On the Need for a New Prayer Book

Tony SigI do hope I’ve aroused some attention with the title. No I do not mean an actual new BCP. What I do mean is a new edition of the one we’ve got. I don’t know about you but sometimes I still don’t even know what year of the daily lectionary we’re on and I have to look it up, and I’ve been at this whole office thing a while.

I still recall when I first became Episcopalian and I asked my first rector, bless his heart, how to use the darn thing and he said “Well all the instructions are in there, it’s really quite simple.” Indeed.

There are two new prayer books that are well worth considering as models for how to do this. There is, on the one hand, Phyllis Tickle’s praiseworthy three volume edition of The Divine Hours, and the new Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Their absolute key strength on a practical level is their ease of use. Both include for each day everything you need to perform the office with absolutely no page turning, save that the scripture readings in Common Prayer must be read from a Bible — nevertheless the actual lectionary is printed clearly into each day. There simply is altogether too much page turning and calendar-deciphering for any average layperson to use the BCP in any effortless way.

One thing, it must be allowed, that this single page use has cost Common Prayer is that it goes by the secular calendar rather than by Church calendar, and Tickle’s follows the Church year but the books are split according to natural seasons. Yet this can be solved simply by splitting into the years A and B, in either two our four volumes, accordingly. The then small amount of “getting used to it” that it takes to adjust to the Church calendar is minimized and the, I believe, necessary formative effects of using the liturgical structure remain undimmed.

Common Prayer also has a clear and concise introduction on how to use the blessed thing, periodic notes throughout the volume for filling out the details, and biographical notes for saints introduced. (It strangely enough lacks a baptismal liturgy).

Interestingly both of these new works are distinctly Roman in character. I didn’t realize how much until I started looking into them. The BCP really is much more Scripture-heavy. No judgement is implied there, I merely found it interesting and unexpected.

What we need, I propose, is a multi-volume edition of the BCP Daily Office with clear instructions, one-stop praying, and a single beautiful ribbon – All that should be necessary for its use. Tickle’s books are quite nice actually and there is a clean and plain beauty about them (Common Prayer in this regard is a bit busy and the book itself slightly less sturdy). Tickle’s are also exceedingly reasonably priced at around $15 each. Optional elements in the BCP like the Great Litany could be made an appendice at the back with suggestions within the text of when to utilize it and other such BCP “bonus features.”

Common Prayer also has a small and wonderful hymnal at the back. I think this would be a great thing to consider for these and even for an edition of the BCP. We do of course have the combo BCP/Hymnal but I mean something much simpler, smaller, more focused. This should also be only for the use of the Office. The Eucharist and other services, the Psalter as separate section, and such things, should all be done with in a volume dedicated solely to daily prayer.

Oh, and make sure the thing is pretty.

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16 Comments

    1. Yeah, I knew about those. But look at the price! I also think that the helps found in Common Prayer are quite stellar for getting people adjusted to it with little to no experience. It really is a nice little volume. As a fellow peace-lover I know you’d like it.

      Reply

  1. Funny you mention it, I picked up Common Prayer not too long ago. From what I’ve read so far it is a great book content-wise, although, as you pointed out, the binding isn’t that great.

    Would you agree that what your getting at is part of a larger need for TEC to make its traditions more accessible while avoiding watering them down or turning them into some sort of “seeker sensitive” obscenity?

    Reply

    1. Absolutely. I don’t think they need to change our liturgies and traditions, but make them – yes – more accessible. Also “contemporary,” but allow me to qualify that. I’m thinking of the way that, for instance, Sufjan or The Welcome Wagon, or heck, the David Crowder Band, make new arrangements of older tunes.

      Reply

      1. I always find myself thinking of the Welcome Wagon in church, and wondering what it would take to have the whole hymnal rearranged in their style.

        Reply

      1. Well, I suppose we should probably get some grant money together and hire an indie artist to write a new Mass ourselves. Any ideas? Sufjan might be a bit out of our price range.

        Reply

        1. We could use a few genres to show how it’s possible to “see” many things in the liturgy. They might be out of the price range as well, but the post-rock band Hammock would make a killer record I imagine.

          The aforementioned The Welcome Wagon would be another solid band.

          There’s Gungor, Low, My Brightest Diamond, The Opiate Mass, and others like that.

          I’ve even made a few arrangements of the Sanctus and Agnus Dei. I’ve given some thought to trying to do an entire Compline.

          Reply

          1. Consider this me spurring you on to love and good works then. You write the mass (and why don’t you write a Magnificat while you’re at it), I’ll start looking for funding.

            Reply

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