The first question a liturgical planner faces when looking at an upcoming service of Holy Communion is which rite to use. Episcopalians have at least six in their Prayer Book, the Roman Rite has several iterations these days, even the Eastern Orthodox have a couple different standard liturgies too. Historically, Anglicanism has had only one rite, locally adapted from Prayer Book to Prayer Book; this range of options is very much a modern phenomenon. But, while the modern and post-modern mentalities will say “variety is the spice of life”, historical wisdom tells a different story: consistency is key. Musicians and other artists will also attest to the value of repetition; it’s how we learn and grow.
And so, the 2019 Prayer Book rolls back the modern cafeteria of liturgies to just two options: the Anglican Standard Text and the Renewed Ancient Text. If you want to explore what’s most different about them, you can read about that here. But honestly, the names give you the gist of it: the Anglican Standard is the standard Anglican liturgy, and the Renewed Ancient is a modern take on an ancient text called The Apostolic Tradition with some controversy behind it. It was either written by Hipollytus of Rome in the 3rd century or compiled from disparate sources by the 5th century, and it may contain a proposed liturgy rather than one that was actually used. In any case, this document’s discovery in the 19th century led to its widespread adoption especially among Romans and Anglicans in the 20th century; two of the four the modern-language Communion rites of the 1979 Prayer Book are based upon it. And thanks to their sheer popularity, a new form of it has been adopted by the 2019 Prayer Book.
Back to the question at hand, there are two approaches to answering this question.
- Use our new Prayer Book in a way that is consistent with our classical tradition.
- Every option in the Prayer Book has its proper time and use.
It is my conviction, and the aim of this Customary, to present these two principles to my fellow American Anglicans as a better way to stabilize our liturgical formation across the province and provide our congregations with solid and coherent spiritual formation. But this is a case where the two principles diverge somewhat. If you operate primarily under the first principle (historical precedent) then the answer is simple: always use the Anglican Standard Text.
For those who prefer to give every Rite its time, one must consider the strengths and weaknesses, the emphases and assumptions of the options. The language and content of the historic liturgy is unbeatably clear and focused on its dealing with sin and salvation. Yet, although Renewed Ancient Text may be more shallow in that regard, its Communion prayers take a grander sweep of the work of God into consideration, perhaps most notably the incarnation of our Lord. In these distinctions we find the best opportunities to use the Renewed Ancient Text are in “incarnation”-themed times, such as Advent, Christmas, and the Epiphany.
For more specific guidance, check out the Holy Communion Customary page.