The Beauty of Holiness
Updated: Aug 20, 2019
Trinity V 2019
The Reverend Beau McLaurin Davis, Sr.
There are roughly 2.5 billion Christians alive right now. 1.25 billion of those are Roman Catholic; 270 million are Eastern Orthodox; 80 million are Oriental Orthodox; 18 million are Independent Catholic; and 85 million are Anglican. These Churches share historic priesthood, uninterrupted connection to the faith of the Apostles, similar liturgical worship, and (except for a handful of Old Testament books) the same scripture. Outside of a couple million Lutherans, the remainder of these Christian denominations (Protestants) have little in common with the worship life (and much of the theology) of those listed. One accusation which we often hear is that we Catholic types don’t use the Bible. I’m not sure where they get that notion. True: we don’t tend to use Bibles in their usual form in the pews of our churches, but that does not mean we do not use the Bible. First off, who do the King James Only folks think King James was? He wasn’t a member of First Baptist Atlanta or 12Stone Church; he was the Supreme Governor of the Anglican Church! Where are our Bibles? They are in our homes where we are to read them daily. As Anglicans, our faith is completely grounded in scripture, and our worship life is structured by the prayers and biblical scripture contained in the Book of Common Prayer.
If you cut out the prayers for the people, our worship is completely compiled by pieces of scripture. If the clergy ignores you while they are vesting (that means getting dressed) they are not being rude: they are deep in prayer. Each one of the vestments which we wear have a prayer to remind us of our duties to God and mostly represent the Armor of God which is spoken of by Saint Paul in the 6th chapter of his Letter to the Ephesians (the amice=Helmet of Salvation, alb=Breastplate of Righteousness, cincture=Girdle of Truth, etc.). As the priest approaches the altar, he prays the preparational prayers which consist of Psalm 43 and a confession of sins. After this we enter into the Propers of the Mass, which are those portions of the service which are specific to the day you are celebrating.
There are two classes of “Propers of the Mass:” Major and Minor Propers. The Major Propers are those which are found in the Prayer Book -the Collect of the Day, Epistle, and Gospel readings, along with the Proper Preface after the Sanctus- and have largely been unchanged since the 1549 when translated from Latin. The Minor Propers are those things which change every service and are not in the Prayer Book (Introit, Gradual, Secret prayers, Communion sentence, and Post-Communion). They are optional, because they were once part of the Prayer Book but were removed from the second edition in 1552.
What are they then? Shouldn’t there be good reason to leave them out if they haven’t been required reading for 467 years? It depends on your style of worship, I suppose. Are you looking for the bare minimum, or beauty like song or poetry? One of the arguments of the Protestants of the 1500s and 1600s was that the Roman Catholic form of worship was over-the-top and unnecessarily elaborate. They believed that life and worship should be plain, austere, and dignified through simplicity. That is fine, but they whittled the most wonderful sacrament down and removed a ton of scripture in the process. The Minor Propers are direct quotes of scripture (usually the Psalms), exclaim truths about the glory of God (as in high Holy days), but usually both. These were all historically sung by Cantors or whole choirs (and I have the music if you would like to try your hand). The role of the Psalms has been almost completely disposed of by eliminating these parts of the service, but the use of the Psalms in the Mass is a practice which is a carryover from Judaism. By using those Minor Propers we are restoring an ancient practice which connects us to believers and worship since the time of King David 3000 years ago.
It is perfectly fine to be “snake-belly low” in your churchmanship. If we are too high church on Sunday, you will find Thursday evenings to be a refreshing swing in the other direction. You will usually find that the clergy in our churches are far more High Church than their congregations, but we are flexible for our people. I personally would love cantors and incense (both Biblical in origin), but worship is no less valid when a congregation only uses the Prayer Book. Elaborate worship is often accused of being more pagan than Biblical, but by simplifying we are distancing ourselves from the faith of the Bible, and actually removing the amount of Bible that we would otherwise receive. In using those optional portions of the Mass, we are embracing more of the scripture: making it more biblical through making it more elaborate.