Category Archives: Ritual and Cæremony

Not Travelling Backwards

Benito Mussolini in The Doctrine of Fascism (1932), on fascism as opposed to mere reactionary desire to return to the world before the French Revolution:

The Fascist negation of socialism, democracy, liberalism, should not, however, be interpreted as implying a desire to drive the world backwards to positions occupied prior to 1789, a year commonly referred to as that which opened the demo-liberal century. History does not travel backwards. The Fascist doctrine has not taken De Maistre as its prophet. Monarchical absolutism is of the past, and so is ecclesiolatry. Dead and done for are feudal privileges and the division of society into closed, uncommunicating castes. Neither has the Fascist conception of authority anything in common with that of a police ridden State.

Whatever my disagreements with Italian Fascism, Mussolini is right about the need to do more than drive the world backwards. The way forward is never simply backwards, any more than it is to destroy all sense of historical givenness. Both past and present we must receive as a gift of God. Experience is a teacher from which we must learn, and the moment is an opportunity to do good according to the deeper sense of the mos maiorum (custom of the elders) and, more importantly, the law of God. The world has indeed changed. A woodenly literal use of temporal constitutions that once stood, and once worked in their own way, no longer fits living reality; to return to those constitutions unchanged, having forgotten nothing and learned nothing, would be unjust. That Marxism and liberal democracy have been found wanting is not a sign from heaven that we must take up again all the temporal things that were thrown down before them. However our peoples have changed, we must respond to their needs as they are now, not as they once were. Let that be unchanged which is immutable in the sight of God, and let that be changed which will bring the people as they are today and tomorrow into the obedience of God’s unchanging law.

All Souls

Today, the day after the Romanists’ observance of All Souls’ Day, I wanted to link to some 25 pages from the Rt Rev. N. T. Wright’s For All the Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed (SPCK, 2003) about the bodily resurrection of Christian believers and various other matters related to the destination of the departed. If you have not already read Dr Wright’s thoughts, I highly recommend them.

Along with the theology, I think a bit of æsthetics is in order here. For that purpose, there may be few things as grand and yet sober as the funeral procession in Brussels of the mighty Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Below, I show some parts of this procession.

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See here the heraldic dignities of the dead emperor. Four men display the arms of Burgundy, of Castile and León, of the Empire as ruled by the House of Habsburg, and of all Spain. They are followed by other imperial insignia: standards, maces, golden tabards. Yet for all this grandeur the men are all dressed in black, and for all the sombreness they show the colourful signs of earthly dominion under God.

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See here, following the horse dressed in the imperial arms, first the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece, then the sceptre, then the sword.

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See here the orb and the imperial crown, and staves of authority.

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See here the emperor’s mourning son, King Philip II of Spain, his train carried by a nobleman; behind him follow a line of other nobles.

What lordly dignities! what great power on earth! And yet, once summoned by his Maker to a presence he cannot flee, the emperor could not refuse, and like all men he was buried into the dust from whence he had come, to await the resurrection of the dead.

Aside

Good short article looking at noble beauty in vestments. But I still cannot get over the fiddleback chasubles: not a fan.

Take Back the Arch of Constantine

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I need not tell you that this is a picture of Muslims claiming the public space to pray their salat. Observe, however, that this act of submission to Islam takes place right in front of two historic places:

  1. the Arch of Constantine, commemorating the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (‘in this sign thou wilt conquer’);
  2. the Colosseum, where St Ignatius of Antioch, student of St John the Apostle, was fed to the lions as a martyr of the faith.

This site the Muslims carefully chose for an act of aggressive protest on Friday, gathering in the thousands, after Italian authorities ‘shut down a number of so-called “garage mosques” to avoid young people becoming radicalized’. The Italian policy is sensible. Thomas D. Williams reports, ‘Until now, Italy has shown itself to be remarkably resilient to attacks from Islamic terrorists and has been proposed as a model for counterterrorism for the whole world, in part because of its willingness to deport radicalized individuals seen as a threat to national security.’ I fully support Italy’s sensible measures and believe that backing down in the face of protests would bring to Rome what has happened to Paris. Through both violence and public shows of Islam’s demographic strength, Christianity would be silenced in the public spaces of Italy.

But it is not the time to complain. It is the time for Italian Christians, seeing their country’s public spaces invaded, to act in the Name of the Lord. Let action begin in the places sacred to the faith of Jesus Christ. The main struggle is not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities. It must begin with the true faith, with love for our Lord, not with resentment. So the Muslims pray; let the Church pray too.

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CC-BY-SA-3.0 by Wikipedia user RClay.

As the sun is ready to set on Saturday, a procession – with litanies said and Psalm 16 (15 in the Roman reckoning) sung – goes up to the Arch of Constantine, which marks in stone the victory of Christ and the conversion of the Roman empire to the Christian faith. For why? thou shalt not leave my soul in hell; neither shalt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption. Reaching the Arch, the procession of believers moves anticlockwise thrice around it, and the office of Vespers begins.

Deus, in adiutorium meum intende.
Domine, ad adiuvandum me festina.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
Alleluia.

Lumen hilare, known in Greek as Phos hilaron.

As dusk falls, candles are lit, for light but also to signify the light of Christ, while the hymn Lumen hilare is sung. Then follow the Psalms and the rest of the office, concluding with the Magnificat and the final prayers.

In this way the Muslims may be kept from driving the worship of the Lord out of the public squares, if Roman Christians faithfully and visibly gather at landmarks of the faith to give their praises to God in Christ. Let that be the beginning of a response to the land’s invasion by an aggressive Islam.

Quote

Anticivilization

Julius Evola, in Revolt Against the Modern World (Inner Traditions International, 1995), 350:

‘America too, in the essential way it views life and the world, has created a “civilization” that represents an exact contradiction of the ancient European tradition. It has introduced the religion of praxis and productivity; it has put the quest for profit, great industrial production, and mechanical, visible, and quantitative achievements over any other interest. It has generated a soulless greatness of a purely technological and collective nature, lacking any background of transcendence, inner light, and true spirituality. America has [built a society] in which man becomes a mere instrument of production and material productivity within a conformist social conglomerate.’

Hong Kong Book of Common Prayer: No Churching of Women

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One thing that surprises me about Hong Kong’s Book of Common Prayer, though I did not notice earlier, is that it does not provide for the Thanksgiving of Women After Childbirth, commonly called the Churching of Women. For a society in which postpartum confinement is still a common practice more than fifty years after this BCP was first printed, I think it a notable omission. I am led to wonder why this Prayer Book’s compilers chose not to include a Christian ritual for something that even today remains very much a part of Chinese culture.

Arrived: Hong Kong Book of Common Prayer

I have recently taken a look at Hong Kong’s Book of Common Prayer, first printed in 1959 by the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui’s Diocese of Hong Kong and Macau and reïssued in 1998, with no textual changes to the services, by the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui. This BCP looks fascinating, and I hope to share some of its distinctive features here.

For one thing, the order of Holy Communion, while clearly in the classical Prayer Book tradition, does not match the English (1662), Scottish (1764, 1912, 1929), or American (1789, 1892, 1928) types; likewise the orders of daily Morning and Evening Prayer. In general, the regular services seem to stand somewhat between the English and American types, with a few characteristics seen in neither.

Compline, often included in books of additional services but not part of either the English BCP (1662) or the American (1928), has made its way into the Hong Kong BCP.

The greatest difference, perhaps, is in the occasional prayers: to the English BCP’s 19 and the American BCP’s much richer 47, the Hong Kong BCP has 87. This great cloud of prayers and thanksgivings is organized by its own table of contents.

As expected in a society that is by and large not Christian, baptisms of such as are of riper years take priority over baptisms of infants, a priority reflected by the former’s appearing before the latter. Similarly, between the Catechism and order of Confirmation appears a section acquainting the reader with the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui’s mission, history, and practices.

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The Athanasian Creed, also known in the West as Quicunque vult, is given the alternate name of Sacred Text of Salvation. A rubric also declares, ‘To this Sacred Text of Salvation ought every believer to attend: some of the principles it expresses are very deep, but are in no wise contrary to Scripture.’ A second rubric says that this sacred text may be used at Morning Prayer on all the holy days listed in the English BCP – except, very curiously, Trinity Sunday itself. The days listed in the Hong Kong BCP, then, are the following: Christmas-Day, the Epiphany, Saint Matthias, Easter-Day, Ascension-Day, Whit-Sunday, Saint John Baptist, Saint James, Saint Bartholomew, Saint Matthew, Saint Simon and Saint Jude, and Saint Andrew. The text is kept whole and undefiled: ‘Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he keep the principle of the Holy Catholic Church. Which faith whosoever keep not wholly, or keep not straightly, must suffer everlastingly the bitterness of sinking unto perdition.’

The Psalter is not included (the expectation being that the psalms will be read from the Bible), but there is a table of proper psalms for many days in the year. Similarly, there is a table of proper lessons. There seems, however, not to be a daily ordering of psalms or a daily kalendar of lessons.

God willing, I shall post more details later, when I have the time.

Prayer and Holy Communion in Daily Life

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John R. W. Stott comments on Acts 2 in The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (InterVarsity Press, 1994), 84–86:

They devoted themselves … to the breaking of bread and to prayer (42). That is, their fellowship was expressed not only in caring for each other, but in corporate worship too. Moreover, the definite article in both expressions (literally, ‘the breaking of the bread and the prayers’) suggests a reference to the Lord’s Supper on the one hand (although almost certainly at that early stage as part of a larger meal) and prayer services or meetings (rather than private prayer) on the other.

If we are to follow the work of the Holy Ghost in the early Church immediately after his descent upon the disciples and conversion of 3000 to the gospel, it seems that – as we learn and are turned to deeper repentance by the word of God – we must also express our sharing in the divine gift, the regeneration in Christ of the image of God, by continuing stedfastly both in eating together, with the Lord’s Supper often observed, and in corporate prayer.

Dr Stott then details ‘two aspects of the early church’s worship which exemplify its balance’:

First, it was both formal and informal, for it took place both in the temple courts and in their homes (46), which is an interesting combination. It is perhaps surprising that they continued for a while in the temple, but they did. They did not immediately abandon what might be called the institutional church. I do not believe they still participated in the sacrifices of the temple, for already they had begun to grasp that these had been fulfilled in the sacrifice of Christ, but they do seem to have attended the prayer services of the temple (cf. 3:1), unless, as has been suggested, they went up to the temple to preach, rather than to pray. At the same time, they supplemented the temple services with more informal and spontaneous meetings (including the breaking of bread) in their homes. Perhaps we, who get understandably impatient with the inherited structures of the church, can learn a lesson from them. For myself, I believe that the Holy Spirit’s way with the institutional church, which we long to see reformed according to the gospel, is more the way of patient reform than of impatient rejection. And certainly it is always healthy when the more formal and dignified services of the local church are complemented with the informality and exuberance of home meetings. There is no need to polarize between the structured and the unstructured, the traditional and the spontaneous. The church needs both.

For structure, we in the Church already have what the Church has long practised. For daily prayers, analogous to those of the temple in Jerusalem, the Book of Common Prayer provides forms for Morning and Evening Prayer daily throughout the year. For these prayers we ought to meet as often as possible, that our hours in the holy Church may be sanctified when we seek the Lord’s face as one Church. Such daily meeting has always been the hope expressed by the reformed Church of England, and such also is shown to be a healthy and holy cultural practice sanctioned by Scripture.

Though we may not always repair to our church buildings for daily worship services, we can all meet with other Christians to declare the praises of God as priests in his holy temple, and perhaps especially on Wednesdays and Fridays in addition to Sundays and Saturday evenings. On the other days of the week, families might meet for worship at their home altars instead, while those who did not live with their families continued to attend services at church or met from house to house.

Throughout our days, of course, we could meet for informal prayers as circumstances permitted, that we might seek the Lord in all things.

And to break bread in our houses we ought to meet often for fellowship and hospitality, and at these meals we can have clerics (all ordained elders, not only those who are called ‘teaching elders’) daily celebrate Holy Communion, even according to the Book of Common Prayer. To keep the service short, clerics could use the Summary of the Law in place of the Ten Commandments, omit the sermon, omit the taking of alms, and omit the exhortation ‘Ye that do truly’ &c. Thus the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper could be joined to a common meal of fellowship in which we shared our joys and griefs, expressing the unity of the Spirit and the sacred bond of peace.

Even on days when we ate together and did not have Holy Communion, it would be useful still to pray the collect of the day before eating (the same that was appointed at the Communion), in memory of the Lord’s Supper and of his high priesthood in heaven and his call to sanctification on earth.

The second example of the balance of the early church’s worship is that it was both joyful and reverent. There can be no doubt of their joy, for they are described as having glad and sincere hearts (46), which literally means ‘in exultation [agalliasis] and sincerity of heart’. The NEB unites the two words by translating ‘with unaffected joy’. Since God had sent his son into the world, and had now sent them his Spirit, they had plenty of reason to be joyful. Besides, ‘the fruit of the Spirit is … joy’, and sometimes a more uninhibited joy than is customary (or even acceptable) within the staid traditions of the historic churches. Yet every worship service should be a joyful celebration of the mighty acts of God through Jesus Christ. It is right in public worship to be dignified; it is unforgivable to be dull. At the same time, their joy was never irreverent. If joy in God is an authentic work of the Spirit, so is the fear of God. Everyone was filled with awe (43), which seems to include the Christians as well as the non-Christians. God had visited their city. He was in their midst, and they knew it. They bowed down before him in humility and wonder. It is a mistake, therefore, to imagine that in public worship reverence and rejoicing are mutually exclusive. The combination of joy and awe, as of formality and informality, is a healthy balance in worship.

This combination of joy and awe, much to be desired, we can seek as we find ways to put into practice the principles of the first disciples’ lives. I believe that, when we are commemorating the Lord’s sacrifice often in the midst of our daily lives, the Lord himself will teach us to view and avail ourselves of that sacrifice with both joy and holy awe, and that our living in light of this sacrifice will be a witness to the nations as God has himself intended.

Dressing Better in Worship

Last summer, Roman Catholic bishop Thomas Tobin criticized the irreverent way in which people dressed and behaved at Mass, calling it ‘sloppy and even offensive’. He gave some quite specific examples:

Hirsute flabmeisters spreading out in the pew, wearing wrinkled, very-short shorts and garish, unbuttoned shirts; mature women with skimpy clothes that reveal way too much, slogging up the aisle accompanied by the flap-flap-flap of their flip-flops; hyperactive gum-chewing kids with messy hair and dirty hands, checking their iPhones and annoying everyone within earshot or eyesight.

Dressing up for church is indeed not always what it was in the 1950s. Before Victorian times, dressing up for most people meant simply appearing in the clean set of clothes rather than the one dirtied in manual labour. However important it is to dress respectfully, the Church must never become the place of the bourgeoisie, excluding the poor who cannot afford finer clothes.

But the Church should also be a clother of the poor. We see Jonathan divesting himself of his princely dignity to invest David with royal honour. We see St Martin cutting off a piece of his cloak to cover a beggar’s rags. We see Jesus Christ himself, the only-begotten Son of God, coming naked into this world to cover man’s sin and clothe him with righteousness and glory and honour. Shall we, seeing someone without decent clothes, not find him clothing fit for the purpose? If a poor man comes in, we should honour him; if a woman comes in with bare shoulders or with no covering for her head, we should give her what she needs.

Thus the Church can honour the worship of God with both a reverent outward appearance and care for persons of every station, neither capitulating to the cultural levelling common in postmodern life nor conforming to the oppression of the poor.

Aside

Analects 11.1: 子曰:「先進於禮樂,野人也;後進於禮樂,君子也。如用之,則吾從先進。」 ‘The Master said, “Those of my disciples who were first to enter into study of ritual and music with me were simple rustics, whereas those who entered later were aristocrats (junzi 君子). If I had to employ … Continue reading

Some Meditations on the Mid-Autumn Festival

This year, on Sunday, the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節) will be marked by the rare combination of a supermoon and a total lunar eclipse, which we along the Atlantic (weather permitting) will be fortunate enough to see in its entirety – those of you in East Asia will, alas, miss this event.

Nevertheless, eclipse or not, Chinese all over the world will observe the Mid-Autumn Festival on the fifteenth day (i.e. the full-moon day) of the eighth month. As I have written earlier, ‘it corresponds, for the Chinese, to the Feast of Tabernacles ordered in the Law of Moses, and is therefore a most fitting time to give godly thanks for “the kindly fruits of the earth”.’ In connexion with the moon, however, especially around the autumnal equinox, it also is associated with the increase of yin influences and the decline of yang as autumn continues and becomes cold and wet. The time will come for the earth to rest and, after harvest, for farms to be still, and for the womb to wait in silence. Even as it is an agricultural festival, then, the Mid-Autumn Festival is also a time to remember the being of women. Thanksgiving for harvest and petition for fertility go hand in hand at this time of the year.

Indeed, the Chinese have kept a custom that makes explicit the connexion with fertility, as Zeng Baosun (曾寶蓀) explains:

In addition to enjoying the moon and eating moon cakes, there is also the custom of presenting melons. If a woman was married for a long time and was still childless, friends and relatives had a small boy present her with a melon. This was a very long melon wrapped up in a child’s red silk garment with two golden flowers stuck in it. With the child holding the melon in his arms, gongs and drums sounding, firecrackers going off, and lanterns displayed, they brought the melon to the childless woman’s home, placed it on her bed and covered it with a quilt. Then they came out and loudly offered congratulations to the couple wishing them a child very soon. Naturally, those that presented the melon had to be provided with food and drink and received most graciously; the child that bore the melon was given a gift of money.

Unto us, God willing, a son is given. We may offer prayers that, to the childless, who wait open to the working of providence, Almighty God may indeed provide a child like the son who has brought the melon; but in awaiting a child, shown as a son, Christians also know that the greatest gift is God’s own only-begotten Son Jesus Christ.

Perhaps now the poems of menfolk upon this festival, praising the beauty of the moon, will also turn their rhymes to the subject of God’s saving grace. There is much to be written here about the glory of God, both in the making of nature and in the saving of all creation in Christ.

When we eat our moon cakes, when we see the orange yolks buried in the lotus paste, these will be our hearts’ remembrances toward God: giving thanks to God for his gift of life, we also remember that the seed of life is sowed in the stillness of death. When we see even the winter of discontent, we can remember that God is still there, and that the darkness by which he hides his secret work is like the womb that hides a promised child. Though the West commemorates the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary on 25 March, it is perhaps appropriate that on the other side of the year we should also remember how our blessed Lord did not abhor the Virgin’s womb, but chose rather to give it the greatest dignity and make it the Ark of the Covenant where he would dwell in the flesh. The Mid-Autumn Festival then becomes, before Advent, the first foreshadowing of what is to come. Shortly after the Winter Solstice, marking the return of the light, we have Christmas, the feast at which we rejoice that the Sun of righteousness has entered the world. So the Mid-Autumn Festival brings to us a sweet memory, a memory we can hold and treasure, of what God has done and what God will do among us.

The Sacral Solution to Megachurch Capitalism?

The Rev. David Robertson says about Tullian Tchividjian’s resignation from his ministerial position at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church,

There are honourable exceptions to this, but it seems that the American megachurch tends to reflect the American corporation, rather than the biblical concept of the church. Corporate churches tend to be run like corporations, with corporate boards, corporate facilities, consumer mentalities and corporate leaders with corporate salaries. … The trouble with the corporate model of church is that it leaves the CEOs (otherwise known as ‘senior pastors’) as a combination of business manager, advertising guru and celebrity personality. And that is a very lonely and isolating position. Maybe a return to a more biblical pattern of church, with elders and preachers as ‘under shepherds’ and answerable to the wider church, rather than the stakeholders (shareholders?) of the local corporate church entity, might provide a better context for accountable ministry.

I am of much the same opinion, but King-Ho questions whether the megachurch is simply a product of American capitalist culture, pointing out that Charles Spurgeon was neither American nor a part of the postindustrial neoliberal order. He adds, ‘Whilst it is undoubtedly true that pastoral ministry is characterised in the Scriptures with imageries of the “shepherd”, I do wonder whether one (say, in the Middle Ages) may argue that the “shepherd” model is just yet another “reflection” of the contemporary “secular” culture – just of a feudalism rather than capitalism?’ Perhaps, he says, cathedrals and the Jerusalem Temple were a sort of pre-capitalist megachurch, with a diocesan bishop or a high priest as the centralized CEO figure. That a model of polity (and, by extension, of authority) is not capitalistic does not make it necessarily biblical or ‘less secular’.

While I share the concern that Christians in ritual and organization, as in morals, should not simply ape the ungodly, I find the imitation of ‘secular’ organization, at least in moderation, to be rather good than bad. Indeed, I think it as much a problem as ‘secularization’ that the solutions proposed are clericalist in tone. This kind of solution is prone in its turn to something like ultramontane Papalism with its centralized figure in Rome, which tends in the face of challenges to have the whole world conform to the canons and the liturgical usages of Rome, rather than deal with licensing usages locally as orthodox. Even Presbyterianism has its own version of this tendency, though less bureaucratically centralized, in the biblicist compulsion to justify its form of worship as mandated by holy Scripture. (In both cases it is imagined, or comes to be imagined, that the whole world is to have but one form of worship treated as pleasing to God.) But holy Scripture and the Ghibelline tradition, their principle articulated by the Reformed confessions, hold that the determination of things in themselves indifferent – such as the appointment of bishops, the organization of the visible Church as integrated with society, and the form of worship used – has a place for the king or the other civil magistrates, and indeed that in such matters, under God, the king is supreme.

Indeed, if the ideal is for society to be thoroughly Christian and thus locally to be the Church, the fact cannot be escaped that the king is inseparable from the duty to protect the gospel and, as head of all things not by nature æternal, to rule. Just as clear is that the things we often call ecclesiastical, or churchly, cannot so differ from the rest of (to-be-Christian) society that Christians live virtually double lives between ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’: the call is for our entire lives on earth to be, not sacralized, but godly, characterized by the grace of the Holy Ghost and ruled by the imperium of Jesus Christ.

Thus, when we read of the worship in Christianized Rome, such as in the Ordo Romanus Primus, we do see it reflecting the civil order and calling the people to sanctify that order. Before Mass on solemn days, the Ordo Romanus Primus orders thus:

Thus, on solemn days (such for instance as Easter day) first of all the collets of the third district and the counsellors of every district meet at daybreak in the Lateran Palace, and proceed on foot before the pontiff to the stational church: and the lay grooms walk on the right and the left of his horse in case it stumble anywhere. Those who ride on horseback in front of the pontiff are the following:– The deacons, the chancellor, and the two district-notaries, the district-counsellors, and the district-subdeacons.

Not only do we have deacons, subdeacons, and collets (acolytes), belonging to one of the seven ecclesiastical districts, but also accompanying the Bishop of Rome we have the city’s chancellor and the district notaries and counsellors. Clearly this pomp, having both ecclesiastical and civil officers, reflects the fact that the entire city, both ecclesiastical leaders and civil, is concerned with the work of worshipping God. It also reflects the city’s social hierarchy by attaching officers to the Bishop in the approach to the place of worship. Thus the retinue both reflects and sanctifies the city’s organization.

Even when the Bishop of Rome has gone into the church sacristy and the deacons have exited to their duties, there remain with him ‘the chancellor, the secretary, the chief counsellor, the district-notaries, and the subdeacon-attendant’. Thus, even where he dresses for worship, the Bishop is accompanied by several of the civil officers. When he dresses, it is the chancellor and the secretary who arrange his vestments so that they hang well.

The offertory is even more elaborately organized according to rank and office, and I think it better to direct the reader to read about it than to try to describe it myself.

It is sufficiently shown, I hope, that according to the Ordo Romanus Primus the ecclesiastical offices are organized quite like the civil, and that the civil officers even take special parts in the conduct of worship itself, expressing the integration of Church and state. But the cæremonial, though concerning and involving the civil officers, is also recognizably about the holy, the divine, the supernatural: it is about the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

To be sure, the existence of clerical officers distinct from the civil, and even in some ways parallel to the civil, is significant. But the significance is not that they, unlike the civil officers, are sacramental: for the civil officers too, even qua civil officers, are integral to the logistics of worship. In other words, it is not mere involvement in the sacrament that distinguishes the clerical officers, because even the lay officers of the city are ministers in the sacrament. Furthermore, it was commonly accepted in the Middle Ages that even a layman could baptize an infant. In the end, the holiness of the Church is not saved by a mere sociological difference between ordinary and sacramental parts of life, and between ordinary and sacramental persons. For is it not just as much a tragœdy when a prominent Christian layman is caught in adultery as it is when a priest is caught in adultery? And is it not just as wicked for a whole commonwealth to be ruled by capitalism as it is for an ecclesiastical corporation?

The Church’s clerics do lead the way in the commonwealth by publicly upholding and insisting on the standards of the word of God, but neither proximity to sacraments nor distinction from laymen, nor the formulations of orthodox sacramental theology, can make them holier. It is piety, and piety alone, that makes for human holiness. Sacramental theology is indispensable, but it is only a servant to sacramental piety, in which we long all week long to behold the holiness of the Lord in his temple the Church (and first of all in ourselves), and, while longing, to trust that the Lord has provided his precious body and blood and seek his righteousness by doing what is lawful and right. If we do so, as Ezekiel says, we shall save our souls alive; and the clerics who do so with diligent faith will help many do the same. It is for all of us to approach the sacraments with reverence and godly fear, with awe at God’s dreadful power to make us holy. To the source, then, that we may be one with the sacrifice of our Lord! May the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which were given for us, preserve our bodies and souls unto everlasting life.

Cultus Maiorum

I think the rites of the ancestors, conceived purely and without superstition, are an important part of ensuring the continuance of our families in the faith of Christ.

For a Chinese American like me, honouring the ancestors may involve writing collects in their memory, saying prayers on the anniversaries of their deaths, composing a surname poem in English, and draughting rules of succession for our line, to be altered only with the consent of both the head of the clan and the rest of the family. In my family, this work falls mostly to me.

What things do you do in your families, and how do you think the tradition could grow under your direction?

Processional Stations for Saints

Shrine of St Edward the Confessor, Westminster Abbey.

The saints tend to be neglected among some Reformed Christians today, but this was not always so. Take for example the Second Helvetic Confession:

At the same time we do not despise the saints or think basely of them. For we acknowledge them to be living members of Christ and friends of God who have gloriously overcome the flesh and the world. Hence we love them as brothers, and also honour them; yet not with any kind of worship but by an honourable opinion of them and just praises of them. We also imitate them. For with ardent longings and supplications we earnestly desire to be imitators of their faith and virtues, to share eternal salvation with them, to dwell eternally with them in the presence of God, and to rejoice with them in Christ. And in this respect we approve of the opinion of St Augustine in De Vera Religione: ‘Let not our religion be the cult of men who have died. For if they have lived holy lives, they are not to be thought of as seeking such honours; on the contrary, they want us to worship him by whose illumination they rejoice that we are fellow-servants of his merits. They are therefore to be honoured by the way of imitation, but not to be adored in a religious manner,’ etc.

It is not against this principle for a procession to pause at a holy martyr’s grave or at a side altar that honours his memory with verses of Scripture that describe his piety. To be sure, so to pause is a kind of cæremony, and some of the Reformed believe such cæremonies forbidden because there is neither præcept nor example in holy Scripture. Nevertheless, to affirm that a cæremony can be indifferent, and not forbidden merely because it is not commanded by holy Scripture, I call upon the witness of Heinrich Bullinger (quoted by W. J. Torrance Kirby):

Though I would rather no ceremonies, excepting such as are necessary, should be obtruded upon the church, yet I must confess in the man time that regulations respecting them, though possibly not altogether necessary, and sometimes, it may be, useless, ought not forthwith to be condemned as impious, and to excite disorder and schism in the church; seeing that they are not of a superstitious character, and also that in their very nature they are matters of indifference.

And lawfulness of such a practice I maintain even in the case of an altar under which is displayed in some fashion the remains of a dead saint, for it is not idolatry. Though I find it naturally modest to leave the body itself interred, and not for lurid fascination to have the bones open to the public view, I do not think it objectionable to have a saint buried beneath and his effigy visible under the table, with sculpted or painted angels surrounding the burial place in token of God’s regard for his saints.

The crown of St Stephen of Hungary.

Nor is it improper, I think, to show in public one saint’s chains, another’s crown, another’s cloak. These, indeed, are less likely to be abused than the physical remains of the saint himself, and sometimes apter to say in what works the saint’s holiness was manifest. Unlike a saint’s body, moreover, these can be divided and given to believers in other parts of the world as a sign of fellowship in Christ and common reverence for the same saint. Such uses, I think, are not to be held unlawful, but to be held in honour as historical signs of the power of God across the ages, exercised not only in the time of Christ’s ministry on earth but also thereafter. Like a place of burial containing a saint’s body, these more moveable relics are physical testimony of the love of God.

For a relic can be, rather than an object of superstition, a memento of a saintly life, as the image of Caesar on a coin is a memento of his authority, and a skull a memento of death. The Second Helvetic Confession says, ‘Those ancient saints seemed to have sufficiently honoured their dead when they decently committed their remains to the earth after the spirit had ascended on high. And they thought that the most noble relics of their ancestors were their virtues, their doctrine, and their faith. Moreover, as they commend these “relics” when praising the dead, so they strive to copy them during their life on earth.’ If a physical relic is to be seen at all, then, its right use is to encourage the viewer to imitate the saint as the saint once imitated Christ, in order that he may gain a deeper sense of what Christ promises to all who believe in him, and will accomplish in us through the Holy Ghost. It is useless to look to saints as giving us power of themselves, but it is most useful to be reminded of the power God has demonstrated in them. It is for this purpose that one may see a relic and therein have physically present, for our meditation, an outward reminiscence of the holy life to which God has called us all. Though it is nothing to him who knows nothing of the saint, it is a help to him who knows the story of the saint but has not thought of it in a while.

Thus I hold that the sight of a saints’s grave or his image, if not worshipped, can be ædifying. And if seeing can be ædifying, then so can pausing at the sight to remember what it means. So, as a cæremony not only lawful but also not infrequently ædifying, especially in these times when the powers that be (God himself excepted) are increasingly opposed to the Lord’s ways, a procession’s pausing in remembrance of a departed saint should be observed with reverence, even though the Scriptures do not record its use. Though to some it may seem Romish at first, especially when it involves saints’ relics, it is nevertheless justified upon mere Christian principles and not to be dismissed as sectarian idolatry. Indeed, it may shape the kind of piety that we need, a piety strong in the remembrance of what the Lord accomplishes in us by faith.

Dishonouring Parents for Politically Incorrect Attitudes

Several weeks ago, RT put up an article with a sensationalist headline: ‘Michelle Obama urges high schoolers to monitor their families’ politically incorrect thoughts’. In a speech commemorating the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the First Lady turned her audience’s attention to the return of segregation today: ‘See, many districts in this country have actually pulled back on efforts to integrate their schools, and many communities have become less diverse as folks have moved from cities to suburbs. And even in schools that seem integrated according to the numbers, when you look a little closer, you see students from different backgrounds sitting at separate lunch tables, or tracked into different classes, or separated into different clubs or activities.’ I shall pass over her objection to students’ choosing freely to separate themselves into different clubs or activities; amid some broadly sound aspirations, the First Lady made some more controversial suggestions:

There’s no court case against believing in stereotypes or thinking that certain kinds of hateful jokes or comments are funny. So the answers to many of our challenges today can’t necessarily be found in our laws. As you go forth, when you encounter folks who still hold the old prejudices because they’ve only been around folks like themselves, when you meet folks who think they know all the answers because they’ve never heard any other viewpoints, it’s up to you to help them see things differently.

Maybe that starts simply in your own family, when grandpa tells that off-colored joke at Thanksgiving, or you’ve got an aunt talks about ‘those people’. Well, you can politely inform them that they’re talking about your friends. Because this issue is so sensitive, is so complicated, so bound up with a painful history. And we need your generation to help us break through. We need all of you to ask the hard questions and have the honest conversations, because that is the only way we will heal the wounds of the past and move forward to a better future.

In response, I said on Facebook, ‘I get that we can disagree with things our families do, but the First Lady seems to veer close to recommending that we dishonour our parents for saying politically incorrect things.’

To some readers, I may seem to have overreached. Certainly the allegations of some, that the First Lady’s suggestions strongly resemble those of 1984, are excessive. There is, I do think, a potential slippery slope toward something like Maoist rejection of family authority, but such an implication requires more to be read into the First Lady’s words than responsible reading can furnish. Still, some of her words I do find objectionable.

Rightly has she has pointed out that laws alone cannot heal the wounds of the past, that we need to ask hard questions and have honest conversations. But then she has also remarked, ‘Well, you can politely inform them [a grandfather or an aunt] that they’re talking about your friends.’ Colour me triggered, but that is not how one speaks to one’s elders.

To me, the idea of asking one’s parents to reconsider their prejudices about a certain group just because one counts ‘those people’ as one’s friends is ludicrous. For such a thing to be thought in Chinese, let alone said to one’s social superiors, is almost inconceivable. We Chinese have the expression 猪朋狗友: pig and dog friends, or profligate companions. Is my son to rule me by his choice of friends, or am I to rule his choice of friends? If my child pulled on me what the First Lady has suggested, I would probably say, ‘And you keep such friends? Are they the ones teaching you to talk to me that way?’ That my child keeps bad company out of naïveté, a bad life choice, is likely; that my child’s callow life choices, opposite to mine, should compel me to rethink my life is a perverted thought. By the same logic, even though much racial prejudice is irrational and leads people to treat one another in ungodly ways, a child’s choices are no rational basis for a change in opinion.

I am not saying it is impossible to be wrong and learn something from one’s children; but to expect one’s parents to reconsider just because one has oneself made different choices seems arrogant in the extreme. And so, silly as it may seem, I do not think my assessment of the First Lady’s suggestion silly. When I see ‘politely inform’, I ask: To what end? The end is, quite explicitly, for the younger to influence the elder by the pressure of his own choices. So children have also been known through such emotional blackmail to change their parents’ minds by declaring themselves gay. So to speak in earnest, and not in ridicule of liberal White children, is impudent. If one is to resist racism in earnest, such rhetorical topoi, which lay claim to a kind of personal superiority (by being with the times, rather than by having the experience of age), are not the way to go with one’s elders; rather, one must rely on logical demonstration upon sound premises, without such ethical pretences as enlightenment by reason of youth.