We’re well into Advent…

You know we’re well into Advent when O Sapientia is approaching!  Our calendar notes its beginning on December 16th, and it runs each evening through the 23rd.  For those unaware, O Sapientia is the first several “O antiphons” leading up to Christmas Eve – that is, antiphons that start with the word “O”.

An antiphon is a repeated phrase that is used both at the beginning and end of a Psalm or Canticle.  The 2019 Prayer Book only appoints antiphons for one thing: the Venite (Psalm 95) at Morning Prayer.  The classical prayer book tradition hasn’t appointed any antiphons for anything.  But in general Western tradition, you can find antiphons for everything – every psalm, every canticle, and also most introits and many graduals are constructed with antiphons.  The idea is that the psalm or canticle is book-ended with this antiphon to give it a seasonal or occasional context that may perhaps bring out a different aspect or theme or idea in the central text that you might not otherwise notice.

The O Antiphons are used with the Magnificat in Evening Prayer, and the first seven of them address Jesus by different prophetic names: Wisdom, Key of David, Root of Jesse, and so forth.  You can read more about them here.

These Antiphons begin on Monday, and count us down the final eight days until Christmas Eve.

Personally, I’ve long wished for a set of Mass Propers (Collects & lessons for a Communion service) for each of these days, but there are just too many interruptions to make it worthwhile: St. Thomas’ Day is always December 21st, the winter Ember Days land in the midst of this week, and at least one Sunday also butts in.  It’s a busy time of year, liturgically, not just culturally!

Anyway, if you want to pray the Evening Office with the O Antiphons, this Daily Office website provides for it. Have fun!

Quick Note about the last Sunday before Advent

It’s the last Sunday of the season – Advent starts in one more week!  A lot of us are probably celebrating “Christ the King Sunday” today, so I thought I’d drop a quick reminder here before we misrepresent our own tradition.  The traditional prayer for this Sunday anticipates the tone of Advent:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The modern prayer for this Sunday, now called “Christ the King” but perhaps more subtly and appropriately “Christ the Judge”, also prepares us for Advent quite well:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

If you want to know more about Christ the King as an observance, here are some links:

Introduction to Advent

With Advent just over a week away at this point, let’s have a proper introduction to the season.  This is the first of about twelve videos I’m going to make about the different parts of the church year.

The season of Advent begins the church year with a focus on the advent (or arrival) of Jesus, both in as a baby at Christmas and as a glorious king upon his awaited return. Our place, in response to both those themes, is to prepare and make ready.
For further reading:
Subject Index:
* 01:10 Introduction to Advent
* 01:29 Major Themes
* 07:13 Historical features
* 12:19 Walk-through with the 2019 BCP

Not Inviting God’s Presence

Let’s jump into something that may be a bit of a shock to some people.  We do not “invite God’s presence” in worship.

In this I am referring to the now-popular practice in the “praise and worship” movement to say, pray, or sing things like “we invite you here”, “come be with us, O Spirit,” or “you are welcome in this place.”  While perhaps seemingly innocuous at first – expressing, after all, a healthy desire for the presence of God – this can be theologically and doxologically troublesome.  Such invitations espouse a particular theology of worship, and since they originate from a movement of musicians typically with no theological education, one should be very careful about normalizing such prayers.

The idea of inviting God to be with us (in worship or otherwise) fits nicely into image of the domesticated deity of post-modern times.  God is my friend, Jesus is my boyfriend, we’re just generally chummy with the Holy Spirit.  This mentality was an understandable, almost needed, backlash against the dry and distant deity of the modernists, but it is a response of one bad extreme to another bad extreme.  God is both transcendent (or above us) and immanent (among us).  However, Scripture and tradition do not teach us to invite God’s presence in worship, but rather the opposite.

We prepare ourselves to enter into God’s presence. Yes, there is a sense in that he condescends to us, but the primary “motion” of worship is us going to him, approaching the throne or altar of grace (cf. Hebrews 12:22-25)…

you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  See that you do not refuse him who is speaking.

In accord with this, the wisdom of the liturgical traditions is that we acknowledge our unworthiness, or confess sins, or pray for the Spirit’s purification of our hearts, at the beginning of every worship service.  To “invite God’s presence” is to turn that paradigm around completely, and assumes that we are so worthy of God’s glory among us that he should come under our roof.  At best, that’s ignorance; at worst that’s blasphemous presumption.

Specifically, the Daily Office begins with a sort of exhortation leading to a confession of sin; the Litany begins with pleas to the Holy Trinity for mercy; the Communion service begins with the Collect for Purity and continues with some form of penitential rite.  These devotions and forms teach and remind us that we are not worthy of God’s presence apart from his grace, and that he invites us to worship him.  More than that, it is right, our duty and our joy always and everywhere to give him thanks and praise, as our Communion Prayers proclaim.

So don’t “just invite your presence this morning” in prayer to God at church… prepare yourself to approach his throne and listen to him.

Was there really such thing as a Scottish-American Communion liturgy?

Tomorrow is the commemoration of the Consecration of Samuel Seabury, the first American Bishop.  One of the popular stories about the origins of Anglicanism in this country is that he was ordained by the Scottish Episcopal Church in exchange for the use of their Communion liturgy in our new province.

It turns out that this story is not only oversimplified, but exaggerated to inaccuracy.  As this very informative recent article by Drew Keane reports, the agreement was between three Scottish bishops and Samuel Seabury, who was representing Episcopalian clergymen in Connecticut.  So, at the first, there was nothing binding upon the American Episcopal Church, as it didn’t exist yet.  And secondly, the Scottish bishops did not demand or require anything of Seabury or those in his cure, but rather, simply encouraged him to consider the Scottish liturgies.  Yes, “liturgies” in the plural.  There was a standard Communion text from 1637, a standard reprinting from 1743, and there was another form in circulation by 1764.  And they’re all slightly different, in terms of the precise order of service.  The link above includes a handy table to line up those three against the first American Prayer Book of 1789.  We learn here two critical things:

  1. The “Scottish form” of the liturgy was not standardized at this time, making the common “Scots-American” label for a particular Order of Communion somewhat of a contrivance.
  2. There was no particular deal or obligation put upon the Americans by the Scots.

We American Anglicans do owe gratitude to the Scottish Church, of course, and there are traces of Scottish features that have been preserved in the American tradition.  But the way we sometimes speak of it can be rather overstated.  The English Prayer Book of 1662 was still the strongest standard by which the Scottish and American liturgies were measured.

Thankfully, this correction does not require me to retract any significant errors on this blog so far; I’ve only mentioned the “Scottish connection” once before, when reviewing the 1928 Prayer Book, and didn’t go too far down the rabbit trail.  Our exploration of the epiclesis (invocation) may also be further informed by Keane’s article.

All that to say, go read “Seabury and the Scottish Liturgy” by Drew Keane.  Here’s the link again: http://northamanglican.com/seabury-and-the-scottish-liturgy/

Is it All Souls’ Day?

Day two of the All Saints Octave is known, among the Papists, as All Souls’ Day.  A lot of Anglicans use this term also, though what our prayer book actually offers for November 2nd (on page 709) is the optional Commemoration of the Faithful Departed.  Granted, that rolls off the tongue far less easily than “All Souls”, but it’s more theologically accurate: we can only commemorate the faithful departed, not the damned departed.

Another reason to consider avoiding the name “All Souls Day” is because of the false doctrines that the Papists put forth with respect to this day.  They teach of a place of Purgatory, where most Christians souls go after death, to complete their process of sanctification and finally be completely purged of their sins.  Although traces of this sort of concept are almost see-able in the Bible, it makes for rather untenable doctrine.  All Souls’ Day, in Roman reckoning, is a special day to pray for the souls in purgatory; it’s a neat complement to All Saints Day, celebrating the souls now fully glorified in heaven.

Indeed, there is a neat three-fold structure of the church that they put forth: the church militant (us on earth, still fighting sin), the church expectant (in purgatory, awaiting full release), and the church triumphant (in heaven, at rest).  But the Scriptures don’t permit us to make a full distinction between the last two.  The dead are both at rest with Christ and awaiting their resurrection unto glory.  (The tension between these two realities plays heavily into divergent traditional & modern approaches to the Burial service.)

On those grounds we can still have All Saints’ Day (to emphasize their glorious rest) and Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (to emphasize their yet-unfinished story).  Indeed, it is the recommendation of this Customary to treat this day as if it were a major feast day, using Occasional Prayer #113 as the Collect of the Day:

O eternal Lord God, you hold all souls in life: Shed forth upon your whole Church in Paradise and on earth the bright beams of your light and heavenly comfort; and grant that we, following the good examples of those who have loved and served you here and are now at rest, may enter with them into the fullness of your unending joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

If you still want to nickname it “All Souls’ Day” that’s fine… the phrase is in that collect after all.  But it’s best to think of it as a complement to All Saints’ Day, considering the faithful departed from a slightly different angle.

Happy Halloween or Reformation Day?

Perhaps the strangest thing I remember hearing in seminary was around this time of year when a classmate commented in class with great frustration that Halloween must be a satanic plot to obscure Reformation Day.  … yeah, he was actually serious.

Halloween, as most of you probably know, is a mash-up of the words “hallows’ eve”, referring to All Hallow’s Eve.  (Hallow means holy, just like in the traditional translations of the Lord’s Prayer.)  All Saints’ Day has been celebrated on November 1st for a great many centuries – I believe I read somewhere that it was previously at a different time of year, but 1,000-year-old liturgical detail is neither my forte nor the goal of this blog.  The noting of the Eve of this great feast day had been known for centuries before the Reformation began.  Furthermore, Reformation Day as a holiday is quite a recent introduction to the evangelical world.  German Lutherans have been observing it in some way for a long time, which makes sense.

Honestly, there’s something terribly strange about a church celebrating Luther’s Reformation when its own doctrines are violently at odds with Luther himself.  The fact that most evangelicals today refuse to baptize their babies and treat the sacrament of the altar as a bare symbol would be enough to earn them outright excommunication in Luther’s mind, not to mention the host of other theological disputes that would come up.  Although as Anglicans we are much closer to Lutheran theology than most other protestants out there, it still makes less sense for us to celebrate Reformation Day… we’re better off celebrating our own Reformation events – the promulgation of the first prayer book is a good example that I’ve advocated before.

Plus, the present Lutheran pattern of celebrating Reformation Sunday a week before All Saints Sunday is a liturgical faux pas.  The way the calendar works, “Proper 26” is usually overwritten by All Saints Sunday; occasionally Proper 27 is instead.  But with another holiday adjacent to All Saints Sunday, that means Proper 26 will never be observed at all, and Proper 25 will also rarely be observed.  So that’s a liturgical-logistic argument against Reformation Sunday, too.

Anyway, enjoy Halloween.  And here’s a halloween homily to go with Evening Prayer tonight:

The Fraction: when to break the bread

On the night that he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it*…

And so when we celebrate Holy Communion, to this day, the celebrant breaks the bread.  The question we’re looking at in this entry in the walk-through of the Communion liturgy is when to break the bread.  The rubrics in the 2019 BCP, immediately above the words of institution in the prayer of consecration (pages 116 and 133) read thus:

At the following words concerning the bread, the Celebrant is to hold it, or lay a hand upon it, and here* may break the bread; and at the words concerning the cup, to hold or place a hand upon the cup and any other vessel containing the wine to be consecrated.

This is very nearly the only rubric in the prayer book tradition that tells the priest or bishop what to do with his hands during the prayers.  The Roman Rite is very specific – when to elevate, how many signs of the cross to make – but ours is very simple and free.  But the celebrant must touch the bread or the paten, and each vessel with wine to be consecrated.  This is as far as we go (at least officially) regarding the idea of “sacramental intent” – the notion that the priest only consecrates what he intends to consecrate, and nothing by mistake.  Physically indicating that which is to be consecrated for the Holy Communion is thus both an imitation of our Lord’s “taking” before blessing and breaking, as well as an act of verification regarding exactly what is about to be consecrated.

I have seen Anglican celebrations even by bishop where these rubrics have been ignored… please be sure you heed them!

But what’s interesting here for the 2019 Prayer Book is that it says the bread may be broken during the words of institution.  Those who are used to the 1979 Prayer Book’s liturgy may be surprised – there is a distinct “Fraction” or “Breaking of the Bread” soon after the prayer of consecration.  But the classical Anglican pattern is actually to break the bread during the words of institution.  In our new prayer book we have the choice of doing the fraction at this point or as a special act after the prayers of consecration and Lord’s Prayer.  This is what it looks like:

fraction

This is much like what is found in the 1979 Prayer Book and the modern Roman Rite, with the one difference being that instead of the traditional wording of the Pascha nostrum (“[Christ] our passover”) the celebrant can say another version of it.  Why two versions?

  • “… is sacrificed for us” indicates an immediacy to the Sacrifice of Christ.  Some will take this as an acceptably high theology of the sacrament, others may deem it too close to the Roman notion of the sacrifice of the Mass.
  • “… has been sacrificed for us, once for all upon the Cross” puts more scripture verses together to emphasize the Cross and ensure that the people are directed backwards thither in time.

That both are presented as acceptable options here indicate that insofar a present sacrifice can be inferred in the celebration of Holy Communion, it is one that is communicative of the one sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and not a repeat or addition thereto.  As Anglicans we can speak of a participation in the Holy Communion with Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, even those of the “lower” Reformed stripe.

If your practice is to make the Fraction at this point, and use these two dialogues, consider using the first one most of the year and the second one during Lent and other occasions where the centrality of the Cross is made more explicit.

Anyway, back to the big question of the day: when should we break the bread?  And why do we have choices?

Option 1: Break the Bread during the Prayers

This is the theological preference of the Calvinists and (I presume) Zwinglians.  By breaking the bread at this point it emphasizes our remembrance of the Last Supper and de-emphasizes any notion of eucharistic sacrifice or offering.  Because most Anglicans-in-exile under Queen Mary’s reign spent their time with French Calvinists, the Elizabethan settlement saw the fraction enshrined in the same place in the liturgy.  So we have this as the standard pattern for every Book of Common Prayer with the probable exception of the original (1549) which doesn’t seem to specify.  Anglican precedent, therefore, pushes us firmly in this direction.  However…

Option 2: Break the Bread after the Prayers

That nice ritual breaking of the bread after the prayers is more historic, being the universal order before the Reformation.  The Lutherans retained it, too, likely due to their higher sacramentology compared to the Calvinists, et al.  And they rejected the Roman notion of eucharistic sacrifice as much as the rest of us, so that ought to assuage those who fear this form of the fraction is too “papist.”  To break the bread at this point, then, is to realign our liturgy with the greater ecumenical and historic consensus.  This is also in the “biblical” order.  Notice what we read: Jesus “took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it.”  The sequence is taking, praying, and breaking.  So why should we not let the priest finish “giving thanks” before breaking the bread?

Please Not Option 3: a bit of both

One practice I’ve come across (which seems quite common in my experience, though I haven’t traveled much) is for the celebrant to “snap” the bread during the words of institution without actually breaking it.  This, ideally, adds a dramatic effect in the midst of the prayers.  On my first celebration of the eucharist as a newly-ordained priest, I had perfect beginner’s luck and did this perfectly without breaking the bread on my first Sunday.  It took weeks to replicate that success.  But after a couple years I learned more about the theological reasons for the two different placements of the Fraction.  And so I took the advice given me: choose one point or the other.  People know what breaking bread is, means, and sounds like – you don’t have to pretend to demonstrate it for them, it doesn’t make things more dramatic or meaningful.

Book Review: Liturgies of the Western Church

Welcome to Saturday Book Review time!  On most of the Saturdays this year we’re looking at a liturgy-related book noting (as applicable) its accessibility, devotional usefulness, and reference value.  Or, how easy it is to read, the prayer life it engenders, and how much it can teach you.

Today we’re looking at Liturgies of the Western Church, selected and introduced by Bard Thompson.  This is a reference book that every student of liturgy should have on the shelf.

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After a short introduction and bibliography (from the perspective of 1961), this book is occupied with introducing and setting out thirteen different liturgies from across Western Christian history (though the first two are not exclusively Western liturgies).

#1 – The First Apology of Justin Martyr (155)

This does not contain a liturgy, exactly, but we find here chapters 65-67 of his Apology, wherein he describes the order of service for the Communion liturgy he knew.  Although it is a brief outline, the basic sequence is clearly discernible, and it is consistent with the liturgical tradition to this day.

#2 – The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (200)

This is an important entry in the annals of history not because of its long-standing influence, but because of its sudden sharp revival in the mid-20th century.  This is the rite from which most of the Rite II Communion Prayers in the 1979 Prayer Book were drawn, as well as the Renewed Ancient Text in the 2019 Prayer Book.  Reading what it actually says, though, allows one to see just what the adaptations are that modern liturgies have made in its name.  I’ll leave it to the reader’s judgment if the term “renewed ancient” is justified or not.

#3 – The Mass in Latin and English (Roman Rite)

The introductory text for this one is particularly lengthy, as befits the long history of the Roman Rite.  What is given in this book was the then-current form of the Roman Rite (as of 1959), making this the Tridentine form Mass just before the reforms of Vatican II kicked in.  The Tridentine Mass is what traditional (Roman) Catholics today really love and yearn for, and what the baby boomer generation stereotypically despises.  This is a useful resource, of course, as it gives insight into one end of Roman Catholic piety.  But its downside is that this is not the form of the Mass that was in use during, or prior to, the Reformation.  So if you want compare & contrast the Prayer Book liturgy with its medieval forebear, this book doesn’t quite provide that.  You’ll have to, instead, rely on Tyndale’s translation of the Mass provided in the Anglican Service Book.  Still, the Latin-English parallels are handy, and the historical introduction gives you a sense of the gradual milieu of change over the centuries.

#4 – Martin Luther’s Masses (1523, 1526)

This is an interesting entry.  The Formula Missa (1523) was in Latin, and Martin Luther intended for it to be used on occasion for educational purposes.  Most of the time, though, the German Mass (1526) was appointed.  Every educated person, after all, learned Latin, and since instructing the laity in the reading of Scripture and promoting education was a Reformation principle, it made sense to hold worship in Latin periodically, so people could connect the familiar vernacular text to the Latin.  The liturgy provided in this book, however, is not a full text of the whole service; it’s a mix of text, rubric, and commentary, so you end up learning more about the German liturgy than digging into its precise text.

#5 – the Zurich Liturgy (1525)

This is the work of Ulrych Zwingli, whose communion theology was, shall we say, problematically radical.  Because he had such a “low view” of Communion, his liturgy is similarly empty when it comes to the Holy Table.  No sacrament, no consecration, just remembering and partaking.

#6 – The Strassburg Liturgy (1539)

This is the work of Martin Bucer, who was a theologian standing somewhere between Luther and Zwingli.  He was respected by John Calvin and finished his life and ministry in England, where he had a particular lasting impact.  His liturgy contains a number of very long prayers (a pattern we’ll see copied later on) but when it comes to celebration of Holy Communion it is suddenly (like Zwingli) quite brief.

#7 – The Form of Church Prayers, Strassburg (1545), and Geneva (1542)

It is John Calvin’s turn, now.  These are two liturgies that are nearly identical, and thus printed in the book with their occasional differences noted in parallel columns.  Again, long prayers precede and follow the Confession, and lead up to the Sermon.  The Communion prayers are also lengthy, quoting 1 Corinthians 11 at length, and exhorting the people to lift their “spirits and hearts on high where Jesus Christ is in the glory of his Father”.  There are further sets of prayers that provide another liturgy that begin to resemble the Prayer Book pattern around the celebration of Holy Communion, but still focused heavily on the words of institution and giving thanks.

#8 – the First and Second Prayer Books of King Edward VI (1549, 1552)

Now at last we reach the English Reformation.  The 1549 liturgy is the most conservative protestant liturgy in this book; you can follow its similarity to the Roman Rite more easily than any other entry.  Its order of prayers around the consecration of the Eucharist are fairly closely followed in the Scottish and American Prayer Book traditions, all the way down to the 1928 Prayer Book and the Anglican Standard Text in the 2019.  The 1552 liturgy does the re-arranging and clipping of the Communion Prayers that sets the stage more clearly for what would standardize in the 1662 Prayer Book.

#9 – the Form of Prayers, Geneva (1556)

John Knox is now the man of the hour.  This liturgy represents one of the primary influences on the English Reformation party in exile during the reign of Catholic Queen “bloody” Mary Tudor.  It seems a bit of a hybrid between the previous Genevan liturgy and the Prayer Book liturgy, but contains some sharp polemic directed against the Papist doctrine of Transubstantiation, revealing its historical context a little too much!

#10 – The Middleburg Liturgy of the English Puritans (1586)

Now we’re getting into the world of Prebyterianism.  The Church of England had restored a Prayer Book similar to where it had left off before Mary’s reign, but the Puritan party was increasingly unhappy with it, and thus this liturgy was born.  The Calvinist, or Puritan, or “Reformed” desire was to simplify, reduce repetitions, and focus more on preaching and quoting Scripture.  This doesn’t mean short though… one prayer for After a Sermon goes on for several pages.  The Communion prayers, of course, are very short, and consciously different from the Prayer Book pattern.  There are also several instances where a rubric directs what the minister is to pray without giving an actual text.  Extemporaneous prayer was another major bullet point on the Reformed agenda.

#11 – The Westminster Directory of the Publique Worship of God (1644)

After the English Civil War, the Puritans had won: the Church of England as previously known was abolished, and Presbyterianism held sway over the country.  Within a couple years, this liturgy was put forth as the new standard.  It’s almost more of a guide than a liturgical text, however, as it mostly tells the order of what is to be done and only provides examples of what the minister is to pray.  Its hostility to the “excesses” of the Prayer Book tradition is clear in its preface.

#12 – The Savoy Liturgy (1661)

When the Interregnum ended and King Charles II returned to the throne of England, the Church of England with its bishops and prayer book also came back out of hiding.  The Puritan party was on the fence about conforming to the Anglican norm, and Richard Baxter, at the Savoy Conference, advocated a more Reformed liturgy in the (vain) hopes that the upcoming 1662 Prayer Book wouldn’t be like its predecessors.  The liturgy found here is an expanded version of what can be seen in the various Calvinist liturgies above, but with more full-text prayers provided, rather than mere examples.  It still falls short of Prayer Book standards, though, providing (for example) no absolution.  Interestingly, its prayers of consecration are the most Anglican of the Calvinist rites so far seen, including this line: “This bread and wine, being set apart, and consecrated to this holy use by God’s appointment, are now no common bread and wine, but sacramentally the body and blood of Christ.”  This indicates a distinction of Calvinist doctrine over again Zwinglian.  Ultimately this barely made a dent in the formation of the 1662 Prayer Book.

#13 – The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America (1784)

Finally, we come to a liturgy left to the American Methodists by John Welsey.  Seeing little or no ordained Anglican clergymen in the fledgling United States, he felt at liberty to jumpstart a new church movement without episcopal authority or assistance.  Despite that rogue element in his work, what he gave to the American Methodist Church was almost an exact replica of the 1662 Prayer Book.  The Morning Prayer and Communion services are printed in this book, and you’ll see they are almost identical.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 4/5
The fact that the various liturgies present themselves in a few different ways makes a quick compare/contrast difficult to make.  But on the whole this is a readable book, not overly technical.

Devotional Usefulness: N/A
This is not a devotional book.  Though if it does it’s job, you’ll want to go grab a Prayer Book and worship!

Reference Value: 4/5
Put this next to your copy of the 1662 Prayer Book and you’ll have a fantastic history of liturgy on your shelf.  Or, because it’s not 1961 anymore, you can just go online and probably find each of these texts freely available.  Still, the introductions and footnotes in this book are useful.

Antecommunion: What, Why, and How?

Something we’ve touched upon here before is the subject of the service of Antecommunion. I figured it’s about time we revisit that idea with a more direct address of its identity, purpose, and execution.

What is ‘Antecommunion’?

The prefix ante- means ‘before’, so the service of Antecommunion is the Service of Holy Communion before, or leading up to and excluding, the actual celebration of Communion.  Basically from the Introit to the Offertory, this is the non-sacramental part of the Communion liturgy.  The only difference is that this is done on purpose, and ends with a few different prayers, making this specifically the Service of Antecommunion rather than the Service of Holy Communion Except We Stopped Short Just Before The Important Bit.

Why would anyone do this?

Antecommunion is a uniquely Anglican practice; I’m not sure if any other tradition has ever had a liturgy on the books like this.  In the Prayer Book tradition, provision was made for the celebration of Holy Communion every Sunday and major Holy Day of the year, but, people were not used to such frequent reception of Communion, and despite the Reformers’ best efforts, the average English believer still only came to the Holy Table once a month at best.  The priests, however, were still expected to fulfill the liturgical demands of the Prayer Book, and so provision had to be made for situations in which there was a Service of Holy Communion offered but no communicants prepared to receive Holy Communion.

The 1662 Prayer Book has, at the end of the Communion liturgy, a handful of collects, and a rubric or two, for that very situation.  I’m not aware what, if any, subsequent Prayer Books contained similar instructions for that situation.

Now that Anglicans almost the world over are accustomed to weekly Communion, this “need” for Antecommunion is no longer common.  If your parish priest is unexpectedly sick on a Sunday morning, then a Deacon or Lay Minister could lead an Antecommunion service instead, since it’s almost identical to the regular Communion service.  This leads us to two possible scenarios in which the Antecommunion service may still be relevant for our needs and interests:

  1. A group of people, lacking a priest, want to participate in the eucharistic liturgy as much as they’re able.
  2. A priest, lacking a congregation, wants to participate in the eucharistic liturgy as much as he’s able.

The former situation is rare – normally when people want to worship together they should be saying the Daily Office.  Antecommunion should always and only be an addition to the Office, not a substitute.

The latter situation is perhaps more common, especially among those clergymen with high church sensibilities.  Roman priests, for example, were (if not still are) bound to celebrate Mass daily, much like how Anglican priests were (if not still are) bound to say the Office daily.  If you’re a priest and you feel like you “ought to be” celebrating Holy Communion daily, or at least ought to be celebrating it more frequently than just Sunday mornings, then Antecommunion is the compromise.  It is extremely rare to find, among Anglicans, anyone who approves of a priest saying Mass entirely alone – Prayer Book tradition requires at least two other people gathered with the celebrant, so only the most Romanized clergymen would ever opt for a ‘private’ mass.  So if you are alone, Antecommunion is the closest you can get to the devotion of the so-called private mass.

How does the service of Antecommunion work?

The whole point of this liturgy is that it’s a stand-in for the full Communion service, so it’s essentially identical from the start until the Confession.  After that, you say the Lord’s Prayer, and a few additional prayers, and then you’re done.  For a bookmark-style guide using the 2019 Prayer Book, download this Antecommunion leaflet.  Plus, if you want, you can check out this walk-through video.

As a bonus, I even provided a quick summary of how to do this with the 1928 Prayer Book, since I know some of you are users of that book, rather than the 2019.