Monday, January 18, 2010

Pattern Formation: Dog-eared Prayer Book and Tatty Writ

As you might well imagine, several editions of the Prayer Book line my shelves. In addition, several copies of the 1979 edition float around our house. One is falling apart on the spine, another is so dog-eared that you would think the pages came rounded on the edges. And some of our bibles are so worn as to be almost embarrassing. Indeed, I've had to retire a few over the years.

In his essay, "The Anglican Spiritual Tradition," Martin Thornton writes of this phenomenon:

Symbolic of this emphasis on the unity of the Church, with its domestic spirituality, is the extraordinary weight of authority given by the Caroline Fathers to the Book of Common Prayer, from 1549 onward, and further up to 1928. It It is customary for Benedictines to read selections from the Rule at silent meals, the Ignatian exercises still form the heart of Jesuit spirituality; but no school of prayer has been so firmly tied to a book as the Caroline Church of England. "Bible and Prayer Book" were the twin pillars of this spirituality, with the latter given almost equal status, and subjected to the same kind of systematic study as the former. The Book of Common Prayer was subjected to annotation and commentary with not a rubric, colon or comma regarded as insignificant.

It is again necessary to look at the historical setting, for the Book of Common Prayer is derived from a long line of ancestors, ultimately from the Benedictine Regula, with which, ascetically, it has much in common: both are designed to regulate the total life of a community, centered on the Divine Office, the Mass, and continuous devotion as daily, domestic life unfolds. Both are concerned with common, even "family" prayer. Neither are missals, breviaries or lay manuals, because here the priest-lay division does not apply: they are common prayer, prayer for the united Church or community.

The vital principle, tragically missed by both modern liturgists and their critics, is that, like the Regula, the Book of Common Prayer is not a list of Church services but an ascetical system for Christian living in all of its minutiae.

To the seventeenth--or indeed nineteenth--century layman the Prayer Book was not a shiny volume to be borrowed from a church shelf on entering and carefully replaced on leaving. It was a beloved and battered personal possession, a life-long companion and guide, to be carried from church to kitchen, to parlor, to bedside table; equally adaptable for liturgy, personal devotion, and family prayer: the symbol of a domestic spirituality--full homely divinitie. [1]

As I have previously written elsewhere:

The Prayer Book is a Rule of Life. The saints formed and community maintained looks quite Benedictine in its aspirations. Something like this from another previous post:

Anglican Common Prayer is an understated concrete expression of this christological-soteriological life together. Rather than emphasize the heroic ascesis of the desert or the monastery, we have tended to opt for a moderate, communal discipline in prayer and lifestyle focusing on daily praise and weekly Communion. In such a moderated offering, holiness may not often dazzle on pylons or in caves, but it shines through in the ordinary ways of life, in how we go about business, order family life, do justice, work for the common good. And yet, we do dazzle, and it is precisely in our praising sense, our poetic sense both in prayer and in sermons, devotions, and poetry that the particular beauty of Anglican holiness shines. And it shines precisely by seeing in the ordinary, the light of Tabor. As the late Fathers recognized, having to deal with ascetical nutjobs, they made firm that the heart of our life together and of holiness is rooted in Holy Communion, that is, life together through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. It is the heart of Patristic christology that grounds our ecclesiology and understanding of holiness.

Perhaps if there is a unifying thread that runs through the distinctive pieties of those younger calling for reverence
it is this: The Prayer Book is our Rule.

In fact, the Prayer Book is a distinctive enfleshment of a moderate, generous, gentle, common, and above all else, awed way of being together in the world that insists that we are
homo adorans and asks that because we praise God, we reverence one another and creation by making our own contribution in daily life ("Contribution" is a term I shamelessly borrow from Dr John Booty who describes Anglican response to awe of God in this way as we go about daily life.).

In other words, our Prayer Book is the heart of St Benedict's instruction: Prayer above all else. And prayer in everything. It is in many ways the fleshing out of Chapters 8-20 for us in parochial, homely, daily life.

And we recommend it stay that way.

I often toy with personal liturgical expressions. After all, my shelves are littered with resources and I want to play with them. And often because I get irritated by our current BCP. It was designed for enrichment and resource rather than pattern-formation. But Anglicanism is not a resource tradition. We are a common prayer and Prayer Book tradition. What this requires in practice is that I pattern any actual personal liturgical expressions within the "may" rubrics of the Prayer Book or use an authorized expression (A Monastic Breviary, for example). Fortunately, that isn't terribly difficult as there is flexibility.

Just as the Rule of St Benedict has never been fleshed out the same in every monastery, we might find similar particularities and peculiarities in a Province, the equivalent of a monastery in our ecclesiology. And how Morning Prayer is prayed in the average home versus a cathedral is likely to differ. Those of us who are uebers tend to conflate the two and in doing so turn many away who might do with something more fitted to home use.

What all of this recommends, in my opinion, for any future Prayer Book revision in our province is something different than more resources and more enrichments.

It requires setting patterns. That is why I have resorted to A Monastic Breviary. It gives a clearer pattern even though I end up usually saying "slowly and reflectively" only one section of the Psalms for the day and reading only one Lesson.

One of the great frustrations I have with the 1979 BCP is that it is not user friendly, by which I mean it does not set out a straight-through and obvious pattern. Before everyone's feathers get ruffled and we get into that huffy Episcopalian "well those people just need to be shown how" mentality, let me illustrate how we could do better in terms of pattern-formation. In favor of resource approach, pattern is undermined. I'll take Morning Prayer and how it might be done better. Instead of making the resource approach normative, I would make pattern formation normative correlating a basic pattern that cuts across parish and home but that could be filled out in the parish. This way, we maximize a basic praying in the parish as well as the home. The goal is all Episcopalians at prayer twice a day. Keep that goal in mind, especially those with expertise, ueber sensibilities, etc. This also pulls in some traditional monastic enrichments as part of the pattern, while leaving others as enrichments. Others might have better ideas, so take these with a grain of salt. But again, remember the goal: Pattern-formation of all (not satisfaction of ueber or party sensibilities of some):

Morning Prayer


-rubric noting Sentences and Confession of Sin in Resources pp. following (the pattern) the Daily Office perhaps also noted in Seasonal Propers with a particular Confession of Sin for Advent and Lent in each?

-Lord open our lips...

-Monday Sentences with rubric to Seasonal Propers pp. and Resources pp.

-Glory be...

-Monday Invitatory Antiphon with rubric noting seasonal Antiphons in Seasonal Propers pp. following (the pattern) etc.

-Venite with rubric noting Jubilate and Pascha nostrum distributed in Seasonal Propers pp.

-Monday Invitatory Antiphon

-Monday Psalms Antiphon

-Monday Psalm(s) or portions of Psalms with rubric to see a full appointed selection in the Lectionary pp. and Psalms pp. (noting also Psalms for use for particular moments in our lives--for this is what we do in a fully homely divinity--we sometimes do pray the Psalm speaking to our need; they're good for that). I recommend two Psalms or portions thereof, one a praise and another a confession in the pattern of 67/51.

OR recommend a pattern of saying one (or portion of one) Psalm from the Psalter everyday as found on pp. while pointing to a full Lectionary on pp. and Psalms pp. I know this won't satisfy the ueber among us, but we want all following a pattern that can be enriched rather than an enriched following after a pattern. Imagine all Episcopal homes and parishes praying a basic (that can be fleshed out with enrichments) pattern of MP in the Episcopal Anglican tradition...

-Glory Be

-Monday Psalms Antiphon

-Lections as well as the possibility of (Short) Monday Lesson(s) with rubric pointing to seasonal options set out by day in Seasonal Propers and a full appointed selection in the Lectionary pp. and Psalms pp. Again, this is modifying the desert approach melded with the "cathedral" approach in another direction than traditionally Cranmerian, but it is Benedictine and provided for even in our current Prayer Book (when traveling, the Sentences function for me as the Lesson and I use them in the Lesson position at those times). Hence my use of desert rather than monastic in describing the tradition we have. Will it get us through the entire Scripture in a year. No. Does it make that a possibility. Yes. Should our parishes be doing more in the way of Lectio and Bible Studies to supplement this. Yes. Again, keep sight of the goal, which was Cranmer's goal, modified to our times and place.

-rubric noting the possibility of silence for reflection/meditation on the Lesson(s).

-Monday Hymn with rubric pointing to Seasonal Propers pp. Set the text/music directly in the BCP. If necessary, use settings no longer copywritten to make these available in a public manner. Or make arrangements to pay artists/publishers to allow for public domain option.

-Monday Benedictus Antiphon with rubric noting seasonal options in Seasonal Propers pp.

-Benedictus with rubrics noting other Canticles either in Seasonal Propers or in Resources. OR have two short Monday Lessons. The first followed by the Te Deum on Sundays (except Lent, etc.) and a portion of the Benedicite (to be distributed among the six other days); the second followed by the

-Glory Be

-Monday Benedictus Antiphon

-Apostles' Creed

-Short Kyrie

-Our Father without doxology (Using A Monastic Breviary, I have figured out why I have found the current BCP use clunky at this spot. The doxology breaks up what otherwise is a smart flow right into the Suffrages, which are in essence a Litany or Prayers of the Church and continuation of the Lord's Prayer).

-Monday Suffrages with rubric to pp. for Prayer Forms for enrichment in parish settings, etc.

-Monday Collect with rubric to pp. for Collects appointed (include in those Collects those for all who are on the Calendar to stop book juggling for those of us who do want a minimal acknowledgement of the Sanctoral)

-Let us bless the Lord...

-2 Cor 13:14

Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.

A basic pattern is set up that can be enriched, rather than enrichment is set up that can be patterned. That is one of the deficits, any ways, to my mind with the current BCP, something that A New Zealand Prayer Book begins to reckon with but provides again more resources than a shared pattern.

The structure of the Prayer Book would be helpful if arranged something like:

Table of Contents


Office Lectionary
Morning Prayer: Sunday-Saturday
Noon Prayer
Evening Prayer: Sunday-Saturday
Seasonal Propers: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Trinity (Pentecost)
Enrichment Resources


Prayer Forms


Mass Lectionary

[1] Martin Thornton, "The Anglican Spiritual Tradition," in The Anglican Tradition, ed. Richard Holloway (Wilton, CT: Morehouse-Barlow Co., Inc., 1984), 86-87.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a truly wonderful article, especially as I'm a bit of an expert of Offices, Breviaries, churches etc, having been a monk and hermit for almost 40 years - I know all of them (western, Eastern and Oriental orthodox, and other faiths) very well. I have a nondenominational list of about 465 members for monastic subjects, practices, vocations etc at Yahoo