Finally, whereas there was wont to be a great partition between the choir and the body of the church, now it is either very small or none at all, and (to say the truth) altogether needless, sith the minister saith his service commonly in the body of the church, with his face toward the people, in a little tabernacle of wainscot provided for the purpose, by which means the ignorant do not only learn divers of the psalms and usual prayers by heart, but also such as can read do pray together with him, so that the whole congregation at one instant pour out their petitions unto the living God for the whole estate of His church in most earnest and fervent manner.

— William Harrison, A Description of England (1577)

Worship in the Post-Reformation Church of England — Corporate, Liturgical, and Sacramental

In his Preface to the first Book of Common Prayer (1549), Archbishop Cranmer stresses the importance of public worship, or “Divine Service . . . for a great advancement of godliness,” especially through the organized through-reading of the Bible, so that “Clergy . . . should (by often reading, and meditation of God’s word) be stirred up to godliness themselves, and be more able to exhort others by wholesome doctrine . . . that the people (by daily hearing of holy Scripture read in the Church) should continually profit more and more in the knowledge of God, and be the more inflamed with the love of his true religion.”

Cranmer’s language here emphasizes the essentially corporate, collective nature of worship, an act of the people with the goals of education, inspiration, and amendment of life. Cranmer assumes as essential to the functioning of this Service the use of a common language, the importance of scripture read and heard collectively, the different functions of clergy and laity (with the clergy serving as servants of the laity in leading and inspiring them to “the love of his true religion”), and the structure of authority provided by the Episcopate “for the resolution of all doubts, concerning the manner how to understand, do, and execute, the things contained in this book.”

St P{aul’s Cathedral, the Choir from Above. From the Visual Model, rendered by Austin Corriher.

Further, Cranmer emphasizes the importance of everyone’s using, not only a common language but common texts for the rites of public worship, noting that while “heretofore, there hath been great diversitie in saying and synging in churches within this realme: some folowyng Salsbury use, some Herford use, some the use of Bangor, some of Yorke, and some of Lincolne: Now from hencefurth, all the whole realme shall have but one use.”[1] 

Cranmer’s emphasis on, and understanding of, the Church as a corporate body, gathered to be the Body of Christ on earth, formed through the Sacrament of Baptism and sustained by the Sacrament of Holy Communion, enriched through reading the Bible, prayer, and preaching, “truly and ernestly repent[ing of] youre sinnes, and . . . in love, and charite with your neighbors and entend[ing] to lede a newe lyfe, folowing the commaundementes of God, and walkynge from hence furthe in his holy waies,” ever more fully becoming “the mysticall body of [Christ], which is the blessed company of all faithful people.”

This is especially reflected in the fact that the first Book of Common Prayer was put into use on Whitsunday, or the Feast of Pentecost. On that day, the English heard the story of the first Pentecost, in English, according to Acts 2: 1 – 11.

WHEN the fiftie dayes were come to an end, they were al with one accorde together in one place. And sodenly there came a sound from heaven, as it had bene the comming of a mighty wind, and it filled al the house where they sate. And there appered unto them cloven tonges, like as they had bene of fyre, and it sate upon eche one of them; and they were al filled with the holy gost, and began to speake with other tonges, even as the same spirite gave them utteraunce. There were dwelling at Jerusalem Jewes, devout men out of every nacion of them that are under heaven. When thys was noysed about, the multitude came to gether and were astonied [astonished], because that every man heard them speake with his owne language. They wondred all, and merveiled, saying among themselfes; behold, are not al these, which speake, of Galile? And how heare we every man his owne tong, wherin we were borne? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the inhabiters of Mesopotamia, and of Jewry [Judea], and of Capadocia, of Pontus and Asia, Phrigia and Pamphilia, of Egipte, and of the parties of Libia, whiche is beside Siren [Cyrene], and straungers of Rome, Jewes and Proselites, Grekes and Arrabians we have heard them speake in our owne tongues the great weorkes of God.

One imagines Cranmer envisioning this moment, when the English “with one accorde together in one place” and heard the Bible read “in his owne language, . . . in his own tong, wherin [he] were borne,”

Cranmer’s vision is of a nation united in prayer through “use” of common forms of worship and texts for prayer. To enable this uniformity of worship, the Church of England in the reign of Edward VI, produced a series of monumental publications stretching from the Great Bible (1539),[2] through the first Book of Homilies (1547) and the first Books of Common Prayer (1549, 1552), investing enormous resources in enabling Englishfolk to have one use.”[3] All of these documents concern, support, and enable public worship. The first of these, the Great Bible, was first published in a folio volume (hence the title the “Great Bible”), intended primarily for use during worship services, its significant size best used resting upon a lectern. The 1547 Book of Homilies was intended for reading during public worship by clergy not licensed by their Bishops as preachers. The first Books of Common Prayer were published, like the Great Bible, in folio editions, intended for use in public worship at prayer desks and at the altar.

St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower. From the Visual Model, rendered by Austin Corriher.

In preparing a Prayer Book for the Church of England, Cranmer followed the Medieval Church’s four-fold organization of liturgical texts — the Breviary, the Missal, the Processional, and the Manual — but reduced the scope and complexity of each kind of text so that all four would fit into a single book. The Breviary section contains the scripts for Morning and Evening Prayer; the Missal section contains the Collects, the Epistle and Gospel readings, and the Communion rite itself; the Processional now becomes the Great Litany; and the Manual includes Baptism and the pastoral rites. The liturgies for public worship contained in Cranmer’s Prayer Books organize time on a daily basis (Morning and Evening Prayer), on a weekly basis (the addition of the Great Litany on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays as well as the addition of Holy Communion on Sundays and Holy Days), and the year (through the cycle of seasons, from Advent through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and the Sundays after Trinity Sunday). They also organize the life cycle, from Baptism through Confirmation and reception of Holy Communion, continuing through Marriage, the Churching of Women, Ordination, Visitation and Communion of the Sick, then concluding with the rite of Burial.

Taken together, these rites emphasize the corporate and collective work of the Church, since the formation of Christian identity, belief, and practice is understood to be conducted in and through the public worship of the Church. This emphasis is visible, especially, in Cranmer’s final significant revision in the Book of Common Prayer of 1552, when he replaced the moment of the priest’s elevation of the consecrated elements with the distribution and reception of communion by the congregation. Here, Cranmer clarifies for us that the rite enables the congregation to participate in Communion with Christ, not by observing a representation of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary in the elevation of the consecrated Host, but by participation through time in the entire action with the bread and wine, or as one of the late 16th century commentaries on the Church of England’s Catechism put it, through “Bread and Wine, together with the actions of blessing, breaking, distributing and receiving, exercised in and about the same.”

Perhaps Cranmer, as a student of the Church Fathers, had in mind here St Augustine’s Sermon on the Eucharist:

What you see on God’s altar, you’ve already observed during the night that has now ended. But you’ve heard nothing about just what it might be, or what it might mean, or what great thing it might be said to symbolize. For what you see is simply bread and a cup – this is the information your eyes report.

But your faith demands far subtler insight: the bread is Christ’s body, the cup is Christ’s blood. Faith can grasp the fundamentals quickly, succinctly, yet it hungers for a fuller account of the matter. As the prophet says, “Unless you believe, you will not understand.” [Is. 7.9; Septuagint] So you can say to me, “You urged us to believe; now explain, so we can understand.” Inside each of you, thoughts like these are rising: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, we know the source of his flesh; he took it from the virgin Mary. Like any infant, he was nursed and nourished; he grew; became a youngster; suffered persecution from his own people. To the wood he was nailed; on the wood he died; from the wood, his body was taken down and buried. On the third day (as he willed) he rose; he ascended bodily into heaven whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. There he dwells even now, seated at God’s right.

So how can bread be his body? And what about the cup? How can it (or what it contains) be his blood?” My friends, these realities are called sacraments because in them one thing is seen, while another is grasped. What is seen is a mere physical likeness; what is grasped bears spiritual fruit. So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: “You are the body of Christ, member for member.” [1 Cor. 12.27] If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table!

It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ”, you reply “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true! But what role does the bread play?

We have no theory of our own to propose here; listen, instead, to what Paul says about this sacrament: “The bread is one, and we, though many, are one body.” [1 Cor. 10.17] Understand and rejoice: unity, truth, faithfulness, love. “One bread,” he says. What is this one bread? Is it not the “one body,” formed from many? Remember: bread doesn’t come from a single grain, but from many. When you received exorcism, you were “ground.” When you were baptized, you were “leavened.” When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, you were “baked.”

Be what you see; receive what you are. This is what Paul is saying about the bread. So too, what we are to understand about the cup is similar and requires little explanation. In the visible object of bread, many grains are gathered into one just as the faithful (so Scripture says) form “a single heart and mind in God” [Acts 4.32].

And thus it is with the wine. Remember, friends, how wine is made. Individual grapes hang together in a bunch, but the juice from them all is mingled to become a single brew. This is the image chosen by Christ our Lord to show how, at his own table, the mystery of our unity and peace is solemnly consecrated. All who fail to keep the bond of peace after entering this mystery receive not a sacrament that benefits them, but an indictment that condemns them.

So let us give God our sincere and deepest gratitude, and, as far as human weakness will permit, let us turn to the Lord with pure hearts. With all our strength, let us seek God’s singular mercy, for then the Divine Goodness will surely hear our prayers. God’s power will drive the Evil One from our acts and thoughts; it will deepen our faith, govern our minds, grant us holy thoughts, and lead us, finally, to share the divine happiness through God’s own son Jesus Christ.

St Paul’s Cathedral, the Altar during Communion. From the Visual Model, rendred by Austin Corriher

Or, as the author of the Homily on Common Prayer and Sacraments (Second Book of Homilies, 1571) puts it,

Among the manifold exercises of GODS people (deare Christians) there is none more necessary for all estates, and at all times, then is publike prayer, and the due vse of Sacraments. For in the first, wee beg at GODS hands all such things, as otherwise we can not obtain. And in the other, hee imbraceth vs, and offereth himselfe to bee embraced of vs. . . .

Of this prayer speaketh our Sauiour Christ, when he sayth, If two of you shall agree vpon earth vpon any thing, whatsoeuer ye shall aske, my Father which is in heauen shall doe it for you, for wheresoeeuer two or three bee gathered together in my name, there am I in the middest of them (Matthew 18.19-20). Although GOD hath promised to heare vs when we pray priuately . . . Yet by the histories of the Bible it appeareth, that publike and common prayer is most auaileable before GOD, and therefore is much to be lamented that it is no better esteemed among vs which professe to be but one body in Christ. . . .

[C]ommon or publike prayer is of great force to obteine mercy, & deliuerance at our heauenly Fathers hand.Therefore brethren, I beseech you, euen for the tender mercies of GOD, let vs no longer bee negligent in this behalfe: but as the people willing to receiue at GODS hand such good things as in the common prayer of the Church are craued, let vs ioyne our selues together in the place of common prayer, and with one voyce and one heart, begge at our heauenly father all those things, which hee knoweth to bee necessary for vs. I forbid you not priuate prayer, but I exhort you to esteeme common prayer as it is worthy.

Or, as George Herbert put it in his poem Love III:

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.

Or, as Lancelot Andrewes put it in his sermon for Easter Day 1624 and never delivered because of illness, until he got the chance to preach it in the parallel universe we created for this website:

This carries us now to the blood. The very shedding whereof upon the cross, primum et ante omnia was the nature of a price. A price, first, of our ransom from death due to our sin, through that His satisfaction. A price again of the purchase He made for us, through the [a]vail of His merit, which by His testament is by Him passed over to us.

Now then, His Blood, after it had by the very pouring it out wrought these two effects, it ran not waste, but divided into two streams. 1. One into ‘the laver of the new birth’–our baptism, applied to us outwardly to take away the spots of our sin. 2. The other,’into the Cup of the New Testament  in His Blood,’ which inwardly administered serveth, as to purge and ‘cleanse the conscience from dead works’ that so live works may grow up in the place, so to endue us with the Spirit that shall enable us with the power to bring them forth. Hæc sunt Ecclesiae gemina Sacramenta, ‘these are,’ not two of the Sacraments, but ‘the two twin Sacraments’ of the Church, saith St. Augustine. And with us there are two rules. 1.One, Quicquid Sacrificio offertur, Sacramento confertur; ‘what the Sacrifice offereth, that the Sacrament obtaineth.’ 2. The other, Quicquid Testamento legatur, Sacramento dispensatur;’what the Testament bequeatheth, that is dispensed in the holy mysteries.

To draw to an end. If this power be in the Spirit, and the blood be the vehiculum of the Spirit, how may we partake this blood? It shall be offered you straight ‘inthe Cup of blessing, which we bless in His name.’ For ‘is not the Cup of blessing which we bless, the communion of the Blood of Christ,’ saith St. Paul? Is there any doubt of that? In which Blood of Christ is the Spirit of Christ. In which Spirit is all spiritual power; and namely, this power that frameth us fit to the works of the Spirit, which Spirit we are all made there to drink of. And what time shall we do this? What time is best? What time better than that day in which He first shewed forth the force and power He had in making peace, in bringing back Christ That brought peace back with Him, That made the Testament, That sealed it with His Blood, That died upon it, that it might stand firm for ever? All which were done upon this day. This day then somewhat would be done, somewhat more than ordinary, more than every day. Let every day be for every good work, to do His will; but this day to do something more than so, something that may be well-pleasing in His sight. So it will be kindly, so we shall keep the degrees in the text, so we shall give proof that we have our part and fellowship in Christ, in Christ’s resurrection;–grace rising in us, works of grace rising from it. That so, there may be a resurrection of virtue, and good works at Christ’s resurrection. That as there is a reviving άναθαλία in the earth, when all and every herbs and flowers are ‘brought again from the dead,’ so among men good works may come up too, that we be not found fruitless at our bringing back from the dead, in the great Resurrection, but have our parts as here now in the Blood, so there then in the Testament, and the legacies thereof, which are glory, joy and bliss, for ever and ever.

The corporate dimension of Prayer Book worship is demonstrated in the rites marking transitions in the lives of individuals, for which transitions the Prayer Book rites bring otherwise private events in people’s lives before God and the Christian community and provide language for understanding them, all in the context of public worship. As the rubrics for Baptism put it, “the people are to be admonished, that it is most convenient that Baptisme should not be ministered but upon Sundays and other holydayes, when the most number may come together, as well for that the Congregation there present may testifie the receiving of them that be newly baptized, into the number of Christes Church, as also because in the Baptisme of infants, every man present may bee put in remembrance of his owne profession made to God in his Baptisme.”

After Queen Mary’s brief reign, and England’s equally brief return to Catholicism, her sister Queen Elizabeth’s Settlement of Religion and reinstitution of the Book of Common Prayer (1559) essentially restored the faith and practice Cranmer believed would produce his vision of national unity, corporate faith, and amendment of life. The Book of Homilies was reprinted in 1562; it was joined by a second, even larger Book of Homilies in 1571. Even the one major change between Cranmer’s 1552 Book of Common Prayer and the Prayer Book of the 1559 Elizabethan Settlement of Religion — the inclusion of the priest’s words at the administration of Communion from the 1549 Prayer Book as well as the priest’s words in the Prayer Book of 1552 — was a step in the direction of national unity, combining a clear affirmation that the elements of bread and wine were the “Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ” with the direction that the recipients were to eat and drink the elements so as to feed on Christ in their hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.

St Paul’s Cathedral, the CHoir from the Dean’s Stall. From the Visual Model, rendered by Austin Corriher.

John Jewel, in his Apology of the Church of England, first published in Latin in 1562, then in English in 1564, defended the Elizabethan Settlement against Catholic opponents on the grounds that the English Church is united in what it does, together. In Part II, especially, he repeatedly begins sentences with the phrase “We believe” to affirm the Church’s faith as expressed in what Lancelot Andrewes would describe later as “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period – the centuries that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.” The Prayer Book enables corporate affirmation of faith, corporate confession and absolution, corporate intercessionary prayer, and corporate recognition that it is, corporately, the Body of Christ.

Corporate prayer thus was at the center of English devotional life as organized by the Book of Common Prayer. Corporate worship was at heart a dialogue between priest and congregation, with God as the empowering audience. This corporate action involves the ongoing, day-by-day and week-by-week rhythm of human petition and reassurance of divine response. Or, as William Harrison put it in his classic contemporary account of Tudor social life [TH1] , “the minister saith his service commonly in the body of the church, with his face toward the people” so “the ignorant [the illiterate] doo not onelie learne diuerse of the psalmes and vsuall praiers by heart, but also such as can read, doo praie togither with [the priest]: so that the whole congregation at one instant powere out their petitions vnto the liuing God.”[2]

Divine Service

Every day, twice a day, those gathered for Divine Service were invited to confess their sins “with an humble, lowly, penitent and obedient harte to the ende that we may obtaine forgevenes of the same by his infinite goodnesse and mercie,” then were assured, in the words “pronounced by the Minister,” that their sins were absolved, their debt to God remitted, since God “hath geven power and commaundement to hys Ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people beyng penitent, the absolution and remission of their synnes: he pardoneth and absolveth all them which truly repent, and unfeinedly beleve his holy gospel.”

Every day, twice daily, they were immersed in the the corporate reading of scripture, reading through the Old Testament once a year, the New Testament three times and year, and the Book of Psalms once a month.

Every day, twice daily, they proclaimed their faith, in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. Except, of course, on a few special days, [1]Upon these Feasts; Christmas Day, the Epiphany, Saint Matthias, Easter Day, Ascension Day, Whitsunday, Saint John Baptist, Saint James, Saint Bartholomew, Saint Matthew, Saint Simon and Saint Jude, … Continue reading when they used the words of the Creed of St Athanasius. On Sundays and Holy Days, in addition to the use of a Creed at Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, they professed their faith again, this time using the words of the Nicene Creed.

St Paul’s Cathedral, the Choir, with the Bishop’s Throne. From the Visual Model, rendered by Austin Corriher.

Holy Baptism[2]For a discussion of worship and the stages of life, see David Cressy, Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford, 1997

This conversation continued throughout the individual congregant’s lifetime. In Holy Baptism, for example, the priest prays that, as God saved Noah and his family from the Flood, led the people of Israel through the waters of the Red Sea, and through Jesus’ baptism, sanctified “the floude Jordane, and al other waters, to the mistical washinge away of synne,” so now God “wilte mercifully loke upon these children, sanctify them and washe them with thy* holy gost, that they beyng delivered from thy wrath, may be received into the Arcke of Christes churche, and beyng stedfast in faithe, joyfull throughe hope, and roted in charitie, may so passe the waves of this troublesome world, that finally they may come to the lande of everlasting life, there to reigne with the, worlde without ende, through Jesus Christ our Lorde. Amen.”

Then, the priest gives thanks to God “that thou haste vouchedsaufe to call us to the knowledge of thy grace and fayth in the, encrease this knowledge, and confirme this faith in us evermore: Geve thy holy spirit to these enfantes, that they may be borne againe, and be made heyres of everlasting salvacion, throughe our Lorde Jesus Christ. who liveth and reigneth with the, and the holy spirite, nowe and for ever. Amen”

Baptism in the Sixteenth Century. Image Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The priest then prays that the God who “gave commaundement to his disciples that they should go teache al nacions, and baptise them in the name of the father, the sonne, and of the holy Ghost” will “Regard, we beseche the, the supplicacions of thy congregacion, and graunt that al thy servantes whiche shalbe baptised in this water, may receve the fulnes of thy grace, and ever remaine in the nombre of thy faithful and elect chyldren, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Then, after the baptism of the children by water and signing on their foreheads the sign of the Cross, in the name of the Trinity, he proclaims that what has happened is the incorporation of the child into the congreagation: “WE receive this Childe into the congregacion of Christes flocke, and do sygne him with the signe of the crosse, in token that hereafter he shal not be ashamed to confesse the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner against sinne, the worlde, and the devyll, and to continue Christes faithful souldiour and servaunt unto his lives ende. Amen.

He then summarized what has just happened: “SEYING now, derely beloved brethren that these children be regenerate and graffed [grafted] into the bodye of Christes congregacion, let us geve thankes unto God for these benefites, and with one accorde make our praiours unto almighty God, that thei may lead the reste of their lyfe according to this beginning.”

A moment later, he gives “harty thankes most merciful father, that it hathe pleased thee to regenerate this enfant with thy holy spirite, to receyve him for thine owne childe by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy congregacion. And humbly we beseche thee to graunt that he being dead unto sinne and lyving unto righteousnes, and being buried with Christ in his death, maye crucify the old man, and utterly abolyshe the whole bodye of synne, that as he is made partaker of the deathe of thy sonne, so he maye be partaker of hys resurreccion, so that finally with the residue of thy holy congregacion, he may be inheritour of thine everlasting kingdome. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Confirmation

This process of reminding God of God’s promises if God’s people do what God commands, then fulfilling the commandment by performing the prescribed liturgical action, then giving thanks that God has delivered on God’s promises continues in the language of the Rite of Confirmation, a service iin which the Bishop of the Diocese in which one resides is the liturgical leader.

The Bishop first prays that “ALMIGHTYE and everlivyng God, whyche hast vouchedsaufe to regenerate these thy servauntes by water and the holy Ghost; and hast geven unto them forgevenes of al theyr synnes: strengthen them we beseche the (O Lorde) with the holy Ghoste the comforter, and daiely encrease in them thy manifolde giftes of grace, the spirite of wisedome and understanding: the spirite of counsail and ghostly strength, the spirite of knowledge and true godlinesse, and fulfyll them (O Lord) with the spirite of thy holy feare. Amen.”

Then the Bishop lays his hands upon each child being confirmed and prays, “DEFENDE, O Lorde, this childe with thy heavenly grace that he may continue thine for ever, and daiely encrease in thy holy spirite more and more, untill he come unto thy everlastyng kingdome. Amen.”

Then the Bishop prays, “we make our humble supplications unto the for these children, upon whome (after the example of thy holy Apostles) we have laied our handes, to certifie theim (by thys signe) of thy favour, and gracious goodnes toward them, let thy fatherly hande we beseche the ever be over them, let thy holy spirite ever be with them, and so leade them in the knowledge and obedience of thy worde that in the ende they may obtaine the everlasting lyfe: through our Lorde Jesus Christe, who with the and the holy Ghost liveth and reigneth one God, worlde without ende. Amen.”

Holy Communion

This understanding of the Christian life as a lifelong participation in the corporate actions of the church is reinforced in the rite of Holy Communion, a rite that happens when “WE be come together at thys tyme, derely beloved brethren to fede at the Lordes supper, unto the whyche in Goddes behalf I bydde you all that be heare present, and beseche you for the lorde Jesus Christes sake, that ye wyll not refuse to come thereto, beyng so lovingly called, and bidden of God him selfe.”

Cranmer folded the private preparatory and penetential rites of the Medieval Church into the public and corporate rite of Holy Communion, inviting all “that do truly and ernestly repente you of youre sinnes, and be in love, and charite with your neighbors and entende to lede a newe lyfe, folowing the commaundementes of God, and walkynge from hence furthe in his holy waies: Draw nere and take this holy Sacrament to your comforte make your humble confession to almighty God, before this congregation here gathered together in his holye name, mekely knelynge upon your knees.”

Holy Communion in the Sixteenth Century. Image courtesy Wikimeida Commons.

After the congregation takes part in a public, corporate act of confession, the officiating Priest declares their absolution: “ALMIGHTYE God, oure heavenly father, who of his great mercy hathe promised forgevenes of sinnes, to al them, whiche with hartye repentaunce and true faithe turne to hym: have mercye upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sinnes, confirme and strengthen you in all goodnes, and bring you to everlastyng lyfe; through Jesus Christ our Lorde. Amen.”

In Cranmer’s rite of Holy Communion, the reception of the bread and wine takes the place of the adoration of the consecrated host in the Medieval Mass. The rubrics affirm the public and corporate character of the rite, since no priest can celebrate Holy communion by himself, but only where at least “two or three be present.” Hence language of Christ’s presence and of the conferral of grace find their meaning in the corporate action of the rite. The two prayers, from which the celebrant chooses one for this specific occasion, both affirm the meaning of what is happening in the corporate offering, blessing, breaking, and receiving of the eucharistic bread and the sharing of the cup of wine.

In the first of these, the celebrating priest addresses God, praying on behalf of “thy humble servaunts [who] entierly desire thy fatherly goodnes” that God mercifully to accept this our Sacrifice of praise and thankesgeving moste humblye besechynge thee to graunte, that by the merites and death of thy sonne Jesus Christ, and throughe faith in his bloude, we (and all thy whole church,) may obteine remission of our sinnes, and al other benefites of his passion.”

He also explains that “here we offer and presente unto the, O Lord, our selves, our soules, and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto the, humblye beseching the, that al we which be partakers of this holye communion, may be fulfilled with thy grace, and heavenly benediction. And although we be unworthye throughe our manifolde sinnes, to offer unto the any sacrifice, yet we beseche the to accept this our bounden duty and service, not weighing our merites, but pardoning our offences, throughe Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom and with whom, in the unitie of the holy ghoste, all honour and glorye be unto the, O father almighty, world without ende. Amen.”

In the second of these prayers, God’s favor and blessing through these actions is confirmed and the essentially corporate nature of Holy Communion is also affirmed:

ALMIGHTY and everlastinge God, we moste hartely thancke the, for that thou doest vouchsafe to fede us, whiche have duly received these holy misteries, with the spiritual fode of the moste precious body and bloude of thy sonne, our saviour Jesus Christ, and doest assure us therby of thy favour and goodnes towarde us, and that we be very membres incorporate in thy mistical body, whiche is the blessed company of al faithful people, and be also heyres through hope of thy everlasting kingdom, by the merites of the most precious death and passion of thy deare sone.

The life-long character of the Christian life is also celebrated: “We now most humbly beseche the, O hevenly father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy felowship, and do all suche good workes as thou hast prepared for us to walke in, throughe Jesus Christe our Lord; to whom with the and the holy ghost be all honour and glory, world without ende. Amen.”

St Paul’s Cathedral, the Ceiling. From the Visual Model, rendered by Austin Corriher.

Matrimony

The theme of incorporation into the corporate body, and of the centrality of that body in the story of human salvation is also affirmed in the Rite of Matrimony, “signiflyng unto us the mistical union that is betwixt Christ and his Churche.” For Matrimony is a sign that “God which haste consecrated the state of matrimonie to suche an excellent misterie, that in it is signified and represented the spiritual mariage and unitie betwixte Chniste and his Churche.” So God is asked to “Loke mercifully upon these thy servauntes, that both this man may love his wife, accordyng to thy worde (as Christe did love his spouse the Churche, who gave himselfe for it, lovyng and cherishing it, even as his owne fleshe).”

To reaffirm the connections in Marriage between the relationship of husband and wife and the relationship between the community and God, newly-weds are told that on “the same day of their mariage” they “must receyve the holy Communion.”

Visitation and Communion of the Sick

The Rite of Ministry to the Sick reaffirms the role of the corporate community and the lifelong nature of the Christian life, as it reaches back to one’s Baptism, invites repentance and confession, and leads to Holy Communion. The Priest prays that God preserve the sick person “in the unitie of thy churche”:

O MOST merciful God, whiche according to the multitude of thy mercies, dost so put awai the sinnes of those whiche truly repent, that thou remebrest them no more, open thy eie of mercy upon this thy servaunt, who most earnestly desireth pardon, and forgevenes. Renue in him most lovying father, whatsoever hath been decaied, by the fraud, and malice of the devel, or by his owne carnall will, and frailnes, preserve, and continue this sicke membre in the unitie of thy churche, consider his contricion, accept hys teares, asswage his paine, as shalbe sene to thee most expedient for him. And forasmuche as he putteth his full trust only in thy mercy, impute not unto him his former sinnes, but take him to thy favour, through the merites of thy moste derely beloved sonne Jesus Chriest. Amen.

The rite itself includes repetition by the priest and the sick person of basic faith statements from public worship like the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed. It also contains confession of one’s sins and absolution, whcih the priesst is able to grant because of the place both persons have in the Church.

OUR Lorde Jesus Christ who hath left power to hys Churche to absolve all sinners, whiche truly repente, and beleve in him: of hys greate mercie forgeve thyne offences, and by his aucthoritie committed to me, I absolve the from al thy synnes. In the name of the father and of the sonne and of the holy ghost. Amen.

In the Rite of Communion of the Sick, the priest and the sick person create a community, a micorcosm of the larger Church, joining in receiving the bread and wine. The practice of pastoral care modeled and enabled by these rites is attentive to the relationship between the individual who is sick and the community around him. Pastoral care is, in addition to structuring repentance, absolution, and participation in the Holy Communion, about the relationship between the sick person and the community, The visitng priest is to explore with him that relationship, asking him about

whether he be in charitie, with all the world, exhorting him to forgive from the bottome of his heart all persons that have offended him, and if he have offended other, to aske them forgevenesse: and where hee hath done injury or wrong to any man, that he make amends to the uttermost of his power. And if he have not afore disposed his goods, let him the make his will, and also declare his debts, what he oweth, and what is owing unto him, for discharging of his conscience, and quietnesse of his Executors.

Sio the Visitiation Rite ends in affirmation, asking God “whiche is a moste strong tower to all them that put their trust in him, to whom all thinges in heaven, in earthe, and under the earthe doe bowe and obey, be now; and evermore thy defence, and make the knowe and fele, that there is no other name under heaven geven to man, in whome, and throughe whome thou mayest receyve healthe and salvacion, but onely .the name of oure Lorde Jesus Christe. Amen.”

Burial

The Rite of Burial also proclaims a “sure and certein hope of resurrection to eternall lyfe”:

FOR asmuche as it hath pleased almightie God of his great mercy to take unto hym selfe the Soule of oure deare brother, here departed, we therfore committe hys bodye to the grounde, earthe, to earthe ashes, to ashes, dust, to dust, in sure, and certein hope of resurrection to eternall lyfe, throughe oure Lorde Jesus Christe, who shall change oure vyle body that it may be lyke to his glorious body, according to the mighty workynge whereby he is able to subdue al thynges to hym selfe.

ALMIGHTIE God, with whome do live the spirites of them that depart hence in the lorde and in whome the soules of them that be elected, after they be delivered from the burthen of the flesh, be in joye and felicitie. We geve the hearty thankes for that it hath pleased the to deliver this oure brother, out of the miseries of thys synneful worlde beseching the that it may please the of thy gracious goodnes, shortelye to accomplishe the numbre of thyne electe, and to haste thy kyngedome, that we with thys oure brother, and all other departed in the true fayth of thy holy name, may have our perfect consummacion and blisse, both in bodye and soule in thy eternall and everlastynge glorie. Amen.

The Burial Rite ends by taking the individual death and transforming it into the plural, in the language of God’s welcome to the blessed:

O MERCIFULL God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christe, who is the Resurrection and the lyfe, in whom whosoever beleveth shall live, thoughe he dye, and whosoever liveth, and beleveth in hym, shall not dye eternally, who also taughte us (by hys holy apostle Paule), not to be sory as men without hope, for them that slepe in hym: We mekely beseche the (O Father) to rayse us from the deathe of sinne unto the lyfe of righteousnes, that when we shall depart thys lyfe, we may rest in hym, as our hope is thys oure brother doeth, and that at the generall resurrection in the laste daye, we maye be founde acceptable in thy syghte, and receive that blessing which thy welbeloved sonne shall then pronounce to all that love and fear the, saiynge: Come ye blessed children of my father, receyve the Kyngedome prepared for you frome the begynnynge of the worlde. Graunte thys, we beseche the, O mercifull father, throughe Jesus Christe our mediatoure and redemer. Amen.

Overview

Taken together, Prayer Book worship is corporate immersion in the rhythms of worship as a structure and process of meaning-making for individuals and for their communities. Or, perhaps better, for individuals through their participation in the worship-life of their community. Use of the Prayer Book creates networks for understanding and practicing the language and rituals of belief, networks of communication among believers, networks for structuring the relationship between private and public, giving meaning to birth, and growth, to the stages of adulthood, to confronting the mysteries of life and of death. One gets a glimpse of the functioning of these networks in Donne’s famous discourse on the bells, the language of the bells, the rituals of the bells, the sound and the meaning of the bells, the bells, we know, of St Paul’s and of the surrounding network of parish churches.

John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him.  And perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.  The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does, belongs to all.  When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that head which is my head too, and ingraffed into that body, whereof I am a member.  And when she buries a man, that action concerns me; all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again, for that library where every book shall lie open to one another; as therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come; so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.

There was a contention as far as a suit (in which, piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled) which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest.  If we understand aright the dignity of this bell, that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours, by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is.  The bell doth toll for him, that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute, that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God.  Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises?  But who takes off his eye from a comet, when that breaks out? who bends not his ear to any bell, which upon any occasion rings?  But who can remove it from that bell, which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

No man is an island,  entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were;  any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbors.  Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did; for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it.  No man hath afflicion enough, that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction.  If a man carry treasure in bullion or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current moneys, his treasure will not defray him as he travels.  Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it.  Another may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction, digs out, and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger, I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

St Paul’s Cathedral, the East Front. From the Visual Model, rendered by Austin Corriher.

References

References
1 Upon these Feasts; Christmas Day, the Epiphany, Saint Matthias, Easter Day, Ascension Day, Whitsunday, Saint John Baptist, Saint James, Saint Bartholomew, Saint Matthew, Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Saint Andrew, and upon Trinity Sunday, shall be sung or said at Morning Prayer, instead of the Apostles’ Creed, this Confession of our Christian Faith, commonly called the Creed of Saint Athanasius, by the Minister and people standing
2 For a discussion of worship and the stages of life, see David Cressy, Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford, 1997