Thursday, February 28, 2013

Prayer Book Liturgy and Church Growth

Recently my parish has been blessed by God with growth. I believe that one of the things that has contributed to this has been simplifying the service.

When I arrived the liturgical state of the parish was the same as when I had left four or five years earlier. It was a typical APA "missal" parish, meaning of course that the 1928 Prayer Book liturgy was supplemented by all sorts of additional devotions and responses from the missal. That, along with six hymns, service music, announcements, a sermon, and the "three year lectionary" made for a very long and (for newcomers) confusing service. While that service may work well in some places it just did not seem to be doing anything for us here.

So I decided to do something radical: we went to a straight 1928 Prayer Book Service. Additionally, I took out the sermon hymn, a practice I began in Virginia which saves about five minutes from the service. I also brutally suppressed the long rambling list of "Mass Intentions" before the Prayer for the Church. All of this has made the service much easier to follow and a lot less intimidating for visitors. (In my opinion it is much more aesthetically pleasing as well, although I am something of a minimalist in my artistic tastes.)

It is now very easy to just give a newcomer the Prayer Book and tell him: "Put your finger here for the scripture readings, and here for the service." Often they do fine the very first time they visit, and most of the time, happily, they stay, or at least visit on a regular basis. No longer do they have to bounce between three books, or listen to a long, confusing explanation of how we are 1928 BCP parish that for some reason has all of this stuff in the service not found in the liturgy. And no longer are there those awful "service booklets" in the pews, which invariably look terrible, and are usually nothing more than monuments to a priest's idiosyncrasies.

I believe that making the liturgy more accessible in this way has helped make people feel more welcome and at ease in church. The Prayer Book liturgy is daunting for those who are new to it. We clergy sometimes forget this because we are so used to it. We err in my judgement, and reduce our effectiveness and outreach, when we take this beautiful, but very prolix liturgy, and add a lot of extra stuff to it.... stuff that is really unnecessary.


  1. Would be interesting to know, exactly how "1928" is your parish? I've never seen one that actually fully followed the entire 1928 BCP, both liturgically and theologically.

    Liturgically, I mean everything from saying the Decalog monthly, having the Gloria after communion, no Introit, no Gradual, no Lamb of God, no proper prayers after communion, saying the Exhortations, etc. And following the rubrics exactly (e.g., just the five actions expressly discussed during the eucharistic canon, actions a-e, so there would be no elevation of the host).

    Theologically, this would also mean upholding the 39 Articles in the BCP. Particularly, Articles XXII, XXV, and XXVIII.

    In all my years of observing continuing Anglican parishes in USA, I've only encountered a low church parish once and that was Reformed Episcopal Church (REC). As you point out, the majority appear to be High Church or Anglo-Catholic and rely heavily on the 20th Century English/American Missal additions (e.g., introits, graduals, communion, post-communion, moving the Gloria to the historic location prior to the readings, etc.).

    At the local ACA parish in my area, which is very high church (something I find most edifying), they have the 1928 BCP in the pews and reference the pages, where they can, in the bulletin. But they also have a liturgy pamphlet that better fits all the additions, since they use the much expanded material from the Missal (introit, post-communion propers, etc.). And do any things specifically prohibited by the 1928 BCP's Articles (invoking saints, adoration, lifting up the eucharist, etc.). So I wouldn't really consider this to be following the 1928 BCP.

  2. Thanks for your question. I addressed this question in my original post, but it made the post too long so I took it out.

    Speaking in terms of the Holy Communion service, it is not completely 1928 liturgically. It is worth mentioning that as far back as 1924 Bp. Arthur Headlam, Bishop of Gloucester, in his book "The Church of England," wrote that no one follows the (1662) Prayer Book completely. In my experience that is the case with us in the continuum, though my service is more 1928 than I have experienced in a long, long time. This is entirely my personal preference.

    Here's where we diverge. We say Agnus Dei (of course, the rubrics allow for a hymn in that spot, so that is okay), add Benedictus qui Venit, add "holy" to the Creed, TARP ("Take ablutions in the Roman position"), and say the Prayer of Humble Access and Prayer of Thanksgiving in unison (customs I do not like, but the parish is used to, so I have kept if for the time being). I say the salutation at the beginning of the service, and "please be seated" a few times to help people out, as even lifelong churchmen forget that stuff (at least in my parish). We do the Decalogue once a month, and read the Exhortations, say the Litany a few times a year, etc. In terms of the ceremonial and manual acts, I follow the old RC customs, except with regard to fracturing the Host, which I do in the Prayer of Consecration as the BCP rubrics appoint. Since I no longer do the "peace" I decided it made no sense to wait till then to fracture the Host.

    So, it is not totally 1928 liturgically. But what I have tried to do is follow the script of the Prayer Book service as much as possible. This is entirely for pragmatic reasons. I believe that the service has to be as simple as possible, and for me that means leaving out whatever is not in the BCP.

    In terms of the other non-verbal stuff (e.g. signs of cross during the consecration, kissing the altar, etc.) I still do those because that is how I was trained, and also because there are no words associated with it, so it doesn't matter if I do them or not from the people's point of view. Massey Shepherd points out in the Prayer Book Commentary that Anglicanism has always placed more of an emphasis on the ritual of the Mass than the ceremonial, and has been very liberal with regard to the latter. I would agree with him.

    That said, I should add that I am by no means wed to doing those things. Likewise, I would have no problem leaving out the Benedictus, and other parts of the service that I currently include. I leave them in because of parish custom (something Headlam expounds on the importance of in his book I mentioned) and because some of the parts are choral and the folk are used to singing it. My big thing is simply that I do not want to confuse people, and I want everyone in and out in one hour, so keeping everything short, simple, and sweet is my goal.

    What is interesting about the "missal" parishes is that, like the BCP parishes, they do not celebrate the missal completely, but leave stuff out (like the Last Gospel, or the Secrets, or the extra Collects, etc.). In fact, the only parish I had ever been to that celebrated the missal completely was my old parish in Virginia at our daily Mass. I would agree with you that following the missal is not following the BCP.

    We don't do that stuff you mentioned from the Articles, though I do elevate the Host at the consecration... again, simply because of custom. One has to be very careful with how he or she interprets Articles anyway. But in general I try to stick by them as much as possible... often for pragmatic reasons. But anyway, that is the topic for another post.

    Anyway, I rambled on about this for far too long, but there you go.

  3. Thanks for the information. Your comment about desiring an hour service is interesting.

    How long is your usual Sunday sermon?

    The ACA parish in my area which follows the Missal and has nearly all the extra bells and whistles (excluding the Last Gospel and substituting an abbreviated 1 or 2-verse only sequence hymn for the gradual/allelulia), does the entire high liturgy, with four complete hymns, in about 50 minutes. But the sermon is only about 5 minutes. We did the Litany last week (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th Sundays in Lent) and still came out under an hour.

    If you ever want to see maximum Anglican ritual plus some more, check out the Antiochian Orthodox Western Rite (my faith group). My former Western Rite parish in Omaha does its Sunday BCP-/Missal-derived high liturgy in about 90 minutes. But that has the whole nine yards, including Last Gospel, post-liturgy Marian anthems, censing, and about a 15 minute sermon.

  4. We keep it an hour because I believe that is all people can really take in. But obviously on some days we go longer than an hour due to the Propers or other seasonal variations.

    I choose the hymns in a particular way as well: long hymn at the processional because people arrive late. Short, two-verse hymn at Gradual. No sermon hymn. Offertory hymn so the organist doesn't have to come up with a piece of music each Sunday, Communion hymn - longer so I have time to do the ablutions. And a short recessional because by the time we're done people just want to leave.

    My sermons are short... probably 7-10 minutes at the most. They are one-point, simple sermons, because, again, most people can only absorb so much in one service. Plus the sermon is meant to complement the liturgy and draw attention to the Holy Eucharist, not be an end in itself.

  5. A small question about the Gloria. Are you following 1928 and doing it post-communion? I've never seen that and have long wanted to. Seems so alien to Western liturgics. (Much more so than even Cranmer moving penitential prayers from beginning of liturgy to right after the Offertory.)

  6. Yes. That seems to be the standard in my APA diocese, though I did have it at after the Kyrie for the first year I was here. I would prefer it at the beginning of the Mass (mostly for pragmatic reasons), but since it is printed in the BCP at the end that is where I do it. It is all about making it as easy as possible.

    Richard Mammana, the founder of Project Canterbury, once wrote a long essay on the topic of the place of the Gloria in the Anglican liturgy. You might still be able to find it online. His conclusion, if I recall it correctly, was that theologically one can justify it in either place in the liturgy. Here is the paper:

    But in terms of western liturgical tradition Cranmer moving it was quite a change. Though we should bear in mind that the liturgy is something that develops and evolves, and changes can and do come.

  7. I quite agree with your sentiments, Father. At St. Francis, Spartanburg, we have a pew booklet which is done quite well though. It was here when I got here and I rather like it. There are, invariably, some typos.

    What I like least is to have everything in the bulletin, which takes the Roman propensity for yearly-disposable pew missals and turns them into weekly-disposable bulletins. It makes for a sense that the liturgy of the Church is equally changeable and disposable. But I know some very good men who prefer to waste that much paper every week and worry about that many typos every week.

  8. I used to worship at with a small parish, in fact started my Anglican worship there, that was nearly straight 1928 BCP. The only exceptions I recall are the elevation of the host and a short prayer before the procession and after the recession. I think there is much beauty in simplicity. Also the Exhortations were never read.

    I've since moved to a parish that uses the missal, for two years now, and I still get lost sometimes. My only real grip with the service, however, is the Gloria is sung with some arrangement other than the Merbecke arrangement. Frankly, it is nearly unsingable by me.

    Finally, at the old parish, they worshipped in a Methodist chapel and had to start at 4:00 pm. Even though it goes against the very strong tradition of morning worship, I find I much prefer to end the day with worship then begin it. Especially in the autumn and winter months, there is something heavenly entering worship in daylight and leaving in twilight.