Why We Need a New Book of Common Prayer in the Canadian Church

(A re-post from my Tumblog and my Facebook Page)

I had considered doing a video on this particular topic, however, I have decided against it for now and decided to give my rant in a written method.

The current Book of Common Prayer (BCP) we use here in the Anglican Church of Canada was completed and approved by our General Synod in 1959 and went into use in 1962. It is the de jure Prayer Book for our services. By Canons of the Church the services and prayers that it holds are our official Lex orandi, lex credendi, that is the Law of Prayer is the Law of Belief.

However, there is a bit of a problem: the 1962 Book has effectively fallen to the wayside. Here in the Canada Church the de facto standard has become the 1985 Book of Alternative Services (BAS). As it’s name implies the book contains accepted alternatives to the services authorized by the 1962 Book. The problem is that use of the BAS has eclipsed that of the BCP; In most parishes the BCP is effectively only used a either early services on Sunday morning, mid-week services or Evensong.

How exactly did this happen? Well, that in itself turns out to be complicated. The 1985 BAS is the product of the continued work on experimental liturgies used in the 1960s within the Canadian Church, and work done outside the Canadian Church specifically in the Episcopal Church with the completion of their 1979 Prayer Book and the Church of England’s Alternative Service Book of 1980. If one compares our BAS to the American 1979 BCP one will find a lot of similarities. In fact, one would think that we pilfered most of its contents from it (Hint: We did. With Permission). 

With the introduction of the BAS the use of the 1962 BCP has decline and now fallen into disuse. This was not the original intention of the BAS, but what has happened none-the-less.

What should have, and more importantly should be, done is to replace the 1962 BCP with a newer book to adapt to the times. Now some people might accuse me of despising the 1962 Book please be aware that a decent amount of my time I go to Holy Communion and Evening Prayer services using said Book. While we certainly shouldn’t complete abandon the services found in the 1962 BCP or it’s language style we do need to move on. We need a new Book of Common Prayer to replace both and bring an end to this nonsense.

So far, I have established that:

– By Canon Law in The Anglican Church of Canada our 1962 BCP is our de jure Prayer Book
– In Reality our 1985 Book of Alternative Services has become our de facto Prayer Book
– As we are Anglicans we hold to Lex orandi, lex credendi. The BCP is our Lex orandi that we aren’t using in practice.
– A new BCP that replaced the current BCP and the BAS is therefore necessary

Now, I am going to cover why that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

The 1962 Prayer book is the second one the Anglican Church of Canada has produced. The first one was completed in 1918 and was, for the most part, a modification of the 1662 BCP produced by the Church of England. The 1918 was a disappointment to those in the Anglo-Catholic Tradition here in Canada. As well, it was only a short time after the 1918 BCP was completed that a number of other Churches in the Anglican Communion made a leap ahead of us. 

In 1928 both the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Church of England enacted new Prayer Books. In the case of the Church of England it was a proposed Prayer Book that was never approved by Parliament but authorized for use. These new Books were modern, in the sense, for the 20th Century and were more reflective of it. It wasn’t until the 1950s that we here in Canada that we prepared a new Prayer book to “catch up” with the Liturgical Reforms of the 1920s.

However, almost as soon as we had enacted our own new BCP the English and American Churches made another leap forward. The Americans produced their 1979 Prayer Book and in 1980 the English completed the Alternative Service Book to work alongside their BCP. Our 1985 BAS is built on those liturgical reforms. However, the BAS is still, by virtue of its own name, an Alternate to the standard of the BCP.

At this point one can reasonably ask the question ‘Why haven’t we already made a new BCP?’. The answer comes with how hard it is to change some things. In order to change or replace our BCP the Church requires that Two successive General Synods of the Church enact the Change (by two-thirds majority in all three of it’s Houses if I am not mistaken). That is no small feat. Since the 1962 Prayer Book came into effect we have enacted a single change to it in 1989. That change was the removal of a single Prayer; The Third Collect for Good Friday. It is actually uncanonical for any Minister (Lay or Ordained) to use that Collect in public worship now.

The Third Collect for Good Friday was as follows:

O MERCIFUL God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothing that thou has made, nor wouldest the death of a sinn, but rather the he should be converted and live: Have mercy upon the Jews, thine ancient people, upon all who reject and deny thy Son; take them from all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy fold, that they may be made one flock under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Now, for any of you that are shocked by this Prayer this is a nicer version that the one the Church of England still uses today in their 1662 BCP. In 1989 this Collect was struck from the BCP. It was done so because some Anglican clergy had it brought to their attention by several Jewish leaders that they found it offensive and in response we sought to either change or remove it. Do you have any idea when this issue was brought to General Synod? It was 1965. Only a bare three years after the General Synod that approved the “new” BCP and the next General Synod had an issue raised with it. It took 24 years, 8 meetings of General Synod, to formally strike that Collect from the BCP.

We can thus discern that changing, let alone tossing out and replacing, the 1962 would take a lot of time, energy and will-power. Time might be had but Energy and will-power for this type of project is scarce, and frankly there are things that the leadership of our Church finds more important, such as dealing with our dwindling numbers.

However, in a growing secularized society we must recognize that in order to carry on our mission of the Church, and indeed successfully evangelize to the growing secular elements in society, we need to firmed articulate and present the Beliefs of the Church in a 21st Century world. And in order to present the Lex credendi for them we have to present to them a Lex orandi for the 21st Century as well. And, while I can say I love the language and the services of the 1962 Prayer Book I do not believe that it is the Prayer Book we need at this time.

If the time and energy was found we should focus on getting a new Book of Common Prayer in place. And, it sadly can’t be just a quick re-branding of the BAS for a number of reasons. For example the options and rubrics for Morning and Evening Prayer are numerous and mind-numbingingly hard to grasp. I won’t go into much detail but less options need to be presented and rubrics clarified, if it options are left open. Also, we need a form of suffrages in the service which is basically gone in the BAS.

Conversely, what ever replacement we do have needs to be built in a model similar to the 1979 American BCP and the 2004 Irish BCP where traditional English language services can be used with contemporary ones. Whether this is divided into a Volume One and Volume Two of the book, or combined is not up for me to judge.

At the same time a supplemental prayer book must be created and authorized for Parishes that wish to hold onto the 1962 Prayer book in some fashion. Such a supplemental should consist of parts of the BCP with the services of Morning and Evening Prayer, the Litany, Holy Communion, Holy Baptism, Confirmation, the Propers (Collects and Readings), and Psalter while specifically excluding components such as the Solemn Declaration, most Episcopal services, the Articles of Religion. However, those components should be included in the new BCP already.

Finally, we must acknowledge that we live in a changing work and that Books have less of a place in as they did previously. While will still effectively need a new Book of Common Prayer in order to satisfy canon law we don’t really need a “Book” of Common Prayer. Until the invention of the Printing Press the faithful did not have easy access to the liturgy they partook in, which didn’t really matter too much because the majority of people were illiterate. However, with the ability to mass produce books this began to change. Today we are seeing a new printing press in action: The Internet.

Now, I am not saying that we need to make a “Website of Common Prayer” as our de jure source of liturgy. However, we have in our hands a medium that has the capability to assist the faithful of the Church more easily then books ever did. If we, as Anglicans, hold to the principle of that the Law of Prayer is the Law of Belief than we must be prepared to easily show what we believe to others in our prayers.

At this time we are generally showing outsiders that we primarily just argue among ourselves on issues pertaining Human Sexuality rather than carrying out the mission of the Church. (That, of course, does not mean we don’t keep discussing these issues but they must not be front and centre). However, if we wish to be Christ centred and to carry out the Great Commission that our Lord, God and Saviour gave to us through his Apostles than we must be prepared to now mission at home to the ever growing secular society we now live in. Frankly, the 1962 Prayer Book is not the book to carry out that mission.

In Christ,



This is a brief follow up intended to show why a quick re-branding of the Book of Alternative Services into a new Book of Common Prayer.

I. Christmas Collect Confusion

The BAS has three Collects for Christmas Day (one midnight, one early morning, one daytime), with a Collect for the First and Second Sundays after Christmas. The BCP directs that the Collect for Christmas Day is used throughout the Twelve days of Christmas, but the BAS contains no rubric on the directions. Thus, after the First Sunday after Christmas it is unknown which Collect is to be used on a weekday? Is it the daytime Collect for Christmas or the Collect for the Sunday? The same occurs if a Second Sunday occurs after Christmas and if the Epiphany is not observed Early as the BAS directs can be.

II. Shrove Tuesday Confusion

Let’s say your Parish does a service of Holy Communion before or after it’s Pancake dinner on Shrove Tuesday. The Propers for the Last Sunday after Epiphany (Transfiguration Sunday) would be used. However, the Weekday Eucharistic Lectionary does not contain entries for the Monday and Tuesday between Transfiguration Sunday and Ash Wednesday. Hypothetically, one could project the entries from the Nth Sunday after Epiphany forward, however this would be ignoring the fact that the Daily Office Lectionary specifies the readings for the day; One would think the Lectionaries would link up in some manner.

III. Whitsuntide Confusion

The week following Pentecost has traditionally been called Whitsuntide, which contained its own readings for Monday and Tuesday, with the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday being Ember days with their own propers. The Collect for Pentecost is used from the Sunday until the Saturday afternoon with that of Trinity Sunday is used. One would naturally assume the propers for Pentecost would continue as well in the BAS but that is not the case. The season of Easter ends with Pentecost, so, hypothetically it is now the Season after Pentecost and thus the Propers for what would have been Sunday should be used had it not been Pentecost. The Daily Office and Weekday Eucharist Lectionary to be used during this days in the Seasons after Epiphany and Pentecost, however, the Rubrics do not direct the Propers.

IIIA. Octave of Trinity Sunday Confusion

Ditto for Trinity Sunday.

IV. Ember Days and Rogation Days

The BCP gives rubrics on the use of the Ember and Rogation Days, however, while the BAS provides Propers for these times it does not specify any rubrics regarding this use of these Propers, nor when the Ember and Rogation Days are.

These are just four examples. There are many others.

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