Episco-Fact #82
February 22, 2018

We started the service differently this past Sunday. I knew we were going to process in to the church to the Organ Music, with no singing. But, what was the other part of the beginning and where does it come from?

One of the decorative changes that happened in the reformation was replacing icons with the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and/or the Apostle's Creed prominently displayed in the church. These three theological foundations of were generally known before Confirmation in the Magisterial Reformation Churches (Lutherans in the German States and Scandinavia, Calvinists in Switzerland and Great Britain, and the Church of England wherever it was) and the Catholic Church too. Although the architecture of the Catholic Church retained its own form. If you want to see this style, check out St. John's in Mclean, the Ten Commandments are prominently displayed behind the altar.

The above discussion of architecture brings out the mindset of the Reformers and the driving force behind the presentation of the Ten Commandments in the Liturgy. The Book of Common Prayer revision of 1979 took the form of the Ten Commandments that date back to the revision of 1552 and included them as an option to be used within the option of the Penitential Order, that we use in the season of Lent. Until the Book of Common Prayer revision of 1892, the Ten Commandments were to be said before every communion service. In 1892 revision that requirement was relaxed to saying the Ten Commandments at least once per month before communion, and 1928 the requirement was reduced further to the First Sunday of Advent, the First Sunday of Lent, and Trinity Sunday. The saying of the Ten Commandments is now entirely optional, just as the habit of posting them prominently is no longer in vogue architecturally.

The form which we use, with the congregation responding, "Lord, have mercy," was an innovation of Martin Luther in his German liturgy. He replaced the nine-part Kyrie, a very popular form in the late medieval mass, with the metrical recitation and Kyrie response read in our service. This form carried over to the English Church in Elizabethan England and was applied as noted above.

One of the take aways from this summary is that liturgy, even when it very old, does not remain unaltered. The generation of the Book of Common Prayer 1979 is familiar with processional hymns; Gloria's, metrical and spoken; and standing for public prayer. These are all forms of the Patristic Church, which was at its height in the fifth century. But even the Reformation forms were being modified over time as described in the evolution of the Ten Commandments in Liturgy from required to optional.

The liturgy has opened in different ways during the history of the Episcopal Church. The form we are using is very Reformation in flavor and yet also Patristic in style. It is for a season and one where remembering the ancient ways of God is an appropriate way to begin our worship.