November 25, 2020 Update on In-Person Worship
Dear Parishioners & Friends of the Church of the Advent,
As promised, here is an update to our patterns of worship for the season of Advent. I have consulted with the clergy, the lay leadership, and the Bishop, and think we have found a way forward that will ensure the continuation of public worship at the Advent. Two caveats: First, like everything else these days, our plans are always subject to change as the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Our watchword is “everything to the contrary notwithstanding.” Secondly, I am aware that these arrangements will not satisfy everyone (or perhaps even anyone), but we are doing our best in a difficult situation. I ask for your charitable understanding of this reality. If anything, COVID-tide has underlined the importance of flexibility. Like the Marine Corps, we are to improvise, adapt and overcome!
Effective this Sunday, and until Advent IV,
- A Low Mass, without sermon, will be said at 8am.
- A Low Mass (Rite II), with sermon, will be said at 9am.
- The Sung Mass will be offered at 11am, with a recording made for our Sunday webcast (which reaches far more people than our in-person attendance will allow).
Each of these Masses will be limited to a maximum of 25 persons in attendance. This will require some adjustment to our attendance registration.
- I will ask that you telephone the parish office on Monday, Wednesday or Friday (on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we are “remote”) to indicate your plan to attend. Once places at Mass are full, we will do our best to find you a place at Mass on a subsequent Sunday.
- We will have to share the spaces, meaning that we will try to find a way to provide opportunities for everyone, over the course of the Advent season, to be at at least one Sunday Mass should they desire to do so. Given our attendance limits, and out of fairness, please do not expect to be able to attend every Sunday. Sharing is caring!
- We will confirm that there is a place for you (via telephone or email) toward the end of the week. To avoid disappointment, please do not just show up, expecting that there will be room. Likewise if you have a reservation to attend, and subsequently find that you cannot come, we ask that you let us know. Entrance to the church will be via the Whitney Hale (parish house) door, so that we can keep a count of those in the building. The usual safety protocols remain in place.
Alternatively, you may choose to attend Mass on a weekday. Morning Prayer is said at 9am, with a Low Mass immediately following. At present, there is no need to register for these liturgies, as they do not normally exceed the attendance cap, but we will keep a close eye on numbers. If you are able to attend on a weekday, that will free up Sunday spaces for those who cannot come midweek.
Should circumstances and numbers warrant, we will consider additional worship opportunities.
As always, if you are in a vulnerable population, you should carefully consider your attendance at in-person worship. Likewise, if you are feeling unwell, or have been exposed to someone who may be sick, or if you have been out of state, please make sure that you have been cleared before you attend any this or any public gathering.
We will continue our webcasts of the Sunday Mass, Evensong and a meditation each week, as well as the Zoom chapters, so that even if you cannot be here, you will feel connected to parish life.
With every Advent blessing,
Fr Douglas Anderson
November 20, 2020 Update on In-Person Worship
Dear Parishioners & Friends of the Advent,
I have received a communication from the Bishop advising further changes to our worship patterns during this Covidtide.
The diocesan communique reiterates the counsel, given in June, that in-person church services cannot be advised. However, should services be held, precautions (masks, Communion in one kind, distancing, registration, etc.) remain in place. These we have observed faithfully and successfully since we reopened in July. To my knowledge, since July, we have not had a COVID diagnosis amongst anyone attending Mass at the Advent.
The Massachusetts Safety Standard for Public Worship currently limits occupancy at a religious service to 40% of the building’s occupancy – in our case some 160 persons at any one time. Given that we are averaging about 120 souls per Sunday, split between two Masses, these occupancy levels have not been an issue for us. However, the new diocesan guidelines provide for a maximum of 25 persons at any one time, in light of increased infection rates. This maximum of 25 is based on the Commonwealth guidelines for secular indoor event venues: “where state standards for places of worship are more permissive than those for other gathering places, we expect our churches to adhere to the more limited standards provided for other public venues.” The bishops write of their hope that “… renewed restrictions, while causing short-term disappointment, will help us traverse the coming months in greater health …”
This new attendance threshold means that we cannot do things as we have been doing them for the last five months. This news was received at noon on Thursday, so the leadership team of the Advent has not yet had time to digest the implications of the new guidance and how it will play out in our particular circumstances.
Accordingly, until we can get a handle on things,
- Public worship this coming Sunday, November 22nd, is suspended. A Mass will be sung for webcast purposes with only those necessary present, but in any case under the 25-person threshold, and observing the necessary precautions.
- In-person Christian education offerings are likewise suspended.
- We will continue to offer our regular online offerings of Chapters, Choral Evensong, Meditations, and a rebroadcast of the Sunday Mass.
You should expect a further update from me next week.
Needless to say, this new guidance is disappointing. The Mass, both Meal and Sacrifice, is of great importance to our spiritual, emotional, and psychological well-being. The Church is, of her very nature, the gathering of the baptized; and indeed, the Greek word ekklesia means ‘the assembly of believers called out of the world’. In this corporate worship “we unite ourselves with others to acknowledge the holiness of God, to hear God’s Word, to offer prayer, and to celebrate the sacraments” (Catechism, BCP, p. 857). As Henri de Lubac famously said, “the Eucharist makes the Church.”
In the midst of this disappointment, yours and mine, I would offer three thoughts, all drawn from the calendar of the Church, and which I have found helpful. Perhaps you will too.
First, this coming Sunday is the culmination of the ecclesiastical year, the Feast of Christ the King. Some have taken of late to calling it The Reign of Christ, but I think this is unsatisfactory. Growing up in Canada, a constitutional monarchy, I know that The Queen reigns, but does not rule. Christ both reigns and rules! As the Missal Preface puts it, he is “King of all … subduing unto his rule the whole creation … a kingdom endless and universal; a kingdom of truth and life; a kingdom of grace and holiness, a kingdom of peace, of love and of righteousness.” I would remind you that, whatever is going on, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, Christ is King, and all – including the demonic forces of pestilence and disease – is subject to his sway and sovereignty. God has made him “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Eph 1:21). We know how the story turns out. In the end, His will be done!
Secondly, Advent will soon be upon us. Advent is the season of waiting, watching, and expectation. With God’s ancient people we cry: “O that thou wouldest rend the heavens and come down” (Isa. 64:1, Lesson for Advent I). This Covidtide too has been a season of waiting: “Wait two weeks to level the curve; wait a few weeks more; wait until we have a vaccine; wait until the vaccine is distributed. Wait.” Waiting is hard. I am consoled by the fact that therapeutics continue to improve, and that a vaccine will soon be made available, and that in the fullness of time, things will resolve themselves. It will get better.
Thirdly, I think of the Paschal Mystery: that is, the death and resurrection of our Lord. The pattern, both for Christ, and we little christs (for that is what Christian means), is always death and resurrection, dark winter giving way to a bright spring. For many in our parish and the wider society, this time has been very difficult indeed: loneliness and sickness and suffering, economic devastation, concerns about civil and ecclesiastical liberties – it is possible to be concerned with more than one thing at once! For some, it may seem that they are sealed up in the darkness of the tomb. But again, we know how the story turns out: As we sing at Easter:
Death’s mightiest powers have done their worst,
And Jesus hath his foes dispersed;
Let shouts of praise and joy outburst. Alleluya!
As I said, you will hear more from me next week. In the meantime, know that you may call any of your priests for counsel, or simply for a sympathetic ear.
As part of our response to the COVID-19 virus, The Church of the Advent offers three webcasts each week: Sunday's 11 o'clock Mass, Choral Evensong on Wednesdays, and a meditation on Fridays. We extend these broadcasts to our own people as well as to the wider world as an opportunity to join in daily prayer as we intercede for the sick, the lonely, the anxious, and for healthcare providers.
From the Rector, July 31, 2020
From the Rector, July 24, 2020
Dear Parishioners & Friends of the Church of the Advent,
During COVIDtide, we offer one Mass daily, Sunday included, at 9:30am. On Sundays, Mass is followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and I thought I might write this week about that devotion.
Benediction is a rite whereby we adore Jesus Christ as he is sacramentally present in the consecrated Bread of the Eucharist. The rite is not a liturgy in the strict sense of the word, but a devotion (like Stations of the Cross or the Rosary): by it the holy worship begun at Mass is prolonged – not replaced! – and continued.
The origins of Benediction are in XII-XIII century Eucharistic processions, but in time came to be appended to other liturgical events, Mass and Vespers in particular. There are various reasons for the rise of Eucharistic adoration, but we cannot underestimate the fact that Benediction gained traction at a time when a gnostic and dualistic movement called the Cathari or Albigenses was prevalent in the south of France. This sect had abandoned the priesthood and the sacraments, and taught contempt for the human body, and indeed the entire material world. Exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was a firm statement of the catholic truth that God became incarnate in human flesh, and that his Presence continues in the Eucharist and all the Sacraments (spiritual events wrapped in matter – "matter matters").
The vessel in which the Sacrament is exposed is called a monstrance; its design derives from similar vessels with windows in which relics of the saints were exhibited. Relics were venerated as a testimony to the fact that Christianity is a religion not of myth, but of historical fact. The saints and martyrs are actual people who testified by their lives to the power of God not only in death, but even after death. If the dry bones of men and women receive such honor (as they have in an unbroken tradition since the days of the catacombs) why should not the true and living Body of Christ?
The hymns and collect are taken from the propers of the feast of Corpus Christi, and were composed by St Thomas Aquinas. With great theological comprehensiveness, the collect acknowledges the Eucharist as a sacrament, a memorial, and a mystery. After this comes the Benediction proper, the priest’s act of blessing God’s people with the Host; a moment of spiritual communion. The Divine Praises are a late eighteenth-century addition to the rite, and are intended as an act of reparation to God for the blasphemous misuse of his Name, and contempt for the teachings of the Christian religion. So many themes are going on at once: affirming our belief in the Eucharistic presence of Christ, thanksgiving for our Lord’s atoning death, thanksgiving for our many blessings, the consolation of spiritual communion, and reparation for ourselves and others who have offended God and the dignity of this Sacrament.
The French name for Benediction is le Salut or, in English, the Greeting. And I suppose that is what we are doing: lovingly greeting and adoring our Lord, sacramentally present in our midst. As Mother Teresa has said, “The time you spend with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the best time you will spend on earth. Each moment that you spend with Jesus will deepen your union with him and make your soul everlastingly more glorious and beautiful in heaven, and will help bring about everlasting peace on earth.”
From the Rector, July 10, 2020
Dear Parishioners & Friends of the Church of the Advent,
We resumed public worship last Sunday. Generally speaking, the comments have been positive and understanding of the constraints we are under. I have already written on a renewed understanding of the Mass as not only a meal but a Sacrifice. In reflecting on last Sunday, I have two further comments on the situation in which we find ourselves.
The first is via Fr Nathan Humphrey of St John the Evangelist, Newport, R.I., seeking to put non-communicating masses in the historical context of adoration. Fr Humphrey begins with a quote by Bishop Colin Buchanan:
“The medieval mass had little or no expectation of the people receiving communion, save on Easter Day; and the purpose of the celebration was the transubstantiation of the elements, followed by elevation and adoration and the offering of the eucharistic sacrifice of the mass to the Father. The initial principle at the time of the Reformation was the need to restore regular lay Communion... The rise of the 19th-century Anglo-Catholic movement has had tremendous effects upon Anglican sacramental practice. The more partisan effects were seen in fasting Communion, noncommunicating masses, Latin texts, requiem masses, Communion in one kind, reservation, exposition of the reserved wafer, and devotions before reserved elements. The more widespread sacramental effects have been of a different order, for, as a far-reaching outcome of the movement, a very large proportion of Anglicans now expect the main Sunday worship of the church to be Holy Communion and view themselves as weekly communicants.”
Father Humphrey continues:
The experience of Mass live-streamed from home returns us to one of the earliest devotional practices in Anglo-Catholic parishes, the “noncommunicating Mass,” which is a recovery of the sort of medieval practice of attending Mass in order to hear and to see it, but not to taste it. The objective was not the reception of Holy Communion but to worship and adore the Real Presence of Christ in it from afar. Thus, one could make one’s “spiritual communion” on a regular basis, while only receiving in person but once a year, normally on Easter Day (though of course that was sadly impossible for most of us in this past Eastertide). For much of Christian history this is precisely what saints and sinners alike have done, and one may find a treasure trove of devotional material focused on adoration rather than reception. Our goal this morning is to participate in this worthy tradition, even as we yearn for the day when all of us can return to our accustomed way of worshipping God in the beauty of holiness.
Secondly, a word needs to be said about participation. Clearly, a Mass in which people cannot sing hymns (though the organ and cantor were wonderful!) and cannot receive Communion seems somehow less participatory. Yet in the Creed, we profess our belief in both the visible and invisible, and we might apply this, slightly out of context, to our idea of participation. Just because we are not outwardly “doing something” does not mean that we are not participating. To participate means that our hearts and minds are awake and attentive, bringing to bear the interior action of the soul.
The former Pope Benedict XVI is one of my favorite modern theologians, primarily due to his liturgical writing. In Sacramentum Caritatis, 2007, Benedict XVI writes,
It should be made clear that the word ‘participation’ does not refer to mere external activity during the celebration. It also means a greater awareness of the mystery being celebrated and its relationship to daily life. Fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated.
Unlike many modern liturgists (and you know the old joke, “the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist is that you can negotiate with a terrorist”), Benedict sees the Liturgy not as a subject of endless tinkering by experts or committees, to be conformed to us, but as a living, breathing thing that has been handed down, and to which we are to conform. We are servants of the Liturgy!
When we genuflect, make the sign of the cross, sit, stand, kneel, listen, recite, we are participating. When we meditate on the words and actions of the Liturgy – the significance of the architecture and ornamentation of the church, the vestments, the vessels, the respective gestures of the priest and people, the texts, etc. – we are participating. Perhaps not in the way we are used to, or even prefer, but it is participation nonetheless.
Parenthetically, I would also add a note of historical context. The singing of hymns (devotional poetry set to music) became common in Dissenting congregations (Protestants who were not part of the Church of England) in the early 19th century, largely due to the influence of hymn writers like Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and others. The Established Church was much more reticent to sing non-scriptural texts, thinking that such texts were a vehicle for unsound theology and sentimentality. It was largely under the influence of the Tractarians and early Ritualists that hymnody became part of our Anglican tradition. Even our best loved Christmas Carols are less than 200 years old. The first appearance of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, The First Noel, and Hark the Herald Angels Sing was in an 1833 collection of hymns!
So, to be clear, our worship in this time of pandemic is not ideal. I do not like it any more than you do. It is sad we are unable to sing the great hymns of our tradition. It is painful that your priests are not yet able to give you Communion, and that we are unable to gather together after Mass for a time of visiting. But know that we are all doing our best in trying times.
But the silver lining, if there is to be one, is that we can renew our belief in the Mass not just as meal but as Sacrifice; we can recover an attitude of Eucharistic adoration; and we can deepen our understanding of what it means to participate in the Great Offering of the Church.
Yours with every blessing,
Fr Douglas Anderson
From the Rector, July 3, 2020
Dear Parishioners & Friends of the Church of the Advent,
Public worship will resume at the Advent this Sunday.
The Sunday morning schedule will be as follows:
- The mid-morning Office of Prime will be said at 9:00am
- Low Mass & Sermon at 9:30am, followed by an Organ Voluntary
- Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament will immediately follow this, so you can make a spiritual Communion.
You may come for all or some of the morning as you wish.
Important. We are required to have an attendee management plan for tracing purposes. Please register your attendance by following this link: https://reopen.church/r/QRkr33bG
Here is a summary of the mechanics of Sunday morning:
- Entrance to the church building will be through the West (Brimmer Street) doors only. Exit will be through either the Mount Vernon or Brimmer doors. Attendance will be limited to 40% capacity.
- Upon entrance, an Usher will ask you if you have registered for Mass. If not, you may scan the QR code on your bulletin, or give your name and telephone or email to the Usher.
- Masks are required to be worn by the congregation. A limited supply of masks will be available for those who do not have one.
- Every other pew is blocked off with the kneelers put up on the bench. The remaining pews are half blocked off in a chequerboard pattern. Please sit in one of the open spaces, keeping 6 feet between you and others not of your household.
- Hymnals and Prayer Books have been removed; single use Bulletins will be provided.
- Congregational hymn singing is suppressed for the time being; music will be provided by cantor and organ.
- The priest celebrating or preaching without a mask (so as to be able to breathe and be heard), will be distanced even further from others. For this reason, the Gospel will be read from the altar.
- Offering baskets will be provided at the entrance and exit of the church; plates will not be passed.
- For the time being, all Masses in the Diocese of Massachusetts are non-communicating (only the celebrant will receive Communion) while the Diocese continues to develop a protocol whereby we may distribute the Blessed Sacrament.
- For the time being, there is no coffee hour. If you socialize on the sidewalks, please wear masks and maintain appropriate distancing.
If you are not feeling well, running a fever, coughing, etc., you should not attend church until you are well and have completed a 14-day self- quarantine. The same is true for those who have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. If you have, you must complete a 14-day self- quarantine before attending church. Those in vulnerable populations should carefully consider whether or not to attend Sunday public worship.
For those who cannot come to church, webcasts and Zoom offerings will continue. A "live recording" of the Mass will be posted later on Sunday, Choral Evensong will be posted on Wednesday, and music and meditation on Fridays.
Yours with every blessing,
Fr Douglas Anderson
Where the Church is now, and where we are going to be, Part X.
I said last week that the years ahead will be ones of rebuilding. This rebuilding and re-evangelisation will take place in the context of authentic communities of faith. One facet of evangelism is hospitality, which comes from the Latin Hospitalitas = hospes = guest. In his Rule, St Benedict writes, All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me” (RB 53).
In the Rule we read that guests are to be received promptly, with respect and love, and this is especially true of the poor and pilgrims. We can, however, be manipulative and self-serving in our hospitality: we disregard another’s viewpoint, we consider others as annoyances, we fail to see need around us, we become self-protective.
Imagine Christ came to the door of your house. How would you receive him? Hopefully with warmth, love, appreciation, adoration, respect and joy! At the end of each day it would be appropriate for us to ask, Did I see Christ in the people I was with today? And more importantly, Were they able to see Christ in me? To be hospitable to others means giving others our full attention with patience and understanding, reaching out to them before they come to us.
Hospitality can be practiced within the community of faith. Benedict gives the model (RB 31) of the Cellarer – a sort of quartermaster – of the Monastery. The Cellarer is to dispense goods to the members of the community without keeping them waiting. If he cannot meet a request, he is to reply kindly. And he is to show special compassion and care for the sick, children, guests and the poor. Benedict tells us that we should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (RB 63).
- Smile and make eye contact.
- Welcome everyone you can, not just those you already know, especially children, teens and young adults as well as adults.
- Be as attentive as you can to people’s varying moods and dispositions.
- Be outgoing with newcomers, welcome them and introduce yourself. “Have I met you before? My name is __________, and yours?”
- Try to remember newcomers’ faces and, if possible, names. When you see them again, introduce them to the clergy and parish regulars to help them get acquainted.
- Be an active, participating member of the assembly during the liturgy.
- Gently offer assistance to anyone who appears to need it – elderly persons, any adult with small children, or persons with disabilities.
- Be a model of hospitality for others in the parish.
The late Fr Henri Nouwen describes hospitality as having a space around us that we create for others where they can come, be themselves, and discover who they are in a friendly and encouraging place of love, care, and acceptance. He says that we are to mentally reach out in a welcoming and inviting way to others, quieting our mind and our mouth, so we can listen to them instead of making them listen to us.
Ultimately, hospitality is an outworking of the Great Commandment: Love God, love your neighbor as yourself. In the words of the Rule, Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else. You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge. Rid your heart of all deceit. Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away someone who needs your love (RB 4).
From the Rector, June 26, 2020
Where the Church is now, and where we are going to be, Part IX.
I wrote last on May 29th of some predictions for the coming reality for the Church in America:
- There is going to be great hardship for many churches, with many being consolidated or closed. LifeWay research suggests that 5% of US churches may close this year because of the pandemic, and one-third may close by 2025.
- Significant demographic changes are on the horizon within parishes -- there will be both a winnowing, and a greater dedication on the part of those who remain.
- Digital/virtual worship will have profound effects--there is convenience yes, but moving folk from spectating to discipleship is a challenge. Those churches which have – necessarily -- moved programming online have noticed a decline in “viewership,” and that is true for our Advent webcasts as well. It may be that people are wearied by too much screen time, or it may be that they see church life mediated through technology as unsatisfactory.
A month later, here are some further thoughts on this subject, based on speaking with clergy throughout the country, reading, and my own thoughts. Once again the caveat that I am not infallible!
For those churches that have re-opened, there has been a significant decline in attendance -- in some cases up to 60%. Various causes for this have been advanced: there is obviously a reluctance to return for public health reasons, or because church is not “normal” and the various precautions are unpleasant (masks, gloves, no singing, etc.), or the nominally churched finding other things to do on Sunday mornings. When we come out of this experience, the church will be smaller. Those who are firm in their practice of religion will return when they feel comfortable to do so, but many will not. Anecdotal reports are that the attendance of young families with children at home has been significantly reduced.
It flows naturally from this that the years ahead will be ones of rebuilding. I quote a 1969 radio broadcast by Pope Benedict XVI (then Fr Joseph Ratzinger) at length because it seems so prophetic.
“From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members … But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.
“The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. ... But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.”
Benedict XVI’s entire talk has been republished in his book Faith and the Future, Ignatius, 2009. Paper copies are quite expensive, but the Kindle version is only $10. It is well worth your time!
This rebuilding and evangelism will take place in the context of authentic communities of faith. I see no future for the pre-Constantinian clinic model, whereby various spiritual remedies, the Sacraments, are dispensed as “isolated signs, performed by an isolated individual for an isolated individual” (Fr William Bausch). Moreover, the programmatic model ("if we offer the right combination of activities, people will show up") will have great difficulty going forward. Religious communities are going to be more like smaller abbeys with a robust common life, sending forth missionaries, than like large Wal-Marts of religion to which people are attracted. The Church will "be" more and "do" less, and what she does will be closely related to the opus Dei.
One thinks here of the positive vision of Fr Pierre-Marie Delfieux of whom I have written before. Delfieux had lived for a time as a desert hermit before returning to Paris in 1975 with a call to live out the monastic vocation in the midst of an urban setting. The city, he writes, is the new desert, “where people thirst for spirituality and genuine love in the heart of urban metropolises.”
The future landscape will be both a boon and a challenge for the Church. Certainly, it will require a change of mindset amongst both laity and clergy alike. With our strong community life, and authentic spirituality, I think we are well-positioned to adapt, but we will have to be intentional about how we approach the new landscape.
From the Rector, June 19, 2020
Dear Parishioners & Friends of the Church of the Advent,
The Vestry met last night via Zoom, and one of the items we discussed was the diocesan guidance about the reopening of churches for public worship after July 1. We have established an implementation team which will ensure our compliance with public health regulations, and the specifics that we have received from the Bishop. We take this matter very seriously, and are carefully considering the logistics of such a reopening. Once the implementation team has worked through the materials we have been given, I will write more on the mechanics of our regathering.
Needless to say, the way we conduct our worship will be different from what we are used to when we return, and we should mentally prepare ourselves for this. One of the most striking differences will be that the Bishop has asked that Communion not be distributed until a safe protocol is finalized. So, for the immediate future, the Masses here will be “non-communicating,” meaning that only the celebrant will receive. Of course, this is a necessary but sub-optimal situation, so I need to say a word about historical and theological context.
While non-communicating Masses were the usual practice in the mediæval Western Church, the Anglican reformers were adamant that both the clergy and laity should be afforded an opportunity to receive Communion, and that in both kinds. The First Prayer Book of 1549 included this rubric: “Then shall the Prieste firste receive the Communion in both kindes himselfe, and next deliver it to other Ministers, if any be there present, (that they may bee ready to helpe the chiefe Minister,) and after to the people.” But while the opportunity was given to receive Communion, the Eucharist itself was celebrated in most places quarterly, with Morning Prayer and Sermon being the normal Sunday liturgy in parishes. And even when the Lord’s Supper was celebrated, actual reception of Communion by the laity was even more infrequent than that. The framers of the 1662 Prayer Book had to insert a rubric requiring that “every parishioner shall communicate at least three times in the year, of which Easter to be one …”
It was not until the Anglo-Catholic revival in the 19th century that the frequency of the celebration of the Eucharist increased--first every Sunday and then, in time, daily. In the 1920s, the Parish Communion Movement sought to promote the Eucharist as the principal act of Sunday worship in parish churches instead of Matins--“The Lord’s own service at the Lord’s own table on the Lord’s own day.” In the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Pius X issued the decree Sacra Tridentina in 1905, exhorting that “Frequent and daily Communion. . . should be open to all the faithful, of whatever rank and condition of life; so that no one who is in the state of grace, and who approaches the holy table with a right and devout intention, can be lawfully hindered therefrom.” Prior to this decree, and indeed for a long time afterwards, many Roman Catholic laity received Communion but a few times a year. In some Eastern Orthodox Churches, the practice obtains to this day.
In Anglo-Catholic circles, it was the custom in many places, including the Advent, that the High Mass on each Sunday was non-communicating. It was common practice for those wishing to receive Communion to do so at a Low Mass, perhaps adjourning for breakfast, and then returning to hear the sermon at the High Mass, before leaving again at the offertory. At the Advent, the laity began to receive Communion at the High Mass beginning in 1953. Parenthetically, I know of other East Coast Anglo-Catholic parishes where this did not take place until the early 1970s, so the Advent was ahead of the curve!
History aside, for modern Anglican Christians, our normative practice is that “The Holy Eucharist [is] the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day …” (BCP, p. 13), and that “The ministers receive the Sacrament in both kinds, and then immediately deliver it to the people.” (p. 338). But, for the time being, things are not normal. Many of you will have difficulty with non-communicating Masses, and know that situation is uncomfortable for your priests too, who want to feed you with the Bread of Life. But needs must.
Perhaps we can all take solace if we consider the theology of what we are doing at Mass. One of the unfortunate, and perhaps unforeseen side effects of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II was the de-emphasis of the Mass as a sacrifice in favor of framing the Eucharist as a community meal. Of course, both are true. The Eucharist is both Meal and Sacrifice--as the hymn puts it, “Christ the Victim, Christ the Priest.” In this time of pandemic, we would do well to recover the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, apart from whether or not we actually physically receive It.
The Prayer Book makes it quite clear that the Sacrifice of our Lord on the altar of the cross is the “one, full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” At the same time in each Mass the priest solemnly re-presents the Sacrifice of the Son to the Father, and through “Jesus Christ our great High Priest” offers to God the Church’s “sacrifice of praise and prayer” (BCP, p. 381).
Moreover, our celebration of the Mass makes Jesus’ unique Sacrifice present for us, and applies the merits of our Lord’s Sacrifice to us here and now. In the words of Jeremy Taylor:
“It follows then that the celebration of this sacrifice be, in its proportion, an instrument of applying the proper sacrifice to all the purposes for which it was 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 beg pardon, blessings, and supply of all our needs” (Discourse XLX, 4).
So, even apart from our actual receiving of the Holy Communion, the Mass is still the preeminent way that the whole Church--both living and departed--participates in the Great Offering of Jesus himself to the Father. May we find comfort in that truth as we muddle through our present reality.
I am thankful for your continued prayers and support, and do know that you are in my prayers as well.
Fr Douglas Anderson
From the Rector, June 12, 2020
From the Rector, June 5, 2020
I am a slow and deliberate thinker, and I have been pondering this fruit/shoot/root dynamic these past few days, in the context of the horrific killing of George Floyd and too many others, tragic deaths that are obviously bitter fruit, and very poisonous. The shoot is the racism that is still endemic in society. Author Jim Wallis calls white racism against people of color “America’s original sin.”
It is also true that when it comes to this nation’s deadly experience with race, getting at the root is the hardest and most painful part because societies are made up of people, and the unjust structures are rooted in the sinful fallen nature of the individual person. Thus the corresponding need that all "continually have to renew their repentance and faith" (Ash Wednesday Exhortation, BCP, p. 265).
As Christians, it is important that we are crystal clear: racism is a sin that seeks to blot out the imago Dei of certain members of the human family. Because racism says that some human beings are inherently superior and others inferior, it violates the fundamental dignity of those who are children of the one Father, it is an offence against our Lord’s teaching to love our neighbor. As Pope Francis said on Wednesday, “we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism … in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life."
We have all been inundated with statements--from our bank, frequent flyer program, grocery store, and politicians. Some of these statements are helpful, some of these have opened new wounds. But healing the root involves more than saying the right words: Dealing with the root involves looking at ourselves--not only him, not only her, not only them, not only it--but seeing how we ourselves are complicit in sin in all of its manifestations.
We deplore and condemn the fruit and seek to address the shoot in the public square, listening particularly to persons of color and their experience. But addressing the symptoms, a good and necessary start, cannot touch the root of the problem. In the end, the curative for the hidden root of the sin of racism, or any other sin, involves conversion of each person in our interior forum. As the Ven. Fulton Sheen puts it, “There can be no world peace unless there is soul peace.”
Repentance and conversion of mind and heart should then lead to conversion of life expressed in action. One thinks here of Jonathan Daniels, martyred at age 26 in the cause of Civil Rights, who had that conversion-action experience here at the Advent in Eastertide of 1962. Of this he later wrote:
"‘My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.’ I had come to Evening Prayer [at Seminary] as usual that evening, and as usual I was singing the Magnificat with the special love and reverence I have always felt for Mary's glad song. ‘He hath showed strength with his arm.’ As the lovely hymn of the God-bearer continued, I found myself peculiarly alert, suddenly straining toward the decisive, luminous, Spirit-filled "moment" that would, in retrospect, remind me of others--particularly one at Easter three years ago [at the Advent]. Then it came. ‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things.’ I knew then that I must go to Selma.”
Jonathan Daniels discerned what God was calling him to do. Each of us too is called to repent and pray and search for the way that we can live out our conversion when it comes to addressing the root of sin in ourselves and in the wider society. This will be unique to each person, according to his or her conscience, personality, abilities, and means. But repentance and faith must issue in action, we cannot simply “pass by on the other side.” Pastor Kwesi Kamu puts it this way: “God is moving. Change is coming. Act. Don’t just react.”
Prayer is the unique contribution that the Church and people of faith can make at this time. It may be best to begin there.
Almighty God, who hast created us in thine own image; Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil, and make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice among peoples and nations, to the glory of thy holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. --1928 BCP, p. 44
See also Fr Hanson's meditation here: https://soundcloud.com/mark-dwyer-2/20200605-daily-meditation-webcast
From the Rector, June 2, 2020
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, p. 815)
Let us reflect on this Collect for a moment. As Dean Alec Vidler OGS once said, “The Gospel is not political, but it is vitally concerned with the politic.” The Gospel flourishes when peace and God’s justice reign in the world, the nation, and each human heart. And when the Gospel flourishes, the individual person flourishes. So we pray also for an end to violence and discrimination, whether that be against an individual person, or a violent and discriminatory system.
We are also reminded of the words of the late St John Paul II: “A person’s rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use.” Each time we renew our Baptismal Covenant, we promise to “renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God,” and to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being”--refusing to see anyone, regardless of race or creed or any other category, as an object, and working for that justice and peace, including an end to the sin of racism in all its forms. The Church of the Advent was founded to include all sorts and conditions of people according to Gospel principles, and to address the unjust marginalization of whole groups of people.
To this promise in the Covenant, the response is, “I will with God’s help.” The personal pronoun here is important. As an old saying goes, “If there is to be peace in the world, there must be peace in the nations. If there is to be peace in the nations, there must be peace in the cities. If there is to be peace in the cities, there must be peace between neighbors. If there is to be peace between neighbors, there must be peace in the home. If there is to be peace in the home, there must be peace in the heart.”
In short, each of us has a part to play, beginning with the conversion of our own hearts to the Gospel and the truth that God has indeed “made of one blood all the peoples of the earth” (BCP, p. 28), and living lives that reflect this belief by loving our neighbor as ourselves under the banner of the Prince of Peace.
From the Rector, May 29, 2020
From the Rector, May 22, 2020
Where the Church is now, and where we are going to be, Part VIII.
You will recall my prediction that going forward, those interested in having church life will want Christianity in a community context. Over the past few weeks, I have turned from overarching principles to the characteristics of the oikeios, the household’s domestic life, and what community life will look like in a post-modern, post-COVID world.
Last week I wrote of stability, living our lives rooted in a specific place, pursuing a specific vocation, with specific companions. I finished by saying that going forward, this and every parish is going to have to be very intentional about the way we ask people to commit to our common life.
Closely related to stability in community is obedience in community. Obedience, says St Benedict, “comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all” (Rule of Benedict 5.1). For Benedict, obedience is the outgrowth of both emotional and physical stability.
This, again, is very countercultural, and for many “obey” is a four-letter word! We are independently-minded people, and obedience would seem to limit our doing what we want to do. We have images in our mind of oppressive institutions and people, yet at the same time feel comfortable in seeing “obedience” in terms of what other people owe us.
Our word “obey” comes from the Latin obaudio, obaudire, which means to listen thoroughly. And indeed, the first words of the Prologue to the Rule are “Listen carefully, my child, to your master's precepts, and incline the ear of your heart” (Prov. 4:20). To listen is to attend, not just with the mind as an intellectual exercise, but with the heart which is the root of love.
We might call this “putting on the mind of Christ”—thinking and acting as Jesus would. Paul describes it thus in Philippians (5:2-8):
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
If we love Christ, obedience follows: Unhesitating obedience … comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all. (RB 5.1.2).
In a Benedictine Community, it is the abbot/abbess who is the head of the community, because the Church is by nature a hierarchical (from the Greek “holy rule”) kingdom with Christ as the Head. But in the Church there is also to be “mutual obedience” to one another. If obedience is listening and responding in love, then obedience needs to be part of any healthy, caring relationship and community, especially when we disagree with one another. We act, not in our own best interest, but in the interest of the community.
I have been a parish priest for over 25 years, and in that time have learned that parish ecosystems are very fragile things indeed. Divisiveness is always a danger. Part of “bearing one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2) is to treat one another with charity, taking into account the welfare of the whole body, building us up together in faith and love, despite our own personal opinions.
Obedience is meant to be spontaneous and joyful, given gladly. But we know this is not always the case. Benedict does not tolerate grumbling, or to use the biblical word, “murmuring.” Murmuring (either verbally or in the heart) may make us feel good temporarily, but is injurious to one’s own soul and to the community as a whole. Indeed murmuring is mentioned more than anything any other single item in the Rule.
Here are some ways to recognize grumbling:
- negative thoughts towards a person or situation
- obsessive thoughts about a person, situation or issue. One is reminded of the quote attributed to Churchill: “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind, and won’t change the subject.”
- suspicion--seeing people and situations as a part of an intrigue or plot
- comparisons between ourselves and others that make us feel superior
- expressions of envy, jealousy, inferiority
- justifying our bad behavior
- talking negatively about certain people
- persistent negative feelings about life
- absence of a sense of humor.
The antidote to grumbling is humility. Humility and obedience are linked because we cannot listen or respond if we believe that we are the center of the universe, or that our way is the only way.
Sister Joan Chittister organizes Chapter 7 of the Rule into a ladder of humility:
|Bottom rung - RB 7.10||to accept that God is present in my life|
|# 2 - RB 7.31||to make doing the will of God the first thing|
|# 3 - RB 7:34||to recognize that I cannot always be in control|
|# 4 - RB 7.35||to be patient and steadfast when our obedience places us in a difficult or unfair situation|
|# 5 - RB 7.44||to practice self-disclosure with a trusted friend|
|# 6 - RB 7.48||to be willing to do the most menial tasks, and to be at peace with them|
|# 7 - RB 7.51||to truly believe in my heart that others are better than I am|
|# 8- RB 7.55||to take no action except those endorsed by people who show wisdom and understanding|
|# 9 - RB 7.56||listen more, talk less|
|# 10 - RB 7.59||do not laugh excessively|
|# 11 - RB 7.60||speak quietly, briefly, and with restraint|
|Top rung - RB 7.62||know yourself, know your sinfulness, therefore be humble both inwardly and outwardly.|
A good exercise might be to try taking a step every week, or every other week, and consciously reflect and work through the list, cultivating obedience. “Cultivating” is a good word: it takes weeding of ourselves to root out those parts of us that rebel against the very idea of obedience.
I am prayerfully confident that a positive effect of the demise of the Christendom model is that we will realize that the vying, strife, and internecine conflict that has characterized the Church in recent years must come to an end. If Christianity going forward is going to be less nominal, more defined, and more outside of the mainstream of the culture, one of the things that will characterize believers is going to be mutual submission to one another in common life.
From the Rector, May 15, 2020
Where the Church is now, and where we are going to be, Part VII.
St Paul speaks of the Church as the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone … (Eph. 2:19). The Greek word for household is oikeios (οἰκεῖος), from which we get the English word “economy,” which you might think fits in well with the theme of the commercialization of American religion. However, the Biblical use of oikeios refers to the household’s intimate domestic life, of things pertaining to the family.
Under the Christendom model, the Church of the culture, the local parish ceased to be seen as a family, and instead more like a clinic, from whence various spiritual remedies, the Sacraments, were dispensed as “isolated signs, performed by an isolated individual for an isolated individual”. Such acts might have made sense when the whole of society was presumed to be Christian, but that is not the case now. This model reduces the Church to a factory, grace to a product, and the Sacraments as magical rites unrelated to everyday life. (William Bausch, A New Look at the Sacraments, Twenty-third Publications, 2003.) No, the Christian religion is authentically found in the oikeios, the family. St Benedict saw this clearly (RB 1).
Benedictine monks and nuns take a vow of stability: “The one thing we can hold onto is the certainty of God. Our stability is a response to that promise which reassures us that he is faithful and steadfast and that we should never lose hope in God’s mercy” (RB 4.74). Stability is derived from the Latin stare, meaning to stand, to stand up, to be still. There are connotations of resting on a solid foundation and being rooted. Monastic stability is a commitment to the belief that this place and these people will help me find God.
Stability in community is profoundly countercultural. The culture says “don’t get tied down, keep your options open, be free. If it doesn’t work, give it up, go on to something or someone else.” Translated into the realm of religion, one still hears echoes of the old Christendom/clinic model: “If my particular religious service provider doesn’t meet my needs in x (liturgy, music, clergy, preaching, etc.), I will do y (quit, withhold my pledge, gripe/complain/be divisive).”
In contrast, the communities envisioned by St Benedict see stability as “sacramental” - the outward and visible reflects the inward and spiritual: I am where God wants me to be. Stability, I would add, means living in the present moment and accepting and loving whatever God gives us in the present situation, regardless of how difficult this might be.
- Stability calls us to work out problems with the people who are part of our lives. When we flee physically or emotionally, we bring our old problems with us into the new situation or relationship. As the saying goes, if I don’t work out my problem with this person, I will visit the problem on the next person.
- Stability allows us to grow, and growth involves pangs. It is very important that we not project our inner dissatisfactions and issues onto the community.
- Stability encourages the skill of looking for the best in the other person. When we choose to be in community there are bound to be differences, quirks and personality conflicts. Living in community enables us to practice forgiveness.
Basil Cardinal Hume, late Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, writes: “We give ourselves to God in a particular way of life, in a particular place, with particular companions. This is our way: in this community, with this work, with these problems, with these shortcomings. The inner meaning of stability is that we embrace life as we find it, knowing that this, and not any other way, is our way to God.”
If it is true that going forward those interested in having church life will want Christianity in a community context, this and every parish is going to have to be very intentional about the way we ask people to commit to our common life. Stability is a big part of this.
Links. I had a question from last week on Christian world-view. One good source for this is www.barnagroup.org, which publishes incredible amounts of research on this topic. Three specific studies I referenced last week are:
From the Rector, May 8, 2020
Where the Church is now, and where we are going to be, Part VI.
I wrote last week of the Rule of St Benedict, and the Rule of the Fraternities of Jerusalem, the latter a modern application of that how the Church might manifest itself in a modern urban setting and how to do the opus Dei: worship, order, stability, discipline, community, mission, hospitality, and formation among them.
The latter is particularly important because I believe that the Church in the West has a crisis of formation. Benedict sought to found what he called “a school of the Lord’s service” (RB Prologue): using spiritual disciplines to grow into the image of Christ.
A recent survey indicates that only 9% of the American population has a Christian worldview, while 70% of Americans profess to be Christians. That is a significant disconnect, to say the least. And by Christian worldview, we’re not talking about thinking one way or another on hot-button cultural issues, but on much more basic questions like whether Jesus is God, or whether there is absolute truth or if “truthiness” is conditioned by time, place and circumstance.
Increasingly, when the Christian worldview comes into conflict with the culture, it is not the assumptions of culture that are questioned, but the faith itself, even by those who profess the name Christian.
The culture is very strong, so in these days the proper formation of Christians is of critical importance. Over the past 30 years or so the formation of children especially has become clinical, compartmentalized, and outsourced to professionals: the Church is meant to teach children about God, the School does their education (and communicates the values of the Academy), and the Media teaches them (and communicates the values of the prevailing culture) about relationships and how the world “really works.” Is it any wonder then, that 70% percent of youth who attend church in high school will drift away or drop out of church in college? We have not formed them, we have not given them the tools to evaluate the prevailing culture, or to use the Biblical word, to “ponder.”
How does Christian formation take place? St Benedict was quite clear that Christian formation takes place in the community of believers. It takes place—again—in the community gathered at worship [for which we wait and pray with longing], where we get a glimpse into the very throne room of heaven. Rose Macaulay’s quintessential Anglo-Catholic novel The Towers of Trebizond gives a wonderful picture of this. She writes:
I would go to High Mass … and the Church would build itself before me and round me, with its structure of liturgical words and music which was like fine architecture being reared up into the sky, while the priests moved to and fro before the altar in their glittering robes and crosses, and the rows of tall candles lifted their flames like yellow tulips, and the incense flowed about us. Here was the structure, I would think, in which the kingdom was enshrined, or whose doors opened on the kingdom, and sometimes the doors would swing ajar, and there the kingdom was, clear and terrible and bright.
Christian formation is meant to happen in the community of the home, what John Paul II called the “Domestic Church.” A place where the Christian faith is taught, but more importantly modeled, a place of prayer, a place where the Scriptures and spiritual works are read and discussed, a place of fraternal love and correction, a place of forbearance and peace. But if we adults lack a biblical world view, how can we teach and model the truth to our children and to one another?
Christian formation takes place in the community of classes and groups. Every single one of us, be we young or old, neophyte or veteran, ought (that’s a moral word there, ought) for the sake of our own soul, for the health of the parish community as a whole, ought to be in some sort of ongoing Christian formation.
The goal of this is what Benedictines call the conversatio morem, a Latin phrase that can be seen in two different ways, depending on the context. The first way is “Death to the Status Quo”, which embodies the counter-cultural aspect of discipleship to which Christians are increasingly being called in this post-Christendom world.
The second sense of conversatio morem is “Constant Conversion.” Conversion involves a gradual, daily transformation, and this takes place not by happenstance, but by deliberate, intentional formation into someone who is like Jesus, and closer to someone who is fit for heaven. The Ash Wednesday Exhortation speaks of “the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith” (BCP, p. 265). We hear these words at the beginning of Lent, but they are equally applicable at any time.
If Christianity going forward is going to be less nominal, more defined, and more outside of the mainstream of the culture, one of the things that will characterize faithful believers is going to be intentional Christian formation, and one’s participation in this conversatio morem.
From the Rector, May 1, 2020
Where the Church is now, and where we are going to be, Part V.
Anglo-Catholics, and the Tractarians before them, have been the conscience of the Anglican Way for more than a century. This is not to say that others have not done so too, but Anglo-Catholicism has a particular vocation in this regard. One thinks of people like Fr Stanton of St Alban’s, London, who ministered amongst the ignored poor, and brought the beauty of holiness to people in dire conditions. Or of the early ritualists, people like Fr Arthur Tooth, who was prosecuted and imprisoned under the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874 for using prohibited liturgical practices like adding water to the chalice at the offertory, or wearing Eucharistic vestments. We recall the Malines Conversations of the 1920s, led by Lord Halifax who sought to bring about understanding and perhaps even the reunion of the Anglican and Roman Catholic communions, or missionary bishops like Frank Weston, who was bishop of Zanzibar from 1907 to 1924.
Weston is best known for these words:
You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.
One could give countless other examples down to our own day, but suffice it to say that we have been the conscience of our part of the Church because we have held up a 40,000-foot vision to the wider Church of what she should be, and what she should do: worshipping God in the beauty of holiness, evangelizing the world, and making saints out of the members of the Church, with an abiding concern for Christian unity, a just society, and a profound respect for the apostolic tradition that we are called to guard. We have been known for a theological approach to the questions of the day, an approach that has sometimes been unappreciated by the uber-kirche which has been largely concerned with tinkering with “process” and a consumer-based approach of giving the customer what he or she wants.
I wrote last week of the Rule of St Benedict, and the Rule of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, the latter a modern application of that Rule showing how the Church might manifest itself in a modern urban setting and how to do the work of God, the opus Dei: worship, order, stability, discipline, community, mission, hospitality, and formation among them.
In looking at the big picture, consider worship, participating both in public worship and private personal prayer. St Benedict prescribes seven times of daily corporate prayer for his community. Obviously, that is not workable for us who live in the world. For us, the most obvious manifestation of our corporate prayer is our weekly celebration of the Eucharist. Ever since Pentecost, the Christians have come together weekly to devote “themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The “breaking of bread” is the earliest name we have for the Eucharist, and “the prayers” likely refers to set liturgical arrangements. The Church is fundamentally a Eucharistic community; it is the Eucharist that makes the Church.
John Mason Neale was a priest and scholar in the Victorian era. Working for the catholic revival in the Church of England, Neale is known for two things: first, he was a noted hymn writer—writing dozens of hymns such as Good Christian Men, Rejoice, and Good King Wenceslas. He translated many other hundreds of ancient Latin and Greek hymns, and rendering them into English; O come, O come Emmanuel and All Glory Laud and Honor, among them. He was known, secondly, for founding the first Anglican sisterhood since the Reformation.
In preparation for this, Neale went to the Continent to research religious houses for women. When he told some Roman Catholic nuns that he wanted to found a sisterhood to work with the sick and the poor in the slums, they told him it couldn’t be done in England. Why? he asked. Because, said the French, such hard work could not be accomplished by Englishwomen, because they did not have the frequent celebration of the Mass as a source of strength. This was in a day and age when the Holy Communion was celebrated perhaps once a month in the Church of England, or maybe even only once a quarter—whether it was needed or not!
Neale proved them wrong. He founded the Sisters of St Margaret in 1855, with their rule of life centered around the weekly, then daily celebration of the Mass, the source of their strength and God’s presence in their midst. Those in the power structures of the English Church did not share his catholic vision, and certainly did not share his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. He was suspended from priestly ministry by his bishop, and subjected to mob violence. The Eucharist was his pearl of great price, for which he was willing to give all that he had.
If the Church is fundamentally a Eucharistic community, if it is the Eucharist that makes the Church, then our Sunday celebration must be an absolute priority in our lives. It is the thing from which all other things flow. What is it we pray each Sunday after we have received our Communions?:
(Rite I) We most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us … with the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ … so that we may … do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in …
(Rite II) Eternal God, heavenly Father … you have fed us … in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you …
The Eucharist cannot be an add-on or adjunct to our lives, but the source and summit of our life as Christians, which makes this time of pandemic all the more difficult. If Christianity going forward is going to be less nominal, more defined, and more outside of the mainstream of the culture—as I think it is—one of the things that will characterize believers in the new landscape is going to be our faithfulness at the Lord’s own service on the Lord’s own day.
From the Rector, April 24, 2020
Where the Church is now, and where we are going to be, Part IV.
In the past decade, I have read two books that have had a profound effect on my thinking. The first is Rod Dreher’s 2017 New York Times bestseller, The Benedict Option. It is not an uncontroversial book, and it is uneven in content -- some of it is very good; other parts I find maddening -- by which I mean both that the analysis is simplistic and the content drives me to anger. But it has been influential at 70K US copies sold, with translations into 11 languages. Suffice it to say that the book has provoked great debate about the intersection of church and culture, which has been making the rounds of articles and blogs for the past decade or so.
The Benedict of the title is, of course, St Benedict, who was born the son of an Italian noble around 480. He was educated at Rome, where the decay of society made him withdraw to a cave near Subiaco where he lived as a hermit for some years. Eventually a community grew up around him, and a series of monasteries were established, the chief of these being at Monte Cassino. Benedict’s idea was to recover the impetus of the pre-Constantinian Church, unencumbered by the culture.
In the aftermath of the demise of the Roman Empire, it was these religious communities, with their lives focused on prayer, Sacraments, and lifelong formation, that had the strength to preserve the faith when the Church of the culture collapsed. These communities carved out a space where Christians could keep the light of faith burning until it would burst forth again upon the world at the Renaissance.
The second is the Rule of life of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, a Roman Catholic religious order founded by Fr Pierre-Marie Delfieux in 1975. Delfieux had lived for a time as a desert hermit before returning to Paris with a call to live out the monastic vocation in the midst of an urban setting. The city, he writes, is the new desert, “where people thirst for spirituality and genuine love in the heart of urban metropolises.” The Rule is intended to articulate his vision of a Christian oasis in the midst of the loneliness, isolation and anonymity of the city. “We are therefore city-dwellers, living in and at the rhythm of today's urban centers ... without a cloister, but with real time and places set aside for silence and solitude, closely attached to the diocesan Church.”
Both of these Rules, the latter clearly based on the former, are concerned with how to do the work of God, the opus Dei: worship, order, stability, discipline, community, mission, hospitality, and formation among them. I think they might have something to tell us about how to get us to where the ball is going to be in this new landscape in which we find ourselves.
I am convinced that now is a very exciting time to be a Christian. We should not and cannot become chronically negative or reactionary or unduly fearful, much less panicky. The Good News is that God is a God who acts in history, and in the fullness of time, all things will be brought to their perfection in accordance with his will. Our task is to do the heavy lifting of discerning both the signs of the times, and God’s will for us as urban community of faith.
More about that next week.
From the Rector, April 17, 2020 (Friday in Easter Week)
One gift that we have been given in these days of shut-down is space to think about — or to use the biblical word, to “ponder” — the 40,000-foot view of things. Here is the gist of my thoughts thus far — not exactly an “argument,” but some observations about where we have been and where we are going.
- The Constantinian idea that Christianity should be the social and political norm in society has been in serious decline over the last 50 years, and this pandemic will likely be the final nail in the coffin of this model.
- Many of the social privileges that came with this Christendom model have been stripped away from the Church. The institutional Church in the West will be smaller, and more outside the mainstream of the culture. More positively, the Church will be less nominal and more defined, not “Christianity Lite,” but the Real Thing, in a community context.
- American Christianity is going to have to soberly consider the way we have turned Christianity into a product; just another product amongst many products, just another lifestyle choice among the myriad of lifestyle choices in our society.
A recent survey indicates that only 9% of the American population has a Christian world view, while 70% of Americans profess to be Christians. That is a significant disconnect, to say the least. And by Christian worldview, we’re not talking about thinking one way or another on hot-button cultural issues, but on much more basic questions like whether Jesus is God, or whether there is absolute truth or if truthiness is conditioned by time, place and circumstance.
Between 2008 and 2018, the USA-based dioceses of the Episcopal Church lost one quarter of their worshipping population. You can read the statistics in the aggregate and by diocese here:
Other mainline denominations have, to a greater or lesser degree, seen similar declines. So the General Convention (or the General Conference of the United Methodist Church or the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, etc.) — governing bodies all populated largely by delegates who were formed in this post-war consumer-driven society — have embarked on a two-fold process to address this problem. The first is to improve “process”: if we can reform our governing body, its composition, its meeting schedule, its priorities, etc. that will stop the bleeding. The second is, again, to give the customer what she wants — usually couched in terms of “if we offer/do/make change x, y, or z,” the people will flock in our doors.” This has not worked.
In the case of the megachurches, this x, y or z is often based in popular American culture; in the case of the mainline denominations, it is often based in the concerns of elite American culture. But in both cases, the Church in North America is going to have to soberly reflect on the way we have twisted Christianity into a product to be consumed. Spiritual potage does not feed people, especially those who will be looking for the Real Thing as we go forward.
The problem is that “process” and ad hoc issue-based tinkering are more at the 4,000-foot view of our situation, instead of the 40,000-foot perspective that is needed. It is clear that parish life will be very different when we emerge from this pandemic, and big thinking is vital. We have to get this right.
Having shared my thoughts on the lay of the land as it is, next week I will turn to the way ahead and what that might look like for us.
From the Rector, April 10, 2020 (Good Friday)
Dear Parishioners & Friends of the Church of the Advent,
As I write, we are in the midst of the Paschal Triduum, the Great Three Days, which are the hinge upon which the whole Christian year hangs. It has been well said that without experiencing the Triduum, one can’t really understand what it is we’re doing the other days of the year! Normally, you would have received a letter from me exhorting your faithful attendance at the various Liturgies of Holy Week, but this year you will be spared that letter! Needless to say, the suspension of public worship is strange and disconcerting, and if I may add, a great disappointment.
Mark Dwyer has been busy producing the webcasts you hear, and I know you join me in thanking him for his efforts. We’ve had some very encouraging emails from far and wide, and a number of you have emailed (thank you!) or put a note in with a check to the church (double thank you!) to thank and encourage us. Your appreciation means a great deal! The Advent even got a brief shout-out today on WGBH Public radio. Listen here: https://www.wgbh.org/news/news/2020/04/10/massachusetts-christian-churches-ready-for-an-easter-unlike-any-other
Our webcasts are available on our website and Facebook page. This week, you will have heard your clergy give a meditation on each of our Lord’s words from the cross. For the Triduum Liturgies themselves, the Maundy Thursday webcast has already been published; Good Friday will be available this afternoon. We will not broadcast a Vigil webcast, but an archived version of the Exsultet (with commentary) will be put up on Saturday. The High Mass will be up on Easter Day. Clergy meditations will continue until we are back in church, and this coming Wednesday we will publish an Easter hymn festival, again with commentary.
Know that while the times are strange indeed, your priests continue to pray for you, and I know you are praying for us. The clergy of the Advent join me in wishing you a very happy Easter.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don't want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy three dollars’ worth of God, please.
From the Rector, April 3, 2020
- The Church will be even smaller and even more outside the mainstream of culture. But, more positively, Christianity itself will become less nominal, more dedicated and more defined.
- For the foreseeable future, many in our society will have no interest in the life of the institutional Church, but those who do will want not a “Christianity Lite” that simply mimics the culture, but the Real Thing.
- Those interested in having church life will want Christianity in the context of authentic community. I see this very visibly amongst people here.
From the Rector, March 27, 2020
Dear Parishioners & Friends of the Church of the Advent,
This is my regular Friday “COVIDtide” update.
As expected, the Bishop has extended the suspension of public liturgies until Pentecost, May 31st, or until any time before that the public health experts allow us to resume services. At the same time, a priest offers the Mass here daily as an act of intercession for the world, and in particular for the sick, the lonely, the anxious and health-care workers. Please do make an act of Spiritual Communion and join your prayers with ours. While we are separated by geography, we can most certainly be united in prayer.
This suspension of worship is also an opportunity to remind ourselves that our identity as catholic Anglicans does not consist solely in beautiful liturgical events or “high churchery.” The liturgy rather, is an outward and visible expression of our faithfulness to the teaching that comes down to us from the Apostles. As Cranmer taught--and you will forgive me for not having the source in front of me--there is no such thing as catholic worship, only catholic theology expressed in worship.
I am also thinking about what things will look like, both for this parish and the wider Church. at the other side of this pandemic, and specifically how we get to “where the ball is going to be” post-Covidtide in terms of programming, staffing and our community life. I will write more about this on another occasion, but these are very much in my mind, and the mind of the leadership team here.
Speaking of worship, by now you will know that we are posting regular webcasts on our Facebook Page and parish website. Our aim is to present the Mass for the Sunday, a Choral Evensong on Wednesdays, and a couple of short meditations on other days. These have been very well received, both by our own people, and indeed the wider Church. If you would like to watch a Sunday Mass, I have suggested Stephen’s Church, Providence [https://www.sstephens.org/sermon-archive] and will add the Church of the Resurrection, NYC: https://vimeo.com/resurrectionnyc. The Liturgy at both of these places will be familiar to us at the Advent, with sound gospel preaching.
I will endeavor to set up a Zoom meeting so that the Lenten Bible Study can resume, albeit virtually. Look for a separate email about this in the coming days. If you wish to put Zoom on your smartphone or computer now [https://zoom.us/], go ahead, but you will also be able to call in to the meeting by telephone.
Fr James is spearheading our efforts to reach out to those parishioners with whom we especially need to check on at this time. An update from him appears below. Know that your clergy are always available by telephone to address needs, or simply to visit with you. It’s been a pleasure to visit with people this past week by telephone, some of whom I have not yet met in person!
We’ve had a number of calls and emails asking about the implications of COVID-19 for the parish finances. The Vestry met on Tuesday night (by Zoom), and heard that while we do have a satisfactory cash position at this time, the Finance Committee is closely monitoring the situation. Many of you have sent checks into the office (thank you!), and we will soon add an online giving option to our website.
And again, on behalf of my clergy colleagues, and the lay staff, I thank you for those of you who have reached out to assure us of your prayers, or simply phoned to check in on us. We’re all in this together!
Update from Fr. James:
From the Rector, March 20, 2020
From the Rector, March 17, 2020
In light of the developing COVID-19 pandemic, and the various directives of the civil authority, the Bishop has directed that “all public worship services are to be cancelled through and including Palm Sunday, April 5th.” The Bishop further cautions that it is entirely possible that this cancellation will continue beyond that date.
Accordingly, all public liturgies, including Sunday Masses at the Church of the Advent, are suspended at least until that date. Needless to say, this is a disappointment to me, as I am sure it is to you, but the concern is for the common good of society, and we must all do our part. This directive includes rehearsals, non-essential meetings, and any Lenten events. Off-site visits by the clergy will be for urgent reasons only. The Tuesday night community supper will continue, albeit with additional precautions and as a take-away meal.
At the same time, your clergy are committed to maintaining the sacramental life of the parish. Each day, one or more of us will pray Morning Prayer at 9am, and a priest will offer the Mass at 9:30am for the living and the departed, and particularly for the sick, the anxious and lonely and health care workers. Wherever you may be, we invite you to join your intentions with ours at that time, and to make an act of spiritual Communion such as the one here. I also would ask you to add the Supplication to your daily prayers. The Prayer Book enjoins the Supplication for “times of war, or of national anxiety, or of disaster” (p. 154).
The parish leadership team are working on ways for us all to be connected during this time, and for the clergy to provide you with spiritual resources. If you have not done so, please subscribe to/like/follow our Facebook page and check the parish website for these resources as they are posted.
Finally, I remind you that the Church ministers to the whole person, body, soul and spirit, and your clergy stand ready and willing to assist you in any way we can. If you become sick, we need you or someone around you to let us know. If you are isolated and down of spirit, we are most willing to talk to you. If you are homebound and need medication or provisions, we need to know.
You will hear more from me as the situation develops, but do be assured of my prayers, even as I ask for yours.
Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will surely help you; I will uphold you with my right hand of righteousness.--Isa. 41:10
From the Rector, March 13, 2020
At Morning Prayer today, those present heard the story of Jesus calming the storm (Mk 4:36 ff) where we read, “Jesus arose, and rebuked the wind and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” I found these words particularly meaningful in light of the public health situation in which we presently find ourselves.
This communication will bring you up to date on the Advent’s response, both practical and pastoral, to fast-moving events. It’s a longish missive, but please read it carefully.
You will have read the Bishop’s first and second communications to the Diocese. If you have not done so, I commend these to your attention. In writing to the Diocese, the Bishop has had the assistance of a task force, to which he has appointed me, and which has been in daily contact since late last week. This small group consists of the Canon to the Ordinary, a representative of Episcopal Relief and Development, two epidemiologists, two disaster preparedness experts, and me. I see my role as providing a pastoral perspective to the Church’s response.
Liturgical response. Needless to say, the sacramental life of this parish is of paramount concern to the clergy. The Mass and the Offices are the heartbeat of what we do here. We must also remember that the Mass is not just a meal of fellowship, but a propitiatory Sacrifice, the Great Prayer of Jesus himself, whom we solemnly offer and re-present to the Father for the sins of the world, and an act of intercession on behalf of that world.
In light of the Bishop’s mandates, the following changes will be made to our liturgical practice:
- Holy Communion will be given in the form of the Host alone; no one other than the Celebrant at Mass will receive from the Chalice. Please be assured that it is perfectly acceptable to receive Holy Communion in one kind only. Holy Tradition teaches the doctrine of concomitance (from the Latin “together with”): the belief that the whole Christ is present in each Sacred Species. Receiving the Host alone is not somehow a “half Communion” because both the Body and Blood of Christ are present in the Host, and likewise both the Body and Blood in the Chalice. The Prayer Book affirms this tradition: if a person “cannot receive either the consecrated Bread or the Wine, it is suitable to administer the Sacrament in one kind only” (BCP, p. 457.)
- Communion will be given into the hand, and not directly onto the tongue. Receiving in the hand minimizes the chances of the priest accidentally coming in contact with your mouth.
- Offering plates will not be passed from person to person. Offering plates will be placed at the back of the church, and at the head of the aisle as you approach the altar, to receive your gift.
- The Peace has been relocated from the Offertory to the Fraction, as permitted by the rubrics of the Prayer Book: “... the exchange of the Peace may take place at the administration of the Sacrament …” (BCP, p. 407.) In practice, the celebrant of the Mass will break the Bread, then sing the Peace, to which the people will make their customary response, kneeling.
- Please continue to use the hand sanitizer available at the doors of the church. The clergy and other ministers do this before Mass and immediately prior to the distribution of Communion. While we look forward to greeting you after Mass, the clergy will refrain from shaking hands at the door. Where possible, please spread out in the church. Surfaces, including the altar rail, are sanitized prior to each Mass.
As I write this, the regular schedule of Sunday and daily Masses and Offices will continue. However, note the following:
- Solemn Evensong and Benediction scheduled for Sunday, March 15th has been cancelled.
- Thursday Stations of the Cross and Benediction are suspended.
If you are a liturgical minister, and are feeling at all unwell or otherwise unable to make it to Mass, it is vital that we hear from you sooner, rather than later.
We should expect further liturgical changes, and I will keep you updated on these.
Community life. The Bishop’s recommendations will also necessitate some changes to the fabric of our community life.
- Sunday Christian education offerings for both adults and children are suspended until Easter.
- Professional nursery care is suspended until Easter. Our caregivers are largely university students, and have departed or will soon depart Boston. Parents may wish to make informal arrangements to watch children during Mass.
- Sunday coffee hour is suspended until Easter. I know this is a particular hardship, but food-service safety is of concern. You may wish to make an informal grouping to go to lunch or a drink after Mass.
- Clergy visits to hospitals and nursing homes will be on an urgent basis only. We will keep up with you by phone, or ensure that you have the ministrations of in-house chaplains where such are available, but by visiting areas of risk, the clergy do not need to themselves become purveyors of viruses to others.
Prayer and Pastoral concerns. The Church ministers to the whole person, body, soul and spirit, and your clergy stand ready and willing to assist you in any way we can. If you become sick, we need you or someone around you to let us know. If you are isolated and down of spirit, we are most willing to talk to you. If you are homebound and need medication or provisions, we need to know. But you must let us know--clairvoyance is not one of the graces given at ordination!
If you are in such a group, or are feeling unwell, you are dispensed from your obligation to be at Mass, and indeed are encouraged to stay home and rest. In such a case, you may wish to make an act of Spiritual Communion (see below).
Know that the rest of us, who will be at Mass, will offer prayers and praises on your behalf.
We would all do well to add the Prayer Book Supplication (also below) to our daily prayers during this time of trial, as the chief work of the Church is prayer.
Finally. Needless to say, this is not how I thought the first weeks of my rectorship at the Advent would be spent! As St Paul says, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). We shall all have to lean on one another during this time, and will emerge on the other side stronger and more united for the experience.
“Jesus arose, and rebuked the wind and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” (Mark 4:36f)
O Lord, arise, help us;
And deliver us for thy Name's sake.
O God, we have heard with our ears, and our fathers have declared unto us, the noble works that thou didst in their days, and in the old time before them.
O Lord, arise, help us;
and deliver us for thy Name's sake.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
O Lord, arise, help us;
and deliver us for thy Name's sake.
V. From our enemies defend us, O Christ;
R. Graciously behold our afflictions.
V. With pity behold the sorrows of our hearts;
R. Mercifully forgive the sins of thy people.
V. Favorably with mercy hear our prayers;
R. O Son of David, have mercy upon us.
V. Both now and ever vouchsafe to hear us, O Christ;
R. Graciously hear us, O Christ; graciously hear us, O Lord Christ.
Let us pray.
O most mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto thee for succor. Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is, we may apply our hearts to that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.