THE method of treating the Prayer Book pursued in this book is primarily descriptive. It is an attempt, in a simple way, to describe what manner of book it is which we hold in our hands. It assumes that we do hold it in our hands, and use it, as members of the worshiping congregation. That other methods of treatment make a strong appeal is not denied. The historical method, which deals with the origins of the book, and reveals its sources, has its fascinations. The book is so full of history that its use as a manual for teaching the history of the Christian Church is conceivable, and might well prove helpful. The apologetic method, which would seek to commend it to those who worship, and yet do not use the Prayer Book, is a valuable method in unearthing its hidden treasures. The practical method, which would employ it as a manual for the teaching of worship, or religious expression, is a method full of possibilities for realizing and strengthening the religious life. The normal method would unfold its excellencies as a text-book for the teaching of teachers, who are called upon to train children in its use, and to help them to the knowledge of how to worship, is a much needed exercise. But the present attempt is purely descriptive. In being descriptive, it will, of necessity, be not altogether forgetful of other possible methods and their demands. It cannot avoid the appeal to the basis in history, nor can it, if it would, avoid the remembrance of those who worship according to its forms, or who are engaged in teaching the Church's children, or those to whom its power and inspiration are unknown; and with this remembrance there dwells the hope, at the heart of the description, that what is here written may bring new light and new power of expression to all who worship, to the increase in them of true religion.
What then is the Book of Common Prayer? In the first place, it is not a book at all, but a library of books, bound together to make one volume. It is this very same description, applied to the Bible, which has done so much, as a starting point, to restore the Bible to this generation, as a source of power and inspiration. Setting out from this description, Christians of to-day have come into an understanding of the richness which is revealed to them through the results of the Higher Criticism, and have at the same time been released from the blighting effects of regarding the Bible as a fetich, possessed of an authority which is infallible, but at the same time incomprehensible, and inapplicable to the soul's needs. In a similar way, starting from the conception of a library, we are led to apprehend the riches of the Book of Common Prayer, and to discover its unrealized treasures of helpfulness for the worshiper, while we are at the same time freed from the superstition of regarding it as the Churchman's sacred fetich, not to be touched or altered, and to be honored by empty phrases as to its incomparable excellence, rather than used with intelligence and freedom, to the soul's health.
What are the books which make up this library? They are five in number, and are arranged in this order.
1. The Book of Daily Offices, or Services; or (to use one word of Latin and ancient origin) the Breviary. This book contains Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and the Litany, together with certain Prayers and Thanksgivings, for occasional insertion in these above named services.
2. The Book of the Holy Communion, or Missal. This book contains the Divine Liturgy, or Order for the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion, together with the Collects, Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days of the year, which are to be inserted in that service.
3. The Book of Offices for Special Occasions, or the Manual, or Minister's Hand Book. This book contains the services for Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony, Churching of Women, Visitation and Communion of the Sick and Burial of the Dead,--following the course of an individual Christian's life, with offices of the Church's benediction upon that life's experiences from birth to death.
4. The Book of Psalms, or the Psalter, a Bible book, extracted and printed here, for convenience, since the Psalms are so constantly used in the Church's services; and given substantially in the ancient translation of the Great Bible of 1539, the work of that master of the English tongue, Coverdale, "a translation of a poet, and not of a dictionary," and preserved in our Prayer Book, in preference to later, more accurate translations, because of its adaptability for musical rendering, and because its simple and forcible vocabulary and beautiful rhythm endear it to the people.
5. The Book of Forms for Ordination, or the Ordinal.
The first question which occurs to one in regard to the contents of the volume as thus given, is why it is made to contain so much. It is primarily a Book of Common Prayer, that is to say, a handbook for the worshiping congregation. For the people's use only the first two books are needed, together with the Psalter, for the sake of convenience. These books supply all that is required by worshipers from day to day. Why bind up with these books, the priest's book, containing the Baptismal and other offices, and the Bishop's book, containing the services of ordination? The answer to this question is to be found, in the first instance, by reference to the temper of the Reformation-time, out of which our English Prayer Book came into being. The watchword of the Reformation is immediacy of relationship. The soul is to approach God directly, without the intrusion of mediatorial priestliness. The Church belongs to the people. The worship is theirs, and is to be in their own language. It is not expedient, nor is it edifying that the priest should have a book of his own, nor the bishop his special book. The rites and ceremonies which concern the life of the people, the ordinations of the people's ministers, must be in their own hands, open to their knowledge and understanding, free for their constant reading and study, designed for their participation. These offices are not merely to be heard occasionally, and participated in solely by the people's presence, nor liable to the clergyman's unguarded discretion. They concern intimately the development of the individual worshiper's life--especially the Manual, which, in its offices, touches upon the great moments of Christian experience. The principle is a sound one, and is likely to preserve the book intact in its present general outline and inclusiveness.
Another question which occurs to one who turns the pages of the Prayer Book, with the above outline in mind, is as to the omissions in that outline. Not all which is to be found between the covers of the book is mentioned. This is true. The outline of the Five Books as printed above is not exhaustive. It is general, covering the essential points.
Let us consider the omissions.
a. In Book I, no mention was made of the Penitential Office. This Office does not properly belong in this place. It is occasional, in the sense that it is designed primarily for one day, Ash Wednesday. It is comparable to the Office for Thanksgiving Day, which is now printed in the Manual, with the other occasional offices. In the rearrangement of the Prayer Book, which is contemplated in connection with the revision of the book now in process, the Penitential Office will doubtless be removed from Book I to Book III. It is true that there is a double use of the word occasional, in this connection, which is somewhat confusing. The Penitential Office is an occasional congregational service,--while the occasional offices proper are not congregational in the same sense, but rather personal. There is, however, no separate book of Occasional Offices of the Congregation, and a place for the Penitential Office at the end of Book III is better than its present position in Book I.
b. In Book III, the following offices were omitted in the outline, viz.: The Catechism, Forms of Prayer at Sea, Visitation of Prisoners, Thanksgiving Day Services, Family Prayer. In regard to them, these things are to be noted.
I. The Catechism. The first and most obvious thing to say about the Catechism is that it seems out of place in a book of worship. This is true whether we consider it as a hand-book for the education of the young, or as a brief compendium of theological teaching. But it is also true that it is interwoven with the two offices for Special Occasions between which it stands, viz.: Baptism and Confirmation, and is referred to in both these offices. For this reason it is likely to remain where it is, unless these offices are radically revised. Such revision is certainly needed in the case of Baptism, and is greatly to be desired. It is further to be remarked that the Catechism has old and treasured associations with many users of the Book of Common Prayer, and is not without significance as a symbol of the consecration of education in the unfolding of the Christian life. These reasons, together with certain excellencies of statement in the Catechism itself, add to the likelihood of its continued inclusion, in some form, within the book.
2. The Forms of Prayer to be used at sea,--and the Form for the Visitation of Prisoners have nothing to commend them as offices, and their contents in general are archaic and not helpful in meeting the needs of the Church to-day. Both forms, with the exception of certain prayers, will doubtless be dropped from the book at the next revision.
3. The Thanksgiving Day Service has no features which require its printing as a separate office. Its excellent suggestions and lessons, sentences, canticles and prayers, as well as collect, epistle and gospel, can be distributed to the different places in the book where they naturally belong, the office itself in this way disappearing, while all of value that it contains is preserved.
4. Forms of Prayer to be used in Families. It may be decidedly useful to include within the volume of the people's book of worship, a suggested form for Family Prayer. It would be, moreover, unfortunate to discourage a practice already sufficiently discouraged, by dropping this material from the book. But it has no place in the Manual, or book of Special Offices, and is easily lost sight of, where it stands. The suggestion is a good one to dignify it with a separate title page, to enlarge it somewhat by adding certain prayers, and to place it outside the Prayer Book proper (so making it amenable to easier revision)--but just inside the back cover of the volume. The forms as they now stand in the book are, it is true, old-fashioned, and of a fashion not belonging to the days of the happiest liturgical expression. These forms have, however, a certain flavor and suggestiveness of their own, and with slight revision, are capable of being used helpfully and appealingly. When combined with prayers of more immediate reference to to-day's conditions and needs, they ought to form a little book of family prayer of great usefulness, and serve to commend a practice to which our people ought to return.
c. In Book V, no mention was made in the Outline of the Form of Consecration of a Church, and the Office of Institution of Ministers. This was with the intention of emphasizing the important contents of this book, the ordination services. The inclusion of these two offices in the book makes of it a Pontifical, or Bishop's Book, rather than an Ordinal, the title chosen. Of course, a Bishop's Book proper would also, in order to serve the bishop's convenience, include the other service which peculiarly belongs to him, the Confirmation Service. But it is important and helpful in a people's book that this office should stand with the other offices in Book III, which so vitally concern the Christian's personal religious life. The two offices mentioned above are peculiar to the American Prayer Book. While open to some criticisms, when compared with the best liturgical standards, they possess dignity, and contain some excellent material. This is especially true of the Office for the Consecration of a Church. Moreover, they represent occasions for the bishop's presence which are of very real significance in the life of the congregation. They were conceived to be the two occasions of deepest concern recurring in a parish's history; and, on the whole, this judgment must stand approved. It is undoubtedly true, if the American Church ever authorizes a Book of Offices (a book which would conceivably contain offices for the Laying of a Corner Stone, for the Dedication of a Parish House, Rectory, or Hospital, for the Benediction of Memorials, etc.), that these two services will be transferred to such book, leaving the Ordinal to stand by itself. Meantime, they will remain where they are now, a part of Book V.
The Litany and Holy Communion now printed in Book V are there because they were needed there in connection with ordinations, when this book was bound by itself as a separate book. Now that it is bound up with the other books, they are not needed, since they are provided in a more convenient form elsewhere, and these will doubtless be removed from the revised Prayer Book.
There is to be found in the Book of Common Prayer, besides the five books which represent its real contents, still other material. There stands printed, at the beginning, the prefatory matter, and at the end, the Articles of Religion.
a. The Prefatory Matter. This matter, besides a descriptive title page, and a table of contents, which things are common to books in general, includes first of all the Ratification of the book by the new-born American Church of 1789, together with the interesting and illuminating preface of the same date. There then follow these items for the convenience of users of the book.
1. Tables of Proper Psalms and Lessons, as suggested for certain days and seasons.
2. Tables of Feasts and Fasts.
3. General directions as to the services of the Church.
In addition to these convenient directions and tables, there is included in this prefatory matter certain tables for finding the date of Easter, including tables for finding the Dominical Letter. These present a difficult and mysterious study to the average man, who is without mathematical or astronomical leanings, and seem of doubtful value in a people's book of worship. It is recorded of Dr. Hart, the late custodian of the book, to whom the Church is indebted for helpful teaching about the Prayer Book, based upon a careful and sympathetic study of its history, that he strongly advocated the retention of the tables in the volume as a sort of symbol of mystery, a pledge of those hidden treasures of the volume, which are the reward of the patient student and constant user.
b. The Articles of Religion. There can be, of course, no liturgical excuse for the retention of the Articles in our Book of Worship. They are an interesting exhibit of an attempt at theological definition dating from Reformation times. They do not express, in many instances, the thoughts of men to-day on the great themes with which they deal. When they do express these thoughts, they express them in an outgrown language. They are not "binding," as a prerequisite for membership or office in the Church, upon either clergy or people. What keeps them in the book is a vague feeling that they express a spirit which their excision might seem to deny, and which no one wishes to deny,--the spirit of freedom, which is the supreme heritage of the Reformation, and that attitude towards the life of the Christian and of the Christian Church which makes our Church a Reformed Church.
The stranger to our Church's forms of worship sometimes finds the Prayer Book a puzzling book through which to find one's way. It seems at times to this stranger that the book is specially designed to make the finding of one's place practically impossible. It must be confessed that there are certain inevitable difficulties, in the use of a book of worship, which cannot be overcome. Its very genius, expressed in its use of varying, or alternating, or of varyingly appropriate forms or selections, renders a certain amount of turning back and forth inevitable. All that the lover of the book can say to the bewildered novice is that it is worth all the study and trouble he can give, to learn how to use it, and to discover, with pains if need be, its riches.
At the same time, it is certainly to be desired that in its arrangement it should be as simple and convenient as possible. To this end, certain changes in its present make-up are recommended. These are, in the first place, to move the Collects, Epistles and Gospels from their position before the Order for the Holy Communion to a place immediately following that service. The result will be that the four great services of constant congregational use, Morning and Evening Prayer, Litany and Holy Communion, will stand together in the first part of the book. The Prayers and Thanksgivings, it is suggested, should come between the two Daily Offices and the Litany, into which services they are most commonly introduced. This will bring the Litany to a position immediately before the Holy Communion, a place not without appropriateness, since it is frequently used as a preparation for Holy Communion. That the Manual, the book of occasional offices which most closely concern the people, should follow, as it does, the two books which comprise the people's congregational offices is appropriate.
It is true that the Psalter is in a sense primarily associated with the Daily Offices, and might for that reason stand next to the first book. It is also true that Psalms are being increasingly used as Introits to the Holy Communion in Book II, and are required in some of the offices of Book III, and it' is probable that the present place of the Psalter is the most convenient one, while its bulk, if introduced next the Daily Offices, would break up the helpful juxtaposition of the great services of the people's worship.