The Center of Gravity in Cranmer’s Communion Liturgy

Where is the center of gravity in Cranmer’s Order for the Lord’s Supper (of 1552, Cranmer’s final version of the Communion liturgy) and to what extent does the 1928 American Prayer Book affect or move this center?

Before beginning, let me clarify my approach. The following observations represent the thinking of someone steeped in the study and teaching of rhetoric, literature, and composition, who is only an enthusiastic amateur (literally, “a lover”) where the academic study of liturgy is concerned.

Center of Gravity, not “Moment of Consecration.”

I have often heard that the non-Jurors (through whom, via the Scottish Episcopal Church, the American Episcopal Church received her liturgy), rather than looking for a “moment of consecration,” viewed the entire Anaphora as consecratory, as now is commonly heard among many liturgists; for example, Joseph A Jungman explains:

In general, Christian antiquity, even until way into the Middle Ages, manifested no particular interest regarding the determination of the precise moment of consecration. Often reference was made to the entire Eucharistic prayer.

Likewise, John H. McKenna (in Become What You Receive) notes:

There is… general agreement that [Patristic writers] regarded the whole Eucharistic prayer as consecratory. It is possible that they viewed the words of institution and the epiclesis as two consecratory “moments” or high points.

Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann wrote similarly: “the Eucharist is a sacrament from the beginning to the end and its fulfillment or consummation is ‘made possible’ by the entire liturgy” (quoted from Lift Your Hearts on High: The Eucharistic Prayer in the Reformed Tradition). Louis Weil (in Liturgical Sense) encapsulates the position within Anglicanism: “In Anglican writings on the Eucharist, there has been a consistent emphasis upon a holistic notion of the Prayer, namely that ‘it is the entire prayer which is consecratory.’” So, my question here is not about a moment of consecration but rather, the center of gravity, the focal point, the climax or affective heart of Cranmer’s 1552 Communion rite and the effects of the revision the American 1928 Prayer Book on that center.

Not “What Does it Mean?” but “What Does it Do?”

In other words, what follows is not a doctrinal interrogation (though Cranmer’s doctrine will be explored briefly in order to shed light on his liturgical writing), nor is it primarily an exposition of the text of the rite (though some close reading will be involved), rather my intention is to explore the effect of the structure and language of the rite on the worshiper. Much has been written about what the text means, I am curious about what it does. At what point does the worshiper generally feel that the climax of the service has been reached?

What Stanley Fish pointed out (in “Literature in the Reader: Affective Stylistics”) with regards to interpreting literature has been as true in the study of liturgy:

No one would argue that the act of reading can take place in the absence of someone who reads—how can you tell the dance from the dancer?—but curiously enough when it comes time to make analytical statements about the end product of reading (meaning or understanding), the reader is usually forgotten or ignored.

Replace “reader” with “worshiper” and there you have it. In what follows I try to take the worshiper fully into account, which is, incidentally, precisely what I think Cranmer was trying to do too.

This approach to Cranmer first occurred to me while reading Gavin Dunbar’s essay on the structure of the 1552 Communion liturgy (“Like Eagles in this Life”), which criticized the usually overly rationalistic manner of interrogation. Dunbar observes the cyclical structure of the rite and the cyclical pattern within each of its three divisions. He also noted the psychological advantage of this reiterative approach over a too-linear model, since the logic of the human mind is reiterative – repetition is the only way we really, deeply learn something.

The fruitfulness of this approach was further confirmed in light of Stephen Sykes’s essay on Cranmer’s baptismal liturgy (“Baptisme Doth Represente Unto Us Oure Profession”), which proposes that, to understand the liturgy well, “a reading should focus on structures, dramatic actions, rhythms and repetitions, as well as upon overt doctrinal content.” Concerning the “center of gravity” in the Baptismal rite, Sykes notes “The emotionally powerful image of the child being embraced in the arms of Jesus’ mercy forms the affective heart of the liturgy” and “there are in all no less than ten uses of the word ‘receive.’” “By reason of its structure, drama, and repetitions,” Sykes characterizes Cranmer’s liturgy as “proclaiming Christ’s reception of the little children. When the priest at the height of the drama takes the child into his arms he is doing what Christ himself did.” The whole rite points to the dramatic action, making it the focal point. Comparison of Baptism to Communion “has the recurrence of a drumbeat” in Cranmer’s writing (Colin Buchanan points out in “What Did Cranmer Think He Was Doing?”), so it should come as no surprise that what Sykes says of Baptism applies remarkably well of the Communion: “the theology… drama and repetitions cohere in the word ‘receive.’” But, I get ahead of myself — I will return to that word, “receive” in due course.

Cranmer’s genius as a liturgist is tied to remarkable psychological insight; as Sykes put it, “Cranmer’s liturgies invite a response from participators…who understand his work as worship.”

Cranmer’s Communion

This famous passage from Dom Dix’s Shape of the Liturgy has been quoted again and again:

As a piece of liturgical craftmanship [Cranmer’s 1552 Communion] 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.

But, what does that actually mean?

Colin Buchanan points out (in “What Did Cranmer Think He Was Doing?”) that “Cranmer the theologian and Cranmer the liturgist were one and the same person” and “Cranmer the master of English prose encompassed them both.” So, with that insight in mind, perhaps the Articles of Religion can shed some light on what’s happening in the liturgy.

The language of the Eucharistic Prayer (i.e., Canon or Prayer of Consecration – Cranmer doesn’t use any of these phrases in 1552) and the Articles closely align. I’ll look at the Articles first.

XXVIII. Of the Lord’s Supper.

THE Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves, one to another, but rather it is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ, and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ. Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of bread and wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions. The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.

XXIX. Of the wicked which do not eat the body of Christ, in the use of the Lord’s Supper.

THE wicked and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as S. Augustine saith) the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ, but rather to their condemnation do eat and drink the sign or sacrament of so great a thing.

In Article 28: “to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ” and “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten…only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the means whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.” I have marked the subjective or active language to show how much the eucharistic theology here is oriented towards reception, towards faith-acts, and how it flatly denies – with the word “only” – that the Body and Blood can be received at all apart from the “lively faith” of those doing the acts of giving, taking, and eating.

The proscription tagged to the end of Article 28 also denies a simple “objective” presence, since the consecrated object – the sign – is not to be “carried about, lifted up, or worshipped” implying that the sacrament is not just the consecrated objects but necessarily involves the subject who receives it, through the acts of faith and obedience, viz. giving, taking, and eating. Michael Green (in a brief essay in The Churchman “The Doctrine of the Holy Communion”) notes that, for Cranmer,  “It is only in the eating and drinking that Christ’s command, ‘Do this’ is obeyed, and true communion enjoyed with Christ.” The proscription against elevation, procession, and reservation of the consecrated bread makes clear that this focus on receiving – on doing what the Verba (the words of Christ in the Last Supper) enjoin – is the whole point. It is so much so that replacing that drama with some other kind of drama – viz. “carried about, lifted up, or worshipped” – was regarded as a profanation that required explicit condemnation. That other drama – the Elevation of the Host – was, of course, the affective heart of the Mass which Cranmer’s liturgy replaced.

In Article 29, it is clear that there is something objective to the sacrament (by which I mean that which is true of the object in itself apart from it’s being perceived by any subject), since the unfaithful “to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing” – i.e., what they are eating and drinking is able to harm them regardless of whether they perceive it being capable of doing so. But, interestingly (and confusingly), “yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ,” meaning that only those who perceive with “lively faith” (a subjective quality) are able to receive the body and blood of Christ through the vehicle of the consecrated bread and wine.

In the 1552 Communion, the Preface and Sanctus is followed by the Prayer of Humble Access, then what we may call the Eucharistic Prayer (what the 1662 calls the Prayer of Consecration) and Institution Narrative:

ALMIGHTY God oure heavenly father, whiche of thy tender mercye dyddest geve thine onely sonne Jesus Christ, to suffre death upon the crosse for our redempcion, who made there (by hys one oblacion of hymselfe once offered) a full, perfecte and sufficiente sacrifice, oblacion, and satisfaccion, for the synnes of the whole worlde, and dyd institute, and in hys holye Gospell commaund us to continue, a perpetuall memorye of that his precious death, untyll hys comynge agayne: 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: who, in the same night that he was betrayed, tooke bread, and when he had geven thanks, he brake it, and gave it to his Disciples, sayinge: Take, eate, this is my bodye which is geven for you. Doe this in remembraunce of me. Lykewyse after supper he tooke the cup, and when he had geven thankes, he gave it to them, sayinge: Drink ye all of this, for this is my bloud of the new Testament, whiche is shed for you and for many, for remission of synnes: do this as oft as ye shah drinke it in remembraunce of me.

 

Then shal the minister first receyve the Communion in both kyndes hymselfe, and next deliver it to other ministers, yf any be there present (that they may help the chief minister,) and after to the people in their handes kneling.

 

And when he delyvereth the bread, he shall saye.

Take and eate this, in remembraunce that Christ dyed for thee, and feede on him in thy hearte by faythe, with thankesgeving.

 

And the Minister that delyvereth the cup, shal saye,

Drinke this in remembraunce that Christ’s bloude was shed for thee, and be thankefull.

The language of the Eucharistic Prayer matches the Article: “grant that we receiving these thy creatures of bread and wine, 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” It’s not that the creatures simply be made the Body and Blood as such, but that “we” – priest and people? – by the action of receiving them, in obedience to the Lord’s instruction (“take… eat”) thereby partake in the body and blood. Dunbar has said all of this very beautifully in his essay “Like Eagles in this Life”:

This anamnesis or memorial of the Father’s mercy, the Son’s sacrifice, and his institution of the Sacrament, leads into a prayer for real participation in his Body and Blood, by means of the due reception of the sacrament he ordained. The Institution narrative follows, concluding with Christ’s own words of command, “do this”. There is no “amen”: in response to Christ’s command the elements are received immediately, with a form of delivery of the elements (the “words of administration”) enjoining their reception with remembrance, faith, and gratitude for his death. Our “amen” is to receive the elements in the faith which hears, believes, and obeys the words of Christ, “This is my body…., This is my Blood…., Do this, in remembrance of me.”

David Wheaton (in “Cranmer – Psychologist as well as Theologian”) asks a similar question to mine: “What about the psychology?” In response to which he writes:

The… 1552 order… meant that the communicant was now …encouraged to act in response the minute [he/she has] heard the dominical injunction, “Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of Me”. Nothing more is said: the communicants are to rise from their knees and draw near with faith.

Michael Green (in “The Doctrine of The Holy Communion”), likewise observed:

That is why the climax of the medieval service, the adoration of the elevated host, is replaced in Cranmer’s office by the act of communion itself. Cranmer believed that it was this eating and drinking that jesus meant when He said, “Do this” — not consecration, as the schoolmen avowed, but the act of communion in remembrance of Him. Cranmer did not himself use the phrase “prayer of consecration.”

And, in the same vein, E. C. Ratcliff (Quoted from Warner’s “In Defense of Cranmer”):

Cranmer’s purpose, in his Second Communion Service, was not to improve or restore to purity the historic Latin liturgy in an English form. His purpose was to give an exact liturgical expression to the fulfilment of the command “Do this in remembrance of me.”

It may not be an overstatement to say that what is being consecrated (i.e., set apart) in this Eucharistic Prayer is the act of reception – “grant that we receiving these thy creatures of bread and wine, 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.” Like Colin Buchanan, I find that the center of gravity – the focal point – is not specifically in the text but in the actions “give, take, eat.” Buchanan builds a persuasive case for this thesis:

There is no concept of “consecration” anywhere in the service at all. The only “moment” is reception—and the only point where the bread and wine signify the body and blood is at reception. If a point of “consecration” has to be sought—then it is at reception.

This observation is further confirmed by the changes Cranmer also made to the situation or physical context for the liturgy. It is not enough to consider the words of the liturgy alone; the space, the gestures, all of the circumstance is relevant to assessing the psychological effect. The complex choreography of the pre-Reformation ritual for consecration was abolished, as were Eucharistic vestments (only the Surplice was to be worn). The Altar in the east end of the chancel was replaced with a table “in the body of the church or in the chancel” with the celebrant standing “at the North Side of the Table.” The people would move (probably after the Prayer for the Church Militant) from the nave to the chancel to sit in the choir stalls, so that they could receive immediately following the Words of Intuition. In this set-up it appears all the more clear that the climax to which all points is the activity (prescribed by the Verba Domini) “give, take, eat.”

For the laity at least, that seems to be the case; but, what of the presiding minister? Is the sense of a climax likely to occur at the same time? For the presider, especially where the Pre-Reformation ceremonial and gestures are used, there is a climactic moment in the activity of consecrating, in the Eucharistic Prayer. Cranmer seems to have worked to remove that sense from the 1552 liturgy – that sense of a consecratory moment. With only the simple gesture of touching the bread and the cup at the Words of Institution – sans bells or elevation – the weightiest moment for the presider seems more likely to be the activity of distribution than the repeating of the words. But, the two are so close together in the arrangement of the liturgy (reception immediately follows the Verba) that the repeating and obeying of the Lord’s words form a unit.

The Shape of the American 1928 Rite

The 1928 Eucharistic Prayer looks like this:

When the Priest, standing before the Table, hath so ordered the Bread and Wine, that he may with the more readiness and decency break the Bread before the People, and take the Cup into his hands, he shall say the Prayer of Consecration, as followeth.

 

ALL glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world; and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that his precious the death and sacrifice, until his coming again: For in the night in which he was betrayed, he took Bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you; Do this in remembrance of me. Likewise, after supper, he took the Cup; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of this; for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you, and for many, for the remission of sins; Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me.

 

WHEREFORE O Lord and heavenly Father, according to the institution of thy dearly beloved Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, we, thy humble servants, do celebrate and make here before thy Divine Majesty, with these thy holy gifts, which we now offer unto thee, the memorial thy Son hath commanded us to make; having in remembrance his blessed passion and precious death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension; rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same.

 

AND we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to hear us; and, of thy almighty goodness, 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.

 

AND we earnestly desire thy fatherly goodness, mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; most humbly beseeching thee to grant that, by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we, and all thy whole Church, may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion. And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee, that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him. And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice; yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service; not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord; by whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. Amen.

 

And now, as our Saviour Christ hath taught us, we are bold to say,

OUR Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth, As it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Then shall the Priest, kneeling down at the Lord’s Table, say, in the name of all those who shall receive the Communion, this Prayer following.

WE do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

 

Here may be sung a Hymn.

 

Then shall the Priest first receive the Holy Communion in both kinds himself, and proceed to deliver the same to the Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, in like manner, (if any be present,) and, after that, to the People also in order, into their hands, all devoutly kneeling. And sufficient opportunity shall be given to those present to communicate. And when he delivereth the Bread, he shall say,

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.

 

And the Minister who delivereth the Cup shall say,

THE Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.

Wheaton notes the difference in psychological effect when the Prayer of Oblation (beginning “Wherefore, O Lord…”; used as a response to reception in 1552) is put in-between the Institution Narrative and the act of reception, as it is in American Prayer Books from 1789 through 1928 (following Laud’s revision of the Prayer Book for the Episcopal Church of Scotland):

It can also be argued that this [change] is psychologically bad: just at the moment when their thoughts have been focused on the work of Christ the communicants’ attention is turned back on themselves and what they think they are doing.

To say whether or not it is “bad” is not my point – I don’t think it needs to be seen as bad at all – but to ask how the move effects the sense of a center of gravity is my point.

The Oblation contains an Invocation (i.e., the Epiclesis) prayed over the elements. But, even here the Invocation focuses attention not on the elements but on the faith act to come: “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.” The word “bless” is aimed at the creatures (objective), but then the nature of the objective “blessing” is immediately redirected towards – through, even – the act of faithful reception – “that we, receiving….”

Standing on the other side of both the Laudian reforms, the Tractarians and Ritualist Movement, with Altar, rail, Eucharistic vestments, and (much of the) Pre-Reformation priestly choreography reinstated, it may be argued that the center of gravity has been moved away from reception and back to Eucharistic Prayer. Is this the case?

In the 1928 version there are two high points in the Eucharistic Prayer, the Verba Domini and the Epiclesis. This creates a bit of a tension. The clear center of gravity in Cranmer’s 1552 lies on the repeating and obeying of Christ’s command “do this.” The Verba and act of reception are not separated by other words or activity. However, in the Scottish and American Communion liturgies, the repeating of Christ’s command (“do this”) and the following of that imperative is separated by the lengthy Prayer of Oblation, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Prayer of Humble Access. Undoubtedly the service feels different – the role of the presider as consecrator as more keenly felt.

Yes, there is much greater distance between the Verba and Reception in the 1928 rite, just as there was in Cranmer’s earlier 1549 Communion; however, as Buchanan notes of the 1549, so too I think it fair to say of the 1928 service: “If we concede that the canon [of 1549] does include a ‘moment’ of consecration, yet the movement of the rite towards reception as the great ‘moment’ stands out very strongly.” Even in Cranmer’s earlier revision, from which the Scottish and American Prayer Book revisions derive the shape of the Eucharistic Prayer, the affective heart of the liturgy for the communicant is in the act of reception. Even in 1549 that fundamental Cranmerian focus was already firmly in place (to be more fully realized in 1552).

The location of the Lord’s Prayer and Humble Access after the Oblation have a profound effect as well. In the 1789 American Communion rite the Institution Narrative is followed by the Prayer of Oblation and then reception. The Prayer of Humble Access follows the Sanctus (before the Institution Narrative) and the Lord’s Prayer follows reception. This arrangement is closer to Cranmer’s 1552 design. In 1928, however, the Words of Institution are separated even further from the act of reception by these two prayers.

While Cranmer would have surely lamented this distance, one effect of the placement of these two prayers is to stir anticipation. It is possible to see them extending and intensifying the gradual build-up to reception. Both of them point forward to it – “Give us this day our daily bread” – “Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.” Like the Cranmerian Epiclesis, they both point forward to reception.

The 1928 rubrics instruct the people to join the saying of the Lord’s prayer and, although the rubrics do not so instruct, it became common for the people to also join in the saying of the Prayer of Humble Access (which practice was normalized in the 1979 Rite I service). Because they are spoken by all those who are about to receive, rather than just the presider, they feel very much like a self-consecration, a setting of the self apart for the holy action about to ensue, “give, take, eat.”

We might describe the shape of this service as a sequence of sacred moments, as stairs on the ascent to the Altar. The Verba Domini, the Epiclesis, the Lord’s Prayer, the Prayer of Humble Access are each steps drawing the worshiper nearer to the Altar, each pointing ahead to the action, “give, take, eat.”

Cranmer’s focus (the emphasis in both his Eucharistic and Baptismal liturgies) still falls on the faithful activity in the sacrament, the vivid drama “give, take, and eat.” That is where the center of gravity or affective heart lies in the liturgy even as it is re-shaped in the 1928 version, especially when viewed from the point of view of the worshiper.

 


Drew Keane

Drew Nathaniel Keane is a Lecturer in the Department of Writing and Linguistics at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA. He is a member of St. John's Church in Savannah and currently serves on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music for the Episcopal Church.


'The Center of Gravity in Cranmer’s Communion Liturgy' has 1 comment

  1. December 29, 2016 @ 1:51 pm Lee Poteet

    Please read all your material again but before you do read the earliest of the historical liturgies. I think you reach too many false conclusions based upon too many assumptions which are beyond proof.

    Reply


Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

(c) 2017 North American Anglican