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.

Ever wondered when and how to make the sign of the cross during the Communion prayers, as the celebrant?  Or what the order of the procession and recession should be?  How do we know when to wear a cope, or which liturgical colors to use.  How do you cense an altar, and when is it appropriate to do so?  These are questions of ritual, and although the Anglican tradition has virtually no official ritual directions whatsoever, there is widespread custom insofar as such rituals are observed at all.  To learn these customs, we turn to books called customaries which attempt to put into words the ritual actions of church tradition.  Among the classical high church Anglican customaries is the book Ritual Notes, originally published in 1894 (available online), though there are a few other classics out there.  Ritual Notes underwent a total of eleven editions, the last being published in 1964.  Once the 1979 Prayer Book came out, the break with pre-established liturgical tradition was too great; either a new or hybridized approach to ritual and ceremony had to be devised, or a Ritual Notes -using parish would have to stay with with the 1928 Prayer Book.  And indeed, many did, including the churches of the Anglican Continuum, who are primarily responsible for the recent re-prints of Ritual Notes, especially its 11th and final edition.  That is the copy that someone gave to me, and thus the copy on which I am commenting.

Written theoretically for the 1662 Prayer Book, its expectations work better with the American 1928 Prayer Book, or better yet, with some sort of Anglican Missal that brings the language and practice of our worship more in line with that of Rome.  This book, therefore, is scorned by many lowchurchmen as a crypto-Papist abberation.  Such an accusation may not be applicable to its earlier editions, but in the 11th edition the Roman language and terminology is used throughout.  Low Mass, High Mass, Solemn Mass, requiem masses, the exposition and benediction of the blessed sacrament, supplemental Kalendar laws that flesh out the Prayer Book calendar with Roman observances, all this and more smacks of Romanism.

Despite appearances and language, however, this book does bring Roman elements into an Anglican context.  Although the Prayer Book is supplemented more than some would like, the Prayer Book remains the center of the ritual and liturgy that Ritual Notes constructs.  The aim is not to make Anglican more Roman, but to promote Western Catholicism in general.  In that spirit, there is quite a lot in this book that can be a useful resource to all Anglicans, regardless of liturgical and theological partisanship.  In that light, let’s take a look at the Table of Contents.

Part I: General Considerations

  • ch. 1 The Church’s Ornaments
  • ch. 2 Vestments
  • ch. 3 Liturgical Colours
  • ch. 4 Ceremonial Actions
  • ch. 5 Concerning the Church’s Worship

Part II: The Holy Mass

  • ch. 6 General Considerations Concerning the Mass
  • ch. 7 The Parts of the Mass
  • ch. 8 Low Mass
  • ch. 9 High Mass
  • ch. 10 Sung Mass
  • ch. 11 The Canons of Certain Provinces
  • ch. 12 Various Modern Adaptations of Ceremonial
  • ch. 13 Mass on Certain Special Occasions
  • ch. 14 Votive and Requiem Masses
  • ch. 15 Certain Ceremonies Associated with the Mass

Part III: The Divine Office

  • ch. 16 General Considerations Regarding the Office
  • ch. 17 The Parts of the Office
  • ch. 18 The Ceremonial of the Office
  • ch. 19 Other Matters Concerning the Office

Part IV: The Christian Year

  • ch. 20 The Kalendar
  • ch. 21 The Church’s Seasons
  • ch. 22 The Ceremonies of Certain Days of the Year

Part V: The Occasional Offices and Other Services

  • ch. 23 Holy Baptism
  • ch. 24 Holy Matrimony
  • ch. 25 Certain Pastoral Offices
  • ch. 26 The Offices of the Dead
  • ch. 27 Exposition and Benediction
  • ch. 28 Processions

Part VI: Pontifical Services

  • ch. 29 General Considerations
  • ch. 30 Certain Lesser Ceremonies of the Bishop
  • ch. 31 Common Pontifical Functions in Full Form
  • ch. 32 Simplified Episcopal Ceremony
  • ch. 33 Some Functions of the Pontifical

As you can see, there are sections that may be extremely useful to reference if you want to have a special solemn service, as well as sections that you and your parish might never touch with a ten foot pole.  I would particularly commend the chapters on Vestments and Liturgical Colours as useful reading for all clergymen.  Even if you end up holding to a different custom, it’s important to know one of (if not the) standard customs regarding these things.

A few pictures help illustrate elements of the service, and when appropriate there are multiple parallel columns to help the reader track through either different prayers of consecration or different groups of servers and assistants working in parallel during the liturgy.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 3/5
All the “catholic” liturgical terminology is used, but also defined and explained.  If you’re new to high ceremonial, this book will feel a bit overwhelming.  But it’s not overly-complicated, so it’s a great resource.

Devotional Usefulness: 4/5
This isn’t a book you pray with, so in a sense this is an N/A answer.  But if you aim to use high church ceremonial in a worship service, this book is invaluable.  Although some elements of it are “out-dated” according to the 2019 Prayer Book (such as the traditional calendar versus our modern one), other features of it which were less compatible with the 1979 book are actually more applicable to the 2019 liturgy once again.

Reference Value: 5/5
Even if you disagree vehemently with its Anglo-Catholic stance, what it provides is an excellent benchmark of Western Catholic ritual and ceremony.  You may find arguments among Anglo-Catholic priests today over which edition is the best (apparently usually between the 9th and 11th), but the failings of individuals aside, this book is a goldmine for learning about “traditionalist” worship.

Project Canterbury has the first edition available online for free; the link is provided near the beginning of this review.  A reprint of the 11th edition is made available for sale online.  I’m not sure I would say this is a book that absolutely every priest should have on his shelf, but instead perhaps every parish church should have in its library.  For some it’s the gold standard of public worship, but for the rest of us it’s still a marvelous reference.

One thought on “Book Review: Ritual Notes (11th ed.)

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