A time for change

Pentecost 8 – 2011

Liturgical Revision

Marian Free

 In the name of God who makes all things new. Amen.

Last week after the service, someone commented to me that while he enjoyed the Holy Communion from the 1662 Prayer Book he missed the flexibility of our modern prayers that allow for the inclusion of the sick and the departed. He also admitted that he missed the Greeting of Peace. When I replied that I was sure that the Peace Greeting would have been quite contentious when it was first introduced, he agreed, telling me how cautiously it was received in this Parish. As was the case in many churches in this Diocese, if not elsewhere, the Greeting of Peace was met with resentment and suspicion by many parishioners. At St Augustine’s. Forty years later most of us take it for granted and, like my friend, miss it when it is not used.

The Anglican Reformers demonstrated great wisdom when they wrote number 34 of the 39 Articles. It reads in part: ”It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly like: for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word”. Those who wrote this had the foresight to recognise that across the Empire and across the centuries, there would be a need to change and adapt the Prayer Book such that it was culturally appropriate and relevant to its time.

Despite this freedom, it took a long time for there to be any real change to the Prayer Book for at least two centuries. One could attend an Anglican Church anywhere in the Commonwealth and expect to use the Book of Common Prayer. However, that didn’t mean that liturgy and its practice remained static from 1662 until the last century – unofficial changes in ritual and  practice were common, but rarely were they of such magnitude as to make the liturgy unrecognisable[1].

It had been the intention of the Reformation to increase the frequency of Holy Communion. From the time of Queen Elizabeth I until the late nineteenth century, the weekly fare for Anglicans consisted of Matins, the Litany and Holy Communion (or at least ante-Communion). This resulted in a “marathon of prayer, scripture and praise”[2] that could last for up to two and a half hours. A s a consequence many had left before the Eucharist had even begun, thus defeating the purpose of increasing the numbers at Holy Communion.

By the 1800’s there were calls for the separation of the three services – a practice that was already becoming customary. A Convocation was called which encouraged the shortening of the services and an increased participation by the laity. The Act of 1872 allowed for the separation of the three services and for greater freedom with regard to the materials in the Prayer Book. However, the greatest impetus for change came in 1908 when the Lambeth Conference established principles for liturgical reform. It was this that drove the revisions throughout the world during the 1900’s.

In 1928 a revision of the prayer book was defeated in the House of Commons. However the Bishops decided to allow its use provided the practice was consistent with that book or the Book of Common Prayer. For much of the latter part of the twentieth century, the Eucharist as a stand-alone service was the primary form of worship in most Australian churches and over time, even this was shortened by the omission of the exhortations.

While Cranmer and the Reformers looked to the bible as their source for liturgical reform, the reformers of the 20th century looked to the practice of the early church which they modified to suit the current habits of thought and language. Among other changes, the recent reformers reinstituted the offertory – not as an offering of Christ to God, but as the offering of bread and wine as tokens of our own offering, our own ministry. They also brought back the greeting of peace we find in Paul’s letters and from some of the earliest liturgies. The penitential element of the services was reduced and the full recitation of the Ten Commandments was replaced with the two great commandments. An Old Testament lesson and a Psalm were added to the readings, to make up for the loss of the regular use of Morning Prayer.

Another major difference of the most recent service books is that they give the people a voice, not only in saying the liturgy, but also in leading parts of the services – reading the scriptures and leading the intercessions.  Our modern Prayer Books also offer much greater variety than that of our forebears – for example the opportunity to compile our own intercessions and to choose one of five forms of Thanksgiving Prayer.

Over the centuries since the Book of Common Prayer was compiled, language and our use of it has changed dramatically. Who today for example would understand that “let” means hindered or prevented? How many young people would understand that “manifold” is not simply something related to a car’s engine? We no longer use the word “divers” and the word “property” is used more for real estate than it is for the nature of things. The last fifty years have also seen developments in theology that need to be recognised in our liturgy. For example, referring to God constantly as Father or Almighty overlooks the many, many qualities of God that are acknowledged in our scriptures and the fact those who have been abused by their fathers do not find Father a useful expression for God.

There will always be a tension between holding on to the language and forms of liturgy that we have come to love, and finding ways to speak afresh to new generations. As we move into increasingly changing times and into an era in which fewer come to church, it will be important to understand and be true to our history, while at the same time finding ways that enable yet another generation to engage in worship that expresses in words and actions the praise that they long to offer from their hearts.

[1] Sinden, Gilbert, When we meet for worship. A Manual for using An Australian Prayer Book, 1978. Adelaide:Lutheran Publishing House, 1978, 43.

[2] MacCulloch, Diarmaid, in Toon, Peter. “A Morning Marathon of Prayer.” The prayer Book Society U.S.A. http://pbuse.org/Articles/AMorningMarathonofPrayer.htm



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