One of the most distinctive marks of classical Anglican liturgy is its exhortations.  Relatively unknown in medieval liturgy, the English reformers saw fit to add several points of instruction into various worship services, especially Holy Baptism, Matrimony, Burial, and Communion.  The opening words of most of these exhortations, “Dearly beloved…” resound in the ears of worshipers of many traditions to this day.  The Exhortation to Holy Communion is one of the longer Prayer Book exhortations and certainly the most complex.  The first Prayer Book appointed two Exhortations: one to be said when Communion was about to follow, and one to coax people to the Sacrament who have been negligent to participate.  Both exhortations were provided within the Communion liturgy itself.  The first could be said as rarely as once in a month where there was normally daily communion, but the other was expected to be read every Sunday that Communion was to be celebrated and offered.

Lay people were slow to increase their participation in Holy Communion, however, many having been entrenched in the Easter-only pattern for centuries under the medieval Roman tradition.  Subsequent Prayer Books, therefore, took the reality of monthly Communion being normal into account, and provided three different exhortations: the first was to give “warning for the celebration of the holy communion (which he shall always do upon the Sunday or some holy immediately proceeding)”, the second “in case he shall see the people negligent to come to the holy communion”, and the third “at the time of the celebration of the communion, the communicants being conveniently placed for the receiving of the holy sacrament.”  These three endured from the 16th century until the Liturgical Renewal in the mid-20th century when weekly Communion truly became the normative pattern across the Anglican tradition.

But the use of the Exhortation was already on the decline.  The American Prayer Book of 1892 kept only the third Exhortation (for the immediate celebration of Communion) within the liturgy, moving the first two into an appendix after the service.  This perhaps anticipated the trend toward weekly Communion, especially in light of a rubric added that the Exhortation need only be read once in a month.  This was taken a step further in the 1928 Prayer Book in which all three Exhortations were moved to an appendix position immediately after the liturgy (in the new order established in 1892), with a further-edited rubric that the now-first Exhortation (for the immediate celebration of Communion) “shall be said on the First Sunday in Advent, the First Sunday in Lent, and Trinity Sunday.”  By 1979, the Exhortations had almost entirely disappeared.  The American Prayer Book of that year contained only one Exhortation, with elements of all three combined together.  It was appended to the liturgy and provided with no rubric guidance on its proper use.  Thus the Exhortation has declined in the American use for over a century.

The present Prayer Book proposes to reverse that trend somewhat by providing a rubric authorizing The Exhortation within the text of the Communion liturgy for the first time in the American Church since 1892.  One of the Additional Directions notes that the Exhortation is “traditionally read” on the same three Sundays as appointed in the 1928 Prayer Book.  Still only one Exhortation is provided here, again combining elements of the traditional three, but it is not identical to the version provided in 1979.  The pointed language of self-examination and worthiness to receive the Holy Sacrament, as was traditional, has been more robustly restored.

Dearly beloved in the Lord…  The first paragraph corresponds to the first third of the traditional Exhortation At the Time of the Celebration of the Communion (1st in 1928, 3rd in 1662).

Therefore, judge yourselves…  The second paragraph corresponds to the second paragraph of the traditional Exhortation That Giveth Warning (2nd in 1928, 1st in 1662).

If you have come here today with a troubled conscience…  The third paragraph corresponds to the last paragraph of the traditional Exhortation That Giveth Warning (2nd in 1928, 1st in 1662).

Above all…  The fourth, fifth, and sixth paragraphs correspond to the second half of the traditional Exhortation At the Time of the Celebration of the Communion (1st in 1928, 3rd in 1662).

One thought on “A Brief History of the Exhortation

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