The 2019’s “Rite II”

Much ink has been spilled on the subject of a modern eucharistic canon in an Anglican Prayer Book.  Until the mid-20th century there was indisputably one set of Anglican Communion Prayers, in a few minor variations between England, Scotland, America, Canada, and other former colonies of the British Empire.  Accusations were leveled, often justly, that Anglican doctrine was being tampered with in the writing and promulgation of so many new alternative prayers.  Admittedly, 20th century ecumenism has blurred the borders of many denominations and traditions both for their betterment and their detriment.  In light of the great influence of the classical Prayer Book upon Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman liturgies in the English language, traditionalists have a fair point in being wary of the need for such modernist intrusions.

Yet, for better and for worse, the Liturgical Renewal of the mid-20th century has left a lasting mark on the liturgical practices of the Church, and has become a part of the history of Anglicanism.  The present Prayer Book, therefore, does not roll back the stone and seal it off forever, but gathers it up and encapsulates it into a single option: the Renewed Ancient Text.  Where previous modern Prayer Books offer as many as five, six, or even ten sets of Prayers of Consecration, this one offers two: the standard historic rite and a single representative of the past half-century of liturgical experience and development – the Renewed Ancient Text.  It is authorized here with the intent that its theology and doctrine should be understood as fully consonant with the historic Anglican faith.


This set of prayers is derived from a document known as The Apostolic Tradition, attributed to one of the earliest Anti-Popes, Hippolytus.  Writing near 200AD, Hippolytus was reacting to a succession of bishops in Rome who were tolerating various heresies such as Montanism and what came to be known as Sabellianism.  Tensions grew over the years and eventually sought episcopal ordination himself to set himself up as the truly catholic Bishop of Rome over against Zephyrinus and Callistus.  The Apostolic Tradition is his rebuttal to the now-unknown liturgical practices in Rome at the time, and because he wrote in Greek rather than in Latin his liturgical writings have seen influence in Eastern liturgy far more than in Western.  The Apostolic Tradition was reexamined in the mid-20th century and became hugely influential in the Liturgical Renewal Movement that guided the Second Vatican Council in the Roman Church and resulted in several new Communion liturgies both in Roman and Anglican churches.  Modern rites, such as Prayers A and B in the American Prayer Book of 1979, and Prayer B in the Church of England’s Common Worship (2000), as well as the present Renewed Ancient Text, are inspired by the work attributed to Hippolytus. These prayers most closely resemble Prayer A from the 1979 Prayer Book.


One of the most noticeable differences between the two rites is the theological scope.  Where the Standard Text is narrowly focused, delving deep into the doctrine of the Cross, and Christ’s death and resurrection, the Renewed Ancient Text is shallower yet marks of a far larger picture of the Gospel, connecting the dots from Creation to the Last Day.  This is most noticeable in the first paragraph, perhaps giving these prayers a particular fittingness to the seasons of Advent, Christmas, or Epiphany.

The first paragraph is the anamnesis.  Our creation, the fall, and the incarnation are recalled, specifically naming the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary (which is the primary contribution from 1979’s Prayer B).  Christ’s obedience unto death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension close the anamnesis, concluding that the worshipers therefore have confidence to approach the throne of grace.

The Words of Institution follow, and are identical to the form found in the Anglican Standard Text.

Then follows a Memorial Acclamation, or “the mystery of faith”, giving the congregation a voice amidst the Prayers of Consecration.  Although this has no representative in historic liturgies, this call-and-response element has become popular in modern liturgies, particularly in the several rites offered in Common Worship.  This part of the prayers corresponds to the first paragraph of the Oblations in the Standard Text (“Therefore, O Lord and heavenly Father…”) in that both introduce the prayers of self-offering with a recapitulation of the anamnesis or remembrance. The Memorial Acclamation doesn’t just give the congregation more lines to read, but also thereby gives common assent to the celebrant’s prayers beyond the final “Amen.”

The Oblation of “these gifts” follows, acknowledging the Church’s sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, now drawing from the language of historic Anglican liturgy. “We celebrate the memorial… and we offer you these gifts” summarizes elements of the first two paragraphs of the Standard Text’s oblations.  “Sanctify them…” is an epiclesis, similar to the placement of the epiclesis in the classical American Prayer Books.  “In the fullness of time…” concludes the oblations with a prayer for the final glorification of God’s people.  The Prayers of Consecration of the Renewed Ancient Text thus ends as it begins – with a broader scope of the Gospel story than the Anglican Standard Text.  This advantage is gained, however, at the cost of the detailed centrality of the Cross.

The epiclesis has already been discussed before.  Its placement here amidst the prayers of oblation is both a return to the order of the first three American Prayer Books and a subtle way of de-emphasizing the blessing of the bread and wine, because it continues immediately with an epiclesis of the people: “Sanctify us also”.  As in historic Prayer Book piety, there is greater concern for right reception of the Sacrament than for the metaphysics of the Body and Blood in the bread and wine, as the end goal of participating in Holy Communion is not knowledge per se but unity with Christ: the mutual indwelling of he “in us and we in him.”  This unity is for eternity: that the worshipers will be so fed unto eternal life that they will enter into God’s heavenly kingdom with all the saints, beholding the face of God.

The final Doxology is the same as in the Standard Text, only with a different lead-up text.

More on the Prayer of Humble Access

The primary difference between our contemporary wording here and the traditional wording is the word “character”.  The classical Prayer Book word is “property” – it is a property of God that he has mercy. 

Our Prayer Book also puts this prayer in the mouths of the whole congregation.  This is a first in official North American Prayer Book tradition, though alternative liturgies had already leaned in this direction for years.  This is an appropriate change for our time because it gets everyone involved in some form of eucharistic piety.  In pre-modern times, preparation for receiving Holy Communion was a noteworthy process both for Protestants and Papists alike.  Now that Communion is received weekly by the majority of liturgical Christians, it is easy to take it for granted, and many have lost a sense of preparation and piety for the Sacrament.  This prayer is a helpful, powerful, and beautiful treasure to that end.

The Prayer of Humble Access is also something of a “wandering prayer” in the history of the Prayer Books.  The first Prayer Book placed it immediately between the Words of Comfort and the Ministration of Communion to the people, making it an acknowledge of our unworthiness to receive the Sacrament even in a state of grace.  In the Prayer Books of 1552 an after, the Prayer of Humble Access is said immediately between the Sanctus and the Prayer of Consecration, making it a final preparatory prayer before approaching the Altar Table, and dissociating it from the penitential overtones that may have been associated with it in 1549.  Finally, the American Prayer Book of 1928 moved this prayer once again, to be read after the Consecration and Lord’s Prayer, immediately before the Ministration of Communion.  That is essentially where it is placed in the present volume too, the only visual difference being that where the 1928 book says a hymn may be sung, ours prints the Agnus Dei as an anthem that may be sung or said after this prayer and before the Ministration.  So, functionally, 2019 and 1928 are doing the same thing with the Prayer of Humble Access: making it (as in 1549) a final devotion before reception of the Sacrament.

From an ecumenical standpoint, it should be noted that the Roman Rite has a different (shorter, less elegant) sort of prayer of humble access.  Its wording has changed over time, but one form reads thus:

Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.

This prayer draws from the words of the faithful centurion whose servant was healed by Jesus’ word, rather than actual visit and contact (Matthew 8:8, Luke 7:6).  And it communicates the same basic premise: we are unworthy of God’s presence (regardless of how recently absolution has been pronounced) and approach him only by his grace.


This is one of the most beloved prayers among traditional Anglicans, yet unfamiliar to many who were formed according to modern liturgies such as that in the American Prayer Book of 1979.  Its inclusion here is part of the restoration of properly Anglican devotion and doctrine, though the rubric concedes it to be optional, should a more brief liturgy be desired.

The language of this prayer also took some consideration as it was adopted back into the 2019 Prayer Book.  The phrase “whose character is always to have mercy” is an update from the original term “whose property”.  This is a better update than a previous draft in Texts for Common Prayer which rendered it “who always delights in showing mercy.”  In that draft, mercy is God’s delight, but the original (and now still official) text identifies mercy as a property of God’s very nature or character.  It is the same as how we speak of God’s love – God is not simply loving, rather, God is love.  God does not just delight in showing mercy, God’s character is to have mercy.  Reflection on this should bring the worshiper great comfort and joy.

Apart from that phrase, further challenges may face the modern worshiper who is not yet accustomed to this prayer.  One of these is the strong realist language: “Grant us so to eat the flesh of your dear Son… and to drink his blood.”  It must be remembered, though, that just as there are different theological interpretations of our Lord’s Words of Institution and of his Bread of Life Discourse, so too will this prayer take on different tones according to one’s theology.   A Lutheran can see this as an affirmation of the Real Presence – Christ’s human and divine natures actually present in the bread and wine.  A Calvinist an see this as an affirmation of the Real Spiritual Presence – Christ’s body and blood actually communicated to us sacramentally as we receive the bread and wine.  So there is no problem with this prayer from either end of the churchmanship spectrum.  Its survival through all the pre-modern Prayer Books should be evidence enough of this.

Another question that might also be raised concerns the “effects” of the Body and Blood of Christ.  A simplistic reading of this prayer might indicate that Christ’s body cleanses our bodies, and his blood cleanses our souls.  But that is not the intention of this prayer – the historic belief has always been that Christ’s body and blood go together, just as with any other real creature.  It is like speaking about the Father creating, the Son redeeming, and the Spirit sanctifying – all three Persons of the Trinity actually do all three of those things; there is simply a convenient prominence of different Persons with different roles, but never an actual division between them.  Similarly, this prayer affirms, poetically, that the body and blood of Christ together sanctify our entire being – body and soul. A third misunderstanding and mistreatment of this prayer concerns its penitential tone.  Some argue that this prayer is extraneous in light of the confession and absolution already offered in the liturgy.  Such a claim is to miss the point of this prayer.  This is not a confession of sin, this is an acknowledgement of unworthiness.  Even with sin absolved the worshiper is still an unworthy participant at the Lord’s Table.  Even with the grace of divine forgiveness upon us, “blessed are they who are invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).  Furthermore, some of the language in the prayer – “that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us” – is echoed in the 8th paragraph of the prayer of consecration, plus the language of unworthiness is echoed in the 9th paragraph of the same.  So this prayer is integrally connected to the rest of the communion liturgy.  As the 1549 Prayer Book amply demonstrated by placing this prayer after the Absolution and Words of Comfort, it is not excessively penitential to express our unworthiness before the Lord.

The Fraction & its Anthems

The Fraction, or breaking of the bread, is permitted to take place either at the Words of Institution or after the Consecration and Lord’s Prayer.  While the Reformed tradition, with most classical Prayer Books, has preferred the breaking of the bread at the Words of Christ, the summary in the biblical narrative commends a later fraction: taking bread, blessing it, breaking it, and then giving it (Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19).  Thus the Fraction is permitted to take place after the Prayer of Consecration and the Lord’s Prayer, as is the case with the Roman Rite and the 1549 Prayer Book.

In the former case, the breaking of the bread during the Words emphasizes the narrative of the Last Supper, and points the worshiper toward that ancient Passover celebration in which the New Covenant was brokered.  In the latter, the breaking of the bread as its own ceremonial moment in the liturgy emphasizes the sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross, to which this entire liturgy directs us.  It is best when the celebrant chooses one pattern or the other, rather than snapping the bread during the Words of Institution and then actually breaking it at this point in the liturgy.

The Fraction Anthem, too, is drawn from the 1549 liturgy, which reads “Christ our Paschal lamb is offered up for us, once for all, when he bare our sins on his body upon the cross, for he is the very lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world: wherefore let us keep a joyful and holy feast with the Lord.”  This anthem, drawing largely from 1 Corinthians 5:7 and John 1:29, is parsed out into two options.  The first option, using the present tense, highlights the role of Holy Communion in communicating the Sacrifice of Christ to us.  The second option uses the past tense, rendering a version of the 1549 text in accord with how 1 Corinthians 5:7 is translated today.

The two versions of the anthem also represent slightly different emphases on the eucharistic sacrifice, often in line with high- and low-church perspectives.  The first declares the timeless nature of Christ’s sacrifice by using the present tense – this holy feast makes present to us now the atoning death of Christ.  The second uses the past tense to point us back in time, emphasizing the historicity of Christ’s sacrifice.  The worshiping community may benefit from using both of these anthems, perhaps appointing the former during seasons of joy and the latter during seasons of penitence.

The Lord’s Prayer at the Holy Communion

As the name implies, this prayer was authored by our Lord Jesus Christ.  The doxology “For thine is the kingdom…” is found in certain manuscripts but is largely understood to be a liturgical addition to the original prayer.  Exactly as with the Daily Office, the classical Prayer Book tradition appoints the Lord’s Prayer twice in the Communion service: once at the beginning (said by the priest alone), and again toward the end (said by all).  Which iterations of the Lord’s Prayer includes or excludes the doxology has varied from one Prayer Book to another, resulting in its near-universal inclusion in the present volume, for sake of simplicity and familiarity.

The English Prayer Book of 1549, with the Scottish and American Prayer Books, placed the Lord’s Prayer immediately after the Oblations, soon before the reception of the Sacrament.  The English Books thereafter, and of most other provinces, appoint the Lord’s Prayer immediately after the ministration and reception of the Sacrament.

The celebrant announces the Lord’s Prayer as one “we are bold to pray.”  This is not an historical commentary, referring to the people praying in their own tongue against medieval Roman malpractice, but a spiritual commentary: although we are unworthy sinners, boldly we approach the throne of grace, by faith (cf. Hebrews 4:16).

The Lord’s Prayer, being composed, taught, and commended by Jesus himself, is an integral component of any liturgy; no official service of the Church omits it.  Its specific placement at this point, however, does have significance.  The Prayers of Consecration have been completed, the holy food is on the holy table, and God’s family is gathered.  The first (and classically, only) thing the congregation says aloud in this holy moment is the prayer that their Lord taught them.  And, in the context of Holy Communion, many lines of this prayer take on particular meanings and tones.  God “in heaven” doesn’t feel quite so distant for a moment.  That his will be done “on earth as it is in heaven” is actually about to take place in our hands, mouths, bodies, and souls, momentarily.  “Our daily bread” is already before us in Word and Sacrament.  The promise of forgiveness and call to forgive others has already been addressed in the liturgy.  The lofty ideals and hopes of this Prayer are, in this glorious moment, nearer than they normally seem.

Consecrationism, Receptionism, and the Epiclesis

There are long-standing debates, especially within the classical Protestant churches, over the “when” and “how” of the consecration of the bread and wine.  On one side there is consecrationism, championed by Martin Luther and his early followers.  This view asserts that the Words of Institution, being the very words of Christ, are the moment in the liturgy when the bread and wine are properly consecrated to be the Body and Blood of Christ.  In competition with this rose a view called receptionism, championed by 17th-century Lutheran scholastics and John Calvin’s Reformed tradition, which asserts that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ only in the reception, or even only the faithful reception, of the communicants.  The Articles of Religion and the Prayer Book were written early enough that both views are encompassed within our prayers, thus allowing the debate to survive within the Anglican Church throughout these five centuries.

Differences both practical and devotional result from these competing views.  A consecrationist will consider the Words of Institution the most central, necessary, and holy part of the eucharistic canon, where a receptionist will emphasize prayers that speak of the worshipers’ faith and participation in Christ.  Furthermore, the consecrationist will consider bread and wine left over from the liturgy still consecrated and holy, where the receptionist will consider them ordinary bread and wine.  Most Prayer Books have included rubrics mandating the consumption of leftover bread and wine immediately after the liturgy, thus appeasing (though not directly affirming) the consecrationist view.

In the course of the 20th century, through increased contact with Eastern and Early Church liturgies, the epiclesis rose in prominence, especially among pentecostal or charismatic-minded Anglicans who naturally emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit.  Although this emphasis was largely absent from Western Christianity beforehand, a variant of consecrationism has arisen which asserts that it is the epiclesis, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, that consecrates the bread and wine.  The impact of this theology is reflected in the Additional Directions of the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books, in which an Epiclesis is included with the Words of Institution in the rubrics for consecrated additional bread and wine during the Ministration of Holy Communion.

The Great Thanksgiving

The Great Thanksgiving is a modern (or arguably a renewed ancient) label for the opening section of the Eucharistic Canon. Although the specific “prayers of consecration” that follow have varied over the centuries, and even seen some shuffling within the Anglican Prayer Book tradition, the first section has remained remarkably stable for well over a thousand years. Its pieces are the Sursum Corda, the Preface, the Sanctus, and the Benedictus. Let’s take a look at these prayers, primarily as presented in the 2019 Prayer Book.

SURSUM CORDA

Classically, the Sursum Corda followed the Words of Comfort, the assurance of pardon leading directly to the lifting up of our hearts to give thanks.  The Liturgical Renewal Movement of the 20th century, however, led to a re-ordering of the liturgy (sometimes termed novus ordo – new order) and the addition of the dialogue “The Lord be with you.” “And with your spirit.” which was used only sparingly in the classical Prayer Books.  This dialogue is also present in the Roman Rite; contemporary Anglican liturgies like this signal a move toward general Western liturgical practice.

The Sursum Corda has also been entitled the Great Thanksgiving.  The worshipers lift their hearts to God, pursuing a sort of ascent from earthly to heavenly matters, and do this with an explicit call to “give thanks to the Lord our God.”  The final response, classically, was “it is meet and right so to do,” and the initial drafts for this Prayer Book drew a closer rendition in the phrase “it is just and right so to do,” but it did not survive the final revision. The celebrant’s next phrase, “It is right, our duty, and our joy…” is, by contrast, a return to classical phraseology, where the 1979 Prayer Book had set aside the language of duty by phrasing this “It is right, and a good and joyful thing…”

The ordering of the modern liturgy has a lot of starting and stopping, and a new “start” is needed at this point.  The Confession and Absolution ended with the Peace, which is often a huge interruption to the liturgy.  Announcements often take place there, which is an interruption to the liturgy.  The Offertory is often drawn out with music and the presentation of the elements – in short, the interaction between the celebrant and the people in a worship-minded context can easily be all but lost.  “The Lord be with you…” is a practical addition in order to restart the worship service at this point.  Classically, the offering would be taken, then the Prayers of the People, Confession, and Absolution followed.  Then the Comfortable Words were read, after which the Priest shall proceed saying, Lift up your hearts.  There was a direct link from the comfort of divine forgiveness to the Communion: “You are fully pardoned and forgiven and Christ, so lift up your hearts and let us give thanks…!”  That context is easily obscured in the modern arrangement of the liturgy.

After being bidden to give thanks, the people respond “it is right to give him thanks and praise”, rather than the classical “it is meet and right so to do.”  The message is the same but the emphasis is reversed.  The classical phrase emphasizes the properness, fittingness, rightness, that we ought to give thanks to God.  The modern phrase emphasizes the thanks and praise which we are to offer.

That loss is balanced with the restoration of the celebrant’s next phrase, “It is right, our duty, and our joy…”  There we see the rightness of giving thanks to God spelled out clearly.  So, between the priest’s two lines the whole message is present.  What falls to the people is to repeat and reinforce one or other part of that whole; the classical phrase emphasized what the priest was about to say next; the modern phrase emphasizes what the priest previously said.

All this is just the beginning; what follows is the Proper Preface, which provides a sentence of purpose – a reason why we should give thanks to God.

THE PROPER PREFACE

Then may follow a Preface.  The 1979 Prayer Book uniquely required one on every Sunday, when classically only five to seven Prefaces were appointed, for a few specific days or weeks in the year.  This edition has embraced both classical practice (by making the Preface optional) and contemporary liturgical development (by adding to the number of prefaces for special occasions).  This variation mirrors early liturgical history: the Leonine Sacramentary appointed a specific Preface for each Sunday and Holy Day, the Galasian Sacramentary contained about fifty Prefaces, the Gregorian Sacramentary reduced the list near to twelve, and the Sarum Missal contained ten.  The early Prayer Books reduced this to five (Christmas, Easter, Ascension, Whitsunday, and Trinity), and by 1928 the Epiphany and the Purification/Annunciation/Transfiguration were added to make seven.  The 1979 Prayer Book brought the total to 22, and the present edition has 34, although most of these are for special occasions not typically observed on Sundays.

The Preface is essentially a single-sentence addition to the Great Thanksgiving.  It specifies a particular reason why it is “right, our duty and our joy always and everywhere to give thanks” to God.  It is called a “Proper” Preface because it is proper to a particular occasion or season.  Many of these Prefaces are similar to collects in that they both identify something about God and a benefit that we enjoy as a result; our particular thanksgiving is typically for the benefit in light of God’s character, word, or acts.

Therefore we praise you…

After a specific reason for thanksgiving has been elucidated in the Preface, the celebrant continues by aligning the Church’s praise with the worship taking place in the heavenly places.  This is one of the clearest expressions of the Communion of Saints in all of Christian liturgy: we explicitly call upon the angels, archangels, and saints in heaven as fellow-worshipers of God.  With one heart and voice we sing…

SANCTUS

Holy, Holy, Holy

As far as we know, this hymn was composed by angels.  Both the Prophet Isaiah and the Apostle St. John witnessed the angelic hosts singing this in their respective visions of heaven, and duly recorded it for the faithful on Earth to join in (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8).  The liturgical form of the Sanctus has gently grown over time.  The Gregorian Sacramentary provides the biblical text “Sanctus sanctus sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.”  By the 16th century this had been expanded, as the classical Prayer Book rendition attests: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord, most high.  Amen.”  Before the Reformation, the Sanctus was often sung by a choir, but the English Prayer Books reserved the reading or singing of this hymn to the priest.  The first American Prayer Book contained a rubric that implied that the priest and people were to sing or say the Sanctus and its lead-in text together, but subsequent revisions have clarified that the Sanctus only is said by the congregation with the celebrant.  The present text of the Sanctus (most noteably changing “God of hosts” to “God of power and might”) was first adopted in the 1979 Prayer Book, matching the translation of the Roman Rite into English.

Certain musical settings in recent times have obscured the proper phraseology of this hymn.  It should be read and understood:

            Holy, holy, holy,
            Lord God of power and might,
            heaven and earth are full of your glory.
            Hosanna in the highest.

The thrice-repeated “holy” proclaims the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By “power and might” we proclaim not just the idea of divine strength but the “powers” of the universe, namely the mighty ones, the spiritual beings, with whom we sing this hymn.  And, as heaven and earth are united in the singular worship of their common Creator, so too are heaven and earth filled with his glory.

Blessed is he…

The variable text of the Preface here concludes with a fixed text, which, together with the Sursum Corda and the Sanctus has been standard in Western liturgy since at least the 9th century, developing from Early Church liturgies.  The English translation of the Latin text was changed in modern Prayer Books.  The 1662 Prayer Book here reads “Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying:”

The anthems “Benedictus qui venit in Nomine Domini” and “osanna in excelsis” were suffixed to the Sanctus over the course of the time in the medieval era.  The 1549 Prayer Book initially retained this – “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Glory to thee, O Lord in the highest.” – but it was soon dropped from the Prayer Book tradition, not to return until its retrieval in the modern Prayer Books (1979 on).

The addition of this “Benedictus”, taken from the praises of the people of Jerusalem when Christ the Lord entered the city to its initial celebration and joy, evokes the sense of Christ’s entrance into the worship gathering in a new way.  (This phrase is occasionally misunderstood: Jesus is the one “who comes in the name of the Lord.”)  He has been present in the reading and preaching of his Word, he has been the object and mediator of our prayers, he has been our comfort in the absolution of our sins, and now he enters into the midst of a people prepared for himself.  The worshiper is reminded of the sacramental presence of Christ that will soon be received in the forms of bread and wine.

The Exchanging of the Peace

The Peace is a staple of modern (or Novus Ordo) liturgy, but the traditional Anglican (or most other traditions for that matter) may scoff at this ancient tradition seemingly-haphazardly thrusted into our liturgies. Let’s take a quick look at where it came from, how it ended up in our Prayer Book, and what it means.

The Peace in some form has been found throughout the history of Christian worship.  The New Testament contains several references to a “kiss of peace” or “a holy kiss”, and instructions to “greet one another” during what are presumed to be formal gatherings of the local faithful.  The specific act of the kiss gradually fell from common use as the Christian community became larger over the centuries, instead being reserved for more particular circumstances such as priests greeting one another or Eastern Christians kissing an icon of Christ.  Nevertheless, even in Late Medieval England the custom of kissing a pax-board was not unknown, and in some cases provided a substitute for the frequent reception of Holy Communion.

The Peace is absent from the classical Prayer Book tradition with the exception of the 1549 Prayer Book, wherein these words are exchanged between the priest and the people after the Prayer of Consecration and Lord’s Prayer, roughly where the Roman Rite places it today.  No physical action or exchange of peace among the members of the congregation was appointed, however, and when the Communion liturgy was further reordered in 1552 the Peace disappeared until its revival in the mid-20th century.

The function of the Peace is twofold.  First, it is an expression of Christian brotherhood wherein we acknowledge the family-like nature of our fellowship.  We embrace one another in love as an expression of unity and peace.  In this sense, the Peace could be appropriately placed elsewhere in the liturgy, such as after the breaking of the bread as in the modern Roman Rite.  The second function of the peace, which seals its location after the Confession and Absolution of Sin and the Comfortable Words, is its expression of reconciliation – a liturgical expression of Matthew 5:23-24 wherein we reconcile with our brethren before offering our gifts at the altar.

With these two purposes of the Peace rightly understood, the worshiper may find one’s priorities changed regarding how to “greet one another in the Name of the Lord.”  Far from a “say hello to everyone nearby” moment, as some church traditions have interpreted the Peace, this is a moment either to offer a symbolic sign of peace to one’s immediate neighbor, or to make good and true restitution with another member of the congregation before proceeding to the Holy Table.  To aid such a corrected understanding of the Peace the celebrant may add to the provided dialogue, “[In light of such peace with God,] let us extend that peace to one another.

Before the Sunday service starts

Sunday mornings can be very busy times for pastors and other ministers, there can be a lot of preparation involved before the liturgy begins, especially a Communion service, and double-especially a Communion service with any semblance of high church ceremonial – candles to light, vestments to don, ministers to assemble and coordinate. It’s wonderful when everything goes to plan and everyone does their part and the whole result is a dignified and beautiful offering of the people of themselves unto God and a faithful reception of His Word and Sacrament.

But, as Mother Teresa said when her sisters warned her that the work was getting to be too much, the answer to a busy situation is not to pray less, but to pray more. Sure, it’s “inconvenient”, but it’s often what we need. So, straight to the point, what or how should we pray before the Sunday Communion?

There are a number of possibilities.

Some like to gather the ministers together beforehand and offer/prompt spontaneous prayers unscripted.

Some like to use traditional forms of preparation descended from the traditional “Fore-Mass” (prayers before the Introit where the Mass formally begins). There are also traditional prayers for the minister to consider the Gospel in the donning of each vestment, as well as prayers that are written to prepare priests and other servers for the liturgy. There are also some preparatory prayers in the draft ACNA Altar Book; you should check them out if you haven’t yet!

If you want something more middle-of-the-road in terms of churchmanship – you don’t want to troll an Anglo-Catholic agenda, and you don’t want to go all loosey-goosey about it either, how about grab the Prayer Book for a 5 minute block of time sometime before the liturgy starts?

the Great Litany in the Prayer Book (2019) next to my photogenic Bible (left)

Yesterday I grabbed a few minutes to pray the Great Litany before people arrived for Holy Communion. It was a little hectic with my kids running around and I must admit I had to interrupt myself at one point (and not just to take this picture!). Still, it was a moment of stillness for my soul, which would then go on to share the burdens of my parishioners and feel rather more clogged up thereafter. Praying for them, the whole church, and the world, in the words of the Litany prepared myself for ministering to them. It also just plain gave me a chance to worship and pray on my own, which can be something that priests and ministers sometimes struggle with, especially in small congregations where the leadership roles are not as widely shared.

The Litany is a great traditional choice for an Anglican, also, because the original Prayer Book order for Sunday morning expected Morning Prayer, Litany, and Communion all in a row! So bringing some of that back, even if only by yourself (as a clergyman or as a lay person) can only be good and upbuilding for us.

Any other tips or approaches that you like which help you (and/or the ministry team) prepare spiritually for the worship service? Leave a comment!

The Absolution and Comfortable Words

Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
who in his great mercy has promised forgiveness of sins
to all those who sincerely repent and with true faith turn to him,
have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins,
confirm and strengthen you in all goodness,
and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The priest’s word of absolution in the Communion service has remain essentially unchanged since 1549, with the sole exception of the absolution of 1979.  In that version, all three persons of the Trinity are invoked, referencing their typical scriptural roles with regards to our salvation:

Almighty God have mercy upon you,
forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ,
strengthen you in all goodness,
and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.

But the opening line about the Father’s merciful promise to forgive sins is omitted, and the stipulation that the people “sincerely repent and with true faith turn to him” was also omitted, drastically truncating the biblical doctrine of the forgiveness of sins and sharply clericalizing the sacramental act of absolution.  Thus, the 1979 absolution was not retained for the Renewed Ancient Text, as other elements of that book were.

Far from a perfunctory word from the priest or bishop, this absolution is a solid piece of biblical theology that fully embraces catholic history and protestant reformed doctrine.  It is formatted similar to a collect: it begins with the identification of God and certain attributes relevant to what follows, and then proceeds to the main statement.  However, the absolution is not a prayer, but a statement – or as some might term it, a “speech-act” – in which the priest addresses the people.  It differs from a prayer for forgiveness in that the words of mercy, pardon, deliverance, confirmation, strengthening, and bringing to everlasting life are subjunctive (similar to imperative/command) verbs.  The speaking of these words conveys the actions they describe.  Thus we see the promise of Christ (in Matthew 16:19 and John 20:23) at work: whomever God’s ministers forgive, they are forgiven.  See also the absolution in the Daily Office.

But these are not unconditional benefits infallibly bestowed by the power of the ordained priesthood.  Unlike contemporary Roman absolutions, the Prayer Book absolution makes sure to describe the character or properties of God that pertain to such forgiveness: he has “great mercy” and “has promised forgiveness of sins.”  Specifically, though, such forgiveness is for the sincere penitent who turns to him in “true faith.”  Thus the power of absolution is tempered.  The priest cannot simply issue absolutions and expect infallible results; the grace of this ministry must be received by faith.

The worshiper is therefore reminded, in this moment of absolution, to continue in faith and to make good the repentance voiced in the prayer of confession.

The words of comfort, following, were introduced in the first Prayer Book and remained a mainstay of the Communion liturgy until they were removed in 1979.  They return in the 2019 Book as optional, and without the intervening texts “Hear also what Saint Paul saith” and “Hear also what Saint John saith.”

The words of comfort stand as a sort of reassurance of pardon.  They serve as a sort of biblical seal upon the priest’s word of absolution.  This emphasizes that the ministry of the Church is grounded upon the authority of the Word of God written. Furthermore, these are not casually-arranged memory verses to encourage the penitent; rather, they form a logical sequence that carry the message of the Gospel in a subtle but heartfelt way.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 begins with the condition and desire of the weary sinner for rest, or refreshment, in Christ. 

God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 follows this with God’s desire to give life to such a weary sinner, opening a reciprocating relationship. 

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1 Timothy 1:15 then shows us what God has done to address our need: sending his son Jesus. 

If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. Finally, then, 1 John 2:1-2 gives us the closing action of the Gospel with Christ as our advocate before God.

This is the Gospel of the God who condescended to rescue us from sin, repeated and summarized here for our comfort and our joy.  In the classical Prayer Books, this would be followed immediately with “Lift up your hearts” – eucharistic thanksgiving being the logical response to such good news and comfort.

Learning to sing or chant mass parts

I have always served a small church. And for all but one year of my pastoral ministry I have doubled as the musician, which is how I actually began my service for Grace Anglican Church. As a result (by necessity) the selection of music has been part and parcel of liturgical planning. This is sometimes a fair bit of extra work for me, but also can be pretty rewarding for all of us in that the songs we sing usually tie closely with the Scriptures and prayers of the day. In fact, I’ve even started working on a booklet to collect the “best practices” I’ve developed (and learned from others) which will be available for sale sometime in the coming months.

One thing which is common in many Anglican (and Episcopalian) churches which we’ve only dabbled in, however, is the singing or chanting of mass parts. “Mass parts” is a phrase that refers to the parts of the mass, or Communion service, that are traditionally sung or chanted by a choir and/or the congregation. Traditionally there are quite a few of these, but the main ones are:

  1. the Kyrie
  2. the Gloria in excelsis
  3. the Sanctus
  4. the Agnus Dei

In the classical Prayer Book tradition, there is no Kyrie but instead the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) which could have chanted/sung responses, and the Gloria is placed near the end of the liturgy instead of near the beginning. And most of the old Prayer Books had no place for the Agnus Dei, either, come to think of it. But contemporary Prayer Books (and contemporized versions of the classical Prayer Books) restore all four of these to the liturgy one way or another. Every Anglican hymnal these days worth its salt has at least one (if not a handful) of different musical settings for these parts of the liturgy.

The main reason my church never got into these is because we used the 1940 hymnal for years, and then switched to the 2017 hymnal. The former only has the traditional-language texts for the liturgy and the latter has only one setting for the contemporary language that we use 96% of the year. When we had a different music minister for a little while, he brought in a contemporary Gloria and Sanctus, which we appreciated, but I was not able to keep them up when he was gone. In fact, after his departure I quickly became a hymnal-only musician, no longer having the energy to learn and teach contemporary-style worship songs. The demographics of our congregation matched this preference anyway, so it was not an issue one way or the other.

But this past year, coming out of COVID-tide, I’ve started taking these mass parts seriously. It was time to start singing or chanting these parts of the liturgy again. I started at the Easter Vigil this year, introducing the Gloria in excelsis Deo. The contemporary-language set in our new hymnal is the New Plainsong set by David Hurd, first copyrighted in 1981 and featured in the 1980 Episcopal hymnal. It’s not an especially ground-breaking new and exciting set of music, nor is it a re-make of one of the old classics, but it is stately and singable. Since Easter, we’ve sung that Gloria on the major Sundays of the year, but not every Sunday… yet.

Shortly thereafter I introduced the Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy), which went over pretty well. We’ve been singing it ever since.

And now that we’re moving our worship indoors for the season I’m about to introduce the Agnus Dei which is nicely similar in sound and contour to the others. After about a month to get used to that, I’ll add the sung Kyrie (just threefold, not ninefold), and then we’ll have all four together for a solemn few Sundays before Advent.

In Advent it is traditional to omit the Gloria, so we will not sing or say it at all for those four weeks until it returns at Christmas. From there I will be free to use or omit some or all of these sung parts to emphasize the tone of the church calendar. We can sing everything on the most celebratory Sundays and other feast days, sing some of them on more ‘normal’ Sundays, or simply just speak them at penitential times. The solemnity of the liturgy style can become a tool in the celebration of the Gospel from week to week, and season to season.

As I was planning this, though, and preparing to type this up, I could just hear in my head the anti-traditionalists, as the ACNA is sometimes a bit infamous for, asking the question “and how will this help the mission of your church and its growth?” To which I will confidently reply that it will neither help nor hinder the missional character of Grace Anglican Church… at least directly. Instead, it will help teach us to worship with reverence, and perhaps to respect the Lord just that little bit more. And, with its periodic use and omission to accentuate the gospel that we proclaim over the course of the year, it may just help people grasp that gospel more nearly to their hearts. In which case, I dare say, we may become a people more apt for the missio Dei.