I should begin by noting that for this post I worked initially from the 2018 publication called Texts for Common Prayer II, rather than from the more definitive 2019 prayer book of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). I have subsequently checked most 2018 texts with the 2019 book as published on the internet. In several cases noted below, the 2019 book improved the 2018 draft very significantly. While I have tried to be accurate, I will cheerfully accept correction if I am mistaken and I acknowledge that I did not have as my starting point a ‘hard’ copy of the best resource available.
This analysis is not as detailed as that which I have given to some other classical Anglican Prayer Books. The reasons for this brevity are simply stated. The ACNA book is not a classical Prayer Book. ACNA is a small Church with an unstable liturgical settlement. In comparison the 1662 English, the 1928 American, and the 1954 South African Prayer Books have all been and still are used by millions of churchmen over many, many years. The 2018-2019 ACNA texts have been used for three or four years by some thousands of people. ACNA exhibits, moreover, a kind of liturgical chaos. One ACNA bishop has told me that in his diocese no fewer than seven different Eucharistic rites are currently in use, including the 1928 American Prayer Book, the Anglican Missal, 1979 Episcopal Church book (in English and Spanish), and the new ACNA rites. Very close analysis of the ACNA situation seems unnecessary, since it exhibits so much flux. Some analysis, however, may be helpful to suggest the basic problems at work for those in the midst of thought about ACNA’s situation and future.
First, it must be frankly and gladly acknowledged that ACNA has significantly improved the book of devotions finally adopted by the Episcopal Church (TEC) in 1979. A few examples, major and minor, will suffice to show the typical character of changes between 1979 and 2019, and the resultant improvement of 2019:
- A 2018 direction (p. vi), retained in the 2019 text (p. 7), permits the use of classical, traditional Prayer Book language and of traditional ‘ordering’ from ‘a historic Prayer Book’. This permission appears in effect to incorporate by reference the ‘historic’ Prayer Books into the ACNA novus ordo. For traditionalists in ACNA this must be a comfort, though it also suggests that a kind of liturgical congregationalism has in effect replaced common prayer. This fact reinforces the point made when I noted above the seven liturgical uses of one bishop in a single ACNA diocese;
- The ersatz response to the salutation from 1979 [‘And also with you’] has been changed to ‘And with your spirit.’ The same change has been made in the Roman Catholic Church’s liturgies in English-speaking countries, though the papal mandate to make this change was implemented very slowly and in a manner that suggests the reluctance of the English-speaking Roman bishops to accept any liturgical correction in a conservative direction. In any case, the result of this change is to make the response a more literal and accurate translation of the Latin (Et cum spiritu tuo). Unfortunately, the 2019 book permits the continued use of ‘And also with you’ (p. 139);
- The quietus has been mercifully applied to the absurd ‘Star Trek’ canon (‘this fragile earth, our island home’);
- While the Coverdale Psalter has been fiddled with, it also has been restored as the basis of the psalter, replacing the tone-deaf 1979 psalter (also used by modernist Lutherans);
- Translations of such standard texts as the Magnificat and the General Confession in the Offices have been conformed more closely to the texts used from 1549 until the early 1960s. While these texts, again, have been fiddled with (see below), the new versions at least indicate a recognition that classical forms deserve attention and respect. Often the new texts are close enough to the old ones to permit the use of traditional musical settings.
I have noted elsewhere the minor, but indicative and very disturbing, excision in 1979 from the birthday prayer of the phrase ‘keeping him unspotted from the world’. The same excision is present in the 2018 draft (p. 309). The phrase, happily, was restored in the 2019 book itself (page 667). Good. The restoration is, of course, a great improvement over the draft. Its omission in 2018, however, is suggestive. It appears that the compilers of ACNA liturgies during the 2010s often took as their starting point the 1979 TEC confection, then made alterations as they deemed appropriate. As suggested by the examples just given, the alterations are mostly in a very desirable direction. As the hesitancy in restoring the birthday prayer also suggests, however, the starting point was so flawed as to slow, if not prevent, the correction of severe mistakes. A better approach would have been to recognize the radically flawed principles at work in the process leading to the 1979 TEC book. Such recognition would have led to a starting point rooted in classical Anglican prayer books, rather than in the radically inadequate books that began to appear in the 1970s. The nature of a journey often is determined by its starting point. ACNA begins at the wrong point.
An appalling rubric appears on page 130 of the 2018 text, providing that the ‘consecrated…Wine’ not consumed in holy communion may be ‘reverently poured upon untrodden ground’. This provision is removed from the 2019 text. The 2019 text, however, remains ambiguous, since it provides that ‘consecrated Wine shall…be consumed, except as authorized and directed by the Bishop’ (page 141; emphasis added). While deep irreverence is not explicitly permitted by the 2019 text, as it was by the 2018 draft, one is left disquieted. Since the book has already permitted reservation of the sacramental Species for future communion, one wonders what other possible authorization or direction an ACNA bishop could give. The Precious Blood is to be given in holy communion, reverently consumed, or temporarily reserved until it be given in holy communion or reverently consumed. What other option could a bishop give?
This last matter leaves one doubtful about the process that produced the 2019 book. One is reminded of the Episcopal Church in the 1960s and 1970s: it included many fine people, but it was an open question from Convention to Convention and from experimental liturgy to experimental liturgy whether the Faith would survive intact. That the Faith is open for question, for vote, and for experimentation is, of course, the central problem for ACNA. ACNA has avoided or repudiated certain grave errors of TEC, for which it deserves full credit. ACNA has not chosen to identify itself as firmly Catholic and within the central traditions of Christendom. This conclusion, which is undoubtedly proven by ACNA’s waffling concerning the ordination of women, is also suggested by its liturgical offerings. The 2019 book enshrines the waffle in the use of italics for an ordinand to the priesthood: implying that women can be ordained priests.
In the 2018 draft ACNA continued the 1979 omission of the traditional prayer for the seven-fold gift of the Holy Spirit in the rite of confirmation. I am not prepared to say that the resulting rite is invalid. I am absolutely prepared to say that it is not Anglican, as the absent prayer in question was present in every Anglican Prayer Book from 1549 onwards until the post-1960s revisions. Fortunately, the 2019 book improves the 2018 draft by restoring the traditional prayer, or something close to it (page 178). This restoration marks a major improvement over 1979.
The two main forms of ACNA’s Eucharistic rite are both really a set of options. One rite in effect permits, though it does not require, the very unfortunate 1662 truncation of the Eucharistic canon. The more modernist rite in the 2018 text is undoubtedly preferable to the 1979 rite. Both 1979 and 2018 avoid some of the 1928 language that can most easily lend itself to Receptionism, and both add some traditional elements of the rite that are not, or not clearly, present in 1928, such as the Benedictus qui venit and the Agnus Dei. The price for such clear improvements is the admission of other disturbing options. The net result is an improvement over 1979, but not over the rites commonly used in the Continuing Churches.
For someone who regularly uses traditional liturgical language, the most notable fact about the new ACNA book is probably its exclusive use of ‘modern’ liturgical language. I have already noted two important facts. One is that ACNA permits the use of older, more classical Anglican rites and liturgical language. The second is that the 2018/2019 texts, while purportedly ‘modern’, are also much closer to classical Anglican texts than those found in the 1979 book. Clearly ACNA is making an attempt both to accommodate those with traditional liturgical preferences and also to make normative something relatively closer to traditional texts.
And yet…. From 1549 until the early 1960s, all Anglicans at Evensong, if they used the traditional first canticle, sang or said:
My soul doth magnify the Lord, * And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded * the lowliness of his handmaiden.
The 1979 book provides exactly this version of the Magnificat in ‘Evening Prayer Rite One’.
Here is the 1979 alternative version of the Magnificat in ‘Evening Prayer Rite Two’:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
The ACNA book does not incorporate a traditional language option in the manner of the ‘Rite One’ alternatives in 1979. Instead the ACNA ‘modernizes’ the traditional language and keeps traditional terms such as ‘magnify’, ‘regarded’, ‘lowliness’, and ‘handmaiden’. Here is the ACNA beginning for the Magnificat:
My soul magnifies the Lord, * and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For he has regarded * the lowliness of his handmaiden. (2019, p. 45)
From these texts we may conclude that ACNA has abandoned both the idea of wholesale replacement of classical translations and texts and also the adoption of entirely novel versions. Again, good. It seems safe to say that no, or at any rate few, musicians will attempt to set the 1979 ‘Rite Two’ modern version of the Magnificat for music. Why bother? The traditional version has been given thousands of musical settings, by thousands of composers, great and small, over almost five centuries. The traditional form of the text will survive. The 1979 text will soon be changed, is entirely without charm or literary merit, is not memorable, and is most unlikely to attract any composer of weight.
The 2019 ACNA version, in contrast to 1979, keeps all the key vocabulary of the traditional version. It does abandon old verb endings (‘doth’, ‘hath’), alters ‘doth magnify’ to a simple present ‘magnifies’ and alters ‘hath rejoiced’ to ‘rejoices’. In the case of ‘hath rejoiced’ and ‘has rejoiced’, the older verb form has been replaced, but the main verb and number of syllables are the same. 2018/2019 clearly wants to avoid Tudor verb forms and second person singular pronouns, but also wants to maintain older vocabulary and forms and, perhaps, something of the rhythm of the older form.
2019 is obviously closer to the classical prayer books than is ‘Rite Two’ from 1979. The fact that 1979 has a ‘Rite One’ closer still to the classical Anglican books than this 2019 form is countered by the fact that the 2019 rubric permits the outright continued use of the classical forms.
But more to my present point, what are we to make of the 2019 effort to adopt a ‘conservative’ alternative to the classical Prayer Books forms? The goals guiding the 2018/2019 compilers seem to be: 1. keep existing vocabulary and forms as much as possible while, nonetheless, 2. eliminating archaic verb forms and second person singular pronouns. Perhaps the compilers saw their position as a kind of ‘moderate modernization’.
To the two goals just given, I would respond: Why? Why seek to avoid non-contemporary uses such as the ‘-eth’ and ‘-est’ inflection of verbs and second person singular (thou, thee, thy/thine) pronouns? The obvious answer to this question is that the compilers seek to provide ‘contemporary’ language forms for worship. For evangelical and catechetical reasons, no doubt, these compilers seek to minimize language that is non-contemporary, unusual, alienating, and outside the usual vocabulary and grammar of those hearing the forms in question. The compilers seek to reduce barriers between the text and its users, particularly if those users are uneducated and unchurched.
To which, again, one asks: Why? Do the compilers imagine that their ‘modernized’ texts, to most ‘modern’ people, will not still seem odd, foreign to their common assumptions, and, to be blunt, just plain weird? Afterall, who in 2021 goes around ‘magnifying’ the Lord? Who refers to herself as a ‘handmaiden’? or emphasizes her ‘lowliness’?
In for a penny, in for a pound. Catholic worship, from the point of view of our contemporaries, is utterly foreign, strange, weird, and alien, and it is becoming more so. Far from seeking to minimize language that emphasizes this fact, the modern Church should revel in it. We are countercultural, calling the world to something deeply foreign to its daily life. By all means let us use a classical vocabulary and let us show to those who wander into our midst that they are wandering into a world of wonders that calls – not for their comfort or for slight adjustments and reconsiderations – but for their repentance, conversion, and profound reorientation.
Precisely by retaining our classical, ‘alien’, pre-modern, forms, rooted as they are in older, more Christian language and in an older, more Christian society, we are in fact proving ourselves absolutely current with the present evangelical and missional need. We seek to address a neo-pagan, de-Christianized, and troubled world. Dumbing things down and abandoning the high cultural forms of our heritage will attract no one. Showing the world a glorious challenge, proclaiming the Mysterium tremendum et fascinans: those should be our goals. Of course the worldlings will be confused and mystified when they come into our midst. That is, if not the whole point, at least a significant part of the point. They ARE confused, and we show them a great Mystery utterly outside their ken and coming down to them from, in Evelyn Underhill’s phrase, beyond the ramparts of this world. Why run from these facts?
The ACNA book is a step in the right direction. But Anglican liturgical scholars, like French generals, are always fighting the previous war. ACNA does not understand how profoundly TEC apostasized in the 1970s and how much its devices and desires from that era need simply to be abandoned. ACNA itself is half-compromised by its history. ACNA needs to leap back past 1979 to a previous liturgical – and theological – era. The 2019 book is not the answer.