History and Hypotheticals: Reflections on An Australian Prayer Book

I love collecting prayer books and hymnals, particularly Anglican Prayer Books and hymnals of prior generations. Prior to the late 20th Century, the Book of Common Prayer was largely standardized, with minor regional differences since the 17th Century. While these differences are indeed fascinating, they are generally variations on minor themes of government. Approximately 50 years ago, however, in the wake of Vatican II, a variety of official alternative liturgical texts were introduced in the various Provinces of the Anglican Communion. At that time, only in the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America (TEC) did the alternative texts replace the Book of Common Prayer and take its title. For the rest of the Communion, the alternative texts were indeed alternatives, though they eventually replaced the Book of Common Prayer as the default liturgy in most parishes.

My latest acquisition (courtesy of Fr. Shanon Ramey), is An Australian Prayer Book (AAPB), published in 1978 for the Church of England in Australia (now known as the Anglican Church of Australia). An Australian Prayer Book remains one of three official texts in the Anglican Church of Australia, along with the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, and A Prayer Book for Australia (1995). While A Prayer Book for Australia was rejected by the diocese of Sydney, An Australian Prayer Book remains an approved liturgical text across the Australian Church.

The purpose of the following is to compare aspects of An Australian Prayer Book to the two official modern-English Prayer Books used in this part of North America: TEC’s 1979 edition of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP 1979), and the 2019 edition of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP 2019) by the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). As they are both products of the late 1970s, the linguistic style of AAPB and the modern-English rites in BCP 1979 are very similar. Both primarily quote from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible and are designed to be used with the RSV. This gives AAPB something of a dated feel; it neither feels timeless nor current. The BCP 2019, by contrast was designed to be used with the English Standard Version, an update of the RSV. While it is still too new to feel dated, it is rare that a contemporary liturgy not eventually face that fate.

The most fascinating difference between AAPB and both the BCP 1979 and the BCP 2019 is AAPB’s intentional design as a supplement to rather than a replacement for the Book of Common Prayer. Indeed, in the very preface to AAPB, affirms the BCP and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as “our controlling standard of doctrine and worship.” Similarly, the rubrics of the BCP apply to AAPB unless specified within text. Throughout the text of AAPB, the fingerprints of the BCP can be found; AAPB truly is a supplementary work.

That said, the revisions of the Liturgical movement are also present. Indeed, most services have a “first form” or “first order” and a “second form” or “second order.” The former are generally light modernizations of the BCP services, while the latter typically reflect the post-Vatican-II ethos. Even with respect to the Sunday Lectionary, both the classical single-year cycle of the BCP and the three-year cycle of the Common Lectionary are present.

Both the BCP 1979 and the BCP 2019 similarly include two forms, though each approaches the issue in a different way. The BCP 1979 includes Rite I and Rite II for most services, with Rite I retaining the traditional Tudor-style of English, and Rite II using the more contemporary renderings. That said, the two Rites differ beyond their style of English; the main Rite I services are relatively gentle revisions of the prior American Book of Common Prayer (1928) and generally retain the classical BCP forms. The Rite II services, on the other hand, are products of the Liturgical Movement. In this way BCP 1979 seems to have attempted to fill both functions of the retention of the classical Book of Common Prayer as well as the alternative liturgies introduced in the rest of the Anglican Communion. Indeed, from reports on the development of the BCP 1979, Rite I appears to have been included mostly to placate traditionalists who did not want to give up its predecessor. This is the main structural difference between AAPB and the BCP 1979. Theologically, AAPB retains its connection to the classical Prayer Books more closely than the BCP 1979; the latter was more theologically revolutionary than evolutionary.

The BCP 2019, by contrast, includes two forms only for Holy Communion. Like the AAPB’s “First Order,” the “Anglican Standard Text” of the BCP 2019 is a modernization of the Cranmerian form. Like the AAPB’s “Second Order,” the “Renewed Ancient Text” of the BCP 2019 is based on the reforms of the Liturgical Movement. Unlike AAPB, however, the BCP 2019 only includes a single form for the rest of the services. The Daily Offices are modeled after the Cranmerian form, and the occasional offices are modeled after Rite II in the BCP 1979. Though the BCP 2019 is a replacement for the classical Prayer Books rather than a supplement, both the Constitutions and Canons of the ACNA and the Jerusalem Declaration of the Global Anglican Future Confrence (GAFCON), uphold the 1662 BCP as the primary standard for liturgy and worship. In this respect, I find AAPB is more similar to the BCP 2019 than the BCP 1979. For the BCP 2019, the Articles and 1662 BCP (via the Jerusalem Declaration and the ACNA C&C’s) are “documentary foundations.” For the BCP 1979, they are merely “historical documents.”

One cannot help but wonder what may have happened if the Episcopal Church had gone a similar route as the Anglican Church of Australia when implementing Prayer Book revision. Perhaps the “Continuing” Anglican Churches and the ACNA would not have been necessary had Prayer Book revision in America retained the classical BCP as the standard text along side light supplementary liturgies. After all, in its official pronouncements, the Anglican Church of Australia has remained orthodox on human sexuality. Furthermore, the representatives of the Australian Church were present at GAFCON, and two of its dioceses are in full communion with ACNA. On the other hand, the more radical 1995 revision was met with theological suspicion by some parts of the Church, but has nevertheless become the main liturgy in Australia. Furthermore, individual dioceses and clergy have since departed from sexual orthodoxy without overt discipline, as has been typical in many parts of the Anglican Communion. For my part, I cannot help but see AAPB, then, as a negative development, despite its many positive features. Indeed it seems to me that the move toward alternative liturgical texts, as well-meaning as some of those text may have been, almost always ends up being a liturgical and theological Trojan Horse.



Fr. Isaac J. Rehberg

Fr. Isaac is the Canon for liturgy in the Anglican Diocese of the West (Church of Nigeria), and the Rector of All Saints Anglican Church in San Antonio, Texas, where he lives with his wife, Heather, and daughters, Leah and Victoria. A bi-vocational priest, he works as a residential real estate appraiser and dabbles in various forms of music. Fr. Isaac earned his BA from the University of Texas at San Antonio and his Master of Christian Ministry from Wayland Baptist University.


'History and Hypotheticals: Reflections on An Australian Prayer Book' has 1 comment

  1. May 1, 2021 @ 7:07 pm Cliff Gobin+

    An interesting note about An Australian Prayer Book (1978) is that the committee that formulated it was composed of Anglo-Catholics, Evangelicals, and Reformed. The committee established a rule that all proposed modifications must be unanimously accepted, by all 3 parties — or else the default would simply be to modernize the 1662 language for a given section, with no substantive changes. The resultant text was largely acceptable (or at least not objectionable) to all 3 wings of the church. I believe the 1995 revision was made largely to accommodate the modernist/revisionist party of the church, while many traditionalists and evangelicals remained content with the 1978 version. The REC in the United States also accepted AAPB as an acceptable liturgy, from what I understand. My own parish (an multi-national parish in Texas) used AAPB for several years prior to adopting the ACNA BCP in 2019.

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