CONNECTION_ERROR Liturgy guru Liturgy & Worship, Anglican & Catholic, Prayer & Praise, Song & Chant Thu, 01 Sep 2016 21:11:37 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Liturgy guru 32 32 Doula as a Model for Diaconate Thu, 01 Sep 2016 21:11:37 +0000 Continue reading →]]> I have become increasingly aware of the term doula. True, I do not move in the circles in which the word is more common.

The first modern use of the term doula is in a 1969 anthropological paper by Dana Raphael in Perspectives in Biology & Medicine 12:

“In working with human groups we note that the motivation for doula behavior is extremely complex. The doula may be assisting the new mother because she expects to be helped in like manner when her turn comes.”

The word comes from the modern Greek δούλα, derived from the the classical δούλη, ‘bondswoman’ or ‘slavegirl’. It came to be used to refer to a woman who accompanies another woman through preparation for childbirth, the birth itself and aftercare, giving advice and support either informally or in a professional manner. At first glance, it sounds much like the work of a midwife, but the doula is entirely non-medical, focusing on emotional support for the mother, alongside family, friends and healthcare professionals.

Doulas are becoming more popular with expectant mothers. And doulas are setting themselves up in business to be hired to accompany women through childbirth, even setting up agencies of several doulas. They offer a variety of skills and experience, often having given birth themselves, some trained in mindfulness meditation or home births, and so forth.

The term doula has started to be used beyond the sphere of childbirth to describe someone who provides one-to-one emotional support at other times of change or stress. Some doulas specialise in supporting the elderly, and particularly those with dementia. I’ve heard of death doulas who specialise in helping the dying to prepare for their death.

With that last example, the concept of the doula begins to sound more like a secularised form of pastoral ministry. Perhaps this is inevitable that secular societies find ways to reintroduce the services once offered by the church in non-religious ways, just as the wise woman doula of the village of the past is a professional with a website today.

The church is need of new models of pastoral care. It is not that the old ones no longer work, but that they were not designed to work in our constantly shifting social spaces. In a world of specialists, church pastoral care often is rather general. This is a good thing — we should recognise the importance of unstructured general pastoral support — but there is increasing need for pastors who bring particular specialisms.

I wonder what a diocesan or deanery doula agency might look like. Perhaps it might train doulas to specialise in one or two areas, dying and dementia care perhaps. Their services could be offered for a fee, with the allowance to waive the fee whenever it might become a problem. Their services would be religious, praying with and for the person they support and offering spiritual counsel. However, I am also a believer in Christians demonstrating the love of God in pastoral work that is offered without these outwardly religious activities — “Well, I am trained by the Church of England to support those who are preparing for death. I am a Christian and I pray for all whom I support, but I do not impose matters of faith on my conversations or expectations of those whom I support”.

In the church, we have a word that is much like doula, and that word is deacon, from the Greek διάκονος for ‘servant’, ‘waiter’ or ‘errand runner’. Our bishops ordain men and women as deacons as the first order of clerical ministry. Most deacons quickly are ordained as priests, often a year later, and the diaconate has only swelled in times where certain people — women or married men — could be ordained as deacons but their churches would not ordain them as priests.

In the liturgy, a deacon assists the bishop or priest and encourages the people. In demonstration of this, to the deacon is particularly reserved the liturgical reading of the Gospel, the leading of the prayers of the people, and the serving of the Communion chalice (although others can fulfil these roles also). They may baptize, preach, teach, lead non-eucharistic worship and conduct funerals. As deacons are members of the clergy, they can wear the white clerical collar and use the style the Reverend. Sometimes people mistake deacons for priests, but that is hardly a problem: they are recognising someone who is a minister of the church, not asking them to fulfil a priestly function.

I wonder, that if a diocese of deanery trained doulas in a particular pastoral specialisation whether also ordaining them as permanent deacons, not to be later ordained as priests (who have plenty of other things to do), it would lend them added professionalisation and visibility, linking their personal and emotional care with the pastoral work of the church. A death doula-deacon could even conduct the funeral of the person whom she supported in their last days of earthly life. A childbirth doula-deacon could bring the family to church and celebrate the baptism.

As deacons of the early church, doula-deacons could be attached to local churches for daily prayers and Sunday worship, but minister at the direction of the bishop rather than a parish priest. They could pray with fellow doula-deacons regularly in the cathedral for spiritual support of one another. This would not mean that parish priests stop doing pastoral care or visiting the dying, but that the doula-deacons offer a specialised service that is perhaps more likely to be taken up by those who are not regularly in attendance at church. In fact, the ministries could be complementary. There is the tradition that the anointing of the sick is a priestly ministry (from James 5·14), and not for a deacon to do. Therefore, a death doula-deacon could call on a priest colleague to anoint a person preparing for death.

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Ancient & Modern: a review Thu, 25 Aug 2016 12:01:36 +0000 Continue reading →]]>

Ancient & Modern: Hymns and Songs for Refreshing Worship (2013).

My copy of Ancient & Modern: Hymns and Songs for Refreshing Worship (2013) has just arrived. It is the ninth edition of what is the most enduring and popular lineage of hymnals in the Church of England. We currently use Common Praise (2000, the eighth edition of A&M), in the College Chapel. My former churches have used Sing Glory (1999), Ancient & Modern New Standard Edition (1983) and New English Hymnal (1986) as their main hymnbooks, which is progress of sorts! Unlike some churches, the Church of England has never had an official hymnbook, but the Ancient & Modern stable comes closest to a standard.

For some background and a couple of thoughts about hymnals in the 21st century, see Ancient & Modern: history and future.

Ancient & Modern has 847 items: the largest inventory in this hymnbook’s history, beating the 779 hymns of the Standard Edition (1916 & 1920). Not all of these are hymns, some are liturgical songs and ‘short chants’. It is not too much of a surprise that this is an increase on the 628 hymns of Common Praise. However, seeing that the intermediate supplement Sing Praise (2010) has 330 entries, there has been a bit of a cull. I guestimate that around 150 hymns in Common Praise have been cut (inexplicably, the cloying ‘In a world where people walk in darkness’ (CP 476, AM9 677) has survived!). I confess to some alarm that so many hymns that were thought necessary of inclusion 13 years ago have proved disposable. It makes me wonder how many of the current volume will last as long. The proprietors actually suggest that those who already have Common Praise should make the lesser investment in Sing Praise rather than switching directly to the new edition. I believe, though, that would mean that there would be around fifty or more items in the ninth edition that those with the two previous volumes would be missing.

Physically, the full-music editions of the two hymnals, eighth and ninth editions, are about the same size. Although this is perhaps due to my old Common Praise being stretched with use, the paper used for the ninth edition is clearly thinner, yet this has not lead to a reduction in print quality. Unlike some poorly produced editions of Hymns Old & New (nothing to do with Ancient & Modern), verso print does not obviously show through on the recto, and vice versa. The same typesetter and music engraver, the laudable Andrew Parker, worked on the two editions, yet there has been progress toward a brighter, clearer printing. Music and textual credits have been moved to the bottom of the page, into space, allowing for a little more information to be given. For the three translations of Phos hilaron are given their Greek title in Greek script: a nicely revived tradition that flatters the singer. These three are John Keble’s text set to John Stainer’s Sebaste at 17, Christopher Idle’s more recent offering at 18 and Robert Bridges’s at 20, with the latter being the preferred translation of the rival English Hymnal tradition.

It would take 2½ years to sing through all 847 items without repeating one, given four hymns every Sunday morning and three in the evening. Of course, there are always going to be some hymns that are not to the taste of clergy, musicians and congregations, and others that are repeat favourites. Some of the liturgical items might be used week in, week out, or not at all.

The arrangement of the hymns follows the tried and tested pattern of the A&M stable: the diurnal of morning and evening, the seasons of the church year, saints’ days, a few service themes and the lucky dip of ‘Hymns throughout the Year’ (the odd name of the category used in Common Praise) or ‘General’ (the more sensible title in the ninth edition). The ninth edition’s categories are a joy: after the saints’ days, there are decent selections of hymns for Christian initiation, marriage, and funerals and the departed. Then there are selections of hymns chosen for use in a generalised sequence of sections of church services: gathering, penitence, the word of God, canticles and affirmations of faith, prayer and intercession, Holy Communion, and sending out. These mix hymns with liturgical texts, like the three modern Kyries (370–2) in the penitence category; the first is that from James MacMillan’s Mass of the Blessed John Henry Newman. The word category begins with the traditional sixth-mode Alleluia (374), and goes on to provide an Alleluia setting by Bernadette Farrell (376) and James Walsh’s Pilgrim’s Alleluia (377) — I am left to wonder why the Stanbrook Abbey hymn ‘Bright as fire in darkness’ intrudes at 375. There is also a Marty Haugen song that can be used as an Alleluia at 385, demonstrating the problem that items are arranged mainly in alphabetical order within categories rather then rational groupings. Thankfully the metrical Magnificats and other canticles are grouped together. The category for prayer and intercession includes a number of simple, modern chants that can be used as sung responses to supplications. It is not necessarily obvious, but four metrical settings of Gloria in excelsis Deo (413–16) are in the Holy Communion category, followed by two settings of Sanctus (417, 418) and one Agnus Dei (419). The 61 items in this category could really have done with a finer level of grouping within the category.

The later categories of themes — the church’s ministry and mission, wholeness and healing, sorrow and lament, creation and the environment, justice and peace, and national and remembrance — are welcome, if still slightly thin. Even with all of these categories, there are still 246 ‘general’ hymns (29 % of the inventory). Still, this is an improvement on the like category of 265 hymns in Common Praise (42 %). There are hymnals, like Mission Praise, Sing Glory and Hymns Old & New, that take the unimaginative approach of arranging all their entries in alphabetical order of their textual incipits (though I do remember some old copies of Mission Praise took a unique approach to the alphabet!). Given a decent index, and the ninth edition has indexes aplenty (read on if you, like me, sadly spend more time in hymn indexes than with the hymns themselves), it makes sense to organise things by sensible categories and relationally. Thus, I am sure the compilers saw the need to keep the lucky dip to a minimum, recognising it as a sign of methodological laxity. A rough grouping of these hymns by theological themes would have been a welcome change, alongside better grouping of items within the other categories. The group of 17 ‘short chants’ at the end, mostly from Taizé and Iona, alongside some in other categories, will be a welcome addition in many churches.

The indexes include the now standard and practical parade of biblical index, hymn suggestions for each Sunday and major feast, alphabetical index of tunes, metrical index of tunes, index of composers, index of authors, and the index of first lines and tunes. Alongside these there is a list of hymns ‘suitable for all-age worship’ that some might use, but also a particularly handy thematic index that lists hymn numbers appropriate to a wide range of theological and other themes. Some of these (e.g. marriage) exactly reproduces a category, adding the belt to the braces. Yet this extra index shows an appropriate response to the problem of categories: what to do with those items that fit multiple categories. It also allows for themes that are too vague to have been categories (e.g. water).

The influence of Hymns Old & New (first Anglican Edition in 1986, with the popular New Anglican Edition a decade later, now superseded by others) can be seen in the ninth edition. Although Hymns Old & New has had major flaws in its musical arrangements and production quality, it brought together favourite hymns with choruses, praise songs and chants. Its coup was to provide what many churches wanted. Starting with Sing Praise, the Ancient & Modern tradition began to incorporate this wider repertoire, and the ninth edition includes symbols for guitar chords above the music for some items, thankfully not following Hymns Old & New in providing them for all items, even where they conflict with the musical arrangement.

For controversialists, Stuart Townend and Keith Getty‘s ‘In Christ alone my hope is found’ is included (678), with its words ‘the wrath of God was satisfied’ in the second verse. Whereas some have rewritten the line, Getty has, understandably, refused to allow it to be used with an altered text. While American Presbyterians have recently decided to omit the hymn because of that line, it now makes Ancient & Modern look doctrinally brave/timid for including it.

For some background and a couple of thoughts about hymnals in the 21st century, see Ancient & Modern: history and future.

This article first appeared in my personal blog Ad Fontes:

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Let us Pray the Collect Thu, 25 Aug 2016 11:43:18 +0000 Continue reading →]]> The collect (stress on first syllable: KOL-ekt) is a traditional, formal short prayer of Western Christianity. The Latin missal simply calls it oratio (‘prayer’). However, the Gregorian Sacramentary has oratio ad collectam, and then, in two places, simply collecta. In the earlier Gallican use, the term is first collectio, before becoming collecta. The term remained in popular use among churchgoers while missals chose oratio. Perhaps it is no surprise that the Book of Common Prayer chose the popular vernacular name ‘collect’, but more surprising that the new translation of the Catholic missal has opted for ‘collect’ where its predecessor had a prosaic ‘opening prayer‘. The collects of the Church of England and the Catholic Church preserve many old Latin models.

The structure of collects are widely discussed and well known — being

  1. invocation, e.g. Almighty God
  2. divine attribute (quiclause), e.g. unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid
  3. petition, e.g. cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit
  4. consequence (ut-clause), e.g. that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name
  5. doxology, e.g. through Christ our Lord

The major division of the collect is between clauses 1–2 and 3–4, often marked with a semicolon. In collects for saints, the second clause says something about the saint in question rather than describing a divine attribute. Rather wonderfully, this shows the holy life as a glimpse of divine revelation. Most collects address God the Father, and so the doxology (which is often not written out in full) declares that our prayer is made through (per) Christ (or ‘the same’ Christ if he is mentioned in the body of the collect), and may add the unity of the Holy Spirit too.

Some have remarked that the quality of the collect is frame for our petitionary prayer which should flow from an understanding of God’s nature. It is a snapshot of how lex orandi models lex credendi, or, put another way, how doctrine should feed into our spiritual life.

At the eucharist, the praying of the collect concludes the gathering rite, the first part of the liturgy, and thus herald the Bible readings. The placing of collects for Sundays and holy days together with the epistles and gospels in the Book of Common Prayer (which makes sense, because one reads the collect, epistle and gospel in order) has led to some Anglicans, particularly evangelicals, to desire collects that reflect the readings or themes of the day. I think this is wrong, seeing as the collects are designed succinctly to draw divine qualities into our daily lives, and so belong to our gathering and preparation rather than an introduction to the readings. The gathering rite at its simplest (and ’tis a joy to be simple) has just a liturgical greeting (The Lord be with you) and a collect, although prayers of penitence usually occur between the two.

The Catholic Church developed a series of other collect-like presidential prayers: the prayer over the gifts and the post-communion prayer. Common Worship has fully embraced post-communion prayers, gathering them with the collects proper, and it suggests some ‘prayers at the preparation of the table’ that cover some elements of the traditional offertory prayers.

In daily prayer, the collect comes at the end of the intercession. In the Book of Common Prayer, three collects (or four during Advent and Lent) follow the preces toward the formal conclusion of matins and evensong. Common Worship has followed the modern practice of retaining just one collect where a series of such had previously been used. However, its structural framework means that an unchanging ‘opening prayer’ is also used.

Let us pray, and its praxis

Modern liturgical sensibility around the collect can be summarised

  1. The bidding ‘Let us pray’ (oremus) is important
  2. The use of silence between bidding and collect is important
  3. The collect should be prayed deliberately: it is important
  4. The congregational ‘Amen’ is important

It has taken fifteen years of ministry for me to begin to internalise and practise this. It is not as simple as it sounds. I might bid ‘Let us pray’, but it was as if I were saying ‘I shall now read a prayer out of the book’. There is still the problem that some hear those words as a direction to get on their knees, but there are some relics of an instruction flectamus genua for the silence with levate for the collect. Knowing that oremus could be expanded into a fuller bidding, I would sometimes select a bon mot from the collect and say something like ‘Let us pray that God might cleanse our hearts that we may worship him’. It was a good idea, but it ended up like a liturgical wink: ‘see what I did there? I can read ahead!’

The silence proved a problem too. How long should it be? If it were too long, people would fidget, or think that I had forgotten the book of collects. The fundamental problem with my praxis was that is was superficial, skin-deep. The bidding, even if it be the simple ‘Let us pray’, should convey a call to deep, heartfelt prayer. As Romans 8.26–27 has it

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

If the bidding can convey the merest sense of those verses, then the silence just works. The bidding then is not an introduction to the collect, but to the silence. The collect then is a voicing of an aspect of the heartfelt silent prayer. A good trigger that works for me is a simple bidding like ‘Let us pray deeply’ or ‘From the depths of our hearts, let us pray’. Words alone are not enough; as a priest I need to model this deep prayer. I must not be looking at the book or looking around, but I must pray with bowed head. Whether the silence is ten or twenty seconds, or more, does not matter, as quantity of silence is replaced by quality. In a church full of people who want to be led in prayer, this works well. However, at weddings, funerals and baptisms, among those who may not be regular churchgoers, and who may not be focused mainly on spiritual things, the collect becomes transformative. There is a witty saying when people see me in a cassock — ‘Say one for me’ — and this is ‘Say one with me: it’s deep within you, and you want to pray’.

The celebrant faces the people squarely during all this in modern rites. Hands are folded for the bidding and silence. The arms are raised to the orans position for praying the collect. At the doxology, the hands are folded once more. The orans position is somewhat Y-shaped. The hands are raised upward, but no higher than the shoulder. The expansion of the gesture should be determined by whatever looks natural (not too tight and Tridentine, not too large and theatrical) and the space (it can be larger at a high altar, smaller in a cozy chapel).

This article first appeared in my personal blog Ad Fontes:

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The Lord be with You Thu, 25 Aug 2016 11:04:23 +0000 Continue reading →]]> The phrase ‘The Lord be with you’, in various languages and in its Latin Dominus vobiscum, has been the greeting that gathers Christians together in worship for over a millennium. I might say that it is the church’s Hello, and I quite like that jolly interpretation. Nevertheless, it is important not to dumb it down: this phrase has power.

‘The Lord be with you’ is a presidential greeting, which is most often encountered at the beginning of the a liturgy and and the beginning of the eucharistic prayer. It is also found before the reading of the Gospel, before a blessing, before blessing baptismal water, in the middle of Exsultet, and before praying a collect.

The biblical references of Ruth 2.4, II Chronicles 15.2 and Matthew 28.20 are given in support of this phrase. It can be clearly dated back to the 6th century (Council of Braga and, later, Gelasian Sacramentary), but can be inferred from the Apostolic Tradition and other early texts.

Grammatically, of course, the Latin original has no verb: Dominus vobiscum means, more literally, ‘Lord with you’. English needs the verb ‘to be’ to act as a copula. An obvious choice would have been to translate the phrase with ‘The Lord is with you’ (this is in the indicative mood). Instead, our English reformers chose ‘The Lord be with you’, in the subjunctive mood. Unlike much spoken English, and indeed written English, the subjunctive mood is on quite frequent duty in the Book of Common Prayer. The subjunctive is often used in blessing formulas, and this shows an important interpretation of this phrase: it is not about stating a fact — the Lord’s presence — but is the blessing of the Lord’s presence. A major feature of a lot of liturgical language is that it is performative: it does something. This particular phrase is the greeting — the benediction — that constitutes the Christian assembly for worship.

The Eastern churches have ‘Peace to all’ / ‘And with thy spirit’, but its use is different.

And with thy spirit

The Latin response to Dominus vobiscum is Et cum spiritu tuo. The traditional English translation of this is ‘And with thy spirit’, and the agreed ecumenical translation into contemporary English is ‘And also with you’. The modern translation is clearly more of a paraphrase than a direct translation of the Latin. This paraphrase understands the use of the word ‘spirit’ as metonymy for the minister’s person or self.

The Epistles use this phrase at Galatians 6.18, Philippians 4.23, Philemon 25 and II Timothy 4.22.

The new Catholic translation of the missal has taken us back closer to the original by using ‘And with your spirit’. A friend who is a Catholic priest commented to me that he finds the former translation — ‘And also with you’ — more affirming of his whole person than the new translation.

Et cum spiritu tuo is clearly not a direct reference to the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit does not belong to the minister. At its simplest, ‘your spirit’ is metonymy for ‘you’, and avoids the short, ungainly Et tecum, ‘And with you’ (even ‘And also with you’ uses extra syllables). Other commentators have described the phrase as an acknowledgement of the spiritual grace given the ordained minister by the Holy Spirit. It is similar to the Eastern affirmation of a priest’s ordination by the acclamation of the people: axios, ‘worthy’.


It is important to speak about how we do, and should do, Dominus vobiscum. This is where I believe that the choice of the subjunctive in English is informative. The greeting is not a statement that Jesus is here so let’s get on with it. It is a benediction that recognises the icon of Christ in the assembly of the baptized, and draws out this image, verbally constituting the ekklesia. At the commencement, and at other high points of liturgy, the minister thus constitutes the church, and the people, in response, declare the human being before them to be their minister by grace.

Some principles

  1. It is important: do not rush it or belittle it.
  2. It is the greeting that constitutes the liturgical assembly.
  3. It should not be preceded or followed by more colloquial stock phrases of greeting, like ‘hello’, ‘good morning’, etc.
  4. The only thing that should preface the opening greeting is the Trinitarian invocation.
  5. Giving notices, and even announcing a hymn, before the greeting takes away from its impact.
  6. It is easy to remember, so it should not be read from a book.
  7. It can lead into words of welcome and introduction (the ‘intention’).
  8. It should be accompanied by the appropriate gesture: arms open in a welcoming embrace.
  9. The gesture should not be either poky or overlarge.
  10. The gesture should not be stiff or vague.
  11. Traditionally, a deacon makes no gesture with these words.
  12. The priest or deacon should be attentive to the people’s response, and drink in their affirmation before proceeding.

Common Worship

Common Worship Order One begins with an optional Trinitarian invocation by the eucharistic president. This is followed by one of two presidential greetings. The first is ‘The Lord be with you’ / ‘and also with you’, while the alternative is ‘Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you’ / ‘and also with you’. The paschal acclamation always follows in Eastertide, but this need not be said or sung by the president.

Some other Common Worship liturgies use the Grace (II Corinthians 13.14) as the greeting: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you’ / ‘and also with you’. It appears as one of the greetings in Patterns for Worship (p 64, among others), and is used as the greeting to the Maundy Thursday liturgy in Times and Seasons (p 294). This makes this greeting generally authorized for use. These three greetings, then, are the main possibilities for opening a eucharist, and correspond exactly to the three options available in the Catholic missal. Here is choice, yet I prefer the old, simple greeting.

At the beginning of the eucharistic prayer, the same first greeting is used, or replaced with a different text ‘The Lord is here’ / ‘His Spirit is with us’. The same options are given in the traditional-language version of Order One, except the traditional response ‘and with thy spirit’ follows ‘The Lord be with you’. Order Two, being based on the Prayer Book, does not begin with a greeting. However, it does suggest that the collect be introduced with the traditional greeting. It allows the use of the greeting at the beginning of the preface. Oddly, the contemporary-language version of Order Two has neither of these optional additions. Note 2 (on p 330 of the Main Volume) allows the use of traditional texts to replace contemporary ones. This means that the response ‘and with thy spirit’ is permissible in a contemporary-language service. At a push, one might deem this to include use of the new Catholic translation, ‘and with your spirit’. More relevant is note 7 (on p 331), which allows ‘The Lord be with you’ and either response at other suitable points. The note gives before the Gospel and before the blessing or dismissal as examples. The choice of placing it before the dismissal is odd, but the other positions have precedent. It does not mention the other traditional position of before the collect.

Catholic missal: new English translation

In the new English translation of the Catholic missal, after the mandatory trinitarian invocation, there are three possible greetings: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all’, ‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’ or ‘The Lord be with you’. The same response — ‘And with your spirit’ – is used for each. The missal specifies a bishop’s peculiar greeting as ‘Peace be with you’ with the same response. The missal does not repeat the greeting before the collect. The greeting is, however, used before announcing the Gospel. The same greeting is used at the beginning of the eucharistic prayer, without any alternatives admitted. Before the blessing, the celebrant uses the greeting again. The Tridentine Mass uses the greeting eight times: before ascending to the altar, before the collects, before the Gospel, the offertory prayer, the eucharistic preface, the post-communion prayer, the last Gospel and the blessing.

Book of Common Prayer

The communion service of the Book of Common Prayer does not include the traditional greeting in any position. It clearly was felt to be too sacerdotal. However, Thomas Cranmer’s first Prayer Book (of 1549) has the greeting before the bidding ‘Let us pray’ to the collect. The greeting also heads the eucharistic prayer. Finally, the greeting appears before the ‘Let us pray’ that introduces the post-communion thanksgiving that begins ‘Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee…’.

One major place where the traditional greeting remained throughout the revisions of the Prayer Book is in the offices of matins and evensong. In the 1549 original, the greeting prefaces the ‘Let us pray’ before the three collects. These came after the preces. In the first revision of the Prayer Book (in 1552) the services of morning and evening prayer were completely reworked, and the traditional greeting was moved between the Apostles’ Creed and the Little Litany (kyries), a position retained through 1662.

Traditional variants

The episcopal version of Dominus vobiscum is Pax vobis, translated ‘Peace be with you’ (literally ‘Peace to you’), with the usual response.

A layperson, traditionally a subdeacon, uses the form Domine exaudi orationem meam, ‘O Lord, hear my prayer’, with the response Et clamor noster ad te veniat, ‘And let our cry come unto thee’. This is taken from the first verse of Psalm 102.

Postscript of Latin geekery

The Latin preposition cum means ‘with’, and its object is in the ablative case. The personal pronoun vos, which is ‘you’ in the plural (when speaking to more than one person), takes the form vobis in the ablative. Unusually, cum follows and joins to personal pronouns, producing the forms mecum, tecum, secum, nobiscum, vobiscum (‘with me; you (singular); him, her, it, them; us; you (plural)’). The object phrase spiritu tuo is also in the ablative case. In the phrase Pax vobis, the pronoun is in the dative case, even though it is spelt the same as the ablative, meaning ‘to you’.

This article first appeared on my personal blog Ad Fontes:

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How to Chant the Collect to the Simple Tone Wed, 24 Aug 2016 23:53:06 +0000 Continue reading →]]> Here’s my video tutorial (40 minutes) on how to sing the Collect at Holy Communion.

In this video, I give a basic introduction to chanting the Collect at Holy Communion according to the Simple Tone.

The celebrant at Holy Communion says or sings the Collect appointed at the close of the gathering rite.

There is a great tradition of singing this prayer. Singing it helps underline its importance.

There are a few tones for singing the Collect, but this is perhaps the best one to learn. It only has four notes and can be pitched by the celebrant at a comfortable level.

In this video, I look at a sample Collect — the Collect for Advent Sunday from A Prayer Book for Australia — and examine its structure before learning how to sing it. Learning the structure of each Collect helps us understand its meaning and also helps us convey that meaning to the congregation.

I then practise chanting the text to one note (recto tono or ‘monotone’), and recommend this as good practise for learning how to chant well. Then I begin adding each inflexion or cadence one by one until the whole chant is assembled. I give some suggestions for the not-so-musical to help find the notes. I finish by showing how I might mark up the text without music so that I can sing dirctly from the prayer book.

A PDF of the full music seen in this video is available here:

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A Spotter’s Guide to Evensong Wed, 24 Aug 2016 16:10:48 +0000 Continue reading →]]> Old picture of the author wearing Anglican choir habit.

Old picture of the author wearing Anglican choir habit.

Evensong is a peculiar Anglican creature. It is the liturgy that has become the most distinctively Anglican, and has become a treasured bulwark of tradition. This article is a little, geeky exploration of what is Evensong and its sub-species.

The word ‘Evensong’ is first documented by the OED in the Old English of the Canons of Ælfric (c. 1000) as æfen-sang. Until the Reformation, this English word was used to describe the office of Vespers, the seventh of the round of eight daily offices, said just before sunset.

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer produced two drafts of how the reformed Church of England should pray each day. The first, more radical plan was to consolidate the eight offices down to two. When, eventually, Henry Tudor junior died, Cranmer was free to produce the first Book of Common Prayer, published 1549. Its two daily offices were named ‘Matins’ and ‘Evensong’ (the former being the name of the first of the pre-Reformation offices, which also had the colourful Old English name uht-sang, which persisted as ‘Oughtensong’ in Middle English). With Cranmer’s revised Prayer Book of 1552, the quaint (or poetic) names of the two offices were officially replaced with the more robust (or prosaic) ‘Morning and Evening Prayer’. Yet the old names continued to live on, to the extent that it is rather daft to speak of ‘Choral Evening Prayer’.

Because of the pressures on Sunday mornings, especially with the restoration of the Parish Eucharist as the main Sunday mid-morning service, major celebrations of Matins have become rather few and far between. However, in twilight isolation Evensong has remained strong. In the nineteenth century, the ‘Fully Choral Service’ became a sign of aspirational excellence in neo-gothic, middle-class churches, aping cathedrals with their processions and besurpliced choirs. I believe that movement has skewed our understanding of Evensong to assume that only a proper Choral Evensong will do, when we have forgotten how to do a good — liturgically and musically — Evensong that is suited to a church that cannot really cope with the demanding choral repertoire.

What about those sub-species?

Choral Evensong

Choral Evensong is the old ‘Fully Choral Service’. Through most of church history in England, something like it has existed. Minimally, it requires there to be a choir, and that the choir sings music of sufficient complexity that it requires some training and rehearsal. You would expect the choir to sing through-composed music for the responses (what were called ‘festal responses’ by their Renaissance composers) and canticles, with psalm(s) in Anglican chant and a choral anthem. The grey area is where a choir, perhaps for Lent, tones down the musical offering with plainsong or Anglican chant replacing through-composed items.

It is frequently slandered that Choral Evensong is a self-indulgent concert dressed up as Christian worship. It would be wrong not to admit that can be true. Yet many do find deep meditation and worship at Choral Evensong, whether we are clergy, choir or congregants. Passivity does not indicate lack of worship.

One response is to say that worship is about God, and not ourselves. The service booklet at King’s College, Cambridge, states

Some, finding limited opportunities for organised congregational participation, imagine these are not so much services as liturgical concerts. But each service is an act of worship addressed, as worship must be, not to you but to God, the Father of Christ and our Father; an act of thanksgiving for the love He has shown towards man, an act of intercession for all men. As Henry VI intended when he established the Chapel and the Choir, this worship goes on daily, whether people come or not, because the love of God is a continuing, living and unconditional reality.

We are, however, psychologically, politically and theologically aware of the role and presence of the worshipping laity, in a way that cannot simply be shunted to sidings by well-meaning God-centrism. I see it as an exchange: the congregation comes to worship, and places its thank-offering into the hands of clergy and choir that they may offer a more pleasing fragrance. Or, more bluntly, if the congregation are rendered passive while a choir sings poorly, or ‘performs’ in such a way as to exclude the congregation, the exchange is a bad one.

Sung Evensong

This may sound like a tautology — a sung song — but see the next bit for why it is not. It is too simplistic to say that Sung Evensong is a Choral Evensong with easier music, but that is the rough territory. Actually, I have experienced good Sung Evensongs that move me as much as the finest Choral Evensong. They were good because congregational participation, sometimes with a choir to lead, was the key element.

There is quite some scope for recovering ways to sing Evensong without having to wrestle with fully-choral musical tradition. At its best, it requires a congregation that wants to sing and is willing to learn some simple chants, alongside church musicians who are happy to share the music more democratically. The responses, psalm(s) and canticles can all be sung to simple chants, entirely or mostly monodic (just a melody line), perhaps with a few stronger singers (who need not be ‘up front’) filling out a harmony or three. The so-called ‘Ferial Responses’ fit this bill admirably, and can be varied by being in unison or harmony, accompanied or not. Plainsong, Anglican chant (perhaps just using simpler, seven-bar single chants instead of the usual double chants) or more modern chant species (Gelineau etc.) can be used by a congregation to sing the psalm(s) and canticles. After some practice, this arrangement can be quite edifying for a congregation. An anthem is not required, but that might be a choral piece, for a choir that still wants to prepare and offer a little something. Or it might be an instrumental piece — a small-church organist might be delighted to be offered the chance to perform a musical meditation on the organ without people moving or talking over it. Or we could sing a hymn: it is OK to do that!

I do not think that it is the best solution, but one imaginative approach is to look for hymns that are metrical versions of the psalm(s) and canticles, and sing them instead of the unmetrical texts. Timothy Dudley-Smith’s ‘Tell out, my soul’ and ‘Faithful vigil ended’ can do duty for Magnificat and Nunc dimittis respectively, and his ‘We believe in God the Father’ can replace the Apostles’ Creed. Rory Cooney’s Canticle of the Turning, to the tune Star of the County Down, is a wonderful, fresh, metrical paraphrase of Magnificat. As for the alternative canticles, Cantate Domino (Psalm 98) has been set as ‘New songs of celebration render’ by Erik Routley, or Michael Baughen’s ‘Sing to God new songs of worship’ to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, and Deus misereatur (Psalm 67) has been set as ‘God of mercy, God of grace’ by Henry Francis Lyte.

Said Evensong

Seeing as ‘Evensong’ is the name, or nickname, of the evening office, it is not entirely daft to speak of a ‘Said Evensong’. To counter this potential for appearing daft (an enterprise not entirely thoroughgoing in the church), many simply label this as ‘Evening Prayer’, leaving all who pass by to work out for themselves that it is a said, and perhaps minimalist, office.

Said Evensong might be the poor relation here, but let us be bidden to remembrance that the offices are daily prayer, not just for Sunday best, and the cleric’s cold be-hassocking mid-week (and that of a few faithful) is of valiant mention.

Solemn Evensong

Solemn Evensong is of a slightly different category. Basically, it is Evensong with Catholic ritual added. Characteristically, it requires the use of incense, used to cense the altar during Magnificat. Whereas clergy usually officiate at Evensong from stalls in the choir (the ‘accustomed Place’ of peculiar rubrical direction), they are more likely to sit in the sanctuary for Solemn Evensong. Servers processing with candles and cross are also to be expected at Solemn Evensong. The clergy are also more likely to wear stoles and copes at Solemn Evensong. A Solemn Evensong is almost always a Choral Evensong, with those ritual elements added, but that need not be the case. As it is an Anglican Catholic take on Evensong, following the anthem with a service of Benediction (showing a reserved eucharistic host, meditation and prayer, and being blessed with it) is a popular combination.

Festal Evensong

Festal Evensong is another slightly overlapping category. A Festal Evensong is most likely to be a Choral Evensong, and, if the church is known to be quite High, a Solemn Evensong. The title means different things in different churches. It could be an Evensong done on a feast day, or just what the church magazine says when a ‘Big’ Evensong is offered. So, guess, ask at the pub across the road, or adventurously go and find out.

Michael Perham gave some interesting directions for how a cathedral or church that regularly offers Choral Evensong can ‘pimp’ it up on special occasions to become a Festal Evensong (‘The Festal Office’. The Cathedrals’ Liturgy and Music Group Occasional Papers 12. 2003). However, most advertised Festal Evensongs are not this big and experimental.

This article first appeared in my personal blog Ad Fontes:

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A Spotter’s Guide to Anglican Dress-up Wed, 24 Aug 2016 16:04:51 +0000 Continue reading →]]> Old picture of the author wearing Anglican choir habit.

Old picture of the author wearing Anglican choir habit.

This is a somewhat lighthearted look at what Anglican clergy wear in church. It is particularly for those who want a field guide to spotting Church of England clergy, but may work elsewhere in the Anglican Communion, albeit the C of E is far broader (in a few dimensions) than most other Anglican churches. Here are the five rough categories of Anglican dress-up

  • Reformed tradition — this is the form of vesture that was eventually created for the Church of England after the Reformation: cassock (double-breasted of course), surplice, hood and scarf are the main ingredients. This tradition remains strong amongst conservative evangelicals and old low-church traditionalists. Its centuries as the official vesture of clergy make this the top trump of Anglican style: never wrong for any liturgical occasion, in spite of what the invite might say. If you’re really lucky, an adherent to this style might preach in gown and bands. Wigs, unfortunately, are now uncommon.
  • Liberal tradition — this takes its cue from Vatican II and 20th-century moves to liberalise and simplify vesture: cassock-alb and stole are the main ingredients (the bare minimum to satisfy canon law). This is the vesture of the lead character in Rev, and is now the norm in middle-of-the-road Anglicanism. The cassock-alb is like the liturgical equivalent of Ugg Boots. While it is possible for the cassock-alb to be simple, unfussy, it is far too easy for things to go pear-shaped — an oatmeal polyester pear. Stoles and scarves (whatever the difference might be!) make use of nice, often personalised, embroidery. Whenever two or more clerics of this persuasion meet there will inevitably be a colour clash, often enough to turn sensitive Anglo-Catholics low church.
  • Abolitionist tradition — the reformed and liberal traditions did not go far enough for some for whom even a clerical collar is dressing up: no vestments is the idea. This tradition is most popular among charismatic evangelicals. Even here there is a spectrum of fashion: those who wear a suit because they mean business, and those who wear jeans because they want to be down with the kids. Of course, not wearing vestments is as much as a statement as wearing them, and draws attention to and even clericalizes what is worn instead (as the blue suit and tie has become in some protestant churches). Celebrating main Sunday services regularly in this manner is a flagrant breach of canon law, but the bishop will try not to notice.
  • Sarum tradition — the liturgical ‘archaeology’ of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, led Percy Dearmer, among others, to seek and revive a distinctively English pre-Reformation vesture, particularly from the Sarum liturgy books. The point was to look Catholic without looking Roman: a way of being high church without the wholesale adoption of Roman fashions. The thoroughgoing version of this tradition is all but extinct: there are very few who use one of the reinvented Sarum liturgical colour schemes (brick red, blue, yellow?) or consider resurrecting the almuce (fur is not an ethical look). Yet its mixture of dignified, simple catholic vestments at mass (mostly now from the Roman tradition than any real attempt to recreate Sarum norms) alongside the seriously Anglican surplice and scarf at offices (the reformed style) meets some refined expectations, and it has become the standard Anglican compromise in many of the big establishment churches, like cathedrals, major churches and Oxbridge chapels. Anything too Roman is rejected: lace, birettas, skullcaps and cottas. Anything too liberal is likewise rejected: cassock-albs, polyester, communion without a chasuble.
  • Roman tradition — perhaps because the Roman Church sets out its rules on vesture with such detail it is attractive to Anglo-Catholics: cassocks, albs, chasubles and cottas are the order here. In many ways, the late 19th and 20th centuries have seen much of this tradition become mainstream in the church: particularly noticeable is the use of Roman liturgical colours. One might say that the liberal and Sarum traditions above are simply Roman style repackaged for Anglican sensibilities. Lace and birettas are the mark of serious adherents to this persuasion, and surplice and scarf are out. There are some of this tradition who are more into the Vatican-II style (liberal style but with separate cassocks and albs, plus chasubles), where others are positively Tridentine (pass the maniple, Father!).

This article first appeared on my personal blog Ad Fontes:

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Welcoming the new vicar: institutions, collations and inductions Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:33:48 +0000 Continue reading →]]>

Wigs and seals and tippets and chimeres: thus shall we be known!

I have three clergy friends who are soon to move to new parishes, and have been preparing for their services of welcome. The ecclesiastical nomenclature of these services is complex: one friend is having a collation and induction, another a licensing and installation, and the third an institution and induction. As I am a college chaplain, it has been a while since I have had these done to me, but, as a patron’s representative, I have been involved in a fair few of these services in recent years.

The service of welcome for a new vicar, rector or what-have-you is a fairly recent phenomenon, growing to near universal popularity through the 20th century. Before we did public ceremonies, these were fairly private acts of canon law. The twofold naming — an X and Y — is down to the separate admission of the candidate to the spiritualities and temporalities of the benefice.

  • The spiritualities include the responsibility to perform divine service, occasional offices, preach, teach and hold the cure of souls (pastoral care). As the diocesan bishop is chief pastor of the diocese, admission to the spiritualities is given by them or their commissary (often an area, suffragan or assistant bishop, but can be any cleric).
  • The temporalities are the actual legal possession of the benefice as property. In the past this would mean tithes, fees and glebe, but is now a more limited right to manage the property and control the benefice. Nowadays there are many more posts that are ‘incumbent status’ rather than actual incumbencies, usually attracting the name Priest in Charge or Team Vicar, which are exercised by licence rather than right, and the legal possession of the temporalities is lacking.

There are three terms used to describe the handing over of the spiritualities of a benefice: licensing, institution and collation.

  • All beneficed clergy are licensed to their cure of souls, but the term ‘licensing‘ is properly used for the formal admission of Priests in Charge, Team Vicars and others of ‘incumbent status’. The bishop or their commissary grants the spiritualities in a licence that sets out their responsibilities and the limitation to their term.
  • Many Vicars or Rectors who are actual incumbents will instead receive a Deed of Institution, which is effectively the same as a licence, but unlimited in term. Here is the complicated bit! The patron or patrons of the benefice are given permission to present the chosen candidate to the benefice, the bishop then admits the candidate to the benefice and institutes them. Thus, institution is the final step in this ruritanian appointments process over which the bishop has two vetoes: they may veto the patron or patrons’ choice of candidate, and they may refuse to admit (although it is unlawful for a bishop to veto Crown presentations, they may still refuse to admit the candidate). The admission is technically the bishop’s right to examine the candidate before institution (patrons can appeal against a bishop refusing to admit a candidate, and the legal process differs depending on whether or not the bishop cites doctrinal grounds for refusing to admit). If the patron or patrons fail to present a candidate (it used to be within 6 months of vacancy of benefice, but that cannot surely still hold true), the bishop then has the right to collate a candidate, then that right goes to the archbishop if the benefice is still vacant, and ultimately to the Crown. With our modern system of job interviews, the interview panel, which often includes the patron or patrons, makes a decision to nominate a particular candidate, and the patronal presentation and episcopal admission are expected to follow suit.
  • Wherever the bishop is sole patron, rather than presenting to themselves, the system is streamlined into what is called a collation, which merges the presentation, admission and institution into one. If the bishop is one patron among others, the full process has to take place.

It used to be the case that all licensing, institutions and collations happened at the bishop’s chapel or wherever the bishop happened to be. As we have so many bishops today, a bishop comes to the parish church to do these things. If a patron is at the service, they will make a ceremonial presentation. Then the candidate will make oaths and declarations, to which the bishop or commissary will assent to admit them. Then the candidate kneels before the seated bishop or commissary, who reads the licence or deed of institution or collation over them, while the candidate holds the seal attached to it.

How many rings of the bell is enough?

The admission to the temporalities is quite simple after all of that. If one is instituted or collated, the temporalitites are given in the form of an induction. If one is merely licensed, then there are no associated legal property rights. The term ‘installation‘ is used to describe the purely symbolic act of placing a new pastor in their stall, and is used to fill the position where an induction would otherwise happen. Even then, some ceremonies are described as ‘institution, induction and installation’, even though the latter can be seen as a non-essential part of any induction. The bishop issues a mandate of induction usually to the archdeacon to induct the candidate that they have instituted or collated. Often the rural or area dean receives the mandate instead of the archdeacon, if the latter is unavailable, and some dioceses have ancient rights about who may induct whom.

The core of the induction is an act of property transfer, a business deal, which is carried out by the mediaeval practice of the livery of seisin: the property is transferred by passing it, or an object representing it, from the hand of the giver to the hand of the receiver in front of witnesses. At its minimum, this means that the archdeacon or some other places the candidate’s hand on the latch of the church door or the key in the lock while the churchwardens witness. Induction, therefore, has to happen at the church (and only one church is necessary in multi-parish benefices, as the property is legally bundled together so that possession of a symbolic part is possession of the whole), and induction actually happens outside of the church, at the door, whence the incumbent is inducted into the building.

The induction has accrued a number of other symbolic actions. The archdeacon’s dainty taking of the incumbent’s hand on a step dance around the interior of the church is a most delightful custom. The new incumbent’s tolling of the church bell was originally to inform the parishioners habemus vicarium (‘the vicar’s here’), as they were not present at the church for the induction. All sorts of superstitions are associated with this tolling, thinking it indicates how vigorous the incumbent will be in mission or for how long they will stay. Lancelot Andrewes had the tradition of getting new incumbents to write on the back of their mandate of induction the following: accepi clavem, intravi solus, oravi, tetigi sacra, pulsavi campanas — ‘I received the key, I entered alone, I prayed, I touched the sacred things, I tolled the bells’. I do find something romantic in this practice of the new incumbent going alone into the church to pray, touch and toll. It is unclear precisely what is meant by tetigi sacra, whether it is the touching of the consecration points of the church, or the more likely touching of the font and altar, symbolizing sacramental responsibility. However this tangendum (‘touchy feely’) is the origin of the archidiaconal waltz and the crackerjack game of seeing how many baptismal ewers, chalices and Bibles the new incumbent can hold, symbolic of the pressures of ordained ministry, to which the addition of the rite of installation, taking of one’s seat, must come as a relief.

When most parishioners took no part in these ceremonies, the reading in of the new incumbent on the first Sunday (or at least within a certain fixed period) was the point at which they received their pastor. This is the formal reading of declarations, and I think at one time included the incumbent’s recitation of the 39 Articles to prove how legit they were. While a much curtailed reading in still occurs, it is a hangover from the time when all the other things were done semi-privately. The practice of the new incumbent giving notices, which include a declaration of the next Sunday’s times of service, at the end of their service of welcome appears to be a descendent of promising the archdeacon or rural dean that they will read themselves in on the Sunday.

This post first appeared in my personal blog Ad Fontes:

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Pass Decani on the Gospel Side: and other adventures in spiritual choreography Wed, 24 Aug 2016 12:03:30 +0000 Continue reading →]]> There is a tradition or two when it comes to naming directions or positions of things in a church. Most of the time, front, back, left and right make sense if we keep the point of view of standing in the nave facing the main altar, but the church has developed its own directional glossary.

Liturgical compass

Traditionally, churches have been oriented with the altar at the east. There are some major churches of which this is not true (the high altar of the Vatican Basilica is at the west end), and some modern ones which have abandoned this convention. There are also a fair few that are not quite on an east-west axis.

Whatever the actual compass reading, we can call the altar end of the church ‘liturgical east’ and name the other cardinal directions from it. This is particularly helpful if a church has one or more secondary altars that are not oriented parallel with the main altar. Most of the ceremonial is carried out as if the altar were to the east.

Sometimes it is important to know where actual east is. At a time when most Catholic masses were said with the priest’s back to the congregation (ad orientem, ‘to the east’), the Vatican and other Roman churches with high altars at the actual west celebrated mass with the priest facing the congregation across the altar (versus populum, ‘opposite the people’) so that the priest could celebrate facing actual east. Now that most masses are celebrated versus populum, the Vatican arrangement appears less unusual.

Major architectural features are often known by their compass position: west window, south door, north transept. These tend to be used when the actual compass directions and the liturgical ones more or less align. If one knows the high altar is to the east, everything else is easy to locate.

Choir: decani and cantoris

In terms of choir singing and placement, the Latin terms decani and cantoris are used, often abbreviated to dec. and can.

Decani means ‘of the dean’ (decānī is the genitive singular of decānus) and refers to the liturgical south (congregational right) side of the choir, where a cathedral’s dean would normally be seated.

Cantoris means ‘of the cantor’ (cantōris is the genitive singular of cantor) and refers to the liturgical north (congregational left) side of the choir, where a cathedral’s precentor (‘foremost cantor’) would normally be seated.

Decani and cantoris are used even in churches that do not have deans or precentors, owing to the importance of cathedrals in sustaining choral music.

In Salisbury Cathedral, the dean and precentor are seated in the first return stall on their respective sides. These are the first, east-facing, stalls to each side on entering the quire from the crossing. As Sarum was the liturgical norm of pre-Reformation England and Wales, this arrangement was followed in cathedrals of the Old Foundation, which have deans and precentors as their senior clergy, and has become the standard elsewhere.

In the monastic cathedrals, where the senior cleric under the bishop was the prior, he often sat on the liturgical north (congregational left). Thus, some cathedrals of the New Foundation (those that were monasteries) seat the dean in the former prior’s stall, opposite to where the Sarum dean is placed, and decani and cantoris are reversed (this is true of Benedictine Durham and Augustinian Carlisle, and a couple of other places).

These terms are especially used in Anglican chant where the music is sung antiphonally, passed back and forth between the two sides of a choir. In antiphonal singing, decani generally sings first, answered by cantoris. In typical singing of the psalm at choral evensong to Anglican chant, the entire chant is sung in full (both decani and cantoris together in harmony) over what is usually the first two verse (in double chant). Then decani sings alone in harmony, and then cantoris sings alone in harmony, and so on, with Gloria Patri (‘Glory be to the Father …’) sung in full at the end. Some choirs will alternate the starting side, often every week.

Gospel and epistle sides

The other set of directional terms are ‘gospel’ and ‘epistle side’. The simple definition is that the epistle side is the liturgical south (congregational right, decani) and the gospel side is liturgical north (congregational left, cantoris).

There are all sorts of explanations for this. The simplest is that Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, the place of honour, and, if we face God in prayer, that is our left. Thus, Jesus’ Good News, his Gospel, is preached from that side. Mediaeval churches often have the lectern built on the epistle side and the pulpit on the gospel side. This is so that the gospel could be proclaimed from the righthand side of the Father.

To reflect this, the priest at low mass would move the missal, from which all lessons are read, from the epistle side of the altar, after reading the epistle, to the gospel side, for reading the gospel.

Post-Vatican II liturgical thought has focused on a unified proclamation of the Word at the heart of the mass. Practically, this is often expressed by use of a central ambo (either fixed or movable) from which all lessons (including usually the responsorial psalm) are proclaimed. However, Pope Francis has begun using both an epistle-side and a gospel-side post in his outdoor masses, with the readings made at the epistle-side lectern and the gospel from the gospel side.

Terms such as epistle and gospel side are often used to describe positions in the sanctuary. For example, the paschal candle is placed on the gospel side of the sanctuary and the sedilia (or ministerial chairs) are on the epistle side.

These terms are also used to refer to the order of lighting and extinguishing altar candles. Candles on the epistle side are first lit, then those on the gospel side. In each case, if there are multiple candles on each side, those closest to the centre, to the cross, are lit first, moving outwards on that side before moving to the other. The extinguishing of candles is done in reverse order: gospel side, out to in, then epistle side, out to in. When the paschal candle stands in the sanctuary, it is at the gospel side and is lit before any altar candles and is the last extinguished. The story is that this is supposed to represent the spread of the light of the gospel moving from the Mediterranean south to the dark, barbaric north, and so southern candles are lit first. The story was probably invented spiritually to explain why a certain practice is followed. It is more likely to have come about because the right is the side of honour.

Right as the side of honour, but which right?

Traditionally, the right (dexter) is the side of honour, having higher importance than the left (sinister). Sorry, lefthanders.

This explains why the congregational right is where the dean is seated and the decani half of the choir sings first. It also explains why the candles are lit first on the congregational right of the altar and why the sedilia is also placed on that side.

The other right is the congregational left. It is the righthand side from the point of view of Christ on the altar cross, or of God in Trinity whom we address in prayer and praise. This is why the gospel is proclaimed from this righthand side and the paschal candle put there.

Thus, stripping aside all pious explanations, it seems that, throughout liturgical history, important things and people were placed on the right. However, seeing as both sides can be seen as right, some things follow the one convention and some the other.

A recorded instance of this flipping of viewpoint can be seen in the 1488 publication of a ceremonial by Augustine Patrizi, bishop of Pienza, near Siena. Whereas formerly the altar’s left and right side had been named from the congregational viewpoint (and that of the priest celebrating ad orientem), this new ceremonial insisted that the left and right hands of the outstretched corpus of the altar cross should determine directions, leading to their complete reversal. This was then accepted by Pope Pius V (excommunicator of Elizabeth I), entering the first standardised set of rubrics of the first ‘Tridentine’ missal of 1570.

The bishop’s throne (cathedra) is most traditionally set in the apse behind the high altar of the cathedral, facing west. The inconvenience of the position and the filling of apses with chapels and shrines led to a removal of the cathedra to the quire, where in many cases there was already a secondary throne. There it is usually placed on the south side, decani, as is the choir cathedra of Greek bishops, facing north. An alternative, often followed in more modern cathedrals, is to place the throne on the north side, the gospel side, of the sanctuary, facing south. In Anglican parish churches, a chair is often kept for the bishop when they visit. When in use, it is usually placed on the centre line of the church facing west. When not in use, it is traditionally placed on the gospel-side wall of the sanctuary facing south.

In English parish churches, I have seen the incumbent’s stall placed on either of the two rights, decani or the gospel side. In many places there are identical stalls on each side, the other being for the parish clerk, Reader or curate. It may be that the designated sides have swapped over time.

Which direction the priest faces: east, west or south

There are three traditions of the placement of the priest during the eucharistic consecration

  1. Versus populum, with the priest facing the people across the altar, an ancient positioning that became most usual after Vatican II
  2. Ad orientem, with the priest’s back to the people, between them and the altar, it is also ancient and was common before Vatican II
  3. North side, according to a rubric of the Book of Common Prayer, a peculiarly Anglican style

These different positions mean that the other positions might change in relation to the priest.

The liturgical deacon keeps to the celebrant’s righthand side, so will stand behind the altar on the gospel side if the eucharist is celebrated versus populum, but before the altar on the epistle side ad orientem.

Traditionally, the credence table is placed to the epistle side of the altar, but that is so it is to the priest’s right when celebrating ad orientem. Many churches have kept the credence on the epistle side even if the eucharist is now celebrated versus populum, while others have moved it to the gospel side so that it remains to the priest’s right.

In the first Prayer Book of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, of 1549, the priest was instructed to stand ‘humbly afore the middes of the Altar’, continuing the ad orientem tradition. Many reformers objected to the word ‘altar’ as well as hiding the congregation’s view of the communion elements behind the priest’s back.

The 1552 Prayer Book revised the rubric thus:

‘The table … shall stand in the body of the churche, or in the chauncell … And the priest standyng at the Northe syde of the table …’

Thus, a movable table replaced the old altars and were placed, presumably turned parallel to the length of the church, in either the nave or the midst of the chancel. At the north side, the priest then would still be at the long edge, with the congregation arrayed opposite, to the south, or in the round. It is unclear why north was chosen, but it is perhaps so the Lord’s supper is celebrated from the gospel side. Others have suggested it is so the Reformed rite is proclaimed towards the Catholic South. It is likely that many churches did not follow this rubric if they were so minded and could get away with it. Yet many carried it out with zeal, destroying the stone altar and using a turned table. The east wall of the chancel in these churches often then became a place for the pews of local dignitaries.

The Elizabethan Settlement moderated many of the reforming excesses. In 1559, an injunction ordered that whether stone altars or wooden tables as long as ‘the Sacrament be duly and reverently administered’ it was ‘no matter of great moment’. During the early 17th century, the great majority of churches having wooden communion tables not only placed them against the east wall when not in use, but used them there to celebrate communion.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer continues to direct the Communion to be said at ‘the north side of the Table’, recycling the rubric of 1552. Over time, most priest celebrated according to the 1549 rubric, in the midst of the altar facing east. However, the Low Church party continued to follow this rubric even though they too had moved their tables back to east wall. In a very few churches England (though still quite a few in the Church of Ireland), the north-side communion is still celebrated. In this, the priest is at the north, narrow end of the table, facing south, side on to the congregation. Usually, a chair, kneeler and bookstand are placed at the north end for the priest. Another set of chair, kneeler and bookstand is often set at the south end for the parish clerk or Reader to lead the responses. This style has been called various names from ‘lion and unicorn’ to ‘Bill and Ben’.

Ever agonizing over how to do Anglican Catholicism in an authentically English manner, Percy Dearmer directed priests to celebrate somewhat diagonally. This position was ad orientem, but sufficiently moved to the north along the footpace of the altar that the congregation could see the communion elements and the manual acts.

With newer rites, the Anglican churches have overwhelmingly adopted the Roman Catholic lead in celebrating versus populum.


I digress: boats, ballgames, board-treading & blazon

It is not surprising that the church has developed its own tradition for naming directions. Sailors have port and starboard so that the direction is not dependent on whether or not one faces the bow (port is left when facing the bow).

Sporting grounds often have their specific ‘ends’, like the Pavilion (south west) and Nursery (north east) ends at Lord’s Cricket Ground, or the Gwladys Street (north) and Park (south) ends of Goodison Park.

Likewise, actors talk of stage left and stage right, which are always respectively the left and right of the stage if facing out to the audience. Stage left is the same side as house right, the audience’s right, and stage right is house left. As actors look for their prompt from stage left, it is also the prompt side, making stage right ‘off prompt’. In French, this is particularly picturesque, with côté cour (‘court side’) corresponding to stage left and côté jardin (‘garden side’) for stage right (this dates from when the Comédie-Française was ensconced in the Salle des Machines of the Palais des Tuileries with a stage between the Cour du Carrousel and the Jardin des Tuileries).

In the fast-paced world of heraldry, there is a steep learning curve, mostly to do with the arcane language of blazon, used to describe heraldic arms. The Latin words dexter and sinister, meaning ‘right’ and ‘left’ respectively, are used to describe the vertical halves of the shield. However, they are the right and left according to a knight bearing the shield. Thus, dexter is the viewer’s left, even though it literally means ‘right’.

Addendum: Bride or Groom

I just remembered a ceremony-specific division of the church: the bride and groom’s side at a wedding. As they marry, the couple stand together with the bride on the northern side (gospel side or cantoris) and the groom on the southern side (epistle side or decani). Their respective families are traditionally then seated on the bride’s side (north) or groom’s side (south). Hence is the usher’s awkward greeting, ‘Bride or groom?’

I’m sure there are all sorts of folk tales about why this arrangement is so. I’ve heard things about leaving the groom’s sword arm free to defend his woman, which rings bells on my bovine-waste detector. It is more likely a patriarchal statement that the groom is on the right.

This article first appeared in my personal blog Ad Fontes:

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