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Some thoughts about Morning Prayer

March 9, 2012

Where Morning Prayer is read.

While I share Fleming Rutledge’s sadness and weariness over the tendency of disenchanted Episcopalians to split, like petulant and spoiled children, into their own doomed para-churches (see here and here), not all of the Continuing Anglicans (or whatever) are complete crazies.

Below, we reproduce a posting from the Old High Churchman. He makes a point that we have raised many, many times.


Some thoughts about Morning Prayer

The last forty years have seen the almost complete disappearance of Morning Prayer as the principal act of public worship in Anglican Churches. It was almost as though the Liturgical Movement, which in Anglican circles tends to be dominated by Liberal Catholics, had set up Morning Prayer and Holy Communion in opposition to one another rather than as complimentary acts of worship. The battle cry of the “Lord’s service on the Lord’s Day” was a very seductive one for the marginalized clergy of the 1970s who embraced a more sectarian understanding of the Church as it was pushed out of the mainstream of society.

At one time I used to think that the thought process behind the Liturgical Movement’s replacement of early Communion and mid-morning Matins by Parish Communion or “Slow Mass” was unassailable, but I have come to revise my opinions somewhat. The Parish Communion or “Slow Mass” attempts to combine the elements of a substantial Liturgy of the Word with the Eucharist. As a result the traditional Fore Mass was expanded by the addition of an Old Testament Reading and a Psalm, and the intercessory element was frequently expanded. As a result the usual hour’s service on a Sunday morning consisting either of Matins with a fairly substantial sermon, or a Sung Eucharist with a more modest homily was replaced by a protean monster of a service that tries to do everything in one go, or alternatively by a Sung Eucharist which ends up being light on Scripture and preaching. With the Slow Mass/Parish Communion arrangement heaven help you if Aunt Aggie of “praying the newspaper” fame, and a baptism coincide; chances are you are in for a two hour session which ultimately is somewhat liturgically incoherent.

Anyway, to get back to the point, I have come to the conclusion that parishes need to provide both Eucharistic and non-Eucharistic worship in order to prosper. Please note, I am not suggesting that we neglect the Eucharist, but rather suggesting that we do not put all our eggs in one basket and reach out to those who are not yet ready for Communion.

The first concern that I have about the “Slow Mass/Parish Communion” as the only service is that it creates something of a closed congregation. Part of the reason for this is that, except for a few very Anglo-catholic parishes, Anglicans have an engrained aversion to non-communicating attendance at Holy Communion. Semi-churched Anglicans are at a distinct disadvantage in parishes where the Holy Communion is the main or only service simply because they feel they ought not to be there. In short, they are accidentally excluded and this creates a much sharper distinction between the churched and the unchurched, which is a mixed blessing in a missionary situation.

Secondly, Morning Prayer is a very Evangelical service. For a start, it has a very heavy Scriptural component. Even with the rather limp-wristed lectionary of 1943, it includes one medium length or two short psalms, and two fairly substantial lessons, one from each Testament. In addition to this there is quite a bit of Scripture in the liturgy itself. It also gives room for a more substantial, expository sermon than can usually be preached at Holy Communion. I generally find that twelve minutes is about your whack at “Slow Mass” if you want to retain any hope of finishing within an hour and a quarter or an hour and an half, but it is perfectly possible to go 20-25 minutes without going much over the hour at Morning Prayer.

Thirdly, not everyone is the same in their approach to the sacrament of Holy Communion. For example, some of us have a strong preference for fasting Communion, which becomes difficult if the celebration of Communion occurs at an hour later than 9.00am. Inspite of all the Liturgical Movement propaganda I have digested over the years, I still prefer to go to an early celebration and receive fasting, then come back later in the day for Matins or Evensong and an expository Sermon rather than put myself around a condemned breakfast and go to a mid-morning Eucharist. Others prefer the “Slow Mass” format. Others still, the old-fashioned Sung Eucharist. What I am saying is that one size does not fit all, and that priests need to listen to their people, and the people need to be open with their clergy about what they think will build up the Body of Christ in their particular parish.

In the old days, Morning Prayer and Communion were often combined. In the Church of Ireland the usual format was Matins to the end of the second canticle, then the Communion service with the non-communicants being prayed for and allowed to depart after the Prayer for the Church Militant. This occurred monthly, and on the other Sundays Holy Communion was celebrated early. By the way, the 1928 American Prayer Book allows this too. If you think I am romancing look it up, or read “A Prayer Book Manual” (Boston, MA, 1943) where it is mentioned as one of the options for integrating MP and the Eucharist. Other parishes tackled the need for both Eucharistic and non-Eucharist worship by having a mid-morning Sung Communion and a late Morning Prayer, as was the case in my home parish in the 1960s and 70s. Still others has early and late said celebrations either side of Morning Prayer. Wherever one was, experiments were made, or at least the local pattern for worship was allowed to evolve to meet the demands of both the existing congregation and those of evangelism.

I guess what I am asking is for the parish clergy take seriously the need for non-Eucharistic worship, and also appreciate the need for flexibility in scheduling the parish’s worship. I am also asking both clergy and laity to appreciate the breadth and the richness that exists in both our Eucharist and Morning Prayer Liturgies and allow both the opportunity to draw folks to Christ. One size does not fit all, and our attempts to make it so has lost Anglicanism a lot of support and membership down the years. The Anglican Way is both Reformed and Catholic and as a result we have to make room for both expository peaching and sacramental worship in our spiritual lives. The Reformers hoped to combine both within the Communion Service, but in all reformed traditions – Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, and Anglican – the tendency from about 1600 onwards has been for the two to inhabit different time slots and different services. Our belated attempts to re-realise the Reformers aspirations have not been altogether successful, so I would hope that we will have the courage to re-evaluate the teaching of the Liturgical Movement.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. The Rev. Douglas Drown permalink
    March 12, 2012 21:17

    I don’t happen to be an Episcopalian, but when I was in college forty years ago I used to love attending Morning Prayer at the local Episcopal church — and I am in total agreement
    with you. An attendant question that one could raise is, “Where are the great preachers in American Anglicanism today?” There are a few (Mrs. Rutledge, to name one), but not many of note; I wonder whether the focus on the centrality of the Eucharist at the expense of Morning Prayer has caused a diminution in the importance and quality of preaching. The Episcopal Church today is most decidedly not the Episcopal Church of Phillips Brooks.

  2. March 13, 2012 14:20

    It seems to me that the author is overly worried as to the time element. Why can one not have a substantial sermon as part of a sung Eucharist? Our forefathers rerularly spent from 2-3 hours at mornning prayer, AND 1-2 hours at evening prayer on Sunday. Of course they remembered that it was the Lord’s day. They were not worried about the Sunday Afternoon Sports event, etc. I do agree that Morning Prayer is good for evangelising, but I also wonder why there would be a large number of non-communicants at the priniple church service. BTW, while I was an Anglican for many years, I am now a Bishop in the Christian Church, Synod of St. Timothy.

  3. Robert Bowman permalink
    April 1, 2012 21:03

    I grew up in an Episcopal parish where we had 3 services every Sunday. 8 AM was always said HC with full sermon. 9:15 was Choral MP on 1st & 3rd with full sermon, Choral HC on 2nd & 4th with full sermon. 11:00 Choral HC on 1st & 3rd with full sermon and Choral MP on 2nd & 4th with full sermon. 5th Sundays we had Choral MP with Litany and full sermon at both 9:15 & 11. This worked out very well for everyone. As the church declined, and we went to 2 services, 8AM was always said HC with full sermon and 10:30 alternated Choral HC and full sermon with Choral MP and full sermon, which also seems to work out well. Fifth Sundays we had 8AM said HC with full sermon and Choral MP with Litany and full sermon at 10:30.
    Today, when I have served as rector or vicar of small parishes with only 1 service, I have alternated HC with MP. But, in order to meet the needs of the entire parish, have added an abbreviated HC using the 1662 shorter liturgy beginning with the Sursum Corda following the offertory at MP. This does not lengthen the service.
    Robert Bowman

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