The liturgical reforms under Henry VIII

John Clerk led the liturgical changes under Henry VIII, backed by the bishops, clergy, and laity despite opposition from Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. The reformers argued against maintaining the king's authority, which was for the mention, by suppressing the papal power during the church's public prayers. It has not been investigated to what extent the liturgical consequences of the split from Rome are affected. The removal of the word "pope" from the liturgy is viewed as one example of changes to worship, though it is unclear how many words needed to be deleted or whether papa will be replaced by another word. This is presented by scholars in two dimensions: first there is no outlined list of passages requiring alteration; secondly there is no immense study and comparison of the alterations made in the service-books in use under Henry VIII.

The actions of John Clerk who was the bishop of Bath and Wells to all the clergy in his diocese proved beyond any reasonable doubt of the interpretation of omission of all things popish in the liturgy. They also set the requirements to be used in assessment of clergy performance as per the reform as they appear in the extant service books. The order stipulated was more of suppressing all the papal mention and not just crossing out the word pope. This was so because the royal supremacy was still to be intact into the public prayer of the church.

John Clerk’s concern was not particularly in writing because the first liturgical consequences of break with the Rome were in discussion led by Archbishop Cranmer dated April 1534 quite a few months before the Act of Supremacy was put into law. In writing to bishops of his province, Thomas Cranmer gave a directive to the clergy to ensure the use of king daily at mass, Sundays and feast days denoted as latest variety of bidding prayer which unequivocally referred to as the king’s supremacy. This fuelled the enigma into launching its first campaign to help in supporting the royal supremacy that month. The clergy were given the obligation of signing a declaration that they renounced papal authority, additionally all laymen of substance took an oath to the new order of progression as stipulated by the parliamentary act. This is what steered Henry as he worked tirelessly to ensure the campaigns and oaths were futile. John Clerk directives were not dated as the document was a template that never had its way to neither the parish nor a religious house and had no cover letter.

The editors of the letters and papers dated the document to February 1535 though it was of a later date. Cited manner prayers, orisons rubrics, canons in mass books and in all other books used in churches, wherein the said bishop of Rome is named or his presumptuous and proud pomp and authority preferred, utterly to be abolished, eradicated, and erased out, and his name and memory to be nevermore (except to his contumely and reproach) remembered but perpetually suppressed and obscured; and finally to desist and leave out all such articles as be in the general sentence which is usually accustomed to be read four times in the year, and do tend to the glory and advancement of the said Bishop of Rome, his name, his title, or jurisdiction.

This was the directive issued by John Clerk to all the Clergy of his diocese. Edward Lee, the archbishop of York put in writing on measures he had taken to ensure he defended the supremacy by omitting the pope out of the Easter liturgy, achieved through enforcing the rural deans with King orders because of lack of enough preachers. Bishop Hugh Latimer of Worcester diocese also entrusted the parish clergy with the role of defacing the service books.

The bishop of London, sent his deputies to make the announcement at different locations in the diocese. The possibility that John Clerk’s letter was prompted by the king is shown by being practiced in sermons, parliamentary drafts, legislation, and fragments of the formulary of faith put forth by bishops in, along treaties on theological subjects formerly held at the Westminster Abby, which were bound with political tracts later to be referred as Tractatus theologici et politici. This volume is perceived to be part of Thomas Cromwell before being taken away at his downfall. If this is hypothetical view is to go by, then John Clerk was right on opposing the cancellation of Henry VIII proceedings. Though John Clerk was adamant with the bishops asserting their loyalty in correspondence with the King and Cromwell, he indeed had sent directives to the diocese on implementation of the royal supremacy yet acted as a bonafide of the king.This was done without traceability evidenced in manuscript books belonging to Closworth, Somerset and Great Bedwyn, Witshire parishes which could not be linked to him nor the diocese of Bath and Wells. However, two books from diocese of Worcester and St David defaced to the standard least because of the compliance of the bishops to the king.

This came by because John Clerk instructions were not known to the scholars of the Henrician reformation as they were calendared in letters and papers though summarized to a point of being meaningless. A different method was employed in enforcing that the changes were made by the bishop evidenced in registers and other sources where they resorted to hierarchical channels to inform and instruct the parish priests how the defacing was to be done led by Archbishop Cranmer how what to take away from the service books. The list of changes carried every aspect that needed to be amended. This included the suppression of scores of utterances of papa in the calendar and the rubics of the lessons; alterations on banning prayers for the pope, doing away with the references of the pope as the head of the church and suppression of passages to ascertain papal supremacy, his authority to absolve sins by the power of the keys and lastly the temporal overlordship of Peter was also corrected. Grammar was also put into consideration during the reformation so as the modified passages do not suffer and in some instances it was refashioned. However, John Clerk never mentioned instances that needed rectification on Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and at the end of procession on Sunday and feast days where the priest termed the word pope and Church in Rome. Even though this happened, thoughtful parish clergy did a correction on the Maundy Thursday witnessed at Closworth and Somerset.

The document clearly shown how under Henry VIII, the Sarum variation of the Roman rite was being transformed which had substituted the papal supremacy with the King. John clerk had an in-depth understanding on the power of liturgy as a tool of propaganda, thus failure to change could foster resistance thus the clergy could gain to the royal supremacy.

During editing the original document, spelling, punctuation and capitalization were not modernized; abbreviations were slightly expanded and readings that were not well understood were put together within square brackets. For simplicity in referencing, numbering was employed as techniques of the articles.John Clerk’s quoted passages were referenced in footnotes using modern printed editions of the missal and breviary. In cases of need, it was to be referred from the edition of the breviary or the edition of the manual. Rubrics were quoted using italics from the missals in conformity with the practice of the modern editors of liturgical texts. The editions used were:

Missale ad usum insignis et praeclarae ecclesiae Sarum, ed. F. H. Dickinson, Burntisland 1861-63

The second paragraph of the canon of the mass which reads,’ Imprimis quae tibi offerimus pro Ecclesia tua sancta Catholica, quam pacifi care,custodire, adunare, et regere digneris toto orbe terrarum, una cum famulo tuo Papa nostro N. et Antistite nostro N. id est, proprio episcopo tantum et Rege nostro N. et dicuntur nominatim. Sequatur. et omnibus orthodoxis atque catholicae et apostolicae fi dei cultoribus.’ The change results in the kings name being acknowledged before that of the local bishop, therefore reflecting the modifications effected by the establishment of the royal supremacy.

John Clerk alludes the initial prayer, secret and post-communion of the missa pro papa as This is one of the masses for the people immediately after the votive masses for the souls of the dead.

The Good Friday petition begins with an incantation for the whole church after which is followed by a petition for the pope; the prayer has two parts separated with time of silent prayers and genuflexion which is ordered by the deacon.

The hymn Exultet jam angelica is sung by the deacon at the paschal vigil after the benediction of the paschal candle. At the end of the hymn there is an invocation for the pope, the king and the bishop:‘Precamur ergo te Domine ut nos famulos tuos omnem clerum et devotissimum populum una cum patre nostro Papa N. atque Rege nostro N. necnon et Episcopo nostro N. quiete temporum’

In the wedding service, the benedictions in which the union of a man and a woman was made in comparison to that of Christ and his Church were to be left out when one of the spouses had already received the sacrament of marriage. The Sarum missal contains a lengthy explanation and apocryphal quotation of a Concertatio. Indeed, many priests had travelled to the Holy See to obtain absolution for having proffered such benedictions in those circumstances. The issue was discussed and determined in the pope’s palace, and followed by the publication of a new constitution set forth by Pope John XXII which is then quoted at length. The relevant rubric to be deleted reads:‘ ncessa in his Paschalibus gaudis.

In printed missals the rubric introducing the Mass of the Five Wounds details the circumstances in which the mass was written by Pope Boniface, its apotropaic virtues and the indulgences granted to whoever celebrates it or has it celebrated vicariously.

This absolution formula of the Ash Wednesday service is unique to the Sarum rite in England:’Absolvimus vos vice beati Petri Apostolorum principis, cui collata est a Domino potestas ligandi atque solvendi; et quantum ad vos pertinet accusatio et ad nos remissio; sit vobis omnipotens Deus vita et salus et omnium peccatorum vestrorum pius indultor,

The feasts of nine canonised popes are in the calendar of the breviary: Marcellus Breviary The calendar of the missal counts only eight utterances,the ordination of St Gregory being left out.

John Clerk is referring to the‘Te rogamus’ prayer of the litany in the breviary and in the processional which reads‘ Ut donum Apostolicum et omnes gradus Ecclesiae in sancta religione conservare digneris, te rog[amus].

’There are scores of lessons in the breviary which are taken from sermons by former popes, especially Gregory and Leo.

The feast of St Leo is celebrated on June, which coincides with the eve of the Feast of SS Peter and Paul. The word papa occurs in the heading rubric.

The beginning of the first lesson of the feast of St Leo reads‘Leo junior natione Siculus ex patre Paulo sedit papatus cathedra mensibus decem, diebus decem et septem

The beginning of the second lesson of the feast of St Leo is:‘Hujus beatissimi papae temporibus, percurrente jussione clementissimi principis, restituta est ecclesia Ravennae sub ordinatione sedis apostolicae: ut, defuncto archiepiscopo, qui electus fuerit juxta antiquam consuetudinem in civitatem Romanam veniat ordinandus’: Breviary; there is a slightly different wording in Portiforiu.

In the third lesson of the feast of SS Peter and Paul:‘Isti sunt qui te Roma ad hanc gloriam provexerunt, ut gens sancta, populus electus, civitas sacerdotalis et regia per sacram beati

Petri sedem caput orbis effecta latius praesideres religione divina quam dominatione terrena’: Portiforium, sig. red BB vii v – viii.

For a very slightly different version of this passage placed in the second lesson see Breviary, iii.

The response to the fifth lesson of the feast of SS Peter and Paul is‘Tu es pastor ovium princeps apostolorum: tibi tradidit Deus omnia regna mundi. Et ideo traditae sunt tibi claves regni caelorum’:Breviary, iii.;Portiforium,sig. red BB viii

The sixth lesson of the feast of Corpus Christi.

This sentence from the second lesson in the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin must be altered.

The third lesson of the feast of the Visitation reads.

There are several versions of this passage and not all are contained in the first lesson of the Feast of the Translation of St Thomas. John Clerk was referring to the second part of the first lesson, found in the Portiforium

The relevant passage is available in the Portiforium and other editions:‘ Adveniente igitur translationis die presente maxima mult.

When the feast day of St Aldhelm, bishop and confessor occurs after Pentecost,three lessons are read in memory of St Urban, pope:Breviary, iii.. Here John Clerk is referring to the fourth lesson:‘Hic beati Petri apostoli octavusd

Here, again, the Procter and Wordsworth version differs from some of the early Printed editions. In the Portiforium the word papa occurs once in the seventh and ninth lessons and twice in the eighth: sig. red AA ii v. There is one utterance in the eighth lesson and one in a rubric:

In the sixth lesson of the matins for the Feast of St Augustine, bishop and confessor of the English:‘Videns autem rex mundissimam vitam et miracula sanctorum credens baptizatus est. Sed et

This mass is also referred to as Missa pro mortalitate evitanda.The rubric recounts the papal origin of the service and details the spiritual benefits granted to all who attend the mass:‘Missa pro mortalitate evitanda quam dominus Papa Clemens fecit et constituit in. This rubric precedes the Gospel of the Missa contra mortalitatem.

The general sentence is usually printed or written in English at the end of the Manual:Manuale secundum usum insignis Sarum

In summary, Henry VIII was up to some good in the reformation of the liturgical doctrines and policies as he was of the interest of all the clergy as opposed to the Church who purportedly just idolized the pope and advocated for its supremacy.


DE MÉZERAC-ZANETTI, AUDE. "Reforming the Liturgy under Henry VIII: The Instructions of John Clerk, Bishop of Bath and Wells (PRO, SP6/3, fos 42r–44v)." Journal Of Ecclesiastical History 64, no. 1 (January 2013): 96-111. Historical Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed, 2017).

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