Reformed not Catholic ?


The 1552 BCP is a standard of worship Anglican Catholics need not bother with too much. The terribly inadequate Eucharistic Service has been replaced by more overtly Catholic Services (such as the American and South African BCP’s) but more especially in the Anglican and English Missal. Though the Church of England has never sought to exclude the Real Presence and the Eucharistic Sacrifice from it liturgies and teaching, there has been a definitive weakening of the ancient Christian teaching and practice due to the imperfect knowledge upon which the Reformers did their “corrective” work to the BCP Services. Seeking to restore the BCP Offices to a more ancient biblical/patristic shape they did not realize their perceptions of what was biblical and patristic was deeply flawed by the so-called New Learning of the Protestant Reformation.

The difficulty with any (radical) liturgical Reform as Anglicans have learned 500 years ago and Roman Catholics some 40 years ago, is that in extensive reforms the liturgical law lex orandi lex credendi is reversed to lex credendi lex orandi so that the theological whim of the day shapes the way we pray rather than our whims of thought being shaped and guided toward maturity by the (ancient) ways God has taught his Church to pray. If we radically overthrow our ancient ways of prayer we make today the sole criterion of orthodoxy and prayer. It is for this reason that Moses was given clear instructions for Israel’s liturgical worship and was told not to deviate from it. To hold to the tradition. The wisdom of God’s instructions for Israel to be liturgically conservative is no less wise and needed today. We can see this in the history of the Prayer Book too in the sense that since the unfortunate 1552 reforms revisions of the Prayer Book have always been a return to the ancient tradition imperfectly represented by the 1549 BCP. I say “imperfectly” because even if one does not agree with all of Dom Gregory Dix’s damning views of the first two BCP’s it cannot be denied that Dix has hit upon an important and undeniable truth with regard to the BCP. The BCP is a catholic work only by catholic interpretation. That this is how the BCP was understood and intended – as a reformed but very much catholic liturgy – is clear from the vehement Puritan attacks upon it as “Papism.”

Not Catholic?

Dom Gregory Dix’s views of the Prayer Book are very negative and they are so in part due to his very Roman point of view. Dix was, sometimes, unable to separate Roman from Catholic in his theological thought. In Dix’s view the Prayer Book actually – in itself – contains heresy. With that view I cannot but disagree. The Prayer Book is certainly a poor replacement of the ancient liturgy, but it is not for its poverty also heretical. In the Prayer Book the Church of England has never committed itself to heresy. The Offices of Mattins, Vespers, and of the Eucharist are sufficiently Catholic as is the Edwardine Ordinal. Their forms and ceremony may be poor, and certain ancient and Catholic customs have been dropped but none to the extent of heresy.

The BCP tradition has erased almost every trace of the invocation of the saints – to name a very obvious change – but the BCP does not prohibit such invocation it is merely not provided for. Only one instance of invocation of a saint was left in the BCP:

The Othe of the Kynges Supremacie.

I FROM henceforth shal utterly renounce, refuse, relinquisshe and forsake the Bysshop of Rome, and hys aucthoritie, power, and jurisdiction. And I shal never consent nor agree, that the Bysshop of Rome shall practyse, exercyse, or have any maner of aucthoritie, Jurisdiction, or Power wythin thys Realme, or anye other the Kynges dominions, but shall resyste the same at all tymes, to the uttermoste of my power. And I from hence foorth wyll accepte, repute, and take the Kynges Maiestie, to be the onelye Supreme head in earth, of the Church of Englande: And to my connynge, wytte, and uttermoste of my power, wythoute guyle, fraude, or other undue meane, I wyll observe, kepe, maynteyne and defende, the whole effectes and contentes, of al, and synguler actes and Statutes made, and to be made wythin thys realme in derogacion [=impairing], extirpacion [=extermination], and extinguishment of the Bisshop of Rome and his aucthoritie, and al other Actes and Statutes, made or to be made, in confirmacion and corroboracion of the Kynges power, of the supreme head in earth, of the Church of Englande: and this I wyll do agaynst all maner of persones, of what estate, dignitie or degree, or condicion they be, and in no wise do nor attempt, nor to my power, suffre to be done or attempted, directely or indirectly, any thing or thinges, prively or appertelye [apertly, =publicly], to the let [=prevention], hinderaunce, dammage, or derogacion thereof, or any part thereof, by any maner of meanes, or for any maner of pretence. And in case any othe bee made, or hath been made by me, to any person or persones, in mayntenaunce, defence, or favoure of the Bisshoppe of Rome, or hys aucthoritie, jurisdiction, or power, I repute the same, as vayne and adnichilate [=annulled]: so help me God, all Saints and the holy Evangelist.

And we have the authority of Article XXXVI Of Consecration of Bishops and Ministers that:

The Book of Consecration of Archbishops and Bishops, and Ordering of Priests and Deacons, lately set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth, and confirmed at the same time by authority of Parliament, doth contain all things necessary to such Consecration and Ordering: neither hath it anything, that of itself is superstitious and ungodly.

The Article refers specifically to the Ordinal set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth and says that it does not contain anything which is of itself to be condemned as superstitious and/or ungodly. This provides some necessary context to understand Article XXII:

The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping, and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

The absence of such invocations is an extreme reaction of the English Reformers which flaws the Prayer Book. That much must be acknowledged. At the same time it must be acknowledged that via the XXIX Articles of Religion – often printed as an appendix to the Prayer Book – a backdoor is nevertheless opened to invocation of saints which is neither superstitious nor ungodly (and we may assume neither “fond” “vainly invented” nor “repugnant to the Word of God” ) in that the Othe of the Kynges Supremacie clearly invokes all the saints and the Evangelist (upon whose Gospel the person ordained takes the oath) for help. What we have here is a direct invocation of all the saints and of the Evangelist in particular such as is often presumed to be prohibited by the XXXIX Articles of Religion – but is instead allowed by them !

The BCP attempts to correct abuses and superstitious excess from the Breviary (and the Missal, Ordinal of Medieval times) by reforming the existing forms and ceremony. The BCP should not be understood as an attempt to destroy the existing forms and ceremony. The fierce opposition to the Prayer Book should make clear that the radical Protestants understood this Catholic intent of the BCP reforms very well indeed. For example: the Protestants had rid themselves of the Sacrament of Holy Orders – in the Church of England this Sacrament was retained (if reformed):

It is evident to all men diligently reading holy Scripture and Ancient authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church; Bishops, Priests and Deacons. … And therefore, to the intent that these Orders may be continued, and reverently used and esteemed in the Church of England; No man shall be accounted or taken to be a lawful Bishop, Priest, or Deacon in the Church of England, … except he be called, tried, examined and admitted thereunto, according to the Form hereafter following, or hath had formerly Episcopal Consecration or Ordination.

The Book of Common Prayer, “The Preface” (to the Ordinal)

In other words: the ancient (sacrificing) Priesthood is to be continued by means of the revised Form provided (the Ordinal of Edward VI). That this is so, is evident from the declared intent in the Preface but also from the fact that it considers as identical to its own Priesthood those ordained under the old Form of the the Ordinal. The old Ordinal was considered to be in need of reform and re-emphasis but it was not to be destroyed or replaced.This same principle of reform rather than destroy was used in the Offices of Mattins, Vespers and the Eucharist. Mattins is the consolidation and simplification of the old Breviary Offices of Mattins, Lauds and Prime; Vespers is the consolidation and simplification of the old Breviary Offices of Vespers and Compline; the Office of the Eucharist is the consolidation and simplification of the old Mass.

The process of consolidation and simplification was guided by the learning of the day. There were two basic schools: 1. the Old Learning (represented by The King’s Book, and Bishop Stephen Gardiner; and 2. the New Learning (represented by The Two Books of Homilies, XXXIX Articles, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer). Both Prayer Books are representative of the New Learning, but the first (1549 BCP) of them is capable of easily accommodating the Old Learning, the second (1552) much less so. The emphasis does not lie with sacrifice and transubstantiation (which at the time entailed the idea that the substances of bread and wine were annihilated as a consequence of the consecration) but with communion  and reception. It is here that the unstable mind of Archbishop Cranmer succumbed to increasingly “low” views on what happens in the act of consecration becomes visible and problematic. Though the Church of England has never committed itself to the opinions of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer – in fact The King’s Book is authoritative in this period (which teaches the view of the Old Learning on what happens in the act of consecration) – even if it did adopt The Book of Common Prayer as its official liturgy.In hindsight this adoption of The Book of Common Prayer was not the great success it was supposed to be.

It was particularly the reforms as given in the 1552 BCP that made clear that the reforms had cut too deep, and that significant elements of catholicity were lost. The essentials were maintained but it turns out that the essentials and non-essentials are very much intimately related to one another even though they are by no means identical. The loss of the full ceremony by Puritan disobedience of the “Ornaments Rubric” has made clear the doctrinal importance and statements made by such “non-essentials” as vestments, incense, signs of the Cross, crucifixes, Eastward orientation at the Altar, the position of the Altar etc. The Form of the BCP Eucharist with the full ceremonial demanded by the Ornaments Rubric gives a very Catholic context to that Form by means of its ceremony and thereby gives its interpretation. The performance of the same form at a wooden desk outside the Chancel area, with a Priest dressed in civies, facing the people at the North-end of the desk, without a Crucifix and without incense gives a very Protestant context to that Form and thereby a quite different interpretation. This was very well perceived by both sides of the controversy concerning the Ornaments Rubric in 19th century England, and was the reason the controversy was so fierce and heated. Ceremonies and such things may be unessential but they are not therefore inconsequential !

The BCP is therefore an essentially Catholic liturgical Form, but it lacks proper Catholic dressing. The clothes do not make the man, but they do interpret him. The problem with the reforms as they took their shape in The Book of Common Prayer is that the New Learning had believed unessential things to be inconsequential and could be dropped or radically altered and that the nett result would be a simplified and consolidated Form which promoted participation (and thus communion) and the participation would be result of simplification, thus enabling the laity to exercise the “general priesthood of all believers.” The results aimed for are desirable indeed! But the reforms enacted to achieve them did not all of them succeed. The Prayer Book allowed the Catholic Church of England from before the Reformation to continue after the Reformation and by means of the Prayer Book catholicity survived the excesses and extreme violence of radical Protestantism, but the Prayer Book is not – in itself – a clear manifestation of the the fullness of the ancient Catholic Faith.

Reformed and Catholic

The 20ieth century has seen the English Reformation reach its high point in the Anglican Catholic Movement. The way for this movement was paved by 19th century Ritualism and the Oxford Movement. The Ritualists had already taken to add prayers from the ancient Gregorian Canon to that of the BCP (as evidenced in the Rev. John Purchas’ Directorium Anglicanum) in an attempt to restore catholic strength to the Prayer Book, but this was something of an ad hoc measure putting a band-aid on a wound which needs stitches. The wound was eventually stitched in the appearance of Anglican Missals.

There are various editions of Missals produced by Anglican Catholics which enrich the basic Gregorian Mass with reforms from the Prayer Book. This means that the traditional emphasis on the Consecrated Elements as themselves the Body and Blood of Christ is restored as well as the emphasis that the Eucharistic Liturgy is a Sacrifice on behalf of the living and the dead. At the same time communion is emphasized by use of the liturgy in the vernacular allowing the people their mental and verbal, and physical assent with the celebrant (rather than the celebrant and the people performing two different rites of prayer in the same building at the same time) and the Sacrifice is not misunderstood as a re-enactment or a re-offering of Jesus Christ to the Father for the forgiveness of sins. It is now clearly understood that the Sacrifice of the Mass does not require the Priest re-sacrifice Jesus Christ to the Father. These Missals are in immediate continuity with the tradition as it has developed over 1500 years, but have some additions/changes to them which brings out the doctrinal content more clearly by a more conservative reform of the Mass. The Anglican Missals are not identical to the old Missals, but are a reformed continuation of them. The principles we discern in the preface to the Prayer Book (not just the Preface to the Ordinal) have fully incarnated in the Anglican Missals – but without any trace of the increasingly heretical opinions of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.

The one thing which still lags behind is the Office of the Hours. The Divine Office or daily prayer. The Morning and Evening Prayer sections of the Prayer Book have seen almost no return to their more ancient and catholic structure. Some of the revisions have of course been in a more ancient and Catholic direction, such as the American Prayer Book of 1928 which interprets the Sentences as Antiphons and which provides Invitatories for the Venite Psalm at the beginning of Morning Prayer, but some of the rubrics, omissions (such as the Athanasian Creed in the American Prayer Book) and alternatives given for the Canticles detract from the catholic character of the Office by needlessly increasing the distance between Prayer Book Office and Breviary Office.

Some efforts toward reform of the Prayer Book Office have been done by, for example, the Rev. W.H. Frere and the Rev. Charles Walker but their suggestions have not always caught on and it is not clear to me that their suggestions are enough. The Anglican Breviary and the Monastic Office (according to St. Benedict) are very significant improvements of the Office and a definitive departure from the almost nihilistic simplicity of the Prayer Book. However, both the Anglican Breviary and the Monastic Office are long and weighed down by significant rubrical complexity thereby exposing them to the devastating critique that figuring out what to say, takes longer than saying the Office once you have figured out what to say. An alternative can be found, perhaps, in the English Office Book. It follows the basic pattern of the Prayer Book Office, but it is enriched with elements allowing the Office to express the Season, Feast or quality of the day. Like the Prayer Book the English Office Book is structured around the regular (monthly) recitation of the Psalter and the yearly reading of most of the Bible. Unlike the Prayer Book the English Office  allows the Office to express the seasonal and/or festal quality of the day. The English Office has the advantages of the Breviary tradition but is not bogged down by its limitations. At the same time the English Office has all the advantages of the Prayer Book (Bible reading, and regular recitation of the Psalter) but none of its (Protestant) limitations. A disadvantage to the English Office is that it merely contains the condensed version of the Offices of Mattins, Lauds, Prime and Vespers and Compline. The condensation has created a significant break with the Breviary tradition resulting in a very different basic structure in the Prayer Book Offices. This problem does not complicate the Anglican Breviary, however, even if it must be admitted that the Anglican Breviary (and even more so the Monastic Office) has its own severe limitations.

In other words the English Office is a full embodiment of the principles of the Breviary and the Prayer Book and is a successful reform of the old Breviary. There is continuity with the old Breviary but not identity. The Anglican Breviary is also a successful embodiment of the principles of reform upon which the Prayer Book Office was based. The disadvantage of the Anglican Breviary is that even though it provides a much more extensive selection of Scripture throughout the year in comparison to its predecessors, it does not cover as much Scripture as does the Prayer Book. For any Catholic Anglican that is a very significant drawback. There is quite a bit of room for improvement in the Divine Office within the Anglican Catholic community, either along the lines of the English Office and thereby sticking more closely to a simple, and very practical Parish use or along the lines of the Anglican BreviaryMonastic Office maintaining more express continuity with the ancient Office while – like the Anglican Missals – adopting aspects of reform based on the principles of the Book of Common Prayer.

Catholic and Reformed. This means that we still follow the lex orandi lex credendi of the liturgy. Our ways of prayer immerse us in the Christian teaching and life. Our current ideas and thoughts do not so much shape the way we pray. God gave Israel a liturgy and a tradition to be followed. Without the people having been shaped and matured in that tradition the coming of the Lord Jesus and His founding the Church on His Apostles and disciples would not have been possible. The Christians have also been given a liturgical tradition. Our job as Christians is to be shaped by our liturgical traditions rather than to seek to shape our liturgical traditions. The reversal of the liturgical law of lex orandi lex credendi can itself be reversed by a return to the tradition that was left behind. The reform of the liturgical tradition is necessary but only possible after first having been shaped by it. Once the liturgical tradition has formed us are we able to discern how its depths can be re-opened if its wells have been filled with sand.

The New Learning was not enough informed by the tradition of prayer, but more so by the Medieval Roman Catholic philosophy of nominalism and univocity which can (at least in part) account for the poverty of the post Vatican II Roman liturgical customs and the post Reformation Anglican ones. For both Roman and Anglican Catholics ridding ourselves of these Medieval philosophical tendencies will allow us to reform our reforms and unearth our ancient faith by reversing lex credendi lex orandi to its proper order of law of prayer first. For Anglican Catholics the issue of adopting the English Office or the Anglican Breviary (and for Monastic Houses the Monastic Office) is no more difficult than authorizing it by competent authorities (the Bishops). It has been done for the Anglican Missals it is my hope the same would be true for the Divine Office.

Gregory +


About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
This entry was posted in Anglican Breviary, Book of Common Prayer. Bookmark the permalink.

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