Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Let’s Talk Prayer Book Revision: The Need for Simplicity

By Robin G. Jordan

The rites and services of The Book of Common Prayer 2019 are not just tediously long, they are unnecessarily elaborate. Their ornateness may be attributed to the preference of the more influential members of the ACNA’s Prayer Book and Liturgy Task Force and College of Bishops for the “studied ornateness of thought and ritual” in the rites and services of the late Middle Ages, a poor grasp of the liturgical principle of “less is more,” and a propensity to emphasize the sacramental ministry of the bishop or priest at every opportunity.

In his essay,  “The Prayer Book Pathway,” J. I. Packer points to our attention that simplicity is one of five principles that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer implemented in the two versions of his Prayer Book.
2. Services must be simple. Cranmer’s Prayer Books reject the studied ornateness of thought and ritual in older worship forms in favour of studied simplicity and, as we have just seen, “inwardness”, meaning that involvement of heart to which complexity and elaboration are always hostile. Cranmer sought to reduce ceremonial to the minimum consistent with full reverence and decency, and to simplify the flow of his services as drastically as the substance and thrust of the biblical truth being expressed would allow. His sixteenth-century ceremonial language, to which Prayer Book users have always had to adjust, masks for some today the essential simplicity which marks all Cranmer’s services, but it is there, as I shall illustrate in a moment, and Cranmer’s achieving of it has milestone status in Christian liturgical history.
Simplicity in the rites and services of a Prayer Book is important for a number of reasons. It makes such rites more accessible, understandable, and edifying. It facilitates the participation of the whole liturgical assembly, including young children and adults with limited reading skills. It enkindles the worship of the heart as Packer himself draws to our attention.

The excessive elaborations of The Book of Common Prayer 2019 limit not only the appeal of the book but also its usefulness. For congregations seeking to attract a wide segment of the unchurched population, congregations that worship in non-traditional settings, and congregations that have large numbers of children or adults with limited reading skills, simplicity in the rites and services that they use is a must as is brevity. The lack of simplicity and brevity in The Book of Common Prayer 2019 are two of a number of defects and shortcomings of the ACNA’s Prayer Book 2019 that point to the need to revise or replace the book.

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