Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.




It is difficult to realize that Lent is so near. Septuagesima awakens us to the fact, however. We must prepare ourselves for Lent. What plans shall we make?

The Prayer Book on page xxxii bears as its title “Tables and Rules.”

The word “table,” as it is used here, means a writing surface. On this particular writing surface there is a list of Fasts and Days of Abstinence. There is also a brief general rule or regulation which applies to the days of abstinence. The rule states that the Church requires “such a measure of abstinence as is more especially suited to extraordinary acts and exercises of devotion.”

I have sometimes heard critics of the Book of Common Prayer say that it is indefinite as regards discipline. That it is lacking in definite rules and regulations. I should have more confidence in the criticism if I had more confidence in the critics. I should have more confidence in the critics of the Prayer Book if they showed more evidence of consistent use of it. I have never known a person who made a serious effort to conform to the Prayer Book to complain of its having too little of disciplinary requirements. However that may be, I am not at present concerned with exceptions. My point just at the moment is that there is no valid reason for complaint of the lack of definite rules.

A parish priest who observes the rules of the Book of Common Prayer will say his Mass every day, because a Collect, Epistle and Gospel is provided for every day. He will say Morning and Evening Prayer every day, because the Prayer Book requires that it shall be said daily. This means that there are three public services appointed for daily observance throughout the year in every parish church.

The fulfilment of these obligations is a part of the parish priest's “ordinary acts and exercises of devotion.” His “extraordinary acts and exercises” are left to his discretion.

For the lay person daily attendance at Mass and Morning and Evening Prayer are not required as “ordinary acts and exercises of devotion.” It is the privilege of the lay person to make them so if it is so desired. If so, then attendance, except on days of obligation, is an “act and exercise of extraordinary devotion.”

This simplifies the matter of determining for priest and people what is ordinary and what is extraordinary devotion.

In Lent the priest must add to his “ordinary acts and exercises of devotion.”

In Lent the lay person must do likewise. The obvious addition will be more frequent attendance at daily Mass and daily Morning and Evening Prayer.

Simple observance of this plain rule will ensure an edifying Lent. It will edify or build up the spiritual life of the individual and of the parish. It will also protect the faithful and the parish from a hectic multiplication of additional services. There is not so much need of “additional Lent services,” as there is need of more frequent attendance at services required of the priest daily throughout the year.

This is the rule of devotion which is maintained here. It is a reasonable rule. It is a profitable rule:

A person who observes it will be richly rewarded. The more frequent attendance at daily Mass will lead to the discovery of the meaning of the Mass. That discovery will serve to carry one through days when all human comfort fails.

The discovery of the treasures of Morning and Evening Prayer will lead to the discovery of the patience and hope of the Scriptures, when patience is exhausted and hope seems deferred.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury