Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Thoughts on Holy Week

One of the foundational principles of Anglican liturgy is simplicity (together with comprehensibility and uniformity), that meaning that the services themselves, as well as the rules that govern them, are to be simple in the sense that the ceremonial of the service does not distract one from the worship of the one true God nor distract one from the one, perfect sacrifice of Christ.

Holy Week sadly gives us a glimpse of the (nearly) complete and total rejection of Anglican liturgics by the modern lot. The modern service books do not demonstrate these three characteristics, particularly of simplicity. Besides reintroducing non-Anglican customs such as the imposition of ashes, the distribution of palms, the veneration of the cross, amongst many other superstitious practices, the modern service books can only be seen as evidence of the gradual rejection of Anglicanism's historic doctrine, worship, and discipline.

It is interesting to compare the modern service books with the Prayer Book. When investigating our Church's historic liturgy, one finds the notable absence of many of the more popular, dramatic services. For instance, the "Sunday before Easter", not Palm Sunday, with the following days numbered sequentially without any special names.

When one compares the focus of the services, there also emerges a pattern of differences. The modern services are concerned about the ritual reenactment of Jesus' last days. The Prayer Book is concerned with prayerful remembrance and thanksgiving for Christ's sacrifice on our behalf. All of the pageantry associated with the medieval Church was purged and in its place the reading of the Bible was emphasized. Consider, for instance, the following readings assigned for the propers of the days of Holy Week (not counting the readings assigned in the Daily Office):
Sunday before Easter: Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 27:1-54 
Monday before Easter: Isaiah 63:1-end; Mark 14:1-end 
Tuesday before Easter: Isaiah 50:5-end; Mark 15:1-39 
Wednesday before Easter: Hebrews 9:16-end; Luke 22:1-end 
Thursday before Easter: 1 Corinthians 11:17-end; Luke 23:1-49 
Good Friday: Hebrews 10:1-25; John 19:1-37 
Easter Even: 1 Peter 3:17-end; Matthew 27:57-end 
Easter Day: Colossians 3:1-7; John 20:1-10
The question as to the appropriateness of ritual pageantry is really not something that I am overly concerned about. The issue at hand is the reincorporation of prayerful thanksgiving and remembrance for Christ's Passion. The problem is that sometimes pageantry can become an end in itself, rather than a means to an end.

The specific pageantries associated with Holy Week are as follows: the distribution of palms, the washing of feet, the veneration of the cross, and the various ceremonies associated with the Easter Vigil. Many times people want direct answers from THH, so I've decided to go ahead and give them.

Distribution of Palms. I really do not see an issue with this custom, provided that the emphasis be the same as the Prayer Book's, as discussed above. I would be hesitant, of course, especially considering that these were specifically outlawed by our Church. What sorts of things go through an average churchgoer's mind in association with these symbols? Are they aids to help them remember Christ's Passion or are they some sort of magical token? What effect does a procession have on the churchgoer? These are all questions I would keep in mind and in discussion with fellow churchgoers.

Washing of feet. I do not see a problem with this tradition either. It could be very useful to emphasize the theme of humility, which is prominent in the Prayer Book's Holy Week collect and readings. Sometimes the practice of it can be overly ritualized.

The Veneration of the Cross. This practice is simply idolatry. I have no earthly idea how it ever became included in a Protestant liturgy. If I had my way, the pages that authorize its use would be torn out of every modern service book tomorrow. Since the editors of modern service books are not overly concerned with biblical fidelity or teaching, this is likely not to occur. The only alternative is for classical Anglican parishes and churchmen to avoid this practice like the plague and services that include it.

Easter Vigil Rituals. I can never really keep track of what the various rituals are that are associated with Easter Vigil. The use of candles was of major concern to our forefathers which leads me to be suspicious but I think as long as it is not accentuated and the message proclaimed that it can be done with evangelical sincerity.

That covers the majority of the Holy Week customs that have crept up over the years. Obviously, my inclination is to uphold the Prayer Book services in their simplicity but one must acknowledge that the people enjoy a show, especially recovering papists. Sometimes the truth must be presented in pomp and circumstance.

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