Welcome to Saturday Book Review time! On most of the Saturdays this year we’re looking at a liturgy-related book noting (as applicable) its accessibility, devotional usefulness, and reference value. Or, how easy it is to read, the prayer life it engenders, and how much it can teach you.
Today’s entry is the 1928 Common Prayer book. This is the standard Prayer Book for Anglican traditionalists in the United States of America. It is the third American prayer book; the first was ratified in 1789, and the second in 1892. I’ve never looked at those books before so I cannot speak about the changes from one to the next. But a note about the American Prayer Book tradition is worth making, before we proceed.
It is sometimes perceived that the American Prayer Books are direct descendants of the English 1662 Prayer Book. This is not entirely true; the American liturgical tradition has two parents: the liturgy of the Church of England and the liturgy of the Scottish Episcopal Church. The reason for this is oddly specific: in the English Ordinal, when a new bishop is consecrated he swears allegiance to the reigning monarch as Supreme Governor of the Church. The newly-independent USA, with its now-independent church province, obviously could not have bishops under oath to the crown, so when it came to obtaining bishops in the proper manner (with the laying on of hands by other bishops), the Americans had to turn to Scotland. In Scotland, the State Church is presbyterian, so the Anglican/Episcopal tradition there was a “free church”. They were able to ordain the first bishop for the USA, and in deference to that role, the subsequent American Prayer Book took on several features of the Scottish liturgy.
All that to say, there are a few differences in the American liturgy that might be hard to explain if you only look at the English 1662 book and its predecessors.
On the whole, however, the 1928 Prayer Book is recognizably the same religion, the same tradition, as previous prayer books. If you compare the table of contents, for example, they’re nearly identical.
As you look through its pages, something different pops up almost immediately: the Daily Office Lectionary in the 1928 book is based on the liturgical year instead of the ordinary calendar year. The majority of the Bible is still covered, though less than in the original books. The books are still read sequentially much of the time, but there’s also a considerable amount of skipping around the Bible at the changing of the seasons. There’s something appropriate, for example, about reading Jeremiah “the weeping prophet” during the season of Lent. Another feature of this lectionary that was probably new to the tradition in 1928 is the fact that for most of the year, the Old Testament lessons for Morning and Evening Prayer are not linked. Originally, reading through a book, you’d read (for example) Genesis 1 in the morning, Genesis 2 in the evening, 3 the next morning, 4 the next evening, as so on. But for most of this daily lectionary, the morning and evening lessons are going through different books. The 2019 Prayer Book’s daily lectionary is adopting that feature too.
Along with a noteworthy Daily Office Lectionary comes a noteworthy Daily Office. When you compare the 1928 with the English books, you find that this book has shortened and diversified somewhat. The “lesser litany” or “preces & responses” following the Lord’s Prayer is abbreviated in the Morning; the Nicene Creed is authorized instead of the Apostles’ Creed, if desired; the Opening Sentences of Scripture now included seasonal options.
But it is the Communion service that perhaps catches the most attention here. If you’re used to the 1662 or 1979 traditions, the 1928 prayer of consecration will strike you as surprisingly long. The priest is up at the altar going through the prayer for the whole state of Christ’s Church, then the great thanksgiving, preface, consecration, and a whole host of other prayers before everyone receives Communion. If you take all the prayers in the 1662 and rearrange them, you’ve got almost the whole 1928 canon; just a couple bits and pieces are added, in comparison. From the perspective of the 1979 book’s Rite II, the format is mostly familiar but doubled in length.
The controversy of this book when it was new, as I understand, was that it was influenced by the Oxford Movement, and the Communion liturgy thus was more “high church” friendly than before. I haven’t compared it to its two American predecessors, so I can’t comment on that. But it is noteworthy that most of the 1928 Prayer Book users today seem to be high church parishes and/or Anglo-Catholics. And when the 2019 Prayer Book took up the 1928-like prayers via 1979’s Rite I, the low-church push-back was such that the Liturgical Task Force committee added rubrics for adapting it to the 1662 order.
So if high/low churchmanship is a sticking point for you, it’s possible that your opinion of the 1928 Prayer Book will soar or suffer, accordingly.
The ratings in short:
A couple more options are in this book compared to the 1662, but it’s balanced out with a little format streamlining. As with other older books, the typeface and overall appearance is not terribly familiar to the modern eye, which may bias the newcomer with a sense of “foreignness” at first.
Devotional Usefulness: 4/5
Compared to the 1662, I find the Daily Office slightly less edifying here, but the Communion liturgy (with a few extra sets of Collects & Lessons) slightly more edifying. The comments about the 1662’s language style and lack of missional emphasis apply here also.
Reference Value: 4/5
If you’re an American Anglican, this is and important book to know; and if you’re also a clergyman you should probably own a copy. The 1928 book represents the last of the historic American Prayer Books, and thus serves as a sort of baseline for liturgical development today. Familiarity with this book, like the 1662, is very helpful for understanding the background and traditional intention of current liturgical developments such as the 2019 book.
Although my preferences are mixed, if for some reason I absolutely had to choose only one prayer book to use for the rest of my life and ministry, to the exclusion of all others, it would probably be this one. There are things it lacks that I like to have available (sacramental confession, an Easter Vigil liturgy, imposition of ashes for Ash Wednesday), but it works. I would have liked to see more of this book in the 2019 than we we’re ending up with. I don’t see this as the ideal prayer book, but it’s one of the best!