Does the 2019 BCP Need More Than One Rite?

The back and forth over the new ANCA 2019 Book of Common Prayer continues.  This post delves into a question that, in a sense, puts together the whole debate over the theology of the Holy Communion and how it should be represented in the liturgy: do we really need the two rites we have in the 2019 BCP?  And what’s this business about the “ancient texts?”

Let’s start with stating a proposition: the fact that the 1979 BCP has two doesn’t justify the 2019 BCP doing the same.  I’m sure the committee(s) that put together the 2019 BCP had that discussion.  Having more than one rite antedates the 1979 BCP.  I know some of my readers find my constant references to Roman Catholicism in these posts irritating at best and heretical at worst, but as an educator I think it’s at least instructive.

It’s worth noting that the Church of England, the Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church had one anaphora (the technical term for the consecration of the elements of Communion) and one rite of the Communion/Eucharist/Mass going into the 1960’s.  It’s also worth noting that these liturgies were basically all of sixteenth century vintage.  The Anglican liturgy was first set forth in the 1549 BCP and, through the dizzying and deadly changes that the Church of England went through subsequent to that, ended up in a modified form in the 1662 BCP.  The Roman Catholic Church formulated (or better normalized) its liturgy around the time of the Council of Trent.  Before the term “Traditional Latin Mass” (#TLM) became common with trads, it was customary to refer to this liturgy as the Tridentine Mass.

On both sides of the English Channel there was a great deal of intellectual ferment in the years leading up to the 1960’s.  A greater awareness of Patristic and Roman Empire Christianity practice came into being.  Anglo-Catholics such as Luckock and Jalland were aware of different liturgical practices in this era, different both from Rome and what was current in the Church of England.  Roman Catholics such as Jean Daniélou took a similar scholarly interest.

It’s worth noting that in 2009 this blog featured a series (about the same time the ACNA came into existence) of several of these “ancient text” anaphorae.  The complete list with explanation as to their origin is as follows:

Also included were a couple of Roman Catholic “experimental” liturgies (Canon “B” and Canon “C”.)   It would be interesting to know if any of these were a resource for the 2019 BCP.

The 1970’s saw the revision of both the Roman Catholic and Episcopal liturgies, the former with the Novus Ordo Missae and the latter with the 1979 BCP.  These types of liturgies have been used for around a half century.  It is obvious that those who put the 2019 BCP have bowed, in part, to that long usage.  They evidently felt that a return to a modernized version of the 1928 or even 1662 BCP with one anaphora (to say nothing of the general structure of the Communion liturgy) was not a real possibility at this point.

So how does the 2019’s “ancient text” stack up?  It combines the brevity of the Anaphora of Hippolytus (the oldest of the texts above) with a “history of salvation” that is seen in some of the Eastern liturgies.  Overall it’s not really bad.  The biggest criticism may be that it’s too brief!  I’m sure, however, that a “history of salvation” type of liturgy will go over with some about as well as the first such presentation, that of Stephen (Acts 7:2-60.)

I really think that the revival of these “ancient texts,” when too much violence isn’t done to their own theology, is one of the best things that has happened in liturgical development this half century past.   That sentiment is not shared amongst Reformed Anglican or Catholic trad alike.  However, the main thing that Anglican and Catholic have in common with the negative response is the vehemence of the opposition.

The impact on Roman Catholicism has been a realization that a great deal of what passed for Catholic “essentials” before Vatican II (and with the trade today) was more like an accumulation of stuff by people who have lived in a house for many years: the house is the same, but the large volume of the stuff has changed the mode of living.  Attempts to do some “housecleaning” have been lost with those of a more modern or post-modern style of mind (like that of James Martin SJ or the current Occupant of St. Peter’s.)  The trads’ answer is that we should keep all the stuff the way it was, but I don’t think that’s a real solution.

With the Reformed Anglicans (the Anglo-Catholics are another story altogether) the question is more basic: is the Roman Empire Church, which immediately followed Our Lord’s time on earth, closer to his idea than that of the Reformers, who lived 1500 years later?  From a historical view, the latter implies this type of concept:

Most evangelicals look at church history in a very specific way; there were first New Testament times, then there was the Reformation, and now there’s us. This results in a gap of about a millennium and a half between significant events; surely something happened in that length of time!

The danger to Reformed types of the inclusion of such a liturgy is that it undercuts their own claim to “pride of place” as the closest to the Scriptures.

Since the Anglicans have gone to the trouble to retain an episcopate (and the episcopate is often a major source of trouble) and a liturgy, it makes sense that the Patristic witness is relevant.  That’s a hard sell to many Reformed types, but if they want to be consistent, they should ditch the liturgy and the episcopate and do it Calvin’s way.

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