The New Liturgy, says David Silk, leaves Catholic Anglicans in a dilemma

MICHAEL MORETON (New Directions: June) commenting on the Eucharistic Prayers in Common Worship hits the nail on the head: “… the starting point of the new prayers is the Evangelical interpretation of the BCP”.

Michael Moreton and I, while at one in the doctrinal issues which are raised by the drafting of Eucharistic Prayers, have not always been at one in regard to the political implications. In the case of the ASB he, exact and careful scholar that he is, looked for a clear and unequivocal expression of the classical Catholic and Orthodox understanding of the Eucharist – an understanding set out in the ARCIC statement on the Eucharist and approved by both Communions. I, on the other hand, immersed the realpolitik of the Church of England, generally was willing to commend texts which were not clear and unequivocal, but could at least he interpreted in accordance with the classical rites (and ARCIC).

In ASB this freedom of interpretation was secured by a common ground plan. After the words of institution the classical rites all continue with a development of the canon of Hippolytus Apostolic Tradition: “remembering the death and resurrection, we offer …”. In other words the main verb of the prayer is “we offer…” and the remembering is subordinate. Since this approach, and particularly “we offer”, has been resisted by the Evangelical tradition in the Church of England, those of us in the Catholic tradition have had to be content with texts which follow the ancient and classical pattern and may be construed by Catholic Anglicans to reflect the faith of the Great Church, the Church of the ages and the nations.

ASB Payer 1 “… we celebrate with this bread and this cup his (Christ’s) one perfect sacrifice. Accept . ..this our sacrifice of thanks and praise; and as we eat and drink these holy gifts…”

ASB Prayer 2 “… we make with this bread and this cup the memorial of Christ your Son our Lord. Accept through him this offering of our duty and service; and as we eat and drink these holy gifts…”

ASB Prayer 3 “…we celebrate this memorial of our redemption … we bring before you this bread and this cup … We pray you to accept this our duty and service, a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving…”

“…we offer you through him this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.”

Even in the ASB Prayer for Use with the Sick this basic ground plan was adopted. It was nothing like what Catholic Anglicans would have wished, but it was all that could be achieved at the time, and many of us could live with it.

Tragically the Eucharistic Prayers of Common Worship do not offer even this meagre latitude of interpretation.

In Prayer A the memorial acclamation has been relocated to break the link between “we celebrate and “accept…”

Prayer B, originally ASB 3, has been altered in a way which clearly excludes the classical understanding, for the bringing of bread and cup is now clearly distinguished from the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

Prayer C has been altered in the Evangelical direction by restoring “our” in line 5 on page 45.

Prayer D has no main sentence which may be understood as “we offer” unless “we celebrate the cross” is intended to afford that option. But while we may celebrate (= recall and present) Christ’s perfect sacrifice as an expression of being “drawn into” his self-offering (cf. ARCIC: Eucharist: Section 5), it is hard to see how such a verb may apply to the inanimate instrument of our deliverance.

Prayer E seems muddled but may just be understood in the catholic sense. But the memorial acclamation has been located too late and the prayer includes no request that our worship may be accepted by the Father.

Prayer F does not even link the bread and cup with remembrance – the sacrifice, if it is there at all, is purely verbal.

Prayer G is a very attractive text and has much to commend it. But it has the disadvantage of following the pattern of Eastern Eucharistic Prayers and this raises devotional issues.

Prayer H departs so drastically from the classical norms, following a kite flown from time to time with notable lack of success, that it cannot be taken seriously.

A dismal picture indeed. And more dismal by far than the picture between 1552 and 1965 because the truncated Canon of the BCP at least leaves open the interpretation of what is happening. But a full canon forecloses the interpretation and leaves a dire situation.

In the Unbloody Sacrifice 1847 John Johnson concluded,

Such priests and pious discerning laymen, as are convinced of the truth and necessity of the primitive Sacrifice, and do not think that the public provision for it is sufficient, have no proper remedy left, but to labour with prayers to God, and with persuasions and arguments to men, for the perfect restitution of the sacrificial oblatory part of the Christian Liturgy; and in the meantime, to supply such defects as well as they can by their own private silent devotions.

In broad brush terms and in brief, the Eucharistic Prayer is a Christian version of a Jewish berakah or blessing. Such a prayer traditionally falls into three parts, blessing and praise of God for himself, thanksgiving for his mighty acts, and supplication that he will continue or repeat them in our day. The basic form was available from the Jewish tradition. Into it was inserted the Christian embolism [cf. Justin, Dial. 41] consisting of institution narrative, anamnesis (remembrance) and oblation (offering). In Rome and the West and in Alexandria the embolism was inserted into the third section (supplication).

Elsewhere it was inserted into the second section (thanksgiving). Thus the classical prayers fall into two main groups: “western” in which the invocation (supplication) contains the institution – remembrance – offering, and “eastern” in which the invocation follows the institution – remembrance – offering. In both cases the doctrine is the same – the Church prays that the Holy Spirit may “accomplish” (cf the Lima text and liturgy) the words of the living Word by revealing the bread and wine to be the body and blood of Christ and presents the spiritual sacrifice to the Father, and is drawn into his self-offering.

But, while in the West the liturgical drama focusses wholly on the words of Christ, in the East the focus is on both the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit. Both styles are authentically part of the classical tradition, but Anglicans are of the “West” and the BCP has encouraged them to focus on the words of Christ. It is therefore difficult for traditional Anglicans to cope devotionally and liturgically with a diet which mixes the two traditions. The problem is not so much adherence to a “moment of consecration” as the broader question of how the human soul connects with the mystery and expresses that in rite and ceremony. Either way is possible, but both ways at once may be beyond most of us.

This issue is closely bound up with the location of the memorial acclamations. Common Worship sometimes places these in the traditional spot, immediately after the institution narrative, and sometimes prefers a novel spot, immediately after the anamnesis. Once again there will be devotional confusion, but there are also other problems. Not only is a Catholic interpretation of the text made more difficult by this interpolation, but an acclamation which is a congregational underlining of “remembrance” is detached from its parent text. The modern Roman introduction, “the mystery of faith” reflects what may well have been a deacon’s coaching intervention which belonged originally in the margin alongside the institution narrative over the chalice, and later became absorbed into the narrative itself. This would have happened during the development in which Low Mass replaced High Mass as the norm. The acclamations should, therefore, all be introduced by “the mystery of faith”, a text which among other things points to the discernment by the eye of faith of the sacramental body and blood of Christ (cf. I Cor. 11.29). The alternatives in Common Worship are otiose. Thus the memorial acclamation belongs with “do this in remembrance of me”. There are many instances of congregational interventions in the Eucharistic Prayer, especially in the East, but those in the later place – between offering and invocation are generally a verbal hinge such as “we praise you, we bless you and we pray to you”. Memorial acclamations do not belong there.

The sum of what is perforce a whistle-stop tour of a few stations in a vast railway network is that Common Worship will leave many Catholic Anglicans in a dilemma. Eucharistic Prayers which vary in style and content from classical norms can be contained within a church which in other ways expresses its central beliefs and is in no doubt about what it means by eucharistic sacrifice and real presence. Within a church which is in doubt or disagreement, and whose doctrine is enshrined in its liturgical texts, such variation is dangerous and will inevitably lead to the disappearance of the traditional Catholic understanding of the Eucharist.

Traditionally Catholic Anglicans have used the Church of England rites, BCP and ASB, and have supplemented them by borrowing from other sources ancient, mediaeval and modern. We understand the Church of England to be the manifestation of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church – the Great Church – in England after the upheaval of the sixteenth century. That view has not been espoused by all Anglicans but has been respected by most and shared to a measure by many. Such breadth has included those of us who express our position by celebrating the Anglican rites more Romano. The failings of Common Worship may well encourage those whose consciences are constrained to move towards celebrating the Roman rites more Anglicano.

David Silk is Bishop of Ballarat, Australia.