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Thomas Cranmer's Revolution in Worship: Grace and Gratitude

Thomas Cranmer

What Cranmer wanted to see in a Reformed Church of England—which he would institute over the next half-decade, with the king’s help—was nothing less than a revolution in worship.

The evangelical gospel was a severe condemnation of the practices of medieval Catholicism and the theology of worship that it implied.

Cranmer could have used these words before Henry VIII, for under the old king the idolatry of the saints’ shrines had ended as the shrines were torn down. But now Cranmer was free to give his words a clearly Protestant meaning by applying them to the Mass, something that Henry would never have allowed. The evangelical gospel was a severe condemnation of the practices of medieval Catholicism and the theology of worship that it implied.

The need for new forms of worship was urgent because the stakes were so high in Cranmer’s mind: if the people were going to worship God rightly, then the unbiblical, distracting, and frankly idolatrous practices of the previous era needed to be repudiated and replaced with preaching and praying as means of fostering belief. Nothing less than individual salvation was in the balance.

Nothing less than individual salvation was in the balance.

What ensued was a complete renovation in the idea of worship along the lines of the Reformation gospel. In evangelical terms, worship was not the people offering something to God so that he would bless them but a means of preaching the gospel itself. Worship meant God giving to the people, and not the other way around. Liturgy was to be focused not on the work of the people but on their reception of the benefits of salvation.

Worship meant God giving to the people, and not the other way around.

First in 1549 and then again in 1552, Cranmer gave the English people a pattern of worship that enshrined the priority of God’s grace and gave voice to the people’s response of gratitude in words they could understand. In these two editions of the Book of Common Prayer, Cranmer ensured that the word of God would not be silent among the people of God. He presented to people the true character of God, the almighty and everlasting God “whose property is always to have mercy,” that they might worship him as he truly is. And he ensured that the death of Christ for sin was at the center of an Anglican piety.

. . . he ensured that the death of Christ for sin was at the center of an Anglican piety.

~Michael Jensen, Reformation Anglican Worship, pp. 12-13