02 October 2013

Some notes on preparing to
introduce Anglican spirituality

‘And the fire and the rose are one’ ... TS Eliot's poem, ‘Little Gidding’ was influenced by classical Anglican spirituality including Julian of Norwich and Nicholas Ferrar’s community at Little Gidding ... a candle and a rose on a table in a restaurant in Rethymnon, Crete, last month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

Next Monday morning [7 October 2013], during our ‘Spirituality’ hour in chapel, I am introducing ‘Anglican Spirituality.’ In the week that follows, this tutorial group has responsibility for the form and content of chapel services, which include a Harvest Thanksgiving service.

The custom here is that the chapel services either reflect or carry through some of the principal themes that have emerged in the ‘Spirituality’ hour on a Monday morning, providing a focus and an opportunity to offer continuity in thinking and prayer and in our approaches to worship.

Some of you have asked for some insight into the ideas I am going to raise next Monday as a way of helping this tutorial group to plan and prepare for next week’s chapel services.

One of the classical reference points for Anglican theology is the emphasis, classically articulated by Richard Hooker (1554-1600), on the three-fold relationship between:

1, Scripture;
2, Reason;
3, Tradition.

Secondly, the classical articulations of Anglican theology are said to be found in The Book of Common Prayer and the Formularies:

1, The Book of Common Prayer;
2, The 39 Articles;
3, The Ordinal;
4, The Homilies.

Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) defined the boundaries of Anglican faith and practice as:

1, One canon reduced to writing by God himself;
2, Two testaments;
3, Three creeds (Nicene, Apostles’ and Athanasian);
4, Four general councils (Nicaea 325, Constantinople 381, Ephesus 431 and Chalcedon 451);
5, Five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period – the centuries that is, before Constantine, and two after (from the Apostles to Gregory the Great).

‘Anglican comprehensiveness’

So much for Anglican theology. But what about Anglican spirituality? And is there something unique about it?

There is a theological maxim, Lex orandi, lex credendi. In other words, we can tell what a people believe when we see how they pray. So, next week’s chapel services provide an opportunity to show in our collective prayer what we hold to be important collectively within Anglican spirituality.

Without stealing my thunder, so that everything I say falls flat because a large group in chapel has already had sight of what I am going to say, perhaps I could introduce us to some ‘pointers’ for worship that are going to arise on Monday morning.

There are many varieties of Anglican spirituality, and they cannot be confined to the labels of evangelical, catholic, liberal, conservative, charismatic … and so on. So, chapel services should both reflect and embrace the diversity that is Anglicanism, without ever making those categories mutually exclusive. There is a specifically Anglican gift in holding these in creative tension, so that they are mutually enriching.

Resources in The Book of Common Prayer

It is often said that Anglican theology and spirituality are both conveyed through The Book of Common Prayer, the 39 Articles and the Formularies, including the Ordinal.

So, it is important that next week’s chapel life, centres on The Book of Common Prayer – but that may be interpreted widely so that we draw on the experiences developed from this tradition. How about using one or two services from Common Worship in the Church of England, or the prayer books in Wales, Canada or the US?

For example, Friday morning next week is a feast day, Saint Philip the Deacon [11 October], and at the Eucharist I intend to celebrate using the traditional rite, which is known in The Book of Common Prayer 2004 as Holy Communion 1 (see pp 180-191).


The Canticles, sung by great cathedral choirs, often provide the first introduction for many to the riches of Anglican spirituality

For many outside the Anglican tradition, Anglican spirituality is experienced in its full splendour as they hear Choral Evensong, and the canticles Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis sung by great cathedral choirs.

So a good use of the Canticles in Book of Common Prayer might be helpful. Perhaps we could ask for Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis to be rehearsed in choir practice on Tuesday morning, with Anglican chant, so they could be used on Tuesday and/or Thursday evening.

Some insights and influences

Three profound influences on Anglican spirituality can be found in Patristics, the Benedictine tradition, and the Sarum Rite.

The rediscovery of the Early Fathers of the Church, and the quest to return to Patristic forms of worship, was an important factor in the Anglican reformation.

The legacy and bequests of this search are scattered throughout The Book of Common Prayer. But a noticeable example – and one that has become part and parcel of the Anglican spiritual heritage – is the Prayer of Saint [John] Chrysostom (see The Book of Common Prayer, p. 100 174):

Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee; and dost promise, that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests; Fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.

This is a rich prayer, and it would be good to see this and some other classical Anglican prayers, such as the General Thanksgiving (p. 99), being used during the week.

The Psalter is the only book of the Bible to be fully contained within The Book of Common Prayer, originally with the expectation that the Psalms would be read in church daily, and that the full Psalter would be read through each month. In using the Psalms next week, we should be mindful of their role in Anglican spirituality.

Famously, when John Keble was asked about what was at the heart of Anglicanism, he replied: “Study the Collects in The Book of Common Prayer.”

So we need to be creative in how we take the available opportunities to draw on the full range of collects available for Morning Payer and Evening Prayer.

Devotional legacy

Julian of Norwich ... “All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”

As Anglicans we have inherited and been shaped by a rich range of devotional literature, including a pre-Reformation corpus that is an integral part of Anglican spirituality, including the anonymous work known as the Cloud of Unknowing, as well as the writings of Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich. You might consider using some short or abbreviated readings from this heritage in the place of reflections.

In the immediate post-Elizabethan age, Anglican spiritual writers included country parsons such as George Herbert (1593-1633), who is remembered for his careful pastoral nurturing of his parish and his parishioners, and for his poetry, much of which has been adapted as hymns.

Herbert’s spirituality is the Anglican Via Media or Middle Way par excellence. His poetry is constantly evident of the intimacy of his dealings with God and his assurance that, alone in a vast universe, he is held safe by the Crucified Christ.

Hymns by George Herbert, and other classical Anglican poets and hymn-writers, found throughout the Irish Church Hymnal should be chosen next week in preference to hymns we have received from outside the Anglican tradition.

The great hymn writer of the Oxford Movement and of the later Anglo-Catholics was John Keble, whose hymns and poems are collected in The Christian Year. If what we sing rather than how we pray shows what we believe – a new way of looking at the maxim Lex Orandi Lex Credendi – then through the English Hymnal Percy Dearmer and Ralph Vaughan Williams have had a profound influence on modern expressions of Anglican spirituality.

Or we could use recorded music by great Anglican composers, from William Byrd, John Taverner, Thomas Tallis, Orlando Gibbins and Thomas Tomkins, to Hubert Parry, Charels Stanford, Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells and John Rutter, and available on CDs.

George Herbert ... Prayer, the Church’s banquet

For George Herbert, prayer is concerned not only with things heavenly, but also with the earthly. In his poem Prayer, he writes:

Prayer, the Church’s banquet, Angels’ age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;
Engine against th’Almighty, sinner’s tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The Milky Way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood

This poem, too, might be a suitable reflection at one of the chapel services next week.

Or how about poems by John Donne (1571-1631) or Thomas Traherne (1636-1674)?

Two of the most influential writers in terms of Anglican spirituality must have been CS Lewis and TS Eliot. I shall say something about one or both on Monday morning.

TS Eliot’s masterpiece is The Four Quartets, which led to him receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature. In The Four Quartets, Eliot draws upon the theology, art, symbolism and language of such figures as Dante, and mystics Saint John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich. The “deeper communion” sought in East Coker, the “hints” and whispers of children, the sickness that “must grow worse in order to find healing,” and the exploration that inevitably leads us home all point to the pilgrim’s path along the road of sanctification.

Little Gidding, which is the most anthologised of the Quartets, ends with an affirmation of Julian of Norwich:

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

You may consider using some other poems by TS Eliot during the week. For example, ‘A Song for Simeon’ might be read instead of the canticle of ‘Nunc Dimittis,’ both based on the same Gospel passage (Luke 2: 29-32).

Poets, Artists and Writers

‘The Light of the World’ by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) …one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

We could look at artists like William, Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelites, introducing some of their paintings as opportunities for quiet meditation and contemplation.

But remember that all the time in chapel we are neither entertaining nor practicing. We are inviting all of us to join in communal and collective prayers. So, when it comes to the intercessions, be mindful of the oft-quoted saying from Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), that “he who prays for others, labours for himself.”

This concept could be introduced as you then use or creatively adapt the versicles and responses in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer (see p 113).

A note on next week’s Harvest Thanksgiving Service

The chapel decorated for last year’s Harvest Thanksgiving Service … this service is a gift from Victorian Anglicanism to the wider Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Finally, when it comes to celebrating our Harvest Thanksgiving next week, we might mention somewhere that the modern tradition of celebrating Harvest Festival in churches began on 1 October 1843, when an Anglican priest, the Revd Robert Hawker (1803-1875) invited his parishioners to a special thanksgiving service in Morwenstow Parish Church, Cornwall.

Well-known Victorian hymns such as ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ (ICH 47), ‘Come ye thankful people, come’ (37) and ‘All things bright and beautiful’ (No 25) , helped to popularise his idea of a harvest thanksgiving service and spread the annual custom of decorating churches with home-grown produce.

But the person who helped to have the Harvest Thanksgiving introduced to Anglican calendar was, perhaps, the Revd Piers Claughton (1811-1884), when he was Vicar of Elton in Huntingdonshire in 1854. He later became Bishop of St Helena and then of Colombo, and later Archdeacon of London.

Increasingly, churches have linked harvest with an awareness of and concern for the impoverished and for people in the developing world for whom growing crops of sufficient quality and quantity remains a struggle. It should be mentioned that the food being collected at this year’s harvest is going to the outreach programme from Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, at the Mendicity Institute.

Let us pray:

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty and everlasting God:
Increase in us your gift of faith
that, forsaking what lies behind,
we may run the way of your commandments
and win the crown of everlasting joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Our Father …

May the God of hope
fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that by the Holy Spirit
you may abound in hope,
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be with you and remain with you always. Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were shared in a tutorial group with MTh students on Wednesday 2 October 2013.