Fasting According to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer

The canonical rules stated in 1928 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church are that Anglicans are required to fast not only on Fridays, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but that the Church requires “a measure of abstinence as is more especially suited to extraordinary acts and exercises of devotion” on the following days:

I.   The Forty Days of Lent
II. The Ember Days at the Four Seasons, being the WednesdayFriday, and Saturday after the First Sunday in Lent, the Feast of Pentecost, September 14, and December 13.
III. All the Fridays in the Year, except Christmas Day, and The Epiphany, or any Friday which may intervene between these Feasts.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer, still officially established in the Church of England and many other parts of the communion, and considered theologically more Protestant than the 1928, recommends a more exacting set of rules connected to fasting and abstinence. There should be fasting on the Evens and Vigils before the following feasts:

The Nativity of our Lord
The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin
Easter Day
Ascension Day
S. Matthias
S. John the Baptist
S. Peter
S. James
S. Bartholomew
S. Matthew
S. Simon and S. Jude
S. Andrew
S. Thomas
All Saints

Additionally, the full Days of Fasting, or Abstinence are:

I.   The Forty Days of Lent
II. The Ember Days at the Four Season, being the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after

1. The first Sunday in Lent
2. The Feast of Pentecost
3. September 14
4. December 13.

III. The three Rogation days, being the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Holy Thursday, or the Ascension of our Lord.

IV. All the Fridays in the Year, except Christmas Day.

This is a very tough schedule of abstinence and fasting. The Reformers kept these because they had been established and handed down from the time of the early Church. It is great pity that Anglicans unknowingly ignore their own Reformed heritage in neglecting the requirements set down in the Book of Common Prayer to such a degree that fasting on Fridays is thought to be a mark of identity for Roman Catholics. Indeed, most Anglicans and Episcopalians have no idea of what the BCP rubrics require of them, and that fasting and abstinence, not just on Fridays, but before all important feast days, is entirely Protestant, Reformed and Catholic.

Fasting was encouraged because the Reformers knew that it is only by prayer and abstinence on the part of each individual that they will manage to order their thoughts, words, and deeds in obedience to the Lord. Fasting is Scriptural, as one discovers in the Gospels and Epistles. It also prepares us to take the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, and it is part of the rhythm of Christian life by which we shape our lives in remembrance of Christ’s ministry here on earth — his fasting, teaching, death and resurrection — which are remembered and celebrated on the appropriate feasts and fasts of the Liturgical Year.

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple

“Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.”

Hear the words of the prophet Malachi. The Lord has come into his temple. In the Gospel account the Christ child is brought within the temple in accordance with Torah Law by his mother Mary and Joseph his father. The infant Jesus is being presented as a first-born male unto the Lord God. At first glance the Gospel is rather straightforward.  Luke’s narrative is a record of ritual obedience accompanied by prophetic pronouncements.

First by Simeon, a pious and aged Jew, then by Anna, an elderly prophetess who prayed daily in the temple courts for some 44 years: both the very picture of Jewish piety and righteousness. And yet, like every other Christological Feast celebrated throughout the Christian year, there is so much more to this story. Much more than a story about a little baby boy being brought into the Temple courts. This particular baby being presented to the Father, will one day, be offered to the Father as a perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins: your sins and mine.

The Lord has come into his temple. God has kept his promise, he has fulfilled the words of Malachi by Jesus appearing in his Father’s house. “The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.” God has kept his promise, prophecy has intersected with fulfillment in the presentation of the Christ child. And there is another important intersection: a covenantal convergence.

Christ's first appearing and presentation in the Temple symbolizes the perfect fulfilling of the old covenant by Jesus who is the very embodiment of the New Covenant. We see the passing of the Old Covenant Temple and its rituals intersecting with the inauguration of a new temple- the body of Jesus Christ- where spiritual, not animal sacrifices, are to be offered unto the Lord. An intersection of the old and new. Intersection and convergence in the infant Christ.

The Lord has come into his temple. Jesus was presented in the Temple in the flesh. God incarnate, the infant Jesus, placed into Simeon’s pious, aged, and faithful hands: flesh upon flesh. An incredible moment! He was looking for Israel’s Messiah, “for it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ.”

Simeon was being kept by God until he should see with his eyes what he already perceived by faith. Taking the infant Jesus into his hands he proclaims, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”

In a real sense, through this particular feast we’re able to celebrate “epiphany” once again insofar as the Christ Child is revealed as the Messiah through Simeon’s canticle. Christ is the light of the nations, a light to lighten the Gentiles! In Simeon’s song is heard the first suggestion of God’s all inclusive, grand sweeping scope of redemption. Here the promised salvation of Israel intersects with God’s pronouncement to not only save Israel but all the nations as well. Salvation has come because Messiah has come! In Christ, God has extended mercy beyond Israel: salvation has come to the young and old, male and female, Jew and Gentile.

The Lord has come into his temple. Therefore judgment has come near and final judgment awaits all men. In this child, God’s plan of salvation intersects with impending judgment. The light of salvation will also be “the fall and rising of many, a sign which shall be spoken against.” For Jesus will reveal the thoughts of mens hearts. The light of salvation will be a “swift witness against” sinful men. In the temple courts, in the hands of a prophet, Salvation and judgment intersect and converge in the person of Jesus Christ.

This is why we strive to remain in Christ, worshiping him, partaking of his sacrament, seeking absolution of sins: for Christ to purify us, to keep us clean until that final day when we will see him face to face. For who will stand in the day of his coming? What is the answer to Malachai’s question? It is the righteous, the ones who love the dwelling place of the Lord, who always praise him! Hear the Psalmist who says,

“Blessed are they that dwell in thy house; they will be always praising thee.” And, “For one day in thy courts, is better than a thousand.” And, “My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.”

You can almost imagine Simeon saying these exacts words, can you not? He loved the Lord’s House, to be in his courts, Simeon, the epitome of covenant loyalty and righteousness, trusting in God’s promise, looking for Messiah. And unto him was given the blessing of seeing, touching, to behold the Promised One, Salvation itself, Jesus Christ the Son of God.

And this is because Jesus is received by the pious. Simeon is our great example of this: “The Lord will give grace and worship; and no good thing shall He withhold from them that live a godly life.” This is why we are called to cultivate on a daily basis personal piety, righteousness, and holiness. To be clean. To be preserved in purity. This is what the Collect points us toward this evening,  

“ALMIGHTY and everliving God, we humbly beseech thy Majesty, that, as thy only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in substance of our flesh, so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts, by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Unto Simeon was given the gift of beholding Christ. Beloved, unto us, is given the indwelling of Christ, so that he might present us to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Hear the words of our Lord Jesus Christ and be assured, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Amen

The Rev. Michael Vinson

O' Come Emmanuel


O' Come Emmanuel

As we enter into this Advent season, let us contemplate the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. First, we look back, remembering that Jesus, the eternal Son of God has already come! He condescended himself, clothed in the fullness of humanity, to save fallen men from the bondage of sin and death. To God be praise! The gift of recollection brings into the present, the sublime joy of our salvation in Christ, positioning the heart in a posture of thanksgiving.

At the same time, Advent causes us to look forward in anticipation of Christ’s return- “He will come again to judge both the quick and the dead”- and so we act upon the words of the prophet crying unto us from the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.” During Advent we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord through reflection, prayer, and penitence. To help guide the Advent journey, we are happy to offer ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ an Advent Devotional developed and provided by the Cranmer Theological House, a Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Dallas, Texas. We hope this devotional helps guide your Advent meditation and contemplation.

Fr. Michael Vinson

A Priest of the Anglican Oratory