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 last official volume of Common Worship on my shelf is Times and Seasons. It goes through the entire [modern] calendar of the Church of England highlighting special holy days and providing both occasional and seasonal material for all sorts of things – Opening Acclamations, calls to confession, prayers of confessions, absolutions, Canticles, Prayers of the People, Offertory Sentences, Eucharistic Prefaces, and various other special liturgical bits and bobs that can be used to spice up the Communion service for a special occasion. In terms of historic Prayer Book tradition, none of this is necessary, and is largely unprecedented. But this is what late 20th-century liturgical revolution was all about: exploring new ways to diversify the worship experience by emphasizing different occasions and seasons in certain ways to make them stand out from each other more noticeably. And what you find in this volume, as is the case with most of the Common Worship materials, is a mix of pre-Reformation tradition, modern re-invention, and just plain innovation.
In terms of authorization, the extended rubrics of the 2019 Prayer Book indicate that the Prayers of the People may be rewritten, provided they cover certain specified items. Thus, various Prayers from Common Worship: Times and Seasons could actually find a home in our ACNA liturgy. The same applies to the Blessing at the end of the Communion Prayers – the rubrics permit alternate blessings without restriction.
However, unlike most of the supplementary volumes of Common Worship, Times and Seasons provides for the liturgy of several “irregular” worship services (that is, neither the Daily Office nor the Holy Communion) such as Lessons and Carols for Advent or Christmas. Indeed, this book’s greatest use outside of the Church of England is probably its extended treatment of various special-occasion services like those, or Remembrance Day (Nov. 11th) or Stations of the Cross or, the Maundy Thursday Chrism Mass, or the Easter Vigil. Its insights into the seasons and festivals of the liturgical and agricultural years, too, make for decent reading for anyone interested in how the Church “sanctifies time” through her liturgy. It is certainly a mix of old and new, so if you’re a traditionalist about liturgy there will be many opportunities for ire herein.
The ratings in short:
Devotional Usefulness: 2/5
As with much of the Common Worship series, we have little practical use for the contents of this book. But the various prayers and devotions do highlight well the different themes of the liturgical seasons, and can greatly enrich one’s private devotions, and, to a limited extent, find a place in our actual liturgies.
Reference Value: 3/5
The liturgical calendar of the Church of England is set out rather differently than ours, but the basics are similar enough that a study through this book’s contents can help one understand not only how our respective calendar traditions diverged from the historic Prayer Book in different ways, but also provide us insight into the logic of liturgical calendars in general. I could see this book being fruitfully referenced in the context of catechesis, or a small group study, helping people learn about and explore the Church Calendar.
In all, I think this may be the most useful and interesting volume of Common Worship that I’ve got.