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On the back of exploring what’s on Episcopal priests‘ minds, I am crossing the Atlantic, returning to the UK, to explore what Anglican priests are thinking about.

I will continue both series.

The Revd Marcus Walker, serving in the Diocese of London, deplores the bewilderment and criticism surrounding the recent group photograph of Mike Pence and his coronavirus team in prayer.

Note that they are not praying in public, as detractors have said. Press photographers happened to be present for the meeting.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer has such a prayer, which can be said during the Litany. Highly useful during the coronavirus scare:

In the time of any common plague or sicknes.

O Almighty God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thine own people in the wildernes for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron, and also in the time of King David, didst slay with the plague of pestilence threescore and ten thousand, and yet remembring thy mercy didst save the rest: have pitie upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sicknes and mortality, that like as thou didst then accept of an atonement, and didst command the destroying Angell to cease from punishing: so it may now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and grievous sicknes, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Marcus Walker later located his ‘jumbo book of State Prayers’ and noted the following shift in emphasis in them from the 18th to the 19th centuries:

Turning to the opprobrium heaped upon the American vice president and his team, this is what Mr Walker and his readers tweeted:

Nor do I.

The Revd Giles Fraser, formerly a Canon at St Paul’s Cathedral and current Rector at the south London church of St Mary’s, Newington, told the readers of his online magazine Unherd how he has changed the Communion service during the coronavirus outbreak (emphases mine):

I have a cough. I have had it for weeks. A deep hacking affair that brings up nasty thick greenish goo. It’s not the virus — I haven’t got a high temperature or any other symptoms. But it is dramatic enough to clear the seats next to me on the tube.

In church on Sunday, too, I could feel the anxiety radiate out from my coughing away behind the altar into a twitchy congregation. We have suspended sharing the peace for the time being. Instead of shaking hands or kissing, we wave at each other. So, too, we have decided to take communion in one kind only — that is, we share the bread but not the common cup of wine. And in this context, the symbolic handwashing the priest performs before the Eucharist is no longer simply a ritual act. It feels like a necessity. Cleanliness is next to godliness.

As one of my posts explained last week, the Cup can be suspended during health emergencies under a) the Doctrine of Concomitance and b) the 1547 Sacrament Act.

The Doctrine of Concomitance says that Christ’s substance in the Eucharist cannot be divided. The bread and the wine are both the entire real presence of Christ.

Giles Fraser and one of his readers helpfully tweeted about both:

Someone responded — possibly an agnostic — taking to task Christians who are panicking over the coronavirus. He has a point:

It amazes me how those who pontificate so much about life thereafter being so wonderful succumb to panic at the thought of death. Just a pause for thought. The Lord’s supposed to be our protector but only if it means it protects us from death. Come on religious people! Get a grip.

I don’t understand it, either.

On that note, and from a Catholic perspective, Dr CC Pecknold, a professor who also writes for First Things, tweeted about the plague in Venice between 1630 and 1631:

Exactly. However, that is what stubborn secularists, such as those criticising Mike Pence and his coronavirus team, refuse to understand. Christians pray for guidance and relief during troubled times.

There was more to the conversation. Someone was disappointed that the Peace had been suspended in his diocese:

How true.

In closing, after the plague had left Venice, the citizens of that city built a magnificent church in thanksgiving:

Would this happen now were, heaven forfend, the coronavirus to become an epidemic? No. Not at all.

More’s the pity.

In Italy, churches are closing their doors for the next few weeks:

This church in Rome is open but has taken additional precautions:

Meanwhile, let’s continue to pray that we may be guided in the correct practical direction during this pandemic and ask the Lord for it to harm as few people as possible.

I do think these health disasters are ‘come to Jesus moments’. Is anyone out there listening, including some notional Christians? Or are we all going to panic?

I was not planning on featuring two of these posts back to back, however, much of the world is in a panic over the coronavirus.

In some cases, it’s warranted:

Agree on Namaste. No touching, just bowing to someone with your hands pressed together upwards, as if in prayer. I might even start doing the Peace again at church if it caught on.

There were others who liked the shoe-touch, though:

Yet, that can be problematic, depending on where one’s feet have trodden.

On a lighter note, I have to admit that, I, too, thought of the Knack’s 1970s hit, My Sharona in this context at the weekend:

On a serious note, though, in some countries, e.g. the United States, people have to be prepared to pay big bucks to get tested for coronavirus:

In churches around the world, the subject of how one takes Holy Communion during the coronavirus outbreak is a hot one.

That is equally true in the Episcopal Church and the rest of the Anglican Communion.

The Anglo-Catholic priest, FrKeithV, featured before in my Episcopal priests series, thinks the hysteria is over the top:

Agree.

Back in the summer of 2009, when there was a global swine flu outbreak, I wrote three posts about Anglicans and Holy Communion.

My first, from July that year, quoted a Telegraph article saying that the Church of England was reviving the 1547 Sacrament Act for the crisis, which says that providing the Cup can be suspended in times of necessity.

My second, written in August 2009, discussed my personal experience with intinction as our vicar at the time practised it. He wanted us to take the intincted host from his fingers and place it in our mouths. I asked him afterwards whether we could dispense with intinction and just receive the host. He said that we absolutely had to have the Cup. My post explains that the Church of England frowns on intinction full stop because it does not prevent bacterial transmission.

My third post on the swine flu scare that year appeared in September 2009. I quoted various Anglican priests giving their views on intinction. Most were against it. Some dispensed with the Cup. Others continued the Cup, encouraging congregants to sip from it in the usual way. That post also mentioned advice from health experts in the Midlands who said that it didn’t matter whether people drank from the Cup, because they were just as likely to get the flu from people sitting around them in church.

Then the swine flu panic died down.

Now, nearly 11 years later, we have a coronavirus panic.

Returning to FrKeithV, he thinks that intinction is ‘theologically questionable’:

An interesting exchange followed:

A Lutheran responded:

The Revd Kara N. Slade, Canon Theologian at Princeton Theological Seminary, explained why the Cup can be temporarily suspended — the Doctrine of Concomitance:

The point about Martin Luther is also good.

I wish I had known all of that when I debated unsuccessfully with my then-vicar 11 years ago. In an unrelated outcome, he retired shortly after that and moved away.

A Pentecostalist from Northern Ireland tweeted about an Episcopal priest’s scientific views on taking Communion during the coronavirus panic:

The Revd David Sibley, an Anglo-Catholic, is the rector of St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Walla Walla, Washington. He recently posted a letter to his congregation, ‘From the Rector: Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the Common Cup’.

I would strongly advise anyone worried about taking Holy Communion to bookmark it. He includes footnotes.

Excerpts follow, emphases in purple mine.

Invariably, the first question asked of the church in moments like this is:
What about the common cup at the Eucharist?

The simple answer is this – peer reviewed studies and Centers for Disease Control guidance since the 1980s have consistently shown that “no documented transmission of any infectious disease has ever been traced to the use of a common communion cup” and “the risk for infectious disease transmission by a common communion cup is very low, and appropriate safeguards–that is, wiping the interior and exterior rim between communicants, use of care to rotate the cloth during use, and use of a clean cloth for each service – would further diminish this risk.” American Journal of Infection Control (Vol. 26, No. 5, 1998). 

We do all these things at St. Paul’s! Our Eucharistic Ministers are trained to wipe the rim of the chalice between each communicant, to rotate the purificator (the cloth), and the Altar Guild ensures a clean cloth is used for each liturgy.

He then explains why intinction is not a good idea:

Is it more sanitary to intinct the host into the cup than drink from it?

In short – absolutely not! As any experienced Eucharistic Minister or clergy person will tell you, it is a common occurrence when people intinct the host for their fingers to touch either the consecrated wine or the side of the chalice. This is in fact less sanitary then drinking in the first place – we can make sure our Eucharistic Ministers and clergy wash their hands, but we can’t do the same for the whole of the congregation!

For those still concerned about how to take Communion at this time, he provides three options. Note that the third refers to the aforementioned Doctrine of Concomitance:

As your priest, I can recommend three options to you:

    1. When in doubt, drink from the common cup it is the most sanitary way for you to receive the consecrated wine at the Eucharist. Christians have been doing so for centuries, and still manage to die at the same rate and pace as the general population!
       
    2. If you don’t want to drink from the cup, don’t intinct for yourself. Instead, leave the host on your hand, and allow the Eucharistic Minister to intinct it for you, and place the host on your tongue. This ensures that only people with washed hands are handling the hosts, and it eliminates the unsanitary conditions that are caused by intinction.
       
    3. Finally, if you don’t want to receive the cup at all, it’s ok not to. The church believes that all of the grace of the sacrament of the Eucharist is conferred wholly in each element – both consecrated bread and wine. To receive only the host is not to have a “half blessing” or to receive “half communion.” Instead, receiving in one kind is to fully partake in the Eucharistic feast.

Finally, let your consideration for others carry the way you would through any other sickness: if you have a fever, stay home; if you have a cold, don’t shake hands at the peace; and always, always, always wash your hands with soap and water for 15 seconds or longer.

Good man.

He holds a Bachelors and a Masters degree in Chemistry. He was ordained in 2011. That means he has finished leftover Communion wine quite a lot. This is what he says:

I’ve consumed what’s left in the chalice after Holy Communion, quite literally drinking behind thousands of people over my ordained vocation. And I promise – I get sick at the same rate the rest of us do!

Brilliant observation.

Let us not panic over coronavirus and Communion. If we truly believe that the priest is the conduit in transforming bread and wine into a Holy Mystery and the Real Presence, then, the thought of contamination should not occur to us.

In closing, what follows was my experience at Sunday morning Communion service on March 1. Our priest made no mention of coronavirus. I did notice, however, that there was a dispenser of sanitiser gel on the side altar table. He cleaned his hands with that before proceeding with the prayer of consecration.

As this was a 1662 service, there was no Peace ritual.

Continuing my series what’s on Episcopal priests’ minds, the Anglo-Catholic FrKeithV posted a succinct tweet on inclusion in the Church:

I couldn’t agree more. We should be transforming our lives through the gift of faith and God’s infinite grace: becoming more Christlike and rejecting the bondage of sin.

It is unclear whether his next tweet is related to inclusion, but one of the reasons people find inclusion upsetting is that a handful of those who wish to be included do tend to demand it, rather than approach the Church in humility and goodwill.

One remedy for this is to rely on Scripture rather than one’s personal feelings — emotions:

It is hard being a Christian. Sometimes we love our personal baggage, which often keeps us in a sinful cycle. Satan can readily supply us with any number of excuses not to grow spiritually, to remain in his snare.

Our emotional resistance — wilful disobedience — to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit is one of the devil’s best tricks. Don’t fall for it.

My latest instalment on what Episcopal priests are thinking about involves respecting the Church calendar.

The following tweets come from the Revd Scott Gunn, an Anglo-Catholic serving in a Midwestern city. He is also the executive director of Forward Movement in the Episcopal Church, a co-author of Faithful Questions: Exploring the Way with Jesus and a religious editorial writer for Fox News.

Epiphany

We are in the last few Sundays of the season of Epiphany, so let’s make the most of them. We should be grateful for the Lord God sending His only begotten Son who died for our sins:

And, while we are at it, let’s forget this abominable modern concept of ‘Ordinary Time’ in the Church calendar, as promulgated by Roman Catholics. Sadly, it has spread to some liturgical Protestant churches. How can Sunday worship or the Church calendar ever involve something ‘ordinary’?

Someone replying suggested developing an Episcopal Church of Twitter. Count me in. It’s a darn sight more traditional and meaningful than many Episcopal Church witterings. That goes for the Church of England, too.

Septuagesima Sunday

In my post with the readings for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany — Year A, I later updated it to say that February 9, 2020, was Septuagesima Sunday, the seventh Sunday before Easter. Next Sunday will be Sexagesima Sunday and the one after that Quinquagesima Sunday.

Until Vatican II modernised the Catholic Church, that was the Sunday that signalled the beginning of Lent for traditionalists. In old money, Lent would have started on Monday, February 10. Now Lent begins on Ash Wednesday for nearly everyone. You can read more about the Sundays before Easter below, including the season of Shrovetide in my post below:

Shrovetide — a history

The Sundays before Lent — an explanation (the Sundays that define Shrovetide)

The readings for the latter Sundays in the season of Epiphany begin to move towards a call to repentance, and this was evident in the first reading from Isaiah as well as the Gospel reading for February 9.

Scott Gunn reminded us of our traditions, which some of his readers had also noticed:

Other Episcopal priests also remembered it was Septuagesima Sunday:

There was a bit more about the importance of the Gesimas in terms of our souls:

Holy Week

Then we discover that Holy Week is a separate season from Lent. This I did not know. I was not alone:

Either way, penitence, prayer and fasting still apply to the final days before Easter.

Corpus Christi

Mr Gunn also reminded us of the feast of Corpus Christi, which is the Thursday or the Sunday following Trinity Sunday. (Corpus Christi is Latin for Body of Christ.) It is still commemorated in the Church of England on the first Thursday after Trinity:

This is the modern version of the Collect from that liturgy:

Lord Jesus Christ,

we thank you that in this wonderful sacrament

you have given us the memorial of your passion:

grant us so to reverence the sacred mysteries

of your body and blood

that we may know within ourselves

and show forth in our lives

the fruits of your redemption;

for you are alive and reign with the Father

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

An Episcopal priest replying to him was in a lather, tweeting in all caps. It culminated in this exchange, which clarified that the priest was angry about Maundy Thursday as the institution of Holy Communion at the Last Supper:

Oh, dear. I connect both with Holy Communion.

In closing, it is good to see that so many clergy — and laity — still place importance on the traditional Sundays of the Church calendar. Long may it last.

I hope more follow their example.

Today, the Anglican church I attend used the readings for Candlemas, which is always on February 2, 40 days after the birth of Jesus.

It was appropriate for them to be read rather than the regularly scheduled Lectionary readings as February 2 falls on a Sunday this year.

Candlemas

Candlemas recalls the presentation of our Lord in the temple with Mary and Joseph providing their ritual sacrifice as part of the purification rite and redemption of the firstborn:

This took place 40 days after His birth and was a normal Jewish ritual of the day. Mary would have gone through her own private ritual cleansing beforehand. She was now ready to worship again and circulate freely once again after childbirth. The Christian equivalent is the Churching of Women ceremony, popular in the Anglican Communion for centuries, as it welcomed recent mothers back into the congregation for regular worship.

The following posts of mine discuss Candlemas, so called because, traditionally, it was the day when the faithful brought their candles to church to be blessed:

February 2 is Candlemas

Jesus presented at the temple (Part 1)

Jesus presented at the temple (Part 2)

Candlemas: the prophetess Anna

The guest clergywoman — not sure if she was a deacon or a priest — gave a biblical and considered sermon on both Simeon and Anna. They were both elderly, although some scholars are not sure if Simeon was quite that old. In any event, the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, ‘the consolation of Israel’. After seeing the infant Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit, he spoke the words that comprise the Nunc Dimittis, said at Evening Prayer:

Luke 2:22-32

Jesus Presented at the Temple

22And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

Anna had been a widow for most of her life, sadly. Yet, she remained faithful to God and devoted her life to fasting and praying every day at the temple.

After Anna saw Jesus that day, she spoke of Him to all who awaited ‘the redemption of Jerusalem’:

Luke 2:33-40

33And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

 36And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The Return to Nazareth

 39And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

The clergywoman giving today’s sermon said that this ceremony with Simeon and Anna attending provided a ‘bookend’ with a man and a woman of advanced years ending the Christmas story, which started with the first ‘bookend’ featuring two other aged people: Mary’s three-month stay with her relative Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah, who was temporarily struck dumb because he doubted the Angel Gabriel (Luke 1:5-25).

Mary told Elizabeth that she was carrying the Christ Child in her womb. Elizabeth was also expecting; the baby who would be John the Baptist began stirring in her womb when Mary greeted her. Mary then gave her praise to God, known as The Magnificat, also said or sung during Evening Prayer.

From Luke 1:

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[g] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

Today’s palindrome date

On a secular note, February 2, 2020 is a symmetrical palindrome when represented numerically. The media are making it out to be a rare occurrence, but there will be others before the next century:

There have been other similar dates in recent years, too: 20011002 (October 2, 2001) and 20111102 (November 2, 2011).

St Blaise Day — February 3

Back to matters religious now. February 3 is the feast day of St Blaise, who was a physician, bishop and martyr. He died in 316 when a local pagan governor had his flesh ripped with iron combs. Blaise had an equal affinity with animals as he did with humans. He cured the illnesses of both. His last miracle was said to be not long before his death, when he was being led to prison. A desperate mother presented her son to him. The lad was choking to death on a fish bone. The mother set the boy at Blaise’s feet and he was cured straightaway.

You can read more about St Blaise here:

St Blaise’s feast day and the blessing of throats

The Catholic Church continues to bless congregants’ throats on February 3 or the closest Sunday — i.e. today — to ward off ailments to that part of the body. Interestingly, the blessing is done with two candles. They used to be lit, now the priest simply places the candles in an x-shaped cross and lightly presses them to the person’s throat, reciting a short blessing.

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear tomorrow.

Last week — and by chance — I found a few interesting Twitter feeds from Episcopal priests in the United States.

I’m thinking of starting a new series: ‘What’s on Episcopal priests’ minds’.

Without further ado, here goes.

The Revd Robert Hendrickson is rector of Saint Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church in Tucson, Arizona. He is an Anglo-Catholic.

This tweet lists his views on Sunday services:

I’m not sure what he is saying about Purgatory, which, as far as I know, is not a belief of the Episcopal Church.

For everything else, in layman’s terms, he is saying that:

a) the priest should kiss — osculate — the altar. A proper altar should have a consecrated square of stone in it that the celebrant kisses before celebrating the Communion service, as if he were kissing Christ. It is a sign of reverence.

b) the celebrant should wear a maniple, which is an embroidered band of silk worn over the left hand, reminding a priest that he is God’s servant. From Wikipedia, which has illustrations (emphases mine below):

Originally, the maniple was likely a piece of linen which clerics used to wipe their faces and hands and has been described by some modern commentators as being akin to a handkerchief. It appears to have been used in the Roman liturgy since at least the 6th century. The maniple can vary widely in size, shape, and degree of embroidery and ornamentation.

Common symbolic comments refer to the maniple’s likeness to the rope by which Christ was led and the chains which bound his hands. It has also become known as an emblem of the tears of penance, the burden of sin, and the fatigue of the priestly office. This understanding is reflected in the vesting prayer said while putting on the maniple before Mass. Anglican commentators have described the maniple as a symbol of being a servant to the servants of God.

Alphonsus Liguori claimed: “It is well known that the maniple for the purpose of wiping away the tears that flowed from the eyes of the priest; for in former times priests wept continually during the celebration of Mass.”[11]

c) he does not like concelebrated Communion services. Concelebrated services parcel out various parts of the Communion liturgy among two or more priests. (I agree: too distracting.)

d) the Revised Common Lectionary is not very good. (I tend to agree.)

e) the Revised Standard Version of the Bible is preferable to the New Revised Standard Version.

f) facing east — the traditional direction — at the altar is preferable but not better.

g) he would like to see more feast days celebrating Mary, the mother of Jesus.

h) benediction — a blessing — should be offered to all who do not receive Communion.

i) Morning Prayer — what used to be the main Sunday service, with one or two Communion services per month — is preferable over Communion every week. (I definitely agree.)

This is why he dislikes concelebrated services:

Some priests believe that getting in the habit of going up to the altar to receive a blessing instead of Communion accustoms people who are not yet baptised to the altar rail. This is a relatively recent development in the Anglican Communion and, quite possibly, priests might have a point:

Morning Prayer is a big hobby horse of mine, too. Would that it returned:

Robert Hendrickson explains his religious journey, including his love of Morning Prayer, in a fascinating post of his, ‘Morning Prayers with Hymns and Anthems: A Catholic Case for the Office on Sunday at 11:00’.

Like me, he was raised a Catholic. For both of us, Morning Prayer was a big draw to the Episcopal Church. Both of us also read the Book of Common Prayer (different to the English one) and got to know clergy and congregation at the churches we respectively chose.

His experience fully mirrors my own.

Excerpts follow from his defence of Morning Prayer.

His story begins in New Haven, Connecticut. His wife had been raised a Methodist. Both were looking for one church they felt mutually comfortable in.

Enter Morning Prayer, especially Rite I:

Our third Sunday, we visited Trinity Episcopal Church on the Green. The welcome there was warm without being cloying. The music was beautiful. The choir that day was the Choir of Men and Boys. The liturgy was dignified without being self-conscious. It was Rite I Morning Prayer with Hymns and Anthems done with grace, dignity, reverence, and joy. In short, it was classically Anglican and my wife and I both fell in love with the parish.

Coming to New Haven, I had grown up Roman Catholic and my wife had grown up United Methodist. We were looking for a church that we could attend together. The beauty of Trinity on the Green’s Morning Prayer service was that I could participate fully and prayerfully without wrestling with what it meant to come to a “protestant” Communion service. By the time a service of Holy Communion came around at Trinity, I had talked with the priest there, gotten to know parishioners, read large parts of the Book of Common Prayer, and made up my mind that this was the church for me. More importantly, it was the church for us.

Morning Prayer served an evangelical function in the best sense of that word. We were brought into the life of the parish and, over time, made the decision to receive Communion there. It was a service in which the presence of God was made manifest through art and warmth and we were drawn into the Presence of God, in the Sacrament, over time and after much thought. We committed to the parish and felt deeply and warmly cared for.

Hendrickson became a priest, thanks to that profound experience via Morning Prayer:

I daresay that I owe my vocation in the Episcopal Church to Morning Prayer (as well as kind priests who encouraged me).

For those parishes looking for a way to be welcoming while maintaining the historic Reformed and Catholic understandings of the Sacraments, I would urge a re-examination of our Church’s history of Morning Prayer as a central act of worship.

Detractors will say — and they do — that one should not deny the congregation Holy Communion. At the church I attended in the US, the early morning and evening services were Communion services every Sunday. The main one, however, was Morning Prayer on most Sundays. We had one Communion service per month at 11:00.

Hendrickson appreciates what the detractors are saying, however:

If the choice, however, is between Communion without Baptism (an abandonment of the Reformed and Catholic traditions) or regular Morning Prayer with less frequent Communion, then Morning Prayer makes great sense

Now so many have much of the ceremony but little of the theology …

Morning Prayer can be an absolutely beautiful and dignified service full of joy.

It is ideal for newcomers — Christians who are church shopping and especially those who are enquiring about Christianity:

It is a service ideally suited for education, formation, and evangelism. It can prepare believers for Baptism and Communion. For those who are seeking a way to welcome, educate, and form believers for the life of the Sacraments, Morning Prayer is a meaningful and authentic liturgical response.

As more and more people come to our churches with little or no experience of the Church, minimal knowledge of the story of Christ, and virtually no understanding of the Sacraments, regular Morning Prayer may make far more sense than regular Mass. In many ways, it would be a return to a time when we had a Mass of the Catechumens (those being instructed in the faith) and the Mass of the Faithful (those that have received Baptism).

This does not impart judgment or a lesser status! This means we have a group of people being raised up in the faith and that we trust them to hear, learn, and to make the choice as to whether they want to make that step through Baptism to the Altar. If I were to enter a temple, mosque, or any other holy place, I would not expect to be welcomed to their holiest rites as a visitor. In fact, I would assume they were not all that important to them if I were!

Our modern Christian experience is looking evermore like that of the early Church and our practices need to be informed by them. We will have more adult baptizands, more people knowing little of the story of Christ, and less cultural influence. We will have to take the time to bring these folks into the fullness of the faith we have received. It is not our role to dismantle the Sacraments we have been entrusted with but to find new ways to draw those who have never heard to the Remembrance. Morning Prayer may be the perfect Anglican answer for this day and age.

Fully agree!

I see that Saint Philip’s in the Hills still has 100% Communion services, but, here’s hoping the congregation and clergy eventually make the move towards Morning Prayer.

It was with sadness that I learned of the conservative philosopher Roger Scruton’s death on January 12, 2020. I saw the tweets on the Revd Giles Fraser‘s Twitter feed:

Scruton was an Anglican and wrote a book in 2013: Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England (2013), a defence of our Established Church.

With regard to faith, he wrote (emphases mine):

Rational argument can get us just so far… It can help us to understand the real difference between a faith that commands us to forgive our enemies, and one that commands us to slaughter them. But the leap of faith itself — this placing of your life at God’s service — is a leap over reason’s edge. This does not make it irrational, any more than falling in love is irrational.

He advocated the appreciation of beauty in our environment. From that, we can sense God’s presence in the world.

However, most of us will remember him for his many treatises and articles in which he put forth his distinctly un-PC views. He was gentle, yet bold and unafraid to express himself. I did not agree with everything he wrote, but he was always eloquent and considered. We will not see his like again for years to come:

This is what he wrote about French wine. I don’t really understand this, but it is typically Scruton:

This page — a better example — is from his book on wine and discusses the Gilbey family, known primarily for their gin. However, they also own a vineyard in the Bordeaux region:

Scruton said that wine is conservative:

Fraser, who writes for UnHerd and produces podcast interviews for them in a series called Confessions, wrote a beautiful tribute to Scruton: ‘Raise your glass to Roger Scruton, the terroiriste’. Terroir is the French word describing the soil and climate in which grapes grow. Terroir defines a wine’s specific characteristics.

Excerpts follow:

Terroir is a sense of place in a glass. Roger Scruton often referred to himself as a ‘terroiriste’. And this could describe his political philosophy as much as his philosophy of wine. From 2001 to 2009, Scruton wrote a wine column in the New Statesman, enabling him to smuggle into that otherwise exclusively Left-wing journal, all sorts of reactionary political ideas: about God, about fox-hunting, about beauty, about his love of the countryside.

Scruton understood aesthetics — and wine — differently to most people:

Scruton wrote about wine very differently — not because he disagreed about the science but because he understood aesthetics very differently. He bemoaned the way in which aesthetic experience had come to be seen as something separable and distinct from questions of the good, or the true, or of politics or indeed anything else. That’s why his wine column ranged so far and wide. Beauty, for example, an idea that lies at the centre of Scruton’s philosophy, is as much a moral as it is an aesthetic phenomenon. There is no wall between them. That’s why Scruton could write about wine like this:

Visitors to Burgundywill sense all around them the history and religion. … They will know that this is hallowed soil: it has been blessed and cajoled and prayed for over the centuries, many of the vineyards being worked by monks for whom wine is not just a drink but a sacrament … Even in this skeptical age, their vine is something more spiritual than vegetal, and their soil more heaven than earth.”

I tend to agree. I also link wine, eaux de vie and liqueurs with monasteries, finding something of the sacred in all of them. For this reason, I do not understand how people can be teetotal — alcoholism excepted — when drinking these responsibly is one of the greatest experiences ever.

Fraser, who is rector of an Anglican church in south London, also sees something holy in wine:

I once consecrated a bottle of Chateau Latour for the funeral of a great wine lover. There were only a few of us at the funeral. I carefully laid out several crystal glasses on the altar and carefully poured into them the precious liquor, investing it, through the Eucharistic prayer, with the story of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Do this in remembrance of me. I swear the wine tasted different for having been consecrated. And that was, one might say, because of the theological terroir with which it had been framed.

I can believe it.

Scruton very much respected the environment but not in today’s eco-warrior way. In it, he saw centuries of heritage and shared values, which informed his notion of the nation-state:

… it is important to emphasise that he never thought the nation state should be celebrated in terms of race or creed. For him, it was a commitment to place, and the shared and common institutions, customs and traditions that make a place what it is.

Moreover, Scruton’s conservatism wasn’t aggressive. Wine, when drunk properly, relaxes people and introduces conviviality. People fight over oil, he once remarked, but not over wine. As he once put it about wine-growing in the Lebanon, “Invade the producer and you lose the product; trade with him peacefully and you are supplied from year to year.” Indeed, “Hezbollah don’t occupy the Beqaa because of Chateau Musar – if they did, peace would quickly come to southern Lebanon.”

Wine, and indeed terroir-ism, was, for him, the product of, and encouragement towards, peace and civility. What he had in mind here was more the wine of the Greek symposium than that guzzled in quantity by the boorish drunk. His idea of heaven was that of domestic home-loving contentment, with friends sitting around the table drinking wine, sharing ideas. There is nothing remotely fascist about this.

Last Sunday’s readings featured the Gospel reading about the miracle at Cana. Fraser wrote this on Thursday, January 16:

As it so happens, this coming Sunday is the day in the church’s calendar when we remember the first miracle performed by Christ, turning water into wine. This trumps ‘Dry January’. Yesterday, I had the mad idea of consecrating a bottle of Chateau Trotanoy 1945 for the occasion, the taste of which first converted the young Scruton to his life-long dedication to the religion of the grape. But as the helpful gentleman from Berry Bros informed me, this was nearly £4,000 a bottle, and probably impossible to find.

I will obviously have to look for something a little more modestly priced … But whatever I find, this seems like an appropriate way to say goodbye. Roger Scruton once played the organ for us at our little church in South London. Without an organist in attendance, and needing a carol playing, he got up and played it from sight. Scruton had a soft spot for Anglicanism.

As far as faith is concerned:

He wasn’t a conventional believer, but he spoke to me extremely movingly last year about the need for him to follow Christ’s example and forgive those who had so wronged him last year when he was mischievously disparaged as an anti-Semite and subsequently sacked from his job as the Government’s architectural advisor. You can listen to that Confession here.

His was a philosophy of place and philosophy of peace. Something well worth raising a glass to, consecrated or otherwise. In his life, whether in the Reform club or around his farmyard kitchen table in Wiltshire, he celebrated the miracle of water into wine, and was thoroughly suspicious of all those — whether Puritans or Salafis — who would turn it back again. He will be much missed. May he rest in peace.

I wrote about his wrongful sacking in July 2019. He was reinstated, but, for most of us, the damage had been done. The Conservatives rounded on him without even asking questions about the interview he had given to the New Statesman, which had deliberately misquoted him.

His work for the British government included plans for aesthetically pleasing council homes. His boss, Robert Jenrick MP, said he would implement Scruton’s plans. I certainly hope he does. My post on architecture from August 2019 gives you an idea of what Scruton liked.

The Chief Rabbi also paid the late philosopher a tribute:

This was Scruton’s library in Wiltshire. Check out the baby grand:

In closing, here is another Scruton interview, focussing on beauty:

May Roger Scruton rest in peace.

My condolences to his widow Sophie and his two children at this most difficult time.

As I close a week discussing Disroyalty starring the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, here are a few more views about their plans as well as a summary of what went on at Sandringham on Monday, January 13, 2020.

Before I get to those, however, it is important to remember that other Royals will have to pick up the Sussexes’ slack, leaving 200 engagements per year to divide among them.

Key points about the Sandringham summit

Here’s what to know about the Sandringham summit on Monday.

The Daily Mail says that Harry arrived at 11:20 a.m.

By then, Prince Philip had already left and was driven elsewhere on the estate. He was reportedly furious last week:

Philip was reportedly ‘spitting blood’ with anger when he found out last Wednesday and yelled at his aides: ‘What the hell are they playing at?’

If he left, he wasn’t feeling any calmer.

Prince Charles had arrived the day before. Prince William showed up 15 minutes before the meeting began at 2:00 p.m.

The meeting was held in the Long Library, which used to be a bowling alley. Princes William and Harry spent much time there as children.

It is located away from other rooms where the Royals might have been overheard.

Meanwhile, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, denied charges of racism (same link):

Ms Patel, speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, said: ‘I’m not in that category at all where I believe there’s racism at all. 

‘I think we live in a great country, a great society, full of opportunity, where people of any background can get on in life.’

Asked if the media had been in any way racist, she replied: ‘I don’t think so, no… I certainly haven’t seen that through any debates or commentary or things of that nature.’

On January 14, the Mail reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson wisely refused to be drawn in on the controversy:

In his first major TV interview since the election, Mr Johnson said: ‘I am a massive fan of the Queen and of the Royal Family…

‘I am absolutely confident that they are going to sort this out.’

I was happy to read that Harry’s early arrival ensured that he could have a lengthy one-on-one conversation with his grandmother.

Bolter

In 2018, a few months before Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got married, Germaine Greer gave an interview to Australia’s 60 Minutes in which she said she thought the bride would end up leaving.

The Cut posted the story on April 16. Prescient (emphases mine):

During an interview with 60 Minutes Australia this weekend, outspoken and controversial feminist author Germaine Greer said she thinks Markle “will bolt” as soon as she gets a sense of what life in the British royal family (which Greer refers to as “the firm”) is really like.

“Let’s hope they’re in love. If they’re not it’s going to be totally unbearable,” Greer told journalist Tara Brown. “She will see vistas of boredom that are unbelievable. I think the pressure to escape from the firm is crushing.”

When Brown asked what she predicted for the couple’s future, Greer answered, “I think she’ll bolt.”

“She bolted before. She was out the door,” she said, referring to Markle’s 2013 divorce from Trevor Engelson. “I think she’ll bolt. I hope in a way that she’ll bolt but maybe she’ll take Harry with her.”

When asked why Markle, already a successful television star, would give up her career to marry into the royal family, Greer quipped: “Why would a girl born in poverty marry a man with 53 million quid? I can’t think of single reason.”

It seems Harry might be worth less than that — possibly £30m, but the point stands.

There is also the status involved.

Opportunism

The deputy political editor at the Daily Mail, John Stevens, had this to say about the Sussexes’ announcement last week:

In fact, that is quite possible.

Allegedly, Justin Trudeau knew of their plans before the Queen and the rest of the Royal Family. So did Elton John.

On January 11, the Daily Mail reported:

There was speculation last night that Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have given a cryptic Twitter clue about the crisis that was about to engulf the Royal Family.

When news emerged that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had turned their back on Royal tradition and flown to Canada for Christmas, their powerful friend was one of the first to welcome them on social media.

He wrote: ‘You’re among friends, and always welcome here.’

Just weeks later, the Royal couple were looking to test that ‘always’ by announcing their move to Canada.

And the tweet has done little to dampen gossip in Embassy circles that Mr Trudeau was more aware of the Sussexes’ emigration plans than even their closest family.

Diplomatic sources claim Mr Trudeau and his wife Sophie were consulted about the decision late last year, before members of the Royal family and even the Queen.

The Trudeaus are friends with the Sussexes:

Last night, the Canadian government did not respond when confronted about the claims, but sources close to the Sussexes denied they had discussed the move with Prime Minister Trudeau.

The Canadian First Couple and the Sussexes have been close friends, with Meghan and Sophie even sharing a stylist – Meghan’s best friend and sometime babysitter for Archie, Jessica Mulroney.

Prince Harry, 35, and Mr Trudeau, 48, are two of the younger fixtures on the world stage, with both men appearing to enjoy each other’s company at events such as Commonwealth commemorations.

The two have also encountered each other on multiple occasions through Prince Harry’s Invictus Games for disabled servicemen.

I wonder if the Sussexes are aware that, many years ago, Trudeau once attended a fancy dress party in blackface. He thought nothing of it at the time. Terrible.

Returning to John Stevens’s tweet, here are a few responses:

Money

Although, technically, what Prince Charles does with his income from the Duchy of Cornwall is his business, the British would be annoyed if he continued to finance Prince Harry:

This YouGov poll shows similar results:

This Briton tweeted about the video of Harry touting Meghan to Disney’s Bob Iver for voiceover work:

Naturally, some of the money she would earn from such work would go to charity. Of course:

Trudeau said that his country will pay for the Sussexes’ security detail. Canadians won’t be too happy about that:

Another Daily Mail report said that Canada would pay half the Sussexes’ £1m annual security detail cost. We shall see. On January 14, the Mail published an article quoting Trudeau, who said:

I think most Canadians are very supportive of having royals be here, but how that looks and what kind of costs are involved, there are still lots of discussions to have.

Family

The young Anglican priest who tweeted the following has mistakenly said that the Sussexes are on the Civil List. They are not.

However, the larger point about their role in the Royal Family is what is important:

The Revd Giles Fraser, formerly Canon at St Paul’s Cathedral and now Rector of St Mary, Newington in South London, wrote a considered article on the topic that the Revd Philip Murray raised. The Bishop of Dorking (Surrey) complimented him on it:

Excerpts follow:

Do we still recognise moral obligations that exist prior to our having chosen them? That is, it seems to me, the question embedded within the whole Megxit scandal. It couldn’t have been better designed to drive a wedge between two very different ways of seeing the world

But this isn’t just about monarchy. For the same tension exists within the very idea of a family — the Windsors being, as well as royal, the most famous family in the world. How does liberalism — of which Meghan Markle feels like a supreme representative — deal with that age-old sense of moral obligation towards those who have brought you into life and have raised and nurtured you, without you having chosen them for the task. Of course, some families fail in this very basic duty. And most of us parents only get it half right, at best.

Without this very basic idea that we are born into some fundamental unit of existential solidarity, something towards which we owe an allegiance long before we are able to choose it, human life is released from its moorings and we are all deeply lost. This is where liberalism flounders. For when it comes to the most important basis of human flourishing, family life, liberalism has nothing useful to say, other than to remind us that some families are destructive and dysfunctional and best escaped from. Be your own person, it advises. Break free. But this is to cut off the branch on which nests are built.

Sense of duty

A Theology graduate from Cambridge University has the ultimate analysis of the Duchess and her outlook on a sense of duty.

This is a must-read:

So true — especially the closing thought about helping minority Britons!

When they got married, I thought she might look forward to such a role. I was wrong.

Poll on the monarchy

Between Thursday and Friday, January 9 and 10, Deltapoll conducted a survey on the monarchy. This was after the Sussexes’ announcement.

The favourable results were lower than I’d expected:

A Pole responded to that tweet, encouraging us to keep the Royal Family:

Good or bad? It’s important. I come originally from Poland. I read Polish papers and monarchy issues make front page headlines there. The monarchy is ‘s trademark, as it were, recognised worldwide. Try and lose it to see how good it actually is to have it.

I fully agree.

This is a breakdown of the question by age group:

I also agree with these replies:

I do not think that most of our Prime Ministers would have made great Presidents.

The Royal Family are good for Britain. Let’s not discard them because of the actions of a few bad apples.

Last Christmas, our vicar gave an excellent sermon on the Nativity story, looking at the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John.

John 1:14, which you can read more about here, was the Gospel reading. John’s theme of light — Light — pervades his entire Gospel from the initial verses:

4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In terms of our personal Christian testimonies, our vicar wisely pointed out that the amount of light does not matter, because any amount of light shows up in the darkness. That reminded me of this Christmas graphic:

Note the darkness, yet how the light penetrates it.

Also note that Jesus was born at night — in the darkness — rather than during the day.

From Matthew 1:18-25, discussed here, our vicar pointed out how difficult it was socially for Mary to bear this Child, when Joseph was not the father. The verses from Matthew say that Joseph wanted to divorce her quietly. Then, an angel of the Lord appeared:

20But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).

How humbling it was for Jesus to descend to Earth, our vicar said, not only to be among sinful mankind but also to be in such humble circumstances, from His birth to His humiliating death — for our sakes. ‘God with us’, indeed.

He also pointed out that Herod was disturbed to hear some months later from the Magi that a King had been born. Our vicar explained that Herod would have expected to hear a royal infant being referred to as a ‘prince’, but never a ‘king’. Naturally, he wanted to see the infant King. Fortunately, his wish was not granted.

Finally, our vicar noted the shepherds, who were watching their flocks, being drawn to the manger. He rightly asked us if we would be that obedient in our Christian witness, to leave what we were doing — no matter how important — to witness for Jesus.

He has a point, one well worth considering, not only today but all year round.

May I wish all my readers a very Happy Christmas! May you have a blessed, peaceful day.

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauI remember how bewildered I was as a young Catholic teenager going to church one December morning during the early 1970s and seeing a wreath with candles on a stand near the altar.

My parents — along with most of the congregation — did not know what it was, either.

As Mass began, the priest explained that we were going to light the Advent wreath. That hardly solved the puzzle of what it was and WHY.

For years, I did not like them. My mother said they were a Vatican II innovation. She was not wrong. Neither my parents nor I were interested in Vatican II innovations. Most took us away from the mysterium tremendum my parents had grown up with, something that had been taken away from me forever.

I became an Episcopalian 12 years later. Early in December that year, my mother asked me if our church had an Advent wreath. I said, ‘No’. She said, ‘Good’.

These days, Advent wreaths are in churches of all denominations. My present Anglican church has one, too.

So, we must be resigned to Advent wreaths. I’m still somewhat ambivalent about them, but, by now, at least two generations have grown up with them.

Symbolism

Advent wreaths can be used in schools and private homes as well as at church.

The QTree has an excellent post about the Advent wreath along with several related photographs. The designations of the different candles came as news to me (emphases in the original):

The most common Advent candle tradition involves four candles. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. Each candle represents something different, although traditions vary. The four candles traditionally represent hope, faith, joy, and peace. Often, the first, second, and fourth candles are purple; the third candle is rose-colored. Sometimes all the candles are red; in other traditions, all four candles are blue or white. Occasionally, a fifth white candle is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

The first candle symbolizes hope and is called the “Prophet’s Candle.” The prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival.

The second candle represents faith and is called “Bethlehem’s Candle.” Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which is also the birthplace of King David.

The third candle symbolizes joy and is called the “Shepherd’s Candle.” To the shepherd’s great joy, the angels announced that Jesus came for humble, unimportant people like them, too.

The fourth candle represents peace and is called the “Angel’s Candle.” The angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace–He came to bring people close to God and to each other again.

The (optional) fifth candle represents light and purity and is called “Christ’s candle.” It is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day.

We are a people of promise. For centuries, God prepared people for the coming of his Son, our only hope for life. At Christmas we celebrate the fulfillment of the promises God made—that he would give a way to draw near to him.

Advent is what we call the season leading up to Christmas. It begins four Sundays before December 25, sometimes in the last weekend of November, sometimes on the first Sunday in December.

My local Anglican church has red candles with a white candle in the middle for Christmas. This seems to be a more Protestant than Catholic colour scheme, even though our church follows the liturgical colour tradition of purple during this time.

The Revd William Saunders, writing for another Catholic website, Catholic Education Resource Center, has more in ‘The History of the Advent Wreath’. This has more information of which I was unaware (emphases mine):

The symbolism of the Advent wreath is beautiful. The wreath is made of various evergreens, signifying continuous life. Even these evergreens have a traditional meaning which can be adapted to our faith: The laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering; pine, holly, and yew, immortality; and cedar, strength and healing. Holly also has a special Christian symbolism: The prickly leaves remind us of the crown of thorns, and one English legend tells of how the cross was made of holly. The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ. Any pine cones, nuts, or seedpods used to decorate the wreath also symbolize life and resurrection. All together, the wreath of evergreens depicts the immortality of our soul and the new, everlasting life promised to us through Christ, the eternal Word of the Father, who entered our world becoming true man and who was victorious over sin and death through His own passion, death, and resurrection.

The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. A tradition is that each week represents one thousand years, to sum to the 4,000 years from Adam and Eve until the Birth of the Savior

The purple candles in particular symbolize the prayer, penance, and preparatory sacrifices and good works undertaken at this time. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, when the priest also wears rose vestments at Mass; Gaudete Sunday is the Sunday of rejoicing, because the faithful have arrived at the midpoint of Advent, when their preparation is now half over and they are close to Christmas. The progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s first coming into the world and the anticipation of His second coming to judge the living and the dead.

The light again signifies Christ, the Light of the world. Some modern day adaptions include a white candle placed in the middle of the wreath, which represents Christ and is lit on Christmas Eve. Another tradition is to replace the three purple and one rose candles with four white candles, which will be lit throughout Christmas season.

History

A Catholic website, TIA (Tradition in Action), has a good article: ‘What Is the Origin of the Advent Wreath?’. It appears that I am not alone in my ambivalence about it.

The article was prompted by a reader’s question (emphases mine):

Dear TIA,

Where did the Advent wreath originate?

In our church this year there is no Advent Wreath because the priest said it is pagan. Many true Catholics are upset over this. The wreath traditionally has been part of the Catholic Church for over 400 years so where would this idea come from? Please help!

It appears that wreaths in general, although pagan in origin, first appeared in churches during the Dark Ages — so, centuries before the Reformation:

Perhaps your priest was referring to the wreath itself as pagan, since some histories report that the evergreen wreath originated in the pagan times of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Evergreens were gathered into round piles with candles placed upon them, which represented the yearly cycle, and so on. Such data, however, are not trustworthy since they generally come from wicca sites, which habitually pretend that every Christmas custom or symbol is pagan, baptized and adapted by Catholics.

From what we could verify, wreaths of evergreens were used in the 7th century in Catholic baptismal ceremonies. In early medieval Europe it was also used in weddings, the bride and bridegroom being crowned with wreaths to symbolize their victory over the temptations of the flesh. By the late Middle Ages, garlands and wreaths were being used as Christmas décor in much of Catholic Europe.

For Catholics the evergreen is symbolic of life because its needles are green and alive even as the world grows dark and plants die back. The circle wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God. The wreath is a good Catholic symbol, and, in our opinion, should not be rejected because of a possible previous pagan usage.

The article acknowledges that the Advent wreath is a Protestant creation, more about which below.

As for the Catholic Vatican II connection:

The Advent Wreath was used strictly in homes and schools among Catholics, never in Catholic churches because there were no official liturgical prayers or ceremonies in the Rituale Romanum, the Church’s official book of prayers and blessings.

With the innovations of Vatican II, a blessing of the wreath for the first Sunday of Advent to be said before Mass was included in the Book of Blessings for those countries that requested its inclusion. The wreath is to be lit before Mass at the first Sunday of Advent, and no prayers are said on the last three Sundays.

The Church of England also has a short prayer of blessing for the first candle.

The Advent wreath appears to be a northern European tradition:

Many American Catholics are surprised to learn that this custom is relatively unknown in Latin American countries, and even in Italy and Spain.

TIA advises:

In our opinion, it seems that the custom of the Advent Wreath may be adopted by those who feel an attraction to it. But its use should be restricted to their homes. It is not a liturgical practice of the Catholic Church that should be included in official ceremonies.

I tend to agree.

Protestant origins

Wikipedia has a delightful story about a Lutheran pastor who devised the modern Advent wreath in the 19th century. That said, an older version was already in use in Lutheran churches soon after the Reformation:

The concept of the Advent wreath originated among German Lutherans in the 16th Century.[7] However, it was not until three centuries later that the modern Advent wreath took shape.[8]

Research by Prof. Haemig of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, points to Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808–1881), a Protestant pastor in Germany and a pioneer in urban mission work among the poor as the inventor of the modern Advent wreath in the 19th century.[9] During Advent, children at the mission school Rauhes Haus, founded by Wichern in Hamburg, would ask daily if Christmas had arrived. In 1839, he built a large wooden ring (made out of an old cartwheel) with 20 small red and 4 large white candles. A small candle was lit successively every weekday and Saturday during Advent. On Sundays, a large white candle was lit. The custom gained ground among Protestant churches in Germany and evolved into the smaller wreath with four or five candles known today. Roman Catholics in Germany began to adopt the custom in the 1920s, and in the 1930s it spread to North America.[10] Professor Haemig’s research also indicates that the custom did not reach the United States until the 1930s, even among German Lutheran immigrants.

In Medieval times Advent was a period of fasting during which people’s thoughts were directed to the expected second coming of Christ; but in modern times many have forgotten this meaning and it has instead been primarily seen as the lead up to Christmas, and in that context Advent Wreath serves as a reminder of the approach of the feast.

Image credit: Wikipedia.

———————————————————————————————

I learned a lot researching the symbolism and history behind the Advent wreath. I hope that you did, too.

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