One of the primary improvements found in the 2019 Prayer Book over its predecessor in 1979 is the restoration of a great of deal of classical prayer book content that was displaced, obscured, or even omitted in ’79.  The “Prayers of the People” in the Communion service was once of the hardest-hit features of classical liturgy in the ’79 which is substantially restored in the 2019’s Anglican Standard Text.

The classical approach was to read through all those prayers, straight through, and the 2019 puts in congregational responses – “Lord in your mercy / Hear our prayer” – which is hardly more than a cosmetic update to help people keep focused.  A few changes of wording have been made, and at least one new addition made (namely the petition for the advancement and spread of the Gospel), and one slightly-controversial line in the final petition pointing back toward the 1549 Prayer Book’s approach to handling prayers for the departed. A sober and attentive article on this subject can be found here, in case you’re curious or concerned.

What we’re going to look at today though is not so much the content of the prayers (I dare say the above paragraph and link are a sufficient headstart into your own comparison if you really want to do that), but instead the function of the prayers.  In modern liturgy, the Prayers of the People are a sort of thing unto itself.  The Sermon has been delivered and the Creed has been said, and now it’s time to pray for a little while.  When we’re done we move on to the Confession, absolution, and Offertory.  It all fits together into a logical progression: intercede, confess, receive absolution, and celebrate with offering.  It’s logical and sensible, but it’s not particularly profound; as far as I understand it thus far, this is primarily a functional progression of liturgy.

The classical prayer book order was more, for lack of a better term, mystical about the Prayers.  Until the 1979 book changed things up, the Sermon was followed by the Offertory, and the monetary gifts would be brought up front along with the bread and wine for Holy Communion, and then the “Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church” began, read by the Celebrant (rather than a Deacon or lay reader).  These prayers included an optional line for God to “accept our alms and oblations”, referencing the Offertory gifts, and in a sense anticipating Holy Communion itself.

In a way, the “Prayers of the People” were like the preparation for Communion itself!  As the people got ready to approach the throne of grace, their intercessions were sent ahead, along with the very elements that God would provide to feed them.  These Prayers would then be followed by an Exhortation, the Confession & absolution, and then the Communion prayers would follow immediately.  This is probably the most-changed part of the liturgy from old to new in terms of “order of service.”

If you find this appeals to you, and you want to capture this sense of eucharistic anticipation in the Prayers of the People in the 2019 book’s liturgy, there are things you can do.  You can go all out and use the instructions in the Additional Directions to re-structure the entire liturgy to the “1662 Order.”  *SEE FOOTNOTE*  But if that’s too radical a change for your context (or you prefer the 1928-informed order of the eucharistic canon over the 1662 order), there are three things you should do to help tie the Prayers of the People more clearly to the celebration of Holy Communion:

  1. Do not hold announcements after the Peace.
  2. Always appoint a Communion Hymn at the Offertory.
  3. Have the bread and wine brought up to the altar at the same time as the monetary gifts.

In most cases, those are the two things that separate the Prayers of the People from the Communion.  The Peace already easily turns into a greet-everyone-in-the-room moment, and when it’s followed by the weekly parish announcements the flow of the liturgy is basically dead at that point, only to be revived with the Offertory – but almost as if a second worship service is starting.  If you want the Prayers of the People to reclaim any semblance of Eucharistic preparation, you’ve got to hold those announcements somewhere else (the old order called for them after the Creed and before the Sermon).  And then you have to follow that up with Communion-themed offertory music, lest that anthem also break the link.  The bread and wine, too, need to be involved in the Offertory (as was its traditional purpose anyway), so it’s clearer that the money is secondary and the sacrament is primary.

If none of this interests you, or strikes you as necessary, that’s fine.  The modern liturgical order clearly has a different logic to it, and it’s not always easy or reasonable to use one prayer book and pretend it’s a different one.  But, as always, it’s important to know and understand how classical Anglican liturgy worked, so we can at least be honest about when we’re following it and when we’re doing something new.  And the opportunities for teaching and spiritual formation in our congregations, too, can be greatly enriched by such perspective!


** UPDATE **
It turns out that we do in fact have the option to conform the liturgy of the Anglican Standard Text not only to the 1662 Order, but to any subsequent book.  This permission is spelled both on pages 7 and 104, and a member of the ACNA liturgy committee confirmed that this is the intention of those rubrics.

3 thoughts on “Prayers of the People (Old & New)

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