When is a Book of Common Prayer not the Book of Common Prayer?
Will the Synod of the Church of Ireland undo the wrong it has done?
From Friday August 20 to Thursday August 26 the Church Times of London conducted an opinion poll on its website – www.churchtimes.co.uk -- as to whether a Prayer Book called “The Book of Common Prayer” by the Synod of the Church of Ireland should actually be called by the ancient and hallowed title, The Book of Common Prayer. I urged people to vote “no”!
The reason for this poll, and more-so the story behind it, has been, I think, a series of articles I have written and which have come into the hands of senior Irish clergy as well as certain journalists. These articles appeared originally in the Journal of the English Prayer Book Society and in the Mandate of the Prayer Book Society of the USA in 2004, and one was circulated in Ireland in June/July by the Evangelical Fellowship of the Church of Ireland. Also the articles have been on web-sites and in e-mail circuits.
The point of the articles was to state clearly that the Church of Ireland had committed a serious error in calling its latest Prayer Book by the title, The Book of Common Prayer.
Following the example of The Episcopal Church of the United States in 1979, The Church in Wales in 1984, and The Church in the West Indies in 1995, The Church of Ireland decided to call its new Prayer Book, which is most certainly not in the style or structure of historic editions of The Book of Common Prayer, by this ancient, hallowed and historic title. In England in 2000 a bigger but similar book was entitled Common Worship in order clearly to distinguish it from The Book of Common Prayer. So the Irish Synod knew what it was doing and did what it did very deliberately – which of course increases the depth and scope of its error.
The claimed right in recent times of an Anglican Synod in its autonomy to do its own thing, without regard to any sense of respect for history, custom, truthfulness and relation to other Provinces, is an indication of the breaking-up of the Anglican Communion and its moral demise in the West. Let it not be forgotten that the assertion of the right to do what it will by a Synod has also occurred in other significant areas of church life in recent times -- from the ordaining of women as priests and bishops to the ordaining of active homosexual persons to the sacred Ministry and to the introduction of Lay Celebration at the Eucharist. In fact, though the Anglican Family of 38 Churches is called The Anglican Communion of Churches, individual provinces have been showing little respect for inter-dependency and mutual accountability in recent times.
And, to make matters worse for Ireland, it is their Primate who has been given TWICE the task of chairing a commission of the Archbishop of Canterbury to bring order and peace to the Communion – over women priests/bishops in the 1980s and in 2004/4 over “gay” ordinations. Surely Archbishop Eames knew that his Synod was in error in what it did with this Prayer Book for in the Reports name for him there are exhortations to synods to act in Christian truth and charity!
In the case of The Book of Common Prayer (first edition 1549) it has always had a special character, style and content, even though it has been through various editions in England, then in other countries in the British Isles and then in places like Canada and the U.S.A. In its English-language editions, it has always only been in traditional language, only had one service for each sacrament or occasion, always printed in full the Collect with the Eucharistic Lectionary for Sundays and Feasts, and always borne the character of its origins in 1549-1552. Certainly the Canadian edition is not exactly the same as the American or the first Irish edition in the 19th century, but it is obvious that the various editions all belong to one family and are in fact editions of One book.
If we were dealing with products for sale in the supermarket, then most certainly there would have been lawsuits on behalf of the classic editions of The Book of Common Prayer claiming that what was being sold by the same name is a different even though related product, which is better called “A Book of Alternative Services” or the like. It would have been argued that the taking of the title was not merely co-opting but was an act of piracy!
In the case of Ireland, it may be suggested that, had the whole of the Church of Ireland been in Ulster (where most of its membership actually is), then the Synod would not even have contemplated using such an ancient and hallowed a title for its latest Prayer Book. Why? Because of Queen Elizabeth II, and because Ulster Protestants have always claimed to be her most loyal subjects. In the United Kingdom the Monarch has a unique relation to The Book of Common Prayer because of the Establishment of the Church of England, and this Book is part of the Establishment. Further, the Monarch and the heir to the throne love to use it in their Royal Chapels.
The Synod of the Church of Ireland ought to repent! It ought to begin the necessary and tedious business of undoing what it has done and of re-establishing an authentic edition of The Book of Common Prayer, as its true Formulary, and calling the present so-called BCP by another name. An example of the right use of autonomy by a provincial synod needs to be set for the whole Communion to see!
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)