Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Renewed Plea for a Mission-Shaped Prayer Book

By Robin G. Jordan

What is the sense of having a so-called Renewed Ancient Eucharistic Prayer if you do not have a Renewed Ancient Liturgy to go with it? This thought struck me after I read Drew Nathaniel Keane’s Living Church article, “A Response to the ACNA’s Proposed Prayer Book 2019.” In his article Keane wondered aloud why the Prayer Book and Liturgy Task Force had not used the Renewed Ancient Eucharistic Prayer as an alternative to the Standard Anglican Eucharistic Prayer as the two eucharistic rites were almost identical except for the Prayers of the People and the Eucharistic Prayers. I ran across the article while conducting a Google search for the revised ACNA catechism.

The original Anophora of the Apostles is believed to have been composed in the third century. At that time the entrance rite of the Eucharist consisted of a greeting and a prayer or just a greeting. The practice of singing an entrance song did not come until later in the fifth century and was usually a psalm. In later centuries a variety of songs would be sung in place of the psalm or in addition to it. The introit in the late Medieval Mass and the 1549 Communion Service is what remains of that song, reduced to a snippet of the original psalm. The introit was dropped from the 1552 Communion Service. Elizabeth I would authorize the singing of a metrical psalm before and after the 1559 Communion Service. From this practice developed the tradition of singing a hymn as an introit before the service.

The basic structure of a Renewed Ancient Entrance Rite would be one or more opening songs, a greeting, and prayer. Interestingly this pattern is the best pattern for the opening of a contemporary worship service—a worship set, a medley of songs beginning with praise and ending with adoration; a time of spontaneous praise and adoration, what Augustine of Hippo called “jubilation;” silence; the salutation, “The Lord be with you: and also with you;” and the Prayer of the Day (collect).

A lengthy opening acclamation (or seasonal greeting), the Collect for Purity, the Ten Commandments or the Summary of the Law, Kyries, and the Gloria, all of which are much later additions to the entrance rite, interrupt the flow of the entrance rite and are redundant. For the Western Church the opening acclamation is a twentieth century addition to the entrance rite. The Collect for Purity and the Ten Commandments are a sixteenth century addition; the Summary of the Law, an eighteenth century addition; and the Kyries and Gloria, a late Medieval addition. They are a part of liturgical clutter that has accumulated at the opening of the Eucharist in the Western Church and which gives undue prominence to an ancillary rite and distorts the shape of the Eucharist. To accommodate the lengthy entrance rite the Medieval Church shortened the lections and reduced their number.

Since the liturgical movement of the last century revisers of Anglican service books have sought to reduce, if not eliminate this clutter by omitting a number of the superfluous elements or making them optional. This has enabled worship planners to streamline the entrance rite when they need to simplify the rite or make it flow more smoothly.

Cluttering the entrance rite with unnecessary fixed elements is not only an indicator of poor liturgical scholarship but also a mark of a particular kind of churchmanship as the Roman Catholic Church’s Divine Liturgy: The Missal attests. These elements do not make the entrance rite more heart-stirring or edifying. They get the service off to a slow start and add to the length and tedium of the service. They form a series of hurdles over which the congregation must jump in order to get to the liturgy of the Word. They tire the congregation before it has an opportunity to hear the first lection.

The Prayer Book and Liturgy Task Force would have benefited from a crash course in the principles of good liturgy such as the principles of noble simplicity and less is more. The cluttered entrance rite is certainly not an example of what is good in the liturgical renewal movement and if it is an example of what was lost to the tradition, it would have been better if it had remained lost.

On the twenty-first century North American mission field the pristine lines of the Renewed Ancient Entrance Rite would have been a tremendous asset. On the other hand, the cluttered entrance rite that the Prayer Book and Liturgy Commission adopted for both Eucharistic rites in The Book of Common Prayer 2019 will prove a serious liability.

In 2002 I was involved as an observer for several months in an Episcopal pop-up church. (I was also involved in Anglican Mission in America and United Methodist startups at the same time.) The core of the congregation was made up of former members of what had been my church for 15 years—former members of the church’s prayer and healing ministry—and others who were experiencing the renewal of the Holy Spirit in their faith and life.

The new church began as a house church. The priests who celebrated the Eucharist with the small but growing congregation were charismatic. One priest was the rector of a Baton Rouge church of which the pop-up church was officially a preaching station. Another priest was an assistant at another Baton Rouge church. The third priest was a Continuing Anglican priest who lived locally and later became a bishop of his jurisdiction.

The format of the weekly Eucharistic celebrations varied, depending upon who was the president for the celebration. When it was one of the Baton Rouge priests, it was An Order for celebrating the Holy Eucharist—so-called “Rite III”—from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, using Eucharistic Prayer A from Rite II. When it was the local priest, it was the Communion of the Sick from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, using the 1928 Prayer of Consecration. By using the Communion of the Sick, the priest in question was able leave out parts of the 1928 Order for the Administration of Holy Communion, which would have made the service too long for a house church’s weekly Eucharistic celebration. In either case the congregation's eucharistic celebrations began with two or three worship songs or praise choruses, a time of spontaneous praise and adoration, silence, the Salutation, and the Collect of the Day. In other words, they began with a modern equivalent of the ancient entrance rite.

The congregation eventually outgrew the house that it used as a meeting place and moved to a hotel conference room. It launched several Alpha groups and was effectively reaching the community until the events of 2003 damaged the public image of the Episcopal Church in the community.

The Book of Common Prayer 2019 has nothing like the 1979’s Order for Celebrating Holy Communion or the 1928 Communion of the Sick. A house church like the Church of the Beloved in the Anglican Church in North America, if it was using the proposed BCP 2019, would have only the option of using the entire service or disregarding the rubrics and making unauthorized changes in the service. As I noted in yesterday’s article, the latter is a good indicator that a prayer book does not meet the needs of the congregation using the book and is in need of revision.

It is evident from the entrance rite and other parts of The Book of Common Prayer 2019’s eucharistic rites that those who prepared the proposed BCP 2019 had very little if any recent acquaintance with the twenty-first century North American mission field. I am involved in a small Continuing Anglican church that uses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Since I became involved in that church, I have become increasingly aware of how a prayer book can be a barrier to attracting and retaining new church members. It is not just the language of the services that is off-putting to visitors. It is also the mind-numbing length and tediousness of the services. While their language may be contemporary, the services of the proposed BCP 2019 share these same characteristics.

Church services are like filters. They can let a lot of people into a church. Or they can keep them out. If a church is serious about reaching and engaging the unchurched, it will use a filter that lets in a lot of people. It will avoid too finer filter that will keep people out. With The Book of Common Prayer 2019 the Anglican Church in North America or more specifically the College of Bishops is only offering ACNA churches the latter to use.

When the newness wears off, I believe that more and more ACNA clergy and congregations are going to discover that The Book of Common Prayer 2019 is more of hindrance than a help in fulfilling the Great Commission. Indeed it is severely handicapping their efforts.

Some ACNA clergy and congregations may become attached to The Book of Common Prayer 2019 as Continuing Anglican clergy and congregations have become attached to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. But the decline of the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions shows that such an attachment is not a healthy one. A number of congregations would prefer to die than give up the 1928 Prayer Book and The Hymnal 1940 even though their use of the two books is one of the reasons that they are not thriving.

The Prayer Book and Liturgy Task Force could have given ACNA clergy and congregations a far more mission-shaped service book. But those who formed the central committee of the task force were not up to the job. Their heads were in the past.

If the Anglican Church in North America has any leaders who are serious about leading the province in fulfilling the Great Commission, they need to call for the formation of a task force for the revision of The Book of Common Prayer 2019, a task force made up of clergy and laity who have been involved in planting and growing dynamic new churches, have more than a passing acquaintance with the North American mission field, and are committed to providing the province with a prayer book shaped for mission.

If their fellow leaders do not see the need for the revision of The Book of Common Prayer 2019, they need to form a task force on their own initiative to develop a mission-shaped service book for use within their own jurisdictions. In the Anglican Church in North America’s canons bishops are charged with the responsibility of ensuring the service books used in their jurisdictions conform to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. A service book that is not genuinely mission-shaped like the proposed BCP 2019 is not a service book that conforms to such teaching. It is therefore incumbent upon individual bishops to make sure that the clergy and congregations in their pastoral care are provided with worship resources that are genuinely mission-shaped. As good shepherds to their flock and faithful servants of Christ, they will see that the clergy and congregations of the diocese are equipped with the kind of resources that will enable them to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. They will not settle for less. They will not be satisfied with a prayer book that was prepared for an earlier generation and for a North America that is long gone. They will make sure that their clergy and congregations have the best tools for the task that Christ has entrusted to his Church.
If your congregation is considering pre-ordering The Book of Common Prayer 2019, please remember the proposed BCP 2019 has not been officially authorized for use by the Provincial Council and the Provincial Assembly. You may want to hold off ordering the proposed book until it has been officially authorized. Under the provisions of the ACNA’s canons the College of Bishops does not have authority to officially authorize a prayer book for the province, only the Provincial Council and Provincial Assembly does.

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