Less humble access: more arrogance?
Is the increasing disuse of the Prayer of Humble Access in modern Anglican services of Holy Communion both a symptom and a cause of growing arrogance, presumption and unteachableness in local congregations of all churchmanships?
A cause because if an effective liturgical antidote to a bloated ego is not applied, then surely the disuse can fuel the problem?
Frontline clergy inclined to cut the Prayer of Humble Access may argue that prayerfully preaching the gospel, not clinging to particular pieces to liturgy, is what leads to true Christian humility in God’s church. That by God’s grace is true – it is the gospel that is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. People do not need to use the particular form of words in the Prayer of Humble Access in order to be saved.
But the great benefit about liturgy in applying the gospel is that it allows congregational ownership. There is a live response by the congregation to the gospel that is being proclaimed.
Certainly, the proclamation of the gospel in the Holy Communion liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer is intentional about instilling gospel-motivated humility. In an article about Cranmer’s Prayer of Humble Access in the Church Society’s theological journal, Churchman, Katie Badie wrote:
We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table…The source is clearly the narrative of the Syro-Phoenician woman. The wording is closer to Mark’s version (Mark 7:24-30). This text does not seem to have been employed in a liturgical context before. The link is the repetition of ‘thy Table’, which marks a significant point in the historical context. In the gospel narrative, this sentence is not referring to the bread of the Lord’s Supper but is an image of the priority of the Jews in salvation history. It is not a question of worthiness, but of God’s plan. Jesus even praises the woman for her faith in perceiving that she can, as a Gentile, like a dog under the table, ‘eat of the children’s crumbs’, something that the Prayer suggests we are not worthy to do. This is, of course, true — we are not worthy. As often in the New Testament, this sentence is leading us to the ‘But’ of the following one: we are sinners, but God is rich in mercy (e.g. Rom. 3:23, Eph. 2:4).
Of course, a person can go through the motions of praying the Prayer of Humble Access without being humbled, but they must do so in defiance of the power of the gospel expressed in the wonderful words:
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.