On Trinitarian Worship

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Originally published by Resonance: A Theological Journal in Vol 4.3 on “The Trinity.”

Trinitarian worship has often been described as “to the Father, through the Son, and by/in the Spirit.”[1] While this is true, very little has been articulated as to how this reality is envisioned and enacted liturgically. This essay will seek to examine the liturgy, from synaxis to dismissal, in order to demonstrate the Trinitarian nature of our worship, the participation/inclusion of each member of the Trinity in the liturgy, and what the liturgy implies about the Trinity.

This article focuses on the Eucharistic liturgy from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer because it has been the standard for Anglicans over the last 350 years. In addition, this project is more in line with approaches by Alexander Schmemann[2] and Leonel Mitchell[3] (chronological assessment) than Nicholas Wolterstorff’s most recent book[4] (more plucking bits and pieces from liturgy). Wolterstorff and J. Todd Billings[5] have both written about the implicit and functional theologies found within our liturgies, and while these are both very necessary and real, this article will focus instead on the explicit and stated theologies of the 1662 Eucharistic liturgy. It is my contention that the liturgy is profoundly Trinitarian and that attention to the language of the liturgy will reveal a plurality of moments and movements through which the Triune God is active in very specific ways.

A brief word: the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) was not the first Anglican prayer book in England, nor was it the last. Cranmer worked tirelessly on his editions of 1549 and 1552 and other books/services (1559 most notably) were introduced in the intermittent period between 1552 and 1662. However, the 1662 has long been the standard of Anglican liturgiology for it represents the most fundamental and agreed upon common ground for liturgical efforts. Modern liturgies and liturgists use the 1662 as their starting point and/or sounding board as they seek to embody the liturgy in more meaningful, relevant, or theologically accurate settings. While North American Anglicans (Episcopalians very much included here) utilize the 1928, 1979, or more recent liturgies, the choice to focus on the 1662 for this present project was obvious: very few, if any, Anglicans will disagree on the ongoing strengths and vitality of the 1662.

Following in the footsteps of Alexander Schmemann and Leonel Mitchell, our examination of the Eucharistic liturgy of the 1662 BCP does not begin with the anaphora of the Eucharist. We do a great injustice to the Eucharist when we separate it from the rest of the liturgy as if there are two separate entities: Word and Table. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Table make up one complete whole: Eucharist. For this project, then, the beginning is found at the opening of worship and the ending at the dismissal for we miss the robust beauty of Trinitarian worship if we focus solely or exclusively on one portion or moment of a whole event.

1662 Liturgy [6]

The Lord’s Prayer serves as the opening of “The Administration of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion” for the 1662 BCP.[7] Immediately, worshippers are pointed to the fact that there is a Father who is in heaven and whose name is holy. Simple though it may seem, this prayer makes explicit that the Father exists and that he is engaged in specific work: provision, forgiveness, and protection. The language of prayer demonstrates that those praying are asking the Father actively to do these things.

The Collect for Purity immediately follows the Lord’s Prayer. This was once a prayer privately said by the priest prior to processing into the nave and to the chancel, but now it is a prayer to be said amidst the whole worshipping people. Each member of the Trinity is referenced in this prayer: “Almighty God” references the Father; “holy Spirit,” and “Christ our Lord” references the third and second persons of the Trinity. Here we find the Father as the recipient and knower of all our thoughts and prayers and as the one who shall cleanse our hearts by his Spirit. This is all done that we might “perfectly love” and “worthily magnify” God’s name through Jesus.[8]

Next is a recounting of the Ten Commandments and a series of responses by the people all addressed to the Father. Recounting YHWH’s mighty deeds on behalf of Israel, the church then prays that God would “have mercy on us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.”[9] The prayers suggest that God is capable of such mercy and action in the innermost chambers of the human heart (read affections/kardia here). Although no specification is given as to how such work is achieved (e.g. by the Spirit, through the Son), the Father is invoked here as an active agent who has such power and affect.

One of two prayers is then prayed for the Sovereign.[10] The prayer follows the traditional form of a collect and is therefore addressed to the Father, through the Son, and in keeping with the traditional form, the second collect acknowledges that both Father and Son live and reign with the Holy Spirit. Both collects focus on the reign of Charles, that his leadership and life may be strengthened by the Father. Implicit here is the belief that God has power over the hearts and affections of humans.

Following the Collect for the Sovereign, the people move more completely into the Liturgy of the Word and encounter the Collect of the Day, the Epistle, and the Gospel. The Collect follows the same form of to the Father, through the Son, and by/with the Holy Spirit thereby enjoining the Trinity in whatever action or activity is earnestly prayed for. Prior to the sermon, the Apostles Creed is proclaimed aloud by the people and a paragraph is devoted here to each member of the Trinity, stating specific beliefs about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The sequence from sermon to the Lord’s Table begins with prayers for “Christ’s Church militant here in earth.”[11]The prayer is addressed to the Father and he is implored to “receive these our prayers,” “save and defend all Christian kings…”, “Give grace…to all bishops and curates,” “to comfort and succor” all who are in need.[12] This is all done for “Jesus Christ’s sake our Mediator and Advocate.” There is a lot of activity jammed into this one page of liturgy. We learn from the liturgy that Jesus is mediator and advocate—this is why our prayers are through him, because we believe he stands before the Father interceding on our behalf. The Father is revealed as healer, defender, protector, giver of grace, and the one who receives our prayers. The Father is not a passive spectator of this prayer, he is the one to whom it is directed and of whom action is expectantly implored.

The priest then has the charge of preparing the congregation for Communion, either for the current day or for a Sunday in the future. He entreats the people to examine their hearts because it is “right to render most humble and hearty thanks to the Father.” Why? Because “he hath given us his Son our Savior, Jesus Christ.”[13] The liturgical preparation for Communion is a lengthy recounting of God’s actions in Christ and reminder to “trust in God’s mercy.” The language suggests that what has been done once and for all can still be of benefit to the gathered faithful many centuries later; the story is both the foundation and hope of our belief. God has revealed himself as faithful through Jesus and is therefore worthy of our praise and thanksgiving.

Finally, the priest exhorts the people one last time in a bit of liturgical language that is teeming with rich imagery and action. We are instructed that to eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus is to “dwell with in Christ, and Christ in us.”[14] Through the lens of his passion, we are exhorted to repent and amend our lives. We are told to “remember the exceeding love of our Master” as he died for us and procured for us the way to salvation. All of this is Trinitarian, though, for the prayer closes, “To Him therefore with the Father, and the holy Ghost, let us give (as we are most bounden) continual thanks, submitting ourselves wholly to his holy will and pleasure, and studying to serve him in true holiness and righteousness.”[15] While humans may be the subject of the exhortation and the ones spurred on to action, the previous activity of the Father is in view here and is dragged into the present as though it has current meaning for the church.

Having recounted the mighty acts of God, it seems most natural to proceed to the table through confession. Father is seen as “Almighty God,” “Make of all things,” and “Judge of all men.” The Father is beseeched to “have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us;” “Forgive us all that is past,” and “Grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee.”[16] Why? Again, for Jesus’ sake. The Father is asked to have mercy, forgive, and grant the ability to live holy lives in the Kingdom.

The Comfortable Words are a touchstone of classical Anglicanism and while they are constituted by verses from the Gospels of Matthew and John, they are introduced by the priest as words Jesus speaks to the faithful here, now, in the present. Somehow, in this liturgical action, Christ is present. The priest says, “Hear the Comfortable Words Jesus saith unto those who truly turn to him.”[17]  In this moment, it is believed, Jesus is speaking. The second person of the Trinity is speaking to his people gathered in worship; Jesus comforts his people with promise of rest, restoration, and wholeness.

The Comfortable Words flow seamlessly into the Anaphora in the 1662 liturgy. This transition between Confession and Eucharist through the words of Jesus makes a great deal of sense theologically. The Eucharistic Prayer references the previous and ongoing work of the Trinity while only calling the Triune God into action. Here we see the response of the gathered church to the work of God in thanksgiving. God’s many and mighty deeds are recounted, and God’s people give thanks and praise, but the focus here is not what God is doing presently, liturgically, but what he has already done and the hopeful anticipation of what he will do.

We “Lift our hearts to the Lord” because it is “meet, right, and our bounden duty.”[18] This is the response of gratitude. We join our voices with the whole company of heaven rendering praise and thanks in the “Holy, holy, holy” for what God has done for us. The inclusion of the Prayer of Humble Access early in the Eucharistic Prayer is important because it locates both our humility and our request for God’s action and help within the context of the Eucharist proper. We come to the table trusting not in ourselves but in God and we pray that he may “grant us” the ability to partake of Jesus’ body and blood and be cleansed in the process.

The Eucharist moves into the anamnesis-memorial in which we “beseech” God to allow us to be partakers not only of the bread and wine but of the body and blood of Jesus as well.[19] Jesus’ words of institution here are remembered and re-presented as being efficacious unto us as we celebrate his meal some 2000 years later. This paragraph locates our celebration within the context of Jesus’ own passion, thereby infusing meaning and significance within salvation history and not simply/solely the context of the local gathering.

The Eucharist comes full circle in 1662 with the inclusion of the Lord’s Prayer once more. There is something significant that the liturgists and reformers are trying to show us by having the Lord’s Prayer prayed twice: something about the Eucharist is the embodiment of Kingdom life and living. Again, we pray for provision, forgiveness, and protection but done within the context of the Eucharist proper, we have a more tangible understanding that the meal itself will be our nourishment, a sign of our forgiveness, and effect a sense of spiritual protection.

The Eucharistic Prayer thus concludes with one of two collects, thereby entreating the Trinity by name/person to be present and active. The whole of the liturgy is prayed to, by, through, and with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for they all live and reign together, both now and forever. The Collects and the Lord’s Prayer highlight this kingdom reality and the entirety of our liturgical action can be seen as human participation in Kingdom life.

Liturgical Verbs: Trinity in Action

There is a difference between referencing the previous work of the Trinity (Collects, anamnesis-memorial) and imploring and invoking members of the Triune God to be present and active in the moment. This section will focus on the latter before working toward a conclusion.

The first triplet of verbs is found in the opening Lord’s Prayer where the Father is asked to “give, forgive, and lead.”[20] These verbs will make appearances elsewhere throughout the liturgy and they demonstrate in the first offering that the gathered church intends far more than to simply retell God’s story. The Father, who is in heaven and who is holy, is asked to give nourishment to his people, forgive their iniquities, and to lead them away from temptation and deliver them from evil. Implicit here is the belief that the Father has the ability to do this, that he is able to give and forgive, lead and deliver.

The Collect for Purity is perhaps the best example of Spirit action in this liturgy.

The Father is then asked to “cleanse” us by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit.[21] We are somehow impure—having already arrived at the need for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer—and the Father is able to purify us through his Spirit. The Spirit will inspire the people which will have the effect of cleansing the heart and mind. We know from elsewhere in the liturgy that the Spirit lives and reigns with the Father and Son, but in this collect we see the Spirit as actively working amongst the people; the Collect for Purity provides a fantastic glimpse into idea of prayer “by” the Spirit.

The Father is next asked to “have mercy,” to “so rule” the heart of the King or to “govern” his heart.[22] Later, worshippers ask the Father to “receive” their prayers, to “inspire” the universal church, to “save and defend” all Christian rulers, to “give grace,” to “comfort and succor.”[23] Three times in this very prayer does the community ask God for his grace.

The Confession is a great example of the Father’s liturgical action. We implore the Father to “have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us” and the priest proclaims this truth on God’s behalf in the Absolution: “Have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and bring you to everlasting life.” This pronouncement is a speech-act of God’s work in, through, for, and over us.

The Son is referenced throughout the liturgy primarily in what is done for his sake or what is done through him. This should not be dismissed as in-activity. Any time we encounter the phrase “through Christ” it means that our prayers are presented to the Father by the Son. As we are praying on earth we believe that the eternal High Priest is mediating our prayers before the Father, interceding on our behalf. One of the prayers even references Jesus as our “mediator and advocate.” He is active in the liturgy in this way. Additionally, the Comfortable Words, as mentioned above, are read with this opening clause, “Hear what comfortable words our Savior Christ says unto all that truly turn to him.” Jesus is saying those words in the present.

Conclusion

The primary focus on Jesus in Eucharistic praying is our enjoining and participating with Christ in his passion. This is somehow made possible through the remembering of his Passion, and while the 1662 liturgy does a poor job of explaining this liturgically, other liturgies make clear that such dangerous memory and re-presentation takes place only by the power of the Holy Spirit. However, the Spirit is not completely absent from this liturgy despite the fact that most references of the Spirit take the form of a Collect demonstrating that the Spirit lives and reigns with both the Father and the Son. Missing from the 1662 is any formal epiclesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit whereby the priest prays that the Spirit descend upon the gifts and the people and sanctify them; the Epiclesis is perhaps the clearest form of the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the liturgy and many Anglican liturgies have included a formal Epiclesis for this purpose.

The 1662 Eucharist begins with the Lord’s Prayer and ends with the blessing of God being proclaimed in the name of “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Just as the Triune God is living and active in the world he loves and created, so too should our liturgy reflect that reality. While other liturgies make their Trinitarian claims more explicit, the 1662 should be seen as a wonderful proclamation of the majesty of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


Endnotes

[1] James Torrance, Didsbury Lectures, vol. 1994, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996).

[2] Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 3rd ed., trans. Asheleigh E. Moorhouse (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986, 1966).

[3] Leonel L. Mitchell, Praying Shapes Believing: a Theological Commentary On the Book of Common Prayer (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub., 1991, 1985).

[4] Nicholas Wolterstorff, The God We Worship: an Exploration of Liturgical Theology, Kantzer Lectures in Revealed Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015).

[5] J. Todd Billings, Remembrance, Communion, and Hope: Rediscovering the Gospel at the Lord’s Table (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018).

[6] All references to the 1662 liturgy throughout this article will be from The Book of Common Prayer: the Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662, Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

[7] Ibid, 389.

[8] Ibid, 390.

[9] Ibid, 390-391.

[10] Ibid, 391-392.

[11] Ibid, 394.

[12] Ibid, 395-397.

[13] Ibid, 396.

[14] Ibid, 398.

[15] Ibid, 398-399.

[16] Ibid, 399.

[17] Ibid, 399.

[18] Ibid, 400.

[19] Ibid, 402.

[20] Ibid, 389.

[21] Ibid, 390.

[22] Ibid, 391.

[23] Ibid, 395.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s