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Hallo again to all.

ChaliceAccording to the kalendar of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, who is no respecter of hemispheres, 'the Dog Daies' began yesterday, 6 July. For Anglicans in the northern hemisphere, this still often means a period of extreme heat and great discomfort; we count ourselves in that number this week. This corresponds to the rise of Sirius, the dog-star, from whose name the Dog Days are derived. It is the time when, to quote Noël Coward or Joe Cocker, or both, 'mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun'. We've done our best to seek cool, shade, quiet, and swift-moving air.

The Dog Days are not a time in which to begin new projects, but rather during which to tie up loose ends. With some self- and heat-enforced solitude, we've spent a goodly amount of time tending to a to-do list that would make Sisyphus cry. Among the items to which we've paid attention at long last is the digitizing of an attractive pamphlet called Altar Linen: Its Care and Use.

Written and illustrated in 1932, this small document encapsulates a body of wisdom about how to care for the 'linen ornaments of the Church', in Percy Dearmer's memorable turn of phrase. This seemingly-insignificant item in the list of tasks to which we have committed ourselves at one time or another became surprisingly moving during the beginning of this year's Dog Days.

As we read about how to fold, wash, mend and otherwise care for the corporal, pall, burse, veil, fair linen, and purificator—all of which have their peculiar roles to play in the celebration of the Holy Communion in the Western Church—our mind's eye saw a vision of centuries of altar guild members. In their quiet, wise work of washing, folding, starching, ironing, wax removal, bleaching, burning, dusting, sewing, and watching others worship with the fruit of their labour, it occurred to us, the persons doing this ministry were almost certainly carrying out an important dimension of the apostolic succession.

It struck us for the first time in this way that sacristans and altar guild members are likely the inheritors of traditions that have changed quite a lot less than other aspects of Church life. The texts of the liturgy and hymns have changed; the very shapes of church buildings have changed; the laws governing the conduct of layfolk and clerics have changed; the theological seas have receded and come back in their tides; but the need for a weekly supply of clean purificators and a decently-turned out burse and veil have not changed a bit.

Reflection on this fact pushes us quite close to the Still Point where we let the Prayer Book's famous Prayer for Quiet Confidence wash over us:

O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: by the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The very stillness of the air around us tonight—and in the Dog Daies, which in the BCP allegedly stretch all the way until 5 September—will oppress us if we let it. But if instead, in quiet confidence, we put one foot next in front of the other day by day, we will come to make our lives—we hope—a well-stacked chalice, fit to bear and be the Body and Lifeblood of Christ in the world.

The silent ministry of altar guild members and sacristans throughout the ages gives us this model and inspiration. May we ever be thankful to them in thought and word and deed.

See you next week.

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7 July 2013

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