As has been mentioned here before, we understand the Book of Common Prayer most clearly when we grasp that it is more than just a book of prayers—rather it contains an implicit rule of life. One of the difficulties in former days as well as our own is the full enacting of this rule. Because it is implicit rather than explicit, it requires a careful reading of the book to discern the collective wisdom of the church that has handed it down to us.
The really short form is this: The Daily Offices are our daily set prayers; Eucharists are for Sundays and other Holy Days; private prayers—whether extemporaneous or fixed—occur throughout the day and night.
Throughout most of our history, the Eucharist point has been problematic. For generations, puritan-prompted practices have prevailed in many places and the Eucharist has been infrequent at best. These days, naturally the tide has turned, certainly in the American Church, and now we seem in danger of losing the Office…
My point, though, is this. The current American BCP lays out the pattern in our first full paragraph of the book:
The Holy Eucharist, the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day and other major Feasts, and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as set forth in this Book, are the regular services appointed for public worship in the Church. (p. 13)
But where do we get the same sense from our predecessor books?Yes, the fact that there are Collects, Epistles, and Gospels appointed for all Sundays and Holy Days in the English BCPs does recommend it, but doesn’t determine it.
I stumbled across the answer quite by accident while looking through John Jebb’s The Choral Service of the United Church of England and Ireland: tucked into a rubric after the communion service in the 1662 book is this gem:
And in Cathedral and Collegiate Churches, and Colleges, where there are many Priests and Deacons, they shall all receive the Communion with the Priest every Sunday at the least, except they have a reasonable cause to the contrary.
In looking back, this principle isn’t clearly stated in the first 1549 book, but, oddly in the most protestant of our books, the 1552 revision, the rambling post-communion rubric of 1549 is trimmed and altered to this of which the 1662 rubric is only a slight expansion:
And in Cathedral and Collegiate Churches, where be many priests and deacons, they shall all [who all—the priests and deacons or all present?] receive the communion with the minister every Sunday at the least, except they have a reasonable cause to the contrary.
So—there you have it. Even in our most protestant book, we find the legislated rule on the reception of the Eucharist. Of course, as Jebb points out, this rubric (in its multiple forms) was widely ignored. Furthermore, in the rubrical abbreviation of the first American book, it disappeared. Nevertheless, its early presence despite its lack of practice reminds us that there is a fundamental pattern of piety taught in the Prayer Book even if it has only been followed in fits and starts.