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.

The next volume of Common Worship is subtitled Christian Initiation.  Although the Baptismal liturgy is found in the primary volume of Common Worship, it is repeated in this book with further detail and additional rites, including some key stuff that was omitted from that book.  The Contents of Christian Initiation can be summarized thus:

  • Rites on the Way: Approaching Baptism
    • Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child
    • Baptismal preparation rites and prayers
  • Holy Baptism & Confirmation
    • Regular and Emergency liturgies
    • Baptism & Confirmation in the same service
    • Baptism and/or Confirmation within a Vigil service
    • Seasonal options for variation
  • Rites of Affirmation: Appropriating Baptism
    • Thanksgivings after an initiation service
    • Admission to Holy Communion
    • Renewal of Baptismal Vows
    • Reception into the Anglican Communion
  • Reconciliation & Restoration: Recovering Baptism
    • Service of Corporate Penitence
    • Reconciliation of a Penitent
    • Celebration of Healing
  • Commentary

common worship

It is interesting to see the sacramental rites of Confession/Absolution and Unction/Healing included under the banner of “recovering Baptism.”  In the 2019 Prayer Book they’re being given their own header “Rites of Healing” without the strictly baptismal context.  This baptism-centered approach to liturgical-theological thinking seems to be characteristic of modern (liberal) Anglicanism, something that we’ve observed to be problematic in cases such as the American 1979 Prayer Book‘s baptismal liturgy.

As in the Festivals volume, this book has an enormous collection of additional materials and options to bring variety to the several services herein.  Special Scripture readings are also offered, even with seasonal considerations in mind.  In theory this could be a really nice touch – baptism especially is such a rich sacrament and the different seasons of the Church year could indeed serve as lenses for different angles of teaching on Holy Baptism.  Common Prayer 2011 did a similar thing in providing different readings for the Ember Days according to their respective seasons.  Where this idea falls short, however, is the fact that it’s too much of a big-picture approach that will get lost on the average church-goer.  If one attends all the baptism services held throughout the year, then one will hear all those different Scripture readings and benefit from the variety.  But if people only ever attend one or two baptism services in a given year, then the value of that variety is lost.  Cynically I am tempted to wonder if the variation of readings (and other prayers and materials) is more for the benefit of a bored clergyman who can’t appreciate the beauty of a simple and consistent liturgy?

Another unique feature in this book are its two forms for private confession.  The American book of 1979 contains two, different but recognizably “catholic”, forms for confession and absolution.  The two in this book, however, are clearly modeled after the standard order of liturgy found throughout Common Worship: words of Gathering, Scripture reading(s) and response, the Confession, counsel, and contrition, followed by the Absolution, a Thanksgiving, the Lord’s Prayer, and a Dismissal.  Where a more traditional sacramental confession can be carried out with the confessee needing no more than an index card of scripted text, these rites require a book and a Bible in hand, which strikes me as needlessly complicated.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 3/5
Like Festivals, this volume is set out in a decently useable format, though it has more instances where one has to combine its use with another book, such as when celebrating one of the rites in the context of a Communion service.

Devotional Usefulness: 1/5
Unless you’re in the Church of England, none of these liturgies are authorized for your use, and there’s hardly anything in here that can be imported into other contexts.  Some of the corporate penitential prayers are neat – I like the idea of having a Scripture-based litany of penitence or one based on the Beatitudes – but their usefulness in our own liturgical context is extremely limited.

Reference Value: 2/5
Perhaps the most useful feature of this book is its reference value.  The extra Scripture reading and prayer options may be useful for catechesis, and the surprisingly-detailed commentary on the various rites at the end of the book also give a theological rationale for much of the material therein.  One must be cautious, however, of the unhealthy level of liberal theology that has pervaded the Church of England, and therefore take these resources with a grain of salt.

One thought on “Book Review: Common Worship Christian Initiation

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