Project Canterbury

From The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton (Volume 6),
edited by B. Talbot Rogers, New York: Longmans, Green, 1914, pp. 7-11

Plain Suggestions for a Reverent Celebration of the Holy Communion

by Bishop Charles Chapman Grafton


Chapter II

The Altar Ornaments

The altar ordinarily has a covering, called an altar-cloth. For convenience, as well as for economy, it is usually divided into two parts. It is thus much easier to remove the altar-cloth when there is need of so doing, and it is more economical, as one portion, the upper one, can be used alone. This portion, which covers the top of the altar and hangs down in front nine or twelve inches, is called the superfrontal. It may be more or less embroidered, and is commonly finished with a fringe. The other portion, which is oftenest of the same material, is known as the frontal, and falls to the ground, covering the entire front of the altar.

The Fair Linen Cloth

The rubric requires that the holy table, at the communion-time, shall have upon it a fair white linen cloth. This cloth, in order to fulfil the rubrical directions, should be as wide as the top of the altar. It is not directed to be any wider, but it may be considerably longer than the altar, so as to hang nearly half-way down on either end. As to its ornamentation, it is to be observed that the rubrical direction is not that it shall be "plain", that is, without any ornament, but that it shall be "fair", that is, in the old English of the rubric, beautiful. The introduction, however, of any colour into its decoration seems forbidden by the order that, though "fair", it shall be "white." The fair linen cloth may therefore be enriched by having some designs embroidered upon it. Quite a common and simple one is the working of five crosses of the Greek shape upon it; one being placed in the centre, and one in each of the corners. The linen cloth is spread upon the altar as significant that the altar is also the holy table, whereon is celebrated the Supper of the Lord. The five crosses upon it are symbols of Christ’s wounds, and appropriate to the evangelical truth that the sacrifice we feed upon is that of a Lamb that was slain.

The Cross

Opposition among all well-instructed Churchmen to the distinctive symbol of the Christian faith has passed away. The form of the cross can now be seen everywhere in our churches, in the form in which they are built, upon the spires and doors and windows, and adorning the font and chancel. The most fitting place, however, for it is the altar. It is not only our entrance into the Church that is wrought by the power of the cross, but our salvation from the beginning to the end depends upon Christ’s grace and the merits of the Passion. This thought Christians should have constantly before them. It is therefore most fit that if the symbol of our redemption by Christ’s death is to be used anywhere in our churches, it should be placed before us and over the altar, where is celebrated the "sacrament ordained," as the Catechism tells us, "for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ."


In many churches where the chancels are dark the priest’s labours will be greatly relieved and accidents to the sacrament be averted by placing lights upon the altar. The primitive custom is, however, so associated with the original institution, by our Blessed Lord, of the Holy Supper deep in the night, when lights are required, that their use has a most commemorative significance.

They are also emblematic of joy; as St. Jerome writes: "In all the churches of the East, when the Gospel is about to be read, lights are kindled, though the sun be shining brightly, not to put the darkness to flight, but to show a sign of rejoicing."

As emblematic of joy they are appropriate to the Holy Communion, and express the truth that it is a sacrifice "of praise and thanksgiving." Their use is, moreover, so interwoven with the entire history of the holy sacrament, with its primitive celebrations during ages of persecution, with its subsequent long-continued observance at early dawn, with the immemorial practice of all branches of the Church Catholic, Eastern and Western, Greek, Syrian, Coptic, Gothic, Celtic, that we weaken our claim of being primitive, apostolic, and Catholic in our usages if we neglect a custom of the Church of God so ancient and so universal. Used, as altar-lights are, by the Protestant churches in Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, their use cannot rightly be said to symbolise any Roman doctrine. Commended by the original Anglican Reformers, their use cannot be said to be a revival of mediaevalism, or contrary to the spirit of the Reformation, or to symbolise doubtful or erroneous doctrines. Continued in so many Anglican cathedrals, and by the wide-spread use of so many churches, the practice cannot be said to be contrary to the order of divine worship, as this Church hath received the same. Indeed, so far from tending towards Romanism or leading on to Rome, their general introduction and use would do much to show that our Church is Catholic, though not papal, and to remove those prejudices which prevent so many Lutherans and Roman Catholics from joining us. It is, however, of higher importance to remember that by God’s own appointment lights are the symbol of a sacred presence (Exod. x. 23, xiii.21, 22, xxv.31) and are found in the pattern for our worship revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai, and to St. John in the isle of Patmos (Rev. iv. 5; Heb. viii.5). Moreover, the argument is not without force that as God, after He had led His people out of Egypt, took Moses up into the mount, so when God had led His Christian Church out of Judaism He took St. John up to heaven, and showed him the heavenly worship as the general model and directory, under the free power of the Spirit’s guidance, of the worship of the Christian Church. There, in the midst of the divine glory, burning on forever in the eternal noonday, are the seven golden candlesticks and the seven lights before the throne.

Two lights are sufficient for a quiet, early celebration, but six are commonly used for a service accompanied by music.

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