A Prayer Book Summer

The woods and pastures are joyous
in their abundance now
in a season of warmth and much rain.
We walk amid foliage, amid
song. The sheep and cattle graze
like souls in bliss (except for flies)
and lie down satisfied. Who now
can believe in winter? In winter
who could have hoped for this?
- Wendell Berry, 'Poem IV, Sabbaths 1998', in Given: New Poems.

Long days, the deep green of the landscape, birdsong echoing from early morning, warmth and light lasting long into the evenings.  We are now in the joyous abundance of Summer.

What are the characteristics of a Prayer Book Summer?  

Feasts at beginning, middle, and end

Today, of course, is St John Baptist's Day, a feast traditionally associated with Midsummer.  We are now in the season of long days, warmth, and growth.  The Prayer Book Gospel for the feast echoes with the themes of light and life:

whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us; to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

At the beginning of August, when a shortening of the days can be detected, we celebrate the Transfiguration.  A Black Letter Day in the 1662 Kalendar, it is provided with collect, epistle, and gospel in Ireland 1926, PECUSA 1928, and Canada 1962.   This feast draws us to behold how Summer is a reflection of the glory that will be, what C.S. Lewis termed "those 'high summer pomps' in which our leader, the Son of Man, already dwells and to which he is calling us".

And then there is St Bartholomew's Day - Bartlemas - the traditional ending of Summer.  There is, perhaps, a hint of Summer bounty and festivity in the Gospel of the day:

that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom.

With feasts at beginning, middle, and end, the gift of Summer is marked out for us, its joys, light, and bounty icons of the City where "there will be no more night".


The Sundays after Trinity now stretch out before us.  This liturgical season of growth reflects the landscape of Summer. Sparrow says of these Sundays:

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 ... 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.

The collect of the First Sunday after Trinity wonderfully captures this emphasis upon growth:

grant us the help of thy grace, that in keeping of thy commandments we may please thee, both in will and deed.

After the drama of the Advent through to Whitsunday seasons, taking us deep into the mysteries of the Creed, the long season of Trinitytide calls us to reflect on how the mystery of the Faith is to be lived out "in that state of life" unto which God has called us.  By the time Summer ends, we will be half way through Trinitytide.  These, in other words, should be Sundays marked by rich teaching, for - in the words of Sparrow - their purpose is "to the making us good Christians".

State occasions

It is quite appropriate, then, that in both the United States and Canada, the Prayer Book tradition makes provision for state occasions during the Summer months of Trinitytide, a reminder that our duties and allegiances within the polity are caught up in the redeeming and sanctifying work of Christ. 24th June, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, is marked in the Canadian BCP with a collect giving thanks to God "who didst lead the fathers of our nation into this land of Canada", while the collect for Dominion Day/Canada Day reflects the Anglican vision central to the founding of Canada:

O GOD, who providest for thy people by thy power, and rulest over them in love: Vouchsafe so to bless thy servant our Queen, and her Government in this Dominion of Canada, that thy people may dwell in peace and safety, and thy Church serve thee in all godly quietness ...

Since the BCP 1789, PECUSA has commemorated Independence Day in a collect which gives thanks for the preservation of liberties: 

Eternal God, through whose mighty power our fathers won their liberties of old; Grant, we beseech thee, that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain these liberties in righteousness and peace ...

There is more than an echo here of the 1662 provision for 5th November, 30th January, and 29th May.  As with the 1662 provision for these dates, the PECUSA remembrance of 4th July is a call to perceive polity and national story not in secular terms, but as the gift of grace, meaning that duties within the polity are a part of what it is to be - in Sparrow's words - "good Christians".


In the 1662 Kalendar (and that of Canada 1962), 1st August is Lammas Day, celebrating the wheat harvest, the first harvest of the year.  It marks the turning of Summer, with August days shortening, and the first harvesting of the "kindly fruits of the earth" (the Litany).  Lammas, then, begins to orient us towards Autumn and Harvest Thanksgiving, even as we enjoy the remaining warmth and growth of late Summer.


If there is one phrase from the Prayer Book tradition particularly resonant during the long days of Summer, it is words from the Second Collect at Evensong: "may pass our time in rest and quietness".  I associate it particularly with Evensong on the Sundays of August, the evening sun streaming in through stained glass, the service having a quieter feel than during the busy times of year, and sunset still some hours after Evensong concludes.  Evensong at such times engenders gratitude for the gift and grace of the rest and quietness of Summer.

Mention of Evensong might also make us think of a sense in which Summer begins and ends with reference to the gift of the Anglican patrimony.  The Act of Uniformity 1559 came into effect on the feast of the Nativity of St John Baptist; the Act of Uniformity 1662 came into effect on St Bartholomew's Day. 

May the long days of Summer be blessed through "the Matins, Evensong, [and] celebration of the Lord's Supper ... in such order and form as is mentioned in the said book" (Act of Uniformity 1559), and may this season by marked by "rest and quietness".

(The first painting is Robin Moline, 'Summer on the Farm'.  The second is Charles Rake, 'The Village Green, Late Summer'.)


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