Votive Mass for the Ministry I
1 Corinthians 3:5-11
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Tuesday, January 7, 2020
Almighty God, the giver of all good gifts, who of thy divine providence hast appointed various orders in thy Church: Give thy grace, we humbly beseech thee, to all who are called to any office and ministry for thy people; and so fill them with the truth of thy doctrine and clothe them with holiness of life, that they may faithfully serve before thee, to the glory of thy great Name and for the benefit of thy holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Today, we are celebrating what the Prayer Book calls a Votive “for the Ministry.” Specifically, today’s Mass is being offered in prayer for those who are discerning a call to be ordained. We wear violet vestments for this service because historically, the service was only conducted on Ember Days which are three days within the same week four times during the year that are set aside for fasting and prayer. We can see the connection between fasting, prayer, and then ordination through the example the Apostles in the book of Acts, “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off." For many centuries, ordinations were restricted to Ember Saturdays, and I think this reminds us that it is only through prayer and self-denial that we can even begin to hear God’s voice in our lives.
So too are we reminded today that those who are called to ordained ministry, in the words of St. Paul, are “God’s servants.” Some of us are called to plant, and some to water, but “neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” As we pray and practice the spiritual disciplines of self-denial like fasting, we become more and more aware that it is God who does this work in us and through us.
One of my favorite saints in the church is St. Gregory the Great who was Bishop of Rome in the 5th century. He is famous for laying the early foundations of Gregorian chant, and for sending St. Augustine of Canterbury to evangelize England. Gregory was the first pope to use the title “Servant of the Servants of God,” a title still used by the Pope today. I love the fact that we call he who is arguably the most important bishop in the world “Servant of the Servants of God” as it tangibly reminds us of the words of our Savior in Matthew 23: “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” However, Gregory didn’t necessarily create this title for himself out of the purest of intentions. The Byzantine Emperor had just granted the title “Ecumenical Patriarch” to the Archbishop of Constantinople, implying universal supremacy over all the other bishops including the pope. This led to a series of letters between Gregory and various Eastern authorities in which he indicated that the Archbishop’s assumption of this title was “a clear indication that the age of the Antichrist was at hand.” It was then that Gregory began using the title “servant of the servants of God,” in contrast to Patriarch John IV’s narcissistic actions. Just as we occasionally have the pleasure of experiencing nasty church politics and clerical narcissism in our own age, Gregory was certainly not immune to the effects of power and prestige.
So I ask today that you join with me in praying for those who feel called to be ordained as a bishop, priest, or deacon – especially our own. Pray that they may set aside their own will, and seek God’s grace above all else. Pray that they may know that the call to serve God and the Church in this way is a call to be a servant. And pray that when they – and when those of us who are already ordained – fall under the influence of the power and prestige that comes with the collar, we may remember that even the most important among us is truly “the Servant of the Servants of God.”
Preached on the third anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.
 BCP p. 929, #15. This the typical Ember Day Mass from the Prayer Book.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!