I was working up a post on the Kalendar in Holy Week when I encountered a concept that really deserves a post of its own. In thinking through the changes to Triduum (Maundy Thursday through Holy Saturday including the Vigil), I put some pieces together. This is one of those odd insights where the pieces have been in plain view the whole time and stating it out loud is an absolute no-brainer—it’s just never clicked to the degree that it has now…
One of the central—if not the central—ideology of the Liturgical Renewal Movement (LRM) was to shift the liturgical churches from a eucharistic piety to a sacramental piety. That is, instead of focusing on and primarily referencing the Eucharist as the central sacrament of the Church, they sought to focus on the two chief sacraments, placing Baptism alongside the Eucharist. I would suggest that many of the liturgical and theological differences between the Church of the ’28 BCP and the Church of the ’79 BCP can be directly attributed to this shift.
From the perspective of the Church of the ’79 BCP, the Church of the ’28 and its piety focus on the Eucharist in fundamental relation to the events of the Passion. Note, for a moment, the piety captured in this collect, variants of which had wide circulation in the Anglican world of the early 20th century:
O Lord, who in a wonderful Sacrament hast left us a memorial of thy passion, grant us so to venerate the sacred mysteries of thy body and blood that we may evermore perceive within ourselves the fruits of thy redemption through Jesus Christ…
Here the Eucharist is pre-eminently a memorial of the Passion and also a participation within Christ. The reverse is also true: the events of the Passion are understood eucharistically.
Again, from the perspective of the Church of the ’79 BCP, the anthropology of the Church of the ’28 is eucharistically derived with a focus on unworthiness, particularly an unworthiness to receive the Eucharist. The Prayer of Humble Access is typically People’s Exhibit A in prosecuting this line of thought:
We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
Note in particular the theological function of the bit of this prayer that was edited out of the ’79 BCP’s Prayer of Humble Access: “that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood.” I suggest that this change was made for three fundamental reasons. The first was to remove the separation of bodies and souls which the ’79 editors saw as too dualistic (see Hatchett), the second was to remove the suggestion that the body/bread effected one thing and the blood/wine effected another, but the third—and the pertinent one here—is that “washing” is connected to the Eucharist rather than Baptism.
The epicenter of this theological Change was expressed liturgically in the restructuring the Triduum. The centerpiece is the Easter Vigil as the great Baptismal Feast of the Church.This recapturing enabled the reorientation of Lent as a preparation for Baptism which takes the previous penitential character of the season and recasts it. We’re no longer just heading towards the Cross; we’re also heading towards the font.
Another noticeable change is the emphasis on the foot-washing on Maundy Thursday. While foot-washing has always been part of this day, I think that the LRM gave it a new emphasis and importance as a type of Baptism performed by Jesus on the apostles.This emphasis places Baptism as equal in importance to the Eucharist at the Last Supper, a uniquely momentous point in the Church’s consciousness.
The underlying point of these changes is the make the central festivals of the year, the liturgies of Triduum and Easter, to be centrally about both Eucharist and Baptism, then to portray the Easter Vigil as the paradigmatic act of Christian worship to which all Sunday Eucharists point. From there, the LRM and the ’79 BCP derive an anthropological shift. The sacramental center of this theological anthropology is not the Eucharist and our unworthiness to receive it, rather it is Baptism and our worthiness as members of Christ. It is from this anthropology that a host of other changes have resulted.
(On a side note, I hypothesize that it would be very instructive to look at the exegesis of John 19:34 through the 20th century. This is the verse where the mingled blood and water flow from the side of Jesus. My guess is that at the beginning of the century, most liturgical exegetes would interpret this theologically as a reference to the Eucharist—see the number of depictions where this flow is caught by a chalice. As the LRM made headway, however, I think you’ll see a shift towards seeing it as a sign of Baptism which is how it was presented to me at seminary…)
In short, then, I think that one of the most profound theological differences between the Church of the ’79 BCP and the Church of the ’28 BCP can be traced to the impact of the LRM. Obviously there are other theological and cultural factors in play here too but I’d argue that this is how those factors were expressed liturgically. The reshaping of Triduum , the pre-eminence of the Easter Vigil, and the representation of all other Sundays as a reflection of the vigil serve to reinforce a sacramental anthropology that plays down a penitentially-rooted eucharistic anthropology in favor of a “higher” baptismal anthropology.