Saturday, June 14, 2008


Or, HOW the Holy Eucharist, the Anglican Divine Liturgy, The Order for Holy Communion, was radically changed in the 1960s & 1970s, possibly for ever: and how the public services of Morning and Evening Prayer suffered as a consequence.

Some preliminary thoughts for consideration from the Revd Dr Peter Toon, Trinity 4, 2008, with special thanks to the insights of the late F. P Harton, who wrote in the 1930s

Here I do not intend to deal in detail with relation to Liturgy of the changed structure and content, or the supposed move away from the penitential to the adoption of the celebratory, or to the principle of openness to reform and development every decade or less, or to the power of local worship committees to adapt and modify for supposed local needs. I have written on these matters on various occasions in various publications and on the web.

Rather, I want to focus on the true Liturgy for a given jurisdiction as a whole text, a whole prayer, a whole experience of and for the local Body of Christ (a microcosm of the whole Body, and as such a totally non-individual because a supra-personal event).

Further, and here I may shock the reader, I want to suggest that this classic ideal has been shattered by the entry into liturgy of all kinds of forms of what is known as expressive individualism, which is endemic in the West and very much so in the USA and very noticeably in the USA churches.


Here I refer to “the Anglican Order for Holy Communion” found in the classic editions of The Book of Common Prayer (1549-1662) as The Liturgy – an ancient title, but in doing so I shall not forget Its close association with the Daily Offices & Litany.

Classically and historically the C of E and Anglican Churches have clearly and carefully distinguished between the set, authorized, written Liturgy on the one side, and then other services on the other side. Amongst the latter have been evangelistic and mission service, extempore prayer meetings; fellowship meetings; bible study meetings, times for singing and special music, and so on. Without in any way negating these, the Liturgy has been seen as distinct and different in status to these, not easily or quickly open to change and adaption according to local felt needs. Historically, Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics have both accepted this (but Anglo-Catholics usually after they have added a few distinctive features to the Liturgy, which once incorporated, were seen as part of it permanently!)

At this point some explanation is necessary, I think. It has been recognized from the days of the Early Church that individual prayer, even when collective, is one thing, and the special, liturgical prayer of the Church another, and each is necessary for the edification of the whole people of God. The Liturgy as such is not concerned with the individual in the first place or as such: it is primarily the expression of the one body of Christ; so in this sense liturgical prayer is impersonal. Within it as one member of the one body he or she is required by divine command and love to sacrifice and set aside his or her individualism in order to enter fully into the fullness of the body of Christ. And, only as this is one, does the worshipper truly find out and know what worship of the Father through the Son and with the Holy Spirit really is. One is in the body worshipping God the Almighty Father in union with his Incarnate Son, and this worship that is “through Jesus Christ our Lord” is far deeper and richer than any worship of our own that we can make in our own special services and meetings. Why? Because Christ is within us as a body, and as the Head offering in the Spirit the worship to the Father!

Thus in the Liturgy is realized the unity of the Body of Christ, for, importantly, the Church of God is an entity, and its vital principle is the life of Christ, the Incarnate Son, for it is guided by Him as its head, and guided by the Holy Spirit, his Paraclete. In contrast, we need to say that the individual Christian is not an entity, but a member of this unity, a cell of the living organism which is the Church of God. Of course, each Christian has his/her own spiritual life which must be lived and matured, but which must never, we must insist, be developed apart from the life of the organism and the one body.

(B) Expressive Individualism

Attempts to assimilate the Prayer that is the Liturgy to the prayer of the individual are not new in the West; but they are always wrong and they are exceedingly common in 2008 and have become so more and more since the 1960s. The line, as noticed above, between forms of real Liturgy and extra-liturgical services has been eroding so that it hardly exists in some Anglican congregations today; and, indeed, it is assumed as not only the Anglican way but also as right to have it this way! Here we find that the individualist wants to find in public prayer the direct expression of his or her own spiritual condition and needs, and for him/here, therefore, the old Liturgy (by repute or by examination) seems to be generalized, formal and cold; hence arise the experiments to make Liturgy more human, accessible, relevant and the like. And this it now appears is an open and never ending process for there are no real, fixed points.

To put this in contemporary terms, the Liturgy has been increasingly since the late 1960s—and very much since the 1990s in USA Anglicanism and elsewhere—invaded by the Individual (that is by and through Expressive Individualism) and what is often left, after this invasion, is not the LITURGY as such, but a modern form of “worship service” in which are traces of the LITURGY present via some of the ancient, familiar fixed parts (and modern liturgists now dare to call these left-overs “common prayer”!).

Expressive Individualism involves a person feeling and acting as she/he were the center of the universe, looking for self-worth, satisfaction, fulfillment and happiness outside the self, through the expression of inner desires, convictions, orientations and wants in the outer world. So personal feeling, opinion, expression, satisfaction, relevance and the like are what is looked for in daily living. (This does not in most cases lead to excessively selfish people for much kindness is felt for others most of the time.)

When such people meet (and that means most of us!) the common way to be the church in the post-1960s world is as a “community” (not as an “entity” or “organism”) where the whole is built up of the individual persons, feeling consenting and expecting to be affirmed more or less in their expression of their unique individualism. Obviously any agenda from the Bible or elsewhere arising in these circumstances is going to reflect where the members are in their expressive individualism (and obviously they are going to be at different points of expressiveness due to their belonging to different age-groups, family backgrounds, educations, moral training and so on – thus a mixed or contested agenda as we see in The Episcopal Church today).

But back to LITURGY. I submit that it cannot be doubted that since the late 1960s the new replacement Liturgy within western Anglican Churches has absorbed all kinds of additions and lost various critical previous parts and themes. These mostly, but not always , have been in the service of expressive individualism, taken for granted, it appears, at least in weak form, by the liturgists for they belong to it.

Into the “Eucharist,” as it is usually called now, has entered the dominant idea of “celebration” usually meaning the bringing of choruses, songs, loud music, testimonies, drama, stories and the like into what is now known as the generic “worship service”, and at the same time, the dumbing down of some of the great themes and doctrines of the centuries—penitence, repentance, confession of sin as the praise of God, the fear of the Lord, the chastisement of the Lord, and great mercy of God to miserable, undeserving sinners, the absolute centrality of the Atonement of Calvary and so on.

Let us be clear: this is not solely an Anglican reality for it is seen also in the ecumenical partners such as Lutherans and Methodists, and even in some of the modern Roman Catholic masses. Yet not yet as far as I know in Orthodox Churches where the right estimate of the Divine Liturgy is wholly held with care and delight.


The tragedy is that for virtually all types of western Anglicanism the line between the LITURGY as (a) the Prayer of the Entity, the Organism, the Body of Christ (microcosm in the one place) and (b) evangelistic, charismatic, prayer, bible-study, social work services (services for individuals coming together with Christian intent and to serve the Lord) has been shattered. We have lost the sense of the uniqueness of Divine Liturgy, first of the Holy Communion, and second, of classic Morning and Evening Prayer as public worship with fixed texts.

It is as though the long experience and great teaching and devotion of the Reformed Catholic Tradition of the Anglican Way from the 1550s through the 1960s has been thrown to the wind because of the turn to the inner self, and to a new form of individualism, which was given such new power by the revolution that we call the 1960s.

It is most difficult now in 2008 to know where to find the Anglican Way in the West, for even where the classic services are used they are so often conducted and attended by people who live within expressive individualism and do not realize the very vast difference between the restrained individualism with strong relational content, assumed within the classic texts, and that individualism that reigns virtually supreme today!


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