30 November 2014

Hymns for Advent (1): ‘O come,
O come, Emmanuel’ (No 135)

‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’ … the Holy Family by Giovanni Battista Pittoni, the Altar Piece in the Chapel of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, was bought for 20 guineas in 1783 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the First Sunday of Advent [30 November 2014]. This morning, the Church marks the beginning of a new Church year, and later this evening the beginning of Advent is being marked in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, with the Advent Procession at 5 p.m., with Advent readings and hymns.

We also begin a new cycle of lectionary readings today. There is a three-year cycle in the Revised Common Lectionary, and we are about to begin reading from Saint Mark’s Gospel in Year B, which begins on Sunday week. The readings for today are: Isaiah 64: 1-9; Psalm 80: 1-8, 18-20; I Corinthians 1: 3-9; and Mark 13: 24-37.

As part of my spiritual reflections for Advent this year, I am looking at an appropriate hymn for Advent each morning. This morning I have chosen one of the best-loved Advent hymns O come, O come, Emmanuel, which we are singing this morning as the Post-Gospel hymn in Christ Church Cathedral at the Cathedral Eucharist at 11a.m., and tomorrow morning in the institute chapel at the beginning and at the end of my reflections on ‘Finding a Spirituality for Advent.’

The version we are singing from the Irish Church Hymnal (Hymn 135) is an adaptation of John Mason Neale’s mid-19th century interpretation of the Latin text, Veni, veni, Emmanuel.

This is a metrical version of a collation of various Advent Antiphons, the acrostic O Antiphons, which may date from at least the eighth century, and certainly from the 12th century. The traditional music associated with this hymn may come from a 15th century processional sung by French Franciscan nuns, but may even have its origins in eighth century Gregorian chant.

For some, this is one of the most solemn Advent hymns. But Advent is not meant to be a penitential season like Lent; rather, it is supposed to be a season of preparation and anticipation, reflection and hope. As Percy Dearmer wrote: “The tendency of the present day to make another Lent of Advent is much to be deprecated. The O Sapientia [the first of O Antiphons] in our Kalendar and the use of Sequences in the old English books may remind us of the spirit of joyful expectation which is the liturgical characteristic of Advent.”

In Advent, as in Lent, Gloria in Excelsis is not said or sung at the Eucharist, including Sunday Eucharists, not for penitential reasons but because it echoes the message of the angels to the shepherds and is held back until Christmas Day.

The refrain in this hymn is based on the prophecy in Isaiah 7: 14, “the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” According to Matthew 1: 23, this promise is fulfilled at the incarnation of Christ in Bethlehem.

The Advent Antiphons

The origins of the Advent Antiphons can be traced to the practice in the mediaeval church of singing a special antiphon before and after the canticles, including Nunc Dimittis and Magnificat, at the evening office of Vespers in order to emphasise a particular point. For example, in the service of Compline, Nunc Dimittis has this antiphon: “Preserve us, O Lord, while waking, and guard us while sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace” (Book of Commons Prayer 2004, p. 158).

In the days leading up the Christmas, there was a series of seven special antiphons. One was to be sung daily, and in the original Latin each antiphon began with a long-drawn-out “O” – symbolising the longing for the coming of the Messiah.

Each of the seven stanzas addressed the Messiah by one of his titles, each one praising the coming of the Saviour by a different name, and closing with petitions appropriate to the title. In their original order, the “Greater” Antiphons and “The Seven Os” are:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter,
suavierque disponens omnia:
veni ad docedum nos viam prudentia.

(based on Sirach 24: 3; Wisdom 8:1):

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
and reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other,
ordering all things well:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

O Adonai, et dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
ei in Sinai legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

(Exodus 3: 2-6, 6: 6, 19 ff):

O Lord, and leader of the house of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem gentes depreca buntur;
veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardere.

(Isaiah 11: 10, 52: 15; Romans 15: 11-12):

O Root of Jesse who stood as a standard of the people,
before whom kings shall shut their mouths
and the nations shall seek:
Come and deliver us, and do not delay.

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel:
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

(Isaiah 22: 2, 42: 7; Jeremiah 51: 19; Revelation 3: 7):

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel,
who opens and no-one can shut,
who shuts and non-one can open:
Come and bring the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris,
et umbra mortis.

(John 8: 12; Hebrews 1: 3; Malachi 4: 2; Luke 1: 79):

O Dayspring, splendour of eternal light,
and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death

O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti

(Romans 15: 12; Ephesians 2: 14, 20; Genesis 2: 7):

O longed-for King of the nations,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save us, whom you formed from the dust.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
expectatio gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster.

(Isaiah 7: 14, 33: 22; Matthew 1: 23; Genesis 49: 10):

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver,
the desire of all nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

William Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World from the cover of last night’s order of service … “O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel, who opens and no-one can shut, who shuts and non-one can open”

These seven antiphons were originally sung before and after Magnificat in this period, the Octave before Christmas, from 16 to 23 December. Omitting Saint Thomas’s Day (21 December), these seven days are also known as the Greater Ferias. Of course, there was no provision for 24 December because the Vespers of Christmas Eve are those for the Christmas Vigil.

However, some service books contained eight antiphons, the Sarum Breviary had nine antiphons, and in some traditions there were even as many as 12 antiphons.

One verse was sung or chanted each evening, but they were never sung together as a single hymn, as we sing them today.

The origin of the antiphons

The Advent Antiphons date back at least to the reign of Charlemagne (771-814). The 439 lines of the English poem Christ, by Cynewulf (ca 800), have been described as a loose translation and elaboration of the Antiphons. One source even claims that Boethius (ca 480-524) referred to them, which would suggest they were in use in the fifth or sixth century.

The “O Antiphons” were used so much throughout the monasteries of Europe that the phrases, “Keep your O” and “The Great O Antiphons” were common sayings.

At least two — and up to five — additional verses were later added to the original seven. However, it is clear that the original seven were designed as a group, since their initial letters, ignoring the “O” that precedes each line, spell out the reverse acrostic “sarcore” – “ero cras,” that is, “I shall be [with you] tomorrow.”

In the 12th century, an unknown poet put five of the verses together to form the verses of a single hymn, with the refrain: “Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel nascetur pro te, Israel” (“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel is born for thee, Israel”). There was no refrain in the original Latin chant.

After the Reformations, the antiphons were recited from 17 December through to 23 December, so that, despite Cranmer’s proposal to remove the Antiphons from public worship, from 1604 on the entry in the calendar of The Book of Common Prayer in the Church of England for 16 December and in the calendar in Common Worship for 17 December both contain the exclamation: “O Sapientia,” and in The Book of Common Prayer 16 December is listed as a black letter holy day.

I wonder when and why it was deleted from the Calendar in the Book of Common Prayer in the Church of Ireland. It may be a somewhat mysterious calendar entry for some, yet it echoes across the gulf of the Reformations from a tradition going back perhaps to the eighth century or earlier, back to the tradition of the “Great O Antiphons.”

The earliest known metrical form of the “O Antiphons” is a Latin version in an Appendix of Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, published in Cologne in 1710.

There was a widespread Roman Catholic practice of singing two sequential verses each week in Advent, beginning with the First Sunday of Advent (verses 1 and 2), followed by verses 3 and 4 on the Second Sunday of Advent, and verses 5 and 6 on the Third Sunday of Advent. Then finally, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, verses 1 and 7 are sung.

An Anglican hymn

Saint Michael above the main door into Saint Michael’s Church in Lichfield ... Thomas Helmore was curate here in the 19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The first English translation of Veni, veni, Emmanuel was made by John Henry Newman in 1836. Some years later, the Revd John Mason Neale (1818-1866), a Victorian authority on mediaeval liturgy and hymnody, published the five Latin metrical stanzas in his Hymni Ecclesiae in 1851. Neale’s English translation was published that year in his Mediaeval Hymns and Sequences, with the opening line: “Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel.”

A slightly revised version was also published in 1854 by Neale and the Revd Thomas Helmore (1811-1890), a one-time curate in Saint Michael’s, Lichfield, and a priest-vicar in Lichfield Cathedral, who helped revive an Anglican interest in plainsong or Gregorian chant, in The Hymnal Noted.

Seven years later, in 1861, it was published in Hymns Ancient and Modern, but with the more familiar opening words: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” – and with the note: “Altered by the Compilers.”

But the hymn was based on only five of the original antiphons, sung in the following way:

1, O Sapientia (O Wisdom), omitted.
2, O Adonai (O Lord), Verse 5.
3, O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), Verse 2.
4, O Clavis David (O Key of David), Verse 4.
5, O Oriens (O Dayspring), Verse 3.
6, O Rex gentium (O longed-for King), omitted.
7, O Emmanuel (O Emmanuel), Verse 1.

The version in Irish Church Hymnal

John Mason Neale’s hymn could never be a complete reflection of the “Great Os” as his stanzas are based on only five of the original seven antiphons.

The compilers of the 1940 Hymnal of ECUSA, in an effort to rectify this shortcoming, produced two new stanzas based on the missing antiphons. Rejoice and Sing (1991) improved on the two additional American stanzas and added a useful footnote on the history of the “Great Os.” This is the version that was adopted by the Hymnal Revision Committee of the Church of Ireland, and it has been published in the Irish Church Hymnal (2000), along with the footnote from Rejoice and Sing.

At one stage, the Hymnal Revision Committee considered moving the stanza “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” which is the first verse but the final antiphon, and to restore to its rightful place at the end of the hymn. However, the committee members realised that the hymn is so well known with this as its opening that it would be unwise to go ahead with the idea. Instead, they made it an optional stanza at the end of the hymn.

The mystery of the tune

The origins of the well-known tune are shrouded in mystery and doubt.

According to Henry Jenner (1848-1934), his father Bishop Henry Lascelles Jenner (1820-1898), the controversial first Bishop of Dunedin, found the tune in a manuscript in a library in Lisbon in 1853 and gave a copy to John Mason Neale. In 1881, however, Helmore said his source was a French missal in a library in Lisbon and that he had given a copy to Neale.

Subsequent searches in the library failed to find either the manuscript or the missal. And so, it was asked whether Helmore himself composed the melody, and it was even suggested that he may have constructed it from a number of plainsong phrases.

Dr Mary Berry … she unearthed the original tune of O come, O come, Emmanuel

Then, in 1966, the tune was found in a manuscript in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris by Dr Mary Berry (1917-2008) of Cambridge, who found it in a 15th century processional used by a French community of Franciscan nuns.

There are other variations when it comes to the rhythm of the music. Many performances pause after “Emmanuel” in both the verse and the chorus, or they extend the final syllable through a similar count. Often however, performances omit these pauses to emphasise the meaning of the chorus: “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”

If a pause is included, the meaning may be confused, as an audible comma is perceived between “Emmanuel” and “shall come to thee...,” changing the grammatical subject of the sentence from Israel to Emmanuel. Rushing the first and final lines to omit the pause produces a greater sense of movement, contrasting with the unhurried pace of the remainder of the song.

Using the Advent Antiphons liturgically

Saint Edward’s Church, Cambridge … using a creative version of the Advent Antiphons (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The Promise of His Glory (pp 114-116) suggests an interesting way of using the Advent Antiphons within a Service of Hope and Expectation (pp 112-119), in which all seven antiphons are said or sung, each followed by a short Bible reading and the appropriate verse of the hymn, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”

Some years ago in the Church Times (12 December 2008), the Revd Dr Fraser Watts discussed how at Saint Edward’s Church, Cambridge, they have been using a version of this for some years. The main Sunday Eucharist in Saint Edward’s is at 5 p.m., when it is already dark at this time of the year.

They begin with a candle-lit procession, singing the antiphons at various stations in the church, each followed by a Bible reading. A verse of the hymn is then sung as they move on to the next station. Often they have used just the five antiphons that have corresponding verses in the original version of “O come, O come, Emmanuel” by John Mason Neale.

The procession moves from west to east in the church, singing the antiphons in different places: “O key of David” at the West Door, “O King of the nations” at the font, “O Wisdom” at the lectern, “O morning star” at the Advent candle, and “O Emmanuel” at the sanctuary.

Seven years ago in Saint Edward’s, they used all seven Advent Antiphons, including a sonnet linked to each and written by Malcolm Guite, and they divided the antiphons between processions on two successive Sundays in the Advent season.


The O Antiphons have been described as “a unique work of art and a special ornament of the pre-Christmas liturgy, filled with the Spirit of the Word of God.” It is said that they “create a poetry that fills the liturgy with its splendour,” and that their imagery displays “a magnificent command of the Bible’s wealth of motifs.”

Consider how you may use them as we have them in the hymn O come, O come, Emmanuel, to add a spiritual depth to these days before Christmas, in contrast to the banal ways in which Christmas carols are now used commercially in Advent, and even before it.

O come, O come, Emmanuel (Hymn 135):

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear:

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel

O come, thou Wisdom from above,
who ord’rest all things through thy love;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go:

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
in ancient times didst give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe:

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave:

O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery:

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight:

O come, Desire of Nations, bring
all peoples to their Saviour King;
thou Corner-stone, who makest one,
complete in us thy work begun:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.


Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light
now in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our deliverer,
Awaken our hearts
to prepare the way for the advent of your Son,
that, with minds purified by the grace of his coming,
we may serve you faithfully all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Edward Darling and Donald Davison, Companion to Church Hymnal (Dublin: Columba, 2005).
Gordon Giles, O Come, Emmanuel (Oxford: Bible Reading Fellowship, 2005).
William Marshall, O come Emmanuel: a devotional study of the Advent Antiphons (Dublin: Columba/APCK, 1993).
The Promise of His Glory (London: Church House Publishing/Mowbray, 1991).
Benjamin Gordon-Taylor and Simon Jones, Celebrating Christ’s Appearing (London: SPCK, 2008).

Tomorrow:Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult’ (Saint Andrew)

29 November 2014

A double espresso and an afternoon
visit to the house at Marlay Park

Marlay Park preserves fine original plasterwork by the master stuccodore Michael Stapleton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

AS November draws to a close, and Advent begins tomorrow morning [30 November 2014], the evenings seem shorter and dusk falls earlier and earlier each day.

Before I knew it, it was late afternoon today, with just an hour or so of daylight left in the day, two of headed across to Marlay Park in Rathfarnham, thinking we would get a good coffee in the courtyard, and stroll through the stalls at the Farmers’ Market before darkness fell.

I had forgotten that the Marlay Craft Fair was on all this weekend, from Friday to Sunday [28 to 30 November], and we were about to change our mind and keep going on to Bray when we surprised upon a parking space.

From the car park to the courtyard, the pathway was lined with an array of craft stalls and charity tents. But we dallied only a little, for the stalls were beginning to close in courtyard, and I really needed that double espresso.

The Farmers’ Market in the courtyard at Marlay Park hosts a wealth of local producers each Saturday from 10am-4pm and Sunday from 11am-4pm. There is a broad range of artisan produce, including specialty foods.

Two double espressos resting on a window ledge in the courtyard in Marlay Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Spruced up by two double espressos, we ended up buying a rich variety of olives, a tub of pesto-flavoured humous, fresh bread baked with dates and walnuts, and a raspberry and custard pie.

‘Is there anyone at home?’ … a door knocker in the courtyard in Marlay Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

For some years, the courtyard at Marlay has been home to a number of small craft industries and workshops, including weaving, glass cutting, bookbinding, furniture restoration, copper craft, pottery and embroidery. One of the original artists in residence was Evie Hone, whose stained-glass workshop was located in the library of Marlay House itself.

The courtyard is now being restored, and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council hopes to have new tenants in 20 new units by the middle of 2015.

Marlay Park in the dim lights of dusk late this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

As darkness closed in and the stalls began to fold up in the courtyard this afternoon, we realised the Craft Stalls lining the pathway were just an overflow from the venue in the house itself, and this provided an opportunity to see a fine architectural gem lit up and its best.
The stucco decoration by Michael Stapleton in the Georgian house built by the La Touche family in Marlay Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The house built by the La Touche family at Marlay Park is a fine example of Georgian architecture, with many of the original elaborate features still intact, including the decorative plasterwork by the master stuccodore Michael Stapleton (1747-1801).

The crafts on the stall inside the house, all the crafts were made in Ireland by creative crafts people and small craft businesses, all delighted of the chance to sell their wares in such fine Georgian surroundings.

The Marlay Craft Fair continues tomorrow [Sunday, 30 November 2014], from 10 am to 5 pm. But I plan to be in Christ Church Cathedral for most of the day, marking the beginning of Advent, with the Cathedral Eucharist and the Advent Procession.

Design Jeweller Trevor Power at his stall in Marlay Park House this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

28 November 2014

New branding and design launched
for Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Today's edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette [28 November 2014] carries the following half-page news report and photographs on p. 5:

New branding and design launched
for Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

The new branding and design for Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photo: Patrick Comerford)

By Patrick Comerford

A new ‘brand identity’ for Christ Church Cathedral, Dubln, was recently created by Designworks – a Dublin-based multi-disciplinary creative studios – and launched in the cathedral following Festal Evensong celebrating the feast of Saint Laurence O’Toole.

Speaking at the launch of the new brand, logo and design, the Dean of Christ Church, the Very Revd Dermot Dunne, said the cathedral set out on a journey early last year “to develop a plan that would provide direction for the Cathedral’s vision and mission into the future [and] central to this plan was the development of its brand and communications.”

The starting point for the new visual identity was a project to restore the capitular or chapter seal of the cathedral. The illustrator, Chris Wormell, was commissioned to recreate the seal using wood-carving methods that dated back to the 18th century, providing unparalleled craft and detail to restore the seal.

The beautifully handcrafted and restored seal, Dean Dunne said, is a key element in the new brand identity of the cathedral, “articulating the cathedral’s vision and mission that, since its foundation, has been the spiritual heart of Dublin.”

Members of the chapter, board and Friends of the Cathedral were present for the launch, which unveiled clear new designs, colour schemes and branding for cathedral service sheets, the website, printed material, presentations, events and products.

“Over the coming months and years,” explained Dean Dunne, “our vision for the cathedral will continue to come to life with a unique brand identity that celebrates our rich culture and heritage, and reveals our spiritual witness and reverence to new audiences.”

The Dean continued: “A considered and consistent approach to all our communications will be undertaken.

“As recognition of our brand and identity grows, our audiences and other stakeholders will immediately recognise us.

“This will broaden perceptions and understanding of Christ Church Cathedral and place us at Dublin’s spiritual, historic, musical and cultural heart.”

The launch of the new branding was followed by a reception in the Cathedral Crypt.

Canon Patrick Comerford is a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and Adjunct Assistant Professor in Anglicanism and Liturgy at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

27 November 2014

‘All may, some should, none must’ ...Sin and
Confession in Anglican theology and practice

The Harrowing of Hell ... the icon reminds us that God reaches into the deepest depths to pull forth souls into the kingdom of light

Patrick Comerford

I was in the RTÉ studios in Dublin this evening [27 November 2014] as part of a panel recording a programme on ‘Sin’ for Joe Duffy’s Spirit Level to be broadcast on Sunday week [7 December 2014].

These are briefing notes I prepared for myself in advance of the recording:

1, Confession and absolution in the Anglican liturgical tradition:

Westcott House, Cambridge ... Andrew Davison says ‘Confession is one of the most profound ways in which we can take the Christian moral life seriously’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On their first visit to an Anglican church, many Roman Catholics notice the general absence of Confession Boxes. And so, there is a common perception that Anglicans, including members of the Church of Ireland, so not share a common theological ground on Sin and Confession, tat we have no understanding of confession and absolution, that we are lax and relaxed when it comes to our teachings on Sin. Is this so?

Last year [2013], Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury spoke of the “great sacrament of reconciliation.” According to the report in the Daily Telegraph, he spoke of being part of a wider “catholic tradition”, adding: “I’ve learnt over the last 10 years about the great sacrament of reconciliation: confession. It is enormously powerful and hideously painful when it’s done properly … it’s really horrible when you go to see your confessor – I doubt you wake up in the morning and think, this is going to be a bunch of laughs.

“It’s really uncomfortable. But through it God releases forgiveness and absolution and a sense of cleansing.”

Andrew Davison of Westcott House, Cambridge, who is one of the most compelling Anglican theologians today, writes in his recent book Why Sacraments? that confession, rather than being understood in legalistic and moralistic terms, is an experience of grace renewing us in our baptismal vocation:

Confession is one of the most profound ways in which we can take the Christian moral life seriously. As a way to take stock of where we stand, and reach out urgently to God for grace to make progress on the way to perfect likeness of Christ, confession is the ideal way to reconnect to baptism. By it, we submit to God’s salvation taking the fullest possible hold upon us.

The ARCIC II statement, Life in Christ: Morals, Communion and the Church, in its section addressing the common Anglican-Roman Catholic heritage on “growing up into Christ,” provides an outline for considering the role of sacramental confession:

The fidelity of the Church to the mind of Christ involves a continuing process of listening, learning, reflecting and teaching. In this process every member of the community has a part to play. Each person learns to reflect and act according to conscience. Conscience is informed by, and informs, the tradition and teaching of the community. Learning and teaching are a shared discipline, in which the faithful seek to discover together what obedience to the gospel of grace and the law of love entails amidst the moral perplexities of the world. It is this task of discovering the moral implications of the Gospel which calls for continuing discernment, constant repentance and “renewal of the mind” (Romans 12: 2), so that through discernment and response men and women may become what in Christ they already are (29).

It is in this context, Life in Christ states, that the Anglican formularies regard sacramental confession is “a wholesome means of grace” (46).

Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer have traditionally started with a Scriptural reminder of our sinfulness (The Book of Common Prayer, pp 84-85), one of the most commonly used verses being: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1: 8, 9).

Traditionally, this reminder was then followed by an immediate call to knell and confess our sins, with General Confession (p. 86), and absolution “or remission of sins” which is “pronounced by the priest alone.”

This tradition is continued in the revised forms of daily prayer, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer (see pp 101-102).

For all celebrations of Holy Communion or the Eucharist, there was also an opening call for confession, a reminder of the Ten Commandments (pp 180-181), and then at the Offertory we had the General Confession and absolution pronounced by the priest or the bishop (see The Book of Common Prayer, p 185).

This tradition continues today, although the Penitence is moved forward to the opening rite, with (sometimes) the reading of the Commandments, a General Confession, and absolution (see pp 201-203).

The traditional exhortations in The Book of Common Prayer urge all before coming to receive Holy Communion, to examine their consciences, to repent, and if their conscience shows them they need to, then to come to the priest to confess and “to receive the benefit of absolution, together with spiritual counsel and advice, to the quieting of his [or her] conscience, and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness”:

And because it is requisite, that no man should come to the holy Communion, but with a full trust in God’s mercy, and with a quiet conscience; therefore if there be any of you, who by this means cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or to some other discreet and learned Minister of God's Word, and open his grief; that by the ministry of God’s holy Word he may receive the benefit of absolution, together with ghostly counsel and advice, to the quieting of his conscience, and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness.

2, Finding a language and vocabulary of sin today:

Our categorisation and gradation of sin often reflects our own temporal values. In Ireland in the first half of the 20th century, the great sins were identified as sexual sins, because society was worried about family stability and about the transmission and inheritance of family property.

Today, with the economic crisis, we all feel condemned to suffer under the austerity measures. Naturally we then seek out individual “sinners” to take on the role of scapegoat … bankers, developers, politicians. We seldom blame ourselves, yet we live in a society where governments and politicians are more likely to be praised for cutting taxes and giving us more money to spend than for raising taxes and providing better public services such as health care, hospitals, schools, social services, education, and public transport.

We find it easy to identify the gross collective sins of recent history … genocide, the Holocaust, the Killing Fields of Pol Pot in Cambodia, the massacres of Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda and Burundi. I have seen Hitler portrayed in the fires of hell on the doom wall in a village church in Crete.

It has ever been so. We confine to damnation those whose sins we see, with the benefit of hindsight, as destabilising our societies and or societal values. Dante did it in his Inferno 700 years ago. His Nine Circles of Hell had reserved places for Popes (Celestine V, Anastasius II, Nicholas III, Boniface VIII, Clement V), heretics, schismatics, blood-letting crusaders, blasphemers, usurers, and corrupt politicians.

Like Dante, we invent our own circles of Hell. In interfaith dialogue, how do I explain to Muslims that Dante has confined their Prophet Muhammad to the Eighth Circle of Hell (Canto XXVIII) as a schismatic?

Dante sees the souls in Hell eternally fixed in the state they have chosen. But, Dante too becomes aware of his own sinfulness.

What we see as the sins of others are often the shadow side of ourselves, the deep sinfulness we hide within ourselves has light cast on it every time we denounce the sins we see in others.

Do we chose our own Hells, and live and die in them? Many of our ideas and concepts of Hell are derived not from the Bible but from Dante’s Inferno and John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667).

We often hold up the Ten Commandments as the litmus test for sin, and for damnation. But for Christians there are two great commandments, to love God, and to love our neighbour, and sin must then be anything that separates us from the love of God and from the love of our neighbour, and Hell is where we find ourselves when we place ourselves beyond the capacity to give and receive that love.

3, Sin in the 39 Articles:

The 39 Articles are foundational for an understanding of the origins and development of Anglican theology. At least nine of the 39 Articles speak explicitly of sin:

Article 2 speaks of “original guilt” and the “actual sins of men” [and women]:

Article 9, “Of Original or Birth-Sin,” says:

Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in Greek, phronema sarkos [Φρονεµα σαρκος], (which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh), is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized; yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.

Article 13 speaks of even good works having “the nature of sin.”

Article 15 concerns “Of Christ alone without Sin.”

Article 16 addresses “Sin after Baptism”

Article 25 speaks of: “Of the Sacraments” lists five Sacraments of the Church, including Penance.

Article 26 discusses: “Of the Unworthiness of Ministers.”

Article 27, on the subject “Of Baptism,” mentions of “the promises of forgiveness of sin.”

Article 33 deals with excommunication.

4, Sin and confession in the classical Anglican theology:

The 16th century Anglican Reformers were not of one mind on the subject of confession. Those who held to a more continental and Calvinist approach tended to come close to dismissing Confession altogether as frivolous and a superstition. Those influenced more by Luther held a more sacramental view, rejecting the idea that the Sacrifice of Christ was for original sin alone, but recognising the Biblical injunction that gives to the Church the power of binding and loosing (Matthew 16: 13-19) and the power and authority to absolve sins (John 20: 21-23).

Thomas Becon (ca 1511–1567), who was chaplain to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, wrote in The Potation of Lent that private Confession to a priest is not an absolute necessity, yet conceded it is a very good thing: “Confession bringeth high tranquillity to the troubled conscience of a Christian man,” he said, “while the most comfortable words of absolution are rehearsed unto him by the Priest.”

Becon acknowledges the priest’s role to absolve, although he places it in the context of Christ’s work. Absolution is “a preaching of the free deliverance from all our sins through Christ’s blood. How say you, is here anything to be condemned in auricular confession thus used?”

John Jewel (1522-1571) suggests in one place that Christians might seek to make Confession to anyone, citing James 5, yet acknowledges the authority of bishops and priests, as Ministers of God’s Word, to exercise godly judgment:

Moreover, we say that Christ hath given to His Ministers power to bind, to loose, to open, to shut; and that the office of loosing consisteth in this point, that the Minister should either offer by the preaching of the Gospel the merits of Christ and full pardon to such as have lowly and contrite hearts, and do unfeignedly repent them, pronouncing unto the same a sure and undoubted forgiveness of their sins, and hope of everlasting salvation; or else that the Minister, when any have offended their brothers’ minds with a great offence, and with a notable and open fault, whereby they have, as it were, banished and made themselves strangers from the common fellowship and from the body of Christ, then after perfite amendment of such persons, doth reconcile them and bring them home again and restore them to the company and unity of the faithful.

The Book of Common Prayer sets out an important place for private Confession, found in the office of the Visitation of the Sick. After reciting the Baptismal Covenant, the sick person is invited to confess any sins that weigh on his or her conscience. The priest then says: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive thee thine offences: And by his authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

The 1549 rubic said this form of absolution was to be used “in all pryvate confessions.” That part of the rubric disappeared in 1552, but the practice of the Church was to continue use this absolution in all private confessions.

Among the Caroline Divines in the 17th century there was a more positive position, Francis White (ca 1564–1638) , writing in 1624, commends Confession broadly as a wonderful and holy office which offers the penitent counsel, reproof, comfort, absolution, and preparation for receiving Holy Communion.

While it is not required of all, White commends it to all as a godly practice, “consonant to the Holy Scriptures and anciently practised by the Primitive Church.” He is at great pains to accentuate the fact that bishops and priests have the exclusive authority to offer this:

Bishops and Ministers of the Church are Shepherds, Stewards, and Overseers of God’s people committed to their charge (1 Peter 5: 1-2; Acts 20: 28). They have received the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven and power to loose and bind sinners (Matthew 16: 19; Matthew 19: 18; John 20: 23). They have power to direct and govern their whole flock and every sheep and member of the same in things concerning their salvation. The people are subject to them in such offices and actions as concern their spiritual state (Hebrews 13: 17; I Thessalonians 5: 12). And if Christian people must confess and acknowledge their faults one to another (James 5: 16), then also when there is cause why should they not do the same to the Pastors of their souls?

Bishop John Cosin (1594-1672), the post-Restoration Bishop of Durham (and once a secretary to John Overall, Bishop of Lichfield), goes even further. He was prominently involved in the revision of The Book of Common Prayer in 1662. In his Notes and Collections on the Book of Common Prayer, he examines at length the theology of Confession in the Prayer Book, commending the form in the Visitation of the Sick as normative for Anglican theology.

Cosin is careful not to call Confession a Gospel Sacrament, but still describes it as “sacramental.” He points out that the words of the absolution are the same in the Church of England as in Rome and that they are also the same words used in liturgies in the ancient Church. He even goes so far as to draw a distinction between “venial sins” and “mortal sins,” just as the Roman Catholic Church has since mediaeval times:

Venial sins that separate not from the grace of God need not so much to trouble a man’s conscience; if he hath committed any mortal sin, then we require Confession of it to a Priest, who may give him, upon his true contrition and repentance, the benefit of Absolution, which takes effect according to his disposition that is absolved.

His distinction between “venial” and “mortal” sins may seem unusual in Anglicanism, yet he shows again that private Confession is an integral part of Anglicanism and encouraged strongly, that the priest offers absolution exclusively, and that penitence is required if the grace is to be properly received. Yet Cosin makes it abundantly clear that the grace one receives in Confession is not self-generated, lest a penitent worry that his or her lack of feeling contrite would nullify it.

Cosin says: “The truth is, that in the Priest’s Absolution, there is the true power and virtue of forgiveness, which will most certainly take effect, Nisi ponitur obex, as in Baptism.”

This deep regard for private Confession is found throughout the works of the Caroline Divines of the 17th century, from Francis White and Lancelot Andrewes to Jeremy Taylor and John Cosin. The one exception to this seems to be Richard Hooker (1554-1600), who seems to believe that all acts of Confession in the primitive Church were public rather than private.

But even Hooker acknowledges the authority of bishops and priests to offer absolution. In Book V of the Ecclesiastical Laws, he writes that through “the power of the Keys” they may offer absolution which the penitent should “accept the benefit thereof as God’s most merciful ordinance for their good, and, without any distrust or doubt, to embrace joyfully His grace so given them, according to the word of our Lord, which hath said ‘whose sins ye remit, they are remitted’.” The penitent is to accept the absolution that the priest offers “as out of Christ’s own word and power, by the ministry of the keys.”

Although Hooker speaks of “these inconveniences, which the world hath by experience observed” (LEP VI, 4.15), he emphasises how a “speciall caution” encouraging sacramental confession was given “for the admonition of such as come to the holy Sacrament, and for the comfort of such as are readie to depart the World.”

Alongside this, he clearly envisages a wider pastoral role for sacramental confession:

It hath pleased Almightie God in tender commiseration over these imbecilities of men, to ordeine for their spirituall and ghostly comfort, consecrated persons, which by sentence of power and authoritie given from above, may as it were out of his verie mouth ascertaine timorous and doubtfull minds in their owne particular, ease them of all their scrupulosities, leave them settled in peace and satisfyed touching the mercie of God towards them. To use the benefitt of his helpe for our better satisfaction in such cases, is soe naturall, that it can bee forbidden noe man: butt yet not soe necessarie, that all men should bee in case to neede it (LEP, VI, 6.18).

5, Sin and Confession in Anglican theology and practice today:

Seven Fathers of the Church above the South Door of Lichfield Cathedral ... in Anglican theology, the key to understanding Confession is scriptural and patristic

As with so many other aspects of Anglican theology, the key to understanding Confession is scriptural and patristic. Scripture gives no requirement for private Confession, nor does the Church. Yet Scripture does offer a ministry of Absolution, carried out by the apostles and their successors, and so the Church must provide for this ministry, which includes, for example, the General Confession during the Eucharist. But, as the Exhortations in the Eucharist make clear, there are times when a General Confession simply is not enough to quiet the conscience. Moreover, all Christians are entitled to the grace of absolution and the great comfort it provides.

Most Anglicans today are not dogmatic about attributing all evil to the Fall of Adam and Eve. The story of Eden can also be interpreted to describe the competing choices that confront us all. Indeed, many Anglicans use the world ‘evil’ to categorise those actions that destroy the creatures of God. The capacity to do good or evil is part of our human nature.

In the Church of Ireland, candidates for Baptism are told that to “follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him.” They are asked: “Do you renounce the devil and all proud rebellion against God? Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil? Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?”

Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of ‘evil’ and many images of the devil put the blame on Satan or other outside evil forces, allowing us to evade our responsibility for our own actions.

Scripture is a guiding light, but in places Scriptures suggest that Christ died for all while in other places suggests that only an elect few will be saved. Christian Tradition helps us to interpret Scripture, but traditions have changed over the centuries and some traditions conflict with others. We try to make sense of these complications through the use of Reason, which is enhanced by our experiences as we live our faith.

There is an Anglican aphorism about the confession of one’s sins to a priest: “All may, some should, none must.”

Private Confession has an honourable heritage, both in the Church at large throughout her history and in Anglicanism. In an age in which many people have lost a sense of what a sin is, and where more and more Christians are brought to despair by worry over whether or not their repentance is genuine, it is with gratitude that we may receive this ministry delivered by Christ through his Church to remove the burdens from our souls and allow us to walk spotlessly in the light of truth.

Samuel Johnson in a mural by John Myatt on a wall in Bird Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I find the thoughts on sin and confession expressed by Samuel Johnson in his last prayer, as he was about to receive Holy Communion for the last time, is not only a classical Anglican appropriation of these approaches, but an appropriate prayer to mediate on during the season of Advent and before receiving Holy Communion:

Almighty and most merciful Father,
I am now, as to human eyes it seems,
about to commemorate, for the last time,
the death of your Son Jesus Christ our Saviour and Redeemer.
Grant, O Lord,
that my whole hope and confidence may be in his merits and his mercy;
enforce and accept my imperfect repentance;
make this commemoration confirm my faith,
establish my hope and enlarge my charity,
and make the death of your Son Jesus Christ effectual to my redemption.
Have mercy upon me and pardon the multitude of my offences.
Bless my friends, have mercy upon all.
Support me, by the grace of your Holy Spirit,
in the days of weakness and at the hour of death;
and receive me, at my death, to everlasting happiness,
for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

6, Sin in the Eastern Orthodox Church

The Jesus Prayer ... an image from Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The Jesus Prayer is one of the best known traditions within Orthodoxy. Its words say simply:

Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ,
Υἱὲ Θεοῦ,
ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἁμαρτωλό

Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
have mercy on me the sinner.

The Jesus Prayer is a short, simple prayer that has been widely used, taught and discussed throughout the history of Eastern Christianity.

In a lecture at the annual summer school organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, I was reminded by Father Alexander Tefft last year [2013] of how Saint Antony Great is said in the Philokalia to have written: “to say that God turns away from the wicked is like saying the sun hides itself from the blind” (Philokalia vol 1, chapter 150).

Father Alexander opened his lecture on ‘Angels and the Last Judgement’ by quoting from Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (Act 1):

Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place; for where we are is hell,
And where hell is there must we ever be:
And, to conclude, when all the world dissolves,
And every creature shall be purified,
All places shall be hell that is not Heaven.

Come, I think hell’s a fable.

Orthodox Christianity puts less emphasis on justification than Roman Catholics, Anglicans or Protestants, subsuming it within other words such as θέωσις (theosis) or “sanctification” – so that justification often has no separate treatment in Orthodox theology.

For most Orthodox theologians, the Greek term for justification (δικαίωσις, dikaiōsis) cannot be reduced simply to being pardoned for my sins. The Orthodox Church sees humanity as inheriting the disease of sin from Adam, but not his guilt. So, in this way, there is no need in Orthodox theology for any forensic understanding of justification.

The Orthodox see salvation as a process of θέωσις (theosis), in which the individual is united to Christ and the life of Christ is reproduced within him. Thus, in one sense, justification is an aspect of θέωσις (theosis).

However, it is also the case that all of us who are baptised into the Church and experience Chrismation are considered to be cleansed of sin. Can the Orthodox concept of justification be reconciled or agree with Anglican, Roman Catholic or Protestant concepts?

7, Some personal reflections:

Homer Simpson confessing to Liam Neeson

The Apostle Peter tells us that when Christ died he went and preached to the spirits in prison “who in former times did not obey … For this is the reason the Gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that … they might live in the spirit as God does” (I Peter 3: 15b to 4: 8).

The Early Church taught that after his death Christ descended into hell and rescued all the souls, starting with Adam and Eve, who had died under the Fall. The icon or image of the Harrowing of Hell is intimately bound up with the Resurrection, the Raising from the Dead, for as Christ is raised from the dead he also plummets the depths to bring up, to raise up, those who are dead, no matter where that may be in time and in space. The Harrowing of Hell carries us into the gap in time between Christ’s death and his resurrection.

In icons of the Harrowing of Hell, Christ stands on the shattered doors of Hell. Sometimes, two angels are seen in the pit binding Satan. And we see Christ pulling out of Hell Adam and Eve, imprisoned there since their deaths, imprisoned along with all humanity because of sin. Christ breaks down the doors of Hell and leads the souls of the lost into Heaven. It is the most radical reversal we can imagine. Death does not have the last word, we need not live our lives buried in fear. If Adam and Eve are forgiven, and the Sin of Adam is annulled and destroyed, who is beyond forgiveness?

In discussing the “Descent into Hell,” Hans Urs von Balthasar argues that if Christ’s mission did not result in the successful application of God’s love to every intended soul, how then can we think of it as a success? He emphasises Christ’s descent into the fullness of death, so as to be “Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 5).

However, in her book Light in Darkness, Alyssa Lyra Pitstick says Christ did not descend into the lowest depths of Hell, that he only stayed in the top levels. She cannot agree that Christ’s descent into Hell entails experiencing the fullness of alienation, sin and death, which he then absorbs, transfigures, and defeats through the Resurrection. Instead, she says, Christ descends only to the “limbo of the Fathers” in which the righteous, justified dead of the Old Testament waited for his coming.

And so her argument robs the Harrowing of Hell of its soteriological significance. For her, Christ does not descend into Hell and experience there the depths of alienation between God and humanity opened up by sin. She leaves us with a Christ visiting an already-redeemed and justified collection of Old Testament saints to let them know that he has defeated death – as though he is merely ringing on the doorbell for those ready to come out.

However, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has written beautifully, in The Indwelling of Light, on the Harrowing of Hell. Christ is the new Adam who rescues humanity from its past, and who starts history anew. “The resurrection … is an introduction – to our buried selves, to our alienated neighbours, to our physical world.”

He says: “Adam and Eve stand for wherever it is in the human story that fear and refusal began … [This] icon declares that wherever that lost moment was or is – Christ [is] there to implant the possibility … of another future.” [Rowan Williams, The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ, p. 38.]

I ask myself: what is the difference between the top levels of Hell and the bottom levels of Hell? Is my Hell in my heart of my own creation? In my mind, in my home, where I live and I work, in my society, in this world? Is Hell the nightmares from the past I cannot shake off, or the fears for the future when it looks gloomy and desolate for the planet? But is anything too hard for the Lord?

The icon of the Harrowing of Hell tells us that there are no limits to God’s ability to search us out and to know us. Where are the depths of my heart and my soul, where darkness prevails, where I feel even Christ can find no welcome? Those crevices even I am afraid to think about, let alone contemplate, may be beyond my reach. I cannot produce or manufacture my own salvation from that deep, interior hell, hidden from others, and often hidden from myself.

But Christ breaks down the gates of Hell. He rips all of sinful humanity from the clutches of death. He descends into the depths of our sin and alienation from God. Plummeting the depths of Hell, he suffuses all that is lost and sinful with the radiance of divine goodness, joy and light.

Hell is where God is not; Christ is God; and his decent into Hell pushes back Hell’s boundaries. In his descent into Hell, Christ reclaims this zone for life, pushing back the gates of death, where God is not, to the farthest limits possible. Christ plummets even those deepest depths, and his love and mercy can raise us again to new life.

(The Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. These notes were prepared in advance of recoding a ‘Spirit Level’ programme with RTÉ television.

26 November 2014

Mark 1: 1-8, this is ‘the beginning
of the good news of Jesus Christ’

A modern icon of the Baptism of Christ

Patrick Comerford

Sunday week (7 December 2014) is the Second Sunday of Advent. The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday are: Isaiah 40: 1-11; Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13; II Peter 3: 8-15a; Mark 1: 1-8.

Mark 1: 1-8

1 Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ [υἱοῦ θεοῦ].
2 Καθὼς γέγραπται ἐν τῷ Ἠσαΐᾳ τῷ προφήτῃ,

Ἰδοὺ ἀποστέλλω τὸν ἄγγελόν μου πρὸ προσώπου σου,
ὃς κατασκευάσει τὴν ὁδόν σου:
3 φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ,
Ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου,
εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ,

4 ἐγένετο Ἰωάννης [ὁ] βαπτίζων ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ καὶ κηρύσσων βάπτισμα μετανοίας εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν. 5 καὶ ἐξεπορεύετο πρὸς αὐτὸν πᾶσα ἡ Ἰουδαία χώρα καὶ οἱ Ἱεροσολυμῖται πάντες, καὶ ἐβαπτίζοντο ὑπ' αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ Ἰορδάνῃ ποταμῷ ἐξομολογούμενοι τὰς ἁμαρτίαςαὐτῶν. 6 καὶ ἦν ὁ Ἰωάννης ἐνδεδυμένος τρίχας καμήλου καὶ ζώνην δερματίνην περὶ τὴν ὀσφὺν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐσθίων ἀκρίδας καὶ μέλι ἄγριον. 7 καὶ ἐκήρυσσεν λέγων, Ἔρχεται ὁ ἰσχυρότερός μου ὀπίσω μου, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς κύψας λῦσαι τὸν ἱμάντα τῶν ὑποδημάτων αὐτοῦ: 8 ἐγὼ ἐβάπτισα ὑμᾶς ὕδατι, αὐτὸς δὲ βαπτίσει ὑμᾶς ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ.

Translation (NRSV):

1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight”,’

4 John the baptiser appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’


Since the previous Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, we have been in Year B in the Scripture readings in the Revised Common Lectionary. We began that Sunday with Mark 13: 24-37, with Saint Mark’s account of the Coming of the Son of Man.

But on this Sunday, we return to the beginning of Saint Mark’s Gospel. You are already aware that while Saint John’s Gospel begins at the beginning of Creation (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God,” John 1: 1), Saint Mark, unlike Saint Matthew or Saint Luke, has no Nativity narrative, has no story of the first Christmas (see Matthew 1: 18 – 2: 23; Luke 1: 1 – 2: 40).

Saint Mark, on the other hand, begins his Gospel with this passage, his account of the Baptism of Christ by Saint John in the River Jordan, which comes later in the other three Gospels (see Matthew 3: 1-17; Luke 3: 1-21; John 1: 19-34).

Indeed, because there is no Christmas story in Saint Mark’s Gospel, the main lectionary reading for the Principal Service on Christmas Day is going to be the Nativity Narrative in Saint Luke’s Gospel (Luke 2: 1-14 or 1-10) or the Prologue to Saint John’s Gospel (John 1: 1-14 or John 1: 1-18).

Introducing the readings for Sunday week:

The readings for Sunday week, 7 December 2014, the Second Sunday of Advent, are: Isaiah 40: 1-11; Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13; II Peter 3: 8-15a; Mark 1: 1-8.

Isaiah 40: 1-11

This Old Testament reading is going to be familiar to many people, and have immediate Christmas associations, because of the opening words of Handel’s Messiah:

1, Sinfonia (Overture)

2, Accompagnato


Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is
accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness; prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40: 1-3)

3, Air:


Ev’ry valley shall be exalted, and ev’ry moutain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain. (Isaiah 40: 4)

4, Chorus:

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 40: 5)

Prophets like Isaiah were a thorn in the side of the Temple hierarchy, proclaiming that God is not impressed by burnt sacrifices, does not dwell in a house built by human hands, is not confined to one holy land. The prophets proclaimed that God’s reach extends across every land, God dwells wherever justice and peace are lived out in community, and that justice and peace is the only sacrifice God wants.

Isaiah 40 speaks of a voice in the wilderness crying out that the Lord is coming, and we are to prepare the way.

This passage is a vision that marks the beginning of the part of Isaiah that was written from exile in Babylon. In verses 1-2, God speaks. Because “comfort” and “speak” are in the plural in Hebrew, God speaks to a group, probably of angels, but possibly of prophets. In other words, God says something like “may you comfort.”

They are to speak tenderly to Jerusalem. But the city is in ruins, so they are to speak to the idealised kingdom of God’s people. They are to tell them that their time of sorrow is over, that they have served their punishment for their waywardness, and that their Exile is about to end. A new era is dawning, and it is inaugurated by God’s Word.

In language that echoes the pomp of Babylonian royal pageantry in Babylon, a heavenly voice or the prophet announces in verses 3-5: “prepare the way of the Lord”. God is coming, and he is about to lead a new Exodus through the “wilderness” and the “desert” to a promised land. God’s presence will be displayed for all people to see (verse 5).

Then a voice commands the prophet to “Cry out!” (verse 6). But he asks what shall he tell them. Notice in verse 7 the use of the word breath, which also means spirit (see Genesis 1: 2, where the wind of God sweeps over the waters of creation.

Even though people fade and wither, the Word of God stands for ever (verses 6-8). The prophet is told on behalf of Jerusalem to tell out the “good tidings,” to tell out the good news: “Here is your God!” (verse 9-10). He is like a shepherd who gathers the weak (“the lambs”) and gently leads them.

Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13

In this Psalm we are told of God’s restoration of the people, and God’s overwhelming forgiveness (verses 1-2). In between the verses we are reading, there is a prayer that God may again show favour to the people (verses 4-7). Then the psalmist hears God promising that he will bless the people with peace and steadfast love, which shall be the visible signs of God’s presence and power (verses 8-13).

II Peter 3: 8-15a:

The Epistle reading is written by Saint Peter at the end of his life. Aware that he is going to die soon, the apostle leaves an assurance of the fulfilment of God’s promises and a testimony of what being a Christian means as we wait for Christ to come again.

The writer says that the apparent delay in Christ’s coming is merely a delusion in time, for God does not measure time in the way we do (verse 8). Instead, God wishes all to be found worthy at the Last Day, and does not want any to perish. He is waiting patiently for all to repent of their waywardness (verse 9), but the end will come suddenly and unexpectedly, like a thief (verse 10). The images of the end-times are drawn from popular Jewish and Greek philosophy of the day (see verse 10b).

The end is coming, what should our conduct be as we wait? The end is not annihilation, but ushers in “new heavens and a new earth.” As we wait for this, we should be signs of it, being at peace, being ethically and spiritually perfect, prepared for Christ’s coming. His apparent delay is an opportunity for repentance and for attaining salvation.

Saint John the Baptist baptises Christ in the River Jordan ... a detail from a window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Gospel reading (Mark 1: 1-8):

We have seen the work of God, the Word and the Spirit in unison in the Old Testament reading. Now the story of the Baptism of Christ is the first revelation of the Trinity to the creation in the New Testament and is like the story of a new creation.

All the elements of the creation story in the Book Genesis are here: we know we are moving from darkness into light; the shape of the earth moves from wilderness to beauty as we are given a description of the landscape; there is a separation of the waters of the new creation as Jesus and John go down in the waters of the Jordan and rise up from them again; and as in Genesis, the Holy Spirit hovers over the waters of this beautiful new creation like a dove.

And then, just as in the Genesis creation story, where God looks down and sees that everything is good, God looks down in this Theophany story and lets us know that everything is good.

Or, as Saint Mark says: And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1: 11).

God is pleased with the whole of creation, God so loved this creation, κόσμος (kosmos), that Christ has come into it, identified with us in the flesh, and is giving us the gift and the blessings of the Holy Spirit.

Both Mark and John have little interest in the first Christmas story. In this reading, Saint Mark begins telling the Good News with quotations from the Old Testament. God had promised the Israelites a “messenger” (verse 2) to lead them. Tradition says that John baptised near Jericho, in an arid region. People came to him in large numbers, repenting (changing their mind sets), “confessing their sins” (verse 5), resolving to sin no more, and dipping or plunging themselves into the river.

John dresses like a hermit or prophet (verse 6), yet sees himself as unworthy, compared to “the one who ... is coming” (verse 7), so unworthy that he cannot untie his sandals, a task normally performed by a slave.

The Sadducees and the priests in the Temple believed that the blood spilled in the Temple sacrifices was sufficient to atone for all sins. The Pharisees said that God welcomes converts from any nation who wants to join God’s people and walk in accordance with God’s Torah.

On the other hand, Saint John the Baptist, who bases himself outside Jerusalem in the wilderness by the banks of the Jordan River, proclaims to all who listen that forgiveness is available to any who repent and are baptised. No Temple sacrifice is necessary. According to Saint Matthew and Saint Luke, John the Baptist teaches that in God’s eyes blood ties to Abraham are of no account. The High Priest needs the baptism of repentance just as much as a Gentile convert does, and Abraham’s inheritance is there for anyone who receives the offer of it through that baptism.

John’s baptism is a sign of purification, of turning to God, of accepting God’s forgiveness and judgment; Christ’s baptism re-establishes a spiritual link between God and humanity. This is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

To us, John the Baptist comes to prepare for, and to announce, Christ’s coming. But if all we expect from the coming of Christ and Christ’s work among us is finding forgiveness for sin, finding a relationship with God, and joining God’s people if we are willing to repent and experience conversion, then we are in for a surprise. As the opening verse of the Gospel reading tells us, this is just the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is only the beginning.

During this Advent season, we expect the coming of Christ and the fulfilment of his reconciling work on earth. As the Epistle reading (II Peter 3: 8-15a) tells us, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home, where God’s justice is done (verse 13).

Christ is coming and is reconciling the whole world, each of us with one another and with God. His is coming with a vision of a world in which all of the barriers that separate us – poor and rich, North and South, male and female, Jew and Gentile, nation and nation – will be no more.

His coming is just the beginning of the Good News. Let us prepare the way of the Lord: cast down the mighty and raise up the lowly, let justice and righteousness go before him, let peace be the pathway for his feet, do justice and make peace. And let this be just the beginning.

The Baptism of Christ depicted in stucco relief in the Baptistery in the Church of Saint Nicholas of Myra, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)


Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

here you have nourished us with the food of life.
Through our sharing in this holy sacrament
teach us to judge wisely earthly things
and to yearn for things heavenly.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were prepared for a Bible study with MTh students in a tutorial group on 26 November 2014.

25 November 2014

Finding Advent signs of hope for
Gaza in the darkness of winter

Archbishop Michael Jackson and the Revd Ken Rue at the launch of the ‘Prepare a Place’ Advent Appeal this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Church House in Rathmines late this afternoon [25 November 2014] for the launch of the Advent Appeal, ‘Prepare a Place,’ in support of al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza.

The appeal, launched by Archbishop Michael Jackson, is the initiative of the Dublin and Glendalough Diocesan Council for Mission, in partnership with the Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal, Us (the new name for USPG), and Friends of Sabeel.

The Revd Ken Rue, chair of the Council for Mission, explained this afternoon that this “non-political” and humanitarian appeal is the first step in a diocese-to-diocese link between Dublin and Glendalough and the Diocese of Jerusalem, a diocese with stretched resources that is trying to care for people in need.

Linda Chambers of Us, who has recently returned from a visit to Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, told us how the Gaza Strip is home to 1.8 million people, including 1.2 million Palestinian refugees in an area of 360 sq km, half the size of Co Louth.

Archbishop Jackson also introduced a prayer he has written for use throughout the Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough to accompany this Advent appeal:

throughout human history you have heard the cry of your people
when they turn to you for help and healing, for merciful belonging and for new life.
Bless those who today tend the flames of witness
To your kindly presence in the Land of the Holy One.
Give grace and protection to the bishop, the clergy and people
in the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and The Middle East
who heed your command to love God and neighbour with courage and generosity.
Bless those who in the United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough
build partnership, solidarity and friendship with the peoples of the Middle East
at this time of harrowing and of hope.
We ask this in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

The launch was attended by members of the board and supporters of Us Ireland, representatives of the Council for Mission, the Bishops’ Appeal, and Friends of Sabeel, and clergy and ordinands from throughout Dublin and Glendalough.

They included the Revd Andrew McCroskery of Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, who was one of “Bikers on a Mission” earlier this year, visiting every cathedral in the Church of Ireland to raise funds for Us-supported projects in Swaziland.

Outside, before the launch events began, there was a beautiful winter sunset behind the trees in the grounds of the Church of Ireland College of Education. In darkness, we can always find glimmers and signs of hope. For the people of Gaza, this Advent Appeal may be one of those small signs of hope.

The overwhelming needs in the Diocese of Jerusalem are:

• 1.8 million people affected in the Gaza Strip
• Over 2,000 fatalities, of whom 1,312 are civilians and 513 of these are children • Over 10,000 injured (2,877 children, 3,061 women)
• 520,000 displaced people housed in UN/government schools or with host families
• 1.5 million people not in shelters with no water or extremely restricted access to water
• 10,690 housing units destroyed or severely damaged
• 141 schools damaged
• 5 hospitals shut down
• 24 (at least) health facilities damaged
• 2–4 hours of electricity per day on average

Donations can be made to Bishops’ Appeal either by envelopes that are available in all parish churches or by electronic transfer to IBAN: IE BOFI 9000 1749 8394 99 BIC: BOFIIE2D (reference Gaza).

A winter sunset prior to the launch of the ‘Prepare a Place’ Advent Appeal (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Advent appeal for hospital in
Gaza is launched in Dublin today

‘Prepare a Place for Gaza this Christmas’ … the Advent Appeal is being launched in Dublin this afternoon

Patrick Comerford

“Prepare a Place for Gaza this Christmas” – this is the Advent Appeal being run by the Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough to raise funds for Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza.

The United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough are running this emergency appeal for Gaza throughout Advent. The appeal is being launched by Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin at 4 p.m. this afternoon (25 November), and the hope is to raise €150,000 for the hospital to use to improve facilities for on-call staff and to install solar panels to ensure a more secure electricity supply for the hospital.

The appeal is part of a longer-term link that is being nurtured between Dublin and Glendalough and the Diocese of Jerusalem.

Families throughout the Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough are being urged to include an imaginary Gaza guest at their Christmas gatherings this year to help raise funds for the appeal. They can contribute by donating the cost of the meal for their Gaza guest and the price of a gift for a loved one.

Parishes, schools, hospitals, organisations and individuals throughout Dublin and Glendalough can get involved in supporting the appeal by holding an Advent fund-raising event for Gaza.

Commending the Advent Appeal, Archbishop Jackson said: “I am delighted that the Diocesan Council for Mission has taken this Appeal for Gaza forward in such an imaginative way. I should encourage everyone across the United Dioceses, in the Season of Advent and Christmas, to think of ways of reaching out across the world in the spirit of Christmas in response to this urgent need for financial support. Please lay a place at your table for someone, just like any of us, as a way of supporting friends abroad and contributing to the reconstruction of the Al Ahli Hospital which itself turns nobody away.”

The Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, Archbishop Suheil Dawani, said: “Our medical services are given irrespective of race, religion or ability to pay. We see in each person seeking our services the image and likeness of Almighty God and we affirm through our support the dignity of each individual who comes to us.”

The appeal is being co-ordinated by the Dublin and Glendalough Council for Mission in partnership with Bishops’ Appeal, the United Society (Us, the new name for USPG), and Friends of Sabeel.

The longer term link between the Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough and the Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East aims to offer friendship and solidarity in a region where the number of Christians is dwindling.

Al Ahli Hospital was built in 1882 by CMS and is owned and controlled by the Diocese of Jerusalem. The hospital’s vision is: “To continue providing the finest medical care possible under the most adverse circumstances to the marginalised and vulnerable poor people whose livelihood are threatened by the effect of human–made disaster, with special attention to the refugee and the poorest of the poor. The hospital is committed to building people’s capacity and competence alongside the development and maintenance of an adequate standard of diagnostic and clinical services.”

The overwhelming needs in the Diocese of Jerusalem are:

• 1.8 million people affected in the Gaza Strip
• Over 2,000 fatalities, of whom 1,312 are civilians and 513 of these are children • Over 10,000 injured (2,877 children, 3,061 women)
• 520,000 displaced people housed in UN/government schools or with host families
• 1.5 million people not in shelters with no water or extremely restricted access to water
• 10,690 housing units destroyed or severely damaged
• 141 schools damaged
• 5 hospitals shut down
• 24 (at least) health facilities damaged
• 2–4 hours of electricity per day on average

Donations can be made to Bishops’ Appeal either by envelopes that are available in all parish churches or by electronic transfer to IBAN: IE BOFI 9000 1749 8394 99 BIC: BOFIIE2D (reference Gaza).

24 November 2014

Liturgy 8.2 (2014-2015): 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

TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

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

3.30 p.m., Monday 24 November 2014

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

Women priests voting in the debate on women bishops in the General Synod of the Church of England last week

In our second session this afternoon, we are 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 (second from right) with Archbishop Rowan Williams, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, and other participants at a recent conference in Westcott House, Cambridge

(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 layperson’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);

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


2, Proclaiming and Receiving the Word:

First Reading;
Second Reading;
(Canticle, hymn or anthem);


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;
Hymn invoking the Holy Spirit (Veni Creator for priests and bishops);
Ordination prayer, with the laying on of hands.

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


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, new revised ed, 2001).

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?


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 (1 December 2014):

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 revised edition, 2001), Chapter 9, ‘The Ordination Gospel’ (pp 61-67).


1, Essays.

2, End of module visit postponed to next semester.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a lecture on 24 November 2014 in the Module TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality on the MTh course.