TO THE DIOCESE OF NEW YORK
THE OBSERVANCE OF LENT
THE FORWARD MOVEMENT
THE RT. REV. WILLIAM THOMAS MANNING
Brethren of the Clergy and Men and Women of this Diocese:--
As Lent comes to us again with its gracious call and opportunity I want to offer a few simple suggestions to the clergy and people of our whole Diocese.
There is a wonderful power in united thought and in united prayer and if this Lent we can feel in our great Diocesan Family that we are thinking and praying and acting together this will bring great blessing to us.
We are asked at this time to think and pray and take part together in a Forward Movement, for the deepening and strengthening of the spiritual life of the Church.
The best beginning for the Forward Movement all over the Church will be a really well kept Lent and I suggest that we make this Lent the beginning of the Forward Movement in this Diocese.
What does the Church call upon us to do to make this a well kept Lent?
The Episcopal Church consciously and deliberately leaves large liberty to her children. She does not hedge us about with prescriptions and restrictions as to our lives and conduct. She holds up clearly before us the great principles of the Christian life and leaves us to apply them under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And so the Church does not give us minute rules for keeping Lent. It is to be a time of increased attention to the things of our religion, a time of withdrawal in some measure from worldly pleasures and interests so that we may have more time for the things of the spirit, a time for giving of our means more conscientiously to the work of the Church and for the help of those in need, it is to be a time of spiritual renewal, a time of repentance, confession of sin and real amendment, a time for such repression of our lower natures and such strengthening of our wills by voluntary acts of self discipline as shall give us increasing victory over evil. Under the heading "A Table of Fasts" our Prayer Book tells us that Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are to be observed as Fast Days, and that during the Forty Days of Lent, on the Ember Days, and on all the Fridays in the year with certain specified exceptions the Church requires of us "such a measure of abstinence as is more especially suited to extraordinary acts and exercises of devotion", but the manner in which this shall be carried out is left to the judgment and conscience of each individual.
The Church expects and trusts us so to use the Lenten Season that it will make our religion more real to us and a greater power in our lives.
The one great purpose of Lent is to bring us nearer to Jesus, to strengthen our faith in Him, to deepen our love for Him, to bring us nearer to Him in our daily lives, and so nearer to each other, and to all our fellow men. With this purpose stirring our minds and hearts and drawing us all nearer together I make the following suggestions.
First. Let us all, clergy and laity, try quite definitely this Lent to be more faithful, more simple, and more real in our own personal prayers each night and each morning. There is need of this, as we all know.
Even a brief time of real prayer will make the whole day a different one for us because it means that we begin the day with Jesus.
It will help us much if we will spend a few minutes in silence, in a quiet act of realization, each time before we begin our prayers.
Second. Let us all be more faithful than ever in taking our part in the public worship of the Church. We know that in so doing we are following in the way of Jesus. Our faithful, unfailing participation in public worship is more important in His sight, and is of more help to the life of His Church, than any money that we can give, or any work that we can do, and for our own spiritual life faithfulness in worship is indispensable.
If our worship is true we shall not fail to give of our means, our time, and our strength in the service of God and man.
Third. Let all of us this Lent, clergy and laity, examine ourselves more truly and face the things in our lives that are keeping us from Christ and with true repentance and confession, as the Prayer Book directs, seek God's forgiveness and His grace to make a new beginning. This awakening to new life, this real conversion to Christ, to which the Bible and the Prayer Book call us cannot take place without definite realization, and confession, and forgiveness of our sins and if, in the words of the Prayer Book, "there be any of you who cannot quiet his own conscience, but requireth further comfort or counsel" you have the right to go to your parish priest or "to some other Minister of God's Word" to make special confession of your sin and to receive the assurance of God's full forgiveness.
Your Prayer Book tells you, in words with which you are all familiar, that "Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . hath given power, and commandment, to his Ministers to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins".
Fourth. Let all of us this Lent think more of the grace and strength which Christ offers to us in the Sacraments of the Church, and let us be more careful, and more faithful, in coming to the great Sacrament of the Holy Communion. The Holy Communion is Our Lord's own specially appointed place of His meeting with us. Let us realize that this Holy Sacrament is our meeting place with Jesus, and so all over the Diocese let us come to it regularly, humbly, believingly, and thankfully. And before we come to our Communions let us be more careful to prepare ourselves in mind and heart, with thought and with prayer, so that when we come there to meet Our Lord we may receive the blessing which He Himself comes there to give us. There is nothing which our Prayer Book emphasizes more seriously than the necessity, for all of us, of earnest and careful preparation before coming to receive the Holy Communion. The Communion Office makes this unmistakably clear.
Fifth. I suggest that we shall all of us this Lent, more faithfully study and use our Bibles and our Prayer Books. These are our two great text books of Christian Faith and Life.
I am certain that one of our greatest needs in this Church today all of us, clergy as well as laity, is more truly to know and more faithfully to use our Bibles and our Prayer Books.
We read, perhaps, books about the Bible; how many of us can say that we faithfully read the Bible itself, studying it not only as the sacred record of past events but finding in it a direct and practical application to ourselves, our needs and problems at this time.
The Prayer Book, every word of it based on the Scriptures, is our hand book, the Church's own hand book, of doctrine, of worship, and of daily life.
How many of us know its contents as we should, and try to follow its spiritual guidance?
I suggest that all of us in this Diocese shall now read at least one of the following parts of the New Testament, the Four Gospels, or the Acts of the Apostles, or the Epistle to the Ephesians, and that if practicable during Lent we shall read all of these.
The four Gospels hold up before us the Lord Jesus Himself as He was in His life here on earth, and as He is now at the Right hand of God.
The longest of the Gospels is only about fifty pages, and the shortest is only thirty pages.
In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles we see, in the first days of its life, beginning its Divine work in this world, the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in which we claim our membership each time that we repeat our Creed. This book of the New Testament is about forty-nine pages in length.
The Epistle to the Ephesians gives us St. Paul's wonderful teaching as to the Holy Catholic Church of Christ and all that the Church of Christ should mean to us.
This Epistle is only six pages in length. And along with our reading of these parts of the New Testament I suggest that all of us this Lent shall read the Offices in our Prayer Book relating to the Sacraments.
In the Sacraments we feel the touch of Christ Himself. They are the pledges of His Presence still with us, and of His help still given to us.
I suggest therefore that we read the following Offices entire, rubrics included, so that we may know what our Church teaches on these great matters, for here we have not individual opinions but the message and teaching of the Church itself.
1. The Baptismal Office.
2. The Confirmation Office.
3. The Office for the Administration of the Holy Communion.
4. The Marriage Service.
5. The Office for the Ordering of Priests, and with this the very important Preface to the Ordinal.
All who read and study these parts of our Prayer Book will see why our Church holds so faithfully to her age long teaching in regard to Baptism, and Confirmation, and the Holy Communion, and Ordination to the Ministry.
In the Forward Movement that we now need, and are undertaking, the first step must be a movement back to the use of our Bibles and our Prayer Books.
A sincere, intelligent, and believing use of these two books by all of us will bring an awakening of interest, a deepening of conviction, a revival of faith and life which will arouse the whole Church, and at this time in which we are living we need this in every Diocese, in every Parish, and in every Home.
Every man and woman who will faithfully read his Bible, and faithfully follow the teachings of his Prayer Book, will come near to Jesus, and this is the soul of our religion as Christians.
It is this which will draw us all together and inspire us for the work to which we are called. It is this which will give us the true Missionary spirit. It is this which will awaken us to the responsibility resting upon us for the work and power and witness of the Church not only in our own Parish, or in our own Diocese, but among all men everywhere. No one can believe in Christ only for his own parish or for his own community. If we really believe in Christ we shall believe in Christ for the whole world.
Dear friends, clergy and laity, let us try, with God's help, to make this a well kept Lent in every Parish and Mission in our Diocese.
Walking in the holy and well tried ways of the Church whose children we are, thinking and praying and acting together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, let us try to have, this Lent, a Forward Movement which will bring us nearer to Jesus, which will stengthen our faith in Him and deepen our love for Him, which will bring us nearer to Him in our daily lives.
It is our faith in Jesus the Son of God, faith in Him not merely as a moral ideal but as a Living Person in Whom we trust and to Whom we pray--it is this which makes our religion a reality to us.
We hold to the great Institutions of Christian Faith and Life, the Scriptures, the Creed, the Sacraments, and the Apostolic Ministry not because they are ends in themselves, or have any power of their own, but because they are the Divinely given means to bring us to Christ. It is these Divinely given means of faith and life which the Prayer Book brings to us. Its whole purpose is to bring us to Our Lord.
If we will all of us now study, and try more faithfully to follow, the teachings of our Prayer Book we shall have a true Forward Movement, we shall have a Church awakened and stirred with new power, and with new desire, to do its work for God.