I do not think of myself as a liturgy expert. I often have questions that crop up, prompting me to seek out answers from a book on my shelf or a contact on Facebook. But I have learned that I’ve spent enough time with the liturgy of the Anglican tradition – the Prayer Books – that I know “more than the average bear” about this stuff, and am in a position to help others learn about it.
It must be admitted that liturgy became a passion of mine during my ordination discernment process. I was somewhat interested beforehand, but as I entered into the ministry it became my most prominent area of study and inquiry. Certainly, having a passion for something can help one to learn a lot about it. But there are tangible ways that you, too, can build up your comfort level with and knowledge of the Anglican Prayer Book tradition.
- Get to know one Prayer Book really well. Before you branch out and examine the history and compare & contrast different books, settle in with one volume and edition. I found that having a strong anchor first enables more fruitful exploration of other Prayer Books later on. In my case it was the 1979 book (traditionalists, please don’t grimace too much!). I dug around its pages, read its rubrics, physically used it at regular Communion services and in the Daily Office both alone and with others. When someone died, I prayed and read the burial rites. When someone was planning a wedding, I studied the marriage rite. I used its psalter and lectionaries. I tried out the different rites and options for the Office; and when I became a priest, I tried out most of the Communion rites too. This familiarity with a particular Prayer Book gave me a place to stand from which to explore other liturgies.
- Physically use a Prayer Book on a regular basis. This is part of point one, but needs to be mentioned separately. If you’re mainly using an online version of the Daily Office like Mission St. Clare or legereme, then there’s a lot you’re missing. You’re not necessarily seeing all the rubrics. The options and choices within the liturgy are being made for you. The Psalms and lessons are provided to you without any page-flipping or book-switching. If you only ever use a printed bulletin at the Communion service, same deal: you may be getting used to some Prayer Book content, but not the Prayer Book itself. A missal (or reusable booklet for multiple worship services) can alleviate this loss a little bit, but not completely. Physically bring the appropriate Prayer Book to church, and follow along in its pages.
- Choose an historic Prayer Book as your “second choice”. Once you’re well-grounded in one book (which for most of my readers will either be the 1979 book or the still-finishing 2019 book), then it’s time to put a second foot in our history. Obviously there are multiple choices, but I would recommend two possibilities: the American 1928 or the English 1662. Between the two, I most recommend the 1662, as it is said to be the “standard” of Anglican liturgy worldwide. All national variants trace their history back to (and through) the 1662. It may not be perfect, but it’s a sure and certain standard.
Follow its Sunday lectionary – read those Collects & lessons before or after church each week. Try out its Daily Office from time to time, perhaps even take a year to use its daily lectionary. Study its Communion service and trace the different shape that results from the prayers in their unique arrangement. Consider (and ask others) what the significance is of the many variances between its order and the American order we’re familiar with today.
- Check out lots of books! With one foot in a contemporary book that you regularly and actively use, and the other foot firmly planted in the historical tradition of Anglican liturgy, you’ll then be ready to wade into the surprisingly-deep river of Anglican liturgical texts out there. Perhaps now the differences between 1549 and 1552 will stand out more than what you “heard about” in a seminary class somewhere. The English proposed book from the 1920’s, their Alternative Service Book from 1980, and Common Worship from 2000 may now provide a more coherent thread of liturgical experimentation and exploration. The African liturgy books will have more context, as will the myriads of proposed Prayer Books by the various American churches before GAFCON called for the creation of the ACNA.
This will also benefit your ministry too.
Sometimes people accuse us “liturgy nerds” of having our heads too buried in books. We spend more time obsessing over the forms of worship than we do caring for the flock, supposedly. But in truth, someone who is truly invested in the liturgy is actually strengthening his ability to minister to others. Just as familiarity with the Bible helps us to bring the Word of God into the lives of others, so too does familiarity with the Prayer Book help us to bring the prayers of the church into the lives of others. A well-seasoned Bible verse can be a real help to a person in spiritual need, and the ability to give them the reference so they look it up again later is a real gift to them! Similarly, the right Collect, Canticle, or Psalm can be a real comfort or inspiration, and the ability to show them where to find it in the Prayer Book for revisiting will also be a valuable gift.
Sure, being a liturgy nerd just for the sake of being a liturgy nerd isn’t going to be of much use to anyone. No passion, when undirected, is of any good, really. But if you want to grow in the Anglican spiritual and pastoral tradition, deepening your understanding of and appreciation for the liturgy is one of the best things you can do.