Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Eucharistic Prayers of the Holy Communion, Second Order

By Robin G. Jordan

Among the distinguishing characters of the two eucharistic prayers that may be used in the Holy Communion, Second Order, in A Prayer Book for North America is that, like the 1552-1662 Prayer of Consecration, they are centered on Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper and his suffering and death on the cross and the redemption he purchased there by his blood—what the Lord’s Supper, according to the New Testament accounts, was inaugurated to commemorate. While all kinds of additional interpretations of the Lord’s Supper have become attached to the ordinance over the centuries, this understanding is the New Testament understanding of the ordinance. It is the understanding that Cranmer restores in the second Prayer Book of Edward VI—the reformed Prayer Book of 1552, peeling away the various reinterpretations of the Lord’s Supper that had overlaid it. What we have seen since the nineteenth century is a pronounced tendency to once more overlay that understanding not only with past misinterpretations of the ordinance but also new ones as well.

Both prayers have dual anamneses. The primary anamnesis is the Post-Sanctus and the Words of Institution. They recall Jesus’ saving work on the cross and the Lord’s Supper’s inauguration. The secondary anamnesis follows the Memorial Acclamation that concludes the Words of Institution. It introduces the second epiclesis in which the minister in his role as the tongue of the worshiping assembly asks God by the power of the Holy Spirit to continue his sanctifying work in the communicants. The minister is not asking God to work through the medium of the consecrated elements but through the Holy Spirit.

Both prayers also have dual epiclesis. The first epiclesis humbly asks God  to grant that those eating the bread and drinking the wine in obedience to Jesus’ command, in remembrance of him, will be participants in the body and blood of Christ. They will receive the benefits of his saving work on the cross. The minister is not asking that the communicants receive these benefits through the medium of the consecrated elements. The elements do not convey their virtue in some mystical way (virtualism) any more than they are transformed into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (transubstantiation) or infused spiritually with his body and blood (consubstantiation). Rather in eating the bread and drinking the cup, the believer’s spiritual feeding upon Christ is made tangible to him. This feeding is continual. It is not confined to the Lord’s Supper. However, the consumption of the symbols and tokens of Christ’s love for his people, makes it palpable to the believer. His faith is aroused, confirmed, and strengthened. It is by faith that he appropriates the benefits of Christ’s saving work. This was Cranmer’s mature understanding of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It is the sacramental theology of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571 and The Book of Common Prayer in its 1552, 1559, 1604, and 1662 editions.

What is also notable about the two prayers is that they include no petition invoking the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the elements of bread and wine. While the Canon of the partially-reformed First Prayer Book of Edward VI, the Prayer Book of 1549, contained such an invocation, Cranmer dropped it from the Prayer of Consecration of the 1552 book. His reason was three-fold. First, it suggested that Christ was in some way present in the elements themselves after their consecration, a view which Cranmer regarded as contrary to Scripture. After having instituted the Lord’s Supper, Jesus refers to as wine the contents of the cup which he had previously described as the blood of the New Covenant, showing that he was speaking figuratively. Second, throughout the Bible the Holy Spirit descends upon people, not inanimate objects. Invoking the Holy Spirit’s descent upon bread and wine was not a practice agreeable to the teaching of the Bible. Third, throughout the Bible the invocation of God’s blessing is reserved for people, not inanimate objects. Where the New Testament accounts refer to Jesus’ blessing of bread, they are referring to the Jewish practice of giving thanks over bread by blessing God. These accounts use blessing and giving thanks interchangeably.

The two prayers contain no oblation of the bread and wine either before or after the Words of Institution. In the Western tradition the moment of consecration was believed to occur during the Words of Institution. Like the 1552-1662 Prayer of Consecration they contain nothing suggestive of the medieval doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice. They also contain nothing suggestive of the 1958 Lambeth doctrine which maintains that the eucharist is a participation in Christ’s ongoing sacrificial activity. Both doctrines have been shown to be contrary to God’s Word.

The two prayers also contain no oblation of “our bodies and souls.” Cranmer moved this oblation to a position after the distribution of the communion where it is a fitting response not only to Christ’s saving work on the cross but also to Christ’s offering of himself as spiritual nourishment to the believer, symbolized and made tangible in the meal of the Lord’s Supper. 

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