When asked, “What do Episcopalians believe?”, the best answer is to point people to two books: the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.
In the 1979 BCP, we have a Catechism which poses and answers many questions about what we believe. It is a good place for anyone to start, and so we endeavored over the course of a year together in the life of Trinity to consider the Catechism together.
Over that year, an expanded Catechism was compiled with additional resources, most especially Scriptural references. It is far from complete, and is merely a first draft of such a project, but we offer it here just the same.
From time to time, there is some piece of information or instruction regarding the who, what, when, where, or why of our common life together especially in our worship. This is a place to catch up on some of those topics.
Jump to topic:
Advent: Wreaths, Candles, and Colors
During Advent, we use a wreath to mark the passage of time as we look for the coming of the Messiah. That coming is two-fold: past and future, the Incarnation and the Judgment. While we prepare to remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, we prepare our hearts to greet him as Lord and Savior when at last he returns.
Each week in this season we will light a new candle.
- The first candle lit is often referred to as the Prophecy Candle or the Candle of Hope. By its light we remember that God is faithful to his promises. Just as the birth of Jesus was foretold by the prophets of old, we wait in hope for his promised return.
- The second candle lit is sometimes called the Bethlehem Candle referring to the love of God. As we prepare to gather around a lowly manger we see the grandeur of his love in his willing humility to come among us while we were yet sinners in need of repentance.
- On the third candle, the Shepherd’s Candle, we remember their joy upon receiving news of the Messiah’s birth. The Gospel of Immanuel, God with us, is good news not only to the shepherds but to all mankind and for which we all may rejoice.
- The fourth candle is symbolic of Peace. It is also known as the Angel’s Candle. By its light we remember the message of the angels to the shepherds in the field that night so long ago. The message to them is the same message that comes to us now and always: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”
During Advent, we use blue and purple as our primary colors. In the use of blue (our vestments and various hangings) we find echoes of royalty as we prepare for both the arrival and the return of the king. In the use of purple (our wreath candles) we hear the call to repent from “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.”
Twice a year we utilize the rather unique color of rose in our liturgical life. Here and again in Lent we are refreshed in our journey of penitence and preparation as the deeper colors of purple are tinted with anticipation of the symbolic white of celebration towards which we strive. In the words of the ancient Latin introit to this Gaudete Sunday, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.”
In addition to our candle wreath, we also green the church. By the use of evergreens in the midst of the cold and darkness of winter, we are reminded of the light and life of Christ which is ever present in us and in the world around. He is alive, and by him so are we. Plus, it’s just beautiful, and God appreciates beauty even more than we do.
Christmas: Twelve Days and Another Candle
The Christmas season which begins at the Nativity runs for the 12 days after Christmas. The well-known song “The 12 Days of Christmas” was at one time a catechetical or instructional song enumerating the many ways in which our true love, God, has displayed his love for us particularly in the partridge in a pear tree, Jesus Christ.
In addition to the candles lit in the course of Advent, we add what is commonly called the Christ candle to the center of the wreath. In some places, such as Trinity, the Christ candle is none other than the Paschal Candle. The use of this particular candle ties together our celebration of the Incarnation at Christmas with the Resurrection at Easter. It is a visual and symbolic reminder of the baptismal mystery in which we partake as members of the church. This continuity between the seasons and celebrations reminds us that the whole of our life is tied from beginning to end to Christ, from his Nativity to his Resurrection and Return.
We bring our Christmas observance to a close on the Epiphany when we celebrate the arrival of the wise men from the east. Their presence is a revelation to all that the Messiah born in Bethlehem is not a savior for the Jews only but for the whole world.
The Baptism of Our Lord
There are various times throughout the year in which we renew our baptismal vows. We remind ourselves of the promises made at baptism (either by ourselves or by our sponsors), and renew our commitment to live into them by the grace of the Holy Spirit at work in us. By the sacrament of Baptism, we participate in two of the great aspects of the life of faith: the victory and the church of Jesus Christ.
From the Catechism, Book of Common Prayer p. 850 & 854 (emphasis Fr. Ben)
Q. How can we share in Christ’s victory over sin, suffering, and death?
A. We share in his victory when we are BAPTIZED into the New Covenant and become living members of Christ.
Q. How is the Church described in the Bible?
A. The Church is described as the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head and of which all BAPTIZED persons are members. It is called the People of God, the New Israel, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, and the pillar and ground of truth
Marriage (The Wedding at Cana)
From the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage, Book of Common Prayer p. 423
“The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people. “
From the Catechism, Book of Common Prayer p. 850 & 854
Q. What is Holy Matrimony?
A. Holy Matrimony is Christian marriage, in which the woman and man enter into a life-long union, make their vows before God and the Church, and receive the grace and blessing of God to help them fulfill their vows.
The Sign of the Cross
Making the sign of the cross is a tangible way to mark ourselves as Christ’s. Signing oneself with the cross is an act of sanctification, which means “setting apart.” Our souls, our bodies, and our lives are set apart for Christ, under and in his cross. The act of making the sign of the cross is a prayer in itself. It is often accompanied by a prayer aloud, or in one’s own mind and heart. Because the sign of the cross has been so associated with the Trinitarian formula, when we sign ourselves, we are also marking ourselves as orthodox Christians who worship and love the Triune God. When marking the cross upon our children, we are tangibly setting them under Christ’s cross. When signing our food, or our house, or another object, we are setting that apart as holy in Christ and giving thanks to God.
Put together the thumb and first two fingers of your right hand to remind you of the blessed Trinity– the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. With them trace the post of the cross from your forehead to your belt buckle; then trace the arms of the cross from your left shoulder to your right, and then to your heart, like this, as if looking in a mirror:
There is no requirement that anyone make the sign of the cross. The old Anglican formulary is appropriate here: all may, some should, none must. That being said, we find it in any number of places both in the context of our liturgy and out in our daily lives.
In our regular worship, the sign of the cross is often used at the opening. Other times might include the absolution, blessing, and at communion. Less frequently it is seen at the conclusion of the Gloria, at the mention of the departed in our prayers, and the hope of the resurrection in the creeds. Another somewhat unique form may be found at the Gospel proclamation when, instead of one large cross, three smaller crosses may be traced on the forehead, lips, and over the heart. Other liturgical uses may be found throughout the year, not the least of which we saw this week in the imposition of ashes.
In our daily lives, the sign of the cross can mark the beginning and end of the day as we wake in the morning or before we sleep at night. Many like to use the sign as the pray over their meals or in other prayers, especially those noted for the Trinitarian formula (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Finally, many use it when blessing their children or in praying with them at times such as bedtime.
Singing hymns is an ancient part of liturgy, predating the church as the Hebrew people sang the Psalms. Many if not most of the hymns we sing are ancient in tune or lyric or both. They, like so many of our prayers, have been transmitted from one generation to another with good reason. They may extol a portion of the biblical story using Scripture as the text or subject, or they may submit through prose or poetry some prayer or praise appropriate to the occasion. They are an integral part of the liturgy and the corporate worship of the faithful gathered together.
“Yes, but I don’t or can’t sing.” A popular objection to which I suggest a couple of options. The first and best option is to sing anyway. No one expects Pavarotti, but we are asked to offer all that we are and all that we have, regardless of one’s talent or preferences. Our worship is truly not about us. But if that does not sway you, there is still a better option than leaving the hymnal closed: open it up and pray the text of the music. In this way we continue to link ourselves one to another in the corporate act of worship as we experience ancient prayer and praise made present by, with, and in us.
Choosing to absent ourselves from hymns is to separate ourselves, if even for a moment, from the worship which the church offers as one body. Wisely did St. Augustine observe, “He who sings prays twice.” If indeed hymns are sung prayers, then let us sing out with our heart, mind, and voice (even if we can’t carry a tune in a bucket).
As Christians we are called to be people of charity. Historically, Lent was a season in which we are invited to focus on the giving of alms, money or goods donated to the poor as well as intentional acts of charity. In the simple act of giving, we bear witness to the love of Christ within us and we minister that same love to the world around us, particularly those most in need of it. The sacrificial giving of Christians to others without regard for what may be done in return provides a glimpse of the abundance of God’s grace, mercy, and love as seen in the sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ on the Cross. As he gave of himself for us, so too ought we to give of ourselves.
Episcopal Visitation and the Local Church
Bishops are required to make regular visits to the congregations under their charge. Why? Well despite the titles which clergy in charge of congregations may have (rector, priest in charge, etc.) they are all essentially vicars, vicarious representatives in the local church. Representatives of whom? The bishop.
The bishop is chief pastor and priest not only of the diocese as a whole but of each individual congregation. Thus the bishop is the true rector of each church in the diocese, and as the rector of Trinity, Mt. Vernon, Bishop Martins comes to check in on our life together and, more importantly, to participate in it directly. His charge is to ensure that that we, and every congregation, continue in the life of the faith once delivered, devoting ourselves like the early church to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). And so we welcome the bishop as our brother in Christ, our pastor and rector, and as our bishop!
Holy Week Preparations
“The rites of Holy Week are ancient and by nature different from the liturgical celebrations of the rest of the Church Year. They are meant to be different in order to focus the attention of the people on the mysteries being celebrated in this sacred time” (A Priest’s Handbook, p. 172).
As we prepare for this year’s celebration of Holy Week and with it the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, may we slow down. Let us walk the path with our Lord that having acknowledged and endured the pain and discomfort of his betrayal and death for our sake and because of our sins, we may enjoy the fullness of joy and life for his sake and because of his grace, mercy, and love. Take the time to enter the fullness of Holy Week, that we may fully embrace the good news of Easter, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What is a retreat?
During the Easter season, Fr. Ben took some time to go on a retreat, but what exactly is a retreat? Isn’t it just a vacation? In a way, yes and no. In the sense that a retreat is a step away from the usual business of our lives, it is very much like a vacation. But it is far more than just time off or away.
A retreat is time set aside specifically for spiritual refreshment and renewal. While we do not neglect the restoration of our physical and mental health on such occasions, the central focus is the spiritual life and the individual relationship with God. A retreat is then two fold: a retreat away from the work of business as usual, and a retreat to and with Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. In such times of retreat we may discover anew passions since forgotten. We may encounter a powerful word of discernment for our lives or for our ministry as individuals and the church. But most importantly, we will seek the face of God and his will for us. The question then is: when will you be taking your retreat?
What are Rogation Days?
The Rogation Days are the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before the Ascension of our LORD. In the fifth century, a bishop facing dreadful calamities appointed that special prayers, accompanied with fasting, should be offered up to God (Rogations being the Latin name given to these supplications). The observance soon became widespread, and the Church, in enjoining these days to be observed, is, not only to prepare to celebrate with proper devotion our Savior’s ascension; but also to repent and return to the Lord and to ask his blessing on the fruits of the earth.
In the 1979 Prayer Book, Rogation Days were diversified into three days with observances for fruitful seasons, for commerce and industry, and for stewardship of creation. Rogation days thus help to properly orient us. We acknowledge the mercy of God the creator, the author of life, and we remember that it is by his hand that our needs are satisfied. So we join in observing the upcoming Rogation Days by asking that we may be faithful in our stewardship, diligent in our commerce, and receive prosperous fruit in due season, not by our strength alone, but by the grace and mercy of God and his providence.
What is a novena?
A novena is a nine day period of prayer. Most often the novena has a specific intention orfocus on which the prayers focus. Novenas might be offered for a special feast or season, the church or some subset of it, thanksgivings, intercessions, etc. Either as a standalone devotion or an addition to daily prayers, the novena can be as simple as one prayer offered each of the nine days or a longer form including hymns, several prayers and collects, and other devotional aids.
So where does the novena come from? Before he ascended, Jesus instructed the apostles to return to Jerusalem and to wait on the Holy Spirit. Between the Ascension and Pentecost are nine days, and during those first nine days the faithful gathered in fervent prayer. Likewise, we may at times desire to offer our concerted prayers to the greater glory of almighty God and with special intention for his church.
Pentecost is, or at least was, commonly referred to as Whitsunday. Whereas the Christian celebration of Pentecost observes the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the expectant apostles, the name Whitsunday became associated with the day as well. While Red has become the normative color for most feasts associated with the Holy Spirit, including Pentecost, there is a long and venerable tradition which ascribes the color white to this day. In recognition of the many baptisms which occurred on this day and the white garments of the newly minted Christians, this White Sunday became synonymous with our Pentecostal observance. May we pray that in years to come our own celebrations may be marked by the joyous admittance of the newly baptized into the ranks of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be both God and Lord, So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another; But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
He therefore that will be saved is must think thus of the Trinity.
The Creed of Saint Athanasius, BCP p. 864 – 65.
We celebrate a national feast day as we observe Memorial Day. It is a day of remembrance, a day of reflection, and in truth it is a day for which the church is better prepared than any other entity to celebrate.
Each time we gather to worship in the mysteries of the Eucharist, we pray without fail for all those who have gone before us. By these prayers we do not merely acknowledge their lives and remember who they were, but rather we celebrate who they are and in whose image they are being transformed even in death, Jesus Christ the righteous. We know that the faithful departed are growing in holiness since in death life is changed, not ended. We are comforted with the blessed hope of the resurrection so that when the mortal body lies in death we know that there is an eternal dwelling place prepared in the heavens.
This in no way suggests that we do not mourn, nor that in this yearly remembrance that we hold their sacrifice to any lesser degree of honor and respect. Rather, we celebrate with them and indeed with all those who have gone before us, gathering together with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven to proclaim the glory of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead: we give you thanks for all your servants who have laid down their lives in service of their country. Grant to them your mercy and the light of your presence; and give us a lively sense of your righteous will, that the work which you have begun in them may be perfected through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.
May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
What is Ordinary Time?
The rhythm of the liturgical seasons reflects the rhythm of life — with its celebrations of anniversaries and its seasons of quiet growth and maturing.
Ordinary Time, meaning ordered or numbered time, is celebrated in two segments: from the Monday following the Baptism of Our Lord up to Ash Wednesday; and from Pentecost Monday to the First Sunday of Advent. This makes it the largest season of the Liturgical Year.
In vestments usually green, the color of hope and growth, the Church counts the thirty-three or thirty-four Sundays of Ordinary Time, inviting her children to meditate upon the whole mystery of Christ – his life, miracles and teachings – in the light of his Resurrection.
If the faithful are to mature in the spiritual life and increase in faith, they must descend the great mountain peaks of Easter and Christmas in order to “pasture” in the vast verdant meadows of tempus per annum, or Ordinary Time.
Sunday by Sunday, the Pilgrim Church marks her journey through the tempus per annum as she processes through time toward eternity.
– From CatholicCulture.org
The Faith Once Delivered
O Almighty God, who hast built thy Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their doctrine, that we may be made an holy temple acceptable unto thee…
– Collect for Proper 8
There is a great temptation to eschew that which offends us, and yet that is not the way of the church and her teachings. What we have received is founded on Christ and built upon by the apostles and prophets. It is not for us to build another foundation, or to chip away those parts which we do not understand or, worse, simply do not like. Rather through the cross we have been freed to enter into the community of the church, having first been chosen by Christ.
Hence, when a member leaves the church, or when a precept of its founding is lost, we are lessened as a body and our witness is decreased. Yes, we have received freedom in Christ Jesus, but we have been freed to stand on the foundation which he laid and which we have received through the church and not a foundation of our own making.
The great poet and priest John Donne, has words of wisdom and caution to speak to us in the midst of the struggle:
As each of us is tied to the rest of mankind, we are likewise called to balance our freedoms and the rule of the church community so that we may be joined together in unity of spirit and of doctrine for the building up of the one body, a holy temple acceptable to God.
A Prayer for the Country
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer, p. 820