The Orchestral Feast of the Prayer Book Liturgy

One of the more baffling and frustrating things I find in common discourse regarding the nature of Anglicanism, and more particularly our way of worship, is the identification of our liturgy as a distinctly “catholic” expression of spirituality. This is true one sense – it is a heritage that we have happily received from the wider family of Western liturgies. But it is equally true that our beloved Prayer Book liturgy is very much a Protestant treasure also. One need not be a high churchman or an Anglo-Catholic to love and defend the Prayer Book way of life. Indeed, our low church or reformed members can be just as fierce defenders of our heritage.

In our own day we need look no further than the recently departed J. I. Packer of blessed memory. This quote of his, for example, captures the respect any (and indeed every) member of the Anglican tradition can have for the Prayer Book:

The Prayer Book Liturgy on the Large Scale

The Prayer Book liturgy, in both its “pattern” and its content, provides a veritable symphony of Scripture. It is filled with intricate lines of biblical theology and thought, it is permeated with a robust spirituality that is both Patristic and Protestant, it is stately, yet simple; English, yet ecumenical; poetic, yet precise. It would admittedly be the height of hubris to claim this or any other liturgy to be utterly perfect. But the great Teachers of the Church have always agreed that the wisdom of those who have come before us are guiding lights in matters of faith’s practice, particularly in worship and liturgy. The formational power of worship, repeated over days and weeks and years, cannot be underappreciated; and the intentionality of a life of worship, rather than attention only to punctilious moments of worship on individual Sundays (as is the mentality of modern evangelicalism), will yield much greater spiritual gains in the long run. The Prayer Book offers us a full symphony that runs not just for “the Sunday service”, but throughout the day, throughout the week, and indeed all year long. No sextet, quartet, chamber ensemble, let along pop song, has the same scope, size, and sound of a full orchestra.

The music analogy is excellent, and speaks well to the beauty and craft of the liturgy, but perhaps another analogy speaks more pertinently to the sustaining power of worship – that of food. The worship of the Lord in Word and Sacrament are literally life-giving to the Christian soul. Liturgy is the meal planning. When a worship service is considered in isolation, only a single meal is being addressed; the Prayer Book prepares not only individual services but the whole meal plan, the full diet, for each day, week, and season of the year. A healthy diet needs to take the bigger picture into account, after all, one can’t usefully prepare a single meal or snack without accounting for what has been eaten already and when & what the people will eat next. Too many cheese sticks will complicate digestion. Not enough liquids will dehydrate the body. Junk food staves off starvation, but doesn’t contribute to bodily health in the long run, but rather, kills.

The Prayer Book is not unique in that it provides for the full orchestra or plans the long-term food plan; all liturgical traditions before it did so, and these were not inventions of medieval Christians but date back to Christ and the Apostles attending the Temple and the synagogue, which in turn dates back to various stages of Old Testament history. Obviously the Old Covenant prayers had to be “updated” in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Saviour of the world, but the continuity of worship from B.C. to A.D. is remarkable.

The Prayer Book, is, however, unique in that it provides all this in one single volume. Over the course of time, liturgical traditions (especially in the West) grew more and more elaborate. As one reads in the Preface to the first Prayer Book, “many times, there was more business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it was found out.” Liturgy had become over-specialized, elitist, the provenance of priests and monks, the laity reduced to mere spectators most of the time. The gem of Anglicanism has been to provide the essential material of our historic liturgical tradition in a single book that can be used (albeit with some practice and guidance) by anyone who can read.

Thus the Prayer Book is a vital tool not only for the work of the priests and other ministers, but for everyone in the pews, as it protects the laity from the clergy. Instead of being subject to the whims of individual ministers, who might pray as they wish and provide no guarantee of orthodoxy apart from personal trust, the Anglican with a Prayer Book is assured that no matter what church or chapel one might visit, the worship of God will be sound, no matter how well- or ill-disposed the minister might happen to be.

The Prayer Book Liturgy on the Small Scale

It has become something of a popular mentality since the 20th century to pay more attention to the shape, contour, or outline of a worship service than to its specific ingredients, contents, and phraseology. It is true, as our Articles of Religion confess, that rites and ceremonies need not be everywhere identical. Language changes over time and varies across distances and cultures. The Prayer Book, especially the 1662 Book which is effectively the mother of all other Prayer Books since, is not a golden tablet received from the hand of God himself to be used unchanged and unvaried for all time, but it is the gold standard by which we measure our changes and variances over time. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it is a Book that we understand to be reliable, having fed and nourished one local national church into a global communion of tens of millions.

Thus it is important that we appeal not only to the types of worship services in the Prayer Book, or the ideas of the Prayer Book services, or their shapes or outlines, but also the specific contents thereof. A long-term meal plan must use specific ingredients to make its meals; a symphony orchestra must appoint specific notes to played by specific instruments at specific times. What we pray is an essential part of how we pray.

Many volumes of books could be (and have been) filled to comment on the truth and beauty found within the Prayer Book’s pages; this essay can only address a few brief examples and perhaps point beyond itself for further reference. Let us consider how we confess our sins, how we confess our faith, how we approach the Communion table, and how we commend our prayers unto God.

Confession of Sin

The Prayer Book tradition has two different prayers of confession, which modern practice had sometimes simplified and sometimes diversified.

In the Daily Office, the minister prepares the way for confession with Scripture and exhortation, providing a compelling biblical case for the practice of confessing our sins especially “when we assemble and meet together.” In this confession we not only offer a functional admission of guilt and wish for forgiveness, but we use sober and uncompromising biblical language to express it with clarity and sincerity. “We have erred and strayed from [God’s] ways like lost sheep, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, we have offended against [God’s] holy laws, we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” Here we express general ways in which we have sinned (by commission or by omission) and detail the means in the language of straying, following other ourselves, and offending against the Law. This culminates with the admission that “there is no health in us,” – that on our own we are dead or dying, unless or until God’s grace changes that. Our plea for mercy and forgiveness follows, with the hope that we might “hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life” to God’s glory.

At the Communion service we “acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed.” Or, in more modern terms, we “acknowledge and lament our many sins and offenses, which we have committed“. We further acknowledge our sins manifest in thought, word, and deed, cutting deep into our souls, and we acknowledge these sins provoke God’s wrath, or righteous anger, against us. For this we are deeply and heartily sorry, and we confess that our sins are an intolerable burden, more than we can bear, already hinting at the solution in Christ who could and did bear our sins on the Cross. We offer a three-fold plea for mercy which is followed by a prayer for such forgiveness that we may evermore serve him in newness of life to the honour and glory of God’s name.

These prayers are thorough, biblically rich, personal, and far more honest than we otherwise would be on our own. They express the depth of our sinfulness and proclaim the Gospel of salvation – especially when followed by the minister’s words of Absolution and (in the Communion) the Comfortable Words from four New Testament passages.

Contrast this with the pithy confessions of modern liturgies and the loss is clear.

Lord God, we have sinned against you; we have done evil in your sight. We are sorry and repent. Have mercy on us according to your love. Wash away our wrongdoing and cleanse us from our sin. Renew a right spirit within us and restore us to the joy of your salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Common Prayer (2000, UK), page 31

If you look at the shape or contour, you will see that the outline of the prayer is basically the same. But the substantial content is massively reduced – we say we are sorry but we don’t express we are sorry. It is like playing an excerpt of a grand symphony on a plastic recorder – it sounds the same functionally but carries little of its gravity. Thus even though the worshiper here is speaking truth, there is far less impetus take that truth into the depths of one’s heart.

The American prayer of confession from 1979 is a little longer, but ultimately suffers from the same problem:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Book of Common Payer (1979, USA), page 79

There is more room to “feel” the truth of penitence here than in the previous example, but there’s still more “tell” than “show.” The grave wickedness of sin is not mentioned, the standards of God’s law or holiness are not put upon our lips. True confession of sin, or contrition (to use the language of Psalm 51 and Isaiah 57, and the Church’s traditional discourse ever since) must be heartfelt. Short and simple confessions like these run the risk of a rubber-stamped contractual obligation – “I’m supposed to say I’m sorry before I’m allowed in.”

Confession of Faith

Something that is popular in some modern liturgies is to provide fresh new confessions of faith to use in the course of worship. Take, for example, this Affirmation of Faith:

Let us declare our faith in God.

We believe in God the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.
We believe in God the Son, who lives in our hearts through faith, and fills us with his love.
We believe in God the Holy Spirit, who strengthens us with power from on high.
We believe in one God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Common Worship (2000, UK), page 148

This is an authorized “Affirmation of Faith” that may be used in place of the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds. It is noted to be drawn from Ephesians 3, and in that sense it is a lovely confession of faith. BUT, of course, it is incredibly limited in its value as a Creed. Gone is the name of Jesus, let alone his death and resurrection. Gone is the forgiveness of sins, holy baptism, the creation of the universe, the church. For a private devotion this “creed” can be a beautiful reflection on Ephesians 3, but a real Creed it is not.

Instead, in the liturgical tradition we have always used Creeds that have been accepted across the global church with almost perfect unanimity. There were complications with the Nicene Creed in a few small quarters, and the Athanasian Creed is not used in the East, but as far as our family of liturgical practice is concerned we have received three Creeds: the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian. At the Communion, we recite the Nicene Creed, in the Daily prayers we recite the Apostles’, and on special occasions the Athanasian Creed makes an appearance. Again, this is not a “catholic” versus “protestant” thing; my Reformed colleagues outside of the Anglican tradition also argue that the Apostles’ Creed is inferior to the Nicene Creed when it comes to parsing out the full divinity and humanity of Christ. And the Athanasian Creed remains the most useful resource in all of Western Christianity for explicating the doctrine of the Trinity. When it comes to rehearsing the basic articles of our faith, there is no better place to turn than these three creeds.

Furthermore, these are not ingredients in isolation. In both the Daily Office and the Communion service, we recite a Creed soon after the Scripture readings. The Creed therefore serves not only as a summary of our faith but also a summary of biblical teachings. Whether is is a sermon (as at the Communion) or not (as in the traditional Daily Office), the Creed still stands as at least a brief teaching to follow up on our hearing of the sacred Scriptures.

Approaching the Communion Table

One of the most-beloved specific prayers of the Prayer Book tradition is entitled the Prayer of Humble Access. Its precise location in the Communion service has shifted from one Prayer Book to another, and there is merit to discussing its precise role in those different places. But in all cases, it serves as a preparatory prayer, a voice of humility and devotion before receiving Holy Communion. here it is in traditional and modern language forms:

We do not presume to come to this thy/your Table, O merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy/your manifold/abundant and great mercies.
We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy/your Table.
But thou/you art/are the same Lord, whose property/character is always to have mercy.
Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy/your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
and to drink his blood,
that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body,
and our souls washed through his most precious blood,
and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

Modern liturgies often remove this prayer entirely. Some forms axe the two penultimate lines (“that our sinful bodies…” and “and our souls washed…”). Some offer alternative prayers:

Most merciful Lord, your love compels us to come in. Our hands were unclean, our hearts were unprepared; we were not fit even to eat the crumbs from under your table. But you, Lord, are the God of our salvation, and share your bread with sinner. So cleanse and feed us with the body and blood of your Son, that he may live in us and we in him; and that we, with the whole company of Christ, may sit and eat in your kingdom. Amen.

Common Worship (2000, UK), page 181

As with the modern confession prayers, this alternative follows the same “shape” as the original, but it lacks much. Most notably, this example has no language of cleansing. It sets up our unworthiness truthfully and God’s gracious invitation is biblical, but God does not simply share his bread with sinner, but rather he transforms us through this bread and cup into people who are cleaned and washed so that we may live in him forever.

There is a lot going on in the celebration of Holy Communion, and the Prayer of Humble Access is one of the most “personal” moments in the liturgy, whether it’s read only by the minister (traditionally) or by the whole congregation with him (in some modern forms). We have already heard God’s Word, we have already confession our sins and heard words of absolution and comfort; the Prayer of Humble Access is where each one of us recognizes the ongoing nature of our unworthiness and cleansing-in-Christ that happens before, during, and after the eucharistic feast of which we are about to partake. To confuse this prayer with the Confession of sin, or to remove it utterly, would be a great loss to the richness and power of the liturgy.

Commending our Prayers to God

It is perhaps one of the most arrogant things in popular evangelicalism today that we presume upon God as if he is obligated to hear us and answer our prayers. It is true that we have a gracious God who has dwelt among us sinners precisely to open the way to eternal life to any sinner who repents and turns to him, but that does not translate to an attitude to flippant presumption on our part. We do not invite God’s Spirit among us when we begin to worship, nor do we offer him prayer without humbly beseeching him to hear us. The Litany, in its extended list of supplications, is a prime example of us principle in action, but perhaps the best single-prayer summary of this is the Prayer of Saint John Chrysostom, found at the end of the Daily Office. As the name implies, it has a fair bit of history before the advent of the Prayer Book, but its role in our liturgy is significant.

There we acknowledge of our prayers that God has “given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto Him, and dost promise that when two or three are gathered together in His Name, He will grant their requests“. This is, in one sense, an affirmation that the liturgy – what we’ve been praying so far – is acceptable to God (cf. Psalm 19:14 and Psalm 69:13, Proverbs 10:32 and 15:8), and that we can be confident in the content of the liturgy. It is also, of course, a more personable reassurance that God is with his people. The prayer then continues with us asking God to “fulfill now the desires and petitions of His servants” So we not only express humble confidence that God has listened to our prayers, we ask that he would answer them. God has no obligation to us apart from his own promises – we have no power over him, there is no magic force in true faith.

So we ask him to hear and answer our prayers, and even that we do humbly: “as may be best for us [or most expedient for them], granting us in this world knowledge of thy/your truth, and in the world to come life everlasting.” God knows best how to answer our prayers, whatever is best or most expedient for our true needs. And, whatever the specifics of our prayers, there is always an underlying intention in our worship to gain knowledge of God’s truth and to attain to everlasting life. These intentions are mirrored in the Blessing at the end of the Communion service – that the peace of God which passes all understanding would keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and that his blessing would be among us and remain with us forever.

Thus even our “meta-prayers”, our prayers about prayer, are instructive to the worshiper and humbly worshipful before the Lord.

World without end

Our liturgy, our Prayer Book, is indeed a symphony and feast that stretches from winter to summer to winter again; from birth to death, from baptism to last rites; from the dead souls at the Gates of Hell to the regenerated, justified, and sanctified soul stepping through the Gates of Heaven. Could there be another symphony written, as elegant and effective, as beautiful and true, as ours? Certainly it could. The wealth of liturgical history is ample evidence of this – the Liturgies of Saint James and Saint Chrysostom have been observed for over a millennium in the East, the West has enjoyed the Mozaribic Rite, the Sarum, Gallican, and Roman Rites, various monastic institutions such as the Benedictines and the Dominicans have developed their own forms of the same liturgy… the variety is beautiful, and periodic moments of cross-pollination have been very enriching for the church at large.

But each of these liturgical traditions are the work of centuries, crafted carefully, slowly, reverently, and lovingly, over many generations. The 1662 Prayer Book itself represents the work of many individuals spanning over a century beginning with one Archbishop’s consolidation of the Sarum Use of the Western liturgical tradition. And since 1662 standard practices have gradually shifted and developed; the liturgy is living and active, a sharp sword in its own right, dividing the demons of ambition and personal preference in public worship, much like how the spiritual sword of sacred Scriptures divides the joints and marrow of our souls to uncover our underlying sinful nature in all realms of life. Thus it is foolhardy and dangerous to presume that we can, in one fell swoop, overthrow and replace a liturgy as developed as our heritage has delivered to us. Alternative services, variations or order and wording, have their places on the fringe of experimentation and the occasional what-if’s of Christian worship, but to replace our Prayer Book history wholesale with something new or different is to cast ourselves adrift in the chaotic ocean of the world a new untested ship. It may deliver some to their desired port of rest, but if the new Titanic has sunk en route one can hardly say the massive loss was worth it.

As my province’s Prayer Book admits in its Preface, “The Book of Common Prayer (1979) in the United States and various Prayer Books that appeared in Anglican Provinces from South America to Kenya to South East Asia to New Zealand were often more revolutionary than evolutionary in character. Eucharistic prayers in particular were influenced by the re-discovery of patristic texts unknown at the Reformation, and often bore little resemblance to what had for centuries been the Anglican norm. Baptismal theology, especially in North America, was affected by radical revisions to the received Christian understanding, and came perilously close to proclaiming a gospel of individual affirmation rather than of personal transformation and sanctification.” In the wake of such wide-ranging revisions and changes, it is all the more difficult (yet necessary) that we take steps to rediscover and reclaim our rightful heritage, which nurtured our forebears for centuries and led to the great and global growth of our tradition which many since the 20th century have gone onto squander. We must labor to further work of true reform and restoration, seeking the historic confines of what is authentically the Christian Faith and the Anglican patrimony, to restore their fullness and beauty.

The Prayers for Mission at Morning Prayer

The inclusion of a Prayer for Mission at this point in the Daily Office was introduced in the 1979 Prayer Book.  Most of the prayers in that book are retained here, but some changes have been made. One of the chief concerns of 20th century evangelicalism is the work of mission, bringing the Gospel to all peoples, tribes, and nations, locally and abroad.  The Canadian Prayer Book of 1962 put a particular mission focus into its office of Prayers at Mid-Day and the American Book of 1979 put six prayers for mission into the Daily Office – three for the Morning and three for the Evening.  Some of the content has changed for the 2019 Prayer Book, but the function is the same: we have a group of prayers for mission to keep us mindful of God’s work throughout the world in various ways.

The First in Morning Prayer.  This prayer was not among the 1979 Prayers for Mission in the Daily Office, but a version of it was Additional Prayer #9 in the appendix of that book.  Before that, it has a long history of use in both Prayer Book and pre-Reformation tradition, serving as the Collect for a couple different Votive Masses in the Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries and the Sarum missal, as one of the final collects of the Litany of 1544, and as an extra collect at the end of Morning and Evening Prayer in the 1662 Prayer Book.

Almighty and everlasting God, who alone works great marvels: Send down upon our clergy and the congregations committed to their charge the life-giving Spirit of your grace, shower them with the continual dew of your blessing, and ignite in them a zealous love of your Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Previous Prayer Books have entitled this prayer, “For Clergy and People”, which identifies the angle of its missional focus.  The mission of the church is to be carried out by congregations and their clergy together by the grace of the Holy Spirit.  God’s continual blessing is requested, and zealous love for the Gospel is identified as another gift to empower this mission.

The Second in Morning Prayer.  A Missionary Bishop in India wrote this prayer and it was subsequently adopted into the Additional Prayers and Thanksgivings in the 1892 and 1928 Prayer Books.  With further minor revisions along the way it took its current place in the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books.

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This prayer looks to our common humanity across the world, imploring God to grant that all would “feel after” or “seek after” him.  The appeal to the pouring of God’s Spirit upon all flesh in the Book of Joel and on the Day of Pentecost also gives this prayer an eschatological tone: it is the destiny or calling of humanity to unite in Christ’s kingdom.  Thus we are encouraged to see the mission of the church from the angle of preaching this peace, or unity, to the whole world.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the Cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name.  Amen.

The Third in Morning Prayer.  The third prayer was written by Bishop Charles Henry Brent in a book published in 1907.  Its Prayer Book debut was in 1979, and its position was maintained in the 2019 Book.

Where the second prayer contains a brief appeal to the work of Christ’s (in his preaching) this one centers entirely on the example of Christ (on the Cross).  As Jesus’ arms were stretched out wide as if to embrace the world, so too must we stretch out our hands in love to a world that needs “the knowledge and love” of him.  Although the tone of this prayer is decidedly modern, in keeping with its authorship, the devotional angle of Christ’s embrace of the universe on the Cross is of ancient origin.

Vigil fast today!

In the 1662 prayer book there are several fasts appointed on the eve, or vigil, or day before several of the holy days in the church year. Curiously, not all of the holy days in that prayer book get their own fast day beforehand; perhaps about 75% do and the rest do not.

Today is one such vigil fast, preparing us for the feast of the nativity of Saint John the Baptist tomorrow! This pairing of fasts and feasts is both an ancient and a sound practice:

Here, the great Anglican theologian, Richard Hooker, points out that grief and joy are two states of heart and mind which excellently summarize human life, and in her fast and feast days the church uses grief and joy to help Christians grow in virtue and holiness.

So if you are not normally one who observes days of fasting consider adopting the prayer book tradition of vigil fasts today!

The Summary of the Law

After the Collect for Purity comes what may be termed the Penitential Rite, consisting of either the Decalogue (BCP 100) or the Summary of the Law.  The Summary of the Law entered the Prayer Book tradition in 1790 as an option to follow the Decalogue, basically offering a New Testament summary of the Old Testament Law.  The Kyrie followed the Summary of the Law.  Later editions of the American Prayer Book allowed for the Summary of the Law and Kyrie to be said without the Decalogue, provided that the Decalogue was read at least once each month.  The following collect also came to follow the Penitential Rite:

O ALMIGHTY Lord, and everlasting God, vouchsafe, we beseech thee, to direct, sanctify, and govern, both our hearts and bodies, in the ways of thy laws, and in the works of thy commandments; that, through thy most mighty protection, both here and ever, we may be preserved in body and soul; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The 1979 Prayer Book reduced the entire Penitential Rite to the Kyrie only (in line with the Roman Rite) and even that was optional.  The present volume has restored the integrity of the Penitential Rite, making the Summary of the Law the standard text and offering the Decalogue as an option in its place, albeit without the former rubric requiring it monthly.

Here what our Lord Jesus Christ says:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

Either on its own or (as in earlier Prayer Books) as a follow-up to the Decalogue, this Summary confronts the worshiper with the fundamental moral demand upon all Christians: to love God and neighbor with every aspect of one’s being.  Like as in the case of the Decalogue, this is a penitential moment: our unworthiness is called to mind, and we rightly respond with the Kyrie or the Trisagion.  This brief Penitential Rite does not, however, come to the worshiper as a new subject or focus within the liturgy, but actually serves as an answer to prayer: in the Collect for Purity we pray for the cleansing of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which the Penitential Rite immediately addresses.  If we are to “perfectly love” God and “worthily magnify” his holy Name, we must confront ourselves with the Law of Moses, or Christ’s Summary of the Law, and cry out “Christ, have mercy upon us.”

On the Collect for Purity

Before the Reformation, this was a vesting prayer said by the celebrant before the Mass began. Archbishop Cranmer moved it to the second prayer of the Communion liturgy (following the Lord’s Prayer) in the Prayer Books.  The celebrant was to pray this kneeling at the Altar Table.  When the Communion liturgy was substantially re-ordered in the 1979 Book, this collect was rendered optional, but was still the second prayer (now following the Acclamation).  The present edition has retained the position of this prayer in the liturgy, returned it to a required piece of the liturgy, but opened it up to be a prayer said also by the congregation rather than only by the minister on their behalf.

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid:
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.

When reception of Holy Communion was less frequent, greater efforts were taken by the typical church-goer to prepare for its worthy reception.  Special acts of self-examination and other devotions on the holy mysteries of God’s grace toward sinners were standard fare for Christians of many stripes and traditions.  In this age of weekly Communion as the standard practice, the strictness of preparation and the depths of eucharistic piety have waned.  This prayer, when said by the congregation with the celebrant, reclaims an aspect of historic devotion in preparation for the Sacrament.

The Collect for Purity also provides for the worshiper both instruction and a model concerning right preparation for worship in general.  When we come to worship the Lord, we do not invite God’s presence among us, but rather seek his aid in preparing “the thoughts of our hearts” to enter into his.  God is already with us by virtue of his Word and Spirit; it is we who must be invited and aided to love him perfectly and worthily magnify his holy Name.

On the Decalogue

In the classical Prayer Books these commandments were the first words the priest spoke to the congregation in the Communion liturgy (although Communion at that time would almost never be celebrated alone, but typically after Morning Prayer with the Litany). The inclusion of the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, in the Prayer Book began in 1552.  After praying the Lord’s Prayer and the Collect for Purity, the priest would stand and turn to the congregation, reading each commandment, and the people responding “Lord, have mercye upon us, and encline our heartes to kepe this lawe.”  Apart from the 1979 Prayer Book, these responses have remained unchanged.

The anomalous change to the responses in 1979’s Rite II to “Amen.  Lord have mercy” expressed godly sorrow but not the full resolution to the amendment of life.  Proposed improvements included the phrase “give us grace to keep this law”, but even this was an ironic misappropriation of the doctrine of grace: we need not only grace or assistance to live holy lives, but our very hearts need to be “inclined” or redirected by the Holy Spirit.

As for the text of the commandments, the first American Prayer Book added the option of reading the Summary of the Law after the Ten Commandments (“Here also what our Lord Jesus Christ saith”), and in 1892 a rubric was added permitting the Decalogue to be skipped entirely, in which case the Kyrie should follow the Summary of the Law.  It was stipulated that the Decalogue should still be read at least once per month.  In 1928, the very text of the commandments was given an option to be shortened, which then became the normative text for the Decalogue in 1979 and the present edition.

Although the Decalogue remains optional in modern liturgies, it is a significant part not only of our history but of the Communion Rite in the Anglican (and broader reformation) tradition.  It is not only the biblical standard which the Summary of the Law only summarizes, but it is one of the three definitive texts of Christian catechesis alongside the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.  It is vital that our tradition uses all three of those texts in the course of regular worship – putting the foundational words of belief (Creed), spirituality (Lord’s Prayer), and ethics (Decalogue) upon the lips and ears of every worshiper.

On Prayers for the Departed

“Why would you pray for the dead? They’re already with Jesus!”

Such is the common well-meaning retort from most Protestants today when they hear us pray for the faithful departed. This is an ancient practice of the Church, but it seems that the Romans have cornered the market when it comes to explanation. They, famously, believe in Purgatory, wherein the souls of ordinary Christians are purged of their lifetime of sin before beholding the fullness of the Beatific Vision, or (more crassly), going to heaven. While this doctrine could be interpreted in a benign fashion – simply the clearing of our spiritual eyes after a life of sin and darkness – it has typically been presented in very penitential terms: the soul is tortured, exposed to the pains of hell for a period of time depending upon how much sin went unconfessed, lightened by indulgences and prayers and masses on their behalf.

Anglican prayers for the departed has no place for that.

Actually, some say that Anglicans have no place for any prayers for the departed. We had some in the first Prayer Book, and got rid of them a few years later, only to see the extreme Anglo-Catholic wing bring them back in the 20th century and the liberals tolerating it under the guise of “tradition.” But this explanation is not strictly true. The Prayer Books have always included prayer for the departed.

If we look at what our reformed liturgy, 1549 to the present, actually says, we will find that our practice is quite far from Roman superstition.

The Prayers of the People in the 1549 Prayer Book’s Communion liturgy prayed for

all other thy servants, which are departed hence from us, with the sign of faith, and now do rest in the sleep of peace: Grant unto them, we beseech thee, thy mercy, and everlasting peace, and that, at the day of the general resurrection, we and all they which be of the mystical body of thy Son, may altogether be set on his right hand, and hear that his most joyful voice: ‘Come unto me, O ye that be blessed of my Father, and possess the Kingdom, which is prepared for you, from the beginning of the world’.

This was dropped from subsequent Prayer Books until the American book of 1928, which prayed

for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service, and to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom.

In between, the 1662 Prayer Book contained a similar, if more subtle, prayer for the departed in the penultimate prayer of the Burial rite:

Almighty God… we give thee hearty thanks, for that it hath pleased thee to deliver this our brother out of the miseries of this sinful world; beseeching thee that it may please thee, of thy gracious goodness, shortly to accomplish the number of thine elect, and to hasten thy kingdom; that we, with all those that are departed in the true faith of thy holy Name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in thy eternal and everlasting glory

The final Collect in the 1662 Burial service reuses some of the material from the 1549 Prayer Book quoted above, acknowledging the future consummation of the Christian hope of resurrection unto eternal life.  This is the common acknowledgement throughout the Prayer Book tradition – that God’s will, or plan, for his people has not yet reached its conclusion.  We pray for the departed no longer with the fear or urgency of late medieval piety, which errantly believed in the departed souls’ need to move through Purgatory, but instead with personal affection and biblical hope that all is not as it yet should be.

The Prayers of the People in the 2019 Prayer Book summarize it this way:

We remember before you all your servants who have departed this life in your faith and fear, that your will for them may be fulfilled

The 2019 Litany offers a more specific explanation of this will:

To grant to all the faithful departed eternal life and peace, We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

Thus the prayers for the departed in the Prayer Book tradition is drawn from biblical doctrine rather than from later superstitions.

On Canticle 10: Benedicite, omnia opera Domini

This Canticle has been an alternative to the Te Deum since the first Prayer Book.  In 1979 it was instead recommended to be used as the first Canticle in Evening Prayer on Wednesdays.  In that book it was also shortened, simplified, and partitioned, and this Prayer Book has largely retained those edits.  A notable wording change is in the doxology: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” is now “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” – providing a more robust, if subtle, trinitarian clarification. 

I N V O C A T I O N

Glorify the Lord, all you works of the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
In the firmament of his power, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

I.  T H E  C O S M I C  O R D E R

Glorify the Lord, you angels and all powers of the Lord, * O heavens and all waters above the heavens.
Sun and moon and stars of the sky, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, every shower of rain and fall of dew, *   all winds and fire and heat,
Winter and summer, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, O chill and cold, * drops of dew and flakes of snow.
Frost and cold, ice and sleet, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, O nights and days, * O shining light and enfolding dark.
Storm clouds and thunderbolts, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

I I.  T H E  E A R T H  A N D  I T S  C R E A T U R E S

Let the earth glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, O mountains and hills, and all that grows upon the earth, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, O springs of water, seas, and streams, * O whales and all that move in the waters.
All birds of the air, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, O beasts of the wild, * and all you flocks and herds.
O men and women everywhere, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

I I I.  T H E  P E O P L E  O F  G O D

Let the people of God glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, O priests and servants of the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, O spirits and souls of the righteous, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
You that are holy and humble of heart, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

D O X O L O G Y

Let us glorify the Lord: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; * praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
In the firmament of his power, glorify the Lord, * praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Due to its length, this Canticle is given sub-headers within its text.  In the 1979 Prayer Book the idea was that the worshiper could use any of its three parts, with the Invocation and Doxology.  No such indication of this use exists in the present edition, so the sub-headings serve instead as aids for the worshiper to follow the train of thought throughout the Canticle.  The organization is logical and similar to the order of creation in Genesis 1: the angels and the powers of nature are called upon first to “praise him and highly exalt him for ever.”  This is in accord with the biblical doctrine that all creation proclaims the goodness of God in its own particular ways (Ps. 19:1).  The land, sea, and their respective creatures follow, and then the human race: God’s people and clergy, the living and the dead, we “that are holy and humble of heart.”  The doxology is an addition to the original text, updating the pre-Christian text in light of the revelation of the Holy Trinity, similar to how the Gloria Patri is normally said at the end of each Psalm.

On Canticle 9: Deus misereatur

Psalm 67 has been an alternative Canticle since 1552, serving alongside the Nunc Dimittis as the second Canticle in Evening Prayer.

The Gloria Patri is omitted from this Canticle, in line with the American Prayer Book tradition, though those who prefer the English-Canadian tradition are certainly free to add it back in.

May God be merciful unto us, and bless us, * and show us the light of his countenance, and be merciful unto us.
Let your way be known upon earth, * your saving health among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; * indeed, let all the peoples praise you.
O let the nations rejoice and be glad, * for you shall judge the peoples righteously, and govern the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; * let all the peoples praise you.
Then shall the earth bring forth her increase, * and God, even our own God, shall give us his blessing.
God shall bless us, *and all the ends of the world shall fear him.

Psalm 67 has become a popular psalm in modern liturgy.  Part of it is found amidst the Good  Friday anthems, it is one of the additional Psalms for Midday Prayer, and it has been an alternative to the Nunc dimittis in Evening Prayer since 1552.  The emphasis on peoples and nations rejoicing in God and praising him gives it an evangelistic or missional tone; and the language of God being merciful, blessing his people, and showing us his light provides another thematic context akin to the several prayers associated with Evening Prayer and Compline, especially when judgment is brought into the picture.  This Psalm, thus, pairs well with several Evening and Compline collects and prayers, especially the tone and emphasis of the prayers for mission.

On Canticle 8: Ecce, Deus

This canticle was introduced in the 1979 Prayer Book and recommended to be used as the first Canticle in Morning Prayer on Mondays, and the first Canticle in Evening Prayer on Saturdays, the former being drawn from its use in the Mozaribic rite.

Surely, it is God who saves me; * I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, * and he will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing * from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say, * Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
Make his deeds known among the peoples; * see that they remember that his Name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, * and this is known in all the world.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, * for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

The hymn of praise in Isaiah 12 does not point explicitly to any particular act of redemption or work of God.  Rather, it is more general in its concern.  The first few verses express trust in God’s salvation, defense, and provision.  Even if there is trouble, the believer need not be afraid, and will be seen through every danger to “give thanks to the Lord and call upon his name” on the day of deliverance.  Based on that, the worshiper is exhorted to share the news with others, and “see that they remember.”  We always can (and should) give thanks ring out our joy because God is in the midst of us.