Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
There is a very general custom of having what are described as “extra services” during Lent. They are necessary sometimes. But there is something much more necessary, and that is the cultivation of the habit of using the “regular services.” No one can grasp the meaning nor catch the spirit nor sense the joy of our religion who is not saturated with the devotion and carried along in the rhythm of Catholic worship. No parish church can be a centre of spiritual power unless the work of prayer has the first place and the right of way over every other activity.
Our guide in prayer is the Prayer Book. No better Lent rule for devotions could be made than one obligating attendance at the Prayer Book services as they are ordered to be used daily throughout the year. What are they?
Well, first of all the Prayer Book provides for a daily Mass. In the rubric concerning the use of Collects, Epistles and Gospels, on page 52, it is enjoined that “The Collect, Epistle, and Gospel, appointed for the Sunday, shall serve all the week after, where it is not in this Book otherwise ordered.”
The Prayer Book provides “the order for Daily Morning Prayer and Daily Evening Prayer.”
So we have daily Mass and the daily Offices, not only for Lent, but for the whole year. That is the daily duty of every priest, no matter what else he may have to do. And it is the normal devotional life in every normal parish.
It is not expected that the laity shall all be present daily. But each person should make a serious and sustained effort to attend at least one week day Mass, every week, throughout the year.
There is great edification to be gained by attendance at an occasional week day Office. One recites the Psalms and hears the Bible read. Sometimes this can be done with some degree of regularity, by appointing one week day at least, in each week throughout the year.
If any one will visualize or better still attend a parish church where the Book of Common Prayer is taken seriously, it will not be difficult to perceive the ordered, regular, solemn, and symmetrically beautiful devotional life of the Church.
Now it must be understood that the intention of this devotional life is to glorify God. That is the basic idea. The liturgical devotions of the Church are neither planned or offered to attract crowds. Therefore success is not measured by the number of attendants, but by the fidelity of rendition. When the Church sets out to convert unbelievers, she adopts the simple methods of mission preaching. When she does this, she adopts her methods and adapts her preachers to the special needs and limitations of the people whom she seeks to convert. The Church knows her world before she attacks it. Nothing could be more informal than her missionary technique. She can go anywhere. She can meet all men. She has preached her Gospel in every part of the world, in city slums, on Southern mountains, on Western prairies, in African jungles. She works and teaches in sane simplicity. But her method is always the same. She lifts up her Lord, that He may draw all men unto` Him. Mission preaching has its place in her scheme in Lent and out of Lent.
I am concerned in this letter with the devotional life of the Church I am concerned with it because I feel quite sure that there are many, many people throughout the land who have never discovered it. I feel quite sure that the most important work that can be done just at present, is the work of reviving the liturgical life of the Church. If every Bishop and every priest were to begin today to say his daily Mass and his daily Office, the effect upon the spiritual life of the Church would be electrical. We do not need extra services. We need to use the ones we have.
Affectionately in Our Lord,