Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fr. Wells' bulletin inserts


Although August 15 is not a Prayer Book holy day, it seems hardly credible that we have no feast in honor of the gentle and lovely woman most intimately involved in the Incarnation. From early times, August 15 has been celebrated as her day. It has been marked by various names. The most ancient and universal title for this feast is the Dormition of Our Lady. That is an unfamiliar word which means "falling asleep." It emphasizes that St Mary was not a martyr, as were most of the saints whose feasts are kept in the Prayer Book kalendar.

In more modern times, this day has come to be called the Feast of the Assumption, celebrating a post-Biblical legend that after her death Mary's body did not decompose but was miraculously transported to the heavens. Before we reject this pious opinion too quickly, we must acknowledge that the New Testament gives some tantalizing hints of such a belief. St Paul wrote (I Thess. 4:17) of those who will be "caught up together in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air," and St John penned a majestic description (Rev. 12) of the "woman clothed by the sun." So rather than giving undue honor to the Mother of God, the picture of Mary already in glory shows the ultimate destiny of every Christian. "Be ye faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life" is Christ's promise to her and to us as well.

Even if Scripture is silent concerning the end of Mary's earthly life, the Church has given her the title "Mother of God." That appellation still offends many, just as it offended the heretic Nestorius. He was willing to call her "Mother of Christ," but not "Mother of God." "Mother of God" seems to imply something false, that Mary is the mother of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as if Mary herself were a Goddess from eternity. Such a notion would be beyond heresy, a leap into sheer paganism.

When we say, as we must say, that the Virgin Mary was the Mother of God, we are saying quite emphatically that the One to whom she gave birth was none other than God in the flesh. Her Son Jesus Christ was and is Deity Incarnate. So the title "Mother of God" at bottom line is not a statement about Mary herself but a statement about the One to whom she was Mother.

From the moment she surrendered herself to the Archangels's message ("Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word") until the day of Pentecost when she was occupying an honored place amongi the apostles, we see Mary as the most faithful and obedient disciple, the model for all Christians. Concerning her we sing, "O higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim, lead their praises; thou bearer of the eternal Word, most gracious, magnify the Lord." LKW


Today we read from one of the greatest and most powerful chapters of the NT, 1 Corinthians 15, the “Resurrection chapter.” This chapter is the first selection appointed for reading in the Burial Office (BCP p. 328) and is also the source for the final portion of the Easter canticle (p. 163).

It seems truly strange that even in St. Paul's lifetime, before the NT was completely written, the resurrection of our Saviour was already a matter of dispute. “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (verse 12). Paul does not say “some among them” (the unbelievers) but rather “some among you,” professing Christians and members of the Church. The Christian Church has always had the problem of unbelief within its own ranks.

In Jesus' lifetime, the major difference between the two principal sects of Judaism, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, was belief in the resurrection at the last day. Even before Christ, the Pharisees affirmed it and the Sadducees denied it. (While the Pharisees disputed with Him, it was the Sadducees who were most eager to see Him crucified.) And of course the pagan Gentiles did not believe in a resurrection either, looking for no more than “passing away into a better place.”

This Sadducee attitude, combined with the vague notions of the Gentiles regarding immortality, had somehow penetrated the Christian community. There were those willing to say “Jesus is Lord” who had not fully come to terms with His empty tomb.

The Christian message is not one of vague wistful hopes of intangible immortality. Our Gospel is one of complete victory, over sin, death, and hell. The victory over sin was established at the cross. The victory over death and hell was established at the empty tomb. This resurrection is no mere doctrine, but a fact of space-time history, guaranteed by numerous eye-witnesses.

What difference does it all make? St Paul expresses that bluntly in the opening verse of the chapter: “the gospel which I preach unto you ... by which ye are saved...” If our dear Lord had not left that tomb, but only continued to exist in some flimsy half-life, then we would be truly wretched creatures, still lost, defeated, imprisoned in our sins. “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” LKW


Deacon Down Under said...

A significant weakness of the Prayer Book Calendar is this omission of the Dormition of the Mother-of-God. Thank you for honouring Our Lady in your sermon. May she bless the ACC with her prayers to Our Lord.

John A. Hollister said...

I am not sure I could go as far as calling it "a significant weakness", inasmuch as the Dormition is not something that can incontrovertibly be proven from Scripture.

Nevertheless, it does appear on the Kalendars annexed to the 1962 Canadian and 1963 Indian BCPs, as well as in PECUSA's 1963 Lesser Feasts and Fasts. However, in all three of those cases, it is limited to the assignment of Mass lections; no special readings are appointed for the Daily Offices, which must herefore use those normally found in the Tables of Psalms and Lessons in those two Prayer Books.

John A. Hollister+

Fr.Jas.A.Chantler said...

The Canadian Church,thanks mostly through the efforts of the saintly Fr.Roland Ford Palmer SSJE,in her BCP 1962's Kalendar has restored the Koimesis (in Greek literally : the falling asleep) of the BVM. It is accorded black letter status but,with episcopal permission, can be kept as a red letter day and usually is.In the English Church it's official observance disappeared in 1549 but it is observed in many places.The Falling Asleep Of The BVM has also been retained in the University of Oxford's Kalendar.A devout but cheeky Churchman once said to his friend(a hot prot)'if The Blessed Virgin Mary is not in heaven then where in hell is she?'

Fr.Jas.A.Chantler said...

The Canadian Church has 'A Supplementary List Of Proper Psalms And Lessons For Optional Red Letter Days In The Kalendar' provided by and approved for it's use by her first Bishop The Rt.Rev'd Carmino de Catanzaro who was assisted by two of his senior and most learned priests Fathers Gale and Wilkinson.For The Dormition Of Our Lady:

First Evensong:
Pss. 110,113,122
Exodus 3:1-6
St.John 19:25-27

Genesis 28:10-17
Revelation 12:1-6

Second Evensong:
Ezekiel 43:27-44:4
Revelation 7:9-12

It is important to note that keeping The Feast Of The Falling Asleep Of the Blessed Virgin Mary,as a red letter day,is permitted but remains optional.

Anonymous said...

Surely everyone agrees that the soul of the Blessed Virgin is already in heavenly bliss (along with all of the faithful departed). The question is: What about her body? Is it still in the grave, or has it already been resurrected and taken up to heaven, like the Body of her Son?

RC's have to say yes, Protestants generally say no, but for us it is an open question. We have no dogmatic position on the point.

Question: What is the position of LFF in the ACC? My impression is that LFF, 1963 edition, had somehow acquired the canonical status of BCP 1928 in ECUSA before the apostasy of 1976, but I am not sure about that.

Fr.Jas.Chantler said...

The Anglican approach seems the best one as we celebrate Our Lady's 'natalitia': her heavenly birthday.I am also uncomfortable when I hear people describe belief in her bodily Assumption(while not insisting on this being essential dogma)as a pious belief.To me describing the Assumption as a pious belief would suggest that those who don't embrace the idea are somehow impious.There are issues with particular Roman doctrines that are far more difficult for Anglicans and Romans to come to an understanding on than the Assumption and I don't think it to be something we couldn't overcome when the time comes for ecumenical talks between sister Churches.

John A. Hollister said...

Fr. Wells wrote:

1. "Surely everyone agrees that the soul of the Blessed Virgin is already in heavenly bliss (along with all of the faithful departed)."

I wish I could remember the precise quotation, but Abp. John-Charles used to say something along the lines of, "I know Our Lady is in heaven, so it isn't terribly important whether she took the train or the 'bus to get there."

2. "What is the position of L[esser] F[easts and F[asts] in the ACC? My impression is that LFF, 1963 edition, had somehow acquired the canonical status of BCP 1928 in ECUSA before the apostasy of 1976, but I am not sure about that."

Since shortly after I joined the ACC in 1983, I have wondered the same thing. It always seemed to me that it would have been reasonable to regard LFF as having come into our church in a sort of "grandfathered" status. However, I quickly became aware of two things: (a) It was, so far as I could tell, never used, and (b) some people I respected greatly, such as the late Bp. Harry Scott, were strongly opposed to it, although no one ever explained to me the basis of such opposition.

I have combed through it and find that most of the Collects used are already in the 1928 BCP. Most of the days commemorated in it, except for the most intransigently American (such as Jan. 23, 'Phillips Brooks, Bp. of Massachusetts') conform almost completely to those contained in the 1954 South African BCP and the 1960 Indian Supplement to the BCP. All of the Scripture selections are, of course, drawn from the KJV (with, perhaps, an occasional correction via the RSV, which is also true of other traditional but post-1950 BCPs).

So, lilke the little old lady in the TV commercial, I'm left asking, "Where's the beef?"

John A. Hollister+

John A. Hollister said...

Fr. Chantler:

Would it be possible to get a copy of that list of Daily Office readings, as by your scanning it into digital form?

John A. Hollister+

Fr.Jas.A.Chantler said...

My computer skills are rudimentary at best.If you are still assisting at Christ Church,Metairie I could letter mail that list to you there.FYI:my contact information can be found at our parish web site.
Cheers. J+

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to the erudition of Bishop DeCatanzaro and his learned priests, I believe we can do much better for finding appropriate psalms and lessons for Aug. 15 and its first Evensong.
I am surprised that they made no use of Genesis 3:14--20, containing the Protevangelium; or Canticles 2:8--17 ("Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away"), or Psalm 45 (the wedding psalm, with much typology jumping out), or the Cana wedding miracle ("and the mother of Jesus was there").

Those who use the American 1928 book can take advantage of the rubric on page viii which authorizes the Officiant to select "such Psalms and Lessons as he may think suitable" on "special occasions." A holy day for which no provision is made surely qualifies.

I was amused to see one church's service leaflet which billed the day as "Assumption or Dormition." We really cannot have it both ways. That makes as much sense as celebrating Easter as "Feast of the Resurrection or Unveiling of the Tombstone." If we celebrate a "Falling Asleep," we have put the idea of an assumption on the back burner. If we celebrate an "Assumption," the the falling asleep is of little significance.

Fr_Rob said...

At St. John’s in Virginia Beach, we follow the Prayer Book as well, and I ran an insert in our bulletin similar to that of Fr. Wells (although not nearly as insightful or original):

The Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary is remembered today, August 15. This feast recalls the ancient pious opinion that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was bodily assumed into heaven following her death (or “falling asleep”). The Roman Catholic Church refers to this as the Assumption of Mary. While Anglicans have never been required to believe in the Assumption (since it cannot be proved from Scripture), the belief that Mary was taken bodily into heaven after her death has a long history in the Church. According to St. John of Damascus (born A.D. 676), “St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon (451), made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.”

I also printed one of the Collects for the Blessed Virgin Mary from the Canadian BCP (1962), but then forgot to use it during the Service!

Anonymous said...

It is somewhat surprising that the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (which usually tilts in an Anglo-Catholic direction) is not very up-beat about the Assumption, as doctrine or as feast. ODCC writes (2nd edition), "It is now generally agreed that the belief was unknown in the earleist ages of the church..." and continues by emphasizing that the earliest documents (4th century and later) were of gnostic provenance, and highly inconsistant in the accounts given. The Gelasian Sacramentary gives propers for a Marian feast on Aug 15, but does not mention any corporal assumption.

But I love to observe the day and will not fight, bleed or die over the name assigned to it. Holy Days, after all, are for PREACHING purposes mainly,and August is a splendid time for a robust sermon on the Incarnation.