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From the very first, “All that believed were together," and “continued steadfastly in the doctrine and fellowship of the Apostles, and in the breaking of the Bread, and in The Prayers.” They came together not only to hear the preaching of the Apostles, but also to worship in the
Common Prayers” of the brethren, to enjoy the holy fellowship with the living body of Christ's people, and, in the breaking of THE Bread as He commanded, to hold Sacramental Communion with their risen Lord, and “to show forth His death till He come.”
The elements thus embodied in this early worship of the Church were soon incorporated into fixed and authoritative Liturgies, and have ever since been regarded as the essential features of the public worship of the congregation.
Since the Church "in the United States " is a true branch of “the One Catholic and Apostolic Church," our Liturgy must be considered as based upon essentially the same principles as all the other forms of the Church's Liturgy; and we can gain a correct view of the nature and construction of our Ritual Law only by a clear understanding of the opinions which every branch of the Catholic Church has always held in reference to the authority and import of its own appointed Ritnal. For the essential objects which constrained the Church from the beginning to ordain authoritative Liturgies were the same in all, and these were both to secure attention to the thoughts which should enter into the constant worship of the Church, and because the use of fixed and obligatory forms was the most efficient, and only certain means of preserving her spiritual truths up. changed, and supplying the continual influences which were necessary for the spiritual growth and welfare of her members.
Hence from the time when the Liturgies were given to the Church by the Apostles, or the Apostolic men who learned of them, they were accepted as the Church's authoritative utterance of the truths she meant to teach, and as the precise mode and forın in which she thought it best to have these truths presented.
With this view her children came together in these appointed forms and words that they might there receive from her and share with her the feast of holy things she had prepared for them. They came to offer in her words the Common Prayer she gave them all to pray: to join in loving songs of praise which she had taught, or made: to hear the lesson of her choosing from the written Word of God. And as the beart and centre of the whole, to gather around the “Holy table" of her risen Lord, “and continue the perpetual memory of that, his precious death and sacrifice, until his coming again :" to receive the Holy Gifts according to his Holy Institution, that they "may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood :" feeding their souls with his spiritual food, and “ offering themselves their souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto him.”
The entire Ritual portion of ihe service was thus the expression of the mind and purpose of the Church, not of the individual minister ; and as such, it was " set forth and established " in fixed words and appointed acts " which no one might presunie to alter except he be lawfully called and authorized thereunto."
This was considered especially important in regard to the Sacramental office of the Church. It is to that, indeed, that the term Liturgy is properly applied. This was emphatically the divine service of the Church; it was through the appointed words and acts of the Liturgic service that the Church conveyed her highest blessings, and she always considered it as an authoritative utterance of her vital truths. Hence this was never regarded as in any sense the property of the officiating Priest.
There was a time and place in the public service in which the living teacher might give his word (sermon) of exhortation, or instruction, but it was not by any alterations in the forms or language of the Liturgy that he should do it.
Preface to the English Prayer Book.
The very signiticance of this service as the especial organ of the Church's teaching required that she should provide against the intrusion of all individual opinions, and all modes of distorting it by any personal ideas. Hence she was not content to leave any uncertainty in the performance of this Ritual; but as it was felt to be the chiefest safeguard of the faith, she ordered with scrupulous care every word the minister should use, and every symbolic act he was to do in the administering of this high and holy office.
In this the Church, and the Church alone, was the actor, and the teacher, and the giver: while the "Priest at the Altar was there solely as her mouth-piece and HER agent. She gives him the words to say, and when to use them: she commands him to continue the memorial of the Lord's death; and directs him how to do this according to his holy Institution;" she ordains that he “call the people that they will be partakers of this Holy Communion;" and appoints how he shall deliver it to those who are there to receive.
His office in this Liturgic service is to say the words the Church bas given him, no less, no more, no other; to perform the acts she bids him, and only these. To add others which she had not ordered would be to change her presentation of the truth by symbols of his own: to omit what she thought needful to convey her mind, would be to mutilate the form in which she had expressed her teaching.
In other words, the Church and not the individual Priest is the SOURCE of the Ritual: his only right to minister at her Altar is by her commission ; and when he is officiating in her Liturgy, the only words or symbolic acts he is at liberty to use, are those she has commanded.
It is just this principle which bas always given such high importance to the Rituals of the service. In them we the Church,” not any one minister or man.
By this symbolic act, we learn how the Church (not the officiating Priest,) intends that her doctrine should be represented.
This principle of the relation of the Ritual to the Church
lies at the foundation of every true and Catholic conception of the office of the minister in the performance of the Liturgy. If every, or any individual Priest could of his own will omit, change, or add to any part of this authoritative expression of the Church's thought, there could no longer be any definite Church teaching, or Church worship. Nor would it matter whether the changes were made in the words, or in the symbolic acts by which these were accompanied. By the one the Church speaks to the ear: and by the other to the eye: and neither in the one nor in the other has she ever allowed her officiating ministers to intrude their personal conceptions by supplying any other symbolic actions than those she has ordained : or using any other words than those she bids him utter.
There was indeed a power inherent from the first, in the Episcopate to exercise a certain control over the details of the Ritual in their several Dioceses, and under this authority the Bishop would occasionally introduce some change in either the words or form of the Liturgic service.
Sometimes a General or Provincial Council, as the aggregate of the Episcopate, would ordain certain rules of wider application than a single Diocese; but these powers, althongh conceded to exist in the Episcopal office, were exercised but rarely, and in comparatively minor matters, so long as the Church retained the Apostolic traditions and Catholic unity unimpaired. And so strong and universal
. was the conviction that the Ritual was the Church's service, that the assumption by any individual Priest of a right to introduce forms, or observances not adopted by the Church in her unbroken' usage, or explicit orders, would have been
or an "usage which has not been doubted or ques. tioned" from “the earliest periods of the Church,” constitutes the Common Law of the Church, and is “recognized as a distinct source of Ecclesiastical Jurisprudence ;" but this as a necessary condition of its application demands that the usage in question shall have been continuous, and continuously accepted as an usage of the Church. It cannot be employed to bring in usages which have for centuries been unknown and in that period were not
regarded everywhere as opposed to the whole Catholic conception of the nature, intention and value of the Liturgy.
That such is the view of the Ritual which has always been held and enforced by the Church Catholic both in its primitive unity and in all its branches is so universally accepted by all who know anything of Liturgic History, that it cannot be necessary to adduce especial authorities to sustain it.' It has from the beginning been always assumed as an admitted first principle to be reasoned from, rather than a matter of question to be decided by discussion. Hence if we desire to understand the import and scope of the Ritual Law of the Church, as this has always been regarded in the principles and legislation of the Church Catholic, we must start from these historic facts as our fundamental idea, and must construe the obligations of the officiating minister in accordance with this conception.
employed in the performance of the services. Sir Robert Phillimore admits the existence of this Common Law, and limits it in its application as above stated. He asks “ is there a Common Law living by usage though partially expressed by Judicial decisions, or still more taken for granted by all the authorities in Church and State ?” He replies unequivocally " there is such an usage, and the Western Church recognizes it as a source of Ecclesiastical Jurisprudence." And he adds "the existence of this lex non scripta is generally ascertained by adjudicated cases, but it may be proved by public notoriety, etc." Ecclesiastical Cases, p. 72.
'I will refer to only two, and these not because I think them needed to support the opinions above stated, but for the reason that they express the facts so clearly and tersely as to cover all the points necessary to be borne in mind. Van Espin quoted by Stephens on the Prayer Book, Vol. I., 141, says "Singularum Ecclesiarum ritus atque ceremonias, sive ritualia servanda sunt neque presbyteriis alliisve ecclesiæ ministris ritum prescriptum immutare licet, eo etiam pretextu quod contrarius ritus pristinæ ecclesiæ disciplinæ conformior esset. Videreturque ad excitandum populi devotionem nec non ad explicanda mysteria aptior et convenientior.” It would be difficult to find language that more utterly excludes grounds for an individual to add anything to or take anything from the Ritual as definitely commanded.
Sir Robert Phillimore after quoting and approving other authorities to this same effect sums up the whole position, (Eccles. Cases, p. 72), “the Canon Law unquestionably places in the hands of the Bishop the authority to GOVERN all quieslions of Ritual.” These only express what the true Catholic doctrine of Ritual must always assert.