The Orphan Child of the Book of Alternative Services

The Orphan Child of the Book of Alternative Services

PBSC National Chairman the Revd. Canon Dr. Gordon Maitland reflects upon the “Page 230” traditional language eucharistic rite contained in the Book of Alternative Services, and speculates on the reasons for its inclusion.

“The Holy Eucharist: A Form in the Language of the Book of Common Prayer 1962[1]” (hereafter referred to as the BAS Traditional Language Eucharist), and sometimes called the “Page 230 Rite” of the BAS, is truly the orphan child of that book.   Those who love the Book of Common Prayer rightly point out that this rite is not intended to replace the Eucharistic Rite found in the BCP, despite the fact that many clergy dishonestly foist this service on their congregations by calling it the “BCP Eucharist in the BAS”, or words to that effect.  On the other hand, those who are “progressive” Anglicans disdain this rite because it is too traditional and retains too much “exclusive language” in reference to God.  Why is there a BAS Traditional Language Eucharist even included in that book?  What is its purpose?  According to an “urban legend” circulating around seminaries at the time the BAS was published, it was the Revd. Canon Dr. Eugene R. Fairweather, a now deceased professor of theology at Trinity College in Toronto and a former member of the national Doctrine and Worship Committee of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, who insisted that this rite be included in the BAS.  If this legend is true (and I have not found anyone yet to corroborate it) it would give some clue as to the true purpose of including the Traditional Language Eucharist in the BAS.  We will come back to that point later in this essay.

That the BAS Traditional Language Eucharist is not a replacement for the service of Holy Communion in the Book of Common Prayer should be obvious from the fact that the Eucharistic Rite in the BCP is still authorized for use in the Anglican Church of Canada (as is the rest of the BCP).  We must remember that the liturgical situation in the Anglican Church of Canada is different from that in the Episcopal Church in the USA.  The 1979 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church was meant to completely replace the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and thus the traditional language Rite 1 Eucharist in the 1979 BCP is supposed to be the only authorized traditional language Eucharist allowed for use in that church.  In Canada, the Book of Common Prayer remains (in theory) as the standard worship text, to which the Book of Alternative Services is an alternative resource.

Moreover, the BAS Traditional Language Eucharist is intentionally structured to be like the other contemporary Eucharistic rites in the BAS.  That is to say, the sequence of elements and prayers in the rite is the same for both that service which starts on page 185 and that which begins on page 230.  Also similar in both traditional and modern Eucharistic rites in the BAS is that many elements are completely optional.  Even a cursory look at the rubrics shows that the Collect for Purity, the Confession and Absolution, the Comfortable Words, and the Prayer of Humble Access (among other items) are dispensable in the BAS rite in a way that they are not in the BCP.  Furthermore, the Comfortable Words no longer function as an expansion of, and support to, the Absolution as found in the BCP, but have been repurposed as a call to confession, while the Prayer of Humble Access has been mutilated by the excision of the phrase, “that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood”.  This act of vandalism was done because that phrase reputedly reflected some sort of Medieval heresy.  When one reads a scholarly biography of Thomas Cranmer (such as the magisterial one written by Diarmaid MacCulloch[2]) one will discover that Cranmer was far too careful and thorough a reformer to have sloppily allowed a Medieval heresy to remain in his liturgical work.

Why then does the BAS Traditional Language Eucharist exist?  I want to tackle this question by analogous reference to a similar orphan liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church.  The Novis Ordo Missae (the post-Vatican II Eucharistic Rite used in the Roman Church) may licitly be celebrated in Latin by any congregation that wishes to do so.  However, this is rarely done.  Traditionalists spurn this rite because it is not the Traditional Latin Mass (the pre-Vatican II Missal) and progressives spurn the rite because it is not in the vernacular.  So, why make available a contemporary rite of Mass in Latin?  The answer to this is explicitly expressed by Msgr. Peter Elliot in a ceremonial guide he has written for Roman Catholic clergy and liturgical ministers: “Mass celebrated in the language of the Roman Rite [i.e., Latin] should be a part of the normal schedule for Sundays and solemnities in all cathedrals and major churches.  This is especially appropriate in churches where there is a good choir, that is, to ensure that our precious heritage of chant and polyphonic music is maintained.[3]

Msgr. Elliot was concerned that the contemporary Roman Rite be celebrated in Latin, not to appease traditionalists, but “to ensure that our precious heritage of chant and polyphonic music is maintained”.  I want to suggest that the purpose of the BAS Traditional Language Eucharist is the same: to have a contemporary rite that would maintain the precious heritage of music written for the Prayer Book Eucharist.  If it is true that Dr. Eugene Fairweather was responsible for the inclusion of this rite in the BAS, then this evidence points in the same direction.  For many years Dr. Fairweather was an honorary assistant at St. Mary Magdelene’s Church in Toronto, the place where Healey Willian was the organist and choir director from 1921 until his death in 1968.  It would not be a stretch of the imagination to presume that Dr. Fairweather, alarmed at the prospect of Healey Willan’s church music being consigned to the dustbin of history because it did not conform to contemporary language liturgical texts, insisted that there be a traditional language Eucharistic liturgy included in the BAS.  In this way, Healey Willan’s numerous Mass settings (as well as those of composers such as Sydney Nicholson, Harold Darke, and Charles Wood, not to mention the simple and well-loved plainchant of John Merbecke) would be preserved for future generations.

Assuming that the purpose of the BAS Traditional Language Eucharist was to preserve some of the musical patrimony of the Church, how successful was it in accomplishing this goal?  Sadly, it must be admitted that it has largely failed in this regard.  People zealous for contemporary language liturgy have no desire to conserve traditional music, and use modern Mass settings such as those of composer Marty Haugen.  Neo-Pentecostal Anglicans use only praise music, accompanied by praise bands, and also have no desire to preserve traditional music.  I am willing to guess that those who would most desire to keep alive the use of traditional church music are also those who would prefer to use that music with the book they were intended to adorn: the Book of Common Prayer.  Thus, supporting the Prayer Book as a text for worship is a way of implicitly supporting the music written to accompany that book.

While the BAS Traditional Language Eucharist remains a service authorized by the Anglican Church of Canada, it is so little used as a sung service that it is hard to see how it can contribute to a conservation of the musical heritage of our Church.  Thus, for the foreseeable future, “The Holy Eucharist: A Form in the Language of the Book of Common Prayer 1962” will remain the orphan child of the Book of Alternative Services.

[1] The Book of Alternative Services of The Anglican Church of Canada (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1985), pp.230-255.

[2] Diarmaid MacColloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (Yale: Yale University Press, 1998).

[3] Peter J. Elliot, Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year According to the Modern Roman Rite (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002).

The Orphan Child of the Book of Alternative Services