Project Canterbury

The Expediency of Allowing within Limits a Variety of Uses in the Same Church

By Charles Lindley Wood, Viscount Halifax

A Paper read at the Church Congress, Nottingham, September, 1897.

London: Bemrose and Sons, 1897.

I PROPOSE to confine myself to one question only, the expediency of allowing, under our existing circumstances in England, more than one use in the celebration of Holy Communion; and in discussing the question I shall use the word Liturgy in its strict sense, and limit to the forms provided by the Church for celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The use of more than one Liturgy within the limits of the same Church is nothing new. In Scotland both the Scotch and English Liturgies are celebrated concurrently in the same churches and by the same clergy. In Spain the Mozarabic and Spanish Liturgies coexist at Toledo. With the Roman communion, not to mention such cases as those of the Ambrosian Rite at Milan, the use which till quite recently existed at Lyons, and others, the Roman rite and that of the Uniat Greeks are used together. In every town where there is an American and an English congregation, the American and Anglican uses exist side by side, and to permit the use of the first edition of our later English Liturgy--the edition, that is, of 1549--concurrently with that of 1662, would merely be an exemplification of the same practice.

I go on to give reasons why such a permission is desirable in the interests of the Church of England.

The Church of England, with her long line of prelates stretching back into the remote past, the Church of England, with all she has done for our own souls, and for this England of ours of which we are so proud, is so dear to all her members that it jars upon them to say anything which shall seem to admit anything like failure or mistake on her part; especially is this the case if at any time her claims upon our allegiance should seem to have been ignored. Injustice to her quickens our loyalty and draws us together to defend her rights; but it ought t o do something more. Hostile criticism will not have been useless if it helps us to see what is amiss, and to repair our mistakes. Such a task is one which concerns us all, and there are two very special reasons why it is imposed upon us at the present time.

We have, in the first place, to respond to God’s visitation. The history of the past, to mention only the last sixty years, forbids all doubt as to God’s gracious purposes concerning the Church of England. It is a time of refreshment, it is also a time of prosperity; the sluices [1/2] are open, let us utilise the flood, lest the waters subside before the land be fertilized and the work done. And then, secondly, the present moment is particularly favourable for such a work.

The members of the Church of England have of late been much drawn together. Suspicions have diminished, there is much less party feeling. All are animated by a common love for the Ecclesia Anglicana, a love so confident and so sure that it has no fear of acknowledging and amending before the face of Christendom what may be amiss.

Now in regard to matters in which the position of the Church of Eng land may be strengthened and her practice conformed more nearly to primitive models, I submit that the subject dealt with in this paper holds a conspicuous place.

No one denies that in some important particulars our existing Liturgy does not follow the primitive model. There has been a dislocation of its parts, and a disregard of principles which are observable in all the older Liturgies. What, for instance, can be more awkward than the position occupied by the Exhortation, the Confession, and the Absolution, together with the Comfortable Words, and Prayer of Humble Access, all relating to a subsequent part of the Liturgy--namely, the Communion, inserted, as they are, between the beginning and the middle of the Canon? What can be more incongruous than to have the Sursum Corda and Sanctus, when our hearts should be lifted up to heaven, displaced from the position they occupy in all other Liturgies except our own, and immediately followed by a prayer which concentrates our thoughts on ourselves and our own unworthiness, instead of lifting them up to the contemplation and adoration of God's glory?

Again, after the Consecration, what a contradiction to all primitive example, that the Prayer of Oblation, beginning, "O Lord, our Heavenly Father," instead of concluding the Canon, as it does both in the First Liturgy of Edward VI. and in the present Scotch and American Liturgies, should be postponed till after the Communion of the people, and that the recitation of the Lord's Prayer, with its petition for the daily bread of our souls, and for deliverance from evil, should be deferred till after the distribution of the True Bread from heaven, and the consequent sealing of the souls and bodies of those who worthily receive the same, to eternal life.

But there is another reason why it would be well that the English Church in this matter should follow in the steps of her Scotch and American sisters, and permit the use of her own earlier Liturgy. It is that the arrangement of our existing Liturgy is, we can scarcely doubt it, to some extent at least, responsible for the ignorance which so widely prevails amongst all classes as to the true doctrine of the Eucharistic sacrifice. We all confess that the Holy Eucharist is the Divinely appointed means by which the Body of Christ identifies itself with the Head in the work of that eternal priesthood which He exercises within the veil. Can it be said that this identification of earth and heaven in the abiding offering before the Majesty on high, of all that Christ wrought for us by His life, and death on the Cross, which is the central idea of all the ancient Liturgies, is set forth with anything like the same distinctness in our own?

[3] The Scotch and American Churches have not thought so, for they have gone back to earlier forms in order to emphasize this truth.

No one acquainted with the ancient Liturgies can be in doubt on this point, or hesitate, if we are to be honest in our appeal to primitive antiquity, as to the duty of endeavouring to bring our own Liturgy into greater conformity with primitive models.

What, then, can be done in this direction?

To suppose that any legal sanction is possible to alterations for this purpose in the Prayer-book is to be blind to all the conditions which surround the Church at the present time. The history of all recent attempts to facilitate changes, in the old constitutional manner, by a recourse to Convocation and Parliament, preclude any such idea.

Acts of Parliament, however, are sometimes modified, and for all practical purposes repealed, not only by formal alteration, but indirectly, and by force of custom, and such seems likely to be the case with the Act of Uniformity. The Act of Uniformity, for all practical purposes, is very much a thing of the past; and as that Act shrinks into impotence, the exercise of the jus liturgicum inherent in the Episcopate revives.

The bishops at Lambeth have recognized this fact, and what I would venture to suggest is that the English Episcopate should consider the question of sanctioning such a rearrangement of the component parts of our existing Liturgy as would bring it into greater conformity with primitive arrangements, arrangements which have the sanction of the Scotch and American Churches, or permit the alternative use of the Communion Office of the First Prayer-book of Edward VI.

So slight a change as using the Prayer of Oblation and the "Our Father" immediately after the Prayer of Consecration, together with the invariable use after the Communion, of the prayer beginning, "Almighty and Everlasting God, we most heartily thank Thee," would do much. This is known to have been the practice of Bishop Cosin, but to-day I would urge reasons for the wider change, and insist upon the gain it would be to the Church if the alternative use of the Liturgy contained in the First Book of Edward could be allowed. I will make bold to say that if that Liturgy were better known, those who would be the most disposed to look with suspicion upon any proposal for its use would be among the first to approve it. Are they fearful of anything being sanctioned which should seem to obscure the all-sufficiency of the offering made once for all on the Cross? It is impossible anywhere to find words more definite and distinct than those in the First Liturgy of Edward as to there being one only propitiation before God, one only sacrifice for sin, the sacrifice of the death of Christ upon the Cross. It prays--

"O God, Heavenly Father, Which of Thy tender mercy didst give Thine only Son to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption, Who made thereby His one oblation, once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice and oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world, and didst command us to celebrate a memory of that His precious death."

It recites how--

“According to the institution of Thy dearly beloved Son, we, Thy humble servants do celebrate and make here before Thy Divine Majesty with these Thy holy gifts the memorial which Thy Son has willed us to make, having in remembrance His blessed Passion, mighty Resurrection, and glorious Ascension."

It insists on the identity of the offering of the Church on earth with that of Christ the Head in heaven when it prays that--

" Our prayers and supplications be brought up in Thy holy tabernacle before the sight of Thy Divine Majesty, through Christ our Lord, by Whom and with Whom all honour and glory be unto Thee," etc.

And it concludes, immediately before the Communion, by proclaiming again--

"Christ, our paschal Lamb, is offered up for us once for all when He bare our sins in His Body on the Cross, for He is the very Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world; therefore let us keep a joyful and holy feast unto the Lord."

Again, the First Liturgy insists even more emphatically than that of 1662 on that great feature of the Christian Eucharist--the offering of ourselves in union with Christ to God; for immediately after the consecration, in the very centre and heart of the service, instead of postponing them to a later period, it inserts the words, "Here we offer and present unto Thee ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice."

In this connection it may also be pointed out how carefully the Liturgy of the First Book of Edward guards the two points always to be kept in view in all sacramental teaching, that while the sacraments are what they are by virtue of Christ's institution, the benefit we receive from them depends on our faith. It prays that those who are partakers of Holy Communion may worthily receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and it thanks God after the Communion "for having fed us with spiritual food, and hast assured those duly receiving the same of Thy favour and goodness to us."

In the presence of such statements there can be no fear of erroneous teaching, whether by way of excess or defect as to the doctrine of the Eucharistic sacrifice, while, in other ways, permission to use the Liturgy of 1549 would be an immense gain to the Church. Nothing is more needed, at the present time, than a careful and exact statement which should express our relations and duties to the faithful departed, both those whose lives and deaths the Church commemorates on days consecrated to their memory, and after them those our brethren who have died in the faith of Christ. With this object, who would not welcome in our solemn Liturgy such words as these?--

"And here we do give unto Thee most high praise and hearty thanks for the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all Thy saints from the beginning of the world; and chiefly in the glorious and most blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord and God, and in Thy holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, whose examples, O Lord, and steadfastness in faith and keeping Thy Commandments, grant us to follow."

And, again:--

"We commend unto Thy mercy, O Lord, all other Thy servants which are departed hence from us with the sign of faith, and now do rest in the sleep of peace; grant unto them Thy mercy and everlasting peace, and that at the day of the general resurrection we, and all they which be of the mystical Body of Thy Son, may altogether be set on His right hand, and hear that His most blessed voice, "Come unto Me O ye that be blessed of My Father, and possess the kingdom which is prepared for you from the foundation of the world."

To point to such words as the expression of our faith and hope in [4/5] regard to the blessed saints and the dead in Christ would be a gain indeed. There can be no question how marked the contrast is between the existing Liturgy of the Church of England and that of all other Churches in regard to prayers for the dead in Christ, as there can be no doubt how much more the memorial services for the departed, which have become so frequent, leave to be desired both in their tone and arrangement.

The Collect, Epistle, and Gospel of the First Liturgy were sanctioned at S. Paul’s Cathedral on the occasion of the service for the late Archdeacon Denison. Why should not such sanction be general?

Again, in lesser matters I would urge the gain it would be to restore the Kyries and replace the Gloria in Excelsis at the opening of the service. After Communion is a time of silence and recollection, a time for speaking to and listening to our Lord alone. At the beginning of the service the Gloria seems to re-echo the song of the angels announcing the Nativity, “God with us,” and to proclaim the fact in the words of the present Bishop of Exeter, that the Church in its service of Holy Communion is the trysting-place of God and man.

In any case, let us approach the subject without prejudice, and consider it on its own merits. Is it too much to hope, viewing the substantial identity of our present Liturgy with that of 1549, considering also the way in which, under the Additional Services Act, the most extensive modifications of the services described by the Prayer-book are already allowed by the ecclesiastical authorities, and of the almost absolute impossibility, through the action of the Nonconformists in Parliament, of obtaining legal sanction for any changes, even those most directly beneficial to the Church--is it, I say, too much to hope that the Episcopate may see its way, under such restrictions as they may think right, to sanction the alternative use of a Liturgy which was the direct work of those who most directly represent the distinctive character of the English Reformation, and has in later times approved itself to all the most distinguished divines of the Church of England?

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