By Robin G. Jordan
The rites and services that the Prayer Book and Common Liturgy Task Force has produced are not outward-focused The needs of the congregations on the North American mission field appear to have been the last consideration if these needs were given any consideration at all.
The rites and services lack the kind of flexibility that is necessary on the twenty-first century North American mission field. They greatly handicap ACNA churches in the area of worship, increasing the likelihood that these churches will not be good matches with their part of the mission field. They limit a congregation’s ability to tailor its worship to its particular circumstances—such as the musical resources that are available to the congregation, the setting in which it is worshiping, the culture of the region in which it is located, and the population segment at which its ministry is targeted. Churches that are mismatched with their community do not grow. When its member churches do not grow, a denomination does not grow.
The trial services of Morning and Evening Prayer in Texts for Common Prayer are modeled on the daily offices in the 1979 Prayer Book. Despite their use of contemporary language, larger selection of canticles, and permission to substitute metrical canticles in place of the prose ones and hymns in place of the canticles, the 1979 services of Morning and Evening Prayer are far less suited for use as the principal service on Sundays than the 1928 services. This is attributable to the 1979 Prayer Book’s emphasis upon the celebration of Holy Communion as the central act of worship on Sundays and other times.
Other recent Anglican service books like the 1985 Canadian Book of Alternative Services have made the services of Morning and Evening Prayer more adaptable to local conditions and more useful to small congregations without clergy as the main Sunday service. As well as providing a larger selection of canticles and allowing the use of metrical canticles in place of the prose ones and hymns in place of the canticles, these service books permit the substitution of the litany or some other form of general intercession in place of the Suffrages and the Collects, rather than requiring their addition to the prayers. In this way these service books eliminate unnecessary redundant elements that lengthen the service without enhancing the worship experience.
The more recent Anglican service books make provision for alternative forms of morning and evening worship, supplying patterns of worship, liturgical texts, and guidelines for their use. They recognize that the services of Morning and Evening Prayer and Holy Communion may not meet the worship needs of a particular congregation. Texts for Common Prayer makes no such provision.
The more recent Anglican service books also permit the use of the liturgy of the Word in the service of Holy Communion as a separate service, a provision that is found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and all the American Prayer Books through the 1979 Prayer Book but not Texts for Common Prayer. This allows a congregation to use a familiar liturgy in the absence of a priest, as well as provides another useful addition to its armory of worship resources.
The trial services of Holy Communion in Texts for Common Prayer are oriented to the past, not the present. They, like the other rites and services that the Prayer Book and Common Liturgy Task Force has produced, reflect the particular liturgical preferences and preoccupations of those who drafted them. They make idols of the 1549 Prayer Book, the 1764 Scottish Non-Juror Prayer Book, the 1928 Prayer Book, and the Anglican Missal and its variations, the Anglican Service Book, the English Missal, and A Manual of Anglo-Catholic Devotion.
The 1549 Prayer Book was only partially-reformed and does not reflect Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s mature thinking. It was intended to help the English Church make the transition from the unreformed Catholic Latin service books to a reformed Anglican vernacular liturgy.
The 1764 Scottish Non-Juror Prayer Book was a throwback to the 1549 Prayer Book and incorporated a number of the doctrines and practices peculiar to the Usager party, which formed a small minority of the Scottish Non-Jurors. It was the work of two superannuated bishops who outlived their rivals in the Non-Usager party.
The 1764 Scottish Non-Juror Prayer Book and the Scottish liturgies modeled on it were notorious for putting congregations to sleep due to their length and prolixity. These were eighteenth and nineteenth century congregations accustomed to much longer services than twenty-first century congregations.
The 1928 Prayer Book introduced a number of radical changes in the American Prayer Book. A number of these changes were introduced under the guise of enrichments to the worship of the Episcopal Church. The changes that were introduced would remove American Prayer Book even further from the classic Anglican Prayer Book in its doctrine and its liturgical usages.
The Anglican Missal and its variation provide liturgical texts, rites, and ceremonies drawn from the Roman Rite. The use of these books permits a priest to expand the unreformed Catholic context in which the liturgies of The Book of Common Prayer and other related service books are used.
Both the Long and Short Forms of the trial services of Holy Communion are lengthy and prolix. The Short Form is almost as lengthy and drawn out as the Long Form. Its Eucharistic Prayer is shorter and the rite offers no choice in Post-Communion Prayers. Otherwise,it is identical to the Long Form. The two forms are not designed for congregations in the early part of the twenty-first century. Even congregations in the opening decades of the twentieth century would have experienced them as cumbersome and tedious.
Neither rite is suitable for a home or parish hall Eucharist, important pre-requisites of a service of Holy Communion intended for the North American mission field. If a rite works well in these informal setting, it will work well in the entire range of non-traditional settings in which ACNA congregations can expect to worship for the foreseeable future.
Members of the College of Bishops have voiced a preference for the shorter Eucharistic Prayer in the Short Form of the two rites. This is a tacit admission that the Eucharistic Prayer of the Long Form is too long and prolix. The rubrics of Texts for Common Prayer, however, require the use of the Long Form on Sundays and festivals. The Short Form may be used only on weekdays—at daily celebrations of Mass. The latter is a reflection not only of the unreformed Catholic orientation of the Prayer Book and Common Liturgy Task Force but also its disconnection from the North American mission field. It presumes that all ACNA churches have facilities in which they can have daily Mass celebrations.
The rubrics of Texts for Common Prayer require the use of liturgical elements whose use almost all of the more recent Anglican service books make optional. Alternative texts and other optional liturgical elements that are best placed in a separate section of supplemental texts after each rite are also printed in the rites. When alternative texts and other optional liturgical elements are printed in the rite itself, experience has show that the service leader will tend to use the first of the alternative texts and in some instances all of them! They will also tend to use all of the optional elements, rather than a selection of them. The result is the whole purpose of providing alternative texts and other optional elements is defeated.
In case of texts like the Gloria, the Creeds, the General Confession, the Absolution or Declaration of Forgiveness, the Comfortable Words, the Prayer of Humble Access, and the Lord’s Prayer the rubrics of these Anglican service books make provision for their omission, as well as their use at other points in the service. The Gloria or some other song of praise or even a hymn echoing themes from the Gloria may be used at the beginning of the service, before the Gospel reading, or after the Post-Communion Prayer(s), or omitted altogether.
The Nicene Creed was not introduced into the liturgy in the Western Church until the third Council of Toledo in 589. It took several centuries for its use to spread throughout the Western Church. It was as late as the eleventh century before Rome accepted the Nicene Creed as part of the Eucharist. Rome would limit its use to Sundays and certain feasts. The American Prayer Books through the 1928 Prayer Book permitted the substitution of the Apostles’ Creed for the Nicene Creed. In the more recent Anglican service books the Nicene Creed may be said before or after the Sermon, replaced by the Apostles’ Creed, or omitted altogether.
In the more recent Anglican service books the penitential rite—invitation to Confession, Confession of Sin, Absolution (or Declaration of Forgiveness), and optional Comfortable Words (or Words of Assurance) may be used at the beginning of the service or omitted altogether.
The Prayer of Humble Access was introduced into the liturgy in the English Church with the Order of Communion of 1548. In the more recent Anglican service books its use is optional, and it may be placed after the Absolution and the Comfortable Words (if used) and before the offertory or the preparation of the table. A number of these service books provide alternative texts.
In the more recent Anglican service books the Lord’s Prayer may be used after the Prayers of the People, after the Fraction (or the Eucharistic Prayer if the Fraction occurs in the prayer itself), or before the Post-Communion Prayer(s).
A large number of Anglican service books are available to the Prayer Book and Common Liturgy Task Force and with them a wealthy of liturgical material. However, the task force chose to turn to a small number of older books containing liturgies beloved by traditionalist Anglo-Catholics. This choice as previously noted reflects the particular liturgical preferences and preoccupations of the task force.
The Prayer Book and Common Liturgy Task Force is working at cross-purposes to those seeking to plant new congregations, expand the Anglican Church in North America’s population base, and ensure its future growth. This may sound harsh to some readers but the Provincial Council needs to thank the present Prayer Book and Common Liturgy Task Force for its work, shelve Texts for Common Prayer and the proposed rites for Admission of Catechumens, Baptism, and Confirmation, dissolve the task force, and begin anew. It could start by forming a panel to study what congregations need in the way of worship resources to reach and engage the unchurched population in the United States and Canada. The Anglican Church in North America needs a liturgy and a Prayer Book that is outward-looking, not one that caters to special interest groups in the ACNA.
If the Provincial Council adopts an expanded version of Texts for Common Prayer as the official Prayer Book of the Anglican Church in North America, the denomination may be able to muddle along the best it can. However, the ACNA will never realize its full potential. Some ACNA congregations may grow. By and large the growth of most ACNA congregations will be stunted.
It would be interesting to conduct ten to fifteen years from now a study of ACNA congregations that are growing. Two questions should be addressed in that study among others. Are growing ACNA congregations those that are slavishly using an expanded version of Texts for Common Prayer? Or are they the congregations that have for a large part shelved that book and developed patterns of worship of their own? While I could be wrong, based upon what is and is not working elsewhere, I suspect that it will be the second group of congregations that are enjoying growth.