Martin Bucer on the Book of Common Prayer

The famous reformer, Martin Bucer, reviewed the Book of Common Prayer at the request of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. He provided what we would call “feedback” in our day. Some of his thoughts are summarized by Arthur Roberts as follows:

He then declares it as his opinion that so great a separation of the chancel (chori) from the rest of the church, as that that should be the place where the sacramental rites are to be exclusively performed, which belong nevertheless to all the laity as well as the clergy, is Antichristian. He states (what appears to be the fact) that the object intended to be answered by this separation of the chancel was the exaltation of the clergy, as if they were a class of men who, irrespective of their characters, and merely by reason of their order and place, were to be regarded as nearer to God than the laity, and able, by virtue of their opus operatum, to appease Him on their behalf….He asserts that, in the most ancient Churches, the clergy officiated in the centre of the building; (the churches being mostly circular,) inasmuch as that was the place where they would best be heard and understood. 

5 thoughts on “Martin Bucer on the Book of Common Prayer”

  1. I think I am understanding a little more in regard to your second post. From my lower church upbringing, I would say the chancel would be the pulpit area and there was a big space between the congregation and the Eucharistic Altar.

    At one point I attended a church that was in the round. I loved it as it seemed to lend itself to more interaction, but it definitely threw visiting priests.

    Our Altar was also round. Now that was fun for Altar Linens and defintely for the altar frontal.

  2. During this period in English Church history stone altars were dismantled and removed from English churches and replaced with “honest boards” supported on trestles or “frames,” or legs. The use of the term “altar” with its sacrificial associations was dropped and replaced by terms like “the Lord’s table” or “the holy table.” The table was placed in the knave of the church or at the steps of the chancel where the congregation could hear and see everything. The table was placed lengthwise and the minister stood at the north side or north end of the table. Standing in front of the table, facing the east, was too strongly associated with the doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass rejected by the English Reformers with the doctrine of transubstantiation. Anything suggestive of sacrifice was eliminated from the Communion Service, including the medieval Catholic practice of offering the bread and wine at the Offertory and during the Prayer of Consecration.

    The placement of the table in the body of the church or at the chancel step continued to be the practice in the reign of Elizabeth I except that when the table was not in use, it was placed in the chancel. In the reign of Charles I Archbishop Laud ordered that the table should be placed against the east wall and surrounded by railings. The High Church practices favored by Charles I and Archbishop Laud and the way they went about imposing them upon the English church would cost them their heads.

    Pulpits in Elizabethan churches were erected at one side of the church and not in the chancel. When pews were introduced into English parish churches, the pew of the local squire was placed across the knave from the pulpit and facing it. The other pews faced the front of the church.

    One of the reasons that people walked about the church during the reign of Edward VI, Bucer’s day, and the reign of Elizabeth I is that the churches had no seating. If you wanted to sit, you brought a stool with you.

    It is not until the eighteenth century do we see parishes churches that have a pulpit at the east end or side of the church with a communion table placed in front of the pulpit. Galleries were built on the west end or side of the church for the village musicians and singers. Except in cathedrals and collegiate chapels vested choirs were unknown in parish churches until the nineteenth century and reflect the influence of the Ritualists.

    The practice of referring to the Lord’s Table as “an altar” was introduced by the Ritualists who did not conceal their sympathy for the Church of Rome. They also resurrected the medieval Catholic doctrine that the minister reiterates or represents Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist and referred to the minister as “a priest.” They also introduced the practice of referring to a minister as “Father.” The Evangelicals in the Protestant Episcopal Church strenuously protested the doctrines and practices of the Ritualists but they did not have enough votes in the General Convention to suppress their doctrines and practices. The conservative Evangelicals believing that the Protestant Episcopal Church was unreformable succeeded from the Protestant Episcopal Church and formed the Reformed Episcopal Church. The Reformed Episcopal Church of today, however, has abandoned the Evangelical and Reformed principles of its founders and like The Episcopal Church fallen under the influence of Ritualism.

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