a liturgical note from Deacon Mary Baker
In November of 2019, All Souls was received into the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. During the next several months, we learned that the Diocese strongly recommended parishes use the (then brand-new) Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) Book of Common Prayer (BCP). Doing so creates unity among ACNA dioceses and parishes. In fact, this is in keeping with the intent of the original creator of the BCP, Thomas Cranmer.
A Little History
When Thomas Cranmer, the first Protestant Archbishop of the Church of England, issued the first English Book of Common Prayer in 1549, he initiated a bit of a revolution. Not only did he provide a way for English subjects to pray and worship in their own language, but he also established (for the first time in Christian history) uniformity in worship across a particular country, in this case England. Cranmer crafted a masterpiece that maintained the traditional patterns of the many Latin liturgies circulating in that day, but also purged from worship in England all that was “contrary to Holy Scripture or the ordering of the Primitive Church.” The result was that for the past 500+ years, the Anglican faith has continued to be embodied in the tradition of that one book.
Contemporary Use around the Globe
In the modern era, when the language of the 1662 BCP (the revision issued after the English Civil War) was deemed too archaic and formal, a series of revisions were issued across what is now a world-wide Anglican Communion. Many of these so-called revisions were simply translations of Cranmer’s original BCP, including translations into other vernacular languages such as vernacular English. For example, we used the liturgy of the Anglican Church of Kenya in our service on February 20, 2022 (for World Mission Sunday). We noticed the ways in which the shape and intent of the liturgy are so like our own. Although many provinces now use their own “version” of the BCP, each book has much more in common with the 1662 liturgy than there are differences. The 1662 BCP is still the official prayer book of the Church of England, and the Anglican Communion still recognizes this book as the bedrock and foundation of its worship.
Why, then, a new prayer book for the ACNA?
Each province in the Anglican Communion has its own prayer book, its version of the theology and shape of the 1662 BCP. Cranmer’s vision of a church unified in worship has continued, but each province desires to produce worship that is conducive to its own culture and context. A liturgical committee was formed at the outset of the creation of the Anglican province of the ACNA in 2010. Liturgical scholars worked together for almost a decade to produce a book that is true to the theological and cultural context of the ACNA. Across the United States and Canada, Anglican worshipers are now using our one book. It’s pretty exciting that you can visit any ACNA church and immediately be drawn into a language of worship that is familiar. If you want a fuller picture than this short piece can provide, I invite you to read the Preface of the lovely red books in your pews.