Anthony Sparrow and a Prayer Book Advent

Following on from yesterday's post, it is interesting to note that in his A Rationale upon the Book of Common Prayer, Sparrow* makes no reference at all to Gaudete Sunday.  This is significant because he does acknowledge Laetare Sunday in Lent, using the phrase 'Refreshment 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.

This willingness to continue to regard Lent IV as Laetare, but refusing to ascribe any Gaudete theme to Advent III, would certainly suggest a recognition that Cranmer's re-ordering of the lectionary for the Sundays in Advent has abandoned Gaudete for other priorities.  Sparrow, therefore, instead points to the Sunday containing the Advent and Ember themes:

The Epistle mentions the second coming of Christ; the Gospel, the first ... This week is one of the four Ember weeks.  

When he then considers Advent IV, Sparrow shows no concern whatsoever regarding Cranmer moving the Gaudete epistle to the Fourth Sunday.  Rather, his commentary suggests how appropriate it is for this Sunday:

The Epistle and Gospel set Christ, as it were, before us, not prophesied of, but being even at hand, yea standing among us; pointing him out as S. John Baptist did to the people; Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.

There is a hint here of the dual meaning of the close of Advent, seen in key phrases taken from the epistle and gospel: "even at hand ... standing among us".  This is an appropriate culmination to a season which Sparrow describes as "prepar[ing] us for Christ his Advent or coming in the flesh".

Sparrow's commentary, therefore, reveals the richness of a Prayer Book Advent, centred around both Cranmer's majestic collect for the season and his reordering of the lectionary for the Sundays of the season.  The coherence of that reordering - and the removal of Gaudete Sunday - provides a deeper experience of Advent, not least as we move from the Third to the Fourth Sunday in the season.

*Anthony Sparrow, ordained priest 1634, ejected for use of the BCP during the Commonwealth, reinstated at the Restoration, consecrated bishop 1667, bishop of Exeter then of Norwich, died 1685.  His A Rationale Upon the Book of Common Prayer was first published in 1655, republished numerous times, the most influential commentary on the BCP in the 17th and early 18th centuries.


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