We deny to claim "any Superiority to ourself
to defyne, decyde, or determyn any Article or Poynt
of the Christian Fayth and Relligion,
or to chang any Ancient Ceremony of the Church
from the Forme before received and observed
by the Catholick and Apostolick Church."

Norman Simplicity

Norman Simplicity
Click image for original | © Vitrearum (Allan Barton)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Back when the Church of England still possessed "brilliant men," Dom Gregory invented his "Four Action Shape of the Liturgy," or Offertory, Consecration, Fraction, and Communion. Dr. Tighe succinctly summarizes, as follows:

If The Shape of the Liturgy has one dominant argument, it is that the Eucharist is not primarily a ritual by or through which individual communicants come to have an individual experience of “communion with the Lord.” It is the corporate “coming” of Christ to the faithful, through the Eucharist of the Church, his Body. It is a deepening of the union of the faithful with him in his Body, his Body being both the Church and the Eucharist. This argument resounds throughout the book, and it has been accepted (where it was not already accepted or traditional) across wide swathes of Christianity—Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant.

An important theme concerns the “four-action shape” of the classical Christian Eucharist. The argument runs as follows. At the Last Supper, before the supper Christ took bread, blessed it, broke it, and distributed it. After the supper he took a cup of wine, blessed it, and distributed it. Subsequently, the apostles and their immediate successors combined the “bread ritual” at the beginning of the meal (“This is my body, which is for you; do this for the remembrance of me”) with the “cup ritual” at the end of the meal (“This is my blood of the New Covenant ... do this for the remembrance of me”) and separated them from the meal itself, which continued for several centuries as the “church supper” or “agape meal.” Thus, the Eucharist assumed the form that it subsequently followed in all primitive Christian traditions: the celebrant (1) takes bread and wine, (2) blesses them, (3) breaks the bread, and (4) distributes the blessed or consecrated elements to the communicants.

Dix is pretty down on Cranmer (and I am too, as a theologian, not as a stylist). His disdain leads him ultimately to such provocative pronouncements as this:

If Baxter's Reformed Liturgy be compared with Cranmer's it will be found abjectly inferior to it alike as a literary composition and from the standpoint of practical 'usability'. But it is nevertheless a whole stage nearer to the catholic tradition, in its conception of the eucharistic action and in its close attachment of the eating of the Body and drinking of the Blood of Christ to the reception of the consecrated species.

When I read that, I thought, "that is very rum but, after all, I have been wrong before." You can decide for yourself:

1. Offertory

2. Consecration

3. Fraction

4. Communion

A Puritan rite filled with just the moderate realism designed to make Low churchers turn heel and run. And no hint whatsoever of Cranmerian "receptionism." Very rum indeed.

Baxter’s achievement in this liturgy is the combining of elements of the liturgy of Geneva with that of The Book of Common Prayer. At the same time he uses some of the more ancient liturgical material, such as the echoing of the Agnus Dei in the fraction. The Savoy Liturgy has been described as being “nearer to the historic Western tradition than the conception which Cranmer embodied in the Communion Service of the Prayer book of 1552” (Ratcliff, 1962: 123). Despite all this The Savoy Liturgy had little impact on the conference to which it was submitted and equally little impact on the revision of the Prayer Book which resulted in the 1662 BCP. The Savoy Liturgy in spite of its rejection displayed a mood of adoration, sometimes missing in other Reformed liturgies, more noted for sombre attention to human sinfulness. It was also scriptural and incited the faithful to holiness of life. It blended Reformed and traditional material in a creative manner. Its efforts and qualities were however, to no avail (Thompson, 1988: 383). Perhaps as Jasper and Cuming suggest, it was too far ahead of its time (Jasper and Cuming, 1987: 272).

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