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Vicar's Musings for Ordinary Sunday 24

11 September, 2016

The sixth in a series of musings on "Sacrament & Mission."

The Preface to the Ordinal in the Book of Common Prayer states: "It is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles' time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ's Church; Bishops, Priests, and Deacons." There is certainly reference to episcopoi, presbyteroi, and diakonoi in the Catholic Epistles (the letters of James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude), sometimes translated as "bishops," "priests" and "deacons," but as New Testament scholar Francis Moloney notes: "A careful reading of these passages indicates that these 'offices' within early Christian communities are ... never associated with the celebration of the Eucharist, and are almost always described or instructed in a way that suggests they were the senior administrator of a single community" (The Catholic Priesthood: A New Testament Reflection, New Theology Review 17.3, August 2004, 7-8). From the early days of the Church, however, the three-fold orders became more defined, as can be seen in Ignatius of Antioch's Epistle to the Magnesians (ch 6; c.110-17 ad): "Take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God, and with the presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles, and with the deacons, who are most dear to me, entrusted with the business of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father from the beginning and is at last made manifest." I feel deeply thankful to have been called into Holy Orders. Although challenging, and at times exhausting, it really is the best job in the world! But I am also very aware of my human frailty and the imperfections of the Church structures. In Summa Theologica (c. 1225-74) Thomas Aquinas writes of gratia gratis data, which can be translated as "gratuitous grace". The Sacrament of Ordination is a gift of grace, neither earned nor deserved, but given unreservedly to one person for the benefit of others. There is something of this sacramental mystery in the "Prayer of St Denis" from the Cloud of Unknowing (c. 1375):

You are wisdom, uncreated and eternal,
The supreme first cause, above all being,
Sovereign Godhead, sovereign goodness,
Watching unseen the God-inspired wisdom of Christian people.
Raise us, we pray, that we may totally respond
To the supreme, unknown, ultimate, and splendid height
Of your words, mysterious and inspired.
There all God's secret matters lie covered and hidden
Under darkness both profound and brilliant, silent and wise.
You make what is ultimate and beyond brightness
Secretly to shine in all that is most dark.
In your way, ever unseen and intangible,
You fill to the full with most beautiful splendour
Those souls who close their eyes that they may see ...

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster



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