Author(s)David Peterson
Date 10 April 2017

The Book of Consecration of Archbishops and Bishops, and Ordering of Priests and Deacons, lately set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth, and confirmed at the same time by authority of Parliament, doth contain all things necessary to such Consecration and Ordering: neither hath it any thing, that of itself is superstitious and ungodly. And therefore whosoever are consecrated and ordered according to the Rites of that Book, since the second year of the forenamed King Edward unto this time, or hereafter shall be consecrated or ordered according to the same Rites; we decree all such to be rightly, orderly, and lawfully consecrated and ordered.

As Rod Thomas has already made clear, Article 23 asserts the need for those who assume the office of public preaching or ministering the Sacraments in the Congregation to be ‘lawfully called and sent to execute the same.’ This means being ‘chosen and called to this work by men who have publick authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send Ministers into the Lord’s vineyard.’ There must be a process of discerning those with the qualifications for public ministry (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-13), and a form of authorization by those who constitute ‘the body of elders’ (1 Timothy 4:14; 5:22). The laying-on of hands with prayer is central to this authorization for leadership in various New Testament contexts (see also Acts 6:6; 14:23). Article 36 simply affirms the validity and sufficiency of the ordination services in the Book of Common Prayer for the formal calling and sending of those qualified for office in the Church of England.


There was no Ordinal in the first English Prayer Book (1549), but ‘The Form and Manner of Making and Consecrating of Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons’ was published in 1550. This was an original composition, reflecting more biblical views about the nature and purpose of these ministries. However, it retained certain customs that had arisen during the Middle Ages, such as giving the Priest the Bible in one hand and the chalice or cup with the bread in the other, accompanied by the words ‘Take authority to preach the word of God, and to minister the holy Sacraments in this congregation, where thou shalt be so appointed.’ Different vestments were prescribed for the different orders of ministry, and in the form of consecrating an Archbishop or Bishop a Bible was laid upon the candidate’s neck and a pastoral staff was put into his hands.

A revised ordinal was published as part of the new Prayer Book in 1552 in which these customs were removed. The services remained virtually unchanged until 1662, when certain verbal modifications were made, the age of Deacons was raised from twenty-one to twenty-three, Deacons were restricted to baptizing ‘in the absence of the Priest’, new lessons and collects were added, directions about the vesture of Bishops were given, and the words of ordination were expanded.

Based on the words of Jesus to his disciples in John 20:22-23, the Bishop was now to say to each of the candidates for the Order of Priesthood, ‘Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. and be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.’

Recalling Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 1:6-7, Bishops were to be consecrated with the words, ‘Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Bishop in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.  And remember that thou stir up the grace of God which is given thee by this Imposition of our hands; for God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and soberness.’


Article 36, which dates from 1563, first seeks to deal with challenges about the validity of Anglican orders from Roman Catholics. It affirms that both Ordinals authorized in the time of Edward the Sixth contain ‘all things necessary’ for the proper consecration of Archbishops and Bishops and the ordering of Priests and Deacons. Moreover, it asserts that those ordained according to those rites ‘be rightly, orderly, and lawfully consecrated and ordered.’

Catholics have argued that our Ordinal is deficient because it has no provision for the anointing of the hands of priests and no delivery of the sacramental ‘instruments’ (the bread and the cup). They rightly discern that there is no intention in our liturgy to ordain candidates to a sacerdotal priesthood, involving the offering of a ‘Eucharistic sacrifice’.

Article 36 also addresses challenges about the services containing ‘any thing that of itself is superstitious and ungodly.’ Puritan objections focused on the form of words used at the moment of ordination. Jesus’ words ‘Receive the Holy Ghost’ were associated with his breathing on them as a sign that he would give them his Spirit. In the ordination services, these words function as ‘wish-prayers’ such as Paul used in his letters (e.g., Romans 15:5-6, 13). Although they are directed to the candidates, God is being asked to fill each one with his Spirit for the effective exercise of the ministry that is committed to them. Jesus’ promise about forgiving or not forgiving sins relates to the ministry of the gospel (John 20:23; cf. Luke 24:47).

The exhortations and the questions put to the candidates in our services make it abundantly clear that the fundamental task of the minister is to labour at teaching, preaching, and applying the gospel. Declaring the forgiveness of sins to those who truly repent is a formal expression of this ministry when the church gathers, but it is not the main reason for quoting the words of Jesus to the candidates at their ordination.


Recent revisions of the Ordinal in the Anglican Communion have tended to re-introduce ceremonies and variations of vesture in line with the Medieval traditions. Such changes are associated with modifications to the Communion services, giving expression to a theology of Eucharistic sacrifice and sacerdotal priesthood. But Article 36 reminds us that even the simplified Ordinal of 1552 contains ‘all things necessary’ for the proper consecration of Archbishops and Bishops and the ordering of Priests and Deacons.

Moreover, Article 36 continues to challenge those who think the ordination services contain superstitious and ungodly material to understand particular words and actions within the context of the liturgy as a whole.