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Text, Shape, and Communion: What Unites Us When Nothing's the Same Anymore

Ron Dowling


When the specifically Anglican liturgical tradition developed in the mid-sixteenth century there was but one order for the Holy Communion. No choices of words or alternative shapes were provided for the liturgy, and it was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that such changes were even desired, at least in England—this had not been the case in Scotland or the United States. Over the past 150 years the desire for change has steadily increased: first with the words, then concerning the actions, and leading to a series of national prayer books, most deriving from the Book of Common Prayer. Amid all this liturgical diversity a fundamental question has come to the fore: Does our liturgy (especially Holy Communion) still bind us together as Anglicans? Many Anglicans have found that the binding unity of our liturgy is not so much the prayer texts anymore, but simply the basic shape and actions, though other factors are also at play, such as reading common scripture passages and using some of the same prayers. With the development of computer technology even wider variations have become possible, and authorization of particular texts has become a desire rather than reality. Given this situation, the education of worship leaders is more important than ever.

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