Saturday, May 13, 2017

What is the Essential Work of an Anglican Priest?

Anglican Priests and Clergy engaged in the most important of their essential works,
done according to the Book of Common Prayer
What is the work of an Anglican Priest?  The Rev. Dr. Eric Mascall describes it very well in Corpus Christi and his other works.  And he does so in a manner that bases itself entirely on the post-Reformation Anglican formularies, the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, the articles and the canons, and thus one that should thus be acceptable to all kinds of Anglicans.

​Fr. Mascall describes the essential work of a priest as "prayer, study, and pastoral work", in that order of importance. Let us first look at prayer.  In the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church in the USA, ordinands commit themselves to "persevere in prayer, both in public and in private."  The other prayer books have similar demands of ordinands.  The public prayer of the Church is her "Common Prayer" or liturgy.  The Common Prayer chiefly consists of the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer and the mass, a.k.a., Holy Communion or Holy Eucharist.  As the American BCP says, "The Holy Eucharist, the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord's Day and other major feasts, and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as set forth in this Book, are the regular services appointed for public worship in this Church." (American BCP, 1979, p. 13).  It also notes that "The leader of worship in a Christian assembly is normally a bishop or priest."  The 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, one of the Anglican formularies, says similarly, appointing the Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, the Litany, and the Holy Communion on Sundays and major feasts.  It also includes this rubric:
And all Priests and Deacons are to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer either privately or openly, not being let by sickness, or some other urgent cause. 
And the Curate that ministereth in every Parish-church or Chapel, being at home, and not being otherwise reasonably hindered, shall say the same in the Parish-church or Chapel where he ministereth, and shall cause a bell to be tolled thereunto a convenient time before he begin, that the people may come to hear God's Word, and to pray with him.
So, for Anglican clergy, there is an obligation to celebrate the daily office, publicly in the church if possible and required if one is a curate (possessed if a cure), the mass, and the other rites and ceremonies of the Church.  Part of the liturgical duty of the priest also includes preaching, and preparing people for and teaching them how reverently to celebrate the Common Prayer.  The obligation to pray also includes the discipline of private prayer, including, according to the tradition meditation (meditatio) issuing in comtemplation (contemplatio).

The second duty of the priest is study: Study is of Sacred Scripture, the writings of the Fathers and the Saints (including the texts of the liturgical tradition), theology generally, and of other ancillary disciplines, starting with philosophy and languages, but not excluding history, literature, and the other secular sciences, that would tend to make the priest a better minister of Christ.

These two things, prayer and study, in that order, are put first, because they form the basis of the contemplative life, and the contemplative life is both of prime value in itself, but also forms the only basis for pastoral work.

Pastoral work is dedicated to the cure of souls, in helping the life of God in Christ to flourish and grow in them. It is not to be confused with secular political action, or secular social work, which, though they may be good in themselves, and may be the proper work of some of the laity, are not the proper work of a priest.

Administration and fundraising and marketing are things Fr. Mascall cites as NOT being the proper work of the priest. At best these are ancillary, and if at all possible to be delegated to lay persons — at worst Fr. Mascall describes them as "diabolical" distractions.  In the English Book of Common Prayer, part of the Anglican formularies (and thus a doctrinal standard for all Anglicans) the following is said to the ordinand

...as much as lieth in you, ye will apply yourselves wholly to this one thing, and draw all your cares and studies this way; and that ye will continually pray to God the Father, by the mediation of our only Saviour Jesus Christ, for the heavenly assistance of the Holy Ghost; that, by daily reading and weighing the Scriptures, ye may wax riper and stronger in your Ministry; (from "Concerning the Services of the Church")
This is the work of the Anglican priest, and if our churches are failing, then might it not be that we have failed to put first things first.

2 comments :

  1. "celebrate the daily office" How does one do such a thing?

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    1. If you are a priest you make sure it is announced at a regular time so that those of your people who are able can come, have the church bell rung about five minutes before, put on your choir dress (surplice over your cassock, and perhaps hood and black scarf), walk into the Church, reverence the altar, go to your stall or chair in the chancel, and pray it reverently and with attention, out loud and publicly, preferably with a lector or clerk to read the lessons, singing as much as you can acc. to your time and ability.

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