Episco-Fact #4

July 10, 2016


OF suche ceremonies as be used in the church,
and have had their beginning by ye institution of man:
some at the first were of Godly entent and purpose devised,
and yet at length turned to vanitie and superstition. . .

Thomas, Cranmer, Of Ceremonies, Book of Common Prayer, 1552

The question: Why was the 1928 Prayer Book (BCP 28) replaced by the Book of Common Prayer, 1979 (BCP 79)?

The fact of the Episco-fact is the BCP 28 was dramatically changed when issued as the BCP 79. What follows is interpretation.

The Episcopal Church is a church of the Reformation, whatever that may mean. Dairmaid McCulloch, a church historian, wrote a thousand page book on the history of the period. No short essay will suffice to explain it all. But certainly for reformed churches it means they have a basic gene that compels them to "reform" on a regular basis.

This basic characteristic of moving toward "pure" worship of the primitive churches, which was part of the spiritual and intellectual framework of the Reformation, was amplified in western Christianity of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries because 1) the shape of worship services had changed very little since the mid-sixteenth century, and 2) the discovery, or rediscovery, during that 150 year period, of ancient documents which described worship in early Christianity differently than it was being practiced.

With that background, sacristy rats of all varieties, especially liturgy academics, looked to apply the documentation they had in order to remake Reformation worship into worship of an earlier and "purer" epoch.

Reformers reform. That's what they do. And in the 1960's and 1970's they did, in the Roman Catholic Church during Vatican II (1962-1965) with wholesale re-writing of the Tridentine Mass, and in the Episcopal Church (1970-1979), with a wholesale re-writing of the services, Holy Communion included, of the BCP 28, forms in existence since Cranmer's BCP 1552.

As mentioned last week, and still applicable, the worship described in either book is neither right nor wrong, only different.

The Rev. David Lucey