The ACNA Altar Book: Response to Fr. Ben Jefferies

Read the original piece here, and Fr. Ben’s response here.

Dear Fr. Ben,

Thank you for your letter. I always appreciate your willingness to jump into the fray of ACNA discussion, something I wish we had a great deal more of.  I should add that I think you have produced a winsome altar book, and I especially appreciate the status given to the Decalogue and Exhortation in it.

To gently push back against your “implied over-statements,” I will say that I did not intend to monger fear. When I said, “a few,” I simply meant, “not all,” and indeed, a quick glance through the proposed altar book shows items such as the Prayer of Saint Ambrose on page 10, or the Pontifical Blessing on page 118 that I had not listed.

As for the comparison to a missal, my meaning was not an aesthetic one, or one of volume, but solely one of ethos, being a liturgical text containing additional prayers and instructions for the priest beyond what is given to the people. You mention the Anglican missals, and I think this is a somewhat apt comparison, for while they are far larger in terms of options, they play a similar role: the prayers and manual acts of the Anglican missals have always been optional (no Continuum service is quite the same for this reason). They also happen to clearly delineate what is not in the prayer book by using different colors and fonts, at least, according the missals I have on my desk. I should add that you may want to request the Music Task Force change the url to no longer be

You, and a number of other Anglo-Catholics, seem to believe that my true motivation in writing this is that I think the altar book to be some sort of Anglo-Catholic coup, an attempt to sneak little bits of Romanism into the ACNA. You can rest assured that this is not the case.

 To respond to the bit about the 1552, I should point out that it holds no official status, merely that it is “placed among the liturgy web resources,” which gives it the same status as an interview with Abp. Duncan, but if it helps you take my arguments more seriously, I’m happy to say that I don’t think the contemporary language 1552 should be included in the official liturgies of the Province. Again, I am not going to debate the orthodoxy of the particular choices you have made for prayers and ritual. Unity and authority, essential elements of the Catholic faith, are what I am concerned with here.

I’ll touch back on unity later, but I want to discuss authority first. As Anglicans, we have a few sources of authority, the most preeminent being Scripture, but tradition and episcopal authority as well. As far as the tradition of the Book of Common Prayer goes, the evidence appears incontrovertible that the priest is to say only what is in the BCP. Canon XIV of the Canons of 1604, one of our Formularies, states, “All Ministers likewise shall observe the Orders, Rites, and Ceremonies prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer, as well in reading the holy Scriptures and saying of Prayers, as in Administration of the Sacraments, without either diminishing, in regard of Preaching, or in any other respect, or adding any thing in the Matter or Form thereof.” E.B. Pusey, centuries later, wrote that he was, “in this strange position, that my name is made a byword for that which I never had any sympathy, that which the writers of the Tracts…always deprecated,—any innovations in the way of conducting the service, anything of Ritualism, or especially any revival of disused vestments.[1] Even in modern times, this principle still holds in a formal sense. Take PECUSA, not known for its orthodoxy or adherence to rubrics, which has canons so strict surrounding topics like the creation of an altar book that when one was to be created for the 1979 BCP, the House of Bishops initially rejected said book because it contained some of the lesser collects that they themselves had approved.

Surely, you must concede that the manner of the production of this altar book is odd. While you say that it is unofficial, and by no means a standard, the truth still remains that it will bear the stamp of approval of the Custodian, as well as the Music Task Force. It will be advertised as the altar book for the Province, by the Province. It will be used at official events. At the same time, one cannot name a single other Anglican Province that would go about handling their BCP in this manner.

The 2019 Book of Common Prayer is just about the only thing the ACNA has going for it right now in terms of unity. The trends of division are, in fact, accelerating at the moment, and so extra care must be taken to preserve the things that work. This draft of an altar book, with its lack of adherence to tradition and good order, can only work against the unity provided by the 2019 BCP, as it implies that Common Prayer not only can be altered, but should be altered depending on the context of churchmanship. If we are to combat the post-modernism of the flannel-wearers rampant in certain dioceses, how can we expect them to conform to tradition when even the Province itself does not?

I understand that you desire to provide some order and cohesion to the mess of ceremonial practice that can be found in the ACNA. I desire that as well, and you can be assured that I don’t entertain some fantasy of Reformed ceremonial becoming the standard. What I do desire is for the College of Bishops to have a similar level of authority as they did in 1662, so that they can work to enforce the conformity demanded of true Common Prayer and catholicity. I know it appears that this altar book could be a step in that direction, but it will only serve to do the opposite, and to the names of Michno and Dearmer will be added Jefferies.

Respectfully yours,

Robert Ramsey

  1. Liddon, Life of Pusey, Vol. IV pp. 211-16 2.

Robert Ramsey

Robert is the Executive Editor of The North American Anglican. He is also a warden and church planter at Christ Church Anglican South Bend. In his spare time he likes fixing old espresso machines and cars from the 90s.

'The ACNA Altar Book: Response to Fr. Ben Jefferies' has 1 comment

  1. May 8, 2020 @ 3:26 pm Ben Jefferies

    Dear Mr Ramsey —

    To my own surprise I find a number of your arguments here quite compelling. I shall need time to think on these things, to be sure, but in this moment I am inclined to think that you might be right — especially as to added non-BCP prayers. For ritual prompts my jury is still out. I shall of course have to have discussion with the Custodian — and I shall present to him your points too.

    I think — FWIW — that indeed I have been trying to uphold a book that is simultaneously an altar book and, in a way, a “priests handbook.” I can see now — thanks to your clarifying your meaning — that this is perhaps unwise to try and do both at once in what — I concede — will be perceived as “the official book”

    Thank you for engaging me in this way,
    Ben Jefferies +

    P.s my last name has not two but three E’s. 🙂


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