Monday, March 1, 2010

Common Prayer is good

Anglicans once prayed together and alone using the Book of Common Prayer. It meant that when Anglicans prayed we expressed what we believed and what we wanted to say to God via words common to us all, so we were united in belief, thanksgiving and intercession. We were clearly and unmistakeably a Communion of believers who held things together in common!

All sorts of liturgical changes have happened in the last 50 years around the Communion - most of which has been very good, some of which has been necessary because language changes, and some of which has been an improvement on the undoubted greatness of the BCP. However we have lost the precision of our common prayers and replaced it with a fuzzier sense of commonality: our prayers as global Anglicans have a familiar resemblance in many cases (and no resemblance to each other in some cases).

Here in ACANZP we have decided to have a prayer book from 1989 onwards which diminished our own sense of common prayer by providing multiple options for prayers, and in particular several options for our eucharistic prayers. Around 1996 or 1998 (I think it was) we made a further change and made it possible via a changed rubric on page 511 for significant flexibility in the composition of a eucharistic service to take place; even down to making the eucharistic prayer itself open to great variety in wording.

Now, it would take quite a bit of writing to weigh up the pros and cons of these developments, so, causa brevitatis, I just offer one thought today:

a great advantage of praying prayers in church such as the eucharistic prayer which are agreed texts of the church (and not compositions of individual priests or parish liturgical committees) is that the worshippers can allow the prayers to flow through their minds as an act of worship without anxiety about the veracity of the content; conversely, the disadvantage of flexibility in wording is the worshipper is drawn to wonder about the theology of the prayer rather than be lost in wonder and praise of God!

Our church has gone about as far as any Anglican church can reasonably go in the direction of diversity and flexibility. But the more I experience this diversity and flexibility the less I am pleased with it. Let's head back to greater commonality!

1 comment:

liturgy said...


Somewhere in this process I think we have lost our theology also: the understanding that we are not merely individual humans in relation to God, but as Christians inserted, immersed, baptised into Christ and it is within Christ that we pray to God - Christ's prayer we share together. The NZ Anglican tendency is not surprising, hence: rather than praying to God in Christ in the power of the Spirit, we tend to pick any member of the Trinity randomly and address them at any point - quite contrary to 2,000 years of praying tradition.