Project Canterbury

Prayer Book Revision: An Address at the Alumni Service, June 14, 1928

By John Wallace Suter

No place: no publisher, 1928.

IT is a great disappointment to us all that neither our preacher, nor our substitute for our substitute-preacher could stand in this place to-day. They are both Alumni-Bishops, whom we delight to honor, and whom we would gladly listen to. Such bishops are the best defense of episcopacy. Especially are we grieved that it is illness which keeps Bishop Touret away. May his recovery of his former health be speedily accomplished.

Our Committee has asked me, in a measure to fill the gap, by speaking to you at this hour on Prayer Book Re-vision—a request which I could not decline. The School of our allegiance has but to command—and we cheerfully obey.


THIS is an address ad Clerum. It is not that any lay-people who are present are not welcome to listen. Only, if they do, I ask them to exercise their imaginations, and either fancy that they are ministers—or else occupy themselves in guessing what I would say, if only I were talking to them.

But I address myself very especially to my brethren in the ministry, and to my fellow-alumni of this School. If I am somewhat hortatory in manner, you will put it down, [1/2] I feel confident, to my desire to be brief, and not to dogmatic arrogance, a mental attitude which happily does not flourish within these sacred precincts.

I. And first of all, I exhort you to use your influence for the spread of the idea that the present process of revision is to be concluded at the Convention at Washington in October. That it was the desire of the Church at New Orleans three years ago that the work should be finished this year is testified to by the resolution then passed, authorizing the Committee to edit the Standard of 1928. Back of this resolution was the felt wish of Church people everywhere for speedy completion of the revision. It is my belief that this feeling is stronger still to-day. After fifteen years passed in the business of revising the book, the ministers and people of the Church are everywhere eager to have the new Prayer Books published and in their hands.

As for the Commission, it has done what the Convention ordered. At the expense of much time and labor, and in a scrupulously careful word-by-word manner, it has edited the new matter, and incorporated it into a copy of the Standard of 1892. It has included the matter waiting ratification in October. All that will be necessary, you perceive, at the Convention, will be to follow the ratification proceedings closely, and to erase any matter which may fail. When the ratification work is finished, the Committee will be ready, on the moment, to present to the Convention the Standard of 1892 as revised and amended by Conventions from 1913 to 1928; and ask, by appropriate resolutions, that the volume so presented be adopted as the Standard of 1928, and that the Committee proceed immediately to print the same.

Meantime, as you are doubtless aware, Mr. Morgan, in emulation of his father's action in 1892, has asked the [2/3] privilege of defraying the expense of the Standard's publication. This offer has been accepted, and I am happy to say that, after viewing sample pages prepared by the great printers of England and America, the Editing Committee of the Commission have chosen Mr. Updike of Boston to do the work. There is no more eminent printer anywhere; and he possesses in addition to the literary printer's art, a liturgical understanding. He is preparing now for exhibition at the Convention, as sample pages of the proposed book, the Offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.

I state these matters for your information, believing that they may interest you. It is far from my intention to imply that what the Convention of New Orleans did, and what the Commission has done, in any way coerce the coming Convention. We know the ways of Conventions too well to imagine this. The Convention may, if it chooses, hold revision open for another three years, or indefinitely.

Nor, would I seem to imply that this revision, if completed this year, will be a perfect work. In the nature of things, it could not be that. And none know better than those who have labored in the business all these years, that there are revisings not accomplished that ought to be accomplished. There ought, for instance, to be distinct provision for a briefer service of Holy Communion; there ought to be elimination of the overshadowing Augustinianism—Roman-judicialism—of the Collects; they ought to be balanced, at least, by Eastern or modern Collects that radiate joy in God and his creation. There ought to be distinct provision for using any one of the three parts of the Te Deum. As the Bishop who ought to be standing here to-day, and who is a valued member of the Commission says, in a letter just received:

"I realize that there are many things that one wishes might have been changed. I think we have done a good [3/4] work as far as we have gone, but we can hardly stay where we are with so rapid a movement going on in the rest of the world. I suppose you and I won't see any more great changes, but it cannot be very long before there are definite movements in the direction of modernizing the eschatology, and other things of that kind."

I suspect that in some cases at present unauthorized uses will creep in. This is in accordance with past happenings in Prayer Book Revision. Just as the saying of the General Thanksgiving by the people with the minister made its own way, even against adverse action in 1892, until now it is recognized in the present revision, so it may happen that seeing the three parts of the Te Deum printed as separate hymns may lead to a growing practice of singing them as such; or finding in the Communion for the Sick a short form for the Holy Communion, with the very greatly needed short Confession and Absolution, one may come to use it in Church or Chapel. Not all the sick, in body or mind, are in bed. There are not a few, incapable of a too long-drawn-out attention, who can find their way to Communion at the Church.

The things not done, urged by various people, as ground for keeping revision open, run the whole gamut, from things which appear foolish, or unwise, or unnecessary, or unimportant, to matters of more serious account. One wishes permission to say—"We commit his body to the Elements" (not ground) in case of cremation. Another would have the Whitsuntide Ember Days reduced to two and moved to the Friday and Saturday after Ascension Day. Another would have the words "Holy Ghost" in every case changed to "Holy Spirit." Others would have revision stay open until the Agnus Dei can be printed in the Holy Communion. Others until two satisfying Baptismal Services, one for infants and one for adults, can be [4/5] compiled. Others until all archaic words and phrases are swept from the Book.

In some cases the suggestions have had study and recommendation in the last fifteen years, and are known by those who recall the history, to stand little chance of passage, if brought up again.

The reason why certain brethren desire the Agnus Dei to appear is patent. But those who wish it may sing it as a hymn under the rubric. It is not likely that the consistency with which from beginning to end the Service addresses prayer and praise to the Father, will be broken by printing the Agnus Dei apart by itself, even if revision be kept open.

In regard to Baptism, certain things should be understood. Those who feel that there should be two services, one for infants, and one for adults, instead of the one office proposed, must realize that the proposed office is so printed and arranged that it can be used without the slightest difficulty for the one case or the other. Further, to have the one service lends dignity to the Sacramental Office. Still further it should be remembered that really we never have had two services. We have had two forms printed. But the Adult Service is merely a poorly contrived modification of Infant Baptism. The fact is that in the home Church there is no such thing as adult baptism. It is simply a postponed infant baptism. For this reason, early in the experience of the revisers, a strong appeal was made to workers in the foreign field for a form which would satisfy them, and which might appear in the revised book. The Church has not been able to provide this. It is one of the things which must wait until that next revision which is to be. In like manner, many of us have felt that a new Baptismal Service for Infants ought to be compiled. Much labor and thought have been bestowed upon this, but [5/6] without success. The utmost that has proved possible has been a modification of the traditional Prayer Book form. The result, it must be frankly stated, is not all that some of us would desire. The questions involved in the definition of Baptism, and in the provision of an adequate office for the administering of the Sacrament, have presented, and continue to present, the most serious and difficult problem in revision to-day. But it must further be said that, alike in what it omits and in what it adds, the service has experienced a genuine enrichment, in virtue of which it has been dignified, in a measure glorified, as an embodiment of the great Sacrament. It is a real improvement upon the clumsy and theologically over-burdened three services of the present book. It is, I believe, the best accomplishment that can be hoped for at this stage of revision.

In the matter of archaisms, I believe that your sympathetic imagination will lead you to commend the conservatism of the present revision. None of us would, I suppose, wish to translate the entire book into the language of the man in the street. Very many changes have been made in the text of Psalter and Epistles and Gospels, and they will, I think, be commended. And yet they are not so very many. The people will not know in many instances that changes have been made, and yet their souls will respond to the new utterances as they have not easily responded before. This is as it should be. The right course in this special line of revision it is often extraordinarily difficult to determine. After all, words are symbols. And sometimes a word that is archaic, so far as everyday use is concerned, carries the spiritual content, better than the word of the market-place. In general, the beauty of our Psalter version and of the King James version is not merely a literary beauty; it is a spiritual force. Perhaps more ought to have  [6/7] been done in this line of revision. And yet none who are thoughtful will deny that reverent conservatism ought to control. Take the classical example of one word. Shall the word prevent, which has lost to-day its former meaning, always be changed to a modern equivalent? If so, to what shall we change it? In this instance the present revisers have chosen to be conservative, and also after the Prayer Book manner in the past, consistently inconsistent. They keep the change to Direct, at the opening of a certain familiar Collect, made by the revisers of 1789, inadequate as that word is. But they retain the prevent in the beautiful and brief Collect for the seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, wherein we ask this and this only, that " God's grace may always prevent and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works." And I believe the "streetiest man in the street" will be glad that we did.

In regard to the Articles and their relation to the Prayer Book I have spoken in another place. There are signs that the proposal there made may win adoption. It is, in a word, that we refuse, by a generous and non-partisan vote, to ratify the last Convention's resolution to omit them from the Prayer Book and refer the whole matter for study to a Committee, to report to the next Convention. The outcome regarding the Articles need not in any way affect the Revision prospects. If, at some future time, it is decided not to bind them up with the Prayer Books, Prayer Books after such decision will cease to contain them. That is all. In this connection, it may not be out of place to make one remark. It has been said that Liberals who are opposed to their omission at this time are inconsistent with their past record, since in 1907 it was Dr. Huntington, and with him many Liberals of that day, who advocated their removal. But their removal then was combined with a carefully thought-out programme, which  [7/8] included an amendment to Article 10 of the Constitution and the provision of a Preamble to the Constitution, which Preamble was to make clear our Church's Catholic heritage, and at the same time its Reformation Settlement and Anglican derivation. A correspondingly careful thinking-out of the matter is incumbent upon us to-day.

There is a further reason why we may, with satisfaction, urge the closing of the Revision this year. That is that by the terms of the Resolution which authorizes the Commission to edit, we have been granted a certain leeway in the authorization to correct obvious errors. In our Report to the Convention we have cited certain items, such as the retention of the rubric suggesting a Communion Hymn, which obviously should have been kept, when the substitute for it failed. This omission has worried many people.

Also, in the phrase before the Lord's Prayer after the Prayer of Consecration, we have changed "let us say" to "we are bold to say," to make clear the obvious intention to continue the address to the Father. There are now three of these introductory phrases before the Lord's Prayer in the Prayer Book—this, the one in the Bidding Prayer, and the one in the Office of Institution. They vary in form and this is an advantage.

There are other such legitimate editings. They do not need to be catalogued. But I give one example of such, as a source of possible comfort to those who are concerned in regard to certain infelicities or oversights which may seem to interfere with the perfecting of the book. It is this. In the Epistle for Trinity Sunday from Revelation, the word beast has been changed to living creature, following the Revised Version. By process of editing the corresponding change has been made in the Epistles for All Saints and for Holy Innocents.

[9] II. Next, let us remind ourselves that the Revision now drawing to a close imposes upon us ministers a very special, and, in a certain sense, a new responsibility.

The trend, in the recent processes of revision, has been away from a hard-and-fast order of service, with rules exactly governing every item of its progress. The trend has been towards another ideal, viz., that the minister is the leader of the people's worship—in a liturgical Church as truly as in a free Church. There are tables and rubrics to help with suggestions. But upon him ultimately rest choices and the framing of the effective whole. It is happily no longer true, or it ought not to be true, that a minister can enter the Chancel totally unprepared, so far as the service is concerned, to lead the people's worship, except for the possession of three comforting thoughts—that he knows the day of the month, the Sunday of the year, and the fact that a pamphlet with the lectionary in it is tucked under the cover of the Bible.

There are, of course, the traditional and discreet rubrical safeguards—but in effect the minister will now be free to choose the Psalms and Lessons in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, and the prayers and intercessions into which those offices flower. The General Rubric will furthermore provide that it is not only his privilege but his duty to construct, in places where it seems needed, out of Bible, Prayer Book, and Hymnal, which he has in hand, the service which he believes will be more for the good of the congregation's soul, than the Offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. With it all comes the increasing understanding of the rubric's true nature,—that it is not a fetter to bind, nor an act of Parliament to obey, but an invitation joyfully to accept,—if circumstances permit.

All this, it will be thought by some, is dangerous. It is. Every access of liberty, or flexibility, in the affairs of men, [9/10] is fraught with danger. A certain timid and pessimistic Bishop remarked, in regard to the new provision for the free use of the Psalms, that he was confident that the result in his diocese would be that upon every occasion of the use of Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer every minister would give out Psalm 117—because it has but two verses. Such perils, in such dioceses, must be risked. They are not deterring. Moreover, even if you are so mistaken as to esteem a rubric to be a law—no human ingenuity can make a rubric fool-proof.

But it is the responsibility which rests upon us ministers in the face of this trend, that I would stress. We are to lead the people to participate with us in a great event. We are going to meet God, within the sacred precincts of His house, with all its surrounding hallowed associations. Every detail of the worship in which we are to engage demands beforehand the intelligent and prayerful study of the minister. It demands the preparation of the people too. We shall come to understand that also and learn how to guide the people to make ready. In this the Grey Book group in England are pioneers for us along the way.

III. Again, allow me to urge upon you thoughtfulness and sympathy in commending the revised Prayer Book to your people. It is true that there are not as many of our people as there were in 1880 or in 1892 who are disturbed by the thought that there should be any revision at all of our precious Prayer Book, of that "incomparable liturgy" which has been the joy and comfort of our years, and of the years of our forebears. Nevertheless, there are some perhaps in every parish, whose attitude is: "Why don't you let the Prayer Book alone?"—"It is good enough for me as it is."—"If you touch it, you will only spoil it, or destroy for me its beauty and appeal." You ought to say to these, and indeed to all your people:  [10/11] "Do not be afraid." "The Prayer Book is too great to be hurt or destroyed by any revision that the Church may undertake." The fact is that worship is an art, and that those services of the great congregation concerning which people are most concerned, are works of art. They are preserved in their beauty and integrity by their inherent greatness. They cannot possibly be marred by any excisions or enrichments which reverent hands may execute. They are not dependent for their permanence or for their continued appeal upon the presence or absence of rubrics. Their abiding power and beauty are assured by virtue of what they are in themselves. They partake of that immortality which they share with an Apollo by Phidias or with the Sistine Madonna. Tell the people that revision is comparable to the restoration of a work of art. Time and circumstances may bring the requirement that a masterpiece be restored. If it be a Madonna, the work of restoration will not turn it into a Venus and Cupid, or into a Landscape. It will bring out with reverent care the masterfulness of the drawing, the skill of the modeling, the richness of the coloring, the unsuspected glory of a background. And the joy of the beholder, satisfied with the total result, will not see or know just what has been done here and there, in the removal of a marring blemish or the retouch of a pigment that is new. So it is with the revision of our Book of Common Prayer.

And then go on, and take pains to show them how a change of order here, an omission there, the enrichment that comes through a new prayer or phrase in another place, may help you and them, in your congregation, to worship together more helpfully, in the spirit, and with the understanding also.

IV. A final word of appeal to you, for your cooperation. If you discover in your study of the new material any  [11/12] blemishes or oversights which seem to call for legitimate editing, send notes of such, I beg of you, to the Commission. You may prove, thereby, of real service in helping to make the new Standard as perfect a book as possible. There was never more scrupulous care in editing and proofreading given to a book than was given to the Standard of 1892. And yet when the beautifully bound volume, in its silver clasps, was at last borne to its resting-place in the Safe Deposit Mausoleum, it carried within its pages one glaring typographical error, not to mention one or two minor ones. And if you are privileged to view it to-day, you will discover in certain places corrections in ink on its fair margins.

Nor is this all. The Commission is offering to the Con-vention a Resolution calling for the creation of a permanent Liturgical Commission. Such Commission would correspond very properly with the already created Commissions on Architecture and Music. To such Commission will naturally be referred for study suggestions for revision which may be made in coming Conventions. To the Commission requests may be sent in future for assistance in compiling special offices or forms. To this, our "Congregation of Rites," when created, I ask you to send such suggestions for revision, as may not now be accomplished by legitimate editing, but which your experience and study lead you to feel ought to find place in the Revision of the future. You will realize, at once, I feel sure, what may prove to be the helpful scope of such Commission's activities. Only this week I have received from a Bishop who is a graduate of this School a request "for help in the way of advising his younger clergy as to an order of ceremonial for Eucharistic Use that would be loyal and simple, and obviate their adoption of the Latin order as was so apt to be the case." In this connection it will be of interest to you  [12/13] to know that there has recently been established in London a Committee of Liberal Catholics and Evangelicals, who are endeavoring to get to an agreed ceremonial which will help to banish Roman Ceremonies and falsities and to convince the Bishops of the need of authorized directions.

Upon the completion of the Revision of 1892 it was a stalwart and devout Churchman of this diocese who uttered the exclamation: "Thank God this business is over. The Prayer Book will now remain untouched for 100 years!" He based his prophecy upon the historical fact that a century had intervened in every case between the revisions of the past. But he was wrong. It was only a generation, just thirty-three years, which elapsed between the inauguration of the 1892 revision, and the beginning of this present task. The living hand-book of worshippers in our more quickly moving world demands for itself more frequent revisions. It may be only half a generation before another revision is inaugurated. You, my younger brethren, will probably live to see it, and to be partakers in it. Out of your own experience and thinking aid it, beginning now. To bring a more vivid reality and a profounder beauty to the art of worship is a worthy endeavor. For in worship, for Nations and for Men, is the key to the consecrated life.

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