Of Altar Books and Additions to Common Prayer: An Open Letter to Mr. Ramsey

This letter is in response to an article found here.

Dear Mr. Ramsey —

It is of course discouraging to pour your heart and soul into something and for the first response to be a total broadside, but I shall try not to be bitter.

I wish to address: (1) implied over-statements, (2) the principle of your argument and (3) how the proposed altar book appears vis-a-vis actual parish celebration of the Eucharist today.

As for implied over-statements:

You wrote, “it contains prayers and ceremonial additions not found in the standard BCP, thus resembling a missal one might find in a Continuing or Roman Catholic parish. Here are a few of the additions.”

You then proceed to list all of the additions, while implying (“here are a few”) that there are more. This seems to me unnecessary fear-mongering. One of these was erroneously published in the online posting of the draft, and has been removed. The others fall into two categories:

  1. Prayers not included in the BCP 2019
  2. Ritual suggestions not included in the BCP 2019

As to the first, added prayers — they are all indicated by either being printed in a different color than authorized text, or having a different color and style initial-capital, and are also in a smaller type-size, in order to clearly differentiate them from the ordinary text, so that they are not confused with the set text of the BCP which is of formulaic value.

Additionally, these prayers occupy exactly three pages of the 200+ pages of the Altar Book: Pg. 7, 9, and 78.

When compared with a “missal one might find in a Continuing or Roman Catholic parish”, there is no comparison. The two “Anglican” missals of the early twentieth century have hundreds of pages of additional content vis-a-vis the standard prayerbook, dozens of pages of preparatory rite and hundreds of medieval prayers to be inserted by the priest in the midst of the liturgy. They are a world apart from the adapted and minimalist suggested prayers of the draft 2019 Altar Book. I wonder if the aesthetic similarity produced by the presence of woodcut art might have “triggered” a comparison that is not there in substance.

As to the second: ritual suggestions not included in the BCP 2019 — the presentation of the “said” Eucharistic liturgy includes only one, the word “reverence”, printed three times. Which is only to direct what all pious priests, regardless of churchmanship, instinctively do anyways, either by a moments’ pause, or a genuflection. This is hardly a cause for scandal, and was included only because a number of younger, less-formed clergy (some of whom wear the flannel you mentioned) are apt to blow through the Eucharist at a rate and with a lack of reverence that would do well to be pushed back on.

In the “sung” liturgy — which, you are right, will be used almost exclusively by Anglicans of a more catholic ritual persuasion — seven crossings are proposed, and one additional reverence at the incarnatus in the Creed. As you said, the existence of a crossing does have precedent in the 1549 BCP, and — apart from the “old high church” party and a portion of some of the older Eastern seaboard evangelical parishes — already have a presence in a large portion of parish celebrations across the province. The presentation of them on the page, again, is a cue for younger/newer clergy who are intentionally investigating the catholic ritual heritage within the Anglican fold.

Additionally, you suggest that there is a further unpleasantness in these suggested prayers and rituals in that they “pull from Rome, which is unfortunate considering the deep wealth of unique liturgical practice within our own tradition.” As a matter of fact, three of the prayers on page 78 derive from a common pre-Reformation liturgical heritage common to Rome and England, and the placing of the Veni Creator as a vesting prayer is actually a unique Sarum custom. The first two of the prayers (on p.78) stem from a 20th century ressourcement of our Jewish heritage which we also have in common with the Roman church.

As for the principle of your argument

As a preliminary remark it is worth addressing your second point of argument, “It does not appear that this fits within the mandate given to the Liturgy Task Force by the College of Bishops” The production of the Altar Book is not the work of the Liturgy Task Force, but is a production of Anglican Liturgy Press, a non-profit book publisher that serves the ACNA, but is not an extension of the ACNA. The College of Bishops appointed by official resolution a proxy responsible for all authorization of texts and adapted texts connected to the BCP — a custodian — in the person of Archbishop Emeritus Robert Duncan. Archbishop Duncan will ultimately sign-off on the Altar Book, and this will constitute authority to print, but it does not mean that the Altar Book is an independent formulary of the ACNA, as it sounds like you are afraid it might be. This means it is not “an official stance” pace your first argument about “the integrity of the ACNA”

As to the principal of your argument, it seems like you are of two minds. You begin your essay with the remark, “I am not here to argue whether or not these items are theologically valid” but then you conclude the central paragraph of your argument with “When we have something like an altar book disregarding that tradition, it breaks something fundamental about Anglicanism, in that the laity are told they are no longer needed in the defense of orthodoxy.” (emphasis mine). If orthodoxy is what you are concerned about, then it is the theological content of the prayers that you are concerned about. If so — I would be eager to hear exactly what theology is taught on the three pages of inserted prayers that you believe contradicts received orthodoxy as it is codified in our Anglican Formularies?

If I can get ahead of you on one point — the prayer of offering at the bottom of pg. 78 speaks only of “our sacrifice” and does not directly identify that with the elements in a way that would be problematic for Anglicans, and is fully within the English theological key, as instanced by the many many quotations of Reformed Anglican divinity adduced in Tract 81 of the Tracts for the Times.

If the heart of your argument is not theological concern, and your assertion, “I am here to argue that additions should not be made to the altar book at all” reveals your true heart — then I would answer back, where is your antagonism of the authorization of a 1552 rite for use in the ACNA, which has been made available online as an “official” resource? Do you also think that it “contravenes the tradition of common prayer” to have done this? Or how about the supporting of contemporary praise songs, by both Ordinary approval and use, as well as on the official ACNA music page? Or what about hymn #618 (Ye watchers and ye Holy Ones) in the 1982 Hymnal, approved for use in every ACNA diocese that I know of, that addresses the Blessed Virgin Mary in the jussive under her title, “O higher than the Cherubim”? Are you outraged by this? Heck, the authorization of any Hymnal, which is ipso facto an addition to the BCP as it pertains to the worship of the people of God? In truth I know that you are not against these things on the principle of non-addition, but approve or disapprove on different grounds, case-by-case. Which makes it seem like the real ground of your disapproval of the Altar Book is not addition per se, but the fact that these additions participate in a catholic patrimony that you are not keen on.

As for how the proposed altar book appears vis-a-vis actual parish celebration of the Eucharist today.

Apart from the few self-consciously “old high church” parishes, and an evangelical portion of the eastern sea-board, the fact of the matter is, a huge portion of ACNA parishes consciously or unconsciously resource the pre-Reformation ritual heritage of the Anglican Church. I am surprised actually at how many “low church” church-plants purchase cheap chasubles very early on. Making the sign of the cross at the absolution and/or final blessing is a nearly ubiquitous practice. I can count on one hand the number of congregations I have been to where the priest does zero additional ritual action, other than the touching of the elements before the Words of Institution. The fact of the matter is: pre-Reformation rituals are already here in our midst, and show no sign of going anywhere. So the question before the editor of an Altar Book is: Would it be beneficial to allow every priest to cobble together a chimera of his own formation, and what he has plucked out of Dennis Michno, or Percy Dearmer, or Ritual Notes, in the time he has between preparing his sermon and caring for his people (if indeed, he takes time to ritually think through an upcoming liturgy at all?), according to his own interest and taste, or would it be good to suggest a few things that would help standardize and unify ritual practice across the province? The inclusion of the suggestions in the Altar Book reveal that Archbishop Duncan and myself are of the latter mind. What exactly these suggestions will be shall be finally determined following trial use and feedback, but that there be some suggestions would, I earnestly believe, effect the very opposite of your claim of dividing, but would in fact be unifying. In addition — any who do not like even having to look at these non-BCP suggestions, are free to use the “said” rite 100% of the time. It cannot fairly be said that the Altar Book is making an imposition on all churchmen, when the said liturgy doesn’t have any additions.

I do not believe any of what I have written will make you like or appreciate the Altar Book of the BCP 2019, but I hope that some of these thoughts might be useful to folks who have not yet made up their mind on it.

Yours sincerely,

Ben Jefferies



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.


'Of Altar Books and Additions to Common Prayer: An Open Letter to Mr. Ramsey' has 1 comment

  1. April 16, 2020 @ 6:01 pm John Linebarger

    Well spoken, Fr. Jefferies. Why the ACNA insists on tearing itself apart by battling each other over churchmanship is baffling and discouraging. You’d think our self-inflicted schizophrenia over women’s ordination would be sufficient turmoil. I guess not. The DNA of TEC, though dead, yet liveth.

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