Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thoughts On The New Liturgy Of The ACNA

Fr. Carlos Raines

The ACNA is preparing to release a new prayer book.  This is a good and essential thing!  Of course we cannot keep using Episcopalian prayer books.  However, my hope is that the ACNA  does not give up on  liturgical renewal if by that we mean pursuing the goals of many of the English reformers; the desire to reform the liturgy to the practice and faith of the early church.  To that end, I would say not everything about the 1979 Prayer Book was a disaster!  (Though some almost make it sound that way).  In fact, we orthodox believers probably greatly outnumbered the liberals in the '60's  and early '70's when that prayer book was composed.  It is hard for me to think, for example, that using the liturgy of Hippolytus for the foundation of “Prayer A”  was a stunning act driven by secularized liberals!

One vital, life-giving effort wonderfully expressed in the '79 Prayer Book was the contemporary language rites of prayers A, B and D.  In these prayers, the Episcopal Church reached past the time of Cranmer for examples of ancient Western rite prayers to revive our worship.  Personally I believe this effort was successful.  For example, despite the way the Prayer Book was shoved down the throats of the faithful by the bishops of the time, it is astounding how many clergy and laity chose  for their principle worship services Rite II, Prayer A!  My personal experience was that most converts and families, having tried both of our services (Rite 1 at 8:00 and Rite II at 10:30) found the Rite II service much more to their liking.   Currently I celebrate (or attend) the Eucharist Sunday through Friday every week using almost exclusively Prayer A Rite II.  Except for some awkward (somewhat unbiblical) wording in the very last phrase, it simply does not grow old.  (I believe the other Rite 2 services would have been used more often had the Prayer Book not suffered a poor publication design that required yet more page turning to use prayers B-D.  Prayer D in particular is deep and majestic). 

Let me say again how astounding this is!  There should have been every reason for Episcopalians to stay with Cranmer's words, as measured and beautiful as they were (Cranmer certainly was a consummate word-smith!).  Yet by a great majority, the priests and people of the Episcopal church quite voluntarily “voted” to worship with a liturgy based on an ancient rite that predated Cranmer by about 1200 years! 

Why did this happen?  Why did so many people who clearly were orthodox prefer a more ancient liturgy to some version of the 1662 Elizabethan Prayer Book?

Here are some simple reasons that occur to me as to why they did so and why we should continue to provide these or similar ancient liturgies in the new prayer book and not exclusively return to using some version of the 1662 Book, either in original or contemporary language. 

ñ  Ironically, I believe excluding these ancient rites betrays the intentions of the original Reformers, especially as elucidated in John Jewel's Apology.  Their efforts were directed at reforming the Western Catholic Church to its ancient roots predating the rise of the Papacy and the tearing of the fabric of unity in communion that occurred in A.D. 1054.  It is speculation on my part, (but not entirely uninformed) that these Reformers would be astonished and even aghast at efforts to make them and their writings the bench mark of Anglican church renewal.   I do believe they would point beyond themselves humbly and beg us to look to the benchmarks they followed in their day;  the Holy Scriptures as interpreted by the Early Church Fathers, and the ancient practice of the undivided Church. I worry that those who think our sufferings of the past 40 years can be directly attributed to having left the exclusive use of the Traditional Prayer Book Liturgies and Ordinals are leading us to a kind of liturgical fundamentalism, making us truly a Protestant Church, living as though everything before the 16th Century has no meaning to us! 
ñ   Originally we were one of the first churches in the West to produce a liturgy and a Bible in the language of the people.  If my church, St. James' Anglican Cathedral, were required to use classical prayer book worship at all services, the Anglican Church in my neighborhood would instantly become, of all the English speaking churches in the community, the church with the least understandable liturgy! Again, the irony is crushing!  The medieval church had commentaries to explain the alien Latin terms to the people who could afford such texts (and who could read!).  We will need classes to explain to the people the meaning of such terms as oblation, satisfaction, remission, substance, meet, vouchsafe and merits before most of them can make much sense of our liturgy.
ñ  Liturgy does not have to be composed of classical sixteenth century English to be beautiful, timeless, profound and formational.  The Gospel of John, written in laughably simple Greek is arguably the most profound of the four.  Effective liturgy need not be erudite; it must be deeply symbolic. 
ñ  Along with the liturgy found in the Anaphora of Hippolytus (3rd century...from which we get the '79 Prayer Book Eucharistic Prayer A), there are other ancient liturgies available, some of which were used by Celtic and even Anglo-saxon churches.  Some of these are no longer in use precisely because the imperialistic mindset behind the growing ecclesiastical hegemony of the Papacy forced the suppression of all other liturgies besides the Roman Rite.  Contrast this impulse with the very words of Pope St. Gregory the Great who re-founded the English Church with the following words found in a letter to Augustine of Canterbury: “If you have found customs, whether in the Roman, Gallican, or any other Churches that may be more acceptable to God, I wish you to make a careful selection of them, and teach the Church of the English, which is still young in the faith, whatever you can profitably learn from the various Churches.  For things should not be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things.”   The Gallican liturgy, long suppressed by Rome is a Western liturgy closely connected with Patrick of Ireland and the Celtic Church and of considerable appeal in beauty and poetic theological vision.  Perhaps this could be modified for Anglican usage? (See http://web.archive.org/web/20030329153729/members.truepath.com/Ben_Johnson/Germanus.html)
ñ  Already many, if not most churches either use worship pamphlets or extensive bulletins or even projected programs containing the Sunday Liturgy.  Most of our churches are no longer wedded to any particular book for Sunday worship and so, in a way strangely similar to much earlier times, we could well be in a time of creative flux.  This is not necessarily a bad thing in my estimation; like deceptively simple folk music, great liturgy is developed by many hands over the passage of time.  This is why ancient liturgies never grow old; they are refined through divine-human interaction into truly “common prayer.”
ñ  Returning to the original intentions of the English Reformers, could we not now “finish the Reformation?”  By that, I mean, what if we went beyond the 16th Century, reviving a long-suppressed liturgy (or liturgies), with Celtic roots, finding our place, along with the Orthodox, in a patristic church, challenging our brothers and sisters in Rome to join the journey?   Standing with the Orthodox, regaining our truly patristic roots, could we not together turn to Rome and join in the call for the 8th Ecumenical Council?  (Failing that, I wonder what kind of celebrations will greet the Millennial anniversary of the first, greatest and most devastating of schisms as A.D.  2054 arrives?)
ñ  There was a time when the Church, both East and West, was very comfortable with Christians worshiping with multiple liturgies in myriad languages (still the practice in the East).  Yet this church, so free in expression, for over a thousand years had a profound unity we can only long for today.  A single liturgy was not the fountain head of that unity, rather a recognized apostolic succession was; both in it's faith expression and in it's collegial structure.  As the Eastern Orthodox have proven for 2,000 years, our unity need not necessarily be in a single book, but in a common and ancient faith overseen by faithful bishops unafraid to correct each other.  The benchmark of that faith was in the faith of the Church planted by Jesus and the Holy Apostles as revealed in Holy Scriptures and interpreted with great respect to the early fathers. 
ñ  I am not advocating the removal of 1662-derivative prayer book liturgies.  It may be that many or even most of our churches will happily use them and to great effect for the Kingdom.  I am only asking that the opportunity to reach even further back than 1662 be allowed for clergy and people who wish to let more ancient liturgies sing again.  These liturgies were composed and developed long before the sad divisions and controversies of the late Middle Ages and they fed the hearts and souls of countless saints.  Why not allow for a season of creative flux, carefully overseen by Anglican bishops so that we may see what direction the Holy Spirit and the faithful may take in the years ahead.  Do we seriously want to lock ourselves into 16th or 17th century Anglicanism as our only benchmark?  Recognizing that their language and their issues are now almost as strange and alien to us as Latin to an English peasant, we the sons and daughters of these amazing reformers should continue to mine the riches of the ancient Church, and speak powerfully to this and future generations, fulfilling the words of Jesus about the wise scribe of the Kingdom reaching into his treasure to bring forth things old and new.  There are thousands of people all across North America who are searching for a church to believe in.  I sincerely believe a liturgy based on an ancient Western Catholic liturgy will find more favor with them than a liturgy requiring a history lesson and a dictionary!

I respectfully and humbly submit these thoughts for the sake of discussion.  It is my sincere hope that these words might be useful as we seek to reestablish Anglicanism in North America.

The Very Reverend Carlos Lee Raines
St. James Cathedral, Fresno, California
4 February 2012
Cornelius the Centurion

Friday, February 24, 2012

Daily Devotionals

Fr. Dale Matson

“It is the saying of holy men that, if we wish to be perfect, we have nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well.” Blessed John Henry Newman 

A daily devotional is the single most important thing that can be done by a Christian as the first act of the day, on an ongoing basis. A dentist may disagree with this but teeth are temporal and a soul is eternal. Using a devotional is like a swimmer in a pool, taking a deep cleansing breath as she turns at the end of the lap. I have begun my day with a devotional reading, followed by journaling every day for nearly twenty years.  Starting daily in this way is a statement of priorities. All time spent with God is not taken from the day before us. It is time returned tenfold. It is saying above all, that you are dedicated to a relationship with God and committed to maintaining and deepening that relationship.

When an individual begins a devotional using Scripture including prayer, that person is not just connecting with the Word of God. That person is not alone but is a participant in the Body of Christ, the universal church forever celebrating the Glory of God. The person is connected to the true vine Jesus Christ where he is not just transfused but transformed. Individuals are reuniting with their ancestors and the saints who have preceded them on this earth.

In beginning each day with a devotional there a sense of focus, meaning, pace and purpose. Why am I here? What really matters? Can I make a difference? It is a time of peace in a world of chaos. It is portable and when we travel we can take the devotional with us. It is a matter of being in the moment. It is living in the real world that has no boundaries not a virtual world where others exist in a few lines of a text message on a small screen and quickly are ignored or dismissed.

The Christian life is intended to be directed, have meaning, and be empowered by God the Holy Spirit. It is a life intended by our Creator to include reflection, self-examination and service to others. When we leave our worship service, we are dismissed by the Deacon with the charge, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” Our response is, “Thanks be to God.”

Commitment to a daily devotional introduces discipline into a life that would profit from discipline when it is absent or increased discipline when it is needed. The devotional can become a safe and familiar harbor from which each day’s journey begins.

Finally, the devotional sets the tone for our entire day. The devotional is done intentionally, consciously and directed to God. It is a good work that affects the entire cosmos. It becomes incense, carried with us throughout the day, anointing with its fragrance, the ordinary secular daily acts and makes them sacred. It is not time spent alone but in solitude. This is a frightening idea for some, since much of their bustle and distractedness is an attempt to avoid the reality that surrounds them on all sides.

A devotional can be the first step for some in obtaining a personal life of order, accountability and more.



Friday, February 17, 2012

Blue Collar Mysticism

Fr. Dale Matson

This book is written as an encouragement and comfort to those individuals who have been blessed to hear the still small voice of God (1st Kings 19:11-13). This is the story of Mysticism, Mystics as seekers of God and me because it is my story too. To have a mystical experience does not make one a mystic any more than having a seizure makes one an epileptic. It is really a lifetime of experiences that add up to and distinguish a mystic from others. I also believe that mystics lead both a contemplative and productive life. They are not involved in quietism. As a Christian, I believe the path of the seeker on this journey of sanctification must be conducted within the safe confines of the historic church. To stray from that path is a dangerous tangent. Mysticism is a part of that journey to God, it is not the journey itself. Mystical experiences are occasional sovereign gifts of God to the mystic and a byproduct of the search for God. The more we depend on the righteousness of Christ as our righteousness, the less we focus on obtaining our own righteousness by climbing some spiritual ladder.
I do not believe that one chooses to be a mystic nor do I believe that identifying oneself in this way increases one’s credibility with those who do not see themselves as mystics. This may be why the Anglican layperson Evelyn Underhill never discussed mysticism as someone on the inside yet I believe her insightful writings on the topic betray the fact that she should be included in this group. Are mystic’s special people? Are they the saints and holy people of the church?  One characteristic of mystics is humility. I do not believe that the canonized mystics of the church generally saw themselves as saints. St. Paul, the most famous of the Christian mystics saw himself as “chief of sinners.” (1st Timothy 1:15)

This book is as much a personal story as it is a difficult attempt to communicate a mystical journey that is now in its seventh decade for me. I have attempted to offer citations within the text to credit the ideas of others and for the reader that may wish to read further on a particular area. This is not intended to be a research book but a narrative description of the mystical experience in general and my own experiences in particular as examples. For those interested in the general topic of mysticism, I do not recommend this book since this book is limited to Christian mysticism.

The photograph on the cover of this book is of a much younger Dale Matson grading fill on a vacant lot in winter in1980. At that time I was a Journeyman Plumber, Soil Tester and Heavy Equipment Operator working for a general contractor in Southeastern Wisconsin. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. There is something rather bleak and basic yet very real about the photograph. At heart I am still blue collar.
  “And now, Father, send us out to do the work You have given us to do, to love and serve You as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” (Book of Common Prayer, Holy Eucharist II, p.366)
Fr. Dale Matson
Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Journal III

Fr. Dale Matson

            I am now in my 19th year of daily Journaling. There have been a couple of times that I have considered destroying the journals rather than having my wife do so, as she has promised me, at my passing. In a book I am finishing now however, I was able to draw upon a recorded dialog and include it in the book. This makes the third book I have been able to supplement with information and details I could never have remembered so completely and accurately. So, for those who anticipate that they may write a book, I would recommend that they maintain a daily journal for that reason alone.
            Secondly these journals include important information about exams by medical specialists. This includes baseline information and dates of examinations, should I need reports for a current specialist. In a sense they are a kind of health history or “personal chart”. One connection I was able to make on my own was the relationship between my weight (recorded daily) and my blood pressure. Twenty pounds means the difference between blood pressure problems and no problems.
            For my latest book, I was able to draw upon 18 years of my personal journals that gave longitudinal insight into my own spiritual development. Part of this new book includes conversations I had with Mary the mother of Jesus that I excerpted from my journals from 1994 and 95. That was a tough time for me emotionally and looking back now I realize I was still a very broken individual. Essentially over a period of 9 months, Mary re-parented me and taught me what a normal woman was like. In this case God provided a spiritual mom. It remains amazing to me how one can be sober for eleven years (in 1995), have developed cognitively and professionally yet still not mastered Erik Erikson’s first stage of psychosocial development, “Trust vs. Mistrust”. As I look back on that time, I am sad for myself and those that had to relate to me.
One thing that I am convinced of is that saints are not holy in the sense of perfection but in the sense of their dependence (reliance) upon God and their relationship to Him. That is why a man like King David could be a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), yet was quite sinful in other ways. It is never a matter of our worthiness to receive God’s blessings. It is always God’s graciousness and sovereignty that determine this. That is why it is all too easy to see the path to God as us climbing some spiritual ladder (works), when it is more a matter of submission to God, trust, faith and obedience, seeking His will for our lives. These too can be turned into works if we are not careful. That is why we must continually look to Christ as our righteousness and only means of salvation. We were created for fellowship with God. An attitude of prayer keeps the lines of communication open so when can hear His still small voice.
            The only thing that I would change is to keep my journal as a digital file also. In this way, I could do a digital word search on any topic. There are other numerous reasons for keeping a journal. For two more postings on journaling, type the word “journal” in the soundings search box.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Fr. Dale Matson

“That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew Him.” (Portion of Gospel lesson for Epiphany V from Mark Chapter I)
Why do the Scriptures spend so much time on demons? Aren’t demons really just a way people in those days understood things that they couldn’t explain? Weren’t those who were mentally ill confused with those who were possessed of demons? When we talk about evil today, aren’t we really saying that someone is psychopathic not really evil; Not really demon possessed?
As Christians we are encouraged to invoke the Holy Spirit. As St. Seraphim stated, “The true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.” However, some of what Christians do invokes the presence of other spirits. Our flesh itself is not sinful but it does make us vulnerable. Our flesh is the avenue into our souls.  Our sense organs are needed to process our environment and this sustains our very existence. What we expose ourselves to however is important. What we allow in front of our eyes, into our ears, mouth, and even our imaginations, we do have control over. We sin by exposing ourselves to sights and sounds that diminish and eventually can enslave us.
  Whether we want to admit it or not, our culture embraces evil. If we look at the top ten music albums of 2011, the top ten songs, the top ten movies, many deal with unspeakable violence, sexual immorality and demons. One of the most successful performers and producers today is Kanye West, who In January 2006, appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in the image of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns. Ryan Gosling played a criminal protagonist in the movie Drive that is packaged so well that its unforgettable extreme violence is dismissed in the run for the Oscars. This is on the heels of violent movies such as Fargo, The Matrix and  No Country For Old Men, to name only a few. Violence is as evil, destructive and contagious as pornography. Violent video games are the new pornography of adolescent males.  These movies and music are not any different than the cool aid laced with cyanide served up by the evil Jim Jones to his cult followers. It may go down easy but it is deadly. Two of the most successful films Twilight and Harry Potter deal with the vampires and the occult.
 Through our eyes and ears, we are exposing our souls, the souls that Christ died to save, to the world of demons. Through our physical senses, we make ourselves vulnerable to the spiritual world. We are invoking evil in our lives. In the movie True Grit, Rooster Cogburn the alcoholic marshal is told by Mattie Ross, “Don’t put things in your mouth that steal your thoughts”. I say this to every substance abuser. “Don’t put things in your mouth that steal your thoughts.”
When I was transitioning from construction to the profession of psychology, I took a job as a psychiatric technician in a Wisconsin county mental hospital. There were at least two people there that I can remember who appeared to be psychotic but not in a classical sense. By this I mean, they had a palpable seriousness to their demeanor and an intense hatred toward anything symbolic of the church. One male patient saw a photograph of Pope John Paul II on the cover of a Time magazine lying on a table and immediately flew into a rage and tore up the magazine.  The female said she had made a pact with Satan for protection. I have never seen an individual, who was once beautiful, decompensate so rapidly. When I looked into their eyes, there was a kind of soulless stare barely covering a ready rage.
For those of you who wonder, “Can a Christian be demon possessed?” Can a demon live inside of a Christian? My answer is an emphatic no!  I would respond with this verse from 1st John 4:4. “You are from God, little children, and have overcome; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” In your conflicts with sin, temptation, and error, you, as a Christian, should never despair, for God will insure you the victory. “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world”.
Focus on the positive and you will not be exposing yourself to this evil. "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8) Measure your thoughts by these words of God.  Amen