Project Canterbury

For the Present Distress: A Suggestion for an Interim Rite

By Norman Powell Williams.

London: Printed for Private Circulation, 1928.


AMONG the hindrances which beset those who are trying to carry on the work of the Tractarians and restore to the English Church its Catholic heritage, few are greater than the diversity of manner in which the Holy Mysteries are celebrated. The Faithful, as they move from place to place, find themselves confronted with a bewildering variety of uses, while even in their home church a change of incumbency may mean a change not only of ceremonial, but of rite. A priest saying Mass in a strange church has to inquire beforehand exactly what he is to do unless he is to bewilder the congregation by an unaccustomed method; and if he has to change his usual practice, he must perforce abandon all hope of recollection in the desperate attempt to remember what he has to do next. The spiritual life of both clergy and laity suffers inevitably from such wide divergences in the performance of the chief act of public worship.

Our lack of liturgical uniformity has other consequences which are at least equally grave. To those who stand outside our ranks, it is the symbol of division among us, and although such division is greatly exaggerated, it is accentuated in the public mind by our variety of uses, and our power of commending Catholic Faith and Practice is proportionately weakened. Moreover, our disunion in this matter not only interferes with our [3/4] personal devotion and our missionary activities, it places a formidable obstacle in the path of our corporate action. If, when the abortive proposals for Prayer-book Revision were being considered in 1927 and 1928, we had been able to tell the Bishops with one voice precisely what we wanted, we should probably have won the day. Some years must elapse before another attempt at revision is made, and a breathing-space is thus afforded us during which we Catholics have an opportunity to increase enormously our strength and influence by putting our own house in order.


Various suggestions for ending our present confusion have been made, and it is necessary to consider briefly the most important of these, before outlining the constructive proposal which it is the purpose of this pamphlet to urge.

(1) There are some among us who recommend that we should boldly introduce the Missal, Roman or Sarum, and defend our action on the ground that it has never been canonically abolished. They argue that by so doing we should emphasize not only our continuity with the pre-Reformation Church, but also our unity with the Western Church to-day spread throughout the world. If we have been able to carry so much, in the past, in the teeth of the Episcopate, what reason is there to think, they ask, that we could not do so in this matter as well? If we reply that this seems a lawless act, they can point to the fact that many diocesan bishops are sanctioning the use of the 1928 Canon which has never received synodical authority, such authority, indeed, having been deliberately withheld by Convocation in order to avoid a direct conflict with the State should Parliament reject the Book. To reintroduce entire a Mass which once had the fullest authority in the Church of England, is not, they contend, a more chaotic step than the use of a Canon which never [4/5] had any synodical authority, while it wantonly reverses the whole liturgical tradition of the English Church since the time of Augustine.

It is perfectly true that the sanction given by bishops to the 1928 Canon has considerably weakened the case against the introduction of the Roman or Sarum Missal. But “two blacks do not make a white,” and if Catholics have been forced to defy authority in the past in restoring the true heritage of the Church, they ought to remember that they are the only party within the Church of England which can eventually restore order. They might be able, if they were agreed, to carry the day against the Episcopate at the point of the bayonet, but they could only do so if the clergy were enthusiastically supported by their congregations, and it is, to say the least, extremely improbable that this would be the case to any such extent as to make it possible to attain uniformity. Indeed, there are few among us who would be so bold (and we may add, so ill-advised) as to make the experiment in its entirety. The overwhelming majority of those who use the Roman Missal, or parts of it, use it in a vernacular translation. They thus completely stultify their appeal to authority, and have perforce to use such renderings of the collects and even of the scriptures as antagonize rather than edify their people. Moreover, churchgoers in general are so convinced that the Book of Common Prayer is identical with the English Church, that to substitute something else for it conveys an impression to their mind that an attempt is being made to abolish the Church of England. For this reason alone the introduction of the Missal would seem to be the worst possible policy to adopt, if England is to be regained for the Faith. Added to all these considerations, there is the powerful witness of the Prayer-book to Catholic doctrine, a witness which is certainly not less needed to-day than in the past to meet the determined challenge to the orthodoxy of the English Church which we have to face from Protestants, from [5/6] Modernists, and from Roman Catholics. [It must be remembered that the historic Churches, think in terms of Rites, and we shall be able to enter upon negotiations for reunion with far less chance of misunderstanding if we have, an intelligible Rite of our own instead of a dislocated edition of the Roman Rite or even the Roman Rite translated entire.] It is impossible to discredit the book without also discrediting its testimony.

One other reason against the introduction of the Latin Mass remains, a reason more potent than any argument based on policy. Every priest at his ordination, and subsequently whenever he is licensed or becomes an incumbent, has to make a promise that in public prayer and in the administration of the sacraments he will use the form in the prescribed Book, and none other, except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority. However powerfully any priest may be able to argue that the Missal has never been canonically rescinded, he cannot deny that he obtained his orders and his cure of souls on condition of using the form in the prescribed Book. If he thought he was bound to use the Roman Rite (or one of the other liturgies prescribed by the Pope) in virtue of becoming a Catholic priest, he had no right to make such a promise; and whatever the lawful authority may be (a matter about which very varying opinions are held), it is certainly not that of the pre-Reformation Church, for that authority is from the past, and the promise refers specifically to that which shall be ordered subsequently to the taking of it. It is a great moral peril to a man to makes promises which he does not intend to fulfil, a peril not only to himself; but to any religious movement with which he is associated. We have “to commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God,” and we conspicuously fail to do this if we can be convicted of playing fast and loose with obligations which we have voluntarily contracted.

(2) Secondly, there is the suggestion that we should [6/7] reintroduce the first Prayer-book of Edward VI. This course was urged by the late Lord Halifax with considerable force, and there is much to he said in its favour. By using it we should revert to a liturgy which, though it is arranged in the traditional sequence (a matter as we shall presently see of the first importance), was, nevertheless, directly commended. as “a very godly order” by those who were responsible for Edward’s second book, the norm of our existing book. It retains, too, the old name of the Mass; and in the commemoration of the dead it draws the distinction between our Lady and the Saints, and the general company of all the faithful departed. Further, there is good reason to believe that if we were united in demanding it, the demand would commend itself to ecclesiastical authority. But against all this, we would point out that its restoration is open to the grave objection that, being another form, it would require the special ordering of lawful authority; and things being as they are, this would mean in effect that it would defeat the end which we have in view, since it would come into use in some dioceses and not in others. Even where lawful authority can be obtained for its reintroduction, it can never be more than a permissible alternative Rite. For the present distress we ought to aim at an interim Rite which will gradually draw the whole Church of England to the Catholic way of worship; and the concurrent use of two distinct and differing liturgies would perpetuate the cleavage between the Catholic party and the rest of the Church of England, and would tend to postpone indefinitely the reconstruction on Catholic lines of the Book of Common Prayer. Our aim, if we are far-seeing, must be not only to satisfy our own sense of liturgical propriety, but to restore that sense to the Church of England as a whole.

(3) There remains the suggestion that for the sake of regaining uniformity we should be content for the present to use the Prayer-book Liturgy exactly as it [7/8] stands. “That is our Missal,” we are told, “and the Book we have promised to obey. Let us stick to that and all will be well.” It may be admitted at once that if the reasons for desiring uniformity which we have stated earlier, were all that had to be taken into account, or if our primary consideration were to emphasize our obedience to authority, instead of restoring Catholic worship to the Faithful, then conformity to the Prayerbook as it stands might well be the best solution. But when we face facts and view the situation realistically, we are compelled to see that it is no solution at all. The Prayer-book Liturgy is nowhere used exactly as it stands, and the attempt to enforce such use would be universally resisted, and would cause at least as much confusion as the introduction of the Roman Missal. The need for enrichment is so generally admitted, and so urgently demanded by all parties in the Church, that those who urge conformity to the Prayer-book are compelled to qualify it by allowing an appeal to the Bishops for certain changes, omissions, and additions. This may do eye-service to Catholic obedience, but it completely stultifies the attempt at uniformity. It only revives a multitude of diocesan uses, such as the Sarum, Hereford and Bangor uses, which the compilers of the Prayer-book hoped to abolish. If we aim at liturgical uniformity, we must cease to regard it as an end in itself, and strive to attain it by means of a liturgy which adequately expresses the traditional doctrine of the Mass. This the Prayer-book Rite as it stands demonstrably fails to do, and it was in order to maintain its ostensible use, while correcting its most obvious deficiencies, that the practice began of inserting interpolations from the Roman or Sarum Rites. The clergy who introduced this practice maintained that the forms in the Prayer-book were common prayers, and must be heard by the people, but that so long as these were audibly said, they had a right to interpolate inaudibly such private prayers as they chose. Thus was produced a [8/9] service defying literary art, psychology, and tradition; whose continuity was broken by long and mysterious pauses which inevitably produced an atmosphere of suspicion, and which was utterly unlike the celebration of the Holy Mysteries in any other part of Christendom. The priest had no real justification for regarding his interpolations as his private prayers, as with the Preparation and the whole of the Proper said sotto voce they formed a larger proportion of the whole than his public ones. Indeed, with his ceremonial actions put into those parts of the prayers which he borrowed from the Roman Missal, he was really using the Roman Mass farted with extracts from the Prayer-book; and he was guilty of the gross liturgical impropriety of dislocating the Roman Canon to insert into it the Prayer-book consecration prayer, though the chief claim of the Roman Canon to veneration is that it has remained inviolate for twelve hundred years. We do not intend to assign any blame to our predecessors for this method of procedure. It was forced upon them by the circumstances of the times. But we shall do well to recognize that it is the root of our present divergences; and if we are to arrive at uniformity now, we must go back behind that tradition, even though it is associated with the great heroes of the Movement, and think out our liturgical principles afresh.


The true goal of English liturgical reform is a Rite which adequately expresses the true doctrine of the Mass in such a way that it satisfies the devotional requirements of the celebrating priest, and can be used by him as the medium whereby he can teach his people. It must evidently be a presentation of the Sacrifice of the death of Christ before God, like all the Liturgies of Christendom; and it must be an action proceeding in orderly sequence, in which priest and people have their allotted [9/10] parts to play. This ultimate aim certainly cannot be attained without united Catholic endeavour; and it must also be recognized that any immediate proposal for uniformity, which is not to defeat our ultimate object, must be regarded as an interim Rite, and must be of such a kind as to persuade, and not antagonize, the rest of the Church of England. This means, in effect, that it must move within the context of the Book of Common Prayer.

The possibility of proceeding along these lines lies in the fact that the main defects of the Prayer-book Liturgy are structural rather than verbal. This is the reason why no amount of verbal or ceremonial enrichment of it will ever achieve the end we have in view. Though it retains what is essential for fulfilling the divine command, its liturgical sequence has been so broken as to obscure instead of exhibiting the meaning and purpose of the service as a whole. In this respect the second book of Edward VI., on which our present Liturgy is based, unsatisfactory as it was, is preferable to the form as we now have it. Whatever their private opinions may have been about the Real Presence, the compilers of that book succeeded somehow in constructing a service which contained the characteristics of an action performed before God by priest and people. The structural alterations they made were intended to emphasize the fact that Christ alone offered on the Cross the one Sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and that men could not make up for their evil deeds by the “sacrifices of Masses” conceived of as additional to the one Sacrifice of Christ, and offered on their behalf without the co-operation of their own repentance and union with him. But in reaction from current errors they rushed to the opposite extreme. They so over-emphasized the necessity of the Faithful receiving communion in order to offer themselves, their souls and bodies, in union with the Sacrifice of Christ, that they virtually denied the value of the Holy Mysteries to those who did not receive them. With this end in view they re-orientated [10/11] the ancient service so as to make the act of communion the prelude to the offering of themselves, instead of the traditional order which made it the climax of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The confession and absolution were placed before the consecration prayer when the communicants were to be gathered round the Holy Table, or, at any rate, when they were conveniently arranged for the receiving of communion. The first part of the Edward VI. Canon was removed to an earlier part of the service, probably in order to free its central action from such a heavy load of intercessions; while its last part was placed after the Lord’s Prayer, leaving the thanksgiving prayer (which. in the Rite of Edward VI. had been a permanent post-communion) as a possible alternative to it. The priest was directed to receive communion immediately after the consecration without any intervening prayers, and then at once give communion to the people. When all had received, the priest and people were ordered to recite the Lord’s Prayer together, without the Doxology, followed by the Prayer of Oblation, or “Almighty and Everliving God,” still all assembled round the Altar. Finally, the Gloria in Excelsis was moved from its ancient place at the beginning of the service to the end.

This service as it left the hands of the Revisers of 1552, revolutionary as it was, and however meagre and jejune through the cutting out of most of the Scriptures proper to the day, did at least move in an orderly sequence. After the service of preparation and the great intercession were ended, those who were minded to ‘receive Holy Communion came up to the Holy Table to take part in the consecration and act of Oblation. They first confessed their sins, and lifted up their hearts to God in union with the Heavenly Host at the Sanctus, and then when the bread and wine were consecrated with the words of Institution, according to the Western custom, the priest and people received the Body and Blood of [11/12] Christ. Still remaining round the Holy Table, they recited first the “Our Father” together and then the Prayer of Oblation, thus offering themselves, their souls and bodies, in union with Christ, whom they had just received. Then followed the Gloria in Excelsis as a corporate act of thanksgiving. [Even if “Almighty and Everliving God” was used instead of the Prayer of Oblation, the Lord’s Prayer still remained, and it must be remembered that in the minds of the reformers, trained in the Catholic tradition, this would essentially be an Oblation Prayer. It was, moreover, evidently the main act of Oblation, as priest and people were ordered to recite it together. Further, the Revisers certainly intended the Prayer of Oblation to be the norm, as they took pains to insert it first, and only made “Almighty and Everliving God” a possible alternative to it.]

If anyone doubts that this post-communion Oblation was regarded by the Revisers as a real Sacrifice, let him compare the printing of the word “Sacrifice” in the Canon of 1549 with that of the Prayer of Oblation of 1552. In the former Rite it is printed with a capital “S” in the phrases “This our Sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving “ and “although we be unworthy to offer unto thee any Sacrifice”; but with a small “s” in the sentence “Here we offer and present unto thee ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice unto thee.” This distinction is no longer maintained in the Rite of 1552, where a capital “S” is used in this last sentence also.

The Rite of 1552 never received synodical authority, and this new method of Oblation failed so completely to win general acceptance, that the Mass soon ceased to be the chief act of public worship, and was celebrated only on infrequent occasions. Men like Overall, and later, Cosin, had so little sympathy with it that they continued to use the Prayer of Oblation in its old place immediately after the consecration. In so doing they robbed the Rite of one of its essential features. This was the absence of [12/13] any prayer between the consecration and the communion of priest and people, in order to emphasize the unworthiness of the faithful to offer any sacrifice to God except in virtue of their union with Christ, through the act of communion which they had just made. It was for the purpose of making this offering of themselves that they remained gathered round the Altar. The Revisers of 1662, apparently by sheer inadvertence, stereotyped the dislocation. On their terms of reference, they did not feel justified in restoring the ancient order; and thinking the Lord’s Prayer, coming as it did now, after Communion, could more suitably be regarded as a thanksgiving, they added the Doxology to it. This broke up the sequence of the service altogether, for it deprived the “Our Father” of its place as part of the Oblation, to which it had always belonged (though traditionally it ended, instead of introducing it), with the result that the Oblation became an isolated prayer, sandwiched between two acts of thanksgiving. His Majesty’s printers added to the confusion by printing the word “ sacrifice “ with a small “s” throughout the Prayer of Oblation; and custom completed the work of emptying the Rite of its essential significance by the dying out of the practice of the people “drawing nigh.” [Thus following the use of the Rite of 1559 in which all capital “S’s” had been deleted.]

In drawing attention to the fact that the Liturgy of 1552 was more logical and consistent than our present Prayer-book Rite, we are not, of course, suggesting a return to it. It represented a serious break with Catholic tradition, and though it guarded against misconceptions of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which were then prevalent, it encouraged other misconceptions of an equally serious kind. In particular, by the over-emphasis it placed on the offering of the lives of the communicants, it tended to minimize the unique value of the Sacrifice of Christ, which it had intended to emphasize; and by making [13/14] self-oblation in communion with Christ dependent upon the act of communion just received, rather than on membership of Christ in virtue of baptism, it has tended to obscure the sacrificial character of the Christian life as a whole. Our purpose in going back over the past is to make it clear that the defects of our present Rite are inherent in its structure rather than in its language. It not only contains all the disadvantages inherent in the departure of the 1552 Rite from the traditional sequence of the Western Liturgy, but it has even lost the consistencies of the new order in its original form. This is the reason why no verbal or ceremonial enrichment to it can turn it as it stands into a Liturgy which can hope to win acceptance as a basis of uniformity amongst Catholics. A string of pearls, however beautiful they may he in themselves, is of no value to heal a broken neck. It is a bone-setting operation that is necessary to restore to their true position the disjointed limbs of the English Liturgy.


We have entered at some length into the foregoing considerations in order to pave the way for a definite concrete proposal. We urge that for the sake of gaining uniformity among ourselves, “for the present distress,” and until an adequate revision of our Liturgy can be secured by synodical authority, we should be content to use the words of the present Prayer-book Rite, rearranged in the order of the first Prayer-book of Edward V1.

In barest outline this would mean:

1. Saying the Prayer of Oblation after the Prayer of Consecration, and following it immediately by the Lord’s Prayer.

2. Using the prayer beginning “Almighty and Everliving God” as a permanent post-communion to correspond with the Sunday collect.

[14] 3. Replacing the Gloria in Excelsis at the beginning of the service. [The Revisers of 1552 had no precedent for the transference of the Gloria in Excelsis from the beginning to the end of the service. The traditional position is not only sanctioned by immemorial use, but is most valuable as a means of instruction. Closely associated as the Gloria is in Christian thought with the Nativity of our Lord, it naturally follows the cry of the world for redemption in the Kyrie Eleison, and introduces the liturgical sequence which first proclaims in the Epistle and Gospel the redeeming life and work of Christ, and then proceeds to set forth his most precious death in the consecration and communion.]

4. Replacing the Order of Communion (i.e., the short Exhortation, the Confession and Absolution, the Comfortable Words, and the Prayer of Humble Access) immediately before the Communion of the People.

5. In strict logic it should also mean replacing the Church Militant prayer at the beginning of the Canon; but we profess a doubt as to the wisdom of doing this, partly because it is such a landmark to so many uninstructed people, and partly because its opening is so uninspiring as a beginning of the Canon compared with that of the traditional Liturgies. [It may be noted that some ancient Liturgies afford a precedent for the present position of the prayer for the Church.]

We contend that such a rearrangement could not reasonably be regarded as a breach of our promise to use the form in the prescribed book, unless that promise be interpreted in a pedantically legal manner; and that therefore it could be legitimately introduced without any special ordering of lawful authority. Its advantages would be manifold. It would enable us to restore to the worshipping Faithful a Liturgy far from perfect indeed, but in conformity with the traditional Western presentation of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, without the substitution of the form in the Latin Missal, which we have tried to show would defeat our own ends. It would be of immense value in enabling us to teach our people the true meaning [15/16] of the Mass. It would be the most powerful means at our disposal of defeating the effort to foist on the Church the 1928 Canon, which, as we have already stated, is entirely devoid of synodical authority. Last, but by no means least, it would, we are convinced, rapidly commend itself by its beauty and logical consistency to many who do not associate themselves with the Catholic Movement, and would thus be a most valuable contribution to the future revision of the Prayer-book Liturgy on Catholic lines.

No doubt there are some among us whose interpretation of their Ordination promise would not allow them to go beyond this bare rearrangement without the ordering of lawful authority, and there are others who minister to congregations not yet sufficiently instructed to make it wise to do more than this immediately. In many, perhaps in the majority of churches where Catholic practice has been long established, more will certainly be demanded. In favour of additional enrichment, it may be reasonably contended that customary usage everywhere has sanctioned certain omissions from the Prayer-book Liturgy (for example, the long exhortations), as also the addition of anthems and hymns; and since Catholics are as free to form custom as anyone else, there are many among us who feel that our promise to use the prescribed form does not prevent us from adding certain enrichments, provided that these do not mean in effect the substitution of another Rite.

In such a case the service would take the following form:

The usual form of preparation, ending with the “Our Father” and the collect for purity, would be said humbly standing before the Altar, according to the Rite of Edward VI. The priest would then kiss the Altar while he prayed silently for the merits of the Saints, say the Introit at the south side and the Kyries at the centre, and, on feast days, the Gloria in Excelsis would follow. He would then salute the people with “The Lord be [16/17] with you,” and go again to the south side for the collects, one of which, on Sundays if desired, might be the collect for the King. He would insert the Gradual after the Epistle, and would move to the north side for the Gospel, after saying silently at the centre of the Altar the prayer in preparation for its reading. Before the Gospel he would again salute the people, and then return to the centre and say the Creed on the days on which it is to be said. He would then salute the people once more, and say silently the customary prayers provided for the offering of the bread and wine.

Whether he said the Church Militant prayer here or replaced it at the beginning of the Canon, and recited instead the Secret Prayers, there would be no real break in outward uniformity, for in either case he would continue immediately with the Salutation and the Sursum Corda, the Sanctus and Benedictus. He would then either continue with the Church Militant prayer, or, if this had been said earlier, he would pray mentally for the chief Bishop, the Bishop of the diocese, etc., and also commemorate the Saints. Then, with his hands spread over the Oblation, he would begin the Consecration Prayer, being careful to put all the traditional actions of the Canon into the Prayer-book form, and proceed straightway with the Prayer of Oblation, introducing it with the words: “Wherefore having in remembrance the precious death and passion, mighty Resurrection and Glorious Ascension of thy dear Son.” [Or possibly, with the words from the first Prayer-book of Edward VI.: “Wherefore, O Lord and Heavenly Father, according to the institution of thy dearly beloved Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, we thy humble servants do celebrate and make here before thy Divine Majesty, with these thy holy Gifts, the memorial which thy Son hath willed us to make, and having in remembrance his blessed Passion, mighty Resurrection, and glorious Ascension.”] The Prayer of Oblation finished, he would insert from the same Rite the words: “Let us pray, As our Saviour Christ hath [17/18] commanded and taught us, we are bold to say,” and recite the Lord’s Prayer without the Doxology. Then he would make the Fraction and Commixture, saying “ The Peace of the Lord be alway with you,” and continuing with the Agnus and the prayer for the Unity of the Church. After making his own communion with the customary prayers, the order for the communion of the people would follow. After giving communion to the people he would take the Ablutions, proceed to the south side to read the Communion Sentence; again salute the people from the centre of the Altar, and return to say “Almighty and Everliving God,” as one of the postcommunions. Then, returning to the centre, he would kiss the Altar, salute the people again, and dismiss them with “Depart in peace,” or “Let us bless the Lord,” and the Blessing, turning by his right to read the Last Gospel at the north side.

It will be seen that the method here suggested allows both for simple re-arrangement, using no words other than those contained in the Prayer-book Rite, and also for considerable enrichment. No doubt, owing to the varying standards existing in our churches, even the bare rearrangement in some cases would be inevitably gradual, and the attainment of complete uniformity among us would take considerable time. But if the sequence of the Liturgy be restored, the presentation of the Mass will be identical throughout our churches and in conformity with the use of the whole of Western Christendom, whether there be enrichment or not. We shall get rid of the long pauses which are so distracting to the Faithful and cause such confusion in their minds, and we shall be in a position to instruct them in the real meaning of the Mass, which we cannot properly do while they do not know what is going on, and find variations in every church they attend.

If general agreement on these lines can be obtained, it will, of course, be necessary for the form to be printed, [18/19] together with a full explanation of the change in the sequence of the service, so that the laity may fully understand the reasons for the rearrangement that has been Made. A Ceremonial Directory will also be required, showing in detail how the traditional ceremonies of the Canon can be incorporated into the Prayer-book Rite. With such provisions we are convinced that the proposal here outlined would meet with a very wide measure of acceptance, and would be of immense value both in rescuing the Catholic Movement from an indefensible situation, and in commending its Eucharistic teaching and worship to the Church of England as a whole.

Project Canterbury