When Some of Us Thought God Quit Answering Prayers

One of the things I’ve discovered on Anglican Twitter is that there are those who are in churches outside of the Episcopal Church (and I’m thinking about ACNA churches) which still use the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Up until now I have refused to let this site be defiled by this book, and normally precede its mention by “dreadful.”

So that brings up a good question: what makes it dreadful? Some of that was discussed on this post. But I wanted to dig in a little deeper and see what was what. This brief analysis concerns the Daily Office, and specifically Morning Prayer (Evening Prayer, as it turns out, has the same problem.)

The first thing worth noting about the 1979 book is that “Morning Prayer” is in the plural. There are two of them, Rite I and Rite II, as is the case with Evening Prayer. (We also have Noonday Prayer, Compline, etc…) That’s the first problem: the 1979 book is complicated in the way one has to use it to execute the liturgy. Some of this is due to the compromises made for the “Rite One” (traditional, like the 1928 BCP) people. But others are due to the fact that many of the influences on the 1979 liturgies are Roman Catholic/Novus Ordo Missae in kind, which broaden the liturgical options. Missals in the RCC don’t have the same need to do everything as Prayer Books have in the Anglican/Episcopal world; it’s a lot easier to issue and sell chintzy missalettes to parishes and have the faithful follow along. The job of the 1979 writers was significantly complicated by that fact.

But back to Morning Prayer…to keep things simple and “on the level,” let’s compare the 1979 Rite I with the one and only from the 1928 BCP. The two are similar in structure but diverge in detail. The “miserable offenders” get the boot from the later book, even though they remained in the pews. The canticles (Venite, etc.) give more flexibility in their arrangement, which is an improvement; the 1928’s borders on monotony, although it was worse before. The two lessons allow the Roman Catholic ending of “Verbum Domini/Deo Gratias” at the end in addition to the traditional Anglican “Here endeth the First/Second lesson.” The suffrages of the 1928 are too brief even by traditional Anglican standards; they’re restored to a fuller form in the 1979.

The kicker, though, comes at the end. Both books put a wrap on the prayers with the same three:

  1. The General Thanksgiving;
  2. The Prayer of St. Chrysostom, especially useful with shrinking parishes; and
  3. The benediction from 2 Cor 13:14, although there are others that can be used.

The prayer which has vanished from the main thread of prayers is this one, which appears thus in the 1928 BCP:

In a liturgical sense, this is the perfect prayer before the General Thanksgiving. Here, we make our petitions (which can be customised for the needs of those gathered) and then in the Thanksgiving we give thanks to God for having answered the prayers we have made earlier. It’s a nice pairing and avoids the Evangelical tendency to turn their petitions into a “laundry” or “demand” list to God.

So how did it get exiled to Pages 814-5 of the book? (FWIW the 1928 BCP runs out of pages at 611.) One reason was the desire for “variety,” which is a leitmotif with the newer liturgies. But the 1928 gave plenty of options in that regard.

A better explanation, however, can be found if we look at another, more significant change of the 1979 book: the The Baptismal Covenant: The Contract on the Episcopalians. Peter Toon observed the following:

If there is an implicit covenant within the 1662 Service (and thus also in the 1789 & 1892 and 1928 equivalents) then it is very much a two sided covenant where what God gives, provides and offers is paramount and clear (in the Gospel reading and its explanation) and what the repentant sinner is to be and do-as assisted by God-is also clear. In the 1979 Service the divine side of the covenant is far from clear.

The reason why it is “far from clear” is that the idea of God’s ability or willingness to act was not clear to them. The same logic can be applied to the excision of this prayer. It calls for God to “comfort and relieve them, according to their several necessities, giving them…a happy issue out of all their afflictions.” This is a remarkable petition. There is none of the Baptistic “if it be your will” kind of thing. We expect God to act. The big difference between this and what we hear in Charismatic circles is that God doesn’t always resolve things the way we would like him to, and that there’s nothing wrong with that, as opposed to the importunity of us telling God that we can run his business better than he can.

The whole drift of the 1979 book is that the responsibility of carrying out God’s plan shifts from him to us. It makes the Christian church, to use Garrison Keillor’s phrase, as a giant Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility business. Today, as then, there are those who contend for the faith by affirming the truth of the Scriptures. The message of modern Pentecost, however, is that the easiest way to affirm the present truth of the Scriptures is for the same things that happened there happen again in our own day. That, in turn, requires a God who will act, and where he is asked to do so is the place where people are drawn.

If those who uphold a traditional Anglicanism want to do a better job of it, they can start by looking at their own traditional formularies and see things that the drift of the last fifty years have obscured.

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