Book Review: The People’s Work

This book outlines the story of how Christian worship developed since the days of the New Testament.  As a “social history,” this book pays particular attention to the way worship practices (liturgy) were influenced by the culture of the world around, or were a rejection or other sort of interaction with said culture.  It does present some theological background and explanation for some aspects of liturgy, but that is not its main purpose.  You don’t need to be a seminary student to understand this book.

What’s in this book?

To summarize the contents of the book, I’ll list the chapter titles and my brief summary of the content of each.

Chapter 1 – Socially speaking, what kind of group was the Christian assembly?  Pre-existing models for forming a local church include a Jewish Sect, a Household, a Club or Cultic Association, and a School.  But ecclesia (church) as a “Shadow Empire” really brings it all together: the local churches understood themselves as part of a larger universal body or whole.

Chapter 2 – Sacraments and Cult.  The “cultus” of Christianity, especially the Sacraments, have many Jewish and Greco-Roman counterparts to inform their development.

Chapter 3 – Apocalypse and Christian liturgy.  The book of Revelation is a reflection of the liturgy, and the apocalyptic culture of Early Christian worship continued into monasticism.

Chapter 4 – Times, Occasions, and the Communion of Saints. The Calendar and Hours arose for theological and practical reasons; never merely aping or replacing Pagan holidays.

Chapter 5 – Sacred places and Liturgical art in Late Antique Culture.  Sacred space developed in the sharp contrast to Pagan preference, and sacred art developed in sharp contrast to Jewish preference.

Chapter 6 – People and places for different liturgies.  The development of the Orders of Ministry and the standardization of liturgical rites and church architecture were all mutually influencing.

Chapter 7 – Church music through the Carolingian Renaissance.  Music and singing developed in such ways as to combat Paganism and heretics, expand beyond Jewish origins, as well as to beautify worship yet seeking new ways to include the lay people.

Chapter 8 – Vernacular elements in the Medieval Latin Mass.  Worship in local languages was frequently rediscovered through new hymns or carols or other resources.  Protestants only continued that practice; they didn’t invent it.

Chapter 9 – The Medieval liturgical calendar.  The liturgical calendar was developed with few pre-Christian influences remaining.

Chapter 10 – The Eucharistic Body and the Social Body in the Middle Ages.  Beliefs and practices surrounding Holy Communion impacted the social bonds of Medieval European society.

Chapter 11 – The dissolution of the Social Body in the Reformation Communion. The Eucharist lost its place of social centrality during the Reformation, especially to the State.

Chapter 12 – Death here and life hereafter in the Middle Ages and Reformation.  Medieval and Reformation doctrines and liturgies concerning death and burial were among the most radical changes of their day.

Chapter 13 – The ecclesiastical captivity of marriage.  Marriage long held a mixed secular and sacred position, and in the Reformation the Church and State were emphasized by different traditions.

Chapter 14 – Liturgy and confessional identity.  Liturgy, as the performance of theology through worship, was a critical tool for establishing the Reformation or Counter-Reformation.

Chapter 15 – Popular devotions, Pious communities, and Holy Communion.  Popular (or “paraliturgical”) devotions, hymn singing, Pietist meeting groups, and attitudes toward receiving Communion in the 17th-18th centuries revealed a growing sense of emotionalism and individualism.

Chapter 16 – Worship Awakening.  Revivalism in the USA, largely driven by culture, codified the emotional and individualist notion of worship and made it consumerist (what I get out of it, rather than what we put into it).

Chapter 17 – Liturgical Restoration.  The Enlightenment beginning in the mid-1700’s made the liturgy rationalistic and asserted more state control over the church.  Liturgical restoration has been slowly ongoing ever since.

Chapter 18 – Liturgical Renewal.  Liturgical renewal is a movement that has focused on the congregation’s participation in worship… often controversial but ecumenically successful.

Good points about the book

Whether you’re a Roman Catholic well-established in the Mass and the Hours and the Rosary, a Pentecostal who can’t imagine a legitimate worship service without speaking in tongues and prophetic utterances, or anywhere in between, there is a tendency to take one’s worship tradition for granted.  It’s not just about “why” we worship the way we do, there’s also the question of “how” our tradition ended up the way it did.  The Prayer Book I use wasn’t around in the 13th century.  The way your church baptizes people isn’t identical to how the Early Church baptized people.  This book traces the development of many aspects of worship – sacraments, ministry, music, calendar and seasons, and others – through the course of history.

This book’s 18 chapters are also organized by topic and arranged chronologically, so if there’s something in particular you want to read about, it’s pretty easy to dive in to the chapter(s) you need, and skip the rest.

Frank Senn wrote this book in an informal manner.  He doesn’t use more technical terms than he has to.  And when he does use them (especially Latin words like gradual or sanctus) he explains them right away.

Bad points about the book

However, once a technical term has been defined, Senn feels free to use that term without re-explanation through the rest of the book.  If you’re reading each chapter all the way through, this won’t be a problem, but if you come to this book aiming to study the Protestant and Revivalist worship culture of America, you may run up against a few references to material in earlier chapters without explanation or footnote.  Not that that’s a terrible thing, it just makes it harder for someone new to the subject to cherry-pick their way through this book.

My only disappointment with The People’s Work is the Epilogue.  There he briefly introduces the “emergent church” movement and offers a brief definition of the “liturgical retrieval” that they tend to practice.  And then, without much explanation or argumentation, he asserts his opinion that the future of Christianity in the Global South is going to be characterized by emergent liturgical retrieval.  It’s an oddly incongruous conclusion to draw after spending most of 18 chapters tracing a continuous development of worship practices for nearly 2,000 years.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 5/5
The book is very well organized, dealing in liturgical topics and historical periods with remarkable unity.

Devotional Usefulness: N/A
It’s more of a history than a liturgical-insight source.

Reference Value: 4/5
This is not explicitly Anglican, but its attention to all of Christian history is pretty helpful.

Overall Thoughts

If you’ve never thought much about worship practices before, this is a good first book to pick up on the subject.  If you think you know a lot about worship, but haven’t read many (or any) books on the subject, this is still a good first book to delve into.  The author is an attentive scholar, careful to keep his opinions out of the way (until the epilogue), giving a fair hearing to Roman Catholics, Revivalists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Pentecostals alike.

If you really want to dig into the subject of liturgy and worship, this is an excellent resource for giving you the scope of Christian worship without getting bogged down in too many technical details.  Pair this with a book that explores liturgy from a theological/spiritual perspective, such as Liturgical Theology by Simon Chan, and you’ll have yourself a fantastic start into understanding the basics of why worship takes place the way it does.

Backlog of Book Reviews

A year has come and gone on this blog, and I must say that I am incredibly thankful for all of you readers.  You’ve given me encouragement with your thank-you’s, corrected the grammar and spelling errors that slip my notice, raise new questions, gently push back when I made an assertion too far, and reassure me that the cause of good liturgy is not merely an esoteric interest in my mind, but a relevant subject to even the most basic levels of Christian life.  And, to top it all off, we’ve seen no trolls here, and I’ve only been unnecessarily sassed out once on Facebook so far.  They say a writer needs to have thick skin, especially on the internet, and y’all have broke me in slowly and gently to this world.

With an average of six posts a week, quite a backlog of articles has built up in only a year.  On the blog’s birthday back in October I began assembling an index page to collect old entries of note for ease of reference.  What I thought I’d do now is put together a “backlog” post once every week or so, for a little while, to help my newer readers get a sense of what has been written in the past, just in case there’s something of interest to be discovered.  Today we’re starting with perhaps the most work-heavy line of articles (from my perspective)… the book reviews.

Almost every Saturday in 2019 I’ve put up a review of a book that has to do with liturgy – be it a Prayer Book, a hymnal, a supplemental resource, or other sort of text book.  The full list, organized by category, is here:

Looking Back…

We’ve looked at six prayer books, and at the end of the year I’ll finally review the 2019 BCP.

We’ve looked at eight liturgical books that are meant to supplement one of the prayer books (most notably the Common Worship series from the Church of England) and I’ve got two more planned to complete.

Four Anglican hymnals have been reviewed, and I’ve got another musical resource on my list to add.

Two devotional manuals and four liturgical guides (sort of customaries in their own right) have been reviewed.

In the interest of ecumenical context, I’ve reviewed four liturgical books from outside the Anglican tradition: one Puritan, two Roman, and one Lutheran.

Six “textbooks” about liturgy in general have been covered, and a seventh is on the way this Saturday, I believe.  Most of these are Anglican or Episcopalian, but a couple are not.

Looking Ahead…

The last book reviews I’ve got planned will take us into the beginning of 2020, but after that I do not have any solid plans for writing any more reviews.  I will have exhausted the majority of my liturgy-and-worship-related bookshelf by that point, for one, and (more importantly) it takes a little while actually to read these books.  I am not averse to doing more reviews; it’ll just take little while to get the job done.  I may pick out another book or two in my library to review next year, but it’s not high on my list of priorities.  2019 saw a good round of work in that area and I’m happy to set that focus aside for a little while.

That being said, if there is a book that you want me to review, or want my opinion on, or for this blog to analyze, I would be very happy to take recommendations – especially if you send me a copy! 😉 So do drop in a comment or send me a message via social media if there’s something you’d like to see covered here.

Book Review: Worship Old & New

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.

Worship Old & New by Robert E. Webber is, in some circles, a modern classic.  Webber (1933-2007) was a respected American theologian and known particularly for his work in the Convergence Movement, which is the ideology of combining catholic, evangelical, and charismatic spirituality together into a cohesive whole.  In short, he was a leading thinker behind the Three Streams model which was a huge fad in Anglican circles, though (I think?) is finally quieting down.  I was a fan of the Three Streams idea when I first heard of it – as most young people tend to be fans of the, exciting, promising trends, but as early as 2012 I started to have my doubts.  Now, seven years later, I’m comfortably opposed to the Three Streams model, and have even mentioned here briefly in the past that it smacks of broad church liberalism, and doesn’t ultimately produce the coherent discipleship one might have hoped for.

I open with that rabbit trail because what you read in Worship Old & New is exactly the mindset behind the Convergence Movement and Three Streams ecclesiology.  Citing Hippolytus and leaning heavily on the now-controversial work of Gregory Dix, Webber argues for a “shape” to the liturgy (primarily the Communion service) which provides structure for all, and walks through various traditions across historical and traditional lines.  He is explicitly critical of medieval liturgy, denigrating the use (or abuse!) of symbol and sign during that period of history, and argue that it was increasingly twisted from its proper meaning.  While there is much to be said about medieval excesses, his hostility to that period is not adequately backed up because:

  1. Lutheran and Prayer Book liturgies are very much informed by their medieval forebears.  Yes, some Reformers went all-out in rewriting the liturgy, but many of us only required gentle trimmings of the fat, rather than wholesale revolution.
  2. He begins the “medieval” excesses at Constantine, which is patently ridiculous when in the world of dogmatics and creedal theology we look at the 4th and 5th centuries as a veritable golden age of sound normative teaching!  Consider Webber’s own words:

Gradually, however, beginning with the Constantinian era, worship changed by the increasing addition of ceremony and the subtle influence of the mystery religions.  These new emphases became more extreme in the medieval period.  Although the basic structure and content of worship remained continuous with the past, the meaning of worship for both the clergy and the laity underwent some major changes.  Worship became a “mystery” in which God was made present (an epiphany).  This was accomplished through and allegorical view of the Mass and the doctrine of the bodily presence of Jesus in the bread and wine.  In this way the Mass assumed a character of a sacrifice and was celebrated for the benefit of both the living and the dead (creating a multiplicity of Masses and other abuses).

To be fair, this is not the lynchpin of the entire book.  But if this is the kind of scholarship he’s doing, and he’s willing to paint over history with so broad a brush stroke that (for example) even the Lutherans don’t count as reformers, I’m going to have to hesitate to trust his analysis of other periods of history and interpretation of the liturgy.  He looks too closely at two Early Church documents (by Hippolytus and Justin Martyr) and the late-20th-century milieu of change, and seems to re-shape everything in the middle according to the agenda he derives from the two extremes, rather than tracing the actual history and development along the way, and I think that causes him to miss out on a great deal of clarity and correction.

Another irksome feature of this book is that when it references “The Book of Common Prayer” it only means the American 1979 book.  He is either ignorant of prayer book tradition before the radical changes of the 1970’s, or he is oversimplifying things for his readers.  In either case, that makes this book significantly less helpful for an Anglican reader.

It’s not all bad, though.  His sections on biblical backgrounds of worship are quite refreshing for those brought up in non-denominational settings where worship is never really considered, just “done”.  It may also be refreshing for those who grew up in dry liturgical settings and similarly took worship for granted and never connected the dots.  Webber won’t make anyone an Anglican with this book, but he can engender liturgical awareness.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 4/5
The book is very well organized, complete with introduction and summary paragraphs bookending each chapter, making a quick synopsis of its contents very easy to ascertain.  The only reason this isn’t a 5 is because it can be so dry at times.

Devotional Usefulness: N/A
The insights of this book are a mixed bag and might not necessarily improve your engagement with the liturgy.

Reference Value: 3/5
In terms of liturgical formation, this book stands more in a “pre-Anglican” state, more useful for showing non-liturgical evangelicals how they could think about worship differently.  If you’re committed to Anglicanism, the perspective and information are too generic to be of much help growing within our tradition.

Recommendation?  Don’t buy this for an Anglican, it will only water down their understanding of liturgy.  But if you know someone in the free church tradition who wants or needs an eye-opener into what they’re missing, this book is a fine option for that.  Its strength for them is also its weakness for us: it won’t ruffle very many feathers because it never gets specific enough to make hard stances on anything.  Worship Old & New exists to transform chaotic generic evangelicalism into orderly generic evangelicalism.  Actual specific traditions or denominations need not apply.

People of the Books

The phrase “people of the book”, as far as I’m aware, originates in Islam, and is usually used referred to the three religions that respect the Torah: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Obviously the way in which we each “respect” the Torah is worlds apart, not to mention how we interpret it; the only thing we have in common is that really just the book.  Several Christian traditions have come to refer to themselves as “people of the book”, in reference to the Old and New Testaments together, and I’ve read that there are some Jews that refer to themselves along similar lines also.

And why not?  It makes sense: our respective religions are particularly focused on a central book that defines us.  Most of the rest of the major world religions have no single identifiable constitution or text that sets the precedent for or holds authority over its members like we do.

And so, at least in the sort of evangelical circles I grew up in, there is a culture of having a Bible for everywhere you go.  You have one at home, you have one under the bathroom sink, one in the car, one at the office at work, and so on.  You have one to study and take notes in and another to read to the kids.  Always gotta have a Bible nearby.  I suppose now that most people have smart phones, this trend may have lessened somewhat.

But you know what isn’t on a phone app (yet)…?  The Prayer Book.  As Anglicans we’re not just “people of the book”, we’re “people of the books.”  The Bible is our rule for doctrine, and the Prayer Book is our rule for worship.  There’s no comparing the two when it comes to ultimate authority, but on the level of practical use we are a two-book people.  (And if you want a singing congregation, add the hymnal as the third book!)

Imagine, especially if you’re a clergyman, making a point of having your prayer book (or an extra prayer book) virtually everywhere you go.  If you came from that evangelical culture that did this with Bibles, perhaps you can make the jump with the Prayer Book too?

Just a thought. 🙂

Book Review: Praying Shapes Believing

It’s a day late, but here is your “Saturday” book review.  This time we’re looking at Praying Shapes Believing, by Leonel L. Mitchell.  Its subtitle is A Theological Commentary on the Book of Common Prayer, and it should be noted that this is specifically for the 1979 Prayer Book.  I know a lot of my readers are biased against the 1979 book, and I frequently advocate caution against making use of that book also.  But, for many Anglicans in America today the 1979 book was the formative book in our training, and this book by Mitchell is one of its foremost commentaries.  It is therefore an important book to look at.

Its format is an excellently straight-forward and clear succession of chapters:

  1. The Service of the Church
  2. The Calendar, Times, and Seasons
  3. The Daily Offices
  4. The Great Vigil of Easter
  5. Christian Initiation
  6. The Holy Eucharist
  7. The Pastoral Offices
  8. Ordination Rites
  9. The Theology of the Prayer Book

For the most part, these chapters follow the format of the 1979 Prayer Book, and most of their subsections walk through the contents of those parts of the prayer book.  The last, ninth, chapter, focuses on the catechism near the back of that prayer book.

As the title and subtitle suggest, this book provides a running theological commentary on the ’79 prayer book.  There are number of explanations for the historical and ecumenical sources of the prayer book also, which can be very helpful.  If you are used to the 1928 (or other classical) prayer book, and are wondering about a “new” feature in the 2019 book, chances are it was introduced in the 1979 book, and chances are that Praying Shapes Believing will explain where it came from.  Some of the stranger features of the 1979 book, like the infamous Eucharistic Prayer C, are also explained – in that case it was based on a draft by Howard Galley (one of the authors of the previous book reviewed here).

Its comments on the liturgical calendar are worth sharing.  Mitchell argues that is not “merely as a kind of high evangelical pedagogy” (a ritualistic teaching tool), nor is it “a psychological device” to make us reflect on the same parts of the gospel together, nor is it “a system of readings… to cause us to go more deeply… into the Word of God.”  He grants that these are functional truths about the liturgical calendar, but also goes further to assert that they serve a mystagogical or sacramental role – that there is “some real relationship between the celebration of Easter and the resurrection of Christ” (pages 13-16).  The calendar doesn’t just lead us to commemorate history, but to participate in it.

On the whole, this book is positively useful for us as it shows and explains the theology behind the 1979 Prayer Book.  We in the ACNA can benefit from this not only in understanding the echoes of the ’79 tradition in the 2019 book, but also in understanding why other elements of the ’79 tradition had to be let go.  There are two big examples that I’ve picked out to highlight how this book shows us a clear difference between current Episcopalian and orthodox Anglican theology.

Red Flag #1 – the doctrine of Scripture

This is going to be a problem with virtually everything from the pen of an Episcopalian since the mid-20th century.  When dealing with the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, Mitchell states that “the closest the liturgy comes to explaining biblical inspiration” is in the supplemental book Lesser Feasts and Fasts, wherein the Collect for St. Jerome says “we pray your Holy Spirit will overshadow us as we read the written Word, and that Christ, the living Word, will transform us according to your righteous will.”  He then goes on to say that the liturgy does not teach “Fundamentalism” and that it is the Church’s job to interpret Scripture.  These are technically true statements, but the way the term “fundamentalism” is often used, and the way the teaching authority of the Church is often abused are both serious red flags here.  Mitchell reveals that the Prayer Book is essentially a companion piece to the Bible, something that helps us interpret the Bible, which again is technically true, but without a clear statement of what biblical inspiration and authority actually mean this is a recipe for the church to take the lead in doctrinal development rather than allow the Bible to lead us.

Red Flag #2 – the authority of the Bishop

In a twisted and ironic sort of way, it is very appropriate the Episcopal Church (USA) is now called the Episcopal Church, because it is their view of the authority of the office of Bishop that is their most noteworthy feature compared to other denominations and traditions.  And their view of the episcopacy is not Anglican, either.  He notes that “we learn from [the Scriptures] the Good News of Jesus Christ and “all things necessary to salvation”” but then asserts that “The bishop, at ordination, is charged to interpret the Gospel.”  He cites the ordination liturgy on page 517 of the 1979 Prayer Book, where indeed that phrase “interpret the Gospel” is used:

A bishop in God’s holy Church is called to be one with the apostles in proclaiming Christ’s resurrection and interpreting the Gospel, and to testify to Christ’s sovereignty as Lord of lords and King of kings.

Yikes.  It is no wonder that the very first piece of liturgical work in the ACNA was to replace the 1979 Ordinal with something substantially faithful to the actual Anglican tradition.  The closest equivalent text in the 2019 book reads as follows:

Question   Do you believe that the Holy Scriptures contain all things necessary for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? And are you determined out of the Holy Scriptures to instruct the people committed to your charge, and to teach or maintain nothing as necessary to eternal salvation but that which may be concluded and proved by the Scriptures?
Answer   I do so believe, and I am so determined, the Lord being my helper.

Question   Will you then faithfully study the Holy Scriptures, and call upon God by prayer for the true understanding of them, so that you may be able by them to teach and exhort with wholesome doctrine, and to withstand and convince those who contradict it?
Answer   I will, the Lord being my helper.

Question   Are you ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word, and both privately and publicly to call upon others and encourage them to do the same?
Answer   I am ready, the Lord being my helper.

A comparison with the Ordinal attached to the 1662 Prayer Book will find that what we ask of our bishops is the same as all Anglicans before us.  The Episcopalian doctrine of bishops places them too high, too powerful.  Bishops must proclaim the gospel, not interpret it.  Granted, the Gospel and the Bible in general must be interpreted in the sense that people in every culture and age need to be able to understand it, but we must be very careful as to how we speak of such things lest we give bishops free reign over the faith to run amok, as has clearly taken place over the past few decades.

Anyway, these are primarily critiques of the 1979 Prayer Book, but it is Mitchell’s commentary, Praying Shapes Believing, that helps bring these issues to the fore, even if he himself didn’t believe these issues to be actual problems.  That’s why I think this book is useful even if you have no personal history with the 1979 prayer book – it is a good and attentive analysis of the bullet we are dislodging from our ecclesiastical body.  If we know and understand what went wrong in the past, we will be better prepared not only to prevent ourselves from repeating those mistakes, but also to heal from the wounds already sustained.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 4/5
This books is readable, organized, and has a nice handy index, making everything easy to find and easy to understand.

Devotional Usefulness: N/A
This isn’t a devotional book, it’s a commentary.  But it is a tool that can help you rate the ups and downs of the 1979 prayer book’s devotional usefulness!

Reference Value: 3/5
If you’re trying to study Anglican liturgy starting with the basics, don’t grab this book.  Save it for later when you’re already grounded in good historic liturgy, and want to start branching out to the variety of modern variations on the prayer book tradition.  If and when you want to study what’s good and bad about the 1979 Prayer Book, then this will be an excellent reference.

Book Review: Liturgy for Living

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 standard introductory texts to Episcopalian liturgy is Liturgy for Living by Charles P. Price & Louis Weil.  It was written in 1979 and revised in 2000.  In it you will find a great deal of insight into the mindset that produced the 1979 Prayer Book and defends its integrity to this day.  Its prologue along is informative reading, and the way it ends says a lot about where this book is going to go:

In the chapters that follow we shall explore worship in the Episcopal Church in the United States as it is taking shape through these years of growth and change. We must recognize both the psychological and historical complexity of the subject.  It bears the marks of a long and varied development.  It is in the process of alteration from one form adequate to the needs of a past age to a somewhat richer and more extensive form, more adequate to the religious hungers and thirsts of the age at hand.  We trust it will be as adequate as the old to express the gracious act of God for us through his Son, Jesus Christ.

page 6

A very bold, perhaps even arrogant, claim is being made here: that the 1979 Prayer Book is a “somewhat richer and more extensive form” of worship compared to the classical prayer book tradition, and that it is equally adequate for “the religious hungers and thirsts of the age at hand” as the old was for the past.  This rests on two seriously questionable assumptions:

  1. that the “needs” of the past four centuries were met by essentially the same liturgy unchanged, but the present half-century is so different as to need a very different prayer book,
  2. that the 1979 Prayer Book represents a “growth” and “enrichment” of worship compared to its classical forebears.

By contrast, we in the Anglican Church in North America affirm:

For nearly five centuries, Cranmer’s Prayer Book idea had endured to shape what emerged as a global Anglican Church that is missional and adaptive as in its earliest centuries…

and that:

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 where often more revolutionary than evolutionary in character.

In short, we expressly reject that the 1979 Prayer Book represented an entirely wise step forward for the prayer book tradition as a whole, and that much of what it represents has had to be rolled back.  Although the ACNA and the 2019 Prayer Book still makes positive use of elements of the 1979 tradition, we have a new-found confidence in the classical prayer book tradition, and use the 1662 book as our “guiding star” for how the late 20th century developments were to be reassessed and, when necessary, undone.

All that to say, for a faithful orthodox Anglican, Liturgy for Living is a book that is built on a premise that we ought not to accept, and therefore should be read more critically than directly educationally.

Let’s get back to the book, please!

Still, let’s be fair and look at what’s actually in this book. In five Parts with nearly twenty chapters in total, this book walks through “The Meaning of Worship”, the history of the Prayer Book tradition, the rites of initiation, the Offices and Eucharist, and the Pastoral and Episcopal Services.

It has a good exploration of the words worship and liturgy, and help the reader discern the larger meanings of these terms, as opposed to the overly-narrow senses in which they’re often used today.  Similar with symbol and mystery, though arguably the authors may get a little too expansive and non-specific in the final analysis.  Their critique of the overly-clericalized liturgy (not just of medieval Roman but also Protestant worship!) may also be somewhat overstated.  And the ecumenical appeal of the 1979 Prayer Book’s newer contents are presented in an extremely optimistic manner – no real fruit of Christian unity has resulted from said content, and the Episcopal Church’s membership and attendance has only shrunk since this book was revised, almost alone demonstrating that these intended enrichments have not breathed new life into that church.

The section on baptism and confirmation should also be read cautiously, with an eye to our own Prayer Book’s response (in the Preface to the 2019 BCP, on page 4).

The authors’ doctrine of biblical inspiration described on pages 95-97 is quite weak, likening inspiration to a more divine version of an inspired artist or preacher.  They apparently reject that the Bible is “absolutely the Word of God” (page 96), which is yet another sign of what makes this book, and the ecclesial setting from which it came, troubling and unhelpful to the orthodox Anglican Christian.

These examples should suffice to give you a taste of this book.  If you want to get inside the head of the progressivism that produced and continues to defend the 1979 Prayer Book, this is the book for you.  With all the brilliant-yet-flawed ideas of the liturgical renewal of mid-20th century, and the modernist mentality that has taken its toll in many Christian traditions, this book shows you why the 1979 Prayer Book is the way it is and how it was/is hoped to function in fueling the spiritual life of the believer.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 4/5
This is a very readable book.  It doesn’t assume you know the history and background of liturgy and the Prayer Book, and it has an extensive bibliography (albeit now 19 years old) to further your research and learning.

Devotional Usefulness: 1/5 or N/A
In one sense, this is a book about liturgy, not of liturgy, so it’s not something you would use or read devotionally.  But what it does do is teach about liturgy and spirituality, and (in my view) it does so very dangerously.  Modern Episcopalian spirituality is Anglican-inspired, not Anglican, and very easily points its adherents in non-Christian directions.

Reference Value: 4/5
As I’ve said above, this book gets you into the DNA of the 1979 Prayer Book. If you want to know how it ticks, this book will help.  Just don’t confuse that with the classical prayer book tradition or historic Anglican spirituality.


Book Review: Liturgies of the Western 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.

Today we’re looking at Liturgies of the Western Church, selected and introduced by Bard Thompson.  This is a reference book that every student of liturgy should have on the shelf.


After a short introduction and bibliography (from the perspective of 1961), this book is occupied with introducing and setting out thirteen different liturgies from across Western Christian history (though the first two are not exclusively Western liturgies).

#1 – The First Apology of Justin Martyr (155)

This does not contain a liturgy, exactly, but we find here chapters 65-67 of his Apology, wherein he describes the order of service for the Communion liturgy he knew.  Although it is a brief outline, the basic sequence is clearly discernible, and it is consistent with the liturgical tradition to this day.

#2 – The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (200)

This is an important entry in the annals of history not because of its long-standing influence, but because of its sudden sharp revival in the mid-20th century.  This is the rite from which most of the Rite II Communion Prayers in the 1979 Prayer Book were drawn, as well as the Renewed Ancient Text in the 2019 Prayer Book.  Reading what it actually says, though, allows one to see just what the adaptations are that modern liturgies have made in its name.  I’ll leave it to the reader’s judgment if the term “renewed ancient” is justified or not.

#3 – The Mass in Latin and English (Roman Rite)

The introductory text for this one is particularly lengthy, as befits the long history of the Roman Rite.  What is given in this book was the then-current form of the Roman Rite (as of 1959), making this the Tridentine form Mass just before the reforms of Vatican II kicked in.  The Tridentine Mass is what traditional (Roman) Catholics today really love and yearn for, and what the baby boomer generation stereotypically despises.  This is a useful resource, of course, as it gives insight into one end of Roman Catholic piety.  But its downside is that this is not the form of the Mass that was in use during, or prior to, the Reformation.  So if you want compare & contrast the Prayer Book liturgy with its medieval forebear, this book doesn’t quite provide that.  You’ll have to, instead, rely on Tyndale’s translation of the Mass provided in the Anglican Service Book.  Still, the Latin-English parallels are handy, and the historical introduction gives you a sense of the gradual milieu of change over the centuries.

#4 – Martin Luther’s Masses (1523, 1526)

This is an interesting entry.  The Formula Missa (1523) was in Latin, and Martin Luther intended for it to be used on occasion for educational purposes.  Most of the time, though, the German Mass (1526) was appointed.  Every educated person, after all, learned Latin, and since instructing the laity in the reading of Scripture and promoting education was a Reformation principle, it made sense to hold worship in Latin periodically, so people could connect the familiar vernacular text to the Latin.  The liturgy provided in this book, however, is not a full text of the whole service; it’s a mix of text, rubric, and commentary, so you end up learning more about the German liturgy than digging into its precise text.

#5 – the Zurich Liturgy (1525)

This is the work of Ulrych Zwingli, whose communion theology was, shall we say, problematically radical.  Because he had such a “low view” of Communion, his liturgy is similarly empty when it comes to the Holy Table.  No sacrament, no consecration, just remembering and partaking.

#6 – The Strassburg Liturgy (1539)

This is the work of Martin Bucer, who was a theologian standing somewhere between Luther and Zwingli.  He was respected by John Calvin and finished his life and ministry in England, where he had a particular lasting impact.  His liturgy contains a number of very long prayers (a pattern we’ll see copied later on) but when it comes to celebration of Holy Communion it is suddenly (like Zwingli) quite brief.

#7 – The Form of Church Prayers, Strassburg (1545), and Geneva (1542)

It is John Calvin’s turn, now.  These are two liturgies that are nearly identical, and thus printed in the book with their occasional differences noted in parallel columns.  Again, long prayers precede and follow the Confession, and lead up to the Sermon.  The Communion prayers are also lengthy, quoting 1 Corinthians 11 at length, and exhorting the people to lift their “spirits and hearts on high where Jesus Christ is in the glory of his Father”.  There are further sets of prayers that provide another liturgy that begin to resemble the Prayer Book pattern around the celebration of Holy Communion, but still focused heavily on the words of institution and giving thanks.

#8 – the First and Second Prayer Books of King Edward VI (1549, 1552)

Now at last we reach the English Reformation.  The 1549 liturgy is the most conservative protestant liturgy in this book; you can follow its similarity to the Roman Rite more easily than any other entry.  Its order of prayers around the consecration of the Eucharist are fairly closely followed in the Scottish and American Prayer Book traditions, all the way down to the 1928 Prayer Book and the Anglican Standard Text in the 2019.  The 1552 liturgy does the re-arranging and clipping of the Communion Prayers that sets the stage more clearly for what would standardize in the 1662 Prayer Book.

#9 – the Form of Prayers, Geneva (1556)

John Knox is now the man of the hour.  This liturgy represents one of the primary influences on the English Reformation party in exile during the reign of Catholic Queen “bloody” Mary Tudor.  It seems a bit of a hybrid between the previous Genevan liturgy and the Prayer Book liturgy, but contains some sharp polemic directed against the Papist doctrine of Transubstantiation, revealing its historical context a little too much!

#10 – The Middleburg Liturgy of the English Puritans (1586)

Now we’re getting into the world of Prebyterianism.  The Church of England had restored a Prayer Book similar to where it had left off before Mary’s reign, but the Puritan party was increasingly unhappy with it, and thus this liturgy was born.  The Calvinist, or Puritan, or “Reformed” desire was to simplify, reduce repetitions, and focus more on preaching and quoting Scripture.  This doesn’t mean short though… one prayer for After a Sermon goes on for several pages.  The Communion prayers, of course, are very short, and consciously different from the Prayer Book pattern.  There are also several instances where a rubric directs what the minister is to pray without giving an actual text.  Extemporaneous prayer was another major bullet point on the Reformed agenda.

#11 – The Westminster Directory of the Publique Worship of God (1644)

After the English Civil War, the Puritans had won: the Church of England as previously known was abolished, and Presbyterianism held sway over the country.  Within a couple years, this liturgy was put forth as the new standard.  It’s almost more of a guide than a liturgical text, however, as it mostly tells the order of what is to be done and only provides examples of what the minister is to pray.  Its hostility to the “excesses” of the Prayer Book tradition is clear in its preface.

#12 – The Savoy Liturgy (1661)

When the Interregnum ended and King Charles II returned to the throne of England, the Church of England with its bishops and prayer book also came back out of hiding.  The Puritan party was on the fence about conforming to the Anglican norm, and Richard Baxter, at the Savoy Conference, advocated a more Reformed liturgy in the (vain) hopes that the upcoming 1662 Prayer Book wouldn’t be like its predecessors.  The liturgy found here is an expanded version of what can be seen in the various Calvinist liturgies above, but with more full-text prayers provided, rather than mere examples.  It still falls short of Prayer Book standards, though, providing (for example) no absolution.  Interestingly, its prayers of consecration are the most Anglican of the Calvinist rites so far seen, including this line: “This bread and wine, being set apart, and consecrated to this holy use by God’s appointment, are now no common bread and wine, but sacramentally the body and blood of Christ.”  This indicates a distinction of Calvinist doctrine over again Zwinglian.  Ultimately this barely made a dent in the formation of the 1662 Prayer Book.

#13 – The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America (1784)

Finally, we come to a liturgy left to the American Methodists by John Welsey.  Seeing little or no ordained Anglican clergymen in the fledgling United States, he felt at liberty to jumpstart a new church movement without episcopal authority or assistance.  Despite that rogue element in his work, what he gave to the American Methodist Church was almost an exact replica of the 1662 Prayer Book.  The Morning Prayer and Communion services are printed in this book, and you’ll see they are almost identical.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 4/5
The fact that the various liturgies present themselves in a few different ways makes a quick compare/contrast difficult to make.  But on the whole this is a readable book, not overly technical.

Devotional Usefulness: N/A
This is not a devotional book.  Though if it does it’s job, you’ll want to go grab a Prayer Book and worship!

Reference Value: 4/5
Put this next to your copy of the 1662 Prayer Book and you’ll have a fantastic history of liturgy on your shelf.  Or, because it’s not 1961 anymore, you can just go online and probably find each of these texts freely available.  Still, the introductions and footnotes in this book are useful.

Book Review: The Lutheran Service 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.

It’s been a couple weeks but we left off with a couple non-Anglican liturgical books, and today we’re picking that trend back up again with The Lutheran Service Book (2006), which is basically the official liturgical text for the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS).

This book is basically a Prayer Book and Hymnal in one, which is super handy.  What’s strange about it, from an Anglican perspective, is the ordering of its contents.

Introductory Contents:
Church Year, Sunday & Holy Day lectionaries, Dates of Easter, Glossary, instructions for chanting psalms

Most of this makes sense to us, the only oddity is that the Sunday / Holy Day lectionaries are placed up front with the calendar – historically that’s where we would have the Daily Office Lectionary, though the 2019 BCP has all its lectionaries toward the back instead.

Interestingly, this book includes two choices for the Calendar and Sunday lectionary: one is their version of the 3-year Revised Common Lectionary (essentially the same as ours, only minor differences), and the other is the traditional one-year calendar and lectionary (essentially the same as in the classical Prayer Books).  Although I’m not surprised the 2019 Prayer Book didn’t provide both calendar & lectionary options, I kind of wish it had.

The chanting instructions make sense here because the first primary section of this book is:

The Psalms

Yes, all 150 are here, and they’re even pointed for chant!  For example, from Psalm 15:

O Lord, who shall sojourn | in your tent? *
Who shall dwell on your | holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does | what is right *
and speaks truth | in his heart.

So that’s pretty useful.  The chant style is very similar to Simplified Anglican Chant, which is great.  Functionally it’s strange that the psalter should be put first like this: this means that you “have to know” where the right worship service starts in the book, increasing the necessary page-flipping.  But in another sense, giving the Psalms place of preference is a theological statement: this is where our worship begins.  Virtually every worship service in the liturgical tradition utilizes the psalms, and biblically they are our greatest model for faithful prayer.

The Divine Service

The next nearly-60 pages are taken up with five “Settings” of the Divine Service, or Holy Communion.  “They have five different eucharistic texts!?” you ask.  Yes.  But they are all extremely similar to one another.

The primary difference between the order of service here and in the 2019 Prayer Book is that this starts with a confession and absolution, rather than placing it after the Prayers of the People.  Setting One’s confession prayer in particular is clearly based upon our confession in the Daily Office.  For the Creed, both the Nicene and Apostles’ are offered.  Two sequences of Communion Prayers are typically offered, one placing the Words of Institution before the Lord’s Prayer, and the other after.  In general, the style and wording of the prayers – particularly the Communion prayers – progress from traditional to contemporary as you look through from Setting One to Setting Five; the last of which sounds the most like the 1979 Prayer Book.

Another fascinating, and consistent, feature of the Lutheran liturgy is the use of the Canticle Nunc dimittis as a Post-Communion praise, just like how the classical Prayer Books employed the Gloria in excelsis.  This has prompted and encouraged me to explore different Canticle options after the administration of Holy Communion in my own church’s worship services, rather than always simply employing a Communion Hymn.

Another curiosity, perhaps marking the most obvious distinction between the five Settings, is the music.  Settings One through Four each have a particular collection of Service Music printed right into them.  This is useful for those who desire to use them, though a bit odd from my observing perspective, as it ties you to particular combinations of musical settings with the variations of prayers.  I assume it’s permissible for them to mix and match text and music, but it just seems an odd way of printing it.  Whateverso, the range of styles are interesting: different forms of chant (some like plainchant, some like Anglican Chant, including the Old Scottish Chant of the Gloria in Setting Three).  Setting Five has no music printed in it, though, preferring the simplicity of spoken liturgy, and indicating a few hymns to sing in place of the standard Kyrie and GloriaSanctus and Agnus Dei.

The Daily Offices

Where the Daily Offices hold pride of place in Anglican Prayer Books, the Lutheran Service Book starts them on page 219, after the Communion settings.  These, too, include musical settings of various Canticles and Psalms right in the text, as well as other chanted parts for the dialogues and blessings and whatnot.  Five Offices are provided: Matins, Vespers, Morning Prayer, Evening Payer, and Compline.  Again this is a “huh?” moment for Anglicans, as Matins & Vespers are the Morning & Evening Offices.

As it turns out, Matins and Morning Prayer are very similar in this book, containing largely the same elements.  Like the Communion Settings, the music and chant is the most obvious difference between the two,   Matins is the most like the Prayer Books’ Morning Prayer; the Morning Prayer in this book lacks the Te Deum and rearranges the prayers after the Canticle.

None of these offices include Confessions or the Apostles’ Creed, which is another difference between this book and our tradition.

Vespers and Evening Prayer are similar to one another, but start markedly different: Vespers more resembling the Prayer Book tradition, and Evening Prayer starting off with that curious “Service of Lights” thing in the 1979 Prayer Book.

Compline is very similar to as it is found in modern Anglican Prayer Books.  I assume, since it was not taken up in most Protestant liturgical books during the Reformation, that it saw the least amount of editing and change in unofficial use, such that when it started to reappear in the late 20th century it had undergone the least amount of denominational divergence.

Other Services and Resources

From here the book includes a collection of other liturgies that a Prayer Book would be expected to have: Holy Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Matrimony, Funeral Service, Responsive Prayers, a Litany, Corporate and Private Confessions & Absolution, Daily Prayer for Families, a Daily Lectionary, table of Psalms for the Offices (though not covering the whole psalter or the whole year), Occasional Prayers, the Athanasian Creed, and Luther’s Small Catechism.  All this is comparable to what one would expect in an Anglican Prayer Book, and much of its contents are recognizably similar to our own.

The first “Other Service”, however, does not have an Anglican counterpart (unless you delve into England’s controversial Common Worship).  It’s called Service of Prayer and Preaching, and it seems to be a what-to-do-on-a-Sunday-morning-when-the-ordained-minister-is-away sort of service.  Opening Verses, an Old Testament Canticle (known to us as #8 Ecce Deus), Scripture readings, dialogued responses, a congregational reading from part of the catechism, Sermon or Catechetical Instruction, (Offertory) Hymn, several Prayers, a New Testament Canticle (known to us as the Pascha Nostrum), and a closing Blessing.

The Hymns

636 hymns follow, arranged by Church Season, Person & Work of Christ, the Christian Church, the Christian Life, other Times and Seasons, additional Service Music, and National Songs.  Naturally there are quite a lot more German Chorales here than in a typical Anglican hymnal (though the 2017 hymnal has quite a few!), and several hymns well-known to us with different arrangements – occasionally entirely different tune settings.  For example Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face is set to FARLEY CASTLE instead of PENITENTIA, and At the Lamb’s high feast we sing is set to SONNE DER GERECHTIGKEIT instead of SALZBURG (ALLE MENSCHEN).

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 3/5
Page-flipping within a particular worship service (especially the Sunday Communion) is minimal.  The main challenge is making sure you know what service you’re actually doing (five Communion rites, remember).  If you’re trying to use this for the Daily Office then things are rather more complex as you have to hunt for the lectionary and psalms with rather more vigor than a typical Anglican Prayer Book.

Devotional Usefulness: 3/5
This book is not the sum total the LCMS expression of Lutheran worship, but all the basics are here.  As Anglicans we could use this book and find a faithful approximation of our own liturgical tradition.  The Communion Prayers are all significantly shorter than ours (even shorter than what’s in the 1662 Prayer Book), but on the whole theologically compatible with ours.  The lack of clarity regarding daily psalmody would be a loss, however.  This book also has a nice collection of hymns that could supplement our own hymnals.  And to be fair, if I was a Lutheran, I’d rate this as either a or a 5, depending upon what I’d thereby know of the historic liturgies before this book.

Reference Value: 2/5
It’s hard to rate this score.  For most of us, we have no reason to pick up the liturgical text of a different tradition, even one so closely-related as the Lutherans.  The similarities of English-language Lutheran worship with Prayer Book worship also makes it clear that they have taken several queues from us.  As such, this Lutheran Service Book is probably best understood as an expression of historic Lutheran worship using the Anglican Prayer Book as a useful filter from time to time.  If you really want to explore historic Lutheran liturgy, you probably have to pick up the Book of Concord or something to that effect.  But I haven’t done that yet.

Book Review: Shorter Christian Prayer

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.

My first exposure to liturgical worship was when I played piano for Mass at a Roman Catholic church during my undergraduate years.  The beauty and purpose of liturgy didn’t really strike me until after I graduated, but during that time I did gradually get used to the different “style” of prayer involved and got curious enough to join a brief service of Vespers, which is akin to our Evening Prayer service except that it’s all psalmody and prayer with only one few-verse Scripture reading.  We did this ten-minute liturgy from a little red book called Shorter Christian Prayer, which is a compact and simplified version of the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours that forms the full current Roman Breviary (Daily Office).  When I graduated, I bought my own copy and used it sporadically during the summer and into my first year of seminary.

Shorter Christian Prayer was for me a gentle introduction to the discipline of daily prayer.  The Anglican Daily Office is much longer and more robust – definitely a healthier spiritual diet, but there’s a lot more to bite off.  This Roman book was like a stepping-stone on the path toward the real deal.  It features a four-week rotation of psalms, which is close to our Prayer Book period of time, except this doesn’t manage to include all 150 psalms, even with a separate Night Office included.

Functionally, this book is tricky to use; you need to use it with someone who knows what they’re doing with it first, before forging off on your own.  It’s very compact, abbreviating things as much as possible, printing the “Ordinary” (unchanging) elements in one place, the four-week-rotating elements in another section, and the seasonal “propers” in a third section.  The Morning & Evening Gospel Canticles (Benedictus and Magnificat) are printed on the inside front & back covers, respectively, for ease of access.  It all makes sense once you understand the system, but the learning curve is unpleasant.  I don’t think I ever quite used this book right when I actually used it, ca. 2008.


Look at the Evening Prayer service start here.  Those opening sentences are short for: “God, come to my assistance.”  “Lord, make haste to help me.”  “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.”  “As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.  Amen.  Alleluia.”

A hymn follows, and there’s an appendix of hymns in the back (lyrics only).  Then you get the psalms.  To decipher what you see there on pages 208-209, there is an antiphon, followed by the Psalm (123), the “Glory to the Father,” then a psalm-prayer, then you repeat the antiphon.  Then you repeat that sequence with the next psalm (124).

There is often a third psalm or canticle from elsewhere in Scripture, followed by a reading (which is barely ever more than 5 verses long).  A brief responsory follows, which is sort of like an antiphonal prayer, then the Gospel Canticle (of Mary, in Evening Prayer here), with its own antiphon again.  Then follow intercessions which are like our suffrages, wrapped up with the Lord’s Prayer, a concluding prayer, and the concluding blessing.  You can get through all this in ten minutes or less, where the Anglican Daily Office is typically twice that length at least.  And yet, the Roman office manages to be more complicated in a shorter amount of time.

Visibly, this book is attractively bound and its use of red ink for rubrics and black ink for text-to-be-read-aloud is very helpful.  The typeface and artistry smack of 1980’s weirdness, but (being largely unfamiliar with liturgy at the time) I just took it as part of its charm.

On the whole, the daily office that this book gives you is one that is complex but short, varied in its content but frequent in its repetition of said content.  You don’t get all 150 psalms but you do get a nice array of other canticles mixed in.  The liturgical seasons have a much larger impact on the office than we experience in the Anglican tradition.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 2/5
Unless you really know your way around liturgy in general, this book is probably too complicated to figure out how to use on your own.  I think it’s meant either 1, for priests who don’t want to have to carry the full Liturgy of the Hours volume with them, or 2, for laymen who are following along the Office in the pews and are being guided through the service.  Or perhaps, 3, for enthusiastic laymen who have already learned the Office and want to pray it on their own.

Devotional Usefulness: 2/5
It’s just the Daily Office, which is only part of your spiritual life.  And given how anemic its treatment of the Scriptures is, you’re not going to get much meat here.  The antiphons and psalm-prayers can really bring the experience of praying the psalms to life, though – it’s what woke me up to the joy and virtue of praying psalms.

Reference Value: 2/5
This is a modern version of what probably used to be a much richer and more complex liturgy in the Roman tradition.  Looking at this book probably won’t give you significant insight into the depths of Papist liturgy, so its reference value is likely pretty low.  That said, its rubrics are pretty specific (once you find them), and comparative study between this and our Prayer Books can be pretty interesting.

As a last word, I should add that apart from the Liturgy of the Hours, Roman liturgy also has an “Office of Readings” which includes more substantial readings from the Bible as well as certain Church Fathers and theologians.  I doubt it still measures up to our Daily Office Lectionary, and the post-biblical readings are undoubtedly going to be unabashedly Papist in doctrine, so we’re not going to have much use for that.  Though the idea of devotional readings from the divines of our tradition is one worth considering, albeit not in our Daily Office itself.

I am thankful for this book.  Once in a blue moon I pick it up and pray the appropriate Office from it, mostly out of nostalgia and gratitude for the role that Roman Catholic chapel played in my Christian growth.  But that’s not reason enough for me to recommend anyone else get a copy.  Only do so if you plan on some comparative-liturgical study.

Book Review: Saint Joseph Continuous Sunday Missal

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 few books we’re going to look at are from liturgical traditions other than our own.  Obviously it is important to well-grounded in who we are and what we believe and where we stand, but it is also important to understand that we don’t stand in a vacuum, but as a part of the greater whole of Western Catholicism, and further, universal Christianity.  So today we’re going to go with one of the more random entries on my liturgy shelf: the Saint Joseph Continuous Sunday Missal, from 1963.

As you probably know, the 1960’s was a hotbed of liturgical changes in the Roman Church, and the vast majority of the Protestant world was about to follow suit.  The council known as Vatican II ran from 1962 to 1965, and one of its earliest reforms was for the liturgy in the local vernacular.  This Sunday Missal from 1963 represents a brief slice of Roman liturgical reform where it’s all in English, but most of the “novus ordo” (new order) stuff hasn’t been introduced.  It’s a precious snapshot of the Tridentine liturgy in English, something that’s almost completely lost today.  Under Benedict XVI, Roman Catholics got their Latin Mass back, but I’m not sure they got back their historic liturgy in the English language.  Their situation is something like Anglicans having to choose between the 1662 Prayer Book with zero changes and the 1979 Prayer Book – super traditional to the point of liturgical fetishism, or super modern to the ire of traditionalists everywhere.

So, apart from historical reference, in a tradition not even our own, what use is this book to an Anglican today?  Well, if you’re one of those crypto-Papist versions of Anglo-Catholic, then I suppose this book is pretty close to your view of an ideal liturgy in English.  It may help inform how you use the Anglican Missal, or whatever other Prayer Book supplement you prefer.  But most of us, I hazard to say, are more interested in Anglican liturgy and spirituality; what does this Roman book have to offer?

When I spent three years with my church in the classical prayer book lectionary, I learned a lot about how the liturgy used to be structured.  Remember that the historic Sunday Eucharistic lectionary has just two readings: an Epistle (usually) and a Gospel.  The Prayer Book tradition appoints a Collect for each Sunday and Holy Day to go with those two readings, but that’s it.  But what I eventually discovered was that there are more “propers” to draw upon if one so chooses.  There’s also the Introit and the Gradual – short pieces, usually chanted, usually from the Psalms, that are said near the start of the liturgy and between the Epistle and Gospel, respectively.  But what are those texts, and how are they used?  That’s where this book came in handy for me: by spelling out the full text of the Roman Mass for each Sunday of the year, it showed me how they did the Introit and Gradual, giving me insight into how those two additional propers could be put into the our liturgy.

First you can see the Introit, between the “Foremass” confession and the Kyrie, functioning in essentially the same way as our Opening Acclamation today.


After the Kyrie and Gloria comes their Collect of the Day, and then we turn the page to find the Epistle, Gradual, and Gospel.  Notice how both the Introit and Gradual use an Antiphon-Verse-Antiphon pattern, though slightly differently.  The Gradual functions similarly to our (responsory) Psalm in modern liturgy.


Then we get through the Creed, Sermon, and arrive at the Offertory.  It’s interesting to note that they appointed particular Offertory Sentences to particular Sundays, whereas the Prayer Book tradition just throws a 2-3 page list at you to choose from.


And then finally, after 8 pages of Communion prayers, we get to an oft-overlooked piece of liturgy, the Communion Sentence.  As far as I’ve noticed, the Prayer Book tradition has always authorized this little piece of liturgy, but seldom (if ever) gave instructions on how to do it.  Notice here that it’s said after the sacrament has been distributed and the vessels cleaned.


The Post-Communion Prayer follows the Communion Sentence – it’s almost as if that little Scripture verse is there to re-direct everyone’s attention to the reception of the Sacrament after the sometimes-lengthy process of communicating everyone, getting everyone back on track to pray the Post-Communion together.

I share this in detail partly because I think it’s interesting, but also because it sheds some slight on how certain elements of our own liturgy, old and new, work in similar tradition to our own.  For example, I’ve only ever heard a Communion Sentence uttered at one church I’ve visited, and only tried saying one myself at my church once or twice.  Perhaps old resources like this one can inspire us to look at our own liturgy with fresh eyes.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 5/5
If this book represented the way a church worships today, it would be incredibly useful.  It’s easy to follow, the whole Mass through.  It’s got a picture at the beginning of each Sunday Mass to give a visual sense of the day’s theme.  Everything is clearly labeled.  The book is long (over 1,000 pages) but not large.  It’s got explanations of the calendar and the parts of the Mass, with color pictures, at the beginning.  The whole point of this book was to help church-goers follow and understand the Roman Mass easily.

Devotional Usefulness: 1/5
As noted previously, this book represents a form of the liturgy that probably doesn’t exist anywhere anymore.  And it’s very Roman, so the theological content of its eucharistic prayers is not entirely agreeable with the Prayer Book tradition.  And although it does have some other prayer resources in the back, this book just isn’t really “for us”.

Reference Value: 3/5
If you’re interested in how various elements of traditional Western liturgy can/did/”should” look in English, this book, or another like it, is extremely handy.  Its usefulness is pretty narrow, though.

If you chance upon a book like this at a yard sale or an estate sale, like I did, it’s totally worth shelling $5 to save it from the rubbish heap.  It’s a book cool to explore, and it looks really pretty on your shelf, too!  There’s a lot to be said for elegant, simple, beauty.