To those of you who are perplexed by the course of Prayer Book revision in North America, culminating in the production of the 1979 American Prayer Book and the 1985 Canadian Book of Alternative Services, it may be interesting to learn that the Church of England is chiefly responsible!
If you are grieved as well as perplexed, it may not be much comfort to be told that the Church of England is mainly to blame for your problems, and now has problems of its own like yours. But to discover the origins of our perplexities or problems is the way to understand those perplexities, and is at least the first step towards solving those problems. In this address, I will be trying to trace what those origins are, and to point out eight landmarks in the process which has brought the new liturgies into being and ousted the familiar Prayer Book from its honored place.
It all began with the end of the Second World War, when the church at last gained a breathing space from the great issues of life and death. freedom and slavery, and once more found leisure to direct its thoughts to questions of its own internal ordering. Whether it was wise to do so, and ought not rather to have directed its energies to reclaiming the unchurched masses, loosened from their roots by the upheaval of war, may in retrospect be doubtful, but it is easy to understand that it did.
The very year that the war in Europe ended, 1945, saw the publication of a massive but readable book. by a writer who seemed to know everything about liturgy and had some original ideas about the way Prayer Book Revision should go. This was The Shape of Liturgy (Dacre Press) by the late Dom Gregory Dix. It proved to be perfectly timed, and although its learning has not stood up to scrutiny, it has had a worldwide influence, both within the Anglican Communion and outside it.
Dix was an Anglo-Catholic monk, who had no appreciation of the Reformation, or of Cranmer's reformed liturgies, except as bad things done welL They were the wrong starting point, if you wanted an Anglo-Catholic outcome, he considered. His proposal was therefore that instead of beginning liturgical revision from the existing Prayer Book, as had always been the policy hitherto, the Prayer Book should be set on one side, and the reviser, should begin their work directly from the ancient liturgies.
In 1947, two years later, the Church of South India was formed by a union of Anglican and non-episcopal churches. Several of the non-episcopal churches were also non-liturgical. However, the Christians from a liturgical background naturally wanted the new church to have a liturgy; yet a liturgy drawn from Anglican sources would have made the united church look like a take-over by the Anglicans.
The church therefore decided to draw up its liturgy from a neutral standpoint, and, looking around for ideas, seized upon Dix's Shape of the Liturgy, with its proposal of being from the surviving liturgies of the early church. Anglo-Catholics were not strong in the CSl. and had indeed opposed the form of its union scheme; but for quite other reasons, and very understandable reasons at that, of an ecumenical kind, the CSI decided to take up the new Anglo-Catholic policy on liturgical revision. It produced a liturgy of the 'Lord's Supper' in 1950, and subsequently a whole 'Book of Common Worship'.
Thus, two converging influences, from quite different quarters and with quite different interests, made themselves felt as soon as the war was over, and between them had a far greater effect than either could have had alone. Nevertheless, the influence of the policy adopted by the CSI gained still greater force for two other reasons: first, the conspicuous ability with which its new liturgy was executed, and secondly, the fact that this was happening in the heyday of the Ecumenical Movement, when all eyes were upon the CSI, as setting the pattern for what was expected to be a long succession of united churches all over the world.
Of course, we now know that nearly all these other union schemes came to nothing, but at the tiem no one knew or thought this was going to happen, and what the CSI did attracted the most serious attention from churches all over the world, who expected shortly to be following in their footsteps.
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