Seabury and the Scottish Liturgy

It will soon be the anniversary of the consecration of the first American bishop, 14 November, which prompts reflection on the effects of that momentous occasion. Samuel Seabury of Connecticut received episcopal orders from three Scottish bishops — Primus Robert Kilgour, Arthur Petrie, and John Skinner — on 14 November 1784, the Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity, in the chapel in the upper room of Bishop Skinner’s house in Long Acre, in Aberdeen (the house, sadly, has since been demolished). The next day Bishop Seabury and the Scottish bishops signed a Concordat, drawn up by Skinner, establishing what we would now describe as a “full communion” relationship between the Episcopal Church of Scotland and what the Concordat calls “the now rising Church in Connecticut.” Article V stipulates:

“though the Scottish Bishops are very far from prescribing to their brethren in this matter, they cannot help ardently wishing that Bishop Seabury would endeavor all he can, consistently with peace and prudence, to make the celebration of this venerable mystery conformable to the most primitive doctrine and practice in that respect, which is the pattern the Church of Scotland has copied after in her Communion Office.”

In the same article, Bishop Seabury

“agrees to take a serious view of the Communion Office recommended by them and if found agreeable to the genuine standard of antiquity, to give his sanction to it, and by gentle methods of argument and persuasion, to endeavor, as they [i.e., the Scottish Bishops] have done, to introduce it by degrees into practice, without the compulsion of authority on the one side or the prejudice of former custom on the other.”

This agreement is commonly recounted among American Episcopalians and Anglicans along these lines: the Scottish Bishops agreed to consecrate Seabury so long as the American Episcopal Church agreed to use the Scottish Communion Office instead of the English. How the story is remembered is not inconsequential either, since it influences Anglican liturgy in the United States to this day. For example, Ben Jeffries, one of the members of the commission that created the ACNA’s 2019 BCP wrote, “it would have been a betrayal of American prayer book history to go against the deal that Seabury struck with the Non-Jurors if the BCP 2019 were to erase the ‘epiclesis’ from a prayer book published on North American soil.” Considering this, I think it is worth remembering some of the details that have been filtered out of the popular re-telling.

It is often forgotten that Seabury spoke only for the “Christians of the Episcopal persuasion in Connecticut” — more precisely, only for the clergy of the Episcopal persuasion in Connecticut. One of the reasons the English parliament, led by William Pitt the Younger, declined to authorize the English bishops to consecrate Seabury, as Chorley explains, is that the consent of the laity of Connecticut had not been obtained. There was, as of yet, no United States, and no unified Protestant Episcopal Church, transcending the borders of the 13 American States. Moreover, Seabury did not commit to the use of the Scottish Communion Office, but rather agreed to study it carefully and, if he found it agreeable to primitive Christian doctrine and practice, to argue “by gentle methods” for its use “as they [i.e., the Scottish Bishops] have done.”

This last bit draws attention to the fact that the Scottish Episcopalians themselves were not of one mind concerning the Communion Office. Charles Wohlers explains that the prayer book in use among Scottish Episcopalians was the 1662 prayer book of the Church of England. Some Scottish Episcopalians wished to use the Communion Office from “Laud’s Book,” the revised prayer book that, in 1637, King Charles I and Archbishop Laud unsuccessfully attempted to promulgate in Scotland. Because copies of this book were not available, the second half of the Communion Office from it was printed in pamphlets, or wee bookies. In the absence of centralized control, various editions of the Scottish Liturgy began to be printed, gradually introducing greater variation form the Use of 1637.

The wee bookies containing (different texts of) what came to be called “the Scottish Liturgy” were circulated among those that wished to use them, as a supplement to the 1662. Both Orders for Communion were used in Scotland. Scottish Episcopalians were not united around the alternative Use. It is interesting to note that the Scottish Episcopal Church is the first in the Anglican family of Churches to authorize and circulate liturgies as alternatives to the prayer book.

Although it is often said that the American Episcopal Church adopted the Scottish Liturgy, a comparison of the 1637 Liturgy, the text authorized by the 1743 Scottish Episcopal Canons, the 1764 Order that was likely in use in Skinner’s Chapel in 1784 when Seabury was consecrated, and the first American Use of 1789 reveals a somewhat more complicated story.

The following table provides a side-by-side comparison of the structures of these four.

Scottish 1637

1. Offertory

2. Prayer for the Church

3. Exhortation

4. Lesser Exhortation or Invitation to Communion

5. Confession of Sin

6. Absolution

7. Comfortable Words

8. Sursum Corda

9. Sanctus

10. Invocation (i.e., epiclesis)

11. Institution Narrative

12. Oblation

13. Lord’s Prayer

14. Prayer of Humble Access

15. Distribution

16. Thanksgiving

17. Gloria

Scottish 1743

1. Offertory

2. Exhortation

3. Sursum Corda

4. Sanctus

5. Invocation

6. Institution Narrative

7. Oblation

8. Prayer for the Church

9. Lord’s Prayer

10. Lesser Exhortation or Invitation to Communion

11. Confession of Sin

12. Absolution

13. Comfortable Words

14. Prayer of Humble Access

15. Distribution

16. Thanksgiving

17. Gloria

Scottish 1764

1. Exhortation

2. Offertory

3. Sursum Corda

4. Sanctus

5. Institution Narrative

6. Oblation

7. Invocation

8. Prayer for the Church

9. Lord’s Prayer

10. Lesser Exhortation or Invitation to Communion

11. Confession of Sin

12. Absolution

13. Comfortable Words

14. Prayer of Humble Access.

15. Distribution

16. Thanksgiving

17. Gloria

American 1789

1. Offertory

2. Prayer for the Church

3. Exhortation

4. Lesser Exhortation or Invitation to Communion

5. Confession of Sin

6. Absolution

7. Comfortable Words

8. Sursum Corda

9. Sanctus

10. Prayer of Humble Access

11. Institution Narrative

12. Oblation

13. Invocation

14. Distribution

15. Lord’s Prayer

16. Thanksgiving

17. Gloria

The 1743 Canons of the Scottish Episcopal Church gave official authorization to the text of the Scottish Liturgy that first appeared in 1735. The title page of the Scottish Use of 1743 claims that it is the text “Authorized by Charles I in 1636” despite departing from it in various ways, and then seems to offer a justification for its re-arrangement of the 1637 Order, “All the parts of this office are ranked in the natural order.” Wohlers calls the 1764 the “second authorized edition” of the Scottish Liturgy. Along with the structural changes seen in the chart above, there are changes to the invocation or epiclesis (see below) and two additions to the Prayer of Humble Access. In the first sentence the word “holy” is added before “table” and in the last sentence, the words “most sacred” are added before “body.” The 1764 is the model for Seabury’s 1786 Use, which matches it almost exactly. The only differences are the addition of some “Private Devotions” towards the end of the service, several “Private ejaculations” to be spoken by the priest to himself in between each of the scriptural sentences of the Comfortable Words, the substitution of “Priest” for “Presbyter,” of course, the omission of any references to the King.

Two years after Seabury’s consecration in Aberdeen, the English parliament granted permission for the English bishops to omit the oath of Supremacy to the King when consecrating bishops for foreign lands; William White and Samuel Provoost were consecrated in 1787. Seabury, though at first wishing to have nothing to do with White’s Convention in Philadelphia, reached out to Bishop White, who invited him to participate in the 1789 Convention. Seabury made a case for the Scottish Liturgy and the 1789 prayer book shows that influence; nevertheless, the first American prayer book is closer to English model than even the 1637. The Communion in the 1892 prayer book is exactly the same as the 1789, while the Communion in the 1928 moves closer to the structure of the 1637.

In 1912 the Scottish Episcopal Church authorized its own edition of the Book of Common Prayer for the first time. The title page describes it as “The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments [&c] According to the Use of the Church of England” adding at the end, “and The Scottish Liturgy… as canonically sanctioned.” It includes both the Scottish Communion Office and the English 1662 Communion Office, and seems to suggest the normativity of the English model. In this respect — of having two Communion rites — the Scottish prayer books anticipate the 1979 Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church and the 2019 Prayer Book of the ACNA. Just as in the 1662 the 1912 Scottish prayer book includes the rubric about kneeling, sometimes called “the black rubric”:

It is here declared, thereby that no Adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ’s natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places than one.

The inclusion of which rubric seems to exclude some possible readings of the invocation in the Scottish liturgy (discussed below).

The 1929 revision, the current prayer book of the Scottish Episcopal Church, also includes both Communion liturgies. But, this fact is no longer flagged on the title page. The “black rubric” is not included and a new rubric before Communion permits reservation of the consecrated bread and wine. The titular reference to the Church of England has disappeared; the 1929 is “The Scottish Book of Common Prayer.”

The Invocation

It is sometimes said the 1552 prayer book does not have an epiclesis of the Holy Ghost; although it is true that it does not invoke the Spirit specifically, it does include these words of invocation, just before the Institution Narrative:

“Heare us O mercyefull father wee beeseche thee; and graunt that wee, receyving these thy creatures of bread and wyne, accordinge to thy sonne our Savioure Jesus Christ’s holy institucion, in remembraunce of his death and passion, maye be partakers of his most blessed body and bloud.”

These words are carried over exactly (though with different spelling) when the prayer book is restored by Elizabeth in 1559 and again when the prayer book is restored by Charles II in 1662 (with the label “Prayer of Consecration” added to the rubric above it). But, in the 1637 revision intended for use in Scotland, this invocation (kept in the same position) is expanded to

“vouchsafe so to blesse and sanctifie with thy word and holy Spirit these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine, that they may bee unto us the body and bloud of thy most dearly beloved Son; so that wee receiving them according to thy Sonne our Saviour Jesus Christs holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of the same his most precious body and bloud”

The same words are retained exactly in the alternative to the 1662 Communion Office authorized by the 1743 Canons of the Scottish Episcopal Church. But in the second authorized Scottish Liturgy, the 1764, these words have changed to

“vouchsafe to bless and sanctify, with thy word and holy Spirit, these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine, that they may become the body and blood of thy most dearly beloved Son.”

The petition is no longer that the “bread and wine… may be unto us the body and blood” of Christ; but, rather, “that they may become” which is open to interpretations that conflict with Article XXVIII and the final rubric in the English Communion liturgy. It was this in particular that led many English clergy to vehemently oppose the Scottish Communion Office (see, for example, this essay by Edward Craig).

As shown in the table, the first American Prayer Book of 1789 does not follow the 1764 Order, but steers nearer to the 1552 structure (retained in 1559, 1604, and 1662). The invocation is close to the 1637 but has deleted this phrase “that they may bee unto us the body and bloud of thy most dearly beloved Son.”

“vouchsafe to bless and sanctify, with thy Word and Holy Spirit, these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine; that we, receiving them according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood”

Nevertheless, the placement of the invocation has moved to the position it has in the 1764 Scottish Order.

The Distribution

Words for the distribution tell a similar story.

The 1559/1662 (combining the words of distribution from 1549 and 1552) has

THE bodie of our lord Jesu Christ, which was geven for the, preserve thy body and soule into everlastinge life: and take and eate this in remembraunce that Christ died for thee, feede on him in thine heart by faith, with thankesgevynge.

The 1637 follows 1549, with

“THE body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.”

This model is followed in all the editions of the wee bookies.

But, the American 1789 returns to the 1559/1662 model, which is then retained down 1928:

“THE Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.”

So, while the 1789 American Prayer Book does show the influence of the Scottish Liturgy, it does not adopt it. These considerations raise several questions. To what, precisely, if anything, does Seabury’s Concordat with Kilgour, Skinner, and Petrie commit Anglicans in the United States today? What specific elements of structure and text are constitutive of the Scottish Liturgy? And how does all of this bear on current conversations about common prayer among Anglicans throughout the world?


Drew Keane

Drew Keane is a Lecturer in the Department of Writing and Linguistics at Georgia Southern University. He served on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music for the Episcopal Church from 2012 to 2018. His current research focuses on residual orality in 16th C. English religious prose.


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