Thursday, September 8, 2011

Simple Church

I wanted to offer some observations on Episcopal/Anglican worship, regarding its alleged complexity.  I recently attended a Morning Prayer service (on Sunday!) and it struck me how little ritual there was in the service.  The ministers and choir entered through the side rather than through procession down the nave.  The minister and deacon kneeled at faldstools on opposite ends of the choir throughout the majority of the service, facing south.  The minister left his place for the sermon, announcements, and offertory at the end.  A few crossings here and ther but beside that, it was a very simple service, ceremonially, but with the richness of the Anglican Morning Prayer liturgy.

I went back and looked through the Prayer Book rubrics for Communion and noticed similar directions for how to conduct the Communion service.  I specifically looked at the 1662 BCP but I think that the rubrics in the 1928 are similar, if not the same.  The directions are incredibly simple to follow.  Let's walk through the service...

Beginning with the Lord's Prayer and Collect for Purity, "the Priest standing at the north side of the Table shall say the Lord's Prayer with the Collect following, the people kneeling."  While not getting into the north end v. north side debate (although I favor the former).  A logical posture that the Prayer Book directs is that when the Priest is addressing the people, he turns to them, and when he is in prayer to God, he faces away from the people.  We see this, after the Collect for Purity, when the Decalogue is recited to, "ask God mercy for their transgression thereof for the time past, and grace to keep the same for the time to come," then the Priest, "turning to the people, rehearse distinctly all the TEN COMMANDMENTS," with the people responding to each commandment.  After the Decalogue, the Collect for the Queen follows, and sense he is in prayer, the priest is to, "stand as befofre," at the north end/side.

The Collect for the Day, Epistle, and Gospel, follow.  The Prayer Book gives no rubrical directions for the priest, so it presumes that he either stays as he was or moves to the lectern.  The direction only says that he is to read both.

The Curate is to give announcements and then the sermon follows.  The Prayer Book assumes he has left the Table for the Sermon (and before possibly) because the rubrics direct him to, "return to the Lord's Table, and begin the Offertory," using one or more of the Sentences provided.  The Deacons or Churchwardens are to collect the alms at this point and, "reverently bring it to the Priest, who shall humbly present and place it upon the holy Table."  He is never directed to remove it from the Table.  Likewise, "And when there is a Communion, the Priest shall then place upon the Table so much Bread and Wine as he shall think sufficient," one of Cranmer's moves in the 1552 was to separate the Offertory completely from the Canon.  He then reads the Prayer for the Church.

Then follows the Exhortation(s), presumably read towards the people, although no direction as such is given.  After that, "Then shall the Priest say to them that come to receive the holy Communion.. Ye that..."  The priest and people kneel to confess their sins.  For the absolution, "Then shall the Priest (or the Bishop, being present,) stand up, and turning himself to the people, pronounce this Absolution," the people are still kneeling.

For the Sursum Corda there is no direction to face the people or to return to "as before."  Presumably he should face the people, since it is addresed to them, "Lift up your hearst, etc."  However, more weight is given to the idea that he should be facing the people by the following rubric, "Then shall the Priest turn to the Lord's Table and say," after which follows the Preface, if there is one.

He is to kneel for the Prayer of Humble Access, "Then shall the Priest, kneeling down at the Lord's Table, say in the name of all them that shall receive the Communion this Prayer following."

The next rubric has sparked much debate, "When the Priest, standing before the Table, hath so ordered the Bread and Wine, that he may with the more readiness and decency break the Bread before the people, and take the Cup into his hands, he shall say the Prayer of Consecration, as followeth."  The debate centers on what the word "before" means and if he is to stay there.  From a north end perspective, he would have to move the bread and wine closer to his side to be able to reach it.  However, I'm not going to dive into that debate, but I want to note the part that says, "before the people," which was meant to counter the Roman position which hid everything from the people.

The manual acts are one of the more important sets of rubrics in the BCP:

"a Here the Priest is to take the Paten into his hands:
b And here to break the Bread:
c And here to lay his hand upon all the Bread.
d Here he is to take the Cup into his hand:
e And here to lay his hand upon every vessel (be it Chalice or Flagon) in which there is any Wine to be consecrated."

Some observations about these rubrics, first, the priest does not take the bread into his hands as the Roman priest does.  He lifts up the paten, with the bread on it.  Secondly, he does not elevate it as the Roman priests do.  Third, he is to break the bread at this point.  Likewise, he is not to elevate the chalice, only to "take it into his hands."

The administration of the elements follows.  "Then shall the Minister first receive the Communion in both kinds himself, and then proceed to deliver the same to the Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, in like manner, (if any be present,) and after that to the people also in order, into their hands, all meekly kneeling."  Two things are important here, one, the other clergy are served first after the minister, and secondly, the people are to take the bread and wine, "into their hands."

After the Communion, "When all have communicated, the Minister shall return to the Lord's Table, and reverently place upon it what remaineth of the consecrated Elements, covering the same with a fair linen cloth."  The ablutions should not occur at this point but after the Blessing.  From his place at the Lord's Table, the priest leads the Our Father and says one of the two post-Communion prayers.  Then for the Blessing, the priest should turn to the people, presumably, although the Prayer Book does not specifically say this.  "Then the Priest (or Bishop if he be present) shall let them depart with this Blessing."

Many rubrics follow the service but two stand out as more important.  First, "And to take away all occasion of dissension, and superstition, which any person hath or might have concerning the Bread and Wine, it shall suffice that the Bread be such as is usual to be eaten; but the best and purest Wheat Bread that conveniently may be gotten."  This seems to rule out wafer bread but perhaps the superstition tied to it is not so much an issue now.  Secondly, "And if any of the Bread and Wine remain unconsecrated, the Curate shall have it to his own use: but if any remain of that which was consecrated, it shall not be carried out of the Church, but the Priest, and such other of the Communicants as he shall then call unto him, shall, immediately after the Blessing, reverently eat and drink the same."  This rules out doing the ablutions after the Administration of the elements.

This simple service stands in stark contrast to the elaborate ritual which has crept up in Anglican churches over the centuries. I don't want to make a list of suggestions for modern parishes but maybe just one, maybe consider the benefits of a simple service.  Endless ritual causes distraction for the worshiper.  At the same time, ceremonies are not bad, as we see in the Prayer Book and especially in the Preface but they tend to accumulate and clutter the service.  The Prayer Book took away all that was unnecessary to return the service to its purity found in the primitive Church.  Maybe it's time to "clean shop" again with our liturgy.

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