Monday, 25 November 2013

Liturgy (2013) 8.2: The theology of the whole
people of God, ordination, gender and ministry

The whole people of God symbolised in the figures on the West Front of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year II, 14:00 to 16:30, Mondays, Hartin Room:

3.15 p.m., Monday 25 November 2013

8.2:
The ‘theology of the whole people of God’; the theology and rites of ordination; gender and ministry.

Women priests comfort each other outside Church House after last year’s vote on women bishops in the General Synod of the Church of England

8.2: Theology of the whole people of God; the theology and rites of ordination; gender and ministry.

In our second session this afternoon, we looking at ordained ministry within the context of the ministry of the whole people of God, and then looking at the rites of ordination, and some contemporary questions about ordination, including gender and sexuality.

Introductory readings:

The saints coming before the Lamb on the Throne (from the Ghent Altarpiece) ... there are varieties of services, but the same Lord

I Corinthians 12: 4-31:

4 Διαιρέσεις δὲ χαρισμάτων εἰσίν, τὸ δὲ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα: 5 καὶ διαιρέσεις διακονιῶν εἰσιν, καὶ ὁ αὐτὸς κύριος: 6 καὶ διαιρέσεις ἐνεργημάτων εἰσίν, ὁ δὲ αὐτὸς θεός, ὁ ἐνεργῶν τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν. 7 ἑκάστῳ δὲ δίδοται ἡ φανέρωσις τοῦ πνεύματος πρὸς τὸ συμφέρον. 8 ᾧ μὲν γὰρ διὰ τοῦ πνεύματος δίδοται λόγος σοφίας, ἄλλῳ δὲ λόγος γνώσεως κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα, 9 ἑτέρῳ πίστις ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ πνεύματι, ἄλλῳ δὲ χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων ἐν τῷ ἑνὶ πνεύματι, 10 ἄλλῳ δὲ ἐνεργήματα δυνάμεων, ἄλλῳ [δὲ] προφητεία, ἄλλῳ [δὲ] διακρίσεις πνευμάτων, ἑτέρῳ γένη γλωσσῶν, ἄλλῳ δὲ ἑρμηνεία γλωσσῶν: 11 πάντα δὲ ταῦτα ἐνεργεῖ τὸ ἓν καὶ τὸ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα, διαιροῦν ἰδίᾳ ἑκάστῳ καθὼς βούλεται.

12 Καθάπερ γὰρ τὸ σῶμα ἕν ἐστιν καὶ μέλη πολλὰ ἔχει, πάντα δὲ τὰ μέλη τοῦ σώματος πολλὰ ὄντα ἕν ἐστιν σῶμα, οὕτως καὶ ὁ Χριστός: 13 καὶ γὰρ ἐν ἑνὶ πνεύματι ἡμεῖς πάντες εἰς ἓν σῶμα ἐβαπτίσθημεν, εἴτε Ἰουδαῖοι εἴτε Ελληνες, εἴτε δοῦλοι εἴτε ἐλεύθεροι, καὶ πάντες ἓν πνεῦμα ἐποτίσθημεν.

14 καὶ γὰρ τὸ σῶμα οὐκ ἔστιν ἓν μέλος ἀλλὰ πολλά. 15 ἐὰν εἴπῃ ὁ πούς, Οτι οὐκ εἰμὶ χείρ, οὐκ εἰμὶ ἐκ τοῦ σώματος, οὐ παρὰ τοῦτο οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ σώματος: 16 καὶ ἐὰν εἴπῃ τὸ οὖς, Οτι οὐκ εἰμὶ ὀφθαλμός, οὐκ εἰμὶ ἐκ τοῦ σώματος, οὐ παρὰ τοῦτο οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ σώματος: 17 εἰ ὅλον τὸ σῶμα ὀφθαλμός, ποῦ ἡ ἀκοή; εἰ ὅλον ἀκοή, ποῦ ἡ ὄσφρησις; 18 νυνὶ δὲ ὁ θεὸς ἔθετο τὰ μέλη, ἓν ἕκαστον αὐτῶν, ἐν τῷ σώματι καθὼς ἠθέλησεν. 19 εἰ δὲ ἦν τὰ πάντα ἓν μέλος, ποῦ τὸ σῶμα; 20 νῦν δὲ πολλὰ μὲν μέλη, ἓν δὲ σῶμα. 21 οὐ δύναται δὲ ὁ ὀφθαλμὸς εἰπεῖν τῇ χειρί, Χρείαν σου οὐκ ἔχω, ἢ πάλιν ἡ κεφαλὴ τοῖς ποσίν, Χρείαν ὑμῶν οὐκ ἔχω: 22 ἀλλὰ πολλῷ μᾶλλον τὰ δοκοῦντα μέλη τοῦ σώματος ἀσθενέστερα ὑπάρχειν ἀναγκαῖά ἐστιν, 23 καὶ ἃ δοκοῦμεν ἀτιμότερα εἶναι τοῦ σώματος, τούτοις τιμὴν περισσοτέραν περιτίθεμεν, καὶ τὰ ἀσχήμονα ἡμῶν εὐσχημοσύνην περισσοτέραν ἔχει, 24 τὰ δὲ εὐσχήμονα ἡμῶν οὐ χρείαν ἔχει. ἀλλὰ ὁ θεὸς συνεκέρασεν τὸ σῶμα, τῷ ὑστερουμένῳ περισσοτέραν δοὺς τιμήν, 25 ἵνα μὴ ᾖ σχίσμα ἐν τῷ σώματι, ἀλλὰ τὸ αὐτὸ ὑπὲρ ἀλλήλων μεριμνῶσιν τὰ μέλη. 26 καὶ εἴτε πάσχει ἓν μέλος, συμπάσχει πάντα τὰ μέλη: εἴτε δοξάζεται [ἓν] μέλος, συγχαίρει πάντα τὰ μέλη.

27 Ὑμεῖς δέ ἐστε σῶμα Χριστοῦ καὶ μέλη ἐκ μέρους. 28 καὶ οὓς μὲν ἔθετο ὁ θεὸς ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ πρῶτον ἀποστόλους, δεύτερον προφήτας, τρίτον διδασκάλους, ἔπειτα δυνάμεις, ἔπειτα χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων, ἀντιλήμψεις, κυβερνήσεις, γένη γλωσσῶν. 29 μὴ πάντες ἀπόστολοι; μὴ πάντες προφῆται; μὴ πάντες διδάσκαλοι; μὴ πάντες δυνάμεις; 30 μὴ πάντες χαρίσματα ἔχουσιν ἰαμάτων; μὴ πάντες γλώσσαις λαλοῦσιν; μὴ πάντες διερμηνεύουσιν; 31 ζηλοῦτε δὲ τὰ χαρίσματα τὰ μείζονα. Καὶ ἔτι καθ' ὑπερβολὴν ὁδὸν ὑμῖν δείκνυμι.

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Ephesians 4: 11-13:

11 καὶ αὐτὸς ἔδωκεν τοὺς μὲν ἀποστόλους, τοὺς δὲ προφήτας, τοὺς δὲ εὐαγγελιστάς, τοὺς δὲ ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους, 12 πρὸς τὸν καταρτισμὸν τῶν ἁγίων εἰς ἔργον διακονίας, εἰς οἰκοδομὴν τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ, 13 μέχρι καταντήσωμεν οἱ πάντες εἰς τὴν ἑνότητα τῆς πίστεως καὶ τῆς ἐπιγνώσεως τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ, εἰς ἄνδρα τέλειον, εἰς μέτρον ἡλικίας τοῦ πληρώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ.

11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

Metropolitan John Zizioulas ... seminal work on the theology of the whole People of God

(1) The ‘theology of the whole people of God’

Among the whole People of God, we all have gifts, gifts that are at the service of the Body of Christ.

The Greek Orthodox theologian, Metropolitan John Zizioulas, more than any other has influenced both Catholic and Protestant understandings of the Church in recent decades, and has dynamically contributed to, and is reflected in, the thinking of many theologians on this topic, including Jürgen Moltmann, David Bosch and George Guiver.

In his exploration of the post-modern ecumenical missionary paradigm in Transforming Mission, David Bosch examines Mission as:

● the church-with-others;
Missio Dei;
● mediating Salvation;
● the Quest for Justice;
● Evangelism;
● Contextualisation;
● Liberation;
● Inculturation;
● Common Witness;
● Ministry by the Whole People of God;
● Witness to People of Other Living Faiths;
● Theology;
● Action in Hope.

When we do not take account of the Ministry by the Whole People of God, how are we failing in our ministry, and in the liturgy of the Church?

Too often, I fear, when we involve people in the Liturgy of the Church, we – and they – often see it as lay people giving the rector a “dig-out.” We dispense roles for them to play, roles that are often token roles. We write the intercessions for them; we “let” them do a reading, we ask them to organise the children’s story and songs; we sometimes “allow” them to assist with distributing the Holy Communion. And, sometimes, when we try to find meaningful roles for them in the Liturgy, we dress them up in cassock, surplice, and blue scarf, and try to clericalise them.

It may be a move forward from confining them to sitting, standing, kneeling, singing hymns and saying “Amen.” But it is a long way from recognising that the Liturgy is – as its name constantly reminds us – the work of the whole People of God.

They are not helping us out. It is their work. We are there to ensure it happens. But without them, quite frankly, it does not happen.

There are no private Masses, there are no private Baptisms. Each Baptism and each Eucharist is a sacramental incorporation into the Body of Christ. It is a plural, collective moment. And the role of all clergy – bishops, priests and deacons – is to act as “liturgical midwives” for the Whole People of God.

We are there to help them, not the other way around. We are there to help and to do our best to ensure that the whole People of God are in communion with God and with one another, worship God, come into the presence of God in Word and Sacrament, and are sent out into the world as the People of God commissioned and empowered for God’s mission in the world.

Pentecost (El Greco) … ‘the same Spirit … allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses’

Metropolitan John Zizioulas, in particular, points out in his Being as Communion that a careful study of I Corinthians 12 shows that for the Apostle Paul the Body of Christ is composed of the charismata of the Spirit, which pertain to the charisma or membership of the body.

Drawing on Scriptural and Patristic studies, he speaks of the People of God as an order of the Church that is constituted by virtue of the rite of initiation (Baptism-Chrismation).

The People of God is an order of the Church, gathered with the bishop, priests and deacons, and the sine qua non condition for the Eucharistic community to exist and to express the unity of the Church.

The Eucharist is offered to God in the name of the Church, and brings the whole Body of Christ up to the throne of God. There is no ministry in the Church other than Christ’s ministry

The early Church prohibited any ordination that was not to a specific community (Canon 6, Council of Chalcedon). Without a community there can be no ministry to exercise. The community possesses and transmits the charismatic life.

There is no such thing as a “non-ordained” member of the Church. Christian initiation, in Baptism and Confirmation (Chrismation) is essentially an ordination and it helps us to find an understanding of what ordination means. The baptised person becomes not simply a Christian, but a member of a particular ordo in the Christian community.

And so, for Metropolitan John Zizioulas, the specific ministries of the Church are:

1, The Laity;
2, The deacons;
3, The presbyters;
4, The bishop

Their ministries, properly exercised, relate the Church to the World.

No ordained person exercises his or her ordo in himself or herself, but in the community.

One of my favourite comedy sketches has Marty Feldman and Tim Brook-Taylor on a train. Marty Feldman is fully robed episcopally, in a cope and mitre and carrying a crozier. One of the passengers in the carriage, Tim Brooke-Taylor, challenges him, and asks where his diocese is.



An exasperated Marty Feldman eventually claims he is the bishop of this train, a bishop of no fixed abode, the Cheltenham Express, before storming out on his own.

At least Marty Feldman tried to get them singing a hymn, and took up a collection. But there is no ministry and there is no liturgy without the whole People of God.

Laos means the whole people of God, the word liturgy means essentially the work of the people, and so all our liturgical language is phrased in terms of the worship and work of the whole People of God:

“We being many are one body,
for we all share in the one bread.”

– (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 218).

Here we are as a people who have been gathered together, liturgically, to present ourselves before God, and to receive Christ in Word and Sacrament.

We are not present as a collection of individual people who have been baptised and who happen to be in the same place at the same time. We are gathered together as the Church, the Body of Christ, to hear the Word of God, to ask for judgment and mercy and to receives them, to sing and it pray to God as part of the communion of God, to be in Communion with God and with one another, to say Amen to the Body of Christ, present in sacrament and in the gathered Church, and to be blessed and sent out in peace to love and serve the Lord.

When we come together, we are brought into the unbroken time of God. One Sunday’s liturgy is not really separated from the next Sunday’s liturgy by six weekdays. Secular time does not divide what the Spirit holds together.

We share the one bread and one cup know that God comes to humanity in Christ; that God has anointed Christ with humanity and he has crowned humanity with Christ. Humanity is with God, and God is with humanity.

Just as the whole glory of God was poured into the single body of Christ, that same glory of Christ is very slowly poured into us, the unlikely body of those gathered in the Liturgy. But just as the head has been raised, so the whole people will be raised, and the community of faith gathered in the Liturgy is already the anticipation and the pledge of the resurrection.

The Adoration of the Lamb on the Throne ... the main panel in the Ghent Altarpiece

From next Sunday, in the season of Advent, in particular, we can say with true, faithful emphasis: “We look for his coming in great glory.” (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 221).

And when he comes, all humanity will arrive with him.

“Holy, holy, holy.”

We are being called into a great company. Just how huge this company is, is something to occupy us for time without limit.

The whole world is invited to be part of this great assembly ... both to watch and take delight in the world but also to take part in his work

The whole world is invited to be part of this great assembly and both to watch and to take delight in the world, but also to take part in God’s work. Before us, the Lord reconciles the apparently irreconcilable, and brings all things into communion so that they become willing, ready for each other and – finally also – beautiful.

In Christ, each of us is joined to every other. The Church is the companionship of God making itself tangible and corporal in the here and now.

We become his holy people. We now take part in this prayer, and so we are able to pass the whole world back to God who will redeem it and renew it for us. This is the reason why we say:

“And so with all your people,
with angels and archangels,
and with all the company of heaven,
we proclaim his great and glorious name ...”

– (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 209; c.f. pp 214, 217).

The three forms of Holy Communion in Holy Communion 2 conclude with the Post-Communion Prayer that ends with the words:

“Send us out in the power of your Spirit
to live and work to your praise and glory. Amen.”

– (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 221).

A cathedral liturgical procession ... the whole People of God, commissioned for ministry, streams out into the world in every direction

As the liturgical procession moves down and out, we then, as the People of God, stream away in all directions, into every corner of the world. We are a people on the move, a pilgrim people, in many ways still becoming what we are to be, being led by our Lord, being led to God.

We come from Christ and we return to him. He sends us out to take his service into the world. And he calls us back. We are always on the way out and on the way back. Our service and witness is only good as long as we regularly come back and are refreshed and renewed.

As I go out, I take the whole service of Christ with me, hopefully, wherever I go, as a valued and valuable part of the whole company of saints, bound to one another and to the one Father in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit holds us together across all distances: space and time can never divide us.

“Send us out in the power of your Spirit
to live and work to your praise and glory. Amen.”

– (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 221).

The dismissal is our commission for mission. We are sent out together in mission, a mission to live and work to God’s praise and glory, Amen. We are the envoys and the apostles of Jesus Christ. We must speak to all in the person of Christ, we must exercise his mercy, judging for ourselves where to speak gentle words and where to speak hard words.

The calling and vocation to lay ministry is not an appendix to the doctrine of the Church. It is an organic, integral insight into the Church’s understanding and explanation of itself.

Stanley Spencer, The Resurrection, Cookham (1923-1927) ... The calling and vocation to lay ministry is not an appendix to the doctrine of the Church

Baptism is the ordination to ministry of the Whole People of God and it gives equal dignity to all members of the Church, both clerical and lay. Here laos is the primary and defining concept. The People of God are called to be the Church together in its mission and ministry.

The laos is the model within which all other ministries are defined and practised, not as a function in relationship to an institution, but in relation to God’s saving and creative activity in the world into which the whole people of God are called.

If God’s mission is to reveal his love for the whole world, and if the Church is a function of that mission, then the ministry of the laity is crucial.

The Church must own the vocation to be lay as part of a total ecclesiology, but also without a high degree of definition by the institutional church. This does not mean that they are unchurchly, but they enter into life where the visible and organised church offers little or no help. Being a lay Christian is a calling, perhaps the most serious calling of all, because the lay person’s prime responsibility is to find ways of living positively for God in the real world.

In the past, the Church has emphasised those lay ministries that are capable of being organised, controlled or accredited by the institution. In doing this, the Church fails to acknowledge, recognise and nurture the ministry of the People of God in the world. It belongs to the laos to build up the Kingdom of God in unchurchly ways. The church must set them free to do this, inspiring and nurturing them in this task without directing or controlling it. The dispersion of the laity is the prime means by which the Church enters the world.

Additional reading:

David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts on Theology of Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991).

Sotirios Christou, The Priest & the People of God, A Royal Priesthood (Cambridge: Phoenix Books, 2003).

George Guiver (ed), Priests in a People’s Church (London: SPCK, 2001).

Jurgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit (New York: Harper and Row, 1977; London: SCM Press, 1992).

John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1985).

(2) The theology and rites of ordination:

With two newly-ordained deacons, the Revd Edna Wakely and the Revd Rob Clements, and with Archbishop Michael Jackson and Dean Dermot Dunne in September 2012

In the Church of Ireland, we declare both in the Preamble and Declaration [see The Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 776-777], and in the Ordinal [see pp 518, 551, 563] that we maintain the historic, apostolic orders of bishop, priest and deacon in the Church, as we have received them … and that we intend to maintain these orders “inviolate.”

The new ordinal, which was not introduced in the Church of Ireland until this century, was heavily influenced by the work of the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, which included Dean Brian Mayne and Bishop Harold Miller.

To Equip the Saints ... the Berkeley statement of the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation in 2001

In its report, To Equip the Saints (2001), the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation charted a number of key principles:

1, The Ministry of the Whole People of God:

“Through the Holy Spirit, God baptises us into the life and ministry of Christ and forms us into the laos, the people of God … This is the ecclesia, the Church, the new community called into being by God.”

In other words, Baptism is the starting point of ministry. Every person who is in Christ has a ministry, and it is within this context of this wider ministry of the whole Church that the specific ministries of bishop, priest and deacon find their place. The report continues:

“understanding baptism as the foundation of the life and ministry of the Church … leads us to see the ordained ministers as integral members of the Body of Christ, called by God and discerned by the body to be signs and animators of Christ’s self-giving life and ministry to which all people are called by God and for which we are empowered by the Spirit.”

2, The distinctive ministries of deacon, priest and bishop:

Ordination services for these orders should not take place at the same time, as this confuses their role.

How do we move away from seeing the diaconate only as preparation for priesthood?

How and when do we allow bishops to return to their priestly ministry?

Where do we place and affirm the ministry of the laity?

3, In addition, the findings raise questions about sequential and direct ordination.

These are appropriate and apposite questions, as all three ministries are exercised within the context of the full ministry of the whole People of God, the community of the Baptised. Salvation is not merely an individual matter; it is about the whole people of God. And so too with the liturgy.

The Ordinal and the theology of ordination:

Priests are called to be servants and shepherds among the people, to proclaim the Word of God, to call to repentance and to pronounce absolution, to baptise, to catechise, to preside at the Holy Communion, to lead God’s people in prayer, to intercede for them, bless them, to teach and encourage them, to minister to the sick, to prepare the dying for their death, caring for people “and joining with them in a common witness, that the world may come to know God’s glory and love.” (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 565.)

Or, as the Ordinal traditionally said, we are “to be messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord” (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 532.)

It’s never about me; it’s always about us, about us and them.

And we are reminded about that at the end of the ordination service, with the final charge from the bishop:

“Remember always with thanksgiving
that the treasure now entrusted to you is Christ’s own flock,
bought through the shedding of his blood on the cross.
The Church and the congregation among whom you will minister
are one with him; they are his body.
Go forth to serve them with joy,
build them up with faith,
and do all in your power to bring them to loving obedience to Christ.”

– (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 573).

Compare this with the traditional warning that was included with this charge in the Ordinal: “And if it shall happen the same Church, or any member thereof, to take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault, and also the horrible punishment that will ensue” (see The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 532).

Outline of the Ordination Services (2), The Book of Common Prayer (2004):

Let us look at the Ordinal [see The Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 517-590].

I suppose it is appropriate that these are the last liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer, for they are at the service of all other ministries and all our other liturgy.

1, The Gathering of God’s People:

Entry (hymn, canticle or psalm);
Greeting;
Introduction.

Presentation of candidate(s);
Question to candidate(s) about call to ministry.

Silence;
Collect.

2, Proclaiming and Receiving the Word:

First Reading;
Psalm;
Second Reading;
(Canticle, hymn or anthem);
Gospel.

Sermon.

Nicene Creed.

3, The Rite of Ordination:

(At the ordination of bishops, the Presentation);
The Charge;
The Declarations;
The Affirmation of the People.

A call to prayer;
An Ordination Litany;
Silence;
Hymn invoking the Holy Spirit (Veni Creator for priests and bishops);
Ordination prayer, with the laying on of hands.

(Vesting);
The Giving of the Bible;
The welcome, greeting or presentation to the people;

The Peace.

4, Celebrating at the Lord’s Table:

5, Going out as God’s People:

The Great Silence;
(Hymn);
Post-Communion Prayers;
(At the ordination of bishops, giving of the pastoral staff);
Dismissal;
The newly-ordained depart for ministry.

[Discussion]

Additional reading:

Christopher Cocksworth and Rosalind Brown, Being a Priest Today, Exploring priestly identity (Norwich Canterbury Press, 2002, 2nd ed 2006).

Sotirios Christou, The Priest & the People of God, A Royal Priesthood (Cambridge: Phoenix Books, 2003).

Malcolm Grundy, What they don’t teach you at theological college (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2003).

George Guiver (ed), Priests in a People’s Church (London: SPCK, 2001).

Eric James (ed), Stewards of the Mysteries of God (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1979).

Daniel J. O’Leary, New Hearts for New Models, a Spirituality for Priests (Dublin: Columba, 1997).

Michael Ramsey, The Christian Priest Today (London: SPCK, 1992 ed).

Alastair Redfern, Ministry and Priesthood (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1999).

Samuel Wells and Sarah Coakley, Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture (London: Continuum, 2008).

(3) Gender and ministry

Bishop Kay Goldsworthy, Australia’s first Anglican woman bishop

If Baptism/Confirmation are foundational for ministry in the Church, who may/may not be ordained as deacon, priest or bishop?

[Discussion:]

Additional reading:

Lavinia Byrne, Woman at the Altar (London: Mowbray, 1994).

Elizabeth Canham, Pilgrimage to Priesthood (London: SPCK, 1983).

Susan Dowell and Jane Williams, Bread, Wine and Women (London: Virago, 1994).

Monica Furlong (ed), Feminine in the Church (London: SPCK, 1984).

Margaret Webster, A New Strength, a New Song, The Journey to Women’s Priesthood (London: Mowbray, 1994).

Next week (2 December 2013):

9.1: Rites of passage, e.g., Marriages, Funerals.

9.2: Seminar: Spirituality of ministry; readings on the minister as person, private, public and holy.

Selected readings:

Christopher Cocksworth and Rosalind Brown, Being a priest today (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2nd ed, 2006), Chapter 7 (pp 129-153). Published in the US as: Rosalind Brown, and Christopher Cocksworth, On being a priest today (Cambridge MA: Cowley 2002).

The Right Revd Dr Christopher Cocksworth has been Bishop of Coventry since 2008 and is a former Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge (2001-2008).

Canon Roslaind Brown is a renowned hymn writer and Canon Librarian of Durham Cathedral, with responsibility for the public face of the cathedral’s life including visitors, education, the Library, pastoral care and relationships with the wider community.

Malcolm Grundy, What they don’t teach you at theological college (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2003), Chapter 16 (pp 162-172), ‘Spirituality and a Rule of Life.’

Canon Malcolm Grundy has been Archdeacon of Craven in the Diocese of Bradford (1994-2005) and Director of the Foundation for Church Leadership (2005-2009).

Sister Barbara June (Kirby) SLG, ‘Simple Gifts: Priesthood in a Praying Community,’ (Chapter 5), pp 62-71 in George Guiver et al, Priests in a People’s Church (London: SPCK, 2001).

The Revd Sister Barbara June (Kirby) is a member of the Community of the Sisters of the Love of God in Fairacres, Oxford, and has been an NSM curate in Saint John’s, Cowley.

Michael Ramsey, The Christian Priest Today (London: SPCK, new ed., 1992), Chapter 9, ‘The Ordination Gospel’ (pp 61-67).

Reminder:

1, Essays.

2, End of module visit postponed to next semester.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a lecture on 25 November 2013 in the Module EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality on the MTh course.

Liturgy (2013) 8.1: Baptism and Eucharist (3): the contemporary
life and mission of the Church; worship and inculturation

The ‘U2Charist’ in Saint George’s and Saint Thomas’s Church, Dublin ... what do we mean by the inculturation of the liturgy?

Patrick Comerford

EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year II, 12:00 to 14:30, Mondays, Hartin Room:

Liturgy 8.1: 25 November 2013

This week:

8.1:
Baptism and Eucharist (3): the contemporary life and mission of the Church; worship and inculturation.

8.2: Theology of the whole people of God; the theology and rites of ordination; gender and ministry.

8.1: Baptism and Eucharist (3): the contemporary life and mission of the Church; worship and inculturation.

What is liturgical inculturation?

And what does inculturation mean for the contemporary life and mission of the Church?

The term “inculturation” is used to speak about “the incarnation of the Gospel in autonomous cultures and at the same time the introduction of these cultures into the life of the Church.” [see Varietates Legitimae – Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy, the Fourth Instruction for the Correct Application of the Conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy (Nos. 37-40), the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 March 1994, §4.]

Inculturation signifies “an intimate transformation of the authentic cultural values by their integration into Christianity and the implementation of Christianity into different human cultures.”

We have inherited a rich and deep liturgical heritage from the Church of Ireland, the wider Church experience in Ireland, the wider Anglican Communion, and through twenty centuries of Church history.

But we also have a cultural heritage that needs to integrate that liturgical heritage, to express that liturgical heritage, and that is expressed in and interpreted in our liturgy. And yet the Church is different from all other gatherings and communities in every culture and every age.

1, The Church is not gathered together by a human decision, but is called through Christ by God in the Holy Spirit and responds in faith to this gracious call.

2, The Church Catholic is called to gather all peoples, to speak all languages, to penetrate all cultures.

3, The Church, as a pilgrim people on this earth, and in this Advent time bears the marks of this present time in its sacraments, its liturgies and its institutions and structures as we await the coming of Christ in hope.

The Church universal, the Church Catholic, finds its particular expression, is made present and signified, in particular Churches. As the 39 Articles remind us, the Church is visible in “a congregation of faithful men” (i.e., faithful people gathered together in the diocese), “in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly administered ...” (Article 19).

Every particular expression of the Church is united with the universal Church, across the barriers of time and of space, not only in belief and sacramental life, but also in those practices the Church has inherited down through the generations, dating back to the Apostolic tradition.

What are some examples of these universal Church practices?

They include, for example, daily prayer, the sanctification of Sunday and the rhythm of the week, the celebration of Easter and the unfolding of the mystery of Christ throughout the liturgical year, and the sacraments.

What about the Liturgy?

We have talked over the past few weeks about Liturgy as the place where Christians meet God in Christ.

Christian worship finds its most fundamental expression when every Sunday, throughout the whole world, Christians gather around the altar or the table in word and sacrament, listening to the Word of God, celebrating the Eucharist, and recalling the death and resurrection of Christ, while awaiting his coming in glory.

As The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland (2004) says:

“All Sundays celebrate the paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ.” On Sundays and eight of the nine Principal Holy Days (Christmas Day, Easter Day, the Day of Pentecost, The Presentation of Christ, Maundy Thursday, the Ascension Day, Trinity Sunday and All Saints’ Day, but not Good Friday), “it is fitting that the Holy Communion be celebrated in every cathedral and in each parish church or in a church within a parochial union, or group of parishes … The liturgical provision for the above days may not be displaced by any other observance” (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 18).

The Liturgy is both the action of Christ the Priest and the action of the Church which is his body. In the Liturgy, the Church, through Christ and the Holy Spirit, gives the Father the worship which is pleasing to him.

There is an unchangeable aspect of the Liturgy. But the Church adapts that the Liturgy, according to the constraints of time and space, for the good of the people, for the good of the people who are the Body of Christ, according to circumstances, times and places.

But how do we strike the balance between inculturating the sacraments that Christ has instituted, and emptying them of their substance? What is essential when it comes to liturgical change?

Our agreements on the Liturgy ensure orthodoxy of worship, not only because we must avoid errors, but because we must pass on the faith in its integrity. There is theological maxim that “rule of prayer” must correspond to the “rule of belief” – lex orandi, lex credendi.

But what about the different needs of the Church in particular places, at particular times? How are these to be addressed?

For example, what about a place that does not have a Christian tradition?

Should missionaries who bring the Gospel with them also bring their liturgical traditions with them?

And how do they modify, adapt or inculturate those liturgical traditions?

Other places have a long-standing Western Christian tradition, where the culture is already embedded with the language of the faith and the expresses of the liturgy. If the liturgy is changes, does it lose its cultural relevance and its ability to speak to the people?

In some places, several cultures coexist. How then is it possible to inculturate liturgical practices?

Any adaptations, modification and changes must bear in mind the need for people to understand the Liturgy with ease, to take part fully, and to relate it actively to their lives and the society in which they live.

For example, there is no point in making adaptations that then need numerous explanations in order to be understood.

How far can we go with inculturation?

The missionary tradition of the Church has always sought to bring the Christian faith to people in their own language. The translation of the Bible and the Liturgy are the first steps in the process of inculturation.

The first significant measure of inculturation at the Reformation was the translation of the Bible, liturgies and liturgical books into the language of the people.

But each translation both shaped and respected literary genres without altering the content of the texts. The translated works had to be understandable by those for whom they were being translated. So, The Book of Common Prayer and the King James Version of the Bible were translated into the English of the 16th and 17th centuries, but they also shaped the English language of the time.

In English, to talk about being saved by the “skin of my teeth” is inexplicable without a glimpse of the Book of Job in the Authorised Version. Phrases like “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” from The Book of Common Prayer have passed into common parlance. How many of you remembered old traditions when you realised that yesterday [24 November 2013] was “Stir-Up Sunday”?

‘God so loved man (humanity)’ ... a sign above the entrance Guizhou Theological Training Centre in Guiyang Province in central China. Chinese Christians have been divided by the words they use for God (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For example, on my visits to China with the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission, I became conscious of how the differences between the “Protestant” and “Catholic” traditions, in their various forms, is exaggerated for non-Christian Chinese when they see that Catholics and Protestants cannot agree on a common translation of the Bible, or even on the same word for God, so that they are seen by many as two completely different religions.

The Catholic Church historically favoured Tīanzhǔ (literally “Heavenly Lord,” or “Lord of Heaven”), and so “Catholicism” is most commonly rendered Tīanzhǔ jìao, although Chinese Catholics also a literal translation of “catholic,” Gōng jiào.

The earliest Protestant missionary in China, Robert Morrison, arrived in 1807. Before this time, Bibles were not printed for distribution. Protestantism is colloquially referred to as Jīdū jìao (“religion of Christ”) but this term can sometimes refer to all Christians, so Xīnjìao (“new religion”) is also used to distinguish Protestants as a group separate from Roman Catholics. Their translators, coming to China later and separately, chose to use the older terminology “Shangdi,” apparently believing “Shangdi” was a valid or preferable representation of the “Most High God.”

In addition, the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter pronunciation of the name of God from the original Hebrew often rendered as YHWH, is rendered in different ways. Catholics have translated this into Yǎwēi (“Elegant Powerful”). Protestants originally rendered it as Yéhuǒhuá (“[old] Gentleman of Fiery Magnificence”). A modern Protestant usage is Yēhéhuá. Some versions translate this term as Shàngzhǔ (literally “Above Lord”), similar to the translation decision to use a capitalised “LORD” by both Catholics and traditional Protestants.

To complicate matters, Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans particularly use Shàngzhǔ in their Eucharistic Prayers.

If people are going to listen to the Gospel being proclaimed, to join in the Canticles, Psalms, responses and hymns, they must be in a language that they can understand and that is culturally pertinent.

And that language is not merely words. The late Archbishop Trevor Huddleston once spoke of Anglican liturgies in Africa that were translated into the words of African languages by CMS, SPG and UMCA missionaries, but were not successful because they retained the Anglo-Saxon and English rhythms and cadences that are part and parcel of The Book of Common Prayer.

And all peoples and cultures have a religious language that is suitable for expressing prayer, and a liturgical language that has its own special characteristics.

Words like liturgy, mystery, ecclesia, evangel, sacrament, Baptism and Eucharist pre-exist Christianity. But they took on a new meaning when they were adapted to the needs of the Church and the liturgy.

Even at the level of liturgical words, translations are always inculturated or they fail to have sign, significance.

Each society and each culture, in the languages of their day, have literary qualities that relate to the living language of the people.

What about newly-created texts for liturgy?

The qualities needed for liturgical translations apply too to new liturgical compositions.

The principle of The Book of Common Prayer is that we share a common liturgical life. But how do new liturgical translations or new liturgical compositions move beyond what is shared, and in their efforts to be inculturated become so localised, so particular, that they are no longer part of the shared, common liturgy of the Church?

And to what degree is The Book of Common Prayer in its various and previous editions over the centuries, the benchmark or standard by which all other liturgies are to be judged?

In its report, Renewing the Anglican Eucharist, the Fifth International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, which met in Dublin (1995), says that as Anglicans “we have until recently identified our liturgical unity in a more or less uniform set of texts derived from the historic Books of Common Prayer. Today that unity is to be found in a common structure of eucharistic celebration.”

Last week, we looked at how the Church of South India had created a new Eucharistic rite, drawing on elements of Anglican, Orthodox, Indian and Mozarabic Liturgies, and in turn how the that Liturgy of the Church of South India has influenced the liturgies of Anglican Churches throughout the world.

The Anglican Church in New Zealand and, nearer to home, the (Anglican) Church in Wales, have lived liturgically for some decades acknowledging and giving liturgical expression to the cultural realities, differences and diversities in their dioceses.

But at what point does diversity sacrifice or even lose unity?

Are there any general principles to help or guide the inculturation of liturgies and rites?

How do we maintain the orthodoxy of the faith while respecting celebrating diversity in culture?

How do we even assess or discern whether a particular culture or tradition should be celebrated and calls for diversity?

Liturgical inculturation includes satisfying and respecting the needs of traditional culture, and at the same time taking account for the needs of those in new cultural settings.

These include the needs of urban and industrial cultures, of post-Christian as well as pre-Christian cultures, the needs of modern and post-modernist cultures, the needs of local people and immigrants too.

Was the introduction of inclusive language in the liturgy enough to eradicate exclusivism? Are there other ways in our language (both verbalised language and body language, as well as our choices of music, symbols, &c.) that serve to make the Church appear exclusive rather than inclusive?

The Discovery services in inner city Dublin ... “Anglican liturgies with African flavours”

I have taken part in many of the “Discovery” liturgies in Saint George’s and Saint Thomas’s Church in Inner City Dublin – described as Anglican liturgies with African – and sometimes Indian – flavours. Some years ago, I was also invited to preside at what was called a “U2Charist” in the same church.

In preparing for it, I was helped by the writings of two Episcopal churches in the US: Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard, Get Up Off Your Knees, preaching the U2 catalog (Cambridge MA: Cowley, 2003).

It was obvious to me, as people came forward to receive the Eucharist, that many of those who took part had not been to Communion, had not been to church at all, for a long, long time. But this Eucharist spoke to them in their modern and post-modern language.

Liturgy cannot just borrow but adapt and find meaning in the social and religious rites of a people, and their culture can positively enrich their understanding of liturgical actions.

But are there negative elements of a culture should not be incorporated into the liturgy?

Of course there are dangers of reductionism or being trite and there are the dangers of syncretism. There are times when we need to make a break with the past. There are times when we can have layers and layers of meaning and nuance, and there are times we need to avoid ambiguity to avoid a process of inclulturation that stoops to politicisation of the liturgy, to superstition, to vengeance or to sexual connotations.

How is the unity of Anglicanism expressed in the liturgy?

True inculturation does not create new traditions beyond Anglicanism. Instead, it responds to the needs of a particular culture and leads to adaptations that still remain part of our tradition and communion.

But they need to take account of the historical, anthropological, exegetical and theological character of the expressions of faith of the people and culture with whom the liturgy is being adapted.

They need to be attuned to the pastoral experience of the church and of the people where the changes are taking place.

It is not just about the hymns and the music.

Many cultures have a great collection of wisdom in the form of proverbs and stories. This literature is a store of wisdom set in a cultural context that people understand very well. The proverbs of the people may be more familiar to them than the Book of Proverbs in the Bible. But while this literature is full of wisdom, it can never be a substitute for the inspired word of God in the liturgy, and certainly not in the name of inculturation.

On the other hand, we one can use it to explain the word of God, for instance in the sermon, or outside the liturgy in teaching. But the liturgy of the word within the context of liturgical celebration is irreplaceable.

For example, the story is told that it had been observed that in some African traditions before people dined at an important meal they poured libation to the ancestors. Drawing on this observation, it was suggested that it would be appropriate to pour a libation of the consecrated wine before the Eucharistic meal. But this is a total misunderstanding of the centrality of the Paschal Mystery, reducing Christ’s presence in the Eucharist to mere drink. It also raises questions about why people think the dead need material nourishment.

Colours and postures all have different significance in different cultures. White is associated with death in China. What about blue, purple, pink, green, orange? In some cultures it is only acceptable to kneel for prayer, in others to stand, but in many it is rude to sit for prayer. Other culturally-charged language and body language includes standing for the Gospel. But what about having your hands in your pockets?

Who welcomes and who dismisses are culturally-charged tasks. An illustration from the Gospel is found at the meal Christ has in the house of Simon the Pharisee. The woman anoints Jesus, but Simon failed to greet him properly, to offer him the opportunity wash his feet and hands before sitting at the table.

What about:

● The texts of the opening dialogues?
● The ways in which the altar and the Book of the Gospels are venerated?
● The exchange of peace?
● Who brings up and who receives the offering?
● Who prepares the altar/table?
● The words and actions at the preparation of the gifts and at the communion?
● The type of bread and wine we use?
● The materials for the construction of the altar/table and liturgical furnishings?
● The material and form of sacred vessels – pottery or silver?
● The shape, texture and colour of liturgical vestments?
● The way in which we distribute the Holy Communion – who distributes and what words do we use?
● Who dismisses? Who sends out?

And the questions we ask about the Eucharist should be asked too of the rites of Christian initiation (Baptism and Confirmation), marriages, funerals, the blessings of persons, places or things, and the liturgical calendar?

And when we do change and inculturate the public worship of the Church, to what degree do we need to exercise prudence and discretion so we avoid breaking up of the local Church into little “churches” that become closed in on themselves?

When the Church introduces changes, those changes need to be gradual, and adequate explanations must be provided with good and sensitive teaching so that we avoid the danger of rejection or simply an artificial grafting on to previous forms.

Of course, there must be innovations when the good of the Church and the needs of the people genuinely demand them.

But care must be taken too to ensure that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.

What do you think are some of liturgical actions that might be adapted?

Many elements may be open to adaptation, including language, music and singing, gesture and posture, art and images, and popular devotions.

Liturgical language must express the truths of the faith, and the grandeur and holiness of the mysteries which are being celebrated. But it must be language that is both sacred and culturally relevant for people, not merely in its vocabulary but also in its cadences, rhythms, poetry and drama.

Music and singing should have pride of place in the liturgy. A text that is sung is more deeply embedded in our memories when it is read. We must be demanding about the biblical and liturgical inspiration and the literary quality of the texts we want sung.

The liturgy is not merely words: it is work, which means it is actions and movements too. Gesture and posture are especially important. Gestures are culturally embedded, yet they express the attitude of humanity before God and our attitude to one another.

For example, the gestures and postures of the celebrating or presiding priest at the Eucharist have to express his or her special function: He/she presides over the assembly both in the person of Christ and on behalf of the people. The gestures and postures of the congregation are signs of our unity, express our active participation, and foster our spiritual attitudes.

What about liturgical dance, for instance?

Among some peoples, singing is instinctively accompanied by hand-clapping, rhythmic swaying and dance movements. These are valid liturgical expressions, not simply performances, and they can express true communal prayer, adoration, praise, offering and supplication.

To summarise:

Basically there are three principles of liturgical inculturation:

● compatibility with the Gospel;
● union with the Church;
● localising the faith and worship of the Universal Church in the incarnational situation of the local church.

The Church is called to overcome the barriers that divide humanity. By baptism, we all become children of God and form in Christ Jesus one people where “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3: 28).

For inculturation this means that whatever measure is taken, while it helps Christianity to penetrate in a particular culture, it should not on the other hand alienate others, and so divide the unity that is essential to the Church.

Appendix 1:

In its report, Renewing the Anglican Eucharist, the Fifth International Anglican Liturgical Consultation in Dublin (1995) asked what is important in the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist and suggested a scheme that should be varied in keeping with liturgical seasons and special seasons and occasions.

The following table indicates the relative importance of the various elements in the Eucharist:

1 = indispensible.
2 = integral, but not indispensable.
3 = would not be omitted in principle, may be limited or varied in accordance with liturgical seasons or special occasions.
4 = not necessary but may be desirable at times.

* An asterisk indicates elements of the liturgy that may appear at one point or another in the rite. Their placement, however, has significant implications and requires careful attention.

I, The Gathering of God’s People:

Greeting [1]
* Penitential Rite [3]
Song / Act of Praise [1]
Opening Prayer (Collect) [1]

II, Proclaiming and Receiving the Word:

First Reading [1]
Psalm [2]
Second Reading [2]
Gospel [1]
Sermon [1]
Creed [3]
* Silence, songs and other responses [2]

III, Prayers of the People:

Prayers [1]
* The Lord’s Prayer [1]
* Penitential Rite [3]
Peace [1]

IV, Celebrating at the Lord’s Table:

Preparing the Table [1]
Prayer over the gifts [4]
Eucharistic Prayer [1]
* The Lord’s Prayer [1]
Silence [1]
The Breaking of the Bread [1]
Invitation [2]
Communion [1]

V, Going out as God’s People:

Silence [1]
Hymn [4]
Prayer after Communion [2]
Blessing [4]
Dismissal [1]

Compare this with the headings and structures for the Eucharist in The Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 201-221.

Supplemental reading:

Tissa Balasuruya, The Eucharist and Human Liberation (London: SCM Press, 1979).
Paul Bradshaw and John Melloh (eds), Foundations in Ritual Studies: A reader for students of Christian worship (London: SPCK, 2007).
Stephen Burns, Living the Thanksgiving: exploring the Eucharist (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2006).
Nell Challingsworth, Liturgical Dance Movement, a practical guide (London and Oxford: Mowbray, 1982)
Patrick Comerford, ‘The Reconstruction of Theological Thinking – implications for the Church in China,’ Search 29/1 (Spring 2006), pp 13-22.
Vivienne Faull and Jane Siclair, Count us in – inclusive language in the liturgy (Bramcote: Grove, 1986, Grove Liturgical Study No 46).
Richard Giles, Creating Uncommon Worship, transforming the liturgy of the Eucharist (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004).
David R. Holeton (ed), Renewing the Anglican Eucharist (Cambridge: Grove, 1996, Grove Worship Series 135).
Graham Hughes, Worship as Meaning, A Liturgical Theology for Late Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine series).
Kevin W. Irwin, Models of the Eucharist (New York/Mahwah NJ: Paullist Press, 2005).
Harold Miller, Making an Occasion of it (Dublin: Church of Ireland Literature Committee, 1994).
Michael Perham (ed), The Renewal of Common Prayer (London: SPCK, 1993).
Varietates Legitimae – Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy, the Fourth Instruction for the Correct Application of the Conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy (Nos. 37-40), the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 1994.
Raewynne J. Whiteley, Beth Maynard (eds), Get Up Off Your Knees, preaching the U2 catalog (Cambridge MA: Cowley, 2003).

Reminder:

Essays

End-of-semester visit


Next:

8.2: Theology of the whole people of God; the theology and rites of ordination; gender and ministry.

Next week (2 December 2013):

9.1:
Rites of passage, e.g., Marriages, Funerals.

9.2: Seminar: Spirituality of ministry: readings on the minister as person, private, public and holy.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a lecture on 25 November 2013 in the Module EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality on the MTh course.

Celtic Spirituality: an Introduction

Glendalough ... the monastic “Valley of the Two Lakes” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Monday, 25 November 2013

Opening Reading:
I Peter 1: 13-21.

Opening Hymn:

In the Church Calendar and in the lectionary, yesterday [Sunday 24 November 2013] marked the Kingship of Christ, and we will celebrate that Kingship of Christ again on Wednesday evening [27 November 2013] at our Community Eucharist. And so, we open our reflections on Celtic Spirituality with a hymn that praises the High King of Heaven:

Be thou my vision (Church Hymnal, No 643).

Introduction

Some years ago, I spent an autumn’s afternoon in Glendalough, looking for what I thought would be the remains of a great Celtic monastery.

Imagine my surprise when I found that the most prominent Celtic High Cross I was taking photographs of – one that stands beneath the Great Round Tower – was a gravestone erected in the late 19th century.

A few more Celtic myths were shattered that afternoon: the Great Round Tower was capped in the late 19th century too, so as we see it today is not as it once stood; even Saint Kevin’s Church is an 18th century church, built according to plans derived from an earlier sketch by a French or Swiss artist.

Our images of Celtic spirituality are often shaped by Victorian romanticism. Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, as we know it, is based on a manuscript from the late 11th century now in the Library of Trinity College Dublin. But it was only published in 1897 by John Henry Bernard (1860-1927), later Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin (1915-1919) and Provost of Trinity College Dublin (1919-1927).

The hymn Be Thou My Vision (Church Hymnal 643) refers to Christ as “my high tower” ... the Round Tower at Glendalough (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sometimes, our images of Celtic Spirituality are intricately linked with the nation-state-building myths created by an Irish nationalism that was often narrow in its vision. Yet, Be thou my vision, Hymn 643 in the Church Hymnal, was versified by a member of the Church of Ireland, Dr Eleanor Henrietta Hull, using another translation of an earlier poem or prayer.

But often the vision of the nation myth-makers was of an Ireland in which anything they regarded as “Celtic” was wrapped up with a narrow, exclusive concept of being green, Gaelic, Catholic, nationalist and Irish.

Saint Patrick’s Window in Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The popular images of Saint Patrick at that time in stained-glass windows, road-side statues and popular postcards show him standing on a bed of shamrocks decked in the robes and mitre of a truly Tridentine bishop. Of course, I would point out that green is the wrong liturgical colour both for Lent and for a saint’s day. But why was he never seen in those popular portrayals in convocation robes or in a simple alb and stole? Because the message was clear: Celtic Christianity was for Roman Catholics only, and at that for a particular type of Catholicism.

And yet we did something similar in the Church of Ireland in the 19th century. antiquarians posing as historians claimed Patrick, and every other Celtic saint they could find, for Protestant Christianity, as opposed to Roman Christianity … as if Christianity in Ireland before the 12th or 13th centuries was pure from heresy, undefiled by superstition and out of touch with the Continental European Church.

Nor was Celtic Christianity the only formative influence on the Church in Ireland as it moved from the mediaeval period towards the Reformations. The Preamble and Declaration of 1870 describe the Church of Ireland as “the Ancient Catholic and Apostolic Church of Ireland” – what a title. But that ancient and catholic church is not just Celtic; it was influenced and shaped too by other cultural forces, including the Vikings, Anglo-Normans, and many others. Hopefully this will continue in the future, with the Romanians, Nigerians, Chinese, or others.

It may be that the economic woes of the past year or two have made us despise the Celtic Tiger. But Celtic Spirituality is still a fashionable commodity when you look at the shops around Christ Church Cathedral or go shopping for small presents in Dublin Airport before a flight.

Much of what passes as “Celtic” and as “Celtic Spirituality” is tatty and second-rate. But there are compelling reasons to have a sound grasp of Celtic spirituality in the context of ministry in Ireland today.

The Cathedral ... The largest and most imposing of the buildings at Glendalough, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Firstly, many of the cathedrals and churches of the Church of Ireland stand on ancient Celtic monastic sites. If you have ever wondered why so many Church of Ireland cathedrals – Achonry, Ardagh, Clogher, Clonfert, Elphin, Emly, Ferns, Kilfenora, Kilmacduagh, Kilmore, Leighlin, Raphoe, Rosscarbery – are in small villages or remote locations, or why it took so long to build cathedrals in Belfast, Enniskillen, or Sligo, or why still we have no cathedral in Galway, then you begin to realise the lasting influences of the Celtic monasteries.

You may be ordained in one of these cathedrals, or become a curate or rector in a church with the tongue-twisting name of an otherwise-forgotten Celtic saint. So we should know its place and part in the story of our church.

Secondly, Celtic Christianity is popular and marketable – it’s a lifestyle choice. [The Revd Patrick] Paddy [McGlinchey] has told you, I’m sure, how many books on Buddhism are on sale even in ordinary bookshops. In fact, the three most popular categories of books on religion or on “Mind, Body and Spirit” shelves in Irish bookshops are on Buddhism, new age-type books on angels, and new age-style books on “Celtic Spirituality.”

It is important to know the minds of people, to know what engages them spiritually, what passes as religion for many if we are going to be incarnational in our ministry and mission.

But much of the writing about Celtic spirituality today is superficial, amateur, new age material, making spurious claims for the writers and against Christianity. For example: “Perhaps it is this mixture of pagan and Christian that makes Celtic Spirituality so interesting and so accessible today ... It is easier to find spiritual truth in a sacred grove than a dusty half empty church hall.”

Or what do you make of this claim: “Celtic Spirituality … is not a religion, it is a series of beliefs and practices to help you become aware of the spiritual world around you and your place in it. Whether you find it suitable to work with Jesus, his apostles and the Celtic Saints, or Brigid, Mannán Mac Lir and the Celtic gods, it matters little. What matters is that your life is enriched; you are at peace with your inner-being and that you become aware of the magic and incredible world that surrounds us all.”

Patrick Wormald describes this as “... ‘new-age’ paganism,” based on notions of some sort of “Celtic spirituality,” allegedly distinguished by a unique “closeness to nature.”

And thirdly, modern spirituality, in a dynamic way, has drawn on and has been enriched by many resources associated with Celtic spirituality, enriching the life of the Church of Ireland at every level.

There are at least 20 hymns from the Irish language in the Church Hymnal, and many more tunes with a Celtic air to them. We have all been enriched by the prayers of the Iona Community, the hymns of John Bell, Graham Maule and the Wild Goose Worship Group, the active and engaged spirituality of the Corrymeela community, or the resources of the Northumbria Community near Lindisfarne.

The global reception of the hymns of John Bell and Graham Maule show how there is a fresh and new interest in Celtic Spirituality that is not confined to Ireland.

At an academic level, this interest has been stimulated by scholars such as James Mackey, Ian Bradley in the Church of Scotland, the Jesuit Diarmuid Ó Laoghaire (1915-2001), the Carmelite Peter O’Dwyer and the Redemptorist John Ó Ríordáin, and writers such as the late John O’Donohue, poet and author of Anam Cara (1997) who died almost six years ago (4 January 2008).

The Celts: who were they?

‘As the deer pants for the water’ … the base of the ‘Market Cross’ in Kells, Co Meath, has two friezes, including a deer hunt (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

If we are going to talk about Celtic spirituality, I should begin with caution: it is difficult to say if there was such a group of people as Celts. The name for Celts comes from terms used by the Greeks and Romans to describe the people who lived in Gaul (France). But scholars differ when they answer the question: Who were the Celts?

Did they originate in southern Europe, or in what is now southern Germany and Austria? Or did they come from the Pontic-Caspian region? Strabo suggests that the Celtic heartland was in southern France. Pliny the Elder says the Celts originated in southern Portugal and Spain. But how did they reach the remote Atlantic coasts and islands of Western Europe we now know as the “Celtic fringe”?

“Celt” is a modern English word. There are few written records of ancient Celtic languages and most of the evidence for personal names and place names is found in Greek and Roman authors. The names used by Greek (Κελτοί, Γαλᾶται) and Latin writers (Galli) refer to speakers of similar languages, but not to a people. The one group of Biblical Celts are named in two New Testament letters: the Letter to the Galatians, and also I Peter (see I Peter 1: 1). Saint Jerome (AD 342-419), in his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, notes the language of the Anatolian Galatians at his time.

Romantic antiquarian interest popularised the term “Celt,” but only from the 17th century on. Because of the rise of nationalism and Celtic revivals from the 19th century on, the term “Celtic” is now used to identify the languages and cultures of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Brittany. But the term “Celtic” also applies to Continental European regions with a Celtic heritage but no Celtic language, such as northern Iberia, and to a lesser degree France.

“Celticity” refers to shared cultural indicators, such as language, myths, artefacts and social organisation. But does that shared culture and family of language imply a shared ethnicity?

There is little archaeological evidence in Ireland for large inward Celtic migration. European Celtic influences and language may have been absorbed gradually. But did the Celts arrive in Ireland by invasion? Or did their culture and language spread gradually to other peoples already here? As one writer in The Irish Times argued, just because we all eat pasta and pizza, drink Chianti, holiday in Tuscany and are decked out by Versace and Gucci, does not make us Italian, even culturally. Nor does it indicate there was ever an Italian invasion of Ireland. Were the Celtic languages and cultures adopted as some sort of early fashion statement?

Can we talk about a Celtic Christianity?

Saint Kevin’s Church, Glendalough ... named after the founder of the monastic settlement, has a steep roof supported internally by a semi-circular vault (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Can we talk about a “Celtic Christianity” with distinguishing, unique traditions, spirituality, liturgies and rituals that mark it out from other traditions in the Church in the neighbouring sub-Roman world?

“Celtic Christianity” broadly refers to early mediaeval Christian practices that developed around the Irish Sea in the 5th and 6th centuries, among many people on these islands. By extension, the term can refer to the monastic networks founded from Scotland and Ireland on Continental Europe, especially in Gaul (France).

The term “Celtic Christianity” is sometimes extended beyond the 7th century to describe later Christian practice in these areas. But the history of the churches on these islands diverges significantly after the 8th century, with great differences even between rival Irish traditions.

It is easy to exaggerate the cohesiveness of the Celtic Christian communities. The term “Celtic Church” is inappropriate to describe Christianity among Celtic-speaking peoples. Celtic-speaking areas were part of Latin or Western Christendom as a whole. But we can talk about certain traditions in Celtic-speaking lands, and the development and spread of these traditions, especially in the 6th and 7th centuries.

The flowering of Celtic Christianity

A late Celtic high cross at Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns, Co Wexford … Saint Edan was once claimed as pre-Patrician bishop in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Britain was the most remote province in the Roman Empire. Christianity reached England in the first few centuries AD, and the first recorded martyr in England was Saint Alban, perhaps between 283 and 304, certainly long before Saint Patrick’s time in Ireland.

The Roman legions were withdrawn from England in 407, Rome was sacked in 410, the legions did not return to England, and Roman influence came to an end. In the aftermath, these islands developed distinctively from the rest of Western Europe, and the Irish Sea acted as a centre from which a new culture developed among the “Celtic” peoples.

Ireland was never part of the Roman Empire. But Christianity came here from the former Roman outposts, and a unique Church organisation emerged, focussed on the monasteries, rather than on episcopal sees, with their own traditions and practices. Key figures in this process included Saint Ninian, Palladius and Saint Patrick, the “Apostle of Ireland.” Ireland was converted through the work of missionaries from Britain such as Patrick and others.

Celtic missions

Early Celtic saints and founding figures of the Church included Saint Martin in France, Saint Ninian in Scotland, Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid in Ireland, and Saint Samson and Saint David in Wales and Brittany.

In the 6th and 7th centuries, monks from Ireland established monastic settlements in parts of Scotland. They included Saint Columba or Saint Colmcille, who settled on Iona. Ireland became “a land of saints and scholars” and missionaries from Ireland became a major source of missionary work in Scotland, Saxon parts of Britain and central Europe.

As the Anglo-Saxons colonised what is now England, Celtic missionaries from Scotland and Ireland worked among them. In the year 631, Saint Aidan was sent from Iona to evangelise them from the island of Lindisfarne, on England’s north-east coast. Celtic practice heavily influenced northern England, and the missionaries from Lindisfarne reached as far south as London.

Irish monks were also settling in Continental Europe, particularly in Gaul (France), including Saint Columbanus, and exerting a profound influence greater than that of many Continental centres with more ancient traditions.

Meanwhile, in 597, Pope Gregory sent a mission to the English, led by Saint Augustine. These renewed links with the greater Latin West brought the Celtic-speaking peoples into close contact with other expressions of Christianity.

Distinctive traditions

Some of the customs and traditions that had developed in Celtic Christianity were distinctive or gave rise to disputes with the rest of the Western Church. These included the monastic tradition, fixing the date of Easter, differences on the use of tonsure, and penitential rites.

1, The monastic tradition

The ‘Market Cross’ in front of Kells Heritage Centre once stood within the monastery grounds in Kells, Co Meath, associated with Saint Columba and the ‘Book of Kells’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The achievements of Christianity in the Celtic-speaking world are significant. Irish society had no pre-Christian history of literacy. Yet within a few generations of the arrival of Christianity, the monks and priests had become fully integrated with Latin culture. Apart from their Latin texts, these Irish monks also developed a written form of Old Irish.

Some of the greatest achievements of the Celtic tradition were during this period, such as the Book of Kells, and intricately carved high crosses.

Episcopal structures were adapted to an environment wholly different from that in the sub-Roman world. Apart from parts of Wales, Devon, and Cornwall, the Celtic world was without developed cities, and so different ecclesiastical structures were needed, especially in Ireland. This ecclesiastical structure developed around monastic communities and their abbots.

2, Calculating the date of Easter

Celtic Christianity was often marked by its conservatism, even archaism. One example is the method used to calculate Easter, using a calculation similar to one approved by Saint Jerome.

Eventually, most groups, including the southern Irish, accepted the new methods for calculating Easter, but not the monastery of Iona and the houses linked to it.

At the Synod of Whitby in 664, the rules of the Roman mission were accepted by the Church in England, and were extended later throughout Britain and Ireland. But the decrees of Whitby did not immediately change the face of Christianity on these islands. There were pockets of resistance to the Roman mission, especially in Devon, Cornwall and Scotland, and the monks of Iona did not accept the decisions reached at Whitby until 716.

3, Monastic tonsure

Irish monks kept a distinct tonsure, or method of cutting their hair, to distinguish their identity as monks. The “Celtic” tonsure involved cutting away the hair above one’s forehead. This differed from the prevailing custom, which was to shave the top of the head, leaving a halo of hair – in imitation of Christ’s crown of thorns.

4, Penitentials

In Ireland, a distinctive form of penance developed, where confession was made privately to a priest, under the seal of secrecy, and penance was given privately and performed privately as well. Handbooks, called “penitentials,” were designed as a guide for confessors and to regularise the penance given for each particular sin.

In the past, penance had been a public ritual, but had fallen into disuse. But the Irish penitential practice spread throughout continental Europe, and Saint Columbanus is said to have introduced the “medicines of penance” to Gaul.

By 1215, the Celtic practice had become the European norm, with the Fourth Lateran Council issuing a canonical requirement for confession at least once per year.

Renewed interest in ‘Celtic Spirituality’

A replica high cross from the 19th century beneath the Round Tower of Glendalough (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the 19th century, there was a revival of interest in Celtic spirituality in these islands, with renewed interest in the poetry, customs or household prayers of the western Celtic fringes. It coincided with a similar revival in political and artistic circles.

Hymns mentioning high towers were written in the same decades in the late 19th century as the Round Tower was restored and capped in Glendalough, a Round Tower was erected at the grave of Daniel O’Connell in Glasnevin Cemetery, and, as part of the Victorian Arts and Crafts Movement, my great-grandfather decorated the top storey of the Irish House, a pub that stood beneath Christ Church Cathedral, with a series of rising round towers.

The Gaelic Athletic Association was formed in 1884, the Gaelic League by Douglas Hyde, a rector’s son, in 1893. Our most popular English-language version of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, Frances Alexander’s I bind unto myself today (Irish Church Hymnal, 322) was first sung and published as late as 1889. The English-language version of Be thou my vision by Mary Byrne and Eleanor Hull (Irish Church Hymnal, No 643), which refers to God as “my high tower,” was only translated and versified in 1905, and was first published in a hymnal in 1915.

The pediment of the Irish House, on the corner of Wood Quay and Winetavern Street, was decorated by James Comerford in 1870 with a series of Celtic motifs, topped by a collection of rising round towers

In Scotland, many ‘Celtic’ poems and prayers were collected and edited by Alexander Carmichael in his Carmina Gadelica (1900) and in Ireland by Douglas Hyde in the Religious Songs of Connacht (1906).

In 1938, George MacLeod, a Church of Scotland minister, rebuilt Iona’s ancient Abbey, and founded the modern Iona Community.

Since the 1980s, Celtic-style books of prayers by the Revd David Adam, Vicar of Lindisfarne, have become widely popular, as has a wave of books about Celtic Christianity, study courses, and Celtic interest networks.

Themes in Celtic Spirituality

For centuries, the riches of Celtic spirituality were transmitted orally. These included prayers sung or chanted at the rising and setting of the sun, in the midst of daily work and routine, at a child’s birth, or at a loved one’s death. There were prayers of daily life celebrating God as Life within all life, with creation as his dwelling place.

1, Creation:

David Adam says: “Celtic Christians saw a universe ablaze with God’s glory, suffused with a presence that calls, nods and beckons – a creation personally united with its Creator in every atom and fibre.”

There’s no plant in the ground
But is full of his blessing.
There’s no thing in the sea
But is full of his life...
There is nought in the sky
But proclaims his goodness.
Jesu! O Jesu! it’s good to praise thee!
– (Carmina Gadelica)

Long before Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Patrick called Christ the “True Sun.” Ray Simpson writes in Celtic Blessings: “A good way to experience Jesus is to use what I call the Sun Bathing Exercise. Imagine Jesus as the smiling sunshine of God pouring rays of light upon you. Just soak these up, relax and feel better! Celtic Christians see Jesus as the divine light that permeates all creation. So by spending time in nature we can also be spending time with Jesus.”

2, Humanity

Christ enthroned ... the Book of Kells

O Son of God … dear child of Mary, you are the refined molten metal of our forge. – Tadhg Óg Ó Huiginn

Christ is the supreme example of a complete human life. By being united to him, we can learn how to be fully human by finding a body-mind-intuition balance, and by growing in wisdom and, above all, love.

3, Worship and community

Early Celtic Christians shared their food, money, work, play and worship in little communities which were always open to the people who lived around them. Wherever they lived they saw Christ in their neighbour and made community with them.

Celtic writers talked about worshipping God with the “five-stringed harp” ... the North Cross in Castledermot, Co Kildare, depicts King David with his harp – one of the few images on a Celtic high cross from this time of an Irish harp (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Celtic writers talked about worshipping God with the “five-stringed harp” – meaning all five senses. The Celtic churches punctuated each day and night with periods of prayer.

4, The Trinity

Celtic Christians placed a strong emphasis on the Holy Trinity. They followed the one God who embraces the world with his two arms of love: the right arm is Christ; the left arm is the Spirit:

I lie down this night with God
And God will lie down with me
I lie down this night with Christ
And Christ will lie down with me
I lie down this night with the Spirit
And the Spirit will lie down with me
. – (Carmina Gadelica)

5, Everyday prayers

The Celts prayed about anything and everything in a natural way. Prayers for frequent activities were learned by heart and handed down by word of mouth or later in writing.

Some of the Celtic prayers are blessings:

Bless to me, O God
Each thing my eye sees,
Each sound my ear hears,
Each person I meet.


Some Celtic prayers were “circling prayers”:

Circle me, Lord.
Keep peace within, keep harm without.
Circle me, Lord.
Keep love within, keep hate without.


6, Prayer and imagination

Celtic prayer is also marked by the use of imagination, for example, by imagining that Christ, his mother or friends were in the kitchen, in the house, in the workplace, or even in the bedroom. Here are some examples:

I will do my household chores as would Mary, mother of Jesus.
I will travel to my next place in the presence of the angels of protection.
Who is that near me when I am sad and alone?
It is Jesus, the King of the sun
.

7, Armour (“Breastplate”) prayers

The most famous of the armour or breastplate prayers for protection is known as Saint Patrick’s Breastplate. This invites God’s force-field to strengthen us for life’s struggles.

The armour consists of:

1. God – the three in one
2. Human valour as lived by Christ
3. Angels and great souls
4. Powers of creation
5. Spiritual gifts

The praying person then confronts negative forces one by one, invites Christ into each situation, and repeats the opening invocation.

In the prayer we call Saint Patrick’s Breastplate (see Hymns 322 and 611 in the Church Hymnal), the writer imagines that he is Saint Patrick, putting on the different items of God’s armour: God, good spirits, saints, powers of creation, spiritual gifts – just like a suit of armour. The eighth verse of this prayer (Hymn 322) says:

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger
.

8, Blessing prayers

The Celtic way blessed everything in life (except evil), however earthy or every-day, all around the clock, including animals, food, gifts, jobs, lovemaking, meals, travel. Here are examples of an anniversary and a sleep blessing:

On this your anniversary
God give you the best of memories,
Christ give you pardon for failings,
Spirit give you the fruits of friendship.

Sleep in peace,
Sleep soundly,
Sleep in love.
Weaver of dreams
Weave well in you as you sleep
. – Ray Simpson, Celtic Blessings.

9, Miracles and Celtic saints

In Celtic Christianity, saints were regarded as holy spiritual overlords who were close to God, provided assistance in times of need, had special influence in the court of heaven, and were able to plead with God for favours.

Many miracles were associated with them, including visions, healings, favours granted, mystical appearances and more. Places where miracles had been performed became pilgrimage sites.

10, The Anamchara

Celtic Christians recognised the importance of shared spiritual journeys, and their Anamchara or Soul Friend, was their spiritual director. Anamchara were sought out as men and women of wisdom, great spirituality and insight, who were willing to share their understanding of the faith with others.

Saint Brigid said that “the person without an Anamchara is like a body without a head.”

Some Celtic saints:

Apart from Saint Patrick, we ought to be familiar with some other Celtic and Irish saints from this period and tradition.

1, Saint Brigid of Kildare

Saint Brigid ... one of the three patrons of Ireland

Saint Brigid (1 February), is second only to Saint Patrick (17 March) as the patron of Ireland. She is also known as Mary of the Gael. A passage in the Book of Lismore testifies to her importance: “It is she who helpeth everyone who is in danger; it is she that abateth the pestilences; it is she that quelleth the rage and the storm of the sea. She is the prophetess of Christ; she is the Queen of the South; she is the Mary of the Gael.”

Saint Brigid is said to offer protection to poets, blacksmiths, healers, cattle, dairymaids, midwives, new-born babies and fugitives. The numerous stories of miracles performed by her even in childhood convey the impression that she was really a person of compassion, charity and strength. Her practicality and resourcefulness were shown by fetching well water that tasted more like ale for a sick servant, or picking up rushes from the floor to twist into a cross to explain the message of salvation to a dying man. Her generosity frequently relied on prayer to make good the deficit.

Her father Dubtach was a pagan nobleman in Leinster, and her mother his Christian bondwoman, Brotseach, whom he sold to a Druid who lived at Faughart near Dundalk. There the child was born in the mid-5th century (ca 451 or 453) and baptised Brid or Brigid. It is said that as a child she was taken to hear Saint Patrick preaching, and as she listened to him she fell into an ecstasy.

At about the age of 14, instead of accepting marriage, she opted for the religious life. She left home with seven other young girls and travelled to Co Meath where Saint Macaille was bishop.

The chancel of Saint Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Brigid founded the first convent in Ireland. She went to Ardagh to make her final vows before Saint Mel, a nephew of Saint Patrick, and he is said to have mistakenly ordained here.

Later, a unique community of monks and nuns developed at Kildare, with Brigid as Abbess of the nuns and Conleth, the first Bishop of Kildare, as Abbot of the monks. Kildare became a centre for spirituality and learning, healing, faith-sharing and evangelism.

Brigid died on 1 February ca 521-528. She is depicted in art as an abbess holding a lamp or candle, often with a cow in the background, and sometimes wearing a mitre. This poem is ascribed to her:

I long for a great lake of ale
I long for the meats of belief and pure piety
I long for the flails of penance at my house
I long for them to have barrels full of peace
I long to give away jars full of love
I long for them to have cellars full of mercy
I long for cheerfulness to be in their drinking
I long for Jesus too to be there among them
.

2, Saint Columba

The Round Tower in Kells, Co Meath ... a monastic site dating from the ninth, or even the sixth century, is associated with Saint Columba and his followers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Columba (9 June) is intimately associated with Iona, off the west coast of Scotland – and is credited with bringing Christianity to Scotland. But he is also linked to a number of Irish monastic foundations, including Kells, Co Meath, and Derry.

He was born in Co Donegal in 520 into a wealthy royal family and was given the name Colum (“the dove”). He became a priest at a monastery founded by Saint Finian and spent many years in his home region establishing hundreds of churches and monasteries.

It is said that during a visit to Saint Finian, Columba secretly copied a beautiful Psalter that Finian brought back from Rome. In doing this, he devalued the original book. Columba refused to return his the copy and Finian challenged him in court. The king ruled in favour of Finian, saying famously: “To every cow belongs her calf; to every book belongs its copy.”

When Columba still refused to give back his copy, a clan war broke out between the king’s followers and Columba’s supporters. Many people were killed in the fighting, and a shamed Columba accepted “white martyrdom” – exiling himself from his homeland as a penance. In 563, at the age of 42, Columba and 12 companion monks sailed in a currach to Iona, where they settled and founded a monastery.

Iona became the largest Christian centre in northern Britain, attracting thousands of monks, and later became a centre for missionary outreach to the highlands of Scotland.

In 597, at the age of 76, a week before he died, Columba climbed the hill overlooking the monastery in Iona, blessed the monks, and said: “In Iona of my heart, Iona of my love, Instead of monks’ voices shall be lowing of cattle, But ere the world come to an end Iona shall be as it was.” During his last days he dictated a prayer to his monks:

See that you are at peace among yourselves,
my children, and love one another.
Take the example of the good men of ancient
times and God will comfort and aid you,
both in this world and in the world to come.
Amen
.

Iona Abbey, and the Iona Community founded in the 1930s by George MacLeod, continue to inspire Christians today throughout the world.

Saint Cuthbert (636-687)

Pages from the Lindisfarne Gospels are projected onto Durham Cathederal in Durham. Artist Ross Ashton collaborated with Robert Ziegler and John del Nero to create a 12-minute Son et Lumiere, projecting pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels across the Durham Cathedral, as part of Durham Lumiere in 2011

Saint Cuthbert was born in the Scottish border country near Melrose. One night, he had a vision of a great light, stretching from earth to heaven. He learned later that on that same night, 31 August 651, Saint Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, had died. To the young shepherd, the vision seemed to be a challenge and a call to serve God. He entered the Monastery of Old Melrose and there he spent 13 years as a monk.

Eata, Abbot of Melrose, took Cuthbert with him to Ripon where they entered the monastery together. Cuthbert later returned to Melrose as Prior in 661. As prior, he took part in the Synod of Whitby in 664, when he accepted the synod decisions on the date of Easter and the tonsure.

Cuthbert returned to Lindisfarne as Prior but then travelled throughout Northumbria. In search of a solitary life, he built a round cell and chapel south of Lindisfarne, and he lived there for eight years, devoting his time to prayer. In York on Easter Day, 26 March 685, he was consecrated Bishop of Lindisfarne, following in Aidan’s footsteps. He died in 687.

During the Viking raids in Northumbria in 875, Cuthbert’s followers moved his body and carried it from place to place for safety. In 883, he was buried in Chester-le-Street and in 996 he was reburied in Durham Cathedral, where his shrine remains to this day.

Some key centres for Celtic spirituality:

Ireland:

Glencolubkille and Garton, Co Donegal: Garton is the birthplace of Saint Columba, and he described Glencolumbkille as “Glen of the psalms and the prayers, glen of Heaven.”

Glendalough, Co Wicklow: Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains, 25 miles from Dublin, is the best preserved “monastic city” in Ireland, with its round tower, seven churches and visitor centre, which tells the story of Saint Kevin.

The monastery of Holmpatrick stood on the mound in the graveyard behind the present parish church in Skerries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Skerries: a monastery associated with Saint Patrick was first located on the islands off the shore, before moving to the site of the present Church of Ireland Parish Church, Holmpatrick, where the ruined tower behind the church stands on the height of the monastic site.

Scotland:

Iona: Saint Columba established his monastery on Iona in the 6th century. The modern Iona Community was founded in 1938 as an ecumenical community committed to seeking new ways of living the Christian faith in today’s world.

Whithorn: Saint Ninian founded the first large Christian community here in the 5th century.

Wales:

Saint David’s and Saint Non’s: Saint David’s Cathedral is near the site of the great monastic community founded by the patron saint of Wales. At nearby Saint Non’s, a well and retreat house mark the traditional site where Saint David’s mother, Saint Non, gave birth, and is the start of a coastal pilgrim trail.

England:

Lindisfarne, Northumberland: Lindisfarne has sometimes been described as the “cradle of English Christianity.” Alcuin, adviser to the Emperor Charlemagne, described Lindisfarne as “the holiest place in England.” From Lindisfarne, Saint Aidan and Saint Cuthbert spread the Christian faith north and south.

Whitby, Yorkshire: The ruins of Saint Hilda’s Abbey and the Caedmon Cross in the churchyard opposite stand out on the cliff top site. This was once the largest English monastic community for men and women. Today, the Order of The Holy Paraclete offers retreat accommodation at Saint Hilda’s Priory.

Durham: The shrine of Saint Cuthbert is at Durham Cathedral.

The Book of Chad or Lichfield Gospels show clearly the combination of Celtic and Saxon culture in the eighth century ... Saint Chad was trained in an Irish monastery (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Lichfield: Saint Chad, who was educated at an Irish monastery ca 651-664, established the church in Mercia, the pre-Norman Kingdom of the English Midlands, and died in 672. The Book of Chad, now one of the great treasures of Lichfield Cathedral, predates the Book of Kells by about 80 years.

The detail and beauty of Anglo-Saxon metalwork in the exhibitions in Lichfield Cathedral are evidence of the intimate cultural links between the ‘Celtic’ Ireland and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ England (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Over the last few years, I visited on a number of occasions exhibitions in Lichfield Cathedral of recent finds in a large Anglo-Saxon horde near Lichfield. This discovery points to an interesting interaction between the Saxons of Mercia and the Celtic church in Northumbria and perhaps even Ireland before the arrival of Saint Chad.

Bradwell, Essex: The 9th century chapel in Bradwell was founded by Saint Cedd of Lindisfarne.

For contemplation:

In the time we have for meditation and contemplation, I suggest you take the Church Hymnal and meditate on the words of Hymn 611 (Christ be beside me) or Hymn 322 (I bind unto myself), both adapted from The Breastplate of Saint Patrick.

Concluding prayer:

The hymn Christ be beside me (611) speaks of Christ as King of my heart, while Be thou my vision (643) refers twice to the High King of heaven.

Yesterday, the Sunday before Advent, was also the Sunday on marking the Kingship of Christ. And so we conclude with the Collect of the Day and the Lord’s Prayer:

Eternal Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
Keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Our Father ...


Resources and links:

Web resources:


The Centre for the Study of Religion in Celtic Societies at the University of Wales has an e-library
The Iona Community.
The Island of Lindisfarne.
Saint Hilda’s Priory, the Order of the Holy Paraclete, Whitby.
Wild Goose Resource Group.

Reading:

David Adam, Border Lands (Sheed & Ward) … the best of David Adam’s Celtic vision. This is a compilation of four of his most popular books and includes prayers, meditations and Celtic art.

David Adam, The Eye of the Eagle (Triangle) … the reader is taken through the hymn, Be Thou My Vision, in a search for the spiritual riches that are hidden in all our lives.

Ian Bradley, The Celtic Way (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1993) ... Ian Bradley, a Presbyterian minister in the Church of Scotland, has lectured in the Department of Theology in the University of Aberdeen. This is a good, sound introduction to Celtic spirituality.

Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community (London: Harper Collins, 2000) … an introduction to daily prayer drawing on resources from the “Celtic Church” throughout these islands, with good notes and introductions to further resources.

Elizabeth Culling, What is Celtic Christianity? (Nottingham: Grove Books, Grove Series No 45).

The Iona Community Worship Book (Glasgow: Wild Goose, 1994 ed).

Lemuel J. Hopkins-James, The Celtic Gospels, their story and their text (Oxford: OUP, 1934/2001) … Hopkins-James transcribed the Book of Chad in 1934.

Mary Keaney, Celtic Heritage Saints (Dublin: Veritas, 1998) … introduces us to scholars, adventurous sailors, saints who get their heads chopped off, friends and enemies of kings. Good for using in schools, Sunday schools, and with confirmation classes.

Diana Leatham, They Built on Rock (London: Hodder & Stoughton). This book tells the stories of the Celtic saints who maintained their faith during the Dark Ages. The people profiled include Saint Cuthbert, Saint Ninian, Saint David and Saint Columba.

James P. Mackey, An introduction to Celtic Christianity (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995 ed) … a collection of essays by 14 of the best experts on Celtic Christianity, including mission, liturgy, prayers, hymns and the arts.

Caitlín Matthews, Celtic Devotional: daily prayers and blessings (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1996/2004).

Patrick Murray, The Deer’s Cry (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1986) … a useful anthology of poetry and verse.

Peter O’Dwyer, Céilí Dé: Spiritual reform in Ireland 750-900 (Dublin: Editions Tailliura, 1981) … the story of the movement within Celtic monasticism that gave us Saint Maelruain’s Monastery in Tallaght and the Derrynaflann Chalice.

Pat Robson, The Celtic Heart (London: Fount, 1998) … a collection of Celtic writings celebrating the seasons of life by an Anglican priest living in Cornwall. It includes short biographies of saints and influential figures.

Michael Rodgers and Marcus Losack, Glendalough: A Celtic Pilgrimage (Dublin: Columba Press, 1996) … a useful guidebook to our nearest Celtic monastic foundation.

George Otto Simms, Commemorating Saints & Others of the Irish Church (Dublin: Columba Press, 1999) … biographical notes and suggestions for intercessions

Ray Simpson, Celtic Blessings (Loyola Press) … how many of us have whispered an impromptu prayer to our computer, begging it not to crash? Celtic Blessings reveals such actions are part of an ancient and sacred ritual.

Ray Simpson, The Celtic Prayer Book (Kevin Mayhew) … The Celtic Prayer Book is published in four volumes: 1, Prayer Rhythms: fourfold patterns for each day; 2, Saints of the Isles: a year of feasts; 3, Healing the Land: natural seasons, sacraments and special service; 4, Greater Celtic Christians: alternative worship.

Ray Simpson, Exploring Celtic Spirituality (Hodder & Stoughton) … the chapters of this book feature different aspects of Celtic spirituality, including cherishing the earth, contemplative prayer and the healing of society. There are prayers and responses at the end of each chapter.

Martin Wallace, The Celtic Resource Book (London: Church House Publishing) … the whole breadth of Celtic Christianity is spanned here – from liturgies and prayers and the stories of Celtic saints, through to Celtic art. The book includes liturgies for different times of the day, for use at home or in larger groups.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College, Dublin. This lecture on Monday 25 November 2013 was part of the Spirituality model in Pastoral Formation with MTh students .