2015-11-22 Notes from the Bench

“Communion Service in C” Charles Villiers Stanford

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate


The Mass setting for our Fourth Sunday Choral Eucharist is Charles Villiers Stanford’s “Communion Service in C,” (Op. 115) published in 1909. The original version of this setting was intended for the Service of Holy Communion as celebrated using the rite of 1662 Book of Common Prayer. This order of service is similar to the Service of Holy Communion found in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer for the Episcopal Church in the United States.

Stanford’s original setting includes the sung portions of the 1662 service. The “Kyrie Eleison” setting is the responses to the recitation of the Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue (see BCP pg. 317). There are settings of the responses before and after the Gospel, “Credo,” and “Sursum Corda.” The “Sanctus” was not paired with a “Benedictus” since this text was not part of the 1662 rite. Finally, the “Gloria in Excelsis” was sung after the administration of Communion.



During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, High Church members of the Church of England, who developed a philosophy known as the Oxford Movement that developed into Anglo-Catholicism, advocated for the reinstatement of older liturgical traditions into the Anglican liturgy, including the singing of the “Benedictus” and the “Agnus Dei.”   As the practice of singing these texts grew within the Anglican Church, Stanford set these texts in the key of F that could be sung with a number of his Communion Service settings. Contemporary editions of Stanford’s “Communion Service in C” have the movements re-ordered to reflect their use within the modern service and a new “Kyrie” that was composed using themes from Stanford’s Evening Service in C.

Today, our rites for the celebration of Holy Communion are markedly different than those of the 1662 or 1928 Prayer Books. Our liturgical rites gradually evolve and are adapted to meet the needs of a living and praying Church. The story of our changing liturgy is long and complicated, spanning the entire history of Christianity. Even today, numerous rites and prayer texts supplement those found in our 1979 Book of Common Prayer that enrich our corporate prayer life.

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