Book Review: Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2006

I recently saw word that the ACNA Liturgy Taskforce, or a subsection thereof, has a couple more books in production, one of which is Lesser Feasts and Fasts.  Whether that is the final title or not, it is clearly a successor to a group of books put out by the Episcopal Church (USA) which finished (I think) with a 2006 edition.  I’ve heard that its first edition is from the 1960’s, but I haven’t seen it before and therefore cannot comment on the history of this volume.  Here I’m just going to introduce you to Lesser Feasts & Fasts, 2006.

In a nutshell, Lesser Feasts & Fasts exists to give you more resources for weekday Communion services.  Its primary (and titular) angle is to provide more collects & lessons, covering the entire Sanctoral Calendar – that is, the calendar of optional commemorations.  The 2019 Prayer Book also has a calendar of optional commemorations which differs notably from that in the 1979 book, taking away a number of spurious recent and ‘ecumenical’ commemorations, and adding a few more in their place, both historical and recent.

The way these optional commemorations work in the prayer book itself is that there are a set of collects and lessons for different categories of saints (there are 9, in the case of the 2019 BCP) so you can just match the right set to the commemoration.  In Lesser Feasts & Fasts, a unique Collect and set of lessons is assigned to each and every commemoration, allowing a greater degree of personalization and specificity.

Beside the commemoration of saints are seasonal commemorations.  All the days in Lent and Advent are provided for, giving nice seasonally-appropriate prayers and readings for daily communion services.  Eastertide, too, is provided for, mainly by walking the reader through the books of Acts and John during that season.  Furthermore, there are provided for the green seasons both a six-week set of communion propers hitting upon some rotating topics, and a two-year set of communion propers moving through the gospels in a largely sequential manner.

I have not made a detailed comparison, but I do know that some (if not most?) of this material is in harmony with current Roman Catholic practice, where the practice of daily mass is normalized (if sparsely attended by the laity).

Another handy feature of Lesser Feasts & Fasts, perhaps its most useful feature from a pastoral perspective, is the fact that it provides brief one-page bios of each commemoration or saint.  They’re short and focused enough that you can read them at the beginning of a homily, before launching into the meat of the sermon.  In many cases, the attentive preacher can find a connection from the bio sketch to at least one of the provided Scripture lessons.

The 2006 edition of this book reflects the then-current calendar of the Episcopal Church, which includes a few commemorations that an honest Christian cannot justify.  The names in question are of great historical import for sure: Elizabeth Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Harriet Tubman, J. S. Bach, Florence Li Tim-Oi, Kamehameha, Florence Nightingale… the question is whether we are celebrating them because of their achievements or because of their sanctity of life and doctrine.  The progressive mindset tends to esteem “human flourishing” too highly, and indeed non-liturgical evangelical protestants also tend towards a “great achievers” mindset when it comes to commemoration those who’ve gone before (i.e. Adoniram Judson or William Wilberforce), whereas the traditional definition of a “Saint with a capital S” is someone whose life and orthodoxy are impeccable examples to the faithful.  By definition, therefore, it should be very difficult indeed to honor as a Saint someone who is outside of the theological bounds of our own tradition.  For sure, the names listed in this paragraph are great and wonderful people who ought to be remembered in their own rights… but is the Eucharistic assembly the right place for that?

That is why a new version, to accompany the 2019 Prayer Book, is in order.

For what it’s worth, the commemorations from 2006, with additions from subsequent Episcopalian books, can be found online here.  I would only recommend them for comparative reference, however, as the bias of modern Episcopalianism is not entirely amenable to orthodox Anglican (or indeed Christian) sensibilities anymore.

Book Review: The American Psalter

A couple years ago I jumped on a rare offer: someone was selling a pile of old and out-of-print books of liturgical music and I managed to procure a nice stack.  The downside with them is that they are keyed to the traditional lectionary and calendar, so very little of it is stuff that I can use in my own church without careful adaptation and re-purposing.  But if I do end up in a 1928 Prayer Book parish some day, or start up a traditional service, this vintage materials could be super handy.

The book I’ve ended up using the most, in my own devotions, is The American Psalter, published by The H. W.  Gray Company in 1930, for the Protestant Episcopal Church.

The Preface provides a quick history of Anglican Chant, noting John Merbecke and dwelling particularly on Thomas Tallis, both from the first century of the English Reformation.  Some people accuse Anglican Chant of being an Anglo-Catholic invention of the 19th century; historical information like this helps bust that myth.  The method of “pointing”, that is, matching the text to the chant tune, is outlined, noting its diverse methods over the years since, and works its way toward explaining how the present volume works, and how to sing its contents.

The American Psalter contains chants for the “Choral Service” (that is, the main prayers and responses of the Daily Office), Anglican Chant tunes for the various Canticles of Morning and Evening Prayer, and all 150 Psalms.  A handful of other anthems are provided after, and every chant tune is indexed in the end.  Of course, the text of all these canticles and psalms match the 1928 Prayer Book, but now that we have the New Coverdale Psalter in the 2019 Prayer Book, with verbiage that closely resembles the original Prayer Book Psalter, it is pleasantly easy to line up this 90-year-old book with our brand-new Prayer Book.  I used it pretty frequently this past summer, as I began to settle into the 2019 BCP and got into a chanting mood for a while.

Now, this book is probably hard to find these days, so in a sense writing about it today, in 2020, seems a bit silly.  How are you, the reader, going to benefit from this?  I’ll share an example of an insight from this book that may spark creativity from my fellow modern-day chanters.  Several Psalms are quite long, and using the same chant for fifteen minutes could get monotonous.  What The American Psalter does is break up a long psalm into multiple chants.Psalm 107This isn’t the whole of Psalm 107, but you can get the idea.  It begins (on the previous page) with a cheerful Single Chant in D Major for three verses “O Give thanks unto the Lord…” followed by a somber Single Chant in D Minor for verses 4 & 5 “They went astray in the wilderness…”  Then, on the pages shown in the picture above, the Psalm switches between about three different-but-related chants reflecting the different voices and moods as the narrative of Psalm 107 unfolds.

This is probably the most complex example; other long psalms receive more simple treatment.  Psalm 109 spends verses 1-4 in a pleasant C Major Double Chant, changes to an A Minor Double Chant with a similar melodic contour for verses 5-19, and switches back to the original chant for verses 20-30.  Even simpler is Psalm 44, wherein verses 1-9 are sung with a Double Chant in G Major, and verses 10-26 sung in the exact same chant tune transposed to G Minor.

The underlying lesson here is that chanting does not have to be boring or unimaginative.  The wealth of chant tunes, and the ease with which one can edit them, opens up a world of musical possibilities.  Opting for Anglican Chant in your church does not have to mean that your skilled musicians are out of a job!  Yes, chanting is extremely simple, and you don’t need particularly talented musicians to make it happen (which is kind of the point of chant, really, being something simple for all voices to join in), but there is still room for talent, creativity, and skill to step in.

Anyway, don’t go out of your way to track down a copy of this book unless you’re particularly trying to build a church music resource library.  Instead, keep your eye on the ACNA committee for music’s Psalter Page.  They’re still pretty early in their work of compiling chant psalters for the 2019 Prayer Book, so if you’ve got ideas, encouragements, or questions, now’s your chance to make a difference!

Book Review: The 2019 Prayer Book

The Anglican Church in North America formally released a new book of common prayer in June, 2019, after making its full text available online in Easter a couple months earlier.  Even before the release date, controversy was flying, some of which even quiet little me shared at the time.  And, of course, once the book was out, book reviews (again with accompanying debates) were flying across the Anglican Interwebs, left, right, and center.  Why a review on this book now, half a year later?

I followed the progress of Texts for Common Prayer pretty closely from 2013 through 2018, keeping my recitation of the Office and my church’s celebration of Holy Communion largely in line with the then-current liturgical texts.  By the time the 2019 book was released, I was largely familiar with its features, changes, and distinctions when compared with the 1979 book and the classical prayer book tradition.  There was little left to surprise me, or shock me; most of the good news to celebrate and the frustrating news to mourn was already known.  So I could have jumped on the bandwagon for a book review in June, too.  But I chose not to, precisely because I’d been familiar with the workings texts leading up to it.  Any attentive reader can make a quick book review.  I fear too many of this book’s critics will not have given it enough use to get to know it well enough to provide well-formed opinions.  Prayer Books, like Bibles, are books that take effect over the long haul.  It’s not a novel with a flash-in-the-pan story experience, or textbook with read-it-and-memorize-it content; it’s a book to be used over the course of hours and days and weeks and seasons.  It was my intention to provide a review of the 2019 Prayer Book that is not simply “aware” or “informed” of its contents, but also experienced with its liturgy.

(That being said, I have put together a functional introductory outline to the new prayer book, which I used in teaching my congregation about what’s in it, why, and a bit of its history and function.  You can download a full copy of that here: full teaching outlines – 2019 bcp.)

Like every group project I’ve heard of, The Book of Common Prayer 2019 came out with a handful of errors in its first printing (June); most of those errors, plus a couple official revisions were corrected in the second printing (September-ish), and a hopefully the last of them have been caught in the third printing (in December I think).  Most of the changes are listed on this page, though I did see a second sheet of further corrections (mostly just grammar and formatting) floating around the internet that I forgot to download and save to share here.  So if you’re looking at a hard copy in front of you, check which printing it is.  I have first printing pew editions, but a second-printing “delux edition” for my own regular use, so I’ve been able to look at both over the past several months.  Plus of course there’s always the official website copy you can read and download for free, and I assume that’s always going to have the latest corrections already implemented.

This prayer book was born in controversy.  The ACNA is a difficult province to serve, let alone please.  Several dioceses use the 1928 Prayer Book or the Reformed Episcopal Church’s version of it; several used the 1979 Prayer Book and not quite all of them are jumping over the 2019 to replace it; some use other more localized or customized books, including (inexplicably) the Church of England’s contemporary liturgy book, Common Worship.  There was no way that this entire province was going to be united under one prayer book.  Even the Anglican Continuum isn’t truly united under the 1928 as they sometimes bill themselves, because some supplement and edit that book with resources like the Anglican Missal.  So the goal for the 2019 book was to make it as user-friendly as possible, taking what’s perceived as the best of modern practice and the best of our tradition, and putting together a liturgy more faithful than we had in the 1979.  A tall order and an impossible task, if ever I heard one!

Reading through the Preface to the 2019 prayer book, you’ll find the editors were highly aware of the difficult circumstances under which this book was compiled.  Their care to outline Anglican liturgical history and highlight the ecclesial milieu in which the ACNA and the 2019 book were born shows just how self-conscious the tradition of this book is.

lectionary woes and weals

From my perspective, the end result has only one flaw that I particularly dislike: the modern three-year lectionary and calendar for Sundays and Holy Days.  Just over two years ago I argued in favor of the traditional Prayer Book calendar and lectionary, and today I still wish it had been preserved, or at least authorized, in the new book.  If you go to the bottom of that page you’ll find a link to a document I’d sent to the task force, pleading specifically to save the old Collects and Lessons, as one of the great gems of the Prayer Book tradition.  Sadly I was in a clear minority, though I still hold out hope that some day the 21st Church may yet rediscover the wisdom of her forebears on this.

That being said, the version of the three-year lectionary we’ve got in the 2019 book is an improved version of the Common Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary – very similar to those in most respects, but some of their shortcomings have been improved.  The restoration of a culturally “problematic” text in Romans 1 is a positive move, as is the restoration of January 1st to being the feast of “The Circumcision and Holy Name of Jesus”, rather than just the Holy Name as it was “cleaned up” in 1979.  It is nice, also, to have most of the original Sunday Collects back, even without most of the Lessons they were meant to be paired with.

The Daily Office Lectionary is a curiosity.  It represents a radical move backward toward the original 1549-1662 daily lectionary, using the secular calendar instead of the liturgical calendar, and having a simpler order of reading the Bible.  In general, daily lectionaries have gotten increasingly complicated over the past two centuries, giving us shorter readings and decreasing coverage of the Bible.  So in many ways the 2019 daily lectionary is “more traditional” than any other lectionary in North America, much to everyone’s awkward surprise.  There are still some questions that can be raised about what was included and excluded, why, and how certain books should or should not have been woven together, but on the whole this is one of the strongest daily lectionaries I’ve ever seen.

two and half Communion Rites

Throughout the latter half of 2019 I wrote about each piece of the Communion liturgy in this new book, and you can find them indexed here.  There are officially two orders (or Rites) for Holy Communion.  The first is the Anglican Standard Text, which is basically the “novus ordo” of the 1979 Prayer Book (and the Roman Rite) combined with the 1928 Prayer Book’s communion prayers.  The second rite is the Renewed Ancient Text, drawing primarily upon the short-and-sweet (and shallow, many would say) prayers of the 1979 Prayer Book, earning itself the name “Renewed Ancient” only because the communion prayers of consecration are a version of some prayers attributed to Hippolytus in the 3rd century.

The “half” Communion Rite comes from the fact that this book authorizes the reconstruction of the 1662 order for Holy Communion (and, by extension, the 1928 and similar orders also).

Some argue that having more than one communion rite destroys the principle of common prayer.  Again, though, the reality of this book’s situation is that because it will definitely NOT please everyone, it needs to be sufficiently pleasing to enough people that it will catch on as much as it can.  I think having two (and a half) rites is a strategic decision: it provides one rite akin to what people are already used to, in the hopes that the massive diversity of uncommon prayer will eventually funnel down into the two parallel rites in this book.

Plus, I believe, the intended theology of these two rites can (and should) be read as being identical.  Even though the precise content is different, they are intended to communicate the same Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I explored this argument in more detail a couple months ago.

daily and occasional prayers

At first glance the Daily Offices look very similar to the contemporary language offices in the 1979 Prayer Book, but as you dig into the text, and especially the rubrics, you’ll find that the 2019 Prayer Book’s Daily Offices actually rival the 1928 book when it comes to conformity with the 1662 standard.  Although additional prayers are printed and authorized, the standard originals are marked and suggested.  Although supplemental canticles are provided, the standard originals are given place of preference.  Where the 1928 and 1979 cut certain suffrages short, the 2019 puts them back together (and even expands them a little).  Even the Great Litany is a bit less invisible than it was in previous prayer books.

The flexibility afforded in the rubrics allows for shortened forms of the Daily Office, which can be pastorally helpful in certain situations, as well as reassuring for individuals reciting the office in private concerned about “keeping up.”  Very little of the modernist phenomenon of “dumbing down” the liturgy has taken hold here; the 2019 Prayer Book has a robust office of daily prayer.

initiation and other sacramental rites

Because of the occasional nature of the offices of baptism, confirmation, ordination, matrimony, ministry to the sick and dying, and burial, I have less to say about them in the 2019 Prayer Book from personal experience.

One of the concerns about the baptismal liturgy in the draft texts was that there was a big step away from using the language of “regeneration” and more toward the language of “born again.”  Technically those are synonymous phrases, the former simply being more technical than the latter.  But culturally the implications can run quite deeply: the more “evangelical protestant” extreme of Anglicanism sometimes doesn’t like to use the language of baptismal regeneration, and chafe against the language of Article 27 and the traditional prayer book baptismal liturgy.  It was a relief, therefore, to see the term “regenerate” brought back into the main text of the final product rather than just hiding as an option in the rubrics.

Another nice feature of the 2019 book is the use of holy oils in Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, and the Anointing of the Sick.  In terms of the “seven sacraments” of medieval accounting, unction (or anointing) is the one that got lost in Prayer Book practice, only making an official comeback in the 20th century.  Having that ministry of healing returned in a liturgical context provides a traditional framework for (and corrective to) the pentecostal extremes in which healing ministry is often most loudly promoted.  Plus by appointing the other two types of holy oil (exorcism and chrism) for their respective traditional roles, the oil for the anointing of the sick is brought into its proper larger historical-liturgical context.  But, of course, all this use of holy oils remains optional.  They were not required in the classical prayer books, so they are not required here, only suggested and provided for.

Perhaps the most noteworthy “innovation” of the 2019 Prayer Book is the Declaration of Intention prefaced to the marriage rite.  The prayer book expectation (in line also with the canons of the ACNA, by the way) is that the couple who wish to be married must sign the Declaration of Intention, which explicitly spells out the biblical purposes of marriage.  Provision is even made for a public signing of that Declaration, allowing what one could call a formal (liturgical) betrothal ceremony, initiating a period of discernment, prayer, and preparation for a couple considering (or preparing for) getting married.  This is very much a response to the state of the world around us, where many people, including many believers, don’t understand the biblical teachings on marriage, and have no idea of its gospel-centered nature.  Christians couples interested in marriage need to be recognized, prayed for, protected, nurtured, and instructed, and all this very carefully in the knowledge that the world is attacking every aspect of their relationship.  The Declaration of Intention is a source of instruction and guidance, and also a safe “out” for the local priest who may need to say a difficult “wait” or “no” to a couple unprepared or unwilling to accept the gospel of marriage.

the non-essentials

One of the last publicity pieces released before the book was released was on the typeset, font, and formatting of the 2019 Prayer Book.  Some people scoffed – rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic and all that! – but although these are nonessential features of a prayer book, they can be very high-impact.  The 1979 Prayer Book is hopelessly large and complicated.  The page-flipping required to get through one worship service is intense.  This book, while still not as simple to use as the classical prayer books, is designed more with a “new user” in mind, so page number references are provided, section labels are clear, and the need for page-flipping is reduced from the 1979’s glut.

During the season of Advent I took the risky move of doing away with my church’s service bulletin, in which the entire liturgy was printed weekly, with hymn numbers and the Scripture lessons included, and had my congregation of mostly elderly persons use the new prayer books through the worship service.  This was a risk – people don’t always like new things being foisted on them in church, and when you’re not used to any prayer book, it can be a bit daunting to use them for the first few times.  But, to my relief, the book grew on them!  Just where the 1979 Prayer Book got the most complicated (the prayers of the people through the communion prayers) is exactly the point in the liturgy where the 2019 book became the easiest, with no more page-flipping.  I call that a successful test run of this book!

Another feature of the text that has been inconsistent throughout our 450 years of prayer book history is the handling of marking the priest’s words, congregational responses, and text read by all in unison.  The labelling has always been decent, but not always the same.  Congregational responses in the Great Litany have traditionally been italicised, like rubrics.  Most unison prayers have been in bold, but congregational responses were often in regular text, and simply labeled, People.  The 2019 Prayer Book, finally, standardizes the whole thing: the minister or reader’s text in regular print, everything said by the congregation in bold, and all (and only) rubrics in italics.  Section headings, therefore, are rendered in ALL CAPS in order to keep them distinct from rubrics and congregational responses.  And, by golly gee, this book is so much neater as a result.  To my eyes at least, the 1979 book looks rather clinical, and the 1928 looks really crowded.  From an angle of visual presentation, the 2019 Prayer Book is truly quite excellent.

It has a dignity that strives to elevate it well beyond the controversy and argumentation and pain in which it was conceived and born.

the ratings in short…

Accessibility: 3.5/5
This book, as I already noted, is miles easier to use than its predecessor in 1979.  It’s not as streamlined as the classical prayer books, but it handles the variety of options better than any other modern text I’ve seen.  I almost rated this a 4, but have to acknowledge that its learning curve is still a little steep.

Devotional Usefulness: 4/5
Compared to previous prayer books, this is usually drawing upon the best of the best.  Especially for the lay person praying according to this book, the spiritual life engendered here is as rich as any edition of the prayer book before it.  And while certain features (most especially the communion lectionary) prevent it from an ideal 5/5, this is one of the most devotionally useful prayer books ever made.

Reference Value: 4/5
This is hard to rate… being a brand new prayer book this is of practically zero reference value from an historical perspective.  However, its more faithful use of historic material in contemporary idiom make it a far superior rendition of Anglican spirituality than the 1979 Prayer Book, so that’s a big plus.  Furthermore, it contains a good number of Scriptural references (though not drowned in them like Common Prayer 2011) which also help the reader take note of the biblical grounding of our form of worship.  And, of course, the Preface to this edition, and the fact that this is the “official” book of the ACNA also make it an important go-to reference for Anglicanism in America today.

So, whether your local church adopts this book for its liturgy or not, this is a book I highly recommend for your shelf at the very least.  If you’re using the 1979 Prayer Book I cannot urge you enough to put it away and take this one up in its place; there is nothing in that book that cannot be found matched or improved in this one, I promise you.  And, if you’re a traditional-language-prayer-book kind of person, I would encourage you to look more charitably upon the 2019 Prayer Book.  It is not without its flaws, as are all editions of the BCP, but it is probably a great deal more faithful to our great tradition you give it credit for.

There are bits and pieces here and there that I might someday like to see improved.  But on the whole, I am comfortable with settling into the majority of my priestly ministry with this book in hand.

Book Review: The Holy Bible 1611 Fascimile Edition

Welcome to Saturday Book Review time!  On most of the Saturdays this year we’ve been 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 going a bit weird and looking at a Bible.  Not just any Bible, but the King James Version.  And not just any KJV Bible, but the 400th anniversary 1611 facsimile edition.  There are a few of these around, so the one I’m specifically dealing with here is the one from Hendrickson Publishers.  You can find others, like from Zondervan, which omit the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon, but that’s lame.  We’re Anglicans, and have all the books!

And, more importantly for the purposes of this review, this facsimile edition has the Daily Office Lectionary in it, as conformed to the then-current 1559 Prayer Book.  Looking through this lectionary is a massive education for the modern Anglican, as the history of daily lectionaries has wandered quite a bit over the centuries since.  Here’s a sample:


A quick run-down of what we’re looking at here…

  • The far-left column, I must admit, I haven’t figured out.
  • The second-left column is the day of the month (1-31 in this case).
  • The next column has the letters A-g in repetition, allowing you identify the day-of-the-week throughout the month without having to be year-specific.
  • The next column, labeled Kalend. at the top is the older Roman/medieval dating system.
  • The large column notes feasts and fasts: Nicholas Bish[op] on the 6th, Conc[eption] of Mary on the 8th, O Sapientia on the 16th, Fast on the 24th, Christmas on the 25th, etc.
  • The “Psalms” column tells you which day of the month’s psalms to use each day… for the majority of the year it’s identical to the actual day of the month, but there is one exception.
  • The last four columns give you the OT and NT lessons for Morning and Evening Prayer.  Here are a few samples, to help you with the typography:
    • December 1st: Esa. xiiij (Isaiah 14), Actes ii (Acts 2), Esa. xv (Isaiah 15), Hebr.7 (Hebrews 7).
    • December 21st: Pro.xxiij (Proverbs 23), xxi (Acts 21), Prou.24 (Proverbs 24), 1.John1. (1 John 1).
    • December 27th: Eccleſ.v (Ecclesiastes 5), Reuel.i. (Revelation 1), Eccle.6. (Ecclesiastes 6), Reuel.22 (Revelation 22)

As you may be able to see, here, the space-and-ink-saving pattern was not to repeat the name of the current book being read when it’s in continuity with the day above.  Christmas Day reprints Isaiah for the OT lessons because, although Isaiah was already the book being read at the time, the chapters to be read are different from the daily sequence.

You’ll also note that whole chapters were read at once.  The versification we’re used to today was invented in 1557 and first printed in 1560, which means they did not exist when the first prayer books were printed in 1549 and 1552.  The lectionary from those, continued here in 1611, therefore, could not rely on verse numbers to delineate Scripture readings!  There are a couple footnotes in this lectionary to adjust the readings’ start and end points, using phrases rather than verse numbers.

There are, of course, some typographical distinctions that make this book difficult to read at first.  The “long s”, ſ, is only used in the lectionary tables and in titles, never in the regular text of the scripture.  (And, to dispel anachronistic use, never at the end of a word.)  The letters u and v are treated as the same letter, u being in the middle of a word and v at the end of a word.  So, the phrase “leave us not” is instead printed “leaue vs not“.  You can also find the occasional typographical error, in which a u or an n is turned upside down – they’re the same “letter” from the printer’s perspective, just a matter of which-way-up-it’s placed on the printing block.

Anyway, I share this here because it’s a fantastic resource that modern Bibles sadly lack.  As American Anglicans we barely even have a functioning Bible to support our lectionaries, much less a Bible that reprints the lectionary in the front to aid our devotions with the Offices.  Considering how much arm-twisting it took just to get an ESV Bible with the additional books we need, chances are we’ll never have an ESV Bible with the full Anglican resources available.  So it’s all the more important we learn about these resources of old.

On a fun sidenote, this KJV edition is also a handy thing to have when dealing with those who insist on the KJV Bible being the only legitimate Bible, because the original KJV has the books “called apocrypha” which they dread, plus a number of footnotes to supplement the primary translation, not to mention the lectionary tying it explicitly to the Common Prayer Book tradition which such fundamentalists would also despise.  Knowing our own history, unsurprisingly, can help inoculate us against various errors of the present day.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 2/5
This isn’t a particularly easy edition to find; there are other similar editions out there which omit all the things that make this a genuine Anglican book.  It also takes some getting used to in terms of reading it; though it’s not as difficult as some people make it out to be.  This is, after all, Early Modern English.

Devotional Usefulness: 4/5 if Applicable
Obviously this is just a Bible with the lectionary.  You can’t pray the Office with this, or follow the Eucharistic lessons.  But as Bible-reading-plans go, this one is very simple and very strong.  It does omit significant portions of a few books, like Leviticus, Numbers, Ezekiel, and Revelation, though when you understand that the goal of a daily lectionary is common prayer, those omissions begin to make a lot more sense.

Reference Value: 4/5
Although this is a very specific snapshot of a very specific piece of Anglican liturgical history, this Bible and lectionary are very informative.  If all you’ve ever seen are the 1928 and/or 1979 Prayer Book lectionaries, you’ll look at the 2019 book’s daily lectionary and wonder what on Earth our committee was up to.  But if you look a this, the original daily lectionary, you’ll find that the 2019’s lectionary is incredibly more in step with historic Anglicanism  Indeed, the daily lectionary is one of the worst features of both the 1928 and 1979 Prayer Books due to their complicated and convoluted reading order and their decreasing coverage of scripture.

Honestly, this is a book I think most Anglicans ought to have, clergymen especially.  Try a year on this lectionary sometime, maybe even in this translation, too.  It’s honestly hard to beat.

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.