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Lectures on the First Prayer Book of King Edward VI.

by Morgan Dix
Rector of Trinity Church, New York

New York: Young and Co., 1881.


RESUMING the subject of these lectures, I intend to give you an account of the contents of the First English Prayer Book. But let me begin by reminding you of what has been already said. In the words of another, that Book "being the result of many years' thought and labor, in which none but Englishmen were engaged, expresses more exactly than any other the mind of our own English Reformers as a body; and accordingly it is to this Book that we must appeal on any question relating to the Principles of the English Reformation." [1] If it be asked, "What were the clearly defined and firmly fixed ideas which pervaded the minds, prompted the words and acts, and formed the guiding influences of those Bishops and other notable learned men, who, under God's Providential leading, carried out the Reformation in England?" we point to this volume for the answer. "No greater mistake can be made than to quote as authoritative on this point the works of individual writers, whose crude fancies and private opinions at that confusing period of flux and change varied from day to day." The true test and standard is that Liturgy which expresses their mind as a body, and in which their individualisms were for the time merged and buried.

Now, at the outset, let me remind you that there is in religion a system known commonly by the terms "Sacerdotal" and "Sacramental." Without reflecting on other types of Christianity, we may point to that particular type as perfectly well known, and as showing, wherever it appears, certain unmistakable features, certain characteristic signs or notes. Surely no one who has examined the First Book of Edward VI., can doubt that it presents that system. It sets it forth by every act, word, and symbol fitted for the purpose. That was the great objection to it on the part of those who, imbued with the ideas of an opposite school, hated Sacerdotalism and Sacramentalism with all their hearts. The Book is of that type from beginning to end. An exponent of the Sacerdotal System, it teaches Episcopacy, and the Apostolic Succession; the Power of the Keys, and the Priestly office. An exponent of the Sacramental System, it teaches Baptismal Regeneration, and the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. Maintaining a devout and costly ritual, it orders that the Chancel and the Altar shall remain as in time past, and gives to the Priest his proper position and his appropriate dress. It asserts the freedom of the Laity to use private confession if they desire; it bids them pray for the Dead in Christ. Every thing in it implies profound reverence for the past, and the design to adhere to Catholic Doctrine and Practice in the earliest, best, and purest times.

Such is the tone of this Book in general; let us proceed to particulars.

First comes the Order for Matins and Evensong throughout the year. It is much shorter than ours; beginning with the Lord's Prayer, and ending with the Third Collect. It forbids the singing of the Te Deum during Lent; it orders that, where they sing, the lessons shall be sung in a plain tune. The office is to be said by the Priest in the Choir; and if none but he should be present, it is to proceed, notwithstanding, as the Church's Morning and Evening Sacrifice to God.

Next comes, preceded by the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, the Order for the Celebration. It is styled "The Supper of the Lord, and the Holy Communion, commonly called the Mass." No slur on the ancient name was intended, nor was it meant to banish it from use. "Commonly called the Mass." The words were to be understood like those in our own Prayer Book; "The Nativity of our Lord, or the Birth Day of Christ, commonly called Christmas Day;" "the first day of Lent, commonly called Ash Wednesday;" "the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, commonly called the Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin;" "the Thanksgiving of women after Childbirth, commonly called the Churching of women." All these words, the old familiar terms, remain in constant use among us to this day; it would sound like affectation to substitute the less common names; and so it was presumed, no doubt, that the Holy Communion would still continue to be "commonly called the Mass." Now, in that order, every thing was in harmony with the old Catholic ways. The Priest only could celebrate: it was a sacerdotal office. That at which he celebrates is called the Altar. When he goes to it for his mysterious and very holy function, he must put upon him a vesture appointed for that ministration and different from those used at other times, "that is to say, a white Albe, plain, with a Vestment" (by which is meant the Chasuble) or "Cope." Where it is possible, he must have persons to assist him, and these, whether priests or deacons, shall have proper vestures also, "that is to say, Albes with Tunacles." There shall also be clerks to sing, and they shall sing the proper Introit; and then the Priest shall go, and, "standing humbly afore the midst of the Altar," shall begin the office.

Then the Service proceeds, much as we are accustomed to it, save that there is no Decalogue, but the Gloria in Excelsis is sung at the beginning. And as for the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, there are double sets for Christmas and Easter, to wit, for the first and the second celebration, it being taken for granted that on those high feasts there will always be more celebrations than one. And when the offertory is ended the Priest places the Elements on the Altar, and the Bread must be unleavened and round, but without any print or mark on it, and the cup shall be of wine and water mixed; and when these are in order on the Holy Table, they sing the Sursum Corda, the Preface, and the Sanctus, as we do now.

Next follows the Prayer for the whole state of Christ's Church. It is larger than ours, containing an act of thanks and praise to God "for the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all His saints from the beginning of the world, and chiefly in the glorious and Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God, and in the Holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; "and then follows the beautiful commemoration of the faithful dead: "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, we beseech Thee, Thy mercy and everlasting peace, and that at the day of the general resurrection we and all they that be of the Mystical Body of Thy Son, may altogether be set on His Eight Hand, and hear that His most joyful voice: Come unto Me, O ye that be blessed of My Father, and possess the kingdom, which is prepared for you from the beginning of the world."

And then it runs right on into the Canon, and this is taken out of the ancient liturgies, and ours is almost word for word the same.

After this, the Holy Sacrifice, in all that relates to that side of the mystery, being now duly completed and the Death of Christ shown forth before men, follows the Sacramental Communion of the people. Here come in the address, "Ye that do truly,'' the Confession and Absolution, the Comfortable Words, and the Prayer of Humble Access, and then the people receive the Communion in both kinds with the simple words, "The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ," etc., "The Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ," etc., the first half of our longer sentence.

There are many rubrics added to the office, to which I have not time to do more than thus refer. They are all of importance, some as enjoining what is in harmony with Catholic tradition and uniform consent, and some as forbidding what lacks those seals to its worth and value. It is ordered, on the one hand, that at the time of the celebration two lighted candles shall be on the Altar, for that is one of the oldest customs of Christianity. (Injunctions of Edward VI. 1547. Sparrow's Collections.) On the other hand, it is forbidden to elevate the consecrated wafer or show it ostentatiously to the people, for such elevation is a modern thing and unknown to antiquity. While it is ordered that the Sacrament of the Body of the Lord shall be of the old figure and of simple form without ornament, the people are also required to lay aside all scrupulosity as to the pieces into which it is broken, and are told to think that in each part is received "the whole Body of our Saviour, Jesus Christ."

In short, this order for the Celebration of the Holy Communion, commonly called the Mass, can hardly be too highly praised for its simplicity, its admirable arrangement, and its conservative quality. In it are preserved both the aspects of that greatest of all Christ's institutions, the Sacrificial and the Sacramental; what is better, they are kept so distinct without commingling or confusion, that the whole truth is discernible. The Sacrifice comes first, with its proper ritual adjuncts; the solemn pleading before the Almighty Father the Atoning Work of Jesus Christ, the showing forth before men and angels the death of the Lamb of God. When that has been completed the Communion begins, the feeding on the Sacrifice, the devout reception of that Body and Blood of Christ which were previously offered to the Father. All is clear and plain; it is like an orderly and intelligible sermon of our Redemption, and not like one of those rambling performances in which is no sequence, and in listening to which one has hard work to hold fast the clue.

Next follows the order for the administration of Holy Baptism. It need hardly be remarked that there is no order for the baptism of adults; in that age, the sin and impiety of deferring baptism had not yet become a serious trouble. The order is that for the baptizing of infants; their regeneration in that sacrament is assumed, of course, for otherwise the rite would be unmeaning and useless. The order is substantially the same as in our Book; yet several things are there which add greatly to its symbolic beauty. The sign of the Cross is made upon the child before, instead of after, the application of the water; the meaning of that sign is forcibly expressed in an exorcism of the unclean and cursed spirit which has naturally to do with all who are conceived and born in sin. The little child, after being baptized, is clad in his white vesture, commonly called the Grisome, in token of the innocency which, by God's grace, in that Holy sacrament is given unto us; and next he is anointed, in sign of the Unction of the Holy Ghost, for "by one Spirit are we all baptized into one Body." Against these pious and edifying ceremonies the adversaries made incessant and bitter complaint, although they signify nothing different from what is taught us in our Bibles, and although the value of such signs, to the plain and unlearned folk particularly, is so great, that nothing else can supply it.

The order for Confirmation differs little from that now in use among us; the Bishop signs them with the sign of the Cross and lays his hand on them, invoking the Holy Trinity; and this he must do to every candidate, one after another. The unedifying address with which our service abruptly begins, is, in the First Book, a rubric in small type, at the beginning, and was not intended to be read aloud. Let us hope that in some time of wise counsels it may find its way back to its original place.

When persons were to be married, they must be married by the Priest, and after due calling of the Banns. And the sign of the Cross was made on them, as on us now in our baptism; and they were required to receive the Holy Communion together on the day of their marriage:--that, as a matter of course, for it was the SACRAMENT of Holy Matrimony, and it was taken for granted that they who entered into that sacred relation must both be members of Christ's Body, of His Flesh, and of His Bones, and both communicants in that Bread and that Cup; otherwise the Church had no benediction for them as despisers of the Son of God. How far we have strayed from that sublime conception of the marriage contract may be judged by considering how rarely the idea of communing on their wedding-day enters the heads of our young people, and, alas! how many are the marriages, on occasion of which that act would be impossible, owing to the joining together of persons of mixed religions or of no religious character or principles whatsoever.

In those days, and under the truly scriptural regulations of our First Prayer Book, if one were very ill, and desired it, he had the privilege of receiving Unction. The Priest was to go to him, and anoint him with oil upon the forehead or the breast, using a proper collect, and saying the 13th Psalm. And at the last, the child of the Church had the benefit of the Body and Blood of Christ. For that purpose it was ordered that at the celebration in the Church, there should be reserved so much of the consecrated species as to suffice for the sick desiring to receive it. The Communion of the sick must take place before noon, if, for lack of the reserved sacrament, a consecration in a private house was necessary. It was not required that any should communicate with him; though it was deemed fitting that some should do so, for the comfort of the sick man in having dear friends near him at that time, and as a token of charity on their part.

Then we come to the office of the Burial of the Dead. It is, in general outline, like our own; but it has, in different parts of it, no less than four prayers for the departed soul. Nothing can be more beautiful than these solemn and touching petitions; nothing more in accordance with universal Christian practice, nay with the practice of God's people for centuries before Christ came on earth, and during His stay among them in the flesh. Only where the principles of the Continental Reformation did their evil and novel work, have those prayers ceased. They were in the First English Prayer Book, as a matter of course; had they not been, it could not have been said of it, that it was drawn up in accordance with the most sincere and pure Christian Religion, and the usages of the Primitive Church.[2] I need hardly add that there was in that Book an Order for the Celebration of the Holy Communion at the Burial of the Dead.

The Collect is the second of the two prayers with which our Burial Service concludes, and it is marked and styled the "Collect" in the modern English Prayer Book.

An Ordinal for making and consecrating of Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, closes the volume. He who receives the order of Priesthood must be clad in a plain albe; and at his ordination the Bishop delivers to him the Bible in one hand and the Chalice with the Bread of the Communion in the other. The Bishop, when consecrated, appears in a Surplice and Cope; the presenting Bishops wear Copes, and have their Pastoral Staves in their hands. Whenever the Bishop celebrates the Holy Communion, he must wear, besides his Rochet, a Surplice or Albe, and a Cope or Vestment, and bear his Pastoral Staff in his hand; or else it shall be borne by his Chaplain. I have a reason for asking you to remember what I have said about these Episcopal vestments, for we shall hear of them again when I come to speak of the fanatical Hooper, and all the mischief that he did while resisting the rule of the Church and showing his dislike of what is decent and beautiful in the Service of God's House.

Now that we have gone through the Contents of King Edward's Prayer Book, there are but two or three things to add. I said, in my first lecture, that it was commended by a very high and unimpeachable witness, Archdeacon Hardwick, as "the noblest monument of piety, of prudence, and of learning, which the sixteenth century constructed." I wish to give you two instances of the "prudence" here so justly eulogized; instances which can only be properly appreciated by contrasting them with certain imprudent and intolerant ways of dealing with the matters referred to.

First, then, as to kneeling in the Church, making the sign of the Cross, and using similar devout gestures, it was ruled that such things must be left to every man to use them or not as his devotion serveth, without blame. What a contrast to the bitter temper which takes offence at such things, criticises, censures, and calls hard names! I have known very bad cases, in which clergymen actually forbade the use of the sign of the Cross, and gave notice that they would pass over at the rail or repel from the altar any communicant who should dare to use that simple and edifying gesture. The "piety and prudence" of our genuine English Reformers knew noting of such bigotry; they ordered that every one should be free to do what he liked in such matters, and whatever served his devotion best, "without blame."

The same temper of wisdom, calmness, and charity is found in relation to a far more important subject, that of Private Confession and Absolution. It is undoubtedly the right of every man in Priest's Orders to declare and pronounce to the penitent the Absolution and Remission of his sins. It is undoubtedly the right of every member of our Church to go to such priest as he may select, open his grief, and make private confession of his sins. Both these rights, however, have been and are denied, often angrily, and with invective and abuse, till the very name of Auricular Confession sounds like an echo of the Mystery and Abomination of the Babylon of the Apocalypse, and carries with it the flavor of iniquity and impiety. Now, if we go to the Old Prayer Book we shall find there a statement and order on this subject, of which I say that nothing so wise or so prudent was ever set forth before or since, that it sounds as if it had been dictated by the Spirit of Him that maketh men to be of one mind in the House, and that it would be an incalculable blessing and benefit if we could have those simple, sensible words re-enacted in this day. I will read the passage just as it stands in the Exhortation to the Holy Communion:

"And if there be any of you whose conscience is troubled and grieved in any thing, lacking comfort or counsel, let him come to me or to some other discreet and learned Priest taught in the law of God, and confess and open his sin and grief secretly, that he may receive such ghostly counsel, advice, and comfort, that his conscience may be relieved, and that of us (as of the Ministers of God and of the Church) he may receive comfort and absolution to the satisfaction of his mind, and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulness; requiring such as shall be satisfied with a general confession not to be offended with them that do use, to their further satisfying, the auricular and secret confession to the Priest; nor those also which think needful or convenient, for the quietness of their own consciences, particularly to open their sins to the Priest, to be offended with them that are satisfied with their humble confession to God and the general confession in the Church; but in all things to follow and keep the rule of Charity; and every man to be satisfied with his own conscience, not judging other men's minds or consciences, whereas he hath no warrant of God's word to the same."

O rare prudence! O consummate wisdom! O sweet simplicity of Christian temperance! Would that these words had never been struck out! Would that they might be set back again in their old place! For look what quarrels, what misunderstandings, are among us on this subject. Some assert the right to confession, others as strenuously deny it. By some it is commended as a duty, by others denounced as little less than a crime. They who would seek the priest privately, scarce dare to do so for the vulgar criticism or open wrath which their act would provoke. They who feel no need of such help are spoken of by extremists as in deadly error and spiritual sleep. But here we have the perfect harmonizing of our diverse opinions. They who are satisfied with the general confession in the Church are not to annoy and worry and hinder those "who wish something more personal. They who use private confession are not to take airs on themselves, despising others as if absolution were to be had in no other way. There is no support in God's Word for either class of these "busybodies in other men's matters." He who forbids his brother to use private and auricular confession has no warrant of God's Word to do so; he who looks down on his brother for not doing so, and deems him therefore a lax Christian, or hardly a Christian at all, is equally without warrant of God's Word for his opinion. "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind," and let neither party infringe the freedom of the other.

The longer one studies that Book, the more must he be impressed. It grows on the intellect and the heart as a production altogether wonderful in its way. Such richness of contents, such liturgical fulness, such beauty of language, such conformity to the older types and standards, such good sense, practical wisdom, and freedom from fanaticism; such judicious treatment of delicate subjects are here, that to know the volume thoroughly would be a fair education in theology, liturgies, and practical duty. I have completed what was to be said about it, and close this part of my duty with a sigh. What comes next is painful work: to tell of the dethronement and disgrace of that oracle of Life and Truth, to analyze the influences which led to that misfortune, and to paint the characters of the men to whom we are indebted, not merely for the loss of that part of our heritage as Catholic Churchmen, but for the innumerable ills, the heresies, envyings, and strifes, the railings and evil surmisings, the skepticisms and infidelities, the bloodshed, murder, pillage, and spoliation, the desecrations of holy things, the total eclipse of the light of the Church in England, the long feebleness, the partial paralysis, the innate maladies and not yet eradicated sicknesses, which followed our departure from the true principles of the English Reformation.

It is too late to enter on this subject to-night. Before concluding, let me add but one thing more.

I have ventured to express very strong opinions as to the value of King Edward's First Book. Do not think this a mere individual impression. It is no strange thing to find among the clergy of the Church of England, and those of our own branch of the Anglican Communion, such convictions as those which have been stated. Men have gone further; they have announced the wish that the Book might be again restored among us, at least permissively, so that congregations desirous of worshipping God according to its forms might do so. He, then, is neither alone nor eccentric who holds the views that have been presented. In full sympathy with him are some of the ablest, most learned, and most devout of the prelates and doctors of this Church; men who have considered it as matter of sincere regret that the Book was discarded, and have uttered the hope that at some future day its influence might be manifested by a revision of the present Book of Common Prayer in accordance with its forms and usages. These men were loyal to the Church of England, and thoroughly averse to Romish errors, but they were learned enough to know, and broad enough in sympathy and soul to admit, that the things objected to in the Book were not Romish, and that they were Catholic. "It is well known," says Mr. Medd, "that both Bishop Cosin and his friend Mr. (afterward Archbishop) Bancroft, used their best endeavors, at the time of the last revision in 1662, to conform the Communion Service more closely to that of 1549, and especially to restore the Prayer of Oblation to its ancient place immediately after the Consecration, as 'more consonant both to former precedents and the nature of this holy action.'" Archbishop Sharpe, a noted prelate of the time of James II., and a strenuous opponent of the Romanizing policy of that ill-fated monarch, preferred the Communion office in that Book to the one then and now in use in his own province, and would have carried revision still farther, had he been able to. Dr. Grabe, eminent in the learned world, intended to republish that Liturgy, in order to show how near the first Reformer of the Church of England kept to the primitive institution of Jesus Christ and the practice of His immediate followers, the Holy Apostles and the Ancient Christians. His eulogy on the Book is ample and glowing. To these may be added the names of Bishop Hicks, and the saintly author of the "Sacra Privata," Bishop Wilson, of Sodor and Man. The latter includes in -his devotions certain prayers to be used "until it shall please God to put it into the heartland power of such as ought to do it, to restore to us the First Service of Edward VI, or such as shall be more conformable to the appointment of Christ and his Apostles and their Successors. Which may the Divine Majesty vouchsafe to grant, for His sake who first ordained this holy Sacrament."

To these it were easy to add many like names of devout and holy men, learned in theology, loyal to the Church, who yet have had the same aspirations in their hearts.* But enough have been cited to constitute a defence and apology, if either were needed. But neither is needed among educated men. Every one is entitled to his own opinion, of course; and there are those who detest King Edward's Book as earnestly as we admire and love it. But no one is entitled to misrepresent his opponent; and I claim; and have cited a few names out of many to strengthen that claim, that no one can justly charge us either with ignorance of Church Principles or disloyalty to them on the ground of what has been said in praise of that splendid, exponent of them. If men will read and study, their eyes must be opened; they must gain and grow; they must see things more clearly from year to year; and we do see, and seeing must declare, that the old is better than the new, and that the alterations which were made in the First Book of Edward VI., to humor the Calvinists, were alterations for the worse and ought never to have been made. It is, therefore, legitimate subject for regret that the thing was done; and since hope is one of those emotions which, proverbially, spring eternal in the human breast, the hope will be there that, some time or other, and in some way or other, it may be brought about that we may substantially recover what has been lost and see the permanent restoration of what was stolen away.

In this hope, we who cherish it are not alone, but in Harmony and accord with a great cloud of sympathizers, many of whom now watch from their calm place in Paradise the varying features of the Church, and aid its champions with their powerful intercession.

that though dropped out of our public worship "yet such a state of things cannot possibly be regarded as permanent;" that the restoration of the primitive usage should be hopefully looked for; that they who strive for this are acting in true loyalty to the Church; that they have for their example a long line of learned and pious men, and the decisions of the Ecclesiastical Courts as to the perfect legitimacy of the practice; and that the thing to do at once is to revive the practice as widely as possible in the private devotions of our people.

[1] Modern Evangelicalism. Is it English or Un-English? Loyal or Disloyal? in other words, does it embody and represent the Principles of the Reformation or the Principles of the Rebellion? The question answered by appeal to the Prayer Book and its Revisional changes from 1549 to 1662. By the Rev. J. Sidney Boucher. London, J. Masters & Co., 1879. I give the full title of this invaluable little brochure (82 pp., stitched) because I wish every churchman could read it. I have Mr. Boucher's kind permission to reprint it, with a brief addition, and hope soon to see an American edition. It is the ablest, clearest, shortest, and most irresistible argument ever made on the subject, and should be in the hands of every one interested in Prayer Book revision, pro or con.

[2] After Death: an examination of the testimony of primitive limes respecting the state of the faithful dead and their relationship to the living. By Herbert Mortimer Luckock, D.D., Canon of Ely, Principal of the theological college, chaplain to the Bishop, and some time fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge. New York, Thos. Whittaker. Here is another book which I wish every one would read who has an honest doubt about prayers for the dead. I know nothing better of its kind, and cordially recommend it.

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