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Holy Communion in Elizabethan Style at St Mary’s Church

Published on: 10 Sep, 2012
Updated on: 10 Sep, 2012

Holy Communion at St Mary’s Church in Guildford was conducted a little differently recently – using the 1552 Prayer Book, with the congregation singing metrical psalms set to music by Thomas Tallis and the choir singing an Elizabethan anthem.

The Rev’d Brian Roberts at the altar table at St Mary’s Church, Quarry Street, Guildford, during the Holy Communion service based on the 1552 Prayer Book.

The church reports the service on Sunday, September 2, was a great success with worshipers finding it both moving and thought-provoking. The altar was a simple plain table, set up in the nave of the historic church.

The 1552 Prayer Book was a more protestant and radical version of Thomas Cranmer’s 1549 book, and is rather rigorous and austere in its appeal to the conscience. This was partly to contrast with the perceived view of the Roman Catholic mass as something done for the people. In contrast to this, the communion service involved the people who repeated the prayers phrase by phrase after the minister (before personal prayer books became common).

Also back in the mid 16th century, the singing of psalms were part of the Protestant church’s aim to give the congregation a full part in church services.

The 1552 Prayer Book makes a point of collecting money for the poor (not for the church). The generous collection made at St Mary’s will be given to the Poyle Charity, founded in 1624 to help the poor of Guildford and still going today.

The service was organised and led by the Rev’d Brian Roberts, one of the clergy at Holy Trinity & St Mary’s Churches.

The Anglican Church’s Book of Common Prayer (BCP) dates back to 1549 and Cranmer’s first Protestant Prayer Book. After many conflicts the BCP was finally adopted as the Church of England’s official Prayer Book in 1662. However, this led to many non-conformists leaving the church and forming their own sects such as the Congregationalists and Baptists.

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