As you are browsing through the Daily Office of your 1979 BCP or “Texts for Common Prayer” for the ACNA, you will run into an order of liturgy called “Compline.” Maybe you’re familiar with Compline and maybe you’re not. It doesn’t really matter…yet. In either case, this ancient prayer hour is prayed at the conclusion of every day and ought to be embraced as a powerful tool and beautiful liturgy. My goal in this post is to inform, equip, and empower you that you might add Compline to your daily routine and continue telling time liturgically rather than chronologically.
Compline was a late addition to the Anglican liturgical repertoire; the 1979 BCP is the first American edition of the prayer book to include this service. The Americans, per usual liturgically, were 50 years late to the party as the English, Irish, and Scottish all included Compline in their 1920’s texts (both published and proposed revisions) and the Indian and Canadian books made the same move some 15-20 years prior to the Episcopal Church.
Do not be deceived however, by the lack of Anglican liturgies including Compline because the service itself is not new; it is in fact quite ancient. Dating back to the fourth century, and referenced by St. Benedict, St. Basil, and St. John Chrysostom, Compline has been prayed for century after century and forms part of the whole Daily Office (cf. Liturgy of the Hours). Compline was the last service of the day, to be said by the monks in their dormitories before bed. It was a simple service without flourishes or flashes. St. Benedict had this to say about the simplicity of Compline:
Let Compline be limited to the saying of three psalms, which are to be said straightforwardly without antiphons, after which let there be the hymn of that hour, a lesson, a versicle, the Kyrie, and a blessing to conclude.
To this day, Psalms 4, 31, and 91 form the backbone of the service. Psalm 134 is often included as an additional, optional reading. Whereas Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer were designed as Cathedral offices, to be prayed corporately, Compline has always been a monastic, private office used in the comfort and seclusion of one’s habitation.
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer made an important liturgical move as part of the English Reformation which saw Vespers and Compline combined into a single service known as Evensong. This was a cathedral service and was—or has been—often prayer chorally. Cranmer did the same thing when forming Matins—what we now know as Morning Prayer—when he combined Matins, Lauds, and Prime. Cranmer left a legacy of two chief prayer services at the beginning and end of the day filled with Scripture, hymns, and prayer. However, and this is a small “however,” Cranmer also boiled 8 prayer hours into 2 and I think we as Anglicans have lost a significant amount of liturgical catechesis and formation because of this.
Compline was a service to close the day, an opportunity to give thanks for the joys and graces experienced, a chance to confess the (many) sins committed throughout the day, and the perfect moment to close the day the same way it started: in doxological prayer. If Morning Prayer—or whatever service you use to begin your day—is designed to start the day off right then Compline is designed to end it well.
It is the monastic roots of Compline upon which I want to focus. We cannot properly understand the significance or importance of Compline apart from its place within the whole of the Daily Office. The monastic prayer cycle of Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline was designed as a means of devoting the whole of one’s daily life to the Lord. If we are going to church every Sunday but nothing else then only 1-2 hours of a 168-hour week are truly spent in prayer, meditation, or hearing from God. Church thus becomes an escape from the “real” world, an opportunity to pause a reflect during a day when the world sets our agenda. Routinely praying the Daily Office teaches us the exact opposite. Regular engagement in Morning, Noonday, and Evening Prayer and Compline teaches us that God and his Kingdom are first and foremost the reality of our lives and we learn how to view the world through that lens rather than the other way around.
Compline doesn’t magically accomplish something different from the rest of the Daily Office. And that’s the point. Compline, along with Morning, Noonday, and Evening Prayer, teaches us how to pray and for what we should pray. We learn the language of liturgical prayer as used since the early church; we discover that our prayers are a) directed to the triune God and b) focus on our surroundings as much (if not more) than they do on us; we are daily transformed through the confession of sin and the assurance that God loves us and lovingly calls us to a higher form of living.
Compline is perhaps the easiest office to add to your daily prayer life. The others require you to remember to pray before/after you do something or to pray at seemingly random times throughout your schedule. Compline, however, takes place right before bed and unless you are an insomniac: everyone sleeps. Keep your prayer book or a printed liturgy by your bed and pray it every night before you sleep.
Let’s make a commitment together. Let’s promise that we will pray Compline every night for the next week and see what happens. Come back to this post and leave comments, questions, and reflections during your week of prayer.
 Marion J. Hatchett, Commentary On the American Prayer Book, HarperCollins Publishers. (San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 144.
O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! – Psalm 95:6
There used to be a time—and it wasn’t too long ago!—when pews or sitting furniture of any kind were completely absent from the sanctuary.
Let’s be honest, we’re a bit removed from the ancient traditions of the Church when it comes to furniture and prayer. We now live in an age when pews are being exchanged for comfortable chairs, kneelers have gone by the wayside, and comfort is more important than anything else. But be it the triclinium of the early church or the empty naves of the ecclesia and great basilicas, the fact is that our tradition of prayer and worship is almost exclusively based on standing and kneeling.
It cannot be overstated that liturgical worship is participatory and whole-bodied in nature. Whereas many traditions and churches have separated themselves from the faith and worship of the historic church and thereby relegated their experiences to the purely mental, liturgical worship incorporates sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Rather than a 45-minute sermon geared toward one’s ability to think—and I think that right doctrine is good!—worship according to the ancient practices and ordoof the church engage the whole person, intentionally, because God desires the worship of all who we are. According to James K.A. Smith, “In rationalist worship spaces, even the wallpaper is didactic.”
It is common to kneel during all prayer, during the confession and absolution of sins, during the Eucharistic prayer after the Sanctus, and during the blessing given by the priest. Kneeling in such contexts is far more than keeping to tradition or the status quo, it is the intentional decision of the individual and parish to honor the Lord verbally and physically. To kneel is to submit, it is to worship, and it is to recognize that He is King and we are not. This is why actions are just as important as words: when the Lord of lords “enters” into our worship through the assembly, Word, and Eucharistic elements it is only natural and right to proclaim our loyalty to him through word and deed. Failure to do so, while not inherently wrong, would be to separate our minds from our hearts and bodies.
All of this is to lead us to one simple question: why do we kneel in prayer?
The biblical witness, the ancient practices of Jewish and Christian worship, and a whole-bodied theology of worship offer insight into this rich and robust experience.
Laced throughout Scripture are the powerful stories of individuals who gestured with their bodies when in pray to honor God. It is abundantly clear that the position of our bodies can and should match the spiritual realities and attitudes of our hearts. Offerings, sacrifices, gestures, movements, songs, proclamations, actions, rituals, and ceremonies have been at the heart of Christian worship since the time of the Garden when Adam and Eve were to direct the worship of creation back to the Creator.
In Exodus 3, Moses encounters the Living God in the burning bush and is commanded to remove his shoes because, “they place where [he’s] standing is holy ground.” The simply removal of sandals demonstrated and acknowledged the holiness of God. David danced “undignified” before the LORD when the Ark of the Covenant was returned from Philistia.
Daniel 6 records Daniel’s thrice-a-day practice of kneeling in prayer to YHWH, a practice which brought about his evening stay in the Lion’s Den (Daniel 6:10). Solomon knelt before the altar and the LORD in prayer with his hands stretched toward heaven (1 Kings 8:54). Ezra falls on his knees before the LORD at the evening sacrifice (Ezra 9:5). In his epistle to the church at Ephesus, St. Paul writes a prayer and says that he “bows his knee before the Father,” (Ephesians 3:14). The prophet Isaiah and the New Testament writers all point toward the day when “Every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Even Jesus knelt in prayer to the Father (Luke 22:41) while in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest and subsequent murder.
Perhaps most obvious is the verse from Psalm 95 when the psalmist urges the assembly, “O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” (Psalm 95:6). There is an inherent connection between kneeling and worshipping: that which we do with our bodies is as expressive as our words, if not more so.
The book of the Acts of the Apostles is the earliest glimpse we have into the most primitive years of the church and throughout its pages we find Peter and the other apostles kneeling in prayer. Peter knelt before raising Tabitha (9:40), Paul after speaking before a crowd (20:36), and Luke recounts another experience in Acts 21:5. The earliest Christians believed firmly in the act of kneeling for prayer.
I have already pointed out the two most obvious practice of Jewish worship and the worship of the early church in the verses above: daily prayer. Counter to semi-popular belief from the early 19thcentury, the worship of the church grew up in and continued the practices of Israel as she worshipped YHWH in the Temple and synagogues. Our worship is appropriately Judeo-Christian in nature and the offering prayer at set times throughout the day is not a Christian invention. As early as Daniel—and perhaps earlier—we see prayer occurring three times a day.
Daily prayer involved kneeling, a la Psalm 95:6 and Daniel 6:10, as a gesture of humility and reverence. The Church began facing toward the East—in order to look for the Lord’s second coming in the sky—during Sunday worship and the celebration of the Eucharist. To kneel in prayer while facing toward the East was to submit yourself fully to God’s story, plan, and holiness.
It became common in the church’s worship to kneel during the words of the Eucharistic prayer as the pinnacle moment of the liturgy. The traditions of both Judaism and Christianity point to the fact that kneeling is the most primitive and basic of gestures and it cannot be separated from prayer.
We are whole people made by a Holy God and our worship of Him ought to acknowledge such a reality: to kneel is to worship through prayer.
 Preface to Liturgy as Way of Life by Bruce Ellis Benson
A troubling (to me) blog post has been going around over the last few weeks regarding the Reformation and the Eucharist. Dr. Kelly Pigott, a blogger on the Patheos Progressive Christian channel, has argued that the meal Jesus instituted in Jerusalem with his disciples some 2,000 years ago has been distorted and misappropriated through centuries of infighting and disagreement. Ultimately, Pigott argues that Communion is more about the transformation of the partaker into Jesus than anything else. He suggests that the “eternal question one must ask of Communion is…what happens to me?’
For the sake of clarity, you can and should read the original post here before continuing below.
Unfortunately, I believe Pigott’s post to have been historically inaccurate at best and full of mischaracterizations at worst; or perhaps vice versa. The Reformers, and I’m not only talking about Anglicans, would agree that the Communion was about grace, that this was not about being part of the “spiritual-elite”, and that those partaking are somehow affected deeply. More importantly, the Early Church witness agrees with these statements as well. The real issue at hand here is Pigott’s decision to focus the Eucharist on the individual rather than the on Jesus.
Some of the comments have suggested that focusing on the bread and wine is akin to answering the question about how many angels can fit on the head of a needle. This is utter nonsense! One does not have to chose between two extremes—those of self-focus or elemental transformation—in order to have a meaningful and orthodox conversation about the Eucharist. Embracing mystery does not punt the proverbial ball down the field nor does it ignore the question of presence, it simply seeks to assert that Christ is in fact present without feeling the need to define his presence concretely.
As an example, the Eucharistic prayers from the 1549 and 1552 Books of Common Prayer both include the Prayer of Humble Access. I have included the prayer below and the reader should note two things: first, I have updated the old English, and second, the parentheses denote lines removed between the two editions:
We do not presume to come to this thy table (o merciful lord) trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies: we be not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table: but thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore (gracious Lord) so to eat the flesh of thy dear son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood (in these holy Mysteries), that we may continually dwell in him, and he in us, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood. Amen.
Honestly I feel as I though I can end my post here without comment based on the thick theological language of this prayer. But for the sake of clarity, and because I’m passionate about this, I will go on. I have italicized some pertinent statements in the prayer to unpack below.First, the entire prayer is grounded in the belief that no one can earn or merit access to the Lord’s Table. This is not the result of being part of the spirituality elite but is instead based solely in the work of Christ. This belief was not new to Christianity when Archbishop Cranmer wrote this prayer in the 1540’s; the Early Church also believed that to eat and drink at the eschatological banquet table was a gift of the highest kind.
Second, the humility embodied in the prayer is given further credibility by the grace of God. It is God’s property (or nature) to always have mercy and therefore although we are unworthy to partake we are still invited. Again, nothing spiritually elite here.
Third, Communion with God is bedrock to this prayer, to the Reformation, and to the Early Church. Read Schmemann, Ziziuolas, Pope Benedict XVI, and the Eucharistic theologies of the Early Church and you will find example after example of people believing that Communion is union with God. John Calvin did not come up with this idea on his own, he simply recovered it and insisted upon it.
Fourth, it was the belief of Cranmer, Hooker, and many of the Anglican reformers and divines that the Eucharist did indeed effect some type of change in the believer. The Prayer of Humble Access makes clear that the cleansing of the body and the washing of the soul was part of the sacrament. However, this was not the purpose behind the sacrament’s institution nor was it the ultimate goal of individual. The early church fathers and the reformers all believed that Communion was nourishment and healing for the soul, a gift from God that transformed those partaking, but the focus was always on Christ’s once and perfect oblation, and the triune Godhead, rather than on the self.
In the Eucharist the Church is at the summit of her worship, in the throne room of Almighty God, and the concept of the self could not be further from the equation. The moment we begin focusing on ourselves and what we “get” out of worship, or what “happens” to us is the moment we have misunderstood the Eucharist entirely.
Sure, Church history is fraught with examples of fighting and arguments over Eucharistic theology. Indeed there are numerous denominations within the Church that have differing views on what takes place in the sacrament of the kingdom. That being said, the answer to this conundrum, to finding common Eucharistic ground in the catholic church is not to be sought inward but upward, heavenward.
In view of God’s absolute otherness, his holiness, we are not worthy to approach his table. But God has approached us in the form of Jesus his Son, the second person of the Trinity, who has prepared a place for us at the wedding feast. Accepting the grace-filled invitation of a loving and merciful God is neither arrogant nor elite, it is worship. It is worship the way God intended it to be and our charge is to draw others into worship as we extend to them the Body and Blood of our Lord.
 Brian Cummings, The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662, 261.
This post was originally published on my former blog, “The Liturgical Theologian.” It can be read in full here.
O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
As I was preparing my sermon notes for the Third Sunday of Easter, I was struck by the Collect. It recounts how the Risen Lord revealed himself to his followers through the breaking of bread. Specifically, though not exclusively, this is a reference to Luke 24 when Jesus walked the road to Emmaus with two disciples, who did not recognize him until he took, blessed, broke and gave them bread. I think the revelation of Jesus through the breaking of bread and our weekly celebration of the Eucharist calls us to something great.
We are called to the Eucharistic Life.
New Testament Witness
Every biblical account of the Eucharist provides the same basic structure: bread was taken, thanks was given, the bread was broken and then given.
The Synoptic (Matthew, Mark, Luke) accounts of the Last Supper are similar, but John’s Gospel does not contain the Last Supper; instead John connects Jesus’ words of institution with the feeding of the 5,000. In this story he “took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them.” Jesus then says, “I am the bread of life,” which Paul Bradshaw explains as a possible variation of “This is my body.” He writes, “Several scholars have already suggested that this latter statement is John’s version of the saying over the bread at the Last Supper.” (Bradshaw, Reconstructing Early Christian Worship,p. 4)
In 1 Corinthians 11 recounts Jesus’ words and actions during the Last Supper. Paul records that which had been handed down to him. Paul places the meal in the context of the crucifixion and resurrection: “On the night he was betrayed…Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said…” This summary has provided the foundation for Eucharistic prayers since the time of the Didache and The Apostolic Tradition.
The same structure was recorded in Acts 27 when Paul celebrated the Eucharist as he was sailing to Rome as a prisoner.
During the Last Supper, Jesus instituted four key actions (and corresponding words) that have been modeled and replicated in Eucharistic offerings for 2,000 years. These four words form the foundation of the Eucharistic life.
The Eucharistic Life
If the Eucharist is both “the sacrament of the Kingdom” (Schmemann, The Eucharist, p. 28) and the sacrament that constitutes the church, and if in the Eucharist the church is not doing church but is doing the world the way it was meant to be done (combination of Alexander Schmemann and Aidan Kavanagh) then the Eucharist has meaning for the entirety of our lives. To live the Eucharistic life is to live a life that is taken, thanks-given, broken, and shared.
“Take my life and let it be,” O Lord! We offer our lives up unto the Lord that he might take them, consecrate them, and send us out with purpose. The act of offering is an act surrender and reverent submission to the triune God.
The Eucharistic life offers not just us but creation as well. Jesus took the bread and the wine, the most common food and drink in the world, and in so doing he celebrated the goodness of God’s creation. He did not comment about the nature or quality of the bread and wine, nor did he suggest that they were somehow bad because they were material. Instead he took the elements and transformed them in an act of oblation. “All things come of thee, O LORD, and of thine own have we given thee.” We are called to stewardship in God’s Kingdom as we recognize that God is the creator, sustainer and owner of all things.
Eucharisteo means “the giving of thanks.” The Eucharistic life is one that recognizes the kindness and generosity of God in all things; it is a life that overflows with gratitude for God’s redeeming work throughout human history and above all in Jesus. In both the Eucharist and the Eucharistic Life we celebrate “the memorial of our redemption,” through our “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” Our very lives proclaim the grace of God which leads us to a lifestyle flavored with gratitude, thanksgiving, and adoration. May we be the kind of people for whom the Doxology is ever on our lips. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below. Praise him above ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”
Brokenness always comes with a purpose. Christ was broken that we might share in his eternal life and kingdom. We are broken that Christ may live in us. The bread was broken and the wine poured out that all may share in the feast. “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the Feast.” Jesus taught that a kernel must fall to the ground and die that it may be opened up and give new life.
To be broken does not require tragedy or great loss—indeed I pray that you never have to suffer such sadness. Rather, to be broken is to daily die to self and to rise to life in Christ; it is to pray that the Holy Spirit would convict us of our sinfulness and transform us daily into Christ’s likeness. It is to walk humbly before our God. It is to show the world that the only reason we can be an Easter people singing “Alleluia” is because we were first a Good Friday people shouting “Crucify him!” (Pope John Paul II)
When we live the Eucharistic Life, our desire to share the Good News flows from our gratitude. It is to be always pointing people back to the One who is worthy of our praise and thanksgiving. We are distributed to the corners of the earth that others may, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” We are shared not for our own glory but for the glory of God and for the life of the world.
The Eucharistic life is not for the faint of heart. We go back to the Altar weekly to partake of Christ’s self-oblation that we might receive spiritual nourishment and encouragement for the pilgrimage that we might:
Serve them with the very substance of your life. Paint them a picture of the Kingdom, weave them a shawl of love, sing them a Psalm of praise, write them a sonnet of promise, play them a symphony of grace, build them homes of compassion, mold them a pot of mercy. Demonstrate the Resurrection to them with your words and your actions to tell them that He loves them.
Jesus’ life was taken by God and consecrated. It was a life that constantly gave thanks to the Creator. It was a life broken by sin and the cross. It was a life shared with all that we might come to know God. The call of discipleship is the call to follow Him and live the Eucharistic Life.
As we approach Reformation Day within the Protestant corners of the one holy catholic and apostolic church there is a tendency to romanticize the true nature of the various reformations to the point that the baby is all but thrown out with the bathwater. As an Anglican, and as one who believes in the branch theory of the church, to misread history in this manner is not only negligent: it is also lazy. My goal is to briefly outline the lasting and true legacy of the English Reformation in the remainder of this post.
My friend and former mentor, Bishop Fitzsimmons Allison, once said to me, “Anyone who believes the English Reformation was about King Henry VIII truly deserves King Henry.” Though we may not agree on imputation or the new perspective on Paul, I have to agree with Bishop Allison wholeheartedly on this point. To resign the English Reformation to King Henry’s need for a divorce or control over his church is to miss the point entirely. The English Reformation wasn’t the byproduct of a judicial or ecclesiastical statement on the King’s marriage, rather it was the culmination, fulfillment, and realization of a spirituality that far preceded the Tudor dynasty, dating back to the second and third centuries after Christ.
A reformation was already afoot in the fourteenth century as John Wycliffe began translating the Bible into the English language. An influencer of Jan Huss, William Tyndale, and Martin Luther, Wycliffe set in motion the movement toward giving the English people a Bible in her own tongue. Translating the Bible out of Latin is seen as a benchmark of the various sixteenth century reformations but too often it is forgotten that an Englishman had started the trend over 150 years earlier. Wycliffe died some 150 years before Thomas Cranmer became Archbishop, but he is still remembered as the “Morning Star of the Reformation.” Continuing his great work, Tyndale and Coverdale also translated portions of the Bible into English ultimately climaxing decades later with the production of the King James Version in 1611; thus setting the biblical standard for centuries.
Similarly, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer worked his liturgical genius during the 1540’s and early 1550’s under Kings Henry and Edward to reform English liturgy. Cranmer was responsible for the first piece of liturgy written in English (the Great Litany of 1544), much of the Book of Homilies, the inclusion of the Great Bible in parishes around the nation, and the 1549 and 1552 Books of Common Prayer. These landmarks insured one thing: a common language for the faith and worship of the Church in England. Every parish in the country would now read the same Bible, hear the same homily, and pray the same prayers in the exact same language.
The 1549 Prayer Book was a compilation of various ancient sources from the early church and post-Council period. Elsewhere I have written:
The 1549 book was adapted from many sources in use at the time. The Sarum Rite as used in the Diocese of Salisbury was perhaps the most important component. Other primary sources for Cranmer’s liturgical compilation include: Quinones’ Breviary, the Archbishop of Cologne’s Church Agenda, the Pie, and Bucer’s Ordination Service (for the 1550 Ordinal) amongst others. Cranmer’s work should be labeled as both reform and return because he introduced new elements—chiefly his original collects—and yet he also returned to ancient practices and prayers. Bard Thompson suggests four vital reasons for the introduction of the 1549 book: exposing people to the whole of Scripture, using English to reach the “hartes”, simplifying the service, and creating uniformity within England. Duffy stresses the significant change for English Christianity and spirituality in the 1549 book, perhaps resulting in spiritual “impoverishment.”
Additionally, Cranmer relied heavily upon the Gelasian Sacramentary as part of his liturgical revival and reform which can only really be described as a return to the words and forms of ancient liturgical worship. By the time the second prayer book was produced in 1552, England was worshipping liturgically together on a weekly basis reminiscent of the Didache and Justin Martyr’s Apology. The English Reformation was not without its dark moments.
One of the saddest events was the “stripping of the altars” and the destruction of the monastic tradition during the reign and at the order of King Henry. A wealth of liturgical, ecclesiastical, monastic, and artistic brilliance was lost and as a result many pockets of evangelical Anglicanism are didactically rational rather than being beautifully holistic.
Bishop Lancelot Andrewes said it best when describing the hooks upon which the Church of England can hang her theological hat: “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of fathers in that period – the three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.” To be Anglican, therefore, is to celebrate the rich and vast history of liturgy and theology (one might say liturgical theology) of Christ’s Church over the last two millennia; it is to be rooted in the Great Tradition of the Church and firmly committed to ecumenical efforts; it is to embrace the heritage of Christian thought and spirituality stemming from missionary efforts, monastic soil, and an unwavering desire to read and pray in one’s own language.
What then is the true legacy of the English Reformation? A common Bible and a common prayer book in a common language for a common people.
 From “The Edwardian Prayer Books: A Study in Liturgical Theology” as posted on Academia.edu
Almighty and everliving God, whose servant Thomas Cranmer, with others, restored the language of the people in the prayers of your Church: Make us always thankful for this heritage; and help us so to pray in the Spirit and with the understanding, that we may worthily magnify your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
English Spirituality Before 1549
The landscape of English Christianity in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries before the Reformation, was deeply sacramental. Clergy and laity alike believed that God had not only created the natural order but that he participated freely within it through his own creation. However, the abuses of the Magisterium—indulgences specifically—and a highly uneducated and neglected laity led away from sacramentality toward magic and superstition. Many believed that sacramentals carried power and could be wielded in the spiritual battle, “The blessing of these ‘sacramentals’, as such sacred objects were called, put into lay control powerful spiritual weapons.” Objects became spiritual weapons in the hands of laypeople; the name of the Triune God was used as an incantation or charm against all sources of evil.
It is therefore interesting that Calvin and Cranmer would insist upon the use of the Sursum Corda and the idea that partakers of the Eucharist were transported spiritually into God’s throne room where Jesus is locally present given that deeper sacramental understandings of the Eucharist and confession were ignored for spiritual and memorial views held by many continental Reformers. The shift from sacramentality to rationality introduced the possibility of stripping Anglican spirituality of all meaning just as the altars themselves were stripped and the monasteries destroyed. James K.A. Smith playfully quips, “In rationalist worship spaces, even the wallpaper is didactic.”
Furthermore, liturgical services were confusing and overwhelming in England prior to the compilation and introduction of the Book of Common Prayer in 1549. The mass was said in Latin—a language that most churchgoers did not understand—up to six books were required for the mass, and a parishioner was a spectator rather than a participant within the liturgy. Eamon Duffy believes that “participation” took place through watching but it was this very act of “watching-rather-than-acting”—almost waiting for something magical to take place—against which the Reformers reacted. Specifically the Reformers combated the ringing of the Sanctus Bell, the Latin phrase hoc est corpus meum(hocus pocus), and the gestures and ceremonies performed by the celebrant in the liturgy. Lay spirituality prior to the reformation(s) was highly visual and infused with a sense of magic rather than awe and wonder because Eucharistic piety was primarily a spectacle for the unlearned. While the Reformers sought to “break from traditional ways of thinking about the sacred” by no means were the “Windsor committeemen…iconoclasts.”
The Book of Common Prayer, 1549
Operating within this spiritual and religious context, Thomas Cranmer began introducing the language of the people into the liturgical worship of the church. Cranmer and Tyndale built from the foundation laid by John Wyclif some 130 years before. This was a multi-step process and involved the 1539 printing of the Matthew Bible, the Litany printed in English in 1544, the Order for Communion in 1548 and finally the Book of Common Prayer in 1549.
The 1549 book was adapted from many sources in use at the time. It was often lamented that more time was spent during the service searching for the proper page than in actual worship. The Sarum Rite, as used in the Diocese of Salisbury, was perhaps the most important component. Other primary sources for Cranmer’s liturgical compilation included: Quinones’ Breviary, the Archbishop of Cologne’s Church Agenda, the Pie, the Gelasian Sacramentary, and Bucer’s Ordination Service (for the 1550 Ordinal) among others. Cranmer’s work should be labeled as both reform and return because he introduced new elements—chiefly his original collects—and yet he also returned to ancient practices and prayers of the early church. Bard Thompson suggests four vital reasons for the introduction of the 1549 book: exposing people to the whole of Scripture, using English to reach the “hartes” of the English, simplifying the service, and creating uniformity within England.The Prayer Book included a Table and Calendar for lessons and Psalms, liturgies for Morning and Evening Prayer (Matins and Evensong), an Order for “The Supper of the Lord and Holy Communion, Commonly Called the Mass”, liturgies for baptism, confirmation, marriage, and burial, the visitation of the sick, and the churching (purification) of women after childbirth. In short, the 1549 Prayer Book was the first truly English liturgical book that offered in one place the forms, orders, and words for all of life’s circumstances.
Let us celebrate the 1549 Prayer Book for what it was and is rather than what it (arguably) was not. The 1549 Prayer Book was the first comprehensive book of liturgy printed in English and is part of the lasting legacy of the English Reformation. Cranmer compiled a prayer book that was at once both a continuation of the Great Tradition and an innovation in offering the liturgy in the language of the people. The 1549 Prayer Book represents one of two liturgical schools within Anglicanism (1549/1637 as one and 1552/1662 as the other) and is still approved for use (or adaptation) in Anglican provinces throughout the world. It was the fruit of ongoing liturgical reform and renewal within England that has given birth to countless liturgies over the last 500 years and can trace many of it’s prayers to the earliest centuries of the Church. We should rejoice with gratefulness in the work of Thomas Cranmer and his colleagues for the gift we have in this prayer book. May we continue to set our hearts and minds on Christ, and may we continue to worship him in the language of the people with our brothers and sisters worldwide to the glory of God!
A Word to (Anglican, Evangelical) Naysayers
In light of such a unique theological enterprise, while Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was the “creative compiler” of the 1549 and 1552 prayer books, a brilliant liturgiologist, and a liturgical “mastermind” his personal and private writings are a secondary source. Anglicanism is both creedal and liturgical and not confessional in nature, and it is expressed most fully in the Book of Common Prayer. Before one can examine Cranmer’s writings or consider Cranmer’s theological formation and development, one must look directly at the texts of the two prayer books and there determine what is and is not being said. An analysis of the Edwardian prayer books that is historically driven is insufficient because such an approach sees the liturgy as but one locus theologicus rather than as the locus theologicuspar excellence. Fr. Aidan Kavanagh pushes further when he suggests, “The point is that in first order matters, anonymity is the rule, intentions are obscure, and meaning is less precise than it is richly ambiguous.”
 Hans Boersma argues, “until the late Middle Ages (say, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries), people look at the world as a mystery.” Hans Boersma, Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2011), 21.
Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, C.1400-C.1580, 2nd. ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), 282.
 Duffy, 282.
 Duffy, 476.
 Bruce Ellis Benson, Liturgy as a Way of Life: Embodying the Arts in Christian Worship, The Church and Postmodern Culture (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2013).10.
 “But even here what the Tudor laity would most have noticed was the removal of the symbolic gestures which were often the aspects of the rite which impinged most directly on the lay imagination.” Duffy, 466.
 Ibid, 464. “At the same time, however, he [Cranmer] took steps to eliminate the focus which had given meaning and power to that spectacle, by forbidding any elevation or showing of the Host.”
 Ibid, 472-473.
 Bard Thompson, Liturgies of the Western Church (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980, 1961), 231.
(This article was written for “The Anglican Digest,” Volume 57, No. 3, Fall 2015. It can be read online here. The theme for this edition of the Digest was the “Communion of the Saints.” Many thanks to the (Rt.) Rev. Anthony Clavier for the invitation to submit my writing for consideration.)
In the fullness of time, put all things in subjection under your Christ, and bring us to that heavenly country where, with all your saints, we may enter the everlasting heritage of your sons and daughters; through Jesus Christ our Lord, the firstborn of all creation, the head of the Church, and the author of our salvation.
1979 Book of Common Prayer, Eucharistic Prayer B, Rite II
The celebration of the Eucharist is the sacrament par excellence of the church and the primary locus of her communion with the triune God. Any theological conversation about the often-ambiguous “communion of the saints” must begin and end with a robust understanding of koinonia in, with, and through the Trinity. The powerful imagery of heavenly worship portrayed in Revelation 4-5 comes to earthly fruition in our own sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. It is my contention that the church militant is most connected to the church triumphant through her doxological and eucharistic worship.
Koinonia and the Godhead
In line with the writings of John Zizioulas, our first step toward true communion (koinonia) must begin with the self-contained, mutual, and self-giving fellowship of the Trinity. Our koinonia with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is based on the invitation to participate in the love that overflows from and has eternally existed within the Three-in-One. To be truly human is to be in communion with God for there is no existence outside of and apart from Him.
Throughout Scripture, God made it possible for his people to commune with Him: he “tabernacled” with Israel as she wandered through the desert; God “took up residence” in the Temple in Jerusalem; He spoke through prophets, judges and kings and delivered his people time and time again. He was most fully revealed through the incarnation, life, teachings, ministry, healings, crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus of Nazareth. Through Christ we have been adopted into the covenant family of God and made co-heirs of his kingdom.
The sacramental life of the church draws us into deeper relationship with the Trinity. In the waters of baptism we are initiated as covenant family members and united with Christ’s death and resurrection in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we have communion with God when we celebrate the Eucharist as both the reaffirmation of our baptismal vows and the realization of our priestly (of all believers) calling to be the church.
Communion of the Saints
The hymn “The Church’s One Foundation” states profoundly, “Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One; And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.” Communion with the saints only comes in and through the union the church experiences with the Trinity. As both the “sacrament of the kingdom” and the “Sacrament of sacraments,” the Church most fully experiences this union in her regular celebration of the Eucharist.
Whether you believe in life after death or the preferred “life after life after death” there is the hope and promise of union with those saints who have gone before and those who will come after. The Eucharist is not a form of religious magic but is rather the mystical, sweet union of God and Church transcending time and space through the power of the Holy Spirit. As we “lift up our hearts” in the Sursum Corda and sing the Sanctus we are, “Joining our voices with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven who forever sing…” Our oblation is local to our historical context but it is most importantly part of a universal, ongoing offering of praise and thanksgiving.
Scripture offers a few glimpses at the communion of the saints. Both the letter to the Hebrews and John’s vision in Revelation provide the biblical framework for our participation in a covenant family much larger than the visible church. Additionally, Hebrews and Revelation should be seen as liturgical books—or at the very least letters containing liturgical visions and imagery. The reference to the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12 and John’s vision in Revelation 5:13), “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,” are liturgical in nature. It is not that the communion of saints is impossible apart from liturgical worship, but rather that our worship of the Godhead is what makes any understanding of communion both possible and tangible.
Christ the Qualifier
Eucharistic worship is to the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit. In order to avoid talking about a vague religious order we must first add a qualifier to the phrase “the communion of the saints.” Who or what is the qualifier? Jesus the Christ. We conclude our Eucharistic Prayer with the words, “By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and for ever. AMEN.” The foundation of the church’s communion—the very underpinnings of the combination of church militant and triumphant—is the second person of the Trinity whose sacrifice we remember (anamnesis) and whose flesh and blood we do eat and drink.
It is through the words and actions of our heartfelt praise and gratitude that we are connected to believers across all generations in a real and tangible sense. We have the hope that when the kingdom is fulfilled we will sit around the table in that heavenly country with brothers and sisters whom we have never met. Until that day, we are called to bring our oblation before the Lord with the confidence that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who are proclaiming, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” Communion begins and ends with the throne of God – may we find our fellows saints as we approach with humble confidence.
 Both quotations are references from Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom by Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann.
Several years ago, I was privileged to contribute a piece as a guest to the Covenant blog of The Living Church. Many thanks to the blog’s (former) managing editor, Zachary Guiliano for publishing this piece on the liturgical nature of time. You can read this article below or in its original format here.
This post really covers two different topics. First, how does the Church tell time daily, weekly, and annually? This much should be obvious. Second, and perhaps more importantly, how does the incarnation, life, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus the Christ influence our understanding of time? Further, is liturgical time real time?
It is safe to say — and perhaps overly apparent — that the Church tells time differently than the rest of the world. Rather than marking time by the seasons, political and military holidays, or the movement of plants and stars named after Roman gods, the Church tells time according to Jesus of Nazareth. Beginning with the first Sunday in Advent as we await the birth of the boy who is King, and ending with Christ the King Sunday, every aspect of the Church’s life can be understood within the context of Jesus’ own story.
As such, the new year is not the first of January but the first Sunday of Advent; the highest and holiest day of the year is not the fourth of July (America) or even Christmas (Hallmark) but the annual celebration of the Paschal Mystery: Easter. The feasts and the fasts of the Church help us to remember the saints and exemplars who have gone before, those who have embodied the way of Christ tangibly among us. The year then flows accordingly: Advent for the first coming of the Messiah, Christmastide as we celebrate his birth, Epiphany as we embrace the manifestation of God in Christ, Lent to recount the temptation of the Lord as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter, Holy Week as we journey through Jesus’ last days on earth, Easter for the church’s celebration par excellence, Eastertide as a reminder of Jesus’ post-resurrection and pre-exaltation days, Pentecost to remember the gift of the Holy Spirit, Ordinary Time as a corporate journey through Israel’s history and the teachings of our Lord, and finally Christ the King Sunday as we once again proclaim his kingship.
Such an annual cycle has a profound influence theologically and within the constructs of Christian formation. This is a time that is other than the time of the world, it is counter to the story and narratives of the powers and principalities that be, it is in short real time.
The same is true of our week. We mark our week around one day: Sunday. Sunday is the first, the third, and the eighth day of the week. This is bizarre; it sounds as confusing as attempting to explain the Trinity, but it is nonetheless true.
Sunday is the first day of the week and the first day of creation. It is the day of the Sun of Righteousness, given that Saturday is the Sabbath, the day of rest. It is the third day,because it was on Sunday that our Lord was raised from the grave, having conquered sin, death, and the devil; having “trampled down death by death,” he was raised to new life, echoing his bold claim from earlier in John’s gospel, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Finally, Sunday is the eighth day because the resurrection changes everything: it is the first day of the new week, the first day of the new creation. It is the breaking in of God’s Kingdom in the here and now. John marks his Gospel according to days, and the Sunday of the resurrection is both a continuation of the first day but also its fulfillment.
Nothing can ever be the same after the resurrection of Jesus, and time is no exception. Our week centers around the Church’s Sunday worship and celebration of the Eucharist — all other days gain their meaning in relation to this day.
Even our daily time is accounted differently. For those who follow the ancient tradition of the church time is marked by hours or offices of prayer. The Book of Common Prayer (1979) lists several such times: morning, noon, evening, and compline. Time then is measured by our ability to intercede and worship before the Lord, offering all that we are and all that we have to him, rather than by the workday or weekend schedule. The daily prayers coincide with both the Sunday Eucharist and the Church calendar, taking on new dimensions as we progress through the week and year. As we trek through the Psalter and the canon of Scripture, and as we sojourn together through the life of our Lord, our time is transformed into something different, something more, something almost whole.
What then do we do with liturgical time? It has often been said that as an individual steps into the nave for the liturgy “time ceases.” The indication here is that liturgical worship is somehow an escape or removal from time, that it is somehow against time as we know it. Not only do I find this unhelpful, I also find it untrue. Liturgical time is not the cessation of time; this could not be further from the truth. Liturgical time is in fact the thickening and deepening of time, it is time made more real; no, it is time made most real. Just as Jesus’ Kingdom is utterly for this world, so too is liturgical time absolutely for time as we know it in the Church.
The Sunday ordo celebrates the annual, weekly, and daily cycles of the Church’s prayer,and it proclaims, presents, and enacts the story of God in Christ. The dually climactic nature of Word and Table reaches a crescendo in the Eucharistic prayer when this sense of time is most fully revealed. The anamnesis is the reaching back into the past, dragging forward into the present, and making real of the sacrifice of Jesus. Similarly, we look forward to the day when God will be all in all; our eschatological hope gives us a foretaste of glory eternal and divine in the Eucharist. What we presently encounter is the crashing in of past and future into the now; it is the meeting of Christ’s salvific actions at the time of Passover and his coming again at time unknown. And yet we somehow experience it in a real, tangible, and robust sense on a weekly basis.
Liturgical time is thick. It is different. It is new. And it is utterly real. Our experience with and encounter of the living God through the sacrament of sacraments is the pinnacle of the Church’s worship. It is living with the reality, and in the light, of Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation as he reigns over all things. Our understanding of time is irrevocably and undeniably tied into the Paschal Mystery. We ought to be more intentional about telling time liturgically because to do so is to tell time according to Jesus rather than the competing and counterfeit narratives of this world.
This piece was originally published in Resonance: A Theological Journal back in 2015.
The question of Christ’s presence or location in the Eucharist is common among theologians and readers of theology. Is Christ really present in the sacrament? If so, how? Such debate has similarly been central to ecumenical dialogue: transubstantiation, consubstantiation, memorial feast, realpresence, and spiritual presence represent varying answers to the conundrum. Rather than disagreeing about the nature or form of elemental transformation or the spiritual aspects of the Eucharist, ecumenical dialogue should instead focus on affirming the presence of Christ through the power of the Spirit to the glory of the Father. George Hunsinger offers a masterful attempt in The Eucharist and Ecumenism to find common ground amid these viewpoints while also capturing the thickness of the Sacrament.[i]
Such concrete attempts to locate Christ in the sacrament fall short of the depth of the Church’s liturgical worship however. The ordo, or structure of the church’s ancient liturgy, cannot be divvied up into smaller portions in an attempt to find Jesus or to use some elements while removing others. The ordo has an inherent meaning to it that cannot be separated out or watered down.[ii] Christ is fully present throughout the entirety of the liturgy because the liturgy in its entirety is considered to be the Eucharist. Any meaningful conversation about the location of Jesus in the Eucharist must see the Eucharist as the whole of the service rather than just one prayer or moment of consecration.[iii]
This article will seek to argue that not only is Christ really present in the Eucharist, but he is present in a plurality of forms and ways. Ultimately his presence is made known in the ritual sacrament in its most tangible and mysterious form, but he is also present in the assembly, (through the presiding minister), and by the reading and proclamation of his word.[iv] By understanding his location in such light, we as the Church are then able to articulate his presence more fully and embody his presence in the world he loves and is coming back to redeem.
Our first encounter with the person of Christ is found in the very gathering of the ecclesiafor Sunday worship: the synaxis. As the people of God join together for the corporate praise and worship of Almighty God they become the Church in a very real and tangible sense. Our Lord said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20 NRSV). Scripture also tells us that God is “enthroned on the praises of Israel” and that Jesus is the head of the Church.[v] In short, in becoming one, we become the very body of Christ. With Jesus as the head we are his agents, his singular vehicle of mission and ministry in the world.
In leaving the world and entering into praise and worship, the individual joins in with the koinonia (communion/fellowship)of the Trinity and the Church meeting the Risen Lord as the many become one. St. John tells us: “…the Word became flesh and lived [read: tabernacled] among us” (Ps 22:3, Col 1:18). Through the empowering presence of the Spirit we believe that Jesus continues to tabernacle in, with, and among his people. The opening acclamation—“Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And blessed be his kingdom, now and forever. Amen.”[vi]—as well as the opening songs of praise locate the entire assembly within the triune Godhead and the ongoing, unending praise of the cosmos. The opening acclamation and call to worship identifies and realizes the synaxis in a different dimension of time and space: it is real time and space in the presence of Almighty God. As Fr. Schmemann has pointed out in The Eucharist, the use of “Amen” by the people is not simply a space-filler, it is an affirmation of “Yes, this is so, and let it be so.”[vii]
Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, He is the divine logos poured forth from the mouth of God who created all that is and ever shall be. The majestic language of John’s prologue demonstrates the nature of such presence as the logos and within the ordo we encounter Christ through the public reading and proclamation of God’s word. The Word did indeed become flesh, but he is still the logos. The versicle (responsive statements) at the end of the Old Testament and Epistle lessons points to such reality: The reader says, “The Word of the Lord” and the faithful reply, “Thanks be to God.” We are truly giving thanks for the presence of God’s Word in the assembly; the reading of God’s word means that God’s Word is present in and among his people.
Hebrews claims, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12). Through Isaiah, YHWH says, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:11). The Liturgy of the Word is thus ministry in action. It is not the preamble to Communion but rather it is one of two pinnacles or climaxes within the liturgy and should be received as the presence of Christ. In fact, it is against the tradition of the Church and liturgical rubrics to celebrate the Eucharist without first reading from Scripture. One cannot proceed to the Altar without first having been fed by the Word—the two cannot be separated.
The same should be said of the sermon. There should be no difference between the reading of God’s word and the kerygmatic proclamation of the word by the preacher. Perhaps the preacher should also conclude her sermon by saying, “The Word of the Lord,” to which the people reply, “Thanks be to God.” The Reformers certainly had this point right when they stated that “the marks of the true church [are] that the Word of God should be preached, and that the sacraments be rightly administered.”[viii] The connection between synaxis and Word is quite clear. Once the gathered faithful have been fed by the proclaimed word, the service naturally turns toward the second pinnacle of the ordo —the Feast of the Word, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
If we believe with Fr. Schmemann that the Eucharist is the sacrament par excellence of the Church, the Sacrament of sacraments and the very place where the Church becomes that which she already is,[ix] then we ought to have a thorough understanding of Christ’s location therein.[x] It is safest to dwell in the realm of mystery on this point. The move toward embracing mystery is not a philosophical or theological abandonment, but rather the simple admission that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55). Nor is Mystery a weakened, watered down version of transubstantiation nor is it akin to riding on the fence between two extremes. Christ can still be fully and really present in the bread and wine without requiring a solid answer as to “how” such a thing is possible.
The celebrant begins the Eucharistic Prayer with the Anaphora, the Great Thanksgiving when the Sursum Corda is said: “Lift up your hearts.”[xi] The response is beautiful: “We lift them up to the Lord.” Liturgiologists and liturgical theologians have believed that this proclamation locates the assembly within the eternal Throne Room of Almighty God. This is further evidenced by the singing (or saying) of the Sanctus which echoes the words of Revelation 4-5, “Holy, holy, holy Lord. God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.”[xii] This is the song that the heavenly host sings before the Throne without ceasing and the Church is caught up into and joins that heavenly chorus. We know from Scripture that Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father and therefore in the act of Sursum Corda and Sanctus the assembly also is in his presence.The celebrant then moves into a recounting of YHWH’s mighty acts throughout history, ultimately culminating in the incarnation, life, and crucifixion of Jesus. The prayer brings to mind the Last Supper when Jesus instituted this holy meal. Our Lord said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”This act of anamnesis, of powerfully and actively remembering, is what drags the past into the present and makes known and real the one true sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus is not re-sacrificed weekly but rather his sacrifice is weekly re-presented. The eschatological outlook of the Eucharistic prayer awaits the day when God will be all in all, when Christ will return to make all things new, and when the faithful shall dine at the banquet table with their bridegroom. The future is a necessary component of all Eucharistic celebration because we are a hope-filled people awaiting the “resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”[xiii] The past and future acts of Christ come crashing into present and therefore make him present as well.
The epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit; e.g. “Send your Spirit upon these gifts…” ), no matter where it is placed, focuses on the transformation of the Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. There is no reason to believe that our Lord was being esoteric when he said, “This is my Body…this is my Blood.” We are not forced into elemental transformation where the form remains the same but the accidents do not. Nor are we confined to believing that the only transformation to take place is in the heart of the believer—though that would be easier. Rather, we are left to believe that the Bread is still bread and the Wine is still wine and yet somehow, someway they are the Body and Blood and that Christ is present in them. Christ’s presence in the sacrament has been made known and realized long before the prayer over the elements and people ever take place. The liturgy concludes with the dismissal of the people out into the world as Christ’s body—this is not truly the end of the liturgy but the beginning of a new chapter, the liturgy after the liturgy, through which we are called to be agents and partners with God’s will and mission.
Conclusion – Real Presence, Plural Presence
The question at hand, then, is not “is” Christ present or “how” is he present, but rather, “Are we willing to accept and encounter the plurality of his presence?” Any attempt to locate Jesus concretely or specifically in the Eucharistic elements is beyond the pale of Scripture and the ancient witness of the Church. The strongest claim that one can make is that he is present in the elements but the method or means by which are mysteriously unknown. Real presence would be the via media between the certainty of trans- and consubstantiation and the thin outlook of the memorial feast and spiritual presence. Christ is not only present in the elements, though you shall certainly find him there, but he is also really present throughout the liturgy in various places, ways, forms, and manners.
A separation between Word and Sacrament occurs when we focus our conversation of presence on a moment or action in the Eucharist.[xiv] Christ is not absent from the Liturgy of the Word and to suggest otherwise is to relegate the readings and sermons to the opinion of man. A robust understanding of a dually climactic liturgy, of both Word and Sacrament, will lead to a deeper acknowledgment of Christ’s pluralistic presence in the Eucharistic ordo. Our Lord is present in, among, by, with, and for his creation and we should expect nothing less from the summit of our praise and worship.
Ultimately the Church is sent forth from her walls that she might embody God’s love “for the life of the world.”[xv] As agents of transformation and grace, we are called to share the Good News of God in Christ with neighbors and strangers alike, inviting them into the family of God, and ultimately partaking with them in a foretaste of the eschatological banquet. By understanding his location in such light, we as the Church are then able to articulate his presence more fully and embody his presence in the world he loves and is coming back to redeem.
This piece was originally published in Resonance: A Theological Journalin the Winter 2015 edition. My heartfelt gratitude goes to Micah Lunsford, a fellow Fuller graduate and the Editor of Resonance.
[i]George Hunsinger, The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let Us Keep the Feast, Current Issues in Theology (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
[vi]The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church: Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of the Episcopal Church (New York: Church Hymnal Corp., ), 355.
[vii] Schmemann, The Eucharist, 48.
[viii] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion via Alister E. McGrath. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Oxford: (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998) 205.
[ix] That is, in Christ the Church already is the Church but she becomes or realizes herself as the Church in the celebration of the Eucharist.
[x] Schmemann, The Eucharist, 29.
[xi] A better translation is the simple imperative, “Up hearts!”
[xii] 1979 BCP, 362.
[xiii] As stated in the Nicene Creed.
[xiv] Schmemann, The Eucharist, 27-28.
[xv] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, 2nd ed. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir, 1973 (1982 Printing)),.
You can easily begin a deep theological and liturgical debate across ecumenical lines with one simple question: how should the Celebrant be oriented in the Eucharist? Maybe it’s based on the fact that I am an Anglican, but this simple question has churned up many strong feelings and convictions.
My main goal, here, is to provide some fodder for thinking about our Eucharistic orientation. Perhaps we (those who are the inheritors of the Reformation(s)) have gotten it wrong…
For the children of the Reformation(s) the answer is clear: the priest (if you have one) should face the people. This is known as versus populum and it supposedly encourages or facilitates corporate worship around a common table. The logic continues that only when gathered around a common table can any sense of “clericalism” or medieval superstition be avoided.
The other tradition is known as ad orientem. In this celebration of the Eucharist the priest faces the altar, i.e. East, and has back turned to the people. I want to unpack the thinking behind this in a bit, but right now it’s important to note arguments against ad orientem. Naysayers will suggest that this orientation separates the people from the priest; that this is impersonal and cold (back turned); that the people become spectators; etc. The list goes on ad infinitum.
I think the main issue is that we haven’t taken the time to understand ad orientem. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI, Emeritus) wrote about this in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy. I encourage all to purchase this timeless classic!
Why Ad Orientem?
Ad orientem makes a great deal of sense when you understand that the entire practice is based on orienting oneself toward the East. Why? The assembled church faces East in the eschatological expectation of our Lord’s return. The Sun rises in the East and facing toward the East, in ancient times, meant facing toward the New Jerusalem—the heavenly city for which we wait and hope. Remember that the Lord’s return has always been imminent, for we know not the time or the hour, and therefore the Eucharistic people are prepared to greet their Risen Lord.The priest is seen as a member of the assembled church. In versus populum, one might say, there is a table separating priest from people but in ad orientem there is nothing separating them. All are equal, all are turned toward the East, all are anticipating the Lord’s parousia. When the priest faces the people it may feel, so goes the logic, as if the priest is the central figure of the celebration. In ad orientem it is clear that God is the chief actor: everyone is looking toward the triune God rather than at the priest.
Please here this: I am not suggesting that versus populum is wrong or invalid. The overwhelming majority of the time I am celebrating in this style. I simply think that we need to reconsider our stance on ad orientem.
If our liturgical worship is whole-bodied, and if what we do in worship matters as much as what we say, then perhaps our posture and orientation says and does something theologically. What if we attuned ourselves to eschatological hope and anticipation and prepared to great the Risen Lord? What if we have gotten it wrong and we’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water?
In the Eucharist we, both clergy and laity, are concelebrants. We join our prayers, praise, and voices together with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven before the triune God. When we face East together we participate together, we pray together, we offer together. This is the Eucharistic vision–the Church offers herself and her gifts unto the Giver of Life.
I could go on for pages—and perhaps I will later—but for now let us suffice it to say that our bodies, hearts, and minds should all face the same way. Even in celebrating versus populum may we look Eastward and expect the Lord’s return. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Jesus is our Great High Priest and the Celebrant of the Eucharist, may we look to him and see him.