Prayerbook Appreciation: Core Principles

Building on my previous post and the 3 axioms stated there, I’d like to talk out loud about how to maintain a consistent and coherent method of using the BCP.

I’ll confess, not everybody needs to do this… For some this may well be a very simple exercise—do what the book says. For me, as for many Anglo-Catholics, it’s not so easy. We know the richness and depth possible in the Western liturgy. At the same time, the BCP is supposed to be a reformed and streamlined version of the Western liturgy, a revolt against the flowering of excesses that required great and arduous study to perform a theoretically simple liturgy. We don’t really want to go back there—but neither do we want to miss out on what a properly reformed, patristic, catholic, Scriptural  liturgy could be. So, that’s the heart of the problem: can/how do we accomplish that within the bounds of the BCP and in coherence with its intentions?

The first principle must be:

1. Do what the book says when the book says you have to. No omissions, no substitutions.

This is pretty straight-forward. There are a number of items that are simply not optional. Morning Prayer proper starts with some variant of “Lord, open our lips.” Period. Unqualified items printed to be said and direct rubrics should be followed.

You can’t put in your own Creed or Eucharistic Prayer.

You can’t substitute the Confiteor for the Confession of Sin. (dang…)

2. Order matters, and the current shape of the rites should be respected. This especially goes for interpolations.

Furthermore, there’s an order concerning what things must follow what other things. That’s just the way it is—respect it. I’m guilty of offending this one…

As it currently stands the St Bede’s Breviary (hence SBB) interpolates the hymn in its pre-Vatican II place before the antiphon on the Gospel Canticle. However, this offends the shape of the ’79 Daily Office in three ways. First, it disregards that there is a place appointed for the hymn—after the Collects. Second, it interrupts the pattern of reading/canticle/reading/canticle by turning it into reading/canticle/reading/hymn/versicle/canticle. Third, it messes up the parallel structure with Evening Prayer since in the evening it’s reading/hymn/versicle/canticle/reading/canticle.

I think I’ve persuaded myself to put the hymn and accompanying versicle where the book says they ought to be. Which is OK. Having the hymn before the Gospel canticle made a lot of sense in the pre-Vatican II Offices—but it doesn’t function the same way in our Office and even putting it there now doesn’t make it serve that function.

3. The BCP contains intentions about its use;  some of these are explicit, some are apparent, some are only evident through study. Explicit intentions not directed by the rubrics should receive primary consideration. Apparent and the more concealed should be carefully weighed among the other options.

The point here is that not everything in the BCP is presented as law. Some are options or suggested recommendations. A case in point concerns the canticle tables on pp. 144-5. These are explicitly labeled as “Suggestions” but these suggestions reveal some clear intentions about the use of the BCP. For instance, I find these three principles at work:

  • Canticles generally move from OT to NT to Church Compositions. We’ve discussed this plenty on other posts.
  • More Scripture is the general rule… Again, we’ve discussed this before (along with the pros and cons thereof).
  • But, the more traditional options are engaged on Sundays and Feasts. This should be noted. The tradition appealed to is that of the ’28 and earlier BCPs and thus indirectly to Sarum/pre-conciliar practice. The Benedictus and Te Deum are appointed but reversed from their traditional order more in accord with temporal movement noted in the first point.

One of the consistent push-backs from Anglo-Catholic parishes is a half-way adoption of the morning table. That is, the first option is taken, the second is rejected and the Benedictus takes its place as the invariable second canticle in recognition of its foundational place in the pre-conciliar Office of Lauds and as affirmed in its place in the Liturgy of the Hours.

This, then, is one way that the intentions of the BCP have been honored, but where the Historic Western Liturgy has won out. We do have freedom in this matter, and the chosen policy described here is an accommodation of both the suggestion and long-standing practice.

But that brings me to the second canticle table. I’ve never liked this one, but I may be changing my mind. What’s changing my mind has nothing to do with the shape of Evening Prayer in the ’79 BCP but the recognition that this book (at last) includes Compline. As we recall, the classical form of Anglican Evening Prayer/Evensong was formed by the aggregation of the secular Sarum Vespers and Compline. The Magnificat was the invariable canticle for Vespers while the Nunc Dimittis was the invariable canticle for secular Compline (not monastic, I’ll note, which does not employ a canticle).

The change in the ’79 Book is that it is the first American BCP to contain Compline. (The English Deposited 1928 had it as well but no authorized English BCP has contained it either.)

Whither the Nunc Dimittis? If the rule of prayer laid down by the ’79 BCP is to pray all four Offices: Morning, Noon, Evening, and Compline, then it seems fitting that, if four readings are used requiring two canticles at Evening Prayer, it makes sense to utilize the very same adaptation as above: use the first canticle from the table and use the Magnificat as the invariable second canticle, reserving the Nunc Dimittis for its more appropriate place at Compline. (But what to do on feasts and Sundays—put the Nunc first?)

To back up a little, I’d like to emphasize a few things here about these decision-making processes and what they mean for use of the principles. First, parishes make decisions about their practice. Where there is suggestion rather than legislation, the intentions of the BCP are given a primary place but are balanced by other factors that matter to the parish, in this case Anglican practice and the traditions of the Historic Western Liturgy.

4. Where the intention of the BCP is not clear, if the liturgy in question is Rite II, a liturgist’s first recourse should be to the liturgical documents proceeding from Vatican II, particularly the General Norms on the Liturgical Year (PDF), General Instruction of the Roman Missal, and the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours. More general principles are found in Sacrosanctum Concilium, the declaration on the liturgy from Vatican II.

We’re obviously not Roman Catholic  and these documents are not binding on us. But as far as Rite II is concerned, it makes sense to recognize the relationship between Vatican II and the ’79 BCP. Again, I’m not necessarily saying we need to incorporate elements from these rites into our liturgy where the BCP does not have them, rather, these rites lead us to the intentions that may well be present in the BCP.

5. Actual elements to be added should privilege traditional Anglican, pre-conciliar Roman and specifically Sarum sources over Vatican II items, however.

This may seem a little counter-intuitive after the previous principle. The point here is that as much as the liturgical theology of the ’79 BCP participates in the same world-view as Vatican II, this council is not actually part of our Anglican heritage. Pre-Reformation Roman rites are part of our heritage, most specifically the Sarum Rite.

That having been said, this heritage principle must be balanced with what we’ll call the living tradition principle: Sarum’s great but it hasn’t been actually used in worshiping communities for centuries. Those who use it now (or embrace elements of English Use) are not in organic continuity  with Sarum practice. Sometimes continuity with present Roman tradition is a good thing. Clearly when both pre- and post-conciliar uses coincide, (or largely do), then it’s for the best.

Furthermore, when old Anglican and pre-Conciliar Roman materials are used they must be adapted for the current context. Specifically, anything dealing with the liturgical year must factor in the absence of the pre-Lenten season and the reality of the Revised Common Lectionary.

The obvious issues here would be the Minor Propers and the antiphons for the Gospel Canticles. The second is the easier of the two—since the whole point of the antiphon is that it picks up a line from the appointed Gospel, then a new sequence is required. As for the first, well, that goes back to the whole argument over the degree to which the Minor Propers are connected to the readings… I still haven’t made up my mind but am leaning towards using the Propers as determined by Vatican II.

6. Additions/interpolations to be added into the BCP liturgies should be added where directed, added consistently, added following the intentions of the rest of the liturgy, and should, ideally, come from a single source. If not a single source, then the sources to be used should be identified with a clear hierarchy of use.

For instance, page 935 allows the use of psalm and Gospel Canticle antiphons drawn from Scripture. How to go about implementing this?

The most obvious answer is to go back to Roman resources; the problem is that our Offices use the psalms differently. That is, we read through all of the psalms in Morning and Evening Prayer whether you use the new lectionary or the monthly method.  The Roman Little Hours tend to group several psalms under a single antiphon meaning that many of the psalms have their own antiphons but not all. So what’s an Anglican to do? Fill in the missing sections, groups psalms under antiphons (like A Monastic Breviary) or use a new sequence under a different guiding principle (like the English Office)? In the case of the SBB, I chose the latter.

One of Bede’s compositions was an abbreviated Psalter where he took a line or two from each psalm; in the SSB, I use those as the psalm antiphons when the antiphon is ordinary. Psalm antiphon propers come from the Tridentine breviary.

The Gospel Canticle antiphons required a similar decision, I use a modern Roman version for the Sunday antiphons that match with the RCL. Festal antiphons come from the Tridentine. Propers of the Season I compiled myself based on the Little Chapters of the pre-conciliar Office and appropriate lines from the most seasonally appropriate canticles.

7. Once a decision has been reached, use it for at least a season before changing it.

Liturgy must be lived with. When I say season, I don’t mean a set time. Jumping willy-nilly from option to option makes no sense for a community and isn’t that great for individuals either. So, explore the options, think them through, discuss them—especially if you’re going to be foisting them on other people in which case discuss it with them, then be prepared to live with them for a while before going on to the next great thing.

Ok—that’s all I can think of for now. What are your thoughts?

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7 Responses to Prayerbook Appreciation: Core Principles

  1. Scott says:

    Awesome, Derek. I’m going to have to star this post and read it as lectio divina (-ish) and let it sink in. Preliminarily, I do respect anyone who adopts a “BCP-only” stance and doesn’t admit traditional additions; I also respect those who take full advantage of the permissives in the rubrics. Overall, more and more I prefer liturgy to be a “given”: done according to some norms and not at all depending on the latest book read by a worship committee. Hymns might need planning (by the organist and/or choirmaster), and choral works, but other than that, it’s a known quantity and something to be carried out in a known way. Feels like freedom to me, freedom to find what is being given in that given liturgy.

  2. I do agree, Scott. Liturgy does need to be a given.

    As far as additions go, one of the root purposes at work in the SBB is the conviction that current technology gives us the ability to move beyond the limits of print. Thus, the same resource can provide as many and as few additions as possible and integrate them into a single seamless, “flipless,” liturgical experience.

  3. John-Julian,OJN says:

    I think the context in which the Offices are recited makes a big difference, e.g., it would be awkward and difficult to provide Canticle antiphons in an ordinary parish situation — or at least take a considerable bit of training (and running the copier with much frequency).

    Since antiphons make the Office much more “interesting”, it was my first consideration when I was setting up the OJN liturgy. BUT, it meant that our Oblates, in normal parishes, would not be able to recite the same Office as we Regulars — so, I made the decision to do without antiphons (except, of course, for the MP Invitatory). It means that boredom comes more easily — but that is not an entirely bad thing, either!

    But I think your core principals are perfectly tremendous and right on target — and, Lord, what headaches would be prevented if everyone followed them!

  4. adhunt says:

    I’m less than an amateur when it comes to this stuff. But since we are on the topic of ‘additions’ and alterations where appropriate-and you can judge if this is better addressed in a different post or one yet to be written-whatever happened to the practice of hymn writing? I’m thinking myself of how the influence of the Oxford Movement and the Weslyans spread so rapidly by hymn writing. I look at “modern” anglican catholic “movements” such as (the moniker is tiring and becoming useless) “Radical Orthodoxy.”

    Besides the general obtuseness of Continental thought, it seems to me that we could stand to have a couple hymns written and distributed rather than another monograph about the “Nouvelle Théologie.”

  5. Hymn-writing still happens, Tony. It just takes it longer to circulate around to the public consciousness than theological writing. I quite agree with you; I still think it’s a toss-up as to which of the Ritualists has made the greatest impact on the faith in the 20th century: was it Dom Gregory Dix with Shape of the Liturgy or was it John Mason Neale whose translations of the Roman breviary hymns and sequences breathed new life into these venerable texts?

    While you may not have heard their works yet, I’ll note that several of our own here are hymn-writers/translators. May God grant their gifts fall on receptive ears!

  6. You’re right, Fr. John-Julian, context has quite a lot to do with it. And despite what Thorton thought and what I still read from your comrades across the Pond, here the Offices are more often a solitary endeavor than a corporate one. I don’t like it—but it seems to be the current construction of the Church. So if we can easily add in the extras for the individual readers, why not do it?

  7. George says:

    I know this comment comes very late, but it might be useful for some.

    Here, in St-Servais, we use the BCP 1662 daily, with the lectionary of 1871. However, we have supplemented it, in such a manner that would not contradict the BCP itself:
    – We recite or sing the antiphons before psalms: each psalm has its antiphon, with music. From the huge anthology of the Church, we selected those antiphons that contain a Christocentric interpretation of the psalms. On major feasts and their octaves, we use the proper antiphons, but with the psalms of the BCP. (This principle comes from Willibrordus Kemp’s breviary of 1731.)
    – Afterwards, the hymn of vespers, or hymn of mattins (following Sarum), sung in French.
    – The OT reading.
    – Afterwards, Te Deum or Benedicite in the morning, but the Magnificat in the evening, with its antiphon. Each weekday has its antiphon. Proper antiphon for major feasts and their octaves (from Sarum, trad. Roman, or Byzantine rites).
    – The NT reading.
    – Benedictus in the morning (with antiphon, as bellow), or Nunc dim. in the evening, with its usual antiphon.
    – Suffrages, collects, etc., as in the BCP.
    – At this point, we insert either the hymn of compline (in the evening), or the hymn of lauds or hymn of prime (in the morning). All those are from Sarum, sung in French.
    – Litany, or prayers for the clergy & royal (we reverse the order of the BCP, because in Belgium the monarch has no ecclesiastical role), or intercessions.

    In conclusion, there are always antiphons, and always 2 hymns, and the BCP is not contradicted at all, but only supplemented.

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