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The Liturgy

( Originally Published 1888 )



If we could have gone with Jesus and his disciples into any of the synagogues of Pales-tine at the time of Morning or Evening Prayer, we should have found the people worshipping with a liturgy. With phylacteries bound on their foreheads and left arms, and the fringed and tasselled Talith falling over their shoulders, we should have seen them on their entrance bowing in silent prayer, heard them responding with an Amen to the Reader's " prayer of adoration," listened with them to various Scripture readings, joined in another short prayer, heard the reading of the Song of Moses at the Red Sea, and taken part in a short responsive utterance of praise known as the Kadish, beginning "Praise the Lord who is worthy to be praised ! " the response to which by the people bowing was, Praised be the Lord who is ever and eternally worthy of praise ! "

After that we should have heard more prayer and a sublime chant : " Rock of Israel ! up! to the help of Israel ! save, for Thy promise sake, Judah and Israel! Save us, eternal God, eternal God of Hosts, whose name is the Holy One of Israel ! Blessed be Thou, 0 Eternal, who of old didst redeem Israel!" And then we should have said softly with the entire congregation the "eighteen Benedictions," or " The Prayer," joined in some solemn responses, and on Mondays, Thursdays, and Sabbaths listened to the reading of the regular lessons from the Pentateuch or the Law. The sermon would have followed, perhaps preached by some one invited from the congregation, after which, as with us, with prayers and the benediction, the service would have closed.

Wheatley, in his treatise on the Book of Common Prayer, like many other writers on liturgical worship, has felt it necessary to argue for the validity of such worship from the loyalty of Jesus and the Apostles to the synagogue services ; but we are fortunately not obliged to content ourselves with single or exceptional testimonies to the propriety of set forms of prayer, since every great Religion has developed its own peculiar ritual, and has expressed its reverence in traditional symbols and modes of worship.

So universal, indeed, is the liturgical spirit, that the modern Christian sects which have discarded ritual, may well be regarded as, in this respect at least, out of sympathy with the Religion of the ages. It is not true, of course, that any religious body is entirely without a ritual, but we speak now of the difference between an historic and compulsory ritual, and one virtually made by each church for itself, and subject to the desires or tastes of a particular minister or congregation. The early Christians, as Christianity gradually separated from the older Hebrew Faith, soon made their own forms of worship, which at first were comparatively brief and simple, the only form of prayer that Jesus had bequeathed to the church being the ever-memorable form known as The Lord's Prayer. Little by little, however, as the churches grew in numbers and influence, both parts of Christian worship, the service of common prayer and instruction, which took shape largely from the synagogue service, and the sacramental portion of worship, which necessarily embodied much of the spirit of the service of the temple, became more elaborate. The psalms and brief doxologies of the one, and the prayers and thanksgivings of the other, broadened into the various liturgical systems of the East and the West. These primitive liturgies Mr. Palmer, in his " Origines Liturgicae," reduces to four : the great Oriental Liturgy, in use from the Euphrates and from the Hellespont to the southern extremity of Greece ; the Alexandrian, used in Egypt, Abyssinia, and the country from the Mediterranean Sea to the west ; the Roman, in use in Italy, Sicily, and the civil diocese of Africa; and the Gallican, used in Gaul, Spain, and probably Ephesus, until the fourth century. A book called " The Apostolical Constitutions," which originated in Syria in the latter part of the third and the beginning of the fourth centuries, gives the common type to which the many later liturgies all conform, and after the fourth century we find these liturgies bearing the names of Apostles; thus the liturgy in use at Jerusalem is ascribed to St. James, that of Alexandria to St. Mark, that of Rome to St. Peter, and that of Milan to St. Barnabas.

From this it will be seen that there was no law binding the churches of the early centuries to one universal form of worship, but rather that each church claimed the right to make its own ; nevertheless, as any one who studies these primitive liturgies will see, they are pervaded by a common spirit, and alike manifest the instinct common to all nations and races to make public worship dignified and reverent, and to express their sense of religion by means of fitting words and symbols.

The liturgy of the ancient British Church, before the Anglo-Saxon invasion, belongs, according to one classification of the early liturgies, to a group named after St. John, and, at any rate, differs considerably from that in use at Rome. In the seventh century, however, sixty-eighty years after the beginning of Augustine's mission in-Britain, although absolute uniformity in public worship was not secured, the Roman came generally into use, and thus originated the various Service Books afterwards used in Britain: the Breviary, containing the order for Daily Service, the Missal, containing the Communion Service, compiled about the middle of the fifth century, the Antiphonary, the Benedictional, the Collectorium, the Epistolarium, the Pontifical, the Manual or Ritual, and the Book of the Hours.

After the Norman Conquest in 1078-99, Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury, undertook the revision of these Service Books, and henceforth the Breviary and Missal of Sarum, or according to the use of Sarum, became practically the liturgy of the Anglo-Norman Church. But in the 16th century the deeply rooted and steadily growing discontent with the prevailing religious order showed itself, among other ways, in a petition of Convocation to the king for the appointment of a committee to reform the Ritual and Offices of the Church. Accordingly, in 1545, an English Service Book called the King's Primer appeared, which contained the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Venite, the Te Deum, and other hymns and collects, " several of them," Wheatley says, " in the same version in which we now use them."

In Edward VI.'s reign, late in 1547, an English Communion Service was prepared, and during the next year the complete Prayer Book of Edward VI. was compiled by thirteen eminent divines, among whom were Cranmer and Ridley, the latter burned at Oxford in Queen Mary's reign, October 16, 1555, the former March 21, 1556. This book, to which most of the above-mentioned Latin Service Books contributed, after being duly approved by Parliament, came into general use on Whitsunday, June 9, 1549 ; and by comparing it with the earlier Books of Worship, we shall find that Morning and Evening Prayer were simplified from the Breviary, that the Communion Office with Collects, Epistles, and Gospels was a translation and adaptation of the Missal, and that the occasional Offices represented the Manual or Ritual, while those of Ordination and Confirmation were taken with modifications from the Pontifical. We shall find, like-wise, how many objectionable things in the earlier liturgy, such as Litanies to Mary, and fictitious matter relating to Saints, were wisely thrown aside by the Reformers.

The feeling of hostility toward Rome had grown so rapidly that this Book did not long satisfy the popular demand for a liturgy more in harmony with the spirit of primitive Christianity. Accordingly, Archbishop Cranmer, with the aid of Martin Bucer, a German, and Peter Martyr, an Italian Protestant, both learned men, reviewed it, adding the Sentences, Exhortation, Confession, and Absolution ; and omitting some things such as Prayers for the Dead,' and a few Rubrics. This Book was confirmed by Parliament in 1551, and an Act of Uniformity passed in April, 1552, directed its general use. But it is not known that Convocation sanctioned it, and it was probably never generally adopted.

King Edward died July 6, 1553, and Queen Mary restored the Latin Missal ; but after her death in November, 1558, her sister Elizabeth, desiring to restore the English Service and "to unite the nation in one faith," ordered a re-view of the two Prayer Books of Edward's reign. Two of the ten divines chosen to carry out this revision were Matthew Parker after-ward, and Edmund Grindall then, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the result of the reviewers' work was the restoration of substantially the second Book of Edward VI.'s reign, for this Book, rather than the first, was taken as the basis of their work, and the changes made in it were very few. It came into use the 24th of June, 1559, and from this time onward the English Prayer Book received few alterations. In 1663, the first year of the reign of James I., a few slight changes were made, and later, in the reign of Charles II., a few more, and so, with the generally desirable, yet as regards the substance of the liturgy, unimportant changes made by the American Church in 1789, the Book of Common Prayer has come to us.

This, in brief outline, is the history of the Prayer Book as a whole, and when we come to a consideration of its details, we shall see at how many points it touches the history of Religion. We read the Psalter and are carried back to the Hebrew Temple service centuries before Christ, when the same psalms were chanted responsively by the Hebrew congregations. The Venite of our Morning Prayer (the 95th Psalm) takes us back not only to the primitive liturgies of the East and West, but to the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, for which it was perhaps originally composed. The Te Deum, which is, at least, 1500 years old, brings us face to face with Ambrose and the baptism of Augustine. The Benedicite, " 0 all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord," was an ancient hymn in the Jewish Church, and was sung by the early Christians. The Apostles' Creed, the Creed in its Western form, introduces us to the simple, uncontroversial faith of primitive Christianity. The Nicene Creed, the Creed in its Eastern form, recalls the most dignified and most important General Council of the Church. The Lord's Prayer and the Gospels bring us face to face with our Lord himself. The Collect for Peace in the Morning and Evening Prayer comes from the Sacramentary of Gregory the Great, an early and eminent Bishop of Rome, and is also associated with Augustine's mission to Britain. The Collect for the Clergy and People comes likewise from Gregory's ancient Prayer Book, and has been used in the Church of England for more than 1200 years. The prayer of St. Chrysostom brings before us that ancient Greek pulpit orator in his church at Constantinople, since it is from the liturgy that bears his name. Part of the Gloria in Excelsis is ascribed to Telesphorus, who is supposed to have composed it about the year 137. The Litany marks one of the most important epochs in general history, the time when in the Roman Empire, tottering to its fall, the terror inspired by the invasions of hordes of Barbarians was increased by droughts, pestilences, and earthquakes, and the Church itself was rent by fierce internal strifes. In the open streets and fields of France, the centre of these disorders, it is said the first Litany was sung or shouted by terror-stricken multitudes, who hoped thus to avert the judgments of God. In the light of its origin we can understand those strong expressions : the offences of our forefathers; lightning and tempest ; plague, pestilence, and famine; battle and murder and sudden death ; desolate and oppressed; troubles and adversities. Most of the Collects are very ancient, having been framed probably by St. Jerome (who selected also the Epistles and Gospels as they now stand), and then put in order and increased by Gelasius, a Bishop of Rome in the fifth century, and later revised by Pope Gregory the Great in the year 600 ; while some alterations in them date, with the Sentences, Exhortation, Confession, and Absolution, to the time of the Reformation. To the Great Bible of Tyndale, Coverdale, and Cranmer, of 1535-1540, rather than to the Version of King James, of 1611, or the Bishop's Bible, of 1571, we may trace our Prayer Book Psalter. The Offertory Sentences are not from any recognized version, but were probably translated by Cranmer, as also the Benedictus, Magnificat, and Nunc Dimittis. The Epistles and Gospels are from King James' Version, while the Psalms sung regularly in Morning and Evening Prayer agree in the main with the Great Bible. Dean Stanley eloquently says : " The Prayer Book, as it stands, is a long gallery of ecclesiastical history, which, to be understood and enjoyed thoroughly, absolutely compels a knowledge of the greatest events and names of all periods of the Christian Church. To Ambrose we owe the present form of our Te Deum ; Charlemagne breaks the silence of our ordination prayers by the Veni Creator Spiritus. The persecutions have given us one Creed, and the Empire another. The name of the first great Patriarch of the Byzantine Church (Chrysostom) closes our daily service ; the Litany is the bequest of the first great Patriarch of the Latin Church (Gregory) amidst the terrors of the Roman pestilence. Our Collects are the joint production of the Fathers, the Popes, and the Reformers. Our Communion Service bears the traces of every fluctuation of the Reformation through the two extremes of the reign of Edward to the conciliating policy of Elizabeth, and the reactionary zeal of the Restoration. The more comprehensive, the more free, the more impartial is our study of ecclesiastical history, the more it will be in accordance with the spirit and letter of the Church of England."

This, then, is the Prayer Book used in every church of the Anglican faith and order through-out Christendom. It is inevitable that a book with such a history should reflect phases of thought and feeling that the world for the time, and perhaps forever, has outgrown, and should contain words and phrases now become obsolete. And it is quite as impossible that it should conform solely to the experience of any one age or phase of thought. In studying it we must not allow our minds to be diverted from its essential principles and its leading purpose, to any mere technicality of expression or phrase that may seem ambiguous. Spiritual birth and death and resurrection, humiliation and triumph, self-sacrifice and reconciliation with God, the true relation of temporal and eternal, human and divine, these are the essential truths of the Book of Common Prayer. And all these vital truths expressed in the seasons of the Church Year group them-selves around the great doctrine of all true religious thought, the doctrine of the Incarnation. In that doctrine of God in humanity, lie the germs that have expanded into the various forms of common prayer and praise, the Sacramental liturgy, and the occasional Offices. From it; as the central doctrine of all devotional thought and life, come the observances of Ad-vent and Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Whitsuntide, and Trinity,—all commemorative of that life that forever stands as the type of the life of humanity, the Christ in his headship of the body of which we are members.

For us who believe in prayer as the instinctive utterance of the heart, who are content to pray without necessarily framing a doctrine of prayer, what words can be found more simple, more comprehensive, more tender, than the words of our Collects. How direct and natural are the prayers for light and guidance, for the increase of faith, hope, and charity, for defence against dangers temporal and spiritual, for right judgment in all the affairs of life, and for stead-fastness in the way of truth. And how broad and rational is the underlying spirit of the Prayer Book. In the familiar Collect for Peace it recognizes most fully that " all holy desires, all good counsels, all just works" proceed from the inspiration of God. Following the teaching of Jesus and Paul, it declares that " all our doings without charity are nothing worth." Where it has one expression that would seem to make salvation in anywise dependent upon metaphysical or doctrinal rectitude, like Christ's own teachings, it has a hundred testifying to the supreme importance of righteous life. Its Creeds are catholic as truth itself, its doctrine of the Church is not limited by the accidents or expedients of a single age or intellectual condition.' It not only embodies the divine richness of the words of Christ, but it reflects the inspired zeal of St. Paul, the love of St. John, the fervor of St. Peter, the catholicity of Athanasius, the vast learning of the most gifted of the Fathers—Origen, the eloquence of the golden-mouthed Chrysostom, the logic of Augustine, the wisdom of Cranmer and his fellow-workers; and among its sacred associations are enshrined the devotion and faith, the prayers and tears and sufferings of Apostles and Martyrs, holy women and Christ-like men, that whole vast company " who, having finished their course in faith, do now rest from their labors."

And when we remember, as we all should, that long ago, our own forefathers in England, in their times of joy or sorrow, of peace or penitence, as they knelt together in the churches of the motherland, used the same Collects, sang the same Te Deum, offered the petitions of the same Litany, and thus expressed emotions of religious joy or sorrow, identical with those that we their children feel, how in-comparably sacred must the English Prayer Book seem. Our ritual, in grandeur and impressiveness, is far below that of ancient Faiths like those of Assyria or Egypt ; and indeed in perfection of religious art, no Reformed Church can compare with the Church of Rome, but taken all in all, what service speaks so directly to the heart, or so simply and fittingly ex-presses the Religion of mankind, the primitive Faith of the Church, founded by our Divine Master, as the service of the English Book of Common Prayer. The failure to appreciate its merits among people of Puritan descent, a mistake that is necessarily fast curing itself, is due, not, as many have supposed, to the possession of more vital piety or more rational beliefs by people who use no Book of Prayer, but to that spirit of excessive protest, which led the Puritans in England and America into fanatical in-tolerance of much that the wisest minds in all ages have loved and upheld.'

The liturgy of the Prayer Book is not perfect, but its spirit is in harmony with the leading idea of our Church, which is that of religious education, and to him who uses it, it becomes ever, insensibly, more and more sacred and dear. There are times when extemporaneous prayers may be necessary or at least desirable, but there can be little doubt that the liturgical instinct which has expressed itself in all great Faiths, demands for the permanent and abiding use of worship a well ordered and uniform ritual, and one which shall bear the impress, not of a single mind, but of many minds in many successive ages of religious thought and culture. As we have already said, modern extemporaneous worship receives no sanction from any of the great Faiths of the world, nor could it have been desired even by those ultra Protestants who have given the tone to much of modern Christianity, Calvin and John Knox, for both these men compiled for use in their day liturgies or Books of Common Prayer. Nor does it satisfy the better educated people of any denomination to-day. Whenever the spirit of religion has been broad and catholic, the value of historic liturgies has been felt, and now that the more enlightened people of modern sects have come into some comprehension of the largeness of Christianity, they feel the lack of catholicity, lack of dignity of their non-liturgical worship.

Little by little, especially among the children of the Puritans, worship, seeking forms that are adequate for its true expression, is turning itself into the well worn channels that the Catholic faith has made, is readopting the forms rendered sacred by nearly two thousand years of constant Christian use. The Prayer Book, both as a literary treasure and as the noblest manual of devotion in the English-speaking world, is one of the most valuable parts of our inheritance as children of the ancient Mother Church.

To its refining and spiritualizing influence the modern world now owes more than it can possibly understand, and as Christianity again returns to the spirit of the Christ and his Apostles, the ancient liturgy shall exert a still wider influence and secure the love of many hearts that have not yet entered into sympathy with its divine richness.



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