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 Issues | Book of Common Prayer | 1928 Revision

Carter : Prayer Book Revision

Appendix H of Neil & Willoughby, The Tutorial Prayer Book (Church Book Room Press, London 1959). Appendix written for this edition by Rev Sydney Carter when the book was republished.


As long ago as the middle of the last century the ‘Ritualistic’ Movement scandalized most Church people by introducing practices and ceremonies which were illegal and non-rubrical by the Prayer Book, and which were usually accompanied by teaching which was medieval or Roman in tendency. The ‘six points’ of ritual were openly practised as also was Reservation of the elements, although it was forbidden by the rubrics and Articles. ‘Reservation,’ after a long judicial hearing, was condemned by the special ‘judgment’ of the two Archbishops in 1900, who circularized all the Bishops to procure its discontinuance; but so far from being stamped out, in 1904 it was used at Holy Communion in thirty churches. There was widespread opposition to this Romeward movement not only by the questionable methods of open protest during divine service by Mr. John Kensit, but also in ‘Church Discipline Bills,’ introduced into Parliament in 1899 and 1903 for the abolition of the episcopal veto on ritual suits. As the Archbishop of Canterbury told an influential deputation of Churchmen in 1903, ‘tolerance had passed its limits,’ and in some cases ‘stern and drastic action was essential.’ General resentment increased until in April 1904 Mr. Balfour appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into Breaches of the Law concerning Divine worship. This Commission, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, held 118 sittings and examined 164 witnesses, and issued its Report in June 1906. It carefully discriminated between ‘significant and non-significant’ breaches of the Law, and declared that the former were subversive of the teaching of the Church of England as set forth in the Prayer Book and Articles, and ‘lay on the Romeward side of a line of deep cleavage between the Church of England and that of Rome.’ They should be made to cease at once. The practices thus condemned included the interpolation of prayers and ceremonies belonging to the Canon of the Mass, Reservation of the Sacrament under conditions leading to its adoration, Corpus Christi processions with the Sacrament, Benediction with the Sacrament, Celebration with the intent that there should be no communicants, Devotions involving invocations to the Virgin Mary or the Saints, Observance of the festival of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and of the Sacred Heart.

If such practices had been allowed, they would have created a practical revision of the Prayer Book of a serious character. Furthermore, the Report condemned the past inactions of the Bishops and recommended the issue of ‘Letters of Business’ to the House of Convocation ‘to consider the preparation of a new rubric to regulate the ornaments of ministers at the times of their ministrations with a view to its enactment by Parliament.’ They were also ‘to frame such modifications of existing law concerning the conduct of Divine Service and ornaments of Churches, as may tend to secure the greater elasticity of the comprehensiveness of the Church of England as its present needs seem to demand.’ The Report denied the Bishops any claim to override or suspend or add to the statutory services by the use of a ‘Jus Liturginius,’ since the ‘Acts of Uniformity bind the Bishops equally with the other clergy in regard to rites, services and cerenionies. The only ‘lawful Authority’ to alter the Church services is Parliament, and since the passing of the Enabling Act, the Church Assembly and Parliament.

‘Letters of Business’ were issued to the Convocation in November 1906 and they have been re-issued several times since then. The four Houses of Convocation decided to consider Prayer Book revision independently and then compare their results. It seemed to many a very liberal interpretation of the ‘Letters of Business,’ to construe the permission ‘to frame modifications concerning the conduct of Divine service’, into authority to undertake an entire revision of the whole Liturgy But special Committees were appointed for this purpose and several Reports were issued in the following years. In 1911 a motion of the joint Committee of the Upper and Lower Houses to provide an Alternative Communion Office on the lines of the 1549 Prayer Book, was rejected. After much further complicated procedure the agreed recommendations of various joint Committees were published in October 1918. It was agreed not to alter the text of the 1602 Prayer Book, but to issue a supplementary volume with a table of permissible variations from it to be sanctioned for a certain period. By October 1919 the House of Convocation had agreed on a joint Reply to the Royal Letters of Business in which no change was suggested in the Holy Communion Service, but provision was made for Reservation for the sick only. But the passing of the ‘Enabling Act’ in December 1919, constituted a ‘National Church Assembly of clergy and laity,’ (the latter indirectly elected through Parochial Church Councils and Diocesan Conferences,) and this avoided the necessity of the Revision proposals being presented to Parliament by a Bill, since these Measures had only to be submitted for the approval or rejection of Parliament and could not be amended in any way. Many valuable Measures have been passed into law by this means.

This newly created Assembly at once in 1920 appointed a Committee to consider the proposal of Convocation on Prayer Book revision and this was reported in May 1922. A minority of five laymen regretted that they could not approve of a new proposed rubric permitting Reservation of the consecrated elements and ‘further provision to meet the needs of the sick and dying’. Thus of the 9 lay members of this Committee, five condemned the practice of Reservation as ‘unprimitive, uncatholic and unscriptural.’ They were Sir Edward Clarke, Sir George King, Dr. Eugene Stock, Mr. Albert Mitchell and Mr. H. C. Hogan. However, the Report N.A.84 received the general approval of the Assembly in July 1923. A Measure dealing with the Lectionary was approved by Parliament in 1922 and provided an optional use of a ‘Revised’ Table of Lessons. The Prayer Book Revision Measure proposing permissive alternatives to 1662, was debated and amended in the Houses of Clergy and Laity and then sent to the House of Bishops for its final drafting. It was at length ‘approved’ by large Majorities by the whole Assembly on July 6,1927. But this did not indicate a really urgent demand on the part of the Churchmen generally for a Revision of the Prayer Book. The Bishops exerted very great pressure to get the Measure adopted on the insistent claim that it was the ‘only means of restoring discipline’ and peace and good order in the Church, and that it was only for optional use. The House of Laity had only reluctantly consented to the Revised Communion Office on the understanding that in the opinion of the Bishops it would produce peace.

There was a large amount of apathy amongst the rank and file of ordinary Church-goers on the question of revision, and undoubtedly the vast majority, as the Bishop of Gloucester (Headlam) said in 1922, ‘would much prefer that there should be no revision at all. This is the opinion of at least 90 per cent of the ordinary members of the Church.’ (The Times, November 15, 1922.) When the actual proposals were seen to involve questions of doctrine endangering the reformed character of the Church, there was deep and widespread opposition. This was evidenced not only by largely attended public meetings of protest, but by numerous influential, signed memorials representing very large numbers of Communicants. This active opposition was voiced by Bishop Knox (formerly of Manchester) and by the Bishop of Norwich, as well as by such prominent laymen as the Rt. Hon. Sir William Joynson Hicks, Bart., the Home Secretary, and Sir Thomas Inskip, K.C., the Attorney General. We can only mention the most controversial parts of the Revised Prayer Book which aroused the greatest opposition. Under the cover of the ‘Ornaments rubric,’ which was re-worded in 1662, an increasing number of ‘Ritualist’ or, as they were then styling themselves, ‘Anglo-Catholic’ clergy, had introduced the use of the medieval Mass vestments for the Holy Communion in spite of their condemnation by the Church Courts. The Royal Commission recommended the framing of an entirely new ‘ornaments rubric,’ but the Revisers in the 1927 book left this rubric untouched, merely adding a positive statement that ‘for the avoidance of all controversy and doubtfulness it is hereby prescribed that notwithstanding anything that is enjoined in any Rubric or Canon, the Priest in celebrating the Holy Communion shall wear either a surplice with a stole or with scarf and hood or a white alb plain with a vestment or cope.’

A lengthy Report of a Convocation Committee in 1908, including the disputed interpretation of the ‘Ornaments rubric,’ known as the ‘Report of the Five Bishops,’ (but mainly the work of Bishop E. C. S. Gibson of Gloucester), had declared that the ‘Ornaments of Ministers cannot rightly be regarded as expressive of doctrine, but their use is a matter of reverent and seemly Order.’ It probably did not occur to the Five Bishops that this Declaration implied a serious condemnation of all those clergy, not wearing Vestments, of conducting an ‘Irreverent and unseemly Common Service.’ The historical statements advanced in this Report were seriously challenged by some of the ablest students of the Reformation period, including Mr. J. T. Tomlinson and Dr. Gee, and the conclusion that the Mass Vestments were not distinctive of doctrine, was directly contradicted by the official statement of the President of the English Church Union, Lord Halifax, who declared that we ‘value them because they witness to the fact that the administration of the Lord's Supper is neither more nor less than the Mass in English.’ After the publication of the Episcopal Report, Convocation resolved that provision should be made for a ‘diversity of use,’ although it explicitly declared that ‘no sanction is intended to be given to any doctrine other than what is set forth in the Prayer Book and Articles of the Church of England.’

Accompanying this proposed authorization of Mass Vestments was the introduction of a new alternative Canon of Consecration Prayer, in the Revised Communion Office, in spite of its definite rejection by Convocation in 1911. In 1926 Bishop Headlam (of Gloucester) had also condemned the proposal of an Alternative Communion Office ‘as fatal to the unity of the Church,’ and as a complete failure in statesmanship to stereotype the two parties in the Church of England by allowing disunion in exactly the service in which most of all we should be united.’

An earlier proposal to change the Consecration Prayer by means of an Alternative ‘Use’ caused in 1919 the promotion of a Memorial of Protest by nine diocesan Bishops, to the two Archbishops which was signed by over 3,000 Clergy and 102,000 laity. A Memorial on the same subject, and also objecting to Reservation and non-communicating attendance, was circulated in 1924 by Bishop Knox and Chavasse and three other retired Bishops, which received nearly 300,000 signatures.

The proposed Alternative Consecration Prayer includes both the ‘Ornaments’ and the ‘Epiclesis,’ the former declaring that ‘we set forth before Thy Divine Majesty with these Thy Holy Gifts, the Memorial which Thy son hath willed us to make,’ while the Epiclesis prayed that ‘with Thy Holy and Life-giving Spirit vouchsafe to bless and sanctify both us and these Thy gifts of Bread and Wine that they may be unto us the Body and Blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ.’ The Prayer then immediately asks for the acceptance ‘of this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.’ Such language was widely and strenuously opposed as ‘without warrant of Holy Scripture.’ It was objected that we are nowhere told by Christ 'to set forth' with the symbols of bread and wine a ‘memorial before God,’ but rather that in eating and drinking the bread and wine we ‘proclaim’ to men, His death or sacrifice for us. It was also urged that there is no New Testament authority for the action of the Holy Spirit giving life to inanimate material things such as bread and wine. It was widely felt that such language implied a change in the elements external to the act of the communicant and thus amounted to a real objective Presence in them by virtue of consecration. Again the following petition for the acceptance of ‘this sacrifice’ seemed to many perilously akin to the offering of the ‘gifts’ (now transformed by the ‘life-giving’ action of the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of Christ), as a sacrifice for the quick and dead-a return in fact to the medieval doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass. Bishop Knox concurred with this view. That such an interpretation of the Alternative Consecration Prayer had good foundation was evident by the deliberate statement of the learned Jesuit priest Father Woodlock, who declared that ‘it introduced elements previously lacking which seem definitely to bring the service in line with Mass.’ This was an endorsement of Lord Halifax's assertion that the Holy Communion Service was in reality ‘the Mass in English.’ It was, said Father Woodlock, ‘patient of a sacrificial and propitiatory interpretation, which the office of 1662 could not possibly bear.’

Such a construction was further supported by what had happened during the Canadian Prayer Book Revision debates in 1914 when the Primate of Canada ruled as ‘out of Order’ a proposal to insert a practically identical prayer in the Canadian Book on the ground that it contravened the guiding principle of their revision that there should be ‘no change of doctrine’ (cf. Armitage’s Story of the Canaian Prayer Book, 250-2). Many also urged the historical precedent that the main reason why Archbishop Cranmer changed this prayer (which he had inserted in the 1549 Prayer Book) was because Bishop Gardiner and the Roman party ‘read into it’ the Sacrifice of t-he Mass and the real Obhective Presence in the elements. Bishop Guest in 1559 also objected to this prayer ‘because it maketh for the Popish transubstantiation which hath caused much idolatry.’ Yet the two Archbishops of Canterbury and York solemnly asserted that nothing in the Revised Book involved a change of doctrine, and this statement was inserted in the Preface of what was styled the ‘Deposited Book.’ A practice which the Royal Commission had declared should be ‘made to cease’ at once, ‘was Reservation of the Sacrament under conditions leading to its Adoration.’ In the Judicial Hearing on ‘Reservation’ in 1899, Archbishop Temple had ruled ‘that the language of the 28th Article cannot be taken otherwise than as condemning the practice altogether,’ while Archbishop Maclagan had added that ‘wherever Reservation is practised there arises the danger of the Sacrament being worshipped as well as reserved.’ But the Revised Prayer Book made definite provision for it, and in special circumstances allowed permanent reservation of the elements though forbidding ‘any service or ceremony’ to be held in connection with it, or its exposition or removal except for actual reception in Communion. It directed that this Reservation shall be in an aumbry or safe either in the Church or any chapel of it. This concession aroused the greatest opposition. Considering the teaching of the ‘medievalist’ clergy like Dr. Darwell Stone that the ‘Reserved Sacrament is the Body of Christ,’ it was felt that once the elements were reserved it was impossible to prevent the practice of their Adoration, which was so strongly condemned by the post Communion rubric as ‘idolatry to be abhored of all faithful Christians.’ That this was no vain fear had been demonstrated when the Bishop of London in 1917 refused to vote for the restriction of reservation for the sick only, because ‘the longing to get near the Sacramental Presence of our Lord was so urgent,’ and when a ‘Memorial’ to the Bishops, signed by 1,000 clergy, had flatly refused to obey any such restrictions if made. In 1927 there were at least 700 Churches where Reservation was being practised in defiance of the law, and the provision for it in the Revised Book was certain to extend the practice which to the majority of Church people seemed ‘repugnant to the plain words and intention of Christ in instituting the Lord's supper.’ Again to many the plea for Reservation in order to carry at once the elements to the sick seemed a harmless and ancient custom, but it became unreal when, as in 1926, a Bishop used it for allowing an aumbry with a light burning in front of it to denote the presence of a permanently reserved sacrament (St. Luke's, Southport).

Again, the provision in the Revised Prayer Book. of Prayers for the Departed, was strongly opposed by a large section of Church people as inconsistent with the principle enunciated in Article 2, while the solemn warning in the ‘Homily on Prayer’ definitely condemned them. ‘Neither let us dream any more that the sods of the dead are anything at all holpen by our prayers.’ It in effect denies the clear statement that ‘By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are being sanctified’ (Hebrews, x. 14).

The omission in the services in the Revised Book of Old Testament personages and incidents caused serious concern to many for the dear witness to the integrity of the Word of God. while the definite statement that further revision will be needed ‘in the future’ did not abate the alarm. Considerable ill feeling was aroused that no concessions whatever were made to Evangelical Churchmen. It was widely felt that the aim and purpose of the Report of the Royal Commission was largely defeated since that was clearly aimed at the prevention of the Romeward Movement in the Church. The Revised Book ‘neither prohibited nor condemned the accumulation of ceremonies and acts,’ which the Report declared, ‘unite to change the outward character of the service from that of the traditional service of the Reformed English Church to that of the traditional service of the Church of Rome,’ Brentford, Prayer Book Crisis (131).

The Revised Book was strongly advocated by the Bishops and prominent dignitaries who unceasingly tried to win over Diocesan Councils, and the Archbishop made a strong appeal which persuaded the House of Lords on December 14, 1927 to pass the Measure by 153 votes. But, in the House of Commons, after a long, serious and well-informed debate it was rejected by 33 votes on December 15, and there was abundant evidence that this result was popular in the country generally. Some Bishops regarded the result as an ‘attempt by Parliament to overrule the Church on spiritual matters which must be met with uncompromising resistance.’ But on the contrary, it was merely the exercise of the clear legal right of Parliament to reject an ecclesiastical Measure. Parliament made no claim to interfere with the ‘spiritual authority’ of the Church or to dictate its doctrine, but merely decided what type of religious worship it was prepared to recognize and authorize as the Reformed religion ‘of this Protestant Kingdom.’

In the following year the Bishops presented a slightly amended Revised Book with the insertion of the ‘Black Rubric’ in the Alternative Communion Service and this passed the ‘Assembly’ with a largely reduced majority. Desperate efforts were made, especially by the Bishop of Chelmsford, to influence Parliament to accept it. But this amended Book was discussed in the House of Commons on June 13 and 14, 1928, and again rejected by 46 votes. This led to some extravagant language being used about the ‘inalienable rights of the Church.’

But in spite of the rejection of the New Book by Parliament the Bishops sanctioned its publication in numerous editions suitable for public worship, and, in their various Diocesan Conferences, they sought the clergy's support for making the 1928 Book a standard of permissible variation from the legal 1662 Prayer Book. An official declaration was made in 1929 by the Canterbury Convocation that the Bishops could not regard the use of additions or deviations set out in the Revised Book, as inconsistent with loyalty to the principles of the Church of England, and that in the exercise of their ‘legal and administrative discretion they will be guided by the proposals approved by the House of Convocation and the Church Assembly in 1928.’ This claim for the exercise of a ‘legal and administrative discretion’ for the Bishops was new, and amounted to the use of a ‘Jus Liturgicum’ for the episcopate-a claim definitely denied in the 1906 Report of the Royal Commission. To many Church people this official declaration and decision on the part of the authorized leaders of the Church seems to border on illegality and to constitute a defiance of the clear verdict of Parliament. To many who expect the Fathers of the Church to be scrupulous in the observance of their solemn vows it seems bewilderingly inconsistent that after having promised ‘to minister the Doctrine and Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ . . . as this Church and Realm hath received the same’ (Ordering of Priests), to find the Bishops prepared to allow the use of services and religious practices which the ‘Realm’ has twice definitely forbidden. This view was expressly confirmed by the considered opinion on Appeal of two eminent lawyers, Sir Leslie Scott, K.C., and Mr. Wilfrid Lewis, who declared in January 1931 that the action of the Archbishops and Bishops in sanctioning the use of the Revised Prayer Book or any parts of it was ‘neither constitutional nor legal, and that the Resolutions of Convocation to the same effect were ultra vires’. (The Times, January 1931). This opinion has again been confirmed by Archdeacon Mayhew in his book, The Church of England (1958, who says that ‘after the rejection of the Prayer Book Revision in 1928 by Parliament, the bishops “authorized” or “permitted” the use of the book within their dioceses, but since they had no power to supersede Parliament, they themselves became law breakers’ as ‘no bishop or any other citizen has power to reverse Parliament's decision’ (pp. 9 and 10).

The rejection of the Revised Prayer Book saved the Church from a serious split. Its legalization would have led many clergy, and later, more lay people, for conscientious reasons to leave the Church of England because it had seriously departed from the Reformed and Scriptural faith. It is most regrettable that an opportunity which would have been generally welcomed, of a revision of the Prayer Book to give more variety and elasticity in the services and to correct archaic expressions in prayers and provide much-needed additional prayers and services, was lost owing to a persistent effort to exploit it for the purpose of changing in important respects the Scriptural standard of doctrine set forth in the 1662 Prayer Book - a much cherished and revered heritage of the Reformation. This ill-considered and unhappy effort to outrage the consciences of probably the majority of its loyal members confirms the statement that ‘the Church of England has never made up its mind about the limits of its comprehensiveness’ (Prayer Book Revision in the Church of England, p. 13).

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