unto thee, 
may be received into thy heavenly Tabernacle; 
and that thou, not weighing our own merits, 
but looking upon the blessed sacrifice of our Saviour, 
which was once fully and perfectly made for us all, 
mayest pardon our offences, 
and replenish us with thy grace and heavenly benediction, 
through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
- John Cosin (1594-1672)

Evelyn Underhill defines Christian worship as ‘the total adoring response of man to the one eternal God self-revealed in time.’ This response is seen perfectly in Christ: ‘Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God’ (Hebrews 10:5-9). The whole life of our Lord Jesus Christ is an act of worship: his obedience, his ministry, his self-offering on Calvary. We can also say that it is a liturgical act of worship which is expressly articulated in the words of Jesus’ High-Priestly prayer in John 17:1-5.‘In Christ’ (2Corinthians 5:17) we enter the stream of obedience, devotion and love flowing from the Son to his Father. Therefore true worship is union with our Lord in the Holy Spirit, identifying ourselves with the Perfect Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which is why the Eucharist will always be the most perfect form of worship.”
- Frank Lomax (1921-2007), in Worship and Liturgy 
(Lecture, Trinity Theological College, Singapore)

The Eucharist is the completion of all the sacraments, and not simply one of them . . . All human striving reaches here its ultimate goal. For in this sacrament we attain God himself, and God himself is made one with us in the most perfect of all unions . . . This is the final mystery; beyond this it is not possible to go, nor can anything be added to it.
- St Nicholas Cabasilas (1320-1371), 
quoted in The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware, p. 116

The eternal liturgy . . . is the work of Jesus our Great High Priest, offering himself in and through his Church to the Father in the union of the Holy Spirit. ‘Through him, with him, in him . . .’ At the end of the eucharistic prayer, the priest raises the Host and Chalice together, and the self-giving or oblation of the whole Church is represented, taken up into the sacrificial self-giving love of the Blessed Trinity. The whole assembly responds with the great ‘Amen!’, the resounding ‘Yes!’ of the faith of a priestly people.”
- Peter Elliott, in Priest, Sacrifice and Eucharist, 2001

The Eucharist is “surrounded by temporal ripples through which past and future things are refracted.”
- Robert Sokolowski (1936-), 
in Eucharistic Presence: A Study in the Theology of Disclosure, p. 105

“. . . the whole of Christian worship is focussed upon an altar 
where there is perpetually set forth the redemptive offering of pure love; 
and in that eternal offering, 
all other movements of love and sacrifice 
are sanctified before God.”
- Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), in Worship, p. 149

Christ was the Word that spake it;
He took the bread and break it;
And what that Word did make it;
That I believe and take it.
Attributed to Queen Elizabeth 1 (1533-1603)

Above, the hosts of angels sing praise; 
below, men form choirs in the churches and imitate them 
by singing the same doxology. 
Above, the seraphim cry out in the thrice-holy hymn; 
below, the human throng sends up the same cry. 
The inhabitants of heaven and earth are brought together 
in a common assembly; 
there is one thanksgiving, one shout of delight, 
one joyful chorus.”
St John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), in his Homily on Isaiah 6:1

In the bread of the Eucharist 
and the cup of blessing 
Christ’s presence is revealed at its most intense. 
Let your life be permeated 
with a tremendous reverence 
towards this mystery of faith. 
Your adoration needs no justification 
more than your love and wonder 
for the infinite, delicate grandeur of God, 
the unfathomable depths of Christ’s gifts. 
Let his praise not depart from your lips . . .

The Eucharist sets you on the way of Christ.
It takes you into his redeeming death
and gives you a share
in the most radical deliverance possible.
And already the light of the resurrection,
the new creation,
is streaming through it from beyond.
Whenever you sit at table with the risen Lord,
it is the first day of the week,
very early in the morning.
- H. Van Der Looy in Rule for a New Brother

Monday, May 23, 2016

A prayer to the Trinity (St Catherine of Siena)

Born in 1347, the 24th child of a wool dyer in northern Italy, Catherine was very sensitive to spiritual realities from childhood. She became a Dominican tertiary when she was sixteen. She was a mystic, a visionary, and is also considered one of the most brilliant theological minds of her day, although she had no formal education. 

At a very difficult time in the Church’s history, Catherine persuaded the Pope to go back to Rome from Avignon, in 1377, and when she died she was endeavoring to heal the Great Western Schism. In 1375 she received the Stigmata, which was visible only after her death. Catherine’s spiritual director was Raymond of Capua. She is famous for her letters, and the treatise known as the “dialogue.” 

Catherine died in 1380 when she was only 33, and her body was found incorrupt in 1430. Her tomb is under the altar in the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, in Rome.

Eternal God, eternal Trinity, 
you have made the blood of Christ so precious 
through his sharing in your divine nature. 
You are a mystery as deep as the sea; 
the more I search, the more I find, 
and the more I find the more I search for you. 
But I can never be satisfied; 
what I receive will ever leave me desiring more. 
When you fill my soul I have an even greater hunger, 
and I grow more famished for your light. 
I desire above all to see you, the true light, as you really are.

I have tasted and seen the depth of your mystery 
and the beauty of your creation 
with the light of my understanding. 
I have clothed myself with your likeness 
and have seen what I shall be. 
Eternal Father, you have given me a share in your power 
and the wisdom that Christ claims as his own, 
and your Holy Spirit has given me the desire to love you. 
You are my Creator, eternal Trinity, and I am your creature. 
You have made of me a new creation 
in the blood of your Son, 
and I know that you are moved with love 
at the beauty of your creation,
for you have enlightened me.

Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, 
you could give me no greater gift than the gift of yourself. 
For you are a fire ever burning and never consumed, 
which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being. 
Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness,
 illuminates the mind with its light 
and causes me to know your truth. 
By this light, reflected as it were in a mirror, 
I recognise that you are the highest good, 
one we can neither comprehend nor fathom. 
And I know that you are beauty and wisdom itself. 
The food of angels, you gave yourself to man in the fire of your love.

You are the garment which covers our nakedness, 
and in our hunger you are a satisfying food, 
for you are sweetness 
and in you there is no taste of bitterness, O triune God!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Michael Ramsey, Thomas Hopko & Austin Farrer on the Trinity

Tomorrow is Trinity Sunday on which we emphasise the greatest revelation of all: at the heart of the universe is not a vacuum, an impersonal force, a solitary uncreated being (whether lawgiver, intelligent designer, or omnipotent cosmic control-freak), but the MYSTERY OF SELF-GIVING LOVE that everlastingly overflows in creation and redemption, reaching even us, and divinising our "ordinary" lives.

Commenting on the passages in St John's Gospel in which Jesus - after the Last Supper - teaches about the Holy Spirit, Michael Ramsey (the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury) says: "A Trinitarian doctrine of God is here inescapable. It is inescapable as touching the activity of God in history, for the glorifying of the Father by Jesus is perfected only in the glorifying of Jesus by the Spirit. It is inescapable as touching the being of God in Himself, for the sharing of the Son in all that the Father has is parallelled by the sharing of the Spirit in all that the Son has. The revelation of the glory of God to the disciples involves their coming to perceive that the Spirit is all that the Son is - namely God indeed." (The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ, pages 74-75) 

In Romans 8:14-17, St Paul says: "All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." Later on, in verse 26 he says: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words."

Ramsey comments: "We learn from St Paul's prayers how the great themes of the Lord's Prayer prevail in the prayer of the early Christians. As the apostolic age proceeds, a Trinitarian pattern of prayer becomes apparent. Prayer is to the Father, and Jesus is not only the one through whom Christians pray, but also the one who evokes a devotion that would be idolatrous if he were not indeed divine. It is the Holy Spirit who enables Christians to pray 'Abba - Father' (Romans 8:15), and to acknowledge the lordship of Jesus. Experiencing a threefold relationship to God in their prayer, Christians encounter a threefold relationship with God Himself; and the discourses and prayer in St John's Gospel begins to unveil this. It is within the Trinitarian character of Christian prayer that the theology of the Trinity grows." (Be Still and Know, page 42)  

Some words from Father Thomas Hopko: 
"The Holy Eucharist, is the actual experience of all Christian people led to communion with God the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit through Christ the Son who is present in the Word of the Gospel  and in the Passover Meal of His Body and Blood eaten in remembrance of Him. The very movement of the Divine Liturgy - towards the Father through Christ the Word and the Lamb, in the power of the Holy Spirit - is the living sacramental symbol of our eternal movement in and toward God, the Blessed Trinity. Even Christian prayer is the revelation of the Trinity, accomplished within the third person of the Godhead. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, we can call God “our Father” only because of the Son who has taught us and enabled us to do so. Thus, the true prayer of Christians is not the calling out of our souls in earthly isolation to a far-away God. It is the prayer in us of the divine Son of God made to His Father, accomplished in us by the Holy Spirit who himself is also divine." (The Orthodox Faith, Volume I - Doctrine : The Holy Trinity - available online HERE)

And finally, from Austin Farrer:

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Jeremy Taylor's Eucharistic Rite and the priesthood of Christ

Following some appreciative emails in response to the quote from Jeremy Taylor posted yesterday, I want to share with those readers who know the good bishop only for his devotional writings the fact that he produced a revision of church services, including an order for Holy Communion ("An Office or Order for the Administration of the Holy Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper According to the Way of the Apostolical Churches, and the Doctrine of the Church of England"). This he did for the use of those to whom he ministered under great difficulty when the Book of Common Prayer was banned during the Commonwealth. The order for the Eucharist draws heavily on Scripture and the Church’s early liturgies, and demonstrates the Patristic theology of the Caroline Divines, with its focus on the High Priestly ministry of Jesus. Below is the Eucharistic Prayer. Go HERE for the full rite.

It is indeed truly just, righteous, and fitting 
to praise and to glorify, to worship and adore, 
to give thanks and to magnify thee 
the great Maker of all creatures, visible and invisible, 
the treasure of all good, temporal and eternal : 
The fountain of all life, mortal and immortal : 
The Lord and God of all things in Heaven and Earth, 
the great Father of his Servants, 
and great Master of his Children.

The Heavens and the Heaven of Heavens, 
and every power therein; 
the Sun and the Moon, and all the stars of the sky; 
the sea and the earth, 
the heights above and the depths below;
Jerusalem that is from above, 
the Congregation celestial, 
the Church of the first-born written in the Heavens, 
the spirits of the Prophets and of just men made perfect, 
the souls of the Apostles 
and all holy Martyrs, Angels and Archangels, 
Thrones and Dominions, Principalities and Powers, 
the spirits of Understanding and the spirits of Love, 
with never ceasing Hymns and perpetual Anthems 
cry out Night and Day:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts :
Heaven and Earth are full of thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Let all corruptible flesh be silent, 
and stand with fear and trembling, 
and think within itself nothing that is earthly, 
nothing that is unholy. 
The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, Christ our God, 
comes down from Heaven unto us, 
and gives himself to be meat for the Souls of all faithful People. 

All the glorious companies of Angels behold this 
and wonder, and love and worship Jesus. 
Every Throne and Dominion, 
The Cherubim with many Eyes, 
and the Seraphim with many Wings 
cover their Faces before the Majesty of his Glory, 
and sing a perpetual song for ever : 

Alleluia, Alleluia. 
Glory be to God on high; 
and in Earth peace; good will towards men. 

Have mercy upon us, O Heavenly Father, 
according to thy glorious mercies and promises, 
send thy Holy Ghost upon our hearts, 
and let him also descend upon these gifts, 
that by his good, his holy, his glorious presence, 
he may sanctify and enlighten our hearts, 
and he may bless and sanctify these gifts: 
that this bread may become the holy Body of Christ, 
and this chalice may become the life-giving Blood of Christ, 
that it may become unto us all that partake of it this day, 
a Blessed instrument of Union with Christ, 
of pardon and peace, of health and blessing, 
of holiness and life Eternal, through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Holy and blessed art thou, O King of Eternal ages, 
fountain and giver of all righteousness. 
Holy art thou the eternal and only-begotten Son of God, 
our Lord Jesus Christ, Redeemer of the World. 
Holy art thou, O Blessed Spirit, that searchest all things, 
even the depths and hidden things of God.

Thou, O God, art Almighty: 
thou art good and gracious, dreadfull and venerable, 
holy and merciful to the work of thine own hands. 
Thou didst make man according to thine Image; 
thou gavest him the riches and the rest of Paradise: 
When he fell and broke thy easy Commandment 
thou didst not despise his folly, nor leave him in his sin, 
but didst chastise him with thy rod, 
and restrain him by thy Law, 
and instruct him by thy Prophets, 
and at last didst send thy Holy Son into the World,
that he might renew and repair thy broken Image.
Blessed be God.

He, coming from Heaven, and taking our flesh, 
by the power of the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, 
conversed with men, and taught us the way of God, 
and the dispensation of eternal Life.
Holy Jesus! Blessed be God.

But when for the redemption of us sinners 
he would suffer death upon the Cross without sin, 
for us who were nothing but sin and misery,
in the night in which he was betrayed, he took bread, 
he looked up to Heaven, he gave thanks, he sanctified it, 
he brake it, and gave it to his Apostles saying: 
Take, eat, this is my Body which is broken for you. 
Do this in remembrance of me.

Likewise after Supper he took the Cup, 
and when he had given thanks and blessed it 
he gave it to them saying, 
Drink ye all of this, 
for this is my Blood of the New Testament, 
which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. 
Do this in remembrance of me. 

For as often as ye shall eat this Bread, and drink this Cup, 
we shall shew forth the Lord’s death till he come.
We believe, and we confess. 
We declare thy Death, and confess thy Resurrection.

We sinners, thy unworthy Servants, 
in remembrance of thy life-giving passion, 
thy cross and thy pains, 
thy death and thy burial, 
thy resurrection from the dead, 
and thy ascension into Heaven, 
thy sitting at the right hand of God, 
making intercession for us, 
and expecting, with fear and trembling, 
thy formidable and glorious return 
to judge the quick and dead, 
when thou shalt render to every man according to his works; 
do humbly present to thee, O Lord, 
this present Sacrifice of remembrance and thanksgiving, 
humbly and passionately praying thee 
not to deal with us according to our sins, 
nor recompense us after our transgressions; 
but according to thy abundant mercy, and infinite goodness, 
to blot out and take away the handwriting 
that is against us in the Book of Remembrances 
which thou hast written:
and that thou wilt give unto us spiritual, celestial, and eternal gifts, 
which neither eye hath seen, nor ear hath heard, 
neither hath it entered into the heart of man to understand, 
which God hath prepared for them that love him; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Glory be to thee, O God our Father, 
who hast vouchsafed to make us at this time 
partakers of the Body and Blood of thy holy Son : 
we offer unto thee, O God, our selves, our Souls and Bodies, 
to be a reasonable, holy, and living Sacrifice unto thee: 
keep us under the shadow of thy Wings, a
nd defend us from all evil, 
and conduct us by thy Holy Spirit of Grace into all good ; 
for thou who hast given thy holy Son unto us, 
how shalt not thou with him give us all things else? 
Blessed be the name of our God for ever and ever. Amen.

Glory be to thee, O Christ, our King, 
the only begotten Son of God, 
who wert pleas’d to become a sacrifice for our sins, 
a redemption from calamity, 
the physician and the physick, 
the life and the health, the meat and the drink of our Souls; 
thou, by thy unspeakable mercy, 
didst descend to the weakness of sinful flesh, 
remaining still in the perfect purity of Spirit, 
and hast made us partakers of thy holy Body and Blood : 
O condemn us not when thou comest to judgment, 
but keep us ever in thy truth, in thy fear, and in thy favour, 
that we may have our portion in thine inheritance, 
where holiness and purity, where joy and everlasting praises, 
do dwell for ever and ever. Amen.

Proceeding from glory to glory, 
we still glorifie thee, O Father of Spirits, 
and pray thee for ever to continue thy goodness towards us. 
Direct our way aright, establish us in holy purposes, 
keep us unspotted in thy faith,
 let the enemy have no part in us, 
but conform us for ever to the likeness of thy holy Son; 
lead us on to the perfect adoption of our souls, 
and to the redemption of our bodies from corruption, 
and fill our hearts and tongues 
with everlasting praises of thy name;
 through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Thou within the veil hast entered/ Robed in flesh our great High Priest

Alleluia! King eternal, 
Thee the Lord of lords we own; 
Alleluia! born of Mary, 
Earth Thy footstool, heav’n thy throne: 
Thou within the veil hast entered, 
Robed in flesh our great High Priest; 
Thou on earth both priest and victim 
In the Eucharistic feast. 
(William C. Dix, 1867) 

During these days when we continue to celebrate the Lord being "taken up in the cloud" into the heavenly sanctuary as our Great High Priest (see yesterday's post HERE) we are so thankful for the unity of his sacrifice of love, his ongoing intercessory ministry, and the Church's Eucharist. 

In fact, this was a major theme of the 17th Century Caroline Divines. One of them, Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), was a chaplain to King Charles I. He is probably best known today for his devotional books, Holy Living and Holy Dying. Following the martyrdom of the King, he was imprisoned a number of times. Eventually, he was allowed to live quietly in Wales, where he became the private chaplain of the Earl of Carbery. At the Restoration, he was made Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland and became Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dublin. His teaching on the Eucharist and the priesthood of Jesus draws heavily on both Eastern and early Latin sources. The following is from his book, The Great Exemplar

… whatsoever Christ did at the institution, the same he commanded the Church to do, in remembrance and repeated rites; and himself also does the same thing in heaven for us, making perpetual intercession for his church, the body of his redeemed ones, by representing to his Father his death and sacrifice. There he sits, a High Priest continually, and offers still the same one perfect sacrifice; that is, still represents it as having been once finished and consummate, in order to perpetual and never-failing events. 

And this, also, his ministers do on earth; they offer up the same sacrifice to God, the sacrifice of the cross, by prayers, and a commemorating rite and representment, according to his holy institution. And as all the effects of grace and the titles of glory were purchased for us on the cross, and the actual mysteries of redemption perfected on earth, but are applied to us, and made effectual to single persons and communities of men, by Christ's intercession in heaven . . .

As Christ is a priest in heaven for ever, and yet does not sacrifice himself afresh, nor yet without a sacrifice could he be a priest; but, by a daily ministration and intercession, represents his sacrifice to God, and offers himself as sacrificed: so he does upon earth, by the ministry of his servants; he is offered to God, that is, he is, by prayers and the sacrament, represented or 'offered up to God, as sacrificed'; which, in effect, is a celebration of his death, and the applying it to present and future necessities of the church, as we are capable, by a ministry like to his in heaven. It follows, then, that the celebration of this sacrifice be, in its proportion, an instrument of applying the proper sacrifice to all the purposes which it first designed. It is ministerially, and by application, an instrument propitiatory; it is eucharistical, it is an homage, and an act of adoration; and it is impetratory, and obtains for us, and for the whole church, all the benefits of the sacrifice, which is now celebrated and applied; that is, as this rite is the remembrance and ministerial celebration of Christ's sacrifice, so it is destined to do honour to God, to express the homage and duty of his servants, to acknowledge his supreme dominion, to give him thanks and worship, to beg pardon, blessings, and supply of all our needs. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The priestliness of Jesus and Christian worship in the words of Margaret Barker

For many years I have had an interest in how the Old Testament forms the backdrop to the New Testament, and in particular how the New Testament authors use Old Testament passages and symbols. My observations led me to embrace a basically typological approach to the OT at a time when friends - both conservative and liberal - were pursuing debates about the OT from a purely historical/critical angle. Among my guidebooks back then were the works of Anglican writers Austin Farrer and Gabriel Herbert. Although typology can give rise to unrestrained and subjective allegorisation, I have always thought that a failure to embrace a balanced typological hermeneutic results at best in a sidelining of the OT except as "historical background", and at worst (as Aidan Nichols pointed out in his book "Lovely Like Jerusalem") in our becoming modern Marcionites

The connection of typology with the development of Christian worship seemed obvious to me as a young man formed by both highly liturgical Anglo-catholicism and those parts of the 1960s-70s charismatic renewal emphasising the worship of the community as somehow part of our "offering" to the Father through Jesus our great High Priest.

In recent years there has been a revival of interest in these themes among Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Wesleyan scholars. One of the most significant contributors is Margaret Barker, a Cambridge theologian and Methodist whose work has been acknowledged across the Christian traditions. A number of her essays are online. Visit her home page HERE. In July 2008 Margaret Barker was awarded a DD by the Archbishop of Canterbury "in recognition of her work on the Jerusalem Temple and the origins of Christian Liturgy, which has made a significantly new contribution to our understanding of the New Testament and opened up important fields for research."

While not being totally convinced on absolutely every point she makes, I think that her book, The Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy is nothing less than magnificent. In my opinion it should be required reading for all thoughtful Christians!

I mention this on Ascension Day, because I want to share with you a key passage from Margaret Barker's book which shows how central the Ascension was to the early Christians. (It also vindicates all those teachers, theologians and hymn-writers in the Anglo-Catholic tradition who have emphasized the Ascension as primarily a celebration of the Lord's high-priestly ministry.)

So, from pages 221 - 222 of The Great High Priest: The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy:

Only the high priest was permitted to pass through the veil and to stand before the throne or, in the desert tradition, before the ark, and he was only permitted to do this once a year on the Day of Atonement. The words of Leviticus 16:2 could imply that at an earlier period, the high priest had entered more frequently: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come at all times into the holy place within the veil, before the mercy seat which is upon the ark, lest he die.” Entering the holy of holies was a terrifying experience, because the LORD appeared to the high priest “in the cloud upon the kapporet”. Before making the blood offering, the high priest took incense into the holy of holies, and this seems to have been a protection for him. “Put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of incense may cover the kapporet which is upon the testimony, lest he die” (Lev. 16:13). In later texts, the high priest carries a “fire pan” in to the holy of holies and places it before the ark. Then he puts the incense on to the charcoal, and fills the holy of hollies with smoke (m. Yoma 5:1). Other texts, however, imply that there was a golden altar, within the veil of the temple. The Letter to the Hebrews is clear; in the holy of holies stood the ark and the golden altar of incense (Heb. 9:3-4). The Hebrew text of 1 Kings 6:20 - 22, however, is not so clear, but could have described a golden altar within the veil. Unfortunately, the line, “He covered with gold the altar that belonged to the holy of holies” (1 Kgs. 6:22) does not appear in the LXX, and the text of v. 20 is disordered. The Vulgate, which is quite clear that there was an altar within the veil, was translated at the end of the fourth century CE by Jerome, who would have known the Letter to the Hebrews and thus would have read the ambiguities of 1 Kings 6:20 in the light of the later Christian text. However the incense was actually offered, the tradition is clear that the high priest needed the incense as protection when he entered the holy of holies, and that the incense used in the holy of holies was a special blend. It was deemed “most holy”, and anyone who used that blend outside the holy of holies was “cut off from his people” (Exod. 30:34-38).

Entering the holy of holies with a cloud of incense is the temple reality that underlies the visions of the human figure entering heaven with clouds or of the LORD appearing in clouds upon the throne. Thus did Isaiah describe his call to prophesy: he saw the LORD enthroned in the temple, between the six-winged seraphim, and the house was filled with smoke (Isa. 6:1 - 4). Daniel saw a human figure “one like a son of man” coming with clouds of heaven to the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:13). When Luke described the Ascension he said that Jesus was “lifted up, and a cloud took him” (Acts 1:9). Jesus was passing beyond the veil, beyond the constraints of time and place. The men in white said that he would return in the same way. John introduced the Book of Revelation with the assurance, “He is coming with the clouds” (Rev. 1:7), and John was granted his own vision of the LORD’s return, which he recorded as the Mighty Angel coming from heaven wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head (Rev.10:1). Entering the holy of holies was entering heaven. And so these visions of a human figure going or coming with clouds must be understood in the temple setting of the high priest entering the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement.

Peter’s sermon in Solomon’s Portico shows that this was indeed how the early Church understood the departure of Jesus. He had gone to heaven as the great high priest, and would emerge again at the appointed time, that is, to bring renewal from the presence of the LORD. This is exactly what happened on the Day of Atonement, sin was judged and the earth was then cleansed and healed for the New Year. Hence Peter’s warning: “Repent, that your sins may he blotted out” (Acts 3:19 - 21). What had been ritualized annually in the Day of Atonement was happening in their own times through the self sacrifice of the great high priest Jesus. Jesus had passed through the veil into eternity; he was outside time and matter and so had passed into the eternal present, no longer limited by the particular time and place of first-century Palestine. This is the context, too, of the words in the “high-priestly prayer” in John 17. Jesus knew that he was about to pass through the veil, that he was returning to Day One, i.e. beyond and “before” the creation. Thus: “Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory I had with thee before the world was made” (John 17:5).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

. . . All of which is why we should be singing these hymns today:

Alleluya, sing to Jesus,
His the sceptre, his the throne;
Alleluya, his the triumph,
His the victory alone:
Hark the songs of peaceful Sion
Thunder like a mighty flood;
Jesus, out of every nation,
Hath redeemed us by his Blood.

Alleluya, not as orphans
Are we left in sorrow now;
Alleluya, he is near us,
Faith believes, nor questions how;
Though the cloud from sight received him
When the forty days were o’er,
Shall our hearts forget his promise,
‘I am with you evermore’?

Alleluya, Bread of angels,
Thou on earth our Food, our Stay;
Alleluya, here the sinful
Flee to thee from day to day;
Intercessor, Friend of sinners,
Earth’s Redeemer, plead for me,
Where the songs of all the sinless
Sweep across the crystal sea.

Alleluya, King eternal,
Thee the Lord of lords we own;
Alleluya, born of Mary,
Earth thy footstool, Heaven thy throne:
Thou within the veil hast entered,
Robed in flesh, our great High Priest;
Thou on earth both Priest and Victim
In the Eucharistic Feast.

William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Once, only once, and once for all,
his precious life he gave;
before the cross in faith we fall,
and own it strong to save.

“One offering, single and complete,”
with lips and hearts we say;
but what he never can repeat
he shows forth day by day.

For as the priest of Aaron’s line
within the holiest stood,
and sprinkled all the mercy shrine
with sacrificial blood;

So he, who once atonement wrought,
our Priest of endless power,
presents himself for those he bought
in that dark noontide hour.

His manhood pleads where now it lives
on heaven’s eternal throne,
and where in mystic rite he gives
its presence to his own.

And so we show thy death, O Lord,
till thou again appear,
and feel, when we approach thy board,
we have an altar here.

William Bright (1824-1901)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now upon the golden altar,
In the midst before the throne,
Incense of his intercession
He is offering for his own.
And on earth at all his altars
His true presence we adore,
And his sacrifice is pleaded,
Yea, till time shall be no more.
Alleluia, Alleluia
To th’incarnate Son of God,
Who, abiding Priest forever,
Still imparts his flesh and blood.

Then, adored in highest Heaven,
We shall see the virgin’s Son,
All creation bowed before him,
Man upon th’eternal throne:
Where, like sound of many waters
In one ever rising flood,
Myriad voices hymn his triumph,
Victim, Priest, incarnate God.
Worthy he all praise and blessing
Who, by dying, death o’ercame;
Glory be to God forever!
Alleluia to the Lamb!

Ernest Edward Dugmore  (1843-1925)