Commemorating Saints during Lent

Looking at the calendar of optional commemorations, there are four in a row this week: F. D. Maurice yesterday, Henry Budd today, James Lloyd Breck tomorrow, and Martin Luther King Jr. on Thursday.  Next week has four such commemorations also.  But should we observe these commemoration days?

The first answer is: it’s up to you / your rector.  These are all optional, and the Prayer Book does not mandate how one must handle a weekday Communion service apart from the Red Letter Days.

But if you want to take longstanding tradition and practice into account, things get a bit pickier.  As a penitential season, Lent is best served by maintaining the tenor of penitence at the public worship services.  If four out of seven days in a week is a celebration of a Saint, then there isn’t really much time left for actually observing Lent.  There are also sets of Collects and Lessons for each weekday in Lent that you can find in Lesser Feasts and Fasts and the Anglican Missal and in the Roman liturgy.  I haven’t studied these sources against one another but I suspect they all represent a very similar tradition.  The idea, simply, is that the Church provides for a Lent-focused Communion service every day in Lent, leaving potentially no room for Saints’ days.

Of course, the “Red-Letter Days” take precedence over these; we celebrated the Annunciation last Monday for example.  But among the optional commemorations, there is room for further consideration.  Roman practice has a complex system of liturgical hierarchies: different sorts of holy days take different levels of precedence.  And although post-Vatican-II reforms have simplified their system somewhat, it’s still more developed than most Anglican sources are on the matter.  When it comes down to it, the Romans expect daily mass in their churches and we don’t, so it’s a matter of priority and emphasis.

So if you’re looking for what to do at a weekday Communion service in your church, or for your own devotions at home, you would do well to consider which of the optional commemorations you would “elevate” to observe during Lent, and which you would leave be in order to keep the Lenten disciplines the priority throughout the week.

Ultimately what this is doing is to create a middle class of holy days – what I would prefer to call Minor Feast Days – to stand between the official Major Feast Days and the Commemorations.  How you decide which saints to so elevate is a big question, and one that is better served on its own.  For now, at least, let us remember that Lent is a time of penitence, and it would not serve us well to get carried away with celebrating every commemoration that comes our way.

Fasting Tips

It’s a Friday, and it’s Lent, that means the Prayer Book expects us to be fasting today.  But, unlike the Roman tradition, we aren’t given strict definitions of what to fast from, or how to fast from things in general.  We’re left to the “spirit of fasting”, in danger of a liberal neglect of the discipline, as opposed to the danger of rote fasting out of merely outward obedience.  That said, it probably helps to have some advice, suggestions, and tips regarding how to implement a fast.

If you are not accustomed to fasting (on Fridays, during Lent, or at all) here are some ideas to try:

  • Skip a meal and replace it with a longer prayer time than usual.
  • Simplify your eating for the day: no fancy spices, sauces, or flavors.
  • Eat less: halve all your normal portion sizes.
  • Cut out the extras: no soda, alcohol, desserts, or snacks.
  • If you normally buy a coffee or a snack on the run, don’t.
  • Quantify the money you saved on food (as far as you’re able) and give it away to a homeless person on the street, or to a charity that cares for the poor.

Remember fasting is not a discipline that ultimately is meant to be pursued on its own, but alongside prayer and alms-giving.  Isaiah 58 has a well-known denunciation of ungodly fasting, and as you read through it you’ll find that it props up alms-giving and prayer as correctives to such abuse.  That chapter was often an Office reading for Ash Wednesday for that very reason.

Just remember, both the Prayer Book and Jesus expect God’s people to fast.  Yes, you’re free to do so in your own way, but just be sure you actually do!

Laetare Sunday coming up

The Fourth Sunday in Lent is known by two nicknames: Laetare Sunday and Mothering Sunday.

The first name, Laetare, comes from the Introit (the opening hymn, if you like) in Latin.

Lætare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum lætitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestræ.

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may suck and be satisfied with her consoling breasts.

These words are from Isaiah 66:10-11a, and serve as an antiphon to Psalm 122, Laetatus sum (“I was glad”).  This joy-filled antiphon, paired with a joy-filled Psalm, start off the 4th Sunday in Lent with a noticeably cheerful mood compared to the rest of the season.  This is, roughly, the midpoint of Lent, and thus serves as a sort of breather from the rigors of the season where the congregation can take their noses off the grindstone, so to speak, lift up their heads, and take a good look at the joy of Easter fast approaching.

This is traditionally matched with slightly “lightened up” vestments from violet to rose, and the historic Gospel is the feeding of the 5,000, adding to the theme of God strengthening us with provisions along the long hard road of the great penitential season.

The modern lectionary’s take on this Sunday, however, is not quite as noteworthy, and undercuts (or at least diffuses) the impact of “Laetare Sunday” compared to the historic lectionary.  It almost doesn’t make sense to retain the rose vestments for this day anymore, and indeed a great many churches, both Roman and Anglican, have not.

The other nickname for this Sunday is Mothering Sunday.  This largely stems from a tradition of masters giving their household servants this day off from their duties so they can go visit their own mothers.  I couldn’t say where this particular custom originates, though it’s probably not a coincidence that the traditional Epistle of this day begins in Galatians 4:21, discussing the allegory of Hagar the slave woman and Sarah the free woman.

Other traditions associated with this day also add to the enhanced cheerfulness of the occasion: the organ, normally silenced during Lent in pre-Reformation practice, was permitted to be used on this Sunday.  Flowers might be placed on the altar.  And weddings, traditionally disallowed during the penitential season of Lent, could be held on this one day of the season.

Given that many of those old Lenten traditions are not in place in many of our churches today, there aren’t many ways that we can “lighten up” the 4th Sunday of the season anymore.  Plus, given that our Lenten disciplines and modern lectionary and calendar are also a great less rigorous than the days of old, there is far less cause or need for such a day as this.  But sometimes knowing about how things used to work can help us reshape our modern practice, and rediscover some of the discipline and mentality that were nearly lost in the 20th century.

For glory and for beauty

This morning’s Old Testament lesson is Exodus 28 (or excerpts thereof) in the ACNA Daily Lectionary.  Shortly after chapter 20 is where lots of people who attempt to read the Bible cover-to-cover start to falter and lose momentum… all this stuff about the Tabernacle and its furnishings starts to wear on the reader.  Chapter 28 details the vestments for Aaron the Priest and his sons.  This might be interesting at first, but 43 verses of it can feel rather tedious.  So let’s give a bit of insight into this chapter, which will perhaps stir up some interest and clarity!

A refrain that bookends this chapter (found in verses 2 and 40) is “for glory and for beauty.”  This is a significant structural device in the writing style of this chapter, which is related to a variety of literary devices and structures found throughout the Old Testament.  This simple refrain both introduces and concludes the entire “vestment law” contained in this chapter, and sheds light on the purpose of everything therein.  All the attention to detail, all the colors and pieces that come together to form the whole.  Even the symbolism which is explained in the text, such as the Breastplate of Justice having twelve precious stones that represent the twelve tribes of Israel that the priest bears on his heart, is subject to this “glory and beauty” principle.  It’s not just symbolic, but it’s glorious and it’s beautiful.

Some traditions are (or are a least stereotyped to be) overly-focused on one side of this or the other.  “Everything about the OT vestments was symbolic, and we can preach the Gospel from that!” says one group of people, who often overlook the “glory and beauty” principle and thus fail to make any connection to the use of vestments in the New Testament.  Others may focus on the glory and beauty and forget about the explicit symbolism, and thus go on to make up their own symbols for their own modern sense of vestiture.  But it is important that we take in the whole teaching of chapter 28: vestments exist to glorify God and to be beautiful to the human eye, and they carry with them explicit symbolic weight.

Therefore, as we look to Christian vestments, we must remember the same principle: is the detail and appearance of our vestments glorifying to God, or is it simply thrown together?  Is it beautiful, or merely functional?  Further, various Christian vestments carry certain symbolic meanings – are these symbols known to our congregations?  Does the appearance of a particular vestment cooperate with its symbolic purpose or reinvent it?

Liturgical vestments aside, the “glory and beauty” principle could even be considered, to some degree, for how everyone dresses when going to church.  The reason for wearing one’s “Sunday best” is not mere tradition, but actually has a root in seeking to be glorifying to God (testifying that He is Worthy) and beautiful to the human eye (that person values worship)!

I’m not going to get into the specifics of Anglican vestments here, but if you want to read some of the absolute basics, the Anglican Pastor blog has a beginner’s guide.  It’s very much from a “current practice” perspective, without much historical scope, but it’ll get you started toward understanding what you’ll see today in a lot of churches.

Glorious Lent: a hymn for the season

“You’re fasting during Lent?!  What are you, a closet Catholic?”  Alas, these all-too-common accusations are born of great ignorance of Christian history (including Anglicans and Protestants), not to mention ignorance of the Scriptures.  This penitential season is a time, among other things, of fasting.  It simply is a part of the season; to omit fasting is to ignore everything that the Church announces, in her liturgy, on Ash Wednesday.

And this fasting is glorious!

Consider this 6th century hymn that has adorned Anglican hymnals for a while:

The glory of these forty days
We celebrate with songs of praise;
For Christ, by whom all things were made,
Himself has fasted and has prayed.

Alone and fasting, Moses saw
The loving God who gave the law;
And to Elijah, fasting, came
The steeds and chariots of flame.

So Daniel trained his mystic sight,
Delivered from the lions’ might;
And John, the Bridegroom’s friend, became
The herald of Messiah’s name.

Then grant us, Lord, like them, to be
Full oft in fast and pray’r with thee;
Our spirits strengthen with thy grace,
And give us joy to see thy face.

O Father, Son, and Spirit, blest,
To thee be ev’ry pray’r addressed,
Who art in threefold name adored,
From age to age, the only Lord.  Amen.

What a glorious thing it is to observe a holy Lent!  Fasting so often comes with negative baggage; disciplines of self-denial are so easily looked down upon with disdain today.  Yet songs like this capture the glorious end of self-denial such as fasting: strengthening in God’s grace, similitude with great saints of old like Moses, Elijah, Daniel, and John the Baptizer, not to mention our Lord Jesus himself.  It is a curious thing for a Christian to imagine that he or she could aspire to holiness without utilizing even the most basic of tools championed by the great cloud of witnesses that have come before us.

Let hymns like this encourage you and build you up, this Lenten season.  Yes we have great sins to bewail and repent of, but we also have much to celebrate in the healing- and strengthening-power of God!

Consecrating a Bishop

Perhaps the least-often-used portion of any Prayer Book is the liturgy called “The Form and Manner of Ordaining and Consecrating a Bishop“.  Granted, the original Prayer Books actually did not include the Ordinal (saving those liturgies for a separate volume), and perhaps the nomenclature has varied a little over the centuries, but it remains consistently true that the least-often-observed liturgy is that for the consecration of a new bishop.

The Lenten Ember Days are upon us (today, Friday, and Saturday), which are a set of days, quarterly throughout the year, set aside for fasting and prayer for those preparing for ordination.  And because we in my diocese (the Anglican Diocese in New England) are on the cusp of consecrating our second diocesan bishop, this seemed like a good opportunity to look at the liturgy for such an occasion.

The liturgy begins, as for other ordinations and for Confirmation, and even as an option for Holy Matrimony, with a presentation of the candidate: the Bishop-Elect is announced and he is asked to re-state his commitment to the Scriptures and the Church.  The Archbishop (or other Bishop serving as the Chief Consecrator) then makes this statement:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, it is written in the Gospel of Saint Luke that our Savior Christ continued the whole night in prayer, before he chose and sent forth his twelve Apostles. It is written also in the Acts of the Apostles, that the disciples at Antioch fasted and prayed before they sent forth Paul and Barnabas by laying their hands upon them. Let us, therefore, following the example of our Savior and his Apostles, offer up our prayers to Almighty God, before we admit and send forth this person presented to us, to do the work to which we trust the Holy Spirit has called him.

What follows is the Litany for Ordinations, common to the Ordination liturgies for Deacons, Priests, and Bishops, but it should be noted that the repeated Scriptural references to fasting and praying are things that the people should have been undertaking before this point.  If you’re in the New England diocese, you’ve got only a couple days left to meet this biblical expectation before the consecration service is upon us.  If you’re resident elsewhere, you’re certainly welcome to fast and pray for us and with us, also!

The Propers (Collect and Lessons) follow the Litany:

Almighty God, who by your Son Jesus Christ gave many excellent gifts
to your holy Apostles, and charged them to feed your flock;
give your grace to all Bishops, the Pastors of your Church,
that they may diligently preach your Word, duly administer your Sacraments,
and wisely provide godly Discipline;
and grant to your people that they may obediently follow them,
so that all may receive the crown of everlasting glory,
through the merits of our Savior, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

Isaiah 61:1-11; Psalm 100;
1 Timothy 3:1-7 or Acts 20:17-35
John 21:15-19 or John 20:19-23 or Matthew 28:18-20

A Major Feast Day or Sunday may override those lessons, but in our case in New England, with a Saturday ordination scheduled, no such exception applies.

After these readings, the homily, and the Creed, follows the Exhortation and Examination.  Where the Deacon and Priest get a somewhat-lengthy exhortation first, which outlines the definition and duty of those Orders, the Bishop-Elect is brought almost immediately to the Examination.  Curiously the Examination for the new bishop is almost but not quite the same as the Examination for a new priest.  In brief the questions are about:

  1. The supremacy of the Scriptures for doctrine and teaching
  2. The study of the Scriptures in order to teach and correct
  3. The diligent removal of false doctrines
  4. The renunciation of ungodly desires and commitment to being an example of life
  5. The maintenance of peace among all people
  6. The faithful preparation and conferral of Holy Orders upon others
  7. The merciful posture towards the poor and needy

For contrast, the Priest’s vows are

  1. basically the same as #1 above
  2. minister the doctrine, sacraments and discipline of the Church
  3. mostly the same as #3 above
  4. diligence in prayer and study of the Scriptures, like #2 above
  5. personal and family life as examples, like #4 above
  6. mostly same as #5 above
  7. obedience to the bishop and other ministers as appointed

So a progression of duty can be discerned by this comparison.  The authority of the Scriptures, and the teaching thereof, is the utmost priority of the ordained minister.  That is then applied to the correction of false teachers and the living of a godly life to be an example to others and an agent of peace.  The final vow(s) are the most specific to the particular Order.  In general, the Bishop-Elect is subjected to greater scrutiny and stricter vows than the Priest, and it should be remembered that the Bishop has already undertaken the Priestly and Diaconal vows.

Just like in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, and most (if not all) of the other sacramental rites, the heart of the Ordination liturgy is summarized in a central prayer and declaration (or speech-act).  The Archbishop prays:

Almighty God, and most merciful Father, of your infinite goodness you have given your only Son Jesus Christ to be our Redeemer, and to be the author of everlasting life. After he had made perfect our redemption by his death and resurrection, and was ascended into heaven, he poured down his gifts abundantly upon his people, making some Apostles, some Prophets, some Evangelists, some Pastors and Teachers, for edifying and perfecting his Church. Grant to this your servant such grace, that he may be ever ready to propagate your Gospel, the good news of our reconciliation with you; and use the authority given to him, not for destruction, but for salvation; not for hurt, but for help; so that, as a wise and faithful steward, he will give to your family their portion in due season, and so may at last be received into everlasting joy.

This, more than anywhere else in the liturgy up to this point, summarizes the Order of Bishop: he is to be a minister of the propagation of the Gospel, and receives authority that is meant to help people attain to salvation.  The words of consecration are what some call a speech-act, a pronouncement or declaration in God’s name:

Receive the Holy Spirit for the Office and Work of a Bishop in the Church of God, now committed to you by the Imposition of our Hands; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

which is then followed by a further prayer:

Most merciful Father, send down upon this your servant your heavenly blessing; so endue him with your Holy Spirit, that he, in preaching your holy Word, may not only be earnest to reprove, beseech, and rebuke, with all patience and Doctrine; but may he also, to such as believe, present a wholesome example in word, in conversation, in love, in faith, in chastity, and in purity; that, faithfully fulfilling his course, at the Last Day he may receive the crown of righteousness, laid up by the Lord Jesus, our righteous Judge, who lives and reigns with you and the same Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.

The new Bishop is then handed a copy of the Bible, accompanied by further words of exhortation for his new ministry.  Traditionally (provided for in our liturgy, though not required) he also receives a crosier (pastoral staff) symbolizing the shepherding role, anointing with holy oil on his forehead symbolizing the grace of God upon him as a Spirit-endued leader, a pectoral cross symbolizing the authority whom he will continue to serve, an episcopal ring symbolizing his marriage to Christ, and a miter symbolizing the authority he bears and whence it comes.

The celebration of Holy Communion follows, and that’s that!

Ash Wednesday

Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful, were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. In this manner, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need that all Christians continually have to renew our repentance and faith.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and alms-giving; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

15

For a modern prayer book service, we still have very deep roots in some old traditions.  In calling the church to prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, we’re standing on a thousand years or more of Christian spirituality, asceticism, and even theological anthropology.  These are not arbitrary spiritual disciplines that happened to be popular at key times in history.  Rather, they are disciplines especially picked to combat our three-fold enemy: the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Prayer is our weapon against the Devil – spiritual enemies can only be fought in spiritual activity.  Fasting is our weapon against the flesh – denying our apparently-natural desires is how we learn to resist such passions.  Alms-giving is our weapon against the world, especially in a consumerist age such as ours where we’re told to spend, spend, spend (on ourselves of course!).

And the liturgy follows this up with the traditional Gospel lesson for Ash Wednesday: Matthew 6:1-6,16-18(19-21).  Technically, the traditional Gospel is just verses 16-21, so we recommend you include the verses that the ACNA lectionary considers as optional.  That way, the full reading is basically our Lord’s quick “how-to” guide for Lent.  “When you pray… When you fast… Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”  So really, the Ash Wednesday liturgy starts with a call to spiritual disciplines, and then in the Scripture lessons explain how we are to pursue them.  It’s all quite neat, really!

Ash Wednesday without ashes?

Did you know that the Book of Common Prayer historically has not authorized the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday?  If you grew up with the 1979 Prayer Book, you’ve probably assumed that we’ve always kept the ashes in Ash Wednesday.

But no, until 1979, we had “the Commination” (this link is the 1662 version, but feel free to look at it in the 1928 book or another if you prefer).  It was a service of serious remonstration and repentance.  Elements of it, such as the congregational praying of Psalm 51, survive in the modern Ash Wednesday service, but on the whole its accusatory character has been lost.  Perhaps modern (or modernist) liturgical revisionists found it too dour and depressing for the contemporary worshiper.  But in these times of blatant and rampant sin in the church, it may be worth drawing upon the old Commination once again.  Check it out!

On Private Confession

So with Lent around the corner, let’s talk about the sacramental rite of Confession and Absolution.  In the upcoming 2019 Prayer Book, this is a simple matter: go to the “Rites of Healing” section and use that brief liturgy with your priest.  A traditional practice is to make a confession on Shrove Tuesday in preparation for Ash Wednesday.  This is part of the genius of Pre-Lent; having three and a half weeks to prepare for Lent meant you had time to prepare your Confession, which you could make on the day before Ash Wednesday, and then Lent would be the season of penitence in light of the confession you already made. Rather than 40 days of self-examination, it was 40 days of spiritual warfare to grow in grace after that confession.

Shrove

Now, one of the big objections raised against confession to a priest is that it’s a “Catholic” practice, and we’re “Protestants.”  While I could quibble with the terminology, I think it’ll be easier simply to argue in favor of the practice of Private Confession – that it is, and always has been, an option in classical Anglicanism.

Consideration #1 – the Exhoration

The Exhortation(s) in the Communion service invite those who are penitent to come to the priest for absolution and counsel. This is a public announcement to a private invitation. Reading this as a public confession is completely against the context, as the public confession follows shortly thereafter. That invitation is meant to eradicate “any scruples or doubt” in the individual conscience.  Even now, that invitation still exists in the Exhortation:

If you have come here today with a troubled conscience, and you need help and counsel, come to me, or to some other priest, and confess your sins; that you may receive godly counsel, direction, and absolution. To do so will both satisfy your conscience and remove any scruples or doubt.

Consideration #2 – Theological Consistency

The theology of priestly absolution is supported in the explicit wording of the Absolution in the Daily Office and in the Words of Ordination in the “Ordering of Priests” liturgy at the very moment of laying-on of hands.  The wording hasn’t really changed since 1662:

Receive the Holy Spirit for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed to you by the Imposition of our Hands. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld. Be a faithful minister of God’s holy Word and Sacraments; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The authority of the priest to absolve is further supported in the text of the Daily Office’s words of absolution, again substantially unchanged since the originals:

Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, desires not the death of sinners, but that they may turn from their wickedness and live. He has empowered and commanded his ministers to pronounce to his people, being penitent, the absolution and remission of their sins…

Consideration #3 – a classical prayer book example

Until 1979 the Prayer Books did not provide a liturgy for private confessions, but they did provide a model for how it could be done.  The practical example of this invitation to private confession is modeled in the Ministration of the Sick, in which the sick person is invited to confess to the priest (using very similar phraseology to the Exhortation).  You can see the whole liturgy here, but the specific words are as follows.

Here shall the sick perſon be moved to make a special Confession of his sins, if he feel his conscience troubled with any weighty matter.  After which Confession, the Prieſt shall absolve him (if he humbly and heartily desire it) after this sort:

OUR Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive thee thine offences: And by his authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The 1662 Prayer Book is anything but a Papist document; it should be noted that the Lutherans also generally maintained a sacramental (or almost-sacramental) status for absolution by a pastor in their theological tradition.

Consideration #4 – why Private Confession was absent from the old Prayer Books

One might question why the old prayer books, if my arguments are correct, didn’t simply provide a liturgy for private confession.  The answer is simple: a private confession is by definition not “common prayer” and therefore didn’t need to be in the Prayer Book itself.  The only part of a private confession that needs (or ought) to be scripted is the priestly absolution, and the minister already has three statements of absolution in the Prayer Book to choose from (Daily Office, Communion, Visitation of the Sick); there need not be any further liturgical form to the saying of a private confession.

That being said, it’s nice to have a brief summary of private confession to a priest in the modern prayer books.  Even though it’s not strictly necessary, having set forms and structure for the confessee can help him or her feel more comfortable in the moment, and cut down on the awkward of feelings of “am I doing this right?”  The only thing that matters is honest contrition about the sins being confessed, so having a liturgical form can help reduce the awkwardness of knowing “how” to say it.

Book Review: the 1979 BCP

Welcome to Saturday Book Review time!  On most of the Saturdays this year we’re looking at a liturgy-related book noting (as applicable) its accessibility, devotional usefulness, and reference value.  Or, how easy it is to read, the prayer life it engenders, and how much it can teach you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ratings in short:

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

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

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

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