A Review of the 2019 ACNA Prayer Book

Beyond the Liturgical Movement:
A New Prayer Book
for the Anglican Church in North America

(By the Revd. Gordon Maitland, National Chairman of the PBSC.)

In June 2019 the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) published a new Prayer Book for use throughout its various dioceses and affinity groups. It is being referred to as the “2019 BCP” and I will also use this shorthand when talking about this book. The Anglican Church in North America was founded in 2009 when those Anglican or Episcopal dioceses, parishes, bishops, clergy, and laity who disagreed with the blessing of same-sex unions (same-sex marriage), and could not in good conscience remain within the Anglican Church of Canada or the Episcopal Church, formed a new Anglican denomination that encompassed all of North America. The ACNA is not recognized as being part of the “official” Anglican Communion by the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Anglican Consultative Council, but some parts of the Anglican Communion (such as the Anglican Church in Nigeria) have entered into full communion relationships with the ACNA.

The 1928 American BCP and the 1962 Canadian BCP continue to be authorized for use in the ACNA, and so the 2019 BCP is, in some ways, a supplemental liturgical resource to be used alongside of those older books. However, it would be a mistake to assume that this book is in any way like the Book of Alternative Services. A blogger on the website “Covenant”, Ben Crosby, has described the 2019 BCP as being “the first consciously post-liturgical movement Book of Common Prayer authorized by an Anglican ecclesial body”. What I want to do in this article is unpack this statement, because I believe that it points to the real significance of this new Prayer Book. Other authors have given a detailed critique of various parts of the book and I will refer the reader to these when appropriate. The entire 2019 BCP is available online at bcp2019.anglicanchurch.net. Anglican Liturgy Press, ACNA’s publishing arm, has produced a cloth bound pew edition and a leather-bound deluxe edition of the 2019 BCP for purchase, and these can be bought from the publisher or from online retailers such as Amazon.

The 20th century Liturgical Movement had a profound effect on all the liturgical changes that happened in the second quarter of that century, both in the Roman Catholic Church and in churches of the Reformation such as Anglicans and Lutherans. A useful summary of this movement, a chapter in The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer, has been written by John Baldovin, entitled “The Liturgical Movement and Its Consequences.” Although this movement had its origin in the Roman Catholic Church, it soon attracted the notice of Anglicans, in particular, the Anglican Benedictine monk, Gregory Dix. His notorious volume, The Shape of the Liturgy (published in 1945), not only popularized ideas that were being circulated on the European continent at the time, it also introduced a number of his own pet liturgical theories, many of which were later proven to be untrue. The Shape of the Liturgy also included a chapter entitled “The Reformation and the Anglican Liturgy” which was highly critical of Archbishop
Thomas Cranmer and his 16th century reforms, and this in turn prejudiced many Anglicans against the contents of the Book of Common Prayer.

From our vantage point at the end of the second decade of the 21st century, we can look back with a fresh perspective on the Liturgical Movement of the previous century. There was much that was good in the Liturgical Movement: the importance of studying the Patristic sources of liturgical rites, the insights that can be gained from an ecumenical approach to liturgical reform, and an emphasis on the active and intelligent participation of the laity in the liturgical rites of the church. Some of these concerns were in the minds of the 16th century reformers as well. However, there is also much that can be criticized in the Liturgical Movement: an arbitrary approach to the appropriation of ancient liturgical material, a narrow insistence that the historical-critical interpretation of the Bible was the only acceptable hermeneutic that could be applied to the Scriptures, and an unconscious and completely uncritical acceptance of Euro-centric Enlightenment modernity as the only philosophical standpoint from which to evaluate liturgical rites and Christian worship in general. Thus, much that had informed traditional Anglican liturgy –the use of pre-modern interpretations of Biblical passages, the theological emphases associated with the Reformation, a clear articulation of creedal orthodoxy, the acceptance of a hierarchical organization of Church and State; together with the penitential character of many Anglican rites –was deemed to be offensive to the sensibilities of rational, enlightened, freedom-loving modern people.

Now, for the first time since the 1960s we have a prayer book that takes a new and faithful approach to liturgical reform. The task force which produced the 2019 BCP, in the words of Archbishop Robert Duncan, took “what was good from the modern liturgical renewal movement and also recovers what had been lost from the tradition”. The liturgical principles that inform the 2019 BCP can best be summarized by a sentence from the preface which is attached to the book: “The Book of Common Prayer (2019) is indisputably true to Cranmer’s originating vision of a form of prayers and praises that is thoroughly Biblical, catholic in the manner of the early centuries, highly participatory in delivery, peculiarly Anglican and English in its roots, culturally adaptive and missional in a most remarkable way, utterly accessible to the people, and whose repetitions are intended to form the faithful catechetically and to give them doxological voice.” This is a prayer book which is unapologetically Anglican, while at the same time using the best of contemporary liturgical scholarship and ecumenical consensus.

A word needs to be said about the liturgical language used in the 2019 BCP. The book is completely in modern English, and uses many of the contemporary translations of texts and canticles that one would find in the Book of Alternative Services. One significant difference from what one would be used to in the BAS is that the response to “The Lord be with you” is rendered “And with your spirit”, which is a literal translation of the Latin and Greek originals. This versicle and response is what one can find in English translations of the Roman Missal since 2011, and it is what is said in any English translation of Eastern Orthodox rites. All of the Bible quotations in the 2019 BCP are from the English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV) rather than from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the latter being the version favored by the Episcopal Churchand the Anglican Church of Canada.

One of the most interesting and original aspects of the 2019 BCP is the Psalter. Instead of using an existing contemporary language version of the psalms (such as the one found in the 1979 American BCP or the Book of Alternative Services) the ACNA liturgy task force commissioned what is now called the Revised Coverdale Psalter. The Coverdale version of the psalms dates from 1535 and was the
version of the psalter retained in the 1662 BCP, even though the epistles and gospels were changed at that time to the Authorized Version of 1611. The Revised Coverdale Psalter changes the language (mostly the verb forms and pronouns) of the old Coverdale Psalter to contemporary English while retaining much of the vocabulary, cadence, and rhythm of the old psalter. Thus, the psalms feel and sound very traditional while at the same time being in modern English. A detailed description of this psalter can be found on the Covenant blog site here.

As to the contents of the 2019 BCP, the book contains the full range of services that one would find in a traditional BCP, including an Ordinal for the ordination of bishops, priests, and deacons. The Office section of the book contains orders of service for Daily Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Daily Evening Prayer, and Compline. Like the corresponding rites in the older BCPs, they are straightforward and easy to use. There is a section with Supplemental Canticles for optional use in place of the traditional canticles found in Morning and Evening Prayer, but their placement apart from the Offices themselves means that a worshipper new to these rites is not overwhelmed by too many options –a major problem that accompanies many of the services in the BAS. There are two eucharistic rites: one entitled, “Holy Eucharist: Anglican Standard Text”, and one entitled, “Holy Eucharist: Renewed Ancient Text”. These two eucharistic rites are, in fact, almost identical except for the eucharistic prayer. They are both similar in structure and content (except for being in contemporary English) to Rite I in the American 1979 BCP. The eucharistic prayer in the Anglican Standard Text is based on the one found in the 1637 Scottish BCP. This may seem like an odd choice, but it appears to have been the one most congenial to the different theological and liturgical streams found within the ACNA. The eucharistic prayer in the Renewed Ancient Text is, like Eucharistic Prayer A in the1979 BCP and Eucharistic Prayer 2 in the BAS, based on the prayer found in the so-called Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus. What is worthy of note here is that the 2019 BCP has only two eucharistic prayers to choose from, which is in stark contrast to the multitude of eucharistic prayers available to clergy in many churches of the Anglican Communion. In my own Diocese of Huron there are literally dozens of eucharistic prayers authorized for use. In the opinion of this author, such restraint in the number of available options is much to be commended. Using a very limited range of different eucharistic prayers means that people get to know the prayers by heart which helps to shape and form their eucharistic piety in positive and healthy ways. It also means that there is more consistency in the eucharistic theology being presented to the worshipper.

There is no room in this article for describing all of the pastoral offices and services found in the 2019 BCP. I certainly urge the reader to explore this book online at the address given above. While I would not personally agree with all of the decisions that were made in regards to the 2019 BCP, it certainly marks a new and profitable way forward for future revisions of Anglican prayer books. It is good to keep this in mind, because the 2019 BCP has generated some conversations in the Episcopal Church in the USA in light of the fact that the 2018 General Convention of the Episcopal Church set up a task force that is supposed to report back as to how the 1979 BCP can be revised. There are already voices in the Episcopal Church that are pointing out that the 2019 BCP can provide a model as to how a judicious and respectful appropriation of traditional Anglican liturgical forms is possible and desirable for the 21st century. In my opinion, if such an approach had informed the compilation of the Book of Alternative Services, we might have avoided many of the “liturgy wars” and controversy that erupted following the publication of that book.

It only remains for me to mention that the ACNA is in the process of developing a traditional language version of the 2019 BCP in which all of the services are rendered back into the classic liturgical prose of previous BCPs. This initiative is in response to the request of the clergy and laity of the ACNA for such a resource to be available. It profoundly moves my heart to see that there is still a demand for the prose of Archbishop Cranmer in these post-modern times. It gives hope to all those who love our Anglican heritage.

(From the PBSC Newsletter, Lent 2021)

A Review of the 2019 ACNA Prayer Book