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Lyft Up Your Heartes: A Comparison and Analysis of the Classical Anglican Eucharistic Prayers

5 December 2011

In something of a change of pace from the topics, though not the period, explored on The Molinist today’s offering is a textual and historical analysis of the classical Anglican Eucharistic prayers. If anyone should find his or her interest in the topic peaked by this post I heartily recommend looking up any of the references listed in the bibliography but I would direct you in particular toward Hefling, Charles and Shattuck, Cynthia, eds., The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer: A Worldwide Survey (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), an engaging, accessible, and readily acquired text on the topic.

The “classical” forms of the Eucharistic prayer of the Anglican/Episcopalian tradition in England and Scotland, represented by their forms of 1662 Book of Common Prayer and 1764 Scottish Communion Office respectively, represent distinctive interpretations of the western Eucharistic tradition. Written over a century apart, in two different but closely related countries, and in radically different ecclesial and theological context, the two prayers nonetheless form the bases of the Eucharistic tradition of the Anglican Communion. England’s Book of Common Prayer would be carried along with Britain’s empire to every corner of the earth and the Scottish Communion Office (the authoritative Scottish Eucharistic rite until the Book of Common Prayer of the Scottish Episcopal Church published in 1929, the first Scottish prayer book for 286 years and the very first in the history of the Episcopal Church proper) would extend to the newly independent United States of America, forming two distinct strands of Anglican worship which continues to this day, though in a considerably less ossified way than they once did since the rise of liturgical experimentation and renewal in the late 20th century. The similarities and differences between the two prayers grant significant insight into the theological intents behind their respective authorships and communicate a great deal about the liturgical and theological thinking of 17th century England and 18th century Scotland. In comparing their respective histories, content, and form one can come to understand what lies behind Anglicanism’s two great Eucharistic traditions.

William Laud

The two prayers arise from very different historical situations which contribute significantly to their divergences. The English Eucharistic prayer of 1662 was born of a situation of compromise, seeking to appease both higher church Laudian and lower church Presbyterian parties within the Church of England. Though the resulting compromise appeased neither party fully, elements insisted upon by both parties did make their way into the final form of the prayer.[1] Under the influence of the Laudian party manual acts were allowed during the Prayer of Consecration and provisions were made for consecrating extra bread and wine as well as for the reservation of unused portions of both.[2] The Puritan party’s voice was rather less represented in the changes made to the Eucharistic prayer was rather. They too were in favour of returning manual acts to the Prayer of Consecration and while they did succeed in having the Declaration on Kneeling returned from the prayer book of 1552 the wording on the rubric was changed from “real and essential presence” to “corporal presence,” thus affirming rather than denying the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the sacrament.[3] The final change to the Eucharistic prayer of the “classical” English prayer book would come during the reign of William and Mary, when references to the sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ would be added to the Prayer of Humble Access.[4] This rather high church alteration would not be accompanied by any concessions to the low church or Presbyterian party, but perhaps that was only fair, since under William and Mary the Presbyterians would achieve their final victory a little further north, in the Church of Scotland.

Co-regnants Queen Mary II and King William III & II

The Eucharistic prayer from the Scottish Communion Office came about under radically different circumstances. In the wake of the Glorious Revolution all clergy of established churches were required to swear allegiance to William III and Mary II, and a great many priests, not to mention the entire episcopate, of the Church of Scotland refused. So the Church of Scotland became a Presbyterian body and her former bishops found themselves without an institutional church but with a number of congregations who were, like the bishops themselves, Nonjurors, Jacobites, and others who would not recognise the new sovereigns. The disestablished bishops were slow to begin organising their own church, hoping that one day a rightful kind would return and episcopacy would be restored to the Church of Scotland, as had happened with the then not-so-distant restoration of Charles II.[5] Unsurprisingly for a party of anti-Presbyterians the Nonjurors did not favour the Calvinistic flavour of the Prayer Book of 1662, though they did continue to use it, with their own various additions and supplementations, mostly for reasons of the prohibitive cost of publishing and printing their complete prayer book and of the touchy political issues that would arise when it came to the state prayers, since that would have entailed declaring plainly for which “royal family” the Nonjurors prayed. Thus the nonjuring churches employed the existing English prayer book supplemented with the “wee bookies,” new interpretations of the communion office, beginning with a reprint of the prayer as found in the ill-fated Scottish prayer book of 1637 and evolving continually as Scottish liturgists and priests experimented with the existing forms.[6] Over time a single such form would become dominant by a slow and entirely informal process of reception, the Communion Office of 1764.

Derived ultimately as it is from Cranmer’s Eucharistic prayer from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer the 1662 Eucharistic prayer is based upon that which is to be found in the Roman Canon, though of course it represents the heavily Calvinistic changes Cranmer made in the prayer book of 1552 and the resemblance is relatively loose.[7] The ordering of the elements of the prayer is entirely original to Cranmer. Though in his first prayer book Cranmer sought to embed Reformed doctrine into the forms of the familiar Roman Canon in the composition of the prayer book of 1552 Cranmer reordered the Eucharistic prayer to alter the theological emphasis, entirely removing the anamnesis and invocation that an angel should bear the prayers of the congregants and re-shaping the prayer along the pattern of the continental reformers.[8] The new order which Cranmer introduced most closely parallels that of Huldrych Zwingli’s Attack on the Canon of the Mass, from 1552.[9] The properly Eucharistic portions of the Eucharistic prayers of Cranmer and Zwingli are similarly perfunctory, removing the intercessory, consecratory, and oblation prayers and sticking Communion awkwardly close to the Sanctus. Zwingli replaced the Canon with a series of prayers to be spoken by the presider which have nothing of the rising anticipation or devotional weight of the original, instead imploring that God should fill the communicants with spiritual food in four distinct prayers. Cranmer elected not even to include such prayers, instead choosing to make the Prayer of Oblation an alternative postcommunion prayer, entirely removing its devotional weight as a self-offering  and transforming it into a built-in interpretation of the Eucharistic sacrifice. The Prayer of Humble also access has no parallel in the Roman Canon, it too parallels Zwingli’s Attack on the Canon of the Mass, though Zwingli placed it before the Eucharistic prayer proper, and it strongly reflects the Reformed theology that Cranmer was seeking to infuse into the worship of the Church of England.[10] Several distinctive features of the 1662 prayer that set it apart from that of 1764 can also be traced to the forms of the Roman Canon. The insertion of proper prefaces, spreading the proclamation of salvation history out over the liturgical year, rather than being covered every Sunday, a feature also to be found in the Communion Office as well as later Anglican liturgies, has its origins in the Roman Canon, and Cranmer maintained this feature in all of his liturgies.[11] The absence of an epiclesis in any of Cranmer’s liturgies, and thus in that of 1662, is simply because of the lack of an epiclesis in the Roman Canon. The residual remnants of an epiclesis, in which it is implored that those who partook in Communion should be blessed, are also present in the English rite in an even more lame form, with the request that God should assist the communicants with his grace.[12]

The structure of the 1764 Communion Office is markedly different both from its Scotch predecessor of 1637 and its English counterpart of 1661. Its wording was largely that of Cranmer, inherited from his very earliest prayer book by way of the Scottish Book of Common Prayer published in 1637, but the shape had altered considerably by 40 years of trial, error, scholarship, and experimentation by Nonjurors English and Scottish.[13] Like its predecessor of 1637 the 1764 Communion Office is built upon Cranmer’s liturgies and is derived ultimately from the Roman Canon. The 1637, which was composed by liturgists more favourable to pre-Reformation worship, composed a liturgy for Communion which was considerably close to 1549 than 1552, and was likely a deliberate effort to undo Cranmer’s later, more continental work.[14] The Eucharistic prayer certainly shows the marks of the English Nonjurors’ influence, as the structure of the prayer reflects the innovations of the 1718 English Nonjuror’s liturgy. Though ultimately based upon the rite found in the Scottish prayer book, significant rearranging took place along the same lines as the English Nonjurors. The English Nonjurors’ liturgy and later the Scottish Communion Office were composed on the belief that ancient liturgies were “purer” forms of service. The ancient form of the Eucharistic prayer was taken as the ideal, reflective of the true nature of the Eucharistic sacrifice, and as such their forms and conventions were favoured above those of Cranmer’s prayer book.[15] The Nonjuring liturgists chose to make their Eucharistic prayer conform to the structures of West Syrian anaphoras, most especially the Anaphora of St James.[16] Regarded as an especially desirable ancient form of the Eucharistic liturgy by Scottish churchmen like Thomas Rattray, bishop and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, it was the proof-text of sort for the Communion Office. Originally the rite in use of Jerusalem, and likely resulting from the combination of a local Jerusalem rite with the earliest form of the of the anaphora from the Liturgy of St Basil, the Anaphora of St James owes much of its popularity, in both the early church and the Nonjurors’ liturgical revision and experimentation, because of its purported author, James the Just, brother of the Lord. Because of this Apostolic ascription the anaphora was regarded as especially ancient and it is not difficult to see why the Nonjuring liturgists, who so desired to employ the most ancients forms of worship, fell with such vigour upon the text.[17] The parallels between the Anaphora of St James and the Scottish Communion Office are many, and the influence of the former on the latter is clear. Though the beautiful, if inordinately long, intercessions of the Anaphora were replaced by the more typical form of the Prayer of the Whole State of Christ’s Church, and the lovely pre-Sanctus prayers of praise are present only in the truncated form found in Cranmer’s liturgies and derived from the illatio of the Roman Canon, the feel of the West Syrian liturgy is noticeable in the order of the elements of the prayer, especially in contradistinction to the order found in the English prayer. The Anaphora of St James features a long series of prayers of praise, thanksgiving, and intercession, culminating in the bloodless sacrifice of the Eucharist.[18] This sense of rising anticipation, the slow culmination of prayer toward the liturgical and spiritual highpoint of the Eucharistic sacrifice is shared by the Communion Office, though it is considerably less drawn-out. The Communion Office enjoys the virtue of compactness, which is certainly shared by the other liturgies whose heritage lies in Thomas Cranmer, but certainly is not shared by the Anaphora of St James which, for all the beauty of its prayers, goes on at great length. The authors of the Communion Office were, it seems, careful not to lose sight of the values of the liturgy which they had to work with even as they were seeking to improve upon it by incorporating valuable material lost during the restructuring of British liturgy that took place during the Reformation.

The differences between the two prayers are numerous and telling, reflecting the radically different theologies at play behind their compositions. Both prayers begin on very much the same note, opening with the Sursum corda and proceeding with the preface and the Sanctus to be followed immediately by the “Prayer of Consecration” as the Eucharistic prayer proper is known in both rites. It is at the opening of the Prayer of Consecration that the first striking different arises. The Prayer of Humble Access, so characteristic of Prayer Book worship for Anglicans in the English side of the liturgical tradition even today, is entirely absent from the opening of the Eucharistic prayer of the Communion Office, which opens the Prayer of Consecration with the Narrative of Institution. The Book of Common Prayer proceeds from the Prayer of Humble Access to the Institution Narrative and immediately into the Communion proper. This is in sharp contrast to the Communion Office, which follows the more venerable practise of a longer post-Sanctus before the Institution Narrative, followed by the Invocation, Oblation, Intercession, and finally Communion proper, rather than the innovative restructuring found in the English rite. Cranmer’s excision of the Canon of the Mass in favour of a perfunctory Prayer of Consecration and the demotion of the oblation to the status of alternate postcommunion prayer builds-in an interpretation of the Eucharistic sacrifice and clearly changes the focus of the rite. The long build up anticipation prior to epiclesis and communion is abruptly cut short by the insertion of the Prayer of Consecration and Communion immediately following the very Reformed Prayer of Humble Access. There is a consequent emphasis on the unworthiness of the communicants and pleading for the gracious gift of God in the sacrament of Communion instead of the heavy devotional emphasis and invocation of communion with other Christians, living and dead, before Communion with God, that is characteristic of the more common post-Sanctus and Intercessions which the Communion Office takes from the Anaphora of St James. The very Protestant sense of human unworthiness in still present in the Communion Office as the Prayer of Humble Access present in the same position relative to the beginning of the Prayer of Consecration proper as in the Book of Common Prayer, but in the Scottish case it appears after the devotional prayers of the Post-Sanctus and Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church and follow immediately upon the Comfortable Words, so it takes on character of devotional and thanksgiving, emphasising not human unworthiness so much as divine grace.

One of the most striking differences is to be found toward the end of the prayers, at the conclusion of the Communion rite proper, and that lies in the words of administration to individual communicants. The English prayer includes the words found in both the 1549 and 1552 prayer-books of Edward VI, which were bound together in Elizabeth I’s prayer-book of 1559, of which only the former are to be found in the Scottish prayer.[19] The theological ramifications of this difference cannot be understated. The English form of the prayer incorporates both objective and subjective understandings of the doctrine of the real presence. The Scottish form allows only for the objective understanding, that the bread and wine are the actual body and blood of Christ. Tending toward more traditional liturgies, especially those of the “primitive church,” the term favoured by the parlance of the day, and seeking consciously to return to the less Calvinistic forms of the 1549 prayer book, the authors of the Scottish book removed the receptionist wording of the 1552 prayer book.

The postcommunion portion the rite is considerably longer in the Book of Common Prayer simply by virtue of the fact that Cranmer repositioned the Communion proper to earlier in the service and shifted material, most notably the Prayer of Oblation, into a postcommunion position. Also shifted to this postcommunion position in the Lord’s Prayer, removing it from its position after the Invocation which it held in the prayer book of 1549. The standard postcommunion prayer, to which the repositioned Oblation became an alternative in the prayer book of 1552 and 1662, is also present as the sole postcommunion prayer in the Communion Office of 1764. Having the Prayer of Oblation as an option for the postcommunion prayer significantly changes the theological tenor of the prayer. The postcommunion can, in the prayer book, be one of thanksgiving, as in the Communion Office, or one of supplication. This new sense of supplication, even after the reception of communion, continues the very Reformed theme of human dependence upon God of which Cranmer seems to have been so fond. Even when tradition would hold that one ought to give thanks to God for the great gift which one has just received, Cranmer would have one implore God that the gifts should be prove effective and that one’s self-offering should be acceptable to God. Cranmer does not completely remove the theme of thanksgiving for Communion, the Prayer of Oblation is just an option and the following either it or the Prayer of Thanksgiving comes the obligatory Gloria, a strong expression of thanksgiving for the gift of Communion, but the theme is certainly downplayed in importance at this point if it is treated as interchangeable with yet another prayer of supplication, especially given the prominence of such prayers throughout Cranmer’s Reformed liturgy.

Both prayers finally close on the same note, one that would likely seem quite discordant to many Anglicans today – the Gloria and Dismissal. The Gloria in Excelsis was moved from the position it held in the Roman Mass, what might today be called “The Gathering of the Community,” to the second last act of the Eucharistic rite in the prayer book of 1552. Far from a celebration of God’s glory as the opening act of worship as it was in the Roman Mass and is again today in much Anglican liturgy, the Gloria serves in the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, the Scottish Book of Common Prayer of 1637, and the Scottish Communion Office of 1764 as an expression of gratitude and prayer of thanksgiving for the gift just received in Communion. It seems curious that the authors of the Scottish prayer book and those of the Communion Office did not opt to replace the Gloria to its traditional location, especially since the position at the very end of the rite was introduced only in the prayer book of 1552, and much of the tradition of Scottish worship as established in the prayer book of 1636 and expressed in the wee bookies and Communion Office was to undo the more “protestant” or “continental” elements which Cranmer introduced in 1552. The prayer book authors in particular, whose explicit purpose was to produce a prayer book closer to that of 1549, seem likely candidates to have undone that alteration of Cranmer’s. The authors of the Communion Office whose preference was for the eastern liturgies which predated the Latin rites and the Gloria in Excelsis, may have thought of the Gloria by analogy to the Thanksgiving for Communion which was among the concluding acts of the Anaphora of St James, since a thanksgiving for Communion would have been the role which the Gloria played to them, having been born long after Cranmer’s 1549 prayer book had last been used and being without living memory of the position which the Gloria held before Cranmer’s liturgical reforms. Thus, despite their tendencies toward the “purer” ancient forms of the Eucharistic prayer they elected to leave the Gloria where Cranmer had placed it, as an expression of joy and thanksgiving at the gift of Communion, ending the Eucharistic service on a high note of joy and praise.

Though remarkably different these two prayers form the twin foundation stones of the Anglican Eucharistic tradition. Both were composed with the same fundamental intent, reform. The 1662 English prayer was built upon Thomas Cranmer’s 1552 rite, composed with the express purpose of reforming English liturgy and bringing it into line with what Cranmer understood as truly right worship. Even when the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 was being assembled, it was by an assembly whose purpose was to walk the line between two voices calling for reform, one puritan and one Laudian.[20] The Scottish Communion Office of 1764 was intended as a reform of the existing liturgies, which were largely the descendants of Cranmer’s 1552 prayer book and deemed too reformed, along the lines of the more ancient Anaphora of St James, which was held to represent a purer rite that more properly expressed the sacrificial reality of the sacrament of Communion. Though Cranmer, the Savoy Conference, and the Scottish Nonjurors all had very different ideas of the ideal shape for liturgical reform to take and employed very different methods and models, all sought to produce Eucharistic prayers amenable to true theology and Christian worship and they understood it, and all, in that sense, succeeded.

Notes and Bibliography


[1] Jasper, Ronald, The Development of the Anglican Liturgy 1662-1980 (London: SPCK, 1989), 1.

[2] Jasper, The Development of the Anglican Liturgy, 4.

[3] Jasper, The Development of the Anglican Liturgy, 5.

[4] Jasper, The Development of the Anglican Liturgy, 9.

[5] Hefling, Charles, “Scotland: Episcopalians and Nonjurors” in Hefling, Charles and Shattuck, Cynthia, eds., The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer: A Worldwide Survey 166-175 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 168-169.

[6] Hefling, “Scotland: Episcopalians and Nonjurors,” 169.

[7] Stuhlman, Byron D., A Good and Joyful Thing: The Evolution of the Eucharistic Prayer (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2000), 107-108.

[8] Stuhlman, A Good and Joyful Thing, 114.

[9] For the text of the Eucharistic prayer from Attack on the Canon of the Mass see Jasper, R.C.D and Cuming, G.J., Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1990), 183-186.

[10] Stulhlman, A Good and Joyful Thing, 114.

[11] Jasper and Cuming, Prayers of the Eucharist, 159.

[12] Japers and Cuming, Prayers of the Eucharist, 160-161; Church of England, The book of common-prayer and administration of the sacraments and other rites & ceremonies of the church, according to the use of the Church of England : together with the Psalter or Psalms of David, pointed as they are to be sung or said in churches : and the form & manner of making, ordaining, & consecrating of bishops, priests, and deacons. (London: Printed by His Maties Printers, 1662), 164.

[13] Hefling, “Scotland: Episcopalians and Nonjurors,” 170.

[14] Hefling, Scotland: Episcopalians and Nonjurors, 168.

[15] Hefling, “Scotland: Episcopalians and Nonjurors,” 170; For the full text of the Eucharistic prayer of the English Nonjurors’ liturgy see Jasper and Cuming, Prayers of the Eucharist, 292-297.

[16] Stuhlman, A Good and Joyful Thing, 126.

[17] Jasper and Cuming, Prayers of the Eucharist, 88.

[18] For the text of the Eucharistic prayer in the Anaphora of St James see Jasper, R.C.D and Cuming, G.J., Prayers of the Eucharist, 90-99.

[19] Hefling, “Scotland: Episcopalians and Nonjurors,” 166; Jasper and Cuming, Prayers of the Eucharist, 307.

[20] Jasper, The Development of the Anglican Liturgy, 1.

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