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GC2009: 1928 Liturgy brings back memories

GC2009: 1928 Liturgy brings back memories

Mary Ann Mueller in Anaheim
Special Correspondent
July 16, 2009

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA---"Almighty God, unto Whom all hearts are open ..." the priest said thus pronouncing the first words in the celebration of Holy Communion using the familiar and comforting words of the Collect for Purity found on Page 67 of the 1928 BCP, the classic Prayer Book of fond memory.

Then Fr. David Thurlow went on to the Decalogue where the assembled congregation responded "Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law," after each "Thou shalt..." of the Ten Commandments.

The 1928 Book of Common Prayer was the American Prayer Book of the Baby Boomer Generation's youth. We were baptized according to its ordinance and then dutifully brought to the bishop for the laying-on-of-hands in Confirmation. We were married using its matrimonial service. When the time came, Grandma and Grandpa were buried according to its ritual.

Then came the turbulent Sixties and Seventies, which ushered in the green book of trial liturgies, the blue-striped "zebra" book, and, finally, the proposed Book of Common Prayer which eventually became the 1979 Prayer Book.

For many of us, the familiar words and phrasing of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer hold a special place in our hearts that can never be replaced by any other liturgy. It harkens to the innocence of our childhoods and the carefree days of our young adulthoods, and is akin to the passion some Roman Catholics hold for the pre-Vatican II Tridentine Mass.

The Elizabethan vouchsafes, beseeches, thees, thous and thines are not archaic words to our ears, but are rather comforting words, forever embedded in our memories and etched in our souls.

"The Lord be with you," said the priest from South Carolina.

"And also with you," came the automatic response born out of years of responding to the Rite II liturgies of the 1979 Prayer Book.

Oops. "And with thy spirit." would have been the proper 1928 response.

Unfortunately, the thees and thous don't trip off of our lips as easily as they once did. Although, the sound of the old Elizabethan English is music to our aging ears.

Fr. Thurlow faced the altar. He was simply dressed in an alb and green stole. The Gospeller and preacher was Ellen Newfeld, a woman-priest from Albany who was in choir dress and a tippet. The altar was attended by Kevin Babb, a layman from Springfield.

Nowadays the familiar words of the 1928 BCP Nicene Creed: "...Begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God - Begotten not made; being of one substance with the Father; by Whom all things were made..." have been replaced in the 1979 BCP by: "...eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through Him all things were made..."

Each day during the 76th Episcopal General Convention, the American Anglican Council has been sponsoring a noontime celebration of Holy Communion. The daily service has drawn those Episcopalians - lay, deacons, priests, and bishops, be they deputies, visitors or the media -- who yearn for a traditional liturgical expression while at General Convention. Each Eucharist has been joyfully and prayerfully celebrated at the Double Tree hotel, a short walking distance from the Anaheim Convention Center.

Following the Prayers of the People, all humbly and reverently knelt on the carpeted floor and began "Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ ..."

"Then shall the Priest (the Bishop if he be present) stand up, and turning to the People ..." the rubric cues.

Following the rubric closely, retired Bishop Ed Salmon of South Carolina silently stood up from the midst of the people, turned and pronounced the absolution.

"Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of His great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins..." intoned the senior bishop present.

Following the recitation of the Comfortable Words, the Canon of the Mass started with the Great Thanksgiving.

"Lift up your hearts," the Celebrant invited.

"We lift them up unto the Lord," came the practiced reply.

"Let us give thanks to the Lord our God," the priest continued.

"It is meet and right so to do," came the long familiar reply.

"It is very meet, right and our duty ..." Fr. Thurlow continued saying the familiar words leading into the preface which is then followed by the Sanctus.

"Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, Heaven ..." the congregation prayed which is different that the modern version's: "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power of and might, heaven ..."

A comma placement can make a big difference in the cadence and meaning of the prayer.

"All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy ..." the priest said as he entered into the Act of Consecration. His makeshift congregation was on their knees listening to the Elizabethan words swirl around them embracing them with their familiarity, power and might.

Knees are bent, eyes are closed, hands are clutched in prayer, and heads are bowed in reverence as the bread and wine mystically become the Body and Blood of Christ within their midst.

"And we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to hear us; and, of thy almighty goodness, vouchsafe to bless and sanctify, with thy Word and Holy Spirit ... " Fr. Thurlow continues.

A mystery is happening. It is same mystery that has been happening since Christ first broke Bread in the Upper Room on the night of His Betrayal. This unique Eucharistic mystery has been carried out since then in a multitude of languages throughout the world --- Greek, Latin, German, Spanish, Swahili, and the Queen's English.

"And now, as our Saviour Christ hath taught us, we are bold to say: "Our Father ..." the priest leads.

The room is filled with strong voices boldly saying ... "Who art in heaven ..."

Dropping to his knees, Fr. Thurlow joins the congregation in the Prayer of Humble Access: "We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord..."

The only really discernible break with the 1928 tradition is that there was no altar rail at which to kneel and receive the precious elements due to the fact that the Eucharistic celebration was being held in a hotel meeting room. The Mass parts were said rather than sung as would have normally been done in a Sunday setting within a parish church.

Although it would have been nice to sing the Nine-fold Kyrie.

During Communion, the harpist softly played praise music, which, again, was not in true keeping with the older-style Service of Holy Communion, but has through the years become a familiar and acceptable method of post-Communion adoration and thanksgiving.

"Almighty and ever living God..." begins Fr. Thurlow in his post-Communion prayer.

"...we most heartily thank thee for that thou doest vouchsafe to feed us ..." joined the congregation.

Immediately following the post-Communion prayer, everyone stood and joined their voices to pray: "Glory be to God on High..." Nowadays, the Gloria in Excelsis has been moved to the beginning of the Eucharistic celebration rather than at the end of the service, more in keeping with how the Roman Catholics celebrate their Mass.

"Then, the People kneeling, the Priest (the bishop if he be present) shall let them depart with his Blessing," the final rubric encourages.

So again, Bishop Salmon stood and imparted his blessing on the group.

The special 1928 Book of Common Prayer Order for Holy Communion ended with the singing of "How Great Thou Art."

----Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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