Before one may talk about the controversies over ceremonies and rites, one must first discuss the point of ritual. That is, what is its end. All who have even the slightest liturgical education are well aware of the primitive doctrine of lex orandi, lex credendi. For those who are new to the discussion, this little Latin phrase simply means that the law of prayer is the law of believing. The way in which a community prays will ultimately determine the doctrinal sentiment of said community. There must be a theological principle behind the surface of the liturgy which, intended or not, is communicated to the faithful through their worship. So then, for us Anglicans, what is this principle behind our liturgy? Only by knowing this can we make our way into adorning it with solemn acts and vesture. Surprisingly enough, the answer (though I imagine it will go contested by many) is put best in the words of Dom Gregory Dix. Concerning Cranmer’s liturgy, he writes:
As a piece of liturgical craftsmanship it is in the first rank once its intention is understood. It is not a disordered attempt at a catholic rite, but the only effective attempt ever made to give liturgical expression to the doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone.’ (The Shape of the Liturgy)
According to Dom Dix, who despite some erroneous conclusions is still a revered liturgist (especially among the Anglican fold), the brilliance of Cranmer’s Prayer Book is its systematic presentation of the Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide (justification by faith alone). It should also be noted that Dom Dix was a well known Anglo-Papalist, and benefitted nothing from this assertion. So then, the Cranmerian Prayer Book Tradition beginning in 1549 spanning to current prayer books (1662, et al) consists of this doctrinal emphasis. Therefore, if this is the case, we now know the trajectory of liturgical innovation. Just as the Prayer Book is a Protestant book, so too should its ritualistic expressions demonstrate the same Protestant convictions. But before we go too far, is this all that the Prayer Book presents? Some mere Protestantism? Surely not! The Baptismal Office, for example, excludes Baptistic traditions. Likewise, the “Black Rubric” appended to the end of the Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper, excludes the Roman (and some argue Lutheran) understanding of the Eucharist. The Prayer Book then, rather, represents and presupposes a particular theological system. Now this system is far too nuanced to go into at length here. However, we do know for certain the sources of that theological framework taught by our liturgies. Those, of course, being the historic formularies of the Church of England. The formularies are; the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, the 39 Articles of Religion, and (by way of Article XXXV) the Book of Homilies (Francis J. Hall, the famed Anglo-Catholic Dogmatist would only include the Articles and the Prayer Book’s Catechism, but close inspection of these two documents reveal the agreement between them and the other formularies already listed). Along with Holy Scripture, any development, either liturgically or ritually, must be in continuation with these documents (some arguably to a lesser degree).
Now, at this point it would be apt to make a comment on the American Church in particular. This is, after all, written to such persons. Though it is true that these are not our documents, they remain applicable to the development of our Church’s devotion for the following reasons: Firstly, during the first convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States in 1785, the delegates wrote a letter addressed to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York together with all the other Bishops of the Church of England. In this document, the clergy of the newly formed Episcopal Church claimed to be “professing the same religious principles with the Church of England.” Later in the same document, the convention made clear their intention to publish a Book of Common Prayer for the newly founded church. This new Prayer Book was to be consistent with the laws of the newly founded American government “in such manner, as that nothing in form or substance be altered” from the 1662 edition that was common in the American parish at the time. So then, though it is true that PECUSA did not officially adopt these documents as their own, their general conventions make it clear that this was not due to doctrinal differences, but governmental incompatibility as both the Prayer Book and the Articles speak of the English sovereign. I need not explain why this was undesirable for a nation which had just liberated itself from said sovereign. Later, in 1801, this was formally remedied when the general convention issued an American edition of the Articles to be appended to the Episcopal Prayer Book.
The second reason why the aforementioned documents are pertinent to the American Church is due to the weight placed upon them by the Anglican Church in North America. In Article I of our Constitutions and Canons, the Fundamental Declaration of the Province, the 1662 BCP together with the Ordinal (as well as the Cranmerian books preceding it) are claimed “as the standard for the Anglican tradition of worship.” The Declaration then goes on to say that the 39 Articles of Religion are to be “taken in their literal and grammatical sense, as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time, and as expressing the fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief” (emphasis my own). It seems then, that the ACNA holds the historic formularies in even higher regard than our Episcopalian predecessors. To be fair, these articles are not always expressed well on the parochial level, but that is precisely what this essay is meant to address. In summation, American Anglican worship is to be consistent with its English spiritual patrimony. A patrimony which, as pointed out by Dix, is inherently Protestant. This is the “law of belief” necessitated by our “law of prayer.”
Scripture and Tradition
Now, one cannot advance very far in any discussion of Protestant distinctives without making reference to Holy Scripture. If Anglican worship is Protestant worship, then its relationship to Scripture is a topic that cannot be avoided. What is most prevalent to the current discussion is the seemingly conflicting roles played between God’s Word Written and the traditions received by the Catholic and Universal Church. One may be prompted to ask just what is the relationship? What weight of authority ought to be given to tradition? If the Scriptures “containeth all things necessary for Salvation” (Article VI), why muddy the business with talk of tradition? These sentiments are just what Anglicans Divines have busied themselves answering for the past several hundred years.
The first thing that ought to be made clear is that there is a relationship between Scripture and Tradition because there is a tradition to speak of. The English Reformers did not do away with the fifteen hundred years of Christianity that preceded them. Jewel’s Apology clearly states that we “have returned to the Apostles and old Catholic fathers.” Far from a notion of departure often found in contemporary Protestant readings of the Reformation, the Anglican Church has made use of the language of “return.” Cranmer’s very preface to the Prayer Book speaks of this same return to patristic simplicity, “much agreeable to the mind and purpose of the old fathers.” Rather, it is innovation in tradition (as exemplified in the Church of Rome) that is shunned. The Romans “do prefer before them their own dreams and full cold inventions; and, to maintain their own traditions” (Apology of the Church of England § 1). The Reformation was not a divide between Scripture and Tradition, of Spirit from Ceremony, but rather was a dispute over which tradition was to be followed, and more importantly, from where it was derived. In brief, as exemplified in the Prayer Book, the Tradition is Scripture mediated.
An analogy that I have found particularly helpful is the relationship between the sun and the moon. It is common knowledge now that the moon has no light of its own. It only has what it has received from the sun, reflecting its rays in the night time. It is precisely because it serves as a kind of mirror that it is useful. But this subordination does not make it any less necessary or dignified. It is through reflecting the brightness of the sun that the moon is made ruler of the night. Along with this usefulness comes a peculiar dignity all its own. There are, for example, things that the sun does not touch (the night sky) apart from mediation. Without the moon, half of our existence would be submerged in utter darkness. It is through the moon that the sun’s light illuminates both day and night. So too then does tradition have no authority apart from Holy Scripture. It simply reflects the truths of the canonical texts and mediates them is ways that it may touch upon topics that are not considered directly. Thus, to (begrudgingly) quote two learned Presbyterians:
Whether we examine Reformed history or the biblical texts themselves, we see that the written Word does not do all things directly. The Word must be mediated in various forms. (Michael Allen & Scott Swain, Reformed Catholicity)
This mediation has historically been done through the Church’s diverse services. There then is no strict divide between Scripture and Tradition. Tradition is not, as Rome has put it, a separate source of revelation functioning with Holy Scripture (see Dei Verbum § 2). Instead, the tradition itself is the teaching of Scripture, or rather, ought to be. It should be noted that this is not to be confused with the Orthodox notion that Scripture is tradition. Such a notion is incompatible with historic Anglican thought. Rather tradition is Scripture received and given motion within the life of the Church. The Church is animated by the breath of God through His Word Written (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This notion seems to be consistent with the weight placed upon primitive tradition by St. Irenaeus. He says that through the tradition, even barbarians (those non-Greco-Romans who presumably could not read) have “salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink… carefully preserving the ancient tradition” (Against Heresies Book III § 4). So pervasive is the Gospel within Catholic tradition that those unable to open the Sacred Texts themselves may hear, believe, and practice as any other Christian ought. Though this is not to be seen as normative, but rather a testimony to the efficacy of the teaching authority of the Church. St. Irenaeus just a few paragraphs prior wrote that the Apostles, upon attaining perfect knowledge by the aid of the Holy Spirit, handed on to us the Scriptures “to be the ground and pillar of our faith” (Book III § 1). However, one may counter that if tradition be merely a reflection of scripture, or as St. Irenaeus demonstrates, the word preached, does every aspect of our tradition need to be laid out explicitly in Scripture? When posed this question Richard Hooker readily gives answer:
Surely not, for if one closely observes the scope of their writings, it is clear that they mentioned no more detail than particular occasions required. (Book IV of Hooker’s Laws: A Modernization)
According to Hooker, the Bible is not a liturgical manual. The inspired authors only wrote as they had need. Likewise, the Fathers concur this. One may be directed to Tertullian’s de Coron (§ 3) for the same explanation from a patristic source.
Similarly, St. Hippolytus provides some helpful imagery in De Antichristo (¶ 59). He likens the Church to a ship. At the helm of this ship is Christ, our experienced navigator. Its precious cargo is the cross, our “prize”. The wind in her sails is the Spirit of God blowing gently and giving her thrust. Finally, upon either side of this great vessel are two oars for steering. These faithful guides for directing the motion of this magnificent ship over the tumultuous waves are none other than the two Testaments of Holy Scripture. Thus from the Scriptures a tradition, a liturgy, is produced. If I may be permitted to quote just one more of our prestigious divines, the Rev. M. F. Sadler argues that liturgy, the historic Christian Liturgy, is the only form of worship which can account for the many diverse events in Our Savior’s life which prove significant and essential to the true and full presentation of the Gospel. He wrote some hundred years ago or so:
[I] say that no form of public prayer or liturgy, or any directory of public worship, or any mode of conducting public worship without form or liturgy, can be accounted scriptural unless it similarly recognizes these days and seasons… No other way, I say, is now possible except the one which the Catholic Church has adopted from the very first… (Church Doctrine, Bible Truth)
The Christian life is centered around the cross, hence Luther’s cry of crux sola est nostra theologia! The cross alone is our theology! This includes all of the minute events surrounding and enjoined to it; from Christ’s being “wrapped” and “laid in” a manger by Mary the wife of Joseph at Christmastide, to being “wrapped” and “laid in” a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea in Passiontide. From the visitation of the myrrh-bearing magi in Epiphany to the myrrh-bearing women at Easter. All of this is the Gospel. Down to the very last detail. This is what forms our public worship because this, rather He, is what has saved us. The Tradition is an entering into this narrative, the Divine Life, and living the Scriptures. Only Tradition can assume and apply these essential and diverse aspects of the Biblical narrative, and only Tradition has.
A final thought on these points: One may argue that all I have done is talk about the liturgy itself and not necessarily ornaments and the like. How does any of this inform our understanding of ritual and not simply prayer? In a sense this is a valid concern, however I would counter thusly: Krista M. West in her work The Garments of Salvation, quotes Bishop Anthony Michaels (Antiochian Orthodox) as assaying:
Aesthetics (the beauty of the Church) and ascetics (the spiritual disciplines of the Church) emerge from the one faith. The display of beauty on the one hand conveys the arduous spiritual work of reforming and artistically reshaping the soul on the invisible, inside of us, on the other.
Likewise, Hooker’s voice continues to give clarity to Anglican thought. He notes that though we have “prayers, readings, questions, and exhortations,” still “the eye is the most active and receptive of all our senses.” Thus, religion cannot content itself with what is heard only, “but also visible signs” are employed for aids of memory and devotion.
The aesthetic of worship is just as rooted in a Church’s theological convictions as its liturgy, perhaps even more so. One need only step into any given parish to gain a rudimentary understanding of its Churchmanship. I would then simply say that ritual is the visual aspect of liturgy. How it is to be comprehended by the onlooker. Therefore, even these things must be molded by the same evangelical convictions which produced our Prayer Book.
A Few Governing Principles
So then, the first principle of Anglican Ritual is the conviction that all public worship, as an administration of the Church’s teaching authority, ought to convey biblical truth. This is precisely why aping other traditions, who do not share this conviction, results disastrously. If ceremonial communicates an underlying principle, then shouldn’t it be assumed that ceremonials not our own are communicating a different and at worst a damaging principle? The fact that a good many American priests have never read our formularies is evidence of this intellectual usurpation. And yet, there is perhaps nothing more “Anglican” in the American Church than the emulation of other jurisdictions.
It is a shame that we wear lacy Roman vestments and practice elaborate Tridentine ceremony. We deck our parishes and cathedrals with Eastern iconography. We have put on “youth groups” and “revival” nights. Such neglect is given to what is authentically Anglican (and often times Christian) that I distinctly recall a former Rector once ask me what a tippet (preaching scarf) was. For those of you who do not know, this is a distinct and quintessential form of Anglican dress. That an Anglican priest would be unfamiliar with it is shocking, to say the least. This brings me to a second point of Anglican ceremonial, and it’s quite maddening that this point must be made at all, and yet here I am: Anglicanism is not Roman Catholicism, or Eastern Orthodoxy, or American Revivalism. Anglicanism is Anglicanism. Not only are we not these others, but these others have failed us. Bl. Percy Dearmer puts it best:
This Church was, in fact, in a mess. She had tried so many ways of escape! She had tried Geneva; she had tried Rome; she had essayed a mixture of the two in varying proportions, which was called Moderate; she had tried laissez faire, by which each man did what he found easy and thought nice; she had even tried (heroic and marvellous as it may seem) to establish a Cathedral type of Service in every village church. The one thing that she had never tried to do was to carry out her own laws, and to apply her own principles. (Loyalty to the Prayer Book)
I could go on and on about how inconsistent Anglican worship has become due to the ignorance or obstinacy of some (most?) clerics. But I will leave this for the reader to discover. One need only place himself within three Anglican parishes to experience three different liturgies and a thousand conflicting doctrines. This is all to say that our apparel matters. Our actions and words matter. There is no part of the liturgy that is flippant or irrelevant, and very few that one party or another hasn’t given a martyr or two for. This is because Anglican worship is permeated with a sense of its audience. It is for someone, or someones, and we care a great deal about its presentation.
Thirdly, we have already discussed the self-conscious acknowledgement of the faithful worshippers present (Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi), but there are two other parties to account for. The service as catechesis discussed earlier, is significant, but is in no way its end. The preeminent onlooker is, of course, God Himself. He is the rite’s rightful end and chief subject. This is beautifully put in holy Mr. Herbert’s To all Angels and Saints. This little poem concisely displays the Anglican notion of reserve. “All worship is prerogative” Herbert says, “Therefore we dare not from his garland steal, To make a posie of inferiour power.” All worship is for our Lord and is not to be usurped by any other, therefore we tolerate nothing which may even be misconstrued as even slightly giving that which belongs solely to the Divine to His creatures. Herbert is here consciously touching upon the lack of veneration and invocation of the Saints in the Prayer Book. To pluck from Christ’s crown to give to one of His champions would prove an inferior form of worship. Rather we content ourselves with that which the Saints in Paradise content themselves: the adoration of the Almighty alone. We settle for nothing less than Heavenly worship. Finally, directing his attention to the Virgin Mary he says:
Although then others court you, if ye know
What’s done on earth, we shall not fare the worse,
Who do not so;
Since we are ever ready to disburse,
This refrain is not due to any hate or animosity towards the Saints. It is not full of malicious intent. Rather, simply put, God has not asked us to include petitions to the Saints in our adoration of Him. The book of Psalms is an excellent demonstration of this. Though sung with Saints and Angels, and all the companies of heaven, it addresses itself to God alone. Therefore, in good Catholic fashion, we dare not innovate. Before one get’s the wrong idea, though, Anglican Spirituality has a great many things to say about the honor of the Saints. Rather, said honor (like all other things) simply has a proper time, place, and form.
This brings us to the last of our holy spectators. The third party to draw near to our worship is the angelic hosts themselves. When speaking of a woman’s duty to cover her head in worship, St. Paul says this is done “because of the angels” (1 Corinthians 11:10). Whatever this may mean and whatever implications it may have for how a woman ought to dress being set aside, what remains expresses something rather profound. The same profundity that St. Paul expresses to Timothy when he writes: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging” (1 Timothy 5:21). John Henry Newman notes that these verses give “a still greater importance to the ceremonies of worship, as connecting them with the unseen world” (Tract 34). St. Paul gives caution and special liturgical direction because of the presence of our unseen heavenly guests.
Therefore, as reflecting our magnificent liturgy, our ceremonial ought to be Biblical, unquestionably God-centered, and fit for the presence of Angels. To repeat an earlier point, it ought to be Heavenly. Encompassing the Word of God, together with the ministers of God, to the glory of God. This is Anglican worship. This is Christian worship. And it is this which makes the Anglican tradition so paramount, because ideally there ought to be no distinction between the two.
In George Herbert’s famed A Priest to the Temple, he gives a rather similar description of the Parson’s duty to the Church. He cites St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians as giving “two great and admirable rules in things of this nature.” The Apostle writes “But all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40) and “Let all things be done for building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26). This, Herbert calls the “middle way between superstition and slovenliness.” In his mind, the Parish is to be at once beautiful and seemly, and yet not so lavish that holiness resides in things as opposed to the people, or the reverent worship of God itself. Concerning these twin principles, he goes on to conclude that the first servers for the “honour of God, the second for the benefit of our neighbor”. Thus, the very environment of worship is a fulfilling of the Law. Not even our Churches and Temples, even “external and indifferent things,” are safe from this paramount duty towards Almighty God and Neighbor (Luke 10:27). The services of the Church are entirely preoccupied with this insistence of Our Lord.
Finally, as noted repeatedly, the Anglican Church is firmly Protestant (please direct all hate-mail to the North American Anglican), and as such defines the Church along Protestant lines. The Articles teach:
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. (Article XIX).
This is in accordance with Calvin who writes: “We have said that the symbols by which the Church is discerned are the preaching of the word and the observance of the sacraments” (Institutes Book IV. Ch. 1 § 10) and Philip Melanchthon: “The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered” (Augsburg Confession Article VII). These form the two emphases of the Anglican liturgy. But what is often forgotten is, Protestant as they may be, these principles are in keeping with the Catholic faith. These aspects, Word and Sacrament, are emphasized out of reverence for the presence of Christ. The Prayer of St. Chrysostom, placed at the end of the Daily Office, reminds us that “where two or three are gathered” in Christ’s name, He is in the midst if them (Matthew 18:20). The Book of Homilies, reminding us that the Christ Child was found in the temple, “sitting in the midst of the doctors” (Luke 2:46, A Homily on the Right Use of the Church). Thus Christ dwells in the Church, and we shall find Him, as the homily says, “among the teachers and preachers of his word”.
In the Sacraments, the formularies acknowledge the giving, taking, and eating of Christ by the communicants in the Lord’s Supper (Article XXVIII) and it is the Church, the Body of Christ, that we are engrafted into in Baptism (Article XXVII). Thus in the corporate fellowship, in the teaching of the Word, and in the administration of the Dominical Sacraments, our formularies recognize the real presence of Christ. All of our liturgy, vesture, and ceremonial are in response to these profound and deep mysteries. These are the considerations that our formularies and tradition have placed upon us. This assertion alone, and its immense implications, encompasses all that has already been said.
A brief note: These points being made, before we may move on to describing (ever so briefly) the praxis of Anglican vesture and ceremony, it is now possible to describe what is not acceptable in an Anglican, or simply Christian, gathering. The services of the Church are not occasions of self-expression. They are not yet another means by which the Bishop, Rector, or any other clerk may display their own particularities and personalities. The Church is God’s house, and the altar His throne. The throne rooms of secular powers may have allocated a place for court jesters, but the Church has not. It is not a place for buffoonery, baboonery, or idle talk. It is where the Christian meets his God. It is a shameful thing that the Church has become so saturated with the self-aggrandizement of the world, that she is seldom regarded as she ought: “as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1). The bewildering thing nowadays, however, is that our vanity resides in our feigned humility. As if glorying in our apathy would attract a culture already apathetic towards religion. As [St.] Clive Staples Lewis once wrote:
The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for every one else the proper pleasure of ritual. (Preface to Milton’s Paradise Lost)
The priest stands in persona Christi and in persona ecclesiae. This office requires dignity, a “holy pride” (see Luther’s Galatian Commentary). The chief end is to display Christ, not ourselves. The moment we begin to say “this is how we do it,” as differentiating ourselves from our common and shared heritage, we have immediately lost this principle. What’s more, Article XXXIX accuses said persons of offending against the “common order of the Church,” “the authority of the Magistrate,” and wounding “the consciences of the weak brethren.” Such behavior is not befitting the Church of God. (For more on what is and is not appropriate in the parish please see A Homily on the Right Use of the Church.)
An Anglican Ceremonial
The worship of a church can be generally reduced to three categories: a. Liturgy, b. Vesture, & c. Ritual. Assuming that any given American parish is using the Book of Common Prayer for its liturgy (sadly an assumption that is rarely accurate), we can reduce our inquiry to the last two – Vesture & Ritual – only. Vesture in the Anglican tradition is quite difficult to discuss. This is due in no small part to the Ritualist Controversy in the 19th century and its subsequent lack of resolution. From these [often childish] disputes amidst the well-taught, collared folk, has sprung much confusion among the laity. The outcome being such diversity in dress that if one were to step into two parishes in the same diocese, there would likely be found two competing traditions and innumerable innovations. However, this was not always the case.
Before the epoch of the Tractarians and their dear Ritualist offspring, the vesture of our Church was distinct, identifiable, and consistent. In those days the proper English Priest wore a Double Breasted (Sarum, or “Anglican”) Cassock with a 2” collar-gap and a cincture, more often than not consisting of a simple leather belt. What was worn atop this seemly attire differed according to the circumstance that the priest found himself in. For walking about it was expected that the parson wears his gown. For the Eucharist one wore the full English surplice and academic hood. This was likewise required of all “Masters and Fellows of Colleges or Halls, and all the Scholars and Students in either of the Universities… in their Churches and Chapels” (Canon 17). Atop this was worn the black Preaching Scarf (often called a “tippet”). It was required by Canon Law that all administering the sacrament within Cathedral Churches likewise wear a cope (Canon 24). The same was worn for the choir offices, whilst the gown was often worn for the homily or any other occasion for preaching. These six garments (cassock, gown, surplice, hood, scarf, and cope) constitute the priest’s ecclesiastical vesture in its entirety. The uniformity of this apparel was only strengthened under the aesthetic revival of Archbishop Laud and the Caroline Divines. No doubt one has seen them worn in the paintings of our greatest doctors and teachers. From Archbishop Cranmer to Dr. Pusey, these remained (and have remained) the authentic Anglican clerical dress.
Nevertheless, this was all destined to change. Along with the “Catholic Revival” in the 19th century came a revival of Pre-Reformation vesture. This returned the use of the alb & amice, stole, chasuble & dalmatic, and maniple. This was partly due to yet another controversy on just how the Church was to interpret the “Ornaments Rubric” which appeared just before the Morning Office in the Book of Common Prayer. The Rubric read “[S]uch ornaments of the Church and of the ministers thereof 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…” According to some this legalized the use of medieval vesture in the Church of England. From this dispute splintered three primary parties (really four, if you include those “Moderate” Churchmen who took no stance at all). The first were those who were loyal to vesture of the Church of England as it had been maintained since the time of the Reformation. The second were those who followed what came to be known as the “Western Rite” which was really just a conforming of Anglican Liturgy to Roman Tridentine ritual (Exemplified best in Ritual Notes, a customary still widely in use). Unfortunately, this simply lead to a conflation of that which is properly Catholic with that which is Roman. Finally, there were those who followed the “English Use” which was a thoughtful adaptation of Medieval ceremonial in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer and the other formularies. This position was put forward predominately by Bl. Percy Dearmer. It is this last school of thought that is the most robustly “Anglican,” as it does not seek to do away with the distinctly Anglican choir habit, nor introduce those things which directly contradict our formularies. According to this school: “Some may dislike the chasuble, and some the black gown, but for both a place is found by the Church of England” (Preface to The Parson’s Handbook 2nd ed). According to the English Use, the Reformational vesture ought to be retained for Morning and Evening Prayer and any other choir office (which would extend to Noonday Prayer and Compline found in the later books, the ACNA’s included), while the Vestments proper would be used for sacramental functions. Thus there was a clear English continuation of Catholic vesture which did not disrupt the Reformed conviction, and for this, their party ought to be commended. So then, Anglican vesture today consists of Choir wear – Cassock, Surplice, Hood, Scarf, Tabs, and Cope – and Sacramental Vestments – Cassock, Alb (never the Cassock-Alb), Amice, Stole, Chasuble & Dalmatic, and Maniple. It may also be noted that the term “Sacramental” is used in the broad sense and is not limited to the Dominical Sacraments, but those other “five commonly called Sacraments” are likewise occasions for the Stole to be used, though this is done over a surplice. The Alb, Amice, Chasuble & Dalmatic, and Maniple are properly Eucharistic and should not be worn outside of the Oder of Holy Communion.
Now, whether or not the Rubric allowed for such introduction is neither here nor there. The Articles teach: “THE Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies…” (Article XX), though they are clear that such ceremonies and degrees may not contradict God’s Word written. So then, the Articles afford the Church the right to amend ritual and ceremony, which in our present day, She has. It is simply antiquarian wishful thinking to propose removing those vestments which have become common within our parishes, neither is such removal necessarily desirable. Their presence in our Church does not carry with them the same superstitions as they did in the days of the Oxford Martyrs. Even the great anti-Ritualist, bishop J. C. Ryle writes:
Now there can be no greater mistake than to suppose that the great controversy of our times is a mere question of vestments and ornaments – of chasubles and copes – of more or less church decorations – of more or less candles or flowers – of more or less bowings turnings and crossings – of more or less gestures and postures – of more or less show and form… The things I have spoken of are trifles, I fully concede. But they are pernicious trifles, because they are the outward expression of an inward doctrine. (Five English Reformers)
The good bishop here touches upon the crux of the controversy. Such things are not the “rags of popery” in and of themselves, they are, as Ryle has said, but trifles. Such vesture is only dangerous if used inappropriately. Generally speaking, there is nothing inherently more appropriate about a proper English Surplice than an Alb, save that certain Romanist feelings were attached to the latter at the time of the Reformation. But this is not universal for Protestants. It is no secret that the use of the Alb, Stole, Chasuble and Dalmatic, and Maniple were retained in the Lutheran Churches. Our “Augsburg Catholic” brothers and sister hold to none of the Roman superstitions that were commonly associated with such vesture in the time of the Reformation, and their use of said vestments has not altered this in the slightest. Likewise, in the midst of Reformation Era England, Peter Martyr Vermigli, a well known and respected Reformer, and John Calvin both wrote to Bishop Hooper instructing him to wear the episcopal vestments that he found so detestable and contrary to the Reformed Faith. In our own day, it is not uncommon for even Presbyterians to preach and celebrate in albs and stoles. This is all to say that the attachment of Romanism to these articles of clothing is no longer explicit, and there is no reason to avoid them. As Hooker writes: “For it is only right and fair that anything long received and formally approved of in the Church should be presumed good until proven otherwise”. And concerning commonalities with Rome: “Conformity with them is only a disgrace if we follow them in their wrong thoughts and actions, or if we follow them for no other reason than that we admire their example” (Book IV of Hooker’s Laws: A Modernization). This should be sufficient to put the issue to rest. The introduction (or retention, depending on the perspective) of these Vestments are in keeping with our Articles of Religion, and can be done so in a way distinct to our tradition and in alignment with the Reformed Faith.
Now, Anglican Ritual is somewhat easier to discuss, as it has gone through fewer changes, and novel introductions have not necessarily replaced those already in use. For the sake of brevity, however, I will refrain from commenting on every topic of devotion within the Anglican Communion. Rather, we will examine the most readily recognized Anglican praxis. Those namely being: turnings, postures, bowings, and crossing. For a more detailed description, please see Chapter V. of Dearmer’s The Parson’s Handbook.
Turning is perhaps the simplest and yet least common practice within our Church today. This is simply because, due to the liturgical reforms following Vatican II, so many of our parishes aped Rome that the churches are now no longer capable of permitting Anglican worship. In the days now long past, the Holy Table was attached to the Eastern end of the Chancel. It was never permissible for the priest to stand behind the altar facing the people (versus populum), but rather he faced the altar at times when properly addressing God, and turned to the people when addressing them. This conveys two convictions: i. The Priest addresses God with the people. He is not on display, as is common in many Evangelical Churches today. He himself is not the object of attention, but rather God, and properly the Altar which is God’s throne. In this way the worship of God is truly corporate: Both people and Presbyter gather for the same end, the adoration of Almighty God. ii. The priest turning and declaring to the people demonstrates his role as God’s rightful minister. That he has been entrusted with the power of the keys to declare absolution to those penitents gathered and is permitted to speak as God’s ambassador in the preaching of the Word. These are both vital doctrines to be maintained. Whether one practices Ad Orientem (standing in front of the Altar facing East with the People) or “North Side” Celebration (The Anglican practice of standing at the Left end of the Altar facing South) matters not. Both are traditional and expect this same “turning” at the appointed times throughout the liturgy. Whatever the case, one can faithfully say that versus populum has no place in Anglican worship.
Posture consists of kneeling, standing, and sitting. This has been simplified somewhat in that it is commonplace in most parishes in our day to include indicators within the liturgy telling when one ought to perform what motion, although a brief explanation may be in order. The Canons of 1603 say:
All manner of persons then present shall reverently kneel upon their knees, when the general Confession, Litany, and other prayers are read; and shall stand up at the saying of the Belief, according to the rules in that behalf prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. (Canon 18)
Thus kneeling is the proper posture for prayer. Along with this canon, the 1662 Prayer Book prefaces the Canticles with a rubric, saying: “Here all standing up, the Priest shall say…” Dearmer believes this likewise applies to the Psalms, but notes that it was common in the 17th century to sit when the Psalms were read. Likewise, Archbishop Laud introduced the venerable practice of standing during the Gloria Patri, but this is not explicit in the rubrics. Finally, though not said outright in the formularies, it is common to sit for all other times, save for the reading of the Gospel where it is custom to stand (often for a procession). Thus we kneel to pray, stand to say and sing, and sit to listen.
Bowing is perhaps the most “Anglican” of any of our devotions. Whereas many other practices were stripped during the Reformation, the continuation of a dignified bow at certain occasions was retained. This is perhaps due to the use of bowing in the secular courts, and thus was easier to promote in the religions sphere. Whatever the case, it is a practice that spans the history of our Church and should not be forfeited so easily. The Canons of 1640 adopted by the sees of Canterbury and York commend the bowing towards the Altar as “pious, profitable, and edifying” as was the “custom of the primitive church in the purest times, and of this church also for many years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth” (Canon 7). Dearmer is quick to point out, however, that this bowing is distinguished from Rome. Our bowing is due to the weight placed upon the Lord’s Table as the throne of God by the Caroline Divines. “[B]owing to the altar is quite a different thing from bowing to the cross on the altar” (Dearmer, The Parson’s Handbook 12th ed). Thus one may bow when approaching the altar, crosses the chancel, or when entering and exiting the church, but not when he crosses from one side of the altar to the other, as is the tedious Roman practice. The more dignified and reserved, the better the presentation, and arguably the more Anglican. Along with this type of bowing are two others: that which takes place at the Gloria Patri and that at the most Holy Name of Jesus Christ. The Gloria Patri is to be said as vesicle and response, typically at the end of Canticles and Psalms, with priest and people solemnly bowing as “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit” is read, and rising when the response of “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end” is given. Finally, unlike this common practice, bowing at the name of Jesus carried with it a canonical imperative. The canons of 1603 read:
[L]ikewise when in time of Divine Service the Lord Jesus shall be mentioned, due and lowly reverence shall be done by all persons present, as it hath been accustomed. (Canon 18)
So then, the devout Churchman bows towards the Altar, at the Gloria Patri, and at the Holy name of Jesus. Some have appended a practice of bowing during the Magnificat or at the name of Mary, and at the descent of Christ in the Creeds, but these are considered by all authorities to be merely private devotions.
Lastly, we come to crossings. The use of the sign of the cross in the Church of England was only formally retained in connection with Holy Baptism. This is the only rite in which it was ordered to be used either canonically or by any rubric. Though this is not to say that it was not in use in other places, but rather that it was left to the discretion of the Ministers and laity alike. In our own day, there are a few places during the Divine Service that it has become commonplace, even expected, to make the sign of the cross. These would be i. at the invocation of the Trinity. ii. Thrice at the reading of the Gospel: Once upon the forehead when “a reading from the Holy Gospel”, once upon the lips at “of our Lord Jesus Christ”, and once upon the heart at “according to St. _____”. iii. At the end of the Creeds, typically at “the resurrection of the body…” iv. At the giving of absolution after the General Confession, and v. At the reception of the Bread and Wine during the Order of Holy Communion.
Thus we conclude the most common and widespread methods of Anglican devotion. It should be noted once more that what has been said is not all-encompassing, nor have I bothered to touch upon special ceremonies for given days (such as the “beating of bounds,” or the reading of the Commination on Ash Wednesday). What has been provided are those traditions which may be performed at any Divine Service in our Church.
Some Practical Suggestions
Fr. Seraphim Rose, a Russian Orthodox Monk, once wrote concerning his own tradition: “Our uninterrupted Russian tradition, for all its real and supposed Westernisms, has a strength and resilience which the rediscoverers of tradition do not have” (Letter to Alexy Young, March 30th 1976). Being a Western Church, we do not have to fear for “Westernisms,” but our tradition may make a similar claim. There are many among our ilk who are so preoccupied with incorporating what’s “ancient” (much of which is not) that they neglect the venerable and truly ancient practices which are inherent to our tradition. There is a genuine need to reclaim our own identity. In conclusion, the following suggestions are in order:
i. The Prayer Book:
The American Church has found herself in quite a mess. She is overwhelmed with a need for unity, for a revitalization in evangelism, and for the cultivation of proper Christian devotion. But She has gone about addressing these matters in the most counterintuitive way – by rejecting the means which gave her success in ages past. As if by tarnishing her heritage, she could save it! If we wish to accomplish the aforementioned, “should we fail if we kept loyally to the Prayer Book?” (Dearmer, Loyalty to the Prayer Book). But alas, so few Churchmen have any loyalty left. It has been squandered away on this and that, fighting one uphill battle after another, all the while assuming success in everything save that which has given it before. Such persons have come to assume that our Prayer Book is deficient in one way or another. That it lacks “catholicity” and needs to be improved upon either by rearranging the liturgy or by making additions. They ape other traditions because they’re insecure in their own. Such sentiments have the adverse effect of destroying the “common” part of “common prayer” and weaken their efforts all the more. One parish uses a missal, the other a foreign Prayer Book, and one a compendium of whatever seemed good to the Parish Council. This is what is un-catholic. We mustn’t be too quick to forget that our Divines have warned us: “[W]hen it is necessary to change established laws, there must be strong evidence for this necessity” (Book IV of Hooker’s Laws: A Modernization). And this “strong evidence” must be given and received by the proper authorities. One priest instituting liturgical revisions according to his own conviction does not meet the criteria, no matter how convinced he may be that he is in the right. Not even the Tractarians, despite their supposed revisionist spirit, were willing to alter the use of the Prayer book. Tract 3, On Alterations in the Liturgy, argues that such revisions in praxis are misguided at best, and intentionally undermining at worst. Newman writes:
Now I think this unsettling of the mind a frightful thing; both to ourselves, and more so to our flocks. They have long regarded the Prayer Book with reverence as the say of their faith and devotion. The weaker sort it will make skeptical; the better it will offend and pain.
What’s more is that those who provide alteration to the liturgy are scarcely aware of any consistent underlying principle to guide such alterations, and thus all that is truly accomplished is liturgical anarchy with each Vicar a pope in his own parish. Therefore, the first “suggestion” in Anglican Ceremonial is this: be Anglicans. Use the Prayer Book! I guarantee it is your use of it which is lacking, not its contents. Pray the Offices daily in your parish. Pray the Litany every Wednesday and Friday, and after Matins on Sunday before the Order of Holy Communion. Use all of the appropriate collects. End Evensong with a service built around the catechism. Once you have done all of this thoroughly, learn to sing it. If followed according to its design, there will be little room left to fill with frivolity.
ii. The Holy Table or Altar
Whether one uses the title of “Altar” or prefers “Holy Table” matters little. Both historic terms convey the same signification: holiness. It is a great pity that holiness is seldom attached to the “Lord’s Board” in a good many of our parishes. They are neither adorned as has been our custom, nor are they afforded a modicum of respect. I know of one Rector in particular who uses a consecrated altar to display art when otherwise not in use. This is altogether shameful. Jeremy Taylor writes concerning the altar:
the Altar or Holy Table is sedes Corporis et Sanguinis Christi. [Seat or Throne of the Body and Blood of Christ]. And if the Altars, and the Ark and the Temple in the Law of Nature and Moses were Holy, because they were Gods Memorials, as I showed above, then by the same reason shall the Altar be hyperagion, highly Holy, because it is Christs Memorial, there we commemorate his Death, and passion in the dreadful, and mysterious way that himself with greatest mysteriousness appointed. touto poieite eis ten emen anamnesin, do this for my memorial. Here are all the Christian Sacrifices presented… Now if places became holy at the presence of an Angel, as it did in Joshua’s case to whom the captain of the Lords Host appeared, and in Jacob’s case at Bethel, and in all the old Law, for God always appeared by Angels, shall not the Christian Altar be most holy where is present the blessed Body and Blood of the Son of God? I but, what when the Sacrament is Gone? The relation is there still, and it is but a relative Sanctity we speak of, it is appointed for his Tabernacle, it is consecrate to that end, and the destination of man, the Presence of the Sone of God, the appointing it to a most holy end, the employment in a most sacred work, and the Presence of Angels (which, as S. Peter saith, desire to look into these mysteries,) if all this be not enough to make a thing most holy, there is no difference, nor can be any in the world between Sacred and profane. (On the Reverence Due to the Altar)
There is little I need to say in addition to Taylor’s words. It is no secret that the Holy Table has been, and has continued to be, a significant part of the furnishing of the parish and the devotions of the faithful. It ought to be esteemed as such. If that which represents our greatest unity, chief worship, and eschatological hope can be treated poorly, then so too will those supreme doctrines begin to fade from preeminence in the hearts and minds of the worshippers. Our tradition has never suffered this to happen. The Canons of 1603 required the Table to be kept in a “seemly” manner. The same canon goes on to say that
[A]nd covered, in time of Divine Service, with a carpet of silk or other decent stuff, thought meet by the Ordinary of the place, if any question be made of it, and with a fair linen cloth at the time of the administration, as becometh that Table (Canon 82)
It is a shame that our own canons are silent on how to adorn the table, and our Prayer Book’s rubrics only require “a clean white cloth” to be placed upon it before the celebration of Holy Communion. But in truth, this has little bearing on what is proper. What was once an act of obligation may now be for us an act of devotion. What is obligatory, however, within our province is the absence of bare altars. There are some, either due to ignorance or a misunderstanding of their own churchmanship, who permit a naked table. This is contrary to our rubrics and our tradition in its entirety.
The fact that the table must be clothed informs us of its sanctity, and our tradition tells us that it ought to be beautified. This historically has been done in two, albeit similar, ways. The first is that which became common under the Laudian School. The Laudian Frontal, or antependium, consists of a large unfitted rectangular piece of material laid over the altar, often richly embroidered in the center facing the people. The Corners are more often than not pulled out so as to create a gentle slope from the top of the altar to the floor. The “clean white cloth” is then laid atop this for the administration of the Supper. The Laudian frontal can be seen displayed at York Minster. The second is known as a Gothic or English altar. This form is in conformity to the Pre-Reformation altar as used within Great Britain. This consists of a fitted and richly ornate Frontal, a “super-frontal”, and the typical white cloth laid atop covering the North and South ends of the altar, spanning almost to the floor. English Altars are typically surrounded by four riddel posts affixed with ornate curtains. Examples of such altars may be found here and here. It is generally acceptable to place a cross either on the altar or above it, but not both. There should be no more than two candlesticks placed upon the Table. If more light, either for practicality or festivity, are required, they may be placed upon the riddel posts or on the “standards” about the altar. This is the English tradition. Again, it must be noted that our canons have not made these things obligatory, but it may be argued that decency has.
Along with the proper garnishing of the Table, there are ceremonial considerations to be made. The first being the form of celebration. As previously mentioned, Versus Populum (celebration facing the people) has no place within Anglican worship and is a mere aping of Roman liturgical devolution. The proper method is either Ad Orientem, or North End Celebration. It is perhaps preferable for those who identify as “High Church” to make use of the first, and those who designate themselves “Low Church” to perform the latter. Though I believe it can be faithfully said that if these two traditional forms are used, the Churchmanships will find more in common than they expect.
Finally, there is a proper reverence to be shown towards the altar. This includes the people and priest facing it at the appointed times in the liturgy, the bowing upon entering, exiting, crossing in front of it, or as one approaches it, and that it be used for no other purpose than that which it was constructed for. There is one more suggested devotion: The practice of confessing facing the altar. It should go without saying that it is already the common practice to kneel facing the altar during the General Confession, but what of Private Confession? Unlike Rome, Anglicans have never formally made use of the confessional, but we have always practiced Private (even Sacramental) Confession. I suggest that this is done facing the altar, boldly entering the throne room of grace (Hebrews 4:16), with the priest serving as witness and issuer of absolution.
Lastly, we come to vesture. The vesture of American Anglicans is too preposterous to go into at length. The ingenuity employed to produce such chaos could fill an entire book! I will, however, give a couple of examples. The first being the use of the stole. Too many priests simply wear the stole for every function, and over a clerical shirt no less! As said earlier, the stole is properly sacramental. This means that (if the broad definition is used) there are up to seven occasions in which the stole may be worn, most of which only take place once or twice a week. And even if it be worn, it is never worn entirely on its own. The second strange practice is the excessive use of the alb. A garment only employed for one service –The Eucharist – is worn on every conceivable occasion. I dare not even touch upon the persistence of the Cassock-Alb among even wealthy parishes who can afford proper vesture. If one were to create a list of garments, and arrange them from most frequently used to the least, the alb would be among the last purchased.
So then, what should a young Curate or Seminarian’s first purchase be? Well, to begin let us simply go to the beginning. The garment that has been present from the first, and which is worn first beneath all other vesture, and may be worn at all times, is the cassock. This is where preeminence ought to be placed. The first purchase of any clergymen or the man who aspires to join their ranks, ought to be a proper cassock. The Churchman wears either a Sarum (Double-Breasted) Cassock with a cincture, or a Roman (Single-Breasted) cassock, often with 39 buttons (representative of the Articles) in place of the Roman use of 33 buttons. Following this is the English Surplice. The Surplice is worn quite a bit more frequently than the alb. The surplice ought to be worn at every Choir Office (Morning, Evening, Noonday, and Compline), every day. The surplice is also worn for official clerical gatherings such as the Provincial Assembly or Episcopal Consecrations. The Surplice is also worn for six of the seven sacramental rites, and may be worn during the celebration of the Supper. Thus, the surplice is worn daily, during the majority of sacramental occasions, burials, memorials, ecclesiastical functions, and even during the Eucharist. It is indisputably a necessity. Along with the surplice is the Academic Hood. This is worn whenever the Surplice is worn, save burials (although some dispute this). The Hood ought to display the colors of the school from which the Ministers earned his degree. If the Minister has not obtained said degree, a black “literate’s” hood should be worn in its place. Whatever the case, the hood is not optional. After the Surplice and Hood comes the Preaching Scarf. If one is a Deacon or Priest, he wears the Black Scarf. If he be a licensed “Reader,” he wears the Blue Scarf. The Scarf is not optional, and is only ever put aside during Sacramental functions, though this is not necessary. Thus the scarf is likewise worn daily for the Choir Offices. After the Scarf, it is fitting to purchase preaching-bands. These are the liturgical equivalent of a bow-tie. It makes what has been previously described properly formal, and should be worn for special occasions or daily in larger parishes and cathedral churches. So then, what has been here described is the daily wear of Priests and Deacons and should be given the foremost consideration. What has been stated may also be worn for sacramental functions. These items (Cassock, Surplice, Hood, Scarf, and Bands) are all that a Minister really needs. They are required for the majority of services, and may be worn for all services (as was done for the majority of Post-Reformation clergy). Only after all of these have been purchased should a Minister even consider acquiring a stole.
This brings us to Vestments proper. After the aforementioned, a Stole should be purchased. Rather, several stoles in accordance with the colors of the Calendar. The Anglican Stole is quite a bit longer and thinner than our Roman or Eastern brothers and sisters. It is often called a Sarum, Gothic, or Warham stole. It should be no more than two and a half inches wide, and long enough to cross before tucking into a cincture. The stole may be worn at all Sacramental Rites. For Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Marriage, Anointing of the Sick, and Ordination the Stole is worn over the Surplice and Cassock, and drapes down the front. Only for the Eucharist is it worn over an Alb and crossed. Properly speaking, the Anglican ought to wear an appareled Alb and Amice, conformed to the color of the day. The remaining four vestments (Alb, Amice, Maniple, and Chasible or Dalmatic) are only worn for the Eucharist, and therefore should be bought in tandem. This concludes Anglican Vesture.