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 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 email@example.com.
- 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. ↑