05 February 2023

Praying in Ordinary Time
with USPG: 5 February 2023

‘Let’s praise the organist who tries / To make the choir increase in size’ (John Betjeman) … the ‘Father Willis’ organ in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Third Sunday before Lent, known traditionally as Septuagesima. Later this morning, I hope to be part of the choir at the Choral Eucharist in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles in Stony Stratford.

This is a united benefice Eucharist for Saint Mary and Saint Giles, Stony Stratford, and All Saints’ Church, Calverton, and the guest preacher is the Right Revd Paul Thomas, who was consecrated Suffragan Bishop of Oswestry in Canterbury Cathedral on Thursday.

Of course, Septuagesima is not 70 days until Easter, but 63. Dom Prosper Gueranger, writing in The Liturgical Year, suggests that the numbering is due to the biblical practice of rounding numbers up (for example, 40 days), rather than using specifics.

He also suggests that a pre-Lenten season originates with the Greeks. These weeks, between the end of Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, are known as Ordinary Time.

In these days of Ordinary Time before Ash Wednesday later this month (22 February), I am reflecting in these ways each morning:

1, reflecting on a saint or interesting person in the life of the Church;

2, one of the lectionary readings of the day;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

We are starting the preparation for Lent, which in turn is a preparation for Holy Week and Easter. We have only three Sundays to go before the season of Lent begins: Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima are names that provide a countdown to the great Paschal event of Easter – 70, 60, 50, then of course 40 days in the wilderness.

Instead of reflecting on a saint this morning, I am reading the poem ‘Septuagesima’ by John Betjeman, in which he praises these Sunday names, which are unique to the Anglican tradition.

This poem was first broadcast on BBC West of England Radio in February 1954, and was recited some years ago by the then Prince Charles to mark National Poetry Day.

‘Let’s praise the ringers in the tower / Who come to ring in cold and shower’ (John Betjeman) … the bells in the tower in All Saints’ Church, Calverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Septuagesima, by John Betjeman:

Septuagesima—seventy days
To Easter’s primrose tide of praise;
The Gesimas—Septua, Sexa, Quinc
Mean Lent is near, which makes you think.
Septuagesima—when we’re told
To “run the race,” to “keep our hold,”
Ignore injustice, not give in, and practice stern self-discipline;
A somewhat unattractive time
Which hardly lends itself to rhyme.

But still it gives the chance to me
To praise our dear old C. of E.
So other churches please forgive
Lines on the church in which I live,
The Church of England of my birth,
The kindest church to me on Earth.

There may be those who like things fully
Argued out, and call you “woolly”;
Ignoring Creeds and Catechism
They say the C. of E.’s “in schism.”

There may be those who much resent
Priest, Liturgy, and Sacrament,
Whose worship is what they call “free,”
Well, let them be so, but for me
There’s refuge in the C. of E.

And when it comes that I must die
I hope the Vicar’s standing by,
I won’t care if he’s “Low” or “High”
For he’ll be there to aid my soul
On that dread journey to its goal,
With Sacrament and prayer and Blessing
After I’ve done my last confessing.

And at that time may I receive
The Grace most firmly to believe,
For if the Christian’s Faith’s untrue
What is the point of me and you?

But this is all anticipating
Septuagesima—time of waiting,
Running the race or holding fast.
Let’s praise the man who goes to light
The church stove on an icy night.
Let’s praise that hard-worked he or she
The Treasurer of the P.C.C.
Let’s praise the cleaner of the aisles,
The nave and candlesticks and tiles.

Let’s praise the organist who tries
To make the choir increase in size,
Or if that simply cannot be,
Just to improve its quality.
Let’s praise the ringers in the tower
Who come to ring in cold and shower.

But most of all let’s praise the few
Who are seen in their accustomed pew
Throughout the year, whate’er the weather,
That they may worship God together.
These, like a fire of glowing coals,
Strike warmth into each other’s souls,
And though they be but two or three
They keep the church for you and me.

‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste how can its saltiness be restored?’ (Matthew 5: 13) … ‘Sal Sapit Omnia’ (‘Salt Savours All’), the motto of the Worshipful Company of Salters at the former gates of Salters’ Hall in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 5:13-20 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 13 ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

‘No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket’ (Matthew 5: 15) … ‘Let’s praise the cleaner of the aisles, / The nave and candlesticks and tiles’ (John Betjeman) … candles in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Rethymnon on the island of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Christianity in Pakistan.’ This theme is introduced today by Nathan Olsen, who writes:

‘Earlier this year, USPG hosted a meeting with bishops from the Church of Pakistan and mission agencies based in the UK. The bishops from the Church of Pakistan were keen to emphasise their hopes for the future, as well as the limitations they currently face as representatives of a minority faith. Amongst the issues raised were the lack of education and employment opportunities that Christians face in Pakistan, as well as explicit issues such as the forced conversion of Christians and repressive blasphemy laws.

‘In the country’s most recent census, the Christian population has fallen in number and there is widespread feeling amongst the Christians that it is a struggle to speak out on such issues. On a more positive note, the bishops spoke of their clear passion for theological education and their desire to train clergy and laity in political advocacy. While it can be incredibly challenging to sustain and grow a church in a restricted environment, their faith in Jesus Christ and the power of prayer was evident for all present to see. Let us keep our brothers and sisters in Pakistan in our prayers.’

The USPG Prayer Diary today invites us to pray in these words:

Uphold, O Lord, all those who suffer for their faith.
May they know you as a rock to stand on
and a light to guide the way.
May their hearts be filled with grace
and their voices be raised in song.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil’ (Matthew 5: 17) … the Ten Commandments above the altar in the Guild Church of Saint Martin-within-Ludgate, Ludgate Hill, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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