"Let my payer be set forth in thy sight as the Incense"
The proper procedure in clerical appointments was once that the candidate’s first encounter with representatives of the parish should be only with the churchwardens. Being persuaded by the Bishop “To go and look at Wootton”, to my astonishment I found the whole of the PCC Standing Committee ready to grill me regarding my intentions if I were to be their Rector.
To be honest, I didn’t want to go there, being nicely settled at St. John’s, Sandown, so I answered their questions honestly, hoping that my suggestions would be considered to be too revolutionary and “Romish” for what I knew to be a very conservative congregation.
If as a result they demurred, then I had good reason to tell the Bishop that “I wouldn’t do” and that he should look elsewhere.
So, “Yes, I would wear vestments, yes, I would have servers carrying candles; and then the question I thought would seal the matter came, when asked if I would use incense, I said, “Yes, I would if I thought it would enhance the worship and the congregation didn’t object”.
There was some shaking of heads, but to push things on, the PCC Chairman (the local doctor) said briskly, “Now we know what Mr. Rayner will do if he comes; is it your wish that we should ask him to accept the post?”. Despite the head-shaking, the positive vote was unanimous and eventually, when St. Mark’s Church was re-opened, early on, we had incense, but on a fairly inoffensive scale with few objections.
But what is Incense? Basically it is the crushed solidified sap of the Middle Easter Olibanum or similar tree, which when heated (usually by charcoal) produces a sweet-smelling odour. Something that religious people in most of the world have used in their worship for more than 4,000 years.
Zechariah (John Baptist’s father) a priest at the Temple was offering incense at an altar set apart for that purpose (Luke 1, vv5-13) when the angel appeared to him to tell him of his son’s future birth.
As the incense burns, a light smoke ascends, thus the Psalm, “Let my prayers be set forth in thy sight as the incense and the lifting up of our hands be an evening sacrifice” being a symbol of the faithful’s prayers ascending to the heavenly throne.
In worship, it has an immediate calming effect, so much so that our College Principal (when Chancellor of York Minster) used to send vergers with censers throughout that great church, and it calmed the behaviour of Bank-holiday tourists like magic as they encountered it. I have found this effective when preparing for one of those weddings or services where one is doubtful whether the guests (after pre-nuptial drinks) will behave as seemly in church as they ought.
What else is it used for? Strangely, it has no use, apart from worship and some healing rituals and has by tradition been always seen as a sign of the Presence of God.
Hence, one of the 3 Kings offered Incense to the child as a sign that He was (and is) God.
For a while in the 60s, it and Incense sticks became one of the “musts” for the “Beautiful People” being part of the revival of a different culture.
Whereas it was forbidden from the Reformation until the late 19th century, it is now found in many of our cathedrals and parish churches, providing an atmosphere of “otherness” helping to refocus people’s minds away from the transitory world to the real world of God and His purposes for us.
7 July 2019
(This jotting is to inform you, not suggesting that you all go out and buy incense sticks; but then, you might do so and find it a help in your prayer life)
Following the bride and bridegroom, I took my place on the outer top step of Holy Trinity Church to join with them and the family for the usual photographs.
As I emerged, wearing a brilliant red and gold cope, I heard (not one of the usual wedding-watchers) exclaim, “Look, the Vicar looks like someone on the Telly!”.
The hardened watchers, to whom this was nothing new ignored her, but I thought, that amid all the arguments on what happened in the “Higher” churches, the fact that it was seen on the “Telly” gave it a certain respectability and acceptance!
Some of our more hardened Evangelical clergy espouse such fripperies, for they feel they must look ordinary, lest it “puts people off”.
Here they are wrong, for regardless of religious decline, people expect Church to be different and rightly so. There is a hymn that runs “Thou art coming to a King, large petitions with thee bring, for his grace and power are such that one can never ask too much”.
You have an invitation to the Queen’s Garden Party. Do you look out a pair of well-worn jeans (they’re more comfortable), or do you search through your wardrobe to find something appropriate, and if not, then off to the Internet to find something “Fit for a Queen”? Certainly, I wouldn’t wish to wear my shorts!
I wear a cope for services such as Baptisms and Weddings, because they are important occasions in the family’s life and I want to honour it (and God) dressed in a suitable manner.
Clerical robes go right back to early Jewish history and a study of Exodus, chapter 28, will indicate how amid the rigours of the wilderness, Aaron and his fellow priests were to have the most rich and meaningful robes at God’s command.
The Psalm speaks of “worshipping God “In the beauty of holiness”, but the correct translation is “In beautiful robes”, which makes some sense.
The use of Eucharistic vestments in the Church of England goes back from the earliest days until the Reformation, when they were considered part of the Popish heresies, but it was reported that Queen Elizabeth I, employed priests in her Private chapel who wore them and on whose altar there were two lighted candles during the service.
From then on, the normal wear for an officiating priest was a surplice and academic hood over a plain black cassock until the Oxford Movement revival from the 1840s onwards. All rather dull, but the full vestments gradually came into use, despite condemnation from the Bishops and the imprisonment of two East London priests that raised a great deal of controversy.
Gradually, many of the pre-Reformation practises and customs returned and for most parishes they have become the norm, particularly since the publication of the 1928 Prayer Book (intended to replace 1662, but never legally approved by Parliament), which clearly authorised the use of traditional robes.
Disregarding Parliament, the CofE pressed on with the 1928 book becoming an “unofficial” rewriting of some sections of 1662 and on which much of the Common Worship services are based.
Our vestments are a link with the Early Church and have a “teaching” value as a study of the accompanying diagram shows.
30 June 2019
THE PRIEST'S ROBES
The Beefeaters in the Tower of London wear a distinctive, although archaic, dress, to remind us all that we are a nation with a long history and tradition.
If the priest at the Eucharist wears the robes pictured above, it is because originally, Christians wore their best clothes when officiating at worship, and basically he is dressed like a 3rd century Roman gentleman!
This is a salutary reminder that The Church has an even longer history than our nation, with a contunuity, reaching back to the time of the Apostles themselves.
The CHASUBLE is basically a "poncho" type garment, usually of the colour of the Church Season.
The white ALBE was the basic under-garment of a Roman citizen.
The STOLE was a symbol of authority.
The GIRDLE was a pratctical belt.
The MANIPLE (now disused) was a relic of the towels which the clergy used to wear over their arms to remind them that they are ministers (servants), for Jesus showed His disciples, by washing their feet, that the true follower of Jesus must be a "minister" a "servant" of God and of others.
150 years ago, the two curates (that’s right, two!) at St. Michael’s, Swanmore had their licenses withdrawn by the Bishop (then of Winchester) preventing them from conducting any services there.
What was their dreadful offence?
Simply that during a service, there were lighted candles on the altar that were only there for ceremonial purposes; the Church Laws it was claimed forbad this practise, unless they were necessary for the priest to read the altar book.
Otherwise, it was illegal and described as “Popery”,
Ever since the Reformation it was supposed that this was what the Prayer Book stated and anything that imitated the Roman Catholic practises was suspect and condemned.
The battle between the growing number of “High Church” clergy was bitter, with the Bishops disciplining anyone or anything contravening what they thought was against the spirit of the Reformation.
They pointed to the rule in the first English Prayer Book, which said that “The robes of the minister and other practises were to remain as in the first year of Edward 6th’ reign” but records showed that in fact at that time, altar candles were sill in use, as indeed were the priestly vestments.
This dispute was eventually settled after the saintly Bishop of Lincoln (The Rt. Revd. Edward King) was hauled before the Archbishop Benison’s Consistory Court to defend his use of altar candles and vestments in his Episcopal chapel.
King was found “guilty” although Benison did accept the idea of altar candles, also the mixing of a little water with the Communion wine that had been another offence and from then on there were efforts to make these “Popish” practises both legal and acceptable to Anglican congregations. These differences continued right into the early years of my ministry.
Nowadays in churches, these are all commonplace, with the use of incense, vestments and ceremonies that were still suspect in a number of parishes, even into the 1960s. I was condemned as “Romish”, when I was sent by Bishop John Philips to raise the ecclesiastical temperature at St. John’s, Sandown in 1963 to balance the worship at Christchurch.
(I introduced vestments there at the end of 1963, but on the same Sunday, the church boiler finally died and the local Baptist minister told his congregation that “It was a judgement on the Vicar of St. John’s for introducing these Popish practises”!)
Unfortunately, some of this opposition can still be found in some parishes, but probably this is as much due to the fact that many churchgoers have no knowledge of what these ceremonies mean or why they exist.
Examining the history of these Candles, it stems from the earliest years of Christianity.
In Acts, 20, vv7-11, Luke describes an incident on a Saturday evening (remember, Sunday began at late eventide), when Paul preaches too long and a poor boy, Eutychus, overcome by the presence of so many lights, falls out of a window but is rescued unharmed.
After a meal, the Eucharist began for which many additional candles or oil lamps were brought in, reminiscent of Jesus’ claim to be “The light of the world”.
There is a translation of an ancient Hymn (Our hymn book 253, 3rd century or earlier):
“Hail, gladdening light of His pure glory poured, from the immortal Father, heavenly blessed, Holiest of holies, Jesus Christ our Lord”.
This was sung as the extra lights were brought into the room for the Eucharist.
Our lighted candles on the altar remind us of the abiding Presence of Jesus, when we meet to worship Him.
I ask this question because there are significant changes in the use of the word according to the 1662 Prayer Book and later revisions.
I notice it, for I have used the old style language most of my Ministry where it occurs twice in the Communion Services both in 1662 and the doubtful revision of 1928 (never approved by Parliament) and the new Common Worship services.
1662 talks about our offering in the Communion service as “Lively”, and again in the Intercessions “by their life and doctrine”, the clergy must set forth “thy true and lively Word” but later revisions talk about the true and living Word” .
Now how do you interpret these differences for they convey two entirely different attitudes to our Faith?
“Lively” suggests a different attitude to it than “Living”.
There is much difference between being a “Lively” Christian than simply jogging along as a “Living” Christian without a great deal of enthusiasm.
This difference in attitudes was underlined by a thought-provoking book written by Mark Gibbs and Ralph Morton, entitled “God’s Frozen People”.
Over 50 years ago (1965 to be precise) looking at the way in which the Church of England was going, with a fall-off in general church-going and candidates for the priesthood, these two men were so concerned that they, sat down and wrote this book.
Their object was to breathe life into the outward ministry of our Church, following on from the report on Evangelism (“Towards the Conversion of England”) which had been almost entirely neglected by the governing body, the Church Assembly.
Change in the Church was stagnant, although revised services were now in the market (reluctantly adopted under pressure by many of the Church both ordained and lay).
In addition, 20 years after the ending of the War it was clear that The Church’s finances were failing to keep pace with the cost of the Ministry, the numbers of which were falling.
This was simply because we couldn’t afford either to recruit or maintain them, putting the parochial Ministry under pressure. There was hesitancy in recruiting lest there was insufficient funds.
This had spawned all manner of ways in which it was suggested the pastoral Ministry could be maintained, with no less than 3 different Reports presented, but not implemented because they were considered too revolutionary.
Gibbs and Morton wrote this particular upsetting book because they recognised that unless the laity were brought into the whole scheme of things, the Church would wither and die.
Too long, congregations had sat back cosily in their seats, imagining that the ordained ministers should take on tasks that didn’t need an ordained person and some (like me) tried to do all manner of inessential tasks that the congregation could undertake; partly because that was how it had always been.
Some of us clergy imagined that if we didn’t stoke the boiler or some other un-priestly task, it was because either there were no suitable volunteers, or they thought it wouldn’t be done properly! Like Gilbert’s Poo Bah in the “Mikado”, as “Lord High Everything” clergyy wore themselves out unnecessarily.
Even if we don’t replace “Living” in our description, isn’t it time we considered how best we can become “un-frozen” or “Lively” Christians, or as Paul would have described it as “workers together with Christ"? Should we think about that?
“When did the Church of England lose the working classes?” The answer is that it has never had them in any great numbers since the Reformation and we need to ask “Why?”
It is true that from 1837 and the beginning of the Victorian era there was a tremendous revival, building churches, forming all manner of Societies and groups to ease the many problems associated with moving from a rural economy to an industrial one.
However many of the parish churches built in that period seem to have been appropriated by the growing middle class, with strict demarcation lines concerning who sat where (according to their social class).
In my Victorian church in Taunton (b.1842), the middle class trades-people occupied the nave, the boys of the public school of Kings College the gallery (also with comfortable pews), and the slum-dwellers and Work-house folk the hard back-less forms in the gallery.
True, The Church affected more people’s lives then than for many years previously, with various clubs and groups, especially Sunday Schools, to which the children were “sent” whilst the parents occupied themselves in more secular activities.
For many, the growing number of “High Churches” with colour, music and ceremonies, much of which was decried by the Bishops of the day and viewed with suspicion, attracted people who normally had no colour in their lives.
Churches like St. Michael’s, Swanmore, with its vestments, candles and even incense and plainsong chanting became an attraction to many ordinary families (the latter being comfortably used by all classes and types).
Many do not realise that it was customary in some parishes to have a “Mission Hall” to accommodate those who were not so welcome at the parish church. All Saints, Ryde had one in Prince Street, Ryde, and my own Taunton parish church was built to cope with the town’s numerous slum dwellers,
The sad truth is that we lost the ordinary folk through the Reformation, when so much that went on socially as well as spiritually was centred on the parish church, where everyone was involved and took part in so many of the religious occasions.
Processions were frequent with all the company joining in, often carrying candles, and people learned much of the Faith by the worship activities in which they were engaged.
In an age when few could read or write, the stained glass images, the statues of the saints (often related to trade or work activities) with the craft Guilds and the mystery of the worship itself, all made an impression on the working people who saw their church as their spiritual centre, coupled with the jolly supping of after-Mass Ale (brewed by the Churchwardens).
For the pre-Reformation churches, worship was not only solemn, but joyful participation of everyone. Consider now, if you perhaps advertise a service for families where there is to be a procession with candles to some particular place in the building, you will be surprised at who and how many will attend.
There is the story of the Bishop, taking part in a High Church Mass enquired “Why do the boys hold the candles?” “Simply” replied the priest “Because the candles hold the boys”.
Worship is not something done on our behalf by a select few by others; where possible it needs to be an occasion when everyone can feel they are contributing to the best of their ability, gendering a sense of “Joy”.
An old hymn bids us sing “Oh day of rest and gladness, Oh day of JOY and light”. Are our Sundays like that?
Perhaps we need to consider our worship and how we can create a greater sense of congregational participation?
Suggested reading: “The stripping of the altars” which traces the effect the Reformation had on English worship.