Book Review: A Manual for Priests of the American Church

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.

One of the most useful supplementary liturgical texts on my shelf is A Manual for Priests of the American Church by Earl H. Maddux.  Originally produced in 1944, it reached a fifth edition in 1968.  Its subtitle is “Complementary to the Occasional Offices of the Book of Common Prayer” (paired with the 1928).  After the 1979 Prayer Book was released, I don’t believe this book had a successor.  This is partly because the 1979 Prayer Book added to its pages a few things supplied in this book, and partly because what remained useful in this book didn’t really need any updating for those who were disposed to its it.

The book consists of three sections: Offices, Blessings, and an Appendix of extra material.

The “Offices” supplement what’s in the 1928 Prayer Book, adding some instructions for emergency and conditional baptism, admitting catechumens, sacramental confession, communion from the reserved sacrament, blessing civil marriages, ministry to (including anointing of) the sick, prayers for the dying and departed, particular situations for Burial services, and the like.  Much of this is found in the 1979 Prayer Book in one form or another.  The 2019 Prayer Book provides a form of most of this material too.  If you’re a 1928 Prayer Book user, this part of the book is still immediately practically useful; for the rest of us it’s informative reference material to see how some of the “new” parts of our prayer book were previously rendered.

The “Blessings” section is the part that I don’t know if can be found in any newer books.  It begins with a set of rubrics about how priests and bishops are to handle priestly blessings, how to vest, what sort of contexts and permissions are necessary, and starts the list with the blessing of holy water, as that is what’s typically used in blessing nearly any other object or locale.  If you are open to this line of tradition, this collection is invaluable, as it represents an Anglican adaptation of traditional Western liturgical material.  My congregation is not particularly high-church in their devotion and piety, but there have been times when they’ve asked me to bless new crosses, bibles, and the like.  Rendering some of this book’s blessings into contemporary English has been a handy resource for me!  It’s got blessings for advent wreaths, vestments, pictures, pregnant women, children, books, candles, houses, other types of buildings, prayer beads, vehicles, even including…

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you know… just in case you’re the chaplain to NASA or something.  Clearly the star-gazing 60’s had an impact on the later editions of this book!

The Appendix section of this book is a sort of catch-all for various bits and bobs.  More blessings and offices, including the Asperges, the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, imposition of ashes for Ash Wednesday, and large pile of additional blessings and prayers, fill another 70 pages of the volume.  A few of these features (like ashes for Ash Wednesday) have found their way into modern prayer books, and therefore make for interesting comparative liturgical study as we consider how mid-20th-century highchurchmen sought to restore ancient traditions such as the imposition of ashes into the Anglican context.

The book closes with a set of indexes, making its rather scattered contents much easier to find, especially if you find yourself “is there a blessing/prayer for this?”

As you can probably tell from a number of the features listed in this book by now, this is a decidedly highchurch, Anglo-Catholic, resource.  It is to such a degree that many would consider this in violation of the Anglican formularies by (re-)introducing prayers for the departed, traditions that suggest a “sacerdotal” priesthood, and so-called Roman superstitions concerning the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  A lowchurch or charismatic Anglican may find elements of this book useful on a careful pick-and-choose basis, but on the whole this book is unashamedly Anglo-Catholic.  However, before you dismiss this book entirely on theological-party grounds, it should be noted that this book is presented as complementary to the Prayer Book; nothing in here replaces the authorized Prayer Book.  So let us not regard this book as representing a divisive element who wanted to replace the Prayer Book; that is an extreme to be found elsewhere, not here.

The Saint Aelfric Customary, apart from its primary role of parsing out the execution of the 2019 Prayer Book liturgy in a traditional manner, also aims to provide some supplemental liturgical material, and many of the blessings in this book will be drawn upon, adapted into contemporary English to match our new Prayer Book’s style.  If you are priest with even just a little bit of high-church interest, I recommend this book very highly; it is a useful resource to have around, even if it’s only practically useful once in a blue moon!

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 4/5
Because it’s been through a few additions, some of its sections, especially the Appendix, aren’t as logically ordered as one might wish.  But the index section in the back is simple, making it easy to find what you’re looking for.  The fact that its material is in traditional English may also be a slight deterrent for those unused to it.

Devotional Usefulness: 2/5
It’s hard to rate this book on this scale.  If you’re an Anglo-Catholic Priest, in a high church 1928 Prayer Book parish, then this book is probably a 4.  For the rest of us priests, though, this is much more of an occasional resource.  If you’re not ordained, this book will almost never be “useful” to you at all.

Reference Value: 3/5
From the standpoint of the History of Liturgy, or liturgiology, this is a really cool text.  You get see, here, several examples of Anglo-Catholic recoveries of traditional liturgical material before it gets appropriated the Liturgical Movement of the 1960’s as represented in the 1979 Prayer Book.  In this sense, then, this book is a fascinating study to anyone interested in the subject.

By way of a last word, this is a book that I think all Anglican priests should know about, most should have, even if only a few will use.

Book Review: the 1979 BCP

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.

In 1979, after several years of experimentation and trial-use liturgies, the Episcopal Church (USA) promulgated a revolutionary new Prayer Book.  It was a massive tome, compared to its predecessors, with all sorts of exciting new features.  The Daily Office and Communion services were offered in both traditional and contemporary English.  Multiple rites (especially prayers of consecration) for the Communion service were provided.  The minor offices of Noonday Prayer and Compline were added.  The Imposition of Ashes, the Liturgy of the Palms, a Good Friday liturgy, instructions for a traditional approach to Holy Saturday, and an Easter Vigil liturgy all brought catholic tradition into the Prayer Book (where high church parishes previously had to rely upon supplementary material if they wanted to hold such traditions).  The liturgies for Ministration to the Sick and the Dying were expanded.  A new translation of the Psalter was made.  The additional prayers for the Daily Office turned into a massive compilation of over 100 prayers and thanksgivings, neatly ordered and numbered for ease of use.  New lectionaries were made.  There’s a new (longer) catechism.  Additional “historical documents” were appended to the volume, along with The 39 Articles of Religion.

Pretty much all of these were firsts for the Prayer Book tradition.  It is hard to speak ill of that, especially when much of the expanded content was already in use by many traditionalists, and its inclusion in the Prayer Book enabled further standardization and propagation of said practices, even breaking the highchurch / lowchurch barrier.

But there are a number of issues that have been raised with this book.

The changes in style, order, and content to the primary liturgies (Daily Office and Communion) are major departures from all previous Prayer Books.  Many of the changes to the Roman Rite in the wake of their 2nd Vatican Council were imitated in our changes to the Anglican liturgies, especially in the calendars and the order of the Communion service. Some would describe the 1979 book’s results as a bland and generic western catholicism that is neither Roman nor Anglican.

The Baptism liturgy contains perhaps the most criticized feature of the 1979 book: the “baptismal covenant.”  It takes the biblical and traditional idea of the baptized person(s) committing him/herself to Christ, and expands it into a whole contract – or covenant – by which the individual is united to Christ.  Internet articles abound in picking apart just how poorly this innovation to the Baptism liturgy was devised.  On a related note, some also point out that the way this book emphasizes (and arguably redefines) Holy Baptism, the rite of Confirmation ends up being pushed aside as extraneous – a concern that is further highlighted by the fact that Confirmation was no longer the requirement for entry to Holy Communion.  The liturgies for Holy Matrimony and Ordination have also been somewhat liberalized from previous books.

There is also the question of the contemporary language itself.  This was very strongly desired by many Episcopalians at the time, and very strongly opposed by others.  While that controversy and argument still exists today, I think there is a little more peaceful coexistence between the two views now.  But the quality and precision of the contemporary English is still somewhat up for grabs.  As we’ve seen in the process of creating our 2019 Prayer Book, the delicate interplay between faithfulness to the wording of the Bible, consistency with the wording of previous Prayer Books, and accessibility of style and vocabulary to the modern reader is a difficult game to play.  Our recent examination of the Daily Office “lesser litany” illustrates this well.  Or, more bluntly, a quick reading of the 1979 book’s Eucharistic Prayer C makes it immediately obvious that some of this book is too much a product of its generation and lacks that ‘timeless’ quality that will appeal to the next generation(s) thereafter.  (That prayer is nicknamed the “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” Prayer.)

For better and for worse, this has been the standard Prayer Book for the majority of Anglicans in this country for a few decades now.  It was my first Prayer Book, too, and I used it faithfully and happily for about four years before I began to see just how different it was from the 1662 book.  At that point I started weaning myself off of it, using the new ACNA materials available and drawing from more traditional material to “fill in the gaps” for the time being.  I learned that the Prayer Book tradition’s roots look quite different from the 1979 book… but that isn’t the case for a lot of people; to many this book is the Prayer Book, and (if they’re in the ACNA) the 2019 will be the next Prayer Book.  In a way, I think that perspective is more damaging.  The 1979 book, for all its innovation, still does have a strong “Prayer Book” origin to it, and if you familiarize yourself with classical prayer book tradition then you can find that traditional core to the ’79 pretty easily and use it fruitfully.  But without that second foot in Anglican history, one’s use of the ’79 is going to be rather blind and untethered, tossed on the sea of alternate liturgies and options that transformed a 600-page book into 1,000.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 2/5
Due to the multiple versions and options of the primary liturgies, and the fact that most of the pastoral and episcopal liturgies are typically intended to be part of a Communion service, the page-flipping required to hold one worship service directly from this book is terribly excessive.  If you’re a liturgy nerd, or very patient, or have a cheat-sheet-style bookmark with all the page numbers for the service, then you can do it.  But this book doesn’t make it easy.  Also due to the page-flipping required, it’s easy to miss the rubrics at the end of sections which sometimes point to even more options.  Judicious use of “go to page ___” instructions would have mitigated some of these challenges, and I think the 2019 book looks like it’s learning that particular lesson.

Devotional Usefulness: 3/5
If you can get past the accessibility issues, there are plenty of good things in this book to feed the Christian soul.  Despite the changes, the Daily Office and Communion services still contain good, godly, biblical, and even Anglican prayers.  There is a fair bit of chaff to omit here and there, but it’s usually not too intrusive.  The prayers at time of death and anointing of the sick are also handy references for pastoral emergencies.  Though I’m happy to never have to use its baptism, confirmation, matrimony, or ordination services.

Reference Value: 1/5
Honestly, because the 2019 book is looking to be very similar to the 1979 in terms of general content, there’s basically no reason to pull this book off the shelf anymore.  We can trace the historical changes from 1928 to 1979 to 2019, but that’s largely of academic interest, and of little use to the average church-goer or minister.  Furthermore, because most of the changes from the 1979 to the 2019 are “roll-backs” toward classical Anglican content, the 1979 book represents a sort of liturgical dead end: the tradition went too far in one direction, and now we’ve reeled it in somewhat.

So we’re at a point now where I no longer give out copies of the 1979 Prayer Book to anyone.  I’m not an Episcopalian, it’s #notmyprayerbook, and I’d much rather point people to the corrected, more traditional and biblical 2019 material.  That being said, I’m not a hater.  The 1979 is where I first delved into the Anglican tradition, and my extensive study of that book gave me a leg-up in understanding what’s going on with the 2019 book.  The 1979 BCP has served its purpose, done its time, and is now ready to enjoy a (very) quiet retirement.

Martin Luther & the Baptismal Liturgy

February 18th is the commemoration of Martin Luther, the first of the great Protestant Reformers.  He was born in 1483, ordained a priest in 1507 at about age 24, began his public protest of ecclesiastical abuses with his 95 Theses in 1517, and was excommunicated by the Pope in 1521, thus kicking off the Protestant Reformation.  He died on this day in 1546 at the respectable age of 62.

When examining the history of the English Reformation and the birth of Anglican tradition, more attention is usually paid to the influence of the Calvinist reformers of Geneva than to the German Lutherans.  So today let’s take a look at a significant Lutheran feature in Anglican liturgy: the “flood prayer” in the Baptismal service.  When Luther was revising the Roman liturgy for the German Protestant churches in the 1520’s he abbreviated the baptism service a couple different times, streamlining its attention upon the baptismal act and the grace of God therein.  But one thing he added to the liturgy was this “flood” prayer which carried over into the English Prayer Books a few decades later.

Let’s take a look at this prayer in three versions: the Lutheran Service Book as used by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (which I’m hoping is a close representative of the German original), the 1662 Prayer Book (the Anglican standard), and the most recent draft version I’ve got from the ACNA website.

Baptism - Flood Prayer

Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice is the modern love of brevity.  The long, eloquent, and often verbose prayers of the 16th and 17th centuries have been eroded through the 20th century for the modern ear.

The next obvious feature is that our new version is missing two sections with biblical references.  Before people start complain about the ACNA watering down the baptismal liturgy (if you’ll forgive the wonderful, wonderful pun), it should be pointed out that those omitted references to the crossing of the Red Sea and the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan are found elsewhere in the modern liturgy.  Rather than hitting us with all of them at once in one glorious prayer, it’s spread out among a few medium- and short-length prayers.

It’s also interesting to note the theme of the judgment of the wicked – it’s present in each version of the Flood Prayer but ours seems to be less prominent than its Lutheran forebear.  We just get a shout-out to God’s wrath in the penultimate section, while the Lutheran version mentions those condemned in the Noahic Flood, hard-hearted Pharaoh, and the inherited sin of Adam.  This, perhaps, flies in the face of certain negative stereotypes regarding the Reformed theological camp.

Whateverso, despite its reduction in length, and its spreading out through different parts of our baptismal liturgy today, the Flood Prayer is a beautiful prayer, deeply expressive of our baptismal theology, and we have Martin Luther to thank for writing the original version!  If you want to read more about the origin of the Flood Prayer, this article is a nice place to start.