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Holy Communion in Common Worship

by David Peterson



1. Things to be grateful for

Some Evangelicals sadly lack enthusiasm for liturgy and may view the publication of CW with only mild interest.  However, there is much to commend in this new book, with its many resources for service construction and the great variety of options provided at key points.  Special attention must be given to the Communion rites because they have been such a cause of contention and division in the past.

a. In general

Language that is now considered sexist, such as praying ‘for all sorts and conditions of men’, is removed from the modern language services and the Psalter.»1The layout and type faces of CW are pleasing to the eye and it is much easier to find your way around this book than it was the ASB.  There are helpful lists of contents at the beginning of each major section and the structure of each order of service is outlined at the front of that order. 

The Calendar and lectionaries are easy to follow.  The new Lectionary encourages the consecutive reading of Scripture and covers more of the Bible than ASB did.  Readings for the Communion Service are not printed in full, thus reducing the potential size of the book.  However, the overall increase in the number of options throughout CW has meant that the standard book for use on Sundays does not contain occasional services.  Some may see this as a problem, multiplying the number of service books necessary for congregations to buy.  However, many will doubtless use customized orders of service, particularly for occasional offices.

b. Order Two

Evangelicals should rejoice that two versions of the BCP Communion Service have been included in CW as ‘Order Two’, in traditional and modern English.  Although a form of the BCP Service in modern English could be extracted from the ASB options, it did not stand in its own right as a separate order. 

A level playing field

The effect of the CW provision is to make the traditional order of service more readily available to congregations where copies of the Prayer Book are either non-existent or fast decaying.  The modern English version makes the use of the traditional order more viable in congregations where contemporary language is expected.  Overall, having Order Two printed in this way demonstrates more obviously that the BCP remains ‘the permanently authorized provision for public worship in the Church of England’, as the Preface of CW declares, ‘whereas the newer liturgies are authorized until further resolution of the General Synod’.

It is interesting to note that the ASB Preface speaks of the BCP retaining its authority ‘as a doctrinal standard’ (under the terms of the Worship and Doctrine Measure of 1975).  No such reminder is explicitly given in the Preface to CW, though the Declaration of Assent (p. xi) certainly points in that direction.  We are bound to assess the doctrine expressed in modern services against that historic standard.  We must particularly evaluate the way doctrine is expressed liturgically in both Order One and Order Two of CW.

Michael Perham, Dean of Derby and member of the Liturgical Commission, aptly comments:»2

If the Alternative Service Book of 1980 was introduced with a message that the Prayer Book was on the way out in a brave new world of liturgical renewal, the Common Worship message is rather different.  Let there be a level playing field where classical and contemporary forms can both be used to the extent that the local community finds helpful.

The traditional language version

The traditional language version of Order Two is not exactly 1662 Holy Communion as originally authorized.  Our Lord’s summary of the Law may be said instead of the Ten Commandments or the Kyrie eleison may be said or sung.  Only the first collect for the Sovereign is included.  A lesson from the Old Testament and a psalm may be included.  Congregational responses are provided before and after the reading of the Gospel.  Only a few offertory sentences and only the third exhortation (in an annex) are provided.  ‘The Lord be with you’, with appropriate response, is inserted on two occasions.  The optional ‘Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord’ and later ‘O Lamb of God’, are included, giving the impression that these are part of the traditional order.  Both of these devotional additions are associated with a view of Christ’s presence in the sacrament that goes beyond the theology of the BCP and Articles.

The modern language version

I have heard some ardent supporters of the BCP bemoan the fact that a modern language version has been included in CW.  That is very short-sighted.  This new version makes it possible for the theology and liturgical clarity of 1662 to be appreciated by a new generation of Anglicans, who might otherwise be turned off by the archaic language.  One sadly feels that it is the language of the BCP more than anything else that captivates some people and repels others. 

Critics of Order Two in contemporary language have questioned whether you can have BCP doctrine without BCP language and whether ‘BCP structure is itself off-putting to contemporary worshippers’.»3  I find these criticisms extraordinary.  One could write an entirely modern service expressing BCP doctrine in a different way.  This was attempted in the Third Order of Communion in A Prayer Book for Australia (1995).  The BCP structure is no more off-putting to contemporary worshippers than any other!

More will be said about the theology and liturgical achievement of Order Two below.  Here I would simply note certain options and their significance.  The Ten Commandments may be abbreviated.  Various forms of intercession are provided, as for Order One (pp. 281-9), allowing freedom for extempore additions.  A shorter exhortation to prepare for communion (‘Brothers and sisters in Christ’) precedes the familiar Invitation to Confession (‘You then, who truly and earnestly repent of your sins’).  This lacks the punch of Cranmer’s exhortation,»4 though it is good to have something at this point in the service, to signify the importance of participating worthily in the Supper. 

Controversy will no doubt be aroused by the attempt to modernise the General Confession.  My own view is that it is better to change the language as little as possible, to avoid confusion for those who know the original.»5  A totally modern alternative is provided, which is helpful, and other forms may also be used for confession.  The Prayer of Humble Access has been changed less than the General Confession, though here again a totally modern alternative is provided.  Two forms of the Lord’s Prayer, traditional and modern, are printed.

The heart of the rite

What is particularly important about the BCP structure is the pattern at its centre.  It was Gregory Dix, no less, who asserted:»6

As a piece of liturgical craftsmanship (Cranmer’s 1552 liturgy) is in the first rank - once its intention is understood.  It is not a disordered attempt at a catholic rite, but the only effective attempt ever made to give liturgical expression to the doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone’.

This is hardly fair to other Reformed rites, but it does make an important point.  Rediscovery of the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, lead the Reformers to abandon the medieval idea of worship as a sacrifice offered to God.  Christian worship is essentially a response to the one ‘who gives freely, out of pure mercy for the undeserving, asking only to be confessed and glorified’.»7 

The 1552/1662 structure expresses this liturgically by making ‘The Prayer of Consecration’ a clear statement of the finished work of Christ on our behalf.  Together with the words of administration, it affirms that we may enjoy the benefits of his atoning work as we receive the sacramental bread and wine, ‘by faith with thanksgiving’.  The Lord’s Prayer and the prayers of thanksgiving and self-offering after Communion indicate that we can only offer ‘a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving’ in grateful acknowledgement Christ’s unique sacrifice for us (cf. Rom. 12:1; Heb 13:15). 

The separation of our self-offering from the celebration of what God offers us in Christ and the re-appropriation of those benefits in Communion avoids the danger of semi-Pelagianism.  This heresy - that we somehow contribute to our salvvation - is what many uninstructed Christians believe.  It is dishonouring to Christ and undermines true assurance.  Catholic Anglicans are keen to join the Prayer of Oblation to the Prayer of Consecration, to signify that our self-offering is caught up with the sacrifice of Christ which makes it possible.»8  But this obscures the unambiguous liturgical expression of the doctrine of justification by faith that is our heritage as Anglicans.  The significance of this becomes more obvious when certain features of the newer eucharistic prayers are examined.

c. Order One

Order One in modern English is a mild revision of ASB Rite A, with certain changes noted below.  It has eight eucharistic prayers, involving a greater range of style than the four in ASB.  Order One in traditional English has only two forms of the eucharistic prayer and differs in various ways from ASB Rite B.  I will not comment on the traditional language version of Order One, since this is least likely to be used by Evangelicals.

A different shape

Order One has been described as ‘classical’ because it follows the shape of some of the earliest eucharistic rites, the catholic Mass, and, to some extent, the 1549 Communion Service.  It has been described as ‘ecumenical’ because it is a shape that is common to almost every twentieth-century revision of the eucharist among western churches.  It has been described as ‘normative’ because it is now so commonly used in Anglican churches around the world.»9

Leaving aside for a moment the eucharistic prayers, what is valuable and attractive about this Order?  The normal pattern is to begin with a greeting, prayer of preparation, prayer of penitence, absolution and Gloria.  The penitential section can be taken later in the service, as a response to the ministry of the word.  But the value of the normal pattern is the very way in which it differs from the BCP structure and allows for a more extended form of preparation for hearing God’s word.»10  In this respect, it is more like the traditional pattern of Morning and Evening Prayer in the BCP, putting repentance and a reaffirmation of our trust in the finished work of Christ right at the beginning of our time together.  This is also the order of the Reformation liturgies of Martin Bucer and John Calvin, for instance.  An extended form of praise and thanksgiving can replace the Gloria.

The Liturgy of the Word effectively begins with the Collect.  The Creed normally follows the sermon and, together with the intercessions, can be an appropriate response to what has been heard.  The Liturgy of the Sacrament begins with the Peace and ends with a brief prayer of thanksgiving after communion, followed by The Dismissal.  Depending on the length of the eucharistic prayer and the number of communicants, Order One actually shortens the second half of the service, leaving the Liturgy of the Word not all that far behind in the memory of those who are sent out ‘to love and serve the Lord’.

There is actually much to commend in this Order, beyond the fact that it provides an alternative to the BCP pattern.  Variety is important for liturgical and pastoral reasons, so experiment creatively!  At key points in the service, many options are provided to make a special seasonal or theological point, appropriate to the focus and flow of a particular gathering of Christ’s people.  Making the right choice demands good preparation time and a growing familiarity with the resources provided.

Shorter and more responsive eucharistic prayers

I have often heard complaints about the wordiness, complexity, repetitiveness and length of the eucharistic prayers in the ASB.  Some of the new prayers in CW seek to address these complaints, particularly having regard for situations where children or new Christians are present.  Prayer D is a good example.  It is simple in wording and theology.  But the constant refrain ‘This is our story.  This is our song: Hosanna in the highest’ is rather weak and will soon become tiresome.

Prayer E is reasonably short, with a good choice of acclamations.  However, it has theological problems that are noted below.  Prayer F is longer, with or without the optional response ‘Amen. Lord we believe’ or variants throughout.  Its language is also more complex than Prayer D.  Prayer H is short, interactive in form, with the Sanctus (‘Holy, holy, holy Lord’) surprisingly at the end.  Unfortunately, it is rather weak on the atonement and includes the ambiguous prayer that God would send his Spirit, ‘that this bread and this wine may be to us the body and blood of your dear Son’.


2. Things to regret

Given the debates about eucharistic theology and practice over the last 450 years, I am unhappy with certain features of the eucharistic prayers and a particular change to the order of service.

a. A change of order

Placing the Lord’s Prayer between the eucharistic prayer and the Fraction (CW, p. 178), as in ASB, breaks the connection between ‘saying grace’ and initiating the meal.  CW takes the further step of allowing for the Prayer of Humble Access or a modern equivalent to be said, after the Fraction and words of invitation, but before communion.  In the BCP, the move is straight from ‘consecration’ to communion, with the Fraction taking place as the words of institution are recited.  This is much closer to the Passover pattern, which influenced Jesus’ words and actions at the Last Supper.»11

CW is less focussed on eating and drinking in grateful remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice and allows for a more devotional approach to the consecrated elements before they are consumed.  It also introduces a note of unworthiness to receive the sacrament (as does the optional ‘Lamb of God’), which seems out of place after the eucharistic prayer and the Fraction have declared the basis on which we can draw near with confidence.  The Lord’s Prayer is best placed after the intercessions, as a climax and conclusion to that part of the service.  The Prayer of Humble Access before the Peace would then provide a perfect bridge to the Liturgy of the Sacrament.

b. Eucharistic prayers

Prayers A, B, and C are new versions of four ASB prayers (A being a conflation of prayers 1 and 2 in ASB Rite A).  Prayers D, E and F are new compositions by members of the Liturgical Commission and prayers G and H came in through the revision process.  I think it is fair to conclude that,

While there are different theological and stylistic emphases in these eight prayers, they are not ‘party’ prayers in that all Church of England liturgy is meant to be useable by all branches of the church, even if people nearly always choose one option rather than another.»12

Nevertheless, I think this policy is idealistic and works against us.  It necessitates having some sort of ‘epiclesis’ in each prayer, invoking the Holy Spirit on the worshippers and/or the bread and wine.  It also confronts us with a hint of eucharistic sacrifice in each prayer.  The difficulties for Evangelicals in connection with both of these practices have often been expressed but they need to be articulated again.


Cranmer included an epiclesis in his 1549 service, presumably to take the focus off the words of institution as the means of consecration, as in the medieval rite. 

Heare us (o merciful father) we beseech thee; and with thy holy spirit and worde, vouchsafe to bl+esse and sanc+tifie these thy giftes, and creatures of bread and wyne, that they maie be unto us the bodye and bloude of thy moste derely beloued sonne Jesus Christe.

But this was not the pattern of authorized Church of England liturgy from 1552, until it was reintroduced in Series 3 (1973).»13  Now it is a matter of obligation for those who want to use Order One in CW. 

I have no problem with Prayer C because it is an adaptation of the BCP petition for right reception:

Grant that, by the power of your Holy Spirit, we receiving these gifts of your creation, this bread and this wine, according to your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed body and blood.

Prayer D echoes this same theology in more contemporary and simple language:

Send your Spirit on us now that by these gifts we may feed on Christ with opened eyes and hearts on fire.

Prayers A and B are more ambiguous.  They imply that the Holy Spirit effects a change either in the elements or in our perception of the elements:

Grant that by the power of your Holy Spirit these gifts of bread and wine may be to us his body and blood.

Grant that by the power of your Holy Spirit, and according to your holy will, these gifts of bread and wine may be to us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We have no warrant in Scripture for praying that the elements might be transformed and history shows how such teaching can lead to idolatry.  Why ask that our perception of the elements be changed if the real issue is feeding on Christ in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving?  The Holy Spirit is a person who interacts with us directly as persons under the New Covenant, not a power that comes to us through material things.»14  If the prayer is for the Spirit to help God’s people in their relationship with their Saviour, let us say it unambiguously and clearly.

Prayer E more obviously implies the Spirit’s work on the elements:

Send your Holy Spirit, that broken bread and wine outpoured may be for us the body and blood of your dear Son.»15

The idea that God should need to ‘send’ his Spirit upon those who already have the Spirit is unbiblical.  Other verbs such as ‘fill’ or ‘renew’ make more sense with respect to the people of God.  The object of ‘send’ in this prayer can only logically be the bread and wine.  It has been argued that such prayers are found in the Westminster Directory (1644) and Richard Baxter’s Savoy Liturgy (1661).»16  The former asks God:

to vouchsafe his gracious presence, and the effectual working of his Spirit in us, and so to sanctify these elements both of bread and wine, and to bless his own ordinance, that we may receive by faith the body and blood of Jesus Christ crucified for us . . .»17

This is much more carefully worded than any epiclesis in CW, making it clear that the Spirit is already ‘in us’, asking God to ‘sanctify’ or set apart the elements for the specific purpose set forth by Christ, that we may ‘receive by faith’ the benefits of his saving death.

Prayer F asks:

Father, by your Holy Spirit let these gifts of your creation be to us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer G says:

Pour out your Holy Spirit as we bring before you these gifts of your creation; may they be for us the body and blood of your dear Son.

Prayer H is similar to the revised form of Prayer E:

Send your Holy Spirit that this bread and this wine may be to us the body and blood of your Son.

Apart from the ambiguity and the misleading suggestion that the Holy Spirit may do something to the bread and wine, I object to this new form of liturgical correctness which suggests that we must always have some form of epiclesis for a valid eucharist.

Eucharistic sacrifice

Cranmer’s 1549 eucharistic prayer had what was later called the Prayer of Oblation as its conclusion and climax.  This included the following words:

We thy humble servants do celebrate, and make here before thy divine majesty, with these thy holy gifts, the memorial which thy Son hath willed us to make . . .

In 1552, however, the Prayer of Oblation was modified and placed after Communion, to avoid any suggestion that we offer ourselves in connection with an offering of the consecrated elements to God.  If 1549 was ambiguous about what we do ‘in remembrance’ of Jesus and his sacrifice, 1552 and its successors was not.  The ‘anamnesis’ or memorial/remembrance takes place as we obey Christ’s command to ‘Take, eat’, and ‘Drink this, all of you’. 

Colin Buchanan has recently written a helpful survey of the continuing debate in Anglicanism about the nature of the anamnesis and its liturgical expression.  He rightly comments about texts which seek to get behind Reformation controversies and go back to earlier traditions:»18

However innocent reference to the eucharist as a sacrifice in the second century may have been, once an issue has come into very precise dispute, then the innocence of the original text cannot be regained.

He also rightly contends that any suggestion of offering to God the bread and the cup is not actually obeying Christ’s command.  If Christ’s intention was that we should receive these as expression of God’s saving grace, it confuses the rite to offer them back to God.  As argued above, I would add that it can only confirm many in their semi-Pelagianism. 

Evangelicals should therefore be concerned about any suggestion in the eucharistic prayers that we are presenting the consecrated bread and wine to God, to ‘make the memorial’ of Christ (Prayer A, contrast ASB ‘we celebrate with this bread and this cup his one perfect sacrifice’).  More obviously, Prayer B says ‘we bring before you this bread and wine’,»19 and Prayer E echoes this with ‘bringing before you the bread of life and cup of salvation’.  Prayer G combines epiclesis and offering with these words:

Pour out your Holy Spirit as we bring before you these gifts of your creation: may they be for us the body and blood of your dear Son.

Colin Buchanan believes that such language can be ‘used in good conscience by all’ and goes on to argue that ‘we have now secured the impropriety of asserting that the dutiful obedience to Jesus’ command is to offer our bread and cup to the Father.’ »20  Even if this last point is true, it does not warrant the use of any language suggesting that the consecrated elements are to be presented to or brought before God.  Are they being brought to God for transformation, to make Christ’s body and blood a present reality, or as ‘a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving’?

In the New Testament, it is ‘the fruit of lips that confess his name’ that we offer as ‘a sacrifice of praise to God’ through our Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 13:15).  In other words, ‘a sacrifice of praise’ under the New Covenant means ‘a sacrifice which consists of praise’.  Any suggestion that this needs to be accompanied by a material offering because of Old Testament precedents is a misapplication of the text.  Of course, we also offer ourselves in service to God as an expression of our gratitude for his saving grace (Heb. 12:28-9).  This involves doing good and sharing what we have, ‘for such sacrifices are pleasing to God’ (Heb. 13:16).

Prayer F combines recollection of Christ’s ‘one perfect sacrifice’ with an epiclesis and a rightly asks to make us a perfect offering:

As we recall the one, perfect sacrifice of our redemption, Father, by your Holy Spirit let these gifts of your creation be to us the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; form us into the likeness of Christ and make us a perfect offering in your sight.

Prayer H speaks only of offering ‘this sacrifice of praise’.  Prayer D speaks of celebrating ‘the cross on which he died to set us free’ ‘with this bread and cup’ and then prays that we may ‘offer ourselves to live for you’.  Evangelicals therefore have the opportunity to use prayers which are free from the suggestion that we offer the bread and cup to God, though some of these prayers are problematic in other ways.

Prayer C is most like the BCP in language and theology.  To reflect the ‘classical’ or ‘ecumenical’ shape of the eucharistic prayer, it includes a modification of the Prayer of Oblation.  This speaks of offering ‘this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving’ as a means of remembering ‘the precious death and passion, the mighty resurrection and glorious ascension of your dear Son Jesus Christ’.  I have no problem if ‘this’ refers to the praise we offer in the prayer itself and as we eat and drink in remembrance of our Saviour and his sacrifice for us.  However, given the context of the words and the comparison with some of the other eucharistic prayers at this point, I would be happier if we simply said ‘our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving’.  If no reference to the presentation or offering of bread and wine is intended, let us say exactly what we mean.  Some could easily interpret ‘this’ to refer to the elements.



There is much in CW for which to be grateful.  If we are critical of certain aspects, it is only because we want the very best for our churches, for their edification and for God’s glory.  Evangelicals must continue to be involved in public debate about liturgy and in advancing suggestions for change.  Whether we like it or not, liturgy is one of the ways in which doctrine is expressed in the Church of England and congregations are nurtured.  Our concern should be for the pattern of congregational worship to be scripturally sound and pastorally relevant.

This new publication, in printed and electronic forms, invites us to experiment and to use its resources creatively.  For example, it might be worth trying Prayer D with and without the responses.  Various credal and intercessory forms ought to be tried.  Varying the position of the Prayer of Humble Access in Order One might be helpful.  We certainly cannot make informed judgements about CW unless we use what has been provided thoughtfully and imaginatively.


  1. It is interesting to note that, where a Christological interpretation of Psalm 8 is made difficult by putting things in the plural, a more traditional version is also provided.
  2. M. Perham, New Handbook of Pastoral Liturgy (London: SPCK, 2000), p. 63.
  3. C. Read, ‘”No Way to run a railway” - Revising the Eucharist for Common Worship’, Anvil, 17 (2000), p. 261. Cf. J. Fletcher, Communion in Common Worship (Grove Worship Series 159), pp. 19f.
  4. Cranmer’s first exhortation in 1549, which was largely based on 1 Corinthians 11, became the third exhortation in 1552 and 1662.  It is reprinted on p. 245 of CW.  Compare the better alternatives in A Prayer Book for Australia  (1995), p. 108.
  5. I rather prefer the version in An English Prayer Book (1994), pp. 65-6, or in A Prayer Book for Australia  (1995), p. 109.
  6. G. Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (2nd ed. Westminster: Dacre, 1945), p. 672.
  7. B. Thompson, Liturgies of the Western Church (New York: CollinsWorld, 1961), p. 100.
  8. See, for example, the carefully expressed argument in D.R. Holeton (ed.), Renewing the Eucharist, Grove Worship Series 135 (Cambridge: Grove, 1996), pp. 15-16 (attached).
  9. Perham, New Handbook of Pastoral Liturgy, p. 104.
  10. A whole new extended Form of Preparation on pp. 161-5 can be used as an alternative, individually or corporately.
  11. Cf. N.A.D. Scotland, Eucharistic Consecration in the First Four Centuries and its Implications for Liturgical Reform, Latimer Studies 31 (Oxford: Latimer House, 1989).
  12. Read, ‘”No Way to run a railway”’, p. 262.
  13. For a brief history of attempts to introduce an epiclesis into Anglican liturgy, cf. P. Bradshaw (ed.), Companion to Common Worship Vol. 1 (London: SPCK, 2001), pp. 126-7.
  14. Read, ‘”No Way to run a railway”’, p. 263, thinks Evangelicals who have been influenced by charismatic renewal will have no problem with the idea of the Spirit working through the oil of healing and through the bread and wine of Communion.  But both these views do not reflect scriptural teaching about the way God’s Spirit meets us and fills us.
  15. The version originally proposed was: ‘Send your Holy Spirit on us and these gifts that broken bread and wine outpoured may be for us the body and blood of your dear Son.’
  16. Read, ‘”No Way to run a railway”’, p. 264.
  17. Thompson, Liturgies, p. 370.  Baxter’s prayer for the sanctification of the bread and wine contains no reference to the Holy Spirit.  His prayer to the Holy Spirit immediately before Communion refers to the work of the Spirit in believers (‘Sanctify and quicken us, that we may relish the spiritual food, and feed on it to our nourishment and growth in grace’).  Cf. Thompson, Liturgies, pp. 399-401.
  18. C. Buchanan, ‘”Do this in remembrance of me”. . . but what do we do?’, Anvil 17 (2000), p. 252.
  19. This is the same as the third eucharistic prayer in ASB, derived from the third century ‘Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus’, which says ‘we offer to you the bread and the cup’.  Cf. Thompson, Liturgies, p. 21.
  20. Buchanan, ‘”Do this in remembrance of me”’, pp. 255, 256.  See further his discussion on the difference between ‘set before’ and ‘bring before’ (p. 256).  Given the history of sacrificial interpretation of the Eucharist, I think both expressions are equally misleading.

David PetersonAbout the Author

Revd. Dr. Professor David G. Peterson is Senior Research Fellow and Lecturer in New Testament at Moore College in Sydney, and formerly the Principal of Oak Hill Theological College, London.