Undated twelve-page typescript by Charles Chapman Grafton (1830-1912), transcribed in 2012 by Richard Mammana from scans provided by Canon Matthew Payne, Archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac
Whether it is one of the signs of the Second Coming of Christ or not, certain it is that there is an increasing desire among all Christian people for more generally recognized union and fellowship. Never, we believe, was there more earnest and continuous prayer being made that the wounds in Christ’s mystical body might be healed. Partly it may come from a realization of the increasing strain of conflict with unbelief, and the potency of the malefic forces of evil. Partly it may come from the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, impelling Christians to a more loving union among themselves. In no part of the Christian family is this duty more imperatively pressing than among English Churchmen.
Entrusted as God has the Anglican Church at the present time, with an evangelizing mission—imperative, world-wide—love must first assuage our internal strife that God may the better do His work through us.
Internal union is the urgent need and duty of the hour. Everything that separates Churchmen into antagonistic sections hinders that fellowship which should bind us together in Christ.
In our zeal for the maintenance of our theological opinions concerning the faith, we are apt to exaggerate their importance and make them sources of needless division. We must often have presented to the angels the spectacle of men neglecting their chief duty of extending the Kingdom of Christ while engaged in quarrels over subordinate and unessential details. God grant that this evil spirit of suspicion and distrust and discord be cast out from us and that we come to sympathise more with one another and understand one another better and dwell together as brethren.
 Looking to the English Church, as one turns to a spiritual Mother, the writer, being an American Churchman, has wondered why what is called in England the “Eastward position” should be made a party matter. In America, the Bishops and Clergy, whether called “high” or “low,” or “broad,” alike almost universally take that position when consecrating the elements. He remembers seeing the North End taken but once, in a clerical life, which now covers upwards of fifty years. It was then by a high Churchman who said he took that position because in the old dispensation the victim was slain at the North Side of the Altar. It seemed to him the most proper and significant as being the sacrificial side. His was an exceptional case. The Eastward position has become in America eliminated from party strife and is no sign of a party badge. Surely it would be of advantage if it could be so in England. For everything that divides Churchmen, hurts the Church and hinders Christ’s work.
One road to peace is to enlarge the category of things unessential. Let us in view of our common perils, “lighten the ship.” How foolish now seems the violence once displayed over the colour and material of the preacher’s gown. Of little consequence was it how he dressed, whether in black silk or white linen; the one all essential was the spirit with which he spoke and above all value was the message which he delivered. In like manner it is not essential to our Lord’s true and spiritual Presence, whether, in consecrating, the priest stands at one side of the Table or another. The all-absorbing fact in that divine mystery is, that Christ verily and indeed is there and by a faithful reception we can become partakers of Him. In the pulpit the clergyman, in delivering the Gospel message, is the ordained [2/3] representative of Christ as the Prophet and Teacher of mankind. At the Holy Table he is the minister of Him, Who, as our Great High Priest, blessed and brake the Bread at the last supper and offered Himself to death upon the Cross. At whatever side of the Table he stands, the clergyman is the official representative of Christ, as the Priest, and the holy gift of Christ’s Body and Blood is the same. Why, then, should the position be made a mater of division among us? In Russia there is a sect of “Old Believers” who make it a ground of complaint and separation, that the Orthodox walk round the Altar one way, from West to East, and not by way of the sun from East to West. It seems very foolish, to say nothing more, but is not this, our controversy, of just about the same character?
Quite a number of the clergy, we believe, look upon it in a mere conservative way. They have been accustomed to take a certain position and continue from habit to do so. They think that the one they have chosen is the one directed by the Prayer Book. At least, they think it to be the best interpretation they can give to the rubric. The greater number of the clergy, high and low, desire to be loyal, and if they think the question to be an open one, hold that their own practice and position is allowable. But after all, there is a diversity of practice whose significance has been exaggerated by party spirit; and if without sacrifice or principle uniformity could be brought about, would it not be better for the two schools of the Anglican Church in this respect to be in harmony? Do we not all desire to minimize our differences and come as far as possible into a loving and Christian agreement? If in America it is so, and there the position at the consecration does not divide Churchmen, why should it not [3/4] be so in England? It is but a little thing, but every barrier that is removed between Churchmen and between parties is a great gain for God. Only let the conservative clergy of all schools grow in better accord and Christian fellowship and the Church will receive a new gift of light and love from the Holy Ghost. The exigencies of our time and the future of the Church cry out to us to get together as brethren. Believing that the clergy generally desire to following the directions of the Prayer Book and be loyal to it, let us lay aside our prejudices and anew seek to discover the true interpretation of the rubric involved and be guided by it.
We thus assume that those whom we address are sincerely desirous of obeying the Prayer Book, and are willing, whatever their custom may have been hitherto, to follow its directions.
It is very difficult for any one of us to acknowledge he may have been mistaken, and it may require heroic courage to alter a life-long practice. But as writing for God and for the love He bears His Church, we will examine the question legally, honestly and disproportionately, believing that God will bless it to all humble-minded and charitably inspired souls.
The question such a person puts to himself is, what does the Prayer Book direct? His resolution is, by God’s grace I will follow it.
The Rubric reads thus:
“When the Priest, standing before the Table, hath so ordered the Bread and Wine, that he may with more readiness and decency break the Bread before the people and take the Cup into his hands, he shall say the Prayer of Consecration.
 The first and only postulate we make is, that by its terms the object and purpose of this Rubric is to determine the place where the Priest shall stand when about to consecrate. The Priest is not to determine it for himself. It is to be determined for him, by the Church. He is not to please himself or to have a choice in the matter. He is given a command which he is to obey. This being the purpose and object of the Rubric it must be so construed as determining that position. We submit this is the one and only legal way of regarding it.
It is not merely the only legal view we can take of any Rubric, but this view is corroborated by its history. During and before the period of the Commonwealth, many and angry contentions had arisen about this very matter. The communion table had in many places been moved out into the body of the Church by the Puritans. They had gathered about it as at an ordinary table, sitting about it as at a common meal. Churchmen like Bishop Wren, who had taken the old Eastward position, standing before the Table with his back to the people, had been for this very matter tried and condemned. There was throughout the church great diversity and a widespread confusion. As the Restoration of the final revision of the Prayer Book the Bishops inserted this Rubric to settle the matter. It was inserted to determine the place the Priest should occupy at the Consecration.
We will therefore assume that our postulate is granted by our readers.
Let us then examine the Rubric and see what is the position it bids the priest take. First, it is stated that the Priest shall be found “Standing before the Table.” Why, we may ask, [5/6] was the word before used in the Rubric and not some other term of local designation? Why was not some point of the compass taken, as one is in the rubric at the beginning of the communion service? Why did it not say north side or east side, or right or left side? Because the Table had by the Puritans been moved out from the chancel and could be turned about at will, and so no one particular place could be designated by any one point of the compass. What would be north or south, right or left, would be changed by every changed position of the Table. The makers of the Rubric were therefore obliged to designate the point they had in mind by some other terminology. The problem before them was how to designate the place where the priest was to stand so that it could not be affected in whatever way the Table might be turned. We shall see presently how they did this and in such wise as that no moving of the Table could affect the rubric’s meaning or change the designated place.
We must then assume they used the word “before” as best suited to carry out the intention of the rubric, which was, it is agreed, to state the position the Priest was to take.
What then does the term “before” in reference to the Table signify? Since we have agreed that the Rubric, being of an imperatively directory character, must designate some one particular side as to the priest’s position at the Table, what particular side or spot does it describe?
It is obvious that taken by itself alone, the word is an ambiguous one and may have one of two meanings.
First,—“before the Table” may mean “in the presence of the Table.”
 No matter, said one of the Judges of the Privy Council, when the case was being argued before him, on which side of a table I am sitting or standing, I may be said in any position to be “before the Table.”
This is true. But it cannot have that meaning assigned to it here, because, in that case, at whatever side of the Table the Priest stood, he would be before it. The Rubric would thus fail of being a directory one. It would not point out, as we agreed it should, the one place where the Priest should stand. He would be left to make his own choice. He would not be obeying an explicit command. As the purpose of the Rubric is to designate the position to be taken by the priest, the word “before” cannot mean “in the presence of,” but must mean some one particular side.
The question next is:—Can we discover from the Rubric itself what that side is? We might imagine a rubric so ambiguously worded as to make this impossible. Were the makers so unskilled as not to be able to meet this difficulty? They have gone through a large and trying experience concerning this very matter. Their attention had been especially called to it.
They could not have been so stupid as not to have weighed every possible subterfuge by which their intention could be set aside. Be this as it may, in the construction of all Canons, Statutes, Laws, Rubrics, we are bound to be guided by those wise rules which the science of the law has demonstrated to be the only sure way of arriving at their true meaning.
Now one of these laws of construction is that we must so construe a law or rubric as to carry out its purpose and also that [7/8] like or similar words used in any law must be construed as having the same meaning. Let us then apply this principle, and see if it helps us out of the difficulty. Now the word “before” is used in the Rubric designedly twice. The Priest is not only to stand “before the Table,” but he is also to break the Bread “before the people.”
What, then, we ask ourselves, does “before the people” mean? It cannot mean “in the presence of the people,” nor “in the sight of the people.” For it would not, so construed, determine the Priest’s position, and the Rubric we have seen must be construed strictly according to its purpose which is to define one position to the exclusion of all others.
If, then, the word “before the Table” designated one side of “the Table,” so the word “before” in this place must likewise signify one position in relation to “the People,” for the same word in a law must have the same meaning assigned it in one place as in another. And as the object of the Rubric was to designate the position of the Priest, this term must be construed to further the end for which the Rubric was made.
Now the phrase “before the people” as designating a position to be taken by the Clergyman has but one signification. It cannot mean behind the people, nor can it mean on one side, or the right or the left flank of the people. When a Colonel is bidden to stand before his regiment, or a Captain before his company, it does not mean either behind them or on one side, but in front of them. And if the priest is thus placed in front of the people, the people by the same direction are placed behind him.
We now see why the makers of the Rubric avoided taking the points of the compass, or using any old liturgical terminology [8/9] to disclose the Priest’s position. For had they done so, it could have been easily evaded by a removal or turning about of the Table or by the people surrounding it. So they wisely took two objects, viz: the Table and the People. Their purpose could not then be evaded wherever the Table might be placed. The Priest was bidden so to stand, as at the same time to be “before the People” and “before the Table.”
Since the word “before” must be legally construed as having the same signification in each clause of the Rubric, and the Priest is directed by the word “before” not to stand behind the people or at one side of them, but, they being behind him, in front of them, so likewise he is bidden by the same word “before” not to stand behind the Table, or at one end or side of it, but in front of it.
Why, it possible may be asked, is not the Priest before the Table and also before the people, when standing at the so-called North End of the Altar? Because in that case the word “before” would be used ambiguously, i.e. in two different senses. While the clergyman would be “before the people” in that, though standing sidewise, he would yet be in front of them; he would not be before or in front of the Table, but at one side of it. He could only be said to be “before it” in the sense of “being in its presence,” which we found must be a rejected signification. It has to be rejected because it does not designate one particular side of the Table to the exclusion of all the others. The term “before the people” means, therefore, somewhere in front of them. In front of them must signify the locality whither the faces of the body of the people are turned. The Table [9/10] likewise has a back side and a front side. “Before the Table” here then must mean the front of it or the way it faces. The two objects given by which the Priest’s position is fixed, are the people and the Table. The front side of the people is that side of them, considered as a body, that faces the Table; the front side of the Table is the side of it that fronts or is turned towards the people.
The Rubrical direction then, so far as we have examined it, places the Priest somewhere between the people and the Table. He must be before the people as they face the Table and before the Table as it faces the people.
But if the Rubric had only said this, the place of the Priest would still be undetermined, for he would be in front of both the people and the Table, whether he was standing close to the people, or midway between the Table and the people, or with his face turned towards the people, or if he were standing sidewise.
The makers of the Rubric, who were not unskillful men and also had had to cope with a great deal of ingenious Puritan evasion in this very matter, framed their Rubric to meet this further necessity. They seem to have carefully studied how they could, with their experience of the past, frame a Rubric which would meet all efforts to evade it and which would embody their own practice.
So they added some further directions, skillfully working them into the Rubric, which did two things. First having, as we have seen by their direction, placed the Priest between the Table and the people, they ordered him to stand not near the people but [10/11] ordered him to stand not near the people but close to the Table. He must so stand near the Table that he “may order or arrange the Bread and Wine.” Thus he was placed between the people and the Table, but close to the Altar.
Moreover lest he should face the people while he consecrated, they also ordered that so standing he must break the Bread and take the Cup into his hands. This direction turns him with his face and both hands towards the Altar, where the Elements have been ordered to be placed. In order to break the Bread and take the Cup into both hands, he must, to do this, be turned fully around towards the Table. He cannot perform these acts with his face to the people and his back to the Altar. He cannot do it as he is directed if he stands sidewise, for then he would have but one arm and one hand towards the Table. And having turned towards the Table there is no direction that he should take any other position.
Thus the Rubric places him between Table and people and close to the Altar and turned towards it. There is one further point the authors of the rubric seem to have had in mind. It was and is still customary to place the Elements before or at some part of the service on the Table and by custom in a central position or the middle of it.
When Bishop Wren was tried, in the time of the Commonwealth, and it was charged that he took the Eastward position at the time of the Consecration, and did not stand at the North End, he pleaded that being short of stature, it was both inconvenient for him standing there to reach over to the distant Elements, in the middle of the Table, and that obeying the Apostolic injunction, “do everything in decency and order,” the position he adopted was the [11/12] most seemly and decent. The please was scornfully rejected. When the Bishops at the time of the Restoration, and Wren was one of them, formed this rubric, they very naturally embodied Wren’s plea within it. Not only did they frame a Rubric which should place the Priest next to the front of the Table and turned toward it, but placed where he had ever been accustomed to stand, viz: in the middle of the Altar as the place where he could with “more readiness and decency,” according to their view, break the Bread and take the Cup into his hands. We submit that what is called the Eastward position is shown to be he legal and the correct one.
The idea that the Reformers of 1662 had any notion that it was of any doctrinal significance, or of devotional value for the people to see the manual acts finds no warrant in Anglican theology or the Rubric. Yet we should in conclusion deal with what seems to be with some, more like an unreason prejudice, than a real difficulty.
If the English clergy would unite with their American brethren, in adopting this legal common sense construction of the Rubric, the two communions would become more assimilated, and by the removal of the question from the area of party strife, the cause of Christian unity and harmony among ourselves, so necessary, so imperative for the future of England’s Church, would be greatly forwarded. The prayer of every true lover of the Anglican Church must be, that her members miss not the day of their visitation, but with loving tolerance of even brothers’ weaknesses, rally together to withstand the assault, it may be the final one, between unbelief and worldliness and the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.