The Revised Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book has finally arrived. After several years of planning and working, I can at last hold it in my hands!
I know that there have been some questions about how the new revision relates to the previous version, the 1967 revised edition, so I’ll go ahead and address that.
Physically, the two books are roughly the same size in the hand. However, the bindings are different—while the ’67 is a hardback book, the ’14 is leather bound with sewn-in pages, two ribbons, and gilt-edged “Bible paper” pages. It feels like a prayer book that will stand up to repeated use. Because of the thinness of the Bible paper, there are roughly one hundred more pages in the new edition than in the previous edition.
Opening the book, the text is printed in both red and black.
A quick comparison of the two tables of contents underscores that this is a revision, not a new work. The same headings are present, but the new revision has a more detail, more subheadings, to help direct you to where you want to go.
The former revision was conducted as the Episcopal Church was in the midst of formulating its next prayer book. As a result, it remains a solid catholic supplement to the 1928 prayer book and is in dialogue with the Roman Catholic piety of its day in the very midst of the tumult of Vatican II. By contrast, this new revision was designed from the ground up as a solid catholic supplement to our current prayer book, reflecting the ecumenical and cultural situation of our day. Additionally, this revision intentionally draws from the wells of historic devotion incorporating more materials from Sarum primers and breviaries. In keeping with both aims—a closer connection with the current prayer book as well as recovering the riches of former ages—we have tried to give as many attributions as possible laying bare the historical span of the material. Just to be clear, though, old stuff isn’t in here because it’s old; it’s because in working and praying with these well-worn prayers, David and I were convinced that they had an important word to speak to the church of our present day.
There are prayers here in contemporary (Rite II) language; there are prayers here in traditional (Rite I) language. We have also incorporated some material—I’m thinking of Office canticles in particular—in direct address that provide gender-neutral praises to God. Above all, our goal was to use the whole register of liturgical language with the intention of not making language an issue. There was no quota of Rite I to Rite II to gender-neutral material. Instead, we went with what prayed well!
Some material was removed. David probably knows better than I which material exactly, but there’s a certain flavor of saccharine-sweet overly-pious immediately pre-concialiar sentimentality that is greatly toned down. To my Gen-X/Y ears, this material strays dangerously close to the line of self-parody. It’s one thing if your heart is genuinely overflowing with love and devotion; it’s another to insist that’s how you’re feeling and, if not, to whip yourself up to that level because the prayer says you should—that just doesn’t strike me as honest spirituality!
There’s also a good amount of explanatory material here. The previous edition had this too, but much of it has been updated. As David explains in his Foreword, he—like many clergy—discovered the Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book in seminary. That is, his first encounter with it and its spirituality was not necessarily in the context of a living church community. I know that my first encounter with it occurred that way—it was a text that I discovered apart from a living tradition. As a result, the explanations are offered as a way of introducing people to a fuller and deeper expression of the Anglican tradition that is completely consonant with prayer book spirituality whether they’re in a congregation familiar with such traditions or not.
It was a real honor to have the opportunity to work on this book. Both of us entered into it with a certain trepidation because of how deeply loved it is. None of our changes were made lightly; in each case we wanted to make sure that the material was consonant with our prayer book, with our Anglican tradition, and spoke Gospel words of life to modern Episcopalians.
As I have said—tongue in cheek—my chief role was to gild David’s lily: the lion’s share of the work was his. However, I had read through portions of it at David’s request and commented on them before I was officially invited onto the project by Scott Gunn and the good folks at Forward Movement. I see my true role in this work as representing the voice of the laity. It’s easy for devotional works of this sort to reflect what clergy want lay people to think, and do, and pray. I believe that’s a trap that we consciously avoided here. This work, flowing from the monastic well-spring of the Order of the Holy Cross, bolstering the work of the clergy, finds its true home in the hearts, minds, and actions of the whole church—not just the ordained portions. These are prayers that I use with my children, that I turn to between meetings, conference calls, and shuttling the girls to ballet lessons, that are made for our world, the sections both within and without the church’s walls. This is a spirituality for the whole church.
May it be received as it is offered: a treasury of Gospel nourishment for the road. Not a last word or a perfect work, but godly conversation as we push along the way!
Kindle versions are available at Amazon; for the present, physical copies can be ordered through Forward Movement. (They will also be available through Amazon at some point in the future.)