The Eucharist in the Church of England (1538-2005 AD)

King Henry VIII of England triggered a Reformation which was largely political and he died firmly believing that he was a good Catholic who had not altered any fundamental doctrinal positions. However, in Cranmer's 1549 Prayer Book the language was moderately Zwinglian and it hardened in the 1552 Prayer Book where Christ is received not in the elements but in the heart. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer made no substantial changes in this area.

Although faith in the 'Real presence' persisted, the Zwinglian doctrinal revolution was more or less complete by 1662. By the middle of the 18th Century the Church of England was thoroughly Protestant in its Eucharistic doctrine; churches were places of "The Word" with the Eucharist celebrated rarely and often in a side chapel; the central feature of the church was not the altar but the pulpit from which austerely dressed clergy led morning and evening prayer and preached.

Paradoxically perhaps, the Oxford Movement grew out of the new era of evangelism of the late 18th Century, symbolised by Wesley; Newman himself (1801-90) had strong evangelical roots. The Movement emphasised that the Church existed before the Reformation, that it should be free of state control, that it should see itself as part of the wider Christian Church, see itself as Reformed not Protestant, and, in that context, put the Eucharist at its centre.

The influence of the Oxford Movement survives to this day: there was growing interest in the Eucharist in the first half of the 20th Century culminating in Dom Gregory Dix' the Shape of the Liturgy (1945) and the foundation of the Parish And People Movement in 1949. Time seemed to go backwards: altars at the East end of churches were fully restored; then experiments took place with what we would now call nave altars; and then the Eucharist broke out of the church building into houses and community centres. The language which had started as Greek, had become Latin and then 'high' English, became simplified again.

The need to produce new Eucharistic texts, particularly after the Roman Catholic reforms of Vatican II, including the use of the vernacular, forced theological questions out into the open in the Anglican Church: what was the real nature of the sacrifice? Real presence, memorial or both? There was no consensus which explains the multiplicity of Eucharistic Prayers which came into use with the ASB and which are in use now: some Prayers emphasise the act of faith in the Eucharist as empowering; others emphasise the memorial; and yet others emphasise the 'real presence' of Christ in the elements. These differences also underlie the disputes over worship (Eucharist or Matins) and the role of the Presidency in Eucharist.

KC i/06

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