Archbishop Thomas Cranmer wrote the Prayer of Humble Access for the 1548 Order of the Communion, a collection of prayers in English to prepare worshippers for the sacrament in both species, bread and wine. It is thought that Cranmer borrowed it from the Sarum Missal, specifically: ‘Let not the sacrament of thy body and blood, O Lord Jesus, which, although unworthy, I presume to receive, be to me for judgment and condemnation, but may it avail, through thy mercy, for the salvation of my body and soul. Amen.’
In our constant thirst for affirmation in the modern world, we tend to discard this prayer from the service. It involves too much prostration and humility, especially as we generally say it while kneeling.
Yet, as you recite it, something happens. Thoughts of self-aggrandisement vanish. You become an empty vessel, suddenly focusing on Christ’s Body and Blood and their signifcance. By the time you finish the prayer, a sense of calm envelops you. You experience a strange oneness with the Lord. You become truly prepared to receive Communion.
It is not a prayer warning people against receiving Holy Communion, but it is a beautiful prayer encouraging us to frequent reception said as a prayer of preparation before receiving Holy Communion (hence, humble access to the altar or to the Blessed Sacrament).
We do not presume to come to your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table. But you are the same Lord whose nature is always to have mercy. Grant us, therefore gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he is us. Amen.