Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Church or World: or Both? For whom do we pray in the Eucharist/Mass/Order for Holy Communion?

Those who use a traditional edition of The Book of Common Prayer are familiar with the exhortation of the Minister, “Let us pray for the whole state of Christ’s Church [militant here on earth].” In both the English 1662 and the American 1928 editions, this Prayer comes after the Offertory and before the Confession of sins, and thus before the Prayer of Consecration of the Bread and Wine, but very hear to it.

However, in the first edition of The Book of Common Prayer of 1549, the content of the Prayer, following the example of the structure of the medieval Mass (the Sarum Rite), is set between the Sanctus [“Holy, holy, holy”] and the commemoration of the Institution of the Eucharist. So the prayer for the Church, as militant here on earth, expectant in the intermediate state and triumphant by grace in heaven, is actually enclosed within the Prayer of Consecration -- as it is also in the Scottish Communion Service of 1764 (which follows the structure within the old Eastern tradition).

The reason why the Prayer is for the Church and is either within or closely related to the Eucharistic/Consecration Prayer is that the Eucharist is not a public service of worship open to all comers. Rather it is for the baptized faithful, those who are in good standing in the church, and it is a being united to the Sacrifice of Christ, who is in glory in heaven, and also united to the Church expectant and triumphant. In early times, catechumens and those under discipline, were dismissed at the end of the Ministry of the Word (cf., the service of Ante-Communion in Anglican tradition) for they were not able to be worthy participants. Thus the Prayer is that offered for the Church by her Saviour and High Priest (see John 17) through and in His Body, and it is a Prayer not for the world but for His elect.

Regrettably in modern times, and in too many places, the Eucharist has been reduced to something like a spiritual fast food experience, and so both the glory and the orientation of this Heavenly Banquet are being or have been lost. Further, in modern Liturgies in the Anglican Communion (see e.g., the latest American, Canadian and English ones) the prayer is no longer in union with Christ the High Priest for his people, but it is begun with these words, “Let us pray for the Church and the World.” Also it is not any longer seen as the Prayer offered by the Priest, and he alone, but rather by one or more laity, since (in the modern understanding) it is not integrated into the Consecration Prayer and so is not a priestly action. And, it may be added that it is common now to invite all and sundry, “just as they are,” to the symbolical Meal.

Something very precious and very important for real devotion, piety and doctrine has been lost by the change in emphasis in modern Liturgies.

What about Prayer for the world? There is place and ample opportunity at the end of the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer; in personal Daily Prayers, in Church prayer meetings, and so on. There is a solemn duty for the Church (which is to be in the world and for the world but not of the world) to pray for the world and to pray fervently in the Name of Jesus. But the Eucharist is not the place for this form of praying.

The Eucharist is the uniting of the Church militant here on earth with the Lord Jesus Christ and the Church expectant and triumphant, and it is intensely focused upon the Lord Jesus and His Body, which is the Household of God. It is a heavenly service held here on earth!

This is why nationalism, and symbols thereof, are not appropriate in the Eucharist, even though some forms may be in services of Prayer and Thanksgiving.

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)

Saturday, August 06, 2005

How to know whether a Minister or layman is truly committed to the historic English, Christian Form of Prayer

Up to the late 1960s and often well into the 70s, the LORD our God was addressed by virtually everyone in public prayer in divine worship, in extempore prayer at mid-week services, in family prayers and privately as “Thou.”

From the late 1960s Bible translations (e.g., NIV) and Liturgies appeared which addressed God as “You” and (in that revolutionary cultural era) people began to think that we should all address God as we address one another, as “You.” To do so was to be relevant and open to evangelism and mission. So-called “experts” told us that in using “You” we were really doing what was done in earlier times, for then people addressed each other as “Thou.”

However, since the whole of the English heritage of prayer and devotion (from the Middle Ages to the 1960s) is and remains in the “Thou-Thee” form, it has not been easy to lose this form altogether, even when big efforts have been made to do so. Many hymns do not easily change into the “You” form of address and the Lord’s Prayer still seems only right when it prays, “hallowed be Thy Name.”

In the late 1970s the Liturgical Commission of the Episcopal Church USA wanted a Prayer Book that was wholly “You”; but conservatism in the Church required that they include a section of “Thou” [Rite 1] prayer. However, a little later, the Prayer Book of the West Indies (in part modeled on the USA book of 1979) used only “You.” New liturgies of the Episcopal Church since 1979 have all been in the “You” mode.

So what we have today is a majority of clergy which believes that God should be addressed as “You” (in order to be relevant and meaningful) and this is their habitual way of speaking to God when they pray. However, they are prepared to sing hymns and use bits of ancient devotion and liturgy or anthems which still (to them or their congregations) sound best or right in the “Thou” form.

There are a few Ministers and laity left who still use “Thou” out of conviction and understanding for the whole of the services which they conduct and share in; and there are some churches which use only the traditional language in hymnody and public prayer.

How does one tell whether or not a Minister is wholly committed to the use of the historic, classic, English form and way of prayer? The answer is simple: He will address God devoutly as “Thou” not only when using a public liturgy and hymn book and reading ser prayers, but he will also address God as “Thou” when he says grace, when he visits the sick, when he is called upon to lead in prayer, and when he says his own prayers in the solitude of his heart. And he will be prepared to give not only a linguistic and grammatical justification, but a theological one as well! (See the book named below for details.)

Any Minister, who uses the traditional form in public prayer, and who then changes to the modern form on other occasions, is not really committed at all to the historic form of English prayer! Rather, he may be said to be not against it, but only partially for it, since when he is free to choose, he chooses to address God as “You.” Regrettably this seems to apply to most evangelical Episcopal and Anglican clergy in 2005.

[For a readable and serious study of the English language of prayer, see Peter Toon and Louis Tarsitano, Neither Archaic not Obsolete, 2003, available from or from (UK) or call 1-800-727-1928]

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)

Fire in the soul during Meditating, Musing & Praying.

A favorite text used the centuries ago to describe the experience of prayerful meditation before the Lord and his Word was:

“My heart was hot within me, and while I was thus musing the fire kindled: and at the last I spake with my tongue, ‘LORD let me know mine end…’” [Psalm 39:3, from The Book of Common Prayer, 1662, cf. the KJV]

This translation has a distinct relation to the Vulgate [Latin] version of the Psalm used in medieval and early modern Europe in thousands of monasteries, convents and churches.

Why did this particular text seem to describe the felt experience of those who (in what was called the lectio divina) spent time in quiet before the Lord to ponder and pray over what they had heard and read in the lectio continua [the continuous reading of the Bible and chanting of the Psalter] of the daily offices?

The answer to the question requires that we enter the internal description of what those seriously committed to daily meditation believed they were doing.

First of all, they placed themselves in the presence of God, confessed their sins and asked for grace and inspiration. Then from memory (perhaps assisted by a text) they recalled some particular Word of the Lord heard and read earlier. Using their powers of imagination, they pictured the original scene from which the Word came. At the same time with their reason and intellect they sought to understand it by approaching it from various angles and with differing questions. Then they sought by the truths of the Word of God to raise their affections – their desire, hope, love, and joy – towards God the Father through Jesus Christ. Here they often experienced the inner warmth, glow, of the witness of the Holy Spirit with their spirit. That is, the fire kindled as they mused and raised their souls towards God. And with the fire kindled and the heart warmed their will was directed aright and they were prepared to make resolutions and commitments to the Lord and engage in genuine prayer.

The underlying belief was this: the whole soul has been affected by the disease of sin and this is seen most clearly in the affections and the will, together with the imagination. Thus in meditation, the whole soul (memory, intellect, imagination, affections and will) is to be engaged; further, the raising of the affections has to proceed (for there to be the real possibility of engagement with God and his truth) from consideration of, and pondering over, the Word and Truth of God. To begin with the affections is, for most people, not wise for they can be as wild horses and not controllable! They need to informed and warmed by the Word of the Lord before directed to embrace the Lord.

“While I was thus musing [considering, reflecting and thinking about God’s revealed Word] the fire kindled” and I was alive before God, ready to converse with him!

[There is a major chapter on praying the psalms in the forthcoming, Worship without Dumbing-down. Knowing God through Liturgy, by Peter Toon. This is available from August 15, 2005 for $12.50 post paid from The Prayer Book Society, Box 35220, Philadelphia, PA.19128-0220; phone 1 800 727 1928; and from its website, ]

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)