Today in Mass (a glorious day replete with the stunning Vierne Kyrie, Litany in Procession, Comfortable Words, Prayer of Humble Access, and more) we read the Exhortation on page 316 of the Book of Common Prayer.
For those not familiar, it is a wonderful articulation of the basics of Christian living and Anglican doctrine. I would encourage any parish to use it every once in a while, especially in Lent, as the lead-in to Confession. I reprint it below without much additional comment as I think it speaks quite well for itself and I simply want to bring it to the attention of those who may not have encountered it before.
For those looking for a short exposition on Anglican Eucharistic theology, there are far worse places to begin than with the Exhortation. It has been part of our Prayer Books since 1549 and encouraged careful and thoughtful preparation to receive the Sacrament. It was to be read the Sunday before Communions were to be offered so that people had ample time to pray, reflect, confess, and prepare to receive Christ at the Altar. Later, in the ’28 Prayer Book, it was designated that it be read on First Advent, First Lent, and Trinity Sunday.
In its earlier 1549 form, it included the rather more dire warning that those not in a state of charity with the world and fellow man should not come to receive unless “the Devil enter into him as he did into Judas, to fulfill in him all iniquity, and to bring him to destruction, both of body and soul.” The 1979 Exhortation, while less colorful in some ways, is no less powerful. Its tone is deeply pastoral and contains within it words of grace, pardon, reconciliation, hope, and forgiveness.
In a day of drive-by encounters, it is a powerful reminder of the dignity of this Sacrament and, moreover, of the dignity of our union with Christ which we should treat with the utmost reverence, care, and honesty.
Again, I commend it for any Christian to read and ponder this Lent.
This Exhortation may be used, in whole or in part, either during the Liturgy or at other times. In the absence of a deacon or priest, this Exhortation may be read by a lay person. The people stand or sit.
Beloved in the Lord: Our Savior Christ, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood as a sign and pledge of his love, for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of his death, and for a spiritual sharing in his risen life. For in these holy Mysteries we are made one with Christ, and Christ with us; we are made one body in him, and members one of another.
Having in mind, therefore, his great love for us, and in obedience to his command, his Church renders to Almighty God our heavenly Father never-ending thanks for the creation of the world, for his continual providence over us, for his love for all mankind, and for the redemption of the world by our Savior Christ, who took upon himself our flesh, and humbled himself even to death on the cross, that he might make us the children of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, and exalt us to everlasting life.
But if we are to share rightly in the celebration of those holy Mysteries, and be nourished by that spiritual Food, we must remember the dignity of that holy Sacrament. I therefore call upon you to consider how Saint Paul exhorts all persons to prepare themselves carefully before eating of that Bread and drinking of that Cup.
For, as the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord’s Body. Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord.
Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word, or deed. And acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life, being ready to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by you to others; and also being ready to forgive those who have offended you, in order that you yourselves may be forgiven. And then, being reconciled with one another, come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.
And if, in your preparation, you need help and counsel, then go and open your grief to a discreet and understanding priest, and confess your sins, that you may receive the benefit of absolution, and spiritual counsel and advice; to the removal of scruple and doubt, the assurance of pardon, and the strengthening of your faith.
To Christ our Lord, who loves us, and washed us in his own blood, and made us a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father, to him be glory in the Church evermore. Through him let us offer continually the sacrifice of praise, which is our bounden duty and service, and with faith in him, come boldly before the throne of grace [and humbly confess our sins to Almighty God].
My writing will taper off a bit in the coming weeks as I have some other projects to which I need to devote serious energy. I look forward to writing more soon.