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Mass on Saturdays - at 5:00pm (casual attire is our style)!

Rosary Prayer Group - at 6:00pm on the first Wednesday of the month!

Bible Study - at 6:30pm on Thursdays (the Life of Jesus - Serendipity Bible Study)!

Come and join us!

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Click the picture for directions...
We’re located at 408 Levee Road in Mount Sterling, across from the MCHS football stadium.

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Saints Mary and Martha Church
at Bethany House
PO Box 502
Mount Sterling, KY
40353

859-404-8374
mamachurch4you@yahoo.com

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Seven Sacraments of the Church - Part 4

The Sacrament of Reconciliation
(commonly called Confession)

Beloved,

The summer in which I finally came to grips with the call to ministry that our Lord had placed on my life was also the summer I came to understand that I needed help just being a Christian – let alone a pastor or priest.  The truth be told, I had issues in my life that were too big for me to handle on my own.  I wouldn’t have used these words then, but looking back I now see that I needed the fullness of our Lord’s Church to help me bear what I was going through.

I’m not sure why some Christians and Christian denominations are so keen to assert that there are only two Sacraments – that is, why they don’t want the full range of tools that Jesus gave his Church.  That’s what the Sacraments are: They are the tools Jesus gave his Church for those times when we need more than the mental understanding that comes from the preaching of the Word.  Just as “there’s a season for every purpose under heaven,” so also there’s a Sacrament (seven of them, to be sure) for every need in our earthly pilgrimage.

While I don’t want to put words into the mouths of our brothers and sisters who deny any Sacraments but Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, I do have to wonder why they don’t wish to receive the inward and spiritual graces that come from the outward and visible signs found in Confirmation, Holy Matrimony, Holy Unction, Holy Orders, and Reconciliation (or Confession).  I believe that large segments of Christ’s holy Church have unwisely denied themselves the graces of these Sacraments because they’ve believed the lie that the Christian life is between each individual and Jesus alone (please don’t misunderstand me to say that a personal relationship with Jesus is not required for salvation – it most definitely IS!).

What I learned during that difficult summer is that our burdens are often too big to bear alone – we often need “Jesus with skin on,” as the old phrase goes.  What’s more, when our burdens are not so heavy, we have a responsibility to be “Jesus with skin on” for someone whose burdens are too heavy.  But even that – as wonderful as it is – didn’t seem to “hit the spot.”  I continued to grope for more.  I wanted something objective – beyond myself – to assure me that Jesus was with me in my desire for spiritual and physical healing, in my marriage, in my ministry, in my struggles with sin.

As I began to understand the theology behind The Book of Common Prayer (the prayer book used by Anglicans), I began to see what I had been longing for: A Sacramental theology of the Christian life.  In other words, if I had need for God’s grace to do something or because of something happening in my life, I could point to the Word and to a specific Sacrament (which always includes the prayers of the Church and an outward and visible sign of Jesus’ Presence and ministry).  I could finally point to the Sacramental provision Jesus had made for his children and take advantage of the grace he offers us in it!

I began to see that being a Christian in the fullest sense meant that I had to lay aside my pride, not only in my relationship with Jesus, but also in my relationship with his Church.  For me, this was not a problem.  I was so ready to receive the help I needed that I no longer cared who knew about my story.  I cared only that Jesus was leading me to a place of healing and wholeness, and that he had appointed people in his Church to help me get there.

Going to Confession was easy for me.  I had been through the wringer and struggled in silence.  I was quite ready to get things off my chest.  You can’t imagine the joy and freedom that came from hearing someone say to me, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has left power to his Church (see John 20:22-23) to absolve (that is, proclaim God’s forgiveness) all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive you all your offenses; and by his authority committed unto me, I absolve you from all your sins: In the Name of (that is, in the power and authority of Almighty God) the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.”

Make no mistake, even after we are Baptized and washed clean of both original sin and actual sins committed up to that point, we are still going to make mistakes.  There is nothing more detrimental – and dysfunctional – to the Christian life than allowing those sinful mistakes to be kept “personal.”  Why?  Because we never really deal with them – not until we do as the Bible commands us, confessing our sins and receiving the assurance of pardon.  If we don’t deal with these sinful mistakes in this life, we are going to deal with them in the next.  But even that isn’t the biggest reason to take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

There’s one further step in Confession: Once we have confessed our sins (no details, just the name of the sin) and received the absolution (God’s pardon, given sacramentally through the priest), we receive some form of advice and/or counseling and some form of penance to undertake.  These are vitally important to our growth in Christ!  Once we’ve received the assurance of our forgiveness in Christ, we naturally don’t want to make the same mistakes again.  A wise priest will give us some work of penance (perhaps a portion of Scripture to read each day, prayers to pray, a work of charity or mercy to undertake) that will re-direct our hearts, our minds, and our desires back to Jesus and away from sinfulness.

Here are some words regarding the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Confession) from The Anglican Service Book:

The power to forgive sins was given to the Church by our risen Lord on the first evening of Easter (in the Upper Room): “Jesus breathed on the disciples, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” (John 20:22-23)  At the heart of the Gospel is the call to repentance, the call to turn from sin toward God. (See Mark 1:14-15)  In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we have the means for forgiveness of sins committed after Baptism.

In its essence, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is something extremely simple: We kneel beside another and confess to God our sins, laying bare the real failures of every day, which honest thinking compels us to admit.  A confession is not a portrait of vague disgust with ourselves, but a revealing of those concrete occasions in which we have sinned.  Confession and the granting of God’s forgiveness – or Absolution – not only gives us, but compels us to seek a new and enriched relationship with the Savior of the world, with our neighbors, and with ourselves.  By our confession, we enter into the joy of our Lord.

The four stages of this Sacrament of the Gospel of grace are: 1. Contrition, or sorrow for our sins (by careful self-examination, we know what our sins are and the extent to which we have offended God’s love and goodness); 2. Confession, or our owning up to our sins simply, honestly, and completely (we make our confession to a Priest as a minister of God and as a representative of his holy Church – in other words, one who is Ordained to be “Jesus with skin on” in this situation); 3. Absolution, or God’s washing away of the stain of sin from our souls and his giving to us the strength to resist sin in the future; and, 4. Satisfaction, or the doing of our penance as a sign that we will try to do God’s holy will in the future, resolving not to sin again, by the help of God’s grace.

Beloved, believe it or not, most of you have – at one time or another – confessed your sins to me in my role as your pastor.  I cannot count the number of conversations in which so many of you have entrusted to me – and to my prayers – the situations and struggles of your lives.  Because I believe (as the Bible teaches) that there really aren’t any coincidences in this life, I can’t help but believe that you’re reading these words because our Lord is calling you to take the next step in following him more deeply.  So, let’s really get real with the Lord!

May God bless your contemplations!

Father Todd Boyce, MSJ
Vicar, Saints Mary and Martha Anglican Church
Mount Sterling, Kentucky

The Seven Sacraments of the Church - Part 3

The Sacrament of Confirmation

Beloved,

We’ve talked about the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of Holy Communion – the two Sacraments that are explicitly ordained by our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospels.  However, there are five more Sacraments that are implied by the words and/or actions of our Lord in those same Gospels.  The first of those five – in the order in which we usually come into contact with them – is Confirmation.  As with the Sacrament of Holy Communion, I would like to introduce the Sacrament of Confirmation by sharing a story with you.

My freshman year in high school was an unmitigated mess.  It was the first of three “crisis moments” in my life.  Even so, the Lord began placing his hand of grace upon me – preparing me, I now believe – that I might begin to understand my purpose for living.  Throughout that school year, I continually lurched between moving toward adulthood and clinging to childhood.  I resolutely decided that I wanted to bypass all the difficulties of life, and dreamed of skipping directly to retirement!  Yet, I also knew that I wanted the things that come from acting responsibly, even if I didn’t want to act responsibly.

To make a very long and difficult story short, my parents had no choice but to gradually forbid my participation in any activities but those they felt would encourage responsible behavior from me.  Thankfully, two of those activities were my participation in the New Day Singers – a choir of about forty-five junior and senior high school students in our congregation – and Confirmation class.  While Confirmation class didn’t begin until early spring of that school year, New Day Singer began practicing and singing in worship services in the autumn.

It was in the autumn, not long after rehearsals began, that I first felt something happening spiritually within me – something that picked up on what began happening a couple of years earlier when I received my first Communion.  I would come home on Sunday nights – we rehearsed on Sunday nights after Youth Group – filled with an inexpressible desire to praise God.  But things really picked up in this regard when Confirmation class was added to the mix.  It was in Confirmation class that the pieces of the puzzle began coming together.

You see, to be Confirmed in the faith is – for those who were baptized as infants – to claim a personal relationship with Jesus Christ for one’s own self.  As I went through those fifteen or so weeks of Confirmation classes, I began to see and understand why God had claimed me as his own in Holy Baptism.  I began to see that he was waiting for me to give him my answer in return.  I began to see that my squandering of the gifts he had given me was actually sinful, not to mention wasteful and stupid.

One of the most important things to come out of that Confirmation class was a recognition on my part that my Lord was calling me into a more mature relationship with him and his world (I was blessed to be part of a parish whose pastors who weren’t afraid to give us the whole story)!  And so, when the time came for me to make a decision as to whether I wanted to be Confirmed, my answer was “yes.”  I knew that if I said “yes” to Jesus in Confirmation that he would fill me with his Holy Spirit, in a different way than in Holy Baptism, enabling me to do all the things he had planned for me.

And that is the real grace that comes to us in the Sacrament of Confirmation: We are set aside and empowered as witnesses to the love and grace of Jesus.  The day of our Confirmation – whether or not we’re also baptized on that day – is the day in which our calling and mission as mature believers begins to be revealed to us.  On the day of my confirmation I affirmed the faith of the Church and knelt before the Altar, the pastors laying hands on each of us and praying “The Lord defend you with his heavenly grace and by his Spirit confirm you in the faith and fellowship of all true disciples of Jesus Christ.  Amen.”  It is from that point that I began to think seriously of the part I might play in “the faith and fellowship of all true disciples of Jesus Christ.”

At that moment I knew who I was and to whom I belonged – not least because of what I had been taught, what I was hearing, and what had been prayed over me.  All the pieces of the puzzle that had been moving and shifting into place during my childhood now “clicked” together.  To be sure, I still had questions and I still had to – indeed, still do – work out my salvation with fear and trembling.  But something was different.  I began looking forward, with the immediate result that I no longer wished to remain a child.

Since my Confirmation took place very late in the spring, there was little I could do make amends to my parents and teachers in the short weeks that remained of the school year.  But I could, and did, resolve that the next school year would be quite different.  By God’s grace, it was.

There was something else confirmed on that Sunday in the spring of 1983: My call to the ministry – not only the ministry to which every believer is called at their Baptism and in which they are Confirmed, but also my call to the Ordained ministry.  You see, what had been brewing within me through that academic year was a sense that I would one day be a pastor – something that both delighted and repulsed me.  It would take two more crises of life before I would completely come to terms with that heavenly call.  Nevertheless, the Lord had let me in on something, and I knew that my life would never be my own.

The past twenty-seven years have been a journey of learning to love the God who calls me his own, while learning to surrender whatever stands in the way of loving him more.  Never yet has he denied me joy in the midst of growth!  I pray that you will read the words that follow – taken from The Anglican Service Book – and grow in your love for Jesus and your understanding of the Sacrament of Confirmation:

Confirmation is a necessary Sacrament wherein the Bishop, a direct descendant of Christ’s Apostles, bestows the empowering gifts of the Holy Spirit for a life of ministry as Christ’s servant.  Confirmation can also be seen as an extension of Holy Baptism, as an adult acceptance of promises, usually made by parents and godparents on behalf of an infant.

At this stage in the Church’s life there are at least two different ways of understanding the Sacrament of Confirmation and its place in Christian life.  One view holds that this Sacrament is properly understood as a part of Holy Baptism.  When this is the case, Confirmation is seen as an adult profession of faith in the presence of the Bishop, which does not add to the grace already received in Holy Baptism.  It is simply an important opportunity for those baptized in tender years to “own” their faith.

At the same time, this view has not been universally accepted, and some Bishops wish to stress the necessity of Confirmation as an independent Sacrament.  In this light, Confirmation is considered to be a vital sacramental connection between the laity and their Bishop, by which the gifts of the Spirit are bestowed, confirming and strengthening the grace received in Holy Baptism.

Perhaps the most fruitful way to understand the Sacrament of Confirmation is to see it in connection with our appreciation of the ministry of the laity (the people in the pews).  Confirmation confers the particular gifts of the Holy Spirit to the lay person, enabling and equipping them for the fullness of their particular ministry as adult lay members of Christ’s body, the Church.  It is, then, a kind of “ordination to the laity”.  Just as in his Ordination a Deacon, Priest, or Bishop receives the promise of God’s grace to fulfill that particular ministry, so also in Confirmation the lay person receives that which he or she needs to fulfill their ministry.  This need not, of course, imply that Holy Baptism is in any way incomplete in the incorporation of the individual Christian into Christ.  Rather, it takes seriously, in a spiritual and sacramental way, the ministry to which all believers are called.

Beloved, as we “ramp up” the ministry of Saints Mary and Martha, we will need to receive into the Anglican Church those who wish to fully connect themselves with our parish.  This is a kind of Confirmation and is especially important for those of us who have been baptized – whether as children or adults - but have not been Confirmed.  This is especially true because the mission of Saints Mary and Martha – following in the footsteps of our patronesses – may be summed up in this way, “The gift of prayer, the desire to share.”  The ministry of each member of our parish – praying and then sharing in the way God has gifted us – is of the utmost importance and, in truth, cannot begin in earnest without the grace of Confirmation.  Each of us will be in ministry, and none of us will be mere observers.

There are unique gifts and graces that our Lord is wanting to bestow upon each of you as you do the work of ministry in his Name.  One of the hallmark differences between Anglicanism and most other Christian denominations is that you are publicly set aside for the work of ministry in Jesus’ Name.  When the Bishop lays hands on you – as you are Confirmed and received into the Church – and prays for you to be filled with the Holy Spirit, you are being set aside for the work of Jesus in our community!

May you prayerfully consider how our Lord is wanting to bestow his gifts upon you and use you!

Father Todd Boyce, MSJ
Vicar, Saints Mary and Martha Anglican Church
Mount Sterling, Kentucky

The Seven Sacraments of the Church - Part 2

The Sacrament of Holy Communion

Beloved,

I cannot begin to describe the joy which has enveloped me as I’ve set about sharing with you the ancient truth of our faith.  It is as though I’m discovering it anew, even though I’ve preached it, taught it, proclaimed it, and attempted to share it for nearly two decades.  But there is one aspect of our faith that I have especially adored and venerated since my childhood.  It is Holy Communion.

When I reached a certain age, and was no longer dismissed from the worship service to attend Sunday School with the younger children, I began to feel a closeness to our Lord that I had not previously known.  Though I was still only eleven or twelve years old, I was eager to be a part of the worship service and to listen to what was being said (by the way, having taught Middle School, I still argue that more young people are actively listening during worship times than what we adults are able to recognize – even though it may appear otherwise!).

I’ll never forget the first time I was in a worship service with my parents in which Holy Communion was to be offered.  I don’t really know why, but, even though my brothers and I were baptized as infants, I had never gone forward to receive our Lord’s Body and Blood.  Having been raised a Methodist, it was the practice – especially in those Methodist parishes that took their Anglican inheritance seriously – to go forward to the Altar rail and kneel at the Chancel to receive Holy Communion.  (Methodists, you see, come out of the Anglican Church and are Anglicans in practice if not in name)

The picture painted for me of devotion to our Lord in the Sacrament of Holy Communion was beyond compare.  A hush would descend upon the congregation as the prayer of Great Thanksgiving was prayed.  The pastors would serve each other Communion, the choir and organist would come down from the choir loft to be served, and then one row of pews at a time would be invited to the Chancel.  As I looked upon so many of my elders whom I loved and respected kneeling in humility and devotion before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament (his holy Presence in the bread and wine), a lump gathered in my throat.  And then came the invitation from my parents to go forward with them (we were seated in the back row that Sunday).

Something gave me pause, and I declined to go forward that particular Sunday.  I think it was partly shyness, but I also think it had something to do with the fact that I had not thought about receiving Communion before.  When faced with the devotion and genuine humility being offered before the Altar, I needed some time to think about how I should approach our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.  The words of Jesus in the sixth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel and his words to the disciples at the last supper make it clear that when we receive Holy Communion we are doing far more than remembering his sacrifice or receiving symbols of his Body and Blood.  And though I couldn’t have put words to it then, I knew deep inside that I wanted to wait before going to the Chancel and kneeling before him.

Holy Communion has rightly been called the source and summit of all Christian worship.  Aside from our presence with Jesus in heaven, Holy Communion is the closest we can come to him.  Receiving his precious Body and Blood into our body, heart, and mind is both the source of his life within us (all of Scripture points to our need for this) and the highest reward (or summit) we can receive from him.  This is why we say the words at Mass, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him that takes away the sins of the world: Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.”

I can tell you that the first time I received Holy Communion was a watershed moment in my life.  As I received Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament (surrounded by those who had taught me in Sunday School and whose example of love and devotion to Jesus had spurred me on to think more deeply about all of this), my heart was filled with his love.  Something in me became completed.  My commitment to Jesus became more firm, more cemented.  I knew that I had been baptized and that my sins were forgiven, but this was my first chance to “feed” that knowledge.  (Just wait till you hear what happened when I received the Sacrament of Confirmation!)

I’ve said all of this by way of an introduction to some words on the Sacrament of Holy Communion provided in The Anglican Service Book (one of the versions of The Book of Common Prayer that our parish may choose to use).  I invite you to receive these words in the spirit in which they are offered.  The perspective they represent is that of the early Church – not the corrupted, misguided, tangled, and often disbelieving perspective of subsequent generations.  The perspective you’ll find here is exactly the same as that which our Lord himself offers us in the Gospels and which the early fathers of the Church proclaimed.

It begins by quoting Saint Augustine of Hippo:

“The words of God are words of power.  They bring to pass what they declare.  At creation God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  In the Mass, God says, ‘This is my Body…This is my Blood,’ and it is so.  Although it is the priest who stands at the Altar, it is still Christ who speaks the words of power; the bread and wine become his Body and Blood, his real and true Presence.”  (Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book)

This Sacrament was instituted by Christ at the Last Supper with his disciples.  There he gave new meaning to the Passover meal by identifying himself with the sacrificial lambs, declaring that the bread and wine were his own Body and Blood, and that henceforth, this was to be done “in remembrance of me.”  Was ever a command so obeyed?  The Mass has been offered for every conceivable human need and circumstance (remember, the Mass – or Holy Communion – is the source and summit all Christian life and worship) from the birth of a child to the repose of departed souls.  Over and over, day by day, the Mass is offered at Altars around the world in thanksgiving and supplication, strengthening the people of God.  It is holy food for a people being made holy.

The Mass is “our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.”  By acknowledging the Mass as sacrifice, we remember that Jesus freely gave himself in love, that we might have true life in him.  The sacrifice of the Mass “participates” in the offering of Jesus at the Last Supper, in the offering of Jesus on the Cross, and in the continual offering of Jesus to his Father in heaven.  It also reminds us that we, too, are to live sacrificially.

We also speak of the Mass as the Holy Eucharist – that is, as thanksgiving.  We are reminded that Jesus “gave thanks” at the Last Supper.  The Mass is the supreme act of Christian thanksgiving, whereby we recall what God has done for us in Christ.  We come to Mass not only for what we receive, but because we have a need to offer our worship.

Other common names for the Mass include the Holy Mysteries – because the fullness of the gift surpasses our understanding; Holy Communion – because we corporately share in the reception of his Presence; and the Blessed Sacrament – because it is the greatest and holiest of spiritual joys.

When we take bread and wine (at the Offertory), give thanks (the Eucharistic Prayer or Prayer of Great Thanksgiving), break the bread (the Fraction), and then receive Christ’s Body and Blood (Communion), we are following Christ’s command.  It is a command of love, as we are fed by grace and united with him (remember our definition of a Sacrament: An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace).  It is as important that our souls be nourished with the Bread of Heaven and Cup of Salvation as it is for our earthly bodies to be nourished by food and drink.  Holy Communion should be received regularly and often; for some that will mean daily, for others weekly, for others once or twice a month.  Additionally, major days in the Church Year (such as Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, All Saints’ Day) as well as those in one’s own life should be celebrated by reception of Holy Communion.

Careful preparation by prayer and self-examination are required before receiving Communion (see 1 Corinthians 11:27-29).  Intending communicants (those wishing to receive Holy Communion) must be free from willful sin, in charity (godly love) with all, and in reverent fear of God, clean both in heart and soul, with full purpose to remain so.  When a communicant’s conscience is not clear, before approaching the Blessed Sacrament he or she should first seek counsel, penance (a way of demonstrating contrition to the Lord and making any reparations that may be necessary, and absolution (God’s forgiveness pronounced by a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession).  Fasting is another traditional method of preparation by which we empty ourselves physically so that we may receive Jesus spiritually (if one chooses to fast prior to receiving Holy Communion, the fast is normally undertaken one hour before reception of the Blessed Sacrament).

In the Holy Eucharist we most clearly find ourselves transformed into the holy people of God.  We are not to be “as gods,” a competing horde of rivals to the One Living God; rather, we are his creatures, fallen, yet redeemed in love; his own dear children, whom he willed to make, as Scripture reminds us, “partakers of the divine nature.”  We come to the Mass to adore him and we leave strengthened by the Word of God to do his will.

Beloved, more than anything else, my love for our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament of his Body and Blood is what persuaded me to become an Anglican.  I don’t mind telling you that I’m addicted to the Sacrament of Holy Communion – and that’s just as it should be.  It’s in that holy Sacrament that we most ably and beautifully worship our Lord.  It’s in the celebration of that holy Sacrament (which, by the way, can never be separated from the preaching of the Word) that we become most like Jesus!

May you grow in your love of and devotion to the Sacrament of Holy Communion!

Father Todd Boyce, MSJ
Vicar, Saints Mary and Martha Anglican Church
Mount Sterling, Kentucky

The Seven Sacraments of the Church - Part 1

The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

Beloved,

As promised, here is the first of a seven-part series concerning the Sacraments of the Church.  I’m drawing this information from the Anglican Service Book (a version of the Book of Common Prayer) with as little editing as possible.  I’m deeply thankful that my brothers and sisters in The Missionaries of Saint John have made me aware of this prayer book.  As Anglican prayer books go, it’s as Evangelical and as Catholic as it gets – thanks be to God!  So, without further ado, let us explore the first of the seven Sacraments of the Church: Holy Baptism!

Holy Baptism stands at the beginning of Christian life, not principally because it is frequently administered to young children, but because it is the beginning of all sacramental grace (that is, without first receiving the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, we cannot participate in any of the other six Sacraments of the Church).  This is clear from the fourfold nature of the “inward and spiritual grace” of the Sacrament (remember, the Sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace).

Baptism is, first of all, the washing away of sin.  When Holy Baptism is administered to those old enough to know right from wrong, their past sinful actions are forgiven – that is, their actual sins are washed away.  Even more, all those who are baptized are forgiven what has been traditionally known as original sin (each of us is born with – even before we are able to commit sinful actions – the stain of the original sin of Adam and Eve, also known as the fallen human nature).  This means that all of the fallenness of our human nature (both the fallenness of original sin and that of our past sinful actions, if any) which stands as an obstacle to a true relationship with God is done away.  God (in Holy Baptism) establishes a relationship with us by removing the guilt of our fallen condition (hallelujah!!!).

This new relationship is God’s adoption of Christians as his children.  Thus – and this is the second part of the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism – we are reborn!  The baptismal font is a kind of “womb” bringing forth the new life in Christ.  Just as we were born to a physical life from our earthly mothers, so from the baptismal font we are born to a spiritual life.  This is a life which partakes of the life of God and thus of immortality.  As spiritual birth, it is the beginning of the Christian life.  And that life has yet to be lived, and there is much growth which must follow the new birth in Christ.  But the new birth is real, and, like our physical birth, unrepeatable.

In being reborn by water and the Spirit, we are incorporated into Christ and especially into his death and resurrection.  Saint Paul has termed it “putting on Christ” and putting off “the old (sinful) man.”  Coming to the baptismal font, we first renounce the devil, the world, and the flesh, and then turn to Jesus and accept his lordship over our lives.  This incorporation into the death and resurrection of Christ (literally, becoming a part of Jesus) is graphically symbolized when the baptism is by immersion: Going down into the waters, under which human life cannot survive, and being raised up through death to a new life.

As a result of the putting on of Christ, we are made members of his Body, the Church.  For all of its profound effects on our individual souls, Holy Baptism is also profoundly corporate.  In uniting us with Christ, it also unites us with all other Christians who are similarly united with the Head of the Church (Jesus).  Symbolizing this entrance into the Church, the baptismal font is often placed near the door to remind us how it is that we have come here (this is why you may often see believers dipping the fingers of their right hand in the baptismal font and then making the sign of the cross – as a remembrance of their baptism, the fact that they belong to Jesus).

All of these four elements of the Sacramental grace of Holy Baptism emphasize God’s initiative in the Sacrament.  This properly expresses the comforting Gospel of grace: That God saves us quite apart from any merits or good deeds of our own.  In Holy Baptism, God takes us to himself, establishing – by his own sovereign mercy – a relationship which is intended to bear fruit both in this life and the next.

The celebration of Holy Baptism is especially appropriate at the Easter Vigil, on the day of Pentecost, on All Saints’ Day (or the Sunday after All Saints’ Day), and on the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord (the First Sunday after the Epiphany).  It is also appropriate to reserve Baptisms for the visitation of a Bishop.

May God bless your growing understanding of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism!!!

Father Todd Boyce, MSJ
Vicar, Saints Mary and Martha Anglican Church
Mount Sterling, Kentucky

The Seven Sacraments of the Church - An Introduction

Beloved,

I want to share with you something of the richness of our Anglican (Anglo-Catholic) faith.  Because our history goes directly back to the founding of the Church by Jesus (as opposed to most Christian denominations that trace their history back to the Reformation or some other point), we possess something called “The Deposit of Faith” – instructions left behind by Jesus in both textual and verbal form.  The textual form is that which we find in sacred Scripture.  The verbal form is that which we find in sacred Tradition.

Tradition does not refer to simple “traditions,” rather it refers to sacred truth handed down from Jesus to the Apostles to each generation of Christians.  You may be shocked to learn this, but it was Tradition that gave us sacred Scripture, not the other way around!  Sacred Scripture is part of the sacred Tradition in written form.  Sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition can never be separated one from the other – sacred Tradition is the guide by which we interpret sacred Scripture.  Without sacred Tradition all sorts of erroneous ideas arise (as we see in various Christian denominations today) about the Sacraments, sacred Scripture, morality, sexuality, et cetera.

One of the blessings handed down to us by both sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition are the Sacraments, and I would very much like to spend some time sharing with you the meaning and nature of the holy Sacraments.  The “Outline of the Faith” found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer – drawing on the ancient faith of the Anglican Church – tells us that Sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.

There are seven Sacraments (according to Catholic Tradition) that were either expressly ordained by our Lord Jesus Christ or implied in his life and earthly ministry.  They are: Holy Baptism, the Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion), Confirmation, Ordination (Holy Orders), Holy Matrimony, Reconciliation (Confession), and Holy Unction (Unction of the Sick).  Along with the preaching of the Word and the prayers/worship offered by God’s people, the Sacraments are the lifeblood of the Church.

While the preaching of the Word awakens our conscience to the love and demands of God and our prayers and worship are a first response to that awakening, something deeper is needed to “cement” our personal relationship with God.  That deeper thing is provided by the Sacraments.  As I have often shared, the preaching of the Word and our prayerful responses are not enough.  We need something more to “seal the deal,” to nourish and grow within us what has been awakened and called to mind.  That something is the Presence of Jesus, in and through his holy Sacraments.

When we receive the inward and spiritual grace that comes to us through the outward and visible sign of the Sacrament, we are receiving directly from Jesus.  Just as Jesus promised to remain with us until the end of the age (his return in glory), so he does.  This Presence with us is more than just some “spiritual” or feelings-based Presence.  It’s objective, discernable, real, and tangible.  If it were anything other, we would be left to question and wonder and even doubt.

Therefore, I invite you to watch – in the coming days – for a word about each of the seven Sacraments.  I hope it will be a blessing to you, as it has been to me for so many years.  This IS the faith of our fathers, and I heartily invite you to embrace it with your whole being!

God bless you!

Father Todd Boyce, MSJ
Vicar, Saints Mary and Martha Anglican Church
Mount Sterling, Kentucky