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The Theology and Practice of the Missal

By Bishop Chad Jones

Editor's Note: This talk was given for the clergy of the Diocese of the Eastern United States (APA) at the spring clergy retreat.

We love, esteem, revere, and use the Book of Common Prayer – it is Common Prayer and binds us together as one Church. It also serves as our teaching office, our magisterium. It is a compendium of ancient Catholic faith and practice. No Anglican historically questions these facts. So why the Missal? The Missal predates the Book of Common Prayer by many centuries and is the basis from which the Eucharistic rite of the Prayer Book was developed. The ancient Western Rite, to which we belong and of which Anglicanism is an integral part, is to be found in its greatest measure in the celebration of Mass as provided by the Missal. The Missal and the Prayer Book are obviously compatible, and in fact beyond merely compatible in this sense: the one originally derives from the other. Our liturgical heritage as Catholics of the Anglican Rite is to be located in the Missal, with its panoply of ancient liturgical texts from the early Western Church. As Father Bill Weston of blessed memory used to say, the Missal is the Prayer Book ‘on steroids.’ It adds to but does not take away from the Prayer Book liturgy. It is a rich resource of supplementation and a deepening of the liturgical expression we enjoy.

As Saint Gregory the Great proclaims: ‘We have restored our own ancient customs and usages, or established such new ones as are suited to our needs.’ Ever ancient, ever new – such is the Catholic Faith and such is its liturgical expression as particularly instantiated in the Missal. We are the ancient Catholic Church in its Western expression. It is not modern Rome or Lutherans or Western Rite Eastern Orthodox or even the Old Catholics. We are the last repository of ancient Western Christianity in its traditional form. Anglicanism is the purest form of historical Catholicism in the West. Were it not so, we wouldn’t bother to be here today! The Missal is an instrument, a collection, a repertory which contains this deposit of ancient Western Catholicism. Not the only one – but certainly one of the most vital.

Obviously the Missal is not mandated or required – we have the Prayer Book and all Seven Sacraments are there. If the Prayer Book is invalid or illegitimate we are just playing Church – but the Missal is a tremendous storehouse of which we can take advantage and from which we may draw in our worship and formation. Properly understood and implemented, the Missal does not impede or negate the Common Prayer of the Church in the BCP; rather, it serves to deepen and enhance it.

The Missal is an authorised text and therefore should be considered an informative if not strictly binding liturgical text for the APA and the Continuing Church – lex orandi, lex credendi. The law of prayer is the law of belief. We believe what we pray. Anglicanism’s systematic theology is in fact her liturgical theology. What Anglican Catholics believe and profess is discovered and expressed most supremely and immediately in the liturgy.

The use of the Missal provides an interpretative lens through which we can better understand the Catholic nature of the Anglican Rite liturgy – any ambiguities which may exist in the Prayer Book are clarified, focused, and elaborated by the content and context of the Missal. For example, any language which may be understood or interpreted as ‘receptionistic’ in the Prayer Book is set in its proper theological setting by the manual acts, gestures, signs of reverence, and additional language offered by the Missal. The dogmatic and theological foundation of the Missal is the shared common doctrine of the Apostolic Churches, the patristic consensus of the First Millennium, the Undivided Church.

Of course, the Prayer Book contains the ‘fundamental Missal’ for Anglicans, and the American Missal in particular contains the entirety of the 1928 American Rite. But the Missal takes the more skeletal structure of the Prayer Book Eucharist and puts skin on it. It fills in what is lacking and expands the scope and depth of our Eucharistic practice and theology. The English 1662, Scottish 1929, South African 1954, and 1926 Irish Prayer Books are all harvested and their prayers included in the Missal. The full cycle of Lenten ferial days and their propers, collects, epistles, and Gospels, are provided from other Prayer Books of the Anglican Communion. The full rites of Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum – absolutely at the core, heart, and centre of the entire Church year – have been recovered in their entirety from the ancient sources.

The liturgical calendar of the Western Church is now our own as a result of the Missal – we have the opportunity and ability to observe all the major feasts and commemorations of the ancient Western Rite not located in the American Prayer Book, such as the Conception, Visitation, Nativity, and Assumption of Our Lady, Saint Joseph, Corpus Christi, the Precious Blood, the Sacred Heart, All Souls’ Day, the Feast of Christ the King, Holy Cross Day, and so forth. The access we have to the calendar of the wider Western Church links us to the other Catholic Churches of West and East, and more profoundly intensifies our experience of the sanctification of time. As the Missal says of itself: ‘the increasing recognition that the triumph of faith, as exhibited in Sainthood, is by no means confined to the First Christian century, has caused a demand for a provision of commemorations of saintly men and women.’

And of course we have Anglican beati, saints and worthies, who have been effectively canonized by being placed in the liturgy. Many feast days for saints of our own obedience are celebrated, such as King Charles the Martyr, William Laud, various martyrs, and holy men and women from throughout the most recent five centuries of the Anglican Church. Yes, we have our own saints and we should venerate them and honour them in the liturgy. The Missal gives greater expression to the Communion of Saints and acknowledges the intercession of the saints in heaven for and with us – a key doctrine of Catholic orthodoxy and the Ecumenical Councils now more fully embodied in the liturgy. The corollary, prayer for the faithful departed in Christ, the Requiem Mass, is also given greater prominence.

We should also note the really excellent musical notation and settings provided in the Missal. The Prayer Book Prefaces and Lord’s Prayer are texts straight from the Episcopal Church in the days of its orthodoxy. The hymnal settings for the Sursum Corda and Lord’s Prayer are also supplied. Canon Winfred Douglas was a musical genius, one of the most eminent Anglican liturgical music scholars, and his work floats throughout the entire Missal.

Let us hear from him on the rationale for the development of the Missal:

Now why do some of us feel the need of a book containing devotions supplementary to the Book of Common Prayer? Probably every priest and bishop says private prayers of some kind before, during, and after the Eucharistic celebration. Our private prayers are not prescribed by bishop or by convention; they remain completely free. Hundreds of us, in the exercise of this lawful freedom, prefer to utter prayers sanctified by ages of use in God's church, rather than our own improvisations. They are printed for the convenience of the priest who desires to say them; and they are the proper concern of no other person whatever, save possibly a lay server at his side. From among these devotions, our Prayer Book has recently been enriched by the beautiful Collect for the Unity of the Church.
The Introits, Graduals, Alleluia Responds, Tracts, Offertories, and Communions, taken from Scripture; and the Sequences, taken from the Hymnal, are of course definitely provided for in the Prayer Book in the precise places where they occur. They make up the devotional treasure of the choir, which from very early Christian times adorned the Eucharist with God inspired words rather than with later and less worthy hymns.
In another category are the additional services for an enlarged calendar. They are supplementary to the Prayer Book, as are the similar services in the Book of Offices set forth by the House of Bishops. For the use of either, the consent, at least tacit, of the diocesan, is required. But may I point out that this calendar is a composite of those approved by the bishops visitors of the various religious orders working in our church? The priests whose devotional leadership is sought in our retreats, our parochial missions, our summer conferences, our schools of the prophets, our college of preachers, are largely those who daily use this calendar. The tree is known by its fruits: and the good tree of devout commemoration of God's Saints in every age is yielding the good fruit of saintly lives in our age. Who wishes to deny the religious and their associates the benefit of daily devotion?
The special observances of Holy Week and of some other days, when they are not wholly drawn from Bible and Prayer Book, are of course "subject to the direction of the ordinary." This means that they are to be treated precisely as the popular devotion of the Three Hour Service on Good Friday.
Apart from their practical value to those who devoutly and wisely use them, such books as The American Missal have a larger significance and importance. Their wide use is a bond of relationship with churches toward which we have made overtures of sympathetic approach with a view to eventual communion. Even some protestant rites now contain Tenebrae, the Reproaches, the Adoration of the Cross, the private prayers which have been objected to in The American Missal, Proper Prefaces for Lent, Passiontide, Corpus Christi, and Feasts of Apostles; and other similar devotions. The missal of the Old Catholics, with whom we seem on the verge of communion, is precisely similar, in its faithfulness to what is Catholic and its rejection of what is merely Roman, to The American Missal. The Orthodox, with whom we once had economic communion, are accustomed to greater liturgical richness than that of our official books. Perhaps The American Missal will prove to be an agency blessed by God in bringing us to that wider outlook and larger responsibility for Christian unity so convincingly urged by the Lambeth Conference.

A review of the basic theology of the Missal:

All of this is basic First Millennium Faith, held in common with Constantinople and Rome, and with all Christians of the first thousand years.

1. The Holy Eucharist is celebrated as the anamnetic re-presentation of the One Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, the unbloody and mystical exhibition of Christ’s Perfect Offering. The Mass is the making present of Calvary in a sacramental mode, and thus is the one all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ’s true Body and Blood made present on our Altars. The Mass is identical to the Sacrifice of the Cross, the Person and Work of Our Lord being pleaded to His Father in a sacramental way in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is an applicative and appropriative sacrifice.

2. Thus, the Mass has a sacrificial and propitiatory character – because it is nothing less than Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Priest and Victim, making Himself present under the form of bread and wine so as to unite us to Himself in His offering to His Father. By the action of Christ sacramentally manifested in the Eucharist, we are reconciled and united to God. The ministry and role of the ordained Catholic priest as alter Christus, in persona Christi capitis, the sacramental agent and representative of Our Lord, is strongly reinforced, as is the relationship between the Mass and the sacerdotal priesthood.

3. The Holy Eucharist is the Real Objective Substantial Presence of the true Body and true Blood of Our Lord under the forms, species of bread and wine. Our Lord is contained in the Blessed Sacrament, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The Eucharistic Real Presence is accomplished in the consecration of the Mass and is a perduring ontological supernatural metaphysical corporeal Presence under the sacred forms – I Corinthians 15 – it is the risen and glorified human nature of Our Lord. Soma pneumatikon. The risen Body and Blood of Jesus are in the elements of the Blessed Sacrament in a unique manner. We may call it metaousiosis or conversion or transubstantiation or transmutation or transformation and the like – it is the Eucharistic Change of the elements by the Holy Ghost at the consecration. They become the Body and Blood of Christ and remain so. The Church’s doctrine of the Eucharist as the prolongation and extension of the Incarnation of the Word is reaffirmed with patristic clarity.

4. The Blessed Virgin Mary is extolled and venerated as the greatest and holiest of saints, being the Theotokos, or Mother of God, from which divine maternity all of her honours and prerogatives flow. She is understood as being the Church’s greatest and holiest member, the first and highest Christian, the most eminent member of the Body of Christ, the prototypical Christian, the Icon and Personification of the Church, who joins her prayers with ours in the Communion of Saints.

5. The Communion of Saints is practised in the recognition, veneration, and remembrance of the holy ones of God on their respective feast days and in the prayers of the liturgy. The Church is the Mystical Union in Christ of the living and the dead. Again, emphasis is placed the mutual communion of love, grace, and intercession shared by the saints in heaven and on earth. The Eucharist is the continual union in Christ between all Christians in heaven and earth. The saints in Christ’s glory pray with and for us as elder brothers and sisters in the One Body of Christ. The saints are united to us in the Worship of the Lamb before the Throne of God, the heavenly worship of which the Mass is the earthly manifestation. We are personally linked to the saints through intercessory prayer and our union in the One Christ and the One Holy Spirit. The Mass is the action of the one family in heaven and earth. The saints are held up to us as the most supreme examples of Christian life and living, to be emulated, followed, and reproduced – and their prayers for us are recognised and solicited. The Church observes the death-days of the saints as their heavenly birthdays, in which we celebrate with joy their final deliverance from sin and their inheritance of the heavenly kingdom.

6. The Eucharist is the Christian sacrifice and avails for the benefit of the faithful departed in Christ in the Intermediate State as well as for the living on earth. The Mass is the unbloody sacrifice for the living and the dead in the Name of the Lord, the application of Jesus Christ to those for whom the mystery is offered. Christ is the one who offers and what is offered – and constitutes the Church as His Mystical Body. The Eucharist makes the Church, as we are incorporated into His Body. The doctrine of the Church is spelled out in graphic and powerful detail: the three states of the Church, (1) militant on earth, (2) expectant in paradise, (3) triumphant in heaven. Christians have always prayed for the Holy Souls departed this life, and the Missal restores all the ancient liturgical practices of intercession for the Holy Dead. The condition of those in the Intermediate State is laid out powerfully: growth and advancement in love and holiness, healing from the consequences of sin, purification of the soul in preparation for the Resurrection, increase of grace and strength and union with Christ. Refreshment, light, and peace.

7. The recognition of the Ecclesia Anglicana as a true and rightful branch of the Catholic Church of Christ in the canonization of Anglican saints and martyrs. The Missal is riddled with the doctrine of the ‘Branch Fact’ – the Anglican Church is a true Apostolic Church and possesses all the characteristics of the historic Catholic reality, including supernatural and heroic virtue and holiness. As mentioned before, King Charles Stuart I and numerous other worthies are given veneration equal to that of the saints and martyrs of earlier times. Anglican divines and theologians are recognised as saints, just like the Fathers and Confessors of the Church in previous ages. This is especially true in the new Anglican Missal. And as well all the Apostles, Confessors, Virgins, Martyrs, and Doctors of the whole Church East and West are given their due.

8. The entire sacramental principle is fully restored to our worship – the worship of the Church is totally incarnational - all the aspects of sacramental worship unnecessarily purged during the process of sixteenth and seventeenth century liturgical reformulation are gratefully found again, all the things we now take for granted, Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, Adoration of Our Lord in the Eucharist, true Altars, crucifixes, vestments, ceremonial, genuflections, gestures, candles, the Christmas crib, incense, holy water, ashes, palms, the sign of the Cross, sacred images, and on and on. The Seventh Ecumenical Council got its groove back in Anglicanism with the Missal.

Gnosticism and Calvinism are relegated to the dust bin of history with the fulsome recovery of the Church whole worship in sacramental signs. The celebration of the Holy Eucharist returns to the its place as the central and supreme act of Christian worship, source and summit of the Christian life, and with it the Church’s perspicuous doctrine that the Blessed Sacrament is Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, to be adored in the Sacrament of His love with that adoration, latria, that belongs to the Blessed Trinity. The comprehensive totality of Triadic, Christological, sacramentological, and ecclesiological truth revealed by God is given an intensive liturgical expression in the Missal.

Two common objections to Missal use:

1. Devotions not common in local practice. Because the Missal is devotional as well as doxological, the priest is at liberty to distinguish levels of Missal use and is free not to utilise any devotional material unfamiliar to oneself or not customary in a local parish or mission context. The Missal is not a ‘all or nothing’ resource, and one should apply pastoral discretion and discernment in the employment of specific feasts or observances. The importation of specifically counter-reformation feast days should cause no demur, as they are widely celebrated throughout the Western Rite today. But one is at liberty to distinguish, discriminate, and decide what is most appropriate for one’s own parochial situation. Missal observances are not binding on us, and so we can act accordingly.

A good example of this issue is the Feast of 8th December, which anciently is called the ‘Conception of Our Lady,’ not the ‘Immaculate Conception.’ Many Anglicans find the dogmatic definition of 1870 from Pius IX objectionable, and with good reason. The Immaculate Conception can never be more than a theologoumenon in the Anglican tradition. Father Glenn Spencer will tell you it is a false doctrine, but I quite can’t go that far, at least not officially! You should ask him about it. I agree with his concerns about it.

Along these lines, please let me digress and say that the doctrines of Our Lady found in the Missal, 1. Theotokos, 2. Her Perpetual Virginity, 3. Her liberation from sin, 4. Her physical glorification after death, are all taught as doctrines by the Ecumenical Councils, specifically Ephesus (431), Constantinople II (553), and Nicea II (787). As First Millennium Anglicans, we are bound to these doctrines as being of the Faith, de fide. The onus would upon the shoulders of the one who denies them to demonstrate that the Church is wrong. Remember, what happens to Mary happens to us. What God does for her, he promises to do for us. That is why she is featured so prominently. Fear not Mary.

Therefore, the Missal provides the ancient title and propers for the Feast of 8th December, which originated in the West in England centuries before any movement in the Roman Communion to establish any new dogma. The ancient English observance echoes the Feast of 9th December in the Eastern Rite, the Conception from Anna and Joachim of the Blessed Mother. The East calls Mary the All-Holy Mother of God and yet rejects the Immaculate Conception because it rejects the Augustinian understanding of original sin. We are free to see the Conception of Our Lady as Eastern Christians do. The Orthodox do very much believe in the physical glorification of Our Lady after death. Just saying. On a personal note, I affirm the Eastern patristic view on both Marian traditions in line with the Seven Councils. We should allow history and good pastoral common sense to direct our decisions and choices. We have to rely on competent authority, and our own good formation, to know when and how to implement certain Missal observances. Certainly such days as the Conception and Dormition of Our Lady, Corpus Christi, Holy Cross Day, Saint Joseph, and All Souls’ Day are wholly compatible with the Faith and Tradition of the Undivided Church and should be encouraged. When in doubt, ask the Bishop!

2. The use of the term ‘merit’ in reference to the saints. If the term is found too complex or difficult to explain (and it certainly can be) one has permission from the Bishop to alter the word ‘merits’ to the less controversial ‘virtues.’ Everyone can agree that the virtues of the saints are communicated to us in prayer and in the communion of saints, for the virtues of the saints are the ultimately the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Ghost, transmitted to us via the sacraments and the prayer of the faithful. In the truest sense, the merits of the saints are the merits of Jesus Christ imparted to and infused in His children, embodied and expressed in and through those who attain to union with Him. The merits of the saints are God graciously and gratuitously loving, living, and working in His children and producing the fruit of good works through a living faith. As Saint Augustine says, ‘God crowns His own works in His own children.’ The Person and Work of Our Lord are encapsulated and manifested in His Image and Likeness, in human beings who are divine by grace, theosis – they and we become by grace what God is by nature. We need not get bogged down in the scholastic debate about the peculiar Roman doctrine of the ‘treasury of merit.’ The collects and prayers in the Missal predate the over-dogmatisation of scholasticism by centuries; thus, the term ‘merits of the saints’ does not necessarily imply any later medieval Roman doctrine of condign merit.

Some general points:

1. The basic outline of the liturgy as presented in the Missal is the ancient Roman Gallican liturgy of the 11th century, at which time the simpler Roman Rite was essentially fused with the Frankish or Gallican liturgy. As such, the Sarum Use is not a separate rite – there is strictly speaking no such thing as the Sarum Rite - but a use from Britain of the Gallican-Roman Rite. Anglicans always bring up Sarum, and it is our indigenous ceremonial form of the Western Rite, the English use. The Sarum use is a more Gallicanised form of the Western Rite, a use suspended because of the development of the Prayer Book in sixteenth century England. The Western Rite in general was codified for most Catholics at the Council of Trent, when any use not older than 200 years was abrogated. The Sarum Missal uses the calendar of the Gregorian Sacramentary and the Gregorian Canon. Only some private prayers and ceremonial differ in Sarum from the Tridentine form. Even the Prayer Book itself does not follow the Sarum use exclusively, as seen by the BCP incorporation of the Roman Gallican offertory. The purpose of the Anglican Missal is to transmit the general ceremonial as used in the Western Rite round the world as a whole – and over time. There were and are variations of ceremonial, but what we find in the Missal represents the general practices of the Western Rite over the past millennium. When we use the Missal, we are employing essentially what the Sarum use entails.

2. The use of Missal point to the Anglican rule for Catholic consent – the Creeds interpreted in the Catholic Tradition, and that Tradition is determined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils accepted by the whole Church East and West. Anglicanism has no mind independent of the universal Church – and accepts the corporate mind of the Undivided Church. Thus, doctrine, liturgical formulae, ceremonial practices, even rubrics, are derived from that mind and are not an experiment in reconstruction. The Prayer Book must be seen against the whole background of its Catholic past. Priests are the guardians of this tradition of doctrine and worship. Liturgy is prayer canonized, established by authority and brought to order by the customs and ceremonial of the Church. The Church imposes right worship, liturgy, on us as a duty, and our liturgy is preserved, shared, and maintained through our obedience. We are the servants, not the masters, of the liturgy.

3. As Catholic Christians we deny the presumption of private judgement in matters of doctrine, and we also realise we have no ability to change the received ecumenical and authoritative standards of the Church’s worship and teaching. Anglican solidarity and continuity with whole Catholic past perseveres – and the Missal serves to be a strong pre-reformation link with the primitive Church of the earliest ages and with the heritage of all the Churches of Catholic Europe. The largest part of Christendom still uses the Western Rite as presented in the Missal. The beauty and wisdom and strength of Anglicanism is that we do not claim to be the whole Church, as does Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy. There is a truthfulness, a candor and honesty, in the Anglican position not found elsewhere. Yes, we are the Catholic Church – and the most authentic version – but we are not the whole Body of Christ. Thus, as a mere part of the whole, the Anglican Church shares the religion common to the whole. The Book of Common Prayer must be interpreted by Catholic consensus, not the other way around. The Fathers interpret Anglicanism, everything about Anglicanism.

Bishop Chad Jones is Archbishop of The Anglican Province of America.

1 Comment

Jul 14, 2023

I found this to be a very informative exposition of the Missal. I especially appreciate the recognition of Anglican connections with the Eastern Orthodox Churches with which we and the entire Western Church were in communion prior to the Great Schism. During the Dark Ages - which were only dark in Rome, not in Britain - the British continued a robust trade with the East; both of goods and ideas. I believe the Eastern Church has been more receptive of Anglicanism than the Roman Church; hopefully we will one day all be united in communion.

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