Monday, May 17, 2010

Prayer Book Catholicism

"Prayer Book Catholic" is not a term one hears very often these days. I have a suspicion that that may have something to do firstly with the disappearence of the Prayer Book in England, and partly because the liturgical revision has led to a drawing together of the mainstream A-C and Prayer Book strands in the Church of England. However, the term still has some relevance when talking about Anglo-Catholicism in the Continuum, even though "Prayer Book Catholic" has been a term little used in the USA.

One great characteristic of the American Continuum is that it is overwhelmingly a "small-c catholic" endeavour. Even the "Low Churchmen" can tick all the basic Anglo-catholic boxes - belief in the authority of Scripture, in the three Creeds, in the importance of the Early Fathers and Councils, in the apostolic origin of Holy Orders, in the Real Presence, etc.. The areas of dispute tend to lie in areas that are not core doctrine, such as what should we believe about the Blessed Virgin Mary and how important are Counter-Reformation devotions such as Benediction, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Thus, within the Continuing environment "Prayer Book Catholicism" represents a sort of middle ground, firmly rooted in the Prayer Book tradition of worship on the one hand, and firmly catholic in doctrine on the other.

Prayer Book Catholicism seems to have had its origin in the Bisley School of Tractarianism, and among those Ritualists who thought that being Anglican was at least as important as being Catholic. Doctrinally, it tended to have a more of an interest in the Early Fathers than it did in modern Roman Catholic theology and placed a strong emphasis on Scripture as the test of what should be dogma. This basic theologial emphasis will give you an idea of where and how moderate Anglo-Catholic theologians differed from Rome. The obvious areas of dispute are those dogmas, doctrines and disciplines of the Roman Church that deviate from the practice of the first eight Christian Centuries. This resulted in a strongly Biblical expression of Catholicism that, in practical terms, valued the integration the sacramental Christianity into the personal commitment to Christ and a striving after holiness characteristic of the old Evangelicalism.

In ceremonial terms Prayer Book Catholicism developed along two paths. The slightly older appraoch is the "English Use" which is a deliberate attempt to revive the such late mediaeval ceremonies as are necessary to the Prayer Book liturgy. This approach was first explored in the mid-nineteenth century, then again c. 1900. It was always most popular in the UK, but, apart from a brief vogue in the 1920s and again in liberal Catholic circles c. 1950, the English Use never really caught on in the USA.

The characteristic Anglo-Catholic approach to ceremonial in the USA, where there is no Ornaments Rubric to point us to the "second year of King Edward the Sixth" has been what I call either "Fortescue and Water" or "Ritual Notes and Water." This approach, adopting and adapting the Tridentine Roman ceremonial in celebrating the Prayer Book services, dates from around 1875 and became popular due to the availability of mass produced items for this style of liturgy. Strangely this led to one of the more visible characteristics of American "Prayer Book Catholicism" - when Roman Usage and the BCP came into conflict, the BCP usually won. That said, there are some widespread additions to the BCP Communion service of which Prayer Catholics are guilty. The most popular of these have been the use of some of the personal prayers of the celebrant, and the addition of the Benedictus, and the Agnus Dei to the Communion office, and less frequently, the use of the Ecce, Agnus Dei before Communion. Also some of the commoner visual elements peculiar to the older Roman Rite - "the big six" on the altar, tabernacles, genuflection, the major elevations, cassocks and cottas for servers have been widely adopted.

Some folks have been tempted to label this Romanizing, but I think it represents the evolution of an American version of Catholic Anglicanism. It is also so firmly entrenched that to launch a new series of liturgy wars aimed at making everyone English Use would be a sinful waste of time and energy when there are souls perishing for want of the catholic Gospel of Christ. There is also a level on which it seems a little odd to tie a country and culture that evolved Post-Reformation to a mediaeval aesthetic. On the other, we should not allow our adoption and adaption the Baroque liturgical aesthetic become a simple ape-ing of 1750s, 1850s or 1950s Rome.

At the end of the day, what Prayer Book Catholic need to be careful to do is be "Bible" or "Evangelical" Catholics. This approach requires our expression of Catholic theology to be rooted in the Scriptures (as expounded in the Early Fathers) and for our worship to be sacramental, dignified, beautiful. Concern for the outward in worship is an extension of the incarnational principle in Christian theology. God-made-man teaches us that the created world special to God and also reminds us that man is made in God's image. It also says something very important about the sacredness of the physical world which was, after all, created by God. This leads us to conclude that the use of human talent, beautiful art, vestments and music, and the engagement of the senses in worship all reflect the incarnational approach to Faith and are an offering acceptable to God. The incipient puritanism of much of American Protestant worship reflects as sort of muted dualism where the physical is "bad" whilst the spiritual is the only true good. This can lead to other disconnects - not just between faith and art, but between religion and morality, faith and conduct, etc.. The common repudiation of art, good music, ceremonial and ritual in worship reflect a religion that over emphasizes the Atonement at the expense of the Incarnation, or more dangerously, especially in the liberal circles, places too much emphasis on Jesus the Great Exemplar and Social Reformer, and not enough of Jesus God Incarnate, our Redeemer, the Christ.

As Christianity becomes marginalized by the Secular Progressive movement (and if you do not believe that is happening look at Western Europe) it becomes increasingly important to take a holistic approach to religion. Christianity should affect every part of the believer's life, not just Sunday mornings and Holydays of Obligation. Christianity should be taught not just as a religion, but as a way of life, a culture, an integrated system. Detaching Christianity from life - which is the logical consequence of teaching it as "just a religion" - actually plays into the hands of the secular progressives as it makes it far easier for them to portray Christianity as irrelevant to daily life - pie in the sky when you die.

When I talk about holistic religion, that naturally brings to mind another word that derives from the same Greek root - catholic. The essence of the catholic faith is both redemptive and incarnation. It values the physical as well as the spiritual as God-made. It is a culture as well as a religion. Thus in our teaching of the faith we need to teach ot just Christian theology, but Christian morality, Christian Liturgy, Christian Art, Christian Culture. If the Twenty-first Century is going to be the twenty-first Christian Century the Church is going to have to teach the fullness of Christianity in order to resist the in-roads of the Truth's two great enemies Secularism, and Islam. They are not shy about (mis)representing their errors as integrated world view; and we should be forceful in our declaration of Christian as the way, the truth, and the life.


  1. " launch a new series of liturgy wars aimed at making everyone English Use would be a sinful waste of time and energy when there are souls perishing for want of the catholic Gospel of Christ."

    Amen--especially if this creates an excuse for further fragmentation of the Continuum.

  2. Since I spent my teens and early twenties in what were essentially prayer book Catholic parishes in a diocese which had a number of completely English Use parishes, I don't find the whole concept strange or foreign at all. Instead I find it to be a practical extension of that sentence in the Preface of 1789 which stated ""In which it will also appear that this Church is far from intending to depart fom the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local circumstances require." In short, the rules of the previous prayer book (1662) are to be followed unless otherwise directed by competent authority - something which neither Ritual Notes nor Fortescue and O'Connell have or had in American Anglicanism.

    The priests at both of my major parishes did do the little Vatican jig, the genuflections, but there were no six candlesticks and no tabernacles on the altar. One of the parishes however clothed servers in the full run of English options depending upon the importance of the feast, i.e., unsleeved, sleeved and winged rochets, surplices and amice, alb and girdle both plain and appareled.

    But what they mainly did was maintain the daily office with Holy Communion on all those days for which the American prayer book provided propers or indicated by rubric than such a service was appropriate or expected. We were also taught to go to confession on a regular basis, find an appropriate spiritual director with whom we were to work up a workable rule of life. In fact, you could not be a regular server at the altar without the rector getting from you a commitment to do all these things.

    That said, there need to be no "liturgy wars" but properly trained candidates for ordination should understand that they should have a commitment to Anglicanism and not to anything resembling pseudo-papalism if they are to be ordained. They may be called to serve in parishes where that is the established tradition, but they should know and appreciate the Anglican tradition before being ordained.

    As to the issue of further fragmentation of the Continuum, that has chiefly taken place at the hands of those clergy desiring to be more papist than the pope with a consequent shedding of any and everything in the prayer book for a missal service reflecting everything which even Rome no longer sanctions. I don't think you have any large examples of prayer book parishes jumping ship in the way in which some of the others have.

  3. A thoughtful post and comments. However, we do have a situation in the CC where one major body intends to swim, another that is openly Henrician, and a third leaning in a direction hardly different in tone. I refer to major bodies, mind.
    These jurisdictions and others probably do not grasp what a truly Apostolic, a truly Catholic, a truly Anglican approach is. All of us have our pre-conceptions and illusions, some of which are based upon our understanding of the Affirmation of St Louis which to many Anglicans was always a problematic document due to its innate misconceptions I cannot subscribe to the Affirmation precisely because of its essentially sectarian nature, which is accurately reflected by the official position of the ACC-OP as given by Archbishop Haverland. The Affirmation is profoundly unApostolic, unCatholic, unAnglican precisely because of its additions to the faith and practice of the primitive Church, the maintenance of which we always struggled to preserve, shorn of later innovations.
    If we understood the reality and intent of our formulae, BCP, Articles, Homilies, our best divines, we would not be deceiving ourselves with illusory misconceptions
    If we study the BCP with care, we would not be intruding odd elements into the service, such as the Benedictus qui venit. We would see that it simply doesn't belong in the '28 Communion. If we understood the 1662 rite, we would realise that the Agnus dei simply does not belong in that rite, it being a disrupting of the flow of the rite. If we understood the '28 Consecration, we would not use certain ceremonies at the Words of Institution. I could go on and on. But, we don't understand. I fear that too many of us are caught up in our preconceptions and misconceptions to even desire understanding.
    All of these common practices obscure the good and gracious heritage handed down to us Will we continue to let it slide through our uncaring hands?
    My brethren and sistern, we have a good and gracious heritage handed down to us all the way from our martyred archbishops, bishops, clergy, layfolk. Shall we throw it away for a mess of pottage as too many of us already have done. Shall we leave it to be a mere quarry of beautiful language, or shall we preserve it unscathed and undiminished?
    May Heaven protect us all.
    In +, Benton

  4. Great post. I especially appreciated your last paragraph regarding a catholic Christian approach to all of life. I wholeheartedly agree and strive to teach my parishioners to live their faith as much as they believe it. However, the challenge for me, coming out of a Evangelical/Pentecostal upbringing, is not having the background of what some call 'mass and office catholicism'. Applying the Church's approach to time/family/prayer has been a long, long process for me, and one which still has a long way to go.

    Perhaps it would be helpful if some of our cradle Anglican brethren could assemble a catechetical resource that would instruct those of us coming in from other traditions (or the unchurched) the Prayer Book Catholic approach to things like fasting, family prayer, etc. We pick up bits and pieces here and there from a number of books and clergy that are coming from a variety of churchmanships and perspectives, thus all of us end up with a hodgepodge of devotional practices and beliefs. Not that every detail needs to be carved in stone, but a handy go-to guide would be much appreciated. Any suggestions?


  5. Hi Bud,

    I whole heartedly agree about the catechism. I've been using the short catechism found in the prayer book, and almost every lesson I return to the content of our baptismal vows. It's actually a very powerful approach, reminding us of our baptism. However, we also have some longer catechism and expositions on the Articles. Bishop Robinson has suggested Browne's exposition on the 39, and then there is Nowell's longer catechism. Bishop Benton's comment should also be taken to heart, us reading and grasping the "intent of our formulae, BCP, Articles, Homilies, our best divines". For some reason, 20th century Anglicans came to the conclusion that 'catechism' and 'articles' (and other standards) were too protestant, and the only true catholic is "merely" creedal. At my blog I've been trying to write about the importance of these standards and the precedent once attached to them regarding their subscription and profession during the Settlement and Restoration periods, and how during the classical period of Anglicanism, 1559-1718, conformity to such was a 'norm'. This is the true notion of 'high church', conformity to standards, I think.

  6. cont'd
    Dear Brother Bud,

    Also, I believe many of us who were not raised in TEC, coming from either Presbyterian
    or Pentecostal churches, etc., really miss the zeal that Sabbatarianism and frequent catechism tends to breed. I think more protestant churchmen are actually looking for something akin to the methodist societies which offered a 'monastic feel' for brethern-- meaning weekly prayer groups, more preaching, and regular moral instruction, even perfectionism. This kind of community becomes more and more important to me as I approach marriage because I am wanting to rear godly seed, and I think young families are looking for that same kind of support. In High Church Anglicanism we tend to put this all on the rector who is often overtaxed (and working), whereas men like Wesley exhorted the laity to really take hold of its baptism and fill the gap in its own capacity (basically lay readers, exhorters). I think visitors often scrutinize the piety of the congregation more so than the rector's holiness, and if the pastoral function is being done right, there shouldn't be much of a difference-- both being very godly, etc.. Anyway, that sense of intimate society should flow from our eucharist, and this doesn't exclude a strong diaconate nor prophetic office in a parish (that means catechist). However, it's a catch 22 because if one shuns catechism, articles, and preaching because it appears 'protestant' or uncatholic, on what standard do you teach or exhort? That's where I believe the continuum has really bogged itself down.

  7. Subsequent comments to my previous imply that I have been recently elevated to the episcopate. Alas, this is mistaken. I am a single layman now living in Florida---isolated from any accessable parish. I would not have our bishops of whatever jurisdiction hauling me up for impersonation
    I do re-iterate what I've written. We all need to be rid of preconceptions and misconceptions through serious prayerful study.
    A writer mentions the 'methodist societies' I would like to suggest a lay movement in our parishes to maintain the Daily Services of Mattins and Evensong in our churches. Our priests will be pleased to join us as often as they can, knowing that these services are carried on, even in their absence. We can and should be a 'powerhouse' of prayer in our parishes and communities. Our own spiritual and devotional lives, along with our parishes, will flourish and abound. I do not exaggerate. This is so. When two or three are gathered together, there is He among us.

    In +, Benton

  8. We need greatly improved appreciation and conduct of Morning Prayer (and Evening Prayer) as regular, frequent, Sunday services. With the choir leading the canticles in Anglican chant, the services become truly "solemn high" as well as joyfully uplifting. Churches will grow because Morning Prayer is our most evangelical (traditionally speaking) service other than the deeply spiritual funeral as provided in the real Book of Common Prayer.

  9. Indeed, Sunday Mattins used to be a great magnet for people that didn't know the Church or her Prayer Book. It also had a certain merit in not being excluding. The Communion, we know, is intended for the confirmed and those ready and desirous The Communion has always been for the Household of Faith. In the early Church, the unbaptised were withdrawn from the Holy Mysteries until they were baptised. To this day, Rome and Orthodoxy hold that the Communion is for the Faithful only. The BCP, in provding the services of Mattins and Evensong, sets forth a truly magnetic service. I came into the Church through these services. Many others have done the same. Why overlook our best attractions?

    In +, Benton

  10. I tend to like swimming against the tide, but I see a great deal of merit in following the moderate High Church practice of having a mid-morning Communion service followed by chanted Matins every Sunday. Very few churches follow that pattern these days, and I think that, on the whole it could be revived with very great benefit to the church. One problem most Continuing Anglican parishes have is that they are relatively small. This tends to push us towards a single main service and modern liturgical theory tends to push us towards the Communion as the main service. At least ome parishes in UECNA combine MP and HC.

  11. Dear Benton,

    Many high churches have "oblate" societies. I believe Bp. Robinson has a similar prayer guilds and devotional societies at St. Paul's. Wesley had the methodists meet Wednesday's and Friday evening's for self-examination, prayer, confession, and sermon, and it's this extra-devotional life and ongoing fellowship outside Sunday worship that I am talking about. I once belonged to a fundamentalist church, which, now as I look back upon it, was surprisingly high church in the Wesleyan sense, but it didn't advertise it as such, yet they followed a similar routine. It's funny how much fundamentalist protestantism has benefited from the Church of England and her sprigs. For those coming from such backgrounds, it's these 'oblate' groups or guilds that they might be looking for...

    Morning Prayer is a great goal and gauge for reformation amongst continuing Anglicans.

  12. Anglicanrose,

    I wholeheartedly agree with you about the value of devotional guilds and societies. I recently attended a teaching session led by an Evangelical, low-church bishop about how to encourage and multiply effective small-groups in the parish, and I realized that the basic concept he was presenting was used by Wesley and other high-churchmen and Anglo Catholics. I believe such groups go a long way towards nurturing personal spiritual growth and holiness, as well as improving pastoral care within the parish. There is much that Churchmen can learn from Evangelicals, and vice-versa, if only we would take the time to listen to one another.

    Similarly, based on my reading of Anglican history, there seems to be a history of informal priestly fraternities and guilds, but I cannot think of any such group still in operation, other than the SSC, which seems to have a distinctly Anglo-Papist bent. Perhaps it's time for a Prayer Book Catholic alternative to be brought into existence.


  13. Hi Bud,

    Yes, if only the evangelicals were more conscious of the history of these 'prayer and small study groups'. But I believe that's where central churchmanship comes in. It can bridge the gap and inform both sides of common origins. The irony is high church is part of low church history. Part of the problem is terminology. What we call high and low today, was very different during the 17th and 18th centuries, and I believe liberals did much to drive the wedge.

  14. +Peter,

    You mention up-thread reinvigorating the practice of early Communion followed by Matins at a later hour.

    I have always preferred to dismiss non-communicants before beginning the Eucharistic rite proper, but have never had the manpower avaliable to have folks with non-communicants afterwards (either as catechists or just for fellowship).

    Matins would certainly be a less complicated situation (no Sacrament to disinvite people from) for the main public service of a given Sunday, but I worry at times that such an approach contributes to a low view of the Sacraments.

    Any thoughts on how to address this?