Unless folks have been on an extended vacation from social media, regular readers of The North American Anglican will be aware that the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) has finally released their long-awaited Book of Common Prayer (2019) (BCP2019). Since its release it has received both well-deserved praise and well-deserved criticism. Regular readers may also recall that I contributed to some of the discussion as the trial texts were being finalized. As a convinced, convicted, and confirmed advocate of the classical Prayer Books, it may come as no surprise that I have had my reservations about the ACNA text. In fact, I have admittedly been rather grumpy at times about it! All that changed after receiving a physical copy and attending all of the breakout sessions on the new Prayer Book at the recent ACNA Provincial Assembly. While I and my parish will continue to use the American 1928 edition of the Book of Common Prayer I am no longer (as) grumpy about the BCP2019.
Granted, there are still some good reasons for grumpiness. As many folks in my circles have observed, the very concept of truly “common” prayer (i.e. prayer held in common) is effectively dead in North American Anglicanism. Even if everyone were to adapt the new text, the varieties of options would still lead to excessive liturgical diversity from parish-to-parish. That same variety of options means that there is a certain flattening of theology that goes with a text such as the BCP2019. After all, the ACNA is a “big tent.” The official ACNA catechism is now too large to be included in the new Prayer Book, but the classical “shorter” catechism was not included in its Documentary Foundations section. And most lamentably (to me, anyway), BCP2019 does not bear the marks of updating the 1662 BCP as much as it bears the marks of re-introducing aspects of the 1662 to the 1979.
Nevertheless, I maintain that BCP2019 is the best modern-English liturgy in the BCP tradition that has yet been published.
It is no secret that I am not a big fan of the 20th Century Liturgical Movement. I think that the Anglican world sold our birthright for cheap lentil stew when we abandoned over four centuries of liturgical heritage to follow the Vatican down a Novus Ordo rabbit hole. But we have two full generations of Anglicans who have known nothing else. Pastorally and pragmatically, the liturgies of the late 20th Century could not be ignored by a province such as the ACNA. Pandora’s Box has been opened, and the Liturgical Movement is here to stay. With that in mind, the bits of BCP2019 that draw on the Liturgical Movement (such as the “Renewed Ancient Text” for Holy Communion) aren’t a bad way to go. They have been thoughtfully edited to conform to general Anglican orthodoxy. Besides, the Liturgical Movement did bring about some generally welcome additions to the Prayer Book experience such as a greater range of biblical Canticles, liturgies for Lent and Holy Week, and the re-introduction of Midday Prayer and Compline. I’d rather see these in an official liturgical resource than have parishes cobble them together from the four corners of the ecclesiastical world.
Despite the influence (and outright inclusion) of elements from the Liturgical Movement, BCP2019 is an evolution of the classical Prayer Book tradition rather than a revolution away from it. Echos of Cranmer are found on most every page, though BCP2019 certainly is not limited to Cranmer’s theology. In particular, the Daily Office Lectionary and the Renewed Coverdale Psalter carry on Cranmer’s legacy from the the classical Prayer Books. The Lectionary includes more Scripture and is more systematic in its use of Scripture than has been seen since 1549. And the Psalter is a gentle update of Coverdale that would be instantly familiar to anyone who has spent time in plainsong or Anglican Chant. Perhaps the most important theological continuity with Cranmer’s legacy is the inclusion of the Articles of Religion as part of the “Documentary Foundations” rather than the 1979’s “Historical Documents,” acknowledging the place of the Articles as foundational to Anglican theology and identity.
It has been rightly pointed out that there are still many options for each service in BCP2019. Due to the diversity within the ACNA, the rubrics of BCP2019 are intentionally flexible. But most of the options are found in addenda to the main body of the services rather than within the services themselves. This means that the normal use of a “vanilla” service will be to simply go from the beginning to the end without needing multiple bookmarks to make note of the various options. While the 1979 Prayer Book had at least half a dozen Eucharistic Prayers, for example, BCP2019 only has two (one for each rite). This makes the physical prayer books much more useful than the 1979, England’s Common Worship, or Canada’s Alternative Service Book. While those texts functioned more like resources for assembling a liturgy, BCP2019 is much more conducive for use in the same physical manner as I would use my 1928 or 1662 Prayer Books.
Even for parishes like mine or individuals like me who will continue to use a classical Prayer Book as the main liturgical text, BCP2019 can be an ideal “Book of Occasional Services.” It is more comprehensive and more theologically trustworthy than most of the current supplementary texts currently in print (e.g. A Manual for Priests). The Occasional Prayer section is very comprehensive and addresses some current issues that older supplements do not. Additionally, most of the Occasional Prayers include some sort of attribution as to who composed the prayer. Special liturgies for Lent and Holy Week have been included that are welcome and often expected, even though they do not all appear in older editions of the BCP. Finally, the Family Prayer section is an excellent abbreviation of the Daily Offices that can provide an “on-ramp” into the normal prayer disciplines for those just learning the Anglican Way.
On a practical level, plans were discussed for publishing supplementary resources for BCP2019, such as traditional English editions, an Altar Book, a Gospel Book, notation for chanting the services, a pointed and noted psalter, and a supplement to guide in hymn and music selection. This indicates that the ACNA is committed to BCP2019, and working with the variety of Churchmanship within its midst.
Indeed, the ACNA is a very diverse province with respect to churchmanship, background, and theology. In the first breakout session I attended, Fr. Marcus Kaiser stated that BCP2019 is not the successor of a single Prayer Book, but of all past editions of the BCP. As much as I champion the classical BCPs, I must concur that a more comprehensive (evolutionary) book was needed for the ACNA. Though common prayer is effectively dead, as an evolutionary rather than revolutionary text, BCP2019 may even act as a bridge back to the classical Prayer Book tradition. The fact that BCP2019 is not mandated for the Province shows this potential. Certainly I’d love to have seen ACNA adapt one of the classical texts wholesale, but such a project would frankly be met with rebellion in many parts of the Province. But now, classical Anglicans have an opportunity to use BCP2019 to educate folks who have never experienced the truth, goodness, and beauty of the older texts.
As I said, there are plenty of reasons to remain grumpy. But I think the good in BCP2019 far outweighs the bad. Indeed, I look forward to learning it well enough to be able to teach it as one of the approved texts of my diocese. It could be better, but it could also be much worse. It may not be a sibling to the classical BCP, but it’s at least a first cousin.