Saturday, July 09, 2016

The 1928 American Prayer Book: Too Protestant?

By Robin G. Jordan

While from the perspective of Anglicans who are Protestant in their theological outlook, parts of the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer seem to be too Catholic, from the perspective of self-identified Catholics such as the Patriarch of the Anglican Rite Old Roman Catholic Church (ARORCC), other parts of the 1928 Anglican Prayer Book appear to be not Catholic enough. The ARORCC represents itself as “an ancient, autonomous, semi-autocephalous Old Roman Catholic Patriarchate with Anglican patrimony descended from the Roman Catholic See of Utrecht.” On the ARORCC website its Patriarch in a pastoral letter to its bishops and clergy lists what he describes as “deficiencies” of the 1928 American Prayer Book. In his opinion the 1928 American Order for the Administration of Holy Communion, if it is “used in its unaltered form without any additions or deletions,” “lacks many essential Catholic elements in the Sacrament.” I have reproduced below the “deficiencies” that he enumerates in his pastoral letter:
1. There are no Prayers at the Foot of the Altar at the beginning of the communion service. This removes the act of the priest, servers, and people preparing themselves for the Holy Sacrifice. This also promotes Luther's refusal to accept the Catholic teaching that the priest is judge, witness and intercessor with God.

2. There is only a minimal calendar of Saints, consisting essentially only of the Apostles. Hence, there are also no collects of commemoration. Coupled with the statements made in the Articles of Religion, this can only be taken to be a denial of the Catholic doctrine pertaining to the Saints. That they are not included in the 1928 BCP renders it impossible to keep the Catholic feasts of the Saints. The various editions of Anglo-Catholic missals have had to remedy this chiefly through the addition of Roman Catholic collects. .

3. There is no true Offertory. The priest merely "sets the table" for communion rather than formally offering the host and chalice. Without suitable words in the ritual by which the bread and wine are offered, the door is left wide open for any interpretation of the elements of communion, including that they do not become the very and true Body and Blood of Christ, but merely are representative and constitute a memorial meal. Even though the words "And the Priest shall then offer, and shall place upon the Holy Table, the Bread and the Wine" appear in the rubrics, this is far from sufficient to indicate the sacrificial nature of a true Holy Communion. The non-sacrificial interpretations that are clearly possible on the part of the priest and the people are entirely Protestant in nature and not consistent with Catholic doctrine. .

4. In the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church, the phrase "We humbly beseech thee most mercifully to accept our [alms and] oblations" appears, without any further comment that would suggest a sacrificial nature. Indeed, that the oblations of bread and wine are written next to alms further weakens any possibility that the oblation of bread and wine in the 1928 BCP rite is necessarily and unambiguously a sacrificial offering to which the people may join themselves.

5. The 1928 BCP communion service lacks Secrets, by which the priest offers special prayers silently on behalf of the people. The lack of these prayers weakens the role of the priest in the sense of a Catholic priesthood, i.e., an alter Christus. .

6. Most troubling is the prayer of consecration itself. The prayer refers to the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross at Calvary. Instead of then referring to the present act on the altar as that same, true and living Sacrifice to which the priest and people join themselves, it explictly refers to the present act as a "perpetual memory" of the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. If it is the intent of the priest that communion be merely a memorial, then it is indeed no sacrament at all. .

7. While the phrase in the Invocation " remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood" does refer to the Body and Blood of Christ and may otherwise not be a troubling statement, taken in the context in which the 1928 prayer of consecration is phrased renders the statement in the Invocation merely the furtherance of the Protestant heresy that Holy Communion is merely a memorial. Further in the Invocation is stated "And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee." This statement merely by itself represents Catholic doctrine. Yet, in the context of the entire rite, it becomes highly confusing as to the true nature of the communion service, i.e., is it a Sacrifice (Catholic doctrine) or merely a memorial (Protestant heresy). .

8. The Agnus Dei is completely missing. .

9. There is no invocation of Saints, and there are no prayers for the dead, furthering the various Protestant heresies regarding the Saints and intercession for the dead. .

10. There is no Domine non sum dingus per se, but there is the following prayer: "We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen." This prayer further adds to the confusion regarding the sacrificial nature of a true mass. Given the earlier aspects of the 1928 rite that suggest communion is not a sacrifice, but a memorial, this prayer furthers both that notion and the idea that the presence of Christ is mystical. That is, a denial of transubstantiation, and hence of Catholic doctrine. Indeed, Article 28 of the Articles of Religion explicitly denies transubstantiation. Hence, all statements in the 1928 rite referring to the Body and Blood of Christ must be interpreted merely in a symbolic fashion. Thus, taken in its unaltered and unedited form, the rite of the 1928 BCP is not a true sacrifice. .

11. The priest in the 1928 BCP rite does not keep his thumbs and forefingers joined until the ablutions. This action is done in traditional liturgy to prevent profanement of any particles of the Body of Christ that may be on the priests thumbs and forefingers. Furthermore, there is no explicit act of ablutions of the sacred vessels. That these actions are absent in the 1928 BCP rite is rather telling and certainly consistent with Article 28 of the Articles of Religion. .

12. The Articles of Religion themselves, under which the intent of the 1928 BCP rites must be interpreted and considered, contain numerous anti-Catholic doctrine. This leads to the serious question of valid intent on the part of anyone celebrating Holy Communion under the 1928 BCP rite.
He goes on to prohibit the use of the 1928 book in the ARORCC except with his permission and with the additions that he lists in his missive. While some may regard his assessment of the 1928 Holy Communion Service as nitpicking, it is clear that the patriarch himself views these deficiencies as serious problems in the way the rite was compiled. I thought that his pastoral letter was interesting in that it is illustrative of the different ways in which the 1928 book can be viewed.

The 1928 American Prayer Book was compiled when the two major influences in the then Protestant Episcopal Church were the Anglo-Catholic and Broad Church parties. The 1928 Prayer Book reflects these influences. Whether the compliers of the 1928 book intended that the book should be open to multiple interpretations of its doctrine is a question that readers will have to decide for themselves. Why the 1928 book causes dissatisfaction in both Anglicans with a Protestant outlook and Catholics is that its compilers may have sought to balance opposing views in the book, thereby producing a book that is far from satisfying to those who adhere strictly to these views. This may be one of the book’s weaknesses. It also may be one of its strengths.

The Anglican Church in North America’s draft Prayer Book is being promoted in some quarters of that province as a contemporary language version of the 1928 American Prayer Book. But a careful examination of the two books shows that to not be really the case. While the Prayer Book and Liturgy Task Force and the Bishops Review Committee have borrowed material from the 1928 Prayer Book, the ACNA’s draft Prayer Book is far more Catholic than the 1928 book. They have also incorporated material from other sources. By “Catholic” I am referring to the unreformed teaching and practices of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. The compilers of the draft Prayer Book have included in that book much of what the 1928’s compilers chose to leave out.

If the translation of the 1928 American Prayer Book into modern English had been their intention, they had the late Peter Toon’s work as a starting point. Toon edited an edition of the 1928 Prayer Book in which each page of that book was interleaved with modern English translation of its rubrics and texts. It was designed to introduce individuals unfamiliar with Tudor English to the 1928 book.

In some ways the 1928 American Prayer Book was a compromise—sufficiently “High Church” to appeal to moderates in the Protestant Episcopal Church’s Anglo-Catholic wing but not so “High Church” as to be rejected by what passed for its “Low Church” wing in the opening decades of the twentieth century. The compilers of the Anglican Church in North America’s draft Prayer Book, on the other hand, have not exhibited the same kind of restraint as the PECUSA’s Joint Commission on the Enrichment and Revision of the Prayer Book.

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