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A Rationale upon the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England
By Anthony Sparrow, D.D.
first printed in London, 1655.
With thanks to the Project Canterbury Website for this contribution.

THe Antiquity of Lent is plain by these Testimonies following. Chrysol. Ser. 11. Chrys. in Heb. 10. 9. Ethic. Cyril. Catech. 5. August. Ep. 119. [Vt quadraginta dies ante Pascha observenter Ecclesiae consuetudo roboravit, That forty days should be observed before Easter, the custome of the Church hath confirmed, Hieron. ad Marcellam. Nos unam quadragemam toto anno, tempore congruo jejunamus, secundum traditionem Apostolorum, &c. One Fast in the year of forty days we keep at a time convenient, according to the Tradition of the Apostles.]

Epiphanius adv. Aerium, tells us, that the Aerians were the most brain-sick Hereticks that ever were; for they held that Bishops and Priests were all one; that Presbyters might ordain Presbyters, besides, they held that they were not bound to keep Lent, and the holy week, as holy Churches laws required, but would then feast and drink drunk in spite, saying, that it was against Christian liberty to be tyed to Fast.

This forty days Fast of Lent was taken up by holy Church in imitation of Moses and Elias in the old Testament; but principally, in imitation of our Saviours Fast in the New Testament, Augustin. ep. 119. That we might, as far as we are able, conform to Christs practice, and suffer with him here, that we may reign with him hereafter.

But if this Fast were taken up in imitation of our Saviour; it may be asked, why we do not keep it at the same time that he did, who fasted immediately after his Baptism. S. Matt. 4. 1. which was at Epiphany; whereas our Fast begins not till some weeks after?

For answer of this, many reasons may be given, why now, rather than at that time we keep our Lent.

1. Because at this time when blood and affections are at the highest, it is most fit to restrain them; and to that perhaps S. Ierom alludes, when he says, Iejunamus tempore congruo, we fast at a time convenient.

2. As Christs sufferings ended in an Easter, a Resurrection; so did holy Church think fit that our spiritual afflictions and penances should end, as his did, at Easter. The fast of Lent signifies this present troublesome life, and Easter signifies eternal happiness and rest. August. Ep. 119.

3. Holy Church appoints that all Christians whatsoever should receive the holy Communion at Easter; and therefore appoints this time before, to prepare themselves by fasting and prayer; thus judging themselves that they might not be judged of the Lord; and this is after Gods own pattern, who commanded the Israelites to afflict themselves, and eat bitter herbs before they should eat the Paschal Lamb. All Churches therefore agreed that Lent should end in Easter, though some difference there was when it should begin.

This Fast is called Lent from the time of the year in which it is kept, for Lent in the Saxon Language is Spring. The Spring-Fast, or Lent.

THe Church begins her Lent this day to supply the Sundays in Lent, upon which it was not the Churches custome to fast, Sundays being high Festivals in memory of our Saviours joyful Resurrection. Now if you take out of the six weeks of Lent, Six Sundays, there will remain but thirty six Fasting-days; to which, these four of this week, being added, make the just number of forty.

This was anciently call'd Caput jejunii, the Head of Lent, and was a day of extraordinary humiliation. Upon this day were Ashes sprinkled upon their heads, to mind them of their mortality and also to mind them what they had deserved to be, namely, burnt to Ashes.

Hence was it call'd [Dies cinerum,] ASH-WEDNESDAY: and upon this day they were wont to cloath themselves in Sackcloth. These rites are mentioned Esay 58. 5. as the usual rites of penitents. This was common to all penitents. But notorious sinners were this day put to open penance. Which godly discipline, saies our Church [in her office of Commination] it is much to be wished that it might be restored again. Now that we may know what it is the Church wishes there; it will not be amiss to set down in part the solemnity used upon those sinners at this time, which was ordered thus.

Let all notorious sinners who have been already, or are now to be enjoyned publick penance, this day present themselves before the Church doors to the Bishop of the place, cloathed in sackcloth, barefooted, with eyes cast down upon the ground, professing thus by their habit and countenance, their guilt. There must be present the Deans or Arch-Presbyters, and the publick penitentiaries, whose office is to examine the lives of these penitents, and according to the degree of their sin to apportion their penance, according to the usual degrees of penance. After this, let them bring the penitents into the Church, and, with all the Clergy present, let the Bishop sing the seven penitential Psalms, prostrate upon the ground, with tears for their Absolution. Then the Bishop arising from prayer, according to the Canons, let him lay his hand upon them (that is, to ratifie their penance, not to absolve them) let him sprinkle ashes upon their head, and cover them with sackcloth: and with frequent sighs and sobs, let him denounce to them; that as Adam was cast out of Paradise, so are they cast out of the Church for their sins. After this, let the Bishop command the Officers to drive them out of the Church-doors, the Clergy following them with this Respond, In the sweat of thy brows shalt thou eat thy bread: that these poor sinners seeing holy Church afflicted thus, and disquieted for their sins may be sensible of their penance, Gratian, dist. 50. c. 64.

1. Sunday in Lent.
The Epistle exhorts to patience in afflictions. The Gospel reads to us Christs victory over temptations, to keep us from despair of conquest, that we should be of good cheer and heart, since he our Captain hath overcome the world. S. John 16. v. last. The Collect for the day is another of those Collects wherein the Church directs her Petitions to Christ, thereby manifesting her belief that he is the true Son of God, for she prayes to none but God; in praying to him therefore she professes to believe him to be God, as it is in the close of the Collect; and this in opposition to the Tempter Satan and all his Adherents, who are still tempting Christ in his Members, to misbelief in that Article.

THe Week after Ash-wednesday is Imber or Ember-week, Of which Fast we will here treat in general. There be Four Ember-weeks called in Latin Iejunia quatuor Temporum, the Fasts of the four Seasons, because they were kept in the four parts of the year, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. The first of these begins upon Wednesday next after Ash-wednesday. The second upon Wednesday next after Whitsunday: the third upon Wednesday next after Holy Cross. Sept. 14. The last upon Wednesday next after S. Lucie. Dec. 13. The days of fasting and prayers in these weeks are, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday. Wednesday, because then our Lord Christ was betrayed by Iudas: Friday, because then he was crucified: Saturday, because then we represent the Apostles sorrow for the loss of their Lord lying in the grave. The causes of such religious fastings and prayers upon these weeks were formerly many, as namely that Christians in these religious duties might let the World know, that they were as devout, as the Jews formerly had been, whose custome it was to observe four solemn Fasts, Zach. 8. 19. That they might dedicate to God, as the first-fruits, the beginnings of the several seasons of the year set apart to his religious worship, and by this means obtain Gods blessing upon them, the remainders of those times. But the principal cause was for preparation to the solemn Ordination of Ministers; holy Church imitating the Apostles practice, who when they were to set a-part men to the Ministery, prayed and fasted, before they laid on their hands, Acts 13. 3. And in after times, at these solemnities, these Ember-Fasts, special regard was had to the Ordination of Priests and Deacons. In what manner, and with how much care and Christianity these Fasts have been heretofore observed, may be gathered from S. Leo in his Sermons upon them, and from others: And the second Councel of Millain decreed herein to good purpose (Tit. 1. Dec. 22.) That upon the Sundays before these Fasts, the Priests should not only in their Parishes bid the solemn Fast, but every one in his several Parish should piously and religiously say the Prayers and Litanies, &c. That Gods assistence being implored, both the Bishop may be guided by the Holy Spirit, in the choice of those whom he shall Ordain, and also that they that are ordained, may grow in Learning and holiness of life. These four Fasts have been anciently observed, both in the Church of England, and in other Churches. In the Laws of K. Canute, Chap. 16. thus it is said, Let every man observe the Fasts that are commanded, with all earnest care, whether it be the Ember-Fast, or the Lent-Fast, or any other Fast. And the like Decrees are found in other Councels of our Nation before his time. See Sir Henry Spelmans Concil. Britan. p. 256. & 518. & 546. Now for the reason of the name, we find in Tho. Becon. (as he delivers it out of others that wrote before him). By opinion of much people, these daies have been called Ember daies, because that our Fathers would on these daies eat no bread, but Cakes made under Embers; so that by eating of that they reduced into their minds, that they were but ashes, and so should turn again, and wist not how soon. These Fasts are still appointed by the Church of England. For though she hath not reckoned them amongst the Holy daies, because there is no peculiar Office appointed for them, (as there is to all those that are reckoned in the Catalogue of Holy days) yet by custome they have been always kept with Litanies, Prayers and Fasting, and are commanded to be kept still as formerly they were by that excellent Can. 31. Anno Dom. 1603.

Forasmuch as the Ancient Fathers of the Church, led by example of the Apostles who set men apart to the ministery of the Gospel by imposition of hands with prayer and fasting,) appointed prayers and fasts at the solemn ordering of Ministers, and to that purpose allotted certain times, in which only sacred orders might be given or conferred, we following their holy and religious example, do constitute and decree, that Deacons and Ministers be Ordained or made, but only upon the Sundays immediately following jejunia quatuor temporum, commonly called Ember weeks, appointed in ancient time for Prayer and Fasting, purposely for this cause at their first institution, and so continued at this day in the Church of England.

2. Sunday.
The Epistle perswades to temperance and abstinence from all uncleanness.

The Gospel tells us how we may subdue that Devil, namely, by stedfast faith and fervent and importunate prayer.

3. Sunday.
The Epistle, as the time, calls for strictness of life.

The Gospel commends perseverance shewing the danger of relapsing, For the end of that man is worse than the beginning.

4. Sunday.
This is called Dominica Refectionis. For the Gospel tells us of Christs miraculous feeding and satisfying the hungry souls, that hunger after him and his doctrine: and the Epistle tells us of a Ierusalem which is above, which is free, and a joyous place, to which, we as children, are heirs. Thus holy Church mixes joy and comfort without sorrows and afflictions.

5. Sunday.
This is called PASSION-SUNDAY. For now begins the commemoration of the Passion of our Lord, and after a long funeral pomp and train, the corps follows upon Good Friday.

The Epistle treats of the Passion.

The Gospel, of our Lords being slandred by the bold malice of the Jews, who call him Samaritan, and tell him he hath a Devil, which must needs be a thorn in his side, and a part of his Passion.

6. Sunday.
This is PALM-SUNDAY on which CHRIST came from Bethany to Ierusalem, and was received with joy, some strewing their garments, others cutting down branches, and strewing them in the way; whose religion it is fit that we should imitate: Bernard [We should meet Christ by keeping innocency; bear Olive, by doing works of mercy; carry Palms, by conquering the Devil and our vices; green leaves and flowers we carry, if we be adorned with vertues; and we strew our garments in the way, when by mortification we put off the old man.]

This week was called of old, the GREAT-WEEK, because it hath a larger Service than any other Week, every day having a Second-service appointed.

It was called also the Holy-week, because men gave over all worldly employments, and betook themselves wholly to devotion this week. The Courts were shut up, and civil affairs laid aside, and prisoners that were put in for small faults were freed. Chrys. Hom. 30. in 10. cap. Gen. Code. l. 1. tit. 4. 3.

It was also called the week of Fasts; Because fasting was then heightned and intended with watchings and prayers: for these six dayes were spent in lying upon the ground and afflicting the body, in prayers, watchings and fastings longer than ordinary. And when they did eat, their refreshing was only bread, fast and water. Epiphan. adv. Aerium. It will not be amiss to set down Epiphanius somewhat more at large: [Aerius and his disciples had flouted at the Catholick Christians severities at this time. Why, say they, do you keep Easter? why do you keep such a strict fast before it? it is Iewish thus to keep daies of fasting by a law: it is an enslaving your selves to a yoke of bondage: if I would determine to fast at all, I would fast what day I pleased, at mine own liberty. Upon this principle it is, saith that Father, that Aerius and his followers affect to fast on Sunday, and feast on Friday, and to spend this week of Religion and Devotion in jollity and sport, rising early to fill themselves with flesh and wine, with which being full stuft, they sport and scoff at the Catholick Christians folly in afflicting themselves with such severities. But who, says he, are the more fools; Aerius a silly fellow of yesterday still living with us, or we who observe this severe discipline which our Fathers delivered us, which they received from their Fathers, and they from theirs, and so from the Apostles?

The Epistles and Gospels of this week are concerning Christs Passion, to the contemplation of which this week is dedicated.

THis day CHRIST washt his Disciples feet, and gave them a commandment to do likewise. Hence it is called Dies mandati, Mandate or Maundy Thursday.

This day, the penitents that were put out of the Church upon Ash-wednesday, were received again into the Church: partly, because there was this day an holy Communion in memory of our Lords institution of the same this day: and the Epistle is fitted to that purpose, fit therefore it was that penitents should be reconciled this day (upon which this Sacrament was instituted for the remission of sins) to receive the holy Communion. Partly, because this day our Lord was apprehended and bound, whose binding wrought our deliverance and freedome.

The form of reconciling penitents was in short this. The Bishop goes out to the doors of the Church, where the penitents ly prostrate upon the earth, and thrice in the Name of CHRIST he calls them, Come, Come Come ye children, hearken to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord: then after he hath prayed for them, and admonished them, he reconciles them, and brings them into Church. The penitents thus received, trim their heads and beards, and laying off their penitential weeds; they reclothe themselves in handsome apparel. The Church doors were wont to be set all open this day; to signifie that penitent sinners coming from North, or South, or any quarter of the World, shall be received to mercy and the Churches favour.

THis day holy Church keeps a most strict Fast; It is called GOOD-FRIDAY. For a good day it was for us, even the cause of all our good, and ground of all our joy: And so in respect of the effect of it, Christs Passion may be a Gospel for a Feast; and so it is upon Palm-Sunday. But if we consider that our sins were the cause of his Sufferings, and that it was we that crown'd his head with thorns, nail'd his hands and feet, and gored his side with a Spear; so his Passion considered in the cause of it, is matter of the greatest sorrow, and in this respect we keep it a Fast.

The Gospel is taken out of S. John rather than out of any other Evangelist; because he was present at the Passion, and stood by the Cross, when others fled; and therefore the Passion being represented as it were before our eyes this day; his Testimony is read, who saw it himself; and from whose example we may learn not to be ashamed, nor afraid of the Cross of Christ.

This day holy Church prayes expresly for all Jews, Turks and Infidels, Enemies of the Cross of Christ; for this day Christ both prayed and dyed for his Enemies; and as he exprest the height of his love this day, by dying for them; so does the Church her height of Charity in praying for them.

The Antiquity of this Holy day appears by Euseb. Hist. l. 2. c. 17. who there tells us,

That it was an Holy-day in his time, and long before. That day of our Saviours Passion we are wont to celebrate, not only with fastings and watchings, but also with attentive hearing and reading of the holy Scriptures.

THis day the Gospel treats of Christs body ly in the Grave: the Epistle, of his Souls descent into Hell.

Of the Collects from Septuagesima to Easter.
THough the Church be always militant while she is upon Earth, yet at this time (the time when Kings go out to battel, 2 Sam. 11.) she is more than ordinary militant, going out to fight against her avowed enemies, the World, the Flesh and the Devil, making it her especial business to get the mastery over them, so far, that they may not be able to prevail over her the year following. Now because (as S. Paul saith 1 Cor. 9. 25.) Every one that strives for mastery is temperate in all things; therefore at this time especially, when she is seeking the mastery over her Enemies, holy Church does more than ordinary addict her self to temperance, fasting and other works of Penance and Mortification: and accordingly she suits her Readings, not aiming to fit them to each particular day (this is to be expected only upon priviledged days, the subject matter of whose solemnity is more particularly recorded in holy Scripture) but to the Season in general and the Churches design at this time, commending to us Fasting, Repentance, Alms, Charity and Patience in undergoing such voluntary afflictions. And the Collects are suitable also to the Readings and the time, praying earnestly for those Graces and Vertues before mentioned, which are especially requisite to this her holy undertaking. And because she knows her own weakness and her Enemies both craft and strength, who will then be most active and busie to hurt when we thus set our selves to fight against them, therefore does she earnestly and frequently also in divers Collects pray for Gods protection and defence from those Enemies, for his strength and assistance whereby she may overcome them, That he would stretch forth the right hand of his Majesty, and by his power defend us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls, which of our selves have no power to help our selves. And in such prayers as these the Church continues, lifting up her hands (as Moses did his against the Amalekites) all the time of this spiritual conflict.