I've often thought that the continuing Churches (at least in the UK) 'talk' a lot about the BCP and but rarely use it. You always see it mentioned on websites but of the three continuing Churches I've been to in the UK none of them use the 1662 or 1928 (UK) BCP for Mass - it's all been English Missal. One Priest told me that he'd reluctantly printed the Prayer of Humble Access for devotional use in the Mass booklets but refused to say it himself. Personally, I find this disappointing.
Well, at least this priest is good enough to let the prayer appear in print, even if he feels compelled to denounce it as, no doubt, "too Protestant." Inasmuch as the content of the Prayer of Humble Access was drawn largely from prayers said by the priest in older Latin Missals, prayers of the same kind as "Lord Jesus Christ...regard not my sins, but the Faith of thy Church..." the burden of proof weighs heavily on anyone who thinks its content to be an innovation of the 16th century.
To some degree this seems like a problem more intense in England than in other countries. The Anglo-Catholics in that country have reason to feel that their Book of Common Prayer (1662) is not quite as rich in its Eucharistic expression as it ought to be. The same comment closed with these words: "Knowing the American BCP, I can't think why you'd want to use anything else." Indeed, the Eucharistic celebration from the Missal in the United States is, in practice, simply an embellishment of the Book of Common Prayer 1928 edition. Nonetheless, I cannot understand why some of the English Anglo-Catholics inflict the Novus Ordo on their congregations, as if selecting an inferior liturgy is the solution; and for that matter, one with all the charm we might well imagine from a revision of Shakespeare produced by a committee. In such a nightmare, "Even a dog is obeyed in office" (King Lear) is replaced with, "The barking dog gets his way." How much more serious the real life problem of replacing "And with they spirit" (Et cum spritu tuo) with, "And also with you." If the English Anglo-Catholics want a richer liturgical expression, they need not abandon the Book of Common Prayer tradition altogether, especially not in favor of something about as uplifting as the financial page of the Times of London.
That is, unless the idea is to reject Anglicanism itself in favor of a Roman brand of Christianity that does not "out-Catholic," but merely "out-Romans," Rome. I fear such to be the case even in the thinking of a man as learned and accomplished as Fr. John Hunwicke, whose theories on the most important aspect of the Mass I have criticized. Just as many converts to the Orthodox Church have deluded themselves into thinking that they have found a way to cut themselves off from all stain of their western ancestry, I fear such Anglo-Catholics are self-loathing Anglicans, due no doubt to the failure of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion. The solution, however, is to Continue with us, not to cultivate Roman affectations. And, as my Orthodox brother, David Bentley Hart, has observed about the converts to the Orthodox Church, that they labor so industriously to reject anything western that they end up rejecting the actual teaching of Orthodoxy, these self-loathing Anglicans finish their endeavors by rejecting what is truly Catholic by the standard of Scripture and Antiquity. As we have observed many times, Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est, is replaced with the Doctrinal Development theory Newman espoused. "The Faith once delivered to the saints" is not good enough for them, so they embrace innovations, some of which Rome itself discarded in recent decades, having learned from us.
For the Prayer of Humble Access to be treated with either contempt or embarrassment by any Anglican is, however, a new low in theological illiteracy. Perhaps this prayer is considered to be lacking in decorum, like celebrating the Masse 1 in a surplice-the unforgivable sin for which any priest is, no doubt, condemned to everlasting Hell (that, and failure to wear black socks). That is, maybe the UK cleric mentioned in the comment is embarrassed by the Prayer of Humble Access the same way I would be embarrassed by my crazy Uncle Ernest, but simply because it is not in the Tridentine Mass rather than for its content. However, to defend the prayer, it must be looked at for its theological meaning, which is very deep and truly Catholic. Therefore, we will assume that the embarrassment this cleric has expressed (which makes me embarrassed for him), has to do with his own want of theological understanding rather than a matter of his own bad taste.
Let us analyze the Prayer of Humble Access and see the richness of the theology contained therein.
We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy...
Anyone who seeks a religion that is affirming of his life style and choices, or even of himself, cannot appreciate our service of Holy Communion at all. Neither can he appreciate our Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. Throughout all our public prayers we confess that we are sinners, and supplicate to be forgiven. Often, it takes even more of God's grace for the religious person to know he is a sinner than it does for a notorious backslider or completely unchurched man who is suddenly converted. Too often, the religious man can be like the Pharisee in the parable, and actually think the same way. "God, I thank Thee I am not as other men are." (Luke 18:11) What C.S. Lewis once wrote rings true:
But are we really to believe that on each of us there lies something which if not taken off us, will in fact break us? It is very difficult. No man has any natural knowledge of his own inner state and I think that at the beginning we probably find it much easier to understand and believe this about other people than about ourselves. 2
In addition, that expression, "We are not worthy to gather up the crumbs under thy table," is from the Gospel of Matthew.
And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (Matt. 15:22-28)
Although we are no longer Gentiles, but children of the Covenant baptized into Christ, we do not forget that we are here by grace rather than merit. In terms that John the Baptist would approve, we say these words to remind ourselves "that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham." (Matt. 3:9) Only by his mercy do we come into his presence, never by any righteousness of our own.
I hope the English cleric in question does not consider the realistic appraisal of our sinful state to be "too Protestant" for him; if so, he does not stand alongside the great saints of the Church, East and West. If so, he distances himself from St.Paul who wrote, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." (I Tim. 1:15) Nor does he stand alongside any of the true believers in the Communion of the Church of Rome today; he distances himself from Pope Benedict XVI, who knows himself to stand only by God's mercy and grace. If this is "too Protestant" for the English priest, so is all Christianity throughout all time.
...Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
The words "so to eat...and to drink" have everything to do with why we, as Anglicans, call the Mass "Holy Communion." The Anglican emphasis on receiving the Sacrament must not be thought of in terms of the worn out charge of Cranmer's apparent "Receptionism," which later was repeated by Richard Hooker. As we have seen already in posts on this blog, what these men wrote was not a rejection of the Real Presence, but rather the view that it is immaterial when and how the elements are fully consecrated; when they are received, having been consecrated at the altar,3 they are the Body and Blood of Christ. This adds to the guilt of those who receive them in an unworthy manner; but for those who receive them with "hearty repentance and true faith" they are eternal life and health.
Here I quote from my sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity written in 2007.
"But, this other part they [contemporary Episcopalians] cut out, '…that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood…' [this] offends the modern mind, because the modern mind cannot comprehend- as well I understand and sympathize- how the body could be sinful...The general resurrection of the dead on the last day will destroy that last enemy to be destroyed, death. So says the Bible, as we find in St. Paul’s first letter to those in Corinth...The Law of Moses teaches us that if a man so much as touched the dead body of any person, he was unclean and had to bring his sin offering to be cleansed...
"The body, as it is now, is affected by sin because it will die, and death itself is unclean. Death is not natural at all in the philosophical and theological sense. Death is the consequence of sin, not a good and natural part of God’s creation, but the last enemy of God and man that will be destroyed at Christ’s coming. So, how do we understand those words from our Prayer of Humble Access? '…that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood…' We must think about what we are about to do. After the sermon you will confess that you are a sinner like everybody else. The General Confession is the opposite of the proud Pharisee’s prayer. He thanked God that he was not like other men, like the sinners; that is because he deceived himself. But we will confess the very opposite: We will confess the truth, seeking to be cleansed by God through the Absolution (if we come with 'hearty repentance and true faith'), and so will approach, will draw near to take into ourselves the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember his words:
"Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever (John 6: 54-58).”
"By eating this bread and drinking this cup our sinful bodies are made clean by his body, and our souls are washed through his most precious blood of the New Covenant. Springing from his Incarnation, from the Word made flesh, is this sacrament by which we feed on Christ, the Bread of Life, the food of eternal life"
When we say the Prayer of Humble Access, let us say it boldly and in strong voice for all the world to hear. It is good, solid, Biblical and quite Vincentian. It expresses our sure and certain hope of the resurrection on the Last Day, the Divine promise that comes to us through the salvation Christ purchased for us on the cross when he gave his life, poured out his soul unto death, and thus took away the sins of the world; so that, at his rising, he could overcome death, and at his coming again destroy it forever. I am not ashamed to say these words, but grateful that I may pray them and mean them.
1. And remember, whereas the term "Holy Communion" is from the Bible and is rich in theological meaning, the word "Mass" means, to translate it freely, nothing more significant than "time to leave." Middle English masse, from Old English mæsse, from Vulgar Latin messa, from Late Latin missa, from Latin, feminine past participle of mittere, -to send away, dismiss. But the term "Holy Communion" is from I Cor. 10:16. I insist, there is no comparison. For Heaven's sake, call it the service of Holy Communion-we are Anglicans after all.
2. Miserable offenders from God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, C. S. Lewis, Walter Hooper (Editor), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Reprint edition (October 1994; original copyright 1970 by the Trustees of the Estate of C. S. Lewis).
3. The actual issue is settled in the rubrics themselves, commanding reverent treatment of whatever "remain of that which was consecrated."