On Liturgies, Shapes and Texts

A Comment on the Dialog Between Samuel Bray and Ben Jefferies

Recently I read both Samuel Bray’s piece over at Ad Fontes, and Rev. Ben Jefferies’s piece over at The North American Anglican. Both present different schools of thought regarding Anglican liturgy, and I recommend you read them both.

I did notice, however, that several people interpreted Prof. Bray’s essay as arguing that a. no deviation from the 1662 text is ever acceptable or b. that it was exempt from having a “shape.” This was not the impression I got; rather, I found it to argue that when a liturgy’s credibility is based on whether it fulfills The Shape, instead of as a cohesive text, its form and purpose can change drastically.

To help illustrate what I perceive Prof. Bray’s point is, I would like to compare the ACNA BCP 2019 Anglican Standard Text to the 1662 BCP Holy Communion in terms of combinations, that is, how many different arrangements can be created based on what the rubrics allow for. I should say that I’m not trying to denote doctrinal import here; of course deciding whether or not to open the service with a hymn does not bear the same weight as omitting the Prayer of Humble Access. I simply seek to demonstrate the ethos that went into the liturgies, and how we can perceive them. One could perform this exercise with any modern prayer book, but considering that very few of these actually have anything “common” about them, the 2019 BCP fits the bill as an BCP.

With the Anglican Standard Text, I calculate about 1.6 trillion different possible combinations. This may seem like a large sum, but in fact it is quite conservative compared to other modern Anglican liturgies. If I had attempted this with Common Worship, it would have created a number so vast the human brain would be unable to comprehend it. I am also very aware that many of these “choices” existed long before the 2019 did, as in the case of the American 1928 BCP, which begins to introduce more options and has a number of combinations of its own.

I have listed below the different rubrical points where a priest (or hopefully a bishop), could decide to utilize or omit elements of the liturgy. For example, with “The People standing, the Celebrant says this or a seasonal greeting” you have two choices: the priest says this or a seasonal greeting, not a choice of each possible seasonal greeting. That represents two separate branches on a decision tree, hence the number “2” in parentheses afterwards.

You’ll notice some things are missing. I don’t list the music rubrics, for example, or the ability to reconfigure the liturgy to work like the 1662 order. I’m guessing some folks will take umbrage at particular items I include, as perhaps I misunderstand the choices surrounding a rubric or two, but remember, this is to make a broader point. The entire Ancient Renewed Text is out there as well.

The People standing, the Celebrant says this or a seasonal greeting (2)
Then follows the Summary of the Law, or The Decalogue (2)
The Kyrie or the Trisagion (4)
The Gloria or some other song of praise may be sung or said, all standing (3)
After each Lesson the Reader may say (2)
On Sundays, other Major Feast Days, and other times as appointed (2)
Filioque (2)
The Deacon or other person appointed says these prayers, or the Prayers of the People in the Renewed Ancient Text (2)
The Celebrant concludes with this or some other appropriate Collect. (2)
The Celebrant may then say the Exhortation. (2)
The Deacon or other person appointed says the following/or (2)
The Celebrant may then say one or more of the following sentences, first saying (2)
Then the Ministers and People may greet one another in the Name of the Lord. (2)
The Celebrant may begin the Offertory with one of the provided sentences of Scripture. (2)
Representatives of the Congregation may bring the People’s offerings of bread and wine, and money or other gifts, to the Deacon or Priest. (2)
The People stand while the offerings are presented. The following may be said. (2)
Here a Proper Preface is normally sung or said (2)
Communion prayers (3, I think. It seems to have optional portions, although it’s unclear)
Then may be sung or said (3)
Prayer of Humble Access: Celebrant and People together may say (2)
The following or some other suitable anthem may be sung or said here (3)
Facing the People, the Celebrant may say the following invitation (3)
During the ministration of Communion, hymns, psalms, or anthems may be sung. (2)
The Celebrant may offer a sentence of Scripture at the conclusion of the Communion. (2)
Celebrant and People together say the following, or the Post Communion Prayer in the Renewed Ancient Text (2)
The Bishop when present, or the Priest, gives this or an alternate blessing (2)
The Deacon, or the Priest, may dismiss the People with these words (2)

Additional rubrics from after the text allow for more combinations:

Where the greeting “The Lord be with you” is used, the response “And also with you” may be used in place of “And with your spirit.” (2)
A Penitential Order, for use at the opening of the liturgy, or for use on other occasions, may be arranged as follows (2)
The Athanasian Creed (page 769) may be used in place of the Nicene Creed on Trinity Sunday and other occasions as appropriate (2)
The Prayers of the People in the Anglican Standard Text may be read straight through, omitting the silences and “Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer.” (2)
In both the Anglican Standard and Renewed Ancient Texts, other forms of the Prayers of the People may be used, provided the following concerns are included (unsure what this even means, I suppose infinite prayers, but for the sake of brevity, 2)
The Confession from Morning Prayer, or from either Eucharistic text, may be substituted for the one provided. (3)
In the Anglican Standard Text, it is permissible to replace the paragraph that begins “Therefore, O Lord and heavenly Father,” with this memorial acclamation (2)
In the Prayer of Humble Access, “Apart from your grace,” may be inserted at the beginning of sentence: “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table; but you are the same Lord whose character is always to have mercy.” (2)
The words used when the Bread and Cup are given to the communicants may be taken from either Eucharistic Text. (2)

With the 1662 BCP I count 4 different possible combinations, but with a very notable exception:

Then shall follow one of these two Collects for the King, the Prieſt standing as before, and saying (2)
After shall be said as followeth/or this (2)

The notable exception being the verses said during the offertory. Since the priest can choose however many he wants, in whatever configuration he wants, a multitude of options are available. It’s a fun break from the rigidity of the rest of the liturgy.

If we qualify these combinations via The Shape, either in the 1662 or 2019, each one passes the test. It is a valid liturgy. When we evaluate as a text, however, it gets a bit out of hand. Would you like to weigh all 1.6 trillion versions of the 2019? Surely, we can all agree that any liturgy without the Gloria and Prayer of Humble Access, with freestyled Prayers of the People, does not constitute a good one.

The 1662 at the end of the day is still the 1662: you either love it or you hate it. It must be seen as a complete unit, a complete action, text, or shape. We can apply this principle to any BCP. For example, the Scottish 1637 and old American books do differ from the 1662 in some ways, and even introduce a few more options, yet they also are clearly cohesive texts and must be evaluated as such. This, I believe, was Prof. Bray’s point.

Despite some similarities in terms of continuity, the 1662 and 2019 are simply different creatures. The 2019, is, as its preface states, “missional and adaptive,” built, within limits, to be altered so that the liturgy can fit the context. The 1662 is, like its predecessors, designed to bring uniformity of worship regardless of where it is performed, yet in its own way was enormously successful in terms of mission. After all, every Anglican province on Earth (with the possible exception of Scotland) is indebted to the 1662 for its existence.