(arising from questions put to me by various devoted and concerned persons)
Would a study edition (in contrast to a pew edition) of The Book of Common Prayer in modern standard English possibly assist in the recovery (amongst younger people) of the use of the original Book of Common Prayer in Anglican Churches in the English-speaking world?
Let us consider the following in attempting to answer the question:
1) The Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, together with the major Protestant denominations, have committed themselves to the use of modern English for their public liturgy/services in the English-speaking world. This situation seems here to stay.
2) All new versions of the Bible are in modern English, avoiding the use of “Thou/Thee” for God or man.
3) It seems to be true that the doctrine and ethos of the content of the classic Book of Common Prayer ( BCP 1662 and gentle revisions thereof in USA & Canada) are closely connected with the style of the services therein, and part of the style is the use of the second person singular for God as well as the way in which the Collects & Prayers are constructed and rhythm is
4) Any rendering of this classic 17th century text into standard modern English, however well done, will inevitably produce/require a different style and will run the major risk of a diminution in doctrine and ethos. That is, any modern version will perhaps inevitably lack the precision, beauty and maturity of the original.
5) However, such a projected loss would not mean that the texts/rites produced would be of a nature as not to be suitable for the use in the worship of Almighty God. They would be like unto and similar to the original without having the full quality of the original. Nevertheless the texts/rites would aim to be the best possible in the modern context using modern style, syntax and grammar.
6) An Extra-Mural Anglican Jurisdiction or a Prayer Book Society, which aims to preserve in print and in use (with understanding) a classic edition of the BCP (1662, 1928 or 1962 [Canada]), faces the decision in 2005 whether or not these two specific aims will be supported, even enhanced, if it were to lend its support to a carefully produced edition in modern standard English of the traditional and classic BCP.
7) It is now the case (in the crisis which Anglicans are presently going through in the West) that a lot of Anglicans are in search of orthodoxy and of beauty in worship. They are looking for roots and heritage. Their education and training inside and outside the Church since the 1970s has given them strong convictions and even prejudices in terms of the right form of language to address God in worship and prayer. Thus the use of the classic Book of Common Prayer and even the reading of the King James Version of the Bible are not within their everyday horizons or experiences.
8) So the question arises, would a study edition in modern, standard English of the BCP help to serve as an introduction for such persons – and others – to the tradition of English Common Prayer? That is, would a well produced book containing a modern yet faithful form of say the M.P., Litany, E.P., Holy Communion, Baptism, Confirmation, Catechism & the Collects (with a suggestion that the RSV or the ESV be used alongside it for the Sunday & Daily Lectionary and for the Psalter) serve as a means by which some people (using it for personal prayer and for study) would be led to want to consult and make use of the original (which could be advertised on the back page) and even consider using the original for the worship of the LORD our God in public services on the Lord’s Day?
9) There is a danger if the job were done well (and as yet this job has not been done well, thoroughly or consistently) that the study edition would become the basis for a liturgy that some people would want to use for their public worship in preference both to the diluted and distorted doctrine that occurs is much modern Anglican Liturgy and to the classic liturgy. (Where people have choice there is not much that can be done about such a development, for it is a risk inherent in the project and may not be a bad thing!)
10) Some people may say that this kind of project has been tried with the Bible – that modern versions (e.g. N.E.B. & NRSV) to replace the KJV have not sent many people back to use and consult the KJV. Let us note that in the case of the Prayer Book project there is a difference. The translators of the modern Bible versions all are committed to the absolute need for new versions because they believe that the
KJV is out of date even obsolete. Those who work on this project of the BCP would believe exactly the opposite – that the classic BCP remains the best Liturgy. but that not everyone is able to appreciate it as such and so they need a bridge to cross over from where they are to the classic Liturgy itself!
Please send any serious thoughts or questions on this topic to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Revd Dr Peter Toon December 28, 2004 Holy Innocents Day.