When going through the Communion service, after the Collect & Lessons comes the Creed, and then the sermon.  Or is it the sermon, and then the Creed?  Most people take this for granted and tend to forget (or not even be aware at all) that there are two ways that this works.

In the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books, in accordance with the Roman Rite, the sermon immediately follows the Gospel lesson, and the Nicene Creed comes after that.  Thanks to the liturgical ubiquity of Romanism in the West, and their impact on Anglican liturgy in the 1970’s and beyond, this is the order that the vast majority of Anglicans today are used to.

However, the Prayer Book tradition from 1549 until 1979 was unanimous: after the Gospel comes the Nicene Creed!  Then follows announcements of the week’s feasts and fasts, whatever other announcements and prayers need to be made, and then the sermon will follow.

These two different orders may not seem like a big deal, but there are some underlying matters of emphasis that are worth considering here.

One of the basic principles of liturgy is revelation and response.  God is revealed in some way, and the people respond.  The dialogue “The Word of the Lord / Thanks to be God” is perhaps the smallest and clearest example of this dynamic at play.  In the Daily Office a Scripture reading (revelation) is followed by a Canticle (response).  In the Communion liturgy the first lesson (revelation) is followed by a Psalm (response).  So, if the Gospel lesson is a revelation, what is the response?

Classical Anglicanism makes the Nicene Creed the response; the Roman Rite and modern Anglican liturgies makes the Sermon the response.  In the former, the Sermon then goes on to be like another “revelation” followed by the “response” of the Prayers and Confession.  In the latter, the Creed is perhaps the next revelation followed by the Prayers?  It’s hard to say, one can’t go too haywire with liturgical principles as if one concept will explain everything.

Nevertheless, the shape or feel of the liturgy comes across very differently if the Creed is the climax of the lessons, followed by a brief ‘break’ before the sermon begins, compared to if the sermon is the climax of the lessons, followed by the creed and the prayers.  In the old Prayer Books, your “announcement break” is relatively early (between the Creed and the Sermon) whereas in modern Prayer Books the “announcement break” is relatively late (after the Peace and before the Offertory).  I suppose it depends upon the typical length of a sermon to judge which tradition most nearly bisects the liturgy in half.

In previous drafts of the ACNA Communion liturgy, a rubric authorized the re-arranging of the Creed-Sermon order according to local custom and preference.  This would have allowed a more classical-prayer-book order to the liturgy within the 2019 BCP.  However, the book we have no longer offers that switch explicitly, but only as part of the “1662 Order” described on pages 142-143 which not only re-order the sermon & creed but also much of the rest of the liturgy following.  So, as it stands, we are not, strictly speaking, permitted to rearrange the 2019 liturgy to match the order found in the 1928 Prayer Book.  That said, if you ask your bishop for permission to do so, I doubt he’d say no.

Whether you want to go old-school or not, whether you’re allowed to go old-school or not, it’s helpful to be aware of how our liturgy has changed over time.  Cosmetically these may be subtle changes.  Theologically this may not be a major profound change.  But it is a change, and emphasis does carry meaning, however slight.  Even if you never experience or implement the “other order” (whichever one is native to your parish) it is fruitful to look across the fence at how else this aspect of liturgy is done, and what these little variances can show us about the significance and role and function of the Creed and the Sermon.

3 thoughts on “Sermon, Creed, or Creed, Sermon…

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