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I mentioned Dearmer was an avowed Socialist. He seems to have been a bit to the left theologically, too.
In Chapter 3 of his book, he introduces the title page. This alone is worth about three posts, so I shall focus on Dearmer’s dislike of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, painstakingly written and agreed upon in 1563 by a convocation of Anglican bishops.
(Image credit: Wikipedia)
Archbishop Cranmer (1489 – 1556) wrote most of the Articles, the number of which varied depending on the monarch. Under Henry VIII, there were ten, then six. Under his successors, they increased to 42, then decreased to 39 in 1563, under Elizabeth I. She subsequently removed Article XXIX, which denounced transubstantiation. She did not want to offend her Catholic subjects.
In 1571, Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth I. Article XXIX was reinstated.
The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion are the official positions of the Church of England. Dearmer might have objected to them because they state particular things that could offend Catholics (the nature of Holy Communion) and Anabaptists (no mandate for commonly-held property).
You can read the full list here, along with the introduction. Today’s Anglican clergy downplay them a lot and actually discourage people from even reading them. Yet, they are still obliged to affirm at ordination that they accept the Articles.
However, as the Church Society notes:
the wording of the declaration is now such that many feel able to say it without meaning what a simple reading might suggest.
The Thirty-nine Articles have their basis in Holy Scripture. I have no problem in affirming them, although I will never be asked to do so. Wikipedia states:
the Articles are not officially normative in all Anglican Churches …
Now on to Dearmer, who points out that the Thirty-nine Articles are not on the title page of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, although they are included in it:
It makes no mention of the Thirty-nine Articles; for they form no part of the Prayer Book. They are bound up with it …
Their inclusion bothered him, because they are not binding on Anglican churchgoers:
it is a mistake of the printing authorities to compel us to buy the Articles whenever we buy the Prayer Book; and it gives Church folk the impression that the Articles are binding on them, which is not the case — for a layman is perfectly free to disagree with the Articles, if he chooses.
However, I found them helpful when I was converting. I wanted to know what this denomination believed and why before I made a commitment. It took me some time and reading to understand what a few of the Articles meant and why they were included.
Dearmer was of the impression that they were a living document and should have been updated to reflect the times:
Nothing has been done to improve them. The needs of modern thought have indeed been partly met by altering the terms in which the clergy (and they alone) have to give their assent; but this does not help the average Briton, who, moreover, is without the assistance of the learned commentaries which alone can prevent serious misunderstandings ; while in other countries, both East and West, the presence of the Thirty-nine Articles in the Prayer Book continues to do grave harm, by giving to other Churches a false idea of the Anglican theology.
Whilst I agree that the average Briton does need learned commentaries, I just did my own research. Anyone interested in doing so can. Clergy in Dearmer’s day could also have held classes on the Thirty-nine Articles so that the congregation could better understand them.
Where I disagree with Dearmer is that the Articles could be somehow improved. He could not have been more wrong! An Anglican who follows the Thirty-nine Articles will end up much further along the road to sanctification in thought, word and deed.
I much prefer what the Church Society says about them in fewer words (emphases in the original):
Officially the Church of England accepts the full and final authority of Holy Scripture as the basis for all that it believes. Some of these beliefs were summarised in the historic creeds, and at the time of the Reformation the Church adopted the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as giving a concise and systematic statement of the teaching of Scripture.
It’s a pity that more Anglicans do not understand the Articles or believe, as clergy are wont to say, that they are ‘historical artifacts’.
For decades, Anglicans have believed anything they want. Some of them are more Quaker, Baptist or Methodist than Anglican.
Dearmer did have excellent insights on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer, more about which next week.
Percy Dearmer was an Anglican priest who lived between 1867 and 1936. He was a High Church Anglican, although one who championed the English Use rite used before the Reformation over Roman Catholic rubrics.
Dearmer was an avowed Socialist (unfortunately). That said, he served in various London parish churches and wrote several books about the Book of Common Prayer, liturgy as well as a history of King Alfred and a travel book about Normandy. In later years, he was a canon at Westminster Abbey, where his ashes are interred.
Dearmer was also a lecturer in ecclesiastical art at King’s College, London from 1919 until his death at the age of 69.
He was also interested in composing and compiling hymns. He and Ralph Vaughan Williams published The English Hymnal in 1906. Two more hymnals followed: Songs of Praise in 1926 and the Oxford Book of Carols in 1928.
Incidentally, when Songs of Praise was expanded in 1931, Dearmer wanted a hymn of daily thanksgiving, which is how Morning Has Broken (made famous 40 years later by Cat Stevens) first became known:
In Songs of Praise Discussed, the editor, Percy Dearmer, explains that as there was need for a hymn to give thanks for each day, English poet and children’s author Eleanor Farjeon had been “asked to make a poem to fit the lovely Scottish tune”. A slight variation on the original hymn, also written by Eleanor Farjeon, can be found in the form of a poem contributed to the anthology Children’s Bells, under Farjeon’s new title, “A Morning Song (For the First Day of Spring)”, published by Oxford University Press in 1957. The song is noted in 9/4 time but with a 3/4 feel.
“Bunessan” had been found in L. McBean’s Songs and Hymns of the Gael, published in 1900. Before Farjeon’s words, the tune was used as a Christmas carol, which began “Child in the manger, Infant of Mary”, translated from the Scottish Gaelic lyrics written by Mary MacDonald. The English-language Roman Catholic hymnal also uses the tune for the James Quinn hymns “Christ Be Beside Me” and “This Day God Gives Me”, both of which were adapted from the traditional Irish hymn St. Patrick’s Breastplate. Another Christian hymn “Baptized In Water” borrows the tune.
Dearmer, his wife Mabel and their two sons all served in the Great War. Dearmer and his wife were stationed in Serbia where he was a chaplain to a British Red Cross Ambulance unit. Mabel served as a nurse with that unit and died of enteric fever in 1915. Their younger son Christopher died in battle that year. However, their elder son, Geoffrey, survived and died at the age of 103, and, at that age, was one of the oldest surviving war poets.
Dearmer remarried in 1916. He and his wife Nancy had three children: two daughters and a son. Sadly, their son died in active service with the RAF in 1943.
The reason Dearmer’s book Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book caught my eye is that the second chapter is called ‘The Question of Set Forms of Prayer’.
One of my personal bugbears is going to a traditional liturgical service and hear a priest substitute his own improvised prayers for the special intentions which precede the prayer of consecration. If he (or she) simply prayed them out of the Prayer Book, he would find that all his prayer needs were satisfied outside of names of national leaders or the sick and dying.
Their waffling — ‘uhh, mmm’ — and their poor prose has me praying for patience and calm just as we are about to reach the apex of the service with Holy Communion.
This is what Dearmer had to say about that and also dispensing with set prayers altogether. Remember, he wrote this in 1912, so this is somewhat surprising (emphases mine):
It is worth while, therefore, asking ourselves at the outset, Is liturgical worship a good thing, or ought the minister to make up his own prayers?
Now, there is very much to be said for extemporaneous worship in church; it is often a most useful instrument in mission work, it is an indispensable way of bringing the idea of worship to the ignorant, it secures the necessary element of freedom; furthermore, it may bring spontaneity and vitality into a service, and be a good corrective to formalism …
Nor is there anything alien to Church ways or wrong in principle about extempore services. Indeed in the earliest days of the Church the celebrant at the Eucharist used to pray thus. The service went on certain general lines, but the “president” filled it in according to his own ideas, and offered up “prayers and thanksgivings with all his strength,” the people saying “Amen” (as is told on p. 185). it was only by degrees that the prayers thus offered became fixed. Those, therefore, who argue that everything which was not done in the first two or three centuries must therefore be wrong, should logically include liturgical worship among the things they condemn. But perhaps sensible people in the 20th century no longer argue thus.
Well, often, that was because the celebrant could not read very well. Also, parchment was highly expensive and there were no printing presses until much later, in 1439.
Dearmer then mentions John Milton, an irregular churchgoer. Milton was all for extemporaneous prayer. Dearmer points out:
Milton’s mistake, was, in fact, a very simple one. He thought that every minister, would be a Milton. He did not realize what a deadly thing average custom can be, what a deadly bore an average man can make of himself when compelled to do continually a thing for which he has no natural gift. He did not foresee the insidious danger of unreality and cant. We should all, of course, flock to hear Milton praying extempore, if he were to come to life again ; but there are many mute, inglorious ministers whom we would rather not hear.
To put the prayers as well as the sermon in the hands of the officiating minister is indeed a form of sacerdotalism which the Church most wisely rejected many centuries ago. We know what a joy and help it would be to hear an inspired saint, with a genius for rapid prose composition, make up prayers as he went along; and opportunities for extemporization do exist outside the appointed services. But the Church has to provide for the average man, and has to guard against that form of clerical absolutism which would put a congregation at the mercy of the idiosyncrasies and shortcomings of one person. For extempore services, which should be a safeguard for freedom, can easily degenerate into a tyranny.
Before defending a set liturgy, Dearmer points out the importance of a sensory church service, one which will escape people who worship in plainly:
… history and a wide knowledge of Christendom show us that good ceremonies are a great preservative against Pharisaism. The reason for this is that action, music, colour, form, sight, scent, and sound appeal more freely to the individual worshipper, and more subtly, relieving the pressure of a rigid phraseology, and allowing the spirit many ways of rising up to God, unhampered by the accent of the workaday voice of man. It is only thus that the wonderful intensity of devotion among the Russian people, for instance, can be accounted for: we have no popular religious affection in the West which can compare with the evangelical spirit of this hundred million of Christians, who yet have used nothing but their very ancient forms of prayer during the thousand years since their race was first converted.
Precisely. This is what old school churchgoers refer to as the mysterium tremendum, which is very rare in our time.
Although he allows for some extemporaneous prayer, Dearmer concludes:
we may be confident that liturgical worship is the best of all. There is some loss in the use of printed words; but there is a greater gain. We have in them the accumulated wisdom and beauty of the Christian Church, the garnered excellence of the saints. We are by them released from the accidents of time and place. Above all we are preserved against the worst dangers of selfishness: in the common prayer we join together in a great fellowship that is as wide as the world; and we are guided, not by the limited notions of our own priest, nor by the narrow impulses of our own desires, but by the mighty voice that rises from the general heart of Christendom.
Our Lord had the ancient forms of the Church in which he lived often on his lips, and in the moment of his supreme agony it was a liturgical sentence, a fragment of the familiar service, that was wrung from him— “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” We have a richer heritage, for it is a heritage dowered by his Spirit; and from our treasure-house come things new and old …
… there is a place and a real use for extemporary prayer, and a still greater use for the silent prayer which is above words altogether. These very things will keep fresh and sweet for us those old set forms, in which we can join so well because we know beforehand what they are about, and in which for the same reason all the people can come together in the fellowship of common prayer.
My advice — and my hope — for clergy improvising their own prayers is to sit down and write out the text in full, revising and perfecting it for however long it takes.
I was a member for several years of a large Episcopal church which had perfect prayers. The curates wrote them themselves or read them from books by other ministers. They were beautiful prayers, worthy of God. The congregation also listened and silently prayed intently. You could hear a pin drop.
Here in the UK, things are different. I blame it on the seminaries. However, if they feel it so necessary to express themselves, Anglican priests should take up the challenge to have an outstanding set of prayers of their own that fit with the language being used in the liturgy.
Jesus is our friend, but let us not forget the many Bible verses about our rightful awe we owe to Almighty God. This is the second part of Ecclesiastes 12:13 (ESV):
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
Past posts — all of which are available on my Christianity/Apologetics page under Church history and miscellany — are as follows:
Church history: the German rites in Strasbourg (Martin Bucer)
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.
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.
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);
– Nicene Creed;
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
The Collect addresses our regenerate nature in Christ Jesus, without Whom we would still be under divine law alone:
ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure Virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
The first reading is taken from the fourth chapter of St Paul’s letter to the Galatians beginning at the first verse:
NOW I say, that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
In his sermon on these verses, John MacArthur (not an Anglican, by the way) says that when He was among us, Jesus grew up much like any other child, being educated practically and religiously. He was brought up to obey, as a servant would have been. Then, God the Father appointed a perfect time for Him to be with us and conduct His earthly ministry whereby Jesus assumed His sonship as referred to in Genesis:
The bondage was long and hard. When God said way back in Genesis 3:15 that there was one coming who would bruise the serpent’s head, it was a long time before He came. A long time, but when the fullness of time came, when it was the right time, when it was the perfect time, when it was God’s time …
MacArthur lists the historical reasons in the ancient world as to why this was a perfect time but is careful to emphasise that God’s holy plan does not derive from manmade events:
… the Babylonian captivity had purged Israel from idolatry and at least they were focusing on the true God and looking for the Messiah, and so Israel, the people to whom the Messiah first must come, were not engulfed in idolatry but were looking at the true God even if through their own skewed vision and were looking for the Messiah. The canon of the Old Testament had been well-established; the prophecies were laid down; the synagogues had been established so there would be places to go to preach the Gospel to people who at least ostensibly were seeking to know the true God in Israel. Furthermore, and thinking beyond that, Alexander the Great had spread the Greek language over the whole known world, certainly the Biblical world, so that everybody spoke Greek, so that the Scriptures could be in the New Testament, written in a language that would be understood by everyone. And also the Romans with their powerful Pax Romana had brought peace out of diverse cultures and built roads everywhere so that easy access both from the standpoint of travel and from the standpoint of authority would be available for missionaries spreading this Gospel. Maybe from that perspective that’s significant, but more significant than that is that in God’s mind and from God’s viewpoint, the time was right for whatever reasons God has in His eternal understanding.
Note that Paul describes our Lord’s birth on earth as being of a woman and being under the law. MacArthur explains:
Mary had that child conceived by the Holy Spirit when she was a virgin and remained a virgin, the Scripture says, until the child was born … God sent forth from the presence of God man made out of the loins of a woman. In order to save us He had to be God, for only God can overpower sin and death and hell. In order to save us he had to be man because only man can substitute for man and die man’s death. He had to be God and man, God to give His sacrifice infinite value, to bear our sins in his own body. Then it says He was not only born of a woman but born under the law. That’s a marvelous statement. Like any other man, He was responsible to the law of God. He was born under it, born with a responsibility to obey it. Like every man, He had the responsibility to obey God’s law; like no man, He obeyed it perfectly. He obeyed it perfectly. He kept it perfectly. He knew no sin. He was without sin says Scripture.
Paul goes on to say that our Lord’s sonship enabled Him to bring us into the same sonship with God the Father. He freed us from the law’s bondage and offers us eternal redemption. MacArthur tells us:
This is talking about status. This is the status of a son. No longer in bondage to the law, no longer in bondage to the flesh, no longer gritting your teeth trying to perform, now all of a sudden what happens is instead of being under the bondage of works and law and trying to salve your conscience and please God with your human fleshly effort, you are a son. And by decree and declaration of the father-provision through Jesus Christ, you enter into the freedom of being a son and you receive your inheritance. Many as receive Him, it says, God gave the right to be called the sons of God, even to those who believe on His name. So there is the realization of son-ship.
The law could only crush us, kill us, make us guilty, show us our sin. We couldn’t keep it; we couldn’t perform; we couldn’t salve our conscience; we couldn’t earn our salvation. We were always slaves even though we were destined to be sons. Until Jesus came and purchased our salvation which then being applied to us lifts us out of the childhood of slavery into the maturity of son-ship.
Paul tells the Galatians that, because of our Redeemer, we, too, can consider God our loving Father. The name Abba is a familiar one; whilst designating ‘father’ it is a more intimate one, akin to ‘Dad’ or ‘Papa’. It is a name, MacArthur says, which:
pulls me back into intimacy with God and I experience that son-ship. My own heart cries, God, you’re my father. God, I feel intimate with you in person. That’s the word Abba. The spirit witnesses to us that we are the sons of God, Paul said in Romans 8.
We, then, as Paul’s letter states, are truly sons of God thanks to Jesus Christ.
The Gospel reading is taken from the first chapter of Matthew beginning at the 18th verse (emphases mine):
NOW the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
It summarises the Nativity story, including Joseph’s inner conflict about Mary’s situation, resolved once the angel appeared to him in a dream.
The verses I have emphasised are the fulfilment of Scripture, hence the reasons for the O Antiphons from the Old Testament, upon which many meditate in the week preceding Christmas Day.
In a December 2014 entry on his Grace To You site, ‘Born to Die’, MacArthur tells us:
The important issue of Christmas is not so much that Jesus came, but why He came. There was no salvation in His birth. Nor did the sinless way He lived His life have any redemptive force of its own. His example, as flawless as it was, could not rescue men from their sins. Even His teaching, the greatest truth ever revealed to man, could not save us from our sins. There was a price to be paid for our sins. Someone had to die. Only Jesus could do it.
He goes on to say:
Don’t think I’m trying to put a damper on your Christmas spirit. Far from it—for Jesus’ death, though devised and carried out by men with evil intentions, was in no sense a tragedy. In fact, it represents the greatest victory over evil anyone has ever accomplished.
It’s appropriate to commemorate the birth of Christ. But don’t make the mistake of leaving Him as a baby in a manger. Keep in mind that His birth was just the first step in God’s glorious plan of redemption. Remember that it’s the triumph of Christ’s sacrificial death that gives meaning to His humble birth. You can’t truly celebrate one without the other.
We often forget this when Easter comes. We tend to sideline Easter, the greatest of the Church’s feasts, when we should be truly thankful for our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead and power over sin so that He can save us and bring us into everlasting communion with our heavenly Father.
Perhaps we tend not to think of Easter as warmly as we do Christmas because there is no adorable Child to think of — and no presents for us to open.
Christmas is, rightly, a huge celebration, but, as MacArthur says, it was but the first step in God’s divine plan accomplished through His only Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The ancient ceremony of the Churching of Women is no longer used in the Anglican Communion.
In recent years, the Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child has replaced it. These prayers are said during a Sunday service, which involves the whole family.
In the 20th century, both feminists and clergy objected to the Churching of Women which they believed denigrated women, suggesting the necessity for personal purification and supplication.
However, a two-part essay from 1995 by Natalie Knödel from Durham University questions whether postmodernists really grasped the ceremony’s significance. Whilst she acknowledges that it could be construed as being devised by men as a statement about women’s sin dating from Eve, her research has uncovered that, centuries ago, women considered it as their day to celebrate with each other.
Those who are interested in Church history and traditions or in women’s relationship with the Church will find Knödel’s essay ‘The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth, commonly called the Churching of Women’ of interest: parts 1 and 2.
As I mentioned at the end of last week in my Candlemas post, Mary went to the Temple 40 days after giving birth to Jesus. This was after her ritual purification as mandated in Leviticus and Exodus. After her ritual bath — mikvah — on the appropriate day, she could once again be accepted into the Temple for public worship. However, the infant Jesus also had to be presented at the Temple on the same day. Joseph accompanied both; he might have been asked to read from the Torah. Whilst Catholics put the emphasis of February 2 on Mary, Protestants who commemorate the feast day place more importance on Jesus’s Presentation.
From the example of the Holy Family, it would appear that today’s brief ceremony of the Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child is truer to St Luke’s Gospel (Luke 2) than the Churching of Women which came about centuries later.
Knödel tells us that sequestering a woman who had given birth and welcoming her back into society was and, in some cases, a part of cultures around the world. Childbirth, then and now, is still fraught with risk for millions of women and newborns. It is something which men fear; only recently have they been encouraged to be present in Western delivery rooms. (Watching a film of an actual childbirth as I did at university is a harrowing experience. You’ll either really want children or be put off for life — no pun intended. It is bloody and gory for some and ‘absolutely beautiful’ for others.) Therefore, some societies designate a specific day on which they reintegrate the mother into daily life. This means they can work in the fields or tend house once again.
With regard to Europe and Christianity of the Middle Ages, Knödel points out that the Church had laws in place to protect pregnant women. Expectant mothers were relieved of the obligation to fast and anyone who beat them was subject to ecclesiastical punishment.
In the early Church up to the Middle Ages, prayers during a service involving a newborn focussed on the churching of the child rather than the mother. Often this was part of the christening ceremony. However, privately at home, various prayers and rituals revolved around the mother’s safe delivery. Some of these prayer sessions involved intercessions to St Anne, Mary’s mother. Other women prayed that St Margaret of Antioch — patron saint of childbirth — intercede. It was not uncommon for women in these home prayer groups to place small written blessings on the womb of the mother.
Meanwhile, during this era of home ceremonies, clergy were debating the day when new mothers should reappear in church. Augustine of Canterbury asked Pope Gregory the Great for his advice on the matter. The Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England records that Pope Gregory — in a minority of clergy — believed that sternly forbidding the woman to return to church before a certain time would intimate that she was personally guilty of Eve’s sin, thereby turning this sequestration period into a punishment. A more usual tack taken by clergy and emperors was to forbid their presence for 40 days and grant a home visit for Communion only if the women were very ill or dying. Others allowed the women to appear in church but seated with unbaptised enquirers — catechumens — meaning that they could not receive Communion.
Around the 11th century, receiving mothers back into the church was codified as a separate ceremony. Clergy developed various rules, including a special pew — ‘churching seat’ — where the women sat or placement at the entrance of the church (in the back, separate from husband and family) and a certain type of veil for them to wear. Where mothers were allowed to receive Holy Communion, some churches set aside a certain part of the altar rail for them.
Once the rite was codified, it focussed on the mother, not the child. In pre-Reformation England, the Sarum Missal was widely used. Whilst called a ‘benediction’, the Sarum rite for the churching of women started with a purification ritual whereby the priest sprinkled or placed holy water on the woman. She stood outside of the church whilst he did this. Once the holy water was administered, she could then go inside.
During the Reformation, the holy water element was dispensed with as it was seen as a ‘magical’ Catholic superstition. However, the earliest editions of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer retained most of the Sarum rite. The Puritans later objected to the Churching of Women, asking why childbirth was so special and, interestingly, why prayers should be said on every occasion.
Therefore, during the Interregnum (Cromwell’s rule between Charles I’s beheading and Charles II’s Restoration in the 17th century), the Puritans banned the Book of Common Prayer and with it the Churching of Women. By that time, however, the ceremony had become a traditional event which women enjoyed. It was a ‘girls’ day out’, because the father and baby were not necessarily required to attend church on that day. This meant that the mother and her lady friends — ‘gossips’ (a corruption of Godspeaks) or ‘goodies’ (goodwomen) — could go to church and celebrate afterwards, probably at someone’s home. Given that information, it comes as no surprise when Knödel reveals that it was common for women in Puritan times to ask an Anglican priest to perform the ceremony in secret.
Two years into the Restoration, Charles II issued a new edition of the Book of Common Prayer. Anglicans still use his 1662 version today. It includes the Churching of Women. Puritans who were still in England at the time refused to have their women churched, running the risk of church discipline. Yet, even the Anglicans who went to the American colonies included the rite in their Prayer Book of 1789. It remained in subsequent Amerian editions until 1979, when it was replaced with A Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child.
As stated above, the Anglican Communion has returned to a set of prayers and Psalms which focus on the child, as Candlemas does on February 2 with the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. The Roman Catholic church includes a prayer of blessing for the family as part of the baptismal ceremony.
Whether the emphasis lay on the mother or child, the Church has recognised God in creating human life, His goodness in granting a safe delivery and thanksgiving that He preserves both the life of the mother and child.
At this point, you might be wondering what happened where births out of wedlock or where the deaths of mother or child were involved. Where the old rite of the Churching of Women was concerned, Knödel writes that unmarried mothers were required to appear in church and confess their sin of fornication before being churched. A mother could still be churched even if her newborn had since died; the ceremony focussed on the mother, not the child. In the event that the mother died, whilst some churches allowed a substitute lady to be churched in the mother’s place, the Church of England frowned on the practice. Although interred in the church graveyard, unchurched mothers were sometimes buried in a section apart from other church members and women of childbearing age — 15 to 45 — were instructed not to enter that part of the cemetery.
In closing, what follows are excerpts of the 1662 prayers and Psalms for the Churching of Women. Note how thanksgiving is very much a part of the ceremony — and the ‘quiver full’ verse in Psalm 127:
The Woman, at the usual time after her Delivery, shall come into the Church decently apparelled, and there shall kneel down in some convenient place, as hath been accustomed, or as the Ordinary shall direct: And then the Priest shall say unto her,
ORASMUCH as it hath pleased Almighty God of his goodness to give you safe deliverance, and hath preserved you in the great danger of Child-birth: you shall therefore give hearty thanks unto God …
(Then shall the Priest say the 116th Psalm.) Dilexi quoniam.
AM well pleased: that the Lord hath heard the voice of my prayer;
That he hath inclined his ear unto me: therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.
The snares of death compassed me round about: and the pains of hell gat hold upon me.
I found trouble and heaviness, and I called upon the Name of the Lord: 0 Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous: yea, our God is merciful.
The Lord preserveth the simple: I was in misery, and he helped me.
Turn again then unto thy rest, 0 my soul: for the Lord hath rewarded thee …
Or, Psalm 127. Nisi Dominus.
XCEPT the Lord build the house: their labour is but lost that build it.
Except the Lord keep the city: the watchman waketh but in vain.
It is but lost labour that ye haste to rise up early, and so late take rest, and eat the bread of carefulness: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.
Lo, children and the fruit of the womb: are an heritage and gift that cometh of the Lord.
Like as the arrows in the hand of the giant: even so are the young children.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate …
Minister. Let us pray.
ALMIGHTY God, we give thee humble thanks for that thou hast vouchsafed to deliver this woman thy servant from the great pain and peril of Child-birth: Grant, we beseech thee, most merciful Father, that she, through thy help, may both faithfully live, and walk according to thy will, in this life present; and also may be partaker of everlasting glory in the life to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Woman, that cometh to give her thanks, must offer accustomed offerings; and, if there be a Communion, it is convenient that she receive the holy Communion
The mother’s offering to the church was generally the cap or alb (robe) in which her child was christened.
The Book of Common Prayer (1662) is 350 years old. It is the only book other than the Bible which any Anglican should ever need for faith.
Cranmer’s version was, certainly, older (1549, 1552), however, the 1662 version was the revised version which Charles II introduced shortly after the Restoration following the English Civil War. It remains the official prayer book of the Church of England, despite the more frequent use of Common Worship, new this century replacing The Alternative Service Book of the 1980s, which the satirical magazine Private Eye still lampoons.
This book has been revised in the United States, most recently in 1928 and 1979, the latter being a departure too far for some.
Here in England, the BCP is largely disregarded as a relic, even — perhaps especially — because it contains the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion which are the tenets of the Anglican faith. Every faithful Church of England adherent should study them carefully. Too many have departed from them.
The Revd Roger Salter recently wrote a beautiful article on the BCP for Virtue Online. Excerpts from ‘Thomas Cranmer’s Portable Spiritual Director’ follow, emphases mine:
The Book of Common Prayer is largely a compilation of extracts from Holy Scripture arranged for public worship and private fellowship with God, and the material from other sources is derived from meditation upon Scripture and consonant with it. Cranmer has bequeathed us a compendium, not entirely of his own creation but skilful organization, from a multiplicity of sources that is a true and comprehensive guide to godliness in thought and life, and a handbook to holiness. It is not the exclusive possession of Anglicanism but a precious gift from the 16th century English Church to all believers who care to use it. It is a catholic treasure available to all, encapsulating the substance of the true Catholic faith.
An Anglicanism that stays close to the BCP (1662), whatever other developments there may and should be, will not stray from the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and will weather the storms of novelty and deviant doctrine. In Cranmer’s liturgy and confessional statements we have a sure guideline for orthodoxy crafted by many minds, both those of his godly predecessors and wise contemporaries.
The role of the BCP is not only public and “denominational”. Frequent personal use and growing familiarity will soon prove its pastoral effectiveness in daily life and discipleship. Perhaps in this dimension its benefit has not been fully appreciated and commended. As a part of one’s daily walk with God the Prayer Book becomes a beloved companion, an aid to understanding and worship, a mentor in prayer and meditation, and, in effect, a cherished spiritual director. Its various liturgies and services span the course of our lives marking all events, normal and extra-special, assisting us to prepare for, experience, and review them. The Litany, Collects, Intercessions, and other prayers touch, so deeply, our personal concerns and expand our concern both for the Church of God and the world he has created and governs. It is impossible to employ the Prayer Book without taking others to heart and holding them before God. It amply nourishes our interior life but it takes us out of ourselves as well – something private devotions do not always achieve.
Praying and pondering the BCP, under God’s good hand, purifies the mind, warms and encourages the heart, and expands the soul. As was the archbishop’s intention, it draws the spirit to God and focuses the inner eye upon him, and then we are enabled to participate in his perspective upon the condition and affairs of men, beseeching him to work powerfully and redemptively in a desperate and declining world. The Prayer Book cultivates our individual communion with God but it counters the dangerous individualism that debilitates the life of the church and which hampers our corporate witness and ministry to the world. What a joy to hold daily in our hands Cranmer’s choice volume that affords constant and inexhaustible spiritual direction for the people of God.
Let us pray that the BCP’s use experiences a revival in the years to come. It is sorely needed in today’s Anglican worship and private devotions.