Thursday, March 19, 2015

Foundations of the Anglican Church CXI

A somewhat typical 17th century
Oxfordshire Communion Table

With the restoration of the monarchy and the episcopacy in 1660 and the subsequent imposition of liturgical conformity on the Church of England with the Act of Uniformity of 1662 there was an opportunity to make revisions in the Book of Common Prayer that set the form for the Anglican Liturgy.  The Savoy Conference of 1661 failed to reconcile the Presbyterian/Congregationalist faction which, in rejecting the Act of Uniformity, went on to become separate Churches and this separation, in turn, permitted the High Church wing of the Church of England to make several revisions in the Liturgy that stressed its Catholic heritage.  You may remember that one of the things that triggered the Civil War and the abolishment of both monarchy and episcopacy (in 1649 and 1646 respectively), was Archbishop Laud’s attempts to push some liturgical changes that departed from the puritan/Calvinist theology in favor of more a more ancient (read: Catholic) approach. 
The words “bishops,” “pastors,” and “ministers” were to be replaced in most instances with the terms “bishops,” “priests,” and “deacons.”  In the Liturgy itself, a prayer for the departed was inserted into the prayer for the Church Militant and while it was not so much intercessory as it was commemorative it is still a most noteworthy addition as it marks the first such commemoration of the faithful departed since the 1549 Prayer Book was superseded by the 1552 edition.   
There was also a re-introduction of the idea of “offertory” with the insistence that the alms be placed on the holy table alongside the bread and wine with the accompanying prayer: “We humbly beseech thee to accept our alms and oblations…   Previously there was no mention of placing the elements on the holy table though obviously they had to get there somehow.  Their inclusion alongside the alms—which had formerly been placed directly in the poor-box—signifies an idea of the people offering their gifts and word “oblations” gives it a sacrificial connotation.     
The “Black Rubric” which had insisted on kneeling for Holy Communion, but insisted also that the kneeling should not imply the Real Presence much less adoration of the Sacrament had been dropped in the 1559 Prayer Book.  It was now introduced in an altered form to read
"Whereas it is ordained in this Office for the Administration of the Lord's Supper, that the Communicants should receive the same kneeling; (which order is well meant, for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgment of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder in the holy Communion, as might otherwise ensue;) yet, lest the same kneeling should by any persons, either out of ignorance and infirmity, or out of malice and obstinacy, be misconstrued and depraved: It is hereby declared, That thereby no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ's natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ's natural Body to be at one time in more places than one."
As Protestant as this might sound, there is a significant shift from the 1552 text which read
… Lest yet the same kneeling might be thought or taken otherwise, we do declare that it is not meant thereby, that any adoration is done, or ought to be done, either unto the sacramental bread and wine thereby bodily received, or to any real and essential presence, there being of Christ’s natural flesh and blood.”
 Whereas in the 1552 text, it is denied that Christ is really and essentially present, the 1662 text denies the corporeal presence of Christ’s natural flesh and blood.  We Catholics can easily miss the distinction, but it would be very clear to a 17th century Protestant.  The 1662 text is ambiguously worded to permit belief in the Real and Essential Presence of Christ as long that Presence is not confused with his physical Body that was Raised from the Dead and has ascended into heaven and has taken his place at the right hand of God.  In other words, while the 1552 text insists that Christ is present only in a spiritual or commemorative sense, the 1662 Book permits belief in a Real but not a corporeal Presence.  This distinction is strange to us Catholics, but it would be a crucial shift in theology for English Protestants of the time. The 1662 text was wary of a physicalist understanding of Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist but it was not denying that Christ was truly Present in a sacramental sense even as we might find him truly present but not physically present to us in moments of intense prayer.  This might even be compared to what Saint Teresa of Avila writes about the presence of Christ in a vision where he is, the Saint says, present but not corporeally. 
We Catholics, of course, believe that the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a corporeal presence and that, in fact, the bread and wine of the Eucharist have been transformed into the true flesh and true blood of the Risen Lord, indistinguishable from the flesh and blood that was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, that died upon the Cross, and that was raised from the dead.  This revised text in the 1662 Book does not meet Catholic orthodoxy, but it does mark a significant step away from the Zwinglian understanding of Eucharist as memorial to an eating and drinking of Christ’s sacramental (as distinguished from physical) Presence.
Catholic theologians of the period had lost the intrinsic connection—so clear in the Eucharistic theology of Saint Augustine—of the Eucharistic Presence of Christ and the Ecclesial Presence of Christ (The Church as the Body of Christ)—and of the Ecclesial Presence of Christ with the Physical Body of the Risen Christ.  The 1943 Encyclical Letter of Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, has helped us recover our awareness that we, as Church, are the Risen Body of the Lord, but the imagination of most Catholics even today restricts the Presence of Christ’s Body to the Eucharistic Bread and Wine.  For them, Christ is in heaven and he is in the tabernacle and nowhere else.  Consequently their belief in the Real Presence becomes an assertion in his Real Absence from our daily lives and leaves us with a very truncated understanding of both the Eucharist and the Church as well as a highly disempowered Christ who has no involvement with the world in which we live but only in the world that awaits us beyond death.  This distortion of Christ reduces his kerygma of the Kingdom of God to the post-mortem paradise and frees the believer from taking any responsibility for this world beyond his or her own moral righteousness.  Ironically this leads to the same over-spiritualization of the Christian faith that results from the purely Spiritual understanding of the Eucharist that has permitted the bi-level morality of Protestant/Capitalist Western Society.  There is no social sin, only personal sin because God has no investment in human society.  But enough of that.  I tend to digress, but thank you Max Weber for your insights about The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. 
In addition to the text of the Liturgy, there were a number of rubrical changes.  The priest was required to wear as a vestment the surplice and not simply the black gown preferred by the Puritan wing.  The priest was also required to take up the bread and wine in his hands during the Words of Institution (Words of Consecration) and break the bread as he speaks the words.  These “manual acts” imply the priest consecrating the bread and wine as he reenacts the actions of Jesus while speaking Jesus’ words.  Perhaps the most dramatic revision was that whatever consecrated bread and wine remained after the Holy Communion were to be reverently placed on the Holy Table and covered with a fair linen cloth until after the service, at which time they were to be reverently consumed.  Previously the Eucharistic remains were to be given to the priest for daily use.  This rubric suggests that the “real and essential” (though not-corporeal) Presence remained, or perhaps better that the Presence was an objective reality regarding the bread and wine and not merely the subjective apprehension of the believing communicant. 
As to other matters, there is no mention of cross or candles upon the Holy Table and the Holy Table is still to be positioned in the chancel—supposedly in its accustomed spot in the center—with the priest standing on the north side.  In fact, more and more the Holy Table was placed in Laud’s preferred position at the east end in the traditional positioning of the pre-Reformation altar.  Normally, however, in this position the priest still stood at the north end of the table (which in its eastward positioning was no longer a long side); it would be some time before priests resumed the eastward facing positioning as it was important to the Prayer Book mentality that the “manual acts” of the priest breaking the bread and holding the cup be visible.  
The Service of Holy Communion was unquestionably Protestant but it was no longer a Zwinglian commemorative meal.  Freed of Puritan influence, the Church of England was free to chart a new course.  It would over the next century and a half take steps in several different directions.  

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