On the Liturgical Resumptive

One characteristic of the Book of Common Prayer, and of liturgical prose generally, is repetition, often repetition with variation. Repetition has many purposes. It is an aid to memory. It makes our worship adhere more closely to biblical patterns, for the Scriptures are shot through with repetition with variation.((Samuel L. Bray and John F. Hobbins, Genesis 1–11: A New Old Translation for Readers, Scholars, and Translators (2017) 6-8.)) And it can be a recognition of the inadequacy of human language: “a liturgical language like Cranmer’s hovers over meanings like a bird that never quite nests for good—or, to sharpen the image, like a bird of prey that never stoops for a kill.”((Rowan Williams, “The Martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer–Sermon at Service to Commemorate the 450th Anniversary” (March 21, 2006). See also J. Ashley Null, “Comfortable Words: Thomas Cranmer’s Gospel Falconry,” in John D. Koch, Jr. and Todd H. W. Brewer, eds., Comfortable Words: Essays in Honor of Paul F. M. Zahl (2013) 229.)) Repetition with variation is deep down in the nature of worship.((See Catherine Pickstock, Repetition and Identity (2013). On reiteration in the Book of Common as a mark of distinctively oral quality, see Drew Nathaniel Keane, “An Examination of the Book of Common Prayer as Technical Writing for an Oral-Aural Culture,” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (forthcoming).))

A particular kind of repetition with variation is where the congregation says a phrase, and the minister then repeats the phrase with variation and expansion. This repetition is not redundant. It carries the worshippers further into the very thing they were saying, explaining it and deepening it and grounding it.((Cf. Gavin Dunbar’s discussion of how repetition in Cranmer’s Communion service affects a worshipper: “The effect on the worshipper of this cyclical spiral motion is profound. Each return to the idea reinforces it, while at the same time allowing it to be expanded and deepened.” Gavin Dunbar, “The Spiritual Architecture of the Church’s Worship: The Logic of the Lord’s Supper in Cranmer’s Common Prayer” (rev. October 2013).))

An example familiar to Anglicans comes from the service of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion. After the Sursum Corda (“Lift up your hearts”), the priest says: “Let us give thanks unto our Lord God.” The congregation answers: “It is meet and right so to do.” And then comes the repetition with variation, a kind of resumptive expansion: “It is very meet, right and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord . . . .” For those who treat liturgies as if they were instruction manuals for putting together an IKEA bookshelf, this sort of thing is simply waste motion, meaningless repetition. For those with ears to hear, it is richly meaningful repetition, drawing us further and further into thanksgiving to God.

Another example comes from the Roman Catholic Mass. As the congregation says the Lord’s Prayer, it ends with “Deliver us from evil.” I do not mean to examine the textual question of the ending to the Lord’s Prayer. Nor am I criticizing the use of that shorter version. Indeed, the classic editions of the Book of Common Prayer (1552, 1559, 1662) tend to include both short and long versions at different points within the same service, though over time that textual pluralism has been erased. My point is about the resumptive expansion. Immediately after the congregation says “Deliver us from evil,” the priest celebrating a Roman Catholic Mass says: “Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy we may be always free from sin . . . .” Only then do the people conclude the prayer: “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and for ever.”

One could imagine saying the short version of the Lord’s Prayer (one BCP pattern). Or the long version (the other BCP pattern). Or the short version, followed by the resumptive expansion, followed by the long ending (the Roman pattern). But what would make less sense is to say the long version, which ends with the kingdom, the power, and the glory, and then to tack on a resumptive expansion that reached back into the middle of the prayer, latching on to the phrase “Deliver us from evil.” The thread would be hard to follow. This is not merely a question of aesthetic failure, but a risk of functional failure: no longer would the resumptive expansion help the listener progress smoothly, seamlessly, moving further and further in from one phrase to the next. “Deliver us from evil” would be interrupted, the connection likely lost by the time the priest comes back with the echoing words.

If this all seems common sense, consider the Sanctus and Benedictus qui venit. From 1552 on the classic editions of the Book of Common Prayer all give the Sanctus as “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory; Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High. Amen.” Unlike Archbishop Cranmer’s initial draft of 1549, these editions of the Book of Common Prayer do not include at the end of the Sanctus the Benedictus: “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.” Not until the twentieth century does the Benedictus make its way back into authorized Anglican prayer books, including the Scottish book of 1929, the Canadian book of 1962, and the American book of 1979. In most of these twentieth-century Anglican prayer books, the Benedictus is an optional addition. In Rite II of BCP 1979 and the draft liturgies of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), the Benedictus is a required addition.((On the relationship of the ACNA liturgies to Rite II of BCP 1979, see Drew Nathaniel Keane, “A Response to ACNA’s Proposed Prayer Book 2019” (September 11, 2018) and Isaac J. Rehberg, “A Liturgical Bait-and-Switch? Reflections in Light of Drew Nathaniel Keane’s ‘A Response to ACNA’s Proposed Prayer Book 2019’” (October 1, 2018).))

My concern here is not with Cranmer’s reason for removing the Benedictus, which seems to have been done to follow more closely the logic of Isaiah 6, as worshippers move from the Sanctus to the Prayer of Humble Access.((See Colin Buchanan, “Benedictus Qui Venit” in Historical Dictionary of Anglicanism (2d ed., 2015) 97: “While it has often been surmised that Cranmer feared that the words of the anthem [Benedictus Qui Venit] pointed to a ‘physical’ coming of Jesus as in the original triumphal entry to Jerusalem) and that it was for this reason that he omitted it from the eucharist, it is far more likely that his 1552 reconstruction of the canon depended upon the logical and neat transition from ‘Holy, holy, holy’ (the angels’ song in the temple in the vision of Isaiah in Isaiah 6) to the admission of sin and inadequacy in the Prayer of Humble access (the equivalent of ‘I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips’—words that follow the angels’ song in Isaiah 6). The logic of this transition would have squeezed out the Benedictus Qui Venit from between Sanctus and Humble Access, irrespective of any question about doctrinal orthodoxy or eucharistic overtones.” Accord Bryan D. Spinks, The Sanctus in the Eucharistic Prayer (1991) 158: “Cranmer may well have deliberately placed the Prayer of Humble Access after the sanctus, because like Luther he looked carefully at Isaiah 6:1-9.”)) Nor is my concern with the ancient liturgies (which eventually tended to include the Benedictus with the Sanctus). Rather my interest is in a small point of rhetorical craftsmanship.

In the Scottish Communion service of 1764, a revision after the Sanctus creates a resumptive expansion. The congregation says the Sanctus, concluding with “Glory be to thee, O Lord most high. Amen.” Then, instead of saying the Prayer of Humble Access, the presbyter says: “All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou of thy tender mercy didst give thy only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption; who (by his own oblation of himself once offered) made a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world . . . .”

Most of these words are in the 1662 book. But the beginning is different, and it is the Scottish change to the beginning that creates the resumptive expansion. The English 1662 service has “Almighty God, our heavenly father, who of thy tender mercy . . . .” But the Scottish 1764 service has “All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou of thy tender mercy. . . .” That is a resumptive expansion like “It is very meet, right and our bounden duty” or “Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil.” The change is not only the addition of “All glory be to thee,” but also the replacement of “who” with “for that thou.” This shift in syntax makes the once for all offering of Christ (Hebrews 10) into the ground for giving all glory to God.

This resumptive expansion is carried over in the BCP 1928 (American). It is also possible to have this resumptive expansion in the BCP 1979 Rite I, as long as the optional Benedictus is not included. The resumptive expansion is entirely erased, however, in BCP 1979 Rite II and the draft ACNA liturgies. Those liturgies are presumably trying to do something different.((Alert to the phenomenon of resumptive expansion, Bryan Spinks uses it as a means of detecting the presence of the Sanctus with Benedictus in ancient liturgies: “The vast majority of Mozarbic and Gallican post-sanctus prayers pick up from the language of both the sanctus and benedictus—Truly holy, truly blessed—indicating that at the time of their composition or revision, the benedictus was an invariable part of the eucharistic prayer in these regions.” Spinks, The Sanctus in the Eucharistic Prayer, at 121. Cf. Walter Howard Frere, “Rough Notes on the Proposed Form of the South African Liturgy,” in Ronald C. D. Jaspar, ed., Walter Howard Frere: His Correspondence on Liturgical Revision and Construction (1954) 204–205. In recent Anglican liturgies that include the Sanctus with Benedictus, however, the Mozarbic and Gallican pattern of “Truly holy, truly blessed” is not followed.))

But what of the liturgies that have the resumptive expansion, the Scottish 1764 service, the American 1928 service, and (optionally) Rite I of BCP 1979? In these liturgies, the Sanctus simpliciter fits the logic and progression of the service perfectly. To insert the Benedictus here would mean, in the words of Geoffrey Cuming, that “the connection is obscured.”((G. J. Cuming, A History of Anglican Liturgy (2d ed., 1982) 177.)) It would be like inserting material between “It is meet and right so to do” and “It is very meet, right and our bounden duty” or between “Deliver us from evil” and “Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil.” It would be rhetorically careless.

There is of course the question of ecumenicity. Strong theological differences remain between the Roman Catholic Mass and the Anglican Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion. Yet there are of course many points of convergence. Isn’t the addition of the Benedictus to the Anglican liturgies, despite its absence from the classic versions of the Book of Common Prayer, one more step toward ecumenical convergence? Yes, but. One can have convergence in form and approach, as well as convergence in words. There may be merits to including the Sanctus with Benedictus in a new Anglican service. But the case is different for an Anglican service that was carefully and consciously designed to lead from the Sanctus directly to the words of institution, a service like the BCP 1928. To insert the Benedictus into such a service is to borrow words found in the Roman rite, but not to show an awareness of the rhetoric of resumptive expansion that is elsewhere skillfully employed in the Roman rite. It is, one might say, an ecumenism of words, but not of music.

Samuel L. Bray is a professor of law at Notre Dame. He is a coauthor, with John F. Hobbins, of Genesis 1-11: A New Old Translation for Readers, Scholars, and Translators (2017); and a coeditor, with Drew Nathaniel Keane, of The 1662 Book of Common Prayer: International Edition (forthcoming 2021).

'On the Liturgical Resumptive' has 1 comment

  1. October 16, 2018 @ 8:24 pm Gavin Dunbar

    I think you are entirely correct about the “resumptive expansion” of “All glory be to thee…” It is an organic development of Cranmer’s 1552 eucharistic prayer (much more convincing that the Scottish epiclesis). The resumptive expansion may also have been at work in the 1962 Canadian book’s opening of the Prayer of Consecration (after a restored Benedictus qui venit), “Blessing and Glory and Thanksgiving be unto thee…” – though I suppose there is also an allusion to the theories about Jewish Berakah prayer forms. The imposition of putatively “correct” liturgical forms (Roman or early church) on the rhetorical (and theological) logic of the liturgy itself is a distorting abstraction.


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