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 Pastoral Services, the book that provides the liturgies for “Wholeness and Healing”, Marriages, and Funerals, with some re-printed materials for Emergency Baptisms and Thanksgivings for a Child. As I noted in reviewing the previous volume, Christian Initiation, it is interesting to see the Healing services here cover the anointing, visitation, and communion of the sick here, but for the Confession/Absolution rite to be place in the post-baptismal context. This book, too, comes with a theological introduction and rationale, making this more than just a liturgy book, but a more formulaic catechetical document as well.
As is characteristic of all the books of Common Worship so far, this book provides a lot of optional material with which to supplement or personalize a wedding or funeral ceremony. There are also printings in the book so they can be celebrated within a Communion service if desired. Not insignificantly, an “alternative” form of the Marriage and Burial rites is offered at the end of the book, which are basically just the 1662 Prayer Book services. Traditionalism is thus offered as a concession, not the expectation. Still, that’s better than how the 1979 book in the USA handled this sort of thing.
A quick survey of the primary contents of this book suggest that the theologically-liberalizing tendency in the Church of England is not especially prominent. The address at the beginning of the Marriage Rite, for example, is still a loose paraphrase of the traditional Prayer Book exhortation, rather than a complete re-write. Most of the complaints of modernization that one might raise against this book can be applied to nearly every 20th century Prayer Book as well.
The ratings in short:
Like Christian Initiation, this volume is set out in a decently useable format, with several 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. This is mostly a pastor’s handbook, and the extra prayers and canticles sitting around are almost not worth the effort of looking up.
Reference Value: 1/5
Again, there’s very little worth studying in and learning from this book. Its theological statement on the healing service may be of some insight, and (like all the volumes) its index at the end can be a handy tool for comparative study – especially where its liturgy does similar things to our own – but ultimately this is probably the least useful book in the Common Worship set, unless you’re actually in the Church of England.