For this Season of Easter, the opening sentence of any Eucharistic service has been, “Alleluia. Christ is Risen.” Following Pentecost, we’ll go back to, “Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” However, what follows, no matter the season of the church year, is always the same: “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.” It is known as the Collect for Purity.
It is a prayer that started off as one of the many private prayers for clergy that was to be said before the Mass, yet it was deemed too meaningful to be locked away in the sacristy and was eventually introduced into the public prayers of corporate worship.
What does that have to do with today? We are celebrating Blessed Alcuin of Tours, born in the year 730, and it was he who preserved and incorporated that prayer into our worship. Just because we worship with the 1979 Book of Common Prayers does not mean that it is all of modern invention. Over the centuries, many like Alcuin have contributed to that wonderful little red book that automatically falls open to page 355.
Alcuin was one of the great scholars, in fact, at the time he was considered “The most learned man anywhere to be found.” Fr. John Julian says that “Alcuin’s work was seldom highly original, but his own commitment was rather to the protection, compilation, and promulgation of the words of others.” Through these efforts he “was chiefly responsible for the preservation of the classical heritage of western civilization.” And if that weren’t enough, he is also responsible for giving the world the punctus interrogativus. Is that true? Did he really? What could that possibly be? Why, the question mark.
It is this preservation of the ancient writings and presenting them to the church that makes our Gospel reading so relevant for Alcuin. Jesus said, “… every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” There is a theological interpretation to this passage, as well as a practical, and it is the practical we understand to apply to Alcuin. The “scribe,” according to Sirach, is one who “will seek out the wisdom of all the ancients.” Think of it in terms of the George Santayana quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Alcuin was one who not only sought out the wisdom of the ancients, but as Jesus taught, believed that the teachings of our fathers were worth preserving, not only for their historical value, but for our collective benefit.
He died in the year 804 and a portion of his epitaph reads, “Dust, worms, and ashes now… Alcuin my name, wisdom I always loved, Pray, reader, for my soul.”
When we think on the lives of the Saints, we often think of those like the apostles, martyrs, or evangelist. So, in the midst of them all, did you ever think you would come across a librarian? Don’t get me wrong! In the acknowledgements of my doctoral thesis, I named my local librarians! I think the world of the roles they fill, but a Saint? Absolutely.
Paul writes, “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” We can hear that and think it means that some are better than others, but that is a worldly perspective. Instead, we see it as God giving us each specific graces – gifts – that when exercised with zeal, benefit the whole. Again, Paul says, “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers” and so on. But Paul’s list is not exhaustive, it also implies that God has also appointed doctors, businesspeople, housekeepers, homemakers, and – Yes! – librarians.
Alcuin’s life says to us, “It’s not about the specific gift that God has graced you with. It’s about how you employ that gift.”
God has graced you with many gifts. Don’t squander them or leave them unutilized. Like Alcuin of Tours, practice them to your greatest ability in the work of God’s Kingdom.