Thinking allowed

trial Canadian Collects

The Anglican Church of Canada is trialling some new collects

The [Canadian] General Synod of 2010 mandated Faith, Worship, and Ministry to establish a Liturgy Task Force to work on the revision of our contemporary language liturgical texts. This Task Force has, in turn, been authorized by the Council of General Synod to release the first phase of its new texts for trial use and feedback as they become available. These draft materials — beginning with Collects for Sundays — are encouraged for use where permitted by the diocesan bishops. We ask that those who use them also participate in the process to feed back your evaluation of the resources to the Liturgy Task Force for its consideration in the final editorial phase.

The text of the Collects for use this year (Year A) ‘from Pentecost to the Reign of Christ’ can be downloaded as a pdf via the above link. Unlike the Collects in Common Worship which are determined by the named Sundays after Trinity, these prayers are aligned to the Sunday reading cycle.

(Thanks to Phillip Tovey for drawing my attention to this. Readers are welcome to send suggestions of suitable links either by email or as a comment on an existing article.)


Parish Communion

It’s hard to imagine what the Church of England was like before the Parish Communion movement — and yet the movement itself is virtually unknown today. Through the majority of the twentieth century, certainly right up until the 1960s, the movement was active in promoting its vision of life and worship in the Church of England, attracting support from bishops and synods. But it very quickly faded from the scene, so that even those of us who grew up in the 1960s Church may well not have come across it.

At the same time as the Liturgical Movement was growing across the Roman Catholic Church, recovering a sense of the corporate nature of the liturgy, the Parish Communion movement (as it came to be called) was born and grew in England. The two movements seem to have begun and developed independently, though eventually they came into contact.

The history of the Parish Communion movement is told in Donald Gray’s book Earth and Altar: Evolution of the Parish Communion in the Church of England to 1945 (Alcuin Club Collections 68, 1986). Its roots lie in the Anglo-Catholic revival and the Oxford Movement, beginning with John Keble’s Assize Sermon in Oxford in 1833. The resulting interest in sacramental worship led to an increase in the celebration of Holy Communion, frequently with an increasing use of ceremonial. Because of the requirement of many Anglo-Catholics that the sacrament should be received fasting, it became the custom for the main ceremonial celebration of the Eucharist in many such parishes to be almost entirely a non-communicating act. Only the priest and perhaps one or two others would receive Communion. For the rest of the congregation, attending after Sunday breakfast just as they had previously attended Mattins, this was a choral, ceremonial and devotional high-point, but one in which they were passive rather than active participants. For the more ‘devout’ there would typically be one or more early celebrations at 8am and perhaps 7am so that they could receive the sacrament before breaking their fast.

At the same time, Anglo-Catholic priests were noted for their work in impoverished and neglected areas, particularly in the slums and docklands of large English cities and ports, and various groupings of Christian socialists and other activists came and went.

The Parish Communion movement combined two main aims:

  • it strove to make the celebration of the Eucharist the primary service on a Sunday morning in each parish church, and to insist that it was a service at which the congregation should receive the sacrament;
  • and it emphasised the link between that celebration of the Eucharist and social action

Social action was considered to be very closely aligned with the Labour movement, which itself was growing in strength during the first half of the twentieth century. At a time when the Church of England was still very widely regarded as the Conservative Party at prayer, the Parish Communion movement might be regarded as the Labour Party at prayer.

In order for the congregation to receive the sacrament before breakfasting the time of the service had to be one that was earlier than the norm of Mattins or High Mass at 11am, but late enough for them to have a bit of a lie-in on their weekly day of rest. 9am or 9.30am became a popular time. Parishes which still have their main Sunday morning Eucharist at this time were quite likely ones that participated in the Parish Communion movement. Frequently the service was followed by a parish breakfast. Not all those associated with the movement were insistent on fasting before communion — but its leaders and advocates were adamant on this point.

And what about ‘social action’? This other important part of the life of the Church was focussed on a weekly ‘parish meeting’, perhaps in the middle of the week, at which such issues could be discussed and support given to various initiatives, whether local, national or international.

What the promoters of the Parish Communion emphasised was the corporate nature of the Church, the corporate nature of the Eucharist, and the essential and corporate nature of the social action that was intimately bound up with them. The great manifesto of the movement was a collection of essays, The Parish Communion, published in 1937, edited by the Revd Gabriel Hebert. Momentum grew, and after the Second World War Parish and People was established as a group to campaign for the goals of the movement. With the reality of a majority Labour government from 1945, perhaps the political angle of the movement changed. By 1962, when Parish and People was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the publication of The Parish Communion, the Christian Socialist Movement (CSM, recently renamed Christians on the Left) was being set up. There was much overlap between the two groups, and the CSM followed on from a plethora of similar socialist groupings, but gradually the two movements separated. By the end of the 1960s, having to a large extent achieved its liturgical aims, Parish and People had faded, although it continued to exist until the end of 2013.

What then did the Parish Communion movement achieve, and what can be learnt from it? Primarily it reminded large chunks of the Church of England (and other Anglican churches too) of the centrality of the Eucharist, and of the importance of a corporate celebration at which all received the sacrament. It was successful in promoting this ideal not only across much of the Anglo-Catholic world in which it originated and across the more central groups in the Church, but also into the more central-evangelical parts of the Church, so that a parish communion on a Sunday morning came to be seen as the norm. It linked this fundamentally with what it saw as the social justice agenda of the Church’s mission — though as socialism was tried in the secular world this perhaps became a party-political position that did not always sit well with those who were hearing the liturgical message. It fell short, perhaps, in a lack of attention to evangelism.

These three strands — the liturgy, action for social justice, and concern for evangelism — are the areas that we shall explore in this blog. The social justice agenda itself will largely be left to our sister Thinking Anglicans blog: here our concern is how that is linked to the liturgy. Similarly the topic of evangelism itself will be explored in the context of the liturgy: of what we do in Church, how our buildings serve us as local centres of worship, justice and evangelism.


baptismal texts: press comment

Updated Sunday morning

There is some press comment today on the draft baptismal texts published yesterday.

Reports say that “sin” removed in the original trial in January has now been reinstated, and that the response from parishes trialling the texts was positive, with more than 90 per cent saying the congregation had been “more engaged” with the new liturgy and there was praise for its “unchurchy” language.

The Times: Sin makes return in revamped baptism
The Daily Telegraph: ‘Sin’ is back but ‘the Devil’ optional in new Church of England baptism service
The Guardian: No devil in detail of Church of England’s new baptism service
The Daily Mail: Church puts the ‘sin’ back into traditional baptism services

Sunday update: Tim Stanley blogs for the Telegraph Hey, Church of England: if you want to become a Christian, you have to renounce the Devil — an article that contains numerous errors of fact, but which does represent the Church’s dilemma.

(Some of these reports are behind paywalls.)


Additional liturgical materials for baptism: texts

The baptismal texts to be considered by the General Synod next month are now available on the Church of England website. This material is scheduled to be considered on the afternoon of Sunday 13 July.

Following the period of experimental use, various changes were made by the Liturgical Commission and sent for consideration by the House of Bishops. The text agreed by the Bishops is now published as GS 1958 and includes an Introduction, the proposed texts themselves, and a proposed timetable for authorization. The timetable is:

July — November: Revision Committee meets

February: Revision stage at the General Synod
May: House of Bishops (if no further revision stage)
July: Reference to Convocations and House of Laity (if required)
July: Final approval at General Synod (if no further revision stage)


Thanksgiving for the institution of Holy Communion

Today is appointed in the calendar as a day of thanksgiving for the institution of Holy Communion. Appended to that description are the Latin words by which the Thursday after Trinity Sunday is more commonly known among those who actually celebrate it — Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ.

The festival day has been overlaid with all sorts of rite and ceremonial that emphasise a particular aspect of some beliefs, namely that the elements of bread and wine, after the priestly prayer of consecration really are the body and blood of Christ, and therefore are to be adored in the same way that we might adore Christ or a relic of Christ. For Anglicans this kind of behaviour has to contend with Article 28 which contains these words

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.

The history of this day is that it commemorates the Last Supper. Maundy Thursday also commemorates the Supper, but coming in Holy Week and beginning the great Three Days of the paschal feast, there are other things that rightly take priority. So with the three paschal days complete, and the fifty days of Eastertide complete, and the old week (or octave) of Pentecost complete, this is the first Thursday available for the commemoration. Pentecost no longer has an octave of its own, being regarded as the last day of Eastertide rather than primarily a feast in its own right, but the Thursday after Trinity Sunday is too well-established to move the commemoration a week earlier.

After the Reformation the feast ceased to be celebrated in the Church of England. Not until Newman wrote Tract 90 of the Oxford Movement’s Tracts for the Times was a serious argument made against the interpretation of Article 28. Newman argued that the Article did not forbid the reservation of the Sacrament, it just said that it was not created by ‘Christ’s ordinance’. This argument led many Anglo-Catholic parishes to restore Reservation of the Sacrament, and to introduce Corpus Christi processions and adoration.

So what, as Anglicans, should we celebrate this day?

The clue is in the title given the day in Common Worship: a day of thanksgiving for the institution of Holy Communion. We give thanks for the existence of Holy Communion. In his book Dining in the Kingdom of God (Archdiocese of Chicago, 1994), Roman Catholic priest Eugene LaVerdiere argues that rather than focusing on the Last Supper as the institution of the eucharist, we would do better to remember that the origins of the eucharist lie in a long and complex series of events that has the Last Supper … as their climax. LaVerdiere recognises that we may not consider all the meals in the gospel to necessarily be celebrations of the eucharist, but ‘they all have something to say about the eucharist’.

Sadly, the eucharist, and our understanding of it, can be a very divisive thing. One does not have to look very far to find some who find it largely unnecessary (or at least, that it is unnecessary to celebrate it very often), and on the other hand some who think that a priest saying particular words over bread and wine is the essence of the Church. No doubt I paraphrase each position a little unfairly — if so I apologise. But my point is that even if this is an unfair representation of what each believes, it is how the other perceives them.

How do we escape from this? The view expressed in this blog is that the eucharist is indeed fundamental to our life as Christians; that where the eucharist is, there the Church is; that the frequent celebration of the eucharist is given us as a means of growth and nurture. But it is also our view that this does not necessarily mean the eucharist as we have come to know it; how it exists today as a ritualized, vestigial meal, almost separated from real food and drink, in danger of separation from a real understanding of the presence of the living Christ. Our devotion to the eucharist compels us to consider a third way, in which we look for a real bible-based sacramentality, combining it with a traditional focus on its centrality (envisaged of course by that Archbishop whom Anglo-Catholics love to hate, Thomas Cranmer), and bringing to bear our God-given reason to try and reconcile these views.

And as we have said before, our eucharistic joy compels us to go out unto the world and share that joy by helping to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and free the oppressed.

That said, I shall, with slightly gritted teeth, be swinging a thurible later today in a Corpus Christi procession, complete with rose petals, canopy et al. Hmmm.

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New Chair of the Liturgical Commission

Following the resignation of the Rt Revd Stephen Platten as Chair of the Liturgical Commission it has been announced that the new Chair is to be Robert Atwell, Bishop of Exeter. He will take up this position in January 2015.

I can find no announcement of this from the Church of England, but the latest issue of Praxis News of Worship indicates that it was announced at a meeting of the Liturgical Commission in early May, by the acting Chair, Robert Paterson, Bishop of Sodor and Man.

Robert Atwell is the author of a number of liturgical books including Celebrating the Saints and Celebrating the Seasons as well as the recent The Good Worship Guide. Previously Vicar of Primrose Hill, and then Bishop Suffragan of Stockport in the diocese of Chester, he was confirmed as Bishop of Exeter on 30 April, and will be enthroned in Exeter Cathedral in July.

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Cathedral Evensong

Gerry Lynch writes Why is Cathedral Evensong Growing and What Does It Mean? — an article that was published in the May/June 2014 edition of Salisbury Cathedral News.

He concludes:

Evensong is not necessarily undemanding. It gives tremendous space for daily study of Scripture, and disciplined prayer sustaining a life of Christian service.

Maybe Choral Evensong needs to grow in depth and geography. Can we help more parish churches provide a weekday Evensong, perhaps weekly in larger towns and monthly in rural areas? And can we help people grow in depth and knowledge of faith when we see them mainly across the choir on Tuesday nights, and never on a Sunday?


Liturgical Basics

There is a whole list of topics that I hope to introduce into ‘Thinking Liturgy’. Before doing that I want to sketch out a little liturgical history and a little liturgical interpretation. It will only be a sketch because some of it will be the basis of some of those future articles, so the detail will be postponed until those articles are written. But it’s only fair that readers should see a little of one of the key premises.

Let’s start with a little — only a little — history.

For many readers, I expect that liturgical history is neatly encapsulated by Gregory Dix’s The Shape of the Liturgy. This pivotal book, first published in 1945, outlines Dix’s thesis that the fundamental form of the Eucharist was a ‘Four Action’ shape of Offertory, Consecration, Fraction, Communion — or if you prefer, Taking, Blessing, Breaking, and Sharing. Dix suggested that all the various forms of the Eucharist could be traced back to this original pattern universally used in the earliest Church, itself deriving directly from an initial seven actions found in the New Testament accounts. This concept of a Four-Action shape was very influential in post-War liturgical revision and it can be seen in the work of the Liturgical Commission of the Church of England from the publication of Series 2 in 1966, through Series 3 in 1973 to the Alternative Service Book 1980 and on to Common Worship in 2000. In these two later books the concept is modified somewhat, so that two of the four actions are regarded as more significant and two as less so: ‘taking’ is preparatory to ‘blessing’ and ‘breaking’ to ‘sharing’.

More recent liturgical scholarship has questioned Dix’s premise (as did some at the time). There is really no evidence that there was a single original eucharistic structure, let alone that it follows Dix’s Four-Action shape. In particular, Paul Bradshaw, in his book Eucharistic Origins lays out what we have as the earliest evidence of the Eucharist. There are essentially three points to make, and the first two effectively demolish Dix’s shape. First, that actually there is very little evidence; and secondly that the evidence we do have is diverse — in the earliest surviving records different groups do different things. Eventually some of these patterns and practices merge or disappear under various influences. But as far back as we can go, practice is even more varied than it later became, and there is no reason to think that a single model underlies this.

For our purposes, I want to draw out a third point. This is what I like to call the ‘Monty Python got it wrong’ comment. Monty Python is not necessarily renowned for theological accuracy, but in one of their comedy sketches the Pope summons Michelangelo and castigates him for his painting of the Last Supper which contains several major inaccuracies; Michelangelo, rather than repaint the picture, suggests that it be retitled the Penultimate Supper on the grounds that there must have been one, and there is no record of what happened at it; the Pope retorts (in a line that has stuck with me for 35 years) ‘the Last Supper is a significant event in the life of our Lord; the Penultimate Supper was not’. Clearly, as John Cleese’s Pope says, the Last Supper was a significant event. And it clearly has an impact, a major impact, on our eucharistic thinking. But my contention is that it isn’t true to say that earlier suppers, earlier meals, were not significant.

These meals, and the scriptural record of some of them, are the background to the early Christian Eucharist. In Jesus’s earthly ministry, he ate and drank with his disciples and others; or to put it another way, when his disciples and others ate and drank Jesus was present with them. And after his death, his followers continued to experience his presence; most especially they experienced his presence when they broke bread together.

In this blog, I want to explore what this means for us today. How does this affect what we think we are about when we celebrate the Eucharist, and how does it affect the way that we go about celebrating the Eucharist? What does it mean for our words and actions, for our hospitality, for our teaching and mission? What does it mean for our architecture and church ordering even?

Other points of view are of course possible, and we shall explore some of those too.

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