Sunday, November 05, 2006

Holy Communion in the BCP editions of 1662 & 1928

Comparison and Contrast in the Light of Bp Duncan’s call for the acceptance of 1662 as the primary Prayer Book

When Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and his fellow Reformers read the accounts in the Gospels of the Last Supper in the 1540s, what deeply impressed them, amongst other things, was the fact that between the words of Jesus, “This my body” and “This my blood,” there was no delay in the eating of the [blessed] bread and drinking of the [blessed] wine by the disciples (see Matthew 26:26ff.; Mark 14:22ff.; and Luke 22:14ff.). Thus in The Order for Holy Communion in the English Prayer Book from 1552 the communion of the clergy and people comes immediately after the recital of the words of the Lord Jesus. Nothing stands between the Words of Blessing/Consecration by the Lord Jesus and the receiving of the sacramental bread and wine by the congregation at the hands of Christ’s Minister.

In constructing the service in this way Cranmer and his colleagues knew that they were not following the order in either the medieval Latin Mass or in the late Greek patristic tradition. However, as the Scriptures were for them the primary authority, and since this is a Gospel Sacrament, they believed it to be required of them by the Lord Jesus himself to follow the Lord’s example. So what is usually called the Prayer of Consecration in 1662 is short and that which had usually been included within it in the Western Rite is separated from it and placed at other points in the Service.

New Shape

It was to be expected that sooner or later amongst Anglicans outside, and then inside the Church of England and related Churches, there would be a call to revise the order of contents in the service of Holy Communion, to bring it in line with the order in the Divine Liturgy from the ancient patriarchates of the patristic period. This was attempted by those in schism from the Church of England after 1689 and known as the Non-Jurors and they were followed by the Episcopal Church in Scotland in its Communion Rite of 1764. From this development, Samuel Seabury, who was consecrated bishop in Scotland for the new Protestant Episcopal Church of the U.S.A., inherited the principles which deeply affected the structure of the Prayer of Consecration in the first American edition of The Book of Common Prayer (1789), which is a fusion of the English and Scottish Prayers.

It is useful to know that the learned divines of the Anglican Way in the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I, Charles I and Charles II were in general wholly satisfied with the structure and content of The Order for Holy Communion, as they had it in essentially the same wording as the later 1662 edition.

In BCP 1662, used in the American colonies until 1789, the order of content is as follows:

Sursum Corda (“Lift up your hearts”)
Prayer of Humble Access (“We do not presume…”)
Prayer of Consecration
Communion of the People in both Kinds
Lord’s Prayer
Either (a) Prayer of Oblation or (b) Prayer of Thanksgiving
Gloria in excelsis

In BCP 1928 (continuing from the edition of 1789) the order of content in the 1662 is re-arranged as follows:

Sursum Corda
Prayer of Consecration (which includes The Oblation & The Invocation and Prayer of Oblation from 1662)
Lord’s Prayer
Prayer of Humble Access
Communion of the People in both Kinds
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Gloria in excelsis

Here we see that (a) there is a long gap between the Dominical Words, which occur in the first part of the Consecration Prayer, to the actual Communion of the people; and (b) the verbal content of 1928 is larger than that of 1662 and is so by the inclusion of (i) two short paragraphs in the middle of the Prayer of Consecration—the Oblation and the Invocation—and (ii) the use of both prayers (in different places) provided after the Lord’s Prayer in 1662.


Those who follow Cranmer’s lead insist that the authority of the Biblical narratives is greater than the influence of the usage in ancient Liturgies of East or West and so it is good and right to connect communion with the recital of the Lord’s words. Those who follow the lead of the Non-Jurors and others after them believe that the Anglican Way should follow the example of the ancient Church of the East in the important matter of the structure and content of the Prayer of Consecration. Further, they offer justification for the Oblation and Invocation in these terms:

“The Oblation is the hinge of the whole Consecration prayer. It gathers up the thanksgivings and memorials that have gone before and offers them to God by means of the “holy gifts”, the instruments of bread and wine which our Lord himself chose to represent his own Sacrifice, and to be the occasion of its continuing and innumerable benefits to his Church. Thus the words ‘which we now offer unto thee’ are seen to be of great importance.

“The Invocation is a prayer of benediction over the “holy food and drink” to sanctify them to our use. It is the return of God’s blessing to us by ‘his Word and Holy Spirit’ in and through these representative gifts which we have offered up to him in thanksgiving and memorial in the Oblation.”

However, we need to note that the Invocation is carefully worded so as not to give the impression that the Invocation itself actually makes the bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Jesus. And the Western Latin Rite has no specific Epiclesis or Invocation.

Whatever we make of these differences today, it was the judgment of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the English Bishops that the revised Order for Holy Communion of the American Church of 1789 was of the same basic doctrine as that of the English Church in its 1662 text and so they gave their approval to the revised Order.

Other differences

In comparison with the differences in the shape of the Consecration Prayer other differences between the English and the American editions of The Book of Common Prayer are relatively minor. They include:

1. The option in 1928 of using the Summary of the Law instead of the full Ten Commandments.
2. Prayer for the Monarch in 1662 only.
3. Required use of the Exhortation in 1662 each Sunday while only required in 1928 on three Sundays (First of Advent and of Lent and Trinity Sunday).
4. The use of the verb “offer” with reference to the Bread and Wine in the rubrics after the Offertory Sentences in 1928 but not in 1662.
5. The rubric on kneeling and adoration at the end of the Service in 1662 but not in 1928.

Contrary to what some people think the 1928 does not allow in its rubrics either (a) the transfer of Gloria in excelsis to the beginning of the whole Service or (b) the cleansing of the vessels immediately after Communion—they are cleansed at the end of the Service in both 1662 and 1928. Neither does it require the use of an Old Testament Lesson since it assumes that such has already been read in Morning Prayer, and the ancient Eucharistic Lectionary used in The Book of Common Prayer does not have an O.T. lesson, only the Epistle and Gospel.

Canada 1962, Rite 1 (1979) and the Missal (1961).

The Canadian edition of The Book of Common Prayer (1962) also revises the order and contents of The Order for Holy Communion but in less detail than 1928. The Prayer of Consecration is lengthened to include a brief Oblation and Invocation; pax vobiscum (while kneeling) follows it and then comes the Prayer of Humble Access before Communion.

Rite One of 1979 in The Episcopal Church on first glance appears much the same as the 1928 Service of Holy Communion. However, on closer inspection, one sees that it is given the same structure as the innovatory Rite Two Service of Holy Communion, and so the 1928 shape is bent to fit into the new shape. Adjustments are also made to individual prayers to trim their doctrine; there is an alternative Consecration Prayer to that taken over from 1928, and different Collect, Epistles and Gospels are appointed for use with this Service than those appointed for 1928.

“The Ordinary of the Mass” in The People’s Anglican Missal in the American Edition (1961 and reprinted since), while based on the Book of Common Prayer, and used by some devoted church-people of anglo-catholic persuasion, appears to go beyond the BCP not only in ceremonial but also in doctrine. Also it seems not to have the same doctrine of the vocation and purpose of the Ministry as that in The Ordinal (1662 & 1928) and seems to contain some teaching that is actually rejected in The Articles of Religion (1662 & 1928).

In conclusion

If there is in real terms a primary Anglican Rite for Holy Communion it is that which is in 1662; and it is this Rite which has satisfied ordinary and learned people from 1552 to the present both in English and in over one hundred and fifty other languages. It has the distinct advantage of having a short Prayer of Consecration and of keeping people focused on the Words of the Lord Jesus as they receive his sacramental body and blood. Further, in terms of Anglican unity—something that is extremely important in the present identity crisis of Anglicanism—the 1662 is so widely used around the Global Anglican Communion that it has no competitor as “the standard Rite” of the past, for the present and on into the future.

The Revd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil (Oxford)

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