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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.
Of the Sundayes after TRINITY till ADVENT.  

THe Church hath now finished the celebration of the high Festivals and thereby run, as it were, through a great part of the Creed, by setting before us in an orderly manner the highest Mysteries of our Redemption by Christ on earth, till the day he was taken up into Heaven, with the sending down of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. Now after she hath in consequence and reflexion upon these Mysteries, broke out into a more solemn and special Adoration of the Blessed Trinity, she comes according to her Method in the Intervals of great Feasts (of which see [above]) to use such Epistles, Gospels, and Collects, as suit with her holy affections and aims at this season. Such, namely, as tend to our edifying, and being the living Temples of the Holy Ghost our Comforter with his Gifts and Graces; that having Oyl in our Lamps, we may be in better readiness to meet the Bridegroom at his second Advent or coming to judgment. And this done in the remaining Sundaies till Advent, which in their Services are, as it were, so many Eccho's and Reflexions upon the Mystery of Pentecost (the life of the Spirit) or as Trumpets for preparation to meet our Lord at his second coming. Which will be more manifest if we take a general view of the Gospels together, and afterwards of the Epistles and Collects. 

The GOSPELS for this time, according to the method which hath before been declared, are of the holy Doctrine, Deeds and Miracles of our Saviour, and so may singularly conduce to the making us good Christians, by being followers of Christ, and replenished with that Spirit which he both promised and sent, and for which the Church lately kept so great a solemnity: For to be charitable, heavenly-minded, repentant, merciful, humble, peaceable, religious, compassionate and thankful, to trust in God and abound with such spiritual qualities, are the Lessons taught us by our Lord in these Gospels; and that not only by word and deed, but many miracles also, for divers Gospels are of such, and tend much to our edifying. From his healing of the sick, and going about doing good, we may learn to employ that power and ability we have in works of mercy and goodness. He that raised the dead, and did such mighty works, can be no other, we may be sure, than God and Man, the Saviour of the world, and able to protect us, even against death it self, to raise our bodies from the dust, and glorifie them hereafter. 

Thus we have in general the intent of these Gospels (as may easily appear by particular observation) and withal, how pertinent they are to the time. And with them the Church concludes her Annual course of such readings, having thereby given us (and in such time and order as most apt to make deep impression) the chief matter and substance of the four Evangelists. 

True it is, that in ancient Rituals, and particularly in S. Hieromes Comes (or Lectionarius) where we find this same order of Epistles and Gospels (See Pamelii Liturg. Eccles. Lat. T. 2.) there are some other besides these which our Church useth, as for Wednesdays, Fridaies and other special times and Solemnities. But these for Sundaies and other Holy-daies, which are retained by our Church, are so well chosen for the fitness, variety and weightiness of the matter, and out of that Evangelist that delivers it most fully, that the chiefest passages of all the Evangelists are hereby made known and preached to us; and what we meet not with here is abundantly supplied by the daily Second Lessons. And the like also may be said concerning the Epistles. 

In the EPISTLES for this time there is an Harmony with the Gospels, but not so much as some have thought in their joynt propounding of particular considerations, and those several and distinct, as the daies they belong to (for that belongs to more special solemnities) but rather as they meet all in the common stream, the general meditation and affection of the season. 

We may therefore observe, that as all the Gospels for Sundaies since Easter day hitherto are taken out of the beloved Disciple S. John, who therein gives us many of the last and most tender and affectionate words of our dear Lord before his Passion and Ascension; his promising of a Comforter bidding them not fear, bequeathing his peace to them, and the like: so now the two first Epistles are taken (and most fitly) out of the same Apostle, who therein minds us with much earnest affection of that spirit which our Lord promised for our Comforter, and of the great effect and sign of it, the love of one another: If, saith he, we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfect in us: Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And the Epistle for the second Sunday exhorteth us in like manner, To love one another as he gave commandment, and he that keepeth his Commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him; and hereby we know that he abideth in us, even by the Spirit which he hath given us. In the Epistle for the third Sunday, we are put in mind by S. Peter of submission, and being humble, (for God gives grace to such) of sobriety, watching, faith and patience in affliction, with an exhortation to cast our care upon God, who cares for us, and shall perfect, settle, strengthen and stablish us, which is according to what Christ said, That he would not leave us Comfortless. The fourth Epistle is out of Rom. 8. and is a comfort against afflictions, as not worthy of that glory which shall be shewed upon us, provided we be such as they whom the Apostle there speaks of, who had received the first-fruits of the Spirit. The Epistle for the fifth being taken out of S. Peter, exhorts us to Love, Peace, Innocence and such spiritual affections; and if any trouble us, not to be afraid, but to sanctifie the Lord God in our hearts. The rest of the Epistles for all the days following, relate much to the same business, as newness of life, and all the fruits and gifts of Gods holy Spirit, and as a particular insight will sufficiently manifest. But being not the first that are used in this season, they seem to have been chosen with more indifferency, for they are taken out of S. Paul, and keep the very order of his Epistles, and the place they have in each Epistle. For of them the first are out of the Epistle to the Romans, and (so in order) the next out of the Epistles to the Corinthians (first and second) Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, for so far the Order reacheth till the time of Advent. Only two of the Sundaies (the 18. and 25.) do vary from this method in the choice of their Epistles, and there is reason for both. 

And first, for the 25. or last Sunday the reason is manifest: for it being lookt upon as a kind of preparative or fore-runner of Advent, as Advent is to Christmas (and in S. Ieromes Lectionarius it is comprized within the time of Advent) an Epistle was chosen not as hapned according to the former method, but such an one as prophesied of Christs Advent or Coming; for that plainly appears in This out of Ieremy, Behold the time cometh saith the Lord, that I will raise up the righteous branch of David, which King shall bear rule, and he shall prosper with wisdom, and shall set up Equity and Righteousness again in Earth. The like Prophesie is implyed in the Gospel, and applyed to Jesus in the words of the people when they had seen his miracle. This is of a truth the same Prophet that should come into the world. And therefore when there are either more or fewer Sundays than 25 between Trinity and Advent, if we so dispose of the Services as always to make use of this for the last of them, it will be agreeable to reason and exemplary practice, and that from time of old, for we find such a Rule in Micrologus an ancient Ritualist. The other Sunday that follows not the method of the rest, is the 18. after Trinity; for its Epistle is taken out of the first to the Corinthians, not out of that to the Ephesians, as other are for the Sundayes that go next before and after. This seems to be occasioned by a particular circumstance for which a fit Epistle was to be found out, though it were not taken out of its place in the usual order, and that was the Ordination of Ministers; for the understanding of which, and the ancient care about Ordinations, it will not be amiss to be somewhat the larger. We may therefore note that what was said of Collects is true also of this order of Epistles and Gospels, that it comes down to us from Ancient Times, as appears by S. Hieromes Lectionarius above mentioned, and other old Liturgists and Expositors. And by them we find that it was the Custome of old to have proper Services for Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdayes in each Ember-week, and then followed (as with us) the conferring of Holy Orders. But care being taken that the Ordination should be performed after continuance the same day in Prayer and fasting, and yet be done upon the Lords day also; and because by ancient Canon that day was not to be fasted, they therefore took this course, to perform it on Saturday (it being one of the Ember Fasts) and yet in the Evening of it, for that time was accounted as belonging to the Lords day following; or if they would continue so long fasting, to do it early in the morning following. See Leo Epist. 81. ad Diosc. 

In regard therefore that this was accounted a Sundays work, and that there had been so much Exercise and Fasting on Saturday, the Sunday following had no publick Office, and was therefore called Dominica Vacat (or Vacans) a vacant Sunday. But it was afterwards thought better not to let that day pass in that manner, nor to continue so long and late on Saturday in such Abstinence and Exercise; and therefore the Ordination came to be dispatcht sooner on Saturday, and the Sunday following had a Service said on it, which at first for some time was borrowed of some other days, but afterwards One was fixt, being fitted to the day or season with some respect in the frame of it to the Ordination at that time. For although there were peculiar Readings, Rites and Prayers for the Ordination it self (as there is also in our Church much resembling the ancient Form,) yet besides that, in the general Service of the day, some reflexion was made on the business of Ordination. 

Only the Vacant Sunday for the Ember week in September had no constant peculiar Service; for being fixt to a certain time of that Month, it chanceth that the said Sunday sometimes is the 18. after Trinity, sometimes the 17. or sooner, as Easter falls out; and accordingly takes the service of the 18. Sunday, or some other before it, as it happens to be that year. But of old after other Vacant days had their proper Services, this day continued for some while to make use of borrowing; so Berno and Micrologus say it was in their times: and what Service can we think could be more useful for that purpose, than this of the 18th Sunday, especially if we consider it with all the accessaries it had then? 

In ancient Rituals, as S. Hieromes Lectionarius, S. Gregories Antiphonarius, Liber Sacramentorum, &c. we find the service of Ember week placed immediately before that of this Sunday, and the chief reason to be this aforesaid, their affinity of matter. Rupertus Tuitiens. in his 12. Book De Divin. Officiis, and 18. Chap. is very copious in shewing, how much the office of this day (in that largeness it then had) concern'd them that had the cure of souls: and Berno Augiens. in his 5. Chap. is as large in shewing how well it might serve in that regard for a supplement to the Vacant Sunday. All which considered, and withal that the usual order of the Epistles from 5. to the 25. was changed only in This, and that according to the course of Easter, the Ordination falls on this Sunday, or some other before it, we may very probably conclude that the choice of this Epistle (and Gospel also) was with design to exercise our meditations somewhat on the Ordination this day celebrated, or not long before it. And hereby a good ground was given to the Preacher in his Sermon (for that was usually upon the Readings of the day) to declare in a fit season the duty of Pastors and their flocks, according as he saw occasion. 

The Epistle is a Thanksgiving in behalf of the Corinthians for the grace of God which was given them by Jesus Christ: It appears by what the Apostle saith of them in divers places, that they had been taught by many learned Instructers, and that many of them had much profited, and abounded in many spiritual gifts: And such gifts are here mentioned as are specially requisite for them that are Ordained to be Spiritual Guides, as the being enriched in all utterance, and in all knowledge, and being behind in no good gift. And the Gospel is of our Saviours answering a question of a Doctor of the Law, of his silencing both Pharisees and Sadduces by his doctrine and questions: whereby he shews how those whom he sends on Divine Messages should be qualified, how able to speak a word in due season, to give a reason of their faith, and to convince gain-sayers. This is the Gospel in the ancient Lectionary above mentioned; and though some Churches use other, yet we may observe that they are all very appliable to this occasion. And the old Anthems or Versicles for the day S. Greg. Antiphonary (which are to be found most of them in some Latin Services) are herein most express: desiring of God, That his Prophets may be found faithful; and speaking of being glad of going into the house of God, Bringing presents, coming into his Courts, &c. Of telling out among the Heathen that the Lord is King; Of Moses hallowing an Altar, and offering Sacrifices, ascending into the Mount, praying for the people, of Gods shewing himself to him, &c. 

It is true, that other Ordination-Sundays relate principally (as is most meet) to the chief Meditations of those special seasons wherein they fall, but yet therein we may find matter very pertinent to this occasion. How fit the Service of Trinity Sunday is in this regard, hath already been declared, nor could any season have been more aptly chosen for this occasion. In that of Lent the Epistle tells us what holiness of life is required in all, and therefore certainly in them whom God hath called to such an holy profession: and that saying of Christ (in the Gospel for the same day) that he was sent to the lost sheep, &c. may mind them of their duty who are sent by him to be Pastors of his flock. The like Advertisements they may gather from both Epistle and Gospel of the Sunday of Ordination in time of Advent as may be obvious to view. And no less proper is that Epistle, which the Lectionary and some Churches appoint for the same day: Let a man, saith the Apostle there, thus wise esteem us, even as the Ministers of Christ, and Stewards of the Secrets of God. Furthermore it is required of Stewards that a man be found faithful. Which Epistle with us, and some other Churches, is applyed to the Sunday next before this, changing place with another Epistle, not unfit for this occasion, and more fit to come next to Christmas: For by those words in it, The Lord is even at hand, it may excite us to such a preparation for the Feast of Christs coming in the flesh, as may prepare us for that other coming in glory which we look for. 

Thus have we taken a view of these Epistles and Gospels, and upon occasion also of those which are used after Ordinations, and somewhat also of the time when holy Orders were given. Our Church herein keeps to the day that is most proper: and that is to the Sunday which next follows the Ember Fast. A day on which Christ bestowed his Spirit upon his Apostles, gave them their Commission and many wonderful gifts for the good of the Church. For this and other reasons doth Leo shew, how congruous the Lords day is for such a work. Besides this may be added, that a business of such consequence being done upon such a day, is attended with more solemnity and presence of the Congregation. See the discourse of Ember weeks, and Leo Epist. 81. ad Diosc. 

The COLLECTS remain to be now spoken of: and they in the same manner with the Epistles and Gospels have a general congruity with the affection of the season. For as Faith, Hope and Charity, graces and gifts of the Holy Ghost are the general subject more or less of these Epistles, and the same taught, exemplified and confirmed in the Gospels; so are these Collects certain general Invocations upon God for the assistance of his holy Spirit, and bringing forth the fruits of it, and consist usually of a most humble acknowledgment, and a petition suitable, as is above declared. 

And as we have taken there a brief view of the pious sense and spirit of these acknowledgments, so will it not be amiss to do the same here concerning the petitions; which in each Collect are some or other of these following, or such like: That God would be pleased to prevent and follow us always with his grace, and with his mercy in all things direct and rule our hearts, to stir up our wills, pour into our hearts (graft in them) the love of his holy Name, make us to have a perpetual fear and love of it, to ask such things as shall please him, to have the Spirit, to think and do always such things as be rightful (to please him, both in will and deed) that he would encrease, nourish, keep us in true Religion and all goodness; give unto us the encrease of Faith, Hope and Charity, that we may live according to his will, with pure and free hearts follow him; accomplish those things he would have done, may be cleansed, assoyled, delivered from all our offences, have pardon peace, protection and defence; may plentifully bring forth the fruits of good works, and by him be plenteously rewarded, and obtain his promises which exceed all we can desire. Such requests as these (besides some other, That God would hear the prayers of the people, of which see [above]) are by the Priest presented to God, fit for the Churches meditations at this time after Pentecost, and not unfitly following the Lessons, the Decalogue, and the following Supplications of the people, as the proper place of Collects: Being all of them (though in several branches and expressions) in effect thus much: That by the merciful Grace, Inspiration, Defence and Protection of God Almighty, we may be cleansed from our sins, may obey his Commandments, may live as Christians ought, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, and so to be fitter to meet our blessed Lord at his second Advent to judge the world. 

And this meditation of the second Advent of Christ is thought so seasonable in the last place; that some Churches instead of those Readings which we have for the last Sunday of this Time, make use of some other which concern the day of judgement: But our Church, as she hath good reason for her method, as we have seen, [above]. So is she not at all defective in her thoughts of Christs second coming: In time of Advent, and often afterwards she takes occasion to remember it, but most especially at this season. The last Gospel (except that which implyes a prophesie of Christs advent) sets before us his raising up of one from the dead, a great ground of our faith and hope of a Resurrection. The Epistle that goes with it, and all the rest in a manner aim most evidently at this, the Quickning us to a life spiritual by the hopes of an eternal. The last Collect, with some other, is for the enjoyment of it according to Gods promises. So that we see the Church in her Meditations for the conclusion of the year, takes in that for her subject which is the close of our Creed, end of our Faith, and Crown of our Devotions: The Resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.