Category Archives: Prayer Book

Prayer Book Studies II: The Lectionary

Sharing the latter half of the volume with PBS I is Prayer Book Studies II: The Liturgical Lectionary which examines and recommends changes to the lectionary appointed for the Eucharist.

Note the timing: this was published in 1950 and was based on work done before that time. The three-year lectionary is not even a twinkle in Rome’s eye at this point. As a result, this book is focused entirely on tweaks to the classical one-year lectionary. This volume could be considered an anachronistic waste of time as it refers to a system we no longer use any more but for two important points.

First, the three-year lectionary has come under fire lately and there have been a number of pieces written on the superiority of the one-year system and calls for its restoration. In light of that call, I find it quite valuable to see this list of considerations on what needed to be changed in that system by people who had lived within it for decades. It’s easy enough for people of my age and younger who have never lived under it to wax eloquent about its benefits; it’s more instructive to hear trained scholars with lengthy experience with it hold forth on how it could be made better.

Second, this volume addresses what I understand as a fundamental principle of any good Eucharistic lectionary:

In other words, it is none of our concern to impose any individualistic idea of our own as to what the Christian Year is, much less to reform it to what we might like to make it. As a matter of fact, we know what the Christian Year is only by studying what it has been: and any emendations we may make should be limited to those which will actually enable it to say better what it is evidently trying to say. (PBS II, 45)

One of the brief side-arguments I made in my dissertation that I’d like to revisit and expand upon at some time is just this notion—that there is an Aristotelian back-and-forth between the character of our liturgical seasons and the content of our Eucharistic lections. That is, the themes of the season inform the choice of the lessons; the content of the lessons establishes the themes of the season.

The argument rightly presented here is that “…the Church’s cycle of commemorations was not a system which was systematically planned and executed at any one time, but a collection which was gradually piled up through many centuries” (PBS II, 40). Indeed, further scholarly work like McKinnon’s magisterial The Advent Project (published in 2000 and argued about since then) gives a fascinating visibility into the fits and starts by which accumulation and systematic planning alternated in the life of the Church and the growth of its lectionaries and Minor Propers.

There is a not insignificant amount of unhappiness with certain aspects of the Revised Common Lectionary—the three-year cycle we currently use for our Eucharistic lectionary. While many folks take the opportunity to spout off about what’s wrong with it, this volume offers an opportunity to examine how to go about thinking through what careful, intentional, systematic revision could and should look like.

It’s worth noting that the changes discussed here are grounded in one particular book, The Eternal Word in the Modern World, by Burton Scott Easton and Howard Chandler Robbins (Scribners, New York, 1937). The introduction to PBS I/II states :

The Commission records its loss in the deaths of two of its members, whose final contributions to the Church they served are reflected in this first issue of the Prayer Book Studies. . . . The Reverend Doctor Burton Scott Easton, late Associate Member, in his published work on the Epistles and Gospels of the Christian Year, furnished the foundation and inspiration for the Study on “The Liturgical Lectionary.”

So—the first author of the book was also a participant in the drafting of this volume. I’ve never seen a copy of this work for myself, but now I’m curious about it…

Another interesting throw-away line was this one:

It is a curious fact that no Lectionary of any Church ever made a systematic attempt to secure a definite ‘liturgical harmony,’ featuring a single common theme between all the portions read at each service, until the American Lectionary of 1943. (PBS II, 44)

The reference here is not to a Eucharistic lectionary, but to the revision of the Daily Office Lectionary. While I’m aware of this lectionary and have interacted with it to a certain degree,  I’ve not yet studied it in depth. When I have the opportunity to do so, the starting point will no doubt be Bayard Jones’ The American Lectionary (Morehouse-Gorham, 1944).

Jones was one of the Big Three in the early work of the Standing Liturgical Commission, the other two being Morton Stone and Massey Shepherd, Jr. All three of these guys—as liturgy professors at Episcopal seminaries—wrote important books on the 1928 BCP and its liturgy that might make interesting reading to supplement what is found in these Prayer Book Studies volumes.

PBS I: Baptism & Confirmation

I’d hoped to glance quickly over the text of PBS I, which I’ve already finished, and to jot out a quick post pointing out a few highlights. Instead, I started reading through the text and got bogged down into a few google searches leading inevitably to the agreement between two bishops of the 1750’s that they’d be happy to give away the body of St. Anselm to the superstitious King of Sardinia on the principle that if they could give away some dusty bones to the benefit of a single Protestant they’d be ahead in the bargain! (And, of course, that any old Anselm would do to be sent off anyway…). [Both plans A & B were thwarted.]

However, I did find myself making a number of footnote additions to the text. The authors assume that the readers either know the text of the 1928 BCP intimately or that they have a copy of it at hand while they read the Studies.  While that’s probably not a bad idea, I’ve elected to include footnotes containing the various prayers and other things they make reference to in case there isn’t a ’28 BCP around.

In any case… The study does open with the question of the relationship between Baptism and Confirmation which will continue to be a major topic in Anglican liturgics to the present. While the question is identified, it is not solved or even fully engaged here. Rather, the proposed changes to Baptism: “may be subsumed under three headings: the length of the service, the clarification of rubrics to meet modern needs and demands, and the simplification of the ritual text.” (PBS I, 12). What this line doesn’t mention but explains later is one of the central planks of the revision of Baptism, namely that the baptismal service should be shortened so that it is not overly burdensome when inserted into a regular Sunday Service, preferably a Eucharist.  Private baptism are not forbidden but certainly discouraged.

The discussion of the Blessing of the Font under the third heading brings up again the Confirmation question which concludes in this way:

All that the present revision claims for itself is that it has sought to avoid any phraseology which would foster an interpretation of Baptism with Water in such a way that it usurps or makes superfluous the normative and necessary place of Confirmation in the perfecting of the Christian, or would reduce the meaning of Confirmation to a mere strengthening of what has been received in Baptism. (PBS I, 19)

After this, they do hasten to add that Confirmation should follow directly after if at all possible.

The changes to Confirmation include making it a full stand-alone service, but also a move back towards a second giving of the Spirit:

The most significant alteration in the prayers which follow are designed to restore the primitive view of Confirmation as the gift of the indwelling Spirit in all His fulness to the baptized, and not merely as an added, strengthening grace. Thus, “Send into their hearts thy Holy Spirit” is substituted for “Strengthen them with the Holy Ghost” as in the present form. This brings the prayer closer not only to the 1549 form, but also to the original Gelasian wording: immitte in eos Spiritum sanctum. Similarly, “Confirm” has replaced “Defend” in the prayer said by the Bishop at the imposition of his hand. This change makes it clear that Confirmation means primarily the action of God in confirming His children. In our present rite the word “confirming” is confusingly used only of the action of the candidate in renewing his vows. Moreover the word “confirm” includes all that is implied in “defend” and more! (PBS I, 21)

Needless to say, this direction will be significantly reversed in later volumes…

The second big topic here is the question of bringing  Chrismation back into the service. The Sarum materials mention the bishop “signing and sealing” but don’t mention oil.  While Cranmer had kept the language of “signing and sealing” in the 1549 book, this was all excised in the 1552 BCP. This revision notes that many bishops are signing and sealing with oil, and as much as you get the sense that they’d like to go there, the authors stop short of actually proposing it. It’s floated as a trial balloon in the text, but not included within the proposed service itself.

In summary, then, this study offers some initial steps towards baptismal revision. Private baptisms are discouraged, but there is no sense here of the Baptismal Covenant. The Confirmation revision doubles down on the rite as an invocation of the Spirit upon the confirmand, emphasizing thereby that the “confirming” is something done just as a much by God as it is by the individual.

Prayer Book Studies: Digital Edition

One of the things I have hoped and intended to do for a long time is to make the Prayer Book Studies series more available throughout the church.

For those not familiar with it, “Prayer Book Studies” was a concept set into motion by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in 1949. This would be a study of liturgy, liturgical principles, and the rites of the church that would guide progress towards a new Book of Common Prayer. Prayer Book Studies I/II (containing the first two studies) appeared in 1950; Prayer Book Studies 29: Introducing the Proposed Book of Common Prayer was published in 1976.  Appearing (mostly) in floppy blue pamphlets of varying length, these booklets are invaluable looks into the thoughts, logic, knowledge, and assumptions of the men (mostly men…) who shaped our present American Book of Common Prayer (1979).

As we discuss liturgical revision at this time, and as we have memorialized the 1979 BCP—whatever that means—it is imperative that we as a church gain a clear sense of this book that we have and the principles and priorities that produced it.

And these topics are discussed and made explicit in the volumes of the Prayer Book Studies.

I have signed a contract with Church Publishing to produce a digital edition of the full series. Exactly how they will be gathered and distributed is a marketing decision, and not entirely in my hands. Nonetheless, the goal is to produce the complete text containing footnotes (and introducing editorial footnotes where I think something needs to be added or clarified) for the reflection and edification of the church.

Want to know why a text was chosen? Check here first.

Want to understand the reason for a rubric? Check here first.

Want to get a better sense of why we do what we do? Check here first…

We plan to move quickly on this. I’ve already begun the first series, and PBS 1-3 are in the hands of the good folks at CPG. I intend to finish the first series (Prayer Book Studies I-XVII) by the early summer; I don’t know what that means exactly for a release date, but I hope not too long after that. I plan to blog as I go, sharing some of the gems I discover, and whetting your appetites for the arrival of the full set.

(Work on the Psalms book still continues, albeit at a sluggish pace, and will be back on the front burner when this is done…)

So—check back frequently for more updates, ask me if you don’t see any, and keep me in your prayers as I work to make this great set of resources available for the church!