Happy September! I am finally easing out of a writing hiatus, now that my family’s move is more or less completed and the school year has more or less begun. We won’t quite be jumping straight into five posts per week, but, as I announced a few months ago, the focus on quality over quantity will continue.
Today we’re tossing another “Weird Rubric Wednesday” into the collection.
So you’re going along through the Communion service in the 2019 Prayer Book, and you get to page 108 or 126 and you come to this rubric:
On Sundays, other Major Feast Days, and other times as appointed, all stand to recite the Nicene Creed…
So this is curious. Most of you are probably used to the Nicene Creed being a static part of the Communion service – always there, unchanged, unchanging. Indeed that was the pattern set out in 1662: And the Gospel ended, shall be sung or said the Creed following, the people still standing as before. By that point it was assumed that Holy Communion was being celebrated, at most, on Sundays and Holy Days. The Roman tradition of Daily Mass was pretty much gone from English practice. So practically every Communion was a Sunday or Holy Day, and there was no need to mess around with options. After the Gospel, just say the Creed. (Yeah, the sermon used to be after the Creed.)
But eventually things got a bit more loose. The 1928 Prayer Book, usually upheld as the last bastion of traditional Anglican liturgy in America, actually has quite a strange rubric about the Creed – I daresay more worthy of “Weird Rubric Wednesday” than its 2019 counterpart. This is what it says:
Then shall be said the Creed commonly called the Nicene, or else the Apostles’ Creed; but the Creed may be omitted, if it hath been said immediately before in Morning Prayer; Provided, That the Nicene Creed shall be said on Christmas Day, Easter Day, Ascension Day, Whitsunday, and Trinity Sunday.
You see, in the 1928 Book, people have the option of saying either the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed in Morning Prayer, and the same choices at the Communion too. The “defaults” were still Apostles’ in the Office and Nicene in the Communion, but the expansion of options was such that one could choose either at any time, with only five exceptions. Omitting the Creed entirely was also an option if Morning Prayer had just been said!
But this isn’t simply wild and crazy liberalism and choose-your-own-adventure liturgy building. I mean, that could happen, but that’s not the intention. Rather, this option to omit the Nicene Creed is in line with a retrieval of pre-Reformation tradition that was going on at the time in the growing Anglo-Catholic movement. In the Roman calendar there are several “classes” or “ranks” of feast days, and they are celebrated with different levels of liturgical complexity. Among those levels include the saying/omitting of the Gloria, and also of the Nicene Creed. These options have been codified among traditional Anglo-Catholics, as demonstrated by this Ordo Kalendar put out by a group of the Continuing Churches:
In this picture you can see August 27th-29th, with notes for the daily mass. St. Augustine of Hippo’s feast day merits both the Gloria and the Creed, whereas the Beheading of St. John the Baptist omits the Creed. The Feria (or empty) day before them omits both. So, coming back to the 2019 Prayer Book, when we read On Sundays, other Major Feast Days, and other times as appointed, this is an opportunity for those who want to follow some sort of “ranking” of feast days to make distinctions in how we celebrate Communion in honor of different saints’ days.