The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Two quotations: “This present age is large of mouth and small of brain;” and, “people today are often historically ignorant and/or intellectually dishonest.” One uttered in about the year 1600 and the other about 10 or 12 years ago by a young curate of this parish.

A few episodes prompted me to think of these quotations. If we were to make up a very quick list of notable figures in the Old Testament, almost surely that list would include Elijah. He even figures somewhat prominently in the New Testament: on the Mount of Transfiguration, he and Moses are seen with Jesus; and, one of the prophecies in terms of the Coming of the Messiah was that Elijah would return first. One might conclude that his life was particularly led by God, and that he was always “dialled in” as the colloquial expression goes. However, this past week, on the first Evensong of the Feast of St. Matthew, we read in 1 Kings Ch. 19 of the episode where God instructs Elijah, after the end of his forty day, self-imposed exile in the wilderness, to anoint Hazael, Jehu and Elisha. We might recall that Elijah had fled to the wilderness, absolutely convinced that he was the only faithful person left in all of Israel – “the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left: and they seek my life, to take it away.” It would not really be appropriate to accuse Elijah of being large of mouth and small of brain, or even as being historically ignorant and intellectually dishonest. But it does appear that he was at least not completely aware of all of the facts. After having given him the instructions to anoint the three men, God then tells Elijah that He still has 7,000 faithful people in Israel who have not bowed the knee to Baal.

This then made me think of a recent situation in our own parish where I might be accused of not explaining something very thoroughly or carefully – not giving all of the facts. For the first 25-plus years of the existence of this parish, the normal practice for this main Sunday Eucharist was for the Sanctuary party to enter directly from the Sacristy, while the Introit was being sung, or if necessary because one of the Sanctuary party was the Cantor, just before the Introit. On major feast days, as is prescribed, we would include a Processional hymn at the beginning of the service. A few years ago, based on a suggestion, and recalling my own childhood, I agreed to introduce an Entrance Hymn for every service. Earlier this year, based both on revisiting Anglican service instruction books as I encourage all postulants and new ordinands to do, and on discussions with others, I discovered that to have both an entrance hymn and an Introit is repetitively redundant. The Introit is the entrance hymn. So, after less than two years of the practice, I reverted to the original practice of the parish, which, as it turns out, is that prescribed. (One might observe that oh-so-common situation in churches, where people would say, “But that’s the way we’ve always done it.” In this situation, less than two years …)

When queried, I responded perhaps not thoroughly enough. I did mention that our current practice of Introit only is that which is prescribed in instruction manuals, including Fr. Palmer’s Readiness and Decency. I guess that I should have prefaced that observation with the admission that I had made a mistake in introducing the double entrance, and in correcting my mistake, I was deferring to such noteworthy forebears as Fr. Palmer as having corrected my mistake. Unfortunately, it appears that my briefer answer was misunderstood in that some felt that I was blaming Fr. Palmer, rather than admitting my own mistake and confessing to having received his correction posthumously.

While I perhaps had all of the facts, I was at fault for not presenting them clearly. Please forgive me for my intellectual mishap and largeness of mouth; and, please also recognize that I would never consciously blame someone like Fr. Palmer for anything.

Then, today, we heard recited during the Liturgy of the Word, the full Ten Commandments, or as they are otherwise known, The Decalogue. In the Gospel reading for today, we heard read that which is called The Summary of the Law, from an episode in the Gospel according to St. Mark. Jesus, having been asked by a perceptive scribe, “Which is the first commandment of all?” responds with the summary that we hear read at most celebrations of the Holy Eucharist. When we don’t hear the Summary, then we hear the full Ten, as today.

Recently, a few of our newer members, who had belonged for a relatively brief time, decided that they could not reconcile our early Church position on certain central tenets of our faith: the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar being one that comes to mind. They were also uncomfortable when we would point out at Bible study or in discussion groups that the followers of, oh, John Calvin or some other had wandered sufficiently far from the Via Media that we might feel free in such forums to criticize some of their beliefs: an example being that we believe that Jesus died on the Cross for all of mankind, whereas strict Calvinism believes in a limited atonement only, as we necessarily discussed at Bible study this past Wednesday evening where, in Chapter 2 of his first letter to Timothy, St. Paul stresses that Jesus died for all of mankind, not just for the subset who are called the elect. While we consider such deviations and differences important, in terms of our people knowing what we believe and that others sometimes believe something quite different, our newcomers felt that we were not being fair in that there was nobody present from a Calvinist group to defend their beliefs.

Still, as these particular new members were indeed keenly interested in learning about historical Christianity and its beliefs, I contacted one of them to see if he would be willing to have a chat. He was, and we did, and it was all very pleasant. However, he did bring up two very interesting things within the context of both my opening remarks and the Commandments.

First, he commented that he might have been prepared to accept our traditionalist position, based on previous discussions where I had pointed out to him that our study groups and discussions should always try their best to avoid bashing other denominations, but, from time to time, where rather central beliefs can be quite divergent indeed, it is our duty to point out the differences. However, he gently, but clearly feeling much pain, then told me that both for him, and for one other Saturday regular who has also left us, “the straw that broke the camel’s back” was that, one more than one occasion, during vigorous debate, one of our other regulars said words to the effect, “Well then, maybe you don’t belong with us.”

Ouch! I wasn’t there, or at least wasn’t part of the discussion in these dialogues; however, I suspect that such words fall very close to the “large of mouth” observation. Perhaps the newcomers who have since left don’t belong with us – at least not today, or until they work through their current investigation of non-traditional, but apparently logical Christian variations – but perhaps our self-appointed defender of orthodoxy might have been able to find better words?

The second interesting thing was that our now former member wondered about the different versions of the Ten Commandments in use in different denominations. He was informed by an apparently very sincere Christian that the Roman Catholic Church has renumbered the Commandments, splitting that which we have as number 10, so that they still come up with a total of 10, because they have deleted that which we have as number 2. Number 2 for us being, “Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth…” and so on. The observation was then offered that the Romans had purposely deleted this so that they could fill their churches with statues and images.

Before clarifying the historically ignorant and, to some extent, intellectually dishonest suggestion by the acquaintances of our now former member, I asked him if he would mind going back to those who had made this observation, and ask them whether they put up a crèche scene in their churches at Christmastime – complete with statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and God Incarnate. Well, what a revelation that was! Perhaps a seed of renewed fellowship has been planted in terms of future good relationships with him.

But what of the “different” Ten Commandments in the Roman Catholic Church – and, oh, by the way, the Lutherans also? Well, were we to go back to the places in Scripture (note the plural) where God gave the Commandments to Moses, we would note that the number does not necessarily come out conveniently to exactly 10 based on each time there is a word of command. Indeed, in Exodus, Chapter 34 where Moses is in the process of rewriting the Commandments on the second set of tablets, several commandments are completely different than those that we know from Exodus, Chapter 20 and Deuteronomy, Chapter 5.

In Chapter 34, in addition to those about God, we have such commandments as:
• The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep;
• Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks;
• Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the Lord God
• Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven;
And missing are some of those with which we are familiar: Honour thy father and mother; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt do no murder; thou shalt not commit adultery. Is there a problem here? Not really; the different commandments that I’ve listed are recognized usually as ceremonial injunctions that were issued previously. A few verses later, it is stated that, during forty days and nights, Moses wrote down the original Commandments as presented in Chapter 20. If we compare the same episode as recorded in Deut. Ch. 10, the aforementioned ceremonial injunctions are not mentioned; rather, Moses just writes out again the original 10 that had been presented in Chapter 5 of that book.

Now, what of the issue of the numbering of the 10, The Decalouge, and the contention that the Romans have expunged what we know as number 2 concerning graven images? Well, so that we end up with exactly 10, it is necessary to do some combining. Indeed, if any of us is ever engaged in vigorous discussion with ecclesiastical history buffs, we might hear the term “dodecalogue” meaning 12. But God tells Moses that the number is 10, so we must come up with a total of 10. So, where our number 10 includes the prohibition of coveting anything that is our neighbour’s, parts of the Church split the desiring of our neighbour’s wife from the coveting of any of his other material goods, as they are in fact thus separated in the version in Deuteronomy. Conversely then, to keep the total number to 10, what we know as numbers 1 and 2 are combined into one, so that the prohibition against the worship of graven images is part of number 1. As simple as that, as it were. A pity that those who contend that the Romans have played fast and loose didn’t at least show an even small amount of curiosity by looking in a Roman service book or at their Catechism, and further do a small amount of searching in the Bible itself to determine that the numbering of the 10 is a minor challenge in terms of coming out to exactly 10. Not only didn’t they have the very easily obtainable facts, their lack of knowledge would appear to fall very close, if not into intellectual dishonesty, dare we say, large of mouth; and, historical ignorance, dare we say, small of brain?

The Roman Catechism also reveals that they do in fact take the prohibition against worship of images seriously, at least that is their official position. In making the point that worship is due to God alone, their Catechism states, “Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate.” Which is to say, while they might venerate images, their position must never be considered as more than aids to devotion – sort of like a crèche scene in a church of almost any denomination that we see during Christmastide!

Let us, each of us, keep in mind that, during discussion of any matters, but particularly those that pertain to our Christian beliefs, it is perfectly acceptable to indicate that we don’t know the answer to something, that we don’t necessarily have all of the facts. Far better that I should think, than to be perceived as wilfully historically ignorant and intellectually dishonest, or perhaps even worse, “large of mouth and small of brain.”

Oh, the sources of the quotations? “This present age is large of mouth and small of brain” ca. 1600, attributed to Richard Hooker, a voice of reason in the ongoing, often vicious debates between the various parties in the Church of England at the end of the 16th century, and author of the benchmark volumes, “Of The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.” He was not always so acerbic; one of his most famous quotations, slightly scrambled by an historian but I think more understandable, is, “God is no captious sophister” (which is to say a quibbler), “eager to trip us up whenever we say amiss, but a courteous tutor, ready to amend what, in our weakness or our ignorance, we say ill, and to make the most of what we say aright.”


Monday, September 12, 2005


A few weeks ago, Deborah Gyapong forwarded to me some thoughts by a Protestant pastor about Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cologne for the World Youth Day celebrations of the Roman Catholic Church. Said pastor is the Presbyterian Rev. Dr. Mark Roberts, who received all three of his degrees from Harvard, his doctorate being in New Testament and Christian Origins.

The Pope preached to the youth on the episode of the Magi from Matthew Ch. 2, and as Dr. Roberts observes, “His main point about the Magi was that their encounter with Jesus required a profound change in their way of thinking and being. Though they might have thought that when they finally reached the place where Jesus was, their journey was over, in fact ‘a new journey began for them, an inner pilgrimage which changed their whole lives’.”

On his blog (web log), Dr. Roberts went on to say, “On Friday I continued my examination of the Pope’s welcoming address to the thousands of youth gathered on the bank of the Rhine river in Cologne, Germany. So far, I’ve been impressed by the Christ-centeredness and pastoral sensitivity in the Pope’s speech. Much of what he said I could say as well, even though I’m a Protestant and he’s a Catholic (You know, ‘Is the Pope Catholic?’).

“However, in the closing paragraphs of the address Benedict XVI gets into the tricky and touchy issue of relics: bones (or other material items) of dead saints that are protected and venerated in Catholic holy sites. ‘And now I shall go as a pilgrim to the Cathedral of Cologne, to venerate the relics of the holy Magi who left everything to follow the star which was guiding them to the Saviour of the human race. You too, dear young people, have already had, or will have, the opportunity to make the same pilgrimage’.”

“Now we come to one of the classically divisive issues among Christians. The whole issue of relics was central to the Protestant reformation, and it continues to be something that gives Protestant Christians the heebee-jeebees. In many of Europe’s finest cathedrals you’ll find relics of deceased saints. This can seem very odd to those not familiar with the practice. And it can even seem idolatrous. Indeed, there have been times in church history when the veneration of relics has become so extreme as to warrant, not only Reformed critique, but reform within Catholicism itself.

“In his speech on the Rhine, the Pope is saying that he’s going to the cathedral to ‘venerate the relics of the holy Magi.’ And he is encouraging others to do the same. What are we to make of this? After all the wonderful Christ-centred material in Benedict’s address, has he gone and lost it in the arcane world of Catholic relics? Not necessarily. Check out his next two paragraphs, with which he concludes his welcome address.
“‘These relics are only the poor and frail sign of what those men were and what they experienced so many centuries ago. The relics direct us towards God Himself: it is He Who, by the power of His grace, grants to weak human beings the courage to bear witness to Him before the world.

“‘By inviting us to venerate the mortal remains of the martyrs and saints, the Church does not forget that, in the end, these are indeed just human bones, but they are bones that belonged to individuals touched by the living power of God. The relics of the saints are traces of that invisible but real presence which sheds light upon the shadows of the world and reveals the Kingdom of Heaven in our midst. They cry out with us and for us: “Maranatha!” – “Come, Lord Jesus!”’”

Dr. Roberts then goes on, in an almost giddy state that the Pope has made the happy point that the relics themselves are not the object of worship, rather they point us towards God as our only object of worship. This, according to Dr. Roberts, puts Benedict XVI right up there with the best in Catholic tradition: Jerome, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. As an aside, we might hope that this will put to rest yet another gross misunderstanding in the minds of many western Christians about the Roman Catholic Church, and just Who and What It is that She worships.

Which brings us to a few other similar issues, as we topically find ourselves in the octave of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What about the veneration of Saints, let alone their bones? What about asking dead people, and especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, to pray for us? Are these unwarranted fabrications of the hopelessly corrupt (sic) medieval Church, or do they have roots that go back much further?

In the case of the veneration of Saints, we have a very early record. In a circular letter of the Church of Smyrna (Eus., Hist. Eccl., IV, xxiii) we find mention of the religious celebration of the day on which St. Polycarp suffered martyrdom (23 February, 155 AD). St. Polycarp, we may recall, was a disciple of the Apostle, St. John. The words of a passage in the letter exactly express the main purpose which the Church has in the celebration of such anniversaries:
“We have at last gathered his bones, which are dearer to us than priceless gems and purer than gold, and laid them to rest where it was befitting they should lie. And if it be possible for us to assemble again, may God grant us to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom with gladness, thus to recall the memory of those who fought in the glorious combat, and to teach and strengthen by his example, those who shall come after us.”

We must note very carefully here the distinction between veneration and worship. The early Church held Polycarp’s bones to be precious indeed; they honoured them, but they did not worship them. Rather, their hope was that they might be able, on an annual basis to meet especially for the remembrance of the life of the Saint, who served “to teach and strengthen by his example.”

Additional records, for example from the catacombs, show us that this remembrance of Saints, and what we might learn from the example of their lives, goes back to the very early days of the Church. For parts of the Church to cut themselves off from this practice some 1500 years later and to turn their backs on something that even has Biblical allusions that span the two Covenants is truly unfortunate. That the early Church, and the Jews of their time both venerated the patriarchs and prophets (Abraham, Moses, Elijah), is but one very clear example recorded for us in Holy Scripture. Some may also recall a sermon that I have preached twice on the Feast of All Saints, where I dangled the teaser during the sermon that it is a good thing for us to thus remember Saints, as they can give us something that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ cannot. Only at the end of the sermon did I reveal that what the lives of Saints can give us that Jesus can’t is the example of sinners being made holy. It is a good and logical thing to thus learn from the lives and examples of Saints.

What about the Blessed Virgin Mary? Detractors will usually point to her almost complete absence from the pages of the New Testament following the Day of Pentecost in Acts Ch. 2. An all too hasty judgement quite frankly, as there are other references, important at that. St. Paul, in his letter to the Church in Galatia – often recognized as the oldest of all of the New Testament writings – in his brilliant summary of God’s perfect plan for the redemption of mankind, in Chapter 4 says, “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman…”

Acknowledging that, and the allusion to the woman in Revelation about which the jury remains out as to whether she represents the Church only or both the Church and Mary, there is in truth nought else mentioned about her in the pages of the Bible after Pentecost. But what are we to make of the claim that her veneration above all other Saints was just plunked on the Church at the third Ecumenical Council of the undivided Church at Ephesus in 431 AD? And, by the way, our Affirmation of St. Louis states that we accept all of the decrees of the first seven Councils. The wording from the third Council acknowledges her as theotokos – God bearer, and states, “If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is God in truth, and therefore that the holy virgin is the mother of God (for she bore in a fleshly way the Word of God become flesh), let him be anathema.”

Was this truly as sudden as many will claim? Hardly; in fact, it would appear that her veneration significantly predates that of Polycarp. One of the very first attacks on the post-Apostolic Church, not all that long after John had put down his quill on the isle of Patmos, having recorded the visions that we call Revelation, one of the first attacks was against the Virgin Birth. The earliest defence for which we have a record (there may be earlier) is that of St. Ignatius of Antioch (martyred c.110 AD), where he states in his first letter to the Ephesians, “There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first possible and then impossible, even Jesus Christ our Lord.” We should note how St. Ignatius does not just give a simple defence of the Virgin Birth. In a poetic way, he also comments on the awesome significance of her part in the Incarnation. Did things fall silent about Mary after St. Ignatius?

In fact, there many other writings by the early Church Fathers about Mary. Not long after Ignatius, who also made other references to her importance, Justin Martyr (martyred 165 AD), in his dialogue with Trypho in 150 AD says, “He became man by the Virgin, in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her, and the power of the Highest would overshadow her: wherefore also the Holy Thing begotten of her is the Son of God; and she replied, 'Be it unto me according to thy word.' And by her has He been born, to whom we have proved so many Scriptures refer, and by whom God destroys both the serpent and those angels and men who are like him; but works deliverance from death to those who repent of their wickedness and believe upon Him.” And thus began the reference to her as the new Eve. Irenaeus, a disciple of the aforementioned Polycarp, not long after Justin Martyr, expounded on the same in his writing entitled “Against Heresies.” Tertullian, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and so on, all wrote about her importance, not just in terms of her obedience, but also in terms of her pure virginity as the only appropriate vessel to bear the Incarnate Word. Which is to say, the supposed “cult of Mary” is not a cult at all. The full recognition of her importance, and therefore her veneration, go back to the beginnings of the Church. And why should this surprise us? Ponder for a moment: she bore God Incarnate in her womb, “immensity cloistered in thy dear womb” was how John Donne phrased it. No one else, no matter how holy and how revered by posterity, comes even close to her in terms of the importance of her place in human history. She is the chosen vessel, highly favoured, to be called blessed by all generations, in whom God Incarnate found His dwelling place, given both an impossibly unthinkable privilege far above that ever bestowed upon any other human, but also entrusted with an utterly awesome responsibility – because from her, God Incarnate took His humanity. How can she not be worthy of honour?

What about the practice of praying for one another? Even older. St. Paul repeatedly asks the various geographical parts of the Church to whom he addressed his letters (his Epistles) to pray for him. Removed from sight, and separated by distance and time, he nonetheless implores their prayers. This type of prayer we refer to as intercession, though we often hear the word supplication used as well. The first three-quarters of the Prayer for the Church that begins on page 75, and that we pray during every celebration of the Holy Eucharist, is a perfect example. The “Holy Apostle” mentioned at the beginning of the prayer is in fact St. Paul. And then all through the prayer – “We beseech Thee also to lead all nations in the way of righteousness…grant unto Thy servant Elizabeth our Queen …Give grace, O heavenly Father, to all Bishops, Priests, and Deacons…Prosper, we pray Thee, all those who proclaim the Gospel of Thy Kingdom…comfort and succour all them, who in this transitory life are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity.” All following the example and request of St. Paul, and praying for those removed from our sight and separated from us by distance.

There is an entire section of the Prayer Book, not well-known by some, that is full of the most wonderful intercessory prayers – it runs from page 39 to page 64. Have a look sometime.

Turning back now to veneration, it does bear mentioning here that, human nature being what it is, people began to go beyond just veneration of Saints, dangerously close – some would even say fully into – actual worship. Fairly early on, the Greek part of the Church gave us three terms that have served well ever since: latria – the highest form of adoration and worship that is due to God alone; dulia, the honour paid to the Saints; and hyperdulia, the veneration offered to the Blessed Virgin Mary as her who was specially chosen by God to be the spotless vessel by which He became Incarnate as Saviour of the World and from whom He took His humanity.

But this all brings us to that other sticky wicket that raised its head in the 16th century Reformation and still represents a divisive issue between Catholics/Orthodox and Protestants – the invocation of Saints, and in particular to our thoughts today, The Angelus. The main complaints being: how in the world can dead people hear us? why should we pray to anyone other than the Three Persons of the Trinity? and there is no record of such a practice in the Bible.

But before we get to that, there is the intermediate consideration of fellowship with the departed. What do we make of that? Well, in the same aforementioned prayer for the Church, after the many intercessions on behalf of the living, we pray, “We remember before Thee, O Lord, all thy servants departed this life in Thy faith and fear; and we bless Thy holy Name for all who in life and death have glorified Thee (the original 1549 BCP includes here, ‘chiefly the blessed and glorious Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God, and the holy Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and Martyr’); beseeching Thee to give us grace that, rejoicing in their fellowship, we may follow their good examples, and with them be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom.” Removed from sight, and separated by distance and time, we nonetheless give thanks for them and acknowledge our fellowship with them. In relation to this, and to the biddings that we say just before this prayer for the Church, we will hear the terms, The Church Militant (that’s us here on earth), The Church Expectant (that’s those in the Intermediate State or Purgatory for the Romans), and The Church Triumphant (those blessed few who have already attained the Beatific vision in the nearer presence of God). When we say, “Let us pray for Christ’s Holy Catholic Church,” we mean all three parts: militant, expectant and triumphant. Listen also carefully today to the Proper Preface today – that which follows, “It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty…”

Fine, the Church has been praying for the departed for a very long time, and it consistently has been part of our Anglican tradition; but, how old is the practice of asking dead people to pray for us?

Most certainly, this grew later than the aforementioned veneration of Saints. But there is at least one very obvious and important explanation for this. It is very clear from both the New Testament, and even the writings of the early part of the second century, that the Church expected Jesus to return immediately. With that expectation, what could be the possible use for asking the already departed to pray for us? It truly is as simple as that.

In the latter part of the second century, and then accelerating as the realization dawned that Jesus was not returning next Thursday, the Church began to contemplate more deeply the idea of just how expansive is the fellowship of all believers, the Communion of Saints. Again, if we look more carefully, we do see in the pages of Scripture hints. Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Dives) clearly indicates that the dead not only possess consciousness, but also a genuine concern for those who are still in this mortal coil. Abraham does tell Dives that neither he nor Lazarus are permitted to cross back over the great gulf that separates earthly life from the life hereafter; it also appears that he was forbidden to attempt to communicate with them. However, we should also recall that communication does appear to be possible in some circumstances, as there is the Old Testament episode where Saul is able to speak with Samuel after the latter had died. And on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus is seen speaking with Moses and Elijah. Perhaps the reason why Dives was not able to communicate with his brothers was that he was not and example of godly life in whom one or more of the virtues of Christ shone forth. Consider also Hebrews, Ch. 12, “Seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses,” in reference to Old Testament worthies, and clearly making the point of their fellowship with us – which phrase we shall hear in today’s Proper Preface and notably uses the present tense in reference to that fellowship.

Fine, the recognition of the dead being part of our fellowship is mentioned in the Bible, but why and when did the Church think it appropriate to begin the practice of invocation? Again, it goes back very far indeed. As mentioned, the seeds began to germinate in the late second century, long before even the canon of the New Testament was finalized in the late fourth century. Again, this point is missed by some who will claim that it was plunked on the Church so late that can never be viewed other than as a “fond thing, vainly invented.” However, considered more thoroughly, we will discover that there are much earlier formalized practices: a litany of St. Gregory the Thaumaterge in the mid 3rd century includes invocations of the Saints. The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, one of the four Greek Doctors of the Church, from the late 4th century, contains invocations of Saints, and in particular the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And here is where we come to a most important point: the original intent bears little resemblance to the excesses that characterized the corruption of the medieval Church where people were praying to Saints as if the Saints themselves were able to provide benefits both temporal and spiritual. The original practice, and that which we follow, is simply to ask the Saints, as part of Christ’s Church, and as examples of virtuous and godly living, to pray for us, just as we would ask anyone here on earth to pray for us. It also bears mentioning that such excesses, while commonplace, were never condoned by the Roman Church; indeed, they were specifically condemned during the Counter-Reformation.

When we come to the Angelus, one of the most commonly articulated misunderstandings about it is that we are “praying to Mary,” when in actual fact, it is clear from the words that we are asking her to pray for us (to God). Let us also recognize that the Angelus is about the Incarnation – which is to say, it’s about our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. And but for the last, it also draws its versicles and responses from the Bible: “The Angel of the Lord brought tidings to Mary” (par. Luke 1:26-28a); “And she conceived by the Holy Ghost” (Luke 1:31, 35); “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:28); which Elizabeth repeats in part and then adds, “blessed is the fruit of thy womb [Jesus]” (Luke 1:42); “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be in unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38); “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) – all about the Incarnation.

This leaves us with “Holy Mary, Mother of God” (which is clearly drawn from the Bible), “pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” As mentioned earlier, the phrase “Mother of God,” is an English rendering of theotokos, the title given to Mary at an early Council of the Church. It is properly translated as “God bearer.” Some, as they are saying this, think silently to themselves, “Mother of God Incarnate,” which skips around the possible problem of thinking of Mary as the Mother of the Godhead. Also, the phrase is clearly not a request to Mary for some temporal or spiritual benefit; it merely asks for her prayers – the same way that I might ask my own mother to pray for me were I to become sick. In this instance, all of humanity, to some degree, is spiritually sick, and in the spiritual sense, just as Mary is the new Eve, therefore she represents the spiritual mother of all of us. How can it be so very wrong to ask her who bore God Incarnate in her womb, her who was to be called blessed by all generations who would follow, her who was identified by Gabriel as being favoured by God – how can it be so very wrong to ask her, in addition to our own attempts at prayer, to pray for us? Removed from sight, and separated by distance and time, we nonetheless ask for her prayers – all to be united in the love of the Holy Trinity – the real purpose of prayer as we discussed a few weeks ago.

In closing (finally), may we listen to the words of an Orthodox bishop, with echoes of Bishop Mercer, “In God and His Church there is no division between the living and the departed, but all are one in the love of the Father. Whether we are alive or whether we are dead (very likely quoting Romans Ch. 14:8), as members of the Church we still belong to the same family, and still have a duty to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). Therefore just as Orthodox Christians here on earth pray for one another and ask for one another’s prayers, so they pray for the faithful departed and ask the faithful departed to pray for them. Death cannot sever the bond of mutual love which links the members of the Church together.”


(It is perhaps worth noting that the part of this sermon that defends the invocation of Saints, or perhaps more properly phrased, comprecation – which only seeks prayer from the Saints, and stops well short of direct invocation, may not sit well with all Anglicans. Those who deny that invocation of any sort is permissible look to Article 22 of the 39 Articles. They maintain that this Article condemns any form of invocation, be it just the simple request for prayer, as presented in the sermon, or the “Romish Doctrine” of praying to the Saints as if they were the authors of material or spiritual benefits themselves that the author of the sermon maintains was the true target of condemnation of that particular part of the Article. Reading about the development of the Articles reveals that it appears that the word “Romish” as opposed to “Roman” was chosen very purposefully to distinguish that the practice was not officially sanctioned in the Roman Catholic Church, but acknowledges that it was very widespread indeed. Reading about the history of the development of the Articles (which, by the way are articles of religion, not official dogma), one discovers that as they were being formulated, there were at least two “camps” then, and the same is true right up to the present. In the case of this particular Article, some will maintain that it is intended to condemn only the excesses that grew up around these things: the indulgences associated with Purgatory – but not necessarily the idea of there being a place after this life where we are “purged” from our sins before attaining to the nearer presence of God; the actual worship of relics themselves – but not necessarily the benefit of their being used to inspire us in just the way that Pope Benedict XVI states as quoted in the sermon; and the asking of Saints for spiritual benefits as themselves the authors of such – but not necessarily the practice of a simple request for their prayers. On the other hand, there are those that say that, because none of the practices identified appear specifically by name in the pages of Holy Scripture, they are therefore to be condemned.)

Trinity XV, 2005

No man can serve two masters….Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Mt. 6:24.

These words of Our Lord are found in St. Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, which begins in verse 3 of Chapter 4 and ends with verse 27 of Chapter 7. It has variously been described as the Magna Carta of Christianity and, by John Stott as A Christian Counter Culture. The words I have just quoted show just how tough the Sermon on the Mount actually is.

In 1939, after war had broken out in Europe, C.S. Lewis gave a series of talks on the radio, presumably the BBC because I don’t believe junk radio had arrived in the UK at that time. These talks were subsequently published in a slim volume entitled “The Case for Christianity.” I have drawn heavily on this book in this sermon and I strongly recommend the book to you. It is in our library.

The book is divided into two parts, the first called “Right and Wrong as a clue to the meaning of the Universe”, and the second is called simply, “What Christians believe.”

In the first part, Lewis shows that the concept of Right and Wrong, both of which he capitalized throughout, is a fundamental part of our humanity; so fundamental, in fact, that it used to be called The Law of Nature. Concerned, as it is, with Right and Wrong, this is a Moral Law and distinct from the physical and chemical laws of the universe around us.

Thus, two people may argue over something, but they will rarely fight like animals over it, at least not at first. Without each having as a reference the same concept of Right and Wrong, there would be nothing to argue over, no basis for an argument and the two might just as well fight like animals. It is the knowledge of the concept which drives the two to justify the different positions they take and therefore makes possible the argument.

This law, which is distinct from our instincts, is the basis for our moral behaviour and our social structures, even without the imposition and intervention of religious precepts. We know that it is wrong to kill another human being and we do not have to be taught that. That knowledge is so strong, existing across humanity, that even fanatical followers of Mohammed have to justify to themselves the killing of those they see as infidels or apostates. They claim to kill for their god, Allah, and even offer highly improbable rewards to those prepared to die in the process of killing.

We all know that killing babies in the womb is wrong, so society wraps it up in high sounding words about women’s rights, whilst shoveling under the carpet the consequences like high suicide rates, depression and other conditions which beset women who undergo the procedure.

Abortion has been with us for millennia. The Church Fathers warned against it in their writings. But, ancient though the practice may be, in reality few societies condone abortion, which leads me to another point made by C.S. Lewis. Differences in the Law of Nature between the ages and civilizations are actually slight, though they may seem otherwise. For example, one man may argue that polygamy is acceptable, which another argues for monogamy, but both will agree that, as Lewis puts it, “a man must not simply have any woman he likes.”

Lewis makes the case that the Law of Nature is universal to all human beings. Then he makes a second point. Unlike, say, the law of gravity, which must always be obeyed, the Law of Nature can be disobeyed. Humans can choose to break it. Having said that, let me stress that this law is not a description of observed human behaviour; it is part of our God-given nature.

The tragedy of the human condition is that none of us obeys the Law of Nature completely, because we are fallen creatures. Only Jesus Christ was able to live in perfect obedience to this law. That was because it is His law and Jesus the man remained always Jesus the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Through His glorious life we have the living example of the details of this law, of its nobility and Godliness.

Most importantly, Jesus Christ focuses us on the reality of this law, embodied in each human being as continuous with, integral with, God and His creation.

Jesus Christ shows us how we are to respond to the Law of Nature and through His Incarnation, we can see the Law as God trying to influence us to behave in a certain way.

The Law tells us that we are not alone, because no one has come close to presenting a convincing argument as to how it could possibly have arisen in us of itself. The incomparable example of obedience to it in the life of Jesus Christ presents in divine magnificence the hope of Christianity – the way to God. The only way to God.

The Incarnation of Jesus Christ reveals the entity behind the Law of Nature specifically as the Christian God,
the Father of Our Lord and Saviour;
the Redeemer of Mankind;
the Holy Spirit, the Comforter;
The Holy and Blessed Triune God.

Why? Because the Incarnation and the Cross tell us that behind the Law of Right and Wrong is a Love that describes the Christian God and only Him; a Love so powerful that we cannot comprehend it. We can only give thanks for such Love and allow it to nudge us, to prick us, to lead us towards full union with Itself. The Christian God is Love.

However, as C.S. Lewis points out, this is not a soft Law. There is Right and there is Wrong and the Cross shows us that we must choose between them; how we should choose and how we should fear choosing wrongly. As Lewis said, “the Moral Law is as hard as nails. It tells you to do the straight thing, it doesn’t seem to care how painful, or dangerous or difficult it is to do.” What is that but the way of the Cross.

Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

The Aramaic word, mammon is used in Mt. 6:24 and three times by St. Luke, in 16:9, 11 and 13. Professor J. Newton Davies in the Abingdon Bible Commentary says “the word is the equivalent of money, riches, worldly goods and is derived (by Dalman) from aman, meaning ‘that on which one puts one’s trust’”

Putting our trust in any part of this world inevitably leads in the direction of what is wrong and is contrary to the teaching of Our Lord. Jesus teaches us explicitly to put our trust in God.

The Father, who created us, has given us a head start in giving us the Law of Nature, because in knowing Right from Wrong we must surely know to serve God and not mammon.

The Son, who redeemed us, has given us the perfect example of serving God. Not one second of His earthly life was concerned with mammon. When the world killed Him, he was stripped of His clothing and nailed stark naked to the Cross. How much more of a lesson do we need that every single material item with which we clutter our lives is completely and irrevocably transient.

That is not to say that we should not enjoy them. Far from it. We thank God for all His gifts, but Jesus is concerned that we do not let material things displace God as the focus of our lives. Jesus said, Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Mt.20:19-21.

To help us, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit, fulfilling His promise, I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth. John 14:16-18.

God the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies us, reminding us of the Natural Law, sustaining us in our weakness, restoring us when we stumble and choose wrongly.

God the Holy Spirit, who opens our understanding of all that Jesus showed and taught us.

God the Holy Spirit, who helps us to fill our hearts and souls with the thoughts, the purpose and the very will of God. Who helps us to grow towards the hope of every Christian soul – unity with God in this world and the next; salvation for eternity.

Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.

But with a God like our God, why would we want to do anything but serve Him. Blessed be the Holy and undivided Trinity, now and for evermore.

Peter Jardine+
Trinity XV, 2005