Book Review: Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book

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.

Are you an Anglo-Catholic?  Or do you have high-church leanings?  If yes, then this is a book you’ll probably appreciate: Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book.  Despite the name, it’s not a Prayer Book in the sense of the Common Prayer Book; this little volume does not deal with liturgy as such.  In the three-fold rule of prayer scheme of things, this deals primarily with personal or private devotion and prayer.

Note: This review pertains to its 2014 edition; it has predecessors which may be rather different.

The Table of Contents give you a good idea of what’s inside here.

  • The Christian’s Obligations
  • Daily Prayer
  • Penitence and the Sacrament of Reconciliation
  • The Holy Eucharist
  • Eucharistic Devotions
  • Devotions through the Christian Year
  • Topical Devotions
  • Litanies
  • The Holy Hour

The Daily Prayer and Holy Eucharist sections contain prayers and explanations of the primary liturgies of the Prayer Book tradition, approximating or summarizing the Daily Office in short form and providing devotional aids for following along in the Communion service.  The Penitence section includes a re-print of The Reconciliation of a Penitent, found in the 1979 Prayer Book.

The Eucharistic, calendar-based, and other topical-based devotions and prayers are drawn from a wide swath of Church history and are unashamedly catholic in outlook.  I wouldn’t say it’s so Papist as to be un-Anglican, though some of its content definitely would be rejected by the more ardent low-churchmen, and it does admittedly slightly stretch the boundaries set out in the Anglican formularies (an issue that virtually all ‘parties’ of modern Anglicanism are guilty of in one way or another, to be fair).

As a parent, I have enjoyed the prayer for one’s children.  As a priest, I have enjoyed the “Nine Days of Prayer for One Deceased” both for my own grieving and for being ready to help others in theirs.

There are two cautions I must raise regarding this book, however.

  1. It is written to integrate with the 1979 Prayer Book.  As we’ve seen in a previous review, the 1979 Prayer Book is not the best representative of Anglican tradition by a long shot.  For most of my readers that book is also now completely obsolete, if you ever used it at all.  That makes some features of this book, especially its walk-through of the Communion service, rather out of date (if not just plain incorrect).
  2. It shows signs of current Episcopalian liberalism.  Because this is offered as a source of traditionalist devotional material, it does have an inherent liturgical conservatism to it, but certain issues like sexual morality in the examination of conscience end up reading a bit oddly.  Theological precision has long gone out the window in Episcopalianism, too, so one cannot count on the content of this book being well-tethered, to the Anglican formularies or otherwise.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 5/5
This is a very user-friendly book.  It’s meant for quick & easy use, without training; you don’t have to know your way around the Book of Common Prayer.  It has explanations and introductions in each chapter or section, much of which is useful to non-Episcopalians.

Devotional Usefulness: 3/5
This is where mileage may vary.  The fact that it’s conformed to the 1979 Prayer Book is an inconvenience for us in the ACNA.  The fact that it’s specifically Anglo-Catholic may take it down a notch or two if you’re opposed to Anglo-Catholicism (making it a 1 or a 2).  But if you’re comfortable with that tradition, there are plenty of things in here one can still enjoy and use.

Reference Value: 2/5
Again, the 1979 connection decreases its reference value outside of Episcopalianism.  But if you want to look at some classic catholic devotions (like devotions to Mary and the Saints, prayers for the departed, stations of the cross, etc.) through some sort of Anglican filter then this can still be pretty educational.  It’s primarily a devotional book, though.

All in all, I’m happy to have received a copy, and was happy to pass along another copy to someone else.  It’s nice to pick up every now and then.  I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy or recommend it to others at this point, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a revised edition compatible with the 2019 Prayer Book being made someday.

Book Review: The Bay Psalm Book

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.

Today we’re stepping outside the Anglican tradition and looking at a gem of American history.  The first book ever published and printed in North America was The Bay Psalm Book in 1640, a mere twenty years after the pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts.  It has gone through many re-printings since then, and probably has some more legible successors in recent times, but I happened upon a facsimile print of the first edition, complete with blocky type and funny 17th century spelling.  On its own, it’s a cool historical curiosity.  But its actual contents have proven useful to me, and even found their way into my church’s worship from time to time.

The Bay Psalms Book is basically a psalter: all the psalms are re-translated such that they conform to common poetic meters in English such that they can be set to hymn tunes.  This book does not assign any tunes, it’s simply the text of the metric psalms.  What I have done, then, is take up some of a psalm from this book, fix up the spelling (and modernize the grammar a little if possible) and pick a tune that my congregation will know.

Psalm 67, for example (odd spelling and italics included), reads thus:

God gracious be to us & give
his blessing us unto,
let him upon us make to shine
his countenance alſo.*

That there may be the knowledg of
thy way the earth upon,
and alſo of thy ſaving health
in every nation. **

O God let thee the people prayſe,
let all people prayſe thee.
O let the nations** rejoyce,
and let them joyfull bee:

For thou ſhalt give judgement unto
the people righteouſly,
alſo the nations upon earth
thou ſhalt them lead ſafely.

O God let thee the people prayſe
let all people prayſe thee.
Her fruitfull increaſe by the earth
ſhall then forth yeilded bee:

God ev’n our owne God ſhall us bleſſe.
God I ſay bleſſe us ſhall,
and of the earth the utmoſt coaſts
they ſhall him reverence all.

* The “long s” – ſ – looks like an lowercase f, but if you look carefully it doesn’t have the horizontal line through the center.  There was a general rule when to use ſ or s, but it doesn’t seem to be strictly followed in this book.

** Twice in this psalm you have to pronounce “nations” with three syllables: na-ti-ons.  This kind of thing happens with similar words throughout the book, making it rather difficult for the modern reader to pick up on.

Now try singing that to the hymn tune AZMON (popular with the song “O for a thousand tongues to sing“).

Pretty cool, huh?  What you can do with a book like this is look up the Psalm for the Communion service on a given Sunday, check if its verses are readable and singable for your congregation, and then bring them into the worship service set to a tune they know… then they’ll both read/pray the Psalm and sing a paraphrase of it!

A note on Psalm-singing: in liturgical worship, Anglican or otherwise, the text of the liturgy is very important.  It matters what we say, and why we say it.  To mess around with the wording or translation, therefore, is not good practice.  So I would never recommend metric psalms as a replacement for the Psalmody in the Daily Office or Communion services.  Let the official psalter translation do its work.  Metric versions such as in The Bay Psalms Book can be refreshing and interesting and even beneficial at times, but should never replace the actual text of our liturgy.

The ratings in short…

Accessibility: 5/5
This book is nice and simple; there’s an explanatory introduction, the text of 150 psalms, and nothing else.  The header tells you what psalm(s) are on the page below, so you can thumb through the book quickly and easily as you search for the one your want.

Devotional Usefulness: 3/5
You have to supply the music.  You have to be able to read the imperfect print (if you get a facsimile edition) and ignore the funny spellings.  You have to figure out how to pronounce some of the words like a 17th century British colonist.  It can be done, and it can be beneficial, but much of this book just “won’t do it” for worshipers in the 21st century.  Whenever I’ve used it in my church, it’s always been limited in scope and edited for clarity of language.

Reference Value: 3/5
There are modern metric psalm translations out there, so you don’t really need to seek this one out.  This is great if you like colonial American history, or the history of bible/psalm translation, or the history of Christian worship.  The introduction provides a little insight into puritan theology of worship, too.

Book Review: Saint Dunstan’s Plainsong Psalter

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 more unusual music volumes in my collection is Saint Dunstan’s Plainsong Psalter.  It was kindly bought for me as a Christmas gift by my parents-in-law a couple years ago, which was quite a surprise (though considering the vast length of my Amazon Wish Lists, it’s pretty easy for me to be surprised by gifts).  There was brief concern on my part, as I had just purchased stack of old books of chant, mass parts, choral services for the Daily Office, and so forth… would this book be redundant?

It turns out no, what this provides is a little different, and a lot more organized.  The title indicates that this book contains the Psalms marked for plainchant, but it has so much more inside.  It has some information and history of plainchant, including instructions on how to read and sing it.  It also provides chant settings (and text) for the entire Morning and Evening Office according to classical Prayer Book tradition!  With the resources in this single volume, you can chant the entire Morning Prayer (Matins) or Evening Prayer (Evensong) service, including the Scripture lessons.

It includes a walk-through of the ritual/ceremonial for a solemn chanted Office, and provides several chant tones for several Canticles that could be used at the Morning and Evening Office, even including the Athanasian Creed, and some Marian Anthems for those who want to high-church it up at the end of Evensong.  At the back, there’s a table of tones – an index of chant tunes, basically – which is a helpful study resource both for one who wants to learn to sing the chants regularly, and for one who wants to study this fascinating corner of music history.

It’s also worth noting that the plainchant tunes for the Psalms are not quite the same as in the traditional Roman Rite, but reflect the British variants that developed over the course of history.  So although this is a very “old-fashioned” traditional book, it is not crypto-Papist, but celebrates our Anglican heritage.

Of course, all the worship text is in traditional Prayer Book English.

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The ratings in short…

Accessibility: 3/5
With all the resources and explanations in this book, it is inevitably a bit tricky to navigate at first.  If you want to sing an Office, you need a bookmark in the Psalms section, in the Office liturgy section, and in the Canticles section.

Devotional Usefulness: 4/5
If you want to chant some or all of the Office, and don’t know how, this book will both teach you and provide everything you need for it.  All you need besides this is the Collect of the Day and Scripture readings appointed in your Prayer Book.  I give it a 4 instead of a 5 only because of all the explanatory text that makes the book a bit unwieldy… a more “professional” chorister or chanter would use a more streamlined book with fewer helps.

Reference Value: 5/5
If you don’t want to chant the Office, then this book is of purely academic value.  But its academic value is superb.  The history of chant, the application of chant in English practice, how to arrange and order a solemn Daily Office service, all make this book quite handy on your shelf even if you never intend to chant the Psalms in your church.

Saint Dunstan’s Plainsong Psalter is available from Lancelot Andrewes Press.

Book Review: Book of Common Praise 2017

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.

Sadly, the ACNA has no province-wide plan for creating a new hymnal.  This makes sense – different congregations have their favorite hymnals (often the 1940 or the 1982), and the growing preference for contemporary praise music is not especially conducive to printing in a book considering the majority of it is released as lead sheets (lyrics & chords) that only rarely include a written melodic line, let alone a written-out accompaniment.

However, one of the sub-jurisdictions of the ACNA, the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC), has has recently released an official hymnal for their churches: The Book of Common Praise 2017.  It was brought to my attention in late 2017, soon after it was released, and my church and I got our hands on a box of copies the following summer.  I intended to wait a few months to study this new hymnal on my own before switching over to it (in part in case I decided not to switch!) but my congregation seemed eager to use books that weren’t physically older than their Vicar, so we dove in pretty quickly.

Their immediate reactions were positive: the print is slightly larger and clearer than the 1940 hymnal.

My immediate reaction was mixed: I didn’t like font and typeface, it reminded me of a hymnal I didn’t particularly like from my congregationalist days.  I also found that two hymns I really like were omitted from this book: Christ the fair glory of the holy angels (a fantastic song for Michaelmas) and Therefore we before him bending (a gloriously pious set of lyrics for Holy Communion, sometimes set as their own song and sometimes appended to the hymn Now my tongue the mystery telling).

But these losses were soon mostly balanced out by the inclusion of other songs missing from previous hymnals such as Amazing Grace! and of some newer songs I like such as In Christ alone my hope is found and Before the throne of God Above.  (Technically Before the throne is a 19th century hymn but it was given a new melody in 1997 and thus repopularized amidst the Contemporary Christian Music crowd for a decade or so, which is the version found here.)

This hymnal puts the service music (including several settings of Anglican chant!) in back of the regular hymns, avoiding the formatting annoyance of the 1982 hymnal, which is excellent.  Its settings of various parts of the liturgy are still mostly keyed to the traditional-language forms, though there is one contemporary-language setting for the Communion service parts.  I’ve tried the Gloria in excelsis with my congregation and it works fine.

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Another feature of this book, which I very much appreciate, is that they made a point of improving the balance of the number of hymns for each season of the church year.  (You may recall the 1940 hymnal has an enormous glut of Christmas songs and a deplorable dearth of Advent and Lent songs!)  Here’s the breakdown of the hymns in this 2017 book:

#1-198 The Church Year

  • Advent (26); Christmas (56); Epiphany (12); Lent (10); Passiontide (18); Easter (26); Ascension (13); Whitsunday [Pentecost] (5); Trinity Sunday (1); Saints’ Days and Holy Days (17); All Saints (10); Martyrs (4)
  • Hymns of Thanksgiving (11); National Hymns (9)

#219-251 The Daily Office: Morning (15); Evening (18)

#252-320 Sacraments and Other Rites

  • Baptism (5); Holy Communion (37); Confirmation (6); Matrimony (3)
  • Ordination and Ember Days (4); Consecration of a Church (5); Burial (3)

#321-639 General Hymns

  • The Holy Trinity, Praise to God, Jesus (Advent of, Life & Ministry, Name of, Help of, Praise to), Holy Spirit, Holy Scripture, Church, Mission, Christian Vocation, Christian Walk, Christian Warfare, Christian Duty, Penitence, Kingdom of God, The Lord’s Day, Church Triumphant

#640-800 Service Music

  • Index, Explanation of Anglican Chant
  • Daily Office Sung Responses, Canticles
  • Explanation of Simplified Anglican Chant, Simplified Anglican Chants (12)
  • Holy Communion: 5 Complete Services, plus Miscellaneous

Then follow 68 pages of Indices (indexes)!

There is so much in this book, it’s amazing.  The liturgical index is excellent: it suggests hymns to match with the OT, Epistle, and Gospel lesson of each Sunday in the year as well as the Collect of the Day!  Of course, this is for the REC Prayer Book, which uses the traditional one-year cycle of Collects & Lessons, so you really have to do your homework in order to “translate” that index into the modern ACNA 3-year lectionary cycle.

The season of Lent is still vastly underrepresented compared to the other seasons of the year, but that is compensated for the fact that the “Penitence” section of the General Hymns here include 21 hymns, which is a lot more than either of its predecessor books.

The Preface and introductory notes are also pleasantly specific about the process and goals that went into the creation of this book, reflecting a transparency similar to how the ACNA’s liturgical task force went about assembling the 2019 Prayer Book.  Although, because this book was made by and for a relatively smaller group of people, the hands of its chief editor are a bit more visible than I would have expected – a number of new songs written or arranged by him have stood out to me in my exploration of this book over the past nine months.

The rating in short…

Accessibility: 4/5
The sections are well-labeled both in the Table of Contents and within the pages of the book so you can see where you are as you flip through.  The collection of indexes are very comprehensive and hardly leave a stone unturned.  If your church uses the traditional one-year lectionary, this is a 5/5, but for those of us (the majority) who don’t, the fact that it’s keyed to that different set of readings is a bit of a complication.

Devotional Usefulness: 5/5
The only thing it lacks, from my perspective, is more than a single option for modern-language Communion liturgy musical settings.  There is so much devotional opportunity here, and it’s much better balanced than the 1940 or 1982 hymnals still in use today.

Reference Value: 5/5
Every index a music planner could need is in here.  You can probably find some beloved hymns it lacks, but at 639 hymns (albeit doubling entries with an alternative melody choice) it’s got the larger portion of classic and recent Anglican hymnody.

In all it’s not quite a perfect hymnal, but it is absolutely the best one I’ve ever seen, held, or used.  The ACNA does not have an official hymnal, but this is the book that I would heartily promote to fill that role.

Book Review: The 1982 Hymnal

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.

Like many traditionalists, I don’t really like this hymnal.  So let’s make a point of starting with the positives.

+1 It matches the contemporary rites.  Made to pair with the 1979 Prayer Book, this hymnal is the first in the Episcopalian tradition to feature contemporary-language Service Music.  Carried into the ACNA, this remains a useful feature.  A few translation elements have changed since then (“And also with you” has returned to the properly historical and biblical “And with your spirit” for example), but for the most part those discrepancies are easily adapted from the 1979 liturgy to the 2019.

+2 It has a lot of options for service music.  In total there are 288 chant tunes and melodies for the various Office Canticles and Prayers, Mass parts, and other commonly-sung parts of the Office and Communion liturgies.  Add in the fact that it retains some traditional-language material alongside the contemporary, and you’ve got yourself a large collection of choices and resources built in to the hymnal.  This is very empowering for a choir or congregation, having so many possibilities accessible in one volume without having to purchase expensive choir music or whatever else.

+3 It brings in a few popular hymns that the previous hymnal lacked.  I commented last week that the 1940 hymnal doesn’t have Amazing grace! in it; this book does.  And, with a total of 720 hymns (compared to 600 in the 1940), this hymnal didn’t have to sacrifice a ton of songs in order to make room for new and imported ones.

But there are a number of shortcomings to this hymnal.  Depending upon your preferences and views, some of these might be minor or major to you; I’ll list what I consider to be the main offenders.

-1 The formatting is inconsistent.  Sometimes you get a fantastic four-part-harmony arrangement complete with the last verse’s descant on top, making for an excellent resource for congregation, choir, and keyboardist alike.  But sometimes you just get a melody line with no accompaniment.  If you want to play along on the piano or organ, too bad, you’ve got to purchase the giant TWO-VOLUME accompanist edition of the hymnal.  Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat.  Plus, a lot of the hymns in this book are printed with uneven line or page jumps.  You can see the range of good and bad in this sample:

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-2 A number of classic hymns have undergone changes to the lyrics.  To some extent, yes, there is a longstanding history of lyrics getting edited for reasons of theological preference or for clipping long songs into shorter versions.  But this hymnal goes a few steps too far, doing violence to the poetry of classic songs in the interest of gender-neutral language.  Perhaps the most prominent offender is Be thou my vision.  The second verse reads:

Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord;
thou my great Father; thine own may I be;
thou in me dwelling, and I one with thee.

compared to the original:

Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord;
thou my great Father, I thy true son;
thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

The theological implication (not to mention biblical language) of sonship is discarded.  The assurance of belonging in Christ (“thy true son”) is replaced with aspiration (“may I be”).  Plus, for the many, many people who already know the original version, this is a constant tripping point, stumbling over these awkwardly re-worded phrases.  Come thou fount of ev’ry blessing is also subject to some distracting word changes, and I’m sure there are other examples I haven’t found on my own.

-3 The ordering of the music is awkward.  Unlike the 1940 hymnal, the Service Music is printed in this book first.  If you’re in a choir, or the congregation uses the service music section a lot, that’s fine.  But if, like in many places, it’s primarily a book to pick up in order to sing hymns, this can be annoying (and downright confusing for newcomers), having to flip past S1 thorugh S288 before getting to hymn #1.

Furthermore, the hymns aren’t organized as logically as they could be.  Simplifying the Table of Contents…

  • #1-46 The Daily Office (Morning, Noon, Evening, Compline)
  • #47-293 The Church Year
  • #294-299 Holy Baptism
  • #300-347 Holy Eucharist
  • #348-361 Confirmation, Marriage, Burial, Ordination, Consecration
  • #362-634 General Hymns
  • #635-709 The Christian Life
  • #710-715 Rounds and Canons
  • #716-720 National Songs

Why Rounds and Canons need their own section, and why National Songs aren’t appended to the Church Year section, is beyond me.  The separation of The Christian Life from the related sub-sections of the General Hymns also seems strange to me.

Last of all, I should point out that the indexes are rather limited in this book compared to a number of others.  It has no liturgical index, recommending hymns for particular Sundays and Holy Days like in the 1940, but that is to be expected with the lengthy and complex 3-year lectionary cycle.  However, this hymnal also lacks a metrical index, which is admittedly probably only an issue for creative music ministers who want to look at alternative tune possibilities and make particularly detailed comparisons.

The rating in short…

Accessibility: 3/5
It’s well-labeled and has the basic Table of Contents and index that you need.  But you’ll probably need those resources more than you would with other Anglican hymnals.

Devotional Usefulness: 3/5
It has the positive usefulness of providing service music and additional hymns that older hymnals don’t or can’t provide.  But the liberal hand of editing has left its mark, which tampers with (and occasionally ruins) a number of hymns along the way.

Reference Value: 4/5
Compared to its predecessors, the extra-large collection of Service Music makes this hymnal rather handy to have around, especially for the contemporary-language worshiper.  And, with 720 hymns, it’s just plain got a lot of music in it too, lyrical tampering and format problems notwithstanding.

Ultimately, this hymnal is one I would recommend for two groups of people: choristers or congregations who routinely set many parts of the liturgy to music/chant, and music ministers who want to draw upon this book as a supplementary resource.  I would not recommend this hymnal as an ordinary hymnal for a church, especially considering the financial commitment for the accompanist who’ll need an extra $80 for that edition.

Book Review: The 1940 Hymnal

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.

When the church I currently serve was first planted, the former Episcopalians got in touch with their previous church and were donated a big box of hymnals.  The church had closed a camp location some years previously, and so they had a pile of hymnals they didn’t use or need anymore.  And, as it turned out, they were “obsolete” – they were copies of The 1940 Hymnal.  As a keyboardist, and still new to Anglican hymnody, I wasn’t sure what to make of this: how different was this book from the newer one I was getting to know at my then-home church?

I quickly came to appreciate the 1940 hymnal a lot, and cherish its resources.  Being from 1940, it was appointed to work alongside the 1928 Prayer Book, which has the historic one-year calendar and lectionary for the Sunday Communion services.  As a result, things were simple enough that it was able to provide recommended hymns for each Sunday and Major Feast Day of the year in a Liturgical Index in the back, along with other indexes that are standard to virtually all hymnals (author/source, tune, meter, first line of text, topic).  For the years that my church followed the 1662 BCP’s lectionary, this was immensely useful for me; otherwise that index is little more than of historical interest.

The Contents of the 1940 Hymnal are as follows:

  • #1-111 The Christian Year
  • #112-136 Saints’ Days and Holy Days
  • #137-138 Thanksgiving and National Days
  • #149-184 Morning and Evening
  • #185-228 Sacraments and other Rites of the Church
  • #229-234 Litanies
  • #235-252 Hymns for Children
  • #253-265 Missions
  • #266-600 General Hymns
    • #266-277 The Blessed Trinity
    • #278-315 The Praise of God
    • #316-367 Jesus Christ our Lord
    • #368-379 The Holy Spirit
    • #380-398 The Church as God’s gift
    • #399-403 Holy Scripture, the Church’s gift
    • #404-490 Personal Religion
    • #491-548 Social Religion
    • #549-581 The Church Militant
    • #5822-600 The Church Triumphant
  • Directions for Chanting
  • The Choral Service
  • Morning & Evening & Occasional Canticles
  • Service Music for the Holy Communion

Most of these sections subdivide further into smaller units.  Some of these sections are labeled in ways that suggest the liberalizing trend in the Episcopal Church even back then.

At the end of each liturgical season section is a list of appropriate selections from the General Hymns that would also do well to fill out the season, which I found very helpful.  A rather mixed blessing, however, came in the balance of the number of hymns for each season.  There are 111 season-based hymns in here, and 34 of them are for Christmas!  Twelve days of the year get nearly a third of the hymns.  Advent got short-changed.  Lent was a bit lacking in representation, too, especially when looking among the General Hymns for good penitential lyrics.

There are also a lot Office hymns: 11 for the Morning, 1 for Noon, 1 for the Afternoon, and 22 for the Evening.  Clearly, Choral Evensong was a lot more common back then than it is now.

There are a few cross-denominational popular hymns that are conspicuously absent from this hymnal, most notably Amazing Grace.

But on the whole, this is a hymnal that I really came to love.  Every hymn has a full 3-or-more-part piano choral arrangement and/or keyboard accompaniment.  The print is clear (if a bit faded in the physically older copies we used).

Accessibility: 4/5
Like most hymnals, this is well-organized; and like most Anglican hymnals, it is conformed to the Calendar.  The indexes are easy to navigate.  You don’t need a separate edition for the pianist to accompany the singers.

Devotional Usefulness: 3/5
Some of its sacrament-related hymns lean high-church.  Some of its national and “social religion” hymns may feel a bit too “worldly”.  The calendar and the translation of the liturgy are out of date if you’re using a modern prayer book.  There is a distinct lack of songs dealing with subjects like penitence and the Holy Spirit.  Depending upon how you feel about these issues, this rating may bump or down a notch accordingly.

Reference Value: 4/5
If you only have a “contemporary” hymnal, like the Episcopalian hymnal of 1982, then this book is of immense value in preserving a number of gems that got lost in the update, and I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy of this if you like to read or sing hymns.

My church used this hymnal for eight years, seven of which I was the music minister rummaging through it for songs to sing each Sunday.  I became well-acquainted with its shortcomings, but on the whole was very happy with it, and was in no rush to “upgrade” away from it.  If you’re a music minister, or a hymn enthusiast, this almost definitely belongs in your collection.

The Prayer Book (2019) is Online

Have you heard the news?  BCP 2019 in its final form, page numbers and all, was put online and officially announced during Holy Week.  I would have mentioned it here that day, but Notre Dame Cathedral’s roof was burning, and amidst all the other goings-on both in world events and in liturgical matters, there just wasn’t a good opportunity to say here “oh by the way, habemus librem!”  (Pardon the Papist joke.)

Anyway… the official website is here: http://bcp2019.anglicanchurch.net/

The Home tab doesn’t have much to say; just a couple quotes and a button to the text/download page.

The Text tab is where you can download the whole book as a pdf, or any of its twelve parts as either a pdf or a Word document.

The Purchase tab doesn’t contain any links for ordering books yet; that won’t be available until June.  But it does show the two options that are in the works – a standard pew edition and a leather covered edition with four ribbons.

The History tab provides a brief outline of Anglican history, particularly noting the Prayer Book tradition leading to where we are today.

The Resources tab, finally, has a couple articles and a video about the new version of the liturgies of the church, as well as buttons to other pages that provide bulletin leaflets for the Communion service throughout the three-year cycle, and another button to “miscellaneous” resources.  These include a bunch of bits and pieces that the old Texts for Common Prayer page housed, such as translations into other languages, supplementary liturgical resources, study notes and reports from the liturgical task force, and some other reference articles that explain some of the features of the liturgies that might raise questions in some quarters.

If you find yourself critical of something in the 2019 BCP, or even just unsure and curious, be sure to peruse that Resources page in case your issue is already addressed there!

Book Review: Saints on Earth

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.

We’ve gone through the official Common Worship volumes (at least, the ones I own… hopefully there aren’t more out there!) so now we come a companion volume: Saints on Earth: A biographical companion to Common Worship.  The book’s tag-line, so to speak, is an excerpt from an excellent hymn by Charles Wesley:

Let saints on earth in concert sing
with those whose work is done
For all the servants of our King
In heaven and earth are one.

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This book, quite simply, is a collection of one-page biographies of various saints and famous men and women of Christian memory.  It omits the Major Feast (“red-letter”) Day saints on the grounds that their stories are much larger, better-known, and already provided for in plenty of other resources.  The aim of this book is to work through the calendar of minor commemorations to help people get to know these lesser feast days.  In the USA, the older volumes under the name Lesser Feasts and Fasts also contained brief biographies of the commemorations in the Episcopalian calendar, and I’ve seen those resources used by preachers, sometimes referencing them, sometimes reading from the book outright.  Saints on Earth is the same: the biographical material is written to highlight the purpose of their memory in the Church.  One could say this is a book of hagiography, minus the traditional embellishments and legendary assertions.

Of course, as this is a companion to Common Worship, it uses the commemorations list according to the Church of England; every province has a slightly different calendar.  But the overlap is large, of course, so this book can be useful for any Christian wanting to get a closer look at our predecessors.

The only caution I would voice regarding this book is the choice of who gets commemorated, and how one uses the word “Saint.”  As a traditionalist, and with a generally high-church perspective, I am very hesitant to use the word “Saint” with a capital S unless the person in question has been well-vetted by the church regarding his or her holiness of life and purity of doctrine.  The Church of England and the Episcopal Church (USA) have a history of throwing together these lists of saints including people who died only a couple decades ago, or including people outside of the Anglican Communion who taught and believed doctrines we would consider erroneous, sometimes even heretical.  That is why in my ministry and writings I try to be careful to negotiate the difference between a saints day and a commemoration.  There are a few people commemorated in this book whom I would never consider calling a Saint in the traditional sense.  So you need to be discerning with this book, and other ones like it; George Fox (for example) may have been a devout Christian, but is the founding of a new denomination (especially one with as spurious a history as the Quakers) something we really should be celebrating?

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 5/5
The book is set out in calendar order, making it easiest to use alongside a liturgical text.  But like all the Common Worship books it has a comprehensive index, so you can find the blurb for the person you’re looking for if you don’t know their commemoration date.

Devotional Usefulness: 3/5
This is almost a “Not Applicable” category, as this book is not a liturgical text.  It can, however, supplement the celebration of minor saints days and commemorations, and in that regard it does a decent job of introducing its subjects.  The biographies are told pretty straight, however, so if one wishes to use this in a homily, this only covers the introduction; no homiletic material or scripture references are provided here.

Reference Value: 4/5
Unless you’ve got Lesser Feasts and Fasts on hand, this is one of the best books you could have for the purpose of aiding your preaching or study of the Church’s commemorations.  There are lots of biographies out there, but to have the majority of our liturgical calendar in one volume is super handy.

Of course, there are also internet resources that also fulfill this function.  The Society of Archbishop Justus has one of the most comprehensive sites along these lines.

Book Review: Common Worship Times and Seasons

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.

The last official volume of Common Worship on my shelf is Times and Seasons.  It goes through the entire [modern] calendar of the Church of England highlighting special holy days and providing both occasional and seasonal material for all sorts of things – Opening Acclamations, calls to confession, prayers of confessions, absolutions, Canticles, Prayers of the People, Offertory Sentences, Eucharistic Prefaces, and various other special liturgical bits and bobs that can be used to spice up the Communion service for a special occasion.  In terms of historic Prayer Book tradition, none of this is necessary, and is largely unprecedented.  But this is what late 20th-century liturgical revolution was all about: exploring new ways to diversify the worship experience by emphasizing different occasions and seasons in certain ways to make them stand out from each other more noticeably.  And what you find in this volume, as is the case with most of the Common Worship materials, is a mix of pre-Reformation tradition, modern re-invention, and just plain innovation.

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In terms of authorization, the extended rubrics of the 2019 Prayer Book indicate that the Prayers of the People may be rewritten, provided they cover certain specified items.  Thus, various Prayers from Common Worship: Times and Seasons could actually find a home in our ACNA liturgy.  The same applies to the Blessing at the end of the Communion Prayers – the rubrics permit alternate blessings without restriction.

However, unlike most of the supplementary volumes of Common WorshipTimes and Seasons provides for the liturgy of several “irregular” worship services (that is, neither the Daily Office nor the Holy Communion) such as Lessons and Carols for Advent or Christmas.  Indeed, this book’s greatest use outside of the Church of England is probably its extended treatment of various special-occasion services like those, or Remembrance Day (Nov. 11th) or Stations of the Cross or, the Maundy Thursday Chrism Mass, or the Easter Vigil.  Its insights into the seasons and festivals of the liturgical and agricultural years, too, make for decent reading for anyone interested in how the Church “sanctifies time” through her liturgy.  It is certainly a mix of old and new, so if you’re a traditionalist about liturgy there will be many opportunities for ire herein.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 4/5
In terms of use in the liturgy, this book cannot stand alone; it is a supplement to the primary volume of Common Worship.  However, for what it contains, it is very logically arranged and easy to navigate.  It is not overly technical or obscure, but explains its contents thoroughly and succinctly.

Devotional Usefulness: 2/5
As with much of the Common Worship series, we have little practical use for the contents of this book.  But the various prayers and devotions do highlight well the different themes of the liturgical seasons, and can greatly enrich one’s private devotions, and, to a limited extent, find a place in our actual liturgies.

Reference Value: 3/5
The liturgical calendar of the Church of England is set out rather differently than ours, but the basics are similar enough that a study through this book’s contents can help one understand not only how our respective calendar traditions diverged from the historic Prayer Book in different ways, but also provide us insight into the logic of liturgical calendars in general.  I could see this book being fruitfully referenced in the context of catechesis, or a small group study, helping people learn about and explore the Church Calendar.

In all, I think this may be the most useful and interesting volume of Common Worship that I’ve got.

Book Review: Common Worship Pastoral Services

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.

The next volume of Common Worship is Pastoral Services, the book that provides the liturgies for “Wholeness and Healing”, Marriages, and Funerals, with some re-printed materials for Emergency Baptisms and Thanksgivings for a Child.  As I noted in reviewing the previous volume, Christian Initiation, it is interesting to see the Healing services here cover the anointing, visitation, and communion of the sick here, but for the Confession/Absolution rite to be place in the post-baptismal context.  This book, too, comes with a theological introduction and rationale, making this more than just a liturgy book, but a more formulaic catechetical document as well.

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As is characteristic of all the books of Common Worship so far, this book provides a lot of optional material with which to supplement or personalize a wedding or funeral ceremony.  There are also printings in the book so they can be celebrated within a Communion service if desired.  Not insignificantly, an “alternative” form of the Marriage and Burial rites is offered at the end of the book, which are basically just the 1662 Prayer Book services.  Traditionalism is thus offered as a concession, not the expectation.  Still, that’s better than how the 1979 book in the USA handled this sort of thing.

A quick survey of the primary contents of this book suggest that the theologically-liberalizing tendency in the Church of England is not especially prominent.  The address at the beginning of the Marriage Rite, for example, is still a loose paraphrase of the traditional Prayer Book exhortation, rather than a complete re-write.  Most of the complaints of modernization that one might raise against this book can be applied to nearly every 20th century Prayer Book as well.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 3/5
Like Christian Initiation, this volume is set out in a decently useable format, with several instances where one has to combine its use with another book, such as when celebrating one of the rites in the context of a Communion service.

Devotional Usefulness: 1/5
Unless you’re in the Church of England, none of these liturgies are authorized for your use, and there’s hardly anything in here that can be imported into other contexts.  This is mostly a pastor’s handbook, and the extra prayers and canticles sitting around are almost not worth the effort of looking up.

Reference Value: 1/5
Again, there’s very little worth studying in and learning from this book.  Its theological statement on the healing service may be of some insight, and (like all the volumes) its index at the end can be a handy tool for comparative study – especially where its liturgy does similar things to our own – but ultimately this is probably the least useful book in the Common Worship set, unless you’re actually in the Church of England.