Arthur Middleton on after lockdown


With the ending of lockdown public worship will be restored as churches are reopened, but it will require a good deal of teaching by parish priests to restore in people’s minds the importance of attendance at the Liturgy, described in Hooker’s words as ‘the public prayer of the people of God’ (Ecclesiastical Polity, V.25). For months now their Devotions have been either by DIY or Zoom in their own individual abode which may have cultivated an individualistic and negative attitude to obligatory attendance at liturgical worship. Public prayer is not the sum total of the individual prayers of Christians joining together in the  worship, but the prayer of an organism , an entity, the Church, the Body of Christ. A parish priest saying his office is not worshipping in his own name  but is offering up on behalf of all Christians  the daily prayers of the Church, one of his priestly duties is to be the glory of God.

Spiritual decay overtakes the Church which has no prayer of its own. This prayer is the liturgy, the prayer of the Church. It is the life and soul of religion, the anima mundi that universal soul which quickens, unites, and moves the whole Christian world.

The Liturgy is something quite different from private prayer; it has principles and an ethos of its own. We must learn to distinguish  the Liturgy from our own private devotions. Jeremy Taylor states that Churches as distinct from individuals have ‘special necessities in  a distinct capacity. The Liturgy of the Church voices these necessities. We are not to expect to find in the Liturgy frequent petitions suited to individual needs. Such prayers are best made in the closet, not in the Liturgy which voices the needs of the Church.’ The Liturgy voices the prayers of the whole Church we live in, which are common to priest and people. It is the prayer of the Church, not regarded as a collection individuals but as the Body of Christ.

This grasp of the function of the Eucharist in the Liturgy was behind the campaign for weekly communions. Bishop Cosin believed the rubrics of the Prayer Book intended a daily celebration. It appears in the attitude of people like William Laud towards the altar. On his trial he proclaimed that the holy table was ‘the greatest place of God’s residence upon earth.  Jeremy Taylor stated that the altar is the place where Christian sacrifices are presented, and where ‘the beloved Body and Blood of the Son of God ‘ are really present in the sacrament. Hence the growth of reverencing the altar by bowing and giving it a central places in our churches. So the liturgy of the Church should have a central place in our devotional life,  and hopefully after this time of lockdown will become central again and an essential part of teaching and practice.