An 18th century
flagon for Holy
Communion in the
In the 1549 Edition of the Book of Common Prayer—the first reform of the Liturgy—Archbishop Cranmer did not tinker much with the Mass. It was translated into English, of course. Altars were retained with the usual cross and candles. Chasubles—or at the discretion of the minister, copes—were to be worn over the alb. The Liturgy began with the traditional introit followed by the Collect for Purity which was taken from the medieval Missal’s Mass ad postulandam gratiam Spiritus Sancti. This in turn was followed by the Kyrie, the Gloria, and the Collect of the Day and one or more additional collects. (The various rites of the Western Church also had multiple collects up until the reform of the Missal under John XXIII in 1962.) Archbishop Cranmer dropped from the beginning of Mass the confession of sin and words of absolution—in the traditional Mass used as the “prayers at the foot of the altar” and then repeated again before Holy Communion—but retained them in the Communion Rite. (I am old enough to remember when they were used twice in the “old Mass”—again, when the priest first came to the altar and a second time just before Holy Communion.) In Cranmer’s 1549 Liturgy the gradual disappears from between the Epistle and Gospel. The Gospel is followed by the Creed and then the sermon or homily. There is then a collection for the poor and the priest reads a scripture verse that encourages generosity towards the poor by the gathered faithful. Those not receiving Holy Communion then depart; those who had informed the priest of their decision to receive Holy Communion that day remain and gather in the choir.
The priest meanwhile sets on the corporal or paten sufficient bread and in the chalice sufficient wine for the number gathered for the Eucharist. (Communion was to be distributed in both forms. There is no mention of communion being given in the communicant’s hand in the 1549 Prayer Book.) There are no accompanying prayers of offering as the gifts are prepared. The preparing of the gifts is followed by the Preface with the Sanctus and Benedictus. The Prayer of Consecration follows and several of the signs of the cross are retained, but there is no elevation of the consecrated elements. The Lord’s Prayer is in its traditional spot, followed by the peace. The Agnus Dei is moved to be sung during the distribution of Holy Communion, but—as mentioned earlier— the prayer of general confession and the words of absolution are inserted before Holy Communion. There is a prayer after communion and the benediction taken from Philippians 4:7.
This first Prayer Book certainly had its changes—an English liturgy, restoring the chalice to the laity, eliminating the elevation of the host and chalice, only those communicating remaining for the Eucharistic Liturgy to mention a few. But by retaining the traditional altar, the vestments, the priest positioning himself at the altar with his back to the people—the changes appeared somewhat minimal, though they did trigger reaction in Cornwall and Devon where it was complained that the reforms had turned the Mass into “a Christmas Game,” meaning the sort of parodies of Church services that people, and especially children, did at holidays and feasts.
If the first Prayer Book was moderate in it changes, the second Prayer Book—that of 1552—was revolutionary. The vestments were done away with except for the surplice (though copes were allowed in cathedrals). The altar with its cross and candles was gone, replaced by an ordinary table in the middle of the choir or in the nave and with only a linen cloth on it. Gone too were the chalices and patens, replaced by pewter (or sometimes, silver) flagons for the wine and plates holding ordinary table bread. But the liturgy itself was also drastically restructured.
The “Holy Communion” began with the Lord’s Prayer and the recitation of the ten commandments by the priest to which all assembled answered after each commandment was read “Lord have mercy upon us and incline our hearts to keep this law.” The Gloria was moved from the beginning of the liturgy until after Communion. Most startling—other than the physical arrangement of the church with “goddes board” (God’s Table) replacing the altar—was the rearrangement of the Eucharistic Prayer and the Communion Rite. It was redesigned so that the reception of Holy Communion would follow immediately upon the words of Institution. The prayer of confession and the words of absolution were moved from immediately before communion and placed after the offering for the poor and before the preface. Then followed the preface with the Sanctus but the Benedictus was dropped. The priest began the prayer of consecration, a severely truncated Eucharistic Prayer, but immediately after saying the words of institution, himself communicated and then gave Holy Communion to the assembled faithful kneeling around “Goddes’ Board” or “The Holy Table.” Communion was followed by the Lord’s Prayer and then several prayers of thanksgiving. The Gloria was then recited and the blessing—Philippians 4:7 with the Trinitarian benediction appended—was given to conclude the service. This was clearly a Protestant Service—far more radically structured than anything Luther proposed for the German Reformation, though not as drastic as the Swiss and Strasbourg Reformers.
There were other changes in the Prayer Book as well. The exorcism, the anointing, and the chrism were omitted from Baptism. (Holy Oil and Chrism were dropped all together—except for one rite which we will discuss in a future blog.) The infant being baptized was immersed in the font only once rather than the traditional three immersions. The Funeral Service no longer included the celebration of Holy Communion or prayers for the dead. One vestige of Catholic practice that remained was, though it is not very clear, the use of the reserved Sacrament for communion of the sick. The ambiguity of that rite suggests that communion of the sick was not a sufficiently common practice to worry about the theological issues of reserving the Eucharist. The instructions for the Service of Holy Communion is that any leftover bread and wine is to be returned to everyday use but, although bringing communion to the sick is included in the Prayer Book, it is not clear if the priest is to bring the Eucharist from the liturgy or celebrate the Eucharist privately in the home of the sick person. As I said, the implication can be drawn that communion was fairly rarely brought to the sick at home or the instructions would have been more clear.
Thus by the 1552 Book, the Church of England had clearly snapped its Catholic Roots and embraced Protestantism. This does not mean that there is not continuity of the ancient Ecclesia Anglicana and the later Church of England but it does mean that the ancient Church had become “Reformed” in theology and practice and that means it was now a Protestant Church.
The 1552 Prayer Book was only in use for about six months before King Edward VI died and his Catholic sister, Mary, ascended the Throne. Mary immediately restored Catholic worship, but when Elizabeth came to the Throne, the 1552 Book was revived with some minor modifications and then became the norm for Anglican Worship until the 20th century.