Monday, March 17, 2014

Foundations of the Anglican Church LXII

I mentioned Thomas Cranmer’s elegant phraseology in his composition of prayers for his 1549 and 1552 Prayer Books.  Perhaps no prayer is as beautiful in the elegance of its English as is his “Collect for Purity” which he translated as

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secretes are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy holy spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name: through Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is not a prayer original in composition to Thomas Cranmer but his translation of the prayer in the Sarum Rite, where it served as part of the priest’s preparation for Mass. The prayer itself stretches  even further back to the Leofric Missal, an eleventh century sacramentary produced in Lotharingia from which it was brought to England  where further additions were made and from which the Sarum Rite of the Church of England was to develop.  Its origins in Lotharingia also allowed this prayer to find its way into the Roman Rite where it appears in the Missa ad postulandam Gratiae Sancti Spiritus.   Moreover it can be found today in many devotional booklets priests, more especially “Traditionalist” priests, use to prepare for Mass.  Its provenance and Cranmer’s faithful translations renders it perfectly Orthodox to the truest believer.  Cranmer moved it from the priest’s private preparatory prayers to the introductory prayers of the Eucharistic liturgy itself.   It is frequently used in Catholic celebrations as well, particularly as the conclusion to the Bidding Prayers, known in the American Church as the Prayers of the Faithful.  Priests today, both in the Catholic and Anglican traditions, tend to update the “thee” to “you.” 

We do not presume to come to this thy Table (O merciful Lord) trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We be not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood, in these holy Mysteries, that we may continually dwell in him, and he in us, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood. Amen.

Unfortunately Cranmer deserts Catholic theology at this point and offers one of his  most beautiful prayers—but one that shows his Zwinglian Eucharistic theology.

Take this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in your heart with faith with thanksgiving.

Cranmer here makes clear that he believes Christ is present in the Eucharist by the faith of the recipient and not by a gratuitous act of God in which Christ becomes physically present by the sacramental means of bread and wine.  This is inconsistent with the theology of his Prayer of Humble Access but offers sufficient justification to show that Cranmer not only denied Transubstantiation but any formulation of the Real Presence.  He goes far beyond Calvin’s understanding of the Eucharistic Bread and Wine as Sacramental representations and reduces the Presence of Christ to the inner workings of Grace in which Christ becomes spiritually present by faith.  This is a clear break with Catholic doctrine and indeed with the Eucharistic doctrines of Saint Augustine and Saint Ambrose followed by the Western Church from Antiquity.  


  1. Perhaps you're getting to it soon, but what if Parker is posited as the critical link in the succession rather than Cranmer? The BCP 1559 includes both the 1549 and the 1552 words of administration smashed together, which suggests a step back from the Zwinglian precipice. Is complicated!

    Incidentally: if you change "thee" and "thou" to "you," don't forget to change "thy" to "your" too. How many times have I come across homegrown updates of such items as the Act of Contrition retaining "thy" all over the place! It's because the Our Father has it, of course, so it's still in everyone's vocabulary, unlike thee and thou.

  2. We will get to Archbishop Parker as he does play a critical link in the succession--indeed he is usually the focus of the question about the succession but I think it is a mistake to overlook the Edwardine Ordinal and the consecrations and ordinations carried out during the reign of Edward VI