Yesterday, I outlined some thoughts regarding offertory and sacrifice, especially in relation to Dom Gregory Dix’s theory about the fourfold shape of the Eucharist. In this second post, I return to the same topic, but offer short thoughts on offering in Anglicanism.

Anglicans have been reticent about any explicit material offering from the beginning — anything beyond our praise, prayer, and thanksgiving, along with ourselves in a spiritual sense. The 1549 BCP’s eucharistic prayer is similar to the Roman Canon in use since approximately the 4th century. But one of 1549’s glaring omissions was an offering of bread and wine; in the Roman Canon, verbs of offering punctuate the prayers multiple times. In 1552, everything after the Institution narrative disappeared, as it did in subsequent English BCPs (some of that material becoming an optional Postcommunion prayer); the distinction with Catholic practice was made even more distinct. One notable development came in 1662, when in the “Prayer for the Whole State,” a new phrase appeared (the added words are underlined): “We humbly beseech thee most mercifully [*to accept our alms and oblations, and] to receive these our prayers.” Some interpreted oblations as a synonym for alms, while others thought it referred to the bread and wine of the sacrament. Even in the Church of England’s present-day Common Worship, language of offering in the various Eucharistic Prayers remains either absent or extremely muted.

However, 18th-century Scottish Episcopalians were interested in some ancient Eastern liturgies (notably the Liturgy of St. James and Apostolic Constitutions), and explicit actions and language of offering were introduced into their eucharistic prayer, which was based on the 1549 BCP (rather than 1662).[1] This new rubric appeared in the 1764 Holy Communion service:

While the Presbyter distinctly pronounces some or all of these sentences for the offertory, the Deacon, or (if no such be present) some other fit person, shall receive the devotions of the people there present, in a bason provided for that purpose. And when all have offered, he shall reverently bring the said bason, with the oblations therein, and deliver it to the Presbyter; who shall humbly present it before the Lord, and set it upon the holy table, saying,

Blessed be thou, O Lord God, for ever and ever. Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine: thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all: both riches and honour come of thee, and of thine own do we give unto thee. Amen. 

And the Presbyter shall then offer up, and place the bread and wine prepared for the sacrament upon the Lord’s table; and shall say,

The Lord be with you

We have here the introduction of an act of offering bread and wine before beginning the Eucharistic Prayer itself, something central for Dix.[2] Later in the Eucharistic Prayer, after the Institution Narrative, the following appeared under the title “The Oblation” (note that the words are printed in all caps in the original and that they are an addition to Cranmer’s 1549 prayer).

Wherefore, O Lord, and heavenly Father, according to the institution of thy dearly beloved Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, we thy humble servants do celebrate and make here before thy divine majesty, with these thy holy gifts, WHICH WE NOW OFFER UNTO THEE, the memorial thy Son hath commanded us to make; having in remembrance his blessed passion, and precious death, his mighty resurrection, and glorious ascension; rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same.

This follows the order of the Eastern liturgies that had the attention of the Scots, namely, that after the institution narrative, there is a recollection (anamnesis) of Christ’s saving actions, an explicit offering of the bread and wine, followed by a request that the Holy Spirit would make them Christ’s body and blood (“that they may become” in the remarkably strong language of the 1764 Scottish prayer).

This tradition of an explicit offering of the gifts remained in the American Prayer Books through the 1979 BCP (including all the Rite II prayers; the “Rite III” prayers, however, are much vaguer on this point). And we must also remember that this Scottish-American tradition of an explicit offering of bread and wine along with a prayer for the Holy Spirit to make the gifts Christ’s Body and Blood is a minority tradition in the Anglican Communion. But (and this is critical): of the two traditions (English and Scottish-American), it is only the minority position that is recognizable to patristic and medieval Christian traditions.

Footnotes

[1] The non-juring bishops in both Scotland and England had room to explore with alterations of the Scottish and English liturgies in light of the Eastern patristic liturgies. One of the most strongly worded of those comes from “The Communion Office of 1718” (which can be read here in its entirety): “O Almighty God, who has created us, and placed us in this ministry by the power of thy Holy Spirit; may it please thee, O Lord, as we are ministers of the New Testament, and dispensers of thy holy mysteries, to receive us who are approaching thy Holy Altar, according to the multitude of thy mercies, that we may be worthy to offer unto thee this reasonable and unbloody Sacrifice for our Sins and the Sins of the People. Receive it, O God, as a sweet smelling savour, and send down the grace of thy Holy Spirit upon us. And as thou didst accept this worship and service from thy Holy Apostles: so of thy goodness, O Lord, vouchsafe to receive these Offerings from the hands of us sinners, that being made worthy to minister at thy Holy Altar without blame, we may have the reward of good and faithful servants at that great and terrible day of account and just retribution; through our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son, who, with Thee and the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth ever one God, world without end. Amen.”

Then, in the section after the Institution narrative, we find this:

WHEREFORE, having in remembrance his Passion, Death, and Resurrection from the dead; his Ascension into heaven, and second coming with glory and great power to judge the quick and the dead, and to render to every man according to his works; we Offer to thee, our King and our God, according to his holy Institution, this Bread and this Cup; giving thanks to thee through him, that thou hast vouchsafed us the honour to stand before thee, and to Sacrifice unto thee. And we beseech thee to look favourably on these thy Gifts, which are here set before thee, O thou self-sufficient God: And do thou Accept them to the honour of thy Christ; and send down thine Holy Spirit, the witness of the passion of our Lord Jesus, upon this Sacrifice, that he may make this Bread the Body of thy Christ, and this Cup the Blood of thy Christ…

[2] Interestingly, though, this rite with greater concern for an act of oblation interprets the word “oblation” as a synonym for “alms” (to the chagrin of the Catholic minded in England).

About The Author

Fr. Matthew S.C. Olver is Assistant Professor of Liturgics & Pastoral Theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary, a doctoral student at Marquette University, and assists at the Cathedral Church of All Saints in Milwaukee, WI. A priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, he was assistant rector at Church of the Incarnation (Dallas) from 2006-13, where he oversaw her worship life and adult formation. A graduate of Wheaton College (B.A., English literature) and Duke University Divinity School (M.Div.), Fr. Olver’s research interests include liturgical theology, the place of Scripture in early liturgical composition, ecclesiology, sacramental theology, and ecumenism. He is pleased to have an essay, “Documented Ecumenism: Why the Anglican Covenant is the Hope for Anglicanism and its Ecumenical Calling,” in Pro Communione: Theological Essays on the Anglican Covenant, ed. by Benjamin Guyer (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2012).

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