Common Worship is another opportunity missed,
says Michael Moreton
THE FOUR-PAGE leaflet which accompanied the Common Worship booklet recently circulated among the clergy stated that the new services ‘bring together the best of both ancient and modern, classic and contemporary’. But the question is, so far as the eucharistic prayer is concerned, what is meant by ‘ancient’ and ‘classic’?
The starting point for this enquiry must be the consolidation of the life of the Church following the Constantinian peace. The canon of Scripture was finally settled, and so also was the canon of faith in the Nicene and Niceno-Constantinopolitan creeds. Attached to the creeds were canons – the beginning of canon law. The canonical order of bishop, presbyter and deacon was everywhere established. And the canon of the Church’s prayer was stabilized in the capitals, in Antioch and Byzantium in the East, and in Milan and Rome in the West.
In the Antiochene-Byzantine tradition, represented by the Anaphora of St John Chrysostom and the Anaphora of the Twelve Apostles, the narrative of the institution was the source of both anamnesis and anaphora, remembering and offering – viz ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ and ‘This is my blood of the new covenant’. What the Church remembered was the Christ event as a whole: ‘this saving commandment’, the cross, the grave, the resurrection on the third day, the heavenly session and the second parousia. And what was offered was ta sa ek ton son thine own of thine own, and ta prokeimena dora tauta, these proffered gifts; and upon these gifts the Holy Spirit was invoked to make them, in accordance with the institution, the body and blood of Christ. Intercession for the whole Church – with whom the local church was in communion – was then made under the heading ‘We offer’ and ‘Remember’. Thus the liturgy, as the anaphora of St John Chrysostom explicitly recognizes, was indeed an integral part of Christ’s work of redemption.
As for the West, the close similarity of the central paragraphs of the Latin canon in Ambrose’s De Sacramentis and the Canon actionis in the old Gelasianum, together with the absence of Trinitarian expressions and a Spirit-epiclesis, reflecting the controversies of the fourth century, justifies us in attributing their origin to antiquity and perhaps to the change-over from Greek to Latin. Yet the theology of the canon is essentially the same as that of the Byzantine anaphora. So again the narrative of the institution is the source of both anamnesis and oblation. Remembering the passion, resurrection and ascension of Christ, the Church – nos servi tui sed et plebs tua sancta – offers de tuis ac datis both the hostia and the bread and the cup of eternal salvation. The Quam oblatione paragraph seeks divine approval of the actio of the Church; while the Supplices paragraph seeks to unite these things – haec – in the actio of the Church with God’s altar on high. Intercession is distributed through the canon under the headings Offerimus and Memento. Thus, as in the East, the Church’s canon is an integral part of the work of Christ. It operates as mysterium fidei, the inner meaning of the faith.
The eucharistic theology of the Church in East and West is substantially in agreement, and it was on the basis of these rites that East and West continued in communion with each other. Moreover the anaphora of St John Chrysostom and the Roman canon still determine the meaning of the eucharist in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches today. But none of this is to be found in the eucharistic prayers A to H of Common Worship. Indeed the offering of the bread and the cup is consistently excluded in favour of the offering of ourselves; while the Spirit-epiclesis equally consistently refers always to ourselves and never to the gifts. Significantly intercession is not a regular part of the Common Worship prayers; and when it does occur, minimally, it is in detachment from the action of the prayer. Thus, whereas in the ‘ancient’ and ‘classic’ tradition of the eucharist redemption is actualized by the performance of the rite, in the eucharistic prayers of Common Worship everything seems to depend on what we ourselves put into it from our own resources. Worship in Common Worship is external to the Christ event in history, instead of the Christ event being realized in the rite.
The trouble with Common Worship is basically that the starting point of the new prayers is the Evangelical interpretation of the BCP. No attempt is made to get back to the liturgical problems from which 1549 and 1552 arose, and to seek their resolution in the light of the history of rites, available today but not in that age. By contrast Rome has now done just this. It continues to enshrine the ancient canon as Prex Eucharistica I in the 1970 Missal. At the same time it has adopted some of the chief principles of the Reformers in the use of the vernacular, and in shifting the emphasis from presence to communion, and that in both kinds. And in addition the pre-medieval understanding of the corporate nature of liturgy, celebrated by both priest and people together, is once again restored. Why could not Common Worship have made a similar gesture towards the classic liturgies of antiquity by the inclusion of at least one eucharistic prayer of indisputable catholicity ? And here of course there is really only one candidate in view. Perhaps that is still the problem for the Church of England.
The claim then that the new services “bring together the best of both ancient and modern, classic and contemporary’ is manifestly misleading and wide of the truth. Is it not now necessary for Catholic Anglicans to protest about Common Worship? It is more than time that we had in the Church of England an authorised eucharistic prayer that is genuinely oecumenical in the sense of being unmistakably Catholic, and which incidentally will do almost more than anything else to serve the end of Christian unity.
Michael Moreton is a retired priest in the diocese of Exeter and formerly lecturer in theology at Exeter University