PEOPLE sometimes complain of unreality in our Church services. Are they right? Our services are set forms of prayer and words. The question is whether, when we use these words, we really pray and really worship. Saying words is one thing. Praying them is another. Our object here is to have a little talk on paper about our services, and to see whether we can help one another to enter into them intelligently and to use them profitably.
We are not dealing now with the chief service of the Church, the Holy Eucharist or Divine Liturgy. That is the people's service because it is their Lord's service, and the devotional books published to help us are legion.
We are thinking now of the "Divine Office," commonly called Morning and Evening Prayer or Mattins and Evensong, whereby every day "the Holy Church throughout the world salutes the majesty of God." These are much less the people's services because they are derived from the ancient offices of monks, and are especially set apart for the daily recitation of the clergy, so that it is more difficult for the laity to know exactly what they are doing and meaning by their words at Mattins and Evensong than at the altar service.
It is only from a devotional point of view that we intend now to deal with them. These daily offices are much loved by all priests who faithfully recite them daily, and by many lay people who from early years have attended Mattins or Evensong or both. Nevertheless I still ask the question: When these services are over do we feel we have really prayed and really worshipped? How can they become more real to us and a more acceptable offering to the glory of God? First there must be preparation.
THE PREPARATION--i. SILENCE.--We need one and all to engrave it upon the tablets of our hearts that there should never in any circumstances be any talking inside the house of God unless necessity compel it or the subject be directly connected with the service or spiritual matters. "The Lord is in His Holy Temple; let the whole earth keep silence before Him." Talking in church must grieve the angels who veil their faces before the Presence of the Most Holy. To say the least of it, it disturbs those who want to spend the time before the service in devotion.
This silence should begin at the entrance to the churchyard. As we pass by the graves of the Church at rest, the Church waiting, our voices should be hushed in preparation for our worship. Here is a break from the outside world. We are within the enclosure. This, then, is the spot at which conversation should cease. It would be a good rule to make, for if people chatter right up to the church door, how can they get into an atmosphere of prayer and enter into a spirit of reverence, devotion, and worship? This is where so many fail. They see nothing in church, they hear nothing, they say nothing, because they have dragged worldly thoughts and worldly topics to the very threshold of the sanctuary, and these have ruined their hour with God. The time passes in wandering thoughts, and they find little result of having been to church. One day they give up going.
"Before thou prayest, prepare thyself." "If I had only three minutes in which to say my prayers, I should spend two of these minutes in preparation," said a wise man.
During this silence from the church gate we could recite part of the 122nd Psalm: "I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the house of the Lord." No doubt this Psalm was recited by the Holy Family as they went up to our Lord's first passover at Jerusalem when He was a boy of twelve. Or such verses of Psalms as the following: "One day in Thy courts is better than a thousand." "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of ungodliness."
These things would fill our minds and be a reason for ceasing conversation. When we reach the church porch we are on holier ground still, and should "put off our shoes from off our feet." The practice of walking on tiptoe in God's house is less common than it was some years ago. It can perhaps be overdone, but it is preferable to sounds of noisy boots and shuffling. Nothing should ever be allowed to disturb the peace of the temple. Our best manners are required when we attend at court in the palace of the King of kings. It is easy to imagine St. John walking on tiptoe in church.
THE PREPARATION--2. THE PREPARATORY PRAYER.--The second preparation is the universal and reverent custom of kneeling down on arrival at our seat. It is very important not to omit this little matter, and equally so not to hurry it. Hurry is the death of all prayer, but especially of this one. Yet people jump off their knees as soon as they are on them. Some people pray in their own words; others use what they have learnt by heart. May I suggest the following lines written by "G. M." in "With the Beloved":
Fold me round, most Holy Spirit, as I kneel to pray,
That Thy calm embrace may scatter earthly thoughts away;
Bid Thy holy inspirations throng my soul and stay.
Fold me round till all the senses are subdued and still,
Wandering thoughts are duly conquered and no taint of ill
Enters to defile the temple I would have Thee fill.
Fold me in the peace which stifles all that is unblest
Till my wayward spirit passes from a great unrest
Into calm and sweet communion with my heavenly Guest.
Thus the silence of preparation is followed by the prayer of preparation, and it is God the Holy Spirit to whom that prayer should be sent.
THE SERVICE.--The service begins with penitence--penitence before worship. We are not fit to worship God till we have washed our robes in penitence. We are "men of unclean lips," and we dwell in a world of unclean lips. Great is our need of the "live coal" from off the altar to pardon our iniquity and purge our sin before these lips can be opened in adoration of the Most High God.
This is spoilt when a hymn is sung first. It is foolish to place praise before penitence. If hymn there must be, let it be a penitential one, but far better none at all.
THE GENERAL CONFESSION.--This is just what it claims to be--a general confession, and nothing more. It is a confession of sinfulness, not of detailed sin, a general confession followed by a general absolution, not a particular personal confession, as, e.g., when we make our confession before God's priest. That is followed by a particular personal absolution as provided in the "visitation of the sick." There it is "by His authority committed unto me I absolve thee "--personal, direct. Here it is "He hath given power and commandment unto His ministers," "He pardoneth and absolveth"--declaratory, indirect, general.
So this general confession may easily become a snare if we use it instead of a private confession of our sins one by one in detail. Just as people sometimes trick themselves into imagining that family prayers are a substitute for private prayers, so the danger of this confession in church robbing us of a daily and close self-examination and detailed confession is very obvious. Yet how much this general confession can mean to us if we will but let it!
" We have left undone the things which we ought to have done." What a crowd of neglected duties, lost opportunities, and wasted time rise to our minds--sins of omission we call them, letters unanswered, little kindnesses un-rendered. "I was hungry, and ye gave Me no meat; sick, and ye visited Me not."
"And we have done those things which we ought not to have done." Ah! how many. Evil thoughts yielded to, angry or unkind words uttered, wrong actions taken--sins of commission this time. Yes, this general confession can be very real and heart-searching, if we say it with eyes shut and faces covered by our hands, but hopeless if we look about us or try to intone it, and the absolution that follows, though declaratory and not direct, can shed much hope on our souls if the confession has been as genuine as we can make it.
THE LORD'S PRAYER.--Penitence is followed by the Lord's Prayer--the family prayer, the prayer that St. Augustine says remits venial sin. Perhaps that is the very reason why it follows here. It has been said "One Our Father in the Divine Office is worth ten outside it." As we say it we should pray it. It must be said slowly. "Thy kingdom come" must open our hearts to the whole missionary work of the Church. There may be a mission of help to India or elsewhere in progress. The Church in Japan has suffered seriously from a recent earthquake. Very well, this is the moment for all things of this sort, ever varying from time to time, to be swept into the heart of our Lord as we pray for His kingdom to come. Ruskin said: "If you don't want His kingdom to come, then don't pray for it." But we do want His kingdom on earth, so we will not miss this opportunity.
"Thy will be done in earth" is a surrender of ourselves and our own wills. Who are they that do God's will in heaven? The blessed angels. We address them in the Psalms as "Ye that fulfil His commandment and hearken unto the voice of His words," "Ye servants of His that do His pleasure." They do God's will without reserve, yet when we say "Thy will be done in earth as in heaven" are we ready to do it like that--to do anything, go anywhere, suffer anything, give up everything at the call of God? "Take my will and make it Thine," or is it "Thy will be done" in some things, but not in these two or three matters?
Then, as we say "Give us this day our daily bread," let it whet our appetite and increase our hunger for our next communion, for that Food which until life closes is meant to be the daily bread of every communicant. It is inconceivable that He who is the bread of life, whose "Flesh is meat indeed," and whose "Blood is drink indeed," only thought of bodily food when He gave us this clause. It should ever remind us of the need of gradually increasing our communions till we are found every day around our Father's family table asking Him for the soul's staff of life.
"Lead us not into temptation" needs no comment, for each soul will know for itself in what direction it must obtain the efficiency of the Lord's Prayer at this point. But it is a moment not to be missed for receiving special strength for special temptations and deliverance from special occasions of sin.
FURTHER PREPARATION.--After the Lord's Prayer we still find ourselves in the realm of preparation for worship. "O Lord, open Thou our lips," is obviously not worship, but preparation, and what a vastly needed prayer it is! How many people do use their lips in worship? True, they will join in the hymn they like, but often these hymns are personal and about themselves rather than objective and about God, as though they prefer singing "glory to me" to "glory to God." We use our lips enough outside God's house--why are we dumb inside? The best example of lips and mouth showing forth God's praise I have met was at a prison service. As prisoners seldom speak outside they were glad to open their lips to God. Greater silence in daily life would give us more of the spirit of utterance in church.
Yes, it is still preparation. The lips touched with the live coal in absolution have now to be unsealed, but pray this request and resolve as you answer the priest, "Our mouth shall show forth Thy praise."
O Trinity, O Unity,
Be present as we worship Thee,
And with the songs the angels sing
Unite the hymns of praise we bring.
O let our work accepted be,
That sweetest work of praising Thee.
It is this we should read into "O Lord, open Thou our lips," etc Then, "O God, make speed to save us; O Lord, make haste to help us." How much we need saving from distracting thoughts and helping to worship in spirit and in truth! But think of it as these words come.
Next we stand for our first great act of worship--the worship of the Holy Trinity, "Glory be to the Father," etc., which is followed by another act of worship, "Praise ye the Lord, the Lord's name be praised." It must never be forgotten that these are acts of worship, yet the "Gloria Patri" is often ruined by the fact that choir and congregation are rising from their knees as the words are being recited. There should be a pause, and not until the commotion is ended and all are standing up should this act of worship be presented to Almighty God. It is not the moment for finding the Psalms in the Prayer Book.
We now come to the Psalms which can be so real or so unreal They are either a tremendous joy or a great misery to those who recite them at Mattins and Evensong. When I was a boy at school I dreaded them. I used to count the verses and give secret thanks if there were fewer than usual.
It is all so different now--they become more precious every day. The Psalms grow on us if we let them. They were our Lord's Treasury of Devotion--hot with His breath and the "breath of ten thousand saints." Jewish children were taught them in early years--so probably, when Christ was twelve years old, the Psalm that begins "I was glad when they said unto me" was recited on the way to His first Passover.
Let us take Psalm cxix. as an example of how we can pray the Psalms.
It has been called the "young man's Psalm" because of verse 9, "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way, even by ruling himself after Thy Word."
What a Psalm it is! It takes two and a half days every month for the Church to recite. "Blessed are they that keep His commandments and seek Him with their whole heart" is its beautiful opening. An offering of our whole heart and our whole self to be ruled after the totality of God's Word.
"With my lips have I been telling of all the judgments of Thy mouth."
"I will talk of Thy commandments"--"I will speak of Thy testimonies even before Kings and will not be ashamed." This speaks of our public witness for Christ the witness of our lips. What about it? It is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaketh--are our hearts so feeble in their love for Jesus that we can open our mouths so little for Him? We are ready enough to talk to and about people--are we equally so to talk to God and to others about Him?
Or, again, "As for lies I hate and abhor them"--"Take from me the way of lying"--what a prayer, and needful prayer, these verses can be made? No one who really prayed them on Sunday could have any part in false weights, profiteering, tricks of the trade, or untrue excuses in the week.
"O turn away mine eyes lest they behold vanity." How many impure thoughts that verse should check!
Or again, "I am horribly afraid for the ungodly that forsake Thy Law." Are you? Does it give you sleepless nights?
"Mine eyes gush out with water because men keep not Thy Law." Do they? Does it break your heart? "It grieveth me when I see the transgressors." Does it?
Is it real? How unreal such passages are if we just don't care--we are satisfied with ourselves, and with the world as it is--are not touchy about the interests of Jesus nor learning to get a broken heart. Now listen again: "At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee." Have we ever done that? Our Lord continued all night in prayer. At midnight Paul and Silas in prison sang praises to God. The friend came at midnight and prayed until he received the three loaves. Jacob wrestled with the Angel until break of day. If we sing in church, "At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto Thee," would it not be as well to do it sometimes? "I have thought upon Thy Name in the night season." Much goes on in the night of sin and suffering--of fever and sleeplessness, death and bereavement. Many have to work at night--police, firemen, railwaymen, Parliament, editors and journalists, nurses, doctors, priests. All these need our prayers far more than any of us need their work. Our Lord needed the company and attention of Mary at His feet far more than He needed the dinner Martha was preparing for Him.
"Mine eyes prevent the night-watches--that I might be occupied in Thy words." Is that real? What is it that keeps us late at night? Is it the Bible and solemn thought? Is it intercessory prayer? The night is a wonderful time.
Think what we sing to God in church:
"Seven times a day do I praise Thee." Seven times, yet not often a single midday prayer!
Even sometimes the day allowed to begin without our morning prayers--only the "fag end" of the day, when we are tired out, given to God. Yet we tell tlim in church that seven times a day we praise Him because of His righteous judgments. Notice they are seven occasions of praise. How much praise, worship, adoration is there in our devotions? How full they are of petitions for things we want. Self, and not God, is so frequently their centre.
But it is God who is always the aspiration and longing of the Psalmist all along the line. Listen to him:
"O how sweet are Thy words unto my throat, yea, sweeter than honey unto my mouth." "The law of Thy mouth is dearer unto me than thousands of gold and silver." Is that true on our lips? or is it the silver and gold that interests us most? Much of the toil for it the Psalmist describes as "lost labour" because "except the Lord build the house" those who rise early and rest late labour but in vain.
But I am interrupting the Psalmist, "Lord, what love have I unto Thy Law--all the day long is my study in it." All day long. The question for most of us is, how many minutes of each day is given to this study--yet we do try to study it in our lives at least.
"Lord, I have loved the habitation of Thy house." "One thing have I desired of the Lord which I will require--even that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life--to behold the fair beauty of the Lord and to visit His temple." "My soul is athirst for God--yea, even for the living God--when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?"
"Whom have I in Heaven but Thee--and what is there upon earth that 1 desire in comparison of Thee?"
How much have you and I, who sing these high and holy words in church--often with our minds elsewhere or thinking more of the tune than the words--in common with the Psalmist, who uttered them from the very depths of his inmost soul?
Some people are concerned about some of the Psalms which they call "Cursing Psalms," and feel they are unfit for use by Christians. But "they are afraid where no fear is" because God and the Christian soul still have enemies.
There is no intent in the Psalms to curse or wish ill-luck to any except the world, the flesh, the devil, and all the enemies of God and of good.
God's enemies are our enemies, and as such we treat them and desire them to perish.
In regard to the 138th Psalm there are two things to remember:
(i) Babylon is often used in the Bible as meaning the world in its worst sense--the world as opposed to God.
(2) The Devil is called by our Lord the "Father of Lies." His children are lies. When therefore we say of the "Daughter of Babylon" that "Blessed is he that taketh thy children and throweth them against the stones," we are (a) taking our stand on God's side against the friendship of the word and its evil, which is "enmity with God," and (b) we are praying for the early death of all those children of the Father of Lies before they have time to go out like lying prophets and to deceive the children of men.
This is the sense in which all "cursing" clauses in the Psalms are to be interpreted--a spiritual condemnation of spiritual enemies.
The Psalter is part of our wrestling, "not with flesh and blood"--part of our warfare with the Dragon and his angels. To use it faithfully is to put on part of the Armour of God.
May I here put in a plea for the Revised Psalter? I think the advantages of the Revised over the old Psalter are these:
(1) The old Psalter means continual repetition of the same Psalms because its method is dates--Sundays continually fall on the same date of the month in the same year. Many Psalms are never heard at all by Sunday Churchgoers.
The Revised Psalter circulates the whole Psalter throughout the year, and is not concerned with dates, or whether it is morning or evening.
(2) Whereas the old Psalter makes sometimes the Psalms very long and sometimes very
In short, the Revised Psalter keeps them at an even and a normal length.
(3) The Revised Psalter provides special Psalms for more occasions than does the old, as well as for every Sunday of the year.
THE LESSONS.--"Two letters from Heaven" is what Canon Liddon called the Lessons in Church. That means four letters from Heaven every single day of the year. Multiply the days of the year (365) by four and you get 1,460 letters from Heaven appointed to he read in church at Morning and Evening Prayer every year.
What a Bible-loving Church the Church of England is! All true Churchmen are Bible Christians--yet (strange to relate) our Nonconformist brethren, who read far less of the Bible in their chapels, often claim this title for themselves, and many Church of England people who insist they are "Bible Christians" often take no trouble to come and hear the daily lessons at the daily services. When we come to consider the Sunday lessons in church, these to my mind are the least satisfactory parts of our services.
Of all the golden opportunities that are lost through a routine and conventional recitation of the Divine Office, surely none is greater than this. Many of us clergy read the lessons very badly--no congregation could conjecture that we were reading "letters from Heaven." Sometimes they are read by devout laymen who make them live, but more frequently by laymen who do not know how to read, and who read them in such a tame lifeless manner that it is obvious they have had no personal spiritual experience of the sacred things about which they are reading.
Who can be expected to listen, be interested, or understand?
Again, during their reading, the choir are constantly finding places in the music, even sometimes whispering about it. This means the choir are losing the lessons as well as distracting the attention of the reader and congregation. It is unbearable to be reading some passionate message of the Prophets or solemn words from our Lord's own lips and to hear them received by whispers and the flutter of leaves. These things should be arranged differently. There need be no obligation for choir-men to follow the lessons in their Bible--they have a strain during other parts of the service and need a rest (though following the Bible is a noticeable practice among the busy choirs of certain well-known devout churches), hut no man, woman, boy or girl ought ever to be admitted to the privilege of leading the worship of God in the sanctuary unless they are prepared to receive the reading of His book with silence and attention. Choirboys, girls, and the general congregation might well be encouraged to follow in their Bibles. Less ignorance and foolish prejudice would prevail if this were done.
If only it were possible to make more of the lessons! How I wish that there was a minute's silent prayer on our knees before the first lesson, and after the second a preparation and an assimilation--a time to pray the Collect of the 2nd Sunday in Advent! What a difference this might make yet we hurry on, and never once in church have time to possess our souls.
What I have tried to say about the Revised Psalter applies equally to the Revised Lectionary. It is arranged on an almost perfect model--the right lessons arrive at just the right seasons--e.g., the Acts during the Forty Days of Easter, Hebrews at Ascensiontide, and so on. There is a choice of special second lessons for all Sundays--a sad omission in the old Lectionary. Six special lessons are appointed for all Holy Days, including the Transfiguration and St. Mary Magdalene--two on the Eves and four on the Feasts--special lessons are appointed for all Easter Week and Whitsun Week, and other occasions. No impartial person in this case could say "The old is better."
The Te Deum is a great Act of Worship--a paean of praise in communion with Apostles--Prophets--Martyrs who "praise Thee." Its authorship is uncertain, but it may have been composed by St. Augustine and St. Ambrose at Augustine's baptism. "Lord God of Sabaoth" means "Lord God of Hosts." That beautiful verse, "Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin," links us up with the Third Collect, where we pray that "this day we fall into no sin."
Surely, apart from the fact that the Te Deum is a great Act of Praise and a sort of creed, it is worth while to recite the Divine Office for the sake of that verse which can mean so much if we let it "Keep us this day without sin." This verse suggests that an early recitation of morning prayer is best and intended by the Prayer Book. It is possible to fall into sins even before eleven o'clock.
THE "MAGNIFICAT" AND "BENEDICTUS."--These are the central Acts of the Office. What the Magnificat is to Evensong--that the Benedictus is to Mattins. The Magnificat is the "Evening Hymn of the Incarnation," and the Incarnation is the centre-piece of the Christian religion.
That is why in some churches incense is used at the Magnificat and the priest is vested in a cope. It is not done because anyone likes "forms and ceremonies," but to honour the Incarnation--to emphasise the central feature of Evensong. Often, also, a hymn is sung between the first lesson and the Magnificat at Evensong, and between the second lesson and Benedictus at Mattins, as a preparation for these Canticles. It is well we should not rush into them--this hymn (the "Office hymn" it is called) is taking our shoes off our feet before we enter the holy ground into which Mary's Song and the Song of Zacharias take us.
One Canticle heralds the Birth of Mary's Divine Son--the other the birth of His great forerunner. What a loss it is when the Jubilate is substituted for the Benedictus--to do this is to miss the point of the Office, for the Benedictus is inseparably bound up with the Incarnation. Only one verse in each should I like to refer to. In the Magnificat, "He hath filled the hungry with good things." Here is a link with our Communion made in the early morning of the same day. With what thanksgiving and joy should we look back to the "sweet morning hour" as we sing these words. This is the meeting-place of the morning and evening oblations. In the morning we approached God through the Cross and Passion as we knelt at Calvary, and received the Broken Body and the poured out Blood. In the evening we approach Him through the Incarnation as we take the words of the Blessed Mother on our own lips. But how meaningless is this verse if we are not often filled with these "good things." Unfilled because not hungry--not driven by the pangs of hunger to our Father's table--not hungry because our souls are unhealthy--sick--in need of a spiritual doctor and spiritual medicine.
In the Benedictus the verse I like so much is "Thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest--for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways."
There are none too young, none too old, none too insignificant to be included in this verse. David was only a shepherd lad when he was summoned from the fields to be a Prophet of the Highest--Joseph was seventeen when sold into Egypt, which was the beginning of his great vocation--Samuel was but seven years old when he served before the Lord in the Sanctuary--our Lord Himself was a boy of twelve when He announced the purpose of His life and cried, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?"
It is "Thou, child." If we could sing these words with real meaning in churches would it not send us out feeling God expected great things of us in the world? Every Churchman going out as a Prophet of the Highest to help to make the world become the Kingdom of God--every Christian another Christ.
THE "NUNC DIMITTIS."--The Nunc Dimittis is a fitting sequel to the Magnificat and second lesson. "Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation" is again a thanksgiving for our Communion. As we returned from the altar in the early morning, had we seen Him--did we draw virtue from Him--or were we only like the crowd pressing and thronging Him?
As we recite the Nunc Dimittis we can picture ourselves with Christ in our arms as the aged Simeon--we have heard about Him in the second lesson, and so we sing, "Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation."
As we say or sing "A Light to lighten the Gentiles," we can think of all the unbaptised heathen abroad and the many "baptised heathen" at home.
Just this sentence in the Nunc Dimittis can be made a real Missionary Prayer as it passes. We are all Gentiles, and we should all have been heathen but for St. Paul, St. Augustine, and others--our thankfulness for the Light leads us to desire to share it with others.
"The Glory of Thy People Israel" should be turned into a prayer for the Jewish Church.
How often do you pray for the Jews? Yet they were God's true and ancient Church--His people Israel.
Our Lord Himself was a Jew, the Jews must be very precious to Him, and He must long for their entry into His Catholic Church.
THE "BENEDICITE."--The Benedicite is used at Mattins instead of the Te Deum during Penitential seasons.
It is a summons to the whole of creation to bless and praise God.
Never is it more appropriate than when sung on Septuagesima Sunday, for the first lesson on that occasion is about the creation of the world. It is often called "The Song of the Three Children," which they sang in the furnace of fire, and comes from a part of the Book of Daniel which is found in the Greek old Testament.
It is a wonderful blending of Heaven and Earth and all that is therein--Angels, men, priests, departed souls, all humanity, stars, seas, animals, birds, fish, the whole of animate and inanimate creation--unite in one tremendous Catholic outburst of worship of Him before Whom every knee shall bow, of things in Heaven and Earth and under the earth, and of whose glory every tongue shall confess.
We stand and say the Creed together--the Church's greatBattleCryand Confessionof Faith.
It is the custom for all to face the same way as the Creed is recited.
We face the same way, for we are all standing for the same cause--the Cause of the Cross--it is the Faith once delivered to the Saints for which we will live and, if need be, die.
If at any other point we are dumb, during the recitation of the Creed no one should be dumb. It is the great Battle Cry in which every soldier of Christ must take his share; it is like waving a flag of defiance at the enemy.
The Creed should be said slowly and deliberately.
When the sign of the Cross is made at the end, it is for two reasons:
(i) The Cross is our Banner, and we unfurl it at the end of the Creed to show we mean business. It is the "Sign of the Son of Man." Satan can transform himself into an Angel of Light--but he cannot make the Sign of the Cross or show the marks of the Passion. 1 do not think we should regard the question of signing ourselves with the Holy Sign so much from the point of view as to whether it is "helpful" to ourselves--if not helpful at first, it may become so with use; but the great object of the Holy Sign is its witness and challenge, and (best of all) the encouragement it gives to our fellow-Christians around us.
In his "Lives of the Saints," Mr. Baring-Gould tells us that the usual occasions for signing ourselves with the Holy Cross are: "When we rise in the morning; when we enter or leave a church; the beginning and end of our devotions, whether public or private; when the Gospel of the Day is proclaimed; at the end of the Church's Creeds; when the priest blesses us in church; before and after meals; when we hear the clock strike; when we retire to rest at night."
Lo, I sign the Cross of Jesus
Meekly on my breast;
May it guard my heart, when living,
Dying be its rest.
If we make it reverently and thoughtfully, each use of the Sign of the Cross is in itself a prayer.
(2) The second reason for its use at the end of the Creed is that our last confession of faith is in "The Life Everlasting." Only through the Cross is there any hope of the Life Everlasting.
That is why very often there is a Cross or Calvary over the screen at the chancel steps. As (in type) at that point in the building the Church Militant (the nave) is divided from the Church at Rest (the chancel), the Cross overshadows to remind us only thus can we pass to "the glory of Christ's Resurrection" and the life everlasting. That and the use of the Holy Sign at this point in the service are the collect of March 25th (Lady Day) in action.
The Salutation "the Lord be with you," etc., reminds us that Divine worship is not a solo; priest and people are co-operating together in the salutation of the Majesty of God. "The Lord be with you" is a sort of lesser "Kiss of Peace."
Then follows the Lesser Litany, or threefold Kyrie--each Kyrie is addressed to a separate person of the Holy Trinity. The first "Lord" is an address to the Father and the last "Lord" an address to the Holy Spirit.
Think of that as you say it--and then, as before, we can and should pray much into each petition of the Lord's Prayer.
THE VERSICLES.--"O Lord, save the King" is a short National Anthem--it recalls us to political thoughts, and we find ourselves taking into our prayer (which means taking into the Heart of Jesus) the Royal Family and our politicians. It is a brief parliamentary prayer, and. can mean so much if we will breathe into it all that we might.
"Endue Thy Ministers with righteousness" is a prayer for the clergy. You will think of your own clergy and those especially for whom you ought to pray. How it will help the clergy if you really pray that; but if thoughts are wandering, the time will have passed and nothing be done for them.
It has been said that the Church gets the clergy it deserves.
Leaving out the question of the quality of the clergy, if we regard their fewness in number at home as well as on the mission field, it would urgently appear that there was need for every individual member of the Church to devote more time and energy in lifting up holy hands on behalf of those who serve them in holy things.
"Make Thy chosen people joyful" is just about as necessary a prayer in these days as any that could possibly be imagined. Why do religious people go about looking as if they thought themselves everlasting worms and hopeless sinners who would never become saints?
Our vocation and destiny is saintliness and happiness--not sin and gloom. So many otherwise good and holy people destroy the good that is in them, hurt their own souls, and fail to commend their religion to others because they are holy in that unhappy, joyless and oppressive sense of which Faber speaks when he
The holy are so wearisome,
Their very virtues tire.
Christian virtues would breed more joy were this petition prayed more energetically.
" Give peace in our time, O Lord." Here we can pray for the peace and unity of the Church --the peace of the world--industrial peace and justice--peace in our hearts and homes--and peace for the faithful dead.
How very needful are all these intercessions! A reunited Christendom would be the herald of a converted world. Greater unity within the Church of England would be a certain step towards the reunion of Christendom. Home reunion (i.e., the return of Nonconformists to their spiritual mother the Church) would so revitalise the ranks of the Church, as to enable her to become a mighty force instead of a body hampered by many unhealthy, paralysed, and undeveloped limbs.
To narrow the circle and come down to personal and domestic needs. Unhappy homes and broken hearts are legion for need of one "Peace be still" from Christ. We can help to liberate that word of peace in this petition.
There is no need to enlarge further on how much can be weaved into "Give peace in our time." Three of these petitions that we have touched upon cover three important clauses in the Church Militant Prayer--the King, the "Bishops and Curates," unity and godly love among Christians. They are summed up in four lines of an Ancient and Modern hymn to the Holy Spirit:
Rule on earth the powers that be,
Give us priests inspired of Thee:
Through Thy Holy Church increase
Purest unity and peace.
There is now nothing left of the Office except the three Collects. The first is the "Proper" Collect--that is, the Collect proper of the day--and has to be borrowed from the Eucharist, for the Office has no "Proper" Collect of its own.
This shows at a glance how dependent Mattins and Evensong are meant to be upon the Eucharist--they are the moon and stars of each day, which draw their light from the sun of our Lord's own service, the Church's central act of worship.
In one sense they have no independent existence of their own--but just as a preparation service must look forward to something and a thanksgiving service must look back on something--and that something be in each case greater than itself--so do the Offices look towards their Sun, the Holy Eucharist.
Binding as their daily recitation is upon all clergy--precious as they are to all devout laity--their value is greatly reduced and their hidden meaning largely obscured once they are dissociated from the Altar Liturgy, for they are inseparably linked on to that which alone can rightly claim the title of the Lord's service--the Church's service--the people's service.
We must be careful to keep things in their right proportion--the daily recitation of Mattins or Evensong, or both, by all Churchpeople at home, if they cannot get to church, would be invaluable to their own spiritual life and the life of the whole Church. But when either Office is made the soul's chief act of worship and approach to God on the Lord's Day, it is placed in a false position and usurps a throne that belongs to another Offering. The Office may be compared to the singing of the National Anthem--a right, proper, and loyal thing to do.
The Eucharist is meeting the King face to face.
Who would be so foolish as to try to say that singing the King's praises is on the same level as, or may be substituted for, entering the King's Presence Chamber and pouring out homage and devotion at His very feet?
Thus our answer to the challenge as to the reality of our services is that each person who comes to church makes them real or unreal for himself.
If there is energy, attention, wrestling in prayer, they are real; "the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force." If there is lack of preparation, listlessness, conventionality, they are unreal.
It is exactly the same with acts of ritual, such as the Sign of the Cross, bowing to the altar, genuflecting before the Presence of our Lord in the Holy Sacrament, etc. They can be real or unreal. People who dislike ritual in church often sneer at such acts and call them "forms and ceremonies," but they are only forms and ceremonies to those who make them so--that is, to those who do what has no meaning or do not mean what they do.
A man may take off his hat to a lady, or shake hands with his friend, in a formal, lifeless manner, or in a heartfelt, genuine way.
So, while ritual in church must always be formal in one sense, in that it is an expression of good manners and suitable behaviour on the part of all in attendance at the Court of the King of kings--yet it need not be "in the letter" only, but also in the spirit--an outward visible sign of inward spiritual devotion, love, and loyalty. Likewise all our services can be formal, conventional, mere lip worship ("This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me "), or they can be real worship of the Most High God, genuine devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ, earnest supplication with the Eternal Spirit, definite co-operation in the advancement of the Kingdom, widespread intercession for all sorts and kinds of people and objects, something accomplished in union with God--or else just a going to church and home again, no preparation or penitence or praise or letters from Heaven or petition or thanksgiving or labour with God.