Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Just what is the Book of Common Prayer?

Anyone familiar with the Breviary and the Rule of St. Benedict has an advantage in understanding the Book of Common Prayer. Anyone who understands how English village life had been organized for centuries around the monastery, also has an advantage. Knowing these things helps enormously, because it prevents the mistake of seeing the Book of Common Prayer as no more than a book of public services. Prayer tradition that has grown out of the Rule (Regula) looks to an ideal life of seven offices with a Mass every day. The average person cannot live this way, but can live with a simplified Rule for one's own life. That Rule of life is what the Book of Common Prayer gives to us.

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, the food and drink of 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.” ("Hearty" would be the same as "sincere.")

The ’79 Book Rite II (and some of its other occasional services) lays down no condition of “hearty repentance and true faith.” Instead, we see only some 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 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.


John A. Hollister said...

Bravo, Fr. Hart!

As you say, neither the 1979 "Book" or any of its progeny is a legitimate "Book of Common Prayer" as that term was always understood prior to the 1970s. Furthermore, after ECUSA had been fraudulently induced to adopt it, even its own redactors and promoters admitted that it was most definitely intended to create a seismic shift in the theologies of any church that used it.

For these reasons, it should simply be set aside. If anyone truly needs a "modern language" BCP -- and that need, I think, has never been convincingly demonstrated -- then he should go back to square one and start with the 1928 BCP (or, in other Anglican Provinces, with their equivalents), not try to chop and change an edition that is known to have been produced with heretical intentions.

And by all means, let us cling to the fine old tradition of Sanctified Time, by the use of the Daily Offices. Those who cannot say the full Offices can, with profit, use the shortened forms found in the 1928 BCP's "Family Prayer" section -- an idea that was adopted elsewhere in some of the revisions of the 1950s and 1960s.

John A. Hollister+

Carlos said...

I don't like how the Episcopal Church has changed the title of the rite to "Holy Eucharist" from "Holy Communion". The term Communion implies the communal activity of recieving the Eucharist. The Eucharist is note a rite in of itself either, but is part of the Communion service. I personally have not been agreeable to using the term Mass, as it implies a Roman Liturgy.

I think the Anglican Tradition calls their Eucharistic Celebration the Holy Communion Service, the Romans The Mass, and the Orthodox; the Divine Liturgy. They are all the same celebration though they may vary in wordin and length.

Anonymous said...

"Oueen Victoria favored it." I find this very hard to believe this of the Old queen, who much preferred communicating in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland (at Craithie Church, near Balmoral) than in the Church of England.

poetreader said...

Wish I could document it, but I have noted an interesting turn of phrase in some old Anglican sources in which 'Common Prayer' was applied to the Daily Office, which was thus seen as the major purpose of the book. I recall one piece by one of the old High Churchmen (and memory doesn't permit me to be more specific) to the effect that

"The Communion ought to be offered every Lord's Day, immediately after the Common Prayer."

At least some seemed to have regarded the BCP as primarily a Breviary, in which the sacramental offices were also printed.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Bill, when calling for special services in the C of E the word "mass" was the one she was known to use. She could not avoid the C of E, as the Queen is expected to be its governor and to be present for services. But, I mentioned that she liked to use the word "mass" because her well known Low Church beliefs give it that seemingly ironic touch; rather an instructive touch. It has never been, as I said, a sign of churchmanship among Anglicans.

Fr. Hollister wrote:
As you say, neither the 1979 "Book" or any of its progeny is a legitimate "Book of Common Prayer" as that term was always understood prior to the 1970s.

That includes, as far as I am concerned, the embarrassing effort to translate its Rite II into olde English. I just don't get the Anglican Service Book idea at all.

Laurence K. Wells+ said...

I agree with Fr Hart's article enthusiastically. The "Anglican Service Book" was/is a dubious enterprise, undertaken by those who have an aesthetic preference for "olde Englishe" but who fail to grasp the doctrinal errors of the 79 compilation. It mortifies me to see CC websites, indicating that this thing is making inroads in a few places. Error is error, whether it is in modern journalistic language or ersatz Cranmer.

I also deplore the trend toward what is called rewriting the 1662 or 1928 Prayer Books into "contemporary" language. It is simply disgraceful that the Prayer Book Society has been turned into a platform for this ill-conceived notion. The founders of the PBS must be whirling in their graves over this development. Those tempted by such a concept should read again C. S. Lewis essay "Miserable Offenders," a defense of BCP language, as well as Fr Ralston's essay "The Weaker Tapestry." The notion of "contemporary language" was the original invisible virus which was floating around in the 1950's, and little-by-little mushroomed into the abomination of 1979.

I feel that it is time to found a Society for the Preservation of the Prayer Book Society, to honor the intentions of the original founders.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Fr. Hart wrote: "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."

It does the heart good to read these words. Though I'm no longer in the Anglican Church, I fully agree. Hold on to the good thing that God granted to you through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

John A. Hollister said...

Mr. Pacht wrote, "Wish I could document it, but I have noted an interesting turn of phrase in some old Anglican sources in which 'Common Prayer' was applied to the Daily Office...."

I've mislaid my copy of Procter & Frere but I think it is there ("A New History of the Book of Common Prayer", in various editions over the first half of th 20th Century) that you will find the suggestion that "the Prayer that is common to the whole Church" is the Daily Offices, the Litany, and the Occasional Prayers.

Allied to this is the concept that the set of covers we are accustomed to think of as "the Book of Common Prayer" actually binds together several books that were historically distinct: a Breviary (the "Common Prayer"); a Missal; a Psalter; a Manual (for the various other services that a Priest normally takes, such as Baptism, Matrimony, Burial, etc.); a Pontificial (for the various services that only a Bishop takes, such as the Ordinal, Confirmation, Institution of a Rector, Consecration of a Church, etc.); and the remnants of a Primer (the "Family Prayer" section in the 1928 BCP).

Thus most of the rites and ceremonies required in the normal life of the Church are placed in one handy compendium where not only can the clergy find them at need but the laity can be directed to them for teaching and devotionalk purposes. Thus the concept of what is "common" to the Church, in the sense of what all the members of the Church USE or celebrate in common, gets subtly -- and, I think, wisely -- expanded to include the sense that all the members of the Church have a proprietary interest in, and are to BENEFIT from, the offices and litrugies so made readily available.

John A. Hollister+

Canon Tallis said...

I am very embarrassed that it has taken me so long to find this particular post on The Continuum. Not only is it excellent, but the comments are equally so. I simply wish that I had been able to borrow it for my own blog, Prayer Book Anglican. Instead I will simply have to direct readers here where they will find Anglican riches heaped upon Anglican riches.

Anonymous said...

"I personally have not been agreeable to using the term Mass, as it implies a Roman Liturgy."

Division in Christ's Church, good idea!

Anonymous said...

Having come in recently to liturgical worship vis a vis the BCP [I use the 1662] this conversation has been most interesting. I have looked into a number of Prayer books, diurnals, breviaries,rites - including the 1549 and honestly have found nothing quite like the 1662. From the invitatory to the benediction one feels that one is in encounter with God. Such a glorious work what a "great benefit"the Lord has bestowed on His Church.