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 honor of my new Bishop being consecrated today – he’s from England – I thought we’d take a look at an English book today: Common Worship, which is currently the Church of England’s official (and I imagine most-used) liturgical text alongside the 1662 Prayer Book which is still legally their standard text.  Common Worship is not strictly speaking a Prayer Book.  It has over 800 pages of liturgical material for the Daily Office, Holy Communion, Baptism, Thanksgiving for a Child, and other occasional worship services that one may design oneself according to the provided rubrics; it does not have material for Holy Matrimony, Confirmation, Ordination, Ministration to the Sick, or Burial.  However, it does have further volumes that provide more material and fill in those blanks.

common worship

If you thought that the American 1979 book had a lot of choices to choose from, this book will blow your mind.  Where the ’79 had two traditional-language Prayers of Consecration and four more in contemporary language, this book has two “Orders” for Holy Communion (both offered in contemporary and traditional language styles), Order One having 8 Prayers of Consecration to choose from!  Order One is the contemporary order of the liturgy, similar to what we’ve got in the American books since 1979; Order Two is the English (1662) order of the liturgy.

The Daily Office, too, is a bit complicated, offering a different form of Morning & Evening Prayer for Sundays distinct from the rest of the week.  Both in how the Office is presented, as well as the Communion, it seems that the expectation (or the cynic might say “agenda”) is for most churches to use the contemporary liturgies (provided first), while acknowledging the legitimacy of the traditional (provided second).  But at least they’re both there – the American 1979 book barely threw a bone to the traditionalists, which resulted in the creation of supplemental books such as the Anglican Service Book.  Our upcoming 2019 prayer book will provide authorizations and rubrics for more traditional orderings of the contemporary liturgy, which is very good, but it’s not going to be quite as user-friendly as the way Common Worship provides the traditional material straight-up.  And who can blame our prayer book committees?  Just look at Common Worship – it takes over 800 pages to cover only half of the liturgical texts required for a full Prayer Book!

On the other hand, this book is remarkably user-friendly considering its cumbersome collection of liturgies.  As long as someone tells you what type of worship service you’re walking into (i.e. Holy Communion, Order One) you can simply look it up in the table of contents, go to page 166, and actually follow along quite easily.  The primary divergence of options is the Prayer of Consecration (Prayers A through H offer a range of styles and emphases) but the way it’s handled here is actually rather brilliant.  The prayers that are in common are printed in the main text of the Communion service, and the different responses from the various sets of prayers are put into the main text, allowing the person in the pew to respond to whichever Prayer of Consecration is being said without having to flip to the appropriate pages and back!  For those who do want to read along with the Priest’s text, page numbers are provided.  The various options for the Prayers of the People are handled the same way: the responses are provided in the main text, and a page number reference is included for those who want to read the actual text of the intercessions that the prayer leader will be reading.

The calendar has grown rather differently in English tradition than American.  Both were the same up to the early 20th century, but the way modern liturgical revision has impacted us is different.  The American Anglican treatment of the calendar is more like the Roman Catholics: Epiphany season lasts from January 6th until Ash Wednesday, and the season after Pentecost (or Trinity) runs from Pentecost or Trinity Sunday until Advent.  In England, things got a bit more nuanced – perhaps hanging on to vestiges of old custom in a different way.  The Epiphany season set forth in Common Worship lasts from January 6th until February 2nd (the feast of the Presentation), after which comes “Ordinary Time”, counted as the 1st-5th Sundays before Lent.  After Trinity Sunday Ordinary Times resumes with up to 22 Sundays “after Trinity” followed by All Saints’ Sunday and Three or Four Sundays “before Advent”, sometimes nicknamed Kingdomtide.  Although this is largely irrelevant to our American context (and may even end up adding confusion to some readers) it can be handy to be familiar with this style of calendar as there are other Anglican provinces across the world that follow a variation of the modern English calendar.

The biggest surprise, looking at this book, is one glaring omission: it has no daily lectionary!  The Communion & Holy Day lectionary is elaborate, with multiple sets of readings in case a church has two or even three worship services on a given Sunday, and the occasional note for proper readings at Evening Prayer on the “Eve of” a major feast day (termed Festival in this book).  I suppose if one accounts for all of those, and the three-year cycle of lessons, one could draw enough readings together to fill out the week days for the Daily Office.  But that would not be in the spirit of a daily lectionary at all, providing disjointed readings from day to day, and probably not providing very good coverage of the Bible at all.  In short, this is so Sunday-focused that it seems to give tacit assent to the loss of the daily office in the public eye.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 3/5
Despite the massive collection of optional material and “choose-your-own-adventure” nature to the liturgical planning authorized in this book, it is surprisingly easy to navigate if you’re following along with one service.  (If you’re the liturgical planner using this book to prepare a service then boy have you got some studying to do!)

Devotional Usefulness: 2/5
Extra canticles can be great; different forms of confessions and creeds can be interesting from time to time (if not really necessary); having the traditional and modern styles available in one volume is lovely.  The theological precision and accuracy may be an open question for some of the Communion Prayers of Consecration, depending upon one’s point of view.  This could have been a 3, but without a daily lectionary or prayers for funerals and weddings, this book falls to a 2.

Reference Value: 2/5
There is a lot of stuff in here which is interesting, but little that we can use, outside of the Church England.  What is authorized for our liturgy simply is not the same as this book.  What we can glean (or even use) from this book include its wealth of additional Canticles, original confessions and creedal material which we could use for private devotion or even in teaching, and comparative studies in how the calendar and lectionary evolved across the pond.

Before our Texts for Common Prayer started coming together, I knew of a number of ACNA churches that made use of Common Worship to some degree or another, rather than rely solely on the 1979 book.  By this point, we’ve got everything we need such that we don’t need to rely on external sources such as this.  Furthermore, it is our bishops who authorize liturgical texts, not local priests, so must of us probably aren’t even allowed to use Common Worship in our public liturgy.  It’s a neat resource to poke through if you’ve got it, but since its whole text is freely available online, there’s not really any reason to get a hard copy unless you really want to build up a liturgical library.  (I’ve only got a copy because someone else was downsizing his library!)

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Common Worship (2000)

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