'And take this holy Sacrament to your comfort': the heart of the 1662 rite

In recent times I have been reflecting on my affection for the 1662 Order for the Administration of Holy Communion.  Not in terms of an analysis of its doctrinal and liturgical aspects, nor even in terms of the rhythms of its language.  Each of these, of course, has deep significance.  In eucharistic doctrine deeply catholic, robustly reformed, the 1662 rite has great richness.  Regarding its language, Alison Milbank has well summarised its strength:

One reason why people hold to the BCP is that it is rhythmic, written for speech. As a priest I have only presided using it for the last three years at a rate of about once a month and already I know it off by heart (from an unpublished paper by Alison Milbank, 'Common as Muck: Why we need Common Worship').

It was composed to be remembered, inviting us to inhabit its rhythms, shaping and forming us in prayer.

But these points do not quite explain my affection for the rite - why I find it so emotionally satisfying.

In the most recent edition of Faith and Worship - the journal of the Prayer Book Society - Daniel Newman has an excellent essay examining the Exhortations in the 1662 rite.   Quite rightly, he emphasises the call to worthy reception (a theological and pastoral understanding nearly entirely lost by the Parish Communion movement).  This echoes Rowan Williams' words on the 1662 rite:

the insistent reversion to penitence in the Communion Order is not neurotic uncertainty but the sober expression of the truth that we never 'move on' from being saved sinners, and our amazement at God's free forgiveness has to be spoken out again and again.

As Williams states, penitence, together with the emphasis on worthy reception (itself, of course, hardly unfamiliar to, for example, Thomas Aquinas), clears the clutter and detritus in heart and soul that we may be authentically open to the encounter that is these holy mysteries.

This, I think, leads to the heart of my affection for the rite.  While the "insistent reversion to penitence" (We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness ... We do not presume ... for the sins of the whole world ... And although we be unworthy, through our manifold sins ...) is startling when contrasted with contemporary rites, it serves to dramatically highlight another, quite different emphasis:

Draw near with faith and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort ...

Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all that truly turn to him ...

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy ...

Christ died for thee ...

and dost assure us thereby of thy favour and goodness towards us.

Here is the homely devotion of the 1662 rite.  At God's Board, comfort, tender mercy, favour and goodness embrace me, feed me, refresh me.  Amidst my "manifold sins and wickedness", I receive the holy Sacrament to my comfort.  The Comfortable Words - first dominical, then those of two great Apostolic witnesses - address me, inviting me to the Table of the Lord: Come unto me ...

Then there is that "tender mercy" in the Prayer of Consecration.  There is nothing at all equivalent to it in the Roman Canon: this is the gift Cranmer's theological imagination.  Not just mercy, but tender mercy - a richly evocative word, full of marital and parental resonances.

As the Sacrament is received, the second sentence of the words of administration unfold the fullness of this tender mercy  - Christ died for thee ... Christ's blood was shed for thee.

The placing of the Lord's Prayer after the reception of Holy Communion embodies what it is to receive the Sacrament "to your comfort".  The first words of communal prayer after reception are Our Father.  As Rowan Williams states:

as if to remind us that we have eaten and drunk our identity is God's children is renewed.

This is reiterated in the Prayer of Thanksgiving: there is also an "insistent reversion" to comfort and tender mercy in this rite.  Penitence and the call to worthy reception are oriented to this - that we may grasp what it is to receive "thy favour and goodness towards us".  That in partaking of the Eucharist, "we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son".  This is a deeply Augustinian emphasis:

If you receive them well, you are yourselves what you receive (Sermon 227).

We are what we receive - we, with "our manifold sins and wickedness".

Is it any wonder that Gloria in excelsis stands at the conclusion of the 1662 rite?

I began by referring to my experience of the 1662 rite as emotionally satisfying.  It's not quite the right description.  This is a rite to move us in the ground of the heart, to touch our emotions with the grace of tender mercy, to bring hearts wounded and shadowed by "our misdoings" to see and taste comfort, favour, goodness.

And so it is to the 1662 rite that I turn.  It is in its words and rhythms that my heart is particularly touched, by a homely, gracious comfort that I do not, cannot deserve, fed and refreshed by the gift of "most precious" food and drink.

Glory be to God on high.


  1. https://impact.history.ox.ac.uk/laudian-communion-ii.html

    The above site is quite interesting. I enjoyed viewing all three but am inclined to the Laudian.

    1. Many thanks for the link. Both Elizabethan and Laudian probably coexisted in the Elizabethan and Jaconean Church. The Elizabethan reconstruction shows what a parish probably looked like were priest and people followed canon and rubric - surplice, receiving the Sacrament kneeling, Table reverently covered, placed in the body of the church. The Laudian reconstruction - with copes, east end altar - gives us an idea of what was happening in some cathedrals.

  2. I was a choirboy from the age of 8 (1957+)in a Prayer Book Catholic parish. Memorability is a strong suit in 1662..and though im fairly happy with much liturgical change( while wishing clergy were better trained to perform it) Cramners positioning of the Lords Prayer immediately has always struck me as a stroke of liturgical genius. An Orthodox theologian experiencing 1662 in a cathedral setting said he too felt that was exactly the right place for it esp when communally sung to Merbecke.

    1. Perry, many thanks for your comment. I totally agree with you re: the Lord's Prayer in 1662 - "a stroke of liturgical genuis". And it is hard to beat Merbecke!



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