Thursday, October 2, 2008

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes on the Feast of Dedication
The First Sunday in October

The Dedication Festival
The Feast of the Dedication is the annual thanksgiving for the consecration of a Church, and is to be kept, strictly speaking, only for consecrated Churches. It must be distinguished from the Patronal Festival.
It seems that up to and after the English Reformation, in many places the parish anniversary was kept with much merry-making and revelry. In the reign of Henry VIII, as part of the government’s efforts to curtail the number of midweek holy days, an act of Convocation (1536) ordered that the feast of dedication in all churches in England was to be kept on the first Sunday in October. [See: Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, which can be found through]
The reform of 1536 does not seem to have been universally obeyed at the time but in later years it became common for parishes to keep their dedication festival on this date, especially when the date of consecration is not known. The Book of Common Prayer (1662) makes no provision for this festival; the Revised Book proposed in 1928, however, suggested that the dedicarion be kept on the first Sunday in October if the day of consecration is not known. The revised English calendar of 1997 allows it to be celebrated on the firt Sunday in October, the last Sunday after Trinity or on another date chosen locally.
According to the old Catholic Encyclopaedia, the anniversary of the consecration was kept as a double of the first class with octave each year; in order to avoid inconveniences of the date, the bishop was entitled,m in the act of consecration, to appoint another date for the anniversary that did not suffer from such problems. If he does not, it must be kept on the anniversary or some other remedy be sought from the Holy See.
It appears, then, that the provision for a common celebration of this feast is something peculiar to Anglicans. However, the provisions of many modern Anglican Churchs, apart from England, [USA 1928, 1979; Canada 1962, BAS; Scotland] by providing propers for the feast but no fixed date, apparently intend that it will be kept on the actual anniversary day. The title of the service in the BAS Thanksgiving on the Anniversary of a Parish or on the Feast of Dedication seems to support this.] Since all of our Churches in Canada were founded in modern times, one would expect the date of consecration of most would be recorded. There is no particular reason, except tradition, for keeping the Dedication Festival on the first Sunday in October.

The Propers
No Sentence is set for this liturgy. Possibilities are “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God”, or “My house shall be called a house of prayer”.
The Gathering of the Community is simplified in this Rite: the greeting is followed by an act of praise and then by The Collect, which was apparently composed for the BAS; like other prayers in this service it leans as heavily towards instruction of the congregation as does to prayer to God. It is followed by:
The Procession to the Font, during which Psalms 42 and 43 or a hymn may be sung; at the Font the celebrant prays a Thanksgiving for Water, which is like the form used in baptism, then follows:
The Procession to the Lectern, during which portions of Psalm 119:89-112 or a hymn may be sung; at the Lectern the celebrant prays, reminding us of what we learn from scripture, and asking God for ears to hear and hearts to obey God’s Word spoken through the words of Scripture, after which follow

The Readings
The BAS suggests suitable readings for this celebration, from which the usual number is chosen. The array of readings touches on different aspects or emphases of this feast. For a church is a number of things: a place made holy by a encounter with God, a holy place set apart for God’s worship, made sacred by sacrifice, a place (would any place do?) where the members of Christ’s body gather to be and be made his body in word and sacrament. Is there a dnager in emphasising one of these thoughts more than the others, or ought one of them to control the others. The readings might lead us to ask what it is we are celebrating in the anniversary of the consecration.

The first reading: Genesis 28.10-17 tells of Jacob’s encounter with God at Bethel; this was also te first reading for Michaelmas. The other choices of first readings are 1 Kings 8.22-30, which is the opening of King Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, and 1 Chronicles 29.6-19, which tells of the offering of the people of Israel for the building of the temple, and King David’s prayer for the work and for Solomon who will take it up.
The passage from Genesis tells us that on his way to Harran, Jacob passed the night at Bethel, where the sacredness of the ‘place’ was revealed to him buy a dream of a ladder leading from earth to heaven. Awaking, he consecrateds the stone on which his head had lain, as a ‘house of God’, at the same time naming the place Bethel,- and vows to dedicate a tithe of all he has, in the event of his safe return. There are many points of interest in this passage:
The Ladder (other possible translations are ‘stairway’ or ‘ramp’) which Jacob saw reminiscent of a ziggurat, a pyramid temple of Babylon, on which there was a stairway (“ladder”, v. 12) to the top, where the deity was believed to live. The Tower of Babel (meaning gateway to a god) was probably a ziggurat. (from the RCL notes for Michaelmas).
In both Hebrew and Greek, the word we render as angel means “messenger”. Angels in a company are mentioned here and in 32.1-2 (compare 16.7; 21.17) suggesting the view of a retinue surroundng the heavenly King. A rabbinic commentary interpreted the angels who were ascending as those who had escorted Jacob in the Holy Land, and do not go outside the Land; the angels who were descending were those who were to escort him outside the Holy Land.
Jacob's dream of the angels’ staircase, a meeting place between Heaven and Earth points towards Jesus, who also reunites heaven and earth (John 1:51): "And he said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." Here Jesus himself is the ladder, for in hmself Heaven and Earth are united. Even more, in John’s Gospel Jesus presents himelf as the reality to which the stairway points; Jacob saw in a dream the reunion of Heaven and Earth and Jesus brought this reunion, metaphorically the ladder, into reality.
While the Hebrew and our moden English versions say that the Lord “stood above” the Ladder, the LXX, the ancient Greek version (which was followed in this by the Latin), says that he “leaned on” it, giving a delightful image of the Lord leaning over and looking down from heaven to speak to Jacob.
The Lord reveals himself to Jacob to renew the promises made to Abraham and Isaac. An ancient interpretation took the words “the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants” to mean that the Lord had “folded the entire Land of Israel under him.”
It might be felt that the passage chosen here ends too soon. In verse 18 we read that Joseph “took the stone which he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it,” that is, anointed it. Thus the stone becomes a type of the Christ, which means “the Anointed one”. We should note that in the folklore of Scotland and Ireland, the stone used by Jacob as a pillow has been identified with the Coronation Stone (the Stone of Scone) and with a similar stone in Ireland.
This passage was chosen for today because of Jacob’s realization that he is in a holy place, Beth-el, the House of God. The idea of a holy place is an important image among the many that we associate with the dedication of Churches. Even though few, if any, of our churches in Canada are built on ancent sites of theophany or oracle, they have become sites of encounter with God, both generally because they are places where the sacraments are celebrated, and in the personal experiences of individual Christians.It is, however, the setting aside of the place by the Church and the gathering of the people in response to God’s invitation that makes the place holy, not the other way around, as we will see in the second reading.

Psalm 122.
This psalm is posssibly best known among English-speaking persons at least as the coronation anthem set by Parry. Its original purpose was to praise Jerusalem as the goal of pilgrims, who admire it and pray for its peace and prosperity.
Verse 7 is inscribed (in Latin) above high table in Trinity College’s Strachan Hall.

The Epistle, 1 Peter 2.2-5, 9-10
This passage, or the first portion of it, is used by several churches for the Feats of Dedication; the alternate choice is Revelation 21.1-4, 22-22.5 {Its Temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb) which goes will with the alternate Gospel from John 20.
This reading is concerned not with the holy place, but with the assembly of God’s people. The members of the Church are called living stones, built up into a spiritual temple. Though there is nothing here that speaks of a church building, but St Paul wrote long before particular buildings were set apart for and hallowed by the use of the living stones.
The verses that are omitted (6-8) provide a link between this image and that of Christ the corner-stone that was rejected but chosen by God and precious, which in turn links this whole passage to the story of Jacob, who anointed and made an altar of the stone he had chosen for a pillow (Genesis 28.18)
It is by their use for the prayers and sacraments of God’s holy people that church buildings are made holy. Indeed, the earliest way in which churches were consecrated was by the celebration of the Eucharist. As we give thanks for the consecration of our parish church and for the years of consecrating prayer, a good question might be: How do you understand the sacredness of a place?

The Holy Gospel: Matthew 21.12-16
The alternate Gospel reading is John 20.19-21, in which the risen Lord Jesus appears to the disciples in the Upper Room on the first Easter evening; its emphasis is Church as the communty of Christ’s disciples rather than any particular place.
“My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves”; these words of Christ ought to make us ask ourselves “what is the proper use of a Church?” If we set aside a place for the service of God, what activity is fitting there and what not?
In the context of the Dedication Festival, this passage may serve as a waring that thinking of a place as holy can lead into error. One of the snares is that the service and care of the holy place may become an end in itself, and our religion a care of the machinery of holiness. Such was the commerce of money lending and the sale of sacrificial animals. Christians today may not sell doves or change momey, but are there other dangers that they might make the church building an end in itself, that the service of the bulding might obscure the service in and from the building, and the people forget that it is they that are to be built up into a living temple.

Some Notes on The Blessing of Animals.
This Sunday afternoon we hold the annual service of the Blessing of the Animals.
I have not yet been able to find much about the history of the service of Blessing of Animals, though I would love to know where it began, how it spread and developed.
The first step in such a study would be to think about the words we use. There’s no time or space for detail here, only for noting that animal in Latin comes from anuma “wind” and “breath”, so perhaps it includes all breathing things; it was used to mean “a living being”. We should never allow the specifics of being human (important as they are) to obscure the things we have in common with the other living beings. This is wy it bothers me when “creature” is used only to mean the “animals”, when it means simply “something created”.
The reading from Isaiah (11.1-9) tells of the reign of the Messianic king, a time of justice, plenty, and peace. The passage concludes with a vision of the restoration of all nature to the harmony intended for it by its God, which is especially seen in peace among animals now at variance.
The other reading si a non-biblical writing of St Francis of Assisi, renowned as a friend of animals.
An interesting fact about Animal Blessings was brought to my attention by my friend the novelist Douglas Anthony Cooper. He told me that while here we associate the blessing of Animals with St Francis of Assisi, in Mexico he found that it was celebrated in January, on the
feast of St Anthony of Egypt. I checked a little further on the web and founf that the association of this service with St Anthony is common in hispanic tradition; a famous service of animal blessing in Los Angeles began on St Anthony’s day but was later changed to St Francis’ day.
The Blessing of Animals has gained popularity beyond the ranks of churchgoers, and has also become an occasion that brings together many threads of ecological concern as well as people’s affection for animals of all species [see, for example,] We are very happy to welcome everyone who desires to give thanks in love and joy for the animals of God’s world.

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