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Ornaments Rubric

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Ornaments Rubric

The "Ornaments Rubric" is found just before the beginning of Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. It runs as follows:

"THE Morning and Evening Prayer shall be used in the accustomed Place of the Church, Chapel, or Chancel; except it shall be otherwise determined by the Ordinary of the Place. And the Chancels shalt remain as they have done in times past.
"And here is to be noted, that such Ornaments of the Church, and of the Ministers thereof, at all Times of their Ministration, shall be retained, and be in use, as were in this Church of England, by the Authority of Parliament, in the Second Year of the Reign of King Edward the Sixth."

The interpretation of the second paragraph was debated when it first appeared and became a major issue towards the end of the 19th century during the conflicts over what vestments and ceremonies were legal in the Church of England.


  • History and Interpretation 1
  • See also 2
  • Notes & References 3
  • Bibliography 4
  • External links 5

History and Interpretation

The rubric first appears in the Elizabethan revision of the BCP in 1559 and was retained in the later 1604 revision under James I. The second paragraph is essentially an extract from penultimate section of the Elizabethan Act of Uniformity (1559 - 1 Elizabeth I,c.2) and breaks off in the middle of a sentence. The act itself provided that:

"... such ornaments of the Church and of the ministers thereof shall be retained and be in use as were in this Church of England by the authority of Parliament in the Second Year of the Reign of King Edward the Sixth shall be retained and be in use, until other order shall be therein taken by the Queen's Majesty with the advice of her commissioners appointed and authorized under the great Seal of England for ecclesiastical causes, or of the metropolitan of this realm; ..."[1]

Until June 1549 the Sarum Rite Mass (a version of the Roman Rite) was celebrated in Latin, with certain insertions in English.[n 1] The ornaments of the ministers would have been the traditional Eucharistic vestments used in that Rite: albs, tunicles, dalmatics, copes, chasubles, maniples, miters et cetera.

The "second year" referred to in the Act of 1559 began on 28 January 1548 and the Act approving the introduction of the first Book of Common Prayer was approved by Parliament on 21 January 1549. While it has been argued that the Act legalises the Roman Catholic vestments which were actually in use in the second year, most authorities accept that the Act refers to the vestments ordered in the first Edwardine Prayer Book[n 2] even though they were only required as from June 1549.[2]

On the 30th of April 1559, it was "glossed" (interpreted) by Dr Sandys, successively Bp of Worcester (1559), London (1570) and York (1575),[3] to mean that "we shall not be forced to use them, but that others in the mean time shall not convey them away, but that they may remain for the Queen."[4] Later in 1559, the Queen issued her Injunctions, one of which required the churchwardens to deliver to "our visitors" an inventory of "vestments, copes or other ornaments, plate, books and especially of grails, couchers, legends, processions, hymnals, manuals, portuals and such like, appertaining to their church."[5] In 1566, the metropolitan (Archbishop Parker) issued his "advertisements" ordering the use of the surplice and in cathedrals and collegiate churches the cope.[6] The Canons of 1604, passed with strict conformity to legal procedures and legally binding with minor modifications till well into the 20th Century, enforced this same line.[7]

For about one hundred years, starting in the middle of the 19th century, the legal interpretation of the rubric was disputed.[8] Anglo-Catholics pointed to it to justify their restoration of the traditional Eucharistic vestments of western Christianity in the Anglican Communion, whereas Evangelicals insisted that further order was taken in the Injunctions of 1559, the "Advertisements" of 1566 and the Canons of 1604 and therefore the only legal vestments were choir habit together with the cope in Cathedrals and collegiate churches.[9] The use of the disputed vestments became undoubtedly legal in the Church of England with the passing of the 1969 Canons, but these stated that no particular doctrinal significance was attached to them.[10]

See also

Notes & References


  1. ^ From 1547, the Epistle and Gospel on Sundays and Holy Days; and from March 1548 the inclusion of devotions between the consecration and the reception of communion very similar to those used in the 1549 book.(Procter and Frere, pp.35ff)
  2. ^ Basically, plain white alb, surplice, chasuble, cope and in the case of a bishop, the rochet.


  1. ^ Bray p.334
  2. ^ Blunt & Phillimore p.116
  3. ^ ODCC "Sandys"
  4. ^ Procter and Frere, p.105 note 2
  5. ^ Bray p.344
  6. ^ ODCC "Advertisements, Book of"
  7. ^ Neill, p.84
  8. ^ Neill p.268
  9. ^ Dyson Hague pp.36,37
  10. ^ "Canon B8". Church of England. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 


  • Blunt, John Henry & Phillimore, Walter G.F. The Book of Church Law Rivingtons, London (4th Ed. with corrections and editions -1885)
  • Bray, Gerald. Documents of the English Reformation James Clarke & Co, Cambridge UK, 1994
  • Neill, Stephen. Anglicanism Pelican, London 1960 (revised Edition)
  • Hague, Dyson Through the Prayer Book Church Book Room Press, London 1948
  • ODCC = Cross, F.L. & Livingstone, E.A. Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 2nd Ed, OUP, Oxford 1974
  • Procter and Frere. A New History of the Book of Common Prayer, MacMillan and Co. London 1902

External links

  • The Ornaments of the Rubric by J.T. Micklethwaite (1897)
  • The Royal Commission and the Ornaments Rubric (1906)
  • The Ornaments Rubric: Its History and Force by Louis Daniels
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