The Episcopal Church My Mother Raised Me In Shorted The Scriptures

With Mother’s Day coming up, it’s always nice to write something about your own.  My relationship with mine was complicated.  But this post isn’t as much about her as about the book she cherished: the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.  Her relationship with the Episcopal Church was complicated too, as this vignette attests, but she loved the 1928 BCP, all the while not realising that it too had a complicated history.

The topic in question is the Lectionary, and this post is a response to some chatter on Anglican Twitter and specifically a post by the Young High Churchman on the Porcine Blog.  I’ll try to cut to the chase on this (and to inform my readers of various backgrounds) by making the following declarations:

  • I discuss the whole concept of the lectionary here, and how it can be superior to the “system” used in “Bible” churches.
  • The 1662 Book of Common Prayer‘s Lectionary is in effect “reading the Bible through in a year,” if and only if you either attend both Morning and Evening Prayer every day or read the appointed readings yourself.
  • The 1928 BCP had two lectionaries, one with the original book and the other adopted in 1945, which you see in most copies of the 1928 BCP today.  The difference between the two–and in subsequent prayer books–is the topic of this discussion.
  • The 1928 BCP, for all of the reverence given to it by Continuing Churches and others, was promulgated after the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy.  It’s safe to say that most Episcopal ministers in the day (especially those of recent seminary education) fell with the latter.  Some of that can be seen with the social justice prayers, but there are other examples.  The Episcopal Church was a Main Line church in every sense of the word.

Now to the tricky part: it can be shown that the 1945 Lectionary has shorter scripture readings and dodges passages which many Episcopalians thought were in bad taste.  An interesting comparison using the Book of Genesis (might as well take it from the top) can be found here.  As you can see, the further forward in time you go (until the ACNA’s 2019 effort) the thinner the coverage of the Scriptures gets.  The 1945 Lectionary was the one I was raised on, along with thousands of others who were caught in the explosion of the 1960’s.

Let me now comment on some of the Porcine’s observations:

Bayard Hale Jones, one of the architects of the 1945, readily explains it in his book “The American Lectionary.” He claims that it was the increasing prominence of Holy Communion as the only Sunday service that did it, as the Propers are considerably shorter than the Daily Office lessons, and that the laity were “chafing under the tediousness and irrelevancy” of certain passages. What he neglects is that up until the 1940s even advanced Anglo-Catholic parishes would have Mattins every Sunday in addition to Holy Communion, so that the full breadth of Holy Scripture would be encountered.

I think that the “only Communion” movement in the Episcopal world was in its infancy in the 1940’s.  Twenty years later Bethesda had three Sunday morning services: the first was at 8:00 (always Communion,) 9:30 (Communion once a month) and 11:00 (same as 9:30.)  Latta Griswold, Anglo-Catholic though he was, thought Morning Prayer important enough to include instructions on how to do it properly and lamented Evening Prayer’s sparse attendance.  Jones’ observation may be propaganda or reflect one slice of the Episcopal Church in one part of the country.

Perhaps here is where we see the real problems begin to set in with PECUSA, as the laity loses its grasp on the Word of God within a generation, and it can’t provide the bulwark against the liberalism coming out of the seminaries that it once did. Here is also likely where Episcopalians get their reputation for not knowing their bibles.

As mentioned earlier, unless you are faithful to the Daily Office (or at least the appointed readings) you don’t get the benefit of the readings, and for most lay people that kind of fidelity is exceptional.  One argument for the three-year cycle (such as the Catholics use with the Novus Ordo Missae) is that you get a broader slice of the Scriptures through Sunday attendance (and in the case of Catholics Days of Obligation.)  What the 1945 Lectionary shuffle does indicate is the flagging interest in the Scriptures amongst the clergy, which in turn is reflected in a) their sermons (a point Griswold makes) and b) in the case of High Churches, the habit of dragging out other parts of the liturgy at the expense of longer Scripture readings.  The Episcopal clergy in the years leading up to the 1960’s were having “Gregory the Great” moments, which is why they were unprepared to effectively deal with the wolves that emerged in those turbulent times.

The craziest thing is: people are hungry for the Word of God. They always have been, and they always be. Why do you think people hopped from the Mainline to the Evangelical churches in the 60s? It wasn’t because they liked grape juice.

Before we get to the issue of why people went for the grape juice in the 1960’s, it’s worth asking why so many people (like my mother) abandoned the grape juice in the years after World War II.  It was because the Episcopal Church offered a more refined, more acceptable and more socioeconomically successful religion than the one they came out of.  My mother in particular wanted to leave the dogmatism of her family’s Southern/Missionary Baptist heritage.

The lesson for today is simple: the ACNA likewise has experienced an influx of people who have abandoned the grape juice for a more refined, liturgical and–dare I say it–socioeconomically well placed religion than they came from.  Much of the recent push to the left has come from these people, not the combat veterans of the wars with TEC.  If they succeed then the whole point of the ACNA–and the whole Biblical basis of Anglicanism–is up in smoke in this country.  It’s that simple.

It’s true that a more Scriptural lectionary would help the laity to internalize the Word, which is always a good thing.  I know the lectionary affected me.  But it’s just one piece in the puzzle.  The Word needs to be in the liturgy, but ultimately it does not need to be confined therein.

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