By Robin G. Jordan
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in the Preface of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer laid out the guiding principles that were followed in the drafting of the 1549 and 1552 Prayer Books. These principles are:
- It must be in a language that the people understand so they can profit from hearing its contents.
- It must edify their heart, spirit, and mind.
- Any rules should be few in number and easy to understand.
- It must be free from what is untrue, uncertain, unsound, or superstitious. Its content must come from Scripture or be clearly based on Scripture.
- Its language and order should be very easy to understand. Cranmer emphasizes the importance of this principle by the pairing of two words that have the same meaning in the phrase, “…moste easy and plain for the understanding, bothe of the readers and hearers….”.
- Its order should be short as well as easy to understand.
- Service leaders would not require any other liturgical books beside the Prayer Book and the Bible.
When one examines the 1552 Prayer Book which reflects Cranmer’s mature thinking and upon which the 1662 Prayer Book is largely based, the first thing which one notices is that these guiding principles have been followed far more closely than in the 1549 Prayer Book. A much greater effort has been taken to eliminate from the 1552 Prayer Book erroneous and superstitious beliefs and practices and to conform the doctrine and liturgical usages of the book to the teaching of the Bible. Some texts have been discarded; other altered. New texts have been added. A number of elements have been moved to different locations in a rite. The number of ceremonies has been greatly reduced. Anything remotely suggestive of the Medieval doctrines of eucharistic presence and eucharistic sacrifice has been altered or discarded. So has anything remotely suggestive of the Medieval doctrines of apostolic succession and the sacerdotal nature of the priesthood.
One also notices that when texts from pre-Reformation sources have been used, they have either been selected because they agree with Scripture or they have been modified in order to make them agreeable to Scripture. Texts from the Lutheran church orders have also been given similar treatment. The 1552 Prayer Book is not simply a rendering of Medieval Latin rites into the vernacular.
The third thing which one notices is that there is a discernible effort to make the rites and services in the 1552 Prayer Book congregational. It sets these rites and services apart from the pre-Reformation Latin rites. The people are given a part in the liturgy. While this part is not as large as it might be, it is commensurate with the general level of literacy in the Tudor period. The people’s part in the liturgy—the responses, the Lord’s Prayer, the canticles, the Creeds, the General Confession, and so forth—does not require the ability to read. It can be learned by heart through repetition, enabling the people to participate in the liturgy.
The degree of participation that these rites and services afford the congregation also set the liturgies of the Prayer Book apart from emerging Puritan ideas of Christian worship. The only part that the Presbyterian party at the Savoy Conference would have given to the people was to maintain “a reverent, attentive silence” and to say “amen” at the end of prayers. One sees a similar view of Christian worship in a number of contemporary evangelical churches. In these churches the band has taken over a major element of the role that the Puritans assigned to the people—singing God’s praise. One also is not likely to hear a congregational “amen” after prayers. The congregation has been reduced to role of passive onlookers as in the pre-Reformation Medieval Church. It must also be noted that this role was that of Roman Catholic congregations until the reforms of Vatican II.
The fourth thing which one notices is the choice of rites and services. They are largely centered on the different stages of the journey of faith—Baptism, Confirmation, Morning and Evening Prayer, Holy Communion, Marriage, Child-Bearing, Sickness, and Burial. Except in the Table and the Calendar and the Propers one does not find the kind of emphasis on the passage of the Church Year that one sees in more recent Prayer Books.
The Commination, while originally appointed for the first day of Lent in the 1549 Prayer Book, is appointed for use at various times in the 1552 Prayer Book. It draws attention to the gravity of human sinfulness and the constant need for repentance. While it has fallen into disfavor due to the imprecations, it serves a useful purpose. The imprecations do not invoke God’s curse on sinners but recognizes that due to a sinful nature human beings are deserving of God’s wrath and condemnation. The particular sinful acts mentioned in the imprecations are representatives of the evil toward which human beings are naturally inclined. There are times in the journey of faith Christians need to hear a strong reminder of the totality of human depravity. Even those who are reborn in Christ are affected by sin. Repentance—turning away from sin and to God—is an integral part of the journey of faith.
The particular choice of rites and services in the 1552 Prayer Book reflect its evangelical character. The gospel is a major focus of the 1552 Prayer Book. This emphasis is much more muted in more recent Prayer Books which make the passage of the Church Year a major focus. This is an important difference between the 1552-1662 family of Prayer Books and the more recent Prayer Books.
Some of the more recent Prayer Books such as An Australian Prayer Book (1978) do attempt to strike a balance between the two emphases and to retain the evangelical character of the Prayer Book. For example, rather than replacing the penitential sentences with seasonal ones, An Australian Prayer Book (1978) provides a selection of both types of sentences.
The Ordinal would be added to the Prayer Book in 1550 and revised along with the Prayer Book in 1552 and again in 1661—almost a hundred years later. The 1661 revision was to emphasize that the offices of presbyter nd bishop were separate offices.
Subsequent revisions of the Prayer Book in Ireland and the United States would add forms for the visitation of prisoners, the institution of ministers, and the dedication of church buildings.
From 1637 on one sees the emergence of a distinct High Church Scottish Prayer Book tradition, which would be influenced by the Non Jurors and would in turn influence the American Prayer Book tradition along with the proposed Latitudinarian revision of 1689—“The Liturgy of Comprehension.” The nineteenth century would produce a spate of unauthorized manuals for the use of Anglo-Catholic clergy who wished to transform the Prayer Book Communion Service into a facsimile of the post-Tridentian Latin Mass. These manuals would influence later revisions of the Prayer Book, including the Prayer Book of the Anglican Church in North America presently in preparation as attested by the incorporation of material from these manuals into Texts for Common Prayer’s two forms of Holy Communion.
What one sees in more recent Prayer Books is not only a greater emphasis on the Church Year but also the addition of so-called enrichments—the revival of pre-Reformation practices, the introduction of post-Tridentian Roman Catholic worship innovations, and the borrowing of Eastern Orthodox practices. These so-called enrichments have further weakened the evangelical character of the Prayer Book. The so-called ecumenical order for the Eucharist, which the 1958 Lambeth Conference recommended to the provinces of the Anglican Communion has largely replaced the 1552-1662 order and with this change a shift in emphasis has occurred in the Holy Communion service from what God has done for us in Jesus Christ to what we are doing for God. Some more recent Prayer Books use both orders.
Positive developments include provisions for the substitution of some other song of praise for the Gloria in Excelsis in the Holy Communion service, the shortening of services, the combining of services, and the use of alternative forms of service, permitting congregations to tailor their services of public worship to local circumstances. A number of more recent Prayer Books provide guidelines and textual material for the local crafting of Services of the Word for circumstances in which the services of Morning and Evening Prayer and Holy Communion do not meet the needs of particular congregations. A number of more recent Prayer Books have also added a form for prayer at the end of the day—the office of Compline.
Those tasked with the preparation of a new or revised Prayer Book for a province or one of its subdivisions have a wealth of prayers and other liturgical texts from which they may draw material for that book. The limited range of the material used in the preparation of the Anglican Church in North America’s Prayer Book points to a lack of familiarity with this material, a deficit of creativity and imagination, and narrow partisan interests. In a number of cases the rewording of texts in rites and services in Texts for Common Prayer appears primarily motivated by a desire to conceal the fact that the Prayer Book and Liturgy Taskforce and the College of Bishops are borrowing heavily from the Episcopal Church’s 1928 and 1979 Prayer Books. The reworded texts are no improvement over the original texts.
What one also notices about the rites and services in Texts for Common Prayer is that the Prayer Book and Liturgy Taskforce and the College of Bishops did not give a whole lot of attention to Cranmer’s guidelines in the Preface to the Prayer Book. These rites and services are not free from what is untrue, uncertain, unsound, or superstitious. They contain doctrine and practices over which Anglicans have historically been divided. Brevity and simplicity is not one of their characteristics. The evangelical character of the Prayer Book has been seriously diluted. In a number of ways the rites and services in Texts for Common Prayer resemble those in The Book of Divine Worship used in Anglican Use Roman Catholic parishes.
Considering the changes in the culture of Canada and the United States and the secularization of the two countries Texts for Common Prayer’s dilution of the evangelical character of the Prayer Book is highly problematic. What Anglican churches on the twenty-first century mission field in North America need is a Prayer Book that emphasizes the gospel and combines liturgy with what Samuel Leuenberger describes as “revivalistic theology.” See his 1992 Churchman article, “Archbishop Cranmer’s Immortal Bequest: The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England: An Evangelistic Liturgy.” Revivalistic theology permeates not only the Prayer Book but also the Homilies, the Articles of Religion, and the Ordinal. As Leuenberger points out in his book, Archbishop Cranmer’s Immortal Bequest, The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England: An Evangelistic Liturgy, it was the early Tractarians’ devotion to the 1662 Prayer Book that accounts for the spiritual renewal that accompanied the Oxford Movement, not the later Ritualists’ revival of pre-Reformation doctrine and practices and their introduction of post-Tridentian Roman Catholic doctrinal and worship innovations. The rites and services in Texts for Common Prayer appear to be designed to perpetuate unreformed Catholic doctrine and practices rather to facilitate “conversion and the appropriation of salvation through a personal decision for Jesus.”
Leuenberger notes in his article:
“It is also typical of a revivalistic outlook to stress the necessity for calling believers together for cordial fellowship, to put a strong emphasis on missionary activity, and to proclaim the reliability of Holy Scripture as having the power to convict of sin. A revivalistic mentality emphasizes penance, rebirth, sanctification and witness to the living Lord, time and time again.”This way of thinking is missing from the rites and services in Texts for Common Prayer.
The particular weaknesses of the rites and services in Texts for Common Prayer point to the need for orthodox Anglican clergy and congregations with a strong commitment to the Great Commission and to the Anglican formularies and their revivalistic theology to band together and produce their own Prayer Book for use on the twenty-first century North American mission field. As previously noted, they have ample material from which they can draw. Rather than relying heavily on the defective American Prayer Books like the Prayer Book and Liturgy Taskforce and the College of Bishops, they can make use of material from Prayer Books whose compilers have given thoughtful consideration to the principles of doctrine and worship laid out in the Anglican formulation in their preparation of a Prayer Book for their province or diocese.