(A Few of) My Issues with the ’79 BCP

Inspired by Christopher’s musings, here are some of my thoughts on the American ’79 BCP. Yes, it is a product of the immediately post-Vatican II liturgical culture. Yes, many of the things that they did were good. Yes, it is time to re-examine their efforts. No, we have not had enough to to “live into” these liturgies and to think critically about them before doing another prayer book revision.

Certainly we can circulate trial liturgies like EOW and have discussions, but in my estimation, the time is not yet ripe for change.

I’ll lift up today three major issues to continue the conversation that Christopher started. I’ll confess up front, most of my thoughts here will revolve around the Office and its materials. There is more to be said about the Mass liturgies and the other occasional liturgies, but I’m not prepared to comment on them at this time. Too, I’m going to try and keep these more to bullet-points than fully-fleshed out arguments. (But some rambling will inevitably occur…)

1. The Psalter
. I don’t have any huge substantive issues with the translation or poetry of the psalter that currently appears in the BCP. (I do have some minor ones, like that Ps 51:7 must, must begin with an adversitive conjunction! “But” works; “for” does not!) The problem that I do have has to do with the fact that a) there is only one and b) that it is fundamentally a Hebrew psalter.

In regard to a), the lack of a traditional language psalter means that a Rite I service cannot be prayed consistently from this book. Thus, my Rite I Daily Office must necessarily include a Rite II psalter unless I want to book juggle—which I don’t.This lack of a psalter and therefore the lack of a full traditional language rite underscores the fact that Rite I is set up as a transitional rite—it’s a sop thrown to those who prefer traditional language (and structure–and therefore the theology encoded in that structure) and will be disappearing with the next revision.

In regard to b), I’ll need to jump into some history of Bible translation to justify my point. The Bible of the Early Church was the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament with some additions made in Alexandria in the closing centuries of the time before Christ. The writers of the NT worked with the LXX—sometimes referring to either Hebrew or Aramaic if it better communicated their point—but the grand majority of Scripture citations in the NT are from the LXX. The Greek-speaking Eastern churches continued to use it, as they do to this day.

In the West, various people made translations as they were able. And most weren’t very good. Augustine complained about this; Jerome did something about it. In doing his translation work, though, Jerome made a large and decisive break from Church tradition: he decided to translate according to the Hebraica veritas (what would become the Masoretic text [MT]) rather than the LXX. Augustine didn’t like this decision at all, and correspondence survives where they go around on this issue.

Basically, Augustine argues that the Holy Spirit had been at work in the writing of the LXX and that its differences from the MT were because of the Spirit’s unfolding revelation, not corruption or mistranslation. (Jerome disagreed.) I think Augustine may have been unduly influenced by the Letter of Aristeas (which we now believe to be a marketing ploy to increase use and circulation of the LXX above competing versions), but I think that his logic is important to consider from the standpoint of Christian ecclesiology and pneumatology. That is, if the Spirit works through the Church, if the Church is who the Church is because it has struggled with common texts (both of which I believe), then should we use those texts instead of making up an eclectic text or going back to an earlier “unsullied” version? And thus I support on-going study and use of the textus receptus, the KJV, the Vulgate, the Douay-Rheims, even if I disagree on important points with most of the other people who also support them…

So, wait—what does this have to do with the BCP’s psalter? This: Jerome translated the OT of the Vulgate from the Hebrew. But he did the Psalter three different times and the one that stuck was his translation of the LXX. That’s why the psalm numbering of the LXX and the Vulgate disagree with the MT/KJV/RSV/NRSV/etc. Now–enter the Anglicans. When David Myles Coverdale translated his Bible in 1535, he translated it from the Vulgate. Thus, the Psalter in the first BCP was Coverdale’s translation of the Latin which was Jerome’s translation of the Greek. And we’ve been using it ever since…until now. The Psalter of the ’79 prayer book is a break with an almost 2,000 year Christian tradition of using the LXX Psalter in Christian worship. Western (and Eastern!) liturgy and theology flow from the Psalter as much or more than any other book of Scripture. By changing what we use in worship we are alienating ourselves and our liturgical texts from a classic vocabulary which has been continuously shaping catholic Christians of the British Isles from the beginning.

(Ok, that went on longer than I expected…)

2. Variation in the Offices.
The major change between the Office in ’79 Book and its predecessors is the amount of tolerable variation. This occurs most notably in the canticles of Morning Prayer. Classically, we have used the Te Deum, the Benedicite, and the Benedictus. These texts are still present, but are occasional rather than constant. I have a real problem with this because of the formative power of these canticles, especially the Benedictus. The pattern and texture of this canticle has deeply formed Anglicans for centuries. Is there a suitable rationale for watering it down to become one option of several? I’ll give you two for-instances to back me here.

a) Take a look at the General Thanksgiving at the end of the Offices. do you see that phrase “holiness and righteousness” embedded in there? Guess where it’s from… And the more you look for that phrase, the more you’ll find it scattered throughout our prayer book. This is no accident—it’s formation.

b) I was reading a Harry Turtledove sci-fi book a while ago. It was an alternate history work–what if the South had won the Civil War? At the end was a speech from a politician. Turtledove, Jewish–not Anglican, had adapted an actual period speech to fit the circumstances of his novel. I caught my breath when reading it because as it unfolded its form followed, alluded to ,and even directly quoted portions of the Benedictus. It was clear even with Turtledove’s changes that the author had been an Anglican, formed by that text.

3. The Elephant in the Middle of the Liturgy. The greatest failure of the 79 BCP in my estimation is its failure to address the single biggest and most important change to liturgy for centuries. It’s a failure held in common between the Catholic and liturgical Protestant churches; how we address it–whether we address it–will speak volumes for the on-going tale of the liturgy as a vehicle for Christian formation. I speak, of course, of the three-year lectionary.

The heart of the Western one-year lectionary in place up until Vatican II can be traced as far back as our sources will go. One of the earliest surviving lectionaries, the Comes of Murbach, stands as a clear witness to the continuity from the late patristic/early medieval period up until the 1960’s. The Western understanding of the Church Year coalesced around that lectionary. Through centuries, the Church refined the year, its readings, its practices, its ethos, to make it a comprehensive tool for Christian formation. Now–it didn’t teach it well, or make it very accessible to the non-monastic/clerical crowd, but by the end of the early medieval period, this form existed to give incarnate expression to the doctrine of the creeds and the primary religious affections of the Christian life.

Key points of unity which often drew everything together—especially in the festal and fasting seasons–were the collects. That is, language and images from the appointed Gospel or Epistle often make an appearance, helping to bring everything together. I’ll argue that as Anglicanism developed, collects became even more important. If the BCP is the source of our unity and theology, the doctrine and ethos expressed by the collects have a central role in determining how we fill out the theology of the creeds.

But now we have a one-year cycle of collects and a three-year cycle of readings. We are faced with a choice. On one hand, we can let go of the old vision of the unifying power of the liturgical year and choose to move in new directions. On the other, we can adapt the theological and formational logic of the old year to the new system and study and work at introducing a three-year cycle of collects that will once again connect with the Mass lectionary. We have these choices—and I hope and pray that we actually think about them, pray about them, and consciously make a choice one way or the other instead of losing our classical understanding of Christian Time by default.

There’s more to say about these topics—and more topics to raise—but that’s it for now. Thoughts?

42 thoughts on “(A Few of) My Issues with the ’79 BCP

  1. Christopher


    You’ve just hit on a portion of chapter of my disseration btw.

    This is no accident—it’s formation. That’s what I think folks don’t get and misunderstand about the way rite gets in our bones. We are in danger of seriously cutting us off in that way. As I mentioned in a previous post, when I show up at any given Episcopal parish, I can’t count that my parts will be regular anymore. The irony is that though we have a prayerbook, the more you pray it, the more you don’t need the book. On the other hand, by doing something new all the time, we’re pinned to damned bulletins.

    I’ll be honest the variation in the 1979 office simply isn’t tolerable for me. Perhaps it was my first taste of the office at a Benedictine monastery and Roman use thereafter, but there’s just too much to chose from which if one goes for that sort of thing gets me sidetracked from actually praying because I’m too busy making a choice. We stick to the classic canticles.

    I’ll argue that as Anglicanism developed, collects became even more important. If the BCP is the source of our unity and theology, the doctrine and ethos expressed by the collects have a central role in determining how we fill out the theology of the creeds.

    Absolutely. They go hand in glove with the rest of the liturgy in fleshing out our theologies to the most High. Often, they tie us back to the Canon in some way as well…

  2. Derek the Ænglican

    You’ve just hit on a portion of chapter of my disseration btw.

    …And you *will* be sending me a copy of your proposal, right?

  3. Fr Chris

    The variation in the prayerbook, the Novus Ordo Mass, and other post-V2 liturgies is my biggest concern, far bigger than the three-year lectionary. (I’ve finally made my peace with that, more or less, thoguh your description of the gravity of this change is spot-on, Derek.)

    This can be mitigated somewhat in practice. At the TEC parish near me, which I attend every weekday for the Office, we use the traditional canticles from Lauds and Vespers, use the Te Deum for all feast days as the first canticle at Morning Prayer, and always leave the Nunc Dimittis out of Evening Prayer so it’s freed up for Compline. We cycle among only five canticles in the morning on ferias (one for each weekday). So the variable stuff is cut down to just the first morning canticle, which set of suffrages are used (alternating at MP, always B at EP), and the collects and readings.

    Of course, this doesn’t address the larger problem Christopher brings up — at another Anglican parish I might be totally lost. But if a consensus could develop among Episcopalians about how to use the Rite II Office in parishes, some of that could be mitigated without a full-scale revision of the BCP.

  4. Stuart

    I wanted to see what you think of my position Derek, so here is the comment I posted over at Christopher’s blog concerning this issue:

    I used to be a communicant in the Greek Orthodox Church (I’m now an Episcopalian) and my reactions to your “BCP Note” are framed by that experience.

    On any given Sunday, in a Greek Orthodox Church, you will hear many different types of Greek:

    Septuagint Greek Psalms & OT Readings

    Byzantine Greek Troparia etc.

    Koine Greek NT Readings

    A Demotiki Sermon or (if the Bishop is present and wants to be impressive) a Katharevousa (flowery literary Greek) sermon.

    That’s 4 to 5 different types of Greek every week.

    The different types of Greek and their continuity in the liturgies simply reflect the movement of the Church through time.

    In that context, I want to challege the idea that the Psalter and the Office have to be in the same ‘dialect’ of English.

    The linguistic untidiness of the Greek Orthodox liturgy is, I belive, one of its glories. It is an organic connection with the life of the Church militant that is moving and profound.

    I believe this kind of organic connection occurs naturally if Liturgy is left to evolve. For example, I’ve never attended a Rite II Eucharist where they don’t say or chant the Our Father in Rite I language.

    Varieties of English used in the same liturgy might enrich Anglicanism, just as varieties of Greek have enriched Orthodoxy.

    So, I would challenge the notion that having a Psalter not match the Office renders the Office a “vestige.” Use them together, it would simply be a type of normatively Christian glorious untidiness.

    (As a side note, I’ve noticed that Anglicans/Episcopalians identify “matching” and “tidiness” with reverence and good order and can make liturgical assumptions based on that unconscious bias.)

    The Orthodox can be (very) messy but the work of prayer gets accomplished in an amazing way. I think Episcopalians can learn from them to be comfortable with a little more mess.

  5. The Anglican Scotist

    Supposing uniformity in practice should eliminate arbitrary disjunctions of options as far as possible, we still could have a future BCP that contains a number of mini-systems of common prayer: Anglo-catholic “chapters” of common prayer, othe chapters for broad churchers, and others for charimstaic evangelicals, some for Calvinist crypto-Puritans, and so on with say three consecutive GCs being the authority for adding a system.

    Each could have its own psalter, its own offices, its own eucharistic prayers.

    In common we would still have: episcopal and pastoral rites, the collects and the lectionary.

    That way, for instance, communicants from St. Clement’s in Philly could count on the same rite they know being celebrated in other Anlo-catholic parishes.

  6. The Anglican Scotist

    Of course, teh resulting BCP would require several communicants to lug around; we woudl have returned to medieval prolixity and prayer book pluralism.

  7. bls

    This discussion is too technical for me – but I would like to vote for a rewrite of the BCP (not now, but in another 20 years or so) in a new “register.”

    I don’t dislike Rite II, and think that actually sometimes if the words are too “pretty” the content goes unheard, but the language is too “flat” sometimes. I like Rite I is good, but that its language and theology may be reaching its sell-by date just about now.

    In fact, the things I like best in the 1979 come from – you guessed it – the Orthodox liturgies, who really know how to write beautiful-yet-moving prayers. Prayer D, the Phos, the language in the Burial Rite – all are splendid. And all are in totally comprehensible modern English – so this is completely doable.

  8. Fr Chris

    Anglican Scotist —

    Unfortunately, there’s too much liturgical diversity within the different groups you mention for that to work. I can’t think of another Anglo-Catholic parish in the entire United States where a regular communicant of S Clement’s would feel at home — they are very committed to the Tridentine Rite and careful attention to rubrics and ceremonial. Within that same A-C universe, you’ve got missal parishes that use the Tridentine Rite but are less elaborate, Rite I parishes, even Rite II parishes that use the old ceremonial and traditions like Benediction but contemporary language. Even within a particular parish, there will be people who strongly favor one tradition or another on any number of small points.

    I do think the root of what you’re talking about is sensible, though. The ’79 BCP has the feel of mix-and-match — trying to incorporate elements from traditional prayer books, the Anglo-Catholic tradition, the Eastern tradition, evangelical tradition, etc., all in one book with lots of options. Better in my opinion to have fewer options but tolerate differences of ceremonial and emphasis so that all those different traditions can still thrive.

  9. Marshall Scott

    I have said somewhere – I’ve lost track of where, I fear – that much of the problem with the 1979 contemporary liturgy isn’t banality, but presentation.

    There is, I think, another theme under the choices available in the 1979 Book, in addition to re-embracing older Eastern liturgies in our Anglican antiquarianism. The choices emphasize the teaching function of the liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer in a way that I fear many clergy ignore. We have argued we Anglicans and Episcopalians are not confessional because we express the Christian faith as we have received it in the Prayer Book – the whole Prayer Book. No one rite can be expected to express the fullness of the Gospel, much less the fullness of the faith (to distinguish essentials from adiaphora, but our adiaphora, the stuff we cherish). So, we were provided in 1979 with choices, with an expectation we would actually use all of them in some sensible way.

    That becomes a tension: repetition sustains formation; but formation should be about the whole of the faith, and so requires more than we can contain in one event, and so variety. Too, variety can bring about anxiety, discomfort; but anxiety and discomfort are critical motivators of growth and learning. So, isn’t this a way in which we are called, judiciously, do discomfort the comfortable?

    Long ago, in a ministry far, far away, I was actually responsible for designing the services for a normal congregation (to the extent a university setting can provide a normal congregation). For several years in Epiphany and Pentescost seasons, and to a lesser extent in Lent and Eastertide, I varied the Eucharistic prayer month by month. So, for four or five Sundays the congregation experienced the same Eucharistic prayer. I always used A or B at the beginning of a season and for feasts and fasts so as to emphasize the Proper Preface; but as the season progressed I would do the rotation. Over time, members became aware of all four Eucharistic prayers, and of the nuances each brought to our understanding of the faith.

    So, for all our appropriate desire for “common prayer,” there may well be value in not abandoning too soon our variety. This is not to say I would embrace what I’m hearing (and yes, so far it’s hearsay) about the new Evangelical Lutheran Worship….

  10. Derek the Ænglican

    Stuart, that’s an interesting point. Out of curiosity, what degree of the various Greeks are understood by the average congregant? I understand that there are some rather major differences between Modern Greek and Koine.

    You’re quite right–I do see “matching” and “consistency” as part of “decent and in good order”.

    There’s also something going on here that cuts close to the heart of the connections between language, tradition, and the tradition’s integrity and authenticity. I wonder how appropriate it would be to read a modern Greek version of the Psalter in Orthodox worship. Is that fine or would it be regarded as anathema? I really don’t know the answer–but I would guess the second. The reason I’d guess it is because of the Orthodox dogma that Orthodox doctrine has not and does not change. Strictly speaking, this is a useful fiction but it’s a possible fiction because of the notion of the continuity of language. As a result, preserving the original dialects serves a theological purpose in that it reinforces the notion that nothing has—or ever will—change.

    By same token, the Western churches have a difference sense of tradition precisely because we are aware that we are a translated tradition. Consider as a counter-example what I refer to as “the Clementine Horror” when the Renaissance Pope Clement VIII had a team of Jesuits “correct” the ancient breviary hymns from their early medieval Latin to the match the Augustan mode preferred by the learned of the day.

    So to summarize–the maintenance of different dialects serves a theological purpose that speaks to the immutability of the tradition in Greek Orthodoxy. We, on the other hand, have maintained that worship should be both intelligible by the people (at least the “right” people speaking of pre-VII Roman traditions…) and beautiful–however that gets defined.

    As a side-note, I like the connection to the Communion of the Saints through language and that’s another reason to prefer Rite I of the collects–you can still see shifts between periods of English in the retained texts (if you know what you’re looking for) that have been flattened out in the Rite II versions.

    Um, Scotist, what would be the point? Various groups would get what they want but what they would *all* lose is *Common Prayer*–which is the point of the whole exercise anyway. The problem Christopher, Fr. Chris, and others are pointing to is that this fragmentation is already happening as a result of the options in the ’79 book and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

    bls, yes, contemporary language can (and should) be beautiful too. But it takes work and attention. And it means reading English that hasn’t tried to strip out things like alliteration, internal meter, etc. like so much of our modern prose. Ask Caelius–one of the first requirements for an academic paper is that it be the most torturous deadened form of the English language one can muster… ;-) In short, it take both work and poetry.

  11. Derek the Ænglican

    Marshall+, you posted while I was writing my tome-length comment…

    Again, poetry–which is more than just the words on the page. Some presiders can find it in a phone-book–others can’t find it in the collected works of Shakespeare… :-)

    I forget if you’re a cradle Episcopalian or not–if so, what was your experience of formation and variety with regard to the ’28 book? Do you think it was too narrow?

    I will remind folks that even within a single approved rite, there has always been a certain amount of variation favored by the various Anglican camps. Exhibit A would be the Directorium Anglicanum which laid out how to both follow the rubrics and catholicize the 1662 BCP…

  12. Michelle


    You write: “We, on the other hand, have maintained that worship should be both intelligible by the people (at least the “right” people speaking of pre-VII Roman traditions…) and beautiful–however that gets defined.”

    Did it occur to you that particularly to younger people, Rite I language is not very “intelligible”? Or at the very least, not beautiful. As a medievalist, your perspective is not that of the average person. Likewise, cradle Episcopalians in their 40s and older will feel more comfortable with it because that is what they grew up with. So do we want language that is preferred by the masses or just the right people?

    Btw, you never answered my question on heavenfield….

  13. John-Julian, OJN

    A few years ago, a hitherto “unchurched” professor of English Literature joined my parish – noting especially that what had primarily motivated him was the beauty of the Liturgy and its language – especially the Psalter. (We used Rite II exclusively and did NOT use all the alternative bits/canticles/prayers-of-people/etc.)

    Months later he asked, “What is this I hear about an ‘old Prayer Book’?”

    I mention this because it demonstrates that we are still very much “in transition” — and intelligent and sensitive people who have no memory of 1928 with which to compare are often quite satisfied with the “literature” and “theology” of 1979 Rite II.

    I’d like to see the exclusion of the multiple alternatives. There would still be various local use (as in the olden days), but there would be a more reliable “common home” for all.

    What really flips me off is the massive (and ever-growing) crop of approved “experimental” liturgies for “life transitions” — some of which I can hardly read without laughing out loud. (I always wanted to suggest additional liturgies for things like “Completion of Toilet-Training” or “Initial Wet Dream” or “First Dent in Dad’s Car”.)

  14. Marshall Scott


    I’m not a cradle Episcopalian. I came into the Episcopal from the United Presbyterian Church (at that time better known as the “northern” church) as an adolescent. What first appealed to me was liturgy – really, chanting the canticles. (I come from a “stiff upper lip” culture and family, and have been able to access my own emotions most readily when singing.) I came in using 1928 with the Green Book available. I used the Zebra Book and the Blue Book, and was in seminary between First and Second Readings of the 1979 Book. I was trained in seminary to use the 1928 Book as well, and was in a congregation that did so for my three years as an Associate – every Sunday morning at 0730, as well as periodic funerals.

    My own reflection on formation with the 1928 Book? I don’t remember it being specifically important. Perhaps it’s because I only came to it in the transition of reform. However, I think it’s because it wasn’t so different in tone from anything else. Remember that everyone was in process of reform at that point; and what came before sounded an awful lot like the Episcopal Prayer Book, whatever the church (with the exception of the Pentecostal churches, perhaps). Methodists, Presbyterians (heirs of the Puritans), and even Baptists (heirs of the Separatists) tended to model the tone and language of liturgy on ours.

    What was different in liturgy was chanting, and to some extent exposure to the Apocrypha (again, if you think about it, primarily in the canticles). But, no, once I’d become accustomed, I don’t recall thinking that much about the words themselves.

    On the other hand, the new rites did require some thought. Now, this was supported by clergy who supported Prayer Book renewal, and by a parish context open to study (they even let a precocious adolescent attend the Adult Christian Education instead of the insipid High School class).

    To some extent now that is a value I find in moving back and forth between Rite I and Rite II (which, as a supply priest, I find myself doing with some frequency). Reflecting on the difference between “transgression” and “sin;” or between using or not using “Comfortable Words;” are points at which I’m thinking about the faith as this Church has received it, and my place in it.

    But, then, I’ve been told I am sometimes too much “in my head”….

    By the way, John, I kind of like the new prayer when a child moves from crib to a “big kid bed.” My kids are now in their 20’s, but I still remember that transition well.

  15. The Anglican Scotist


    But when was there ever common praywer in the sense you advocate that people actually wanted?

    You can force people who do not want to worship in a certain manner by threatening their good standing as citizens, a la Tudor and Stuart England and parts of pre-Revolution colonial America where the CoE was established. The contemporaray analogue would be threatening communicant status from the diocesan level, say, via suitable amended canond for attending charismatic Episcopal services. But that is not what you are envisioning as an ideal.

    On the other hand, merely having one stripped down text–which is all you seem to be really talking about–is not going to imply common worship. And it has not historically speaking either, at any time in teh history of Anglicanism.

  16. Christopher

    Two others things:

    Has anyone here attempted to compose a collect? It’s a difficult exercise requiring more than theological acumen alone, but rather poetical sensibility, which is closer to liturgical sensibility, if it’s going to be a decent collect worthy of using ever again.

    Before anyone goes mucking with anything else, write a few collects and pause to notice how much time it took.

    The same goes for composing good Prayers of the Church. Unlike some, I often prefer the standard prayers, as too many of the composed prayers tend to get preachy.

    And a few collects by William Reed Huntington written for the proposed revisions in 1992 were rejected for 1892 but included in 1928. The timing and type of change is important. Go slow. Don’t do too much at once. Let prayers have some time to be considered before making them public.


    I think the variety which attended use of 1928 shows how a common prayer book can accomodate a range of sensibilities and theological differences within one roof. There is a distinction made by liturgists between text and what we call in our jargon, beyond the text or ritual articulation. The fact is I can walk into almost any Episcopal parish in my diocese and not know what to expect in terms of parts I should know as a member of the lay order, parts that have traditionally been quite consistent. It undoes how things get in our bones so that I can look at a sunset and think “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace…”

  17. Michelle


    I have composed a few collects for a couple of saints I like which are not in our calendar (or the CoE calendar), or have a very generic collect in our LFF. I prefer for saints collects to have a little personality.

    I admit they are still works in progress and it does take a lot to time. I tend to fiddle with them for a long time before I’m happy. Anyway, its a nice challenge.

  18. Fr Chris

    Michelle —

    I really question the “younger people” objection, which I hear in relation to just about every aspect of traditional liturgy I love. In my experience as a twenty-something priest (admittedly outside the Episcopal Church, but I know tons of younger Episcopalians), it’s young people who eat that stuff up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat through liturgy meetings listening to how “the young people” want guitars and tambourines in the liturgy. That turns my generation off big-time, and it’s often fiftysomething baby boomers who want that.

    The same goes for traditional language. I wouldn’t say the majority of churched gen-y/millennials appreciate and understand Rite I/Coverdale/thee-thou language, but a far greater percentage of us do than you find among people who grew up in the 60s. I personally use Rite II language most of the time, but I learned to pray the Office and say Mass according to the Anglican Breviary and Anglican Missal, and I’d go to the barricades (figuratively speaking) to ensure that that idiom remains a live option among Catholic Christians (including Episcopalians).

  19. Stuart


    As to your questions.
    Simply hazarding a guess, without a specialized education, the average Greek Orthodox communicant would not understand the Koine of the NT or the Septuagint Greek of the OT and Psalms. When it came to the texts in Byzantine Greek, I believe it might be the same relationship that a modern English speaker would have with the Canterbury Tales. You might miss some of the words but you can get a general sense.

    In terms of the introduction of modern languages into the liturgies of Orthodoxy, that is an accepted and ongoing process here in the United States. The Orthodox Church in America often prays entirely in modern English with a few Kyries thrown in now and again.

    For the Greeks it’s more complicated not because of theological issues but because of cultural ones. The Greeks in America want to maintain their connections to “Hellenism,” and maintaining the language is a part of that.

    But most suburban Greek congregations increasingly use English at least to some extent and sometimes almost entirely.

    On the bad side, many Orthodox Churches in the US adopted things piecemeal from the Western Churches in ways that are not gloriously tidy: I’m speaking primarily of pews and organs. There’s nothing more gruesome than Byzantine Chant to an organ unless, of course, it’s Anglican Chant. (Evil Grin)

    You are characterizing the Orthodox sensibility in a way that I never heard in seminary. (I did my M.Div. at Union in NYC then went off to St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in Crestwood. An odd combo, I know.) I was never taught at St. Vladimir’s that doctrine never changes. Orthodoxy is not the adoption of a body of knowledge that makes a person, “orthodox.” That notion is one of the things that used to frustrate the Greek Bishops I met, they always felt that “westerners” were making a kind of bare propositionality the heart of Orthodoxy when it’s not.

    For Orthodoxy, theology is the articulation of a literal vision of God. So it’s not faith seeking understanding like Anselm in the West, rather it’s divine revelation seeking articulation through a chosen individual. That’s why Gregory the Theologian isn’t a description of a job, but an affirmation that he directly experienced God and communicated what he learned from that communion.

    I was taught at St. Vladimir’s that many can learn theology (the vision articulated before them), but few will be theologians (be granted divine self-disclosure).

    So Orthodox doctrine can, will, and does develop. But anyone, fearfully and humbly, who engages in true Theology and whose teaching therefore will “go out to the ends of the Universe” must prepare to have his vision severely tested by the Church in a way that may take decades, will definitely cause intense suffering and division and may require an Ecumenical Council to settle. Look what Maximus the Confessor went through. Or Athanasius. Or even Gregory missing cosmopolitan life in Nyssa. That’s one sign they’re Theologians. Martyria may be inseparable from Theology, but I’m not competent to say.

    So it’s not that Orthodox doctrine doesn’t develop, it’s just S L O W to develop and when accepted by the Orthodox is orthodox because it’s Orthodox. Tautological but true.

    I do feel it’s unwise, since I have abandoned communion with Orthodoxy, to try to explain its sensibility. I’m now an Episcopalian, open to theological diversity and received by a Woman bishop.

    But part of what interests me about your Blog and Christopher’s blog is how deeply you are fed by the Western liturgical tradition. I loved it so much at one time, but I miss so much about Orthodox worship.

    The Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese has a Western Rite community. (A DEVELOPMENT in Orthodoxy that is intensely controversial.) I sometimes wish the Episcopal Church would authorize an Eastern Rite III liturgy and that a few Anglo-Orthodox parishes would spring up.

    I used to mock the Uniates when I was still Orthodox but now that I’m in the Western Church, an inclusive Byzantine community would be a wonderful thing.

    So there, Derek, a long winded answer to your question.

  20. Derek the Ænglican

    I don’t buy the intellibility argument for a second. I can only think of a few select cases where the vocabulary could trip some one up–like the classical meaning of “prevent”–but someone who thought about it would notice something odd and could probably catch it from context. Furthermore–I’m not suggesting imposing traditional language on anyone. I just prefer that it remain a live option.

    Fr. John-Julian,
    Your comments are dangerous to read at work–I did in fact LOL at the recommendations. M and I had a fun evening mocking those same liturgies a while ago.

    Nothing beats sound parish education as far as I’m concerned; sounds like you were lucky to find it.

    From 1549 to 1978.

    Yes, I have composed collects–quite a few in fact. As I begin my classes with prayer (Usually one from the prayerbook), I like to surprise the Methodists every once in a while by praying a spontaneous collect–to let them know that all spontaneous prayer need not include the words, “Well, Father God, I just wanna…” And yes, Michelle, I use traditional language. Which pleasantly surprises my more rural Baptist and most of my African-American students who are steeped in that language.

    Memorizing lots of collects is the key imo…

    Thank you for your reply. All of my first-hand knowledge of Orthodoxy comes from formerly Protestant converts which may explain the rhetoric with which I’m familar. (Except that time I almost burned down the Greek cathedral in Columbus…)

    There’s a lot to be said for the S L O W development of theology. And that’s one of the reasons I think we need to wait for another prayer book revision…

    The Eastern heritage of Anglicanism is an interesting issue. While Prayer D makes a start in this direction more exloration remains to be done here.

  21. Christopher


    The question about collects wasn’t mostly for you but for folks like the Scotist who seems to argue from extreme cases and minimal requirements which are not how Anglicans decide what is normative for worship.

    Believe it or not, extemporaneous praying is actually more uniform than formal prayers. Well, Lord, we just wanna…nearly lost the coffee there

  22. Christopher

    Our Eastern heritage is complex. Cranmer drew from Eastern liturgies in his reforms, but always pruned to a particular theological perspective and a sober vision, which is something of the ethos of Anglican worship, though I understand, English worship pre-reform could be quite florid.

  23. Derek the Ænglican

    Floridity in liturgical language is a phase that we have passed through a number of times in the past and no doubt will again. As you read through the classic Latin liturgies you’ll note some times and places where “noble simplicity” seems to be the rule, others when ornatus is the rule of the day. You can even see this in the English collect through time… (This would be the perfect moment to produce some ready examples–but none jump readily to mind… Compare some of the 1549 collects to those of the American ’28, though, and you may well see what I mean.)

  24. Stuart

    Derek, I have an Anglo-Orthodox Liturgy for Good Friday. If you are interested and have an email link you’re willing to share I can send it to you for your analysis and criticism.

  25. Derek the Ænglican

    Stuart, I’d love to take a look at that. My email address is in the second box from the top on the sidebar.

    lukacs–you’re *crazy*!

  26. Derek the Ænglican

    Well, I’m glad *somebody* appreciated the David Coverdale reference; it just had to be done… :-D

    You gotta love armchair liturgy battles, bls. And I’ve noticed that WordPress seems to only have a limited number of emoticons that it’ll produce.

  27. Derek the Ænglican

    Send? No, we’ll just pick one up next time we drop by Rosemont. We’ve been tempted in the past but never had the cash at the right time…

    I’ve been lusting after one of those combo 28/KJV’s since LutherPunk got one.

  28. lukacs

    It’s sweet. If you really want a workout, look for a combination 1662 BCP and set of 1922 Revised Lessons for Matins and Evensong. The lessons are epic.

  29. Derek the Ænglican

    Oh that reminds me… a while ago I put together a pdf of the 1549/early 1662 reading schedule that printed front & back fit on two tri-fold pages suitable for Bible bookmarks… I should post that.

    I actually like that schedule and its comprehensiveness. What I don’t like about it is its complete disregard for the liturgical year.

  30. Nurse Rached

    I have Massey Shepherd’s 1950s-era commentary on the USA 1928 BCP. Shepherd ofers theological reflection and some historical background on the western one-year lectionary an the collects. Can you recommend a book or other sources which delve more into the history of this old lectionary and the collects? It is my observation that increasing the amount of scripture read on Sundays hasn’t made the laos (by aural osmosis) more wise theologically and it hasn’t increased the quality of homiletics (sermon quality is, IMHO, in a state of decline). I confess that I use the 28 book for daily office and on major feasts I add a private service of ante-comunion (when I am hindered from attending the Myteries). More (in terms of scripture quantity) is not ”better.” I am quite a liberal old gal. The 28 book isn’t synonymous with conservatism or membership in the GOP. I like the old psalter and love the one-year lectionary. The Canadians and others were wise to keep their old BCP and create new texts in an alternative servies book. We lost something when TEC discarded the 28 book – a sense of connection with our past. Sad… tsktsk…
    Mildred Rached, RN
    Please email if you can recommend any books about the old one-year lectionary!

  31. trueanglican

    I am a “cradle” (almost, baptized and confirmed at 12) Episcopalian now in his 70s who grew up nourished by the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the Anglican Missal and the American Missal. I am now so thoroughly imbued by the 1979 BCP that I automatically respond with the wrong thing at a Rite 1 service when I hear “The Lord be with you.” And I belong to a congregation that sings the contemporary language Our Father every Sunday.

    Derek, I’m not sure you understand we Americans had already done considerable tinkering with the Coverdale Psalter with the issuance of the ’28 BCP. The Coverdale Psalter is a masterpiece, and I would like to own a copy of it unimproved. But if the 1662 Psalter is published in a separate volume, even in England, I haven’t been able to locate a copy of it.

    However, I think you’re just plain wrong when you argue that western Christians prayed the LXX Psalter until the translation used in the ’79 BCP appeared. Vast numbers of non-Anglican English-speakers prayed the Psalms out of the KJV for centuries. That’s a translation from the Hebrew.

    It’s a tiny little crowd of us who know that the 23rd Psalm actually opens: “The LORD is my shepherd; therefore can I lack nothing.”

    Frankly, I think the creation of the Rite 1 eucharistic liturgy and offices was a mistake. We would have been much better off, and avoided many unpleasant wars of the last century, by simply authorizing the 1928 BCP for continued use as long as anyone wanted to use it. Despite the nonsense spouted by Peter Toon and others, the doctrines espoused by 1928 and 1979 are identical.

    And for me, I gag every time I encounter Rite 1’s excision of “that our bodies may be made clean by his body and our souls washed through his most precious blood” from the Prayer of Humble Access. For those of you who don’t know, that phrase bit the dust because Massey Shepherd thought it was bad theology. Bad theology maybe… but darn good poetry.

    I don’t understand your comment about the canticles. The suggested pattern of canticles for Morning Prayer provides that the Benedictus, the Benedicite and the Te Deum each be said at least once weekly. And as I recall, the ’28 book offered alternative psalms for the canticles and no suggested pattern of use.

  32. Derek the Ænglican

    WordPress just ate a long comment on this…

    trueanglican–I didn’t claim all English-speaking Christians, did I? catholic Christians of the British Isles seems pretty accurate to me.

    The ’79 and the ’28 do have different theologies. Language matters. What we say matters. How we say what we say matters. Rite I and the ’28 are different–and I prefer Rite I (though I do prefer the original Prayer of Humble Access as well).

    With the canticles it’s about the frequency of repetition. I do like having other canticles available and respect Galley’s method of arranging them–but even he consistently kept the Benedictus as the second canticle. (For those unfamiliar, he used a rotation among the new OT canticles for the first, leaving the 2nd invariable.)

    Nurse rached, The most accessible to the non-specialist (and easiest to get a hold of…) that I can think of on the one-year lectionary is by a Roman Benedictine named Baudot called The Lectionary: Its Sources and History available as a large, free PDF download.

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  34. Thomas Viola

    Does anyone know where one might find a ’28 book with the daily lessons of any pre-’79 lectionary published within? If anyone has such a book, might you post the basic info on it here so I’ll have something to go on as I comb through eBay and other used book sites? Thanks.

  35. Thomas Viola

    Derek, thank for your reply. And if you’ll indulge one more question: I followed the link you posted for Nurse Rached about the one-year lectionary, good stuff. Do you have any other recommendations (books, essays, etc.) on the study of lectionaries, maybe especially as concerns the Book of Common Prayer? I’m especially interested in the various revisions and variations you can find in the 1662 book, as well as the various pre-’79 American books. Thanks again, and thanks for your site.

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