Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Friday, November 05, 2010

Prayer of Humble Access

The Prayer of Humble Access

Then shall the Priest, kneeling down at the Lord's Table, say in the name of all them that shall receive the Communion this Prayer following.

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: 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 Prayer of Humble Access comes from the service of the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. This is one of my favorite prayers in the liturgy for a variety of reasons. First of all, the biblical allusions relate directly to the passages of Scripture which emphasize our standing before God as sinful and ungodly people who do not deserve God's mercy (Titus 3:5-7; Romans 10:1-4). If we were to stand before God in our own righteousness we would surely be lost since God commands what we are unable to deliver: absolute sinless perfection (Matthew 5:17-21, 48).

Rather than giving the historical setting for Cranmer's work in the 1552 edition of the prayer book, which the 1662 edition preserves almost unaltered, I want to instead show the Scriptures to which the prayer alludes and to then reflect theologically on the meaning of these passages in the context of the prayer and in the larger context of Protestant and Reformed theology. First of all, notice that we are not to “presume” anything. (See Matthew Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30; Luke 16:19-31). The first thing you will notice is that three New Testament passages to which Cranmer alludes have to do with two outcasts from both the religious and the social society of Jesus' day. Matthew 15 and Mark 7 both allude to a foreign woman from the area of Tyre and Sidon, which also happens to be the same area where the Phoenicians originated. Although the area had been Hellenized, the long history of animosity between the Hebrews and the Canaanites of the area made the conversation between Jesus and these two foreign women even more amazing (1 Kings 16:31). In Luke 16:19ff we see the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, who was apparently a beggar. Lazarus and the Syro-Phoenician woman, as Cranmer rightly saw, reveals our true standing before God.

Moreover, we are foreigners and beggars and have absolutely no claim to citizenship in Israel or the church, the New Israel (Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:12, 19). We are outcasts from the kingdom of God. Cranmer's intention here is to refute the Roman Catholic idea that we come to the table worthy of receiving the sacrament on the basis of the merits of our penances or our inherent and infused righteousness in the heart. We do not come to the table based on our own righteousness but based on a foreign righteousness that is credited and imputed to our account:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- (Philippians 3:8-9 ESV)

It is not our level of sanctification or holiness which is infused into our own hearts that makes us worthy to receive the sacrament but rather the objective righteousness of Christ which is outside of us and covers us that makes us worthy of receiving the sacrament. That is not to say that the Reformed Anglican is lawless, however. Most modern prayer books, including the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, delete the reading of the Decalogue at the beginning of the service of the Lord's Supper. Although the 1928 BCP does require the reading of the Decalogue once a month, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer requires the reading of the Decalogue at every service where the Lord's Supper is observed. The rubrics in question read:

¶ Then shall the Priest, turning to the People, rehearse distinctly The Ten Commandments; and the People, still kneeling, shall, after every Commandment, ask God mercy for their transgressions for the time past, and grace to keep the law for the time to come.
¶ And NOTE, That in rehearsing The Ten Commandments, the Priest may omit that part of the Commandment which is inset.
¶ The Decalogue may be omitted, provided it be said at least one Sunday in each month. But NOTE, That whenever it is omitted, the Priest shall say the Summary of the Law, beginning, Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ

Now this omission of weekly readings of the Decalogue is partly due to a change in the frequency of the observance of the Lord's Supper. Anglo-Catholics generally practice weekly communion so the 1928 BCP is in effect a watering down of the emphasis on the moral law which exposes us as “miserable sinners”. While the 1662 BCP reads the Decalogue every time the Lord's Supper is observed, the fact is that communion might have only been administered once or twice a month. But the 1662 BCP does read the Decalogue and the responding prayers at every communion service. Hence, the Anglo-Catholics tend toward a pelagian watering down of human guilt before the tribunal of God's perfect law. It is my contention that this is deliberate on their part and the further pelagianization of the 1928 BCP in the 1979 book of alternate services is simply the result of both Anglo-Catholic theology and theological liberalism to which pelagianism naturally leads.

While Rome and the Anglo-Catholic tradition emphasizes human ability and congruent merits, the Scriptures emphasize man's total inability to please God on the basis of human merits or efforts of any kind whatsoever. The Thirty-nine Articles likewise uphold this view. (See Articles 9-18). It is particularly interesting that the 1662 BCP uses Augustinian prayers at the end of each of the Ten Commandments in the reading of the Decalogue:

People. Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law. (See Lord's Supper).

Please note the closing prayer of the reading of the Decalogue as well:

People. Lord, have mercy upon us, and write all these thy laws in our hearts, we beseech thee. (Ibid.)

I call to mind the conflict between Augustine and Pelagius when Pelagius read Augustine's prayer: “Lord, command what you will and grant what you command.” In other words, these readings mark out clearly the distinction between the Reformed Anglican view established in the 39 Articles and the Anglo-Catholic view, which is essentially pelagianism restated in semi-Roman Catholic language. The Prayer of Humble Access logically follows the reading of the Law since the Law reveals us as the miserable sinners we are (Romans 3:17; 3: 23). Rather than building vain pride in our own righteousness and standing before God (Romans 10:1-4), the Law demolishes all of our righteousness and shows us that only beggars and foreigners can come before a righteous and holy God. That is the standing of all humankind because we are all rebels and aliens and enemies of God unless and until we are born again and are accounted righteous on the basis of another, Jesus Christ. We are clothed with a righteousness that is not our own, a righteousness that is outside ourselves and we are accounted righteous when we are still inherently corrupt to one degree or another.

Those who do not believe that liturgy affects the theological reflection and understanding of the laity reading and praying through such services are naïve indeed. Even the Anglo-Catholic Gregory Dix acknowledges that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's genius was in teaching the doctrines of grace, justification by faith alone, and Reformed theology through his liturgical revisions of English prayer services. Learning and reciting heretical views through Latin rites, Anglo-Catholic perversions of the 1662 Prayer Book, etc., can only lead the people away from Christ and from the teaching of Scripture. The 1979 book of alternate services makes it extremely difficult to find the reading for the Decalogue with the Augustinian prayers or the reading of the Prayer of Humble Access. One has to conclude that this is deliberate rather than coincidental.

Reasonable Christian Blog Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost; Answer. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen. 1662 Book of Common Prayer


Reformation said...

A very good reminder. Thanks.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Thanks, Phil. It's not an indepth study. However, this one is glaringly Augustinian. One has to wonder how anyone could overlook the prayers after each commandment in the Decalogue and how that leads to the confession and absolution and to the culminating prayer of humble access just prior to communing.

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