By Robin G. Jordan
If we take a short trip back in time to the beginning of the twentieth century and tour the parish churches of the Church of England, the first thing that we will notice is that a number of the ceremonies and ornaments that modern-day clergy and others assure us are thoroughly “Anglican” are found only in English parish churches where the clergy are Ritualists bent on making the Church of England like the Church of Rome even in defiance of the canons of the Church and the laws of the land. If we cross the Atlantic to the United States and tour the parish churches of the Protestant Episcopal Church, we find the same thing—Ritualists bent on making the Episcopal Church like the Roman Catholic Church. The difference between the United States and the United Kingdom is that clergy in the Episcopal Church are not required to accept the authority of the Thirty-Nine Articles as clergy are in the Church of England. The Episcopal Church also has no canons regulating ceremonies and ornaments in that denomination. The Ritualists defeated a proposal in the General Convention, which would have established such regulations in the Episcopal Church in the previous century. Having left the door wide open the Episcopal Church was at the mercy of any group that could gain hegemony in the denomination and lead the denomination in whichever direction it chose. We have seen the results in the closing years of the twentieth century and the opening years of the twenty-first century.
Doctrines that are erroneous and unscriptural can ride piggyback on ceremonies and ornaments into the Anglican Church in this century as they did in the nineteenth century. They can also provide a smokescreen behind which erroneous and unscriptural doctrines can be introduced into the Anglican Church. In the nineteenth century the Ritualists frequently claimed that they were seeking to beautify the worship of the Church of England and to make it more appealing to the lower classes. Their real intention was to transform the Church of England into a facsimile of the Church of Rome and to bring the Anglican Church into the orbit of the Roman Catholic Church.
Ceremonies and ornaments make a doctrinal statement. They are not theologically-neutral. They have long-standing associations with particular doctrines and cannot be separated from these teachings.
Congregation and clergy that upholds the Thirty-Nine Articles “as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s word and as authoritative for Anglicans today,” as does the Jerusalem Declaration, will keep away from ceremonies and ornaments that are associated with doctrines and practices that the Articles reject as erroneous and unscriptural. In matters of worship the teaching of the Scriptures and the faithful testimony of the Articles to the teaching of the Scriptures will be their guide. They will adopt and apply the principle that where a ceremony or ornament in their own denomination or in another denomination is associated with such doctrines and practices, it should be avoided. They will bring how they worship into line with what they believe. There will be no discrepancies between their worship and their beliefs.
Ceremonies are “gestures or acts preceding, accompanying, or following the utterance of words—the external acts of worship.” A Protestant Dictionary also gives the following definition of ornaments:
This word does not mean in ecclesiastical law what it means when used in its popular sense, viz., an embellishment or adornment. It is a collective term for all the articles used in, and ancillary to, the performance of the prescribed Church service. Thus, vestments, books, cloths, chalices, patens, communion tables, and a number of other things are “ornaments,” of which none may, in fact, be decorative.Ornaments fall into two categories—the ornaments of the church and the ornaments of the minister.
Among the ceremonies that historically have been regarded as being agreeable to the Holy Scriptures and the Thirty-Nine Articles in the Church of England are kneeling to confess one’s sins and to pray, sitting to sing or recite Psalms, standing to sing canticles and hymns, bowing at the name of Jesus; taking the paten into one’s hand, breaking the bread, and laying one’s hand on all the bread; taking the cup into one’s hand and laying one’s hand on every vessel in which there is any wine to be consecrated; kneeling to receive the Bread and Wine; extending one or both hands towards the congregation when pronouncing the Benediction, making the sign of the cross upon the foreheads of the newly-baptized after their baptism, laying hands upon candidates for confirmation when praying for them; laying hands upon candidates for ordination when praying for them; giving a New Testament to deacons at their ordination and a Bible to priests and archbishops and bishops at their ordination or consecration.
Among the gestures and acts that historically have been seen as contrary to the Word of God and to the Thirty-Nine Articles in the Church of England are lighting candles and praying before images and reliquaries; blessing water and placing it in a stoup at the entrance of a church building so that those entering may dip their fingers in it and make the sign of the cross; carrying a cross or crucifix in procession; bowing one’s head when a cross or crucifix borne in a procession passes; carrying lighted candles in a procession; carrying a censor containing burning incense in a procession; censing the congregation; bowing or genuflecting before the Lord’s Table; censing the Lord’s Table and the bread and wine in their containers upon it; kissing the Lord’s Table; mixing water with the wine during the service; making the sign of the cross over the water and pronouncing a blessing upon it before mixing it with the wine; washing one’s hands during the service, making the sign of the cross over the bread and wine; elevating the cup and the paten or showing the Bread and Wine to the congregation after consecration; bowing or genuflecting to the consecrated elements; placing the bread upon the tongue of the communicant rather than in the communicant’s hand; performing the ablutions immediately after the distribution of the communion; reserving the consecrated elements; making the sign of the cross when pronouncing the Benediction; lighting candles and praying before the reserved sacrament; anointing the hands of a newly-made priest with blessed oil; giving a paten and a chalice to a newly-made priest; anointing the head of a newly-consecrated priest; and giving a pastoral staff, ring, and pectoral cross to a newly-consecrated bishop. This list is by no means exhaustive.
While these gestures and acts may not be expressly prohibited by Scripture, as the successors of the Ritualists are wont to argue, they are closely associated with the doctrines of transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the Mass in its various forms and other superstitious and unscriptural beliefs. They are an integral part of the ceremonial of the pre-Reformation Medieval Catholic Church and the post-Tridentian Roman Catholic Church, which the reformed Church of England disowned and rejected. Wherever they are found, one is also likely to find these doctrines in some form.
First, Christ is present in or with the eucharistic elements.
Second, Christ is present even to those in whom a vital faith is lacking (e.g. small children).
Third, the Eucharist is more than a commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice. The Eucharist is a repetition of Christ’s sacrifice or an addition to it or a participation in it.
None of these doctrines is consistent with the Scriptures and the Thirty-Nine Articles.
Those who think that ceremonies and ornaments agreeable to Scripture and the Articles would take away from the worship of the church should think again. One of the insights of the Liturgical Movement of the last century is “Less is more.” We can enrich the worship of the church by being more sparing and restrained in what we do. Anglican worship at its best embodies a “noble simplicity.” In reducing the elements of the service and simplifying the ceremonies in the service, we highlight and emphasize what remains. The same principle is applicable to the ornaments of the church and of the minister.
The abolition of ceremonies and ornaments that the nineteenth century Ritualists reintroduced or imported into the worship of the church will not rob the church’s worship of its visual element. Nor will it deny creativity and the arts a place in worship.
Candles on the Lord’s Table. The use of two lights on the “altar” is far from ancient as often is mistakenly claimed. This practice was introduced in the thirteenth century at the same time as the doctrine of transubstantiation was adopted as the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church and by the same Pope. It is closely associated with that doctrine.
The 1547 Injunction of Edward the Sixth is often claimed as proof that Church of England retained this practice after the Reformation While Edward the Sixth’s Injunction permitted “two lights upon the high altar, before the sacrament” (i.e. altar lights, not lights before the Host), the Six Articles adopted during the reign of Henry the Eighth were still in full force at the time. The Six Articles upheld the doctrines of transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the Mass. Edward the Sixth’s Injunction was a continuation of Henry the Eighth’s Injunction. Within a year the Six Articles would be repealed and Edward the Sixth’s Injunction rescinded. Permission for the two lights on the “altar” would be withdrawn.
The two lights on the “altar” in the royal chapel of Elizabeth the First are also claimed as proof of the continuance of this practice during her reign. Elizabeth’s use of these ornaments in her royal chapel was politically motivated as was her hanging of a crucifix on the wall above the “altar.” They are far from proof that the use of lights on the communion table was a common practice in the Elizabethan Church. The preponderance of the evidence is to the contrary.
One of the insights of the Liturgical Movement was that lights on the Lord’s Table, tall candles and tall candlesticks in particular, draw the eye away from the sacramental signs of bread and wine. The sign value of the bread and wine are greater when lights are taken off the Lord’s Table. The lights no longer compete with the bread and wine and the Manual Acts for congregation’s attention.
Anglicans historically have regarded the consecration and distribution of the elements as a visual proclamation of the gospel. Removing everything from the Lord’s Table that draws the eye away from the sacramental signs of bread and wine is consistent with this view.
Eastward Position. The eastward position—the priest facing the Lord’s Table, his back to the congregation—is a Medieval development. Like candles on the Lord’s Table, the eastward position is closely associated with the doctrine of transubstantiation and the related doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass. The more ancient position is the westward position, the priest facing the congregation across the Lord’s Table.
The rubrics of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer direct that the minister to conduct the service of Holy Communion from the north side of the Table, allowing him to briefly stand before the Table to rearrange the bread and wine before beginning the Prayer of Consecration at the north side of the Table. The place of the priest at the Table in the 1662 Prayer Book is the place of a steward, not a sacerdote, or sacrificing priest. Christ is the only mediator, the Scriptures teach us, that we need between God and ourselves. We do not need a priest to make intercessions and offerings for us. When used in the Prayer Book the word “priest” is simply a contraction of the word “presbyter,” or elder, and refers to a minister who has been “called, tried, examined, and admitted” to the “office” and “function” of presbyter.
The Scriptures teach that “heaven and the heaven of heavens” cannot contain God (2 Chronicles 6:18). God is present everywhere (Psalm 139:7-10); nothing is hidden from him (Psalm 139:11-12). “God is Spirit” (John 4:24) God also indwells his gathered people. The individual Christian and the Christian assembly both are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21). Christ has promised that when two or three gather in his name, he will be there in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20).
Making the Lord’s Table the focus of prayer, much less the object of devotion, is not only unscriptural but also superstitious and idolatrous. God does not hover at a point somewhere above the Lord’s Table, which some clergy appear to infer when they argue that kneeling or standing in front of the Table with their backs to the congregation, they are facing in the same direction as the congregation. Implicit in this argument is the notion that God’s attention is always turned to the Lord’s Table where the priest reiterates or represents the Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist. The presence of Christ on the Table in or under the forms of bread and wine has also infused the Table with holiness unlike any other object in the chancel or nave. It is Christ’s earthly throne. Prayer before that throne is offered to Christ upon his heavenly throne, much in the same manner as prayer offered before an image of Christ is offered to Christ. Such views have no basis in Scripture and are in conflict with its teaching.
Eucharistic Vestments. As Christianity spread outside of the Roman Empire and less civilized people groups—at least by Roman standards—became Christians, the clergy clung to the civil organization, the dress, and the language of Imperial Rome, associating them with a more civilized time. The chasuble was originally a poncho-like outer garment that both clergy and laity wore on the streets. The stole was originally a scarf also worn outdoors. The alb was originally an under-tunic. After the doctrines of transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the Mass were made the official doctrines of the Western Church, these vestments came to be associated with these doctrines and the Medieval Catholic doctrine of the sacerdotal character of the priesthood. At his ordination a priest was given a paten and chalice, his hands were anointed with oil that had been blessed, and he was vested in a chasuble that had also been blessed.
The English Reformers would do away with the chasuble, stole, and alb in the sixteenth century. A loose white linen surplice would become the principal vestment in the reformed Church of England. The Canons of 1604 would permit the wearing of a cope, a long cloak especially worn in processions, at cathedrals and collegiate churches, by the bishop or priest officiating at the celebration of Holy Communion and the ministers reading the Epistle and the Gospel, upon the five festivals for which there were proper prefaces in the Book of Common Prayer. The surplice and the cope were not associated with the doctrines of transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the Mass, and the sacerdotal character of the priesthood in the English Church.
Bishop Lancelot Andrews, while he revived what he believed to a number of ancient ceremonies in the celebration of the Holy Communion in his episcopal chapel and said the Prayer of Oblation immediately after the Prayer of Consecration and before the distribution of the communion, wore a cope, not a chasuble, stole, and alb, at these celebrations. Bishop Andrews greatly influenced William Laud, John Cosin, and the other seventeenth century High Churchmen.
During the nineteenth century the Ritualists would, based upon their “false interpretation” of the Ornaments Rubric in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, claim that the chasuble, stole, and alb were the only legal vestments for celebrations of the Holy Communion. They would not only reintroduce these vestments in the English Church but also other ornaments that had been abolished in that Church. They plunged the English Church into bitter controversy that has never been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties to this day.
The 1604 Canons, which were in force well into the twentieth century, direct that the Lord’s Table should covered, “in time of Divine Service,” with a “carpet of silk or other decent stuff, upon which should be laid “a fair linen cloth at the time of the Ministration.” “Every minister” who ministers the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is directed to wear “a decent and comely surplice with sleeves.” The surplice is the garment of a steward whose Master has instructed him to feed his fellow servants from what their Master has supplied—the Word and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
Crosses with images of Christ upon them. Article 22 identifies the “Romish teaching” about “the worship and adoration of images” as being “a futile deception, which, far from being grounded in Scripture, is repugnant to the Word of God.” An Homily against Peril of Idolatry and Superfluous Decking of Churches, published in 1571, equates praying and lighting candles before images with idolatry and gross superstition. The proposed Canons approved by Convocation in the same year order the removal of the wooden “sollars” from parish churches. In these “sollars” crosses, images, and relics were displayed for “latria,” or worship. Parish churches were further ordered to be whitewashed and decorated with passages of Scripture.
Crucifixes and Christus Rex crosses seen in a number of contemporary Anglican churches fall in the category of images. As for plain crosses readers are referred to the accompanying article “Ornaments and the Ornaments Rubric.” Standing crosses placed on the Lord’s Table or wall crosses hung in close proximity to the Table so as to suggest that it is an altar are to be avoided.
Prayer Books.Since the Prayer Book is used in church services, it is deemed to be an ornament of the Church. As the GAFCON Theological Resource Group point to our attention in Being Faithful: The Shape of Historical Anglicanism Today, the Thirty-Nine Articles are “a faithful testimony to the teaching of Scripture.” Both the 1928 Prayer Book and the 1979 Prayer Book contain erroneous beliefs and practices that are contrary to the teaching of Scripture according to the testimony of the Articles. They are not entirely “the very pure Word of God, the Holy Scriptures or that which is agreeable to the same.” They have no place in the worship and catechetical instruction of congregations and clergy that upholds the Thirty-Nine Articles “as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s word and as authoritative for Anglicans today.” Both the 1928 Prayer Book and the 1979 Prayer Book contain liturgical elements that may be interpreted to support not only the doctrine of the real presence (i.e. the objective presence of Christ in the eucharistic elements) but also the doctrine of transubstantiation. The 1928 Prayer Book also contains elements that are historically associated with the doctrine of the sacrifice of Mass. The four Eucharistic Prayers in Rite II and the Outline of Faith (Catechism) in the 1979 Prayer Book clearly teaches the doctrine that the Eucharist is a means by the Church participates in Christ’s sacrifice.
I have posted a number of related articles from A Protestant Dictionary, published in 1904. They were written to counter the erroneous views that were spreading in the Church of England,
promoted by the Ritualists. The Ritualists were not only reviving pre-Reformation Medieval Catholic beliefs and practices in the English Church but also introducing post-Tridentian Roman Catholic innovations in doctrine and worship.
“Ornaments and the Ornament Rubric”