Last month, Gerald McDermott interviewed the Rev. Ben Jefferies, the secretary of the Liturgy and Common Worship Task Force, regarding the 2019 Book of Common Prayer. In the wake of this interview, a massive debate has raged across the Anglican side of social media about whether or not, as Fr. Jefferies has claimed, the 2019 BCP takes the 1662 English Prayer Book as normative.
At a first glance, and even at a more in depth look, the 2019 Prayer Book bears many hallmarks of what can be called the “modern prayer book tradition,” a group comprising such notorious figures as the 1979 American Prayer Book, Common Worship from the Church of England, and the Canadian Book of Alternative Services. The 1662 BCP would find no home here. In this crowd is contained eucharistic sacrifice, prayers for the dead, “Choose-your-own-adventure” liturgy, and versions of Hippolytus. After using the 2019 Prayer Book in my personal devotions for several months now, however, several subtle differences have begun to appear.
I will address first the elephant in the room – the proliferation of options. To be frank, Fr. Jefferies must have poorly phrased his statement that the 2019 Prayer Book uses more options than any previous prayer book, because that simply isn’t true. In the following numbers, I am not going to count the Penitential Order found in the American books, nor the Offertory sentences, only the main liturgies themselves. The 1979 American Prayer Book has 8 Eucharistic Prayers (I, II, A, B, C, D, 1, 2), 6 forms of the Prayers of the People, 3 forms of Confession, 8 Concluding Collects, 3 “Kyries” in the opening rite (Kyrie, Trisagion, or Decalogue), 2 Creeds, 2 Lord’s Prayers, 1 Fraction, 1 Invitation, 3 Post-Communions, and 4 Dismissals. Multiply all the combinations together, and you have 82,944 possible options. The 2019 American Prayer Book has 3 Eucharistic Prayers (AST, RAT, and 1662), 2 forms of the Prayers of the People, 2 forms of Confession, 1 Concluding Collect, 3 “Kyries” in the opening rite (Kyrie, Trisagion, or Decalogue), 1 Creed, 2 Lord’s Prayers, 2 Fractions, 2 Invitations, 3 Post-Communions (2 Standard Post-Communions, and the Oblation if 1662), and 4 Dismissals. Multiply all the combinations together, and you have 3,456 options. The 1662 English Prayer Book has 1 Eucharistic Prayer, 1 form of the Prayers of the People, 1 form of Confession, 6 Concluding Collects, 2 Prayers for the Monarch, 1 Decalogue, 1 Creed, 1 Lord’s Prayer, and 2 Post-Communions. Multiply all the combinations together and you have 24 options. The Anglican world has opened Pandora’s Box. Even during the era of the 1928 Prayer Book (which has 96 options), the use of missals and other authorized, non Prayer Book liturgies, created an abundance of choices for the Celebrant or the Parish when preparing for worship. It would be a nigh-impossible feat to reduce the number of options so heavily. For the average worshipper, most of these options don’t matter. Concluding Collects, the Fraction, the Invitation, and the Dismissal do not change the response from the congregant. It is why the 1662 allowed options here – the response is Amen regardless of the Collect for the Queen, so why not have two? The number of options is far reduced from the absurd 8 Eucharistic Prayers of the 1979 rite, to two common Eucharistic prayers.
Another great concern is the shape of the liturgy. The 1979 shape is maintained in the 2019 Book – Prayer for the Church, Confession, Offertory, Consecration, Oblation, Communion. In fact, it looks rather familiar to those of us who have grown up on the 1979 Rite 1 liturgy. However, while the shape reflects the 1979, the content is most definitely that of 1662. While the footnote suggests otherwise, the epiclesis used is actually very much in line with the theology of the 1662, and its placement in the Consecration reflects that of 1662. The only phrase lacking in the 1662 Prayer is the direct invocation to bless and sanctify, with Word and Holy Spirit. Otherwise, it asks that we receiving the gifts and creatures of bread and wine may be partakers of the Body and Blood. This is, if anything, a restoration of the 1662 theology – asking that we receive the bread and wine and partake of the Body and Blood, even before the elements are truly consecrated. Scots insertions such as “rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same” and “which we now offer unto thee” have been excised. Three prayers were added to the Oblation portion of the prayer which are not present in the 1662 – a prayer offering the elements (which is necessary, since the elements were not offered at the Prayer for the Church Militant), for worthy reception (which makes a great deal of sense if one recites the Oblation prior to the Communion itself, and would not offend the theology of the 1662), and the prayer that we may be made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him. This prayer also, has its origin in the English rite of 1549 and does not conflict with a virtualist theology. Most of the changes made were to conform the shape to the theology of the 1662 without making it absurdly intrusive to the average parishioner. The Ministration of Communion even had its shape altered, chiefly to reflect the order of the 1549 Book if Confession were excised.
Prayer for the departed is also a crux of conflict in the new book. It is true that the 2019 Prayer Book relies far more heavily on prayer for the dead than the 1662 would, but the claim that the 1662 truly has no prayer for the dead is debatable. What kind of prayer for the dead, however, should be used is a conversation worth having. The 1662 Prayer Book contains this prayer in the Burial service:
“Almighty God, with whom do live the spirits of them that depart hence in the Lord, and with whom the souls of the faithful, after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, are in joy and felicity: We give thee hearty thanks, for that it hath pleased thee to deliver this our brother out of the miseries of this sinful world; beseeching thee, that it may please thee, of thy gracious goodness, shortly to accomplish the number of thine elect, and to hasten thy kingdom; that we, with all those that are departed in the true faith of thy holy Name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in thy eternal and everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
The key phrase here, “that we, with all those &c., may have our perfect consummation and bliss,” highlights two elements of Anglican prayer for the departed that are important. Firstly, it is prayer for all those “departed in the true faith of thy holy Name” – the faithful departed. It is prayer for those Christians who, having run the race, have fallen asleep in the Lord. It is secondly prayer that those Christians should have “perfect consummation and bliss.” It does not suggest that they need forgiveness or absolution, but only that they may have a perfect consummation and bliss. The 2019 Prayer Book consistently does this – “departed this life in your faith and fear, that your will for them may be fulfilled”…“departed this life in the certain hope of the resurrection, in thanksgiving let us pray”…“Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own flock”…“receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints”…“the favor which you show to all your people”…“Grant that, increasing in knowledge and love of you,” et cetera. This is the not the “Romish doctrine” of purgatory that we pray for here, but rather that the faithful who have gone into God’s presence may grow closer to him. The same model is used over and over again – a model which reflects the theology of the English Prayer Book tradition.
The 2019 Prayer Book is, without a doubt, the closest that anyone can get in the aftermath of 1979 to a contemporary English Prayer Book-style liturgy. It is truly a book of compromise, forged over the last ten years by many capable and Godly individuals, but it is also a book of principles, which have been uniformly applied throughout the text. I have every confidence that this prayer book reflects the doctrine and practice of the 1662.