Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT, 1934.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Collect for today is a prayer for those who have been ordained to serve in the Sacred Ministry of the Church. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of this week are Ember Days, upon which we pray for those who are to be admitted into Holy Orders.
The Epistle for today gives us Saint Paul's teaching concerning the nature and the responsibility of the ministry received in Holy Orders. They who are ordained are to be accounted as the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. The word ‘minister' means ‘servant'. A servant has no authority of his own. The authority belongs to his master. The servant is a subordinate. A master may delegate a measure of authority to a servant. The servant is then held responsible for the due exercise of the delegated authority.
A steward is an administrator of that which belongs to another. The steward is therefore subject to a far more exacting responsibility than he would be if he were merely administering his own affairs. In the care of his own affairs he will do well to be prudent. But when he accepts the responsibility for administering the affairs of another, it is required of him that he be found faithful. This requirement is inexorable. No excuse may be made or accepted for unfaithfulness.
The responsibility for conferring and receiving Holy Orders is so grave that the Church devotes special days of abstinence and prayer, called Ember Days, at the Four Seasons, (the word "ember" is old English and means "period" or "course"—see Oxford Dictionary) being the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the First Sunday in Lent, the Feast of Pentecost, September 14 and December 13, for those who are to be admitted into Holy Orders. The Church prays for the Bishops and Pastors of the Universal Church, that they may lay hands suddenly on no man, but faithfully and wisely make choice of fit persons to serve in the Sacred- Ministry of the Church, and for those who are to be called to any office and administration in the same, that they may be replenished with the truth of God's holy doctrine, and endued with innocency of life, that they may faithfully serve before-God, to the glory of his great Name, and the benefit of his holy Church.
This letter is not addressed to those who are in or about to receive Holy Orders, therefore it is not further concerned with the office and responsibility of the priesthood. It is addressed to those who charitably assist at the prayers of the Church for Ordinands at Embertide, and in the Liturgy for "all Bishops and other Ministers", as also in the Daily Offices for "Our Bishops and other Clergy." The letter is addressed "to the Congregations committed to their charge."
The substance of the letter is this. Pray for your clergy. Pray hard. We need your prayers more than you know. We are more grateful for them than we can ever tell you. The greatest pastoral consolation for a priest is to be conscious of the strong, enclosing wall of his peoples' intercession.
I never can be sufficiently grateful for the prayers of my three parishes. They have protected me from the day of my Ordination through all the years.
What would we like to have you pray for? Chiefly that God will make us more selfless. That He will deliver us from self-consciousness. That He will save us from self-will. That He will grant us such self-effacement, that when we offer the Holy Sacrifice for you, when we absolve you, when we give you Holy Communion, when we bless you, you may see no man save Jesus only.
Affectionately in Our Lord,