The Making of the Church of Ireland Book of Common Prayer 2004
In the 2004 Church of Ireland Book of Common Prayer the Preface describes the work of compilation in the following words:
• We sought to unify the worship of God’s people, while allowing reasonable scope for diversity within the essential unity of the Church’s prayer.
• We were determined to produce a book which would have equal capacity to enrich private as well as corporate devotion.
• We desired that this book, like previous editions of it, should properly articulate and embody the Church’s faith.
• We hoped that the book would strengthen our bonds of unity with sister churches who share our approach to common prayer, and we were therefore fully attentive to the reports of successive meetings of the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation.
These sentences capture, in a brief and simple form, some of the key elements that have been distinguishing features of Irish Anglican worship and ethos over the centuries, and that are of great importance to our self-understanding in the Church of Ireland. To put them in other words: the commonality of prayer; the relationship between public and private worship; lex orandi, lex credendi; and a sense of worldwide catholicity. In this lecture, I will take these four areas one by one, and use them as windows into the making of the new Church of Ireland Book of Common Prayer.
Unity in Diversity: The Commonality of Prayer
We sought to unify the worship of God’s people, while allowing reasonable scope for diversity within the essential unity of the Church’s prayer.
A quick review of prayer books in the Anglican Communion would show many liturgical volumes that are more flexible, more inculturated, more imaginative, and more “on the edge” theologically than the liturgies of the Church of Ireland. For example, apart from a list of Celtic saints and their dates, and one or two Irish propers, some Irish hymns in the hymnal, and the fact that there is an Irish edition of the new BCP, there are very few signs of Celtic spirituality in the formal worship books of the Church of Ireland. While characteristics such as flexibility, inculturation, and imagination are not in any sense absent from the 2004 Book of Common Prayer, the book is nevertheless characterized above all else by a desire for unity in the worship of God’s peoplesomething greatly treasured in the Church of Ireland, not least because of our other political, cultural, and theological divisions on the island of Ireland. This desire is, therefore, part of our own inculturation in a varied and sometimes divided community. The theme song of the 1878 Preface to the Book of Common Prayer is very much part of the psyche of the Church of Ireland when it states: “What is imperfect with peace is often better than what is otherwise more excellent without it.”
It might not immediately be noticed by those outside Ireland that the Church of Ireland functions in two different political jurisdictions. The vast majority of members of the Church of Ireland are in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom; they generally see their primary identity as being British, and are Unionist by political persuasion. However, the church is administratively centered in Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland, where most of our ordinands are trained, and where our General Synod has normally been held. Our members in the Republic would almost all be Nationalist in political persuasion. And many of our dioceses straddle the border. It is in this context that the Book of Common Prayer needs to have an intentionally unifying role.
To help you understand this I will take you back for a moment to the experience of the Church of Ireland when the 1984 Alternative Prayer Book was introduced. This made the Church of Ireland, for the first time, a church of two books. The model was, of course, the Church of England, with its 1980 Alternative Service Book alongside the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. (Interestingly, you will notice that both the 1984 APB and the 2004 BCP were published, in each case, precisely four years after the Church of England produced their key liturgical works, the Alternative Service Book and Common Worship. This is, I think, a symbol of an instinctive dependence of the Church of Ireland on England in liturgical revision, which has sometimes displayed itself in the past as fearfulness that we, as a small church, might do the wrong thing! In the revisions of services in the 1980s and 1990s, the resultant Church of Ireland liturgies were often very similar to those of the Church of England, but usually with less variety, less novelty, and less theological “risk.”)
However, even with this carefulness, when the APB was introduced in 1984 it was not by any means universally welcomed. For many parishesthose which had used the experimental “booklets” produced between 1967 and 1984the transition was smooth, and the desire to have a book again for Sunday worship was great. However, many of the new booklets were firmly resisted in more conservative parishes, and sections of the Orange Order condemned some of the new liturgies (especially the eucharistic liturgies) as Romish. This meant that they were firmly resisted by Select Vestries (who had no actual constitutional role in deciding forms of worship, but had great “moral” power in the parishes) in large sections especially of rural Ulster. Stories are still told of clergy who attempted to introduce the APB only to have Select Vestries refuse to pay for it, and people refuse to take the book, or to worship when it was being used. The 1926 Book of Common Prayer then became the symbol of all things “protestant” in these areas, and was held on to by some for grim death.
In other parts of the country, for example in the Diocese of Cork where I ministered for many years, the old Book of Common Prayer (1926) services were rarely used after 1984, and the APB became ubiquitous.
Churches therefore became either “BCP” parishes or “APB” parishes, and some, trying to steer a middle course with an emphasis on the word “Alternative” in the APB, tried to ride two horses at the same time. This led to a great deal of confusion about whether this was an “And also with you” Sunday or a “And with thy spirit” Sunday!
Alongside this, as the 1990s progressed, it became clear that several aspects of the revised services were wearing thin quite quickly. There was the obvious question of non-inclusive language in relation to peopleoddly more pervasive in the “contemporary” liturgiesand a list of suitable amendments had to be issued by the Liturgical Advisory Committee to make the language more inclusive. Then there was the lectionary, which was thematic and based on the work of the Joint Liturgical Group in Britain. Unfortunately the APB had overly highlighted the theme of each Sunday by placing it as a heading to the readings. The themes, in use since the early seventies, were becoming tired and worn and were providing a very limited diet, and indeed interpretation, of scripture. Also, the JLG lectionary, with its “quirky” beginning of the Christian year on the “Ninth Sunday before Christmas,” was not proving popular. Since the lectionary readings, printed in full as they were, took up about half the pages in the APB, the introduction of the Revised Common Lectionary into the Church of Ireland in 1996 made the APB, in effect, a “dead duck” as a book for the future. These and other issues (for example the lack of poetry in much of the liturgical writing of the seventies, and the lack of flexibility in many of the services) meant that things were straining at the edges; and (although I remember a boo or two when I made a speech suggesting this to the General Synod) there was a general recognition that changes would have to take place in the more contemporary forms of worship.
In 1995 the Liturgical Advisory Committee, recognizing these emerging issues, and also noting that both of the present prayer books were rapidly going out of print, made the following observation in its report to the General Synod:
With the promised publication of a new edition of the hymnbook in 2000 . . . [Like ECUSA, the Church of Ireland has an official hymnbook, and the fifth edition of the Church Hymnal was being complied at thetime]…, the LAC believes that the time has come for a “Sunday Services Book” to complement the new hymnbook. It envisages such a book as a unifying book (there’s the theme again), containing the materials required for normal congregational worship drawn from the Book of Common Prayer [i.e., of 1926] and alternative services in the Alternative Prayer Book.
It then listed the possible contents of such a Sunday Services Book, which are relatively obvious.
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