In Praise of 1552: a High Church appreciation

The Book of Common Prayer 1552: it is the bête noire of Anglican liturgy. Frere famously declared that with it “English religion reached its low water mark.”[1] Dix damned it with the most horrible imprecation he could summon: Zwinglian.[2] We all know, of course, that to be High Church means always choosing 1549 over 1552. 1549 was what Anglican liturgy should have been if it wasn’t for the intrusion of those pesky foreign Reformers (a view which, to put it charitably, is rather removed from the historical record[3]).

There is, however, another story to be told. The 1552 BCP was – as the Elizabethan Act of Uniformity made very clear – restored in 1559 with but minor amendments.[4] This was the Prayer Book which Hooker gloriously defended in The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. As Charles Miller notes:

“It is worth remembering that Hooker represents a generation whose experience of worship and sacraments within the Church of England was wholly formed by the 1559 revision of the Book of Common Prayer.”[5]

Or, in other words, 1552 with minor amendments. This, too, was the Prayer Book defended by Conformists against Puritan assault in the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline Church. At the Restoration, despite the attempts of a small coterie of advanced Laudians to restore elements of 1549, the conservatism of Laudian parochial clergy and laity ensured that the BCP 1662 was fundamentally 1552/59.[6] Post-Restoration and throughout the ‘long 18th century,’ the mainstream of the High Church tradition rejoiced in what Daniel Waterland described as “our excellent Liturgy.”[7]

Reverence for the essential liturgical form established by 1552 had deep roots in the classical High Church tradition and in its avant-garde Conformist and Laudian antecedents. Why might this be? Let me suggest 10 reasons why Anglicanism in general, and the Old High Church[8] tradition in particular, can rejoice in 1552.

  1. To begin, perhaps a controversial statement: 1549 was not a good eucharistic rite. Its provision following the Words of Institution was clumsy, cluttered, and distracting: prayer of oblation, Lord’s Prayer, Pax, invitation to confession, general confession, absolution, Comfortable Words, Prayer of Humble Access. In a striking contrast, in 1552 the Sacrament was administered immediately following the Words of Institution. The structure of the rite, therefore, brings us to experience the Sacrament after the pattern of the Lord’s institution, a partaking of the signs of bread and wine and a feeding on His Body and Blood. The proximity of reception to the Words of Institution (“give for you … shed for you … for the remission of sins”) also powerfully emphasises that our partaking of the Sacrament is – to use a phrase beloved of the Old High Church tradition – “a feast upon a sacrifice.”
  2. “Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee … Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for thee.” These words are often invoked as evidence of an empty ‘Zwinglian memorialism’ in 1552. What, however, if the 1552 Words of Administration capture rich and resonant aspects of the Sacrament, aspects recognised by, say, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas? Augustine, after all, emphasises a feeding in the heart:

    “‘This, then, is the bread that comes down from heaven, that if any man eat thereof, he shall not die.’ But this is what belongs to the virtue of the sacrament, not to the visible sacrament; he that eats within, not without; who eats in his heart, not who presses with his teeth.”[9]

    For Thomas, “the sacrament of the Eucharist … is a remembrance of the Passion now past.”[10] Now, obviously, the 1552 Words of Administration do not capture all that Augustine or Thomas say regarding the Eucharist, but they do reflect aspects of their thinking (and aspects at times too often forgotten). Their retention alongside the earlier formula in 1559 and 1662 is evidence of their (doctrinally authoritative) witness to an important aspect of the holy Mysteries. Indeed, it was a characteristic High Church contention that the words of Administration in full should be addressed to each communicant.[11] It is also worth noting that for all of the animus directed at the 1552 formula at the distribution of the Sacrament, the words are included in an invitation to the Sacrament even in TEC’s BCP 1979 Rite II[12] – perhaps an indication of their continued resonance, witnessing to the intimate relationship between the Lord’s sacrifice and our true feeding in the Sacrament.

  3. Was it not the case that the 1552 Holy Communion lacked a theology of consecration? If so, this could undermine any suggestion that such rite sustained a eucharistic theology and spirituality beyond ‘bare memorialism.’ Mindful that 1559 was de facto 1552, the evidence is rather clear that the rite was interpreted as consecrating the bread and wine. Hence, the Protestant champion Jewel in his Apology had no qualms about referring to “the blessing of the cup” and quoting Theodoret explicitly using the term “consecration.”[13] Hooker referred to “the consecrated elements.”[14] In 1573, a cleric who sought to administer unconsecrated bread and wine, when more was required, was tried and condemned by the Queen’s Commissioners, who declared that it was necessary to repeat the Words of Institution over additional bread and wine.[15] In other words, the absence of the word ‘consecration’ in 1552/59 did not detract from it being understood in a thoroughly Augustinian manner. As Augustine stated, “The word is added to the element, and there results the sacrament”[16] (words also quoted by Thomas[17]).
  4. The placing of key texts within the 1552 rite – Decalogue (introduced in 1552), Prayer for the Church Militant, ‘Ye that do truly,’ Comfortable Words, Prayer of Humble Access, Lord’s Prayer, and Gloria in excelsis – proved to be (until the 20th century) an enduring expression of Anglican eucharistic spirituality, putting down deep roots in Anglican affections. Evidence of how enduring this order was, how deep its roots became, can be seen in PECUSA’s BCP 1789. Despite the influence of the Scottish rite in the placing of a prayer of invocation and oblation after the Words of Institution, 1789 retained the 1552 positioning of all the above texts: the rhythms of 1552 were retained even in a rite which cast more than a glance back to 1549. Part of the reason for the continuance of the 1552 ordering is also its theological coherence. In the mid-17th century, Sparrow’s commentary on the Prayer Book (a High Church favourite) pointed to the appropriateness of singing Gloria in excelsis “when we draw nearest to the estate of Angels, namely, at the receiving of the Sacrament.”[18] Torrance Kirby similarly emphasizes how this positioning reflects a high Reformed Eucharistic theology.[19] The 1552 ordering, then, had a convincing and coherent theological rationale which profoundly shaped Anglican liturgy over subsequent centuries.
  5. For all of the controversy surrounding the Black Rubric, it secured kneeling to receive the Sacrament as settled Anglican practice. In Hooker’s words, “Our kneeling at communions is the gesture of piety.”[20] While we may have reservations about how the 1552 Black Rubric critiqued views of “the real and essential presence there being of Christ’s natural flesh and blood” – cautiously revised in 1662 – it remains the case that the 1552 form of the rubric provided the enduring Anglican apologia for kneeling to receive: “for a signification of the humble and grateful acknowledging of the benefits of Christ, given unto the worthy receiver.”
  6. In its provisions that “the minister at the time of the Communion and all other times in his ministration, shall … wear a surplice,” and that “at the Communion time” the Lord’s Table should be covered by “a fair white linen cloth,” 1552 also established the modest and decent ceremonies which defined Anglicanism over centuries and which can continue to resonate.[21] It was the noble decency and reserve of 1552 which George Herbert celebrated in ‘The British Church’: “A fine aspect in fit array, Neither too mean nor yet too gay.”
  7. While 1549 is often portrayed as a ‘richer’ rite than 1552, it was 1552 which enriched the observance of Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Whitsunday, directing that the respective proper prefaces at the Holy Communion be used throughout the octaves, and also providing for the collect of Christmas Day to be said until the feast of the Circumcision, New Year’s Day. This was a significant strengthening of the liturgical year and reinforced the popular observance of these great feasts, both of which would become objects of Puritan criticism.[22]
  8. The addition of a weighty penitential rite at the beginning of Mattins and Evensong in 1552 is often a cause of disapproval amongst contemporary liturgists seeking to ‘restore’ a supposedly more pristine form of the daily office. Cranmer’s addition, however, ensured that in a reformed church in which the requirement for auricular confession had been abolished, confession and absolution continued to be a living reality in the lives of the plebs sancta Dei (to use a famous phrase from Dix). As Hooker would declare of this confession and absolution with which “we day by day in our Church begin our public prayers”:

    “the difference of general and particular forms in Confession and absolution, is not so material, that any man’s safety, or ghostly good should depend upon it.”[23]

    Similarly in his poem ‘The Three Absolutions,’[24] Keble would celebrate how “Each morn and eve” the ministry of “the Golden Keys” was exercised in the daily service. When later Tractarians began to urge the routine practice of auricular confession, it was the High Church Bishop of Lincoln, Christopher Wordsworth, who issued a Pastoral Letter in 1874[25] challenging the Tractarians on the grounds of the efficacy of the absolution pronounced at Morning and Evening Prayer. This 1552 addition, therefore, profoundly enriched the routine, ordinary spiritual experience of Anglicans over centuries, ensuring the practice of regular confession and ministerial absolution.

  9. We also have 1552 to thank for words that stand at the heart of a classical Anglican understanding of Holy Baptism: “Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this child is regenerate ….” There were similar words in a post-baptismal prayer in the 1549 rite but this lacks the force of 1552’s explicit declaration subsequently reinforced by the post-baptismal prayer. 1552 also moved the signing with the Cross to after Baptism (in 1549 it was part of the pre-baptismal exorcism). As a ceremony it points to Holy Baptism as the efficacious sign of our participation in the Lord’s paschal mystery, echoing the reference in the pre-baptismal prayer to the Lord’s pierced side upon the Cross. As Canon XXX of the 1604 Canons would state, the post-baptismal signing with the Cross was a sign of “the benefits bestowed upon them in baptism [which] the name of the cross did represent.” Lamenting (as some might do) the omission of the exorcism and chrism found in 1549 rather misses the point that 1552 gave to Anglicanism a theologically rich and robust baptismal rite.
  10. Finally, we probably cannot talk about 1552 without referencing that petition in the Litany: “from the tyranny of the Bysshop of Rome and al hys detestable enormities … Good Lorde, deliver us.” It seems to be an iconic representation of the apparently aggressive Protestantism of 1552. Except, of course, that this was a petition in the 1549 Litany (a rather awkward fact for some devotees of the 1549 rite). Elizabeth I’s removal of the petition in the interests of the peace of the Church and Realm rightly reminds us that common, public prayer was not the place for such language. That said, we should not be too embarrassed that it existed. The jurisdiction claimed by the Bishop of Rome deprived “particular or national” churches of a rightful and necessary liberty, and there were errors in “manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith” disordering the Church’s life: rejecting that jurisdiction and reforming those errors enabled the flourishing of a Reformed Catholicism in the ecclesia Anglicana.

In the conclusion to his Tudor Church Militant, Diarmaid MacCulloch notes the words of a Parliamentarian iconoclast vandalising an image of King Edward VI in Chichester Cathedral in 1642: “That all this mischief came from him, when he established the Book of Common Prayer.”[26] MacCulloch describes this as “sadly unhistorical,” a misinterpretation of the legacy of the Edwardine Reformation. This short essay suggests otherwise. The iconoclast stood in succession to those who from early in the Elizabethan Settlement, and throughout the Jacobean and Caroline eras, bitterly disapproved of the form of the Reformed Catholicism embodied in 1552 and continued in 1559.

The ‘godly,’ however, should not be the focus of our attention in understanding 1552. We should turn, instead, to the views of a once firmly traditionalist and conservative parson, his views recorded by Eamon Duffy, who (like the vast majority of parish clergy) conformed and continued to minister in the Elizabethan church, describing the 1559 BCP – in other words, the form of 1552 – as the “decyent Rits of the church of Christ.”[27] Likewise, we should consider how the rhythms and patterns of 1552 took root in the popular heart and imagination. As Judith Maltby has shown, laity frequently challenged ‘godly’ ministers who refused to abide by the rites and ceremonies of 1552/59, what one of the Prayer Book petitions of the 1640s described as “the Antient order of our Church of England prescribed in the booke of Common prayer.”[28]

Jeremy Taylor, in an echo of George Herbert, praised 1552 for its “modest beauty.”[29] Mindful of Taylor’s place in the Laudian and High Church pantheon, it is a significant statement. What is more, it wonderfully captures the essence of 1552 as an expression of a vibrant Reformed Catholicism: a modesty in ceremony and order which did not obscure the Christological centre, a beauty in words and form which drew the heart to the Christological centre. This “modest beauty” would become a distinguishing characteristic of Anglican identity and spirituality. Rather than being a bête noire, 1552 should be praised as a foundational text for Anglicanism, not an aberration but a classical expression.

  1. In Procter and Frere A New History of the Book of Common Prayer With a Rationale of its Offices (1955), p.85.
  2. In The Shape of the Liturgy, Dix described 1552 as designed “to express the full Zwinglian doctrine”. As Gordon P. Jeanes convincingly demonstrates in Signs of God’s Promise: Thomas Cranmer’s Sacramental Theology and the Book of Common Prayer (2008), Cranmer’s mature sacramental theology was not that usually associated with Zwingli but, rather, the “symbolic parallelism” of Bullinger.
  3. Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Thomas Cranmer: A Life (1996) has definitively answered such interpretations.
  4. The Elizabethan Act of Uniformity declared that the removal of the BCP 1552 during Mary’s reign was “to the great decay of the due honour of God” and that “the said book” was being restored.
  5. Charles Miller Richard Hooker and the Vision of God: Exploring the Origins of ‘Anglicanism’ (2013), p.128.
  6. This explains the apparent dilemma which appeared to confuse Robert S. Bosher in his The Making of the Restoration Settlement: The Influence of the Laudians 1649-1662 (1951). He cannot reconcile the fact that when the BCP was being revised at the Restoration, “the Laudian party was at the height of its influence” (p.245), yet in the 1662 revision “the Laudian influence is barely apparent” (p.246). His analysis places too much emphasis on the small coterie of advanced Laudians amongst the episcopacy looking back to 1549, and overlooks the affection for and devotion to the 1552/59 order amongst Laudian lower clergy and laity.
  7. Waterland in A Review of the Doctrine of the Eucharist, as Laid Down in Scripture and Antiquity (1737).
  8. ‘Old High Church’ is here used to describe the pre-Tractarian High Church tradition. ‘Old’ is not to be regarded as pejorative: Luke 5:39. As Nockles has shown, the Old High Church tradition continued to be a significant force post-1833, offering an important critique of Tractarianism: The Oxford Movement in Context: Anglican High Churchmanship, 1760-1857 (1994).
  9. Tractate 26 (12) on St. John’s Gospel.
  10. Summa Theologiae III.75.5.
  11. See, for example, J.C. Crosthwaite Communio fidelium: A historical enquiry into the mode of distributing the Holy Communion; prescribed by the United Church of England and Ireland (1841).
  12. And in, for example, the Holy Communion in the Church of England’s Common Worship and the Church of Ireland’s BCP 2004.
  13. The Apology of the Church of England, Part II.
  14. Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V.67.11.
  15. Discussed in Bryan D. Spinks Do This In Remembrance Of Me: The Eucharist from the Early Church to the Present Day (2013), p.328.
  16. Tractate 80 (3) on St. John’s Gospel.
  17. Summa Theologiae III.60.4.
  18. Anthony Sparrow, A Rationale Upon The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England (1655).
  19. Torrance Kirby, ‘Peter Martyr Vermigli’s Epistle to the Princess Elizabeth: Models of Redemptive Kingship’ in Baschera and Gordon (eds.) Following Zwingli: Applying the Past in Reformation Zurich (2014), p.116.
  20. Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V.68.2.
  21. This is seen in Parker’s 1566 Advertisements (“a comely surplice”) and the 1604 Canons (“a decent and comely surplice”). While the cope was authorised for use in cathedral and collegiate churches, the 1552 provision was maintained for parish churches.
  22. It is worth noting here that Puritan objection to the BCP’s observance of the great feasts of the liturgical year did not reflect the diversity of Reformed thought. The Helvetic Confession affirmed: “if in Christian liberty the churches religiously celebrate the memory of the Lord’s nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, and of his ascension into heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, we approve of it highly”.
  23. Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book VI.4.15.
  24. Often included in an Appendix to The Christian Year.
  25. On Confession and Absolution. A Pastoral Letter to the Clergy and Laity of the Diocese of Lincoln (1874).
  26. Diarmaid MacCulloch, Tudor Church Militant: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation (1999), p.220.
  27. Eamon Duffy, The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village (2001), p177.
  28. Judith Maltby, Prayer Book and People in Elizabethan and Early Stuart England (1998), p.49.
  29. Jeremy Taylor, The Preface to the Apology for Authorized and Set Forms of Liturgy, 9.

Laudable Practice

Laudable Practice is a "poor priest" (c.f. Herbert's 'Aaron') in the Church of Ireland, living in Jeremy Taylor country, and enjoying the poetry of Wendell Berry. 'High and Dry', blogging on the riches of the 'Old' (Luke 5:39) High Church tradition, he is a historian by background, and particularly delights in leading Sunday Prayer Book Mattins in the parish. He blogs at

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