Monday, October 31, 2011

A case for the Daily Office - on Sundays

In the midst of the Diocese of Connecticut considering a resolution to allow Communion without Baptism, Fr. Robert Hendrickson of Christ Church offers another reflection on using the Daily Office of Morning Prayer as a service to reach out to the unchurched. His reflection is entitled Morning Prayer with Hymns and Anthems: A Catholic Case for the Office on Sunday at 11:00.

In the United States, there is a history of using Morning Prayer as the main service on Sundays. This dates back to a little scuffle we had with England called the Revolutionary War. Prior to the Revolution, the Church of England had a prominent place in the faith life of the colonies and was the established church in Virginia, Maryland, New York, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.

The clergy of the Church of England at this time were required to take two oaths at their ordination: the Oath of Conformity and the Oath of Supremacy. The Oath of Conformity was the oath swearing that you will conform to the "Doctrine, Discipline and Worship" of the Church of England. The same oath is required of clergy today - in my case, just substitute "the Episcopal Church" for the "Church of England" and you have it. The Oath of Supremacy is one which was required - key is "was required" as it no longer is. The Oath of Supremacy was the oath taken by a cleric which declared the sovreign (king or queen) as the head of the Church (rather than the Pope). At the time of the Revolution, both oaths were required.

But this presented a problem when the Revolutionary War happened as supporting the War was not only treason in the eyes of the British, but for a cleric it was a violation of an ordination vow. As such, at the end of the War, many Anglican priests left the newly formed United States and returned to England. This left the American Anglicans with a multidemensional crisis on their hands:
  • How can the Church be the "Church of England" now that we've broken away from England?
  • What do we call this thing since it can't be the "Church of England" anymore?
  • The Church lost its established position and thus its income from church taxes
  • Most of the clergy left which meant empty pulpits, no one available to consecrate the bread and wine for Communion on Sundays, and no bishops (who were all in England anyway) to confirm or ordain
  • No way to ordain priests or deacons since they all had to take the Oath of Supremacy and could no longer do so
Part of the solution to the weekly worship crisis was to implement Morning Prayer as the principle worship of Sundays. Morning Prayer could be led by lay persons - you didn't need a priest for this!

While the issue of consecrating bishops resolved itself by 1785, there continued to be a priest shortage in the colonies for some time, hence Morning Prayer became established as a normative practice in the United States.

With the revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the service of Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion) was reestablished as the principle worship for Sunday mornings. This brought the Episcopal Church closer to the practices of other Anglican churches throughout the world who never did use Morning Prayer as the principle service for Sundays.

A serious concern as we enter an age of greater secularization is how to welcome unchurched people to worship with us. Some have argued that Holy Communion should be given to everyone, regardless of whether or not they are baptized. While I don't want to see us return to Morning Prayer as the principle service, using one of the Daily Offices as a Sunday worship offering might just be a way to use our traditions in a new way and welcome all.

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