Perhaps the title of this post surprises you, how can an Anglican and a High Church one at that write negatively about the Liturgy of the Church?
The reform of the liturgy was one of the primary concerns of our Reformers in the 1500's along with the reform of doctrine. The reform of the liturgy and doctrine overlapped in the English Reformation. The first attempts at reforming the liturgy occurred in 1544 with the standardization of the Sarum Use throughout England. There had been various "Uses" in England which developed throughout the Middle Ages, mostly due to the lack of a printing press to provide a standard text. The reform of the liturgy under Henry was conservative but numerous reforms were realized. The English Litany was published in 1544 (later revised due to the banning of processions in 1547 and the introduction of the Prayer Book in 1549). The lessons at Mass were read in English and the Order for Communion was introduced in 1548.
The English Reformers were avid readers of the Early Fathers and realized that there was much good in public liturgy and looked to the Fathers for inspiration,
"[I]t may plainly appear by the Common Prayers in the Church, commonly called Divine Service. The first original and ground whereof if a man would search out by the ancient Fathers, he shall find, that the same was not ordained but of a good purpose, and for a great advancement of godliness. For they so ordered the matter, that all the whole Bible (or the greatest part thereof) should be read over once every year; intending thereby, that the Clergy, and especially such as were Ministers in the congregation, should (by often reading, and meditation in God's word) be stirred up to godliness themselves, and be more able to exhort others by wholesome doctrine, and to confute them that were adversaries to the truth; and further, that the people (by daily hearing of holy Scripture read in the Church) might continually profit more and more in the knowledge of God, and be the more inflamed with the love of his true Religion" (Concerning the Service of the Church, BCP).
They lament the loss of patristic simplicity and biblical purity through the proliferation of superstitious rites throughout the Middle Ages,
"But these many years passed, this godly and decent order of the ancient Fathers hath been so altered, broken, and neglected, by planting in uncertain Stories, and Legends, with multitude of Responds, Verses, vain Repetitions, Commemorations, and Synodals; that commonly when any Book of the Bible was begun, after three or four Chapters were read out, all the rest were unread. And in this sort the Book of Isaiah was begun in Advent, and the Book of Genesis in Septuagesima; but they were only begun, and never read through: After like sort were other Books of holy Scripture used. And moreover, whereas Saint Paul would have such language spoken to the people in the Church, as they might understand, and have profit by hearing the same; The Service in this Church of England these many years hath been read in Latin to the people, which they understand not; so that they have heard with their ears only, and their heart, spirit, and mind, have not been edified thereby" (Concerning the Service of the Church).
The Reformers (specifically Cranmer writing in the Prayer Book but expressing the mind of the corporate body), begin to propose solutions to the problems posed by medieval religion. Cranmer expresses several concerns about medieval liturgy. Cranmer focuses on two main concerns, the first is the lack of continuous reading of Scripture and the complexity of the rules contained therein.
"These inconveniences therefore considered, here is set forth such an Order, whereby the same shall be redressed. And for a readiness in this matter, here is drawn out a Calendar for that purpose, which is plain and easy to be understood; wherein (so much as may be) the reading of holy Scripture is so set forth, that all things shall be done in order, without breaking one piece from another. For this cause be cut off Anthems, Responds, Invitatories, and such like things as did break the continual course of the reading of the Scripture."
With those concerns in mind and with an honest desire to reflect the practice of the Fathers, Cranmer admits that there must be some rules to Divine Service or else there would be chaos (as there is in modern American Protestantism). Cranmer admits this but insists that the rules must be simple and easy to follow, both for the edification of the people and in fidelity to patristic thought,
"Yet, because there is no remedy, but that of necessity there must be some Rules; therefore certain Rules are here set forth; which, as they are few in number, so they are plain and easy to be understood. So that here you have an Order for Prayer, and for the reading of the holy Scripture, much agreeable to the mind and purpose of the old Fathers, and a great deal more profitable and commodious, than that which of late was used."
Another concern of the Reformation was the standardization of liturgy and the uniformity of practice of it. Cranmer alludes to this in this part of the preface to the Prayer Book by saying, "And whereas heretofore there hath been great diversity in saying and singing in Churches within this Realm; some following Salisbury Use, some Hereford Use, and some the Use of Bangor, some of York, some of Lincoln; now from henceforth all the whole Realm shall have but one Use." If there is concern about the Prayer Book, "the parties that so doubt... shall alway resort to the Bishop of the Diocese," and if the Bishop cannot resolve the issue, "if the Bishop of the Diocese be in doubt, then he may send for the resolution thereof to the Archbishop."
In another introductory document in the Prayer Book, Cranmer devotes several pages to discussing the rationale behind the reforms of the liturgy. Cranmer distinguishes between ceremonies which entered the Church through good intentions but which were later corrupted by men and other ceremonies which were born in superstition. Likewise, there are some ceremonies kept because they are of good intent and are edifying to the people (a major theme in Cranmer’s liturgical scholarship).
“OF such Ceremonies as be used in the Church, and have had their beginning by the institution of man, some at the first were of godly intent and purpose devised, and yet at length turned to vanity and superstition: some entered into the Church by undiscreet devotion, and such a zeal as was without knowledge; and for because they were winked at in the beginning, they grew daily to more and more abuses, which not only for their unprofitableness, but also because they have much blinded the people, and obscured the glory of God, are worthy to be cut away, and clean rejected: other there be, which although they have been devised by man, yet it is thought good to reserve them still, as well for a decent order in the Church, (for the which they were first devised) as because they pertain to edification, whereunto all things done in the Church (as the Apostle teacheth) ought to be referred” (Of Ceremonies, Why Some are Abolished and some Retained, BCP).
Although Cranmer admits that all ceremonies are devised by man, he refuses to adopt an approach to worship which denies the use of appropriate ceremonial, “And whereas in this our time, the minds of men are so diverse, that some think it a great matter of conscience to depart from a piece of the least of their Ceremonies, they be so addicted to their old customs; and again on the other side, some be so new- fangled, that they would innovate all things, and so despise the old, that nothing can like them, but that is new.” This distinction is crucial in Cranmer’s approach (and consequently the approach found in the Prayer Book) to ritual and ceremonial, that which is superstitious or that which implies an unbiblical theology is abolished but that which is good and edifying to the congregation is kept.
Cranmer goes on to elaborate on why certain ceremonies are abolished in the Church of England. First, he complains of the number and complexity of ritual in the medieval Church. One cannot disagree with him; a fruitful exercise would be to borrow a copy of the Roman Missal of the time (not worth the cost of your money to buy) and try to maneuver through the rubrics.
“Some are put away, because the great excess and multitude of them hath so increased in these latter days, that the burden of them was intolerable; whereof Saint Augustine in his time complained, that they were grown to such a number that the estate of Christian people was in worse case concerning that matter, than were the Jews… But what would Saint Augustine have said, if he had seen the Ceremonies of late days used among us; whereunto the multitude used in his time was not to be compared? This our excessive multitude of Ceremonies was so great, and many of them so dark, that they did more confound and darken, than declare and set forth Christ's benefits unto us.”
Cranmer’s next point is that the multitude of ceremonies reflects a poor understanding of the Gospel. The Christian Religion is not a religion of sacrifices whereby the merits of God are merited by worshippers by the adequacy of their offerings but rather a Religion of the Sacrifice, Christ’s, “one oblation of himself once offered…a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world” (BCP), whereby salvation has been merited through us by the righteousness of Christ. Cranmer writes,
“Christ's Gospel is not a Ceremonial Law, (as much of Moses' Law was,) but it is a Religion to serve God, not in bondage of the figure or shadow, but in the freedom of the Spirit; being content only with those Ceremonies which do Serve to a decent Order and godly Discipline, and such as be apt to stir up the dull mind of man to the remembrance of his duty to God, by some notable and special signification, whereby he might be edified.”
Finally, some ceremonies are simply distracting for the worshipper and encourage a false piety rather than love for God. For this reason Anglicans do not elevate the host or worship it. Nor have they historically worn the Eucharistic vestments due to their association with the false, Roman doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass and transubstantiation.
“Furthermore, the most weighty cause of the abolishment of certain Ceremonies was, That they were so far abused, partly by the superstitious blindness of the rude and unlearned, and partly by the unsatiable avarice of such as sought more their own lucre, than the glory of God, that the abuses could not well be taken away, the thing remaining still.”
However, there is no room in Cranmer’s thought (nor Anglicanism) for chaos in worship. Anglicanism has always sanctioned a ceremonial grounded in Scripture. But, liturgy and good ceremonial provides order and discipline to the service of the Church, “they be neither dark nor dumb Ceremonies, but are so set forth, that every man may understand what they do mean, and to what use they do serve.” The English Reformers did not abandon all old forms of ceremonial but only that which contradicted the Word of God. Examples of good ceremonial contained in the Prayer Book are the manual acts in the Communion, the sign of the cross at baptism, the laying on of hands in confirmation and all the other rubrics and directions given in the book. The goal of the Reformation was to provide a uniform liturgy and ceremonial for the Church of England to provide order in worship and to correct false doctrine. Cranmer writes,
“But now as concerning those persons, which peradventure will be offended, for that some of the old Ceremonies are retained still: If they consider that without some Ceremonies it is not possible to keep any Order, or quiet Discipline in the Church, they shall easily perceive just cause to reform their judgements. And if they think much, that any of the old do remain, and would rather have all devised anew: then such men granting some Ceremonies convenient to be had, surely where the old may be well used, there they cannot reasonably reprove the old only for their age, without bewraying of their own folly. For in such a case they ought rather to have reverence unto them for their antiquity, if they will declare themselves to be more studious of unity and concord, than of innovations and new-fangleness, which (as much as may be with the true setting forth of Christ's Religion) is always to be eschewed.”
The vision of the Church of England was to provide a biblical liturgy for the Realm of England which presented, in liturgical form, the Reformed Catholic faith. It is the liturgical expression of the doctrine contained in the Articles of Religion. Under the Elizabethan Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity, there was no liturgical flexibility in choosing liturgical texts, the only authorized form of public prayer was the Book of Common Prayer and it has been ever since in every national Church until modern times (perhaps excluding the Church of Scotland which had issued the “wee bookies” with supplemental liturgies for Holy Communion and other rites but this was to lower the cost and was only used in chapels not using the English Book). Although there has always been a tendency to deviate from the authorized liturgy, it was mostly the case that in most places in the world, one could walk into any Anglican cathedral, parish church or chapel and know the liturgy or at least be familiar with the forms, if one had gone to another land, for the Church of England never required uniformity across national borders,
“[W]e think it convenient that every Country should use such Ceremonies as they shall think best to the setting forth of God's honour and glory, and to the reducing of the people to a most perfect and godly living, without error or superstition; and that they should put away other things, which from time to time they perceive to be most abused, as in men's ordinances it often chanceth diversely in divers countries.”
However within the Realm of England (originally) and other national Churches, only the authorized Book of Common Prayer was allowed to be used. Penalties for not using the Prayer Book were severe according to the Act of Uniformity of 1559,
“[I]f any manner of parson, vicar, or other whatsoever minister, that ought or should sing or say common prayer mentioned in the said book, or minister the sacraments, from and after the feast of the nativity of St. John Baptist next coming, refuse to use the said common prayers, or to minister the sacraments in such cathedral or parish church, or other places as he should use to minister the same, in such order and form as they be mentioned and set forth in the said book, or shall wilfully or obstinately standing in the same, use any other rite, ceremony, order, form, or manner of celebrating of the Lord's Supper, openly or privily, or Matins, Evensong, administration of the sacraments, or other open prayers, than is mentioned and set forth in the said book (open prayer in and throughout this Act, is meant that prayer which is for other to come unto, or hear, either in common churches or private chapels or oratories, commonly called the service of the Church), or shall preach, declare, or speak anything in the derogation or depraving of the said book, or anything therein contained, or of any part thereof, and shall be thereof lawfully convicted, according to the laws of this realm, by verdict of twelve men, or by his own confession, or by the notorious evidence of the fact, shall lose and forfeit to the queen's highness, her heirs and successors, for his first offence, the profit of all his spiritual benefices or promotions coming or arising in one whole year next after his conviction; and also that the person so convicted shall for the same offence suffer imprisonment by the space of six months, without bail or mainprize” (Act of Uniformity, 1559).
There were even penalties for laymen not attending divine service,
“And that from and after the said feast of the Nativity of St. John Baptist next coming, all and every person and persons inhabiting within this realm, or any other the queen's majesty's dominions, shall diligently and faithfully, having no lawful or reasonable excuse to be absent, endeavour themselves to resort to their parish church or chapel accustomed, or upon reasonable let thereof, to some usual place where common prayer and such service of God shall be used in such time of let, upon every Sunday and other days ordained and used to be kept as holy days, and then and there to abide orderly and soberly during the time of the common prayer, preachings, or other service of God there to be used and ministered; upon pain of punishment by the censures of the Church, and also upon pain that every person so offending shall forfeit for every such offence twelve pence, to be levied by the churchwardens of the parish where such offence shall be done, to the use of the poor of the same parish, of the goods, lands, and tenements of such offender, by way of distress.”
I say all that I have said to show the history of liturgical reform in the Church of England to show the significance of liturgy in the Anglican tradition. Now I add my own personal opinion on top of the historical setting. I do not believe that North American Anglicanism (especially of the “realignment” type) are approaching liturgy from an Anglican perspective and are in fact encouraging “liturgical noncomformism” as I have thought of it. The purpose of Anglican liturgy is to unite the national Church to a set of formal prayers, written with the explicit intention of guiding doctrine and providing order and discipline in the public worship of God. In addition to those, it is to be edifying for the people of God and a biblical worship service. The Anglican Church in North America does not have an authorized liturgy nor does it adequately adopt the Articles or any formulation of doctrine. The ACNA provides a weak “receiving” of the Articles, “as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time,” in addition to, “and as expressing the fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief” (ACNA Theological Statement). The ACNA “reception” of the Book of Common Prayer is less satisfying, “We receive The Book of Common Prayer as set forth by the Church of England in 1662, together with the Ordinal attached to the same, as a standard for Anglican doctrine and discipline, and, with the Books which preceded it, as the standard for the Anglican tradition of worship.” Likewise there is no attempt to provide liturgical or ceremonial uniformity for, “all authorized Books of Common Prayer of the originating jurisdictions shall be permitted for use in this Church,” that is conditioned by this statement, “Until such time as a Book of Common Prayer for use in this Province has been adopted.” Likewise there is no ceremonial uniformity in ACNA, just look through a random five ACNA parishes and you will surely come across one neo-evangelical, “Charismatic” type church with no set liturgy and another with what looks like a Roman priest dressed as such worshipping and idolizing the bread of Communion and probably some unpleasant mix of the two as well.
How is that Anglican?