Common Prayer Day

Common Prayer  Initiative 2012

Though past, St. Bartholomew’s Day marked the 350th anniversary of the 1662 BCP’s issue for public use. The 1662 BCP is understood as the ‘gold standard’ for Anglican worship, being the sealed text backed by English statute law. However, the retreat of the British Empire (and the Acts of Parliament which accompanied it) precipitated an ecclesiastical vacuum that gave opened doors to significant local variety, starting with prayer books that have historical lineages to the Scottish Episcopal Church. Can such variant liturgies be better related to the 1662 standard or the principle of ‘common prayer’? Continue Reading »


A number of times the question of the state prayers in American Morning office has been brought up as if this somehow invalidates certain points made criticizing the 1928 litany (see the Litany’s Faldstool— especially the comment section). The 1928 inserted a petition for the US President where the Crown and royal seed formerly stood. The problem with this insertion is it equates the US Presidency to Christian kingship.  Christian kingship not only is rooted in the king as ‘first’ member of the local church, but in the English tradition, it possesses a sacramental and ministerial character that the modern Presidency repudiates.  For classical high churchmen, there are further considerations regarding the order of the church under the dignity of Supremacy, and if this same dignity ought to be given to an office that constitutionally rejects duties in the local church and rendering it more or less unitarian in nature. Consequently, the 1892 litany was suggested as a correction to the 1928.  However, the MP/EP state prayers was not addressed.

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Ascension Day

Christ's Rapture

When the Common Prayer Book is affirmed as a standard for Anglican faith, it is usually understood as including the short catechism, divine offices, sacraments, and preface. But, often passed over is the lectionary. The lectionary, especially when coupled with the collects and readings) is perhaps the richest fount for Anglican doctrine as it provides the verses by which we are to understand or unlock scripture. In otherwords, the lectionary is a hermeneutical compass unlike any other, and it is often overlooked.

However, with every prayer book revision, the lectionary has also been modified, yet rare are the studies on successive lectionaries as an evaluation would require consideration of an enormous volume of material. The reintroduction of the ecclesiastical year (even with most readings organized in an expository framework) especially makes this project formidable. That said, the problem is significantly reduced if the lectionary of various BCP’s are considered for those Holy Days historically found in the ‘Table of Feasts’. That leaves a sample of about thirty readings each taken one-by-one. My hope is to cover these thirty festivals over a casual course of three years, starting with Ascension Day as the first of many micro-studies which, once added together, can perhaps evaluate the good behind our several lectionary revisions, especially what the 1928 BCP contributed.

Ascension Day: Morning and Evening prayer selections experienced no great change between the 1549 and 1662 lectionaries other than the omission of John 14. In 1662, J14 appears to have been replaced by the more historical gospel, Lk 24. However, the theme remained the same, namely, “I go away, and come unto you” (v.28). The gospel and epistle readings for the communion, as with the collect, also remain the same, Acts 1 & Mark 16. The latter illuminate in what sense Christ returns to the apostles left in Jerusalem, and this is by the Holy Spirit, imparting many gifts and signs of ministry (Mk 16:16-17). Thus, a dual message is conveyed: First, Christ’s ascension or leaving of the apostles to therefore be crowned/enthroned in heaven. Second, Christ’s return by means of the Spirit which culminates by judging of the world.

Hence, two advents are described. The first-Advent coming to a conclusion with the ascension, but followed closely with the second-Advent that starts with the investment of the Holy Ghost at Jerusalem. Ascension roughly marks a transition in the calendar between two major themes or basic seasons, namely, between the mission of earthly Christ-incarnate, designated from Christmas to Ascension, compared to the Reign of heavenly Christ-glorified, celebrated between Pentecost to All Saints. NT Wright rightly recognizes the redundancy of such Roman Catholic festivals like Christ the King, especially at the fore of Advent, or the Methodist ‘kingdomtide’ introduced to reduce the extraordinary length of Trinity season. If there is a Kingdomtide (which there is not), it seems Pentecost to All Saints would best fit the description. As it is the ascension theme of “taken up, and sending down” is a portal between seasons, and it might be added the ascension collect belongs to the kingdom’s “rapture” said in the Sursum Corda.

Anyway, getting back to the BCP lectionary, we have no major change to it until the American. Even here the American makes no alterations until 1928. The 1789 and 1892 BCP’s both carry forward the older EP/MP selections for psalms, old testament, and new testament reading. Ditto with the communion reading. But the 1928 cuts out 2 Ki 2:1-16 and, very curiously, Mark 16. Also removed by the 1928 American revision are three psalms: Ps. 8, 15, 21, 108. These are replaced with Ps. 93, 96, and 99. Also, added was Is. 33:5-7, 20-22 and, strangely, verses 39-37 from the KJV Apocryphra’s Song of Three Children.

Omitted Parts: What did the 1928 American revision thus accomplish with its Ascension readings? The upside was more controversial verses were replaced with what might be considered safe scripture. The older readings made use of rather elusive passages regarding the crowning of the son. In some respects these passages from the book of David were unclear if man or Christ was spoken. Speaking of man’s creation, psalm 8 then says “Thou madest him to have dominion of the works of thy hands; and thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet” (v.6). Likewise, the twenty-first says, “for thou shalt meet him with the blessings of goodness, and shalt set a crown of pure gold upon his head” (v.3). However, given their relation to Ascension, the calendar makes it clear these passages are speaking of the Father crowning the Son and sitting Himself upon the right-side of God, “Set-up thyself, O God, above the heavens” (Ps.108:5).

It might also be noted that following these general descriptions of heavenly crowning, the psalter selections usually proceed to describe the resulting rule and judgement of the Lord. However, Daniel 7 remains for the matins reading, so an apocalyptic references remains albeit not as frequent as with the 1892 and earlier. The last interesting point is perhaps a concern over charismatic gifts as suggested in Mark 16 and 2 Ki 2. While Mark talks about snakes, healings, and exorcisms, 2Ki describes Elisha receiving the spirit of Elijah who thence exorcises water with salt, “I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land” (v.21).

While more likely 2 Ki2 was omitted due to Elijah’s “taking up”, it’s unfortunate the readings dealing with signs were omitted because they tell us how Christ returns, namely, by the gifts imparted by His Spirit. Mark 16 could also be read in context of Acts 1, “that you will baptize by the Spirit”, with the signs of healings, casting of demons, and treading of snakes being the inner workings of holy baptism. Furthermore, 2 Ki gives us a picture of Christ leaving the apostles by the rapture of Elijah leaving Elisha. However, Elijah leaves behind his mantle as a sign by which Elisha continuous the prophet’s miracles. These miracles curiously are the parting of the Jordan, much like the Red Sea, and the exorcising of water to impart life; thereby we too can “ascend”. In light of Mark 16 and Lk 24 these are pretty obvious allusions to new testament baptism.

Conclusion: While the 1928 offers ‘safe’ readings, the role a second advent plays seems diminished by select doxologies which often do little more than praise powers of creation. Lost also is the benefit that a lectionary normally bares by providing relevant cross-references to illuminate scripture’s dark areas. In this case how to read the rapture of Elijah in 2Ki2? How to understand the gifts promised in Mark 16 and their significance to baptism? Or what about the wider theme of apocalypse as found in Daniel 7, the omitted psalms, and 2Ki? As if often the case with the 1928, the book remains fairly orthodox, but a watering down process is yet detectable. Ascension Day not only culminates in the Kingship of Christ, but implicit with His heavenly enthronement is a promise for the church to be given the authority and power cast away evil and subdue in His Name. This latter half does not come out as clearly in the 1928 as it does with the 1892/1662 versions for Ascension. The positive is the 1928 annexes an Eve and Octave to the day.

A very good exposition on the Ascension of our Lord that uses 2 Kings 2 can be read here.

Charles Bartlett lives and works in Northern California. He is a member-at-large in the UECNA, worshiping in the REC by bishopric dispensation. His blog, Anglican Rose, explores the nature of adiaphora in England’s Church with an emphasis on late-Henrician standards.

The Holy Kiss

the "peace plate"

One of the many liberal modifications to the 1979 prayer book was the liturgical reinsertion of the Kiss of Peace. For about six months I worshiped in an Episcopal church which often made use of the more conservative Rite 1. No matter how similar Rite 1 was to the 1928 communion office, the kiss of peace always seemed to ruin that sense of tradition. Even before I knew anything about liturgics, the kiss of peace always felt  “hippie”. At the former TEC parish, the priest and entire congregation would mingle, hug, make small talk, too often turning the Pax into an intermission. At times people would even leave to catch coffee or make a phone call outside the church. It’s only redeeming quality in my mind was its potential to provide a time to bless and usher out possible catechumens. Anyway, the Pax seemed odd, and I had to ask if it was indeed an ancient practice of the church. This also required some digging into the prayer book.

The 1979 BCP seems to throw a bone to each type of churchmanship. The Kiss of Peace appears to be something that might satisfy the catholic. By placing the Holy Kiss at the offertory, the ’79 appears to defer to the ancient Eastern practice, dating back to the second century. The “Western Pax” appeared a bit later, roughly the fifth century, in Rome and North Africa. Instead of being done before the anaphora, it would have followed the end of the Latin canon where the Paster Noster is found. This is also where the 1549 BCP and Sarum Mass locate the Pax. So, the ’79 bcp had at least two options, and TEC revisionists apparently favored the more “ancient” location.

Not What it Seems: However, what is not said about the Holy Kiss is the rather sober manner which the primitive church administered it. Throughout the history of the Pax a fear of indecency or indiscretion is expressed. Thus, there is a certain restraint in its use. The Apostolic Constitutions confine the Kiss to estates within the christian assembly, namely, exchanging it between clerics in the chancel while laity pass it on to each other. But even amongst the laity the Kiss was carefully confined to gender: men exchanging amongst men, and women amongst women. Thus, the Kiss was never a “free-for-all” that bordered upon an intermission in the midst of the liturgy.

As time passed, though the Kiss remained part of the liturgy, it was gradually substituted for less disruptive devotions. By the middle-ages a variety of alternate forms for the Pax existed both East and West– e.g., kissing the altar, sacred elements, a relic, the bishop’s hand, or a stole. A limited Holy Kiss is found in the marriage rite, e.g., “you may kiss the bride“, and originally it was an oculation that passed from the priest to the groom to the bride. The Peace was also abbreviated by confining it between priest and deacon, most likely leaving the laity to conduct their own private reverences separately in the nave.  By the 13th century, osculatoriums, i.e., the “pax-board” or “pax-brede”, became common in England. Pax-boards were small plaques decorated by crosses that were kissed by the celebrant and then given to the congregation while at the altar rail. But even this practice gradually passed away.

In the Sarum rite the Pax is said at the end of the canon, exchanged between deacon and priest with the celebrant kissing the altar spread. The 1549 likely continued this practice, but the Latin location of the Pax finally disappeared upon Edward’s second prayer book where it becomes a preface to the benediction (A New History, p. 487). What’s interesting about the 1549 vis-a-vis later BCP editions is how the Pax is said specifically to the clerks, reading:

Then shall the Priest say, The Peace of the Lord be with you. The Clerks. And with thy spirit”

If working from the Sarum, the Priest is assumed to be facing  ‘choir-side’ while addressing these “clerks”. But in high mass ‘the clerks’ would naturally include the Deacon, acolytes, and perhaps cantor/choir. The Pax is not the only salute given between “clerks” and Priest. Unlike later BCP versions (1552/9, 1662 1789), the 1549 preserves the privilege of lower orders acting as a chorus, giving the “the clerks” more exclusive roles such as chanting the Gloria in Excelsis, Kyries, and the Angus Dei. This seems to give a more prominent role to assisting clergy that somewhat disappears after 1552, giving over to the ‘general priesthood’.

The Pax Today: Even in more recently ‘conservative’ revisions, such as in the Anglican Missal, the Pax is normally addressed to the people. However, the 1979 takes the Pax to a new level. Rather than make opportunity to genuinely restore an older liturgic, the 1979 appropriates what might appear an apostolic Pax, but uses it as pretext to expand the realm of ‘democractic’ worship. Furthermore, if the 1979 had actually continued the catholic direction that inspired earlier revisions like the 1928, the 1549 BCP (closest to the English Sarum) would have been the natural and more organic starting point rather than leaping back to mirky apostolic custom. If revisionists had started from the Sarum as the Anglican Missal had done, the newer BCP might have enlisted the Pax as a embankment to Anglican ecclesiology, emphasizing the special dignity once held between deacon and priest. Instead, the Pax is made a liberating gesture that frees the people from the mediative roles of priest-deacon, of which self-conscious ecclesiastical society breaks down for three to five minutes after the offertory. The 1979 appears to advance catholic ceremony but instead manipulates antiquity to make headway for democratizing movements in the liturgy. When praise music is added, there remains very little of Rite 1 that’s traditional.

If  Ordinaries permit the Pax (and some do with the 1928 BCP), they might consider the 1549 BCP’s application which favors the celebrant facing the deacon along “choir” or “clerk-side”. Liturgically, the 1549 might be treated as an opportunity to better highlight the function of the deacon as a second representative or leader of the people. This point was  made earlier at RTBP while writing on the possible benefits of keeping northside celebrations (as understood by Dearmer). Not only might we continue certain customs peculiar to earlier 1662 (northside) and 1549 (the pax) prayer books, but Anglicans can also use less well-known rubrics to slowly weaken the democratization of liturgy that has occurred over the last forty years, starting with a greater prominence to those lesser offices often acting in the chancel. The way we pray is the way we believe, etc..

As Lent passes and Easter is entered, Anglicans might consider how the law and gospel work together not only after church but in worship. When the faithful are dismissed from the communion, dismissal is not given to live as “hearts see fit” (sneaking in a coffee break before the end of divine worship, creating an intermission for small talk and short flirts, leaving the altar in the midst of public liturgy, etc.), but the Mass is given to live in Christ by His will and commandments. This ‘third use’ of the law ought to regulate even the Pax, not given licence to disorder but to enter Christ’s humility, thereby glorifying the Father.

Charles Bartlett lives and works in Northern California. He is a member-at-large in the UECNA, worshiping in the REC by bishopric dispensation. His blog, Anglican Rose, explores the nature of adiaphora in England’s Church beginning with late-Henrician standards.

The Litany’s Faldstool

(A similar article dealing with the Daily Offices was also written: Supremacy in Offices) The faldstool in English ceremony was the movable seat otherwise reserved in the chancel as the chair for the visiting Bishop. From the faldstool, an Ordinary passed authority by laying on hands of both confirmed laity and clergy. But the faldstool also doubled as a prayer desk upon pentitential occasions where the bishop rested his arms upon the faldstool’s cushion while kneeling before it. The idea of the bishop’s faldstool representing a throne of authority in the church is embedded the BCP’s litany. From it we learn the peculiar order of authority within the Church of England.

Though today the prayer desk has replaced the faldstool, nevertheless, in the Parson’s Handbook the Rev. Dearmer explains the Litany is to be be given in the old position of the fladstool, namely,  in the midst of the church. According to Dearmer, the Litany should be recited regularly, normally Wednesdays and Fridays as well as between morning prayer and ante-communion on Sundays. But it is especially said upon penitential seasons.

However, these many details likely escape the majority of parishioners who rarely recite the Litany, and, perhaps they never do unless it be at Lent. Infrequent exposure to the Litany probably leaves more specifically Anglican features to pass unnoticed. The prayer book Litany differs from the Latin in a number of places. But perhaps the most conspicuous difference is the absence of heavenly saints of whom Romans and Eastern Orthodox commonly invoke. Instead, the Anglican emphasis is upon an earthy kingdom, or church militant. This ought to be an interesting point for Anglicans since our suffrages beg the Church of England instead of the heavenly hosts. The 1559 version of the litany lists the estates of the church [in bold] which are thus mentioned:

“We synners do beseche the to heare us (O Lord God,) and that it may please the to rule and governe thy holy Churche universally, in the right way…That it may please the, to kepe and strengthen in the true worshipping of the in righteousnes and holynes of lyfe, thy servaunt James our most gracious Kyng and governour…That it may please the, to rule his harte in thy faith, feare, and love, that he may evermore have affiaunce in the, and ever seke thy honoure and glory. That it may please the, to be his defender and keper, geving him the victory over al his enemyes. That it may please thee to bless and preserve our gracious Queen Anne, Prince Henry, and the rest of the King and Queen’s Royal issue… That it may please the to illuminate all Byshoppes, Pastours, and ministers of the Church, with true knowledge, and understanding of thy words, and that both by their preaching and livinge, they may sette it furth and shewe it accordingly…That it maye please thee to endue the Lordes of the Counsayle, and all the nobilitie, with grace, wisedom, and understanding…That it may please thee to blesse and kepe the Magistrates, geving them grace to execute justice, and to maynteyne truthe… That it may please the to blesse, and kepe al thy people.”

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Divided We Stand


I would like to recommend Divided We Stand:  A History of the Continuing Anglican Movement, by Douglas Bess, to all those interested in Continuing Anglicanism.  Having done some ad hoc research into the history of Continuing Anglicanism myself over the years, which has included in-depth conversations with several of the key participants in such landmark events as the St. Louis Congress, the Denver Consecrations, and the Dallas Synod, I can say with some confidence that Bess has done an excellent job of making an accurate record of the Movement’s key events.  Moreover, let me also say that this record is of crucial importance for anyone who wishes to understand the state of Continuing Anglicanism today.

My recent rereading of Divided We Stand left me with the firm impression that the Continuing Anglican Movement is fundamentally divided between two, discrete visions of Anglicanism.   There are (1) those holding an exclusively catholic-minded vision of Anglicanism, most of whom, but are not all, are distinguished by their use of the Anglican Missals and by their distinctively Tridentine theological outlook and piety; and (2) those adhering to a conservative, comprehensive vision of Anglicanism centered on the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion but otherwise tolerant of quite a bit of theological and liturgical latitude.  Today, the predominant catholic jurisdictions are the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC) and the Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK), while the comprehensive jurisdictions are the Anglican Church in America (ACA) and the Anglican Province in America (APA).

Having stated that Divide We Stand, as its title suggests, leads the reader to a dichotomous view of the Continuing Anglican Movement, I must give Bess credit for not painting this division in overly stark terms.  Indeed, as Bess correctly points out, the catholic jurisdictions, such as the ACC and APCK do, in fact, have parishes that do not use the Missals, and steer clear of Tridentine teaching and piety.  On the other hand, Bess notes that the comprehensive jurisdictions are hardly the exclusive province of low-church parishes, but instead contain many fully Anglo-Catholic parishes, some of which, I would note, are replete with the Missal Mass, Marian Statuary, and frequent use of the Rosary.  Thus, on the surface of things, the distinction between the two competing visions of Continuing Anglicanism might be viewed as merely involving differing centers of gravity in churchmanship, and Bess does not dispel this possibility in his text as far as I can tell.

Thus, I would not fault a reader of Divided We Stand for coming away with the impression that the difference between the catholic jurisdictions and the comprehensive jurisdictions is one of emphasis rather than substance–at least not enough substantive difference to justify continuing schism.  But, this conclusion would be, in my opinion, incorrect.  In the first place, as Bess’s narrative demonstrates,  experience has shown that the catholic and comprehensive camps have generally been suspicious of and adversarial toward each other throughout the history of the Continuing Movement.  Indeed, the conflict between the two visions of Continuing Anglicanism and the resulting political machinations that have occurred within the Movement is the very drama driving the main plot line of Divided We Stand.  Thus, I cannot help but conclude that something more fundamental must keeping the division alive.  And, what that something is, I believe, is, in a word, Calvinism.

Indeed, in the conservative, comprehensive vision of Anglicanism, Calvinists have been recognized as having a legitimate place at the Anglican table since the Glorious Revolution.  Thus, for the comprehensives, Evangelical Churchmanship, often denominated as “low churchmanship” in contemporary parlance, which is perhaps most seminally expressed in W. H. Griffith Thomas or D.B. Knox’s expositions of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, deserves its share in the Continuing Anglican Movement.  In contrast, for the ardently catholic-minded Anglicans, the Evangelical Party has always been a bridge too far.  Indeed, for the catholic-minded Anglican, Missal Anglo-Catholics, Prayerbook Catholics, philOrthodox, Old High Churchman, and perhaps even Conservative Central Churchman can be tolerated under one big tent, but the “low” churchmanship of the Evangelicals  cannot.

Thus, in my view, the real reason that the predominantly Anglo-Catholic jurisdictions such as the ACC and APCK will not seriously entertain union with a conservative comprehensive jurisdictions like the APA or the ACA, is that comprehensive formulations of Anglicanism are simply too tolerant of Calvinism or Reformed principles.  Indeed, the existence of Evangelical expositions of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion is precisely why the catholic jurisdiction have shied away from giving the Articles constitutional status.  Moreover, it is also my opinion that, despite the prevalence of Tridentinism in the catholic jurisdictions, they do have a valid point.  Whereas the differences in the exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles evinced by decidedly non-Tridentine works of such catholic-minded men as W. Beveridge, E.H. Browne, or E. J. Bicknell can theologically co-exist along side the Tridentine-friendly expositions of A. P. Forbes and Newman (Tract XC), on the ground that each merely express differing theological opinions about secondary aspects of the same underlying faith, once the Evangelical point of view is introduced, fundamentally inconsistent understandings of the very faith itself are being asked to cohere, which is logically intolerable.  Indeed, atonement is either limited or it is not; grace is irresistible or its is not; men are predestined to death as well as life or they are not.

In sum, while much of Divide We Stand, leads me to believe that a great consolidation of the jurisdictions presently comprising Continuing Anglicanism is possible in the near future, I nevertheless believe that the irreducible minimum number of Continuing Anglican jurisdictions are two.  This is so because a significant number of catholic-mined Anglicans, whether of a Tridentine, Missal Anglo-Catholic persuasion or not, will simply never agree to the comprehension of Calvinist or Reformed principles as a legitimate component of Continuing Anglicanism.  Thus, a significant number of Continuing Anglicans are always going to hold hold against the supposed reasonableness of even the most conservative schemes of comprehensive Anglicanism and unification of the Continuing Movement into a single body will remain and elusive goal.


The Altar’s North Side

an english lecturn

I’ve always considered the communion rubric for standing on the North Side of the table to be incredibly odd. It’s always very much a challenge to envision a northside celebration, especially when there are close to nil churches doing it. We either have the priest facing the people during the recitation of the canon, or the priest faces eastward. But what is ‘northside’?

The 1662 BCP rubric for communion says, “And the Priest standing at the north side of the Table shall say the Lord’s Prayer, with the Collect following, the people kneeling”. This starts the antecommunion and the rest of the liturgy is finished in the same way. The 1637 BCP says the same, but the 1928 somewhat simplifies things by omitting the rubric altogether.

While probably a dead letter, the motive behind ‘northside’ originally involved a desire to include the people in the prayers and blessings of the church. The Reformation of the Mass was, firstly, concerned about the liturgy being 1) audible, and, 2) visible to the people. If a priest stood ‘eastward’, then manual acts were naturally blocked from view. Moreover, unless the bread was elevated above the shoulders, its visibility was also obstructed. Celebration against the east wall, especially in cathedrals with long choir stalls, would likewise hinder audibility. Another commenter observed the priest on the north side with deacon on the south would have made washings difficult, and this was also probably an intent.

However, the Puritan movement during Edward VI and Elizabeth I solved this problem by replacing fixed altars with movable tables, relocating the latter in the front of the chancel (between the choir) or, more often, the middle of the nave. The priest then celebrated the eucharist from the northside of a table which was often oblong in shape, meaning the table was orientated parallel to nave’s length.  Thus, the priest stood in the nave, faced northside, and had the length of the table before him. If this is very confusing, see this link: the Pre-tractarian Church.

Sacrament of the Altar not ‘the Desk’: When Laud restored the tables to their original Henrician position, plus forbidding their removal from the chancels, the northside position of the Puritans became untenable as the “north end” of a table was now fixed along the length of the ‘eastern’ wall. Especially in chapel sanctuaries, standing on the ‘north end’ would be awkward at best if not impossible.  Practicality reasoned ‘north side’ simply meant the gospel side of the altar, and it appears this would conform to ancient practice. But the intent of the 1662’s rubric was to keep the recitation of the liturgy near the altar rather than below in reading desk or pulpit as low churchmen might have it.  Bishop Cosin says regarding where the liturgy is pronounced:

“The Jews prayed standing, but only in the time of mourning; for then they prayed prostrate, or upon their knees. Formerly the Priest stood in the middle of the altar. Si ad aram Dei steteris. And the Writings of the Ancients abound with testimonies of the same thing. Again this Writer says with respect to standing at the Table: — which was the custom of the ancients, that all things which pertained to the celebration of the Lord’s-Supper should be said at the Altar. Now in this Celebration, there is hardly any difference between us and the Protestants in Germany, but that among us the Prayers are said by the Bishop or Minister at the Altar, but among them in the Desk: In which they do not agree with the ancients.” (Notes to Nicholls’ Book of Common Prayer, p. 38)

And the Rev. J.J. Blunt, (late Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge.) observes: —

“Here the Rubric is express against a practice, not uncommon that of reading this Service, when there is no Communion, from the Desk. This, I say, is a clear infraction of the Rubric, which directs that “the Priest is to stand at the north side of the Table, and say, etc.. ( Duties of the Parish Priest, p. 325)

The Parson’s Handbook: The question still remains what would north-side celebration by the 1662 bcp look like? It’s hard to wrap one’s mind around. Evidently, there wasn’t a dominant or single interpretation of this rubric, so this complicates matters. However, the Anglican principle of hearing and seeing in worship should be kept in mind, calling the people to use their five wits with the clergy in liturgy. A good Anglican methodology when questions remain is to look back to prior practice. In his Parson’s Handbook, the Rev. Percy Dearmer rather successfully reconciles the earlier practice of eastward/altar facing as found in the 1549 BCP/Sarum with the 1662 ‘north side’ rubric. He says:

“In the editions of this Handbook preceding that of 1907 I deliberately left open the vexed question as to whether the priest should stand at the north, south, or middle of the altar. I have, however, now come to the conclusion that he should stand before the north part of the altar, mainly because more recent knowledge has resolved the doubt raised by the Lincoln Judgement, which, in a very thorough statement of the case, declared the eastward position a very thorough statement of the case, declared the eastward position throughout the service to be legal, but left the part of the altar undecided. Archbishop Benson took the following view:– The position of the Holy Table had, in 1662, been lawfully changed, but yet the revisers left the old rubric ‘standing at the north side’, although the Tables now stood altarwise, and had no north side in the sense of the rubric; therefore the words ‘at the north side’ are now ‘impossible of fulfillment in the sense originally intended’ (Lincoln Judgement, p. 44), and for the priest to stand at the northern part of the front ‘can be regarded only as an accommodation of the letter of the Rubric to the present position of the Table’ (ibid, p. 41).

Now it is not the case that the revisers of 1662 deprived the rubric of its meaning by leaving it unaltered to apply to the changed position of the altar. They seem rather indeed to have known what they were about, and to have left the words ‘standing at the north side’ (although the altars had been brought back to their proper position) because they knew that the words could still apply. The words ‘north side’ were, in fact, used to describe the ‘northern part of the front’ in pre-Reformation times; and there was therefore no reason to change them in 1662, when the altar stood as in those times. Here are some examples:– ‘Then I that was kneeling on the north side of the altar, at the right side of the crucifix’ (Revelation of the Monk of Evesham, 1482, cap. 12). In the Alphabetum Sacerdotum, the direction before the Gospel is ‘different missale ad aliud latus’. ‘How the priest after that with great reverenc doth begin the mass between deacon and subdeacon at the one side of the altar’ (Interpretacyon of the Masse, 1532, art. 5, qu. in Dat Becxhen, pp. xi, 142)

This position does in any case keep close to the letter of the rubric; and it was adopted by a good many after the Savoy Conference, when the Bishops declared in favor of the eastward position. The north end has never been authorized since, but the north part of the front was used at St. Paul’s in 1681, and in other ways is shown to have high sanction from 1674 to 1831. Nor was it an innovation to commence on the north side of the sanctuary: it was done at Westminster Abbey and by the Cluniacs before the Reformation, and is still the custom of the Carthusians.

Some have urged that the priest should stand at the south and not the north horn, on the ground that he began the service thus before the Reformation. This, however, is inexact. It is true that the Sarum Missal has ‘in dextro cornu‘” but at low Mass the priest vested at the north side of the altar, the chalic and paten lying in the middle and the book on the south side. He thus began Mass at the north side, and in this position he said amongst other things those very prayers which now begin our service, viz. the Paternoster and the Deus cui omne cor. Furthermore, to begin at the south is not even an accommodation of our rubric, and it has never been adopted under authority since the altars have been set back in their old position. Some have recommended the priest to stand ‘afore the midst of the altar’, because this was his position under the First Prayer Book; but this at least gives teh impression of disobeying our present rubric; and we have perhaps no right to imagine that the revisers of the 1662 meant the priest to revert to the custom of 1549 since they did not say so. They kept the words ‘north side’; and, as we have seen, ‘north side’ is good English for ‘sinistrum cornu‘.

The problem remains for Dearmer how the elements are made visible. Dearmer feels, though the priest stands on the north or gospel side, during the words of consecration, with the priest still facing eastwards, the bread ought be raised to “the level of the mouth” and the fraction thus made visible to the people behind. Meanwhile, the cup should remain on the table and the priest bow during that portion of the institution. This seems a bit odd to me, treating species differently, but Dearmer’s point is such satisfies the canon’s principle of visibility. I have to ask does this  suggest a kind of concomitance– what is done to one kind is done to the other?

The 1892 BCP revision seems to imply precedent for Dearmer’s recommenda-tion. The third rubric at the beginning of the Holy Communion rite instructs, “And the minister, standing at the right side of the Table, or where Morning and Evening Prayer are appointed to be said, shall say the Lord’s Prayer and the Collect following, the People kneeling” (p. 243)

Liturgics of Minor Orders: Dearmer offers the best answer to the north side question. If anyone has ever found a youtube video showing north side, please share!  My own preference would be to see Priests recognize the north side rubric despite its obsolesce since 1928. The 1928 BCP was an attempt to retrieve the 1549, and, ironically, the 1549 version has the priest turning to the choir to declare “the peace”, upon which the choir responds, “and with thy spirit”. This hearkens to the old Sarum where the Priest would actually begin the Pax with a kiss to the deacon or clerk, likewise turning north to do so. Calls and responses to choirsides might occur elsewhere in the liturgy, but traditionally the choir did have a more prominent role in the liturgy than today, singing introits and graduals. Liturgics today are very different from the Sarum. Minor orders are virtually dissolved into the “people”, and Anglican liturgy is conducted almost like a perpetual low mass. However, the 1549 and perhaps Dearmer’s northside retain the best of both eras.

The north side (gospel side) seems a distinctly Anglican ceremonial position. One advantage relevant for today might be the further de-emphasis that modern liturgics (both Vatican II Roman and neo-Anglican) tend to put upon laity in the attempt to democratize services and flatten ecclesiology.  A sense of prelatial space might thus be engendered by giving choirs, clerks, and swornmen heightened roles as was done in olden days when the church was conceived as ordered society with ranks and hierarchies rather than as an undifferentiated mass of ‘equal’ priests?

Charles Bartlett lives and works in Northern California. He is a member-at-large in the UECNA, worshiping in the REC by bishopric dispensation. His blog, Anglican Rose, explores the nature of adiaphora in England’s Church beginning with late-Henrician standards.