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THE RITUAL COMMISSION. The Ritual Commission has met with very scant notice or sympathy, even among those parties who are most deeply interested in the Church's welfare. This may be attributed to two causes. First, the composition of the Commission, as soon as it was announced, created an outburst of dissatisfaction; being, as some alleged, too favourable to the cause of the Ritualists, and deficient in names of weight and authority in ecclesiastical lore. Secondly, there is a conviction abroad, that the recommendations of the Commissioners will be futile, because, as it is supposed, Parliament will not give them effect by legislation.
The first and second Reports of the Commissioners have, in some degree, removed the first objection alleged against the Commission. The first Report (August, 1867) contained an unanimous resolution of the Commissioners, “ that it is ex. pedient to restrain, in the public services of the United Church of England and Ireland, all variations in respect of vesture from that which has long been the established usage of the said united Church; and that we think this may be best secured by providing aggrieved parishioners with an easy and effectual process for complaint and redress.” Only three of twenty-nine Commissioners ventured to record their hope that exceptions might be allowed. A second Report of the Commissioners was presented April 30, 1868, in which twenty-three Commissioners concurred in stating, “that it is expedient to restrain, in the public services of the Church, all variations from established usage in respect of lighted candles and of incense.” When they settled this second Report, as appears from their published minutes of proceedings, they had before them the judgment delivered by Sir Robert Phillimore, in the Court of Arches,
Vol. 68.--No. 373.
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in the case of Martin v. Maconochie, “that it is lawful to place two lighted candles on the holy table during the time of the Holy Communion for the signification that Christ is the very true light of the world.” Certainly there was here no indication of partiality for Ritualism, or of any want of independence of judgment on the part of the Commissioners when they adopted their condemnation of lights, notwithstanding the decision of the Court of Arches, and the presence of the Judge by whom it had been pronounced. In this Report also the Commissioners suggest a process by which the introduction of vestments, lights, or incense, may be at once checked by aggrieved parishioners reporting them to the Bishop; and if the Bishop do not interfere, they may carry the complaint before the Archbishop: the Bishop or Archbishop is to have no discretion allowed; but if the fact be proved, he is to issue a monition. The case is also to be heard in camera, so as to avoid expense.
These recommendations were thought by Lord Shaftesbury so satisfactory, that he brought a Bill into the House of Lords to give them effect. The Bill was not carried, chiefly because the Commissioners had not completed their Reports; and because, in some respects, Lord Shaftesbury departed from the scheme of the Commissioners. It remains to be seen whether Parliament will accept, and give full effect to, the recommendations of the Commissioners when they shall present their final Report. But the duty of the Commissioners is not affected by this contingency. They are assembled as Royal Commissioners, under the Queen's Letters Patent, and enjoined to make a full and impartial inquiry into the differences of practice which have arisen in the conduct of public worship, more especially with reference to the ornaments of churches, and the vestments worn by the ministers : they are also to have regard not only to the Rubrics, but also to any other laws or customs relating to the matters aforesaid. The object of the inquiry is stated in these emphatic words, “to secure general uniformity of practice in such matters as may be deemed essential." For the accomplishment of this object the Commissioners are empowered to suggest any alterations, improvements, or amendments in the Rubrics, or any other laws or customs. The Commissioners are afterwards to revise the Calendar, with the Table of Lessons.
It is evident that, under these ample powers, much remains for the Commissioners to effect, besides the restraint of Vestments, Lights, and Incense. They have not only to redress many other irregularities by which the peace of the Church has been greatly disturbed, but they have to supply a remedy at the main source of these variations and irregularities. The sadden and unchecked outburst of these evils may be assuredly traced to the uncertainty which obscures the standard of Ritual in the Church at the present day. Many Rubrics are inoperative, many are ambiguous, many are very loosely expressed. Customs have grown up without sufficient legal origin, but with the knowledge and sanction of the Church authorities. The canons and ecclesiastical law present still greater uncertainties and difficulties. The expense of eccle. siastical proceedings is enormous. Under this state of things, it is not surprising that a few bold men should introduce new ceremonies and practices, on the plea of Catholic usage in their favour; or that the bishops should imagine themselves powerless to suppress these evils, partly from the alleged uncertainty of the law of Ritual, and partly from the ruinous cost of legal proceedings.
For such a state of uncertainty and confusion in the Church, the true and approved remedy is a Royal Commission of revision, representing both the clergy and laity of the Church, empowered to take a comprehensive view of the origin, causes, and extent of all violations of uniformity, and to suggest such alterations of rubrics and other ecclesiastical regulations as may remove the uncertainty and ambiguities which, through lapse of time and changes of customs, have obscured the standard of Ritual; and as may draw a distinct line between allowable variations of practice, and those variations which are subversive of the first principles upon which the Reformed Church was founded, as well as of the general uniformity of public worship.
Should the Legislature give effect to such a careful and comprehensive revision of the standard of Ritual, and also to the proposed prompt and inexpensive remedy for aggrieved parishioners against serious and palpable violations of that standard, there is every reason to hope, both from past history and from other considerations, that the agitation now existing in the Church would soon subside,-that a vast majority of the clergy, and all the bishops, would rally round a revised Ritual in which nothing could be alleged as obsolete, or to be disregarded by common consent, and from which no change is to be allowed at the private will of individuals. All parties would thus be interested anew in the maintenance of uniformity; and the few who might still attempt to deviate from established usage would be easily restrained under the operation of clearly defined law, and the power of public opinion in favour of uniformity.
It is hoped that the foregoing remarks on the Ritual Commission may engage the sympathy and the prayers in its behalf of those who seek the peace and purification of the Church, and the transmission to future generations of that re.
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formed and Protestant character which has been its glory during the last three centuries. And with the same end in view, it is proposed to extend this article by an historical review of the various providential dispensations under which our Book of Common Prayer has been brought to its present state by former Royal Commissions and Acts of Uniformity. It may well serve to impress upon the minds of the present Royal Commissioners the solemnity of their appointment, to trace the successive conferences of great and good men, when the book was first compiled, and afterwards, at important eras of the history of the Reformed Church, examined, revised, and corrected in the reigns of Edward VI., Elizabeth, James I., and Charles II. Two centuries having elapsed since the last solemn revision, with what humble, devout, and anxious solicitude should a modern hand touch the workmanship of able and excellent men of former times, lest it ruthlessly impair what it attempts to improve! May the same good Providence overrule, as in past ages, the critical work of liturgical revision !
Our review must go back to a Commission appointed in the first year of Edward VI., when the young king, the Protector Somerset, and Archbishop Cranmer were the principal movers in the Reformation. Up to this period, a variety had been allowed in the modes of conducting public worship in the different dioceses. It was laid down as a fundamental Protestant principle, that there should be one uniform standard of ceremony and worship for the whole Church, to which the bishops, as well as the clergy, were required to conform. For the purpose of preparing such a form of Common Prayer, a Commission was appointed, consisting of seven bishops and six deans. Amongst the number were some illustrious names— Cranmer and Ridley; but others were less advanced in Protestant truth, and one of them became, under Queen Mary, an associate of Bishop Bonner in the deposition of Archbishop Cranmer. These men had been trained up in rites and ceremonies of the Church of Rome; but during the gradual advance of the Reformation under Henry VIII., and with the example before them of the Reformed Churches of the Continent, they had ample opportunities of studying the principles on which a national form of worship should be based. One of these prin. ciples was to retain whatever might be retained of the old form of worship in consistency with the truth of God's Word. They proceeded tentatively, step by step, as light broke in upon their own minds, and as they perceived the people prepared to accept their alterations.
I. The first step in the construction of a new form of worship was an addition, in the English language, to the Latin Mass. The Mass, in the Church of Rome, is regarded as the highest act of
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worship. In 1548, a Royal Injunction was issued, requiring the priest who officiated in the Mass in the Latin tongue, immediately after receiving the elements himself, to commence an English service, containing many of the exhortations and prayers used in our present service, and to deliver the elements in both kinds to the people who desired to communicate; though for centuries the cup had been denied to the laity. The minister was also required to give notice of the Communion at least one day previously, in an exhortation warning the people to prepare themselves for the holy service. At the time of celebration, the unprepared were warned “not to come to this holy table," and the priest was “to pause awhile to see if any man will withdraw himself.” This service was calculated to awaken among the people an inquiry into the nature of the Mass, and to prepare them for further reformation. It was a blow struck against their idol, though it did not destroy its essential characteristics.
It must be borne in mind, that the characteristic of the Roman Mass is the act of the priest in consecrating the elements of bread and wine, which is supposed to transform them into the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; and the priest then offers them up to God as a propitiatory sacrifice. At High Mass there are elaborate ceremonies, and the attractions of musical accompaniments. Large congregations are present to unite in this grand climax of religious worship; and special spiritual blessings are held out to those who attend, and even to those who are absent or departed this life, if the priest conceives in his mind the intention of conferring such benefits. There is seldom any participation of the people in the Lord's Supper at High Mass. The celebrant alone receives the elements.* The Low Mass is a shorter service, and many more persons communicate at Low Mass than at High Mass, though the people may attend at both without communicating.
II. The second step in Liturgical Reformation was in 1549, when the first Prayer-Book of Edward VI. was published. In this book all the Latin services of the Mass were superseded by English services. The form of the consecration of the elements was however retained, but various ceremonies were
* “Strangers to the Church, who fact being that, as a strict natural fast attend High Mass only, often go away is a necessary condition of receiving with the impression that Catholics do the Holy Communion, the faithful, acnot frequently go to the Communion, cording to a practice which admits but because they do not communicate at of few exceptions, go to Communion at High Mass, except on Holy Thursday only Low Masses." (Oakley's “Catholio and some other rare occasions; the Worship," p. 34.)