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St George Paolo Uccello Musee Andre Jacquemart ParisIt’s April 23, the feast day of St George, patron saint of England and several other countries.

George was a soldier and martyr. Several legends about his valour soon circulated after his death.

We continue to connect him with slaying the dragon, as depicted in Paolo Uccello’s painting above. This is said to have taken place in a town in Libya called Silene where a dragon terrorised the townspeople. They tried to placate the beast by feeding it animals. When they ran out, they began giving him human beings. The princess Cleolinda, daughter of their king, was about to be sacrificed in desperation. At that point, George rode up on his white charger, dismounted and fought the dragon on foot. When he had subdued the beast, he dragged it through Silene and slayed it in front of the townspeople. Cleolinda’s father offered George a bag of gold for his efforts, but the valiant soldier asked that the money be given to the poor instead.

The Royal Society of St George explains (emphases mine):

The story is a powerful allegory, emblematic of the triumph of good over evil; but it also teaches of enduring Christian faith in the extreme and the trust that at all times should be placed in the Almighty by the invocation of the name of St. George, Soldier, Saint and Martyr.

George was born around 280 AD in Cappadocia, in present day Turkey. He became a cavalryman in the Roman army at the age of 17 during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. He quickly earned a reputation for his remarkable virtue, military bearing, physical strength and good looks.

He was promoted to the rank of Millenary or Tribunus Militum, the equivalent rank of a colonel today. He commanded 1,000 soldiers and was a favourite of Diocletian.

Although we do not know at what point George became a Christian, he practised his faith at a time when most Christians in the Roman Empire hid in fear. Persecution was rife. Diocletian’s second-in-command Galerius decreed that Persia, which he had recently conquered, would be subject to the pagan religion and all Christian places of worship destroyed. Any scripture would also be burnt. Furthermore, Christians would lose their rights as citizens and perhaps their lives.

When George saw an edict to this effect as he entered the city of Nicodemia, he immediately tore it down. The local Christians were relieved to have such a staunch defender of the faith on their side. He, in turn, was compassionate towards them.

As both Diocletian and Galerius were in the city at the time, George knew that he would soon be tried. In preparation, he sold his worldly possessions and freed his personal slaves. The Royal Society of St George tells us:

When he appeared before Diocletian, it is said that St. George bravely denounced him for his unnecessary cruelty and injustice and that he made an eloquent and courageous speech. He stirred the populace with his powerful and convincing rhetoric against the Imperial Decree to persecute Christians. Diocletian refused to acknowledge or accede to St. George’s reasoned, reproachful condemnation of his actions. The Emperor consigned St George to prison with instructions that he be tortured until he denied his faith in Christ. 

St George, having defended his faith was beheaded at Nicomedia near Lyddia in Palestine on the 23rd of April in the year 303 AD.

George’s head was taken to Rome where it rests in a church which was named after him.

It is no wonder that the exploits and faith of George circulated around Europe.

Today, community celebrations are taking place around England. Lytham St Annes has four days of events, Southampton has scheduled a St George’s celebration, Nottingham has a parade, and the West Somerset Railway a special fish and chips lunch. In London, the Coldstream Guards are giving a St George’s Day concert, Trafalgar Square has live music with food stalls and St George’s Hanover Square will feature a concert with the Royal British Legion’s Central Band.

May St George serve as an example to us all. As the Britannia site explains:

Saint George is a leading character in one of the greatest poems in the English language, Spencer’s Faerie Queene (1590 and 1596). St George appears in Book 1 as the Redcrosse (sic) Knight of Holiness, protector of the Virgin. In this guise he may also be seen as the Anglican church upholding the monarchy of Elizabeth I:

But on his breast a bloody Cross he bore
The dear remembrance of his dying Lord,
For whose sweet sake that glorious badge we wore
And dead (as living) ever he adored.

BBC viewers will recognise Diarmaid MacCulloch’s name even if, like me, they have trouble spelling it.

The Oxford University Professor of Church History has a new three-part series on BBC2 on Friday nights called Sex and the Church.

In the latest issue of Radio Times (18-24 April 2015, p. 7), he opines on the Church and sexuality. His editorial, ‘Body and soul’ urges clerics to catch up with the rest of the world in this regard.

He states that Jesus had ‘surprisingly few words’ about sex. True. But, then, Jesus did not say much about many specifics of Christian life. Sex is not the only matter on which He remained somewhat silent.

MacCulloch, a Church of England deacon, has been openly gay since the mid-1970s. The son of an Anglican clergyman, he says:

“I was brought up in the presence of the Bible, and I remember with affection what it was like to hold a dogmatic position on the statements of Christian belief. I would now describe myself as a candid friend of Christianity.”[4]

However, why is he so mystified that our most senior clergy continue with cautious statements about sexuality? The New Testament letters, particularly those of St Paul, warn against certain sexual practices — heterosexual and homosexual — equating them with lying, theft and murder. Even if we excuse them, God condemns them all.

Of Scripture, MacCulloch told The Spectator in April 2013:

‘The essence of the authority of God is its thereness,’ he says. ‘It’s a bit like our relationship with our parents. There is nothing you can do about it. You can’t declare someone else to be your dad. That seems to me to be a statement about religion. I have a relationship with the Bible because it’s just there. I may not like what it says, I may not approve of it or obey it, but it’s there and I’ve got to cope with it.’

Oh, okay, then (not).

He closes his Radio Times piece with this:

Cheer up, bishops: in the wise words of Mae West, those who are easily shocked, should be shocked more often.

Wow. He might be upset about the quandary that the Anglican hierarchy are in regarding conducting same-sex unions in church, however, the Church is meant to be in the world, not of it.

The programme concerns ancient scandals:

Having looked last week at how the influential writings of St Augustine set in stone the idea that all sex, even within marriage, was sinful, he turns his attention this week to the revolution that turned that idea on its head for the first time in almost a thousand years: the Reformation.

First MacCulloch tracks back to the 11th century to examine how the Church deliberately set about increasing its power in society by taking control of the formerly civil institution of marriage, while at the same time increasing the pressure on its own clergy to embrace celibacy. A ban on clerical marriage resulted in appalling medieval hypocrisy – thousands of church-run brothels, and a sharp rise in incidents of clerical child abuse (“a pattern of behaviour repeated in recent years”) – which much of the Reformation’s religious revolution was in direct reaction to. The manner in which sexuality subsequently became one of the prime battlegrounds between Catholicism and Protestantism provides rich material for MacCulloch.

What is the purpose of MacCulloch’s telling us that there have been scandals in the Church from time immemorial? Most of us know this. The same licentiousness has taken place in every other social, religious and secular setting throughout history. This includes other world belief systems.

Even if we didn’t know about these ecclesiastical transgressions, true Christians realise that humanity lives in a fallen world. Furthermore, Satan will do whatever he can to destroy godliness. It’s what he does.

May we pray for the grace to improve and enhance Christ’s holy Bride and bring comfort to His followers. May the licentiousness, scandals and worldliness stop.

Temptation is always with us. Most Church historians could have explained this easily whilst revealing historical events.

What sort of ‘friend of Christianity’ is Diarmaid MacCulloch, anyway?

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomHappy Easter!

He is risen!

Our Lord has overcome death and the tomb.

It is vital that our children understand this. I mention it because some British crèches teach little ones that the Crucifixion is Easter. No, it is not. This post has a true story about a little boy who learned that Jesus died, end of.

An excellent sermon by the Revd P G Mathew of Davis, California, brings the Resurrection story to life and answers a few questions we might have.

Martin Luther wrote two sermons which thoroughly explain more about the Resurrection and why it should have a deep, lasting meaning for us.

John MacArthur rightly tells us that without the Resurrection, there would be no Christianity. He answers general questions regarding the faith, well worth reading.

In the 17th century, an Anglican cleric, the Revd George Herbert wrote two beautiful poems for this feast day, ‘Easter’ and ‘Easter Wings’. The latter is especially striking, as he arranged the verses to look like wings. Have a look!

I would like to wish all my readers and subscribers a very happy Easter. May the joy we experience today fill our hearts and minds the whole year through.

jesus-laid-in-a-tomb-f54625165718d606On Holy Saturday we make the transition from Lent to Easter.

Psalm 118 — read in certain years on Palm Sunday — helps us to understand the rejection of our Lord, His excruciating death for us and the promise of eternal life through His resurrection. As Matthew Henry wrote in the late 17th century:

The more our hearts are impressed with a sense of God’s goodness the more they will be enlarged in all manner of obedience.

The Vigil Mass, held in Catholic and some High Anglican churches on the evening of Holy Saturday, heightens the anticipation of Easter Sunday. The priest lights the new Paschal candle to be lit for the next 40 days recalling Christ as light of the world, and, in some churches, those who have been instructed in the faith are baptised.

Earlier in the day, Catholics from Eastern European countries and backgrounds will have taken their food to be blessed by their parish priest.

Those who have fasted and/or abstained from certain foods end this Lenten discipline after 6 p.m. or after they attend Easter Vigil service.

Traditional Eastern European Easter menus include eggs, lamb, cakes or butter shaped into lambs, ham, sausage and horseradish. As the post explains, each has its own religious symbolism.

British parents are no doubt delighted to discover that chocolate Easter egg prices are at ‘rock bottom’ in 2015 thanks to supermarket discounts.

Meanwhile, Church of England Archbishops are unhappy because The Real Easter Egg, the one with a booklet telling the story of the Resurrection, has been crowded out by eggs representing Darth Vader, Doctor Who or Postman Pat.

The Real Easter Egg

Meaningful Chocolate produces The Real Easter Egg, a tasty teaching aid (my words) which comes with a small booklet explaining why eggs are a central symbol of the Resurrection.

The Warrington-based company has been making the eggs for four years. However, it is not always easy for them to negotiate shelf space. Their website provides a list of UK supermarkets selling the egg, made with quality Fairtrade chocolate.

David Marshall, who runs Meaningful Chocolate, told the Daily Mail:

We do wonder at times if there is an anti-Christian agenda from some of our supermarkets who just keep turning it down. It is as if some feel Christianity is politically incorrect or the Easter story, which mentions Jesus, might put people off.

‘One buyer asked us what Easter had got to do with the Church, while another simply said, “I don’t think this is a credible product” and asked us to leave.’

John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, and George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, are urging Asda, the Co-op and Sainsbury’s to stock the egg.

Pagan, useful or both?

A growing number of Christians all over the world, but mainly in the United States, consider that, as the Easter egg and the Easter Bunny are not in the Bible and that they were part of pagan rituals, they have no place in the Resurrection story.

Yet, when we think back to the early centuries of Christianity, when missionaries risked life and limb travelling around Europe to spread the Gospel, what was the best way for them to tell people about Jesus? One cannot help but think of St Patrick, who taught about the Holy Trinity using a shamrock.

We’re talking about people who were illiterate and whose lives revolved around nature, upon which they were dependent for survival. The world then was not the way it is now: clean, sanitised, educated, plentiful. Life was precarious. Death was just around the corner. Food was not widely available 365 days a year. Hens stopped laying eggs. Animals went into hibernation. Most crops were unsustainable during frosty months. Is it any wonder, then, that people rejoiced at the advent of Spring?

Most of today’s well-meaning believers labelling everything ‘pagan’ are driving everywhere, buying food at a supermarket and maintaining their lawns devoid of other life. Look at any suburb.

Under such privileged circumstances, it is easy to denounce symbolism of the ancient world as being purely pagan with no crossover into Christianity. The same was true during the Reformation in discarding anything symbolic or exemplary, such as stained glass illustrations of biblical events or recalling the lives of the saints, many of whom died for the faith.

Fine, for those who wish to do that. However, there is another side to the story.

Hares and rabbits represented life

Explore God has a good article explaining what the hare and, later, the rabbit, represented for ancient peoples.

Life and fertility are intertwined in man’s atavistic need for survival and propagation. No animal represents these characteristics quite as well as the beautiful hare or cuddly rabbit.

Explore God tells us that a thousand years before Christ was born, the peoples of Mesopotamia and Syria viewed the hare as representative of life and rebirth. In the Greco-Roman world, gravestones had depictions of rabbits for the same reason.

The early Christians also used the hare and the rabbit to represent rebirth in the resurrected Christ.

The ancient world, northern European traditions and ‘Easter’

The word Easter is only used in Teutonic, Scandinavian and English languages.

Therefore, English-speakers would do well to stop saying that Easter is a pagan feast. We might have appropriated a pagan word for it (as we did with Sunday), but it is not universally known as that in every other language.

Infoplease says (emphases mine):

Prior to that, the holiday had been called Pasch (Passover), which remains its name in most non-English languages.

In French, for example, it is Pâques. The Passover which the Jews celebrate is called Pâques juif.

Explore God summarises the possible origins of the word ‘Easter':

– The ancient German fertility goddess Eostra, associated with the hare;

– The ancient Norse word for Spring, which, translated into German is ostern.

It is difficult to know which came first: ostern or Eostra.

Infoplease says that the Venerable Bede, chronicler of the early Anglo-Saxon world that he witnessed, described the month of what we now call April as being named after Eostra:

“Eostremonat,” or Eostre’s month, leading to “Easter” becoming applied to the Christian holiday that usually took place within it.

Some historians see no connection with the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess Ishtar as her feasts occurred later in Spring. Explore God explains:

It seems probable that around the second century A.D., Christian missionaries seeking to convert the tribes of northern Europe noticed that the Christian holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus roughly coincided with the Teutonic springtime celebrations, which emphasized the triumph of life over death. Christian Easter gradually absorbed the traditional symbols.

On the other hand, Christina Georgiou explains Eostre’s connection with the hare and the Ishtar story. Easter was not established until 325 AD at the first Council of Nicaea:

… co-opting an existing pagan holiday served the purpose of sowing the seeds of a new religion on existing faith.

In the east, the festival of Ishtar (correctly pronounced ‘Easter’) and the resurrection of  Tammuz also took place shortly after the equinox.

Still, they might have been on to something, even if it wasn’t exactly new. The holiday they picked had many of the same connotations attached.

The mystery of death and resurrection is remarkably similar in many places and times, and the time of year when it is recognized is practically universal across the northern hemisphere …

The  totem of Eostre is a hare—and according to the story, the goddess can turn into a hare at will. In one legend, the goddess comes upon an injured bird, who she saves by turning into a hare, it being the animal she is strongest as. Yet, having been a bird, this hare could still lay eggs, and in gratitude to the goddess, the bird laid colored eggs on her feast day ever since.

The hare heralded new life as did lilies — and the first eggs of the season.

Other related rituals

Georgiou goes on to explain that whether pagans of the ancient world worshipped Ishtar in the Cradle of Civilisation, Adonis/Aphrodite in Mediterranean lands or Eostre in the North, certain practices and rituals surrounded the vernal equinox.

One of these was fasting from meat for 40 days prior to the equinox. Some cultures cut down a tree in the shape of a ‘T’, commemorating Tammuz’s death and resurrection, which they believed occurred soon after the equinox. In the days approaching this time, pagans sang songs of mourning and held a vigil. On the appropriate morning, the priest or shaman comforted mourners by telling them that they, too, would rise like Tammuz from the grave to new life.

From this, it is easy to see why Church fathers established the feast of the Resurrection at a similar time. Fasting could easily translate into Jesus’s time in the desert to fast and pray. The tree held significance as Jesus died on the Cross.

Pagans and fundamentalist Protestants might be angry about this history for different reasons, but the springtime story helped to spread Christianity in earliest times throughout Africa, the Middle East, Mediterranean countries and Europe. What’s not to like?

Eggs, hens and early civilisations

We’re used to going to the supermarket to buy eggs. It’s nothing unusual for us. Eggs are on sale all year round.

However, historically, this is a relatively recent development.

Hens cannot lay eggs without a generous supply of light. Today, this is done artificially indoors so that we can enjoy them throughout the year. However, in the old days, as daylight grew shorter, people used to gather eggs for winter storage. At some point during the winter when production had ground to a halt, they probably ran out or the eggs spoiled.

Once longer days rolled around in the Spring, hens guarded their newly-laid eggs by hiding them. Georgiou tells us:

When does laying season begin? You guessed it.

And, if you’ve ever kept free-range chickens, you know that this time of year they hide them everywhere. Yes, even in the grass. (No, I never kept chickens, but when I was in college, my landlord did, and these are things I can attest to personally.)

Hmm. Think of American Easter baskets. They have artificial grass and chocolate eggs, a throwback to a hen’s natural behaviour.

She explains that in pagan times, the hare’s winter behaviour — nocturnal — was associated with the moon. In springtime, hares resumed running around during the day. Eggs also began reappearing; pagans connected them with the sun, the ‘golden egg':

The two together indicate a balance between the sun and moon, appropriate for a holiday that is centered around the vernal equinox, a time of equal day and night, and also to indicate the fertility of the season.

Therefore, eggs were a prominent food at pagan rituals taking place at this time. Infoplease says that the ancient Egyptians, Persians and Romans all used them.

Early Christian missionaries used the egg as a symbol for the Resurrection: out of the hard shell (the tomb), new life emerges.

As Christianity displaced paganism, various peoples attached this symbolism to the egg. Elaborate decorations also appeared.

The pagan fasting became a Christian tradition, recalling Christ’s own 40 days in the desert. Not only was meat restricted, eggs were, too. Easter represented Christ’s Resurrection and the end of the fast.

People gave each other eggs as gifts, a token of mutual rejoicing at new life through our Lord’s victory over death and the tomb.

Christians in the Middle East and Greece painted eggs bright red, recalling His blood shed for our sins. Armenians carefully emptied the contents of the egg then painted the shells with pictures of our Lord, Mary and the saints. Early Germans also hollowed out eggs which they hung on trees. They coloured whole eggs green to give to family and friends on Maundy Thursday.

Austrians buried eggs in plants with decorative foliage. When they boiled the eggs afterward, a pretty plant pattern emerged on the shell. Further east, the Poles and the Ukranians painted eggs silver and gold. They also developed an elaborate method of egg decoration called pysanky. This involved applying designs in wax on the eggshell before dying it. They reapplied wax then boiled the egg again in other colours of dye. The end product was a multi-coloured, patterned delight.

In Russia, Tsar Alexander III wanted an exquisite Easter present for his wife. In 1885, he commissioned Pierre Faberge to create the first of what we know as Faberge eggs.

The white week — hebdomada alba — and Easter parades

Traditionally, Easter has been the time when catechumens — those who have been instructed in the faith — were baptised.

Centuries ago, the newly baptised wore white robes during Easter week to symbolise their new life in Christ. That week was referred to in early Christianity as hebdomada alba: ‘white week’ in Latin.

Infoplease says that during the Middle Ages local churches arranged religious processions after Mass on Easter Day. The congregation processed in their towns or villages following the clergy and deacons who carried a processional cross and/or a Paschal candle, which would have been lit at the Easter vigil service. Unlike today, people dressed up for church and Easter would have represented the perfect occasion for wearing new, Sunday best attire. Hats and bonnets would have been important, too, as they were seen by everyone. These processions, originally religious and solemn, became more secular and joyful. They evolved into what we know as Easter Parades.

The German Easter Hare — the children’s judge

From what we have seen so far in the history of springtime and Easter symbolism, we know that a) it was an important time of year as it meant food production could recommence, b) ancient civilisations attached atavistic importance to the hare and the egg and c) Christianity was able to biblically use certain elements — fasting, the tree of sacrifice and the egg — to make Christ’s death and resurrection more understandable to pagan populations.

In the 16th century, possibly the 15th, Germans borrowed the aforementioned Eostre story about the transformation of the bird into a hare that could lay eggs and transformed it into a religious Oschter Haws or Osterhase (‘Easter Hare’).

Proflowers explains:

Children were told that a special hare would deliver gifts of colored eggs to the baskets made by good little boys and girls. Homemade baskets were crafted from bonnets and capes, and then hidden within the home. This tradition has evolved into modern-day Easter egg hunts and Easter baskets!

The first German settlers in the United States brought this tradition to Pennsylvania.

Parents told their children to be good or else the Easter Hare would not leave them a treat. I read elsewhere that the Easter Hare might determine that bad children needed a good whipping instead of a basket.

The Easter Hare — now the Easter Bunny — arrived in secret to leave these hidden eggs. From this we have the traditional Easter Egg Hunt.

We can see the similarity of the Easter Bunny with Father Christmas/Santa Claus operating on the reward-punishment basis. In Dutch traditions, Sinter Klaas (St Nick) goes around in the early hours of the morning on St Nicholas’s feast day — December 6 — to leave a treat or nothing. Sinter Klaas travels with his friend Black Pete, who metes out a whipping to bad boys and girls. These days, Black Pete is seen as politically incorrect. Whether he was actually from central Africa as today’s activists say is unclear. The best testimony on that came from one of my ex-colleagues, a Dutchman, who said that the warning his parents gave him before December 6 was, ‘Be good or the Spaniards will take you away!’ This refers to the long-standing rivalry centuries ago between the Netherlands and Spain. It is possible that Pete — Piet, in Dutch — represented Spaniards who would have had somewhat darker skin. Or Piet could have represented a similar-shaded person from St Nicholas’s native Turkey. Another theory posits that Piet was covered in soot from sliding down so many chimneys.

But I digress.

Suffice it to say that the Church’s principal feasts share this mandate for children to be good — or else. It’s an easy way of shaping their early behaviour into a civilised, godly one. What harm can that do? The child can digest ‘reward-punishment’ better than he can theology at that stage. That is not to say theology should not be paramount even then with prayers and Bible stories, but the ‘reward-punishment’ principle teaches simple, practical lessons quickly. A child’s mind only runs to the immediate future.

How Easter treats further developed

Germans developed the first edible Easter Hares out of pastry and sugar in the early 1800s.

Today, Easter is the second largest day of candy consumption during the year. The first, at least in the United States, is Hallowe’en. Here in the UK, it is probably Christmas.

We are awash in chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies in the run-up to Easter. In fact, one of our local shops brought out creme eggs on the 11th day of Christmas this year: January 5!

We don’t have Easter baskets here in the UK, and now, having done this research, I know why.

Twenty-five (or more) years ago, candy companies sold complimentary mugs, sometimes egg cups, with their Easter eggs. This went by the wayside 20 years ago, unfortunately, although I was able to procure a Snickers mug for the 1990 World Cup, a Kit Kat one the following year and an M&Ms one, my last mug purchase. I still have all three. They are fun and practical.

Easter cards

Easter cards became popular in Victorian England. A 19th century stationer had a card with a hare on it and added a seasonal greeting. From there the rest is history.

Today, at least in the United States, Easter is the fourth-most popular greeting card holiday after Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

Last but not least — the pretzel

Before leaving the food aspect of Easter, it is worth pointing out that the pretzel is an Easter treat.

Apparently, the pretzel is the world’s oldest snack food. In 610 AD, an Italian monk wondered what to do with leftover bread dough. He decided to make small twists of dough, the shape of which was meant to resemble children’s arms folded in prayer.

Conclusion — and the Passover connection

In closing, what is important about Easter is that Christ Crucified – Christ Risen is the most important concept we can share with young people. An Easter basket helps to convey to a little one that shared joy of everlasting life through our Lord’s death and resurrection.

And we might also recall that one symbol — the egg — came to the Jewish Christians from the original Passover seder. Therefore, we acknowledge our spiritual history with the Old Testament as well as Jesus’s mandate for us in the Last Supper:

the hard-boiled egg is one of the seven symbols set out on the Seder plate. Easter and Passover, after all, are strongly connected to each other. According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus celebrated a Passover meal with his disciples just before the crucifixion. After the disciples began proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, they continued to celebrate a yearly Passover in the way Jesus had instructed them to, remembering his death and, more importantly, what his death and resurrection meant for them.

Whatever way you choose to celebrate Easter with your family, I wish you a very happy one, indeed.

Richard III earliest surviving portrait.jpgA unique, once-in-a-lifetime event, occurred last week in Leicester.

Richard III, England’s second — and last king — to die in battle was reinterred in Leicester Cathedral. The last Plantagenet king, he lived from October 2, 1452 to August 22, 1485, weeks short of his 33rd birthday.

Channel 4 covered the event live in nearly seven hours of broadcasting. Well done to the station’s management for viewing this as newsworthy (unlike the BBC), to the cameramen, the production teams for arranging the many live interviews and to the Channel 4 News team, especially Jon Snow, for covering the event so engagingly.

Our memory of Richard III is marred by the question of what happened to the young princes, his nephews and mere boys (one of whom was heir to the throne), who were held in the Tower of London before Richard became king. This tragic episode in history has not been resolved conclusively for many people. It continues to enliven historical discussions and will do so for some time. The princes mysteriously disappeared from the Tower. Were they kidnapped or killed? Everyone has an opinion, including one on whether Richard was directly involved in their disappearance.

Richard III’s legacy

The last of the Plantagenet monarchs is the only British ruler to have his own dedicated fan club, for lack of a better term: the Richard III Society.

His supporters are called Ricardians.

More importantly, for those of us who live in English-speaking countries, is the legacy this young king left us after his 26-month reign.

Phillipa Langley, the Ricardian historian who led the search for the king’s remains, told Britain’s Radio Times (21-27 March 2015, p. 25, emphasis mine):

In his two-year reign, he began the presumption of innocence, he introduced bail and he translated laws that were written in Latin and French into English so that everybody would understand them.

Prior to that, only the wealthy or well-connected could be released pending trial. Richard’s reforms provided justice for the rest of the population. Langley explains:

It was the time of the 99 per cent and the one per cent — and Richard was saying to the 99 per cent: ‘I am listening to you even thought I’m in the one per cent’.

That these reforms took place in the late Middle Ages during the prolonged War of the Roses is remarkable.

The war is so called because the Yorkists, of whom Richard III was one, identified themselves with the white rose; the Lancastrians had for their emblem the red rose.

Even today, people from both east and west in northern England culturally identify themselves either with York or Lancaster, respectively.

Richard III the man

From the six hours of Channel 4 coverage that I watched, which included the procession of his casket from the University of Leicester to the Cathedral and the ceremony of his reinterment, the following highlights emerged.

Richard III’s life was marked by death, survival and few triumphs. There was nothing in between. His father died when Richard was eight years old. His mother, the Duchess of York, hurriedly sent him and his elder brother George to the Low Countries for several months. It was for their own protection.

Richard and George’s older brother Edward defeated the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton in June 1461. In that one-day battle 28,000 men died. Richard and George returned to England to see their brother crowned as King Edward IV.

Richard became Duke of Gloucester, a Knight of the Garter and a Knight of the Bath. George was given the title of Duke of Clarence. Richard went to live at Middleham Castle (Wensleydale, Yorkshire) with his cousin Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick — the famous ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’.

Neville taught his young cousin the finer points of knightood and the art of war. Although Richard suffered with scoliosis, a condition which involves curvature of the spine, he held that it was his duty to be able to join his Yorkist relatives and supporters on the battlefield. After all, he would have to be able to lead his own men from the front once he became an adult.

In 1472, Richard married Neville’s younger daughter Anne, a recent war widow whose late husband was a Lancastrian. Wikipedia explains that this alliance had to undergo family and papal approval. The subsequent Church dispensation meant that no consanguinity issues were involved. However, to rectify matters with his own family, Richard had to forfeit his right to certain titles of the nobility as well as much of Warwick’s land and property.

Richard fought with the Yorkists both at home and in France. In the 1470s, he was also given rule over the north of England and was based in York.

Edward IV died on April 9, 1483. His 12-year old son Edward — Richard’s nephew — was seemingly the rightful heir. Richard was young Edward’s Lord Protector. Royal advisers told him to take the boy away for his own safety. Richard took Edward and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, to the Tower of London. From this point onward, the story becomes complicated for most readers, myself included; it involves political intrigue and various machinations.

While they were in London, a clergyman declared Edward IV’s marriage invalid, meaning that the two boys were illegitimate. On June 22, 1483, a sermon preached at St Paul’s Cathedral — a huge, Gothic structure prior to the Fire of London in 1666 — proclaimed that Richard was the rightful king. A petition soon made its rounds in the city, supported not only by noblemen but also commoners, asking Richard to be the next monarch. He accepted and was crowned at Westminster Abbey on July 6, 1483. Parliament ratified his title to the throne in January 1484.

Meanwhile, the princes were still in the Tower of London before disappearing or dying. The mystery lingers.

On August 22, 1485, the Battle of Bosworth Field changed the course of history. It meant the end of the Plantagenets and the beginning of Tudor — Lancastrian — rule. This episode is also marked by political complexity with Yorkists switching allegiance to the Lancastrians and Tudors. Richard was left exposed politically and personally.

In short, when Richard encountered Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII, he was confident he could strike him off his horse. However, Richard’s calculations went wrong and Henry’s allies — Sir William Stanley and his men — surrounded the king. Their brutal blows with swords and other bladed weapons brought the monarch off his horse to his death.

The 2012 archaelogical dig, which brought Richard’s skeleton to light, showed that a lateral chunk of the lower part of his skull is missing, which could only have been achieved by someone hacking away at it with a blade.

Richard’s enemies on the battlefield stripped him naked, threw him on a horse and paraded his corpse from Bosworth to Leicester. Once in the heart of the city, where great crowds had gathered, he was paraded along Bow Bridge. His head struck a stone on the bridge, causing further injury. An angry spectator also stabbed him in one buttock, to the crowd’s approval.

The Franciscan Greyfriars quickly and quietly buried the king at their friary, which was next door to the Parish Church of St Martin, the present Cathedral.

Henry VII’s son Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. His men lay waste to the Greyfriars friary. In our time, a car park and Leicester’s offices of Social Services occupy the site.

The ‘bonkers’ request

In 2012, The aforementioned historian Philippa Langley requested permission from Leicester City Council to dig under one of the spaces in the car park.

Oddly enough, it had the letter ‘R’ painted over it. It was ‘Reserved’ for the Director of Social Services.

Langley told the Radio Times:

I said: ‘Give me permission to dig your land — I want to go in search of a king.’ They said: ‘You’ll get permission but if you find him, he’ll stay in Leicester’.

Channel 4 interviewed one of the men who dug up the space. He said that, at the time, it seemed completely ‘bonkers’ (crazy).

Yet, once the first few feet of tarmac and ground had been excavated, Dr Jo Appleby, an osteo-archaeologist, found the skeleton which also had a curved spine.

Genetics testing

In 2004, well before the dig eight years later, historian John Ashdown-Hill used genealogical research to trace matrilineal descendents of Richard’s sister Anne of York.

He managed to find an Englishwoman who had emigrated to Canada after the Second World War. A sample of Joy (Brown) Ibsen’s mitochondrial DNA was taken around 2004 and tested. It matched with the Haplogroup J of Richard III’s family. Mrs Ibsen died in 2008. Her son Michael gave a mouth-swab sample to researchers when the car park dig began. His DNA was used to establish that the identity of the skeleton found was indeed that of Richard III.

The newest painstakingly recreated likeness of this mediaeval king — a bust only recently completed by Liverpool University researchers and geneticists — shows us that the king would have had blue eyes and dark blond/light brown hair (see halfway down the page). It was probably the same colour as Michael Ibsen’s, in fact. However, generally speaking, the facial features depicted are consistent with the portraits done during his lifetime and posthumously.

Preparations for reburial

Michael Ibsen is a carpenter and joiner who makes cabinets and bookcases. He was commissioned to design and construct a casket and a small coffer to hold three soil samples from significant places in Richard’s life: his birthplace at Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire, his time spent at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale and Bosworth Field in Leicestershire.

Ibsen was able to use oak from Prince Charles’s Duchy of Cornwall estate.

His design for the casket is very plain by today’s standards, but Ibsen told Channel 4 that such simplicity is more in keeping with Richard’s era than our own. One of the commentators later added that, during that time, the coffinmaker carved a second interior casket shaped to the person’s body. Ibsen’s has a similar interior inlay.

The coffer for the three cubes of soil is of a similar design and construction.

Meanwhile, historians and Cathedral clergy were working on church ceremonies that Richard III would have recognised from his own time.

By all accounts, he was a devout Catholic (this was the pre-Reformation era) and asked priests and other religious around the country to pray for him. He had a number of chantries set up for this purpose and wrote a brief prayer for them to say which ended in ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord, our only Mediator and Advocate’.

He also had a thick leather-bound Book of Hours — an illumination from the early part of the 15th century, elaborately painted and penned — which researchers believe was passed down to him by family. It has been at London’s Lambeth Palace, home to the Archbishops of Canterbury for centuries, and was on loan for the reinterment (see below).

Compline — Sunday, March 22, 2015

The clergy of Leicester Cathedral invited England and Wales’s most senior Catholic clergyman, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, to give a brief sermon during Compline on Sunday, March 22.

Richard’s skeleton, in Michael Ibsen’s casket, was taken in a horse-drawn procession — complete with armoured men of arms — from Leicester University through the city centre to the Cathedral. (Earlier in the day it had been part of a ceremony at Bosworth Field.) Crowds of all races and creeds lined the streets. A number of them had white roses to lob onto the bier bearing the casket.

Leicester is Britain’s most multicultural city. In Richard’s time, it had a population of 3,000 and was England’s centre of the wool trade. Today, 300,000 people live there. Once the dig began, everyone began to take this king to their hearts. The adults and children interviewed live on Channel 4 really felt that this was a time when English history intersected with their own lives.

Once at the Cathedral, clergy received the casket in a brief ceremony with University officials. It was carried inside and placed in front of the baptismal font, where clergy said prayers reminding us of Richard’s own baptism and the religious meaning of that sacrament.

A pall, depicting Richard’s life as well as some of the people who helped to find his remains, was respectfully laid over the casket. Historian John Ashdown-Hill had designed a gold, bejeweled crown in keeping with the original. A local Brownie was given the responsibility for carrying it and placing it onto the pall.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols gave a brief but moving sermon, mentioning the deep religious significance that Baptism would have held for Richard. He added that Baptism alone does not make a person holy and that, in Richard’s life as in all of ours, there are elements of saint and sinner. He gave thanks that today’s conflict resolution starts with diplomacy rather than war.

After the Cathedral choir sung a choral interlude written for John F Kennedy’s funeral Mass, customary Compline prayers for temporal and spiritual safety concluded the service. The Cathedral was open from Monday through Wednesday evening to allow well wishers to visit the coffin to pay their respects.

Before the service, Channel 4’s Jon Snow asked the Cardinal, Anglican Synod member Christina Rees and the Cathedral clergy if there were any difficulties involved in Anglicans and Catholics co-ordinating the service. All said that everything went very well. Everyone understood that Richard was a Catholic, so it was only natural that a Catholic prelate should be invited to participate in this unique Compline.

We also discovered that stone from Greyfriars friary was used to repair part of the Cathedral through the ages, therefore, Catholic stone is in an Anglican church.

Church of England clergy held soil blessing ceremonies at the three collection sites earlier that day. They were attended not only by nearby residents but also by those most closely involved in the excavation and research. Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig, a distant cousin of his originally from Australia, also related to the king, attended.

Reinterment — Thursday, March 26, 2015

By the time of Richard III’s reinterment on March 26, over 20,000 people had paid their final respects. They came from all over the world, including Brazil and India.

This had far exceeded everyone’s expectations. Cathedral clergy opened the doors much earlier and closed them much later than anticipated every day.

This reburial, although not unique to the English monarchy or to the Church in general, did involve different circumstances and had to be organised accordingly.

Theologically, reburial can be done to transfer remains from one resting place to a rightful one. The tradition comes from the Israelites’ taking Joseph’s bones from Egypt for reinterment in the Promised Land. The current Duke of Gloucester — also named Richard, coincidentally — read the appropriate Scripture passage for this: Exodus 13:19-22.

In Richard III’s time, people were consumed by the thought of ending up in Hell, a place of everlasting torment, fire and brimstone. Funeral rites of the day would have lasted for several hours and would have had Bible readings which referred to Hell. These were warnings to those in attendance that their eternal life was in danger if they did not repent and lead godly lives.

One researcher uncovered a mediaeval manuscript documenting one of these services. The general pattern and readings were noted and discussed by the reinterment committee in an effort to make the ceremony more readily understood by those in the congregation.

The invitation-only ceremony lasted 45 minutes. It included a censing of the casket, which six Army officers, assisted by two more, took to the choir of the Chapel of Christ the King in the Cathedral.

Psalms 114, 138 and 150 were arranged to music. The Cathedral choir sang each of them beautifully.

Cathedral clergy recited prayers, the Public Orator of Leicester University gave us a life history of Richard III and the Bishop of Leicester, the Right Revd Tim Stevens, delivered the sermon. The Bishop spoke of ‘the Richard effect’ which went global, the tens of thousands of people coming to Leicester to pay their respects ‘confounded sceptics’. He added that such an interest was remarkable in today’s day and age in that Richard was a king and a Christian.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch, also related to Richard III distantly, read ‘Richard’, a poem written for the occasion by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

The Archbishop of Canterbury presided over the reinterment and scattered the consecrated soil over the coffin once it was in place.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, represented the Royal Family. King Harold, the only other English king to have been killed on the battlefield, held the title Earl of Wessex when he died in 1066.

Everyone interviewed afterward agreed that the reburial was a fitting religious ceremony for a king whom historical novelist Philippa Gregory calls ‘the people’s Plantagenet’. Indeed. It transpires that, because the Plantagenets married exclusively into English families, millions of Britons — and others living around the world — could have Plantagenet blood.

Everyone whom Jon Snow interviewed said the week’s events, especially the Cathedral services, were ‘a lot to take in’. Richard’s descendants Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig, both of whom now live and work in London, said that they were still processing everything. They are very dignified people and one cannot help but wish them all the best for the future.

Richard’s new resting place in Leicester Cathedral will be open to the public.

The Richard III Centre is adjacent to the Cathedral for anyone wishing to view exhibits about this much-maligned king. The Centre also has information about the archaeological dig from 2012.

Research continues, particularly into the fate of the young princes, as a new archive has become available. The coming years might give us more insight into Richard III. I look forward to it.

This post on the Anglican Book of Common Prayer concludes a study of Church liturgy and Communion polity from the first century through the Reformation.

Past posts — all of which are available on my Christianity/Apologetics page under Church history and miscellany — are as follows:

Church history: early form of liturgy still followed

Church history: Eastern liturgy in the 4th and 5th centuries

Church history: Western liturgy between the 5th and 9th centuries

Church history: how mediaeval Mass led to the Reformation

Church history: early Lutheran liturgy

Church history: Zwingli’s rite in Zurich

Church history: the German rites in Strasbourg (Martin Bucer)

Church history: Calvin’s French rites

Church history: early Reformed rites in Scotland

Unless otherwise indicated, source material is taken from W.D. Maxwell’s 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form, available to read in full online (H/T: Revd P. Aasman). Page references are given below.

Background to Anglican liturgy and practice

The Church of England is a via media — middle way — between Lutheranism and Calvinism (p. 144).

Doctrinally, it is similar to Calvinism. Liturgically, it is closer to Lutheranism.

However, it is less prescriptive and proscriptive than Calvinism. It also has liturgical distinctions all its own.

During Henry VIII’s reign, although the English Church broke with Rome, Mass remained a constant. However, small changes occurred with regard to church services. In 1536, the Mass in Latin was explained to the people so that they understood what was happening in the liturgy. In 1542, the Convocation of Canterbury decreed that all churches in England should have a morning and evening reading — one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament — in English every Sunday and holy day. This included the main Sunday Mass. The litany was first said in English in 1544 (p. 145).

An English liturgy took shape during Edward VI’s reign. The First Book of Homilies, which contained 12 sermons in English, was issued in 1547.

In March 1548, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer issued an English Order of Communion to be incorporated into the Mass (p. 145). These new parts of the liturgy included an exhortation to prayer, fencing the Table, invitation, public confession of sins with absolution, comfortable words (verses from the New Testament) and a prayer of humble access (expressing unworthiness to approach the Lord’s Table).

Cranmer incorporated these rubrics into the first Book of Common Prayer (BCP) which appeared in 1549 (see illustration above, courtesy of Charles Wohlers’s site). He, along with a group of clergymen, including Nicholas Ridley (p. 146) and Martin Bucer, wrote and compiled the prayers.

Maxwell describes the BCP as follows (p. 146):

It preserved a rich treasure of liturgical material, the whole rendered in an English style singularly felicitous, dignified and chaste. The character of the collects was retained, the English style equalling the Latin, while the style of the Canon far surpassed that of the old rite.

Just as important (emphases mine):

The achievement was unique in that the Book of Common Prayer, in contrast with the other vernacular rites of the sixteenth century, survives in use to this day.

The current Church of England service book is Common Worship, issued about 15 years ago, replacing the 1984 Alternative Service Book. Since the mid-1980s, our clergy have been trying to eliminate BCP services. However, vicars who occasionally use the BCP find their churches fuller than when they use the modern liturgy.

Communion policy

Doctrinally, the Church of England forbids either extreme belief about the nature of Communion. Specifically, church members are not allowed to believe in Catholic transubstantiation nor in Zwinglian symbolism (p. 144). We believe in an undefined Real Presence.

Those receiving Communion were to kneel once they approached the Table. However, some early Protestants were concerned how communicants and those in the pews would consider this posture.

Therefore, John Knox’s Black Rubric appeared in the 1552 BCP. It disappeared from the 1559 edition and was reinstated as an advisory notation in the 1662 edition, still used today. It reads as follows:

WHEREAS it is ordained in this Office for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper, that the Communicants should receive the same kneeling; (which order is well meant, for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgment of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder in the holy Communion, as might otherwise ensue;) yet, lest the same kneeling should by any persons, either out of ignorance and infirmity, or out of malice and obstinacy, be misconstrued and depraved: It is hereby declared, That thereby no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ’s natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places than one.

A Communion liturgy was stipulated as being the norm. In the early days of the Reformation, churches mandated that at least some of their congregation receive the Sacrament on every Sunday and holy day (p. 146). In addition to the celebrant, a minimum of three or four persons was required (p. 149). Acknowledging that this might be more difficult at Wednesday and Friday services, the Church directives specified that clergy could truncate the service accordingly, omitting the parts of the Liturgy of the Upper Room which concerned the elements, consecration and Communion.

The reason for mandating that certain members of the congregation receive Communion at each service originated from the requirement to receive the Sacrament at least once a year (p. 150). This was stated in the 1549 BCP. In the next edition, which appeared in 1552, the directive for minimum reception stated that congregations must receive Communion three times a year, one of these occasions being Easter.

The 1662 BCP allowed Morning Prayer to become a standard Sunday and holy day liturgy. In practice, it became the standard as most parishes began to hold a Communion service only three or four times a year (p. 151).

Until the late 20th century, Morning Prayer continued to be the norm on Sundays which did not involve a major Church feast. Today, however, nearly every Church of England service is one of Holy Communion. It is very unusual to find Morning Prayer on a Sunday.

Liturgical highlights

It is difficult to reproduce everything from the 1549 ‘Supper of the Lorde and the holy Communion, commonly called the Masse’ (pp. 147, 148). So much changed in the liturgy between then and 1662. Certain parts were omitted, reinstated and rearranged during that time. My notes follow in italics.

Liturgy of the Word:

– Introit, consisting of a Psalm appointed for the day (replaced by a hymn);

– Lord’s Prayer, said by the celebrant;

– Collect for Purity, said by the celebrant;

– Repetition of the Introit (replaced by either a full responsorial recitation of the Ten Commandments or a truncated summary thereof);

Kyrie, ninefold (omitted by 1662);

Gloria (repositioned between the post-Communion prayer and the final blessing);

– Salutation and collect of the day;

– Collect for the King (or Queen);

– Epistle;

– Gospel;

– Nicene Creed;

– Sermon.

Liturgy of the Upper Room:

– Exhortation to receive Communion worthily and with a clear conscience (nowadays no longer read);

– A selection of Scripture verses;

– Offertory and collection of alms;

– Procession of communicants to the sanctuary, men on one side and women on the other (discontinued — people queue and walk to the altar rail when the celebrant is ready to distribute Communion);

– Celebrant prepares the elements;

– Intercessions for the living and dead;

– Comfortable words (New Testament verses);

– Salutation and Sursum corda;

– Prayer of Consecration;

– Lord’s Prayer (moved to post-Communion);

– The Peace (omitted);

Christ our Pascall Lambe (a version of the Agnus Dei, omitted);

– Invitation to Communion (part of Cranmer’s ‘Order of Communion’, omitted);

– General Confession and Absolution (repositioned to take place after the Intercessions);

– Prayer of Humble Access (repositioned to be recited before the Prayer of Consecration);

– Holy Communion, with clergy and assistants receiving the Sacrament before the congregation, and ‘clerks’ or choir sing the Agnus Dei (Agnus Dei omitted) ;

– Post-Communion Scripture sentences (omitted);

– Salutation and post-Communion thanksgiving (the Gloria follows);

– Peace and blessing (a possible reference to ‘The peace of God which passeth all understanding …’).

21st century developments

The new liturgical book, Common Worship, has a traditional service which has reinstated the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei. The Gloria has been moved to follow the Kyrie. The Prayer of Humble Access is said immediately before Communion.

Sadly, the Peace was restored in the 1980s, which is a shame in the 21st century;  some churchgoers are, quite frankly, unattentive to hygiene. A Methodist told me that his church’s policy is to allow for a discreet tucking of hands into one’s sleeves to indicate non-participation. Only one person did that in his church, but the congregation respected it.

The new traditional service is a great improvement on the one in the 1984 Alternative Service Book.

However, no liturgy anywhere will ever top that of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It is a pity so many of today’s Anglican clergy refuse to use it more frequently. Such a refusal can only be considered some of Satan’s finest work.

End of series

Mothering Sunday in Great Britain is on Sunday, March 15, 2015.

Although we are increasingly adopting the American ‘Mother’s Day’, the original name has religious significance.

It derives from an ancient tradition of people travelling back to their ‘mother’ church on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, or Laetare Sunday.  The ‘mother’ church was the one in which they had grown up.  This tradition derives from the Epistle reading which states that the source of our joy should be in knowing that we are sons of God looking forward to redemption through the risen Christ.  (The faithful celebrate Christ’s Resurrection at Easter, the greatest of all Church feasts.)

Because transport was difficult and travel lengthy — people journeyed home by horse, carriage or on foot — it was also a special occasion for their families.  Those who made this trip were said to be going ‘a-mothering’. This carried a double meaning of pilgrimage to their church and a visit to their mother. The Canterbury Tales blog says the custom lasted for 300 years and ended sometime in the 19th century.

Simnel cake (pictured above), now served more often at Easter, was the traditional cake shared on this particular day.

In terms of church services, celebrants in the Catholic, Anglican/Episcopal and Lutheran churches often wear a rose-coloured vestment on this Sunday recalling Isaiah 63:2:

Why then is thy apparel red, and thy garments like theirs that tread in the winepress?

In the Middle Ages Pope Leo XIII compared the ‘sweet odour of Christ’ to a rose. A papal tradition, that of the Golden Rose, began as a result of this contemplation. The Pope commissions a goldsmith to craft a rose — one bloom or many — which is then given to a worthy Catholic for his or her service to the Church and to humanity. The Golden Rose is not distributed every year, although it has been given to a deserving recipient most years over the past Millennium.

Laetare — the first word of the traditional Introit — means ‘rejoice’, as in ‘Rejoice, Jerusalem’. It is a time to focus on the glory of the Risen Christ in hope and joy as well as contemplate His upcoming Passion.

I mentioned earlier the custom of returning to one’s mother church. After the service, the congregation went outdoors to gather around the church and ‘clip’ it — holding hands to embrace it.

My best wishes go to all British mothers on Laetare Sunday. May it be a well-deserved occasion of joy and happiness.

j03138821The frequency of Holy Communion in Protestant churches has increased in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Many Protestants have deplored the sparsely scheduled Holy Communion service, which, until recently, had been monthly or perhaps twice-monthly.

However, historically, everything is relative. At the time of the Reformation, most Catholics received the Sacrament once a year at Easter.

Therefore, even a Protestant reception once a month would have been 12 times more frequent than a Catholic one in that era.

The words ‘frequency’ and ‘regular’ have made many Protestants over the age of 50 forget the traditions that we grew up with. I have an Episcopalian friend in the United States who says that every Sunday service has long been one of Holy Communion. Yet, we were both longtime members of an urban Episcopal church which had such a service only once a month. The other Sundays featured Morning Prayer. Granted, as that congregation was a large one, the 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. services were those of Holy Communion. It seems an appropriate middle way.

Lutherans are receiving Communion much more often, although when I was growing up, my neighbours’ church — along with all the other many Lutheran churches in our town — had such services only once a month. This has been blamed on a shortage of clergy in the 19th century; the infrequency became the norm (see item 7, page 3 of this PDF).

Yet, almost no Protestant church held Communion services more than once a month. To cite another example, Methodists have had varied attitudes towards the Sacrament. As with Lutherans, they, too, historically had fewer ordained clergy and, as such, fewer Communion services. John Wesley advised them to go to the local Anglican church for Communion. Our local Methodist church has monthly Communion; the celebrant is either the pastor, in charge of three other churches in his Circuit, or one of the Anglican priests.

This paper from the Methodist Church in Great Britain describes the history of Communion frequency and what Methodists think of the Sacrament (see page 2 of this PDF, emphases mine):

2 The early Methodists were expected to practise constant and frequent Communion, either at the parish church (although in the first century of Methodism, 1740 to 1840, it was not the custom to celebrate Communion every week in most parish churches) or in their own chapels, receiving Communion either from Church of England clergy or, later, from their own itinerant preachers (ministers). However, in each of the branches of Methodism before the 1932 union, the number of Sunday congregations far exceeded the number of such ministers. This was usually the main reason why the Lord’s Supper continued to be celebrated no more than monthly in the town chapels and usually only quarterly in the villages.

3 Today Methodists vary hugely in their attachment to Holy Communion. For some it is at the very heart of their discipleship, for some it is one treasured means of grace among others and for a small minority of Methodists Communion is not perceived as either desirable or necessary.

Although many today will disagree, there is also a danger in receiving Communion unworthily: not being in the right frame of mind, being unbaptised or living a dissolute life.

In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the 1662 Holy Communion liturgy has a very long prayer in which the priest exhorts members of the congregation to determine whether they are worthy to receive the Sacrament. Although no longer read in BCP services, it is based on Articles 28 and 29 of the 39 Articles of Religion:

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.  (Article 28)

The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.  (Article 29)

Decades earlier, Martin Luther wrote:

It is useful and good that arrogant, godless blasphemers be so cut off that they should not join in partaking of the holy sacrament, for one should not ‘throw to the dogs what is holy, nor pearls before swine’ [Matt. 7:6] … It is very good and useful that our possession should not be scattered among the unworthy but kept holy and pure among the humble alone. (“That These Words of Christ, ‘This is My Body,’ etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 37 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961], pp. 131-32)

Some of the Reformed (Calvinist) churches required ministers to interview their congregants prior to the Holy Communion service. Worthy Huguenots received a méreau — token — to present at church that particular Sunday. Other Reformed churches had the same tradition in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries:

Participation among communion among 18th Reformed protestants was slim as well. Usually, in the days leading up to Communion, prospective communicants had to go through an inquiry with a minister into the state of his soul before being admitted. They called it fencing the table. If the man passed the inquiry, he received a Communion token. Then on Communion Sunday, he presented the token to receive Communion. At a Presyberian museum in Montreat, NC they have a collection of tokens. Someone named Tenney I think wrote a book about them and included photos.

This provides evidence as to why Holy Communion services and reception of the Sacrament were infrequent.

Catholics themselves only began frequently approaching the altar for Eucharist in the early part of the 20th century:

Lack of frequency in reception of communion was not unusual in that period. In 1905, Pope Pius X, in Sacra Tridentina Synodus,[20] exhorted Catholics to receive communion frequently, even daily.

The ‘regular’ and ‘frequent’ ‘celebration’ of Holy Communion has led to another issue of improper reception of the Sacrament: universal Communion, available in most mainstream Protestant denominations — Anglican, Episcopalian, ELCA (Lutheran) and PCUSA (Presbyterian) among them.

A few years ago, I made a case against universal Communion from Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed perspectives. These historically have stemmed from St Paul’s warning to the Corinthians about improper reception of the Sacrament (1 Corinthians 11:27-30):

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[g]

Therefore, receiving Holy Communion should be an awesome and fearsome occasion, done with a reverent mind and humble heart.

It is no accident that the faithful have been receiving the Sacrament infrequently until recent decades.

May we be mindful and prayerful when we approach the Lord’s table.

Yesterday’s post explained the reasons and history behind spiritual discipline during Lent.

Below are some suggestions for Lent for those who would like to do something a bit different.

When I was younger, I used to give up desserts in addition to observing Friday (and Ash Wednesday) fasts. A few years ago, I tried eating only one meal a day. As I was no longer working in town, there was no reason why it couldn’t be done. Since then, I’ve kept this up, rarely eating after dinner.

The ketogenic diet — high fat, moderate protein, very low carbohydrate — has helped greatly in this regard.

Resources for the ketogenic diet

Dietary advice: the old ways are the best (my own story on the ketogenic diet)

A high fat and low carbohydrate way of eating is also very good in treating a variety of physical and mental medical conditions. (Some readers might need to discuss it with their doctor first.) Feeling better helps us to become better ambassadors for Christ:

Fat and a balanced mind (low-fat diets can imbalance serotonin and nerves)

Depression and anxiety: the perils of a low-fat, high-carb diet

High carbohydrate intake and depression

Depression and cancer: more evidence against a low-fat diet

High carbohydrate intake and depression (also epilepsy related [Dr Richard A Kunin’s paper])

High-carb, low-fat diets might cause Western diseases (cancer related)

Low-carb diet a migraine remedy

Low-carb, high-fat diets regulate testosterone, cholesterol levels

Ketogenic diet and gout risk — tips for success

Now that I am older and understand it better, sanctification has become more important. Part of this lifelong undertaking includes Bible study.

A few years ago, I was undertaking Bible reading every day during Lent. One year later, I had read it all. Would that I had done so before. These posts of mine explore methods of reading the entirety of Scripture which lend themselves to our busy modern lives:

Why not read the Bible this Lent?

Bible study plan suggestions

You, too, can read the Bible with the Grant Horner system

Update on the Grant Horner Bible Reading System

The Grant Horner Bible Reading System is a success

Prayer is also vital to sanctification — our growth as Christians. However, a question mark remains over certain New Age practices which have migrated into the Church:

Caution on Lenten devotions

The labyrinth: Lenten it isn’t

These suggestions are not to be construed as persuasion to adopt a Lenten discipline. As the Lutheran Pastor Abrahamson said, it is not obligatory nor is it salvific. However, many like to use these 40 days to further their personal sanctification but are not quite sure how to go about it.

I pray that those of us undertaking something special are able to keep a good Lent.

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