Prayer of Humble Access
The Prayer of Humble Access is the name traditionally given to a prayer contained in many Anglican and some Protestant eucharistic liturgies.
The prayer was an integral part of the early Books of Common Prayer of the Church of England and has continued to be used throughout much of the Anglican Communion. Its name is derived from the heading above the prayer in the Scottish Book of Common Prayer of 1637. This book was a moderate revision of the English Book of Common Prayer of that time, with influences and changes to concede to the Scottish Presbyterians. One change was the inclusion of the Prayer of Humble Access. The prayer finds its roots in a prayer of "worthy reception" which appeared in the Order for Communion in 1548 and was retained in the so-called First Prayer Book of Edward VI published in 1549. The prayer was not apparently a translation of a pre-existing prayer found in the Sarum liturgy - but was a unique combination of several sources, including phrases or concepts from Mark 7:28, the Liturgy of St Basil, a Gregorian collect, John 6:56, and the writings of Thomas Aquinas.
In its earliest appearance the prayer followed the confession and absolution and "comfortable words" which were inserted after the Roman Canon of the Mass. It remained there with the coming of the prayer book the next year.
In the revision of 1552 the prayer appears immediately after the proper preface and Sanctus of the Eucharistic Prayer. It retains this position in the 1662 BCP. In subsequent revisions by various national churches, and in the proposed 1928 English BCP revision, the prayer was moved to after the Lord's Prayer and before the Agnus Dei, after which the consecrated elements are administered.
The version of 1548 and 1549 appear below with modernised spelling:
- We do not presume to come to this thy Table (O merciful Lord) trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We be not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood, in these holy Mysteries, that we may continually dwell in him, and he in us, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood. Amen.
The 1662 revision reads as follows:
- We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
The 1928 prayer book of the American church retains the 1662 wording. Many contemporary Anglican liturgies, however, have revised it to varying degrees. The American 1979 prayer book and English ASB 1980 versions omit the phrase "that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood", due to the cultural and theological emphases in the 1970s. The phrase has been restored in the Common Worship version. Some Anglican eucharistic liturgies omit the prayer entirely. In the 1979 Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America the Prayer of Humble Access is an option after the fraction anthem in the Rite I (traditional language) eucharistic rite but not in the (contemporary-language) Rite II service. There is some similarity with the prayer immediately prior to communion in the Roman Rite Mass: Domine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea (translated: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed" or "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed".
We do not presume to come to your table, merciful Lord,trusting in our own goodness, but in your all-embracing love and mercy. We are not worthy even to gather up the crumbs under your table, but it is your nature always to have mercy. So feed us with the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your Son, that we may forever live in him and he in us. Amen.
This prayer is based on two passages from the New Testament. One is St Matthew 8:8: "The centurion replied, Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed." The other is found in St Mark 7:28. It is a reply from a woman in speaking to Jesus regarding her unworthiness, who said, "but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."
- Anglican Church of Canada, Book of Alternative Services, Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1985.
- Hatchett, Marion J. "Prayer Books" in The Study of Anglicanism, ed. by Stephen Sykes and John Booty, London: SPCK, 1988.
- The First and Second Prayer Books of Edward VI, Everyman's Library, no. 448. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1910.
- Marion Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayerbook, New York: Seabury Press, 1981. p. 382