Cranmerian Holy Communion during Advent: hearing the Commandments with Israel

Last Advent laudable Practice considered how the unchanging features of the Cranmerian Office (the 1662 daily office and the family of 1662-like variants of the daily office) took on a particular meaning appropriate for Advent.  This Advent I turn to the Cranmerian Holy Communion.  It is, I accept, a rather clumsy term but it can be used to describe 1662 Holy Communion and the family of 1662-like variants - PECUSA 1928, Scotland 1929, and Canada 1962. Despite the variations in these rites around the Prayer of Consecration, they maintain both the words of Cranmer and significant distinguishing features of 1662. For example, while the Summary of the Law is offered as an alternative, the Commandments are printed first in each of these rites.  'Ye that do truly' introduces the confession in each.  The same words of administration from 1559 - both of which are Cranmer's sentences - are maintained. And the Gloria in excelsis, as with Cranmer and 1662, is post-Communion.

As with the Cranmerian daily office, of course, there is no alternative seasonal material.  No proper preface is offered for Advent.  The Gloria is retained. Holy Communion on the Sundays of Advent would proceed as on other Sundays, the only exception being the Advent collect prayed after the collect of the Sunday.  

To say there is no alternative or additional seasonal material, however, is not at all to say there is no seasonal material in the Cranmerian Holy Communion.  The purpose of this short Advent series is to reflect on how unchanging aspects of the Cranmerian Holy Communion can have a fuller meaning during Advent, drawing us into a deeper understanding and experience of the season.

We begin today with perhaps one of the most unfashionable characteristics of Cranmerian Holy Communion, the Commandments.  Contemporary rites invariably abandon the Commandments, even if they are reluctantly offered as a provision in an appendix.  Leaving aside the wider argument for the place of the Commandments in the church's life in general, and the eucharistic rite in particular, in the season of Advent the Commandments take on a particular meaning and significance.

And in Advent ... we all become - it has been said - Jews once more.

So said Rowan Williams in an Advent Sunday sermon.  It is a theme which echoes across the centuries in the prayers and praises of Advent. The ancient Advent antiphons are rooted in the hopes of Israel.  Veni, veni Emmanuel has the refrain "Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel". Wesley's 'Come thou long expected Jesus' refers to "Israel's strength and consolation". In Advent we wait with Israel across the centuries, in exile and darkness.

This is also reflected in 1662's collects for the Advent II, III, and IV. The collect for Advent II - as indicated by the Epistle reading, Romans 5:4-13 - calls the Church to be rooted in patient attentiveness to the Scriptures, after the example of Israel. Advent III's collect petitions that the Church might listen to the prophet Malachi's proclamation to Israel, "turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just".  On Advent IV, the collect echoes the long wait of Israel over centuries: "O Lord, raise up (we pray thee) they power, and come among us, and with great might succour us". 

Waiting with Israel; praying with Israel; attending to the Scriptures with Israel. All of this flows from the covenant bestowed by Yahweh.

Who to Thy tribes from Sinai's height

In ancient time didst give the Law,

In cloud and majesty and awe.

Hearing the Commandments at the Holy Communion during Advent prepares us for and draws us deeper into the call to watch, wait, and heed with Israel, for in addressing the Church the Commandments place us with and alongside Israel:

I am the Lord thy God ... Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image ... Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day ... the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

And when we are called not to covet our neighbour's "ox, nor his ass", the fact that this commandment is situated in a social context very obviously different to our own also calls us back to unity with Israel, waiting over those long centuries.

With Israel, then, the Church heeds the Commandments.  As stated by the Church of England's recent statement on Christian-Jewish relations, God's Unfailing Word (2019), this commitment to the "morally formative" nature of the Commandments found particular liturgical expression in Anglicanism:

Thus in the Book of Common Prayer, which has shaped the Church of England's worship for nearly half a millennium, the Ten Commandments are to be recited at the beginning of every service of Holy Communion, as a reminder of God's will for our lives and to provide a space for consideration of where we have resisted it.

What is more, the penitential response to each commandment, "Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law", places the Church alongside faithless Israel challenged by the words of the prophets which echo throughout Advent:

Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward - Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 1 is read at Mattins on Advent Sunday. 

The absence of the Commandments from most contemporary Anglican eucharistic rites, therefore, is a quite serious impoverishment of Advent.  Hearing the Commandments at the Holy Communion throughout the year prepares us for Advent and the call to wait with Israel. In the midst of Advent, the Commandments are a call to fidelity across the long centuries and in dark exile.  And responding in penitence to each of the Commandments places us alongside - rather than aloof from - Israel as we hear the prophetic proclamations  challenge a faithless people.

We might also suggest that the Commandments are a much meaningful and theologically rich contribution to the Advent liturgy than proper prefaces or even - if it is permissible to suggest such a thing - wreath prayers. There is a recognition of this in some contemporary liturgies.  The Church of Ireland BCP 2004, for example, states that while the Commandments "may be read" at any time - in place of the Summary of the Law - they "should be read during Advent and Lent". TEC's BCP 1979 Rite One, while not mentioning Advent, permits - again in place of the Summary of the Law - that "the Ten Commandments may be said". In other words, the Cranmerian wisdom which placed the Commandments in the eucharistic rite can also find expression in contemporary rites, not least in Advent.

Which brings me back to the significance and meaning of hearing the Commandments at the Holy Communion, in the darkness of a December morning in Advent, the opening words - "God spake these words and said" - bringing us with Israel to Sinai, as the Law is given "in cloud, and majesty, and awe", and drawing us to wait with Israel across long centuries for the One who is Adonai, Root of Jesse, and Key of David.


  1. The Roman Rite at the time of the Prayer Book's composition had no Advent preface, and still officially didn't all the way up to the postconciliar reform: the Sundays of Advent used the Preface of Trinity Sunday (though this was an 18th-century innovation: in Cranmer's time and in 1662 they would have used the Common Preface, like the weekday Advent ferias). There was, however, a widely used and very lovely neo-Gallican preface of 18th century composition that I have often thought would be a lovely addition to both the Anglican Prayer Book rites and the Ordinariate Missal. The Latin is:

    Per Christum, Dominum nostrum. Quem pérdito hóminum géneri Salvatórem miséricors et fidélis promisisti: cuius véritas instrúeret inscios, sánctitas justificáret impios, virtus adiuváret infirmos. Dum ergo prope est ut veniat qem missúrus es, et dies affulget liberatiónis nostrae, in hac promissiónum tuárum fide, piis gaudiis exsultámus. Et ídeo etc.

    Which we might loosely translate as

    "....through Christ our Lord. The Saviour, whom in mercy and faith thou didst promise to the lost race of men, whose truth doth teach the unwise, whose holiness justifieth the wicked, whose strength availeth the weak. And since the time is near that the One Whom Thou Sent shall come, and the day of our liberation shall dawn, with faith in thy promises, we rejoice in holy song. Therefore....(etc)

    You can hear it sung here at the 43 min mark:

    1. Andrew many thanks for this. It is, as you say, a lovely preface - and much, much more substantive those found in contemporary Anglican rites. Consider, for example, the Order II preface in the CofI BCP 2004:

      Salvation is your gift
      through the coming of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,
      and by him you will make all things new
      when he returns in glory to judge the world.

      The contrast with the preface you highlight is stark, not least when it comes to the acknowledgement of sin.


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