Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Reflections on ACNA's 'Ancient Text Lord's Supper'

I am very thankful for ACNA, it is a much needed refuge from the generally apostate Episcopal Church in the United States.  This does not mean I agree with the direction of ACNA nor all it promotes.  This is seen by my previous posts critiquing the ACNA Catechism for deviating from historic Anglican teaching.  Having been asked by a friend for my opinions on the new 'Ancient' liturgy for the celebration of the Lord's Supper I have put together the following comments.  These comments would also largely apply to the Church of England's Common Worship Order One.  The text of the new liturgy can be found here. I have only commented on the parts I have critiques of which is by no means all of it.

The Text:

The Acclamation
The Collect for Purity

The Summary of the Law
The rubrics allow the full use of the Decalogue and this good, but if one is to use a lengthy sermon slot the summary of the Law is not a bad thing so long as the Decalogue is frequently used as well

The use of Greek in Anglican services even if a translation is given is a silly and pointless thing which goes against the principles of Article24 and the whole purpose of the Prayer Book.  Thankfully one can use an English version.  This would only be used if the Decalogue is not because of the refrain calling on God to change our hearts.  The Trisagion is not 'Anglican' but is also completely unobjectionable and very good refrain to memorise.  

Oddly, one must ask, given the Kyrie is used standardly as a confession is this here a confession?  The fact a 'real' confession comes later would say not, but the inclusion of the Gloria immediately following the Kyrie would imply it is (we glorify God for the mercy we have received)

This is not the traditional place for the Gloria.  The rubrics allow it to come after the communion which is right and historic Anglican practice.  We give God glory for the wonders of His mercy shown and revealed in the Lord's Supper and ultimately for the absolution of sins which it reveals - in this sense it is odd to have the Gloria here as stated above.

The Lessons

It is standard practice to now have the creed after the sermon, but this was not the vision of Cranmer.  Cranmer placed it before presumably to hold the minister to account before he even got into the pulpit.  The Creed is not a 'response' to the sermon but rather the sermon should be a Scriptural reflection of the truths set forth in the Creed.  Ultimately, it is a minor thing but the rubrics should allow the creed to come before the sermon.

Prayers of the People
A litany style prayer is very in keeping with patristic practice where litanies crop up multiple times in the service.  Cranmer, however, ditched a litany style intercession during communion in favour of a more theologically robust and thus didactically useful extended prayer.  Whilst litanies are good and not objectionable at all, one would have hoped the rubrics would have allowed a more BCP style prayer and indeed the purpose of the litany seems to be to include the congregation more - could this not be equally achieved by allowing the congregation to say the prayers themselves via a specified member of the laity?

It would be more in keeping with the carefully thought out service of the BCP to have the prayers, exhortation, confession and absolution, after the offertory and this is allowed in the rubrics - I would recommend doing so.

The Exhortation
It is wonderful it is even mentioned and commended by rubric!

The Confession and Absolution of Sin
This is all solid, one would hope the minister would use all of the Comfortable Words.

The Peace
The Peace is a tricky one, the problem is that although it seems natural to have it after the confession, it breaks up the logic of the Prayer Book which goes straight from the joy of the Comfortable Words to lifting up our heart due to them.  This break is lamentable and though not allowed by the rubric is may be better to place the peace elsewhere in the service (or ditch it all together, the church survived without it since the Reformation I am not sure why we need it today in the form it is - surely the very act of sharing communion together from one bread and one cup is  the greatest symbol of sharing the peace!)

The Offertory
Again the placement here really breaks up Cranmer's logic and places the offertory much closer to the Lord's Supper itself, indeed it ties the lifting up of our hearts with the lifting up of our wallets - not a message Cranmer would really want portrayed to my mind.  Much better to place it before the prayers of the people whereby it serves as the break between the ante-communion and the communion proper.  The phrase "the people's offering of bread and wine, and money or other gifts" is rather jarring, the bread and wine are not offerings we give to God (heaven forbid!)  and it would be much better to stick to the BCP which separates the rubrics concerning offerings and the rubric concerning the bread and wine - the bread and wine are not part of the offering and this needs to be made clear. The best way to do this is to either already have the bread and wine on the table or to have it next to the minister and have the minister himself sort out the bread and wine, not have it paraded up from the back of church.

The Sursum Corda

The Sanctus
Ideally the 'blessed is he' part would be in brackets, it was clearly omitted by Cranmer despite patristic witness because of its use historically to refer to the coming of Jesus in to the bread and wine.

The Prayer of Consecration
A thought to start out:
Do we 'become subject to evil' or are we evil?

The introduction of an epiclesis over the bread and wine is clearly patristic but equally clearly unbiblical and not historically Anglican.  The epiclesis over the people is more in line with Cranmer but falls short of the simplicity of the BCP prayer of consecration.  Even more problematic is that the epiclesis comes after the words of institution.  In the Prayer Book it is the words of institution themselves which consecrate/set apart the bread and wine for their holy use. Here the consecration is clearly separated. 

Following the epiclesis we have the prayer of offering our lives as a sacrifice.  Cranmer wisely moved this away from its traditional location as it is here to after the reception because unless this is done the offering of our lives gets tied up with the very act of consecration rather than being a joyful and humble out working of reception through grace and faith.

The Lord's Prayer
Traditionally the Lord's Prayer came here but, once again, Cranmer moved it. Having the Lord's Prayer here is just creating a longer and longer separation between the words of institution and the actual reception - making the consecration the 'high point' rather than the immediate reception and leaving the door open to reverence the consecrated bread and wine.

The Fraction
Again, following the patristic pattern the fraction is separate from the prayer of consecration , BUT Cranmer rightly combined them - what is the purpose and logic of separating the words of Jesus from His actions?   It would be eminently wise to avoid the first response and use the second one which is unambiguously orthodox!!

The Prayer of Humble Access
Again, why is this here!? There is no patristic background for this so it should be a simple matter of following Cranmer who rightly and logically placed it after the Sanctus - When Isaiah beheld the song of heaven how did he respond?  He fell to His knees and prayed a prayer of humble access - this and not 'blessed is he who comes...' is the proper biblical response to the majesty and truth of the Sanctus.

Agnus Dei
No, just no.  

The Ministration of Communion
Best to use the first refrain with the bracketed text included.  Also use the bracketed text in the words of reception perhaps by saying the first half to one person and the next to the other so both can hear it all but time is saved.

The Post Communion Prayer
The Blessing
The Dismissal
Seasonal Greetings
Proper Prefaces
Offertory Sentences
The Exhortation

The Decalogue
"Incline our hearts to keep this law" or in modern terms perhaps "change our hearts so we keep this law" would be better than "and give us grace to keep this law" - just seems like grace is some kind of steroid for holiness in that wording.

General Instruction
Customary to add a little water to the wine - but not historically Anglican nor indeed required so ditch it.

Reservation of the bread and wine is not only pointless given that it is simply bread and wine and it is reception in faith which mediates the benefits of the Lord's Supper, but is clearly in contradiction to Article 28.  If you need to make home communions then the minister should do it themselves as per the BCP.  Communion by extension is effectively, to my mind, lay presidency - nothing more and nothing less.  This all counts for the idea of a deacon doing the whole service in church with reserved sacrament. 

Only the words of institution need to be used to consecrate more bread and wine as per the BCP.  The introduction of further epiclesises and prayers of consecration only muddy the clear teaching of the BCP that is the very words of institution and those alone which consecrate/set apart the bread and wine for their purpose.

Concerning Discipline

General Reflections:

All in all this is OK.  It does not represent historic Anglicanism very well and parts of it could be interpreted in a heterodox sense whilst the most troublesome parts are able to be dropped, replaced, or moved.  It is not ideal but it is workable.  In this sense it is much like Common Worship Order One in the Church of England. As modern liturgies go (ironic given the intention of this) it is well put together and given the inclusive aims of ACNA it is commendable.

But I can't help but ask why this needs to exist.  Clearly it is to fulfil the need some feel to connect Anglicanism more to the patristic churches and their liturgies.  But this is not necessarily a good thing.  Thomas Cranmer was one of the most knowledgeable and notable scholars of patristics throughout the whole Reformation. His vast library and notes on patristic writers was essentially unparalleled in either Protestant or Roman circles.  Anglicans more so than other Protestants, and Cranmer in particular, brought the patristic witness in favour of the doctrines of grace to bear in debates and argumentation.  This is why it is odd in the eyes of many that when it came to setting out the liturgy of the Lord's Supper Cranmer would be so innovative and plainly reject patristic tradition and consensus so completely.  

Cranmer's liturgy does not follow the pattern of patristic liturgies, it rejects the existence of an epiclesis, the separation of the fraction, the possibility of reverence of the host, any insinuation of real presence in the bread and wine, and focuses on reception in faith not the actions of the minister.  Though he did not really understand justification by faith alone, nonetheless, Dom Gregory Dix (whose work much modern liturgy including this one is based) was right in saying that the BCP Lord's Supper was "the only effective attempt ever made to give liturgical expression to the doctrine of justification by faith alone."  That teaching gospel truths so clearly took the priority over patristic consensus in Anglican liturgy should give us great pause over attempts to change Cranmer's careful decisions and order of service.  It is thus a failure to take a rightful pride in our unique Anglican heritage and to respect the founding fathers that is at the heart of this liturgy, indeed the liturgy exists because of a misunderstanding of both Anglican identity and historical reality. 

So, ultimately, this is to my mind misguided and a failure to value Anglican heritage, but it is not heretical or terrible as a piece of liturgy and whether the use of it is a hill to die upon will be up to the conscience of the minister presiding.  I regularly use Common Worship Order One which is very similar to this, but it would not be my first choice and if possible I would change it for one more reflecting the beautiful logic of Cranmer's liturgy in which the truths of the Bible are so wonderfully not only spoken by acted out.


  1. I don't understand the placement of the Agnus Dei after the Prayer of Humble Access. I realize that the 79 BCP was an Anglican aberration, but I did like that the Agnus Dei was placed after the Fraction so that it could be used in Lent in place of the usual Fraction words/anthem. The problem with the usual Fraction is that invariably there is at least one person who says Alleluia in Lent, and this takes the focus of some off the table and puts it onto the faux pas. Your comments?

    1. The placement of the Agnus Dei has been all over the place ever since it was reintroduced (illegally one might add) into popular practice by the 19th century Ritualist Movement and then eventually was included in the various prayer book revisions because of this. I would imagine they have placed it after the prayer of humble access so it acts as some kind of affirmation and declaration that Jesus does indeed mercifully accept and forgive the humble sinner who approaches the Lord's Table. Obviously, as I stated in the article, the prayer of humble access should not be after the fraction anyway but rather after the Sanctus (where it rightly reflects the response of Isaiah to hearing the song of heaven). If the prayer of humble access were moved back to its proper place then the Agnus Dei would indeed follow the fraction and give the benefits you suggest if one does indeed use the Agnus Dei.

  2. In the words of Fr. Young,...."No, just no"..;9).

    1. Being a blog post and not an academic essay or book I was obviously glossing much of the history and argument for why I argue what I do. Cranmer's response to the Agnus Dei was basically 'no, just no' so I stick that XD. Maybe in another post I will explain why my answer to it was 'No, just no' ! (as it happens the version they have used in this liturgy is not as objectionable as many Agnus Dei's are and they have thus clearly tried to keep the widest spectrum of ACNA happy with it. Indeed they even let you use a different anthem or even drop it all together - the latter being my preference)

  3. In the words of Fr. Young,...."No, just no"..;9).


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