2018 is Year B in the Revised Common Lectionary. Year B is the year of the Gospel of Mark, interrupted and supplemented by the Gospel of John. Although the Church of England introduces its own idiosyncratic variations and so does not always follow the RCL, this is the Lectionary of the Church of England. Here are some notes on themes that arise from the four sets of readings for each month. I have missed Advent, so I’ll start with January and Epiphany.
Epiphany means ‘revelation’. The revelation of the Lord goes on through the year. It starts at Advent at the beginning of the Church year, and then when the Lord appears at his nativity, in the manger in the stable. But first Epiphany is the moment when the Wise Men come to do him homage and so reveal his royal identity to us. This child is our King. The Epiphany continues in his presentation in the temple at Candlemas (2 Feb), and again when (in Luke 2) when the twelve year old boy is taken up to the temple for Passover, and is found among the teachers of the law are gathered around while the young Jesus is sitting in the middle.
The Lord is recognised, brought to the front and lifted up with his parents, by those waiting for him in the temple. Every Christian service is a presentation of our work before the Lord and before the world. There the Lord, and everyone else, will see it for what it is. There is a presentation in the temple, and it us who are being presented. Christ presents us to his Father, and the Father receives us from him. And we also lift each other up and present one another to the Lord. This is part of the process of our sanctification, and will be its climax too.
January – Epiphany
On May 31, Pope Benedict marked the 100th anniversary of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music with an Open Letter to its Chancellor, Cardinal Grocholweski. It was a timely reminder of how central music has been to our Catholic worship through the centuries, and once again the Pope reminded us of what the very sound of Catholic musical prayer should be.
?In giving priority to Gregorian chant and to classical liturgical music, the Catholic Church is not trying to limit anyone?s creativity but is showcasing a tradition of beautiful prayer?, Pope Benedict wrote.
In the letter, released by the Vatican, the Pope wrote that sometimes people have presented Gregorian chant and traditional church music as expressions ?to be overcome or disregarded because they limited the freedom and creativity of the individual or community.???But, he said, when people recognize that the liturgy does not belong to an individual or parish as much as it belongs to the church, then they begin to understand how, while some expressions of local culture are appropriate, priority should be given to expressions of the church?s universal culture. He said music used at Mass must convey a ?sense of prayer, dignity and beauty, and should help the faithful enter into prayer ? and should keep alive the tradition of Gregorian chant and polyphony.?
Unfortunately, the Church is presently awash with new music that isn?t good enough. We should be looking to the sacred treasury for inspiration. To that end a new and similar initiative in this country will come into being in September. The John Henry Newman Institute of Liturgical Music is being established at the Birmingham Oratory and Maryvale and will stress the importance of chant. The activities of the new Institute will also be put at the service of the Conferences of Bishops.??Benedict, and the new thrust in liturgical understanding, points us all to the chant. This is the best composition lesson anyone could give to aspiring liturgical composers. Those who ignore this advice have much less to contribute to the communal prayer life of the Church, and their influence will wane. More pressing is what ordinary people can sing in liturgies which correspond with the Catholic paradigm. A new Graduale Parvum is being prepared for British Catholics. We are all used to seeing Entrance, Offertory and Communion Antiphons in our missals and weekly mass sheets, which are either mumbled perfunctorily or simply ignored. But these are the essential texts for our liturgies as they change from week to week, and day to day. They are meant to be sung. They are much more important and appropriate to our cyclic prayers than the largely protestant and frequently irrelevant hymns that are stuck on at the usual places during Mass. These antiphons are known as ?the Propers?. I have discussed these with Catholics from time to time, even priests, who look at me blankly and seem to have no idea what they are.
James MacMillan 31st July 2011
1. The Church is gathered
Every Sunday morning Christians gather together in worship. What are they doing in Church? What is happening in these worship services? Why do they meet and pray and sing? We are going to look at what is going on in Church.
We go to Church. We are called together and we come together. We leave our homes and offices to join this gathering. We are roused out of our everyday existence, drawn away from our computer, car and sofa to join these people. On Sunday morning we leave home and journey through these streets in order to come together with all the other members of our Church. We get up the steps and into the church, go down the aisle and take our places next to each other.
As we arrive we start singing. Our service begins with a hymn or a song. We are a pilgrim people who sing on their way, and the first hymn is our song for the journey. We sing because we celebrate as we make our way to the house of God. The Lord has called us together and gathered us here. He has invited us so he is our host and we are his guests. As we journey out of our homes, down the pavement to church, we are drawn into this gathering and we are glad and so we sing songs of praise that anticipate our worship together. Anyone can come in listen and join in. The invitation is general, so every church service is public. The whole community around the Church knows that it can go. Imagine that the Church stands in the middle on marketplace, and that it has no walls, but takes place in the open air so everyone can watch and can hear what is going on, or they can keep their distance, as they wish.
There’s more here…
John MÃ©daille The Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Marketplace is far-and-away the best book I have seen on the (bad) theology of economics. It puts economics into its political-philosophical context, with plenty of history, Catholic Social Teaching and immediate relevance to our present situation. It is a big but very well controlled book pretending to be a modest one, and the only book I have not resented buying recently: the title gives no idea of its range or intelligence. MÃ©daille blogs at the Distributist Review
Reliance on the government as consumer of last resort has resulted in a structure that favored global production over national income, the FIRE economy (â??finance, insurance, and real estateâ??) over the real economy (real production of goods), low wages over fair ones, and gargantuan size over human scale. It is this last point that is particularly troubling, since this gargantuan institutions have proclaimed themselves to be â??too big to fail,â?? and exercise economic blackmail over the whole republic. The problem with this claim is that it is correct. But the proper response is not to give into the blackmail, not to negotiate with crooks, but to make sure that the blackmailers are never in a position to control the whole economy, to demand trillions in ransom whenever they get themselves (and us) into trouble. Now, it would be mere carping by distributists to point out the problems if we could not offer solutions. But we do have solutions, and it is time to offer them, time to end the era of big business that depends on big government, on subsidies from the general public to private profits. I have nothing against profitsâ??when they are earned; I have everything against profits that are the result of subsidies and privileges. The distributist solution to all of these problems can be summed-up in a few words: Buy it up! Break it up! Fund it right!
And keep reading The Market Ticker
The words of eucharist remember the past event of the passion of Christ who, in the same night that he was betrayed, took bread and gave you thanks; he broke it and gave it to his disciples
In the eucharist we remember the incarnation and the passion and death of Christ. We remember the last supper in the upper room and the chain of events that followed it: supper with the disciples was followed by the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ arrest and trial, his being scourged, stripped, dragged out of the city and of all human society and put to death on the cross. We call all this the ‘passion’: the passion tells us what the incarnation is; it tells us how deep the incarnation is, and that the incarnation goes down all the way to the bottom. The incarnation is the meeting of God with man, and the passion is the incarnation in miniature. It shows that God really has met man and is with him, and that this is irrevocable now, for not even death can undo it. The passion is the unchangeable fact of God’s being with man and therefore of his dedicating himself and giving himself to man.
Jesus is about to be handed over. To show that in this way God is handing himself over to man, Jesus hands this bread over to his disciples. As this bread is in their hands, and their teeth, so the Son of God is in the hands of man. Christ is about to be broken and divided up, so he breaks and divides this bread. He performs this handing over and being broken up in miniature. In this way he shows us that this did not happen to him without his knowledge or consent. It looks as though it is by his own power that man is taking Christ into his hands to do something appalling to him in which Jesus is simply the victim. But, by playing this all out before hand, Jesus shows that in all this action in which man’s violence rolls out, man is not master of this event at all. It is Christ who gives the instruction to ‘go and do what you are going to do’, to Judas. In the last supper Jesus demonstrates with this bread what is going to happen so we can see he took this role in it for himself, and so that in these events in which he is entirely passive, he is also entirely willing and active. He is actively passive. It is not man who is in charge – not Judas, not the crowd, not the Sanhedrin or high priest or Pilate – but Christ.
Christ breaks open this bread, tears pieces off and so divides it and hands it over to his friends, because he is going to open, and break and divide, hand over and share. He opens, divides, hands over and shares himself. What we are getting in all this, what we are being offered, is not this or that thing – it is Christ himself. God is given to man for God places himself in our hands. Our time here and now in this eucharist, is superimposed on that moment then. All the events that follow it, the Mount of Olives, the garden, arrest, passion and crucifixion, all the events of the passion, are contained in the Last Supper. That eucharistic meal is the whole incarnation and passion of Christ brought together. These two times come into synch: our time comes into synch with the master fly-wheel which is Christ’s time. The eucharist is the events of the passion, and the eucharistic service superimposes on our time these events of Christ’s passion. As a result we are able to follow Christ, and watch this offering and giving of God to man, from a distance. His passion is the frame into which all the events of our life fit, so that included within the events of his life, the events of our lives be raised and redeemed.
Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation, through your goodness we have this bread to offer which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the Bread of Life…
The minister prays that, whatever we bring, the Lord will take it from us; that is, whoever we are and whatever condition we are in, the Lord will receive us. Christ lifts man to God and God receives man from Christ. God has taken hold of man, holds him now, and will hold him finally in an eternal relationship. In this eucharist Christ offers all mankind back to God and sustains him in the communion of God, so in our eucharistic prayers we celebrate the past, and the present and future action of Christ for us. And at the same time Christ offers all creation back to God, and God receives it and affirms it so that all creation is sustained in their holy communion. In this prayer and act of elevation we have a snapshot of the eternal relationship of man to God: we are lifted up and we are received.
The eucharist is an offering from Christ to God, and in communion with Christ, it is also our offering, of ourselves and of all creation. We offer ourselves as his body, that is, as him. These elements of bread and wine represent all creation and us in it. And because they come from Christ, and represent us, they are received by God. And because they are received by God, they are redeemed and made holy. So in the eucharist we are being offered to God – Christ is presenting man to God and God receives him.
But the offering is also made to us. At that Passover supper celebrated with the disciples in that upper room, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them. So here and now, he brings us in, sits us down, breaks this bread, and gives it to us. He feeds us and waits on us. The food he offers us comes from this creation that he has prepared for us and placed us in: all creation is this garden which he has laid out for us. And he not only serves us at this table, but he also eats with us, and by this act he makes us his equals. We are not left out, but invited to sit down at his table, so that, though unholy, we are made whole and holy simply by being near him. He has said the word, and so we are healed. So, happy are those who are called to his supper…
Over at Resources for Christian Theology I have put five short talks on worship
There’s more frolicking to come, for those that like that sort of thing.
By the mystery of your holy incarnation; by your birth, childhood and obedience; by your baptism, fasting and temptation,
Good Lord, deliver us.
By your ministry in word and work; by your mighty acts of power; and by your preaching of the kingdom,
Good Lord, deliver us.
By your agony and trial; by your cross and passion; and by your precious death and burial,
Good Lord, deliver us.
By your mighty resurrection; by your glorious ascension; and by your sending of the Holy Spirit,
Good Lord, deliver us.
Govern and direct your holy Church; fill it with love and truth; and grant it that unity which is your will.
Hear us, good Lord.
Bring into the way of truth all who have erred and are deceived.
Hear us, good Lord.
Strengthen those who stand; comfort and help the faint-hearted; raise up the fallen; and finally beat down Satan under our feet.
Three things – the Church prays unceasingly, it withdraws to pray, and it prays in public, in the open air, before the whole city. The prayer of the Church is unceasing, and it alternates between this public form and this withdrawn, even monastic, form.
The practice of perpetual prayer(Latin: laus perennis) was inaugurated by the archimandrite Alexander (died about 430) the founder of the monastic Acoemetae or “vigil-keepers”. Laus perennis was imported to Western Europe at Agaunum, where it was carried on, day and night, by several choirs, or turmae, who succeeded each other in the recitation of the divine office, so that prayer went on without cessation.
The practice of perpetual prayer, 24-7 prayer movement continues to gain momentum. It focuses on creating “prayer rooms” where there are Christians engaged in prayer day and night.
The 24-7 prayer room is a simple idea – to make time, ‘away’ from the usual distractions of life, to speak with and listen to God. Even Jesus took time away from the demands of the crowds to be with his Father (Matthew 14.23). How much must we need this space and time ‘away’, so that we can be more effectively ‘with’?
And it prays in public.
I have been calling this ‘processing’. But I suppose you could call it Prayer walking
Prayerwalking is the twin to praise marching in taking prayer onto the streets. It can be used by Christians in any land any day of the year. March for Jesus is rooted in the recognition that united, powerful prayer is a necessary foundation for effective evangelism. The key step was to take this prayer to the streets, to the very locations where the answers would be seen.
Ye holy angels bright, Who wait at God’s right hand, Or through the realms of light Fly at your Lord’s command, Assist our song; For else the theme Too high doth seem For mortal tongue.
Ye blessed souls at rest, Who ran this earthly race, And now, from sin released, Behold the Saviour’s face, God’s praises sound, As in his sight, With sweet delight, Ye do abound.
Ye saints, who toil below, Adore your heavenly King. And onward as ye go Some joyful anthem sing; Take what he gives And praise him still, Through good or ill, Who ever lives!
My soul, bear thou thy part, Triumph in God above: And with a well-tuned heart Sing thou the songs of love! Let all thy days Till life shall end, Whate’er he send, Be filled with praise.
Richard Baxter Ye Holy Angels Bright