Sunday, November 01, 2009

Blessed All Saints

Having forgotten to change the clocks last night, I found myself with an extra hour this morning--riches! I used part of it for practicing "For All the Saints" for our church service. I'm the organist--sort of. For some reason, I have never adjusted to my "new" glasses (during the past year) and have to play without them, so piano and organ playing are a challenge and require a little extra practice. It's a wonderful, wonderful song.

I looked around for a good Youtube video of it to embed and shall post that below. One of the Youtubes for "For All the Saints" had the song over a pretty long video clip from some movie or other of Christians being fed to lions. I only got as far as the point where the lions and leopards were pacing around in their cages and then opted out of the rest of the clip. The Christians had little kids with them whom I didn't want to see get eaten. But though I didn't find anything that was the Platonic ideal of "For All the Saints," there was quite a good one, and I'll put that up.

Please see my past All Saints posts here and here, and feel free to comment on them either in their original threads or here.

For church this morning I will be playing "The Church's One Foundation" for the prelude. I love the words to that as well. Here are two of my favorite verses:

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!

Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
O happy ones and holy,
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them the meek and lowly
On high may dwell with thee.

There is, by the way, a long history of "The Church's One Foundation" having to do with a fight against heresy in the 19th century. Or at least, so I recall hearing. My husband and brother-in-law know a lot more about it than I do. Samuel J. Stone, who wrote the words, was an Anglican clergyman and was considered "high" for his time but was not evidently a really dyed-in-the-wool Newmanite, either. A via media guy with some high-ish leanings, I gather. Anyway, I pray that God will give us grace so to follow his good example, etc., as the Cranmerian remembrance of the dead says in the Prayer Book.

In one of those earlier posts, I said that I especially thought of Helen Berhane, a Christian singer in Eritrea who was imprisoned by the Communist government in a shipping container in Africa for her faith. (At the time that I wrote the post, I was unsure about the government of Eritrea but have since researched it--Communist.) That was with regard to the line "Thou in the darkness drear their one true light" in "For All the Saints." Naturally, this year, I am especially thinking of our sister in Christ Rifqa Bary, in a much gentler but also real imprisonment here in the United States. Though to her it must seem that she is cut off from the Body of Christ, yet it is not so, for we are all one Body united by the same Spirit under one Head who is the Lord Jesus Christ. In him we are one, and if that bond gives us communion even with those who have died in the Lord, how much more does it unite us to those who are still alive at this time, though separated from us by persecution? May the Lord Christ be Rifqa's light in the darkness and her Captain in the well-fought fight.

I post here again Cranmer's wonderful collect for the day as well as the Proper Preface with the Sanctus, and I am struck as always by the way that the Protestant Cranmer (and I mean that as a compliment) captures the concept of the communion of the Saints without in any way compromising his Protestantism. Truly, God blessed the Church by giving her Thomas Cranmer and especially Thomas Cranmer's liturgy.

The collect for All Saints:

O Almighty God, who has knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou has prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The proper preface, with the Sanctus:

Who, in the multitude of thy Saints, hast compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses, that we, rejoicing in their fellowship, may run with patience the race that is set before us, and, together with them, may receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away.

Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying,

HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High.


Richard D said...

I love The Church's One Foundation too, but I actually have a bit of a problem with that mystic sweet communion with the dead saints thing. Seeing as "we have one mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus," it does not seem fully appropriate for us to communion with the saints through prayer.

Lydia McGrew said...

Y'gotta read my old post on that, Rich. "I believe in the communion of the saints," a line from the Apostles' Creed, can be understood entirely in a Protestant fashion without asking for the prayers of the saints. I myself agree that there is insufficient Scriptural evidence that dead Christians can hear us, and for that and also for other reasons I consider it unwise to assume that we can communicate with them and to ask for their prayers. The claim is that we can request their prayers exactly as we would request prayers from other Christians on earth. It does not seem to me that in practice invocations of the prayers of the Saints are carried out in the same spirit and attitude in which one asks one's grandmother to pray for one, but beyond that, I'm not at all convinced that God has so set things up that we can do that.

However, the "mystic sweet communion" doesn't have to be by way of _communication_. I suppose that's why it's "mystic"--that is to say, not highly specific. Here is what I wrote in the older post:

When Christian people die and go to heaven, we can't see them anymore, and they can't talk to us. But they are still worshiping Jesus Christ. In fact, they are worshiping Him better when they see Him face to face in heaven than they were able to do here on earth. And we are worshiping Jesus Christ, too. So even though we can't be with one another anymore like we are here on earth, we are connected by the fact that we are all followers of Christ, loving Christ, and with Jesus Christ loving and knowing about all of us, whether we are here on earth or in heaven. That is the Church--the Church Militant here on earth and the Church Triumphant in heaven.


Btw, it's an interesting historical question whether Samuel J. Stone would have believed in invoking the prayers of the saints, either. High churchmanship at his time was a thing with many faces, and I do not get the impression that he embraced the highest brand--full-fledged Newmanism, as it were. And the discipline in the Anglican church was pretty strict. People got in huge trouble for things that I think would even seem innocent to most Baptists--for example, having a cross on the Communion table or wearing vestments. So to say that someone was somewhat "high" is rather vague when referring to that time period. Certainly, the developments in post-Oxford Movement Anglcianism _since_ then, the writing of a nearly-Roman missal which _does_ incorporate invocations of the prayers of the saints, lay in the future when Stone was writing, and that sort of thing was considered beyond the pale in the Anglican church. So it's entirely possible that Stone did not believe at all in asking for the prayers of the saints. The phrase "mystic sweet communion" is clearly an allusion to the Apostles' Creed, and it's worth noting that Stone uses entirely the notion of the saints as an _example_ to us in the song and nothing else, very much in the spirit of Cranmer as in the parts of the liturgy I reproduced in this post.

Hope that's useful in showing both where I'm coming from and a bit of the history of all of this. In a lot of ways, I consider myself a better Anglican (all my Baptist opinions notwithstanding) than the truly high churchmen nowadays who would have Cranmer rolling in his grave. He was, after all, burned at the stake for, among other things, refusing to avow transubstantiation.

Richard D said...

Thank you for the explanation, Lydia. I'll need to do some deeper research into this. I've been advising folks against that verse in what is one of my favorite hymns for many years now. Perhaps I can get away with leading that hymn without the "fine print disclaimer" introduction.

Gina M. Danaher said...

Lydia, I am new here. I have popped in and out but have not posted before. I enjoyed your blog regarding All Saints Day. Being raised Catholic but now in a Bible church, it is not something that I have acknowledged for many decades. But yesterday,on my Facebook page, I felt compelled to wish a "Happy All Saints Day to that great Cloud of Witnesses and all who still remain." Maybe we Evangelicals have thrown the baby out with the bath water. Anyway, a friend - also raised Catholic and now in an Anglican church posted that same video/hymn on my page that you have on yours. I don't remember ever singing that hymn but I do love it.
I am enjoying your remarks here on this subject and will link into your other posts as well.


Gina Danaher

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks, Gina.

I think it's a rather sad thing that the really _old_ version of Anglicanism--somewhat Puritan-influenced, very Protestant though liturgical--which was Anglicanism for over three hundred years is almost non-existence nowadays. The really mainstream Episcopals and Anglicans are just, frankly, heretics of the most blatant sort. The ECUSA is a dead loss, like most mainline denominations. And the continuing Anglicans, such as those who started the denomination of which I'm formally a member, tend to be very high-church and to put off people of evangelical background unnecessarily by too many wholesale borrowings of Roman Catholic practices, doctrines, and even bits of liturgy stuck together with Cranmer's much sparer, much more humble and Protestant, 16th century liturgy. Like neo-Gothic additions to a Tudor building, I sometimes say.

In other words, pretty much the only Anglican types left now who believe even Mere Christianity tend to be heirs of John Henry Newman and very, very high, which is unnecessary and also, in an important sense, unhistorical.

This is evident in the communion of saints issue we've been discussing here as well as in the liturgy itself. Most of Cranmer's liturgy contains almost nothing that an evanglical could object to, beyond the fact that it _is_ a liturgy.

This is not to say that there are not real doctrinal issues even with regard to historic Anglicanism. There are, certainly, infant baptism being just one very obvious one. (I don't accept infant baptism, and my priest has just had to put up with that.) Also, it's interesting that the 39 Articles of Anglicanism are _very_ Calvinist in sound but that the liturgy has, at least to modern ears, a rather Arminian sound. Still, to be fair, there are certainly Arminian evangelicals. :-)

Amy said...

Hi Lydia,

I'm new here too but will be back!

Lydia McGrew said...

Welcome to Extra Thoughts, Amy.