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.
Today we’re looking at Liturgies of the Western Church, selected and introduced by Bard Thompson. This is a reference book that every student of liturgy should have on the shelf.
After a short introduction and bibliography (from the perspective of 1961), this book is occupied with introducing and setting out thirteen different liturgies from across Western Christian history (though the first two are not exclusively Western liturgies).
#1 – The First Apology of Justin Martyr (155)
This does not contain a liturgy, exactly, but we find here chapters 65-67 of his Apology, wherein he describes the order of service for the Communion liturgy he knew. Although it is a brief outline, the basic sequence is clearly discernible, and it is consistent with the liturgical tradition to this day.
#2 – The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (200)
This is an important entry in the annals of history not because of its long-standing influence, but because of its sudden sharp revival in the mid-20th century. This is the rite from which most of the Rite II Communion Prayers in the 1979 Prayer Book were drawn, as well as the Renewed Ancient Text in the 2019 Prayer Book. Reading what it actually says, though, allows one to see just what the adaptations are that modern liturgies have made in its name. I’ll leave it to the reader’s judgment if the term “renewed ancient” is justified or not.
#3 – The Mass in Latin and English (Roman Rite)
The introductory text for this one is particularly lengthy, as befits the long history of the Roman Rite. What is given in this book was the then-current form of the Roman Rite (as of 1959), making this the Tridentine form Mass just before the reforms of Vatican II kicked in. The Tridentine Mass is what traditional (Roman) Catholics today really love and yearn for, and what the baby boomer generation stereotypically despises. This is a useful resource, of course, as it gives insight into one end of Roman Catholic piety. But its downside is that this is not the form of the Mass that was in use during, or prior to, the Reformation. So if you want compare & contrast the Prayer Book liturgy with its medieval forebear, this book doesn’t quite provide that. You’ll have to, instead, rely on Tyndale’s translation of the Mass provided in the Anglican Service Book. Still, the Latin-English parallels are handy, and the historical introduction gives you a sense of the gradual milieu of change over the centuries.
#4 – Martin Luther’s Masses (1523, 1526)
This is an interesting entry. The Formula Missa (1523) was in Latin, and Martin Luther intended for it to be used on occasion for educational purposes. Most of the time, though, the German Mass (1526) was appointed. Every educated person, after all, learned Latin, and since instructing the laity in the reading of Scripture and promoting education was a Reformation principle, it made sense to hold worship in Latin periodically, so people could connect the familiar vernacular text to the Latin. The liturgy provided in this book, however, is not a full text of the whole service; it’s a mix of text, rubric, and commentary, so you end up learning more about the German liturgy than digging into its precise text.
#5 – the Zurich Liturgy (1525)
This is the work of Ulrych Zwingli, whose communion theology was, shall we say, problematically radical. Because he had such a “low view” of Communion, his liturgy is similarly empty when it comes to the Holy Table. No sacrament, no consecration, just remembering and partaking.
#6 – The Strassburg Liturgy (1539)
This is the work of Martin Bucer, who was a theologian standing somewhere between Luther and Zwingli. He was respected by John Calvin and finished his life and ministry in England, where he had a particular lasting impact. His liturgy contains a number of very long prayers (a pattern we’ll see copied later on) but when it comes to celebration of Holy Communion it is suddenly (like Zwingli) quite brief.
#7 – The Form of Church Prayers, Strassburg (1545), and Geneva (1542)
It is John Calvin’s turn, now. These are two liturgies that are nearly identical, and thus printed in the book with their occasional differences noted in parallel columns. Again, long prayers precede and follow the Confession, and lead up to the Sermon. The Communion prayers are also lengthy, quoting 1 Corinthians 11 at length, and exhorting the people to lift their “spirits and hearts on high where Jesus Christ is in the glory of his Father”. There are further sets of prayers that provide another liturgy that begin to resemble the Prayer Book pattern around the celebration of Holy Communion, but still focused heavily on the words of institution and giving thanks.
#8 – the First and Second Prayer Books of King Edward VI (1549, 1552)
Now at last we reach the English Reformation. The 1549 liturgy is the most conservative protestant liturgy in this book; you can follow its similarity to the Roman Rite more easily than any other entry. Its order of prayers around the consecration of the Eucharist are fairly closely followed in the Scottish and American Prayer Book traditions, all the way down to the 1928 Prayer Book and the Anglican Standard Text in the 2019. The 1552 liturgy does the re-arranging and clipping of the Communion Prayers that sets the stage more clearly for what would standardize in the 1662 Prayer Book.
#9 – the Form of Prayers, Geneva (1556)
John Knox is now the man of the hour. This liturgy represents one of the primary influences on the English Reformation party in exile during the reign of Catholic Queen “bloody” Mary Tudor. It seems a bit of a hybrid between the previous Genevan liturgy and the Prayer Book liturgy, but contains some sharp polemic directed against the Papist doctrine of Transubstantiation, revealing its historical context a little too much!
#10 – The Middleburg Liturgy of the English Puritans (1586)
Now we’re getting into the world of Prebyterianism. The Church of England had restored a Prayer Book similar to where it had left off before Mary’s reign, but the Puritan party was increasingly unhappy with it, and thus this liturgy was born. The Calvinist, or Puritan, or “Reformed” desire was to simplify, reduce repetitions, and focus more on preaching and quoting Scripture. This doesn’t mean short though… one prayer for After a Sermon goes on for several pages. The Communion prayers, of course, are very short, and consciously different from the Prayer Book pattern. There are also several instances where a rubric directs what the minister is to pray without giving an actual text. Extemporaneous prayer was another major bullet point on the Reformed agenda.
#11 – The Westminster Directory of the Publique Worship of God (1644)
After the English Civil War, the Puritans had won: the Church of England as previously known was abolished, and Presbyterianism held sway over the country. Within a couple years, this liturgy was put forth as the new standard. It’s almost more of a guide than a liturgical text, however, as it mostly tells the order of what is to be done and only provides examples of what the minister is to pray. Its hostility to the “excesses” of the Prayer Book tradition is clear in its preface.
#12 – The Savoy Liturgy (1661)
When the Interregnum ended and King Charles II returned to the throne of England, the Church of England with its bishops and prayer book also came back out of hiding. The Puritan party was on the fence about conforming to the Anglican norm, and Richard Baxter, at the Savoy Conference, advocated a more Reformed liturgy in the (vain) hopes that the upcoming 1662 Prayer Book wouldn’t be like its predecessors. The liturgy found here is an expanded version of what can be seen in the various Calvinist liturgies above, but with more full-text prayers provided, rather than mere examples. It still falls short of Prayer Book standards, though, providing (for example) no absolution. Interestingly, its prayers of consecration are the most Anglican of the Calvinist rites so far seen, including this line: “This bread and wine, being set apart, and consecrated to this holy use by God’s appointment, are now no common bread and wine, but sacramentally the body and blood of Christ.” This indicates a distinction of Calvinist doctrine over again Zwinglian. Ultimately this barely made a dent in the formation of the 1662 Prayer Book.
#13 – The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America (1784)
Finally, we come to a liturgy left to the American Methodists by John Welsey. Seeing little or no ordained Anglican clergymen in the fledgling United States, he felt at liberty to jumpstart a new church movement without episcopal authority or assistance. Despite that rogue element in his work, what he gave to the American Methodist Church was almost an exact replica of the 1662 Prayer Book. The Morning Prayer and Communion services are printed in this book, and you’ll see they are almost identical.
The ratings in short:
The fact that the various liturgies present themselves in a few different ways makes a quick compare/contrast difficult to make. But on the whole this is a readable book, not overly technical.
Devotional Usefulness: N/A
This is not a devotional book. Though if it does it’s job, you’ll want to go grab a Prayer Book and worship!
Reference Value: 4/5
Put this next to your copy of the 1662 Prayer Book and you’ll have a fantastic history of liturgy on your shelf. Or, because it’s not 1961 anymore, you can just go online and probably find each of these texts freely available. Still, the introductions and footnotes in this book are useful.