Buckingham's bishop and frequent blogger Alan Wilson continues his Guardian series on the Book of Common Prayer with a few thoughts on the historical power of communion to invite and incorporate the other.
The church, according to the prayer book, is defined by word and sacrament, the whole company of those who confess God's holy name, a witness and keeper of holy writ. Its job is to agree in the truth of God's holy word in unity and godly love. This is what the BCP means by the catholic church, not an exclusive denomination with its HQ in Rome.
Queen Elizabeth I wanted to take in as many people as possible on the scale between out-and-out recusant and Puritan. For 300 years from the 16th century the Church of England invited any adult, baptised and confirmed, or desirous and ready to be confirmed, to conform to the Act of Uniformity by taking communion. The holy communion was the supreme instrument of inclusion. Thus the BCP did not lay down fences around the table like the communion tokens often used north of the border and among Puritans.
Communion was for those who repented them of their sins and lived in love and charity with their neighbours, and people were to examine themselves before taking part. The decision as to whether to partake or not lay with them, except in cases of grave public scandal. Sacramental confession was provided for in a minimalist way, with legal protection for the seal of the confessional and a strong implication that "all may, none must, some should".