This portion of the liturgy, although novel in its arrangement, is a sublime synthesis of traditional Prayer Book elements into three sets of three Questions and Answers, with a transitionary interlude between each one.
It begins with the renunciation of the Christian’s three-fold enemy: the devil, the world, and the flesh. In renouncing each of these in turn, the worshipers are taught that temptation to sin comes from real spiritual beings; that the world offers us empty promises at best, or deadly deceits at worst; and that even the desires of our own flesh ultimately draw us from the love of God. All these evils must be cast aside to walk in the way of Christ.
In response to these renunciations the minister may anoint the candidate(s) with specially-prepared Oil of Exorcism, speaking words of deliverance. While this act does not necessarily imply that everyone who is not-yet-baptized is in possession of a demon, it does remind us that such is truly possible. Indeed, with the mission field increasingly at North America’s front door and the rise of Neo-Paganism and other world religions in our communities, the necessity of exorcising adult converts in particular is more pronounced today than in centuries past.
With evil rejected and cast out, the liturgy heeds the warning of Matthew 12:43-45 / Luke 11:24-26, and calls for something to take the place of those former masters: the three renounced evils are matched with three positive affirmations. In place of the devil and his angels, the candidates affirm Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; the Christian may be mastered by none other than He. In place of the world’s promises and deceits the candidates affirm the Christian Faith as revealed in the Bible; the only truly infallible source of truth. And against the sinful desires of the flesh the candidate affirms desire to obey God’s holy will and commandments, returning to the Lord the claim to true knowledge of good and evil that Adam and Eve stole in the Garden of Eden.
The interlude at this point is for the minister to turn to the congregation. For, as the candidates finally answered “the Lord being my helper”, it behooves the whole church to take part in that ministry of helping. Thus while the culture has a saying “it takes a village to raise a child” the liturgy reminds us that “it takes a church to raise a Christian” – of any age!
The final trio of questions and answers are, building from the congregation’s commitment to support the candidate(s), addressed to everybody present. The full text of the Apostles’ Creed is affirmed, according to the division of its three major articles, and thus the candidate(s) and sponsors and congregation are all clearly and explicitly on the same page concerning the Faith alluded to in the previous brief affirmations.
The Profession of Faith begins, in accordance with the biblical definition of repentance, with the renunciation of evil. Where the majority of Prayer Book tradition has rolled all three renunciations into a single question & answer, the present volume returns to the 1549 format of renouncing the devil, the world, and the flesh each individually. The option to exorcise the candidate(s) is also a retrieval of tradition in the 1549 Prayer Book, although the prayer is considerably shorter. The 1549 exorcism reads:
I command thee, unclean spirit, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, that thou come out, and depart from these infants, whom our Lord Jesus Christ hath vouchsafed to call to his Holy Baptism, to be made members of his body, and of his holy congregation. Therefore thou cursed spirit, remember thy sentence, remember thy judgment, remember the day to be at hand, wherein thou shalt burn in fire everlasting, prepared for thee and thy Angels. And presume not hereafter to exercise any tyranny toward these infants, whom Christ hath bought with his precious blood, and by this his holy Baptism calleth to be of his flock.
The three-fold affirmation of faith in Jesus, the Bible, and God’s will and commandments is most reflective of the questions asked an adult in the American Prayer Book of 1928, which in turn is substantially the same as the greater Prayer Book tradition.
The involvement of the entire congregation “who witness these vows” promising to support the candidates is a modern feature, though the sentiment is very much in line with historic Prayer Book doctrine, as the close of the liturgy will further note. Traditionally, the text of the Apostles’ Creed was read by the minister as questions, to which the candidates or their parents would answer “All this I steadfastly believe” (with the exception of the 1928 liturgy which merely named the Creed, rather than read it in full). The practice of placing it in the mouths of the entire congregation seems to have begun in the Canadian Prayer Book of 1962, although the breaking up of the Creed into three Q&A sections was introduced in the American Book of 1979.