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18 September 2014
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The Reformation: The People's View

By Carol Davidson Cragoe
Liturgy and the Church

Image of the first page of the Book of Common Prayer
'An Ordre for Mattyns' from first Book of Common Prayer, 1549 ©
Edward VI’s most important change - and one which still guides worship in Anglican churches today - was to have the liturgy translated into English as the Book of Common Prayer, in 1549.

This necessitated a complete rethinking of church interiors, because the benefit of having the service in English was lost if the people couldn't hear the words.

'... the mystery of the sacrament was removed ...'

Thus, the revised 1552 Prayer Book required that services, except the Eucharist itself, were to be performed where the people could see and hear. The priest now was to come out of the chancel into the east end of the nave for prayers and readings at the beginning of the service, and the people were to go into the chancel during the Communion.

This revolutionised the relationship between the congregation and the priest, as the mystery of the Sacrament was removed and the ‘sacred’ areas of the church were opened up to the parishioners.

To accommodate the new way of doing things, a reading desk for the priest to read the service from was put at the east end of the nave. This was often combined with a pulpit for sermons and/or a desk for the parish clerk to make a double- or triple-decker pulpit. In the chancel, wooden tables replaced stone altars so that during the Communion it could be moved into the middle of the chancel for everybody to kneel around.

Some reformers wanted to go further and get rid of separate chancels altogether, simply having the altar in the middle of the nave. This measure was too extreme for most people, and the 1552 Prayer Book required a separate chancel or choir, separated from the nave by a screen.

This remained the practice for another four centuries, and it was only in the late 20th century that altars were moved out of the chancel and into the nave.

Published: 2005-02-07

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