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The Fifth of November and the Liturgy of Thanks

As mentioned in our post on the history of Halloween, the great holiday around this time in post-Reformation England was neither All Saints Day nor Reformation Day, but rather Guy Fawkes Day. The Fifth of November became a national holiday, a day of thanksgiving, in 1606, and it continued to be a vastly popular holiday for centuries. It did not become an official liturgical holiday until 1662, when a special service of thanksgiving was added to the Book of Common Prayer. This initial service was actually not extraordinarily anti-catholic, and certainly not at all extreme by the standards of the time, though it certainly used the occasion of the liturgy to promote religious unity around the state church and the monarchy, as well as to suppress dissent. A later edition, published after the Glorious Revolution, added to the anti-catholic sentiment, as it suggested a direct link to civil liberty and the Protestant religion. The service continued until 1859, when England became concerned with the growing partisan violence, especially in Ireland, and as it began to grant more civil liberties to Roman Catholics.

Largely forgotten at the present, the November Fifth Form of Prayer with Thanksgiving is important in many respects. It serves as an illustration of how a Protestant and Reformed church interacted with the politics of its day, even something that could be described as an act of terror. It also shows how the liturgy was used to foster a national solidarity with a shared sense of religion and a corporate relationship to God. And while it is true that this liturgy was certainly put to unfortunate nationalistic purposes, it does not actually violate any of the principles of orthodox Protestantism. And as can be seen from the form of the prayers and the combination of the scripture readings, the intent was to model Protestant England after the Old Testament kingdom of Israel, a nation in covenant with God, though it never suggests that only England is in covenant with God, nor that its national blessing is anything other than a free gift of God.

The Original 1662 Service

A Form of Prayer with Thanksgiving; to be used yearly upon the Fifth Day of November for the happy Deliverance of the King, and the Three Estates of the Realm, from the most Traiterous and Bloudy intended Massacre by Gun-Powder.

    The Service shall be the same with the usual Office for Holidays in all things; Except where it is hereafter otherwise appointed.

    If this Day shall happen to be Sunday, only the Collect proper for that Sunday, shall be added to this Office in its place.
Morning Prayer shall begin with these Sentences.

TURN thy face away from our sins, O Lord; and blot out all our offences. Psal. li. 9
    Correct us, O Lord, but with judgment, not in thine anger; lest thou bring us to nothing. Jere. x, 14
    I will go to my father, and will say unto him; Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee; and am no more worthy to be called thy son. S. Luke xii. 18, 19.

Proper Psalms. Xxxv. Lxiv. Cxxiv. Cxxix.

Proper Lessons.

The First, 2 Sam. xxii.

The Second, Acts xxiii.

In the Suffrages after the Creed, these shall be inserted and used for the King.
      Priest. O Lord, save the King;
      People. Who putteth his trust in thee.
      Priest. Send him help from thy holy place
      People. And evermore mightily defend him.
      Priest. Let his enemies have no advantage against him.
      People. Let not the wicked approach to hurt him.

Instead of the First Collect for Morning Prayer, shall these two be used.
ALMIGHTY God, who hast in all ages shewed thy power and mercy in the miraculous and gracious deliverance of thy Church, and in the protection of righteous and religious Kings and States, professing they holy and eternal truth, from the wicked conspiracies and malicious practices of all the enemies thereof; We yield thee our unfeigned thanks and praise for the wonderful and mighty deliverance of our late gracious Sovereign King James, the Queen, the Prince, and all the Royal Branches, with the Nobility, Clergy, and Commons of England, then assembled in Parliament, by Popish treachery appointed as sheep to the slaughter, in a most barbarous, and savage manner, beyond the examples of former ages. From this unnatural conspiracy, not our merit, but thy mercy; not our foresight, but thy providence, delivered us: And therefore, not unto us, O Lord, not unto us; but unto thy Name be ascribed all honour and glory in all Churches of the saints, from generation to generation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O LORD, who didst this day discover the snares of death that were laid for us, and didst wonderfully deliver us from the same; Be thou still our mighty Protector, and scatter our enemies that delight in blood. Infatuate and defeat their counsels, abate their pride, assuage their malice, and confound their devices. Strengthen the hands of our gracious King Charles, and all that are put in authority under him, with Judgment and justice, to cut off all such workers of iniquity, as turn religion into rebellion, and faith into faction; that they may never prevail against us, or triumph in the ruine of thy Church among us: But that our gracious Soveraign and his Realms, being preserved in thy true Religion, and by thy merciful goodness protected in the same, we may all duly serve thee, and give thee thanks in thy holy congregation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In the end of the Litany (which shall always this day be used) after the Collect [We humbly beseech thee, O Father, &c.], shall this be said which followeth.

ALMIGHTY God and heavenly Father, who of thy gracious providence, and tender mercy towards us, didst prevent the malice and imaginations of our enemies, by discovering and confounding their horrible and wicked enterprize, plotted, and intended this day to have been executed against the King, and whole State of this Realm, for the subversion of the Government, and Religion established among us; We most humbly praise and magnify thy glorious Name for this thine infinite gracious goodness towards us, expressed in both these acts of thy mercy. We confess, it was thy mercy, thy mercy alone, that we were not then consumed. For our sins cried to heaven against us; and our iniquities justly called for vengeance upon us. But thou hast not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us after our iniquities; nor given us over, as we deserved, to be a prey to our enemies; but didst in mercy delivered us from their malice, and preserved us from death and destruction. Let the consideration of this thy goodness, O Lord, work in us true repentance, that iniquity may not be our ruine. And increase in us more and more a lively faith, and fruitful love in all holy obedience, that thou maist continue thy favour, with the light of thy Gospel to us and our posterity for evermore; and that for thy dear Sons sake, Jesus Christ our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

In the Communion Service, instead of the Collect for the Day, shall this which followeth, be used.

ETERNAL God, and our most mightly protector, we thy unworthy servants do humbly present ourselves before thy Majesty, acknowledging thy power, wisdom, and goodness in preserving the King, and of the Three Estates of this Realm assembled in Parliament, from the destruction this day intended against them. Make us, we beseech thee, truly thankful for this thy great mercy towards us. Protect and defend our Sovereign Lord the King, and all the Royal Family from all treasons and conspiracies: Preserve them in thy faith, fear and love; prosper his Reign with long happiness here on earth; and crown him with everlasting glory hereafter in the kingdom of heaven; through Jesus Christ our only Saviour and Redeemer. Amen.

The Epistle. Rom. xiii. 1.

LET every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be, are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist, shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terrour to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrathe upon him that doth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be suject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For, for this cause pay you tribute also: for they are Gods ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour.

The Gospel. S. Matth. xxvii. 1.

WHEN the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governour. Then Judas which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent Bloud. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of bloud. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potters field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of bloud unto this day. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; and gave them for the potters field, as the Lord appointed me.

After the Creed, if there be no Sermon, shall be read one of the six Homilies against Rebellion.

This Sentence is to be read at the Offertory.
WHATSOEVER ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. St. Matth. vii. 12

The Modified Service c. 1762

A modified version of the November Fifth Thanksgiving service appeared after the Glorious revolution, probably first appearing in the Baskerville edition. This modified liturgy added additional anti-catholic rhetoric. Whereas the original had mentioned “popish treachery,” the newer version added, “Popish Tyranny and arbitrary Power” indicating that a doctrine of limited powers in government was a piece with the Protestant Religion and absolutism an implication of Roman Catholicism. The new form was a good bit longer and is as follows:

A Form of Prayer with Thanksgiving;
to be used yearly upon the Fifth Day of November for the happy Deliverance of King James the First, and the Three Estates of England, from the most traiterous and bloody-intended Massacre by Gunpowder
And also for the happy Arrival of His Majesty King William on this Day, for the Deliverance of our Church and Nation.

    The Minister of every Parish shall give warning to his Parishioners publickly in the Church at Morning Prayer, the Sunday before, for the due observation of the said Day. And after Morning Prayer, or Preaching, upon the said Fifth Day of November, shall read publickly, distinctly, and plainly, the Act of Parliament, made in the third Year of King James the First, for the Observation of it.

    The Service shall be the same with the usual Office for Holy Days in all things; except where it is hereafter otherwise appointed.

    If this Day shall happen to be a Sunday, only the Collect proper for that Sunday shall be added to this Office in its place.
Morning Prayer shall begin with these Sentences

THE Lord is full of compassion and mercy: long-suffering, and of great goodness. Psal. ciii.8
    He will not alway be chiding: neither keepeth he his anger for ever. Ver. 9
    He hath not dealt with us after our sins: nor rewarded us according to our wickedness. Ver. 10
Instead of Venite, exultemus, shall this Hymn following be used, one verse by the Priest, and another by the Clerk and People.

O GIVE thanks unto the Lord for he is gracious: and his mercy endureth for ever. Psal. cvii. 1
    Let them give thanks whom the Lord hath redeemed: and delivered from the hand of the enemy. Ver. 2
    Many a time have they fought against me from my youth up: may Israel now say. Ps. cxxix. 1
    Yea, many a time have they vexed me from my youth up: but they have not prevailed against me. Ver. 2
    They have privily laid their net to destroy me without a cause: yea, even without a cause, have they made a pit for my soul. Psal. xxxv. 7
    They have laid a net for my feet, and pressed down my soul: they have digged a pit before me, and are fallen into the midst of it themselves. Psal. lvii. 7
    Great is our Lord, and great is His power: yea, and His wisdom is infinite. Psal. cxlvii. 5.
    The Lord setteth up the meek: and bringeth the ungodly down to the ground. Ver. 6
    Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand: and upon the son of man whom thou madest so strong for thine own self. Psal. lxxx. 17
    And so will not we go back from thee: O let us live, and we shall call upon thy Name. Ver. 18
    Glory be to the Father, &c.

Proper Psalms. xliv, cxxiv, cxxv.

Proper Lessons.

The First, 2 Sam. xxii.

Te Deum.

The Second, Acts xxiii.

Jubilate Deo.

In the Suffrages after the Creed, these shall be inserted, and used for the King.
      Priest. O Lord, save the King
      People. Who putteth his trust in thee
      Priest. Send him help from thy holy place
      People. And evermore mightily defend him
      Priest. Let his enemies have no advantage against him
      People. Let not the wicked approach to hurt him

Instead of the First Collect for Morning Prayer, shall these two be used.
ALMIGHTY God, who hast in all ages shewed thy power and mercy in the miraculous and gracious deliverance of thy Church, and in the protection of righteous and religious Kings and States, professing they holy and eternal truth, from the wicked conspiracies and malicious practices of all the enemies thereof; We yield thee our unfeigned thanks and praise for the wonderful and mighty deliverance of our gracious Sovereign King James the First, the Queen, the Prince, and all the Royal Branches, with the Nobility, Clergy and Commons of England, then assembled in Parliament, by Popish treachery appointed as sheep to the slaughter, in a most barbarous and savage manner, beyond the examples of former ages. From this unnatural conspiracy, not our merit, but thy mercy; not our foresight, but thy providence, delivered us: And therefore not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto they Name be ascribed all honour and glory, in all Churches of the Saints, from generation to generation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

ACCEPT also, most gracious God, of our unfeigned thanks, for filling our hearts again with joy and gladness, after the time that thou hast afflicted us, and putting a new song into our mouths, by bringing his Majesty King William upon this Day, for the Deliverance of our Church and Nation from Popish Tyranny and arbitrary Power. We adore the wisdom and justice of thy providence, which so timely interposed in our extreme danger, and disappointed all the designs of our enemies. We beseech thee, give us such a lively and lasting sense of what thou didst then, and hast since that time done for us, that we may not grown secure and careless in our obedience, by presuming upon thy great and undeserved goodness; but that it may lead us to repentance, and move us to be the more diligent and zealous in all the duties of our Religion, which thou hast in a marvellous manner preserved to us. Let truth and justice, brotherly kindness and charity, devotion and piety, concord and unity, with all other virtues, so flourish among us, that they may be the stability of our times, and make this Church a praise in the earth. All which we humbly beg for the sake of our blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen.

In the end of the Litany, shall this be said which followeth.
ALMIGHTY God and heavenly Father, who of thy gracious providence, and tender mercy towards us, didst prevent the malice and imaginations of our enemies, by discovering and confounding their horrible and wicked enterprize, plotted and intended this day to have been executed against the King, and whole State of England, for the subversion of the Government and Religion established among us; and didst likwise upon this day wonderfully conduct thy servant King William and bring him safely into England, to preserve us from the attempts of our enemies to bereave us of our Religion and Laws; We most humbly praise and magnify thy most glorious Name for thy unspeakable goodness towards us, expressed in both these acts of thy mercy. We confess it has been of thy mercy alone that we are not consumed; for our sins have cried to heaven against us, and our iniquities justly called for vengeance upon us. But thou hast not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us after our iniquities; nor given us over, as we deserved, to be a prey to our enemies; but hast in mercy delivered us from their malice, and preserved us from death and destruction. Let the consideration of this thy repeated goodness, O Lord, work in us true repentance, that iniquity may not be our ruin: And increase in us more and more a lively faith and love, fruitful in all holy obedience, that thou mayest still continue thy favour, with the light of thy Gospel, to us and our posterity for ever more; and that for thy dear Son’s sake Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

Instead of the Prayer [In time of War and Tumults] shall be used this Prayer following.
O LORD, who didst this day discover the snares of death that were laid for us, and didst wonderfully deliver us from the same; Be thou still our mightly Protector, and scatter our enemies that delight in blood: Infatuate and defeat their counsels, abate their pride, assuage their malice, and confound their devices. Strengthen the hands of our gracious Sovereign King George, and all that are put in authority under him, with judgment and justice, to cut off all such workers of iniquity, as turn Religion into Rebellion, and Faith into Faction; that they may never prevail against us, or triumph in the ruin of thy church among us: but that our gracious Sovereign and his Realms, being preserved in thy true Religion, and by thy merciful goodness protected in the same, we may all duly serve thee, and give thee thanks in thy holy Congregation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In the Communion Service, instead of the Collect for the Day shall this which followeth be used.
ETERNAL God, and our most mightly Protector, we thy unworthy servants do humbly present ourselves before thy Majesty, acknowledging thy power, wisdom and goodness, in preserving the King, and of the Three Estates of the Realm of England assembled in Parliament, from the destruction this day intended against them. Make us, we beseech thee, truly thankful for this, and for all other thy great mercies towards us; particularly for thy making this day against memorable, by a fresh instance of thy loving-kindness towards us. We bless thee for giving his late Majesty King William a safe arrival here, and for making all opposition fall before him, till he became our King and Governor. We beseech thee to protect and defend our Sovereign King George, and all the Royal Family, from all Treasons and Conspiracies: Preserve him in all thy faith, fear and love; prosper his reign with long happiness here on earth; and crown him with everlasting glory hereafter, through Jesus Christ our only Saviour and Redeemer. Amen.

The Epistle. Rom. xiii. 1.

The Gospel. St. Luke. ix. 51.

After the Creed, if there be no Sermon, shall be read one of the six homilies against Rebellion.

This Sentence is to be read at the Offertory.
WHATSOEVER ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. St. Matth. vii. 12

After the Prayer for the Church militant this following Prayer is to be used.
O GOD, whose Name is excellent in all the earth, and thy glory above the heavens; who, on this day, didst miraculously preserve our Church and State from the secret contrivance and hellish malice of Popish Conspirators; and on this day also didst begin to give us a mightly Deliverance from the open tyranny and oppression of the same cruel and blood-thirsty enemies; We bless and adore thy glorious Majesty, as for the former, so for this thy later marvellous loving-kindness to our church and Nation, in the preservation of our Religion and Liberties. And we humbly pray that the devout sense of this thy repeated mercy may renew and increase in us a spirit of love and thankfulness to thee its only Author; a spirit of peaceable submission and obedience to our gracious Sovereign Lord King George; and a spirit of fervent zeal for our holy Religion, which thou hast so wonderfully rescued, and established a Blessing to us and our posterity. And this we beg for Jesus Christ his sake. Amen.

What to Think of this Form Today

The November Fifth thanksgiving was discontinued in 1859 and it is no doubt shocking to many today. Traditional Protestants should not simply seek to revive the past, and they ought not to glory in partisanship. Still, any disavowal of a liturgy like this must also take seriously the religious understanding which formed it. To simply reject it as divisive or mean is to betray a very unserious view of history, to disbelieve that people could truly believe themselves to stand in a distinct relationship to God and that their religion was essential to that. The November Fifth liturgy, for all of its supposed “political” overtones, located the active voice in God’s actions, after all, and it was dedicated to thanking God for his mighty deliverance. The thanksgiving was not simply for the arrest of a villain or for the victory of Protestantism, but rather for the sparing of a nation from destruction.

For any Christians who believe that their faith and theology ought to have public significance, the question will also arise as to what relationship God has to a community of people or even a nation. If he can have a relationship at all, then it is capable of being a relationship of blessing or cursing, and the Christians in that land ought to have some language by which to express that. The November Fifth liturgy is one historical example of how a real Protestant people did exactly that.

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.