BCP: A Finished Product or a Work in Progress?

Article excerpt

These two books are different in content and purpose. One is a devotional commentary on the 1962 Canadian Book of Common Prayer (BCP), which appeared in substantially finished form 450 years ago in the Church of England.

The other is a historical and theological overview of the evolution of Anglican worship from 1549 until the present day--from a local schism within western Christianity to a worldwide multiracial, multicultural Communion whose great defining document was the 1662 BCP.

One presents the BCP as a finished product; the other shows it as a work in progress. The two viewpoints highlight the main issue around Anglican worship in the 21st century.

Discovering the Book of Common Prayer is the second of two volumes published jointly by the Prayer Book Society and Anglican Book Centre Publishing. It focuses on key topics of corporate worship: the church, baptism, confirmation, and Holy Communion.

It is a well-written, attractively illustrated, and polemic-free presentation of Anglicanism and much of its commentary relates to matters not exclusive to the BCP. The section offering "souls and bodies," for example, is an exposition of carrying faith into action in today's world.

However, the book suffers from a kind of "prayer book fundamentalism," best illustrated in its treatment of the directives restricting reception of Holy Communion to persons who have been confirmed. I searched in vain for any reference to the 1972 action of General Synod which opened sacramental sharing to any baptized person of any age. Surely the widespread acceptance of such a major change by the whole church deserves some acknowledgement.

The author writes of the "elegant and evocative language" of the BCP, words no one could dispute. It is also studded with translation of BCP words into language "understanded of the people." That is one reason this book is excellent for its time, but that time was 50 years ago.

The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer portrays the BCP and Anglican public worship as very much works in progress.

But this, surely, is what it always was. The definitive 1662 BCP--what people know and love as "The Prayer Book" was the fifth in a dispute-filled evolution over about 100 years starting in 1549. The present Canadian BCP is the result of two further reworkings, 1918 and 1962, making it seventh in the revisions.

It is difficult not to compare this new survey with the 1932 Liturgy and Worship (L&W), which served as a basic textbook for generations of theological students. It and the new Oxford book follow a similar pattern-essays by eminent liturgical scholars outlining Anglican worship as it was and is becoming. …