Clarifying Confusion: An open letter from Jefferies to Keane

Dear Mr. Keane —

You wrote that you were confused by my comments, so I wanted to make an effort at public clarification.

First, as a general proviso: In the podcast interview with Fr. Gerry, I was (as you noted) speaking off the cuff, not only that but also with an awareness of who I perceived his primary listener-base to consist in: younger Anglicans, new(er) to the tradition. I perceived it to be a place to speak in general terms, painting with a broad, celebratory brush for the newly minted BCP 2019, using vocabulary and idiom that is regnant today, even if it is imprecise (“little ‘c’ catholic”) for the theologian or liturgical scholar. In writing and in most other venues, I would speak more carefully, when I knew the precision would be welcomed. So when I gave an interview to the Living Church, where I know the readership is very liturgically informed (as it is also on the North American Anglican website), I was careful to point out that, when viewed on the dissection table, the BCP 2019 is un-apologetically an inheritor of the 1979 BCP and the Liturgical Movement it participated in. See my comments here: https://livingchurch.org/2019/07/01/acna-marks-10th-anniversary-with-new-prayer-book/

So, in order to clarify a few things, let me state more clearly what I intended to communicate on the Via Media podcast:

First of all, to address two simple mistakes I made:

1) I was wrong about the benedictus qui venit being optional in the BCP 2019 — I was recalling a proposed amendment that had it to be optional, and we asked the REC and lower-church representatives at the table if this was still a felt battle-ground as it was in the 19th century, and they said that it was not, that the weight of that issue had washed away with the passage of time. Since there were no present objections to it, at the central committee table, the rubric making it optional was not deemed necessary. I momentarily forgot the final outcome of this in my remarks.

2) Filtered as it was through my greater familiarity with 1979 and 1928, I realize now that the 1662 language concerning prayers for the dead was not quite as strong as I was remembering, though as Jacob Hootman pointed out in his article, it IS there, in a characteristically subtle Anglican way, in the burial collect that begins  “Almighty God,  with whom do live the spirits of them that depart hence in the Lord….” This collect has been understood by no less than John Cosin (a guiding hand in the 1662 revision) as being a specific prayer for the departed. This understanding was highlighted by the renewed attention given to this question in the 19th century. I admit fully that the BCP 2019 (like the 1928) expands generously on this, to a degree that makes it substantially different than 1662, but I do not think it fair to say that the 1662 knows nothing of prayers for the departed. Also, I had this theological issue (prayers for the departed) chiefly in mind when I said in the podcast that the 2019 BCP is “sort of halfway between 1662 and 1928” — in that for the required Prayers that are a part of the Holy Communion liturgy, the language is not as full-bore as the 1928’s language (“…continual growth in thy love and service”) nor so subtle as the 1662 burial collect, but somewhere in the middle.

Having cleared these away, let me say generally about my comments to Fr. Gerry: When I spoke about the 1662 being a “north star” I chiefly meant so theologically. That when the meaning of words sat atop contested theological ground, again and again the BCP 2019 defaults to the very words that 1662 utilized. (Also, contrary to Hootman’s claim, the 1662 does know of the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist, by keeping from the medieval mass the Te Igitur: “…this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving”)

Along with this lexical reliance, the animating spirit which led to the creation of the 1662 BCP (as you say, at many junctures, but famously at Savoy) was one of conciliation, moderation, and peace-keeping. The 2019 BCP tried to keep as many people “on board” as possible, remembering that the ACNA is constituted by Canadians, REC, the Diocese of Fort Worth, AND a mission-minded C4S0. Moreover, we live in a post-Gorham controversy world, where lower views of Holy Baptism are very common in 21st century Anglicanism. Thus the language — every word, tense, and piece of punctuation — was agonized over, so that as many schools of permitted theological opinion (of which, there are as many as there are commentaries on the Thirty-Nine Articles) could pray these prayers with integrity. Some priests and theologians might explain the prepositions in the sacramental rites as causative, some as promissory, but in either case, we can all pray the same prayers. This was the theological genius of 1662. That it could be approved both by John Cosin AND Richard Baxter, even though these two men had very different theological convictions; Indeed, the 1662 is clearly what we might with hindsight call a via media between those who emphasized the reformed aspect of their reformed catholicity, and those who emphasized the catholic heritage within that same description.

When I said that BCP 2019 is “essentially” 1662 — I meant in spirit, and in theological phrasing and at times, even intentional ambiguity. I did not mean it resembles the 1662 in form. I hope that this clears up some of your bewilderment — that I was speaking about theological content, not of liturgical form. I can understand that if my words were to be taken in the sense of form, then indeed, it would be hard to see what was the ground of my claim. Let me be clear on that ground then, for the readers of your essay:

The 2019 BCP is not a linear descendant or update of the 1662 BCP. The shape of the BCP 2019 liturgies for Holy Communion is unquestionably built on that of the shape of the 1979 liturgies. But in theological sensibility, it is that of 1662—using language that can please both low and high church sacramental understandings.

In speaking comprehensively about the BCP 2019 — Fr. Rehberg wrote in his recent essay on North American Anglican on the BCP 2019 that it  “introduc[es] aspects of the 1662 to the 1979.” This is a much more accurate statement of the 2019 BCP as a whole.

Your essay makes me realize I need to (and shall) use more careful and clear language like Rehberg’s in the future, so as not to accidentally advertise falsely. I am grateful that you have shone light on this need for greater clarity in the future.

Speaking of accidental false advertising, I certainly did over-state when I said that BCP 2019 has “more options” than any other prayer book. As Jacob Hootman pointed out (with some serious number-crunching!), this is not true. What I had in mind when I made that comment, and (again), what I shall be more precise to state in future speaking about BCP 2019 — is that there were many, many places in the Daily Offices and in the Eucharistic Liturgy where previous prayer books have “shall” in the rubrics, whereas the BCP 2019 has “may”. This makes for a much more adaptable liturgy, according to different needs (remember: REC–Ft. Worth–C4S0) and local customs. 

Additionally, you see the proliferation of “mays” and interchangeable elements as a bug and not a feature, as other Anglicans have found them to be. Personally, I think you may be overstating the degree of confusion this causes in the pew. Perhaps because you are not thinking of how this prayer book is actually going to be used, throughout the Anglican Church in North America? Many parishes do not use an actual codex for their worship at all, but instead printed bulletins. For these parishes, the fact that there are many “exchange” rubrics will never be a cause of stumbling for the actual worshiper in the pew, because the parish administrator who puts the bulletins together, will make the swap, and none will be the wiser.

And, for those parishes (like mine), where we WILL be using the book — the natural flow of the rite on the page makes the default tendency to be to keep rites together and coherent. Why would I say “Turn to page ### for confession, and now back to ### after” when I could just keep praying through the Communion liturgy, without having to mention page numbers at all? I suspect that ease-of-use will tilt in favor of keeping rites coherent to themselves by sticking to one and not moving back and forth.

To this last aspect of “options”, I would like to add: The options actually facilitate using the Prayer Book in such a way that a strict low-church interpretation of 1662 theology can be maintained with integrity. That is, to take just one prominent example, the words of the quasi-epiclesis (and I say, ‘quasi’, because compared to other epiclesoi it is very mild) “Bless and Sanctify”, which are so out of step with say, the REC tradition, that the rubric explains they are not strictly required

But, it would have been a betrayal of American prayer book history to go against the deal that Seabury struck with the Non-Jurors if the BCP 2019 were to erase the “epiclesis” from a prayer book published on North American soil. Thus, the compromise of an unseemly footnote (which, when read once, is unlikely to disturb the worshiper in perpetuity) in the liturgy allows for a 1662 virtualism to be affirmed, while still honoring the higher views that came from other interpretations of the 1662, through the non-jurors, into America.

Ditto the footnote on the Nicene Creed. Is it distracting? Yes. Is the form of the Nicene Creed as it sits in the 1662 BCP the same as the creed promulgated by the Fathers of Nicea and Constantinople? No. Is this historical difference important? Yes. If it leads to parishioners asking their priest, “Why do/don’t we say this?” — what a great chance to catechize them on the doctrine of the Trinity! Again, as a parish priest, interested in teaching my people the history of the handing down of the Faith, this is a feature, and not a bug.

The “meta-text” will be a talking point (perhaps even a discipleship point!) for some, and others will not notice it. In either case, it was the hopes of the Liturgy Task Force that it will quietly fade into the background of the visual field, when the semi-bold text is being pored over prayerfully. Initial experience is bearing this out, but only time will tell if this ends up being the case for most users of BCP 2019.

Having said all this, I grant you as a matter of fact: The BCP 2019 is NOT the 1662 without the “thees” and “thous”. I shall be careful to not leave this wrong impression in the future. And, certainly, the 1662 has strengths that the 2019 does not have. Most definitely. In unity, simplicity, beauty, the 1662 easily beats 2019. I agree that some things have been lost that were in the 1662, but I don’t think they are the core — which I would argue is theological — of the legacy of the 1662. What were lost were the ornamental trappings. As you wrote, “anticipations, echoes, and reiterative cycles.” As a work of symphony, the 1662 is non pareil. But these elements have been pruned off from a 2019 revision of our prayerbook heritage, not because these things were found wanting in themselves, but because of the changes in the English ear and liturgical expectations of the 21st century. 

Speaking personally for a moment, I love Elizabethan English. I read Hooker and Shakespeare for fun, and have been doing so for a decade-plus. I also love the liturgy — I have never met a church service that I found inherently too long. Some of my best memories in life are from those times when I got to spend 4-5 hours praying liturgies in a given day. And even I have a hard time following in my heart with a 1662 liturgy prayed right from the book. Not just the sequence of the liturgy, which I think the re-orderings of the 20th century actually helped clarify, but even just simply the sentences of communication to God — they can be hard to follow. Moreover, those reiterative allusions that would have been caught by a 17th-century ear, are plainly lost today. I would be interested in your work on orality in this regard. My experience as a parish priest has shown me that the drag-net of people’s short-term memory is increasingly short, definitely shorter than it was in the 17th century. If it’s outside of about 20 seconds in the aural past, it seems to be already filed away in a separate mental drawer. The simpler, shorter-phrasing, the post-Dixian simplification of structure, the clarity of intention and excising of modifiers—these are helps to getting the people of this century into prayer, even as the noble spirit which animates the 1662 and which breathed through our Anglican forefathers reminds us that we are living in an even more fallen state now, crippled by our technologies that have shortened our minds and hearts so considerably.

Now, having clarified all these things, I would invite you to re-consider where the 2019 BCP sits in light of the following notion:

If you draw a line from the 1662 BCP to the 1979 BCP (it’s not a straight line, I know, but see what I am getting at) — we can see that most liturgical revision since 1979 has continued further along that vector (e.g. Common Worship). The BCP 2019 is an attempt to reverse and go back down that line. Starting from what is known and nearly-ubiquitous (the 1979 structures etc) in North America, and working back towards the 1662. This is what I meant by calling the 1662 the “north star”, that it guided the direction, more than the final form. A number of elements I think substantiate this claim (some of these were pointed out in Rehberg’s piece, others not):

  • Things which were tucked away in “Rite I” in 1979 which come from the 1662 heritage are now front and center for everyone (e.g. the longer bidding to the Offices, the comfortable words in Communion, etc.)
  • Longer, 1662 prayer book language has been restored as the first-listed of several “or” options (e.g. the longer absolution after confession in the Offices)
  • None of the language that was brought into the BCP tradition by the American PB tradition is required — for those whose traditions are more straight-stream 1662 (such as in Canada) — e.g. the epiclesis, etc.
  • By reverting from the RCL to a modified Common Lectionary, the number of optional Sunday readings was drastically reduced, thus bringing all North American Anglicans on to the same page, with what we are hearing from the Word
  • The Daily Office Lectionary follows the Calendar year, and contains much the same amount of scripture reading as the 1662, unlike all BCPs since the lectionary reforms in the late 19th century
  • The Cranmerian 30-day psalter has been restored to pride of place as THE way of reading the psalms
  • The Collects of the Christian Year much more closely resemble those of the 1662, both in language and ordering, which were severely mutilated in 1979, where many classical collects were replaced with new ones
  • The language from which a theology of repentance is gleaned much more closely resembles the 1662
  • Auricular confession has been subordinated as a sub-rite of ministering to the sick, rather than a stand alone rite
  • There are two Eucharistic rites, which are printed continuously and fully, rather than 6, which you have to jump around pages to use. It’s not ONE rite, but it is much less of an array
  • The reasons for marriage in the opening of the marriage rite are an adaptation of the logic and priorities of 1662, rather than the far softer ideas of 1979
  • The red-letter days have been much more clearly delineated in the Calendar, from the optional commemorations, restoring them to their pride of place as in 1662, whereas in 1979 they seem to just be one among many in a list
  • Cranmerian phrases deep in Anglican memory have been restored: “And with your spirit” / “world without end” / “devices and desires” etc 
  • Many 1970s theological water-downs of the 1662 text have been excised and the original text replaced (e.g. in the prayer of St. John Chrysostom, restoring “…you will grant their requests”; in the Creeds, removing the “by the power of” language about the Spirit’s role in the Incarnation, etc.

These are just off the top of my head, but I think they warrant saying that the 2019 is an attempt, in a world indelibly shaped by the Liturgical Movement, to be guided by the 1662 BCP.

And thus, with the self-corrections, explanations, and clarifications enumerated above, I think it is still fair to speak about the BCP 2019 having the 1662 as its “north star.”

Two final thoughts to consider in this regard: One of the principles that presented itself several times in the midst of Liturgy Task Force discussions was that people and parishes who love and treasure the 1928 prayer book aren’t going to want to give that up for the 2019. And again — this is not a problem. The 2019 isn’t being enforced by an Act of Conformity. So there were several times where a proposed revision of structure or verbage was made that would more nearly be a copy+paste from the 1662, but then it was thought that those who actually want 1662, full-bore, will just use 1662, and having X liturgical component be “more 1662” neither wins those who prefer the older books, NOR is immediately clear and useful for the 21st century, less-historically inclined user of the prayer-book. It would be a lose-lose. Thus, recognizing that the BCP 2019 will not be a replacement prayer book for those who treasure the older BCP tradition, the 1979/Liturgical-Movement principles held sway at many junctures.

And in that vein — As the designer of the exterior foil-stamping of the BCP 2019, I was quite intentional about removing the definite article from the title on the spine. Partly because it always seemed grammatically odd when “THE Book of common prayer” was the object of a spoken sentence, when the spine title suggests a weird duplication of the definite article as in “Pass me the ‘The Book of Common Prayer'” but also as a gentle way of acknowledging to all passers-by that BCP 2019 is NOT the definitive and only prayer book. Per the interior title page, it IS the prayer book authorized according to the use of the Anglican Church in North America, but without that qualification, it is not THE prayerbook. It is prayerbook, that stands beside its noble predecessors, not having all of their strengths, but also having some of its own.

I hope I have made more sense by these clarifications, and as a result, I hope too that perhaps you will see that the BCP 2019 is a friend and not an enemy of the great Prayer Book tradition, of which 1662 sits in the seat of honor. 

Cordially yours,

Ben+


The Rev. Ben Jefferies

The Rev. Ben Jefferies is a sinner, grateful to the Lord for his mercy. He grew up in England, and emigrated to the United States in 1999. He went to Wheaton College, and several years later discerned a call to ministry and went to seminary at Nashotah House Theological Seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Duncan in 2014. He currently serves The Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Opelika, Alabama. He served on the Liturgy Task Force of the ACNA from 2015-2019, and was the lead designer for the production of the printed prayer book. He continues as the Assistant to the Custodian of the Book of Common Prayer (2019), and serves on the board of directors of Anglican House Media Ministries. He is married with three daughters.


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