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Word and sacrament in one

24 January 2014

Simon Jones sees the liturgy expounded

Echoing the Word: The Bible in the eucharist
Paula Gooder and Michael Perham
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CONTEMPORARY Christian thinking sometimes places "liturgical" and "biblical" in opposition to each other, as if a choice had to be made between being a liturgical or a biblical Christian. In just over 120 pages, Paula Gooder and the Bishop of Gloucester, Michael Perham, successfully undermine this increasingly popular orthodoxy by demonstrating that the eucharistic rite of the Church of England is, and always has been, biblical.

Following the order of Common Worship Order One, this biblical scholar and liturgist illustrate different ways in which the Bible is used in liturgical writing: from direct quotations, such as the Ten Commandments, to allusions to biblical texts, as in David Frost's use of the parable of the Prodigal Son in his prayer after communion, "Father of all, we give you thanks and praise . . .".

Alongside reflection on the use of the Bible, space is devoted to some recent liturgical history, explaining how a number of commonly used texts have evolved into the form in which they are used today. Perham's involvement in crafting Common Worship makes him ideally placed to tell this story, and he does so in a way that is fluent and accessible while, at the same time, revealing more detail than is customary in this sort of semi-official account.

The identity of those who produce the first drafts of texts that eventually find their way on to the floor of General Synod is normally not disclosed; but here Perham reveals some names (James Jones and Jeremy Haselock in relation to Eucharistic Prayers D and E, respectively, for example), as well as other contextual information that enable a richer narrative to be told than can be found in other liturgical histories to date.

In terms of biblical reflection, some of the most insightful material can be found in the chapters dealing with the Eucharistic Prayers, but it is also in this section that a few liturgical details caused this reader to pause and question. Thanks to the work of Paul Bradshaw and others, very few liturgical scholars would now identify the Apostolic Tradition as containing the "third-century liturgy of St Hippolytus of Rome", and yet this is stated several times in relation to Prayer B without any reference to the debate about authorship, and place and date of composition.

The chapter on the shape of the Eucharistic Prayer is helpful, but it is surprising not to find the outline of the Eastern shape set alongside that of the classic Western prayer, and to discover that Prayers D and H are not mentioned alongside F and G as following the Eastern pattern.

These criticisms aside, Gooder and Perham have done the Church of England a very great service in providing such a user-friendly liturgical handbook. It will challenge all who preside at the eucharist to find new layers of meaning beneath the texts they use, and enable those who seek to be fed by word and sacrament to see clearly that the dichotomy between liturgy and the Bible is false.

The Revd Dr Simon Jones is Chaplain and Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and a member of the Church of England's Liturgical Commission.

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