An Analogue to Traditionis Custodes in the Episcopal Church

Fourteen months out from Pope Francis’ Moto Proprio, Traditionis Custodes, the Catholic world continues to discuss, debate, opine, and wonder. The question of more than one authorized rite is one that is not unique to the Latin Catholic Church. It is also happens to be a live question in the church where I serve as a priest and a seminary professor, namely, the Episcopal Church. This past summer, at our triennial national body’s gathering known as the General Convention (delayed by a year because of COVID), the question of the legality and desirability of rites that are alternative to those in the Book of Common Prayer, the central collection of rites to which all clerics have a legal and moral obligation, was debated. My colleague, Lizette Larson-Miller wrote about that earlier on Pray-Tell (see her essay here) and so I won’t rehash those particular details here. If you are interested in digging in a bit more, here is a link to the first in a series of five essays (the other four will begin to be published there next week) that digs into these questions at a more granular level. In the process of researching those pieces, I had occasion to look at the legislation that governs the very issue raised by Traditionis Custodes, but in the Episcopal Church.

The last revision to the Book of Common Prayer in the American Episcopal Church occurred in 1979 and it is, in my humble opinion, one of the most marvelous fruits of the Liturgical Movement in this country. I have a list of things that, in a perfect world, I myself would change. But I have no desire for the Episcopal Church to engage in piecemeal revision of that book or to attempt a wholesale revision. My colleague, Andrew McGowan over at Yale Divinity School, penned a penetrating mediation during the last General Convention in 2018 on why we should think very carefully before engaging in such revision. When the 1979 American prayer book was officially authorized by the Convention of that year, after having first been authorized by a first reading in accordance with our Constitution and Canons in 1976, they needed to address the question of the previous prayer book, authorized in 1928. They did so in a resolution that is noteworthy for its clarity and also for its pastoral sensitivity. It reads as follows:

Resolved, That this 66th General Convention declares that the Book of Common Prayer of 1979, having been adopted in accordance with Article X of the Constitution of this Church, has thus become the official liturgy of this Church; and

This Convention declares further, That the Book of Common Prayer of 1928 is a rich part of the liturgical heritage of this Church, and that liturgical texts from the 1928 Prayer Book may be used in worship, under the authority of the Bishop as chief pastor and liturgical officer, and subject to the directions of the Convention, as set forth in the appended guidelines; and

This Convention declares further, That this action in no way sanctions the existence of two authorized Books of Common Prayer or diminishes the authority of the official liturgy of this Church as established by this Convention.


The Book of Common Prayer of 1979 provides the liturgical norm for our congregations. The General Convention adopts the following guidelines:

    1. That there be continuing study of the 1979 Prayer Book;
    2. That the congregation develop a worship committee to work with and advise the Rector or Vicar;
    3. That individual worshipers be encouraged to participate actively in the liturgy;
    4. That the congregation make itself familiar with music composed for the new Book.

In congregations where liturgical texts from the 1928 Book are in use after the 1979 General Convention:

    1. The calendar and lectionaries of the 1979 Book shall be used;
    2. Copies of the 1979 Book be available for congregational study and worship;
    3. Provision shall be made for the regular and frequent use of the 1979 Book.

The claim that the 1979 Prayer Book “has thus become the official liturgy of this Church” and that the circumscribed permission provided in this resolution “in no way sanctions the existence of two authorized Books of Common Prayer or diminishes the authority of the official liturgy of this Church as established by this Convention” is not very distant from the language in the first article in Francis’ Motu Proprio: “The liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.” This, it seems to be, in a generous path forward, once that is quite clear that there are not two equally authorized set of liturgically authorized norms, but that pastoral provision may be made under the direction of a bishop. This same permission was reiterated in 2000 (Resolution B042), reaffirming the entirety of the 1979 resolution on the topic, and reiterating that, “for pastoral reasons, the texts of the Daily Offices and Holy Communion contained in the 1928 edition of The Book of Common Prayer remain available for occasional use under the ecclesiastical authority subject to the guidelines for supplemental liturgical materials.” For a very geeky conversation and experimentation of a version of the Roman Canon according to this permission, see this discussion from back in 2015.

It is also worth pointing out that the 1979 Prayer Book itself included provision for the use of previously authorized rites for weddings and for funerals by providing “An Order for Marriage” and “An Order for Burial.” The rubrics that begin the marriage Order are as follows: “If it is desired to celebrate a marriage otherwise than as provided on page 423 of this Book, this Order is used” (1979 BCP, p. 435). The Burial rubric is similar: “When, for pastoral considerations, neither of the burial rites in this Book is deemed appropriate, the following form is used” (1979 BCP, p. 506).  Marion Hatchett, in his semi-official commentary on the 1979 book, explains (when discussing the Burial Order, “This order, new to the 1979 Prayer Book, allows the use of the rite of another edition of the Book of Common Prayer or a rite from another source” (Commentary on the American Prayer Book, p. 500). There is even “An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist,” which is “is not intended for use at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist.”  Hatchett (a member of the committee that produced the 1979 BCP and long-time professor of liturgy at Sewanee, The University of the South) explains that the purpose of “An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist” was to allow “the freedom, within certain limitations, to use some of the great historical liturgies of the church, to celebrate according to different traditions, to use texts from previous editions of the Book of Common Prayer or the Prayer Books from other provinces of Anglicanism” (Commentary, p. 411).

For the sake of full disclosure, I should also note that, in a display of decidedly juvenile and absurd logic, the General Convention passed a resolution in 2015 (D050), which states “that while the BCP states that the rite ‘is not intended for use at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist,’ the BCP does not forbid its use in such contexts,” it gives permission to “the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority [to] authorize a congregation to use “An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist” (BCP pp. 400-405) at a principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist, if the Eucharistic Prayer is written and submitted in advance of its use to the Bishop.” According to this logic, the number of ridiculous things seemingly not forbidden, and thus permitted, boggles the mind, and so I prefer not to think about it.

Over the past week or so, I had the occasion to visit two places that are making use of the provisions provided in each church (I’ll not name either place so as to not drawn unnecessary attention to either, as that is not my purpose here). My intention in my travel was not to visit that places because they each use an older form of the liturgy. This confluence is, I supposed, a happy accident! In fact, this didn’t occur to me until I was in an airport traveling home when I read Fr. Anthony Ruff’s brief note about Traditionis Custodes on Pray-Tell and his link to the much more length report on the year anniversary of the Motu Proprio at The Pillar. The first was a parish that makes use of the 1928 American Prayer Book in clear conformity to the rules laid out above. In fact, while I was there, the diocesan bishop was present to preach and the former bishop assisted in the liturgy, giving a clear expression that what was occurring in this place was not something happening under cover of night or clandestine in any. This parish is, in fact, the largest in that diocese, probably the most thriving, with lots of families and children. As the harmonious presence of the two bishops indicated, the parish was not a hotbed of dissension or ill-will. This parish uses the 1928 Prayer Book for weekday liturgies, and for one of the Sunday liturgies, while the 1979 Prayer Book is always used at another of the principal Sunday Masses. Both books are easily available in church pews.

The other example was a religious community that used the 1962 Roman Missal and the Latin offices according to the rite of their religious order. They too operate with the cooperation of the diocesan bishop within which the monastery is located and he often administers ordination to the monks. What was most interesting to me as a liturgy professor as I prayed along at Mass was a number of noteworthy ceremonial and textual alterations to the 1962 Missal that nod to those in the Missal of Paul VI: the prayers at the foot of the altar were not said; the opening rites through the collect of the day were said from the presider’s chair; and the last Gospel was not read. There were probably other concessions as well that I did not notice, since I didn’t have a copy of the current missal in my hand (and I was, admittedly, trying to pray!). This I interpreted as an expression of flexibility and as a way of indicating that this community’s use of the older Missal was not a claim that the current Missal is deficient or even that development is wrong. In fact, while I was there, the Holy Father’s sermon for this year’s celebration of the Exultation of the Holy Cross was read during lunch, with no snickers or eye rolls or sighs of disgust, that sort of thing that I have heard can be observed in some Latin Mass communities when Pope Francis in mentioned (but I now speak outside the circle of my knowledge and expertise).

Both experiences gave me a sense of hope. Hope that true and deep unity can be found in communities such as these and that such communities can truly foster a deep sense of unity with the wider ecclesial communities to which they belong and in which they are bound together as one in Christ. Both our churches could use a little dose of hope, especially in the midst of our bitter liturgical battles.







26 responses to “An Analogue to Traditionis Custodes in the Episcopal Church”

  1. Lizette Larson-Miller Avatar
    Lizette Larson-Miller

    Thank you Matthew – it is particularly an issue in the Anglican Church of Canada, with two official (and very different) liturgies (BCP 1962 and BAS, 1985). I have often struggled with the implications that choice #1 – be a congregationalist and just ignore those other parishes that are doing the ‘other’ book; or choice #2 – impose a pre-Vatican II calendar on BAS communities, or impose a post-Vatican II calendar and sanctoral on BCP communities, or – the worst – meld them together into an incoherent mush with pretty-sounding churchy language so that ‘Tudor-contemporary’ becomes the model of the day…you’ve given me a few other things to think about too!

  2. Ryan Ellis Avatar
    Ryan Ellis

    The TLM monastery you went to was not using the 1962 missal. Rather, it was using the 1965 transitional rubrics of the 1962 missal. That’s why there was no prayers at the foot of the altar or last gospel, and why a lot of the mass was done from the chair. It’s not authorized.

    1. Alan Griffiths Avatar
      Alan Griffiths

      I witnessed the same thing at Farnborough Abbey (UK) a few years ago at Sunday Mass. It was, apparently, ‘authorised.’

      I may say I left the Mass feeling truly ‘endimanche’ as the French say.


    2. Christopher Lazowski OSB Avatar

      It is indeed authorised. The 6 monasteries of the Congregation of Solesmes that use the 1962 Missal have permission use the 1965 rubrics. They also have permsission for some, but not all, of the prefaces from the 1970 RM, and the 1970 calendar for feasts of saints (Le Barroux and Notre-Dame de la Garde have similar permission, but don’t use the new prefaces and calendar). The author is talking about one of these 6 abbeys,.

  3. Edward Hamer Avatar
    Edward Hamer

    We Catholics sometimes chuckle at the Anglicans/Episcopalians as trying to be all things to all men, but I think they are quite wise where liturgical plurality is concerned. The Church seems to have taken the path of trying to give the laity what they want, rather than enforcing something uniform, and in practice that has to mean allowing very traditional worship as well as the more progressive kind.

    It’s a cliche now but if the hierarchy encouraged the Novus Ordo to be celebrated with all the traditional options in a good number of parishes, demand for the TLM would be significantly reduced.

    1. Michael H Marchal Avatar
      Michael H Marchal

      I can only remark that the pre-Vatican II ecclesiology of this post is disturbing.

      1. Edward Hamer Avatar
        Edward Hamer

        You mean my post? I would be genuinely interested to hear why you find it disturbing please.

        From what I can see the reformed Mass contains various options for certain elements, all of them licit, and it is left to celebrants/communities to choose between them. I simply suggest that it would be beneficial for more places to use the more traditional of those licit options.

        People often use this word “ecclesiology” when saying why the new rite is superior to the old, but I have never seen it explained quite what that means in practice. If you can shed any light on it I would be grateful.

  4. Michael H Marchal Avatar
    Michael H Marchal

    The problem is in the dichotomies. Church vs. laity, hierarchy vs. different groups of the laity. There is no sense that we are meant to be one People of God in a collegial and now synodal way. In regard to liturgical preferences, we are not talking about favoring vanilla over chocolate; our choices reflect our understanding of who we are as that People, they reflect our ecclesiology. E.g., the presider facing the “people” vs. facing “God.” If the first Real Presence of Christ is in the assembly as Vatican II and every subsequent General Instruction of the Roman Missal has asserted, then having the presider turn his back to the congregation is turning away from Christ.
    I think it is always good to remind ourselves that the final vote on Sacrosanctum Concilium was 2,147 to 4.

    1. Fr. Anthony Forte Avatar
      Fr. Anthony Forte

      During the Eucharistic prayer the priest is addressing neither Christ nor the faithful, but rather Christ through the priest and with the faithful is addressing the Father. Thus it makes sense for the priest and the faithful to face in the same direction.

      1. Fr. Jack Feehily Avatar
        Fr. Jack Feehily

        They are both facing the altar of sacrifice upon which the Risen Christ becomes for us a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.

      2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        Fr Jack

        Your understanding is my understanding. That said, I don’t find Fr Anthony’s understanding unreasonable but quite within the Venn circle of reasonable implementation of the conciliar reforms. I believe both can fruitfully co-exist so long as they aren’t reduced to shibboleths.

    2. Edward Hamer Avatar
      Edward Hamer

      I suppose the problem is that the Church can either give people the kind of liturgy they say they want, or it can lay down the law and bit and say “the liturgy should be like this”.

      At present the Church seems to want to do the latter (the Pope’s latest document referred to Guardini, who stressed the importance of the liturgy’s objectivity, and Cardinal Roche spoke recently about the problem of people being subjective in their response to the liturgy), but the new rite is itself very subjective in its manner of celebration. It therefore provides no objective lex orandi which can lead us out of our subjectivity. Hence the dichotomies. (Sorry, what a mouthful!)

      I can attend a Latin Novus Ordo, ad orientem, with altar rails and chant and all that, and that is just as licit as a versus populum Mass with vernacular hymns and lay ministers etc., but somehow that first kind of Mass never seems to get off the ground except in a handful of parishes.

      If the second kind of Mass really is what the Church wants and the first kind is bad, then let the Church say that publicly and give us the reason. For now, it just feels as though all Masses are equal but some are more equal than others.

      1. Fr. Jack Feehily Avatar
        Fr. Jack Feehily

        The Novus Ordo is based on the reform called for by a solemn ecumenical council, implemented by St. Pope Paul VI, and celebrated by every pope ever since. It is not one of two Roman Rites but the Roman Rite as found in the Misale Romanum, 3rd Edition, and in use wherever there are Roman Catholic Churches. All of its elements are consistent with the law of prayer. Holy Father Francis has stated in many different ways that there is no going back. Let those who express a fondness for the TLM look for leaders who beg to use the new order whether in the vernacular or latin,

      2. Anthony Hawkins Avatar
        Anthony Hawkins

        We have strayed off Anglican liturgies, so I will just say for RCs there should be a clear distinction between the Liturgy of the Word (Mass of the Catechumens) and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Mass of the Faithful)

  5. Jonathan Day Avatar
    Jonathan Day

    I would be more ready to believe the “traditionalists” when they call for “liturgical pluralism” if I thought that they would advocate similar pluralism once they were in formal roles of authority.

    And why would they? If you hold that “there is nothing that I can find to be praised in Paul VI’s reform of the Roman rite’s Mass as engineered by Archbishop Bugnini” (Mosebach); if you believe that Paul VI’s work constituted a “sin against the Holy Spirit” (Kwasniewski); and if you were one day elected Pope Pius XIII, why would you not immediately and universally forbid all use of the reformed Mass, Office, etc.? No wish for pluralism here.

    There is a close parallel here to the approach taken by some “integralists”: use democratic means to take control of the administrative state, legislature, judiciary, and then drastically restrict or withdraw the franchise. Pluralism or democracy for me; but surely not for thee.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      One person, one vote, once – as it were.

    2. Edward Hamer Avatar
      Edward Hamer

      That’s a neat analogy, but I don’t agree that greater availability of a “trad” Novus Ordo would act as a springboard to traddie autocracy – if anything I think it would help embed most people who prefer traditional-type liturgy within the mainstream Church.

      Also, the fear of future underhandedness doesn’t justify current injustice. To my mind the Church these days recognises that there are a host of different ways of being Catholic, and seeks to accommodate them all within the flexibility of the Novus Ordo, but somehow cannot find room for people who like more traditional worship. That to my mind is an injustice which should be remedied.

      This is supposedly a thread about Anglican liturgy, and I also wanted to make the point that the Anglicans seem to have broken the link between liturgical style and people’s supposed orthodoxy or moral righteousness in a way i think is healthy. At my local Anglican cathedral (I’m English) I used to attend High Masses with deacon and subdeacon, celebrated ad orientem at a High Altar in clouds of incense and all chanted/intoned, but often the celebrant was a woman and the preacher a man in an active same-sex relationship. The current Catholic approach seems rather cramped and tribal in comparison.

    3. Allan J. McDonald Avatar
      Allan J. McDonald

      TC should have challenged the mentality of some traditionalists that the Church should cancel Vatican II altogether and return exclusively to the liturgy prior to Vatican II. TC should have asked bishops to be more engaged with those communities celebrating the TLM to keep them orthodox. But with that said, I have advocated that the Order of the TLM, meaning all the prayers and rubrics that were expunged from it, to include the PATFOTA, the private prayers of the priest, the older offertory prayers, etc be an option in the Modern Roman Missal—all that would take is an appendix. Allow the Roman Canon to have the rubrics and form of the 1962 Missal and allow all of it to be in Latin or the vernacular. The Ordinariate’s Missal already has this. As it is, the pope with TC has completely contradicted the previous two papacies and done so in a rigid authoritarian way and mostly based upon prejudice toward what is perceived to be rigid mental state of some who like the TLM. Insulting people with psychological issues doesn’t seem very pastoral to me.

      1. Brian Duffy Avatar
        Brian Duffy

        I’m rather surprised that mention has not been made here of the growing appreciation of the 1662 BCP and its Communion Service. Indeed the recent International BCP 1662 has had impressive sales.

        1662 Evensong has been making a comeback in the C of E, and some churches are returning to Mattins as the principal service of the Sunday. Perhaps that would be the cure for the boredom of the clergy with the EPs. I suspect that folks will be requesting accommodation for 1662 elsewhere.

        The recent divine services for the late Queen Elizabeth offered more exposure to the 1662 book and the choral tradition.

      2. Michael H Marchal Avatar
        Michael H Marchal

        Why return elements that entered into the Roman Mass during the Middle Ages as devotional elements for the presider, elements inaudible to the people, and call that tradition? The Novus Ordo is much more in contact with the deep roots of the Roman Mass than the Tridentine Mass is.

      3. Christopher Lazowski OSB Avatar

        A question about the comment below from Brian Duffy. It looks to me that very little indeed in the services around the late Queen’s death (the reception of the coffin in Westminster Hall, the funeral, and the committal) came from the BCP, except the Sentences. The bits that prayed FOR her certainly didn’t: more 1928 than 1662. And I’d be interested to know where in the C of E Mattins is making a comeback. My C of E friends tell me the opposite, and Christ Church in Oxford was a recent high profile case of its being abandoned. I would love to hear otherwise.

  6. Allan J. McDonald Avatar
    Allan J. McDonald

    Devotional elements for the celebrant developed organically and in no way detract from the ancient roots of the Mass or are intrinsically harmful to the ordained priest or the laity. In fact, the laity gain much when they pray these prayers quietly to themselves as well. At any rate many of these prayers could be added to the modern missal in a completely private way (Except of course the PATFOTA) and no one would know the difference except the priest enriched by this private, pious act.

    1. Anthony Hawkins Avatar
      Anthony Hawkins

      Indeed – Thomas Wilson, Bishop of Sodor and Man from 1697 to 1755, thought the BCP Communion Service lacking in oblation. So he not only added in such prayers himself silently but published them and recommended (not ordered) their use to his clergy.

    2. Michael H Marchal Avatar
      Michael H Marchal

      I must ask how the development of the presider’s devotional elements were an “organic” development. Chronological sequence is not the same as growth. Nor do I understand why the laity gain by repeating to themselves what the presider is saying privately. Community prayer is communal and not just a group of people doing their own devotions.

      1. Allan J. McDonald Avatar
        Allan J. McDonald

        It’s not either/or but both/and when it comes to communal prayer and personal piety/devotion. Both enrich the other and are not intrinsically opposed to the other. I think this is true for both the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church and maybe more so for Anglicans.

  7. Brian Duffy Avatar
    Brian Duffy

    I simply wrote that the funeral of the late Queen exposed people to the 1662 book and the Choral tradition. Anyway the 1928 was an attempt to broaden the 1662 and to lessen the influence of the missals being used at the time. They tried to retain the linguistic style.

    As to Mattins all I said was that some churches were returning to that as the principal service of the day I didn’t say all, not even many, some. (Actually, if I had my way, it would once again be dominant with the Eucharist as a quarterly service.) I’ve noticed that more Mattins services are offered on line than in the past.

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