Fr. Carlos Raines
The ACNA is preparing to release a new prayer book. This is a good and essential thing! Of course we cannot keep using Episcopalian prayer books. However, my hope is that the ACNA does not give up on liturgical renewal if by that we mean pursuing the goals of many of the English reformers; the desire to reform the liturgy to the practice and faith of the early church. To that end, I would say not everything about the 1979 Prayer Book was a disaster! (Though some almost make it sound that way). In fact, we orthodox believers probably greatly outnumbered the liberals in the '60's and early '70's when that prayer book was composed. It is hard for me to think, for example, that using the liturgy of Hippolytus for the foundation of “Prayer A” was a stunning act driven by secularized liberals!
One vital, life-giving effort wonderfully expressed in the '79 Prayer Book was the contemporary language rites of prayers A, B and D. In these prayers, the Episcopal Church reached past the time of Cranmer for examples of ancient Western rite prayers to revive our worship. Personally I believe this effort was successful. For example, despite the way the Prayer Book was shoved down the throats of the faithful by the bishops of the time, it is astounding how many clergy and laity chose for their principle worship services Rite II, Prayer A! My personal experience was that most converts and families, having tried both of our services (Rite 1 at 8:00 and Rite II at 10:30) found the Rite II service much more to their liking. Currently I celebrate (or attend) the Eucharist Sunday through Friday every week using almost exclusively Prayer A Rite II. Except for some awkward (somewhat unbiblical) wording in the very last phrase, it simply does not grow old. (I believe the other Rite 2 services would have been used more often had the Prayer Book not suffered a poor publication design that required yet more page turning to use prayers B-D. Prayer D in particular is deep and majestic).
Let me say again how astounding this is! There should have been every reason for Episcopalians to stay with Cranmer's words, as measured and beautiful as they were (Cranmer certainly was a consummate word-smith!). Yet by a great majority, the priests and people of the Episcopal church quite voluntarily “voted” to worship with a liturgy based on an ancient rite that predated Cranmer by about 1200 years!
Why did this happen? Why did so many people who clearly were orthodox prefer a more ancient liturgy to some version of the 1662 Elizabethan Prayer Book?
Here are some simple reasons that occur to me as to why they did so and why we should continue to provide these or similar ancient liturgies in the new prayer book and not exclusively return to using some version of the 1662 Book, either in original or contemporary language.
ñ Ironically, I believe excluding these ancient rites betrays the intentions of the original Reformers, especially as elucidated in John Jewel's Apology. Their efforts were directed at reforming the Western Catholic Church to its ancient roots predating the rise of the Papacy and the tearing of the fabric of unity in communion that occurred in A.D. 1054. It is speculation on my part, (but not entirely uninformed) that these Reformers would be astonished and even aghast at efforts to make them and their writings the bench mark of Anglican church renewal. I do believe they would point beyond themselves humbly and beg us to look to the benchmarks they followed in their day; the Holy Scriptures as interpreted by the Early Church Fathers, and the ancient practice of the undivided Church. I worry that those who think our sufferings of the past 40 years can be directly attributed to having left the exclusive use of the Traditional Prayer Book Liturgies and Ordinals are leading us to a kind of liturgical fundamentalism, making us truly a Protestant Church, living as though everything before the 16th Century has no meaning to us!
ñ Originally we were one of the first churches in the West to produce a liturgy and a Bible in the language of the people. If my church, St. James' Anglican Cathedral, were required to use classical prayer book worship at all services, the Anglican Church in my neighborhood would instantly become, of all the English speaking churches in the community, the church with the least understandable liturgy! Again, the irony is crushing! The medieval church had commentaries to explain the alien Latin terms to the people who could afford such texts (and who could read!). We will need classes to explain to the people the meaning of such terms as oblation, satisfaction, remission, substance, meet, vouchsafe and merits before most of them can make much sense of our liturgy.
ñ Liturgy does not have to be composed of classical sixteenth century English to be beautiful, timeless, profound and formational. The Gospel of John, written in laughably simple Greek is arguably the most profound of the four. Effective liturgy need not be erudite; it must be deeply symbolic.
ñ Along with the liturgy found in the Anaphora of Hippolytus (3rd century...from which we get the '79 Prayer Book Eucharistic Prayer A), there are other ancient liturgies available, some of which were used by Celtic and even Anglo-saxon churches. Some of these are no longer in use precisely because the imperialistic mindset behind the growing ecclesiastical hegemony of the Papacy forced the suppression of all other liturgies besides the Roman Rite. Contrast this impulse with the very words of Pope St. Gregory the Great who re-founded the English Church with the following words found in a letter to Augustine of Canterbury: “If you have found customs, whether in the Roman, Gallican, or any other Churches that may be more acceptable to God, I wish you to make a careful selection of them, and teach the Church of the English, which is still young in the faith, whatever you can profitably learn from the various Churches. For things should not be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things.” The Gallican liturgy, long suppressed by Rome is a Western liturgy closely connected with Patrick of Ireland and the Celtic Church and of considerable appeal in beauty and poetic theological vision. Perhaps this could be modified for Anglican usage? (See http://web.archive.org/web/20030329153729/members.truepath.com/Ben_Johnson/Germanus.html)
ñ Already many, if not most churches either use worship pamphlets or extensive bulletins or even projected programs containing the Sunday Liturgy. Most of our churches are no longer wedded to any particular book for Sunday worship and so, in a way strangely similar to much earlier times, we could well be in a time of creative flux. This is not necessarily a bad thing in my estimation; like deceptively simple folk music, great liturgy is developed by many hands over the passage of time. This is why ancient liturgies never grow old; they are refined through divine-human interaction into truly “common prayer.”
ñ Returning to the original intentions of the English Reformers, could we not now “finish the Reformation?” By that, I mean, what if we went beyond the 16th Century, reviving a long-suppressed liturgy (or liturgies), with Celtic roots, finding our place, along with the Orthodox, in a patristic church, challenging our brothers and sisters in Rome to join the journey? Standing with the Orthodox, regaining our truly patristic roots, could we not together turn to Rome and join in the call for the 8th Ecumenical Council? (Failing that, I wonder what kind of celebrations will greet the Millennial anniversary of the first, greatest and most devastating of schisms as A.D. 2054 arrives?)
ñ There was a time when the Church, both East and West, was very comfortable with Christians worshiping with multiple liturgies in myriad languages (still the practice in the East). Yet this church, so free in expression, for over a thousand years had a profound unity we can only long for today. A single liturgy was not the fountain head of that unity, rather a recognized apostolic succession was; both in it's faith expression and in it's collegial structure. As the Eastern Orthodox have proven for 2,000 years, our unity need not necessarily be in a single book, but in a common and ancient faith overseen by faithful bishops unafraid to correct each other. The benchmark of that faith was in the faith of the Church planted by Jesus and the Holy Apostles as revealed in Holy Scriptures and interpreted with great respect to the early fathers.
ñ I am not advocating the removal of 1662-derivative prayer book liturgies. It may be that many or even most of our churches will happily use them and to great effect for the Kingdom. I am only asking that the opportunity to reach even further back than 1662 be allowed for clergy and people who wish to let more ancient liturgies sing again. These liturgies were composed and developed long before the sad divisions and controversies of the late Middle Ages and they fed the hearts and souls of countless saints. Why not allow for a season of creative flux, carefully overseen by Anglican bishops so that we may see what direction the Holy Spirit and the faithful may take in the years ahead. Do we seriously want to lock ourselves into 16th or 17th century Anglicanism as our only benchmark? Recognizing that their language and their issues are now almost as strange and alien to us as Latin to an English peasant, we the sons and daughters of these amazing reformers should continue to mine the riches of the ancient Church, and speak powerfully to this and future generations, fulfilling the words of Jesus about the wise scribe of the Kingdom reaching into his treasure to bring forth things old and new. There are thousands of people all across North America who are searching for a church to believe in. I sincerely believe a liturgy based on an ancient Western Catholic liturgy will find more favor with them than a liturgy requiring a history lesson and a dictionary!
I respectfully and humbly submit these thoughts for the sake of discussion. It is my sincere hope that these words might be useful as we seek to reestablish Anglicanism in North America.
The Very Reverend Carlos Lee Raines
St. James Cathedral, Fresno, California
4 February 2012
Cornelius the Centurion