Everything Old is New Again:
When it comes to language and doctrine in worship, the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer is the gold standard of excellence in the liturgy (in the USA). What makes the 1928 American Prayer Book excellent, however, is not what originated in 1928, but what originated long before, and which was transmitted in 1928; the tradition of worship that arose in the 16th century English reformation (itself in dependence on much older tradition), and whose classical embodiment is found in the English Prayer Book of 1662. Yet its “state prayers”, which naturally refer to the English monarch and parliament, are a barrier to its use in other polities, and there is a certain accumulation of archaic spelling, punctuation, and words which in the course of time have become obscure.
These barriers to wider use throughout the world have now been removed by the publication of 1662 in an “international edition”, published by InterVarsity Press, and edited with judicious restraint by Drew Keane, of this parish and St. Andrews University; and Sam Bray, of Notre Dame University. Its aim is both humble and bold: to present the 1662 Prayer Book, not as an artifact of 17th century English religion, but as a prayer book for all the world in the 21st century. Obscure expressions, archaic spelling, and punctuation, have been modestly and conservatively updated (a practice in line with older revisions of the Prayer Book tradition). Prayers for the civil authorities have been rephrased to apply to any polity – following in the direction first set by the American Prayer Books. The occasional prayers have been bolstered with a selection from the rich euchology inspired by the Prayer Book itself. The older table of lessons for Morning and Evening Prayer has been restored, and the 1961 alternative table of lessons for Morning and Evening Prayer– a neglected treasure – has been made available in the appendices; there is a Glossary of terms; additional rubrics; and the Homily on Justification referred to in the Articles of Religion has been printed in full. Thanks in part to a subsidy from the American Prayer Book Society, it has been handsomely designed and printed in good paper and fine fonts, with rubrics in red (as they should be).
Why should this matter to us? Much as we rightly treasure the American editions of the Prayer Book up to and including 1928, they are not without some regrettable changes. Enlightenment rationalism expunged the Athanasian Creed, and theological liberalism the reference to original sin in Baptism; Scottish arm-twisting led to an eccentric shape of the Prayer of Consecration; exaggerated concerns about “prolixity” led to cuts in the service of Baptism, and the hop-skip-and-jump approach to reading Scripture in the lectionary for daily services. Though changes in the Visitation of the Sick were probably necessary, the result is fragmented. None of these are calamitous defects: but it is satisfying to see them all corrected, either by a return to the 1662 forbears or to better-crafted revisions.
Inevitably even modest alterations in the 1662 text will not meet with universal approbation: but all quibbling aside, the editors have achieved what they set out to do: to make the 1662 Prayer Book practically useful for English-speaking Christians and Christian congregations in any country of the world. The liturgists who presided over the destruction of this tradition will carp and complain, but their cavillations will be a commendation to the rest of us. Luminaries of the church and academy have greeted it with praise (which can be found on the IVP website), “not a trophy of antique display but a practical framework for everyday worship” (Diarmaid MacCulloch, of Oxford); “yet another welcome step forward for the churches in the Communion” (Alfred Olwa, Bishop of Lango in Uganda). “This splendid new edition … opens up a unique liturgical treasure for the benefit of all Christians and all traditions” (Catherine Pickstock, of Cambridge).
At present this book is not authorized for use at St. John’s, but there are provisions in canon law that I hope to explore, for its occasional use (along with 1928).
You may pre-order a copy for a reduced price ($16 USD) from the Prayer Book Society of the USA. (Write 1662 BCP in the memo line). Orders may be mailed to the church office or dropped off there. We expect a shipment in the very near future.
This essay was published in the St. John’s Parish Paper for Sunday, March 28, 2021. The illustration of the thorn of crowns is courtesy of our talented parishioner, Mick McCay. If you have questions or topics for a featured story, please send them to Rector Gavin Dunbar.