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.
GUIDELINES FOR CONGREGATIONAL WORSHIP
The Book of Common Prayer of 1979 provides the liturgical norm for our congregations. The General Convention adopts the following guidelines:
- That there be continuing study of the 1979 Prayer Book;
- That the congregation develop a worship committee to work with and advise the Rector or Vicar;
- That individual worshipers be encouraged to participate actively in the liturgy;
- 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:
- The calendar and lectionaries of the 1979 Book shall be used;
- Copies of the 1979 Book be available for congregational study and worship;
- 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.