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.
In 2008 the Anglican Mission in the Americas (then AMiA) published An Anglican Prayer Book to provide their congregations with historic Anglican liturgy in contemporary idiom. The project was aided by the late Rev. Dr. Peter Toon, then President of the Prayer Book Society of the USA. I don’t know how widely-used this book ended up being, given the colorful and complicated history of AMiA’s founding, leaving, and partially re-joining the ACNA, eventually splitting from its parent province Rwanda, and the complicated leadership debacle surrounding its founding Bishops. Their Prayer Book, sometimes nicknamed “the blue book”, however popular or obscure, was a gem of a resource. It contains an entire Prayer Book, omitting only a Psalter, and very closely preserves traditional Anglican liturgy in contemporary English.
Its language style is plain and simple, and strikes me as a little less awkward than that found in Common Prayer 2011. It might even go in the other direction, feeling a bit calm and informal by comparison. Also in contrast to CP2011, this book seems to produce more of a low-church feel to it. Take, for example, this excerpt from the Absolution in the Daily Office:
He has commanded and authorized his Ministers to assure his people that they will receive absolution and forgiveness of their sins when they repent of their sins.
Compare this to the historic wording:
[He] hath given power, and commandment, to his Ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins…
The language of the original may be understood to say that the Minister actually declares or enacts God’s pardon upon the penitent, whereas the language of An Anglican Prayer Book specifies that the Minister merely assures the penitent of God’s pardon. Similar subtleties can be found throughout this book, especially in its contemporary version of the 39 Articles of Religion, where the minutiae of wording and grammar have sparked centuries of theological debate. Thankfully, this book isn’t trying to re-write the Articles of Religion according to a particular agenda (in this case low-church evangelical), but admits up front that this translation is provided for ease of reading, and only the original text is authoritative. Still, the nature and style of this book is clearly better-suited to the evangelical than the anglo-catholic.
One of the unique features of this book is that it combines Morning and Evening Prayer together into one liturgy, noting which Canticles and Collects belong to which time of day. Because it sticks with the traditional material and adds nothing of what is supplied in the 1979-2019 tradition, this doesn’t take up a ton of space, and very much helps to shorten the length of the book overall.
Another interesting feature of this book is that it the Communion liturgy has three Prayers of Consecration: one based on the English 1662, one based on the American 1928, and one based on the Canadian 1962. This allows for variation in churchmanship, local tradition and familiarity, and just plain variety. The first half of the liturgy is the same, and the last section is presented one version at a time; you have to skip to the correct page in order to follow along.
Because of its simplicity, small size, and traditional brevity, you’d think that this book should be easy to use. But it actually isn’t all that user-friendly. Part of it is the typeface: the rubrics are in a lighter grey color, and not in italics, which often makes them harder to distinguish from the regular spoken text. The page-flipping, while not as complex as in the 1979 Prayer Book, is more cumbersome than the historic Prayer Books, and there are no page number guides within the liturgy texts to tell you where to go.
The greatest triumphs of this book, however, are the lectionaries. The Daily Lectionary (bafflingly stuck near the back of the book instead of the front near the actual Office liturgy) is very simple to use. It is the 1871 version of the 1662 Prayer Book’s daily lectionary, which sticks close to the original one-chapter-per-read method, but breaks up the longer chapters in half so they’re less cumbersome for the average reader. I haven’t studied it carefully (let alone used it before), but I think it may give the new ACNA daily lectionary a run for its money in terms of overall quality.
The Communion lectionary, too, is assembled in what I consider the best way possible: united with the Collects. The traditional Prayer Books printed the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel each in full text together for every Sunday and Holy Day of the year. This makes a book quite lengthy of course, so the space-saving option (and especially smart in this age of multiple options for Bible translations) is to print the Collect with the verse references for the lessons. Behold:
In my opinion, this is what the 2019 Prayer Book ought to do. Granted, with a 3-year lectionary you’d need to specify “Year A: OT, Psalm, Epistle, Gospel“, but that wouldn’t take up a ton of space and would cut out an extra bit of page-flipping situation from having the Collects and Lectionary in two different places (like the 1979 book does). I fear this is not a lesson our book will learn, though I did suggest it to them a couple times.
Also, this book is noteworthy for adding an Old Testament lesson & Psalm to the historic lectionary which featured only an Epistle & Gospel. This, I believe, was the right way to contemporize the Communion lectionary, not rehash another version of the modern (or modernist!?) 3-year lectionary, as the 2019 book is doing.
The ratings in short:
While not as simple as traditional Prayer Books, this book still has a relatively small learning curve. As I noted above, its primary hindrances are due to presentation, not structure.
Devotional Usefulness: 4/5
Although some features in this book lean in the low-church direction, it still has everything you need for an Anglican devotional life. The lectionaries are sound and the daily prayers are thorough. It lacks all the bells and whistles of modern Prayer Books (such as special liturgies for Palm Sunday and similar days), but that’s not an issue for personal use.
Reference Value: 2/5
This book has had a relatively low impact in American Anglican liturgical development; I’ve never met anyone who uses (or used) it as their congregation’s primary prayer book. I’ve known someone who used its daily lectionary, and I’ve known a church that uses its additions to the historic Communion lectionary, but never the book wholesale. Really, apart from the added lessons to the Communion lectionary, this book has nothing to offer the liturgical world. There are quite a few modern adaptations of the old liturgies out there, these days, making this book feel like one of the most redundant prayer books on my shelf.
At the end of the day, this isn’t a book I’d recommend adding your liturgy collection unless
- you really like collecting different prayer books, or
- your parish uses the historic lectionary and you want an OT & Psalm added, or
- you like studying different ways traditional language can be modernized.