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The American Priest at Work
A Symposium of Papers

Edited by the Rev. Edward Macomb Duff, A.M.,
Rector of St. Thomas' Church, Buffalo, N.Y.

Milwakuee: The Young Churchman, 1900.
London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1900.

Chapter III. The Priest and the Prayer Book
By the Editor.

IN his reply to the Living Church Quarterly question, "Why am I a Churchman?" the Bishop of Massachusetts said, "Because her (the Church's) Prayer Book, saturated with the piety of the ages, is ever in the Churchman's hand to lift his thoughts and aspirations heavenward."

I see in these words a guiding principle suggested to us who are priests to he kept in mind in our public use of the Prayer Book. Let it be our aim in every office to make our congregations feel that they are verily and indeed in touch with the piety of the ages.

There is a personal element in the rendering of any Prayer-Book Office. True it is that our liturgy has far less of a personal element in it than have the extempore exercises of non-liturgical bodies. Our Church people in their public worship are protected against any idiosyncrasies on the part of their ministers far more than are their non-liturgical brethren. Nevertheless our priests and other ministers may render the services and read the Scripture-lessons in such a manner, or with such mannerisms, that very few in the congregation will feel that they have been brought into touch with "the piety of the ages."

In view of this possibility, let us consider:

(1) Our Personal Rendering of The Prayer-Book Offices.

In putting into practice the guiding principle enunciated a moment ago, we would, I take it, have to pay regard to the following details:

(a) ENUNCIATION; (b) SYMPATHETIC INTERPRETATION in (i) its Inward Spirit and (ii) its two-fold outward embodiment in Emphasis and Tone; and (c) the detail of TIME.


All that may be said under this head should go without saying. I would, indeed, say nothing were it not for the painful fact that in the course of many a service the "piety of the ages" has been mumbled and gabbled and fairly whistled away from me by ministrants whose enunciation in ordinary converse is most distinct. I feel, therefore, constrained to utter the trite counsel: Let us who minister sound every word clearly; let us avoid the habit of "vanishing" at the end of sentences; let us speak, not from the throat, or from the nose, but from the diaphragm; let us not be afraid of opening our mouths and giving the sound free egress.


(i) Its Inward Spirit.

Sympathetic Interpretation of the services proceeds from an inward grace, whereby the minister feels his own nothingness, and knows himself for the time being only as an instrument through which the thoughts and the aspirations of the worshipper's are rising heavenward.

The source of this grace is our personal realization of the New Birth. If this realization on our part is faint, it matters not how proficient we may be in the artistic canons of reading, our ministrations will degenerate into mere renderings. Our artistic proficiency will act rather as an irritant than as a help to devotion. If, however, we take as our starting point this inward spirit of sympathetic interpretation, we shall then do well to pay regard to the mechanics of Emphasis and Tone; for spiritual grace is most efficient when it is most efficiently embodied.

(ii) Emphasis.

My excuse for saying anything upon this matter is the same practically as that which called forth those trite counsels under the head of Enunciation. There is, I think, but one rule to be formulated for correct emphasis, the exceedingly commonplace one: Emphasize the important words. How many priests there are, who ought to know better, that persist in emphasizing only the last words of phrases, clauses and sentences! Unless we knew these priests personally to be consecrated men, we might well believe that they were thoroughly out of sympathy with the services of the Prayer Book.

(iii) Tone.

There is, first of all, the so-called "Holy Tone," the unnatural, unearthly monotone, doubtless familiar to most of the readers of this article. Those who employ it in the services possibly feel that its use conduces to greater reverence and devotion; that it tends to remove the service from the sphere of the "earthy," and exalt it to the sphere of the heavenly.

To my mind this tone paralyzes the devotions of the average American congregation. If the service is to be choral, well and good. If it is to be oral, let it be genuinely and thoroughly oral. The monotone is neither one nor the other.

Then there is the familiar, conversational tone; which, merely to name, is repulsive. Thanks be to God, this tone is seldom employed by our clergy.

Then there is the dramatic tone. If the familiar tone is repulsively vulgar, the dramatic tone is grossly impertinent, exalting as it does the personality of the reader above the service, as though the latter were his own composition.

What, then, is the fitting tone? I venture to indicate it, rather than to define it, as that tone which expresses the sympathy of the reader with the spirit of the service, and expresses it in a thoroughly human, yet thoroughly reverent and self-effacing manner.

(c) TIME.

The offices may be read too rapidly or too slowly for edification. I have heard readers who reminded me of the paddle wheels of a great steamer speeding along the Hudson. They would rush along through several sentences, and then pause for breath enough for another revolution. I have also heard readers of the "limited express" type. They had a faculty of maintaining a continuous breathless speed from the opening to the Amen.

On the other hand, I have heard readers whose utterance was so deliberate that I found my own thoughts getting ahead of their uttered words. Indeed, those who are thoroughly familiar with the Prayer-Book Offices, knowing as they do what is coming, will inevitably think the words in advance of the over-deliberate reader. The result is a spiritual confusion almost as aggravated as that which is produced by the too-rapid reader.

The matter of Time, I think, should in a measure be regulated by the training of the congregation. A missionary congregation, comparatively new to the Church and her ways, requires a more deliberate rendition of the services than does one thoroughly trained in the Church.

So much for our personal rendering of the Prayer-Book Offices. Fortunate is the priest who has relatives or intimate friends who will criticize his shortcomings as a reader, and whose criticisms he will receive with meekness.

In order to bring our congregations into touch with the piety of the ages through our public use of the Prayer Book, we shall find, I think, that next to our personal rendering of the offices as a factor comes

(2) Our Schedule of Sunday Services.

What schedule is the best? The answer here is, of course, my own answer, and it is submitted for what it may be worth in the reader's judgment.

I would say, first of all, let us not fail to give our people a weekly celebration of the Holy Communion; assuming, of course, that we are in charge of but one congregation.

It is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact, that in the Apostolic and the Post-Apostolic Church the Eucharist was celebrated every Lord's Day; and this practice continued down to the Reformation. To the Church of St. Paul, or of Justin Martyr, the Lord's Day with the Eucharist left out would have been no Lord's Day at all. Does the modern American congregation need that Holy Food less than did the apostles and martyrs? To my mind the only valid reason for the omission of the Eucharist on Sunday is the priest's honest conviction that both he and his flock have risen above its need.

At what hour shall the weekly Sunday Eucharist be celebrated? Shall it be an early-morning celebration only, or shall it be celebrated also at the hour of the main morning service, separated from morning prayer, after the manner commonly known as "The High Celebration"?

I would say that to my mind the "High Celebration" as the main morning service of Sunday, is inadvisable. I waive all argument upon its possible encouragement of non-communicating attendance. To me, its inadvisability flows from the fact that it deprives the people of sufficient instruction in God's Word. When morning prayer is habitually relegated to a side place, the people hear but a few fragments of Holy Scripture, to-wit: the appointed Epistle and Gospel. It is a sad, but I believe, an indisputable fact that a large number of our people never read the Bible at home. Their knowledge of its contents is limited to what they hear read in Church. Many of these people attend but one service a Sunday, and that the later morning service. If this service be the "High Celebration," these people are all but entirely shut off from the Words of Eternal Life.

What shall we say respecting the weekly combination of the Holy Communion with morning prayer at the 10:30 or 11-o'clock hour? To me this also seems inadvisable on account of its extreme lengthiness. But what if the non-communicants retire after the prayer for the Church Militant? To my mind this also gives too lengthy a service for the edification of an average American congregation. Both Rome and Protestant Denominationalism, I am persuaded, show wisdom in offering to their people a morning service of an hour and a quarter's duration. The combination we are now considering would, with the music and the twenty-minute sermon, occupy an hour and three-quarters. In addition to this, it makes the Holy Communion difficult of access to a large number of people, mainly housekeepers, who have to do their own work and are compelled to return home shortly after the noon hour. [With all due deference to Archdeacon Webber, to whom I would gladly listen for thrice twenty minutes, I believe I voice the opinion of the great majority of clergy and laity in affirming that for the average priest twenty minutes is the most felicitous time limit for Sunday preaching. (See, however, Paper No. II, p. 8.) But if the Archdeacon be right, my present argument is strengthened.--Ed.]

I would then (and I do) celebrate the Holy Communion every Lord's Day; but I would celebrate it on all Sundays, except the first in the month, at an early hour. On the first Sunday in the month I would celebrate it at the later morning hour, disjoined from morning prayer. Thus you have a service lasting not more than an hour and a half, except on the greater festival Sundays. You have a service which affords to those who feel compelled to return home shortly after the noon hour, an opportunity of communicating. Try this service, and I feel sure you will find, as I have found, that the number of those who communicate infrequently or not at all during the year, will be materially decreased.

In this connection I would say that my own custom at this monthly later hour Eucharist is to invite all to remain to the end of the service for prayer and devout meditation; but if any feel constrained to retire, I advise them that opportunity will be given them for so doing when the first rail-full of communicants are approaching the altar. Thus that dreadful and unseemly break following the prayer for the Church Militant is avoided-- that break which inspired Bishop Coxe to write his "Soul Dirge"--and the whole congregation is enabled to participate in that highest sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving known to the Christian Church.

What, now, is the best service for the later morning hour on the other three or four Sundays in the month?

To my mind it is either morning prayer, Litany and sermon, or else morning prayer, "ante-Communion" and sermon, the summary of the law being used in the "ante-Communion" without the Decalogue, the latter having been read at the early celebration. Either of these, with a twenty-minute sermon, makes up a service of about an hour and a quarter's duration, to my thinking the most, expedient length for an average later Sunday-morning service.

On very hot summer Sundays I have often had simply morning prayer and sermon.

As for the Evening Office, I believe that its nature should be adjusted to the congregation. Sometimes I have found it expedient to say the "Grace" after the "Collect for Light," and sometimes to read some or all of the intermediate prayers. What or how much to have, within rubrical permission, will depend, I think, upon the nature of the later morning service on the same day. I may add that I have found it profitable occasionally--perhaps once a month--to have the Evening Office choral or semi-choral; also in the summer season to substitute a five-minute address for the sermon.

If the Sunday-school session is held in the afternoon, I think it is well, if possible, to bring the children to. the church and let them participate in choral evensong, substituting catechizing for the sermon. This, however, is expedient, in my opinion, only in certain parishes, to-wit: in parishes whose people would turn out and attend such a service in as large numbers as they would attend a Sunday-night service.

To sum up, I would recommend the following Sunday schedule as the best for an average American congregation:

(a) On the three or four Sundays of each month: Early celebration of Holy Communion, morning prayer, Litany and sermon, or morning prayer, "ante-Communion" (without Decalogue) and sermon; evening prayer and sermon.

(b) On the first Sunday in the month: Morning prayer without music, Holy Communion with music and sermon, evening prayer with music and sermon. [In order not to be misunderstood, I would say that under (a) it is assumed that the Holy Communion is oral, and that the other two services include music.]

A third factor by which our congregations are brought into touch with the piety of the ages through the Prayer Book is

(3) Ritual.

This, I know, is a matter of controversy. I am one of those who hold that Ritual is almost altogether a matter of taste. There is, however, one element in Ritual which I hold to be no matter of taste, but a matter of principle, and that is Reverence. Now, I believe that both a plain Ritual and an elaborate one may express the highest reverence. On the other hand, both may be used irreverently. A plain ritual conducted in a slouchy, slovenly manner, and an elaborate one conducted perfunctorily, and if I may so express it, professionally, are both irreverent. I am at a loss to understand how either plainness or ornateness can be rationally or morally elevated into a matter of principle. X may prefer plainness, Y elaborateness, and Z ornate plainness or plain ornateness; but what moral right has either X, Y, or Z to try forcing his preference upon any congregation which is tenacious of something else?

In the name of the Prince of Peace, I plead with those of my fellow-priests who may chance to read this article to exercise tolerance in ritual. If you deliberately accept a call to a parish whose people have learned to be edified by a plain ritual and who are tenacious of it, you may, if you choose, try to persuade them rationally that your own preferences are better. If, however, your persuasion fails to convince them, stop; lest contention over the mint, the anise, and the cummin obscure the weightier matters of the perfect law of liberty.

Again, if you accept a call to a parish in which, for example, you find that the people have been accustomed to Eucharistic lights, do not interfere with them, however distasteful they may be to you. Their symbolism helps the people's thoughts and aspirations to rise heavenward. That ought to be sufficient justification for their retention, or, for that matter, the retention of any ritual or ornamentation which stimulates their devotion, and which is not contrary to rubrics or Canon law.

One more point, and I am done, though the subject is by no means done.

(4) The Priest's Loyalty to the Prayer Book.

By loyalty to the Prayer Book I mean something more than obedience to its rubrics. I mean an unequivocal acceptance of the teachings embodied in its offices. No priest can be loyal to the Prayer Book who doubts "whether the doctrinal portions of its offices are true interpretations of "the Faith once delivered." For a priest so situated to continue his active priesthood, injury is worked both to himself and to the flock to which he ministers.

Injury is worked to himself because his position is dishonest, even though he deliberately refrains from expressing his doubts in his sermons and instructions.

Injury is worked to his flock, grievous injury, if they are inflicted with sermons and instructions calculated to stultify the Prayer Book's teachings; and it is difficult to see how their thoughts and aspirations can be lifted heavenward by the offices themselves when their leader's heart is out of sympathy with many of the things contained in those offices. Consequently their worship will become cold and perfunctory.

Though conscious that perhaps for many things said and for many things left unsaid in this brief discussion I have laid myself open to criticism, I do feel confident that there is one point which lies removed from debate, namely, the guiding principle enunciated at the beginning: Let it be our aim in every office to make our congregations feel that they are in touch with the piety of the ages.

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