Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Liturgical Reordering of the Ecclesia Anglicana: Faithful Understanding in the Elizabethan Homilies of 1563

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Liturgical Reordering of the Ecclesia Anglicana: Faithful Understanding in the Elizabethan Homilies of 1563

Article excerpt

In his reordering of the Daily Office for the second Book of Common Prayer (1552), Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer chose to prefix to the service a penitential introduction, including both confession and absolution, which bore, suggests historian G. J. Cuming, "a distinct resemblance to those in the Communion."1 The idea was certainly not original with the archbishop,2 but leads to an important question: Why begin the day with the reordering of individual and communal life? In his preface to the new prayer book which reappeared in the 1559 Elizabethan edition, Cranmer argued that the order for prayer was both more agreeable "to the mind and purpose of the old fathers," as well as being "more profitable and commodious than that which of late was used."3 But the archbishop had more than sheer utilitarianism or adherence to tradition in mind here-he was using liturgical reform as a primary arena for theological reorientation and pedagogical instruction.4 Cranmer, in fact, intended the Book of Common Prayer to serve as a kind of "textual representation of the newly reconstructed order in all its complexity and ideality."5

Rather than serving merely as the vehicle for English public worship, with a primary aftermath "in the realm of language and cultural identity,"6 the liturgy itself was designed to function in the theological arena as one of the major means of inculcating reform in the newly emerging Ecclesia Anglicana? The wearing of the surplice, the placement of the Communion table, the queen's use of crucifix and candlesticks-all of these were but the outward form of much deeper theological issues, ranging from the nature of the church to the fundamental understanding of the eucharistic presence. Liturgical reform, far from being a minor side issue, however, was, in fact, the primary battlefield between Queen Elizabeth and her clergy, especially the "hotter sort of Protestant[s]."8 As such, changes in the liturgy signal for the careful reader and listener key theological debates of the age and point to the nature of reform deemed most necessary by those in leadership.9

Historian John E. Booty has claimed: "the liturgy, as designed by Thomas Cranmer, was meant to serve the deepest needs of individuals and of the commonweal. Cranmer understood that the times were out of joint and that the liturgy was a chief means by which things could be set right."10 The central problem facing both church and Crown, he alleged, was one of disorder, and disorder of such a magnitude as to require the repetitive nature of daily liturgy to bring about any hope of restoration.11 Though the Book of Common Prayer has received important attention along these lines,12 historians have often overlooked another key liturgical source for restoring the realm: the Elizabethan Homilies of 1563.13 Yet, as one of the so-called "pillars" of the Church of England14 inscribed as having theological authority by article thirty-five of the Thirty-nine Articles,15 they deserve greater attention than they have heretofore received.

The homilies, both in their canon and in their contents, further support this liturgical reordering and help to shed light on the nature of Elizabethan reform. This reordering, according to the homilies, begins by putting the church in order (first physically, then liturgically), then moving on to a reorientation of one's own spiritual life, concluding with a reordering of society itself. The discourses that comprise the Elizabethan Book of Homi lies sought to reframe worship in the local parish church through the central activities of prayer, scripture reading, and the active reception of the sacraments. By so doing, they redefined the very nature of faith as being rooted in the central actions of hearing, understanding, and response. As such, these key sermonic pieces provide an important window into the nature of liturgical reform as a means of propagating the newly-reformed faith.


The Book of Homilies, issued in 1563 as a guide for preaching, was both a political and a religious document. …

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