The provision in English of “The Supper of the Lord and Holy Communion commonly called the Mass” in THE BOOK OF THE COMMON PRAYER (1549) was a landmark event. Never before had there been provided for the Church of the nation a complete service in the vernacular to replace the Latin Mass. Archbishop Cranmer and his colleagues, who produced this Rite/Liturgy, intended it as a reformed catholic liturgy that followed the general order of the medieval service but without its medieval doctrines. Instead the New Liturgy was intended to contain biblical doctrine, with insights from the ongoing Protestant Reformation and from the Early Church.
We are not surprised to learn that this new English Liturgy was criticized from both sides of the spectrum.
On the one hand, to those whose minds and hearts still lived within traditional western Catholicism, the Liturgy was seen as deficient in that it did not contain sufficiently clearly or explicitly such doctrines as the mass as a sacrifice, the real presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine, and prayers to the saints and for the departed.
On the other, to those whose minds and hearts had been deeply affected by the teaching of Martin Luther, John Calvin and others, the Liturgy was deemed to be deficient in that it was too dependent upon the medieval Mass (of the Sarum Rite) for its “shape” and not sufficiently clear on justification by faith alone.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, belonged to those who believed that it was necessary to produce another text/rite in order to have an Order for Holy Communion free of all erroneous, medieval doctrines and ceremonies and containing full and clear proclamation of the free grace of God in the Gospel of Christ Jesus. He was confirmed in this commitment to rewriting the Liturgy by the insistence of Bishop Stephen Gardiner, a prominent member of the old guard, that the 1549 Liturgy actually gave support to the medieval interpretation of the Lord’s Supper as the Mass.
So when the new edition of The Book of Common Prayer [no longer The Book of the Common Prayer] appeared in mid-1552 it contained the renamed, rewritten and restructured, “The Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion.” And it is significantly different from that which is called, “The Supper of the Lord…commonly called the Mass” in the 1549 BCP. No-one could mistake this for an English version of the western Latin Mass.
What were the major differences?
• The inclusion of the Ten Commandments at the beginning of the service.
• A new Exhortation added to be addressed to those who would receive Holy Communion.
• The breaking up of the Canon of 1549 into parts so that (a) Prayer “for the whole estate of Christ’s Church militant here in earth” becomes a separate Prayer after the Homily; (b) Communion is given immediately after the recital of the words of Institution of the Sacrament by the priest and (c) after Communion there follows immediately the Lord’s Prayer and two alternative prayers of thanksgiving.
• New words to accompany the administration of Holy Communion.
• The Gloria at the end rather than the beginning of the service.
• New instructions as to what the Minister is to do with any bread or wine that remains after the Communion.
• The Minister is to stand at the North end of the Table not at the East.
The Prayer of Consecration in the 1552 Rite falls into three parts:
(a) A declaration of the true relation of this Sacrament to the Sacrifice of Christ at Calvary;
(b) A petition that partakers of the elements may be partakers of Christ
(c) A recital of the scriptural account of the original Institution.
It is followed by no saying of “Amen” by the congregation, for the “Amen” is the receiving of Communion by those present, beginning with the clergy. The administration of the bread is on to the hands and not on to the tongue. The words used, “Take and eat this, in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thine heart, by faith with thanksgiving,” are used to make sure that the presence of Christ is located not in the bread but rather in the souls of the baptized and repentant believers, who receive the consecrated bread and wine.
Gregory Dix who is associated with modern attempts to get “The Shape of the Liturgy” right said of the “Order for Holy Communion” of 1552:
“As a piece of liturgical craftsmanship it is in the first rank – once its intention is understood. It is not a disordered attempt at a catholic rite, but the only effective attempt ever made to give liturgical expression to the doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone’.” (Shape, 1954, p. 672).
With minor modifications this Order for Holy Communion was taken into the 1559 edition of the BCP at the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It was used as such throughout her reign and that of her successors James I and Charles I. And with some further minor changes it entered the BCP of 1662 and as such has been the most widely used and known Communion Service in the English language.
However, since 1662 when there have been modifications of the BCP (1662) for use in other countries (e.g., USA 1928; Canada 1962). Changes in the text of the Order for Holy Communion have often been made towards restoring some of the emphases and content of the 1549 Rite. These include such things as general prayers for the dead, the providing in the Consecration Prayer of a distinct Memorial and Oblation, and the allowing of a doctrine of the presence of Christ that is in some way associated with the consecrated elements.
The Revd Dr Peter Toon, March 13, 2002