On Beeson Divinity School’s Anglican podcast, Gerald McDermott recently interviewed Ben Jefferies, Secretary of the ACNA liturgical committee. McDermott and Jefferies discuss the ACNA’s 2019 Prayer Book. Jefferies’s characterization of the new book leaves me bewildered.
A centerpiece of the discussion is the normativity of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Jefferies calls it the “north star” that guided the liturgy committee’s work. He says some possibilities were taken off the table because they could not be reconciled to the 1662. What specifically was excluded he does not say. There seems to be a slipperiness to how Jefferies describes the relationship between the two books. It’s difficult to tell exactly what is being claimed. My own comparison of the final draft of the ACNA prayer book with the US 1979, US 1928, and English 1662 indicates that the 1979 Prayer Book was the model to which some elements from the 1662 and other editions were added. The similarities of the 2019 book to 1662 are always discrete components, never structural.
Jefferies refers to conflict between puritans and what he calls “catholics” as significant in the shaping of the 1662 revision, which he calls a via media. He seems to suggest that in this quality the 1662 edition is substantially different from the 1604, 1559, or 1552. But, in fact, 1662 is substantially the same as the 1604 prayer book. The differences are small, and certainly not of the sort that would support a characterization of this book as a middle path between Reformed Christianity and… the other end of this continuum is less than clear. At one point he calls it “little ‘c’ catholicism” (something most 17th century puritans would have called themselves — though probably with a capital “C”), and at one point he calls it “the great tradition,” which I’m afraid is even less helpful as an explanation. He describes the 1662 and other prayer books as being characteristic of a similar “trajectory” which the 2019 book follows. Again, I’m not sure what this means.
Sometimes he is simply mistaken about the contents of the 1662. Granted, he’s speaking off the cuff, so perfect exactness cannot be expected and I have no wish to be a nit-picker. Still, some of the mistaken claims are not small. He claims, for example, that the 1662 authorizes prayers for the dead in the time frame between death and burial. I confess to being utterly baffled by this claim. I don’t find any petitions on behalf of the departed in the 1662 prayer book at all, and as everyone knows the omission of these prayers from the 1552, 1559, 1604, and 1662 books was deliberately made and theologically significant
There are other factual errors too, even about the text of the 2019 book. He says the benedictus qui venit is added after the sanctus but is optional because it wasn’t in 1662. But when I double-checked the ACNA 2019 prayer book, I found that not to be the case. Perhaps it was in an earlier draft.
One part of the interview stood out to me more than any other. Jefferies quite correctly claims this edition uses “may” (to indicate options) more than any previous prayer book. This is perhaps the most helpful description Jefferies provides: the ACNA prayer book is the prayer book of options. He sees this fact as the great strength of this edition. Perhaps this is part of what he means by the talk about via media and trajectory.
Options aren’t new to the prayer book tradition. But, not all options are alike. The 1662 provides a number of options for the opening sentences in Morning and Evening Prayer. These options, however, are of a different kind than those that concern me here. These are different options that perform precisely the same role in the overall structure of the service; namely, to illustrate the claim made in the Exhortation, “the scripture moveth us in sundry places to confess our manifold sins and wickedness” and thereby signal the initial activity of the office. These sentences all perform the same function. This is not the function the sentences serve in the ACNA 2019 prayer book. The 1892 US prayer book introduced a different kind of option into that set of sentences: sentences that call the congregation to prayer but not specifically to confession of sin and sentences that correspond to the liturgical season. 1892 still provides a (shortened) list of the old kind, but adds a list of general call-to-worship sentences and a list of seasonal ones. These are options that change the overall shape of the service. The US 1928 and 1979 books remove the 1662 approach altogether and only keep the sentences that serve as general or seasonal calls to prayer. The 2019 book follows not the logic of 1662, but of 1928 and 1979. The rubric before the sentences also allows them to be skipped altogether “The Officiant may begin Morning Prayer…” (emphasis mine). It is the options that alter the shape or, to put it another way, the interior logic of the liturgy, that 2019 provides perhaps more of than any other prayer book before.
These kinds of options are to be found in more abundance in the Communion liturgies. Jefferies focuses attention on what the book calls the “Anglican Standard Text,” a name that Jefferies calls a brilliant solution to a tricky problem — the problem of what to call these two Communion offices (in an earlier draft, he explains, they were called the “longer” and “shorter”). Jefferies claims what came to be called the “Anglican Standard Text” is essentially the 1662 liturgy, then turns around and says readers will recognize it from 1979 Rite I. If he thinks 1979 Rite I is essentially the 1662 Communion, then he and I aren’t understanding the word “essentially” the same way. The shape of 1979 Rite I Communion is substantially different from the 1552 shape restored in 1559, retained in 1604, and restored again in 1662.
The additional directions following the Communion span four and a half pages, adding more options to the options already provided within both liturgies, including the option to restructure the service to the 1662 shape. Both communion liturgies — the “Anglican Standard” or “Renewed Ancient” — share the same 1979 shape, use contemporary language, and components of each can be swapped out regardless of which text is being used, raising the question why two texts are provided at all. The confession of sin in either service may be swapped out or the confession of sin from the daily office may be used instead. This sort of mix-and-match approach overlooks the internal logic of the 1662 text. Each component is crafted with its precise place in mind, assuming that certain things have been said before or will be said after. Anticipations and echoes, reiterative cycles, gradations of weight — all of these are lost by the mix-and-match approach. One may argue that the shape of the 1928 Communion service, 1979 Rite I, or the 1662 is superior, but, with the number of options provided, the congregation (to say nothing of visitors from another parish) cannot know what to expect.
Some options are associated with different understandings of the sacrament, like the words to be said for distribution of Communion. The options provided do not all seem to teach the same theology. Of course, these are concerns that were raised with regards to 1979, so those who left the Episcopal Church for the ACNA may be more or less used to that already; my point is that the ACNA’s 2019 prayer book pushes further down this path, giving even greater discretion about the shape and substance of the liturgy to the parish priest, which is fundamentally unlike the 1662.
The name “Anglican Standard Text” is itself tricky. It raises a number of questions. Does it mean to suggest the other office provided is non-standard or irregular? If so, why is it provided in what is supposed to be the Use of the ACNA, The Book of Common Prayer? Wouldn’t its presence in the book at all suggest it is equally standard? Or, perhaps it means that the other liturgy isn’t Anglican, in which case the question of why it is included in the prayer book of the Anglican Church in North America naturally arises. The very label cues the user of the book to recognize a lack of consensus in a way that is unique in the history of the editions of the prayer book.
The 2019 book contains more metatext than any previous edition; it shows its “scaffolding” to an unprecedented degree. Jefferies doesn’t discuss this head-on, but he does draw attention to it in passing several times. It wasn’t until I heard this interview that I recognized how significant a difference this is. While 1979 offers many options (some of which actually conflict with each other theologically), it doesn’t contain metatext that highlights internal conflict. Like previous editions, it keeps all reference to sources and disagreements entirely out of the text, simply presenting itself as The Book of Common Prayer.
In the Nicene Creed the phrase “and the Son” is placed in brackets and given a footnote, which reads: “The phrase ‘and the Son’ (Latin filioque) is not in the original Greek text. See the resolution of the College of Bishops concerning the filioque in Documentary Foundations (page 768).” Since it is in brackets, the minister may decide to leave it out; but, of course, it’s still printed there on the page, which means users will see it and wonder what’s going on. Any individual in the congregation may prefer that the minister read it and find her or himself jarred out of the communal prayer. If the ACNA has reached a consensus about this phrase in the creed one way or the other, why doesn’t the liturgy reflect resolution rather than giving the distinct impression that (regardless of what is in the Episcopal statement) there isn’t really a consensus?
There’s still more jarring as the liturgy proceeds nearer the holy of holies. A footnote on pg. 116 reads “This paragraph does not occur in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, but ecumenical consensus expects its use.” The last thing a worshiper wants as she prepares herself to receive the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood is a footnote that prompts reflection on whether or not the prayer being used is as it should be, why this paragraph has either been read or not read, and what it might mean. As this liturgy approaches the zenith of Christian worship this side of our Lord’s return, it seems to lose its nerve and wonder about its own contents.
Jefferies doesn’t seem at all concerned about the internal ambiguity of the book; rather, he suggests it is a strength and, more than that, part of its similarity to the 1662. He reminds us that the 1662 is itself a compromise that didn’t entirely please all parties or settle all controversies. This is of course true, so far as it goes, but how these two books approach compromise is entirely dissimilar. The 1662 is a confident compromise that doesn’t draw continual attention to disagreement, thereby perpetuating conflict. It isn’t squeamish about insisting on conformity to a common Use (regardless of how stringent or lenient enforcement may have been at any time or place). The use of the sign of the cross in baptism, for example, deeply troubled many; but, once a decision was reached to retain it, the Church was not unwilling to embrace the logic of Articles XX and XXXIV. Moreover, although the 1662 did not please all sides in the Church of England, it reflected not a mix-and-match theology but a coherent and consistent one: the theology the Book of Common Prayer shares with the Articles and the Homilies. Listening to Jefferies discuss the ACNA 2019 prayer book leaves me only more confused regarding the relationship between this book and the 1662 prayer book.