Monday, December 12, 2016

The North Side

A Defense for 
Celebrating Holy Communion from the North Side
using the 1928 Book of Common Prayer for the United States of America

by The Reverend John Taylor Brantley

It has been said, by many clergymen and laymen of Anglo-Catholic persuasion, that the historic Anglican practice of celebrating the Service of Holy Communion from the North Side (also called the Right Side in some texts) of the Holy Table while using the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer is inappropriate and is out of conformity with the rubrics of the aforementioned Prayer Book. This article is intended to be a repudiation of that claim and likewise to demonstrate that the practice of celebrating the Service of Holy Communion from the North Side of the Holy Table is a venerable and beneficial practice, both for the congregations of the Church and the clergy.
Here follow the Rubrics concerning the Holy Table and the placement of the Minister of Holy Communion which appear at the beginning of the Service of Holy Communion in the Book of Common Prayer in 1662, 1789, 1892, and 1928.

1662
The Table at the Communion time having a fair white linen cloth upon it, shall stand in the body of the Church, or in the Chancel, where Morning and Evening Prayer are appointed to be said. And the Priest standing at the north side of the Table shall say the Lord’s Prayer with the Collect following, the people kneeling.

1789 (before 1833)

The Table, at the Communion-time having a fair white linen cloth upon it, shall stand in the body of the Church, or in the Chancel. And the Minister, standing at the north side of the Table, or where Morning and Evening Prayer are appointed to be said, shall say the Lord’s Prayer with the Collect following, the people kneeling; but the Lord’s Prayer may be omitted, if Morning Prayer hath been said immediately before.

1789 (after 1833)
The Table, at the Communion-time having a fair white linen cloth upon it, shall stand in the body of the Church, or in the Chancel. And the Minister, standing at the right side of the Table, or where Morning and Evening Prayer are appointed to be said, shall say the Lord’s Prayer with the Collect following, the people kneeling; but the Lord’s Prayer may be omitted, if Morning Prayer hath been said immediately before.

1892
The Table, at the Communion-time having a fair white linen cloth upon it, shall stand in the body of the Church, or in the Chancel. And the Minister, standing at the right side of the Table, or where Morning and Evening Prayer are appointed to be said, shall say the Lord’s Prayer with the Collect following, the people kneeling; but the Lord’s Prayer may be omitted, if Morning Prayer hath been said immediately before.

1928
At the Communion-time the Holy Table shall have upon it a fair white linen cloth. And the Priest, standing reverently before the Holy Table shall say the Lord’s Prayer with the Collect following, the people kneeling; but the Lord’s Prayer may be omitted at the discretion of the Priest.
The rubrics which have been laid out here demonstrate that the historically normative position of the Minister of Holy Communion is that of standing at the North or Right side of the Holy Table. The changes which appear in the 1928 BCP are not intended to abolish the North Side posture in favor of the popish practice of celebrating ad Orientem. Rather the changes in the rubrical text are meant to create a flexibility which would permit the growing number of High Church and Anglo-Catholic clergymen to exercise their more Catholic theological perspective without failing to conform to the rubrics in the Prayer Book. 
The argument has been made, although in vain, that the wording in the rubrical text which states that the Priest should be, “standing reverently before the Holy Table…” can only be interpreted to mean, …standing in front of the Holy Table…” implying the ad Orientem posture. This argument is dismantled however by looking at the rubric which appears immediately before the Prayer of Consecration in each of the Prayer Books, which are written as follows.

1662
When the Priest, standing before the Table, hath so ordered the Bread and Wine, that he may with more readiness and decency break the bread before the people, and take the Cup into his hands, he shall say the Prayer of Consecration, as followeth.

1789 
Then the Priest standing before the Table, hath so ordered the Bread and Wine, that he may with more readiness and decency break the bread before the People, and take the Cup into his hands, he shall say the Prayer of Consecration, as followeth.

1892
When the Priest, standing before the Table, hath so ordered the Bread and Wine, that he may with more readiness and decency break the bread before the People, and take the Cup into his hands, he shall say the Prayer of Consecration, as followeth.

1928
When the Priest, standing before the Holy Table, hath so ordered the Bread and Wine, that he may with more readiness and decency break the bread before the People, and take the Cup into his hands, he shall say the Prayer of Consecration, as followeth.

The rubric demonstrates that there is no credence to the argument that the wording, “…standing reverently before the Holy Table…” is incompatible with the North Side posture. In fact the rubric here goes further to imply the favorability of the North Side posture over that of ad Orientem by implying that the bread should be readily and decently be broken in the sight of the congregation, not hidden from view by the body of the minister or clumsily held aloft above the minister’s head. Even less desirable is the practice of the minister turning around, away from the Holy Table, to break the bread so that the people can see it. This practice is neither decent nor favorable. The rubrical requirement for, “readiness and decency” shows the desire for minimal movement and inconvenience on the part of the minister. These words also strongly encouragethe minister that the bread should be broken over the plate or paten in a graceful and reverent way. 
Contrary to popish practice, the Holy Communion is not a show or spectacle to be put on display for the gathered audience. Likewise it is not a mystical ritual intended to be secretly carried out behind closed doors as is the custom of the East. The Holy Communion is a sacred institution which unites the Christian with the precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
In conclusion, the rubrics of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer are intended to allow the minister the discretion of deciding where he should stand and what direction he should face, so long as it is done with due reverence and respect for the sacrament.

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