Why Is the ACNA Altar Book Trying to Be a Missal?

This week, the ACNA published a draft of a proposed altar book for the 2019 BCP, which you can find here. Interestingly, the draft breaks from its predecessors, the official 1979 BCP altar book and 1928 BCP altar book, in that 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:

-Offertory prayers, taken from the Roman Missal, to be said over the elements by the priest.

-Prayers of Preparation, also taken from the Roman Missal, to be prayed while vesting. They include prayers such as, “Restore unto me, O Lord, the stole of immortality, which I lost by the transgression of my first parents, and although I am unworthy to come unto the Holy Sacrament, grant that I may yet attain everlasting felicity.”

-Reverencing at the consecration of the elements.

-Genuflection at the incarnation portion of the Nicene Creed.

-Prayers after the service has been completed, including “Blessed, Praised, Hallowed and adored be Jesus Christ, on his throne in heaven, in the most holy sacrament of the Altar, and in the hearts of his faithful people. And may the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.”

-Rubrics for crossing, including crossing the elements, throughout the service.

To be clear, I am not here to argue whether or not these items are theologically valid, or even whether they should be practiced. A good number of priests who do not identify as Anglo-Catholic, or who even align themselves as Reformed utilize at least some of this ceremonial. Rather, I am here to argue that additions should not be made to the altar book at all, for a variety of reasons.

The first is the integrity of the ACNA. It seems less than wise for the province to attempt to take “official” stances on ceremonial at a time when things are so fragile. In many ways, it’s a miracle that the 2019 BCP even exists at all, considering the range of differing opinions within the ACNA, and the fact that the prayer book pulls back in a number of ways from the “Catholic” position, makes it quite clear that trying to introduce additional prayers and features via an official altar book would only cause more division. Yes, I’m sure that the liturgical directions are mere “suggestions” and that the prayers are “optional, and by no means required,” but that’s beside the point, which is that the ACNA seeks here to provide an official standard.

Secondly, it does not appear that this fits within the mandate given to the Liturgy Task Force by the College of Bishops. I am happy to be proven wrong here, but the resources drawn upon by the Task Force, as defined by the “Resolution Concerning Prayer Books and Historic Rites,” do not include much[1] of what has been added to this draft, particularly when taking into account the Resolution’s standard of, “The Book of Common Prayer 1662 together with the Ordinal attached remains the authoritative standard for the Anglican tradition of worship within the Province.”

Third, I believe that to have an altar book going beyond what is found in the BCP deeply contravenes the tradition of common prayer. When Thomas Cranmer and successive Anglican Divines produced a Book of Common Prayer, a primary goal was not only for priests to have the book, but even more so, for the people, in large part as a bulwark against clericalism. This is why not only the entirety of the BCP was printed, but the Catechism, the Ordinal, and the Articles as well, so that everyday lay folk could ensure that their priest wasn’t up to any funny business. 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.

The final reason is that to have liturgical instruction of this sort simply isn’t Anglican. In part, because some of this pulls from Rome, which is unfortunate considering the deep wealth of unique liturgical practice within our own tradition, but primarily because the Book of Common Prayer has intentionally avoided taking positions on these things over the centuries. Imagine if we had the rubric, “Now put on your stole over your flannel shirt” immediately prior to the consecration. People would be, justifiably, quite angry. But guess what? That exact practice happens in a large number of Evangelical and Three Streams parishes every Sunday across the ACNA. It demonstrates the fact of liturgical diversity that has been a mainstay within the Anglican tradition from its earliest moments and that will not be going away anytime soon.

I understand the perception of this altar book is that it will be used primarily in Anglo-Catholic parishes, particularly the portion pointed for chant, and therefore it should be tailored to serve the ministry of those churches, but history tells us this should not be assumed. The 1979 BCP Altar Book, for example, is used to this day across a wide spectrum of churchmanship, and it stands as a point of unity in an otherwise frequently fractured province.

Now is not the time for additional controversy within the ACNA. Let the altar book be just that, a BCP pointed for chant; if we are going to make liturgical standards, then we should revise the prayer book altogether.

If you have questions or comments for the Liturgy Task Force, please email them at altarbookfeedback@gmail.com.

  1. The only exception being the crossing of the elements found in the 1549 BCP, but regardless is irrelevant here since it isn’t found in the regular prayer book.

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.

'Why Is the ACNA Altar Book Trying to Be a Missal?' have 3 comments

  1. April 7, 2020 @ 11:34 am Ben Jefferies

    Dear Robert —

    As the Editor of the Altar Book, I’d like to offer a few points:

    1) This is a draft — and may be changed resulting from feedback. Thank you for this feedback.
    2) All text not authorized by the BCP 2019 is in Red or has a red initial-capital, to distinguish it from authorized theological text
    3) An Altar book is only seen by the Altar Party — it is not likely to confuse the people of God
    4) The added-prayers are for the edification of the priest. All of them would be said in private (in the sacristy, while the offering is being received, etc) — and so are not presented to the people
    5) In adapting/translating the various prayers from Sarum and Roman missals of the past, I was very careful to conform the theology that was included to be Anglican. Compare the exact language of the vesting prayers or the offertory prayers with their standard translations, and note the difference: All misleading language about “winning grace” “earning X” etc etc has been altered to comport with Anglican-Formulary theology.
    6) The one exception to this is an error: the prayer after Communion “Blessed, praised, hallowed…” was NOT included in the final draft I sent the music task force — I removed it before publication BECAUSE it is not Anglican-Formulary theology. I am sorry for the accidental scandal this has caused.
    7) Because of the wide array of Churchmanships — the widest possible ritual language was used, such as “reverence” — as explained in the preface.
    8) Because the “low-church” will usually say and not sing the Eucharist — the “said” service includes ZERO ritual instructions — so that parishes that do not use any (beyond those in the authorized text: Sit, stand, etc) ritual are not given any scandal
    9) Since many are exploring our catholic heritage, and yet might not be formed in a robust Anglo-Catholic way — these directions were given to help suggest what anglo-catholic piety in the 21st century can look like — that is neither copycat Roman nor too fussy, but is continuous with the 19th century retrieval of pre-Reformation ceremony, so ubiquitous across America now, for better or worse. If you go to many of the Cardinal parishes in the county (Ascension, Pittsburgh; St. Peter’s Tallahassee; Christchurch, Plano, etc etc) — you will see a ceremonial that is close to the ritual suggestions — and so they have been here codified to help with Anglican UNITY, rather than every priest doing his own interpretation. That was the intent…

    I’d love to hear your follow-up thoughts, especially on (5).

    I will have the corrected edition sent to the Music Task Force right away. I am sorry again for that needless scandal.


  2. April 7, 2020 @ 3:41 pm Rev. Dennis Washburn

    The article is interesting and to my mind right on target. The basic altar published by the ACNA should be simple. If particular streams (such as Anglo-Catholic) wish to produce missals, manuals or handbooks with extra ceremonial and content, there is historical precedent. They can do so, and priests use them locally with their bishop’s permission. Some of us are in the ACNA because we were not comfortable with the Anglo-Catholic missals and theology promoted by the so-called Continuum.


  3. April 8, 2020 @ 4:58 pm John Mack

    Mr. Ramsey,
    You write that an altar book which contains material other than that found in the BCP “deeply contravenes the tradition of common prayer”, which tradition is (in your presentation) a bulwark against clericalism. You conclude this objection saying that an altar book communicates that lay people are not “needed in the defense of orthodoxy”.
    You are making three assumptions. One, “common prayer” means words. Two, the BCP exists largely to keep priests from having different words from lay people. Three, worship in the liturgy is apologetic, it is the defense of orthodoxy.
    First, you are right that the BCP tradition involves the prescription of certain words. It also prescribes certain actions. Though ritual detail in the “classical” prayerbooks is not excessive, it is assumed that in a liturgy the priest says and does things which the laity do not. This is not “clericalism”, nor is it clericalism that the priest do and say things at the altar which are not said and done by the laity. Nor is it clericalism to publish an altar book, if by clericalism we mean ensuring an absence of sacerdotal “funny business”, especially since the book in question is readily available on the internet, can in fact be reviewed by laity, etc. Fundamentally, however, I fail to see how this contravenes “common prayer” since the priest’s prayers and actions are in fact part of the common oblation of the Church. What the priest does at the altar is something which only he can do, thus it is appropriate for him to have prayers for him to say as he performs his sacred office which have been given to him by the ecclesial body in which he serves. I find your suggestion that Anglo-Catholics should just be allowed to do what Anglo-Catholics will do to be less congenial to the tradition of common prayer than an altar book containing texts and directions for the priest to use as part of his sacred and unique office. We may as well object to laity reading freely from the psalms, using a rosary, or praying privately during the Communion.
    The third point, that an altar book somehow communicates that the laity are unnecessary for apologetic reasons seems to present a certain idea of Christian worship and prayer – that we exist to “defend” something under attack. While of course the church must be prepared to present apologetics, the Eucharist is not an apologetic, it is an act of worship which involves the whole body of believers, each in our role.
    You also write that an altar book of this sort “simply isn’t Anglican”. This, of course, does not mean that it is not a good idea. The vast majority of Christian tradition is not Anglican, but this does not discredit it. You seem particularly concerned by the fact that it “pulls from Rome” (which the BCP liturgy has always done, as the oldest western liturgy is the Roman Canon and the Church in England used the Roman Canon many centuries longer than she has the BCP). The reductio ad absurdum regarding hipster rubrics is unconvincing. Rubrical directions so thoroughly conditioned by the pop subculture which has created them would be simply be invalid, as an ecclesial body committed to directing clergy to wear flannel shirts would probably have long ago separated itself from the church catholic, as indeed some at least of the parishes you are referencing have done. This altar book appears to be an attempt to regularize worship in the ACNA, to provide priests with a beautiful resource fitting to the dignity of the Church’s worship, and which may help move the ACNA away from liturgical barbarism (stoles over flannel) toward reverent Christian worship while allowing for and authorizing a fully Anglican catholic liturgy.


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