21 September 2015 A.D. REV. ROGER SALTER: The Wealth of Classic Anglican Liturgy (3 of 3)—Cranmer’s Advice for Contemporary Worship
Salter, Roger. “The Wealth of Classic Anglican Liturgy (3).” Virtueonline.org. 16 Sept 2015. http://www.virtueonline.org/wealth-classic-anglican-liturgy-3#.VfmOZJPoC0k.facebook. Accessed 18 Sept 2015.
The Wealth of Classic Anglican Liturgy (3)
By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
September 16, 2015
The worship of God requires the "ordering of the religious mind". Christian worship entails preparation prior to practice. In thoughtful worship there is a point of appropriate commencement, a continuation through well-suited content, and a fitting conclusion. A sanctified structure affords great benefit to the seeker of growth toward spiritual maturity. Edification in the faith, exercise in prayer, and enjoyment of God is progressive through successive stages - the enunciation of the cause of our approach to God (we cry), his gracious provision that attracts us (he invites), and a firm grasp of the mercies he proffers (we confide). Worship takes the form of a steady walk in the recognition of need and dependence, the sufficiency of God to supply our necessary wants, and the confident trust that he is as good as his promised word. We proceed from emptiness through encouragement to eager trust. Our words of appeal and affirmation need to be held objectively before our minds in the act of reflection.
To honor God we need to be informed. To trust God we need to be assured. To serve God we need guidance. To fulfill the duty and delight of worship we are reliant upon apt vocabulary. Holy Scripture is our basic resource. The traditions of the godly and eminent saints who have poured and prayed over the Word of God and walked humbly with him are bequeathed to us as an aid. Previous generations of believers point our way to the Presence of God. We are members of the family of the faithful. We are escorted to the throne of grace through the communion of saints. As individuals we are not to live in isolation apart from the life of the church but to ponder divine truth and praise and pray in contact and concert with the people of God.
Liturgy binds us together in public and private devotion. Ancient Israel is the great example of this corporate practice and its various saints in their moments of solitude manifest their dependence on the creedal statements, invocations, and canticles of the congregation. When the liturgy is perused and used with understanding there is freedom, creativity, and lack of formalism. Our eyes scan a familiar text that is ever new and is spoken keenly with the tongue of the heart. It guards us from distraction. It takes root in our being. What a blessing it happens to be when the profundity and richness of its meaning is articulated, assented to, and absorbed with comprehension. The use of liturgy enables and organizes the work that worship is meant to be (leitourgia - from the Greek, meaning public duty and equivalent to "work"). The discipline of liturgy actually ensures worthy spontaneity within the inner man, and even from the lips whenever it is deemed appropriate or pastorally permitted. And it prevents rashness of expression and embarrassing idiosyncratic outbursts that cause the cringing effect.
In the main, revised services (and these are definitely desirable as quality companions to 1662) seem to come across as somewhat diluted in their inspirational and exhortatory force and impact. In Cranmer there is a vigor that cannot be replaced. This is apparent in the opening sentences to the Daily Offices, the rousing words of Confession, and the petitions of the Litany. In Morning Prayer the sentences emphasize the opening pronouncement of Jesus' public ministry: Repent! The serious omission in today's Christianity is the call to repentance. The plea, "just as I am" is misused and presumptuous, for repentance is a desire for amendment of life only achieved through the gift of grace, for in Morning Prayer the contrite admission is made, "there is no health in us" (we are utterly helpless) and we are "miserable offenders" (thoroughly guilty). Restoration is acknowledged to be the consequence of penitence. Cheap grace is the order of our day. Our current lighter liturgies may not be sufficiently strong enough to counter and preclude an unfortunate tendency to soften the biblical message. Change is proof of the Spirit's work. "He (God) pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent and unfeignedly believe". We may not come set in our sinful ways or in indifference to the call to holiness. Authenticity alone is acceptable.
These liturgical statements above clearly constitute a series of absolutes of which the sinner needs to be fully aware as awakeners to the gravity of sin and the greatness of grace. The advance to our Lord is not casual or chummy but contrite, confident yet cautious. Our Lord is a consuming fire, the enemy of evil, yet pleased to look upon us tenderly when we are garbed in humbleness. "O Lord, correct me, but with judgement; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing" (Jeremiah 10:24. Psalm 6:1). Cranmer, i.e. the liturgy, is not immoveable in severity but enticing in its portrayal of God as warmly solicitous for our well-being: Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live (the absolution). The appellation by which God is identified, the Father of our Redeemer, should cause our minds to teem with notions of his mercy lavishly contained in Christ. If the liturgy rebukes our rebellion it also reaches out in kindness.
The great merit of Cranmer's composition/compilation is the "triple beat of sin, grace, faith", noted by German scholar Samuel Leuenberger that pervades the whole enterprise. SGF, SGF, is the constant foot-tapping rhythm that accompanies our reading of BCP1662. Our predicament is sin. Grace proposes our deliverance. Faith in Christ effects our rescue.
J.I. Packer in his foreword to Leuenberger's thesis "Archbishop Cranmer's Immortal Bequest" writes, "He calls Prayer Book piety 'revivalistic' and puritanical', meaning that at every point the worshipper's exercise of faith from the heart is called for in response to continual detection of sin and declaration of grace which permeate the service forms. What he wants us to see is that Prayer Book worship is, first to last, justification by faith set forth in liturgy so that it might be reapprehended and reexperienced in regular acts of devotion. Is he right? He most certainly is. All Reformation piety and worship was pure Augustinianism, purged by being sifted through the meshes of justification by faith, and it was this that cautious Cranmer, egged on, as Dr. Leuenberger correctly explains, by the sharp minds of Martyr and Bucer and the personal force and vision of Hooper, embodied in his maturest liturgical work".
Cranmer's theological emphasis gives permanent validity to what should be Anglicanism's highest regard for his liturgical accomplishment. He has erected a bastion, a stronghold for orthodoxy, exactly where the Church is likely to defect and its membership become lax or vague.
In our service of the Lord's Supper Cranmer also touches on the disposition in which we draw near to God at his bidding. If we are lamenting our unworthiness yet we are also anticipating the purification of our hearts for compatibility with God, clear perception of his splendor and loveliness, and the gift of affection for his Name. Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. We are craving the donation of those holy inclinations and the possession of those inspired ideas compel us to cry, "O Lord, open thou our lips", for even our ejaculations of praise must be primed by God.
To commend Cranmer (attempted here only partially and sketchily) is not to condemn attempts at alternative and more contemporary liturgies. It is to suggest that our Reformed Prayer Book should always remain at the fore of our attention and appreciation as the foundation and paradigm of our Anglican appreciation of God as a movement. It keeps us straight and sound doctrinally and is an exemplar of the strength of Christian conviction before him and the world. Cranmer has power. For example, the petition in the Litany for deliverance "from battle, murder, and sudden death" has a more dire sense of deadly danger than a certain modern rendering, "war, murder, and dying unprepared". Overall, Cranmer is more visceral in its dealings with the realities of life and death in its discomforting aspects. It startles us into the concern that God should be our Refuge at all times.
In the prayers for The Visitation of the Sick, BCP1662 does not withhold the realities of sin and judgement and the imminence of eternal destiny (weighty matters) but it also exhorts "stedfast faith in thy Son Jesus Christ" in the most critical of circumstances, the hope of cleansing in "the blood of that immaculate Lamb", and when things seem hopeless in certain cases it stretches out arms to heaven and pleads, "We know, O Lord, that there is no word impossible with thee; and that, if thou wilt, thou canst even yet raise him up, and grant him a longer continuance amongst us". Cranmer has grit. It is courageous Christianity. Slight and almost random variations cited here do affect the sharpness of gospel doctrines and the convicting tone in which they are voiced - manly and challenging. Cranmer's rhythms and stately English suit the authority of the revealed word and erase the tepidity modern language sometimes can convey.
Cranmer is worth revisiting or checking out. It is too easy to be reactionary to any established norm. As far as one can tell An Anglican Prayer Book published by Preservation Press of the Prayer Book Society is the closest modern reading to the Cranmerian original.
Frequent reference to Cranmer and regular use of his services and prayers might just inject some fresh vitality and strength into an ailing Anglicanism.
The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew's Anglican Church