Wednesday, 22 February 2012


After mattens ended, the people beeyng called together by the ryngyng of a bel, and assembled in the churche: Thinglyshe letanye shall be sayed after theaccustomed maner: whiche ended, the prieste shal goe into the pulpitte and saye thus:

BRETHREN, in the prymitive churche there was a godlye disciplyne, that at the begynnyng of lente suche persones as were notorious synners, were put to open penaunce and punished in this worlde, that theyr soules myght bee saved in the day of the Lord. And that other admonished by theyr example, might be more afrayed to offende. In the steede whereof until the saide disciplyne maye bee restored agayne; (whiche thynge is muche to bee wyshed) it is thoughte good, that at thys tyme (in your presence) shoulde bee read the general sentences of Goddes Cursyng agaynste impenitente synners, gathered out of the XXVII Chapter of Deuteronomie, and other places of scripture. And that ye shoulde aunswere to every sentence, Amen: To thentente that you beeyng admonished of the greate indignacion of God agaynste synners: may the rather be called to earneste and true repentaunce, and maye walke more warely in these daungerous dayes, fleyng from suche vices, for the whiche ye affirme with your owne mouthes: the curse of God to be due.

From the 1549 Book of Common Prayer; more here. It is very melodious and liturgical, but this is the sort of liturgy that (at least to me) depends upon the eloquence and dignity of the priest. Fine at Westminster Abbey, but could you imagine the most boring man mumbling these exhortations, litanies and prayers from the pulpit or the faldstool? Tolkien once admonished his son Michael to choose a proud and vulgar friar over a visibly holy man to celebrate Mass, for the feeding the five thousand effect. Some have accused me of preferring dignity (in the sense of splendour) over piety. What is the difference?

I have no penance plan for Lent in the sense of giving something up, but I do plan on reacquainting myself with the homilies of St Bede. What are your plans?

I couldn't find an image of the Expulsion of Public Penitents in Google Images, so the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden will have to do.


  1. I do wonder whether these cursings on the first day of Lent in the BCP have any relation to the anathemas pronounced by the bishop in his cathedral on the first Sunday in Lent in the Byzantine Rite.

    Those who have studied the earlier Prayer Books tell me that there is no doubt that they reflect Cranmer's Byzantine influence. He was, after all, a learned man.

    Do you, Patricious, or indeed anybody else, know more?

  2. Michael Astley, thank you for your comment.

    Cranmer was a masterful man, clever in the construction (and destruction) of Liturgy. As for Byzantine influences on the Prayer Book I'm afraid that is beyond my experience of Anglican liturgy.

  3. I'm going to observe Lent the Greek way, wherein I ignore the fast for forty days, then go crazy with it during Holy Week.

    I don't know this for sure, but I think that the Ash Wednesday curses were not influenced by the Synodikon of Orthodoxy (see here). The former seems to me to be an exhortation to virtuous conduct whereas the latter is about distinguishing between orthodoxy and heresy.

  4. I absolutely agree that we need dignified splendor in the leading of worship, particularly when it comes to leading set prayers and (especially!) reading Scripture. It amazes me how many preachers, even strong ones, will read the Scripture as though they are bored, or in that "stained glass voice" that pays no attention to the meanings of the words (or, in some egregious cases, even the grammar of the text!).

    I am doing a very, very modest fast for the first time this Lent - only two days a week, and then only from midnight til 3 p.m. I saw it suggested on another Anglo-Catholic blog (forget which one) where the author said, "Surely we can all agree to do that much," and I thought, "Yes, surely!" Very few American Presbyterians know what to do with Lent exactly (and I don't count myself as one who knows full well what to do with it, either, but I'm trying to learn).

  5. Thank you all for your comments.

    Han, that's what I tend to do! Last year I put myself through a slice of shop-bought (probably ''value'' range) hot cross bun spread over with some sort of immitation butter on Good Friday in the company of all manner of protestants. Awful, truly awful.

    Mike, arguably to read the Scriptures aloud without full purpose and reverence is a sin. As for me, I'll just have to see how I fair this Lente. I'm afraid I've already had a pint of ale :(