Monday, February 04, 2002

Shrove Sunday = Quinquagesima

On the Lord's Day, Sunday February 10th, it will be only three days to the beginning of Lent and 50 days [thus Quinquagesima, 50th] to the end of Lent. The countdown to the start of the season of fasting and almsgiving, which began on Septuagesima, will be nearly over.

Lent, the praising of God through the confession of our sins in preparation for a godly celebration of the Atonement and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, is thus soon to begin.

If we find the long Latin name for the Sunday next before Lent somewhat hard to pronounce or to remember, we can revert to the old English name for this day, Shrove Sunday. Then we can also speak of Shrove Monday and Shrove Tuesday.

And if we use the word "Shrove" then we can be reminded of the appropriate preparation for Lent as well as of a major theme of Lent. "Shrove" is from "Shrive" and this verb was used in late medieval times of the confessing of sins and the receiving of absolution in the days immediately before Ash Wednesday. [for use note this example: "Give me leave to shrive her, lest she should die without absolution" - 1633] Then of course on Ash Wednesday it was the medieval custom to place ashes upon penitent believers and remind them that "from dust thou art and to dust thou shall return" so that they would take seriously the need to receive the grace of God for the redemption of their souls and bodies. If we have heard the Gospel, we all know that only those who are penitent of heart are in the position to receive the grace of the Lord Jesus from God the Father Almighty.

For those who wisely still use "The Book of Common Prayer" in one of its classic editions (e.g., England 1662, USA 1928) the services prescribed for use on Ash Wednesday are a Commination Service (or Pentitential Office) together with the Order for Holy Communion. To these may be added according to local custom and the Bishop's permission, the imposition of ashes. (This latter cermony was discarded at the Reformation because it was judged in its received medieval form not to be sufficiently declarative of the grace of

One of the real problems of some of the post-1960s new prayer books of the Anglican Communion, and indeed of some modern translations of the Bible, is that they have endeavoured to remove a major aspect of sin from Christian doctrine and thus they have removed something to be recognized and confessed by the humble heart. So they have reduced the meaning of Lent and the general confession of sins in divine worship.

Let us note Psalm 51 in the Psalter in 1979 USA prayer book. (I leave my friends in other places than the USA to check their own local prayer books.)

Note first the RSV. Psalm 51:6 "Indeed I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me." (see also the NRSV, REB,NAB and NJB for similar translations, and cf. Gen 8:21; I Kgs 8:46; Job 4:17; 14:4; 15:14; 25:4 & Prov. 20:9)

In contrast, Psalm 51:6 in the 1979 Psalter is deliberately translated so as to avoid what the Church has called for centuries, original sin. "Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother's womb." This supposes that I do not inherit the principle of sin as a human being but that sin only occurs when I am alive outside the womb.

The avoidance of original sin ("the bondage of the will" according to
Luther) is also in the "Outline of the Faith" on pp.845ff. of the USA prayer book and is presupposed right through the Rite II material of the 1979 prayer book.

We may comment that if there is no original sin then the salvation offered in the new episcopal religion is less than that offered to the psalmist, King David, to Israel and to all who hear the Gospel of the New Covenant. For it is a salvation from only a part of the reality of sin. There remains in us the bondage of the will to the principle of sin when the new Episcopal religion has saved us!

Let our sin to be confessed in Lent follow the historic teaching of the Anglican Way, the best of the old USA episcopal religion - see the Psalter (Ps 51) in the BCP 1662/1928 and note the confession of sins in the Daily Office of this authentic Prayer Book. Let it be the confession of the totality of our sin and thus let it be the praise of the God who delivers us from all our sin through Jesus Christ.

The confession of our sins is not something to get over quickly so that we can move on (in modern mood) to "celebration". Rather the genuine confession of sins in reverence and awe is an act of praise to Almighty God, the Judge and the Redeemer. For the true confession of sins is the praise of His justice and righteousness and also the magnifying of his sovereign grace and mercy which blots out all our sins.

Shrove Tuesday

There has developed over the centuries the custom of having a feast on Shrove Tuesday and thus getting one's belly full before the strict Fast of Ash Wednesday begins. This custom needs to be seen as a concession to human weakness adopted in the period of Christian civilization or Christendom when there were many nominal Christians in the Church. To have a feast on the day before a major day of penitence and fasting is not what the Early Church taught and not what faithful believers today ought to engage in!

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon
Vice President of the Prayer Book Society of the USA.
Feb 4 2002.

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