Preface to the Prayer Book
The Book of Common Prayer (1662) contains a Preface beginning with the words: “It hath been the wisdom of the Church of England, …” and ending with the words: “… and truly conscientious Sons of the Church of England.” This portion is preceded by the title Preface and indeed it is! However it was added in 1662 and refers to the changes implemented at that time to the Prayer Book. The following portion titled “Concerning the Service of the Church” was the preface to the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) added in 1549. The preface of 1549 therefore describes the principles of reformation the compilers of the BCP used to reform the (Sarum and other such local variations) Breviary. Rev. John Henry Blunt* locates eight principles of reform in this Preface:
1. corruption in the manner of using the appointed Lections or Lessons taken from Holy Scripture
2. replacing Scriptural readings with uncertain stories and legends
3. the Service is performed in a language the people don’t understand and they are to that extent excluded from it
4. the Psalms are not used as they were intended in the old Breviaries, instead only a few festal Psalms are repeated over and over to the neglect of most of the Psalter
5. the complexity of the Service hinders their performance
6. the different Uses (Hereford, Sarum, York, Bangor etc.) are disorderly
7. certain Ceremonies had become positively superstitious
8. certain Ceremonies crowd out the essence of the Office performed thereby distorting their true meaning
To these the BCP is the proposed Remedy, at least according to Abp. Cranmer and the compilers of the BCP.The Rev. Blunt makes it clear that the Preface under discussion did not simply take its lead from foreign (and more radical) Reformers. Parts of the Preface are almost literally taken from Cardinal Quignonez a firm Roman Catholic who had produced a Reformed Breviary at the request of the Pope (this Breviary was later retracted and replaced with the Reformed Breviary of Trent). It is possible therefore to understand the reforms implemented in the BCP as a mostly catholic affair.
The Breviary of Trent – in spite of its reformed character – does not adequately answer the eight points listed above. The reforms that were implemented were – as far as the Sanctoral Cycle goes – quickly undone by the addition of many double rite feasts to the Kalendar of Saints once again crowding out the reading of Scripture and the regular recitation/singing of the Psalter (only selected Psalms for feasts were ever used). Another reform was considered by Rome but was not implemented until 1911 under Pope Pius X. This reform returned – among other things – to a source used by the reformers which produced the BCP: Cardinal Quignonez. The regular reading of Scripture and the regular recitation/singing of the entire Psalter were at the heart of the Reforms under Pius X. The very same concerns animated Abp. Cranmer and the other reformers 300 years before!
In spite of similar concerns and a similarity in sources used, the Breviary of Pius X and the BCP are very different. Pius X retained the weekly Psalter, the use of Antiphons (called Anthems in the BCP (see “Of Ceremonies” ), Hymns, and Responds. The BCP dropped all of that for a rather austere if purely Scriptural diet: “nothing is ordained to be read, but the very pure Word of God” says the Preface. Over time the singing of Hymns (eliminated from the BCP) was restored to the BCP giving it a bit more flavor, but on the whole the austere structure of the BCP has always been retained. The later additions of alternatives to the Canticles are a departure from catholic use and have no added value at all. In Anglo Catholic circles these alternatives are almost entirely ignored and preference is given to ancient catholic us of the Canticles. The reformed Breviary of Pius X complied with all the additions Rome had made to the deposit of the Faith, purgatory, indulgences, Immaculate Conception of the BVM, etc. In this the reformed Breviary of Pius X departs from the ancient faith as did the Reformers if in an opposite direction. The result for both departures is a narrowing of the ancient Christian faith “once delivered to the Saints.”
The Anglican Breviary
Early in the 20-ieth century the Anglo Catholic movement was underway and producing many good fruits. One of these fruits would be the Anglican Breviary:
The basis chosen for The Anglican Breviary was the 1911 Reform of the Latin Secular Breviary; but when certain problems arose, resulting from the necessity of conforming our Breviary to Prayer-Book peculiarities, the precedents of cognate Uses were followed in solving them.
The Anglican Breviary, p. vii.
Here we have Anglicans once again involved in reform. The Prayer-Book (though sufficiently Catholic) had its significant draw backs. Particularly its openness to (radical) Protestant distortion. over the years the Ornaments Rubric had been almost completely forgotten by ingrained (and Protestant inspired) disobedience and aversion to the ancient Catholic Faith, and a strait-jacket tending toward Calvinism had firmly established itself as the key to Prayer-Book and the 39 Articles of Religion. Many Anglicans had made a hard turn toward the Protestant extremes in a deliberate posturing against the Roman Church. Forgotten were the words of Divines such as Andrewes, Bramhall and even a mature Baxter (!) that in essence the English and Roman Church were identical in doctrine and practice. On a doctrinal and ceremonial level these Protestant distortions in the English Church were exposed and corrected by the twin movements of the Oxford Movement and Ritualism. These movements spilled over into 20-ieth century Anglo Catholicism and it was the latter which produced the Anglican & English Missal as well as the Anglican Breviary and the English language Monastic Office of St. Benedict. The reformation, which began over 300 years ago has here reached its completion.
The Anglican Breviary translates – for the most part – the 1911 Pian Breviary, but does so with a firm eye to the principles contained in the Preface to the Prayer Book.
1. Holy Scripture is given a more prominent place in actually being read
2. the Legends have been “cleaned up” so that they no longer contain uncertain stories
3. the Service is entirely in English
4. the ferial Psalter is regularly said entire
5. the Rubrics have been simplified (but are not easy)
6. the AB bridges a gap between Rome and Anglicans by a more uniform Office between the two (until Rome of course created its own radicalized reforms)
7. superstitious Ceremonies are excluded from the AB (they were also eliminated by Rome)
8. the AB restores a continuity with the ancient Office the BCP does not have (and neither does the Post Vatican II Roman one) but it excludes superstitious and distracting Ceremonies, Commemorations etc., and expresses more fully the true meaning of the Divine Office when compared to the modern Roman rite or the BCP rite.
For Catholic Anglicans the AB is therefore a very attractive completion of the reforms begun (but taken too far because of their increasingly radical views) by Abp. Cranmer and his fellow Reformers. The need for reform and the principles to carry out such a reform were correctly discerned by Cranmer, but in implementing the reforms Cranmer has conformed too much to his radicalizing Protestant convictions. Of course the AB is not the only way to “fix” the errors of Cranmer. A very laudable restoration is also to be found in such efforts as the English Office Book and other such efforts. Nor does the existence of the AB inaugurate the disappearance of the BCP Office all-together. The AB does indicate the shape Catholic use of the Prayer Book ought to have, and it does contain elements which need to be restored to the BCP if the latter is to be full expression of the ancient Catholic Faith rather than being a work which is capable of Catholic use.
I will mention one example: the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles strongly discourage and reject the Roman invocation Saints. Yet – as I have shown in an earlier post – the Articles do allow invocation of Saints as such. The Prayer Book contains a Kalendar of Saints to be celebrated but often no propers for such celebration. The Anglican Breviary conforms to the teaching of the Articles and to the encouragement of the Prayer Book regarding the veneration of the Saints and their invocation by providing propers. The Catholic interpretation of the Prayer Book is strongly affirmed in the AB. At the same time the AB (following Anglican insights) does not encourage certain devotions of the Breviary to be used for “gaining pardons” with regard to purgatory (as the Roman Breviary does). The AB also contains all the Collects contained in the Prayer Book so that the teaching “prayed” in the BCP is also “prayed” in the AB. In conclusion the AB – as I see it – is a Prayer Book which conforms to the principles upon which the BCP is based but excludes the possibility of (radical) Protestant distortions (but also excluding superstitious tendencies still present in the Roman Breviary).
* see John Henry Blunt: “Three Essays on the Leading Principles of the Reformation Illustrating its Catholic Character from its Constitutional, Doctrinal, and Ritual History,” p. 44-47.