Project Canterbury


Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of His Majesty

transcribed by Mr Thomas J W Mason
AD 2001


Before proceeding to deal with the inquiry addressed to us as to the alleged prevalence of breaches or neglect of the law relating to the conduct of Divine Service, and to the ornaments and fittings of churches, it will be well to commence with a brief statement of what we understand to be the law. We shall, in the first place, indicate generally the result of statutory enactments and judicial decisions dealing with the subject, attaching to the former the meaning placed on them by the King’s judges, and assuming the latter to have been well decided by courts competent to deal with ecclesiastical matters. We shall subsequently state the objections entertained by some persons, as given in evidence before us, both to the competency of the Final Court and to the correctness of its judgments. But for the moment we omit any notice of the controversies which have been raised on these points.

The conduct of Divine Service, including the words spoken, the rites and ceremonies used, the vesture worn by the clergy, and the "ornaments" of the churches used in the services, is subject to the conditions imposed by the Acts of Uniformity, which set up, an require universal conformity to one standard.

With regard to the conduct of public worship, the clergy are forbidden by these acts "to use any other rite, ceremony, order, form, or manner of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, openly or privily, or Mattens, Evensong, Administration of the Sacraments, or other open Prayers, than is mentioned and set forth" in the Prayer Book as revised in 1662. "Open Prayer" is defined to mean "that prayer which is for others to come unto or hear either in common churches or private chapels or oratories, commonly called the service of the church." "The word ‘rite’ is held to include, if not to consist of, the text of the prayers and scriptures read." "A ‘ceremony’ in worship is an action or act in which material objects may or may not be used, but is not itself any material object."

With regard to the vesture of the clergy and the "ornaments" of churches used by them in their ministrations, the clergy are bound by I Elizabeth, cap. 2, sect. 13, by the Ornaments Rubric, and by the 24th, 25th, and 58th Canons of 1604. The result of legal decision on the Ornaments Rubric is (1) that those "ornaments" of churches are declared to be legal, the use of which in the services and ministrations of the church is prescribed in the first Prayer Book of Edward VI. (1549). The term "ornaments" in this rubric includes only such articles and things as are used in the services and ministrations; it is not confined to articles of decoration or embellishment, but it does not include articles not used in the services; and the law recognises "that the use of all articles, not expressly mentioned in the rubric, although quite consistent with and even subsidiary to the service," is not forbidden. IT has also been decided (2) that the legal vesture of the clergy in their ministrations is that laid down in the Advertisements of 1566—namely (a) in parish churches a surplice, and (b) in cathedrals and collegiate churches at Holy Communion, a cope for the principal minister, "with gospeller and epistoller agreeably." No judicial decision has been given as to the vestments proper to be worn by Bishops.

Thus for ceremonies the date of standard in 1662, for vestments 1566, and for church ornaments 1549.

The law with regard to images not used in the public services is not laid down by statute, but has been defined by several judicial decisions. It has been decided that such images are lawful as objects of decoration in a church, but are unlawful if they are made, or are in danger of being made, objects of superstitious reverence, contrary to Article XXII against the worshipping and adoration of images. In accordance with this view, crosses if not placed on the Holy Table, and also crucifixes if part only of a sculptured design or architectural decoration, have been declared lawful. The question whether a crucifix or rood standing alone, or combined with figures of the Blessed Virgin and St. John can, in any circumstances, be regarded as merely decorative, has given rise to a difference of judicial opinion and appears to be unsettled. Speaking generally, articles of decoration or embellishment not used in the services cannot lawfully be introduced into a church without the consent of the Ordinary given by faculty, the granting of which is subject to the judicial discretion of the Chancellor or Commissary, sitting as judge of the Bishop’s Court.

The obligation to conform to the standard is rigid. "In the performance of the services, rites, and ceremonies ordered by the Prayer Book the directions contained in it must be strictly observed. No omission and no addition can be permitted." The distinction between what is important and what appears to be trivial has been expressly and emphatically precluded. This remains true, although the Prayer Book (tables of Lessons) Act, 1871, the Act of Uniformity Amendment Act, 1872, and the Burial Laws Amendment Act, 1880, to which reference will be made later, introduced a certain amount of freedom within narrowly defined limits. With regard to the vesture of the clergy, the directions of the law are held to be equally inelastic; and, with the exception we have mentioned, so are the requirements as to "ornaments of churches."

The result is that the ceremonies and ornaments which the law prescribes, or tolerates, must be ascertained by reference to that which was required at certain dates, varying according to whether ceremonies or ornaments are in question, and all so remote from contemporary English life that the most recent is separated from the present time by more than 240 years.

It will be our duty to return to this subject when we discuss the causes which have led to the present difficulties and make recommendations with a view to their removal. Our purpose for the moment is to indicate that all variations from the ancient standard authorised, whether great or small, constitute breaches of the law relating to the conduct of Divine Service and render those responsible for them guilty of ecclesiastical offences. It will be unnecessary at this stage to recapitulate the decisions dealing with particular points of ritual and church ornaments. They have nearly all been arrived at by the mere application of the very simply rule indicated above, namely, conformity to the appointed standard.

By the Prayer Book (Tables of Lessons) Act, 1871, the Ordinary is empowered on all occasions whereon he shall judge that such alternation will conduce to edification, to consent to the substitution of other Psalms or Lessons in lieu of those appointed by the Prayer Book; and the minister, in the circumstances described in the Act, is allowed a certain limited discretion in the selection of the Second Lesson.

The Act of Uniformity Amendment Act, 1872, commonly called the Shortened Services Act, has modified the rigidity of the Acts of Uniformity in the following respects: —

(1) The use of a shortened form of Morning and Evening Prayer given in a schedule to the Act is allowed on week days.

(2) On special occasions approved by the Ordinary special forms of service may be used, provided that they contain nothing, except anthems or hymns, which does not form part of the Holy Scriptures or the Book of Common Prayer.

(3) Additional forms of service containint no part of the Communion Service, and answering the conditions mentioned above, may be used on Sundays and Holy-days in addition to the regular services, provided that the form of service and the mode of its use be approved by the Ordinary.

(4) The Order for Morning Prayer, the Litany, and the Communion Service may be used as separate services and in varying order, in the manner indicated in the Act.

(5) Sermons, or lectures, may be preached without the common prayers or services appointed by the Prayer Book being previously read.

The burial Laws Amendment Act, 1880, Section 13, enacts that "it shall be lawful for any minister in Holy Orders of the Church of England authorised to perform the burial service, in any case where the Office for the Burial of the Dead according to the rites of the Church of England may not be used, and in any other case at the request of the relative, friend or legal representative having the charge of or being responsible for the burial of the deceased, to use at the burial such service, consisting of prayers taken from the Book of Common Prayer and portions of Holy Scripture, as may be prescribed or approved of by the Ordinary."