Though past, St. Bartholomew’s Day marked the 350th anniversary of the 1662 BCP’s issue for public use. The 1662 BCP is understood as the ‘gold standard’ for Anglican worship, being the sealed text backed by English statute law. However, the retreat of the British Empire (and the Acts of Parliament which accompanied it) precipitated an ecclesiastical vacuum that gave opened doors to significant local variety, starting with prayer books that have historical lineages to the Scottish Episcopal Church. Can such variant liturgies be better related to the 1662 standard or the principle of ‘common prayer’?
Modern Anglicans usually try to emphasize commonalities between the prayer books approved across manifold provinces. Typically, Anglicans acknowledge two streams of liturgy. The 1662 BCP is more stable and has the advantage of being the standard, deriving its authority from longevity as well as the Restoration uniformity acts. The second stream claims direct generation to the 1549 version, thanks to the liturgical reflection of the non-juror Scots. However, these distinctions are often overstated, since the 1549 BCP is the scaffold to the 1552 and later liturgies. Moreover, compared to the 1552 BCP, the 1662 text retrieves material from the 1549 liturgy, revisiting Cranmer’s conservatism with respect to the dearly departed, four manual rites at the table, as well as the prominence of alms.
The partial restoration of the first liturgy in the 1662 of course came from Archbishop Laud’s reforms, particularly imposition of the 1637 BCP in Scotland. Though violently rejected, Laud’s 1637 provided a basis which later Scottish Bishops later used to develop their peculiar liturgy, claiming greater borrowing from the 1549 version, especially with the Communion Rite and its associated theology.
Whether or not this interpretation is true, the eucharistic liturgy of Edward’s first book is sometimes thought of standing between Lutheran and Calvinist opinion. Presiding Bishop Peter Robinson of the UECNA has taken this position with the English liturgy. However, Reformation students usually miss the fact most “Reformed” churches in the 1540’s were still under the sway of Wittenberg professors– the Germans at the time overshadowing and isolating Zurich. Even by the end of the 1540’s when the first prayer book was compiled, “reformed” Eucharistic doctrine was surprisingly amendable to “Lutheran” opinion, capable of bridging differences between German and Swiss.
What Cranmer adopted in reference to the best of catholic opinion was the center formulation for the Real Presence from both camps, now known as Calvinistic “virtualism”. How virtualism differed from later Reformed articulations—namely, ‘receptionism’— was virtualism’s attention to consecrated elements not only upon their reception but during the distribution. Both theories agree that Christ’s body is eaten only in a heavenly and spiritual manner, against opinions regarding a corporeal presence or related ideas of real sacrifice through immolation. Fr. Novak discusses early-calvinist viritualism here.
Calvinistic viritualism was retrieved by English divines with ties to Scotland, like as John Johnson, while calvinistic receptionsim became dominant mainly through the writings of Daniel Waterland. However, it was probably the early-Reformed, viritualist position that informed the work of Cranmer in the composition of the 1549 book, keeping an emphasis upon the bread and wine during both the church militant and eucharist prayers. Nevertheless, viritualism was soon replaced by calvinistic receptionism for the remainder of the Edwardian and a good part of the Elizabethan rule.
When raised to the episcopate at Aberdeen in 1784, Seabury covenanted to promote the essential theology of the 1549 book. From that concord (which can be read here), the United States received its particular Eucharistic canon, massaged in part to better include English thought. This made the American book something of a hybrid, fully “British” rather than narrowly Anglo-Saxon. The modern books which followed the American example not only somewhat vindicate the Scottish liturgy, but they also unconsciously transmit the Reformed-Evangelical consensus of the 1540’s. In this sense, the American prayer book boasts a fuller Protestantism than the English, probably not compromising that evangelical identity until 1928 revision. Further criticisms about the 1928 changes can be read here
While American and Scottish liturgies belonging to the eighteenth century were fairly amendable to English theology, the revisions of the 1920’s and 1960’s were less so. However, their alleged incongruity was not the found in the Eucharist rite, but rather specious modifications with the lesser sacraments and sometimes their weaker penitential language. The tampering with the marriage rite is probably a penultimate example of such. Nonetheless, the introduction of blessings for sacramentals like oil, marriage rings, and water was ambiguous and inconsistent, suggesting the 1928 revisions never settled upon a complete or stable form.
Another problem has been with so-called supplementary texts, namely, Anglican/American Missals, that purposely augment Anglican Eucharistic doctrine in favor of a Tridentine interpretation, reducing the BCP to a Latin Usage. Not surprisingly, Missals have a tendency to be antithetical especially to the 1662 BCP, probably for dislike of the black rubric. However, this is an example of how sealed texts like the 1662 book together with the 39 articles protect historical streams from foreign, theological interlopers, and why retrieving a normative idea of common prayer is today important.
What is the final relation between Scottish and English liturgies? In my estimation the Scottish is best understood as a cautious broadening, rather than rapture, from English standards, following the wisdom of reform that expands doctrine slowly through liturgy rather than by explicit articles. Not only does this elevate the status of the American book as an early synthesis of Scottish-English thinking, but it’s critical for any focused recovery of the early magisterial Protestant consensus existing before the impossibility of confessional polarization. Perhaps it’s best to view the American and Scottish liturgies as national “Usages” subordinated to their greater “Anglican Rite”, otherwise received through local variants as the 1662 sealed version. A great article on the stated reception of the 1662 along with other standards can be read here.
Common Prayer Day (CPD)
While St. Bartholomew’s day is behind us, CPD hopefully isn’t going away. Last September the Secker Society launched the Prayer Day Initiative. The Society implores that occasional use of the 1662 for days like St. Bartholomew’s doesn’t displace or exclude regular use of local or national books. However, the 1662 BCP is a touchstone for common theology and heritage, and for that reason it deserves needed observation. The Society recommends exercising the 1662’s Daily Office or Holy Communion service for August 24rth, but if North American Anglicans were more emphatic about the 350th anniversary of the sealed BCP (as well as their 400th anniversary for the KJV), they might beg a sermon addressing the doctrinal and social significance of the Restoration.
I am personally a fan of occasional use of historic prayer books other than the 1928 BCP, Not only does it provide a convenient break from the monotony of the same Holy Communion or Morning Prayer Rite every week, it reminds us of our organic and historical ties to British history and divinity. For instance, with the 1662 book’s Uniformity Act comes a deep discussion on the Savoy Conference, attempts for Ascendency within the plantations of American as well as Ireland, and the ultimate consequence of the 1661 corporation act. This is relevant to our situation today. Among other holy days that might acknowledge a similar contribution to common prayer are Pentecost for the 1549 BCP; All Saints Day for the 1552; and St. John the Baptist for the 1559.
More can be read about the Secker Society, and one might share their educational resources with parishioners and others, informing them about the true Anglican Rite, i.e., 1662 BCP.