This is one reason why I cannot share the enthusiasm some have for the Anglican Service Book; it perpetuates one basic mistake of the revised ’79 Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church. That is the same basic reason why the ’79 book is not a proper edition of the Book of Common Prayer, but is instead a different sort of book altogether, a book, as Peter Toon has called it, “of occasional services.” Putting those occasional services into Elizabethan English does not rectify the error.
Anyone who has a copy of the 1611 Authorized Version of the Bible may notice that in the front of the book we find the schedule of daily Bible readings and the thirty-day cycle of Psalms, for daily Morning and Evening Prayer. Imagine, if you can, a Bible published in our time with the assumption that the reader is living by the Rule expected of him by his church. Imagine a Bible reader today taking care to make his reading conform to the Rule of his church.
The average working man or woman, or the average child in school or young person in college, can read daily Morning Prayer and daily Evening Prayer and at least keep up with the schedule of scripture reading. It is true that the Prayer Book contains services for the Church, sacramental rites for Baptism, for Confirmation, for marriage, and the Ordinal added in 1550. It contains a funeral rite. Yes, the book is the book for all public services. But, it is more than that. It is also a simplified Benedictine Rule for the common man, and this is the tradition of English prayer that has been made available to everyone through the Anglican Common Prayer tradition.
We have, in addition, a specific Anglican way of speaking. Among many High Church, Anglo-Catholic circles, so as not to be confused with Low churchmen, the phrase “the Mass” is used almost exclusively. But, is this really an indication of churchmanship? If so, it should not be. After all, the first Book of Common Prayer (1549) called the service “The Supper of the Lorde and the Holy Communion, commonly called the Masse.” Either name is fine, and they are interchangeable. But, in later editions it came more and more to be called “Holy Communion,” with the use of the word “Mass” being less frequent (though always brought out for Christmas “Midnight Mass”).
The first BCP added the words “Supper” and “Holy Communion” to make a point. That point is that the Christian really ought be receiving the sacrament, not simply “hearing the Mass,” communing only very occasionally, as had been the practice of most people up until that time. In fact, it may interest readers to know that it was, at first, the practice of some of the more Protestant elements in the Church of England, including Archbishop Cranmer himself, to recommend and teach the virtue of frequent communion. I suggest that using the term “Holy Communion” a bit more often is a very Catholic idea, and more in keeping with the meaning of the sixth chapter of St. John, about our need to feed on Christ’s flesh and to drink his blood in order to have eternal life.
Take a look, as well, at the words that surround the General Confession. I do not agree with the practice that I have witnessed among some who shorten the invitation (and exclude the intercession as well) by violating the rubric, and saying only, “let us pray for the whole State of Christ’s Church, beginning with the words of the General Confession.” Look, instead, at the powerful words that the priest is required to say by the BCP:
“Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling.”
In this invitation conditions are laid down for an honest confession coupled with sincere repentance. This invitation cannot fail to do good for the souls in a congregation if they listen and heed the words. Likewise, notice the conditional aspect of the Absolution that follows:
“Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him; Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
The ’79 Book Rite II (and some of its other occasional services) lays down no condition of “hearty repentance and true faith.” Instead, the priest (or priestess) simply waves the magic wand of priest craft, and all is forgiven without the heart of the sinner turning to the Lord.
I could say more about the artificial Confirmation Rite in the ’79 Book, have done so before and will do so again. For now, I want to state the plain facts about the Rule and about the saving nature of Holy Communion. Our Book of Common Prayer tradition is worth preserving and passing on because it was formed by men who believed in the serious business of saving souls.