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180px-John_Calvin_-_Young WikipediaThis series has been examining liturgy and Holy Communion from the Church’s earliest days through to the Reformation.

So far, we have read about early Christian liturgy, that of the East, changes during the Dark Ages, Mass during the Middle Ages, Martin Luther’s liturgy and Zwingli’s rite in Zurich.

Source material is taken from W.D. Maxwell’s 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form, available to read in full online (H/T: Revd P. Aasman). Page references are given below.

Yesterday’s post looked at the German rite in Strasbourg which Martin Bucer revised further in the 1530s making it more Protestant and more austere.

By the time he invited John Calvin to Strasbourg in 1538, Bucer’s liturgy had changed considerably from that of the late 1520s.

Calvin and the Supper

It should be noted that, at the time he went to Strasbourg, Calvin was at odds with Geneva over the frequency of Communion.

Calvin had always advocated weekly Communion, but he had to acquiesce to the city council in this matter.

Even when he returned to Geneva in 1541, Calvin could not change local government’s mind. Their Zwinglian policy of quarterly Communion was practically set in stone.

Calvin came up with a plan whereby Communion Sundays could be staggered in Geneva’s churches, which would have allowed communicants to receive the Sacrament more often. However, the council turned down the suggestion (p. 117).

Calvin was diligent about advocating frequent Communion, not only in his Institutes but also in personal correspondence. In 1555, he wrote to the magistrates of Bern whose policy was for the Sacrament to be given only three times a year, versus Geneva’s four (p. 118):

Please, God, gentlemen, that both you and we may be able to establish a more frequent usage. For it is evident from St Luke in the Book of Acts that communion was much more frequently celebrated in the primitive Church; and that continued for a long time in the ancient Church, until this abomination of the mass was set up by Satan, who so caused it that people received communion only once or twice a year. Wherefore, we must acknowledge that it is a defect in us that we do not follow the example of the Apostles.

In 1561, he expressed his dissatisfaction with Geneva’s Communion policy:

I have taken care to record publicly that our custom is defective, so that those who come after me may be able to correct it the more freely and easily.

Calvin’s time in Strasbourg

Bucer invited Calvin to minister to the French Protestants — Huguenots — seeking refuge in Strasbourg, which was German-speaking.

Calvin lived in the city from 1538 to 1541, at which time he returned to Geneva.

He approved of Bucer’s liturgy, which a friend had translated into French (p. 113). Calvin adopted most of it for the Huguenots.

His French Communion liturgy for Strasbourg (pp 114, 115):

– Introduced a Scripture verse at the beginning of the service: Psalm 124:8;

– Replaced the standard Kyrie and Gloria with sung Kyrie responsorials to a metrical version of the Ten Commandments;

– Retained the Gospel reading (Bucer’s only Bible reading);

– Added a paraphrased Lord’s Prayer whilst retaining the standard Lord’s Prayer (before and after the Consecration Prayer);

– Moved the sung Apostles’ Creed just before the Consecration Prayer;

– Added the Nunc Dimittis just before the final blessing;

– Retained the Aaronic Blessing at the dismissal.

The Peace had disappeared from Bucer’s liturgy. Calvin did not reinstate it either in Strasbourg or, later, in Geneva.

The Geneva liturgy

Upon his return to Geneva, the city council asked Calvin to simplify his liturgy further (p. 115).

In 1542, he made the following changes (pp. 114, 115):

– Removal of the Absolution after the Confession of Sins;

– Replacement of the Ten Commandments with a metrical Psalm;

– Omission of the Nunc Dimittis.

Communicants approached the Holy Table where they stood or knelt to receive the Supper (p. 119).

Calvin’s Genevan rite spread to other Reformed churches on the Continent. Even with minor local variations, the rite was recognisably his.

Tomorrow: Early Reformed rites in Scotland

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