AFter the Psalms follow two LESSONS; one out of the Old Testament, another out of the New. This was the ancient custome of all the Churches in Egypt, Cassian. l. 2. cap. 4. who sayes it was not taught by men, but from heaven by the ministery of Angels. This choice may be, to shew the harmony of them: for what is the Law but the Gospel foreshewed: what other the Gospel, but the Law fulfilled? That which lies in the Old Testament, as under a shadow, is in the New, brought out into the open Sun: things there prefigured are here perform'd. Thus as the two Seraphims cry one to another, Holy, holy, holy, Esay 6. 3. So the two Testaments Old and New, faithfully agreeing, convince the sacred truth of God. First, one out of the Old Testament, then another out of the New, observing the method of the holy Spirit, who first published the Old, then the New; first the precepts of the Law, then of the Gospel. Which method of their reading either purposely did tend, or at the least wise doth fitly serve, that from smaller things the mind of the hearers may go forward to the knowledge of greater; and by degres climb up from the lowest to the highest things, sayes incomparable Hooker.
A wise constitution of the Church it is, thus to mingle Services of several sorts, to keep us from wearisomness. For whereas devout Prayer is joyned with a vehement intention of the inferior powers of the soul, which cannot therein continue long without pain, therefore holy Church interposes still somewhat for the higher part of the mind, the understanding, to work upon, that both being kept in continual exercise with variety, neither might feel any weariness, and yet each be a spur to other. For Prayer kindles our desire to behold God by speculation; and the mind delighted with that speculation, takes every where new inflammations to pray; the riches of the mysteries of heavenly wisdom continually stirring up in us correspondent desires to them; so that he which prayes in due sort, is thereby made the more attentive to hear, and he which hears, the more earnest to pray.
The Minister that reads the Lessons standing & turning himself so as he may be best heard of all such as are present. Rubr. 2. before Te Deum. Turning himself so as he may best be heard of all, that is, turning towards the people, whereby it appears that immediately before the Lessons he lookt another way from the people, because here he is directed to turn towards them. This was the ancient custom of the Church of England, that the Priest who did officiate, in all those parts of the Service which were directed to the people, turn'd himself towards them, as in the Absolution. See the Rubr. before Absol. at the Communion. Then shall the Priest of Bishop if present, stand and turning himself to the people say, &c. So in the Benediction, reading of the Lessons, and holy Commandments: but in those parts of the office which were directed to God immediately, as Prayers, Hymns, Lauds, Confessions of Faith, or Sins, he turn'd from the people; and for that purpose in many Parish-Churches of late, the Reading-Pew had one Desk for the Bible, looking towards the people to the Body of the Church, another for the Prayer-Book looking towards the East or upper end of the Chancel. And very reasonable was this usage; for when the people were spoken to, it was fit to look towards them; but when God was spoken to, it was fit to turn from the people. And besides, if there be any part of the World more honourable, in the esteem of Men, than another, it is fit to look that way when we pray to God in publick, that the turning of our bodies towards a more honourable place, may mind us of the great honour and majesty of the person we speak to.
And this reason S. Augustine gives of the Churches ancient custom of turning to the East in their publick prayers, because the East is the most honourable part of the World, being the Region of Light, whence the glorious Sun arises,
Aug. l. 2. de. Ser. Dom. in Monte c. 5. That this was the constant practice of the Church to turn toward the East in her publick prayers may sufficiently appear by S. Augustin in the place last cited, where he sayes, Cum ad orationes stamus, ad Orientem Convertimur; When we stand at our prayers, we turn towards the East. And by Epiphan. l. 1. haer. 19. c. 19. who there detests the madness of the Impostor Elzaeus, because that amongst other things he forbad praying toward the East. And the Church of England, who professes to conform to the ancient practices, as far as conveniently she can, as may be seen in many passages of her Canons and other places, did observe the same custom in her prayers, as appears by the placing of the Desk for the Prayer-book above mentioned, looking that way, and as may be collected from this Rubrick, which directs the Priest in the reading of the Lessons to turn to the people, which supposes him, at prayer and the Psalms to look quite another way, namely, as in reason may be concluded, that way which the Catholick Church uses to do for divers reasons: and amongst other, for that which S. Augustine hath given, because That was the most worthy part of the World, and therefore most fit to be lookt to when we come to worship God in the Beauty of Holiness. Again, another reason may be given of turning from the people towards the upper end of the Chancel in our Prayers, because it is fit in our prayers to look towards that part of the Church or Chancel, which is the highest and chief, and where God affords his most gracious and mysterious presence, and that is the holy Table and Altar, which anciently was placed towards the upper or East end of the Chancel. This is the highest part of the Chancel, set apart to the highest of Religious Services, the consecration and distribution of the holy Eucharist, here is exhibited the most gracious and mysterious presence of God that in this life we are capable of, the presence of his most holy Body and Blood. And therefore the Altar was usually call'd the Tabernacle of Gods Glory, His Chair of State, the Throne of God, the Type of Heaven, Heaven it self. As therefore the Jews in their Prayers lookt towards the principal part of the Temple, the Mercy-Seat, Psal. 28. 2. So the Christians in their prayers turned towards the principal part of the Church, the Altar, of which the Mercy-Seat is but a type. And as our Lord hath taught us in his Prayer, to look up towards Heaven when we pray, saying, Our Father which art in Heaven; not as if God were there confin'd, for he is every where, in Earth as well as in Heaven, but because Heaven is his Throne, whereas Earth is but his Foot-stool; so holy Church by her practice teaches us in our publick and solemn prayers to turn and look, not towards the inferior and lower parts of the Footstool, but towards that part of the Church which most nearly resembles Heaven, the holy Table or Altar. Correspondent to this practice, was the manner of the Jews of old, for at the reading of the Law and other Scriptures, he that did Minister, turned his face to the people, but he who read the prayers, turned his back to the people, and his face to the Ark. Mr. THORNDYKE of Relig. Assem. pag. 231.
For the choice of these Lessons and their Order, holy Church observes a several course.
For the Ordinary Morning and Evening prayers the observes only this: to begin at the beginning of the year with Genesis for the first Lesson, and S. Matthew for the Second in the Morning: and Genesis again for the First, and S. Paul to the Romans for the Second Lesson at Even, and so continues on till the Books be read over, but yet leaving out some Chapters, either such as have been read already, upon which account she omits the Chronicles, being for the most part the same with the book of Kings which hath been read already; and some particular Chapters in some other Books: having been the same for the most part read either in the same book or some other: or else such as are full of Genealogies, or some other matter, which holy Church counts less profitable for ordinary hearers, Only in this she alters the order of the books, not reading the prophet Esay, till all the rest of the books be done: Because the Prophet Esay being the most Evangelical Prophet, most plainly prophesying of Christ, is reserved to be read a little before ADVENT.
For Sundayes somewhat another course is observed; for then Genesis is begun to be read upon Septuagesima Sunday; because then begins the holy time of penance and mortification, to which Genesis is thought to suit best, because that treats of our misery by the fall of Adam, and of Gods severe judgment upon the world for sin: Then we read forward the books as they lye in order, yet not all the books, but only some choice Lessons out of them. And if any Sunday be, as they call it, a priviledged day; that is, if it hath the history of it expressed in Scripture, such as Easter, Whit sunday, &c. then there are peculiar and proper Lessons appointed for it.
For Saints dayes we observe another order: for upon them (except such of them as are especially recorded in Scripture, and have proper Lessons) the Church appoints Chapters out of the moral books, such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom, for first Lessons, being excellent instructions of life and conversation, and so fit to be read upon the daies of holy Saints, whose exemplary lives and deaths, are the cause of the Churches Solemn Commemoration of them, and Commendation of them to us. And though some of these books be not, in the strictest sense, Canonical, yet I see no reason, but that they may be read publickly in the Church, with profit and more safety, than Sermons can be ordinarily preacht there. For certainly Sermons are but humane Compositions, and many of them not so wholsome matter, as these which have been viewed and allowed by the judgment of the Church for many ages past to be Ecclesiastical and good, nearest to divine of any writings.
If it be thought dangerous to read them after the same manner and order that Canonical Scripture is read, lest perhaps by this means they should grow into the same credit with Canonical: It is answered, that many Churches have thought it no great hurt, if they should, but our Church hath sufficiently secured us against that danger whatsoever it be, by setting different marks upon them, styling the one Canonical, the other Apocryphal. As for the second Lessons, the Church in them goes on in her ordinary course.