Much ink has been spilled on the subject of a modern eucharistic canon in an Anglican Prayer Book. Until the mid-20th century there was indisputably one set of Anglican Communion Prayers, in a few minor variations between England, Scotland, America, Canada, and other former colonies of the British Empire. Accusations were leveled, often justly, that Anglican doctrine was being tampered with in the writing and promulgation of so many new alternative prayers. Admittedly, 20th century ecumenism has blurred the borders of many denominations and traditions both for their betterment and their detriment. In light of the great influence of the classical Prayer Book upon Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman liturgies in the English language, traditionalists have a fair point in being wary of the need for such modernist intrusions.
Yet, for better and for worse, the Liturgical Renewal of the mid-20th century has left a lasting mark on the liturgical practices of the Church, and has become a part of the history of Anglicanism. The present Prayer Book, therefore, does not roll back the stone and seal it off forever, but gathers it up and encapsulates it into a single option: the Renewed Ancient Text. Where previous modern Prayer Books offer as many as five, six, or even ten sets of Prayers of Consecration, this one offers two: the standard historic rite and a single representative of the past half-century of liturgical experience and development – the Renewed Ancient Text. It is authorized here with the intent that its theology and doctrine should be understood as fully consonant with the historic Anglican faith.
This set of prayers is derived from a document known as The Apostolic Tradition, attributed to one of the earliest Anti-Popes, Hippolytus. Writing near 200AD, Hippolytus was reacting to a succession of bishops in Rome who were tolerating various heresies such as Montanism and what came to be known as Sabellianism. Tensions grew over the years and eventually sought episcopal ordination himself to set himself up as the truly catholic Bishop of Rome over against Zephyrinus and Callistus. The Apostolic Tradition is his rebuttal to the now-unknown liturgical practices in Rome at the time, and because he wrote in Greek rather than in Latin his liturgical writings have seen influence in Eastern liturgy far more than in Western. The Apostolic Tradition was reexamined in the mid-20th century and became hugely influential in the Liturgical Renewal Movement that guided the Second Vatican Council in the Roman Church and resulted in several new Communion liturgies both in Roman and Anglican churches. Modern rites, such as Prayers A and B in the American Prayer Book of 1979, and Prayer B in the Church of England’s Common Worship (2000), as well as the present Renewed Ancient Text, are inspired by the work attributed to Hippolytus. These prayers most closely resemble Prayer A from the 1979 Prayer Book.
One of the most noticeable differences between the two rites is the theological scope. Where the Standard Text is narrowly focused, delving deep into the doctrine of the Cross, and Christ’s death and resurrection, the Renewed Ancient Text is shallower yet marks of a far larger picture of the Gospel, connecting the dots from Creation to the Last Day. This is most noticeable in the first paragraph, perhaps giving these prayers a particular fittingness to the seasons of Advent, Christmas, or Epiphany.
The first paragraph is the anamnesis. Our creation, the fall, and the incarnation are recalled, specifically naming the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary (which is the primary contribution from 1979’s Prayer B). Christ’s obedience unto death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension close the anamnesis, concluding that the worshipers therefore have confidence to approach the throne of grace.
The Words of Institution follow, and are identical to the form found in the Anglican Standard Text.
Then follows a Memorial Acclamation, or “the mystery of faith”, giving the congregation a voice amidst the Prayers of Consecration. Although this has no representative in historic liturgies, this call-and-response element has become popular in modern liturgies, particularly in the several rites offered in Common Worship. This part of the prayers corresponds to the first paragraph of the Oblations in the Standard Text (“Therefore, O Lord and heavenly Father…”) in that both introduce the prayers of self-offering with a recapitulation of the anamnesis or remembrance. The Memorial Acclamation doesn’t just give the congregation more lines to read, but also thereby gives common assent to the celebrant’s prayers beyond the final “Amen.”
The Oblation of “these gifts” follows, acknowledging the Church’s sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, now drawing from the language of historic Anglican liturgy. “We celebrate the memorial… and we offer you these gifts” summarizes elements of the first two paragraphs of the Standard Text’s oblations. “Sanctify them…” is an epiclesis, similar to the placement of the epiclesis in the classical American Prayer Books. “In the fullness of time…” concludes the oblations with a prayer for the final glorification of God’s people. The Prayers of Consecration of the Renewed Ancient Text thus ends as it begins – with a broader scope of the Gospel story than the Anglican Standard Text. This advantage is gained, however, at the cost of the detailed centrality of the Cross.
The epiclesis has already been discussed before. Its placement here amidst the prayers of oblation is both a return to the order of the first three American Prayer Books and a subtle way of de-emphasizing the blessing of the bread and wine, because it continues immediately with an epiclesis of the people: “Sanctify us also”. As in historic Prayer Book piety, there is greater concern for right reception of the Sacrament than for the metaphysics of the Body and Blood in the bread and wine, as the end goal of participating in Holy Communion is not knowledge per se but unity with Christ: the mutual indwelling of he “in us and we in him.” This unity is for eternity: that the worshipers will be so fed unto eternal life that they will enter into God’s heavenly kingdom with all the saints, beholding the face of God.
The final Doxology is the same as in the Standard Text, only with a different lead-up text.