One of the big concerns among traditionalists when it comes to modern Prayer Book revision and the proliferation of options and substitutions is that our liturgical heritage will get so muddled in “local preferences” that all semblance of Anglican heritage, or even any sense of common prayer, will be lost. Personally, I think that overlooks the vast array of tweaks and changes that many priests and parishes have gotten away with even under the classically-minded 1928 Prayer Book in recent decades – in some cases drastically re-writing the Communion service so it looks more and more like the pre-Vatican-II Roman Mass and no longer actually an Anglican Prayer Book service. But let’s not fight. It’s Weird Rubric Wednesday! So let’s humor those who complain about the 2019 Prayer Book and see just how far we can destroy the Daily Office without actually breaking the rubrics.
Ahead is Wednesday evening, and the parish is getting together for a special ‘Evening Prayer’ worship service. But this is what happens:
- The Officiant reads something short from the Bible.
- The Invitatory dialogue (BCP 43) is exchanged.
- The congregation sings a song like Nate Hale’s Psalm 13.
- Another, slightly longer, reading from the Bible follows.
- Someone comes up front and gives a brief testimony of faith, referring to his or her favorite Bible quote which is found in that previous reading.
- A couple more songs are sung.
- Now it’s prayer time (starting on BCP 47) – the Kyrie, the Lord’s Prayer, one of the sets of suffrages, a Collect commemorating someone in the calendar that day, and one of the Prayers for Mission (BCP 51).
- The congregation then launches into a time of prayer and song lasting as long as the Spirit leads (so, about fifteen minutes).
- The Officiant reads Ephesians 3:20-21 (BCP 53) to conclude the service.
If you know the Office pretty well, you can probably discern here what was done. It’s actually not quite as mangled as I expected it to turn out; the “myriads of options” in the 2019 Prayer Book aren’t all-encompassing. So here’s what happened:
- The Opening Sentences can be anything “appropriate”.
- The Confession may be omitted, once per day.
- The Phos Hilaron is optional, and therefore skipped.
- The Psalm(s) Appointed can be shortened “according to local circumstance” (BCP 734), so a sung version took its place.
- Only one Scripture lesson is permitted (BCP 44). Rubrics don’t seem to allow deviation from the lectionaries, though if you take the option of drawing the Communion readings into the Office then quite a few choices are possible.
- A “sermon may be preached after the lessons” (BCP 56).
- The Canticles can be replaced by other songs (BCP 45).
- The Creed may be omitted, once per day.
- The beginning of The Prayers are not optional, and the Collect of the Day is the only explicitly required Collect, but you can choose a black-letter-day commemoration to fulfill that role. The Prayer for Mission is also required.
- After that, there is technically free reign to pray and sing (BCP 51) although the rubric does technically indicate only one hymn or anthem.
- The final prayers are optional, but the list of three closing sentences is not (BCP 52-53).
Yes, this is satire, I do not recommend this for healthy, proper, regular Anglican worship.
However, there are extraordinary circumstances in which such freedom may actually be advantageous. Say you’re planning an ecumenical prayer service with another church… as the Anglican host you are bound to the authority of the Prayer Book as our rule of worship, but to be a gracious host you want to find room to incorporate elements of worship from your “guest church” also. Perhaps you’re commemorating one of the ecumenical figures in the calendar together, or perhaps it’s Thanksgiving Day or some other holiday – in such cases you can draw Scripture lessons from the Communion Propers instead of the Daily Office Lectionary. Perhaps they have their own prayers or canticles, or just particular translations thereof, that you can substitute in the place of our own. The confession with full introductory exhortation may be a good idea to retain, as it puts forth a fantastic theology of worship, but perhaps circumstances would benefit from side-stepping that instead. The flexibility of when the sermon is placed (BCP 56) also can be helpful in “shaping” the worship service in a manner appropriate to the occasion.
The good news, for those concerned about the integrity of Anglican tradition, is that the simplest by-the-book service of Evening Prayer with the least amount of page-flipping is going to be solidly traditional. It takes more effort to deviate from the standard norm, and that alone is enough to steer most folks in the right direction.