Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Wanted: A New Prayer Book & Common Liturgy Task Force for the Anglican Church in North America

A Survey of the ACNA Doctrinal Statements and Their Theological Leanings: The Daily Offices

By Robin G. Jordan

The offices of Morning and Evening Prayer in Texts for Common Prayer are for the most part modeled upon the Rite II versions of the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer in the Episcopal Church’s The Book of Common Prayer (1979) with some alterations and additions. The theological bias of the two offices is reflected in these changes as well as the overall design of the services and the absence of features that conservative evangelicals generally favor.

Among the changes “apart from your grace” has been added to the clause “there is no health in us” in the General Confession. “Apart from your grace” may be interpreted in a number of ways. It may be interpreted to mean that humanity is not totally depraved but by God’s grace is free from the taint of original sin—the Eastern Orthodox understanding of the human condition. It also admits a semi-Pelagian understanding of the human condition. The original wording of the General Confession emphasized the totality of human depravity.

The alternative “Absolution” from the 1928 office of Evening Prayer may be used at both Morning and Evening Prayer. The rubrics restrict its use to a priest. Massey Shepherd in The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary points out that this “Absolution” is “taken from the Sarum Office of Compline” and “is not a declaration, as in the preceding form, but a prayer, though bereft of a concluding oblation ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord.’” Since it is a prayer, there is no reason to limit its use to priests. Similar prayers are found in a number of more recent offices of Compline and their use is not restricted to a priest.

 A Prayer for the Clergy and People, from the Gelasian Sacramentary, has been altered to turn it into a Prayer for Mission. However, “love of the gospel” is not the same thing as “zeal for the spread of the gospel.” One can have a sentimental attachment to the gospel without desiring to share it with anyone. With so many excellent Prayers for Mission available from various sources, for example, the Anglican Church of Kenya’s Our Modern Services (2002, 2003), there was no need to tamper with the text of this prayer.

Like the daily offices in the 1979 Prayer Book, the daily offices in Texts for Common Prayer are designed for use as weekday services for public worship or private devotion, supplemental to Sunday and weekday celebrations of Holy Communion.

Unlike the rubrics of the 1979 daily offices their rubrics do not permit the substitution of metrical versions of the Invitatory Psalms, the Easter Anthems, and the Canticles for the prose ones. The rubrics do permit the use of “an appropriate song of praise” in place of a Canticle but do not extend this permission to the Invitatory Psalms and the Easter Anthems. Presumably a metrical version of a Canticle would qualify as “an appropriate song of praise.”

The rubrics make no provision for the omission of the preces beginning “Save your people, Lord, and bless your inheritance…” from the Te Deum laudamus. These preces were a late addition to that Canticle. They migrated to the Te Deum laudamus from the Gloria in excelsis. Modern-day Anglican service books either omit the preces or permit their omission. Otherwise, the length of the Te Deum laudamus discourages its use. The rubrics also make no provision for the omission of sections from the Benedicite. Like the Te Deum laudamus, the length of the Benedicite discourages its use. This has been a long-recognized shortcoming of the Benedicite.

The rubrics limit the preaching of a sermon to the Lessons and then after the Prayer for Mission or at the conclusion of the service. Restricting the sermon to the Lessons seriously handicaps congregations for whom Morning or Evening Prayer is the principle service of public worship on Sunday. It rules out the preaching of sermon series instructing the congregation in the major doctrines of the Bible.

As Percy Dearmer and others have pointed out, the most appropriate place for a sermon is immediately after the Lessons. Dearmer notes that it is a Prayer Book principle to place the exposition of the Word as close as possible to its proclamation. Even when the sermon is unrelated to the Lessons appointed for the day, it is desirable that the explanation of the teaching of Scripture should follow the reading of Scripture. The rubrics of the Church of England’s The Alternative Service Book 1980 permits the preaching of a sermon immediately after the Second Lesson as do the rubrics of the 1979 Prayer Book.

Placing the sermon after the Prayer for Mission disrupts the orderly movement of the service from praise to proclamation to prayer. Preaching a sermon at the end of the service is a hangover from the days when a sermon was preached separately from the office and was not a part of the office itself.

The rubrics also make no provision for the omission of all the prayers after the Kyries if the Great Litany or another form of general intercession is said.

Also absent from the rubrics is any provision for abbreviating the offices when they are used privately.

All of these omissions point to a rather narrow view of the daily offices, one that does not appreciate the conditions on the North American mission field and the needs of frontline congregations, those that most active in reaching and engaging the unchurched population segments of their communities and regions. Historically this constricted view of the daily offices is associated with an extreme form of Anglo-Catholicism—one which encourages the participation of the laity in various devotions centered on the consecrated Host or the Virgin Mary and treats the recitation of the daily offices as a spiritual discipline for clergy and religious. It is a view that conflicts with Cranmer’s reforms of the daily offices, which not only conflated the various offices into two services but made these services basically services of the Word.

Cranmer took seriously the New Testament principle that all things should be done for the edification of the people. At the heart of Cranmer’s service of Mattins and Evensong is the public reading of the Scriptures. Various reforms to make the services of Morning and Evening Prayer more useful as services of the Word and supplement them with alternative Services of the Word are more consistent with Cranmer’s aims than those that seek to transform the two offices into a form of daily devotions for small groups and individuals.

While I suggest in the title to this article that the Anglican Church in North America needs a new Prayer Book & Common Liturgy Task Force, the whole process for developing rites and services for the denomination is in need of a major overhaul. The personal preferences of individual bishops and the narrow interests of special-interest groups play too great a part in the current process. What is conspicuously missing from the process is a genuine commitment to producing comprehensive rites and services that embrace the entire spectrum of conservative Anglican thought and are geared to the conditions on the North American mission field and the needs of frontline congregations

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