Sunday, October 21, 2012

Worship Woes 2: The Canon

Today's worship post will reveal the "by the book" nature of the author, when relating especially to the administration of the Lord's Supper.  In this piece,  I will address the problems I see with the current practices I see in the Canon or the Eucharistic prayer.  This has historically been one place in the liturgy that tends to "clutter" or tack on extra ceremonial for no real reason other than to amplify perceived "sanctity", usually due to poor sacramental theology.  

Historically, Anglicanism had been pretty strict in following the ceremonial of the Prayer Book, which is noticeably minimal, in comparison with its Roman counterpart (for good reason).  There has been noticeable deviation from the prescriptive norm, though, throughout Anglican history.  The Laudians were champions of eastward facing celebration, bowing at the name of Jesus and towards the altar, and a few other practices.  A quite frequent occurrence (in the days before modern liturgies) was the "elevation" of the offerings and the preaching of a sermon in the Morning Prayer Service (which is only authorized in the Ante-Communion).  

I will briefly describe the actions allowed by the Prayer Book, in both 1928 and 1979 forms and then discuss some of the aberrations that I find troubling.

1928 Communion Service

Starting with the Offertory, the priest is to "offer, and shall place upon the Holy Table, the Bread and the Wine", without discussing the merits or significance of "offering" the bread and the wine, this is all that is prescribed for the priest to do at this point (with the notable deletion of any sentences or prayers to be said when "offering" the elements).  After turning to the people for the Sursum Corda, the priest is to "turn to the Holy Table, and say," which in the 1928 could either be North end or Eastward facing.  Then beginning the Canon, "standing before the Holy Table," the priest should have already " 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."  The next set of instructions comes at the Consecration of the Elements in the Institution Narrative, which we are all familiar with.  First, when speaking of the bread, the priest is to "take the Paten unto his hands."  Then he is "to break the Bread," presumably while still holding it.  And subsequently he must, "lay his hand upon all the Bread."  Concerning the wine, the priest is to " take the Cup into his hand" and then " lay his hand upon every vessel (be it Chalice or Flagon) in which there is any Wine to be consecrated."  The next act prescribed by the Book is the kneeling of the priest at the Prayer of Humble Access, before receiving Communion himself and distributing it.  The next portion is important, after Communion, " the Priest 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."  

1979 Communion Service

The 1979 Prayer Book is less prescriptive than the 1928 in dealing with ceremonial (and presumes a lot of Novus Ordo practices).  However, this follows the discernible ceremonial actions envisioned by this Book.

Beginning again with the Offertory, "Representatives of the congregation bring the people's offerings of bread and wine, and money or other gifts, to the deacon or celebrant.  The people stand while the offerings are presented and placed on the Altar" (Ironically, this brings 1979 closer to 1662 than 1928, compare, "he Priest shall then place upon the Table so much Bread and Wine, as he shall think sufficient" with "presented and placed" with 1928 "offer and place").  1979 gives explicit instruction for the presbyter or bishop to face the people (wondering what starting position they have in mind?).  After the Sanctus, the priest is to face the Holy Table and begin the Consecration.  1979 gives the following instructions concerning the bread and wine, "At the following words concerning the bread, the Celebrant is to hold it, or to lay a hand upon it; and at the words concerning the cup, to hold or place a hand upon the cup and any other vessel containing wine to be  consecrated."  The next ceremonial action is the breaking of the bread after the Lord's Prayer, just before the distribution of the elements.  


After having studied the ceremonial actions permitted by rubric, now let us consider some common variations on the simple service provided for in the Prayer Book.  Unfortunately, I am not familiar with the 1928 services as I have only been reared in the 1979 tradition.  I can presume on some things but if someone would like to comment with additional observations that would be helpful and beneficial for further discussion.

First, the Offertory is often cluttered to the point of no recognition.  A common practice that has no warrant in the rubrics is the blessing of the offerings of the people.  All of the Prayer Books direct the offerings of the people to be "presented and placed" on the Holy Table, not crossed and stashed away.  The Prayer Book tradition includes the alms and oblations of the people with the elements of bread and wine as offerings.  This is also attested in the early church, when the peoples' offerings were also offered up at the Offertory with the elements.

Secondly, the Offertory is cluttered with so many people, it's tough to remember who's doing what and why.  I know that acolytes are a valuable ministry in the Church but I am not in favor of creating ceremonial chaos to give kids a role in church.  I think the acolytes should serve as chalice bearers or torch bearers (especially if younger kids) but let the clergy place the elements on the Table.  It de-clutters things, for one, we don't need to pass along the elements in an assembly line.  Second, it can speed things along and alleviate chances of spillage or confusion.  The lavabo often occurs at this point in the liturgy, I really don't have any gripes towards it (Andrewes is known to have practiced it) but I don't think it necessary part of the service.  Thirdly, just a side note, the addition of water to the wine was deemed acceptable by the Lincoln Judgement in 1890, but only in a non-liturgical manner, i.e. before the service.  That being the case I think it would be more suitable to add water to the wine in the sacristy before the service.  That being said, I don't really mind it at this point, considering it was one of the usages of the Scottish Episcopalians.  It's not rubrical though and shouldn't be regarded of as essential to the celebration of Holy Communion.

Moving along in the service, there is a tendency to multiply the actions of clergy and acolytes in the service (which partially makes sense, if you have seventeen people "on stage'" they need to be doing something).  One of the practices that I don't particularly care for, for good reason, in my opinion, is the Sanctus bell.  The bell was used in the medieval Church to signal the point in the liturgy when the host and chalice had become the body and blood of Christ and because the service was in Latin, the people needed a cue to adore the Eucharist (not receive it according to Christ's commands).  I'm not particularly fond of this practice because of the theology it harkens to symbolically.  Another tendency is the multiplication of acts performed by clergy such as bowings, crossings, and kneelings or genuflections.  Again, I frown upon bowing or genuflecting towards the elements after the Words of Institution because it symbolically represents a theology alien to our tradition.  The "big bad" of the Canon is the Elevation, which is expressly forbidden by the Articles of Religion, 'The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped" (Art. 28).

During the Eucharistic prayer, there is a tendency to perform various actions.  I have come to agree with Archbishop Robinson of UECNA, when he describes the following uses of the early church as such: 1) taking the bread and wine into the hands; 2) extending the hands over the elements in the epiclesis; 3) elevating the elements at the final doxology, I think there is one more but memory fails me at this point.  The point being, for me, these are acceptable variations in the ceremonial of the liturgy (but not necessary for a valid celebration and I would in fact prefer the simple actions of the Prayer Book).  The sign of the cross is variously added at differing points in the liturgy, which is acceptable but adds to ceremonial complexity which eats away at Cranmer's vision for a simple, understandable, biblical liturgy for the Church of England (and subsequently her daughter Churches).

I will continue reflecting on the Communion Service next week..

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