Thursday, May 24, 2012

Missing in Action - The Prayer of Humble Access

W E 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.

The Prayer of Humble Access in the Book of Common Prayer

I have been reading the book, "Grand Entrance," by Edith Humphrey, who reminds us that all worship, but especially the worship of the community in the Eucharist, is a grand entrance into the Heaven/Earth presence of God the Almighty: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Such an entrance calls for humility and preparation by the entire community.  Reflecting upon the Tridentine liturgy (pre-Vatican 2) she says,

“The action of entering by the way of the Lord is complimented by the idea of God’s entrance into the human realm, a dynamic we have seen everywhere in both Western and Eastern liturgies.  Especially prominent in this regard is the prayer of humble welcome, said by both the priest and the faithful prior to the reception of communion.  “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof:  But only say the word and my soul will be healed.”  This prayer, based on the humility of the gentile centurion, may be considered as a Western cousin to the Eastern prayer of reception, which looks to the  faith of the thief upon the cross: “Like the thief I will confess you, Remember me, O Lord.”  It is also paralleled, in both reverence and its intent, by the Anglican “prayer of humble access,” framed by Cranmer on the basis of several of the preparatory Sarum prayers: “We do not presume to come to this thy table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own goodness, but in thy manifold and great mercies.”  The people identify themselves, in these three related prayers, with examples of the faithful from history who have come from marginal backgrounds but who have been received by the deep love of Christ.”

From “Grand Entrance; Worship on Earth as in Heaven,” by Edith Humphrey (p. 120)

We are missing this reminder of Godly approach to the mysteries of the Sacrament in our Book of Alternative Services.  At least I miss it!  I wonder who thought we didn't need this humble reminder? 

Lord have mercy,  Brian+


  1. Brian, a somewhat similar situation prevails in Ireland. Our 2004 Rite Two places the penitential rite at the beginning of the Eucharist, with a rubric allowing it before the Peace - where the Prayer of Humble Access is located. However, the rubrics go on to direct that if the pentiential rite is said at the outset (where it is printed), the Prayer of Humble Access must be omitted!

    It is a profoundly odd piece of thinking on the part of the CofI's liturgical advisory committee, seeking to remove the use of a very catholic prayer which boldly affirms Christ's presence in the Eucharist.

    Thankfully many clergy disregard the rubrics on this point (a stance I would not normally recommend!). There is, after all, a coherence in using the Prayer just before the Peace, as the community's attention turns to the Altar.

    Also to be noted, however, is that our Order One is 1662, ensuring that the Prayer of Humble Access does remain in widespread use in the CofI.

    Your quotation from Humphrey's reflections on the Tridentine Rite is also a wonderful reminder that the Prayer of Humble Access testifies to Anglican liturgy as an expression of the classical Western liturgical tradition.

  2. Brian,
    I just came across your blog, and feel a bit foolish for commenting on your post so long after the fact, but I have been studying this very prayer and its use in our services.

    Who, indeed, presumed to omit this wonderful prayer from Rite 2 of the American 1979 BCP? And why the intellectual dishonesty, in Rite 1, of omitting (without so much as a footnote) the phrase "That our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, And our souls washed through his most precious Blood" ?

    In our use of the prayer in printed leaflets, it has sometimes appeared with this phrase, and sometimes without, which I find very disturbing to my worship, analogous to having two versions of the Lord's Prayer used in services; one cannot pray from memory, but must be always on guard.

    There is an insightful comment about "the phrase" in Conciliar Anglican's blog, found here:

    To me, though packed dense with theology, it is easily misunderstood without careful reflection, and frankly acknowledges the fallen physical body as the seat of our selfishness and sin (probably the reason it was omitted from the 1979 BCP). Cranmer was of course no dualist, viewing the physical body as evil, in a Gnostic sense. But his prayer reveals his deep Romans 7/St. Augustine/John Calvin insight into the depravity of our human condition, our being stuck in "non posse non pecare," prompting St. Paul to cry, "Who will deliver me from this body of death?"

    We lose much if we ever lose a firm grasp of the fact that our union with Jesus Christ is very much physical as well as spiritual, no less real for subsisting by the agency of the Spirit (as opposed to merely local and corporeal). He will completely redeem both body and soul at his coming, to which ultimate cleansing "the phrase" constantly refers me.

    1. Thank-you RMP for your thoughtful comment. I frequent Conciliar Anglican and I was familiar with the post. It is most interesting (if not distressing) to watch for what is absent in liturgical revisions. Our bishop recently sent out a compilation of approved and unapproved Eucharistic prayers (Canada). It seems the further one gets from the BCP and our 1985 Book of Alternative Services, the less one sees the Name of the first person of the Trinity - Father. Doing so leaves one with the sense that we are slipping into modalism - just another problem with revisionists unaware (or perhaps they are aware! LORD have mercy. Thanks again. Brian