I have great respect for Fr. Dunbar’s erudition and his continuing defense of the 1662 Common Prayer tradition. I actually agree with several of his criticisms, and all of his observations merit a thoughtful response. We must say of the ACNA Prayer Book [BCP 2019], as the curate said of his egg: “parts of it are excellent.” Unlike a rotten egg, however, it is wholesome in all its parts even though some parts of it may not be to Fr. Dunbar’s taste. The ‘yolk’ of the BCP 2019 is like the yolk of an egg that contains its essential nutrition: the BCP2019 contains the essential content of the Prayer Book tradition at its core. Fr. Gordon Maitland, Chairman of the Prayer Book Society of Canada, clearly understood the rationale for the ACNA book when he stated that the significance of the BCP 2019 is in its attempt to go beyond the misplaced assumptions of the Liturgical Movement and return to authentic Anglican formulas for public prayer. He states: “Now, for the first time since the 1960s, we have a Prayer Book that takes a new and faithful approach to liturgical reform… [I]t is a Prayer Book which is unapologetically Anglican while at the same time using the best of contemporary liturgical scholarship and ecumenical consensus.”
From the start, let me emphasize that the BCP 2019 was not intended as to be a translation of the 1662 or 1928 Prayer Books from Elizabethan to contemporary English. We were being attentive to Our Lord’s words in the Gospel of Matthew 13:52 when He said, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Many current Anglican Prayer Books did the opposite: they threw out treasures that were old and replaced them with what was considered new and socially relevant. The ACNA Prayer Book has attempted to restore what was lost and eschew what is ephemeral. But there has also been a recovery of much that was a part of the pre-Reformation liturgical treasures of the undivided Church that were overlooked in Anglicanism, such as the rites for Holy Week, the use of palms and ashes, and the use of oil for chrism and unction. These ancient treasures have much to assist the Church of today as it confronts a world that has forgotten about the hope of heaven and the providence of God. I grew up with the American BCP 1928, and my own prayer life is infused with the phrases and images that I have “inwardly digested” over many years. But I also am aware of many people who have been drawn to Anglicanism who did not experience any of the piety and practice that belonged to the BCP 1662 or 1928 tradition, and as a result find it hard to assimilate. In what follows I will attempt to engage four topics by which I wish to address the nature and purpose of the BCP 2019 and comment on Fr Dunbar’s observations and criticisms:
- Explain the context in which this prayer book was written, and the audience to which it is addressed;
2. Present the reasons that modern but “weighty words” were chosen for the texts (especially the Psalter);
3. Respond to Fr Dunbar’s criticisms (though I personally concur with him on several issues he has articulated), explain the reasons for some changes, and suggest that the BCP 2019 is a work in progress;
4. And defend the understanding that the BCP 2019 does accomplish our objectives in maintaining Anglican orthodoxy and piety
1. The Context of the BCP 2019
Young people who grew up in the 1970’s and onwards have become increasingly dissatisfied with mainline Christianity, which they said had provided them with little sense of the transcendent in either theology or worship. Young evangelicals yearned for more content and decried the emotional manipulation of worship into ‘entertainment evangelism.’ Robert Webber, a professor at Wheaton College Illinois, had discovered the Episcopal Church in the 1970’s and began the Ancient/Future Movement with a book published in 1987 called Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail that introduced his readers to mystery, tradition, and liturgical worship. An explosion of innovative new churches gradually found their way to Anglicanism, but not to the liberal agenda of North American Episcopalians. These congregations were eager to return to beliefs and practices which the American and Canadian Anglicans had thrown out as irrelevant.
Beyond those young persons who had left their evangelical backgrounds to travel on the Canterbury trail was the growing number of people who had grown up without any connection to organized religion (often called “nons”). The increasing divisiveness in our society and the loss of any objective truth in academia and the media made them question their own existence. They wondered, Who am I? Do I have any lasting worth? What values will give me stability or direction in the midst of ‘fake news’ and an uncertain future?They sought community, transcendence, and mystery. Such seekers might visit a mega-church and find community, but they had to continue their search elsewhere to find transcendence and mystery. They developed from seekers into pilgrims along the Canterbury trail.
A Diversity of Voices
These various groups—disaffected Episcopalians in the USA and Anglicans in Canada, mission-centered groups that had formed under African bishops, and Ancient/Future congregations—gathered under the umbrella of the Anglican Church in North America in 2006. Robert Duncan became the first Archbishop, and he and those bishops who joined with him realized that the diverse bodies which became the ACNA needed to establish a common discipline and embrace a common liturgical life. A Taskforce on Liturgy was established with a mission to create a Book of Common Prayer that would be a unifying force in the denomination. Twelve individuals were selected from the various groups that had formed the ACNA, who would represent the various theological and liturgical concerns of all members of the Church. At its first meeting, the members of the Taskforce soon recognized that there were several contrasting views of what Anglicanism was. Those relatively new to Anglicanism wanted liturgical texts in modern English with straightforward and simple rubrics. Traditional Anglicans wanted to return to the 1662 tradition, be it of “High Church” or “Low Church” patterns of worship. The Taskforce discovered that the Canadian BCP 1963 differed on several points from the American BCP 1928. How would these differences be reconciled? Archbishop Duncan saw that four services were urgently needed: Daily Prayer, Baptism, Eucharist, and Ordination. The ten-year process of research, ressourcement and reconciliation began.
2. The Need for “Weighty Words”
Discontent With The American 1979 Prayer Book
The compilers of the Episcopal BCP 1979 did not consider their work to be a supplement or alternate addition to the Episcopal 1928 BCP; indeed, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church imposed the new book as are placement to the 1928. (It was not until the 1990s in response to traditionalist pro-tests that the General Convention decided to permit the use of the former BCP.) The Standing Liturgical Commission assumed that only elderly parishioners would want the traditional book, and provided—as a temporary measure—a Eucharistic service, Morning and Evening Prayer, and a Burial rite in traditional language in the Rite I section of the new book. For the Psalter there was provided an entirely new translation, without any reference to the beauty of the Coverdale Psalter. In addition to this, inclusive language was imposed on the text so that the traditional Christological references, such as Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man…”descended to a secularized “Happy are they…” Questions arose about the use of “Father and Son” in invocations and in response myriad alternatives were proposed. In light of these changes which were intended to be permanent, it comes as no surprise that many traditional Anglicans were discontent with the state of liturgy and worship in the late 20th century.
A Conservative Return To Basic Texts
It is worth considering just how old the Coverdale Psalter is, and for how long Anglicans used it even in North America without any change. The Coverdale Psalter predated Cranmer’s first Prayer Book of 1549 and was already known to many of the laity in Cranmer’s own time, even those who could not read. Cranmer wanted the laity’s full participation and included the known text as the standard for his Prayer Books; even when the Authorized King James Bible was published in 1611 there was no desire to replace Coverdale with a KJV Psalter; and all succeeding editions of the Psalter from the 1662 to the 1928 BCP retained the venerable translation, with only occasional word changes. An attempt to update the Coverdale Psalter was done in 1963, but did not gain wide acceptance. Archbishop Duncan knew the 1963 translation, and thought that it could be a model for a new Psalter that kept as many of the cadences and language of the Coverdale origin alas possible. Three Hebrew scholars even set about comparing the Coverdale with the Hebrew texts, and produced a text intended to be sung with the music composed for the original Coverdale version.
With this in mind, we turn to the decisions made by the Task Force on Liturgy concerning the Psalter. It must be said that the majesty of the language found in the original Coverdale Psalter and the Authorized Bible is far above that of 21st century English. However, as J.I. Packer said to the Task Force on Liturgy, “We need weighty words that convey the weightiness of the Bible as God’s Word breathed.” By this he meant the new prayer book would have to convey to contemporary people God’s truth—not simply the greatness of prose. And so, some other Psalter would have to be selected. The ACNA College of Bishops determined that the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible was equally at fault in its excessive use of inclusive language. Again, the weightiness of the words as God’s Word was not conveyed in the NRSV, but rather the norms of a time and place. Instead the English Standard Version was chosen as the best translation available, and all quotations from Scripture found in the text of the new prayer book would be in that translation. Four words became the measure by the Task Force determined the language of the new prayerbook: Continuity, Memorability, Poetry, and Clarity.
3. A Response to Fr Dunbar’s Observations and Criticisms of the ACNA BCP 2019
Father Dunbar is correct is his comment that the BCP 2019 “in its overall character, seems pulled in a number of ways.” This is no surprise, as there are three or more streams of churchmanship evident in the BCP 2019. This has in fact been the cause of much internal disputes within the ACNA. Some clergy have claimed that it is too catholic in having a Calendar of Saints, an extended Ordinal, and an epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit) in the Eucharist. Other clergy have complained that it is too Protestant or Evangelical, because it mentions only two sacraments. Unlike most Protestants, who originally saw no reason to have rituals for marrying, birthing, caring for the sick or dying, many figures within the Anglican tradition saw these as important aspects of the ministry of the Church; thus, it would seem very un-Anglican to many not to emphasize these rites. Finally, some people involved in the
Charismatic Movement complained that the BCP 2019 is too rigid and formal, ignoring the fact that every act of worship has an order, whether recognized or not. The Taskforce created sub-committees to work on the various questions that were raised, and considered all criticisms and suggestions—some helpful and some not so much. The College of Bishops had final authority, and some changes required by the bishops disappointed some members of the Taskforce. For example, at one point there were three separate Eucharistic ordos, each appealing to a different audience, while the goal had been to have only one, as in the 1662/1928 tradition. Compromises had to be developed. With this reality of mixed church polity and divided perspectives in mind, I now turn to some of the aspects of the prayerbook which Fr. Dunbar criticized. I will attempt to argue (briefly) why in each case there is some yolk, something essentially Anglican.
The development of the liturgy for Holy Communion provides an example of how the Taskforce reached compromise. The American 1928 BCP Prayer of Thanksgiving followed the Scottish Anglican liturgy that included an epiclesis and closely followed the BCP 1549 ordo. This was preserved in the BCP 1979. The Canadian 1963 Canon for the Eucharist however has no epiclesis being in line with the 1552 and 1662 Prayer Books. This was an important point of contention in Anglican history, as the more reformed party of the church favored the elimination of the epiclesis in the 1552, as it signaled a total departure from Roman practice: on the classical reformed view, there is no added grace to the elements themselves, and so there is no need for an epiclesis.
In light of the differences between the prayer book to which the Americans were accustomed (being closer to the 1549, and thus more catholic) and that to which the Canadians were accustomed (being identical with the 1552 and 1662, and thus more reformed), there was a considerable difference of opinion concerning how the Canon of the Eucharist should be written. Naturally, the more evangelical clergy wanted to include the 1552 ordo (the edition the epiclesis was first eliminated) alongside the now Standard American Anglican ordo. The Taskforce’s compromise was to follow the 1549 ordo but allow for variations to accommodate the 1662 ordo.
But the inclusion or exclusion of the epiclesis was not the only point of contention. There was also a difference concerning the order of essential elements of the service. Most 20th century Prayer Books broke from the 1552 and 1662 Prayer Books in the placement of the Gloria. The 1662 tradition used theGloria in Excelsis as a post-Communion thanksgiving, but most recent Prayer Books have placed it in the ancient position just after the Kyrie eleison. To accommodate those who desired to follow the 1662 BCP the Task Force provided the 1662 sequence, and certain parts of the text are allowed to be omitted.
Apart from these two particular details, we can step back and consider the Eucharistic Canon as a whole. Fr. Dunbar correctly notes that much attention and debate are in the background. Fr Dunbar seems to express some surprise that the final form does not follow the ‘classical’ 1662, but rather turns out to be the 1928 re-ordered according to 1979. There is actually a simple explanation for this. Many ACNA bishops who had formerly been in the Episcopal Church were ordained after the BCP 1979 was in use and knew little of the 1662/1928 tradition. They had become accustomed to a Rite II or dousing either Prayer A or B and mixing other variables into that format. (Hence the order of the 1979 appears in the BCP 2019.) Some clergy considered the traditional Prayer of Thanksgiving too long and wanted a shorter Prayer. The Renewed Ancient Text (yes, a misnomer) was the response. It is based on the Hippolytan Canon favored by Dom Gregory Dix, which the Liturgical Movement of the mid 20th century had claimed to be third-century in origin, although later scholars found it to be neither as unique nor as ancient as Dix had presumed. This text did contain the essential elements of the Eucharist that Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and even many Protestants had found in agreement. Thus, the order used by the 1979 does have the merit of being ecumenical. In fact, the 1983 “Faith and Order Commission” of the World Council of Churches produced a report entitled Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry becoming a milestone in ecumenical consent. The BCP 2019 text is a combination of the text provided in the WCC BEM document and Biblical phrases which actually come from the BCP 1549 Eucharist and the Liturgy of St James. So, in point of fact, there are Anglican principles (admittedly alongside ecumenical ones) governing the compromise of the 2019.
Regarding the Peace, I agree with Fr. Dunbar that the Peace, whether it is directly after the Confession and Absolution or at the Fraction, is a disturbance to the flow of the service. It has become a horizontal block to the vertical movement of the eucharist. But the College of Bishops nonetheless wished to retain it. Regarding the Filioque, the Task Force members agreed that it should be removed from the Nicene Creed to be in accord with the requests of our Orthodox conreres. The Taskforce brought its perspective to the College of Bishops, but was overruled. It is indeed rather awkward to place the Filioque in the text with brackets. Parishioners are certainly left wondering, do we say it or not? As for the use of the first person plural in the creeds, since the original text of the Nicene Creed was in the plural (“we believe” rather than “I believe”) the Taskforce brought the plural translation to the College of Bishops and they agreed.
The American BCP 1979 and Canadian 1985 Book of Alternative Services baptismal liturgies were perhaps the most radical departure from the 1662/1928 Anglican tradition. The controversial baptismal covenant text found in both books, coupled with the original intention of the Standing Liturgical Commission to eliminate Confirmation from the BCP 1979, was much criticized on both sides of the Atlantic. This baptismal ordo ignores the previous Anglican baptismal forms and introduces a supposedly ancient alternative. The Church of England has had its own troubles with some evangelical and reformed clergy who object to baptismal regeneration and who wish to replace infant baptism with a ‘dedication’ rite. With this background of controversies in mind, the Baptismal service in the 2019 BCP makes it clear that the College of Bishops was affirming the baptism of infants and the doctrine of regeneration. However, there were difficulties in deciding upon the placement of Baptism in relation to the Eucharist. The 1662 and 1928 Prayer Books assumed that Baptism was a self-standing service with its own lessons and ordo, often done for a family independent of a regular public liturgy. The newer rites, however, across denominations, insist that Baptism should be within a public service, preferably on a Sunday or major feast day. Opting for the more recent (and ecumenical) practice, the ACNA College of Bishops wanted Baptism to be before the whole congregation, and so the 1662/1928 ordo had to be revised. In the BCP 2019 book the Baptismal order is before the Service of the Word. Even though it follows more recent liturgical norms, it must be recognized that the service does not depart from Anglican tradition. For instance, the Exhortation and Examination closely follow the 1662 text. Fr Dunbar saw additions to these texts as “non-sacramental evangelicalism” in the Exhortation and “charismatic pietism” in the Prayer following the Signing; I do not agree with him. The 2019 book has these words: “make them members of your holy Church, and raise them up to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit.” Compare this with the American BCP 1928 rite (p.280), which says: “regenerate this child with the Holy Spirit, to receive him as thine own child, and to incorporate him into thy holy Church.” Do these phrases really differ in content? The BCP 2019 also restores the Flood Prayer to the beginning of the rite, which was composed by Cranmer and was continued in the 1662 BCP, but for some reason was eliminated in the American BCP 1928. Thus the service for Baptism isAnglican at its very core, even if it has been tailored to be part of a Sunday Eucharistic service.
Fr Dunbar seems favorably disposed to the Confirmation rite in the BCP 2019, especially to the restoration of the BCP 1662 prayers for the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit. But he is disappointed with no mention within the text or in the rubrics to restore Confirmation as the “normal condition for admission to Holy communion.” The College of Bishops did not address this issue, perhaps because within the Episcopal Church at that time there were heated debates about offering Baptism and Communion to anyone, whether they were professing Christians or not. In spite of this omission from the Confirmation service itself, the ACNA Bishops do in fact affirm that Baptism is the threshold across which one must go to be a member of Christ’s Body, and only members of Christ’s Body may presume to take the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
Fr Dunbar makes a good point when he suggests that the ‘gessimas’ were an effective means of preparation for the season of Lent. He is also correct in suggesting that without the ‘gessimas’ the season of Epiphany is very long. However, in spite of these changes, the 2019 Calendar remains faithful to the traditional Calendar—especially when compared to an important alternative Calendar from recent years. The Church of England published a new series of Prayer Books in 2000 called Common Worship in which there is a revised Calendar. It departs with the numbering of the Sundays after Trinity Sunday, and replaces it with Ordinary Time, as do Roman Catholics. The Incarnation Season retains the four Sundays of Advent, and the Christmas season extends beyond Epiphany until February 2nd (Candlemas or the Presentation of Christ in the Temple), which increases the season of the Incarnation to 40 days. Following the Church of Rome, it specified that the Sundays between Candlemas and Ash Wednesday be considered Ordinary Time, which would then resume after Trinity Sunday and continue until Advent. This arrangement simplifies the sequencing of the Sunday periscopes, but breaks with the Prayer Book tradition. Some members of the Taskforce proposed that we accept the Common Worship solution, but the proposal was rejected. The College of Bishops decided instead to copy the arrangement of pericopes as in the 1979 BCP. But those parishes who wished to retain the ‘gessimas’ have permission to do so. The traditional feasts of the Anglican Calendar were also retained in the BCP 2019. So in light of recent revisions to the Calendar, the 2019 is conservative.
The 2019 strikes a welcome compromise in the matter of “commemoration” or saints’ days. For context, the American 1928 BCP had very few days of commemoration days, and from 20 such days in 1928 the number rose to 150 in Lesser Feasts and Fasts 1996. The pendulum has swung even further in the last decade. In the Episcopal Church’s 2010 Holy Women/Holy Men, the number of ‘saints’ runs beyond the number of all the days of the year! Of those persons mentioned in HW/HM one gets the impression that the achievements of worldly deeds seem to outweigh any traditional understanding of sanctity. In response to this excess, a subcommittee of the ACNA Taskforce found clear criteria for holiness in the 1958 Lambeth Conference Report which had been prepared for this very purpose. With this as our guide we sought to represent individuals from every Continent and every historical period in the life of the Church. Lists of candidates were made, their backgrounds were researched, and their merits debated. A supportive bishop suggested that we should create a format with three separate columns: Red Letter Days, notable Anglicans, and representatives of the Universal Church. The Red Letter days would be observed by almost everyone, but the other two columns could be valued according to the circumstances of the local congregations.
Lectionaries For The Eucharist And The Daily Office
Cranmer envisioned that every college or school chapel and every parish church would offer Morning and Evening Prayer every day of the year. In the Church of England this performance of both offices is still the requirement for all who have been ordained; but not so in North America. Cranmer’s ideal was that the entire Bible be read (the Old Testament once, the New Testament twice) within each year. Many of the laity in the sixteenth century could not read for themselves, and Cranmer saw the parish priest as the one who would teach them the Bible, book by book, so that they could “inwardly digest” it. The Daily Office Lectionary therefore did not follow the seasons of the Church Year, while in contrast, the Eucharistic Lectionary would closely follow the events of Christ’s life and the changing of the seasons. For the Daily Office there would be four readings each day, two from the Old Testament, and one Gospel and one Epistle reading.
For the Eucharist Cranmer continued the use of the readings that had been established and refined over more than a thousand years in the Western Church. While the Daily Office readings were sequential, the Eucharist readings were topical. This pattern of two readings—Epistle and Gospel at every Eucharist—continued unabated into the mid-20th century and was common to Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Anglicans. Other denominations had no set lectionary and generally did not follow the traditional Church Year. The Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church changed all of that—sometimes for the good, and sometimes not. There was some support among the ACNA bishops for continuing the traditional Eucharistic pericopes, but the College ofBishops concluded that the three-year cycle of the original Common Lectionary was a positive ecumenical achievement. This, coupled with the fact that most of the bishops were already familiar with it, helps explain why the ‘modern’ lectionary was retained.
The Ordinal, Marriage, and Burial
Although Fr Dunbar did not have either the time orcopy space to deal with other aspects of the BCP 2019,I feel it is important to note that the rites of Ordina-tion, Marriage, and Burial in the BCP 2019 have beenclosely modeled on those in the 1662 and 1928 edi-tions of the Prayer Book. In particular, the marriagevows and exhortations follow the American 1928 textclosely. Moreover, the Ordinal of the American BCP1979 was considered inadequate in its avoidance of theawesome obligations required of those to be ordained:a call to ordained ministry is a divine vocation ratherthan a functional position. Thus in the BCP 2019, the“job descriptions” of the BCP 1979 were replaced bythe weighty admonitions of the 1662 Ordinal.
4. The Book of Common Prayer 2019 and The Anglican Tradition
Fr Dunbar was gracious in several of his concluding remarks. He said that as an alternative to the American BCP 1979, the 2019 has several things to commend it. In particular he appreciated the provision for the Eucharistic ordo to follow the 1662 sequence of texts, rather than the ordos printed in the book. Although the revised version of the Coverdale Psalter is not equal to the original, he commends it for its avoidance of bowdlerizing the text by an inclusivist agenda that makes the Psalms human rather than divine texts. He also commends the BCP 2019 as a return to the traditional Anglican theology of Baptism and Confirmation.
Fr Dunbar is correct is identifying certain aspects of the BCP 2019 which do diverge from the 1662 texts: certain rites, such as the Visitation of the Sick and the Churching of Women in the 1662 Prayer Book imply that illness is brought on by God’s will, and assume that illness will lead to death. Yes, we will all die, but modern medicine has found cures unknown to the 17th Century which can prolong life, and childbirth should be as much about the child as the safety of the mother. Confession to a priest is noted in the 1662 text, but without any directions, so the BCP 2019 supplied a text and rubrics. Thus, as in the above examples, newly composed rites were provided to meet the spiritual needs of our time.
The Prayer Book tradition did not provide texts forthe Triduum, and had no Easter Vigil. While the 1549 BCP acknowledged the use of Holy Oils, Ashes for Ash Wednesday, etc., these were abolished in the 1552 BCP and were never officially returned until alternate services introduced them in the 1970s. Many of these rites were finally made official in the American BCP 1979 and in the Canadian and Church of England books that followed thereafter. Yes, there are “lingering attachments” in the BCP 2019 to products of the Liturgical Movement and the American BCP 1979, but this is so because there was no provision for them in the 1662 and 1928 books. Any living organism must evolve in order to survive in changing times and be thereby enabled to produce progeny. The genius of Anglicanism is that it was not so bound to any one theological straightjacket or sociological context that limited its development. It continued to nurture what was valuable from the past, even as it encountered new intellectual and cultural changes.
All through the ten years of working on the ACNA liturgies, the constant mantra in the Taskforce was that “liturgy should be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.” Many of the liturgical books produced recently by North American denominations, including Anglican ones, were intentionally revolutionary and were seemingly unaware of how captive they were to the extremes of the culture in which they were bound. But the opposite danger the Church faces is to so ardently avoid any changes at all, that it finds itself in rigor mortis.
I am a Prayer Book traditionalist through and through; I am also a pastor and teacher and know that what delights and inspires my own piety can sometimes be impenetrable and off-putting to others. The Prayer Book tradition is not just about archaic language and formal decorum. It is about the Anglican Faith, which is both reformed and catholic, and is in the world but not of the world. Anglicanism will survive the troubles of this current age as long as its worship and piety still point to life in the Kingdom of God.