For me, the question about there alignment of American Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans that happened in the wake of the Gene Robinson affair was always, whether they had thought deeply and clearly enough about the malaise that had affected North American Anglicanism, to make the labor and pain of this realignment worthwhile. The sixteenth-century reformers had a deep clarity about the gospel that empowered them to shape institutional and liturgical reform in fruitful ways. Can the same be said about our early twenty-first century reformers? Since the liberal mainline’s versions of Anglicanism have in many respects lost their way (and there are many faithful Anglicans I respect involved in the realignment churches), it’s not that I want the realignment to fail— but I did fear that their rethinking of Anglicanism in North America would not go deep enough to achieve the requisite clarity and coherence that lasting reform requires.
For this reason, I had a similar fear about their liturgical reforms. Along with clarity and coherence, there is the matter of liturgical craft: how would they stand up to searching examination? It is with some reluctance and delay that I have taken a long look at their liturgical project, the Book of Common Prayer 2019 of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA); and I am reminded of the hoary joke about a formidable bishop at breakfast with his timid curate. The bishop says, “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr. Jones.” The curate replies: “Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent!” There is much that is good in The ACNA Prayer Book of 20191My thanks to those who read earlier drafts of this paper and made numerous helpful comments: Drew Keane, Roberta Bayer, David Svihel, Steven Vanderlip and especially Sam Bray, whose criticisms and suggestions greatly refined the arguments made in this paper. Any remaining faults and shortcomings are entirely my own. — much that is a substantial improvement over the 1979 Prayer Book that most Episcopalians knew best — but there is also much that disappoints; in short it is a proverbial curate’s egg of a liturgy. In what follows, I will acknowledge that “parts of it are excellent,” but the fact is, only politeness or timidity would pretend that an egg of such mixed quality is worthy of unalloyed praise. The failures must be faced, and if the criticism that follows seems at times harsh, it is offered nonetheless with good will to the ACNA. I do not doubt that compiling liturgies is harder than writing critiques of them!
In its overall character, the ACNA Prayer Book seems pulled in a number of incompatible ways: on the one side by a hankering after the 1979 Prayer Book (but with revision in a conservative direction), on the other by a desire to recover elements of the 1662 Prayer Book tradition (but in an updated direction), and third by a desire to accommodate the “three streams” ecclesiology (catholic, evangelical, charismatic) that seems to be the official teaching of the ACNA. There is a “cut-and-paste” aspect that is present in various places, but even when it is not, there is a failure of clarity and coherence. Whatever else one may say about the 1979 Prayer Book— and there is very much to criticize in that calamitous liturgical project—it was consistent. That is not always the case in 2019.
Our first taste of the curate’s egg is in the Preface by the Archbishops. In line with the Anglican tradition, they approach questions of ecclesiology and liturgy through church history, but their telling of the Anglican tale struggles to reconcile and unite the disparate and even fragmented elements of late modern Anglicanism in a clear and coherent whole. The pressure of a making coherent sense of a “three-streams” ecclesiology (catholic, evangelical, and charismatic) is apparent. There are big claims made here for this liturgy as “indisputably true to Cranmer’s originating vision of a form of prayers and praises,” though they do not state what that originating vision was. Instead, we get a grab-bag of interest-group catchphrases: “thoroughly Biblical, catholic in the manner of the early centuries, highly participatory in delivery, peculiarly Anglican and English in its roots, culturally adaptive and missional in a most remarkable way, utterly accessible to the people, and whose repetitions are intended to form the faithful catechetically and to give them doxological voice.” All these things may indeed be true, I suppose, in some sense. However, anyone looking for a coherent principle or program for this Prayer Book will be left in the dark. What’s prominent by its absence is the rationale of classical (reformational) Anglicanism, namely the Anglicanism of the Prayer Books from 1552 through to 16622I would argue that the Prayer Book of 1549 also belongs to this continuity, but it is a disputed point, and not essential. Whatever we may think of the 1549 Prayer Book, it was replaced by the 1552-1662 liturgies. as well as the Articles of Religion; nor is there any exploration of the possibility that it might provide (what is perhaps the only viable) starting point for putting together the disparate developments, fragments, and tangents of late Anglicanism in North America in a more coherent unity.
In that reluctance to come to grips with “Classical Anglicanism” (despite protestations to the contrary), the ACNA project remains strongly entangled with the theological, historical, liturgical, and institutional perspectives that so disastrously reshaped the Episcopal Church in the USA and the Anglican Church in Canada in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Institutional realignment there may be, but the work of theological and liturgical realignment is at best unfinished.
With the exception of the Lord’s Prayer, some of the occasional prayers3E. g. No. 93, John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer; No. 109 Lancelot Andrewes’ Prayer for Watchfulness., and the King James Version of Psalm 23 (provided as an optional translation), the ACNA Prayer Book sets aside the liturgical English devised chiefly by Thomas Cranmer for the Prayer Book of 1549 . This liturgical English was not purple prose but plain and memorable speech that carried the weight of conviction and passed the test of frequent repetition. In view of what Oliver O’Donovan has called the “catastrophe” that has overcome the English language in our time, liturgists since the 1960’s have adopted a version of “contemporary English.” In doing so, as O’Donovan puts it, they have, “perhaps, given us the best that an inarticulate age is capable of using.”4Oliver O’ Donovan, “Preface to the Second Edition”, in On the Thirty-Nine Articles: a Conversation with Tudor Christianity. Second Edition, 2022, pp viii-ix. The 2019 revisers also adopt a form of contemporary English, but to their credit, they are not insensitive or insouciant about the challenges of liturgical English in contemporary forms. Though the language of 1662 is much more than second person pronouns (“thou/thy/thee”) and its associated verb forms, there is permission (p. 7) to employ them.
It also acknowledges the Coverdale Psalter of 1539 as one of the “timeless treasures” (p. 268) of the Book of Common Prayer, “whose meter and turn of phrase remain embedded in the global Anglican heritage of language and music” (p. 8). Accordingly, they have replaced the 1979 psalter with a “new Coverdale Psalter,” a conservative revision of Coverdale’s text in con-temporary English. Though reference is made to the 1963 revision of the Coverdale psalter by a Church of England commission that included literary luminaries like T. S. Eliot and C. S. Lewis5They were just two members in a seven-man commission chaired by the Archbishop of York, Donald Coggan., it is in contemporary English, and in some translation choices it hews more closely to Coverdale than to 1963.
A detailed assessment of this translation goes beyond the purview of this paper, but some features may be briefly noted. There is a commendable modesty to the changes they have made; in general, the instinct is to stay as close to Coverdale as is compatible with contemporary speech. What this means, of course, is that it in no way rivals Coverdale in beauty of “meter and turn of phrase.” His vigorous poetry gets sanded down into something more prosaic and predictable — as in the replacement of verb-subject constructions (apparently incomprehensible to early 21st English speakers) with subject-verb constructions. In places there is a flattening literalism: in Psalm 95, Coverdale’s “corners of the earth” and “strength of the hills” become “depths” and “heights.” Yet in the same psalm they abjured the 1963 pedantry of “as at Meribah, and as on the day of Massah in the wilderness” for Coverdale’s “as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness.” It’s a curate’s egg.
Overall, as one (favorable) commentator has observed, with some ambivalence:
Precisely because it is a successful renewal, … the Renewed Coverdale Psalter does not improve over-all on the original. Instead, it updates the original for contemporary use among people for whom the traditional version is unacceptable… To choose the Renewed Coverdale over the original is prudential based on one’s commitment to evangelical accessibility, or liturgical conformity in a church that mainly uses contemporary-language texts.6Benjamin von Bredow, « ACNA’s renewed Coverdale Psalter” May 7, 2019 in https://livingchurch.org/covenant/2019/05/07/acnas-renewed-coverdale-psalter/
Two other elements of this translation are of note. In line with the long tradition of liturgical psalters, Coverdale drew not only on the Masoretic text (6th-10thc A.D.), but also the Septuagint (3rd c B.C.) and the Vulgate (4th c.) translations of pre-Masoretic recensions of the Hebrew Bible. The new Coverdale moves away from this pluriformity and toward a sometimes pedantic insistence on the Masoretic text alone. One surmises a mistaken theological presupposition that the Masoretic text is the “inspired” original text rather than one of several key witnesses to it.
One other particular feature deserves comment: the 1979 Prayer Book had replaced the singular “he” with the plural “they” when speaking of the faithful servant of the Lord, the human protagonist of the psalms, a mistranslation intended to serve gender inclusivity but which obscured the Christological reading of the psalms. Though not unwilling to use gender-neutral language where nothing else is at stake, in at least the Christologically-important psalms (e.g. Psalms 1 and 80) the new Coverdale has rightly reverted to the singular “man” or “son of man.” Social-justice agendas do not trump theology.
The Daily Office:
The next test of this Prayer Book is in the Daily Office, which in the Anglican development of the Catholic tradition is a participative immersion in the word of God written, structured as a movement from penitence to praise and prayer. Though this pattern is retained overall, there are some minor missteps—seasonal rather than penitential elements in the penitential introduction, when the tradition was to assign them to the middle element of praise; a somewhat fussy selection of collects for days of the week.
The only major misstep in the prayers is the justly-criticized revision of the central clause of the general confession with a qualifying phrase: “apart from your grace, there is no health in us.” Samuel Bray rightly observes, “It is doubtful if there is any biblical confession that has this kind of qualification about God’s grace.” The publican in the temple does not pray, “God be merciful to me, who apart from your grace am a sinner.” Professor Bray puts it his finger on it: “[t]he Cranmerian phrase is not a stylistic exaggeration, but rather part of a biblical pattern of abandoning our own defenses, prerogatives, possessions.”7Read here: https://northamanglican.com/and-apart-from-your-grace-there-is-no-health-in-us/ The interpolation of “apart from your grace” is fudging at a moment in the liturgy that requires clear speaking: reinforcing our self-destructive defenses when it should be demolishing them.
The critical element in the Daily Office, however, is the pattern of reading of Scripture. For liturgists it is conventional to make a contrast between the pre-Reformation pattern of reading (in conformity to the sea-sons of the church’s year), and the Reformation pattern (continuous reading in accord with the civil year). By the late Middle Ages, as Cranmer observes, the early medieval tradition of continuous reading at the Daily Office had been reduced to fragments. Cranmer explicitly sets himself to restore this tradition of continuous and extensive reading. Unlike the pre-Reformation office, which generally read from one book of Scripture at a time, Cranmer structured the office with two lessons, one from the Old Testament, the other from the New.8The Gospels and Acts were read three times over at Morning Prayer; the Epistles three times over at Evening Prayer. The continuous reading of the Old Testament, which in the early Middle Ages began at Septuagesima with Genesis, he pushed back to January 1st (there was no Old Testament reading in Epiphany in the pre-Reformation office) and extended it throughout the year. Though the lessons are determined by the day of the month, not by the day of the week, yet the overall pattern remains similar to that of the early medieval Daily Office: first the Pentateuch, then the former Prophets (“historical” books), followed by Wisdom literature, then the latter Prophets, and the Apocrypha, ending with Isaiah in late November and December (approximating to Advent). The place of Isaiah indicates the hidden influence of the Church’s year on Cranmer’s lectionary: and this concern for the church year is also reflected in a provision of proper psalms and lessons for holy days. Contrary to both Anglo-catholic and evangelical commentators, Cranmer’s “civil year” lectionary is not so far off from the early medieval “church year” lectionary.
Twentieth-century revisions of the office lectionary were organized more explicitly in accord with the church’s year. (The best of these was the Church of England lectionary of 1922 in its final revision of 1961, recently printed in supplemental materials to the 1662 International Edition.) The 2019 BCP reverts to the Cranmerian practice of continuous reading of entire books of Scripture by days of the month in the civil year, with minimal (albeit necessary) interruptions for major holy days. (As John Keble pointed out, this practice makes for the most illuminating and serendipitous juxtapositions.) It also takes the step of providing separate books to be read at Morning and Evening Prayer (as did Cranmer in the second lessons). This means that those who only read one office a day do not miss every other lesson—but it also means that those who read both offices must keep track of four books of scripture at any time. It also means that the revisers had to come up with not one but two patterns of reading Scripture through the year, patterns that work for people who only read one office, but that are also complementary for those who read both. As one might expect, this is a difficult trick to pull off well, especially in the reading of the Old Testament.9The reading of the New Testament is least problematic. At Morning Prayer, the 2019 lectionary begins the year with the gospels (John first, then the synoptics), before switching over to the epistles (read in the surmised order of composition) and Acts and Revelation (in December, an apparent inflection due to Advent). At Evening Prayer we read in the reverse order, beginning the year with the epistles, then Acts (but not Revelation, which is a missed opportunity), and continue with the gospels. Although canonical order would make better sense than speculative ideas of the order of composition, this approach is workable.
At Morning Prayer in the Old Testament, the reading begins with Genesis and reads through to Kings and Chronicles10Chronicles was omitted by Cranmer, perhaps because he thought its history was adequately covered in Kings, and its omission makes space for other books. An argument can be mounted for a distinctive theological witness in Chronicles that makes them deserving of a place in the lectionary. Though it might fussy, perhaps an option every other year to read Chronicles instead of Kings?. in early November, which works fine both for Scripture reading and the Church’s year (one is reading Exodus and Leviticus in Lent); but from then until the end of the year it jumps to a reading of the wisdom books of the Apocrypha through to the end of December. Some isolated passages notwithstanding, the books of Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom are not particularly Christocentric: their relevance to Advent and Christmas is remote.
At Evening Prayer, the reading pattern is all over the map. It begins the year with pre-exilic Jeremiah and Lamentations, but in March (approximating to Lent and Easter) it jumps to the wisdom books of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, before returning in June to a reading of the post-exilic prophets (Ezekiel and Daniel) and later historical books (Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah), the mainly pre-exilic minor prophets, and Maccabees.11The books of the Maccabees are notably not included in Cranmer’s lectionary, whose reading of the Apocrypha conforms to the uses affirmed in the Sixth of the Articles of Religion, not “to establish any doctrine” but “for example of life and instruction in manners”. The reading of 2 Maccabees 12:39-45, on making atonement for the dead, much cited by Roman Catholic controversialists, would have been an example of a doctrine not to be established! One surmises an enthusiasm for wisdom literature may have shaped this pattern, but to doubtful benefit, and the reading of the prophets is a mess. The clarity and coherence of Cranmer’s lectionary, or the 1922-1961 English lectionaries, is missing.
There is one peculiarity of this lectionary which de-serves further comment. In mid-October, it begins at Evening Prayer a reading of Isaiah that continues to Christmas Eve—roughly similar to the traditional reading of Isaiah in Advent (which Cranmer preserved), though starting over a month earlier. On Christmas Eve, however, it begins reading the Song of Songs, and if the reading of Isaiah is dictated by the approach of the feast of Christ’s Nativity, then the reading of the Song of Songs must also be read in relation to the Incarnation. Yet a book whose celebration of the bridegroom’s love for the bride, and her love for him, traditionally read (by Protestants as well as Catholics in a tradition that goes back to antiquity) as an allegory of the mystical union between Christ and his Church, is more suitable for the Redemption celebrated in Easter week (the union of Christ and his Church through his atoning death) than for the Incarnation (the union of two natures in Christ) commemorated in Christmastide.12The “Argument” supplied for the book in the late 16th century Geneva Bible – the most widely read translation at that time – is helpful in this regard: “In this Song, Solomon by most sweet and comfortable allegories and parables describeth the perfect love of Jesus Christ, the true Solomon and King of peace, and the faithful soul or his Church, which he hath sanctified and appointed to be his spouse, holy, chaste, and without reprehension. So that here is declared the singular love of the bridegroom towards the bride, and his great and excellent benefits wherewith he doth enrich her of his pure bounty and grace without any of her deservings. Also the earnest affection of the Church which is inflamed with the love of Christ, desiring to be more and more joined to him in love, and not to be forsaken for any spot or blemish that is in her” (1599 edition, spelling modernized).
Nuptial imagery in scripture refers to the covenantal union of God and Israel, Christ and his Church, through God’s redemptive act: “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians5:25-27). To read it as an allegory of the Incarnation opens the door to the kind of Marian speculations developed in the medieval Church, and which ends with the Virgin Mary enthroned in majesty next to her Son, as depicted in the magnificent 13th century mosaic in the apse of Santa Maria Maggiore. If evangelical and charismatic influences are detectible in other aspects of this liturgy, at this point in the Office lectionary a Marian piety one could call Anglo-papalist seems to have called the shots.
As one might expect, the Eucharistic rites show signs of the greatest attention and debate. Here there are two options that each try to reconcile classical Anglican liturgy (the Prayer Book of 1662 or its later adaptation in 1928) with contemporary ecumenical liturgy (as represented by the Prayer Book of 1979). The “Anglican Standard Text” is not the English Prayer Book of 1662 (as one might expect), but instead turns out to be the American Prayer Book of 1928 reordered in conformity with the order of ecumenical liturgy (the 1979 Prayer Book), though the 1662 Order (not printed in full) may also be followed; the “Renewed Ancient Text” is 1979 with some elements from 1662. The Additional Directions (pp 139ff ) also allow a certain amount of mixing and matching that is neither necessary nor consistent; and my own experience of some ACNA liturgies has been of services that follow no consistent order or principle. In this regard, though there is a use of set forms, the ordering principle is not liturgical Anglicanism but revivalistic evangelicalism.
Confession, Absolution, and the Peace
Frankly, the re-ordering of 1928 (or 1662) in conformity with the “shape” of 1979 was a terrible idea. The imposition of an alien order betrays a fundamentalism about the Dixian fourfold shape of the liturgy, as well as ignorance of or indifference to the “guilt-grace-gratitude” logic of 1662. Significantly, the exchange of the peace once again intrudes at almost the worst possible place for it to happen13It may be argued that the worst possible place is the one assigned to it in the Roman Novus Ordo , immediately before the receiving of the elements. But the position after the Absolution and Comfortable Words is a close second., immediately after the Confession, Absolution and Comfortable words, and before the Offertory. If it is thought necessary, there are any number of other logical places for this ceremony to take place—after the Prayer for the Church (with its petitions for unity) and before the Invitation to Confession (addressed to those “who are in love and charity with your neighbours”); or at the end of the service; or even at its beginning (for both of which there are precedents). To place it after the Confession, Absolution and the Comfortable words, is to sabotage the 1662’s pathway for the movement of the soul—inward and upward into spiritual community—in favor of an abrupt return to a superficial form of external community.
On one critical issue, the 2019 Prayer Book’s alignment is with late 20th century liberal Episcopalianism rather than classical Anglicanism: there is no place for Confession and Absolution at the Eucharist on those occasions when it is combined with Baptism, Confirmation, or other occasional offices—though there is always an exchange of the Peace. As its own proponents themselves acknowledge, the contemporary ecumenical consensus on liturgy really has no logical place for corporate general Confession and Absolution. That’s not a problem with Confession and Absolution (as the liturgists imply); it’s a problem with the contemporary ecumenical consensus on liturgical shape. And that raises questions about the relation of the self-affirming, self-generated communal solidarity celebrated in the Peace to the inward and spiritual community of the Gospel established in the forgiveness of sins.
There is permission to replace the “disjecta membra” of the 1662 rite in a 1662 order (though it is not clear whether this includes keeping the additions to it made in 2019), and the language can also be returned to earlier forms (even though these options are not printed). One can only recommend that one or both options be embraced, with maximum fidelity to 1662 (apart from the state prayers).
In the sentences after the Absolution, the priest intro-duces them (as in 1979) with “hear the Word of God to all who truly turn to him.” This probably reflects a pedantic concern about whether or not John 3:16 are the words of Jesus or those of John. This formulation also allows the elimination of “hear what our Savior Christ saith,” “hear what Saint Paul saith,” “hear also what Saint John saith.” But if the priest is not going to say “hear what comfortable words,” it makes no sense then to entitle them “the Comfortable Words.” That’s just bad craftsmanship, and a groundless preference for the 1979 form over the 1662/1928 original.
In addition, the insistence on completing 1 John 2:2 with “and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world,” is more petty pedantry. At this particular point in the liturgy, when the penitents need to know that Christ is the propitiation of their sins, completing the text is surplus to requirements. Cranmer showed his superior craft when he reserved the phrase “for the sins of the whole world” for the prayer of Consecration, where it underscores the all-sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. Such subtleties elude the framers of 2019.
The Comfortable Words
In the sentences after the Absolution, the priest introduces them (as in 1979) with “hear the Word of God to all who truly turn to him.” This probably reflects a pedantic concern about whether or not John 3:16 are the words of Jesus or those of John. This formulation also allows the elimination of “hear what our Savior Christ saith,” “hear what Saint Paul saith,” “hear also what Saint John saith.” But if the priest is not going to say “hear what comfortable words,” it makes no sense then to entitle them “the Comfortable Words.” That’s just bad craftsmanship, and a groundless preference for the 1979 form over the 1662/1928 original.
In addition, the insistence on completing 1 John 2:2 with “and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world,” is more petty pedantry. At this particular point in the liturgy, when the penitents need to know that Christ is the propitiation of their sins, completing the text is surplus to requirements. Cranmer showed his superior craft when he reserved the phrase “for the sins of the whole world” for the prayer of Consecration, where it underscores the all-sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. Such subtleties elude the framers of 2019.
The “we” form of the Nicene Creed (a 1979 element) befits a council of bishops exercising their ministry together as teachers of the faith, in establishing shared boundaries of conviction. That is not a task for a congregation of the faithful. Even in ancient times, when it first came into use in the liturgy (in 5th century Antioch), it took the “I” form (pisteuo, credo) form, on the analogy of the individual confession of faith at baptism. The 2019 follows the 1979 in the choice of the conciliar “we” form, probably in reaction to the individualism of our times and the in favor of communal solidarity; but the “I believe” of the baptismal confession does not open the door to hyper-individualism, it is rather the means by which the individual is integrated into community of faith.
Very strangely, the Filioque (“and the Son”) is printed in square brackets. (How is the worshipper to know whether to say them or not?) And even more strangely, it is also supplied with a footnote. Whoever heard of a footnote in the liturgy? Is the congregation to interrupt its recitation of the Creed to consult the footnote? And having read it, and learned that it is not part of the original Greek text, to be referred to a resolution of the Council of Bishops about the status of the Filioque that is printed about six hundred pages later, and which comes down squarely on both sides of the fence, and refers the question of what to do with it to a theological commission!14To compound the confusion, the double procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son (“filioque”) is stated explicitly in the Athanasian Creed, which his printed in the “Documentary Foundations” and affirmed in the Articles of Religion. The restoration of the Athanasian Creed, omitted in the original American version of the Articles, is a notable and laudable restoration. At this point, one might forgive the worshippers for abandoning altogether the recitation of the Creed. The revisers seem to have forgotten they were crafting a liturgy—something that is to be said, and with conviction. Surely this is not the point to prompt unresolved questions about the wording of the Creed, let alone disagreements about what words to say! “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all;” and he “is not the author of confusion but of peace;” “let all things be done decently and in order.” Please!
Let us assume that most Anglicans will encounter the 2019 Prayer Book not as a book but in printed service leaflets, where the choices about reading or not reading the Filioque (or any other option) will have been made for them. In this regard, the 2019 Prayer Book is not an objectively established “common prayer” in the Anglican tradition, binding clergy and laity in one law of worship, but a late-modern collection of liturgical resources for the clergy to deploy at their discretion— a return to the medieval clericalism renounced by the Anglican reformers. Yet the inability to provide clear direction on a fundamental question of Trinitarian teaching as it is expressed in worship, betrays a failure not only theological but also pastoral. The 2019 Prayer Book cannot seem to decide for whom it is written—an ecumenical process (which will not be using it), or Anglicans in the pew?
In one important respect the “Anglican Standard Text” breaks away courageously and correctly from the contemporary ecumenical orthodoxy, and this is in the placement of the Invocation or Epiclesis before the institution narrative, instead of after it (as in most contemporary liturgies and also in the Scottish and American Prayer Books up to 1928). In doing so, it restores the integral connection between the invocation and the institution narrative — between the prayer that asks for participation in Christ’s body and blood by means of the elements, and the word of Christ which grants it. In doing so it brings into closer relation the mission of Spirit to the work of Christ (consistent with the witness of St. John 14:26, 15:26, 16:13-15, “He shall glorify me”) than that which appears in most other contemporary liturgies, where the Spirit’s mission is only loosely connected to the redemptive work of Christ. In this regard, the 2019 Prayer Book has restored the Christological center to the eucharistic prayer.
Rather oddly, however, this restoration comes with yet another footnote: “This paragraph does not occur in the Book of Common Prayer 1662, but ecumenical consensus expects its use.” To repeat, whoever heard of footnotes in the liturgy? It is also odd because “ecumenical consensus” is in fact divided on the question of the placement of the invocation, with many following the eastern rites in placing it after the institution narrative, while the Roman Catholics place it before the institution narrative. It is also odd because the 1662 does in fact have an invocation in the same place, just before the institution narrative (though it is not explicitly of Word or Spirit), which is the place where the first Prayer Book of 1549 did have an explicit invocation of the Spirit and Word. Moreover, the text used is a version of the Scottish American Prayer Book’s blending of the 1549 and 1662 texts, such as is found (after the institution narrative) in the 1928 Prayer Book. So the footnote is both fussily explanatory, and yet fails to clarify. Better to have left it out altogether.
The Prayer of Humble Access
There is another welcome correction to be acknowledged, and that is the restoration of the full text of the Prayer of Humble Access, which in recent revisions loses the clauses, “that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood.” This mutilation in other revisions appears to follow a footnote of the celebrated liturgist, Dom Gregory Dix (The Shape of the Liturgy, 1945, pp 611 n1), in which he notes the that the idea of Christ’s body cleansing our bodies, and his blood cleansing our souls, appears in Thomas Aquinas, and dismisses it as a “medieval speculation”. Yet in that passage of the Summa (III. Q. 74. Art 1) Thomas was quoting the commentary of a 4th century exegete (whom Thomas knew as Ambrose but who has been known since Erasmus under the name of Ambrosiaster) on a passage of Leviticus: “As Ambrose says on 1 Cor. xi.20, this sacrament avails for the defence of soul and body; and therefore Christ’s body is offered under the species of bread for the health of the body, and the blood under the species of wine for the health of the soul, according to Leviticus xvii.14: The life of all flesh is in the blood.” The “medieval speculation” is in fact both patristic and scriptural in origin: Cranmer is here a more authentic transmitter of the faith and worship of the early church than his 20th century critics. Yet we must mute congratulation of the 2019 revisers, for in the “Additional Directions” (p. 141), they permit the addition of the weasel-words, “apart from your grace” at the beginning of the sentence, “we are not worthy.” Sam Bray’s criticisms of this addition to the Confession at the daily Office apply equally well here. Can we not confess our sin without clutching some rag of righteousness?
The “Renewed Ancient Text”
The eucharistic prayer of the “Renewed Ancient Text” might better be entitled the “Renewed Modern Text,” since it is a revision of the 1979 Prayer Book’s version of the Hippolytan form prized by 20th century ecumenical liturgists under the influence of Dix, though it is now recognized as only one of many ancient eucharistic prayers, and by no means more significant than the others. There is an attempt to beef up the theological vagueness of this text as found in 1979, saying that Christ was sent into the world “for our salvation” (which simply repeats the formula of the Creed), and that he “offered himself once for all, that by his suffering and death we might be saved,” yet it never says what the offering was for, or from what his death saved us. “By his resurrection he broke the bonds of death,” but we are not told that his death atoned for sin, and delivered us from wrath into favor with God. One may infer this from the prayer, but why is this not more clearly stated?
Strangely, there is no Invocation before the institution narrative—on this point, the “renewed ancient text” sides with contemporary ecumenism; and the post-communion prayer’s condensed version of 1662 omits the acknowledgment of the assurance of God’s “favor and goodness towards us” as the first benefit of the sacrament. Perhaps that also is to be inferred.
The Eucharistic Lectionary
I have written elsewhere in detail about the ACNA’s revision of the three-year ecumenical lectionary that originated in 1970 as the Roman Catholic Ordo Lectionum Missae (adapted as the Common Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary by numerous mainline denominations). Briefly, it is a program for maximizing the amount of Scripture that is read (three lessons plus psalmody for each Sunday and holy day over a three-year period) at the cost of doctrinal coherence of each Sunday and holy day and the integrity of the Church’s year. Apart from a few of the principal holy days (Christmas, Epiphany, the Easter vigil, Low Sunday, and, in part, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Ascension Day, Pentecost), the ancient eucharistic lectionary of the western church, which was retained in the 1662 Prayer Book, has been scrapped. The elimination of this subtle and coherent presentation of the gospel is a grievous loss; and what replaces it is defective in many regards, even or especially in its boasted merits—that of exposing congregations to more Scripture by the provision of continuous or semi-continuous reading of books of Scripture.
First we may note the damage this does to the doctrinal coherence of each Sunday or feast day, not to mention the Church’s year. While readings for Advent to Epiphany and Lent to Pentecost are chosen on broadly thematic grounds (with varying degrees of success), for the other half (or more) of the year (Sundays between Epiphany and Lent, Sundays after Trinity) the Epistles are chosen without reference to either the Gospel or Old Testament lessons. Preachers may discern, imagine, or build some line of connection between them (as they often do), but in principle a unified preaching on the lessons—that is, the liturgical preaching that is so important to the Anglican tradition of preaching—has been discouraged. Moreover, to make room for more semi-continuous reading, the ancient Sundays before Lent have been abolished in favor of an extended season after Epiphany—which makes for an extremely abrupt shift from joyful Epiphany to a penitential Lent without any time to change gears.15The Eastern Orthodox liturgical theologian Alexander Schmemann comments, on similar pre-Lenten Sundays in the orthodox church calendar: “Long before the actual beginning of Lent, the Church announces its approach and invites us to enter into the period of pre-Lenten preparation. It is a characteristic feature … that every major feast of season – Easter, Christmas, Lent, etc. – is announced and ‘prepared’ in advance. Why? Because of the deep psychological insight by the Church into human nature. … [T]he Church knows our inability to change rapidly, to go abruptly from one spiritual or mental state to another. Thus, long before the actual effort of Lent is to begin, the Church calls our attention to it seriousness and invites us to meditation on its significance. Before we can practice Lent we are given its meaning” [emphasis original]. (Great Lent: Journey to Pascha, 1974, p. 17) While there is semi-continuous reading of the synoptic gospels (one in each of the three years), the reading of John is distributed over all three years, without much continuity. A similar fate overtakes Acts, which supplies readings for Eastertide over three years. In addition, since the Old Testament lessons are chosen to accord with the Gospel lessons (too often on weakly typological grounds), there is no opportunity for continuous reading of the Old Testament. The competing demands of thematic and continuous reading war against each other.
As to the Epistles, the results are mixed. To give an example, there is much reading from the Epistle to the Romans in Year A; but only chapters 5-8 and 12 are well represented in semi-continuous or continuous reading. Other parts of Romans are assigned to other seasons or particular holy days for thematic reasons, which contributes to the fragmentation. The dislocations and omissions of Romans 1-4 mean that Paul’s argument for justification by faith is represented by isolated fragments; and a similar fragmentation affects his line of thought in 9-11, 13-16. It is a strange way to treat a book whose opening chapters are so important to the evangelical teaching, not to mention the teaching of the Thirty-Nine Articles!
What these examples illustrate is the structural problem of the three-year lectionary: in attempting to provide exposure to increased quantity of Scripture and also to provide for the Church’s year, it does neither well. Cranmer’s elegantly simple solution avoided this trap by providing for continuous reading at the Office and retaining the doctrinally thematic selection of lessons at the Eucharist. It is a great pity that this solution is not at least provided as an option in the ACNA Prayer Book.
The treatment of Holy Baptism is perhaps the most vexed of all the rites in this book. A feature of the 1979 Prayer Book much prized by progressives and much criticized by conservatives was its extended “Baptismal Covenant,” especially its final promise, frequently cited as grounds for socially progressive innovations: to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” Yet rather than returning to the 1662 rite, or providing it as an option (as it does for the Eucharist), the 2019 revisers chose to retain the 1979 rite in a modified form, and to incorporate into it some isolated elements of 1662. Here again, there is a preference for the forms of the late 20th century Episcopal Church over a return to the forms of classical Anglicanism.
As in 1979, the rite is to be administered in the context of the Eucharist, and the bishop is to be celebrant, if present. Together with the concluding welcome of the baptized and exchange of the peace, these are familiar elements of late 20th century rites designed to foster or express communal solidarity. As in those rites, there is no provision for Confession and Absolution, a significant lacuna, as noted above. As in 1979, the rite of Baptism begins after the ministry of the Word, with the presentation of the candidates, and a barrage of questions and answers for the candidates and their sponsors eliciting commitments by both, leading up to the “Baptismal Covenant” (in 1979 extended to a whole series of commitments but in 2019 pruned back to its historic core in the Apostles’ Creed). The accent on (even anxiety about) the formation of personal faith is evident, but here one misses the care taken by 1662 to establish the promises of God in Baptism, before moving on to the promises of the faithful. Perhaps in some acknowledgment of this lacuna, an exhortation is inserted before the presentation of the candidates in 2019, a call to prayer for the candidates loosely based on that of 1662, which establishes the need for Baptism in the reality of human sin and in the command of Christ. As a composition, however, this exhortation is not without a certain “cut and paste” clumsiness. It is a call to prayer, but no prayer follows, until after the presentation, promises, and profession of faith. The 1662 begins with an allusion to Psalm 51:5, “all men are conceived and born in sin,” a passage whose use has been criticized on exegetical and pastoral grounds. The 2019 form substitutes language from Ephesians 2:1 and 5, “dead in our sins and trespasses,” a sensible choice, especially since it ties directly to the Romans 6 idea of Baptism as union with Christ in his death and resurrection, a theme cited in the opening rubric on p.160. Moreover, in Ephesians 2:1 and 5, being dead in sin is juxtaposed with our being made alive by God; yet instead of following in this direction and completing the move from death to life, the text jumps to Ephesians 2:8, “by grace are ye saved through faith.”
Theologically as well as rhetorically this is clumsy. Union with Christ’s death and resurrection in Baptism is getting elbowed out of the spotlight by an accent on personal faith, and that raises questions about the understanding of both that is shaping this rite. Are we seeing an understanding of Baptism as a testimony of personal faith rather than a means of grace? That is a non-sacramental view that is characteristic of late modern evangelicals (Baptists), but not of classical Anglicans. To set Justification by faith alone against Baptism as an effectual sign of grace, and to deny the latter for the sake of the former, is not the position of classical Anglicanism (Articles XXV, XXVII), or of other churches of the Magisterial Reformation.
If non-sacramental evangelicalism leaves marks on this exhortation, so also and more openly does contemporary charismatic and evangelical piety: “here we ask our heavenly Father that these candidates, being baptized with water, may be filled with the Holy Spirit, born again, and received into the Church as members of Christ’s body” (emphasis added). Classical Anglicans ask for this with more confidence: “Receive him, O Lord, as thou hast promised by thy well-beloved Son, saying, Ask, and ye shall have; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: So give now unto us that ask; let us that seek find; open the gate unto us that knock; that this Infant may enjoy the everlasting benediction of thy heavenly washing, and may come to the eternal kingdom which thou hast promised by Christ our Lord” — a 1662 and 1928 prayer omitted in 2019. That confidence is why we can acknowledge after Baptism that “this Child is regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church…” (emphasis added). Not only does the 2019 Prayer Book hesitate here, but it also shies away from even the use of the word regenerate— it appears one time in the Baptism service (p. 168), and a rubric allows it be replaced with “born again” (p. 172). In contemporary charismatic piety, being “born again” is a conversion experience; and in much evangelical piety, “regeneration” is also equated with conversion; and on that basis, Baptism in water must be separated (as it is here) from Regeneration; but this is not what “Classical Anglicanism” meant by Baptismal Regeneration, as an effectual (real) admission into the covenant of grace (as set forth in the Prayer Book Catechism). By detaching Regeneration from Baptism, the 2019 Prayer Book moves away from classical Anglican approaches to these matters, and the teaching of the Articles on the Sacraments16Article XXV, on the Sacraments, says that they are “sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him”. Article XXV, on the Sacraments, says that they are “sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s goodwill towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.” It is hard to see how an ineffectual water-ceremony of this kind could possibly “strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.”17One may cite the story often told, that when Luther was tempted by the devil, enduring dark nights of the soul, and overwhelmed by a sense of his own sins, he would look at the words written in chalk on his desk, “baptizatus sum” (Latin for “I am baptized”), and take heart in the gracious promises of Christ confirmed in Baptism (cf. WAT 6.no.6830; 217, 26f). He was not taking comfort in a washing ceremony! Stephen Sykes notes the pervasive influence of the promissory element of Luther’s sacramental theology on Cranmer’s rite of Baptism (‘Baptisme Doth Represent Unto Us Oure Profession’, in Unashamed Anglicanism, 1995, p. 13).
The opening rubrics draws on the 1662 Catechism and Romans 6:1-11 for a statement that “the inward and spiritual grace [of Baptism] is death to sin and new birth to righteousness, through union with Christ in his death and resurrection.” This idea is prominent in the 1662 rite, and in line with the teaching of Romans 6 it draws out the moral and physical implications of the sacramental union with Christ in his death and resurrection for us, as a continual dying to sin and rising again to righteousness that is completed in the death and resurrection of the body. Baptism thus stands not just as an isolated event at the beginning of the Christian life, but the (profoundly Christocentric) “shape” of the entire Christian life. While the 2019 rite (like its 1979 predecessor) speaks of the sacramental union with Christ in death and resurrection (in the Thanksgiving over the Water, p.168), it does not draw out its moral and physical consequences for the baptized. The prayers for the formation and growth of faith and virtue, of perseverance to final reward, are articulated without reference to this dying and rising with Christ in Baptism. The effect is to sideline the place of Baptism in the Christian life in a way that conforms more to non-sacramental evangelicalism or charismatic piety than with classical Anglicanism.
Two other elements of 1662 appear in revised forms. One is a (somewhat reduced and reworded) version of the 1662 “Flood prayer” (ultimately of Lutheran origin) placed after the prayers for the candidates, that exploits the Flood story as a type of washing by the Spirit, incorporation into “the Ark of Christ’s Church,” and hope for passage “through the turbulent floods of this troublesome world … into the land of everlasting life.” (In 1662 we pray to pass “the waves of this troublesome world,” which is both elegantly varied and euphonious. “Turbulent floods” is obvious and overstated. “Don’t mess with success.”) The indefensible elimination of this noble composition in the 1928 Prayer Book is here reversed, and it is put to appropriate use, in drawing out the implications of baptism for Christian life and hope.
The other is a version of the 1662 Consignation after Baptism: “as a token of your new life in Christ, in which you shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, to fight bravely under his banner against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and to continue as his faithful soldier and servant to the end of your days.” Though there is an alternative formula, much briefer and of different tenor, this is a welcome acknowledgment of the spiritual warfare the New Testament indicates the baptized should expect (cf. Matthew 3:13-4:11; Ephesians 6:10 ff).
Finally, the “Thanksgiving over water” follows the 1979 Prayer Book text very closely, beginning with its lame opening sentence, “we thank you… for the gift of water.” As in 1979, in the first paragraph there is a quick survey of salvation history — the Spirit’s moving over the waters in creation, the deliverance of Israel through the waters of the Red Sea, and the messianic anointing of Jesus at his baptism in Jordan. In 1979 the purpose of his Baptism and anointing as Messiah is made explicit in a statement that neatly echoes the typology of the Exodus: “to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.” In 2019 this articulation of the mission and redemptive work of Christ is omitted, and we move from Christ’s Baptism to our own, without attending to the Baptism of his death to which the former points and which the latter recalls. How strange to find the Christological center present in 1979 eliminated from its ostensibly more “orthodox” 2019 revision! The second paragraph moves to thanksgiving for the water of Baptism, in a text identical to that of 1979, which unexceptionably articulates Baptism as union with Christ in death and resurrection, regeneration by the Spirit, obedience to the great Commission, and entrance into fellowship with the faithful.
In line with 1979, the third paragraph moves from thanksgiving to prayer for the sanctification of the baptismal water, but there are two subtle changes. The text of 1979 asks “that all who here are cleansed from sin and born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus.” In 1979 the verb “may” qualifies “continue” but in 2019 it is moved to the beginning of the sentence where it now qualifies “cleansed” and “born again”:“ May all who are baptized here be cleansed from sin, be born again, and continue for ever faithful in the risen life of Jesus.” Here again one notes the hesitancy about the sacramental efficacy of baptism, and the replacement of the language of regeneration with that of being born again. In addition, “may continue forever in the risen life” becomes “may continue forever faithful in the risen life,” a qualification in line with classical Anglicanism, and echoing the earlier emphasis on the formation of personal faith. (Compare 1662: “may … remain in the number of thy faithful and elect children.”)
Confirmation and Catechesis
The relegation of Confirmation to the Pastoral Offices of the 1979 Prayer Book reflected pressure from the Standing Liturgical Commission to eliminate the rite altogether. It survived only because of resistance in the House of Bishops, who insisted that they would not approve the new Prayer Book without it. Its placement after Baptism in the 2019 book is a step in its return from exile, as is also the restoration of the traditional prayer for the sevenfold gift of the Spirit, a critical element in the liturgical tradition of Confirmation as a rite of Christian maturity. Yet a clarity on the meaning of Confirmation is lacking, since it may be administered together with other episcopal rites involving the laying on of hands with prayer: the reception into fellowship of Christians from other denominations, and the (optional) reaffirmation of their faith by Christians who have already been confirmed. Notably a rubric (p 193) states that those who have received “with the laying on of hands according to this liturgy are considered to have been Confirmed in this Church.” The result of lumping together these rites on the basis of a shared ceremony (the laying of hands with prayer) gives the impression that Confirmation is really about “joining the church,” in which one’s ecclesial status or faith commitment is publicly recognized.
Missing from the rubrics is any indication (such as that found in 1662’s final rubrics) that Confirmation is the normal condition for admission to Communion, an omission doubtless reflecting the spread of paedo-communion, and the failure to grasp the subtle but coherent logic of the development of spiritual life set forth in the pattern of initiation found in classical Anglicanism.18A recent exploration of this developed pattern of initiation is found in Drew Nathaniel Keane’s “A Reconsideration of the Continued Practice of Confirmation in the Episcopal Church”, Anglican Theological Review 100, no. 2 (March 2018) pp 245-266. https://doi.org/10.1177/000332861810000202.
The Preface to Confirmation articulates a rationale for it, as the personal public profession of faith required in Scripture of adult believers; and as a means of strengthening the baptized for Christian life and service—a theme that appears in the Bishop’s prayer for the gifts of the Spirit and in all but one of the formulas that accompany the laying on of hands. The older rationale, that the strengthening with the gifts of the Spirit is for the sake of the Christian’s spiritual warfare, articulated by Faustus of Riez in the 6th century, and by Thomas Cranmer in the Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552, is faintly perceptible in the 1662 formula presented as an option in 2019 for the laying on of hands: “Defend, O Lord, this your servant with your heavenly grace” — from the assaults of the devil, the world, and the flesh, “that he may continue yours for ever” — not falling away from God in sin, “and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more” — in a growth to maturity in Christ — “until he comes into the fullness of your everlasting kingdom.” One can hardly quarrel with the accent on service and ministry that takes its place in 2019. It is surely an aspect of the growth to spiritual maturity of which Confirmation is the sign; yet the disappearance of the theme of spiritual warfare is perhaps more a function of our cultural optimism than of attentiveness to Scripture.
The opening address of the Bishop is notably emphatic and detailed on the subject of catechesis. Not only is a public confession of Christ as Lord and Savior required of those seeking Confirmation or Reception. They also must “become his disciples; know and affirm the Nicene Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments; and have received instruction in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and the [ACNA] Catechism of the Church.”19The classical Anglican practice was to require the knowledge and affirmation of the Apostles’ Creed, the baptismal symbol. The substitution of the Nicene Creed is probably the influence of the catholic ecumenism that shaped the 1979 BCP. In an age of theological and biblical illiteracy, this is an unmistakable mandate for extensive catechesis, as an indispensable element of disciple-making. In this heightened insistence on the formation of personal faith, which also appears in the charge in the service of Baptism to the sponsors of infants and younger children, there are questions to be asked about the relation of covenantal solidarity, baptismal regeneration, and individual faith, which lie beyond the scope of this overview. One does not have to disparage the necessity of catechesis, and the formation of personal faith, to question whether this service has grasped the full implications of baptism as a means of grace, for the incorporation of the baptized into the church, or whether its logic leaves the door open to a non-sacramental rite of believer’s baptism.
As an alternative to the 1979 Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church, there is much to commend the 2019 Prayer Book. Principally in the permission (though not the provision) for a partial recovery of the 1662 Order of Holy Communion, a non-inclusive and moderate translation of the Psalter, and in the partial restoration of Confirmation, it marks a welcome move towards rethinking the liturgical projects of late 20th century Episcopalianism, and to bringing them into deeper and more consistent alignment with the standards of historic Anglican faith and worship. Yet the lingering attachment to the liberal catholic ecumenical liturgies of late 20th century Episcopalianism, and the apparent adoption of non-sacramental understanding of baptism, indicate there is much that still needs to be done. Fundamentally, the response to theological liberalism cannot be found in revivals evangelical, catholic, or charismatic, but in a ressourcement, a return to the wellsprings of classical Anglican divinity of the 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries, a ressourcement that far from being a narrow denominationalism, will take its place within the larger recovery of the whole Christian tradition. What one is struck by all too often is the simple ignorance of classical Anglican divinity and liturgy, driven too often by the assumption that Anglicanism has no coherent substance of its own. To which we must say, Tolle lege, tolle lege, take up and read.
The work of theological ressourcement takes time, and in the meantime, how are Anglicans in North America to worship? Fortunately, Anglicans have a much better option available than either the 1979 or the 2019: and that is the newly published International Edition of the 1662 Prayer Book, in which the substance of that classical liturgy has been made usable in the USA and other countries with revisions to the state prayers, and has been enhanced with excellent supplementary resources.