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This post on the Anglican Book of Common Prayer concludes a study of Church liturgy and Communion polity from the first century through the Reformation.

Past posts — all of which are available on my Christianity/Apologetics page under Church history and miscellany — are as follows:

Church history: early form of liturgy still followed

Church history: Eastern liturgy in the 4th and 5th centuries

Church history: Western liturgy between the 5th and 9th centuries

Church history: how mediaeval Mass led to the Reformation

Church history: early Lutheran liturgy

Church history: Zwingli’s rite in Zurich

Church history: the German rites in Strasbourg (Martin Bucer)

Church history: Calvin’s French rites

Church history: early Reformed rites in Scotland

Unless otherwise indicated, 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.

Background to Anglican liturgy and practice

The Church of England is a via media — middle way — between Lutheranism and Calvinism (p. 144).

Doctrinally, it is similar to Calvinism. Liturgically, it is closer to Lutheranism.

However, it is less prescriptive and proscriptive than Calvinism. It also has liturgical distinctions all its own.

During Henry VIII’s reign, although the English Church broke with Rome, Mass remained a constant. However, small changes occurred with regard to church services. In 1536, the Mass in Latin was explained to the people so that they understood what was happening in the liturgy. In 1542, the Convocation of Canterbury decreed that all churches in England should have a morning and evening reading — one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament — in English every Sunday and holy day. This included the main Sunday Mass. The litany was first said in English in 1544 (p. 145).

An English liturgy took shape during Edward VI’s reign. The First Book of Homilies, which contained 12 sermons in English, was issued in 1547.

In March 1548, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer issued an English Order of Communion to be incorporated into the Mass (p. 145). These new parts of the liturgy included an exhortation to prayer, fencing the Table, invitation, public confession of sins with absolution, comfortable words (verses from the New Testament) and a prayer of humble access (expressing unworthiness to approach the Lord’s Table).

Cranmer incorporated these rubrics into the first Book of Common Prayer (BCP) which appeared in 1549 (see illustration above, courtesy of Charles Wohlers’s site). He, along with a group of clergymen, including Nicholas Ridley (p. 146) and Martin Bucer, wrote and compiled the prayers.

Maxwell describes the BCP as follows (p. 146):

It preserved a rich treasure of liturgical material, the whole rendered in an English style singularly felicitous, dignified and chaste. The character of the collects was retained, the English style equalling the Latin, while the style of the Canon far surpassed that of the old rite.

Just as important (emphases mine):

The achievement was unique in that the Book of Common Prayer, in contrast with the other vernacular rites of the sixteenth century, survives in use to this day.

The current Church of England service book is Common Worship, issued about 15 years ago, replacing the 1984 Alternative Service Book. Since the mid-1980s, our clergy have been trying to eliminate BCP services. However, vicars who occasionally use the BCP find their churches fuller than when they use the modern liturgy.

Communion policy

Doctrinally, the Church of England forbids either extreme belief about the nature of Communion. Specifically, church members are not allowed to believe in Catholic transubstantiation nor in Zwinglian symbolism (p. 144). We believe in an undefined Real Presence.

Those receiving Communion were to kneel once they approached the Table. However, some early Protestants were concerned how communicants and those in the pews would consider this posture.

Therefore, John Knox’s Black Rubric appeared in the 1552 BCP. It disappeared from the 1559 edition and was reinstated as an advisory notation in the 1662 edition, still used today. It reads as follows:

WHEREAS it is ordained in this Office for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper, that the Communicants should receive the same kneeling; (which order is well meant, for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgment of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder in the holy Communion, as might otherwise ensue;) yet, lest the same kneeling should by any persons, either out of ignorance and infirmity, or out of malice and obstinacy, be misconstrued and depraved: It is hereby declared, That thereby no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ’s natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places than one.

A Communion liturgy was stipulated as being the norm. In the early days of the Reformation, churches mandated that at least some of their congregation receive the Sacrament on every Sunday and holy day (p. 146). In addition to the celebrant, a minimum of three or four persons was required (p. 149). Acknowledging that this might be more difficult at Wednesday and Friday services, the Church directives specified that clergy could truncate the service accordingly, omitting the parts of the Liturgy of the Upper Room which concerned the elements, consecration and Communion.

The reason for mandating that certain members of the congregation receive Communion at each service originated from the requirement to receive the Sacrament at least once a year (p. 150). This was stated in the 1549 BCP. In the next edition, which appeared in 1552, the directive for minimum reception stated that congregations must receive Communion three times a year, one of these occasions being Easter.

The 1662 BCP allowed Morning Prayer to become a standard Sunday and holy day liturgy. In practice, it became the standard as most parishes began to hold a Communion service only three or four times a year (p. 151).

Until the late 20th century, Morning Prayer continued to be the norm on Sundays which did not involve a major Church feast. Today, however, nearly every Church of England service is one of Holy Communion. It is very unusual to find Morning Prayer on a Sunday.

Liturgical highlights

It is difficult to reproduce everything from the 1549 ‘Supper of the Lorde and the holy Communion, commonly called the Masse’ (pp. 147, 148). So much changed in the liturgy between then and 1662. Certain parts were omitted, reinstated and rearranged during that time. My notes follow in italics.

Liturgy of the Word:

– Introit, consisting of a Psalm appointed for the day (replaced by a hymn);

– Lord’s Prayer, said by the celebrant;

– Collect for Purity, said by the celebrant;

– Repetition of the Introit (replaced by either a full responsorial recitation of the Ten Commandments or a truncated summary thereof);

Kyrie, ninefold (omitted by 1662);

Gloria (repositioned between the post-Communion prayer and the final blessing);

– Salutation and collect of the day;

– Collect for the King (or Queen);

– Epistle;

– Gospel;

– Nicene Creed;

– Sermon.

Liturgy of the Upper Room:

– Exhortation to receive Communion worthily and with a clear conscience (nowadays no longer read);

– A selection of Scripture verses;

– Offertory and collection of alms;

– Procession of communicants to the sanctuary, men on one side and women on the other (discontinued — people queue and walk to the altar rail when the celebrant is ready to distribute Communion);

– Celebrant prepares the elements;

– Intercessions for the living and dead;

– Comfortable words (New Testament verses);

– Salutation and Sursum corda;

– Prayer of Consecration;

– Lord’s Prayer (moved to post-Communion);

– The Peace (omitted);

Christ our Pascall Lambe (a version of the Agnus Dei, omitted);

– Invitation to Communion (part of Cranmer’s ‘Order of Communion’, omitted);

– General Confession and Absolution (repositioned to take place after the Intercessions);

– Prayer of Humble Access (repositioned to be recited before the Prayer of Consecration);

– Holy Communion, with clergy and assistants receiving the Sacrament before the congregation, and ‘clerks’ or choir sing the Agnus Dei (Agnus Dei omitted) ;

– Post-Communion Scripture sentences (omitted);

– Salutation and post-Communion thanksgiving (the Gloria follows);

– Peace and blessing (a possible reference to ‘The peace of God which passeth all understanding …’).

21st century developments

The new liturgical book, Common Worship, has a traditional service which has reinstated the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei. The Gloria has been moved to follow the Kyrie. The Prayer of Humble Access is said immediately before Communion.

Sadly, the Peace was restored in the 1980s, which is a shame in the 21st century;  some churchgoers are, quite frankly, unattentive to hygiene. A Methodist told me that his church’s policy is to allow for a discreet tucking of hands into one’s sleeves to indicate non-participation. Only one person did that in his church, but the congregation respected it.

The new traditional service is a great improvement on the one in the 1984 Alternative Service Book.

However, no liturgy anywhere will ever top that of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It is a pity so many of today’s Anglican clergy refuse to use it more frequently. Such a refusal can only be considered some of Satan’s finest work.

End of series

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