Category Archives: Prayer Book

PBS I-XIV

The end of the school year for two different schools has happened for me. That’s been rough, but we’re through it now…

Here’s a quick update on where the Prayer Book Studies digitization project goes. I have now finished Prayer Book Studies volumes I through XV. (Well, almost—there’s still a bit to do on XII, but I’m ignoring that for now.)

This is an important point to stop and make on observation on this collection.

Looking back, it’s clear that PBS I-XIV form a fairly coherent theological and liturgical unit. This body of material goes through all of the main rites and sections of the prayer book and reflects work done since the 1940’s but published in the span between 1950 (with PBS I) and 1959 (with PBS XIV) following the authorization of the series at General Convention in 1949. One of the clear signals of the coherence is that every single one of these volumes begins with an identical preface laying out the premise of the work. Furthermore, that preface makes clear that the work incorporated here did not begin in the 1940’s but, rather, consists on unresolved work and discussions that began in the 19-teens and that did not fully make it into the 1928 BCP:

The last revision of our Prayer Book was brought to a rather abrupt conclusion in 1928. Consideration of it had preoccupied the time of General Convention ever since 1913. Everyone was weary of the long and ponderous legislative process, and desired to make the new Prayer Book available as soon as possible for the use of the Church.

But the work of revision, which sometimes has seemed difficult to start, in this case proved hard to stop. The years of debate had aroused widespread interest in the whole subject: and the mind of the Church was more receptive of suggestions for revision when the work was brought to an end than when it began. Moreover, the revision was actually closed to new action in 1925, in order that it might receive final adoption in 1928: so that it was not possible to give due consideration to a number of very desirable features in the English and Scottish revisions, which appeared simultaneously with our own. It was further realized that there were some rough edges in what had been done, as well as an unsatisfied demand for still further alterations.

The materials we find in PBS I-XIV center around the work of three men, the liturgy professors of the central Episcopal seminaries of the day: Bayard Jones, Morton Stone, and Massey Shepherd, Jr. While Jones died in 1957, the work he had done in the decades prior was still fully incorporated up through PBS XIV.

The overwhelming impression that I get while I go through these documents is of a committee, anchored by these three, that does its work in a careful and thorough fashion. A great deal of thought, discussion, and argument has gone into this work. There are references to earlier liturgical tomes—often those written by one or more of the three—as well as great attention to the sources of antiquity, with a tremendous amount of weight placed on the Apostolic Constitutions (as one might expect in this period of liturgical history).

Nowhere does this stand out more than in the two heftiest and most involved volumes of the collection, PBS IV (On the Eucharist) and PBS IX (On the Calendar). Both of these studies involve searching looks at the past, and an extremely careful survey of the current situation in the Anglican family. I see frequent off-handed and usually silent references to the great minds of the English revision efforts just after the turn of the 20th century. Indeed, it is impossible to read the volume on the Calendar without feeling the tremendous influence of Walter H. Frere’s writing.

The work is careful, thorough, fairly conservative, and completely in touch with sources. I believe I’ve remarked on this before on this blog, but it is worth repeating again: virtually all of the sanctoral collects in PBS XII (Propers for Minor Holy Days) are based on pre-existing collects that have been adapted, tweaked, and modified to be appropriate. Nobody is making stuff up off the top of their heads. Furthermore, this judicious source-based approach was taken up after a test and failure of a “biographical collect” trial run. [As should be well-known to students of our Calendar, this approach and body of work was complete scrapped in 1980 with the triumphal (?) return of the “biographical collect”…]

Furthermore, after PBS XIV we see a shift in the contents of the series. PBS XV is not, actually—despite the name—a volume of study on the prayer book. Instead, coming in 1961 in anticipation of that year’s General Convention, it is a plea. Having established that prayer book revision has been at work in many of the other churches of the Anglican Communion, it has proceeded in those places on the principle of “trial use”: testing stuff out rather than legislative line-editing. Shepherd writes:

For the past three General Conventions (1952, 1955, and 1958) the Standing Liturgical Commission has offered with its report to the Convention a resolution seeking an amendment to Article X of the Constitution that would set up the possibility of trial use in any forthcoming revision of the Prayer Book. This resolution has been defeated in all three Conventions.

The volume is, essentially, a direct appeal to the broad body of General Convention, especially the House of Deputies, for passing a measure that would make trial use possible.

After the publication of PBS XV (which came out 3 years after PBS XIV), PBS XVI would not be published until two years later (1963) and PBS XVII does not appear until 1967. Beginning with these two publications and continuing through the rest, two things happen with the Prayer Book Studies series as a whole. First, the PBS publications begin reworking earlier material (PBS XVI is a re-working of the Calendar material; PBS XVII is a reworking of the Eucharistic material from PBS IV). Second, the studies begin engaging with changes coming from the Roman Catholic world. While the earlier volumes showed influence from the Ecumenical Movement , the great sea-change had not yet occurred. As you’ll note from the date span (1950-1959), this early body of work occurs before the single biggest bombshell of twentieth century liturgics: the reforms of Vatican II.

There is a definite shift in character between the First Series—those denoted with Roman numerals, comprising PBS I-XVII—and the Second Series—those denoted with Arabic numerals, comprising 18-29. I’ll say more about that as I get into them. However, I did want to note this moment, this turn, with a simple observation.

One way to think about the movement we see in the Prayer Book Studies volumes is that this First Series represents a view of prayer book revision that seeks to complete work left undone in the 1928 revision. Although it draws in ecumenical sources and is influenced by the Ecumenical Movement and work by Roman Catholic scholars, it comes from a profoundly and intentionally Anglican perspective.

And I think that’s where I’ll leave it for now: Prayer Book Studies volumes I through XIV represent an Anglican extension of revisions not yet completed for the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

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!