Saturday, 14 January 2012

Notes for a Practical Liturgy Workshop

The Altar in Rathfarnham Parish Church, Dublin, covered with a fair white cloth, and with the Communion vessels covered with a burse and veil (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

14 January 2012

7 p.m. Notes for a Practical Liturgy Workshop in the Chapel (elective)

Introduction:


When we come to the module on Liturgy later in this course, it may be too late for some of you to ask the questions already raised during your parish placements about how to behave physically, and manually during the liturgy, too late too to ask questions about the different vessels, materials and settings found in a variety of parishes during the liturgy.

The Chapel Guidebook provides wise and considered advice on how to introduce readings from Scripture, how to compose intercessions, and so on.

But how do you enter and leave the church before and after a service?

Let’s discuss that first and then move on to some other considerations.

[Discussion]

Part 1:

Setting out the Altar/Table for the Eucharist/Holy Communion:


Why linens?

Altar linens are most often made of linen. It is sometimes said that this because Christ’s grave-clothes were linen. Most altar linens are square.

The proper way to fold altar linens after they have been ironed is in thirds lengthwise, then in thirds crosswise, ending up with a square. They ought not to be creased with an iron.

When unfolded, the folds make nine squares. They should be folded so that if there is an embroidered symbol, it is on top.

It worth noting that if the altar cloths are real linen, best results are provided if you iron the reverse side with a hot iron while they are damp, then the front side when they are dry. Paying attention to the edges means they remain straight.

The usual altar linens are:

● corporals
● purificators
● chalice palls
● chalice veils

In general, the altar is set up as follows:

1, Place the fair linen cloth on the altar over any paraments.
2, Place the corporal in the centre, on top of the fair linen cloth.
3, Place the chalice on the centre of the corporal.
4, Fold the purificator in thirds lengthwise and drape it over the chalice, side to side.
5, Place the paten on top of the purificator.
6, Place the chalice pall over the paten
7, Drape the veil over the whole assembly.
8, Place the burse, with the chalice corporal inside it, on top of the veil, with the opening in the pocket facing where the presiding priest is going to stand for the Eucharistic Prayer..

1, The Fair White Linen Cloth:

A fair linen cloth covering the altar in Donabate Parish Church, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The opening rubrics for Holy Communion used to state: “The Table, at the Communion time having a fair white linen cloth upon it, shall stand in the Body of the Church, or in the Chancel” [The Book of Common Prayer (1960), p. 138.] The Book of Common Prayer (2004) says: “At the time of the celebration of the Holy Communion, the holy table is to be covered by a white cloth” (p. 77). This rubric is also in the Canons of the Church (Canon #15), which are part of the Constitution of the Church of Ireland.

This cloth is usually of good heavy linen, usually rectangular in shape and he same width as the Altar or Communion Table; it usually hangs on either side to about six nine inches above the floor.

This cloth should be laundered frequently and rolled rather than folded after ironing. It should be moderately starched when it is laundered.

I would suggest that when it is not in use, especially during most weekdays, it should be covered with a coloured linen cloth, perhaps matching the soft furnishings in the church

2, The Corporal

The Corporal folds into nine squares

The name Corporal applies to two square linen cloths, one that goes over the fair linen cloth and under the chalice, the other used to cover the chalice after all have received Communion.

The word “corporal” comes from the Latin word “corpus” meaning body. The Corporal should be folded into three equal parts, both in its length and in its width, i.e. the anterior part is folded over the middle; then the posterior part is turned down over the anterior part; after this the part at the priest’s right is folded over the middle, and finally the part at the priest’s left is folded over these.

The first corporal is placed over fair linen cloth and beneath the chalice, the second corporal is placed in the burse so that the edge of the last fold is towards the opening of the burse, which faces the priest.

3, The Purificator

The Purificator, folded over the Chalice

The Purificator (or ‘Mundatory’ or ‘Purificatory’) serves as a napkin to “purify” or wipe the chalice after each communicant receives from the chalice. This is a rectangular piece of cloth, made from linen or hemp, used to wipe the Chalice before the Offertory and after each communicant has received from the Chalice.

Increasingly I find purificators being replaced with paper tissues in many parishes. After from questions about hygiene, questions about taste and dignity also arise. If you do find yourself in this practice as a curate, ensure that the paper tissues are burned rather than binned after use, and remind yourself to get out of the habit when you become a rector.

4, The Chalice Pall

The Chalice Pall

The chalice pall is a stiff square linen cloth, often measuring seven by seven inches, usually with a cardboard or plastic stiffener, sometimes decorated with a Cross or other embroidery. This covers the chalice.

Its original function was to protect the elements of bread and wine from insects, and to prevent impurities from falling into the chalice. It still prevents dust falling into it. If it is embroidered or made of silk, the side touching the Chalice ought to be made of linen.

5, The Chalice Corporal

The Chalice Corporal is the cloth referred to in the rubrics: “When all have communicated, the minister shall return to the Lord’s Table, and reverently place upon it what remaineth of the consecrated Elements, covering the same with a fair linen cloth” [The Book of Common Prayer (1960), p. 151.]

The Chalice Corporal is kept in the burse before the reception of Holy Communion, and is then draped over the chalice and paten after we have all received Communion.

6, Chalice Veil

The burse and veil in green, the liturgical colour for Ordinary Time

The chalice veil is a large square cloth, more often the colour of the liturgical season. It sometimes has an embroidered or appliquéd motif. It is draped over the whole assembly so that the symbol faces the congregation.

7, Burse

The Burse is the 10-inch square folder or container used to hold the Chalice Pall. The burse covers the chalice before the Holy Communion service, with the opening of the burse facing toward the priest.

8, Paraments

The paraments include the pulpit and lectern falls (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Paraments are decorative cloths that cover various items in the chancel of the church, hanging down in front of them. A full set of paraments includes one for the altar, one for the pulpit, one for the lectern, and a bookmark for the Bible. They are usually the colour of the season and they often have an appropriate embroidered or appliquéd symbol.

Part 2:

The Communion vessels:


1, The Chalice

The Chalice, with the Paten to the right

A chalice is the special drinking cup with a bowl, a single stem, and a foot, used to hold the Communion wine. The stem may have a knob to make it easier to grasp.

Chalices are generally made of silver, gold, or ceramics. Throughout the Church of Ireland, most communicants sip from the chalice. Usually they take the chalice in their hands, but in some parishes the priest or deacon administering the chalice may still hold it.

In some Anglican traditions, communicants dip the Communion bread into the chalice – this is known as intinction. Be aware that it may happen; it is particularly difficult if you are using ordinary bread rather than Communion wafers or hosts. After the chalice is used, the server wipes it with the purificator, and rotates it before presenting to the next communicant.

2, The Paten

The Paten is the circular plate on which the Communion bread is placed. It is used with a chalice and is made of the same material as the chalice.

Small patens may be neat if you are using Communion hosts and there is a small congregation. I prefer to use one large piece of bread, so once it is broken at the fraction a small paten becomes ungainly. So you may prefer to find a bowl that serves as a paten. In some Anglican traditions, a vessel that is very similar to the chalice may be used for Communion hosts or wafers.

3, The Cruets:

Cruets on the Credence Table

These vessels hold the water and wine before the Communion.

Be careful not to confuse the water used at the Offertory to add to the wine, with the water used for lavabo

4, Lavabo:

Lavabo

I like to use lavabo after I have received the bread and the wine at the offertory, and once again after the ablutions. Finger Towels may be made of any material, preferably linen, and are used at the lavabo and after Communion.

As for the ablutions, the Book of Common Prayer has stated “if any remain of the Bread and Wine which was consecrated, it shall not be carried out of the Church, but the Priest, and such other as he shall then call unto him, shall … reverently eat and drink the same.” [The Book of Common Prayer (1960), p. 155.] Today, The Book of Common Prayer (2004) stipulates: “Any of the consecrated bread and wine remaining after the administration of the communion is to be reverently consumed ... the communion vessels shall be carefuly and thoroughly cleansed with water” (p. 77).

This means they should not be fed to the birds, poured down the sink or onto the grass in the churchyard … or other more irreverent practises I have seen.

A summary illustration:


(a) Chalice: the Eucharistic cup, often made of gold or silver, used to hold the wine after the Offertory.

(b) Purificator: used for wiping the chalice.

(c) Paten: The, often of gold or silver, on which the bread is placed at the Offertory.

(d) Pall: The square, stiffened piece of linen placed over the chalice to prevent dust falling into it.

(e) Chalice Veil: the cloth the covers the chalice until the Offertory, and again after Communion has been received; it is made of the appropriate liturgical colour.

(f) Burse and Corporal: the Burse is a square container for the corporal when the Corporal is not in use. It is made of the same material and colour as the vestments. The Corporal is a square piece of linen, like a small napkin. It is spread out on the altar, and the chalice is placed upon it. .

Part 3: Liturgical colours

Since fabrics – such as banners, stoles and vestments – must be of one colour or the other, the historic Church has used colours to set the theme of worship. Colour usage was more diverse in the past, mainly because dyes were expensive and it was not as easy as it is today to get fabric in any colour.

In modern times, a consensus has developed about the use of colours in the western Church: green, purple, white, and red, with gold or ivory being alternatives to white. Black, for the most part, is no longer in use. The Orthodox Churches use colours differently.

Green:

Green is the default colour. Green is the colour of vegetation; therefore it is the colour of life. Green is the colour for Ordinary Time, which in the Church of Ireland is after the Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas) and after the Season after Pentecost. In ‘Ordinary Time’ the Sundays ordinarily have no names, just ordinal numbers.

Violet or Purple:

In antiquity, purple dye was very expensive, so purple came to signify wealth, power, and royalty. Therefore, violet or purple is the colour for the seasons of Advent and Lent, which celebrate the coming of the King. Since as Christians we prepare for our King through reflection and repentance, purple has also become a penitential colour.

White:

Angels announced Christ’s birth (Luke 2: 8-15) and his Resurrection (Luke 24:1-8). The New Testament consistently uses white to describe angels and the Risen Lord (see Matthew 17: 2 and 28: 3, Mark 9: 3 and 16: 5, John 20: 12, Acts 1: 10, and throughout Revelation.) In the ancient Church, people were given white robes as they emerged from the waters of baptism. And so, white is the colour for the seasons of Easter and Christmas. White is the colour for funerals, as it is the colour of the Resurrection, for weddings, regardless of the season, and for secular holidays observed in the Church.

Red

Red is the colour for Pentecost Sunday and often for ordinations and installations (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Red is the colour of blood, and of martyrdom. Red is the colour for any service that commemorates the death of a martyr. It is also an alternative colour for the last week of Lent, Holy Week. Red is the colour for Pentecost Sunday and often for ordinations and installations as the colour of fire and of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2: 3).

Gold:

Gold or ivory are alternatives to white. It is designated especially for Christmas Day and for Easter Day.

Blue:

Sarum Blue is an alternative to purple during Advent. Some churches use blue during Advent to avoid the penitential connotation of purple.

Black:

Black is the colour of clericals (cassocks are clericals, not vestments). Before the advent of modern dyes, all dress clothes were black—just look at any photograph taken in the 19th century, or the way they dress for dinner in Downton Abbey. The main historical connotation of black is formality. Because we do not wear black as often today, it has survived as a formal colour only at very solemn occasions, such as funerals. For some people today, black immediately connotes a funeral. Black is sometimes, but rarely, the colour for funeral services, Good Friday, and All Souls’ Day (2 November).

Rose:

Rose (that is, a shade of pink) was sometimes used on the third Sunday in Advent, to signify joy.

The use of the colour rose has a strange origin. Long ago, the Pope had the custom of giving someone a rose on the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare Sunday). This led to Roman Catholic clergy wearing rose-coloured vestments on that Sunday. Rose gives some relief the solemnity of Lent, so this became a popular custom.

Originally Advent was a solemn fast in preparation for Christmas, so the custom was extended to the Third Sunday in Advent (Gaudete Sunday) to liven it up a little too. And so the third candle on the Advent wreath turned pink at some stage. Now, Advent is no longer so solemn and the Pope no longer has the custom of giving out roses.

I find it interesting to think that a Methodist would put a pink candle in a Lutheran Advent wreath because the Pope used to have the custom of giving out roses!

Part 4: Robes

The canons (#12, Ecclesiastical apparel) say every member of the clergy, at public services of the Church, may wear a cassock, shall wear a plain white surplice and black scarf or stole, may wear bands and hood, and when preaching may wear a plain back gown.

1, The Cassock:

The cassock is along, close-fitting, ankle-length robe. The cassock derives from the tunic that was formerly worn underneath the toga in classical antiquity. The word cassock probably comes from the word casaque, which means cloak; or cassaca, which means white.

In the past, it was known in Latin as vestis talaris. Although the cassock was once the universal everyday clothing of the clergy, many have abandoned it as in favour of a clerical suit. Still, wearing the cassock as an everyday item can sometimes be a mark of a traditional cleric.

2, The Surplice:

Cassock, surplice, scarf and hood are known collectively as choir habit

The surplice (late Latin superpelliceum, from super (over) and pellis (fur)) has the form of a tunic of white linen or cotton material, with wide or moderately wide sleeves, reaching to the hips or to the knee. It is most typically plainly hemmed.

The surplice is meant to be a miniature alb, is appropriately worn by any cleric, by lectors and acolytes, by choir members or by servers.

It is always worn over a cassock and never alone, and is never gathered by a belt or cincture.

It may be worn under a stole by deacons and priests for liturgical occasions and at the celebration of sacraments.

On occasions, a cope is worn over the cassock, surplice and stole for greater solemnity. As part of the choir dress of the clergy, the surplice is normally not worn by a bishop and some canons – who wear the rochet instead.

The surplice originally reached to the feet, but as early as the 13th century it began to shorten, though as late as the 15th century it still fell to the middle of the shin, and only in the 17th and 18th centuries did it become considerably shorter.

In all probability the surplice forms no more than an expansion of the ordinary liturgical alb, due to the necessity for wearing it over thick furs. Originally only a choir vestment and peculiar to lower clergy, it gradually replaced the alb as the from proper vestment proper for administering the sacraments and other sacerdotal functions.

The 1552 Book of Common Prayer prescribed the surplice – along with the tippet and the academic hood – as the sole vestment of the minister at “all times of their ministration,” the rochet being practically regarded as the episcopal surplice. The more extreme Reformers opposed its use, but the Act of Uniformity (1559) retained the surplice, and its use was enforced in law.

Formerly Anglican clergy only wore the surplice when conducting services, and exchanged it at the sermon for the “black gown,” either a Geneva gown or an academic gown. This custom has, however, become almost completely obsolete. The “black gown” survives in comparatively few of churches, although some preachers of university sermons have retained the custom of wearing the gown of their degree.

The traditional form of the surplice in the Church of England survived from pre-Reformation times: a wide-sleeved, very full, plain, white linen tunic, pleated from the yoke, and reaching almost, or quite, to the feet.

3, Scarf or tippet

Wearing a black scarf or tippet over a white surplice and black cassock

The Scarf or Tippet is worn with choir dress (cassock, surplice and hood) and hangs straight down at the front. Ordained clergy wear a black tippet, while licensed readers wear a blue one. It is normally simply referred to as a preaching scarf, black scarf, or blue scarf. The tippet is different from the stole, which although often worn like a scarf is a liturgical vestment.

The clergy have used the tippet or scarf as a distinctive mark, although it has no liturgical significance and originally was merely a part of clerical outdoor dress.

4, The alb

Wearing an alb and stole at the Eucharist

The alb is an ample garment of white linen coming down to the ankles and usually girded with a cincture. It is simply the long linen tunic used by the Romans of old.

It is the oldest liturgical vestment, and was adopted very early by Christians, and especially by the clergy for the Eucharist, and is worn under any other special garments, such as the stole, dalmatic, or chasuble.

The shortening of the alb for use outside a church has given rise to the surplice and its cousin the rochet, worn by canons and bishops. So, the use of the alb is covered by the canon expecting us to wear a surplice.

5, Stoles

Stoles may be worn instead of a black scarf on sacramental occasions, but ought not to replace the scarf during choir offices. Stoles follow the pattern of liturgical colours set out in the calendar and Table of Readings in The Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 27-70.

5, The chasuble

The chasuble is the outermost liturgical vestment worn by clergy for the Eucharist in Western-tradition Churches that use full vestments, especially the Roman Catholic Church, some parts of the Anglican Communion, and by some Methodists.

It is the primary vestment in many Lutheran Churches, especially the Nordic Lutheran churches, and it is the principal outer vestment for bishops and priests in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In the Eastern Churches, the equivalent vestment is the phelonion.

6, Clerical collar:

The clerical collar is a fairly modern invention. The detachable collar itself is supposed to have been invented in 1827, although the collarino may date back to the 17th century. The practice of Anglican clergy wearing a detachable clerical collar was introduced by a Rev Dr Donald McLeod and became more popular through the Oxford Movement. Clerical collars are sometimes informally called dog collars. The term ‘Roman collar’ refers to a style and is not meant to insinuate that the wearer is a Roman Catholic.

7, The Cope:

Cathedral copes ... with the Precentor, Canon Peter Campion, and the Dean, the Very Revd Dermot Dunne, in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, at a carol service before Christmas

The cope (known in Latin as pluviale, “rain coat,” or cappa, “cape”) may be described as a very long mantle or cloak, open in front and fastened at the breast with a band or clasp. It is often used by cathedral clergy for choir offices, such as Matins or Evensong.

Supplemental notes for questions and answers

Rubrics

The rubrics outline the parameters of acceptable practice with regard to ritual, vestments, ornaments, and method and means of distribution of the sacrament.

The communal piety of a given parish or diocese will determine the expression of these rubrics, and thus the implicit Eucharistic theology maintained by the congregation.

Until the latter part of the 19th century, the so-called “Ornaments Rubric” of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer inhibited much of the ceremonial contemporary Anglicans take for granted. Priests were directed to stand at the north side or north end of the altar, candles on the altar were forbidden, as was the wearing of a chasuble.

But following the ritual controversies of the late 19th century in England and Ireland, a much greater diversity of practice has been explored throughout many other parts of the Anglican Communion.

In many “Low Church” parishes, ceremonial is kept at a minimum. The priest may be attired simply in a cassock, surplice, and a black scarf (tippet). This is a priest’s “choir habit” as opposed to the Eucharistic vestments.

Manual action may be kept to the minimum standards of the rubrics – they are often confined to placing one’s hands on the elements during the Words of Institution, although there is a generous latitude in interpreting what is understand by the elevation of the paten and chalice in Canon 13.4

Candles may be absent, and the material on the altar limited to the fair white cloth and the chalice and paten.

The celebration of Eucharist may be weekly, or even less frequent (such as monthly). This infrequency is in keeping with the Anglican practice that was predominant prior to the 20th Century, but does not take account of the rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer (2004).

Little or no attention may be given to the unconsumed consecrated bread and wine, and when it is consumed afterwards.

In most “Broad Church” parishes, there is slightly more elaboration. At the Eucharist, the priest may be vested in alb and stole, and – in some instances – a chasuble. He or she may make use of lavabo in preparation for the celebration, and the chalice and paten may be initially concealed by a burse and veil. Candles will almost always be present on the altar.

In these Anglican parishes, the Holy Communion is typically celebrated every Sunday, or at least most Sundays. It may also be celebrated once or twice at other times during the week. The reserved sacrament may be kept in an aumbry or consumed.

“Broad Church” Anglicans may not reverence the sacrament, as such, but will frequently bow when passing the altar.

“High Church” worship involves further elaboration. The priest will often be joined by a deacon, and subdeacon, fully dressed in the historic Eucharistic vestments for their office (chasuble, dalmatic, and tunicle). They may wear maniples and ornamented amices.

In many churches, the altar will be fixed against the “east wall,” and the ministers may celebrate facing the altar, with their backs to the congregation. The altar may have six candles. Incense and sanctus bells are often used during the liturgy, and the Eucharist itself is supplemented by a number of so-called “secret prayers” uttered by the presiding celebrant.

The lavabo and burse and veil are used unfailingly in Anglo-Catholic churches and parishes. Anglo-Catholic Eucharistic theology emphasises frequent Communion, and the unconsumed elements are often reserved. When the sacrament is present, Anglo-Catholics genuflect when passing in front of it. When absent, they bow to the altar.

Administration

The means of administration may vary from parish to parish

While the matter is unfailingly bread or wine, there is variation.

Bread: The bread may be in the form of individual wafers or an actual loaf, from which pieces are torn off and distributed. Canon 13.5 allows wafers in limited circumstances, although this is often interpreted generously.

Wine: Wine is typically red, but may be white (to avoid unsightly staining of the linen purificators, which wipe the chalice rim after each administration). In some instances, fortified wine, such as sherry or port wine, is used. In others, the option of juice is offered, usually in consideration of communicants who may be alcoholic. A certain popular blackcurrant juice is not made from grapes, does not taste like wine, and – no matter how some people may try to convince me – does not even look like wine,. Of course, it is perfectly acceptable and valid for people who are celiacs or diabetics to receive the sacrament only in one kind, i.e., the bread or the wine. But there is good celiac-friendly bread, and there is good dealcoholised wine.

The modes of administration may vary. Many parishes retain an altar rail, separating the area around the altar from the rest of the church. This practice is meant to convey the sanctity associated with the altar, and those receiving Communion come forward and kneel at the rail, sometimes making the sign of the cross and cupping their hands (right over left) to receive the consecrated bread, then crossing themselves again to receive from the chalice.

If you are administering the chalice, remember always to echo the words of administration used by the presiding priest.

Anglo-Catholics may be careful not to chew the bread (hence the popularity of wafers in Anglo-Catholic parishes) and not to touch the chalice. Indeed, some prefer to have the bread placed directly on their tongue. In other parishes, communicants stand to receive. In some places, people may communicate one another, standing in a circle around the altar.

The practice of using individual cups (derisively called “shot glasses” or “Presbyterian shooters”) and handing out individual wafers or pieces of bread to be consumed simultaneously by the whole congregation is uncommon in Anglicanism, but not unheard of.

Anglican practice is that those who administer the sacrament or distribute the bread and the wine must be licensed by the diocesan bishop. Traditionally, priests and deacons were the only ones authorised to administer; however, many provinces and dioceses now permit lay administrators. In some places, a lay-person is restricted to distributing the wine, while the clergy administer the bread (but see The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 77, 14 (b).

Some additional reading:

The Book of Common Prayer – Resource Manual (resources originally circulated to clergy as the Book of Common Prayer Resource Folder)

Mark Earey, Liturgical Worship: a fresh look, how it works, why it matters (London: Church House Publishing, 2002).

Howard E. Galley, The Ceremonies of the Eucharist, A Guide to Celebration (Cambridge MA: Cowley Publications, 1989).

Richard Giles, Creating Uncommon Worship: transforming the liturgy of the Eucharist (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004).

Benjamin Gordon-Taylor and Simon Jones, Celebrating the Eucharist (London: SPCK, 2005, Alcuin Liturgy Guides 3).

Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. These notes were prepared for a workshop in the Institute Chapel on Saturday 14 January 2012, with part-time students on the MTh course

‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people’

Fishermen taking care of their nets in the fishing harbour at Pythagoreio on the island of Samos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday week [22 January 2012] is the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, and the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary are: Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; Psalm 62: 5-12; I Corinthians 7: 29-31; and Mark 1: 14-20.

Mark 1: 14-20

The themes in this Gospel reading offer plenty of fruit for thought in a well-thought-through Sunday sermon. They include: the Good News, the coming of the Kingdom of God, repentance, belief, and call and following.

But we cannot just pluck themes out of a lectionary reading and use them to our own purpose and end. That would be lazy preaching, and it would do no service either to those who listen to our sermons, or to the Gospel message itself.

When we are preparing a sermon based on a lectionary reading, we must remember the contexts in which we are preaching, including: those who are going to hear our sermon; current concerns in the community (and not just the parish as community); the current cycle of lectionary readings (at present we are in Year B, reading primarily from Saint Mark’s Gospel); the readings for the previous and the following Sundays; and the other readings of the day, even if we only refer to them briefly.

This morning in our Bible study, we are going to look at the Gospel reading for Sunday week, Mark 1: 14-20:

Mark 1: 14-20

14 Μετὰ δὲ τὸ παραδοθῆναι τὸν Ἰωάννην ἦλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ 15 καὶ λέγων ὅτι Πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρὸς καὶ ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ: μετανοεῖτε καὶ πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ.

16 Καὶ παράγων παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν τῆς Γαλιλαίας εἶδεν Σίμωνα καὶ Ἀνδρέαν τὸν ἀδελφὸν Σίμωνος ἀμφιβάλλοντας ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ: ἦσαν γὰρ ἁλιεῖς. 17 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Δεῦτε ὀπίσω μου, καὶ ποιήσω ὑμᾶς γενέσθαι ἁλιεῖς ἀνθρώπων. 18 καὶ εὐθὺς ἀφέντες τὰ δίκτυα ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ. 19 Καὶ προβὰς ὀλίγον εἶδεν Ἰάκωβον τὸν τοῦ Ζεβεδαίου καὶ Ἰωάννην τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ, καὶ αὐτοὺς ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ καταρτίζοντας τὰ δίκτυα, 20 καὶ εὐθὺς ἐκάλεσεν αὐτούς. καὶ ἀφέντες τὸν πατέρα αὐτῶν Ζεβεδαῖον ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ μετὰ τῶν μισθωτῶν ἀπῆλθον ὀπίσω αὐτοῦ.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

The context:

Yes, we are reading from Saint Mark’s Gospel, in the Year B cycle of lectionary readings. But tomorrow’s Gospel reading is John 1: 43-51. Saint Mark’s Gospel is so short it would be stretching it too far to provide readings for every Sunday for a full year.

But tomorrow’s Gospel reading also helps to introduce the reading for the following Sunday, for it tells the story of the call of Philip and Nathanael.

Then, for the Sunday we are looking at, the other readings link in with the themes of the Gospel reading:

Jonah is the archetypical reluctant prophet. Earlier, God has called him to “Go at once to Nineveh ... and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But he tried to escape by sailing to the ends of the earth.

And for many people who hear this reading on Sunday week, they will immediately associate Jonah with the fish, which may help make connections with the fishing scene that provides the setting for our Gospel reading.

But God is not going to let go of Jonah; and God now calls him a second time. This time, Jonah obeys, and he goes to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. But it seems Jonah is easily distracted and happy with half measures. He goes to the city, but after a day he has only got half-way into Nineveh. Even then, God works through Jonah. The people of Nineveh react positively: they believe, they acknowledge their godlessness, and later in this chapter the king repents.

We can see in that story the outward signs of repentance: a change of attitude to others, or turning away from evil and violence; and acknowledging God’s freedom in how God responds to our repentance.

Psalm 62 is a psalm of trust, in which the psalmist invites others to place their trust in God too (verse 8). In God he finds his hope for deliverance, his reference point in life and his “refuge” from his enemies.

In the Epistle reading (I Corinthians 7: 29-31), Paul writes from Ephesus to the Christians of Corinth, calling them to live a life of repentance, for “ the time we live in will not last long,” or that “the present time is passing away.” He reminds us that live between Christ’s first coming and Christ’s second coming, a time in which the Church is called to bring as many as possible to believe in him and to follow his ways. And so, our epistle reading too is an important preparation for hearing the story of the call of Philip and Nathanael, and for being reminded of our own call too.

Fishing boats in the harbour in Skerries, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The Gospel reading:

In our Gospel reading, we move from being told of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness to his return to Galilee. His message begins with “the time is fulfilled” (verse 15): the time appointed by God, the decisive time for God’s action, has arrived. “The kingdom of God has come near.”

Mark began his Gospel with “the good news of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.” Now, in verse 15, we hear what that Good News is: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news’ (verse 15).

There are four important verbs in this Good News. The first two proclaim deeds that God is doing; the last two call for specific responses from us:

1, “The time is fulfilled”: the meaning here is difficult to convey fully in English because such experiences of time are rare. This is an epoch making time, a defining moment time. A long held dream is about to start taking shape.

2, “has come near” or “is at hand”: this located the Kingdom of God in both time – this defining moment; and in space – at hand. But the verbs also indicate a deed or action that has now begun but is not yet unfinished.

3, to “repent” does not mean to feel badly or guilty. It does mean to change my behaviour, to re-align it with new principles, new beliefs, new understandings, new insights, new objectives, new goals and new values. The feelings that accompany repentance can range from sorrow over past deeds, to joy for new options; from anger over past false hopes, to confidence in now finding firm ground.

4, “Believe in the good news" could also be translated as “Trust into the Good News.” This is not a call in believe in terms of having an opinion about the factual accuracy of Good News. Instead, Christ is calling for a radical, total, unqualified response in which I base my life no matter what the risks may be.

Now we too are called to adopt God’s way, to “believe in the good news” we hear about the very beginning of the Gospel. It could be said that the whole of Saint Mark’s Gospel is a working out of the meaning and implication of verse.

In verses 16-20, the first four disciples are called: they immediately leave their previous occupations, and follow Christ. Once again, we might note how immediacy of response is a mark of this gospel. These disciples owned nets (verse 19), and they had employees (“hired men”, verse 20), so they were people of rank. They gave up security and family to follow Christ and to devote themselves to his mission.

Did you notice too how one of the first things Christ does is to recruit followers. We could say that proclaiming the Good News and that the Kingdom of God is near, is not a one-man show. Instead, it involves building up communities, and creating relationships that embody the Good News.

Fishing was carried out at night so that the freshly caught fish could be sold as soon as possible in the morning. So, being out at night – and smelling of fish – made fishing a disreputable occupation.

Christ sees Simon and Andrew at night, or just before dawn, as they are actively fishing. He then sees James and John after dawn – they have finished their night’s work and are in their boat, mending their nets.

How do you think it must have appeared in those days that Christ was out alone at night and that the first four people he calls are engaged in a dirty and demanding occupation, and that all four leave their families to follow him?

Their friends and neighbours must have reacted with alarm and suspicion, and probably talked about how their response was breaking up their families and breaking down the social fabric of their community.

Are you finding your calling to follow Christ difficult when it comes to family relationships and maintaining your relationship with your community, with those you work with or those who are your neighbours?

Sometimes, like Jonah, do you feel like taking another journey, or just going half-way?

I do not know which was a more difficult and demanding task: being a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, or being a Disciple of Christ … especially when the call comes from someone who has withdrawn to Galilee after the arrest of his cousin, the one who publicly baptised and acclaimed him, John the Baptist.

Either way, the four first disciples were going to have no lazy day by the shore or the river bank, or as followers of Christ. Becoming “fishers of men,” “fishing for people,” is going to bring these Galilean fishers into a relationship not only with Jesus, with their families, with their neighbours, with the tax collectors, with Pharisees, Sadducees and Zealots, with the powers of this world, with Gentiles, with the people who sat in darkness and in the region of the shadow of death.

Sometimes, in ordained ministry, we do not cast our nets far enough or deep enough. No wonder then that most of the time, when we pull in those nets, we find them empty.

There is a saying that fish come in three sizes, small ones, medium ones and the ones that got away. Too often in ordained ministry, we know about the small ones, we are good with the medium ones, but we pay little attention to going after the ones that get away.

Many years ago, while I hitchhiking and youth-hostelling in peaks on the borders of Staffordshire and Derbyshire in my late teens, and staying in Ilam Hall, I came across the work of that great Anglican writer, Izaak Walton (1593-1683), known not only for his biographies of John Donne, George Herbert and Richard Hooker, but also known as the author of The Compleat Angler.

In The Compleat Angler, Izaak Walton points out that fishing can teach us patience and discipline. Fishing takes practice, preparation, discipline; like discipleship, it has to be learned, and learning requires practice before there are any results. And sometimes, whether it is fishing in a river or fishing in the sea, the best results can come from going against the current.

Walking along the pier in a small Greek fishing village recently, as I watched the careful early morning work of the crews in the trawlers and fishing boats, I realised good fishing does not come about by accident. It also requires paying attention to the nets, moving them carefully, mending them, cleaning them after each and every use, hanging them out to dry.

And fishing is also about noticing the weather, watching the wind and the clouds. Good fishing takes account of contexts … it is incarnational.

And all of these apply to the work of ordained ministry.

Time and again in Gospels, the Kingdom of God is compared to huge net cast over different numbers of people and species. We are the ones called to cast that net, but do so we need to attend to our own discipline, endurance, and patience.

Ordained ministry is not passive following of Christ. We cannot hang any sign outside on our office doors saying: “Gone Fishin’.”

Nor can we passively stand by the bank or on the shore, content with two sizes of fish. We are called to go after the one that others let get away, not just those who come to Church regularly, but their families, their neighbours, the tax collectors, the Pharisees, Sadducees and Zealots of our age, the powers of this world, the Gentiles, and especially with the people who sit in darkness and in the region of the shadow of death.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group with part-time MTh students on 14 January 2012.