By Robin G. Jordan
The Ministry of the Word
In this article I take a fresh look at the ministry of the Word in the Communion Office of the Reformed Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. The present book was approved in 2003 and subsequently updated in 2005. The 2003 Reformed Episcopal Prayer Book is described as based upon The Book of Common Prayer of 1662 with elements from later Prayer Books, including the 1928 Prayer Book, the 1963 Reformed Episcopal Prayer Book, and An Australian Prayer Book (1978).
In the previous article I looked at the entrance rite of the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Communion Office. I also took note of some of the problems that a “cut and paste” approach to Prayer Book revision can inadvertently create. In this approach rubrics and texts are lifted out of other Prayer Books and altered and rearranged perhaps without thought to the consequences – theological and otherwise. Those preparing the revision of the Prayer Book may also be guided by an idealized view of the church, one that is out of touch with the present day realities. They may not give thought to the varying circumstances of the congregations that will be expected to use the revised Prayer Book. They may not fully understand the material that they are borrowing from other Prayer Books or appreciate how the cultural, geographical, political, social, and theological environment of a particular church may influence such details as the rubrics of its Prayer Book.
In the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Communion Office the Collect for the Queen where it used and the Collect of the Day mark the transition from the entrance rite to the ministry of the Word. The Collect of the Day serves as the conclusion of the entrance rite and the introduction of the ministry of the Word. The 2003 Reformed Episcopal Communion Office differs from the 1662 Communion Office in that it provides only a single Collect for the Queen for use in the Dominion of Canada. Presumably it may also be used in the Dominion of Newfoundland and other countries where the Queen is the constitutional head of State. The seeming limitation of its use to Canada suggests that the compilers of the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Prayer Book were not familiar with the Dominion status of these countries. The 1662 Communion Office, on the other hand, provides two Collects for the Queen. The priest may read one or the other. This difference is not significant except perhaps for loyal subjects of the Queen.
The Reformed Episcopal Communion Office adds an Old Testament Lesson and a Gradual Psalm or canticle to the ministry of the Word. This addition is a departure from 1662 Communion Office which has only two Scripture readings—the Epistle and the Gospel. The addition of the Old Testament Lesson and the Gradual Psalm or canticle, however, is warranted. It is a recovery of an ancient practice for which the compilers of the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Prayer Book should be commended. It also enables the congregation to hear a reading from the Old Testament and the Book of Psalms which the congregation might otherwise not likely hear on Sunday or at any other time during the week. While some Reformed Episcopal churches may have a service of Morning Prayer before their weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist, very few members of their congregations are going to attend two church services on Sunday morning.
With the changes in church attendance patterns in this century, it is surprising if members of their congregations attend one church service every Sunday. Except in those churches which do not have a priest of their own and must share a priest with one or more other churches, the service that they are likely to attend is the church’s weekly celebration of the Holy Communion due to emphasis placed upon the Holy Eucharist as the central service of Sunday in mainline churches since the mid-twentieth century.
The addition of an Old Testament Lesson and a Gradual Psalm or canticle to the Reformed Episcopal Communion Office is a reminder that for Anglicans the canonical books of both the Old and New Testaments are authoritative in matters of faith and practice (Article 6). Anglicans do not believe that the Old Testament is contrary to the New: “for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral” (Article 7).
The Old Testament Lesson may be concluded with the words, “Here endeth the lesson” or the versicle and response, “This is the Word of the Lord; Thanks be to God.”
In my own ministry I have discovered that when a reader concludes a Scripture reading with the words, “Here endeth the lesson,” the congregation will automatically respond, “Thanks be to God,” as they have become so accustomed to a versicle and response at the end of Scripture readings from the time that they attended an Episcopal church. This tickles me every time because if you think about what they are saying, it is that they are glad the Scripture reading has ended. They may not realize it but that is how it may across to first time guests who do not have a liturgical church background. The versicle and response at the end of the Old Testament Lesson is definitely a welcome addition to the service.
The compilers of the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Communion Office do, however, show a lack of familiarity with a longstanding tradition associated with the recitation or singing of a Gradual Psalm or canticle in the Holy Eucharist. It is that the Gloria Patri is NOT recited or sung at the end of a Gradual Psalm or canticle as it is or may be recited or sung at the end of a Psalm in the Daily Offices. Hopefully the rubric requiring its use will be deleted from future editions of the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Prayer Book.
Like the 1662 Communion Office the Reformed Episcopal Communion Office also has a reading from the Epistles and a reading from the Gospels. Unlike the 1662 Communion Office, the Reformed Episcopal Communion Office provides an optional versicle and response for the use at the end of the Epistle instead of “Here endeth the lesson.” It is the same versicle and response that may be used at the end of the Old Testament Lesson. See my earlier discussion of the use of a versicle and response at the end of that Scripture reading. This versicle and response is an example of incorporating in a Prayer Book was has become a common practice in the parish church.
While it is a departure from the 1662 Common Office, I do not believe that it is a significant one. While the Puritans objected to versicle and responses and that sort of thing, they do in this particular case provide the congregation with a way of responding to the proclamation of the Word and of further participating in the liturgy, which after all is the work of the people.
One of the things that is missing from both the 1662 Communion Office and the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Communion Office is rubrical provision for a period of silence for reflection after each Scripture reading. This could be optional and would precede the words, “Here endeth the lesson” or the versicle and response. It would give the congregation an opportunity to process what they heard. Such a rubric might be added to future editions of the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Prayer Book. It would give the weight of rubrical authority to a practice that every pastor who wants his flock to “be doers of the Word, not hearers only,” will implement in his cure.
The rubrics of the 2003 Episcopal Communion Office permit the singing of a hymn or anthem between the Epistle and the Gospel. The 1662 Communion Office has no such rubrical provision. According to Percy Dearmer, Lionel Dakkers, and others, it is a longstanding custom to sing a hymn, psalm, or anthem between the Epistle and the Gospel. In the Church of England from the days of the early Prayer Books it has been acts of Parliament, royal injunctions and custom, not the rubrics of The Book of Common Prayer that have largely determined what was sung in the rites and services of the Prayer Book and where.
The 2003 Reformed Episcopal Communion Office concludes the announcement of the Gospel with the Gloria Tibi: “Glory be to thee, O Lord.” The Restoration bishops, when they were revising The Book of Common Prayer, decided against the addition of this congregational response after the announcement of the Gospel in the 1662 Common Office. As well as the “Durham Book,” that Bishops Christopher Wren, John Cosin, and William Sandcroft had compiled, and which showed the influence of the 1549 Prayer Book, they had the 1637 Scottish Prayer Book: The 1637 Scottish Communion Office concludes the announcement of the Gospel with the Gloria Tibi. Wren helped to compile the Scottish book. So may have Cosin. However, the revision that they finally adopted was a conservative one.
The 2003 Reformed Episcopal Communion Office also provides a versicle and response for use at the end of the Gospel: “The Gospel of the Lord; Praise be to Thee,O Christ.” The versicle and response is not optional. It is the same versicle and response that is found at the end of the Gospel in the 1928 Communion Office and the 1962 Canadian Communion Office.
While the Gloria Tibi after the announcement of the Gospel and the versicle and response at the end of the Gospel are departures from the 1662 Communion Office, the two practices are found in several conservative revisions of the 1662 Prayer Book. Among these revisions are the Canadian Prayer Book of 1918, the Irish Prayer Book of 1926, and the Free Church of England’s Prayer Book of 1958. In place of a versicle and response at the end of the Gospel, these Prayer Books have adopted a response from the 1637 Scottish Prayer Book: “Thanks be to thee, O Lord.” The incorporation of these two practices in these Prayer Books even in a modified form shows a growing acceptance of the practices, as well as of the view that they are not a radical departure from the 1662 Prayer Book.
The rubrics that precede the Nicene Creed are closely modeled on the corresponding rubrics of the 1928 Communion Office. The rubrics of the 1662 Communion Office make no provision for the substitution of the Apostles’ Creed for the Nicene Creed or the omission of the Creed. On the other hand, the rubric allowing either the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed and permitting the omission of the Creed if one of them has been said immediately before in Morning Prayer has been a longstanding feature of the American Prayer Book since 1789. In the 1789 Communion Office the Apostles’ Creed is listed before the Nicene Creed. In 1892 Communion Office the order is reversed and the Nicene Creed is printed in the office. Whatever may have been the rationale for allowing either Creed at the time of the adoption of the first American Prayer Book, this permission makes good sense today. Only a few people are going to read the Daily Offices and become familiar with the Apostles’ Creed, much less attend a weekday service of Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer if one is offered. The only exposure of most congregants to the Apostles’ Creed will be in a Confirmation class, at the baptism of one of their own children or a child for whom they are a godparent or baptismal sponsor, if they participate in a group study of J. I. Packer’s Growing in Christ (formerly I Want to Be a Christian) or read Alister McGarth’s “I Believe” Exploring the Apostles’ Creed or J. I. Packer’s Affirming the Apostles’ Creed on the recommendation of their pastor, or if the pastor or another minister preaches a series on the Apostles’ Creed. It is rather pointless, however, to study the Apostles’ Creed or preach about it if it is never used in worship.
The rubric that immediately follows the Creed is a pared-down composite of the 1662 and the 1928 rubrics. It substitutes “Services” for “Holy Days, or Fasting Days” and limits the notices to announcements when there will be communion. Tacked on to it is an abbreviated version the 1662 restriction of any proclamations or publications in the church during the time of divine service to the minister. For those who are not familiar with this restriction, it was political in origin and intended to prevent members of the congregation inciting rebellion against the English monarch. It was dropped from the 1789 Prayer Book as the United States had declared its independence from England in 1776 and no longer had a monarch. It was also dropped from the 1962 Canadian Prayer Book. The Dominion of Canada had been a self-governing entity since 1867. As a result of this ridiculous rubric the senior minister of a Reformed Episcopal Church cannot delegate the announcements to another minister, whether ordained or licensed, or to a member of the vestry. As if he does not have enough to do, he must make them himself. It appears that those who compiled the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Church were not familiar with the history behind this restriction.
The rubric permitting the singing of a hymn or anthem before the sermon is peculiar to the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Communion Office. It is not found in the 1662 Communion Office, the 1928 Communion Office, the 196 Canadian Communion Office, or The Holy Communion, First and Second Orders, of An Anglican Prayer Book (1978). As I previously noted the use of hymns in the 1662 Communion Office is for a large part a matter of custom. In The Parson’s Handbook Dearmer identifies fives places in the 1662 Communion Office where a hymn is customarily sung—for the Introit before the commencement of the service, for a Sequence between the Epistle and the Gospel, at the Offertory, during the Communion and during the Ablutions at the end of the service. He also suggests that a Processional may be sung when the Litany is not used before the service. In Choosing and Using Hymns Dakker provides a similar list. Hymns and anthems are generally not sung before the sermon in 1662 Prayer Book services. A hymn may be sung before the sermon at Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer but the sermon is actually not a part of the service. The service ends with the Grace. For a further discussion of the problematic nature of singing a hymn or anthem before the sermon in the Communion Office, see my recent article, “Do We Really Need to Sing a Hymn Before the Sermon.”
Based upon the line after the third stanza of long hymns in The Book of Common Praise 2017, the addition of a sentence of Scripture and the Salutation introducing the Collect for Purity to the entrance rite, the rubric prescribing the use of the Gloria Patria after a Gradual Psalm or canticle, the rubrical permission to sing a hymn or anthem before the sermon, and sadly the height of some Reformed Episcopal altars, I am tempted to conclude that the Reformed Episcopal Church has a unfortunate penchant for encouraging undesirable practices. An altar table should be 39 inches off the ground so that the priest does not have to bend down to take the cup and the paten in his hands and to place his hands on the wine flagon, the chalice, and the bread. It should not be coffee table height!
I realize that there may be plausible explanations about how these things came to be—a line after the third stanza of the longer hymns was the bright idea of an influential member of the Liturgical Music Commission and the altar table was a gift from a wealthy benefactor of the church. But they mar what otherwise would be a passably decent hymnal, a passably decent Holy Communion service, and a passably decent celebration of Holy Communion.
From what I have seen so far the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Communion Office stands with one foot in the English Prayer Book tradition and the other in the Scottish-American Prayer Book tradition. This is not necessarily a bad thing if Reformed Episcopalians are honest with themselves as well as others about where their Prayer Book stands. What I mean is that they need to stop touting its affinity to the 1662 Prayer Book as its major selling point as if it was a conservative revision of the 1662 book. It does have an affinity with the 1662 Prayer Book in some places but it also has an affinity with 1928 Prayer Book in other places. The 1928 Prayer Book is not exactly a conservative revision of the 1662 Prayer Book like the 1918 Canadian Prayer Book or the 1926 Irish Prayer Book.
The 2003 Reformed Episcopal Communion Office is, however, a much more moderate revision of the 1662 Communion Office than the 2019 Proposed ACNA Communion Office. Based on that observation I believe that it would be wise for the Reformed Episcopal Church to hang onto the 2003 Reformed Episcopal Communion Office rather than adopting the 2019 Proposed ACNA Communion Office. It does need tweaking here and there and its Modern Language Version needs a major overhaul. But the Reformed Episcopal Church’s retention of its own liturgy and its efforts to improve that liturgy may prompt the Anglican Church in North America to undertake much needed overhaul of the 2019 Proposed ACNA Prayer Book.
Image: Reformation Anglican Church, Gray, Maine