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The Ornaments Rubric: Its History and Force
By Louis E. Daniels, M.A., D.Sac.Mus.
Lecturer in Church Music in Bexley Hall Divinity School

Published by the Anglican Society, n.d.

The Ornaments Rubric--a thing that everybody has heard of, and a thing that most people, even clergymen, know little or nothing about. It stands on a page by itself, in the English Prayer Book, opposite the beginning of Morning Prayer--the most conspicuous place given to any rubric. It is truly the foundation and beginning of all the rubrics, since without its directions, or similar ones, the carrying on of the Prayer Book services would be impossible. It has stood in its present position since 1559, though it has often been assailed, sometimes with violence.

Now let us ask what it is. Rubrics are directions as to how the service is to be carried on. They have to do with postures, gestures, moving about the church, the habit to be worn, and innumerable other small matters involved in putting the Prayer Book services into action. Many of them call for and presuppose articles of furniture and equipment. The rubric in question has to do with the providing and placing of all of the paraphernalia of public worship as our mother Church of England plans the same. The word Ornaments, in both the title and the text of the rubric, is used in a technical sense, and it has to do with all the articles of various sorts used in the service. It covers all the varieties of vestments, the altar and its furniture, the font and its appointments, the choir stalls, and even the organ.

The mediaeval service books, on which our English Prayer Book rests, were several in number. The services in them were sparingly provided with rubrical directions, such directions being brought together in one volume called the Consuetudinary, which prescribed the ceremonial and assigned it to the various persons concerned. With the appearance of the first Prayer Book in English these various books were brought together, and the rubrical directions were freely scattered through the services. However, many of the things used, worn, and done were left unmentioned, custom and tradition being trusted to guide the ministers. This first Prayer Book, issued in 1549, was a simplification and coordination of the old Latin services, merely bringing them into English and freeing them from many complexities and certain superstitious accretions. The doctrines of Protestantism were not to be found in it. Three years later a revision of it was issued which changed all this by bringing in a very strong infusion of continental Protestantism. Seven years later came a third book, based on the other two, and arriving at a sort of compromise between them. In this third Prayer Book our Ornaments Rubric appears, and there it has staid through all the vicissitudes of the succeeding years.

Let us now ask ourselves why the Ornaments Rubric was put there? What led to its composition and insertion? We shall have to take a brief glance over the history of the period in order to give an answer.

The Reformation under Henry VIII was a comparatively simple affair. The leading element of it was the getting rid of the usurped authority of the pope in England. The corruptions of the papal system, and the sack of Rome and imprisonment of the pope by the Emperor Charles V, had shaken men's confidence in the truth of papal claims. The pope was legislated out of England by Henry's parliament, and the way was open lor measures of reform that had long been advocated by many of the best men in England. There was no break in the continuity of the church's ministry or doctrines, but the services were gradually brought into English, and Henry saw to it that an English Bible was placed in every church in England and kept where the people could read it. A rubric at the beginning of the Communion Office directed that at the Communion the priest should wear a white albe, with a "vestment or cope," and that those assisting should likewise be properly vested. This was but a continuation of things as they had been from time immemorial. It is the first form of our ornaments rubric. People attending Mass in an English parish church of that day would have experienced no shock of sudden change, the chief differences to be noted being the use of the English tongue, and the administration of the Communion in both kinds. The First Prayer Book was begun under Henry VIII, and was completed during the first two years of the reign of the boy Edward VI. During the six years of the reign of this unfortunate youth the government was carried on in turn by his two uncles. The first of them, the Duke of Somerset, was probably as great a rogue as ever ruled in England. Wakeman says that his unexampled rapacity was unrelieved even by the nobler vices. He stripped the English churches of their silver and gold and embroideries, and he abolished the monasteries that he might seize their lands. He was about to pull down Westminster Abbey in order to use its materials for a palace for himself, and he was deterred only by the gift of twenty manors from the abbot. He advanced crowds of his satellites to positions in the government, granting them titles and enriching them with church lands. Of course by these tactics he was able to carry the government with him. Along with his robberies he affected a strong leaning toward the ultra-Protestantism of Germany and Geneva. He brought in a number of foreign reformers, Lutherans and Calvinists, presenting them with professorships in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. They fomented dissatisfaction with the Catholic features of the Church of England, and especially with its Prayer Book, and a drastic revision of it was begun. Says Overton:

The dominant party in the State was quite in favour of the dominant party in the Church, being convinced not by theological arguments, but by the argumentum ad crumenam. The greater the simplicity, not to say bareness, of the accessories of worship, the greater would be the spoils that fell to them. Altars, with their rich adornments and vestments, were expensive, but oyster tables and Genevan cloaks were uncommonly cheap; so the court party were in heartfelt sympathy with the reform party.

The result of their propagandism and labours was the second Prayer Book of King Edward VI. This, while based on the first book, was an extensive departure from it. It went a considerable distance in the direction of the ultra-Protestant services of the continent, and its chief features strove to mark the elimination of evidences of the belief of the Church in the Real Presence. The manuscript was sent for criticism to Calvin himself and he groaned because the book did not go nearly far enough. If the work of the framers of this book had continued, we can have little doubt that the Church of England would have been reduced to an imitation of the continental Protestant sects.

But before the book could come into use progress in that direction was stopped by the death of Edward VI, and the succession of his sister Mary. She and her advisers lost no time in restoring the Roman regime. They threw out the reformed Prayer Books, restored the Mass in Latin, and began a cruel persecution of any who might raise a voice against it. Laws against heretics were passed and burnings began. During her brief reign of five years at least 300 persons were burnt, including five bishops and fifty women. Cranmer, whose inestimable work on the English Prayer Book has made it one of our outstanding literary gems, was one of the martyrs. A great number of the clergy fled to the continent and settled along the Rhine and in Geneva, where English congregations were set up. The Prayer Book was now to be found only among them, and the Continental reformers interfered with its use even among these exiles.

Mary's bloody reign came to an end in five years, and the masses of the English people, who had at first welcomed a release from the rapacities and hypocricies of the Edwardian authorities, now lighted bonfires on every hilltop in celebration of the end of a bloody tyrant whom they had come to hate. Elizabeth, the third of Henry's children to reign, came to the throne amid great rejoicing. She showed from the first a spirit of moderation and conciliation which tended to draw the people together and to cement their loyalty to their own sovereign and their own Church. The First Prayer Book of Edward was from the start used in the royal chapel. She showed plainly that she was neither Roman Catholic nor Lutheran, that she stood for the national Church of England, which had suffered such ills, first from the Edwardian Protestantizers, and then from the Marian Romanizers. She gave representation to both parties in selecting her advisers, and she adopted a policy of compromise in her efforts to hold the Church and the Nation together. But she did not have smooth sailing. The exiles came flocking back from the continent, filled with the motives and principles of the Lutherans and Calvinists; and those who, remaining in England, had felt the tyranny of the Marian regime were themselves inclined to fly to the other extreme. Elizabeth desired the restoration of the First Prayer Book, which was quite in line with her own beliefs and practices, but her new arch-bishop, Parker, a man of great wisdom and insight, felt that its acceptance would be impossible, and so the second Prayer Book, with certain important and significant changes, was brought in. The outstanding new features of the Elizabethan book (which dates from 1559) were the restoration of the words of administration from Edward's first book, restoring the clear allusion to the Real Presence, and the introduction of our Ornaments Rubric.

It must be evident from this brief historical survey that two sharply contrasting streams of ideal and development were at work through the Reformation period; there was the "back to Rome" movement, which had been triumphant during Mary's reign; and there was the "over to Calvin" movement, which had almost triumphed during the later years of Edward's reign. Each one was positively doctrinal in its foundations, but they both, quite naturally, worked out their doctrinal tendencies into ceremonial expression. To hold to the Latin Mass, with its concomitants of transubstantia-tion, veneration of relics and images, and all the rest, led to Roman ceremonial. To hold to the Continental Lord's Supper, with all its minimizings, meant the abolition of vestments, altars, set prayers, and so on. The latter threat was the more immediate one in the early years of Elizabeth; there was an epidemic of altar-smashing, accompanied by the setting up of tables outside the choir and of a chair before the chancel arch, facing the people, for the reading of the service. Vestments of course were fought against, and a general disuse of the old service forms was striven for by the party of the extremists. Between the two extremes was the more sober part of the Church of England, including the Queen and Archbishop Parker. The religious influences of Elizabeth's formative period had been those of the reign of Henry VIII, when the ideals of Collet, More, and Erasmus were the chief influences in the moderate measures of Henry and Cranmer. These ideals were formed by the study of the Greek New Testament and of the fathers of the first three centuries. They strove for a moderate reshaping of the church, without the pope and without the mediaeval accretions of superstition, but a church retaining the ancient doctrines, the ancient orders, and the outward aspect which had distinguished catholicity through the ages. The Reformation had begun with these temperate and moderate ideals, and a strong party of thoughtful men had maintained them throughout the powerful cross currents of the intervening years. In the estimation of these men the Church of England was an independent, national body with a life of her own, having power to "decree rites and ceremonies," and to stand upright upon her own feet without paying deference to the wishes of Geneva or Rome. The Prayer Book of Elizabeth reasserted this position and the Ornaments Rubric which stood in its forefront is, as has been said, the interpretative clause of the Prayer Book. "It covers all the rubrics which are to follow. Through it alone can they be obeyed." It is the only direction we have as to what the priest is to wear in the services of the church. It is our only authority for the use of organs and lecterns, just as well as for crosses and candles. Obviously the Ornaments Rubric is not so negligible as many people assume to think that it is. We are all of us using some part of its provision whenever we conduct a religious service. Let us glance for a moment at its content.

1. The Morning and Evening Prayer shall be used in the accustomed place of the Church . . . This was of course directed against the vagaries of the Puritans in setting up a special pew or chair, facing the people, for the conduct of the service.

2. The chancels shall remain as they have done in times past. This, again, was intended to counteract the removal of the altar with its furnishings, and the substitution for it of a cheap table (which some in that day referred to as an oyster table) in the body of the church, round which the people were to be seated for the reception of the holy communion. These two provisions were not difficult to enforce, and they are now observed by all of us, as they have been for centuries.

3. And here is to be noted that such ornaments of the Church, and of the ministers thereof, at all times of their ministration, shall be retained, and be in use, as were in this Church of England by the authority of Parliament, in the second year of the reign of King Edward the Sixth. The ornaments of the church referred to are such things as the Bible, Prayer Book, altar ,chalice and paten, linens, font, bell, chair, and pulpit. All these are mentioned in the First Prayer Book; besides them we have, by implication, credence, cruets, pyx, lectern, litany desk, etc. The ornaments of the minister include, of course, the vestments ordered by the First Prayer Book,--that is to say, albe, chasuble, cope, surplice, customary habit of the bishop, and no doubt the usual vestments of choristers and acolytes. It was in the matter of the Eucharistic vestments that the greatest difficulty was experienced in securing obedience to the rubric. Those who held continental views of the Eucharistic Presence refused utterly to assume a garment which implied that Presence. Many insisted on ministering in their street clothes, or peasant's jacket, and we have record of one priest who felt that he must wear his hat during the service. The authorities made concessions, allowing the surplice to suffice, although the law was not changed. As a matter of fact the chasuble was practically disused until the Oxford Movement of a century ago brought in a new interest in the outward expression of catholic doctrines. Since that time the Eucharistic vestments have been largely restored, and they are coming more and more into use each year.

The later history of the rubric is interesting; the matter of it was attacked again and again during Elizabeth's time--indeed her whole reign was characterized by a long-drawn contest between the Puritans and the Churchmen. On the accession of James, in 1603, the Puritans at once brought to the king a petition, signed by some thousand ministers, praying to be relieved from the requirements of the Ornaments Rubric. A conference was arranged at Hampton Court for January, 1604, at which the king listened to them in person. The request for the removal of the Ornaments Rubric was denied, and the petitioners were told to conform, or leave the ministry. At the Restoration another petition was presented and a conference was held at the Savoy Palace. The result was that the Ornaments Rubric was retained and was made a part of the civil law.

Through all these contests we see the Church of England setting up and defending her standard. The law was mandatory and it was never weakened in its terms, but it was never enforced, and in some details, especially in the matter of vestments, it was never observed. Our mother church was strong in the maintenance of her law, but she was always very tolerant toward non-conformity within her own borders. What are we to make of this? This, I think; that the Ornaments Rubric enunciates a great principle, the principle of continuity in rites and ceremonies with the church of the early ages. Her desire was never to catch and punish offenders, but always to set forth her ideals. This is true of all fundamental laws; they are expressions of ideals of conduct, not traps to catch the unwary. Our present day view of this fundamental law of our church must rest upon our loyalty to our mother church and our desire to conform ourselves to her ideals.

The question must of course be asked, does the Ornaments Rubric apply to us of the American Church? Again the answer depends upon our loyalty. The American Church has given us no substitute for this rubric; she has persistently omitted to set forth any ceremonial law, and if this rubric is not our ceremonial law, we have none. However, the church has not been quite silent on the subject; the Preface to the American book says:

--this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship.

Certainly the Ornaments Rubric is concerned with essential points of worship.

The Ornaments Rubric was especially directed in its inception against minimizers in the matter of ceremonial, against those who objected to the ancient ceremonial, or to any ceremonial at all; there is still need within our borders for this use of it, but we invoke it today chiefly against those who go to excess in their ceremonial. In many parishes of our communion the services bear little resemblance to the services of our mother church. The rites are freely subtracted from and added to, or changed in their sequence, strange ceremonies are imported from alien sources, and rites are taken over to give opportunity for their use, and the whole atmosphere is made to conform as closely as possible to the atmosphere of Rome. This is disturbing to great numbers of our own people and it tends to drive away from us many who stand inquiringly at our gates. Our church needs to re-shape itself in accordance with the pattern set by our mother church four centuries ago. Let me close with the words of a great English churchman, who stands high among the liturgical scholars of our day:

The reunion of Christendom can never be furthered by the assimilation among ourselves of modern Roman ceremonial. For the men in the Roman Communion who are inclined to be friendly towards us are also inclined to deplore the ultramontane policy of substituting Roman customs for the ancient national customs of the rest of the West. The more we identify our practices with such details as are peculiar to modern Rome, the further we get from the usages of the East. And if we make our services identical with those of the Roman churches amongst us, we shut the door forever to that reconciliation of the numerous non-episcopal bodies for whom we have especial responsibility.

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