Tag Archives: BCP

Hong Kong Book of Common Prayer: No Churching of Women

P23_The churching of women_NEW-1-

One thing that surprises me about Hong Kong’s Book of Common Prayer, though I did not notice earlier, is that it does not provide for the Thanksgiving of Women After Childbirth, commonly called the Churching of Women. For a society in which postpartum confinement is still a common practice more than fifty years after this BCP was first printed, I think it a notable omission. I am led to wonder why this Prayer Book’s compilers chose not to include a Christian ritual for something that even today remains very much a part of Chinese culture.

Arrived: Hong Kong Book of Common Prayer

I have recently taken a look at Hong Kong’s Book of Common Prayer, first printed in 1959 by the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui’s Diocese of Hong Kong and Macau and reïssued in 1998, with no textual changes to the services, by the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui. This BCP looks fascinating, and I hope to share some of its distinctive features here.

For one thing, the order of Holy Communion, while clearly in the classical Prayer Book tradition, does not match the English (1662), Scottish (1764, 1912, 1929), or American (1789, 1892, 1928) types; likewise the orders of daily Morning and Evening Prayer. In general, the regular services seem to stand somewhat between the English and American types, with a few characteristics seen in neither.

Compline, often included in books of additional services but not part of either the English BCP (1662) or the American (1928), has made its way into the Hong Kong BCP.

The greatest difference, perhaps, is in the occasional prayers: to the English BCP’s 19 and the American BCP’s much richer 47, the Hong Kong BCP has 87. This great cloud of prayers and thanksgivings is organized by its own table of contents.

As expected in a society that is by and large not Christian, baptisms of such as are of riper years take priority over baptisms of infants, a priority reflected by the former’s appearing before the latter. Similarly, between the Catechism and order of Confirmation appears a section acquainting the reader with the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui’s mission, history, and practices.


The Athanasian Creed, also known in the West as Quicunque vult, is given the alternate name of Sacred Text of Salvation. A rubric also declares, ‘To this Sacred Text of Salvation ought every believer to attend: some of the principles it expresses are very deep, but are in no wise contrary to Scripture.’ A second rubric says that this sacred text may be used at Morning Prayer on all the holy days listed in the English BCP – except, very curiously, Trinity Sunday itself. The days listed in the Hong Kong BCP, then, are the following: Christmas-Day, the Epiphany, Saint Matthias, Easter-Day, Ascension-Day, Whit-Sunday, Saint John Baptist, Saint James, Saint Bartholomew, Saint Matthew, Saint Simon and Saint Jude, and Saint Andrew. The text is kept whole and undefiled: ‘Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he keep the principle of the Holy Catholic Church. Which faith whosoever keep not wholly, or keep not straightly, must suffer everlastingly the bitterness of sinking unto perdition.’

The Psalter is not included (the expectation being that the psalms will be read from the Bible), but there is a table of proper psalms for many days in the year. Similarly, there is a table of proper lessons. There seems, however, not to be a daily ordering of psalms or a daily kalendar of lessons.

God willing, I shall post more details later, when I have the time.

Prayer and Holy Communion in Daily Life


John R. W. Stott comments on Acts 2 in The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (InterVarsity Press, 1994), 84–86:

They devoted themselves … to the breaking of bread and to prayer (42). That is, their fellowship was expressed not only in caring for each other, but in corporate worship too. Moreover, the definite article in both expressions (literally, ‘the breaking of the bread and the prayers’) suggests a reference to the Lord’s Supper on the one hand (although almost certainly at that early stage as part of a larger meal) and prayer services or meetings (rather than private prayer) on the other.

If we are to follow the work of the Holy Ghost in the early Church immediately after his descent upon the disciples and conversion of 3000 to the gospel, it seems that – as we learn and are turned to deeper repentance by the word of God – we must also express our sharing in the divine gift, the regeneration in Christ of the image of God, by continuing stedfastly both in eating together, with the Lord’s Supper often observed, and in corporate prayer.

Dr Stott then details ‘two aspects of the early church’s worship which exemplify its balance’:

First, it was both formal and informal, for it took place both in the temple courts and in their homes (46), which is an interesting combination. It is perhaps surprising that they continued for a while in the temple, but they did. They did not immediately abandon what might be called the institutional church. I do not believe they still participated in the sacrifices of the temple, for already they had begun to grasp that these had been fulfilled in the sacrifice of Christ, but they do seem to have attended the prayer services of the temple (cf. 3:1), unless, as has been suggested, they went up to the temple to preach, rather than to pray. At the same time, they supplemented the temple services with more informal and spontaneous meetings (including the breaking of bread) in their homes. Perhaps we, who get understandably impatient with the inherited structures of the church, can learn a lesson from them. For myself, I believe that the Holy Spirit’s way with the institutional church, which we long to see reformed according to the gospel, is more the way of patient reform than of impatient rejection. And certainly it is always healthy when the more formal and dignified services of the local church are complemented with the informality and exuberance of home meetings. There is no need to polarize between the structured and the unstructured, the traditional and the spontaneous. The church needs both.

For structure, we in the Church already have what the Church has long practised. For daily prayers, analogous to those of the temple in Jerusalem, the Book of Common Prayer provides forms for Morning and Evening Prayer daily throughout the year. For these prayers we ought to meet as often as possible, that our hours in the holy Church may be sanctified when we seek the Lord’s face as one Church. Such daily meeting has always been the hope expressed by the reformed Church of England, and such also is shown to be a healthy and holy cultural practice sanctioned by Scripture.

Though we may not always repair to our church buildings for daily worship services, we can all meet with other Christians to declare the praises of God as priests in his holy temple, and perhaps especially on Wednesdays and Fridays in addition to Sundays and Saturday evenings. On the other days of the week, families might meet for worship at their home altars instead, while those who did not live with their families continued to attend services at church or met from house to house.

Throughout our days, of course, we could meet for informal prayers as circumstances permitted, that we might seek the Lord in all things.

And to break bread in our houses we ought to meet often for fellowship and hospitality, and at these meals we can have clerics (all ordained elders, not only those who are called ‘teaching elders’) daily celebrate Holy Communion, even according to the Book of Common Prayer. To keep the service short, clerics could use the Summary of the Law in place of the Ten Commandments, omit the sermon, omit the taking of alms, and omit the exhortation ‘Ye that do truly’ &c. Thus the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper could be joined to a common meal of fellowship in which we shared our joys and griefs, expressing the unity of the Spirit and the sacred bond of peace.

Even on days when we ate together and did not have Holy Communion, it would be useful still to pray the collect of the day before eating (the same that was appointed at the Communion), in memory of the Lord’s Supper and of his high priesthood in heaven and his call to sanctification on earth.

The second example of the balance of the early church’s worship is that it was both joyful and reverent. There can be no doubt of their joy, for they are described as having glad and sincere hearts (46), which literally means ‘in exultation [agalliasis] and sincerity of heart’. The NEB unites the two words by translating ‘with unaffected joy’. Since God had sent his son into the world, and had now sent them his Spirit, they had plenty of reason to be joyful. Besides, ‘the fruit of the Spirit is … joy’, and sometimes a more uninhibited joy than is customary (or even acceptable) within the staid traditions of the historic churches. Yet every worship service should be a joyful celebration of the mighty acts of God through Jesus Christ. It is right in public worship to be dignified; it is unforgivable to be dull. At the same time, their joy was never irreverent. If joy in God is an authentic work of the Spirit, so is the fear of God. Everyone was filled with awe (43), which seems to include the Christians as well as the non-Christians. God had visited their city. He was in their midst, and they knew it. They bowed down before him in humility and wonder. It is a mistake, therefore, to imagine that in public worship reverence and rejoicing are mutually exclusive. The combination of joy and awe, as of formality and informality, is a healthy balance in worship.

This combination of joy and awe, much to be desired, we can seek as we find ways to put into practice the principles of the first disciples’ lives. I believe that, when we are commemorating the Lord’s sacrifice often in the midst of our daily lives, the Lord himself will teach us to view and avail ourselves of that sacrifice with both joy and holy awe, and that our living in light of this sacrifice will be a witness to the nations as God has himself intended.

Holyrood Abbey to the Glory of God

I wish Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh were restored.

‘The Ruins of Holyrood Chapel’, Louis Daguerre, 1824.

Containing a number of royal tombs, it would be a noble chapel for the Order of the Thistle, which could double as meeting place for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. From day to day, it could be a collegiate church where Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer were said daily in the Anglican tradition, with due diligence done to pray for Her Majesty and her government ministers and parliaments. Occasionally, perhaps, especially on 13 June, those in the chapel could instead read the services drawn up by Henry Scougal for the cathedral of Aberdeen; on some Saturday evenings, after Evensong, might be read the three parts of Scougal’s Life of God in the Soul of Man. In this way might the royal family gently lead the Scottish people toward faith in the true God, by promoting true religion in the midst of Edinburgh, near both the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Scottish Parliament Building. For there is still a God, and he still reigns in Edinburgh over the Queen and her Scottish people.

In the West Gallery

In Christian worship, the placement of music leaders before the rest of the people, especially if they face the people, has been the subject of much complaint. It is alleged that such positioning lends itself to worship taking the form and ethos of entertainment, and I agree. At least in America, with the cultural practices and expectations of America, entertainment worship has indeed become a prevailing feature of many evangelical churches. Following what is popular, they try to ape the hot ‘worship leaders’ of contemporary Christian music. For the average worshipper, some kind of experience is key; actually singing is optional.

Perhaps this kind of pragmatism is endemic to American revivalistic religion. So long as people ‘connect’ with it and ‘get something out of it’, what form things take is immaterial. Matter itself, however, is immaterial, because what matters is a certain set of sentiments toward a personal image of Jesus. As an Anglican, I recognize that many circumstances of worship are things indifferent (adiaphora) so long as the substance of the faith is kept entire; but this hyperadiaphorism goes far beyond any range of tolerance a classical Anglican would think good and necessary. Tolerance, after all, is finite: in the end, it serves a particular purpose, namely the growth of virtue. And it is in the interest of virtue that I think it right to insist that the tolerance has meaning only when it is directed toward what we do know of the worship of God.

American Christians, when sane, will readily affirm that our religion is not about how we feel, because everyone knows feelings to be fleeting. But in practice the whole thing is made out to be about feelings; or, we may say, something about Christians’ formation is strongly, even fundamentally, undermining their ability to distinguish between their feelings and the Holy Ghost. However this happens, the formation of American evangelicals is failing to teach them to take up their priestly role and reducing piety in worship to some array of pleasant feelings – after all, Christians are supposed to like worship.

Cultivating virtue and developing qi

Christians are indeed meant to delight in worshipping God. Contrary to the usual interpretation, however, it is not worship that needs to change fundamentally to suit the worshipper, but it is the worshipper that needs to change fundamentally to be fit for godly worship. Emotions are very important, but not as Americans expect when they draw a line between reason and emotion, between the mind and the heart. Chinese virtue ethics takes a different approach. In the Confucian view of moral judgement – something most Christians recognize as important – emotional reactions are central. Empathy, for which I sometimes find my own capacity blocked (a blockage I view as qi that is failing to flow as it should), is often a source of shame when its blockage causes me to overlook something that matters to others. And having a natural sense of shame, a good sense of morality and appropriateness, is essential to Confucian virtue ethics as one of the most basic things to cultivate. And basic it is, for Mencius says (tr. Bloom, ed. Ivanhoe),

Now, if anyone were suddenly to see a child about to fall into a well, his mind would be filled with alarm, distress, pity, and compassion. That he would react accordingly is not because he would hope to use the opportunity to ingratiate himself with the child’s parents, nor because he would seek commendation from neighbors and friends, nor because he would hate the adverse reputation [that could come from not reacting accordingly]. From this it may be seen that one who lacks a mind that feels pity and compassion would not be human; one who lacks a mind that feels shame and aversion would not be human; one who lacks a mind that feels modesty and compliance would not be human; and one who lacks a mind that knows right and wrong would not be human.

The mind’s feeling of pity and compassion is the sprout of humaneness (仁); the mind’s feeling of shame and aversion is the sprout of rightness (義); the mind’s feeling of modesty and compliance is the sprout of propriety (禮); and the mind’s sense of right and wrong is the sprout of wisdom (智).

There are natural emotions to feel, and the point of refinement is to cultivate these. What nature provides, civilization develops. For such things are not invented out of thin air and foisted upon men to be kept as laws against nature. There are, we may say, right things to feel, and not to feel them is inhuman and unnatural. Perhaps this is what Christians in America are lacking: the sense that there are right and wrong things to feel, and that developing the right feelings – religious affections, Jonathan Edwards would call them – is an integral part of becoming holy. ‘Love is the chief of the affections, and as it were the fountain of them.’ But if learning to love God is hard work, and worship is the ordered expression of this natural love, then of course worship itself is hard work, a discipline. How could it be otherwise? The sage loves what is lovely, because his taste has been refined and his palate has forsaken what is unwholesome; but no man is such a sage until the Holy Ghost, through practice guided by ritual, has changed what he loves. Thus, says Xunzi (tr. Knoblock), ‘if there is no dark and dogged will, there will be no bright and shining clarity; if there is no dull and determined effort, there will be no brilliant and glorious achievement.’ But the result of such cultivation is a vast, flowing qi. Mencius says,

It is difficult to put into words. This qi is consummately great and consummately strong. If one nourishes it with uprightness and does not injure it, it will fill the space between Heaven and earth. This qi is the companion of rightness and the Way, in the absence of which, it starves. It is born from an accumulation of rightness rather than appropriated through an isolated display. If one’s actions cause the mind to be disquieted, it starves. I therefore said that Gaozi did not understand rightness because he regarded it as external.

God has made us for holiness and gives us moral power by the Holy Spirit, but this power does not fill us but by constant practice in ritual and meditation and practice of righteousness. When the Holy Ghost is grieved, the spirit starves.

Ritual arrangements

So worshipping rightly is hard work. It requires cultivation of the mind in the ways of God. This worship is given civilized form when it has a rational order in concord with nature, and it teaches the mind right things when the mind is ready to learn. Such a mind is well disposed to receive instruction, to learn and submit to what it sees and hears after the example of its teachers.

We need not regard affective responses, but they need to be rightly ordered, and this they will not do untutored. Whatever we can do to redirect our emotions away from the pressure to have intense experiences, and toward the word of God, let us use it. Let us encourage congregations to meet with God in the part they themselves take in crying out to God and singing his praises in the language of Zion. Let us put our musicians in west galleries, behind the other worshippers, that all may look upon the Lord’s Table, which represents his mercy-seat, and (if possible) upon other holy images: the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.

Behind most of the congregation can be the west gallery with the choir and (if there be any) the organ, and these will support the people in their priestly work as they look upon the words by which they understand God’s covenant. By the Creed they understand the three persons of the holy Trinity and the acts of this God in history; by the Ten Commandments they understand that lives of lawful obedience are the fruit of the Holy Spirit; by the Lord’s Prayer they understand that they are every day and every moment dependent on this God they now worship. All three of these are texts that help make intelligible the image of the Lord’s Supper, and so that service begins with the Lord’s Prayer, continues with the Ten Commandments read right after the Collect for Purity, and has the (Nicene) Creed recited immediately after the Gospel reading. So every one of these three elements, besides having been learnt in the Catechism, also appears in the Holy Communion service itself. And these are the texts to appear in full view right behind the Lord’s Table, not so much that the people may read – for they can hardly read every word without squinting – as that their memories may be recalled through the eyes. For what the eye passes over in a moment will call up what the heart has treasured up, and indeed the sacrament itself works through memory to both call and equip the worshipper to love the Lord. There find your affections, there your emotions bathed in the passion of Jesus Christ; and cast your eyes then upon the sacrament that with discipline gives us you the vast, flowing qi of the Son, which is the Holy Spirit.

There let me rest, Almighty God, in thy bosom, where God the Only-begotten is.

English Altar

Anglicans who wish in the spirit of the Ornaments Rubric to furnish the Lord’s Table in the tradition of what the Church used before the Reformation often favour what is known as the English altar. As Percy Dearmer says, however,

People call these altars ‘English altars’, because they must have some name; but they are really Catholic altars – the type which, in more than one form, persisted from early times over the whole Church, and only succumbed, two centuries after the Renaissance had begun, to the Baroque influence of the counter-Reformation. There are many Flemish pictures in the National Gallery to show this; and all over Italy from Giotto to Ghirlandaio and the painters of the sixteenth century, the pictures show no other form of altar.

In Gothic interiors especially, this configuration of the Table is harmonious and dignified. As in all Anglican arrangements of the Table, noted for their noble simplicity, there are no more than two candlesticks. Most distinctive, however, are the riddel posts with their altar curtains on the left and right, and often behind the Table as well. For there is a presence of Christ in the sacrament, even though not locally bound, to which the proper response is awe. What happens in the believing heart is the unveiling of the spirit’s ‘face’ to a presence before which the seraphim veil their faces. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. So it is very fitting that this reality, a glory that made the face of Moses shine brighter than the Israelites could bear, should be suggested in curtains. And atop the riddel posts, indeed, are the figures of angels.

Liturgical position

One advantage of riddel posts is that they præclude the celebration of the Lord’s Supper versus populum, in which the elder faces the people. For many a time has this posture detracted from the priority of the Lord’s own signs of bread and wine offered by the hand of God and taken from the hand of God. Yet celebration ad orientem, in which the elder with the people faces the front or ‘east’ end, is apt to be focused too exclusively on sacrifice at the moment when the sacrament is given precisely as a gift from God. When we pray with the bread and wine lying before God, we plead upon the merit of Christ that this same merit may, by the power of the Holy Ghost, be applied to all who take the signs with faith enabled by the Holy Ghost. And so where should our eyes fall but upon the bread as it is taken, broken, and designated, and upon the wine as it is taken and designated? Though ancient precedent of the Church is for celebrating the Lord’s Supper ad orientem, that position has a weakness that the selfsame Church has the right to remedy. Besides the fashionable versus populum and the ancient ad orientem, there is a third position:

Altar in St Mary-in-the-Baum, consecrated 2 February 1911 by Edmund Knox.

The position the arrangement above leaves room for, and the position ordered by the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, is the Table’s north end (the right side facing the people, the left side as viewed by the people). As Evan McWilliams notes, ‘The resulting placement of the minister and clerk on opposite sides of the Table occasionally has been termed “the lion and the unicorn” in reference to the supporters on the royal coat of arms.’ Here, then, you would see the minister on the left and the clerk on the right, like cherubim flanking the ark of the covenant.


Sometimes, instead of a dossal (back curtain) of cloth right behind the Table, what you have is a graven or painted reredos, of wood or other hard material. Behind an English altar, the reredos may look like this:

The Lord’s Table with riddel posts and a painted reredos.

Being Reformed, and following the principles of earlier Christians, I am not fond of having prominent images front and centre to dilute attention away from the visible signs the Lord has ordained, though symbolically clearer images can be used instead to focus attention upon those divinely appointed signs. Instead of the images on the reredos, I would want the Creed, the Decalogue, and the Lord’s Prayer, with the middle panel occupied by a golden dove signifying the presence of the Holy Ghost. But, since the panels are not large, the Creed might have to be represented by a heart, the Decalogue by two tablets, and the Lord’s Prayer by two praying hands. The dove in between the law’s two tablets would show that the law, once for all fulfilled by Christ, was now graven into us by the Holy Spirit of Christ.

Moving Incense

Some Christians want incense, and others seem allergic to it. Some call for splendour, but others want plainness. As an Anglican, I think there is something to be said for ‘that vertuous mediocrity which our Church observes between the meretricious gaudiness of the Church of Rome, and the squalid sluttery of Fanatick conventicles’. I favour the occasional use of incense in connexion with church services, though not as constituting worship, on days on which the Prayer Book calls for proper prefaces to the Sanctus; these are the same days on which I think it comely for parish churches to use copes.

As quoted by E. G. Cuthbert F. Atchley, Pseudo-Alcuin did not hold a sacrificial view of incense, but referred it only to its being pleasing to the congregation:

After the oblation incense is offered (ponitur incensum) on the altar, the priest saying, Let my prayer be set forth in thy sight as incense; that is to say, as this incense is pleasing and acceptable in the sight of the people, so let my prayer become acceptable in thy sight.

So, too, has been the practice of the Protestant and Reformed Church of England: incense has been accepted only when it has constituted an ornament to the service but not a ceremony of the service itself. So it is best that incense be kept out of the hands of the priest. It is also uncontroversial that stationary incense has been allowed, as in the practice of George Herbert. Less certain, however, is what place should be given to incense that moves.

The use of moving incense which I think good is in any processions that may be made in the due course of the service, as sometimes a secular procession might in centuries past have had herb strewers. This use is for the edification of the people, not distracting them but enabling them to worship better.

The most obvious place for a procession is the Introit of the Holy Communion service, when the ministers enter and often also bring in the eucharistic vessels. This time is technically before the beginning of the service. Since it is difficult for ministers to enter the church by any other way than walking, the most orderly way should be used, suitably dignified for the occasion. By practical necessity this is a procession, like it or not. And it is clear that the occasion’s dignity, or the perception of its dignity, is enhanced by people’s making way for its opening procession. Some might wish to find a man in a camel hair shirt, eating locusts and wild honey, but most of us would rest content with a verger carrying a rod, followed by a few others.

History of the Coronation of James II - 1687 page 7

Likewise, the Gospel reading is another time (especially if read by someone other than he who read the Epistle) when someone will have to walk to the pulpit. A simple procession is in order. In the Gospel procession, the clerk may carry the perfuming pan along the way (cf. Lyons massbook, 1825, quoted by Atchley: ‘continue incensans viam Evangelii’); or, if the Gospel be sung in the sanctuary, ‘on account of the place’s straitness’, he may simply hold the perfuming pan as he stands behind the gospeller.

But the superstitious censing of text and of gospeller is contrary to the usage of a Reformed church, and we should have nothing to do with such practices. The restraint of the old Roman church, simple and practical, and lacking extraneous ceremonial, is most commendable; we likewise should avoid adding to what is required such ceremonies as only tickle the imagination but do not deepen our appreciation of the awful mysteries ordained by God. For this reason we should not cense things or even persons, and so a thurible is less to be preferred than a perfuming pan; but if a thurible be used, it should be handled as it is in the Dominican rite, not swung, in order to avoid distracting the congregation from the substance of the service.

Some may expect a procession for the Offertory, but such movement of the bread and wine is often unnecessary: if they need to move just several feet, from the credence table to the Lord’s Table – and not from a side chapel – then they should not be given an unnaturally large movement for the sake of pageantry. It is solemn and impressive enough that the deacon receives the gifts of the people at the hands of the wardens and then delivers them to the priest to present at the Table, and especially so if (as it may be) the Offertory be done in silence. It is arguable, moreover, that the time to process up to the Lord’s Table has already passed; as Addleshaw says in The High Church Tradition,

The seventeenth-century liturgists regard the structure of the Eucharist as built up round various parts of the Eucharistic action itself into which are worked the preparation of the Church for taking part in the action and its response afterwards. These elements are interwoven to form a unity. In spite of the frequency of Altar Prayers they treat the rite as a whole from the Our Father to the Blessing without any decisive break in its movement, not even at the Offertory; they are fully aware of the distinction between the Missa Catechumenorum and the Missa Fidelium, but it plays no part in their conception of the structure of the Anglican rite. It was customary to speak of the whole service as a ‘holy action’.

If this difference from some other rites does not establish that a procession with incense is unwarranted, it does show that the warrant for such a procession is far weaker than in an order with a strong distinction between a first half and a second half, or even in the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, which retains vestiges of such practices (‘the doors, the doors!’) and calls the Offertory the Great Entrance. Indeed, the Anglican rite would not be the only one to associate little pomp with the Offertory: the Roman rite, before the admixture of Gallican elements, likewise gave the Offertory but little ceremonial. In other words, though the Offertory would seem to be our self-giving corresponding to God’s self-giving signified in the Gospel reading, the whole service has been one process of the congregation’s dedicating itself to God. Especially if the chalice has already been made and the bread already prepared, then, there is little new movement and not much more ceremonial to highlight with incense. Instead, it is probably best to keep the Offertory simple and not encumber it awkwardly with incense.

For those who find the noble simplicity of the old Roman rite too severe, the Anglican rite tempers Rome’s austere structure with an evangelical fervour. Rather than picturesque pageantry, we meet in the Anglican order of Holy Communion with serious exhortations and sober prayers that are nonetheless imbued with the warmth that characterizes the best of Reformed piety. To use incense rightly in this order, we need to respect the strong focus of this rite, which matches that of the old Roman rite. This focus will admit of only two or at most three points at which to use incense, and one of them not even within the service itself. But the focus that so limits us is a focus on the substance of the gospel.

Penance and Absolution in a Reformed Church

‘Railway in Woods’, by Andrea Boldizsar.

‘Railway in Woods’, by Andrea Boldizsar.

Sometimes I find the devotions of Nonjuror bishop Thomas Deacon to be useful for orthodox Anglican churches, and indeed for all churches in which the spirituality of the ancient fathers is alive. In particular, Deacon’s orders for admitting and then absolving a penitent in the church are helpful for structuring the discipline that God has entrusted to the clergy as ministers of his word; used before the Holy Communion office, they can be powerful reminders of the opening and closing of God’s kingdom, of binding and loosing, according to the disposition of the sinner.

Some Protestants may object to the use of penance and public absolution of penitents who have individually been censured, perhaps even excommunicated, but these practices are both ancient and consonant with the Scriptures. Certainly ecclesiastical censures themselves are entirely biblical. St Paul says to the Corinthians, about a man fornicating with his father’s wife,

For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

So the Apostle delivers an authoritative judgement, which the Corinthians hearing him are to obey in the Name of Jesus Christ; such is the authority of the appointed rulers of the holy Church. High church, perhaps, but biblical: the impenitent sinner is to be expelled from the company of the Church. For what have I to do, says the Apostle, to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person. If anyone desires to take issue with excommunication, as a temporal measure serving æternal ends and administered by men, he must take it up with God.

The continuation of this discipline after the Apostles is affirmed by the Church of England as godly and right:

Brethren, in the Primitive Church there was a godly discipline, that, at the beginning of Lent, such persons as stood convicted of notorious sin were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord; and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend. Instead whereof, until the said discipline may be restored again, (which is much to be wished,) it is thought good, that at this time (in the presence of you all) should be read the general sentences of God’s cursing against impenitent sinners.

The authors of this passage in the Book of Common Prayer, which clearly draws from St Paul’s words to the Corinthian church, declare it ‘much to be wished’ that the apostolic censures may be restored in the Church of England. Indeed, this church’s 1604 Canons make it clear that excommunication is by no means abolished in modern times. The point is that God has given the Church authority to testify to God’s curses against sinners who have not shown penitence.

And, if the Church is given the power to exclude an impenitent sinner from its midst, then it also has the power to readmit those who are penitent and, having been satisfied of the sinner’s humble penitence, to declare God’s forgiveness for that sinner. Though this practice is not, as the Romanists think, a sacrament, it is edifying and within the rights of the visible church. We are not calling for Hail Marys and Our Fathers. We are calling for sackcloth and ashes, and restitution for those who have been wronged, and evangelical repentance in response to God’s offer of forgiveness in Christ. For Zacchæus, it was a fourfold return on what he had stolen; for the Roman emperor Theodosius, who massacred 7000 in Thessalonica, the historian Theodoret tells us what happened after his rebuke by Ambrose, the bishop:

The Emperor, who had been brought up in the knowledge of Holy Writ, and who knew well the distinction between the ecclesiastical and the temporal power, submitted to the rebuke, and with many tears and groans returned to his palace. The Emperor shut himself up in his palace and shed floods of tears. After vain attempts to appease Ambrose, Theodosius himself at last went to Ambrose privately and besought mercy, saying ‘I beseech you, in consideration of the mercy of our common Lord, to unloose me from these bonds, and not to shut the door which is opened by the Lord to all that truly repent.’ Ambrose stipulated that the Emperor should prove his repentance by recalling his unjust decrees, and especially by ordering ‘that when sentence of death or of proscription has been signed against anyone, thirty days are to elapse before execution, and on the expiration of that time the case is to be brought again before you, for your resentment will then be calmed and you can justly decide the issue.’ The Emperor listened to this advice, and deeming it excellent, he at once ordered the law to be drawn up, and himself signed the document. St Ambrose then unloosed his bonds.

Is this penance not sensible? Is it not just? The bishop did not attempt to depose the emperor upon the pretenses claimed by the popes of Rome. He gave godly counsel, and the emperor accepted it gladly and was received again into the doors of the great church in Milan. For a scandalous sin, this was a penance the Lord himself had given the bishop power to demand, not beyond reason but in keeping with due repentance. For it is the Lord’s power to humble emperors who have sinned greatly, that repenting they may obtain remission of their sins by his promise in Christ. Thus let even kings and potentates be called to account and to submission before the throne of Jesus Christ, by the word of God spoken into their lives; and through the gospel let them be healed.

Saint Ambrose barring Theodosius I from Milan Cathedral. By Anthony van Dyck.

‘O Lord God, whose long-suffering is not wearied by our sins, but who allowest us to appease thy wrath by our repentance; Mercifully look upon this thy servant, who confesseth his sin unto thee: Give him a broken and a contrite heart, that he may recover from the snare of the devil, wherein he is now entangled; and graciously accept his Penance, that by his continuance in a state of mournful confession and prayer to thee, he may the sooner obtain thy merciful pardon, and, being restored to the privilege of communion with thy Church upon earth, may be again entitled to thy kingdom in heaven, through Jesus Christ our blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen.’

Edit: When a penitent has first been readmitted to the communion of the Church, his offering of gifts may be accepted where earlier it was turned away, and (according to a custom observed by St Cyprian) his name may be offered particularly in the Prayer for the Church: ‘And to all thy People give thy heavenly grace; and especially to this Congregation here present, [including N.]; that, with meek heart and due reverence, they may hear and receive thy holy Word; truly serving thee in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life.’

The Prayer Book in the Process of Evangelism

I have been considering how to make evangelistic use of the regular services in the Book of Common Prayer – Morning and Evening Prayer, the Litany, and Holy Communion – both to help Christians renew their belief and to show forth the faith to pagans. Our faith, after all, is all about the good news of Jesus Christ, and so the Church must keep this gospel front and centre, doing all it can to call all men to receive the person of Jesus Christ with humble faith. If this be not our goal, then (as the Prayer Book says) all our doings, being without charity, are nothing worth; but if it be our goal, by the work of the Holy Ghost, then there is no more evangelical system of services than our Prayer Book.

Holy Communion

Since every Lord’s Day is a feast day, it seems most proper, both then and on other feast days, to have the Lord’s Supper in commemoration of the benefits procured for us by him who died and was raised for our salvation. To be weekly refreshed with the Body and Blood of the Lord is only fitting, seeing as the same Lord who has given us these gifts has also established by nature the rhythm of the seven-day week, a rhythm that even the most hardened pagans – by the providence of God – have adopted after the practice of the Church. It is true that the Prayer Book’s Holy Communion service is directed very obviously at those who are already in the covenant and marked with the sign of baptism, and so it does not lend itself to being attended by pagans. But this need not be a weakness. Christian attendance at Holy Communion, and pagan absence from the same (at least most of the time), embodies the theological divide between Christian and pagan. All are human, and all are sinners, but one is distinguished from the other by having title to the inestimable benefit of Christ’s Body and Blood, and to all the benefits thereof. This distinction cannot but convey that there is an in and an out, a feast and an outer darkness: all are called to come in, but some are unwilling. Pagan hearers who are very seriously considering the claims of Christ can attend Holy Communion and see what gift is conferred upon those who are washed in the righteousness of God.

Daily Office

For those who have not reached this point, who have not yet contemplated being baptized into the faith, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are the services to which we can invite our friends to see the worship of God: though we hold Holy Communion to be a more solemn act of worship, daily prayers and hearing of the word are not to be despised. These services are easier than Holy Communion for an outsider to understand: we reckon with our offences before God, we hear instruction in the doctrine and practice of the faith, and we petition God for ourselves and for others. They cannot pray the same prayers as we do, if they do not believe in the basis of these prayers, but all the same they may silently pray to the God they do not know. As they hear choral Evensong on a Sunday, they can consider the things they hear and act according to the measure of their belief. So we need to find ways to say Morning and Evening Prayer publicly and have a congregation to attend these services, both Christians and pagan hearers. On university campuses this should not be too difficult, if committed students can be found first, but we should also try to find ways for urban workers to attend services too.


Finally we come to the Litany, which as the shortest service may be a gateway. Given the popularity of weekday services in the City of London, lunchtime talks followed by the Litany on Fridays may be a good way to reach people: Christians could stay for prayers, and pagans could choose to leave if they wanted. Perhaps lunches could be laid out at the end of the talks, to be taken either then or after the Litany – though I suppose Christians might choose instead to fast on Fridays. For Christians, a lunchtime Litany would be a way to remember the Passion of our Lord in prayer and fasting for their own sins and the life of the world; for any pagans who came in to hear, it would be a weekly witness to the love of Christ for all of us poor sinners, particularly if all who attended were enjoined to reflect on the sacrifice of that Lamb of God:

Those who are visiting, you’re welcome to get lunch, but we invite you to stay with us and reflect on the death of Jesus Christ. Brothers in Christ, join me. As Christ died on Good Friday for the sins of the whole world, that all might live in him, let us now remember his love by praying for all those for whom he gave his life.

From glory to glory

What we proclaim is Christ crucified. From hearer to catechumen to candidate for baptism, from Litany to the Daily Office to Holy Communion, a person at each of these stages of contemplation on the way to baptism is met by the gospel-soaked pages of the Book of Common Prayer. As he desires to learn more about Christ, he can be met by friends who will explain the Scriptures to him. And so, God willing, he will come at last to be joined to Christ.