Project Canterbury

The Middle Way
Suggestions for a Practicable Ceremonial

By the Reverend Latta Griswold, M.A.

Milwaukee: Morehouse, 1928.

Chapter VI. The Occasional Offices

IT is not designed to comment upon the Occasional Offices in the detail observed in connection with the Eucharist and the Choir Offices, but rather to call attention only to some features of them about which misunderstanding frequently exists.

I. Holy Baptism.

Baptism should always be administered in the church, except in cases of necessity, after which the child or person should be brought to the church to be received, as the Prayer Book plainly directs. At stated intervals, particularly on Easter Even, Baptism should be administered in connection with public worship, though by no means invariably, particularly if the parish is a large one and baptisms are frequent. A convenient time is directly after a public service, for in this case a suitable congregation can usually be secured.

Parents should be persuaded to bring their children to church for Baptism as soon after birth as may be; and they should be discouraged from making the occasion in any sense a social function. The sponsors must be baptized persons and ought to be communicants of the Church. Opinions differ, but my own opinion is that sponsors are witnesses on behalf of the Church and that their duties are symbolical rather than actual. If, on the other hand, it is assumed that god-parents assume a real responsibility, it would seem that in most cases the parents of the child are proper sponsors. It is a tradition that a male child should have two god-fathers and one god-mother, and a female child one god-father and two god-mothers. In the case of adults, obviously sponsors can hardly be regarded as assuming actual responsibility. It is permissible for sponsors to stand by proxy, and this is often desirable, as many parents postpone baptisms indefinitely until the de sired sponsors can be gathered together from the several quarters of the earth.

The congregation stand throughout the ceremony, facing the font; and they should be instructed by the minister to join in the parts of the service indicated in the Prayer Book. This instruction can be given at the moment in a lower tone of voice. The minister, parents, sponsors, and candidate stand about the font.

In the prayer for the sanctification of the water the minister should make the sign of the cross, preferably in the water rather than over the font. In case of a child, he should take it, just before the actual Baptism, into his left arm, and baptize with his right hand. The use of a baptismal shell is most convenient. In any case the water should be poured, and not sprinkled; and according to traditional rule it must touch the head of the child and not merely the hair. An adult should be instructed to bend over the font. It is convenient to have a lavabo towel at hand for wiping the water off the child's face. After receiving the child, and making the sign of the cross on his forehead, the minister should hand the child back into the arms of the person who held it during the first part of the service. The minister should learn by heart the sentence, We receive this child, etc. It is most unimpressive for a minister to be tied to his book, particularly in parts of the service when it is not convenient to have the book before him.

Congregations should occasionally be instructed about lay Baptism; and an incumbent should find opportunity for preaching about Baptism or giving instructions on the matter at least once each year.

The word christening should never be used as a substitute for Baptism.

2. Confirmation

There is considerable difference of opinion about the proper age of Confirmation. It was the somewhat general custom a generation ago to delay Confirmation till a youth "knew what he was doing." Happily there is a growing tendency to bring children to Confirmation much earlier than formerly. It is not difficult to believe that our Lord's invitation, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me," was designed by Him to refer to Confirmation and Holy Communion. In any case, the primitive Church believed so, and as Anglicans have prided themselves upon the notion that they were reverting to primitive practices at the Reformation, it is difficult to understand why they have undervalued primitive custom with regard to bringing young children to Confirmation. Many children make the best sort of Christians and Churchmen. If confirmed and admitted to Holy Communion at an early age, they are more than apt to develop a natural piety. My own experience has been that some of the most faithful communicants were confirmed at tender years; and I will present a child to the Bishop for confirmation as young as parents are willing for him to be presented. It is absurd to suppose that the entire theological encyclopedia can be explained during Confirmation preparation. The child is to go on with religious education all the rest of his life--at least that is what we should hope. Postponing Confirmation to the period of adolescence, as is so widely the practice, seems to me to place it at the most unsuitable age of all. It is then that children are apt to be less interested in religion than at any other period of their lives.

The date of the Confirmation service will depend largely upon the Bishop's convenience; and most Bishops, one can feel assured, would be grateful to their clergy if the Confirmation were not combined with other offices. Neither is Confirmation the occasion when elaborate music is desirable.

The candidates for Confirmation should be instructed to sit well forward in pews re served for them. It is beautiful and fitting for the girls to wear white veils on their heads, but this should not be insisted upon.

There should be a hymn, a few verses of which are sung before and after the Confirmation office, and the candidates should be instructed to come forward during the singing of the first few verses.

There are two methods by which the Bishop may administer Confirmation, and which will be used depends usually on the Bishop. One way is for the candidate to stand before the altar-rail, kneeling at the proper time, and the Bishop passes along confirming each one as he does so. That railful then retires, standing in the chancel, while others take their places. The other method is for the Bishop to sit in a chair at the head of the chancel steps; the rector calls the Christian name of each candidate, and he comes forward and kneels before the Bishop, who confirms sitting in his chair. It is desirable for the Bishop to make the sign of the cross on the candidate's forehead after the laying-on of hands. It is most unedifying, as sometimes is the case, for a Bishop to hurry through the service by confirming two persons at the same time, with a hand on both heads.

3. Holy Matrimony

Marriages may be solemnized at any time, but it is obviously inappropriate for them to take place in penitential seasons. Elaborate rehearsals are unnecessary and should be discouraged. Except for good reason weddings should take place in the church. Communicants of the Church should be encouraged to have a celebration of the Holy Communion the morning of the wedding, and in connection with the marriage service if they desire. The bride stands at the priest's right hand. The first part of the service takes place at chancel-gate or foot of the chancel steps. During the ceremony the bride should have her hands ungloved. The congregation should stand during the ceremony, and if necessary be requested to do so.

At the question, Who giveth this woman, the father, or whoever gives the bride away, takes the bride's right hand and places it in the minister's, who then places it in the right hand of the groom. The minister should then turn and go into the sanctuary, standing at the sanctuary gate. The bride and groom follow, and the best man and maid of honor, if there be such. The best man and maid of honor should stand back and aside, so that the congregation may see the bride and groom and minister.

The minister should repeat the promises that bride and groom are to make, phrase by phrase; and when the bridal pair are simple, unintelligent, or nervous, he will have to do this almost word for word. This instruction should be made by the minister in a voice inaudible to the congregation. The other parts of the service should be said in the voice he normally uses in a church service. When it comes time for the ring to be given, the minister should say quietly, "The ring." The best man gives it to the groom, the groom to the bride, the bride to the minister, who blesses it, making the sign of the cross over it, with the formula provided in the revised marriage service. When the minister says, Those whom God hath joined together, etc., it is an old custom for him to bind the ends of his stole about their clasped hands. Before the blessing, he indicates to them in quiet voice that they shall kneel down. The blessing should be pronounced with hands raised over them, and the sign of the cross may be used. It is not inappropriate for the minister to shake hands with the bride and groom just before they turn to march out of church. Happily the custom of "kissing the bride" is obsolete.

The bridal party should sign the marriage register either immediately before or after the service as may be most convenient. Usually before the service is simpler to arrange for.

It should not be necessary to remind the clergy that they must be familiar with the marriage laws of the states in which they officiate, not to say the canon law of the Church. No priest need perform the marriage ceremony of canonically divorced persons unless he is willing, and it is devoutly to be hoped that fewer and fewer priests will be willing. The clergy should not officiate at the marriages of unbaptized persons.

4. Visitation of the Sick

As this office has never seemed to the writer a particularly useful or appropriate one, he has never used it. It may be re marked, however, that most sick persons desire to have prayers said by their bedside, and devout persons value portions of Scripture read to them. The most effective way to administer to the sick is to give them the Holy Communion, and the great majority of ill persons will welcome the suggestion from their pastor. If they request a private celebration, he should willingly have one, and take care that suitable arrangements be made. But the vast majority of the sick will welcome the suggestion that they be communicated with the Reserved Sacrament. In my own experience, though I administer to the sick many, many times a year, I have but three times in twenty years been requested to have a private celebration. There is singularly little prejudice against the sick receiving from the Reserved Sacrament, except where the clergy themselves stir it up.

There is no intention of discussing the desirability or propriety of reserving the Sacrament for any other purpose than administering to the sick or to those who cannot receive at the time of a celebration in the church. If a priest fancies Reservation for any purpose and in any manner to be illegal in the Episcopal Church, he must confine himself to private celebrations. If the Bishop takes that attitude and he does not, he will have to be guided by his own conscience.

Whether the Sacrament is reserved perpetually or only occasionally, it should be reserved in a proper place. There are two traditional methods, one in a tabernacle on an altar, one in an aumbry (i.e., an ornamented cupboard) in the sanctuary wall. The aumbry was the traditional method in England, and in most parishes it will be found more acceptable to the people, and be less apt to create undesirable comment. A light should be burned near the aumbry or over the tabernacle when the Sacrament is reserved. If neither tabernacle nor aumbry may be had, the Sacrament may be reserved on the altar, properly veiled, with a small light burning. It is highly improper to re serve in a cupboard in the sacristy or vestry-room. The most convenient method of carrying the Sacrament from the church is in a pyx (a small gold or silver box, hung about the neck), or in a private communion set. If the pyx is used, the consecrated Bread will have to be slightly dipped in the consecrated Wine to secure communion in both kinds.

It is usually wiser to confine the service used in the sick room to the parts of our Liturgy that are appropriate, and to judge how much to use by the state of the sick person. In any case the following should be sufficient: Lord's Prayer, Collect for Purity, Collect for the Day (or for the sick), Epistle and Gospel for the sick, Confession and Absolution, Comfortable Words, Prayer of Humble Access, Words of Ad ministration, Thanksgiving, Blessing. When the method of intinction is used the following formula seems appropriate: "The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul to everlasting life; take this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.''

Anointing with oil and the laying on of hands for the healing of the sick are pro vided for by rubric in the revised Prayer Book.

5. Burial of the Dead

There are no occasions when clerical tact is more necessary than in dealing with people in grief and in making arrangements for the burial of their dead. Whatever rules the incumbent of a parish makes or feels desirable, they should not be so stringent but that they can be broken when occasion demands. For example, there is a rule in a certain parish that funerals shall not be held on Sundays, and it has been the cause of the most serious friction between the rector and some of his parishioners. Of course it is desirable that funerals should not be held on Sunday, and people should be dissuaded from having them on that day when it is possible to do so. But there are occasions when it is by far the most convenient day, and the clergyman should sacrifice himself to meet the wishes of his parishioners. Again the morning is the most suitable time for funerals, but there is a widespread custom of having funerals in the afternoon, when it is more convenient for friends to attend. The clergyman should yield in this respect to the wishes of the family of the deceased.

In case of communicants of the Church he should always suggest having a celebration of the Holy Communion early on the morning of the funeral, or better still at the time of the funeral, if that is to be held before noon. The minister should do all that he tactfully can to discourage ostentation and, in the case of the poor, needless expense.

The parish priest will, of course, visit the house of mourning, pray with the family and for the repose of the soul of the de parted. But it is desirable that he should discourage the old-fashioned custom of proceeding to the house immediately before the funeral service in the church for the offering of such prayers. That is a most inconvenient time for him, and is really inconvenient for the family. But where his refusing to go would give offense, he should by all means yield to the wishes of the family.

Funerals, particularly of communicants, should be held in the church; and the clergy man should do his best to persuade the family to this effect, unless there is some real reason for having the service at the house. The casket should be permanently closed at the house, and not opened in the church. But again, when relatives insist on the casket being opened in the church building, the minister again should yield.

Except for the singing of appropriate hymns from the Hymnal and the soft playing of the organ before and after the service, no music is necessary.

The minister meets the casket at the door, proceeds slowly up the aisle leading the procession of casket, pall-bearers, and mourners, reciting slowly the Opening Sentences as he does so. [The casket should actually be carried up the aisle, not wheeled up in the undertaker's vehicle.]

At the funeral of a layman the casket should stand at the foot of the chancel steps, head toward the altar; in the case of an ecclesiastic the casket should stand in the chancel itself, feet toward the altar.

The usual lights on the altar and about it should be lighted during the service, and it is desirable to have six mortuary candle sticks with tall candles lighted, standing at regular intervals, three on each side of the bier. It is desirable also to have a pall to throw over the casket while it is in the church. But the use of the mortuary candles and the pall should depend upon the wishes of the family.

The first part of the service, through the Lesson and Creed (and the Creed should be said, particularly in the case of communicants), should be said by the minister from his usual stall in the chancel. After the Creed and the hymn, if there be one, the minister should go down and stand by the head of the casket and say the rest of the service from there. Prayers for the mourners are far more appropriately offered during the pastor's visit to the house after the death.

After the blessing, which should be said with hand out-stretched over the casket, the minister should again lead the procession to the church door. If there be a choir, it is effective to have the choir sing a recessional hymn, following the minister; and to have them grouped in the vestibule of the church and continue singing until the funeral procession has started away from the church. The bell should be tolled as the procession leaves the church. It is desirable for the minister to wear his vestments, removing the stole the while and putting a priest's cloak over his shoulders, during the carriage or motor procession from the church to the graveyard. An ordinary hat is in bad taste when vestments are worn. A priest should wear biretta, zuchetto (small black skull cap), or Canterbury cap. He will be wise to provide himself with a warm cloak and stout boots to wear at funerals in cold climates in winter or in rainy weather.

Having arrived at the grave, the minister should take his position at the head of the grave, and wait until the casket is in position over the grave and the mourners are grouped about. It is preferable to have the committal service no longer than the Prayer Book provides. At the committal itself the minister should cast the earth upon the casket himself, making the outline of a cross, or at least making the sign of the cross as he casts the earth upon the casket. And it should be earth, not sand, in the little instruments undertakers are wont to provide. After this prayer the casket may be lowered into the grave. At the conclusion of the service the minister should shake hands with the mourners; and ordinarily at this point it is convenient for him to withdraw.

When there is a celebration of the Holy Communion of the time of the funeral, it should precede the burial office, and the proper collect, epistle, and gospel should be used. The celebration should be made as short as possible.

Project Canterbury