Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Deposited Prayer Book of 1928

The deposited, or proposed BCP of 1928 was probably the best Prayer Book Anglicanism never officially had. Prayer Book Revision had been initiated in 1906 with the Royal Commission on Ritual which had concluded, somewhat unsurprisingly, that the then liturgical law of the Church of England was 'too narrow for the present generation.' This opened the door to a revision of the BCP more extensive than the new lectionary and rubrical tinkering of 1871. The atmosphere in 1906 was a bit more conducive to this sort of effort than it had been ten years before. Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, had been known to frequent All Saints' Church, Margaret Street, and although one might suggest that it appealed a little more to his taste for the flambouyant than his theological convictions, it was definitely a sign that he was not locked into his mother's Pietism. The fact that moderate Anglo-Catholics and their sympathizers were making it to the Bench of Bishops also helped.

The initial phase of the revision process was more or less a case of private enterprise. Evangelicals, liberals, and Anglo-Catholics all published proposals for the reform, with the Evangelicals making the fewest - as they basically accepted the 1662 BCP as it stood - and the most radical coming from the liberal element. However, none of the suggestions was terribly radical. A tidying up of the daily offices, the removal of some archaic language, some additional propers for Holydays included in the 1662/1871 Calendar all made their way uncontentiously through the revision process. Even the revision of the Communion Service, which was very largely opposed by the Evangelicals, went through against only muted opposition. Much of this unanimity was achieved at the price of allowing the unaltered 1662 form to remain alongside the 'alternative' Offices drawn up for the 1928 revision. The revised BCP was passed by huge majorities in the Church Assembly, and then went to Parliament.

The result was a disaster. Although the new Book of Common Prayer had the support of a majority of Churchmen, it received only dutiful support from the two Archbishops. Randall Davidson was probably lukewarm about the extent of the revision. He probably would have referred the sort of 'light makeover' of the 1662 BCP that occurred in Ireland in about 1871-77 and 1926. Lang of York probably would have preferred something more catholic in outlook - such as the 1549 BCP which he had authorized for use in Lord Halifax's private chapel. Both spoke in favour, and the neccessary Act of Parliament passed the Lord's. The Commons was a different matter, however, and under the able leadership of Joynson-Hicks, who saw the provisions for reservation and Communion from the Reserved Sacrament as undermining the Protestant Character of the Church of England, the Evangelicals and Liberals in the House of Commons - both those of the Anglican tradition, and non-Conformist, managed to vote down the Act authorizing the replacement of the 1662 BCP with the 1927 revision.

The Church Assembly did some fancy footwork over the einter of 1927/8 to revise the Proposed Book, but to no avail. Joynson-Hicks' posse managed to get the book voted down by a wider margin in the Commons. The reaction from the Church wa snot far short of panic. Herbert Hensley Henson, the liberal Bishop of Durham flipped his lid and went from being the most establishment of Bishops to being the most outspoken proponant of Disestablishment. Most other Bishops did a good deal of handwringing, and a stop gap solution was found in the House of Bishops' motion that the 1928 Deposited Book would be taken as representing the maximum amount of deviation from the 1662 BCP that would be tolerated by them. In more Catholic dioceses, such as London and Lincoln, the 1928 Proposed BCP became widely used, and became the de facto standard in most Central and High Church parishes.

On the whole, it is a great pity that the 1928 Revision was voted down in England. The Communion Service is particularly strong, not only restoring the Canon, but the Benedictus, Pax and Agnus Dei. The fuller form of the Prayer for the Church was also a welcome change, as was the reposition of the Prayer of Humble Access between the Comfortable Word and the Sursum Corda. The addition of Compline to the daily round of the Office; the provision of Collects, Epistles and Gospels for Lenten ferias and minor holydays were also welcome enrichments. When liturgical reform at last got underway in England in the late 1950s, it was a slightly modified version of the 1928 Proposed BCP that prevailed in the form of Alternative Services Series One some parts of which are still authorized today. The sad part about the whole 1928 fiasco is that it enshrined 'liturgical anarchy' as being normal in the Church of England, rather than as being a temporary crisis that ended in BCP revision. As a result one can attend adjacent C of E parishes today, and their is little resemblance between them. One might have a dignified catholic rendering of the current Eucharistic rite with the sacred ministers in the ancient vestments; the next a 'song sandwich' led by a praise band, and a minister in chinos, shirt and tie! On the whole in America we have survived much better partly because of our narrow identity as Anglicans, which comes from being a minority tradition, but also because the process of revision has not been hampered by the restraints of Establishment. One thing we do need to be careful about is that we remain loyal to our Anglican traditions, and do not allow the Missals - that familiar Tridentine-BCP hybrid - to become the norm for the Eucharist. Not only is it not a particularly elegant beast, but its theology is not always full consonant with the Ancient Fathers and Councils due to its way too vigorous assertion of Eucharist sacrifice and the cultus of the saints.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's fair to say that 1928 was, indeed still is, a good book. This is especially true given the constraints under which it was produced, the limitations of available liturgical scholarship and the fact that then, as now, the church's best scholars weren't always heeded if they were consulted in the first place.

    I like the additional propers and commons for dealing with Holy Days and Commemorations not envisaged by 1662. Also I value the expanded (and more catholic) Prayer for the Church as well as the additional Proper Prefaces. I'm rather less happy about the 1928 Canon which is slightly confused both in arrangement and theology. Anybody who thinks it's the 1662 Consecration + Prayer of Oblation is in for a surprise and will get tripped up by it.

    It is good that 1928 provided the prayers at the foot of the altar as a 'Devotion' which could be used before the Communion Service. It's a pity it didn't also include the Last Gospel (for optional use) by the celebrant.

    Much of the 1928 book has actually now got legal cover by virtue of Canon B5 and Common Worship. The only specific exceptions I can think of are the 1928 Baptism and Confirmation services and I suspect use of the 1928 Canon would probably be regarded as irregular. Prime and Compline are covered by the provisions around a Service of the Word.