So here’s a brand new thing for St. Mary’s – a weekday prayer service!
Come to St. Mary’s on any Wednesday night at 6:30pm, enter the sanctuary chapel (behind the wooden screen) and join some new friends for an experience of Evening Prayer rooted in our Episcopal/Anglican tradition.
The service is called Evening Prayer and is found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It’s a series of scripture readings and prayers which can be led by a non-ordained person. In our case, the primary leadership will come from Brandon Aschroft, at least at the beginning until he teaches others how to lead it.
And you can get Evening Prayer and the other daily services that comprise what we call the Daily Office, right on your phone. The scripture readings are already folded in for you so it’s quite simple. There are also a lot of great prayer resources there from our tradition. God bless those nuns! Click here to get to the webpage for the Mission of St. Clare.
Here is a note from Brandon:
One thing that was clear to me from my very first visit to St. Mary’s is that we place great importance on welcoming the newcomer. And this is a wonderful thing! It honors the spirit of radical hospitality that Jesus exemplified in his ministry. Our commitment to embracing anyone who darkens our doors, without condition, stands in ever-sharpening contrast to a world increasingly resistant to welcoming the stranger.
An important part of welcoming newcomers is making them comfortable during worship. The liturgy shouldn’t be intimidating or overwhelming, which is why LeeAnne and our worship leaders go to great lengths to explain what we do in worship each week. Having a simple bulletin that contains everything needed to follow the service is an important gesture of hospitality. But believe it or not, this adoption of an all-in-one service bulletin (which is a trend not just at St. Mary’s, but across the wider Episcopal Church) has a major downside as well. It means that those red prayer books scattered across our pews tend to sit unopened, gathering dust. Why, you may wonder, does this really matter?
Consider our history. One the greatest innovations of the English Reformation of the sixteenth century (the event to which we as Episcopalians trace our beginnings) was the introduction of worship in English, an innovation spearheaded by then Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the primary author of our prayer book. It’s hard for us today to wrap our minds around how revolutionary this was! All of a sudden the mass, which had been conducted for centuries in Latin, was now being prayed in the tongue of the people! And the words and prayers that comprised the services were no longer hidden in secret books that belonged only to the clergy – they were accessible to all people in one book that united worshippers across the nation in common prayer. While it has been revised several times since Cranmer introduced the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, the BCP continues to unite us as Episcopalians with our Anglican brothers and sisters throughout the broader communion and is the bedrock of our liturgical tradition.
Here’s why this liturgical book is core to who we are. Unlike most other Christian traditions and denominations, we as Anglicans do not derive our identity from confessional documents (like the Augsburg Confession of the Lutherans or the Westminster Confession of the Presbyterians) or a magisterial hierarchy (like the Roman Catholics). Rather, our beliefs are articulated in what and how we pray. The Latin expression Lex orandi, lex credendi (“what we pray is what we believe”) is especially true for us. As one of my mentors, Episcopal liturgical scholar Patrick Malloy has written, “What [Episcopalians] do in the liturgy and how we do it declares what we believe and impresses an identity upon us. The liturgy is foundational for us.”
So if you’ve not really explored The Book of Common Prayer, I invite you pick one up from the pew and flip through its pages. If you have a copy at home but it’s sitting on your shelf collecting dust, take it down one day, turn to page 136 and try praying one of the one-page daily devotionals. Or, you can join me for Evening Prayer one Wednesday at 6:30pm in the chapel! I plan to say a little more each week about the Episcopal Daily Office (the services of Morning and Evening Prayer) in future installments of the weekly newsletter. My hope is that these daily prayer rituals, which have been part of our Episcopal tradition for more than five centuries, will come to enrich your prayer life as they have mine. If you are not too familiar with our Prayer Book but would like to know it better, these daily prayer services can be a wonderful pathway into a deeper, more meaningful relationship with the Prayer Book.
I hope to see you in the chapel on Wednesday at 6:30. Come and worship!
Note about this coming Wednesday’s service:
This Wednesday at Evening Prayer, we will commemorate yet another major feast day in the church calendar: the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, which falls on February 2nd (the Prayer Book appoints special lessons for February 1st the “Eve of the Presentation”).
Under Mosaic Law, all Jewish parents were required to “present” their firstborn son in the temple shortly after his birth, as a special offering to God. The Gospel of Luke (2:22-40) tells us that Joseph and Mary, being observant Jews, went to the Temple to fulfill this ritual requirement. Once there, they encountered a prophetess named Anna and a priest named Simeon, both of whom were transformed by their encounter with the newborn Messiah. Simeon, upon seeing the infant Christ in Mary’s arms, utters beautiful and holy words that have resonated throughout the church’s worship for centuries. His words of praise, often called the “Song of Simeon” (or in Latin, the “Nunc Dimittis”), proclaim Jesus not only as the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy, but also as good news for the Gentiles – in other words, redemption for all of God’s creation.
Episcopal Liturgical History
When Archbishop Thomas Cranmer wrote the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, he chose two canticles, or songs of praise, to be read at every service of Evening Prayer: the “Song of Mary” (the “Magnificat”) and the “Song of Simeon” (the “Nunc Dimittis”), a liturgical tradition that remains with us more than 500 years later. This is the translation of the “Song of Simeon” which appears in our current 1979 Book of Common Prayer:
Lord, you now have set your servant free *
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, *
whom you have prepared for all world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations, *
and the glory of your people Israel.
Implications for Our Daily Lives as Christians
I love the brevity and the simplicity of this canticle. In those moments when I am overwhelmed by the business or the anxiety of the day, it’s one of my go-to prayers. It reminds me of God’s faithfulness to his promise to redeem all of creation through his Son. Simeon’s song has particular power and meaning for us now, during this time of political disruption. If we turn to this prayer in moments when our “dials are turned all the way up,” it grounds us in our call to witness to the universality of God’s love and the good news of his Son Jesus Christ for all people – a Savior “prepared for all the world to see” and a “light to enlighten the nations.”
Other interesting facts!
- The Feast of the Presentation is also known as “Candlemas.” In many places, it was the day that all the Church’s candles for the year were blessed.
- The day has pagan origins as well. In pre-Christian times, February 2nd was the festival of light that marked the mid point of winter, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
- Some people even believed that Candlemas predicted the weather for the rest of the winter, a superstition retained in our modern day Groundhog’s Day…which, as you know, falls on February 2nd!