Friday, March 07, 2008

The peculiar Anglican Blessing at the end of Holy Communion

The Blessing at the end of the Latin Mass has remained the same for centuries:

Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus, Pater, et Filius, et Spirit Sanctus [The almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, bless you.]

In contrast, The Blessing at the end of “The Order for Holy Communion” in The Book of Common Prayer from 1549 is longer:

The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and the love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: And the Blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always.

Why is the first half devoted to the bestowal of peace? Probably because there is no equivalent in the traditional English Service based on BCP 1549/1552 [except that of Canada 1962] of the “Peace”, that is a fixture of the Latin Mass, before the breaking of the Bread.

Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum. [ The Peace of the Lord be always with you.]
Et cum spirtu tuo. [And with thy spirit.]

That is, the bestowal of peace from God, associated with the gift of salvation and communion, is held over in the Anglican service until the end, and is then inextricably linked to the bestowal of the Blessing of the Holy Trinity to close the service and to send the people forth into their vocations in the world. [It may be noted also that, if the rubrics are followed, the remaining consecrated bread and wine remain on the Holy Table until after the Benediction. Thus the peace and blessing are given in this unique setting.]

From where does the verbal content of the Peace in the final Blessing come? It seems clear that it is from Philippians 4:7, “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Perhaps Ephesians 3:19 was also in mind: “To know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

To make the bestowal of supernatural peace, along with the blessing of the Holy Trinity part of the final Benediction, is to underline that both are the unique gifts of the Holy Trinity and that both are necessary for forgiven sinners in their pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem as they fulfill their vocations in the present evil world.

No doubt there are some people, who “enjoy” the present administration of the “Peace,” where often people greet each other as they move around the assembly, do not like to see the “Peace” made into a one-way movement (from the Trinity to the baptized believer). For them it is a horizontal and demonstrative sharing of what God has previous through the celebrant given to be shared. The truth of the matter seems to be that the traditional Anglican Service of the classic BCP is very much dominated by what may be called the heaven to earth dimension, while the modern Anglican Services are more dominated by the sense of community and sharing in the presence of the immanent God.

In closing it may be noted that the full Benediction of The BCP Holy Communion Service is only to be used at the end of Holy Communion, for there, alone, it is truly appropriate. In contrast, the Daily Office and the Litany close with the Grace (2 Cor 13).

Finally, the form of the Benediction is performative, that is, its verbal form is intended to signify the effectual action of the Holy Trinity in real bestowal—something, we note, that is not so clear in the modern “May the blessing…” Sept 7, 2008

1 comment:

Mark Carroll said...

Holy Communion General Rubrics

Upon the Sundays and other Holy Days, (though there be no Sermon or Communion,) may be said all that is appointed at the Communion, unto the end of the Gospel, concluding with the Blessing.

"the Blessing" here is capitalized with a definite article, indicating the blessing that is at the end of the Holy Communion. We routinely have had MP, Litany, and Ante-Communion sequentially, with an homily, and have concluded with the HC blessing per this rubric.

Mark Carroll of Kentucky