Some Thoughts on the 2019 Book of Common Prayer

If I had to pick an event that transformed this site’s focus and viewership more than any other, it was my posting of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer in December 2003.  The 1662 Book was posted the following year.  Coming as they did at the start of the explosion (and partly in response to that explosion) that ultimately resulted in the Anglican Church in North America, it began a journey for me that has proven rewarding.

It’s only fitting, therefore, that the ACNA’s own stab at the Anglican Prayer Book genre, the 2019 Book of Common Prayer, would find its way to these pages.  The term “own stab” may sound insouciant but the ACNA has not mandated the Book’s use in its own churches, and in fact one diocese has already banned it!  On the other hand we have
Robin Jordan, who thinks that the book (and indeed the whole drift of the ACNA) is too Catholic.

This review isn’t meant to be a comprehensive, blow-by-blow review of the new Book.  It’s meant to highlight the issues I’ve had with the various BCP’s and how the 2019 Book resolves them.

  1. I think the first issue that needs to be addressed is the sheer length of the book: the pdf I offer for download is 812 pages (although the first two are blank, evidently this comes straight from the pdf used to print the book.)  That’s admittedly an improvement over the 1979 book, which is 1001 pages long.  The 1928 BCP, by comparison, has 611 pages.  Some of the shared length is due to the fact that both Books contain the Psalter (more about that later,) but the 2019 Book doesn’t have the full “Collects, Epistles and Gospels” (it obviously has the collects) for the Holy Communion that the 1662 and 1928 books do, which take up 179 pages of the 1928 Book.  I think that this reflects the idea that there needs to be a ceremony for just about everything.  That bloat started with the 1979 book, but it also reflects the uniformitarian heritage of Anglicanism that started with the “three strikes and your out” Act of Uniformity.  The ACNA had the opportunity to prepare a supplement that would move many of these ceremonies elsewhere but passed it up.
  2. In the Benedictus, we have “In the tender compassion of our God * the dawn from on high shall break upon us, To shine on those who dwell in darkness…” (p.20).  No where is that more evident than in the Baptism ceremony, which jettisons the infamous “Baptismal Covenant.” I’ve referred to this as the “Contract on the Episcopalians,” and its excision is a cause for the ringing of church bells from sea to shining sea.  Today many would like to turn Christianity into a SJW project, but for once the trend is the other way.
  3. I see the 2019 Book solves the problem of the Venite which goes back to the early days of both the Episcopal Church and the Republic.
  4. It was a good thing to see the Comfortable Words (p. 113) in the Holy Communion.
  5. The spectre of Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology and its opposition hangs over just about any celebration of the Holy Communion, and that’s certainly the case with the insertion of the following into the “Anglican Rite”: “So now, O merciful Father, in your great goodness, we ask you to bless and sanctify, with your Word and Holy Spirit, these gifts of bread and wine, that we, receiving them according to your Son
    our Savior Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood.” (p. 116) Although I see the theological sense in this (I can thank Cipriano Vagaggini for that) I think that, if one reproduces the Scriptural institution of the Eucharist, any form of Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology goes up in smoke.  It probably should have been left out.
  6. In the preface we are told that “Eucharistic prayers in particular were influenced by the re-discovery of patristic texts unknown at the Reformation, and often bore little resemblance to what had for centuries been the Anglican norm.”  The awareness of those goes back a long way, as evidenced by Luckock’s work.  Those informed the Novus Ordo Missae.  Unfortunately the follow-up to that in the “Renewed Ancient Text” falls a little flat.  Part of the problem, as Robin Jordan rightly points out, is the tendency for Anglican liturgists to excessively lard the ceremonial.  Jordan appeals to Cramner, but he could have just as easily appealed to Vatican II, which advocated a straightforward, easy to understand liturgy.  I personally think that the ACNA would have been better off modifying a liturgy from the NOM, calling it the “Roman Rite” and been done with it.
  7. The Holy Communion (I find the term “Holy Eucharist” correct but hard to transition to when speaking about the BCP) isn’t the only place where ceremonial larding is in evidence.  The “Ministry to the Dying” (p. 237), although it tells the minister to be flexible, seems to want to lose the race to the last breath.  After that we have “The Commendation” (p. 256), which is too long for a graveside service, especially in inclement weather and really at National Cemeteries, where time if of the essence.
  8. It was nice to see that they retained the Litany prayer “To strengthen those who stand; to encourage the faint-hearted; to raise up those who fall; and finally to beat down Satan under our feet,” (p. 95).  I’m sure the Charismatics will make the most of it.
  9. The Coverdale Psalter has always been a source of fascination in the history of the BCP, being one of the few relics of the pre-Authorised Version English Bible in current use.  The ACNA opted to update and retain it in the 2019 Book.  Personally I think the inclusion of the Psalter goes back to a time when the Psalter was the principal song and devotion book of Christians, and was frequently printed separately (I have the Psalter from this relative of mine.)  That’s not the case these days.  I think it should have been dropped from the 2019 Book.  As an aside, although I’ll get catcalls from the ‘Trads,” I think the RCC practice of reading/singing the Psalms responsorially is better than the antiphonal or responsive methods, but that’s just me.
  10. One thing the ACNA really needs to do is to proclaim its own “Authorised Version” of the Scriptures, which would make excision of the Psalter much easier.  They do that in a backhanded way by using the English Standard Version.  Roman Catholics have done this for years with the New American Bible or the Jerusalem Bible (depending upon the country.)  There are commercial possibilities too: the ACNA could have a Bible (print and software) produced as a companion to the 2019 Book, with suitable notes and lectionary.  It just might get Anglicans to read the Bible more…
  11. I don’t get with calling the Sundays between Trinity and Advent “Proper” Sundays.  Counting after Trinity or Pentecost is better, and even the Roman Catholics’ use of “Ordinary Time” is better.  It’s still a great time in the liturgical year no matter what you call it.
  12. The use of a three-year lectionary cycle is controversial with some (what isn’t?)  Adopting same probably occasioned the excision of the Epistles and Gospels, as was the case with the 1979 book.  Having lived under both one- and three-year cycles, I think the latter gives a broader view of the Scriptures, especially since few people come to weekly services.  (Twice on Sunday has been out the window for a long time…)

In sum, I think the 2019 Book is a major step in the right direction, its weaknesses notwithstanding.  One thing’s for sure: after this, it’s hard to understand why anyone would not ditch the 1979 book once and for all…

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