Directorium Anglicanum


The Reverend John Purchas

The Rev. John Purchas (1823 – 1872) died at a relatively young age. But in a short time he accomplished much. His most important achievement is the Directorium Anglicanum. Purchas was born in Cambridge and growing up received his education at Bury St. Edmund’s and Christ’s College in Cambridge. He became a Priest in the English Church and ended up serving as a perpetual Curate at St. James Chapel in Brighton.

Before taking up residence at St. James Chapel Purchas had been a curate at St. Paul’s in Brighton. This Church was a gift from the Reverend Henry Wagner to his son, Arthur Wagner. In fact, Henry had the Church especially built for his son. Unlike his father, Arthur, was heavily involved with the Tractarians. By the late 1840-ies there were several Tractarians who had adopted Catholic Ritual in their liturgies. When Purchas became a Curate here he would learn to love Catholic doctrine as well as ritual.

In 1865 John Purchas bought the Chapel of St. James in Brighton and began ministering there. The Chapel had been a low Church Evangelical congregation and Purchas continued this until September 1866. From now on Purchas brought the full range of Catholic Ritual to the services and this began a great controversy and Purchas suffered much hardship for his part in restoring Catholic practice to the English tradition. Henry Wagner, the vicor of Brighton, had tried to stop Purchas but to no effect. When the Bishop got involved and forbade Purchas from doing what he did, that too had no effect. The Chapel of St. James belonged to him and so he could do as he pleased. Eventually Purchas was to have his day in court and was convicted.

In 1871 John Purchas ended up losing his court case on all points and was suspended from service for 12 months. He did not, however, end his ritualist practice but continued until his premature death in 1872.

Ritualism and Tractarians

Much has been written about “the Oxford Movement” as a recovery of Catholic Faith in the English Church. Less has been written about another, equally important, movement: The Ritualist Movement. The Oxford Movement concerned itself with doctrine whereas the Ritualist Movement concerned itself with the ritual and ceremonial expression of that doctrine. I do not thereby mean to say that they two deliberately complemented each other. As far as Keble, Newman, and Pusey were concerned ritual and ceremony did not really matter that much. As Nigel Yates noted in his book:

“The evidence presented in this book suggests that, on balance, the ritualism that developed within Anglicanism from the late 1830’s was a radical departure from traditional Anglican beliefs and practices and from the initial intentions of the early Tractarians.”

Nigel Yates, Anglican Ritualism in Victorian Britian, 1830-1910, p. 375.

The ritualists themselves, were willing to fight for their practices and not infrequently found themselves persecuted and imprisoned. Today, looking at my on Anglican Catholic Church, much of the work Purchas fought for has been achieved. Though to some extent it seems that for many the ritual itself is accepted without understanding why we do it. Not infrequently does one encounter the opinion that ceremony and ritual are not only not essential they are indifferent. It is this attitude that could lead to such liturgical inconsistencies as praying Morning Prayer everyday and never saying the Mass in accordance with it. The BCP, no matter what year, does not match the Missal and one simply cannot perform the liturgical day as one whole using BCP Office and a Missal Mass. This abuse is widely accepted as not only normal, but norm. To remedy this situation the Anglican Breviary (and/or the Monastic Office or English Office) must be adopted by parishes and monastic houses that use the Missal. There is no need to abolish the Prayer Book, there is simply a need to add the Breviary to our normal parish life.  There is still quite a long way to go.

Manual for Clergy

The Preface of the Directorium Anglicanum is a good introduction to the rubrical guidance to follow. The attentive reader will immediately notice that Purchas is looking at the Prayer Book in a way that could only make many Anglicans very nervous:

“As to the Rubrics [of the Prayer Book] being a complete code of ritual directions, the experience of every parish Priest attests that they are insufficient. Nor is any slight thrown upon our Service Book or upon its Revisers by this admission. The Rubrics are perfectly sufficient for the guidance of any clergyman moderately acquainted with the traditions of Catholic ritual and the real and ancient Use of the English Church. The Prayer Book was never meant to be a complete Directory; and in this respect it exactly follows the rule adopted by the Old English Service Books, and also by the modern Roman Missal.”

~ John Purchas, Directorium Anglicanum, p. vi (1st edition).

The reader is first told that the Book of Common Prayer does not contain all the rubrical guidance a Priest would need to know in order to perform all the services contained therein. The Prayer Book is incomplete in this respect. But, Purchas is quick to point out, that is to be expected. The Prayer Book is similar to other liturgical books in this respect. The Roman and Sarum Missals come to mind. The insufficiency is not a defect in the Prayer Book.

The educated Priest, aware of the proper Catholic ritual, would not experience this insufficiciency because he knows the proper context for the sparse rubrical guidance and is able to interpret and practice them just fine. But  most Priests do not have all the rubrical details stored in their active memory so that some support via some sort of manual is desirable. The Directorium Anglicanum is such a manual for Anglican Priests. Especially the newly ordained who are often not given much practical guidance in matters liturgical.

To be continued.

Gregory Wassen +



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, Rubrics, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Directorium Anglicanum

  1. Ronald and Jean McBrine says:

    Dear Father, a most joyous Christmas to you and yours and the Lord’s good care in the New Year. “Thank you” seems a bit hollow, but thank you nonetheless for your many posts all summer to now, which have been so helpful. Ron+

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