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.

If you were an Anglo-Catholic, or other sort of tradition highchurchman, in the Episcopal Church, and not one of the 1928 hold-out parishes, The Anglican Service Book was the thing to have.  Originally printed in 1991, and going through at least three more printings over the following decade-and-a-half, the ASB is the go-to text for Episcopalians who love and prefer the traditional language style of our Prayer Book tradition.  In accordance with the rubrics of the 1979 prayer book, the ASB is a collection of re-writes of nearly everything the ’79 book back into traditional English, with a number of suggestions, resources, and rewrites of various rubrics along the way.

One of its immediate points of usefulness is the use of bold print to denote words spoken by the congregation, making an otherwise-difficult prayer book just a little more user-friendly.  Besides that, it cuts down on some of the options offered in the 1979 book and reformats some of the liturgies to reduce page-flipping, making this book a bit easier to use overall.

There is one significant omission from this book that makes it fall just short of being called an actual Common Prayer Book: it has no lectionaries.  This, I expect, was a strategic choice.  It was designed carefully such that it technically obeyed the rubrics of the 1979 Prayer Book so that anyone under the authority of that book could use this one without having to ask for special permission – half the point of this book was to enable a parish to be as close to a 1928-using parish as possible.  But, also perhaps being used as a supplement by 1928-using parishes, this book strategically omitted re-printing any lectionary so it wouldn’t step on anyone’s toes.  So if you want to use this book for your Daily Office or Communion service, you have to look elsewhere for the readings. Though it does have the full traditional psalter, which is quite nice.

As I said, this book was made primarily with high-church parishes in mind.  It provides a number of additional liturgical materials and resources which lean in that direction.  For example, here is the index of the Additional Devotions occupying the last 66 pages of this volume:

  • Antiphons on the Benedictus
  • Antiphons on the Magnificat
  • The Sarum (Gregorian) Canon
  • Canon of 1549
  • The Athanasian Creed
  • The Solemn Reception of a Bishop
  • Stations of the Cross
  • Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament
  • Tenebrae for Wednesday of Holy Week
  • Blessing of the Font
  • The Angelus and the Regina Coeli
  • The Marian Anthems
  • The Walsingham Blessing

Nearly all of these are obviously quite Anglo-Catholic in nature, and a similar emphasis on the (seven) Sacraments can be found throughout the rest of the book.  You don’t have to be a Anglo-Catholic, yourself, to appreciate the usefulness of much of this book, but there’s definitely a lot of material in here that quite a few Anglicans would find needless, inappropriate, or even blasphemous.

Now, of course, those of us in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) are not under the authority of the 1979 Prayer Book, and are about to receive our own 2019 book.  The obvious question may be what use we have for a traditionalist re-write of the 1979!  In terms of structure, and a fair bit of content, the 2019 is looking a lot like the 1979 book.  Looking at how the ASB “traditionalizes” the 1979 book is a helpful model for highlighting how we, too, can draw out a traditional emphasis from the 2019 book.  Indeed, the ASB is a similar sort of project to what the Saint Aelfric Customary is intended to become!

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 3/5
While more user-friendly than the 1979, it’s still not quite as streamlined as traditional Prayer Books.  And the lack of lectionaries requires you to lift them from another source.

Devotional Usefulness: 4/5
Whether you appreciate or use the extra Anglo-Catholic features or ignore them, the liturgical formation offered by this book is excellent.  For a member of the ACNA, this book is still pretty close to matching our official liturgy, so if you like the traditional language then there’s little stopping you from appreciating this on its own.  (It should be noted that a sub-committee is in the process of making a traditional-language version of the 2019 Prayer Book, so depending upon how that turns out it may ‘replace’ this book’s usefulness to us.)

Reference Value: 3/5
Because it is primarily a re-write of the 1979 book, the ASB isn’t quite as valuable as for reference material.  Like Common Prayer 2011 it does have a number of section introductions that are valuable lessons in traditional liturgy (as long as you don’t mind the churchmanship showing through).  Plus, the way it re-presents the 1979 material to highlight its historical aspects can help one see the historical aspects of the 2019 by simple comparison.

All in all, this is a neat book to have around.  It was definitely more useful to me before the ACNA’s liturgical texts started coming together, and a bit less relevant now.  I’m also not sure if it went through another printing since 2007, so finding a physical copy of it today may be difficult and expensive.  But it can be found in its entirety as a pdf online, or in parts at the link I included at the beginning of this review, and honestly that’s all I’d recommend to my readers: unless your spirituality is particularly high-church and this really appeals to you, having it as a reference document on the computer is all you need from it.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Anglican Service Book

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