A critique of Psallite Sapienter’s post on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer liturgy

My correspondent Silent Majority Member #1  sent me this most interesting critique of the post in Psallite Sapienter that  I linked to recently that criticizes the liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer.

SMM1 writes:
We are all familiar with critiques of this kind, and no doubt they are going to carry the day on the liturgical committee putting together the Ordinariate Eucharistic liturgy.  But I think this is unfortunate, for two reasons:

1.  Anglo-Catholics are more critical of their liturgical inheritance than they should be.  The “Cranmer was a Zwinglian” meme originated with Gregory Dix, and Dix was wrong.  The more recent studies of Cranmer’s Eucharistic doctrine put him more squarely in the camp of Calvin (“true presence”) rather than of Zwingli (“memorialist”).  Now, Anglo-Catholics aren’t happy with Calvin either, but that’s not the point:  Cranmer’s Eucharistic rite has been disparaged because it is seen to teach a doctrine that Cranmer himself precisely did not hold.  The rite is open to misinterpretation, not because it is deliberately ambiguous, but because it limits its language to that of Scripture.  And even the Roman Canon of the Mass is open to varied interpretation.  The words of the Quam oblationem, “Ut nobis corpus et sanguis fiat”  (“That it may be made FOR US the Body and Blood”), are entirely patient of a “receptionist” interpretation, for instance.  Anyone who wants a sound interpretation of what the Church of England, at least, says it means when it prays the 1662 Prayer of Consecration should read the 1897 encyclical of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Saepius officio (here: http://anglicanhistory.org/orders/saepius.pdf), section XI, which observes that the doctrine of Eucharistic Sacrifice discernible in the Roman Canon of the Mass agrees much better with the Book of Common Prayer than with the definitions of the Council of Trent.  In other words, we are likely to read into the text of the Prayer Book, as into the text of any catholic liturgy, whatever Eucharistic doctrine we hope to find there.  If members of the Ordinariate have accepted the teaching of the Catechism, there is no *automatic* need for their liturgy to be rewritten.

2.  All of this entirely bypasses any attempt to appreciate the Prayer Book Communion on its own terms, at what we might call the “semiotic” level.  For instance, how can we not be aware of the significance of the recital of the Ten Commandments at the beginning of the service as a renewal of the Covenant, in which, unlike the first giving of the Law when the people could not bear to hear God’s voice (Exod. 20:19), the Church answers God directly and asks for this law to be written on their hearts (Jer. 31:33 = Heb. 8:10)?  Whereas the Roman Canon, against a background of Christian-Jewish controversy, compares the Eucharist to the pre-Mosaic sacrifices of Abel, Abraham, and Melchizedek, the BCP sees it instead as a fulfilment of the Old Covenant.  In seventeenth-century English churches, the east wall was frequently decorated with images of Moses and Aaron (and with the text of the Ten Commandments).

And just to give one more example, the crucial interpretive phrase in the BCP Communion is “ourselves, our souls and bodies”.  For Anglicans (and I trust not only for Anglicans), the Eucharist demands personal involvement and investment:  I can offer no acceptable sacrifice to God that does not include the entire oblation of my life, taken up into Christ’s life.  If only more Anglo-Catholics would read the then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s book The Feast of Faith, with its fantastic chapter on the Jewish background to the “Form and Content of the Eucharist.”  Here Card. Ratzinger cites and develops the remarkable insight of Prof. Hartmut Gese that the Eucharist can best be understood as a form of the “todah” sacrifice (described in Lev. 7), a “communion sacrifice” (i.e. in which the priest and worshippers eat some of the sacrificial victim, which includes flesh and leavened *and* unleavened bread) offered in thanksgiving for divine deliverance.  The rabbis taught that the todah sacrifice alone would continue to be offered in the messianic age, and this sacrifice seems to be the cultic background for many of the psalms that describe a tribulation followed by a deliverance into “new life” (Ps. 22, the great psalm of the Passion, is but one of these).  This goes along with a further development in the thought of the Old Testament about sacrifice, namely the personal involvement of the worshipper — an insight no doubt facilitated by the lack of access to the Temple cult during Israel’s exile in Babylon.  So, for instance, we read in Ps. 51:16-17 “For thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee : but thou delightest not in burnt offerings.  The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit : a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise” (the oft noted penitential tone of worship in the Prayer Book is of course entirely scriptural).  And still more clearly, Ps. 40:8-10: “Sacrifice and meat-offering thou wouldest not : but mine ears hast thou opened. Burnt-offerings, and sacrifice for sin, hast thou not required : then said I, Lo, I come, In the volume of the book it is written of me, that I should fulfil thy will, O my God : I am content to do it; yea, thy law is within my heart” (notice the law in the heart again, like BCP Ten Commandments).  The Septuagint version, quoted in Heb. 10:5, makes this even clearer:  “Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me.”  It is not just obedience, but the whole body.  And Christians hold that Christ, through the perfect sacrifice comprising his self-emptying Incarnation, Passion, and Death, is the fulfilment of this perfect worship.  As Gese and Ratzinger observe, the todah sacrifice came to be understood precisely as the self-oblation of the offerer, who had received new life from God and therefore offered this new life entirely to God.  The Eucharist, on this view, becomes the “todah” sacrifice of the Risen Christ:  Christ is himself the sacrificial victim offered in thanksgiving for his deliverance from the powers of evil and death.  And therefore, in eating this sacrificial meal, we truly eat the sacrificial victim thus offered, namely, Christ’s Body.  However, we cannot partake in this sacrifice without an equal self-oblation on our part.  In baptism we are made to be “in Christ,” and the Eucharist completes and renews this initiation.  This, I think, is the best interpretation of Cranmer’s unusual placement of the reception of the Bread and Wine immediately after the words of consecration:  the memorial (anamnesis) is incomplete until the offerers of the sacrifice have united their whole selves to the offering (i.e. the anamnesis is not accomplished until both the dominical commands “take, eat” have been obeyed).  And this, too, seems to me to be the reason for Cranmer’s insistence on reception of the sacrament kneeling.  He famously denied that this posture signified adoration.  But as the then-Cardinal Ratzinger showed in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, in the Bible kneeling is the posture of self-oblation, which is why it is also the posture of the martyrs.  Kneeling to receive communion precisely at the moment when the elements have been consecrated (and in 1662, unlike 1552, there is explicit consecration at this point) is a sign of total self-oblation in union with Christ’s offering.  If one wanted to make this clearer, it could best be done, not by fiddling with the text, but by having everyone, especially the priest, make a full prostration before the altar at this point in the rite.

These are just some ideas I’ve been cultivating in my mind about how the 1662 Communion *ought* to be read (regardless of what even Cranmer himself *thought* it meant — the Anglican Communion has never subscribed to his particular ideas).  The “todah-Eucharist” connection has had a varied scholarly reception, and I do not insist on this interpretation against all others.  My point, rather, is that the 1662 Communion is very agreeable to an understanding of sacrifice that we can see developing within the Old Testament (and in its translation from Hebrew to Greek), and which seems to make a great deal of sense when viewed from a New Testament perspective.  It should hardly be surprising that the BCP exhibits a “biblical hermeneutic” of sacrifice.  I hope one of these days to write and publish a paper on the subject (and I’d be happy to receive suggestions from other scholars if they think or do not think this is a worthwhile avenue of investigation).  But for now, I humbly suggest that it is precisely in this, its strangest and seemingly “least catholic,” form that Anglican liturgy has the most to offer to the wider Church, and not in the more deliberately ambivalent, “mealy-mouthed” Anglican liturgies that appeared in the 20th century (I would include the Canadian book in this, I’m afraid), where there seems to be an attempt to keep the old words and put them in a “catholic shape” that actually says rather less, lest evangelicals take offence.  There are many ways in which the Eucharist has been and is celebrated in communion with Rome.  I do not claim that this way is better than those.  But it powerfully communicates an otherwise underappreciated biblical understanding of the Eucharistic sacrifice that has been commended by the current Pope as an ecumenical breakthrough.




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7 Responses to A critique of Psallite Sapienter’s post on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer liturgy

  1. Pingback: A critique of Psallite Sapienter’s post on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer liturgy | Catholic Canada

  2. Peregrinus says:

    This is an excellent meditation upon the meaning of sacrifice in the Eucharist.

    The point that there are many rites for Mass celebrated by a variety of communities in communion with Rome is also very pertinent to the discussion of the Anglican Use.

    Recently rites used by the Oriental Orthodox churches have been receiving favourable consideration in Rome. I am by no means an expert but understand that the various facets that each different rite shines upon the Eucharistic mystery (regardless how small the community) is appreciated by Pope Benedict XVI who sees the value, as he has said, in each mustard seed.

    • Conchúr says:

      Recently rites used by the Oriental Orthodox churches have been receiving favourable consideration in Rome.

      I take it you are thinking of the Anaphora in the Liturgy of Addai and Mari as used by the Assyrian Church of the East (not Oriental Orthodox I hasten to add). Said Anaphora lacks an explicit institution narrative, which is problematic as you may expect. Rome hasn’t so much given it favourable consideration as decided not to condemn it as invalid due to a variety of factors (needless to say Trads have not been best pleased). Rome has also made quite clear that in the event of full restoration of communion, the Words of Institution would have to be inserted back into the Anaphora, as per the current practice of the Chaldeans and Syro-Malabarese.

  3. Pingback: Did Cranmer follow Calvin or Zwingli in his views of the Eucharist? | Foolishness to the world

  4. Pingback: SMM1 responds to Dr. Bill Tighe on Cranmer and the 1662 BCP | Foolishness to the world

  5. Pingback: Psallite Sapienter responds to SMM1 | Foolishness to the world

  6. Pingback: The debate on Cranmer and the Liturgy continues | Foolishness to the world

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