The first part of this post compared the 1928 American edition of the Book of Common Prayer to the 1954 South African edition. The comparisons included reference to the books’ comparative length, the great expansion of propers in 1954, their lectionaries and calendars, their forms for the Daily Office, and their Eucharistic rites.
This second part will compare the rites and offices in the two books concerning Christian life through confirmation. These forms include admission to the catechumenate, the catechism, the rites for baptism of infants and of adults, and the rite of confirmation.
In the natural order of the Christian life, even before baptism, the 1954 book provides a Form of Admitting Catechumens. The 1928 book, like the 1662 book before it, contains no such form.
While Christianity has been present in South Africa since the 17th century, the general African context of the South African Church suggests the wisdom of a renewed, formal catechumenate. In fact, almost nowhere in our own day can one assume that infants are typically born into Christian families, baptized as infants, and then raised within supportive Christian societies. While infant baptism may remain in some sense the norm, in which case initiation into the catechumenate may remain a vestige at the beginning of the baptismal rite, the average case now increasingly involves adult conversion and baptism. Given this renewal of the pre-Constantinian situation, even in once Christian lands, it is appropriate that the catechumenate be restored, with formal admission, exorcism, anointing with the oil of the catechumens, and a period of serious instruction leading to the baptism of adults.
The 1954 book presciently provides for this need. The rite opens with those to be admitted catechumens asking for faith and eternal life. A renunciation of the devil and evil follows along with a confession of ‘the one living and true God’ and a promise to accept instruction. A prayer of exorcism, signing with the sign of the cross, further prayers, and a blessing follow. The rubrics do not direct that the oil of the catechumens be used for the signing of the cross, but that would certainly be traditional.
The 1954 baptismal rite is much like the 1928 rite with a few additions. First, in the case of the baptism of those ‘of riper years’, an additional prayer occurs at the beginning that makes typological references to the Lord’s baptism in Jordan and being ‘received into the ark of Christ’s Church’. Secondly, the full Apostles’ Creed is read in interrogatory form. Thirdly, the rite permits the addition of the giving of the chrysom and a lighted candle to the newly baptized. Fourthly, after the thanksgiving following baptism there are additional exhortations to both the godparents and then to the newly baptized. 1954, like the 1662 English Prayer Book, only provides one option for the gospel lection – the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus by night in John 3.
In the case of infant baptism, the address to the newly baptized is omitted, and instead a prayer for the child’s home may be added and the address to the godparents is longer. In the beginning of the rite there also is an additional prayer referring to sinful pre-baptismal human nature: a prayer somewhat akin to, but briefer and less relentless than, the opening prayers in the 1662 baptismal rite.
The 1954 book also provides a form for private baptism in case of need, beyond a rubric and the bare baptismal formula. It also provides a form for the reception of children privately baptized. The reception form includes questions to assure that the child was duly baptized, along with exhortation, the reading of the gospel (in this case beginning with Saint Mark 10:13), and the supplying of the ceremonies.
In all of these cases the doctrines of original sin, divine mercy, baptismal regeneration, and Christian duty are clearly taught.
The 1928 book provides two Offices of Instruction (twelve pages) and a Catechism, whose subtitle is ‘an Instruction to be Learned by Every Person before he be brought to be Confirmed by the Bishop’ (six pages). All three of these instructions are in traditional question and answer form, and all three share much content. The Catechism begins by considering the promises of baptism, then covers the Articles of Belief (the Apostles’ Creed), the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the two sacraments ‘generally necessary to salvation’. The first of the two Offices covers much the same material as the Catechism, apart from the sacraments, with some additions (such as the Gloria Patri and the Summary of the Law). The second Office covers the marks of the Church, the bounden duty of members of the Church, confirmation, and the two sacraments that are ‘generally necessary to salvation’.
The 1954 book only contains a Catechism (seven pages). This Catechism covers the material given in 1928 in its Catechism, its first Office of Instruction, and in the final part of its second Office of Instruction. The 1954 Catechism provides a note explaining the important term ‘generally necessary to salvation’: ‘Generally: that is, necessary to all where they may be had.’ Concerning the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, 1954 follows the language of the 1662 Catechism in saying that its inward part is the ‘Body and Blood of Christ, which are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the Lord’s Supper.’ In contrast 1928 says that the inward part is the ‘Body and Blood of Christ, which are spiritually taken and received by the faithful in the Lord’s Supper.’ The conversion of ‘verily and indeed’ to ‘spiritually’ is significant, and 1954 is correct in keeping the traditional and clearer language.
The 1954 confirmation rite (six pages) contains almost everything that is in 1928 (four pages), but roughly doubles the length of the rite with additions.
In the introduction the bishop himself, or someone he appoints, addresses the candidates and reads a lesson from Acts 8, with the addition of vv. 4, 5, and 12 to vv. 14-7. In the 1928 book only vv. 14-7 are read, and in 1662 no lesson is provided. Then the address is greatly expanded with an explanation of the meaning of confirmation and an introduction to the questions that will follow. In this address there is a nod back to the post-baptismal prayer when the candidates were asked to confirm that they ‘steadfastly purpose…to confess the faith of Christ crucified and to serve loyally under his banner.’
1954, as compared to 1928, omits the second question to the candidates, ‘Do you promise to follow Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?’ Instead of this American question, three other questions are added before the one that 1662, 1928, and 1954 all share (renewing the promises made at baptism). In 1954 the first question seeks renewal of the renunciation of the devil and evil made before baptism. The second question confirms faith in the articles of the Apostles’ Creed. The third elicits a promise to keep God’s will and commandments.
The confirmation itself is mostly the same as in 1928: introductory versicles and responses, the prayer for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the laying on of the bishop’s hands with the prayer, ‘Defend, O Lord, this thy child etc.’. 1954, however, with a rubric explicitly permits the bishop immediately before saying ‘Defend, O Lord etc.,’ to sign the candidates with chrism and to say, ‘N., I sign thee with the sign of the cross, and I lay my hand upon thee….’
Immediately after the confirmations themselves, the bishop in 1954 addresses the new confirmands saying that they have ratified their baptismal promises, received of God the Gift of the Holy Spirit, and therefore are now admitted to the Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Then the post-confirmation prayers as in 1928 follow, but with an alternative prayer permitted instead of ‘O almighty Lord, and everlasting God’. Before the final blessing the bishop says, ‘Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage; fight the good fight of faith; that you may finish your course with joy.’ Finally, the confirmation rubric in 1928 occurs in 1954 in the same place.
In addition to the rubric permitting explicitly the use of chrism, the 1954 rite is, without being tedious or prolix, more ample, more direct and demanding in addressing the candidates, and clearer about the meaning of the rite and the subsequent, life-long duty of the confirmands. It also makes clear that confirmation is the door to the altar rail and Holy Communion. This point is made not only through the confirmation rubric, but also through the bishop’s public admission of the confirmands to communion after their confirmation.
From this summary it should be clear that the 1954 book is superior to the 1928 book in regarding the rites and offices considered in this post. The restoration of the catechumenate, the permissive use of the holy oils, the permissive use of such pious ceremonies as the giving of the baptismal chrysom and candle, the additions to the Confirmation rite, and retaining the more realistic and traditional language concerning the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament from the 1662 Catechism are all desirable. These improvements do not render 1928 a bad Prayer Book. But they do make 1954 better than 1928.