Above: The Title Page of a 1922 Reprint of The Book of Common Worship (1906)
This post follows this one:
Reading it will improve one’s comprehension of this post.
Online Access to the text:
In 1894 the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), the former “Southern Presbyterian Church,” adopted a new Directory for Worship, one which included three services: marriage, a child’s funeral, and a general funeral. A vocal minority of members of the denomination remained opposed to any iota of ritualism, however. One member of that anti-rituals school was Dr. Robert L. Dabney (died in 1893), who complained about the state of affairs which culminated in the new Directory for Worship. An 1894 volume contained this scathing critique from Dabney:
A comparison of the prevalent usages of today and of seventy years ago in the Methodist, Baptist, Congregational, and Presbyterian Churches [except those of the Secession] would startle any thinking mind. Every one of them now admits usages which were universally rejected by them, such as architectural pomps, pictured windows, floral decorations, instrumental and operatic music. One may say that these are matters of indifference which cannot be proved anti-scriptural; but every sensible man knows that they proceed from one impulse, the craving for more spectacular and ritualistic worship. That is precisely, the impulse which brought about prelacy and popery in the patristic ages. The strictest Protestant communions are now moving upon the same incline plane.
–Quoted in Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, Volume Three: 1890-1972 (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1973, pages 345-346)
Other critics of that school pointed to more offenses, such as the congregation reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the Deacons taking the offerings to the pulpit during the service. Would the horrors and apostasies never cease?
One should be able to tell from my sarcastic tone in the previous sentence where I stand. To be precise, I am a ritualistic Episcopalian–an unapologetic one. I have the same opinion of Dabney that he would have had of me. And I can only imagine the spasms of discontent into which The Book of Common Worship (1906) would have thrown him.
The 1903 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA) appointed a committee to create
a Book of Simple Forms and Services which shall be proper and helpful for voluntary use in Presbyterian churches in the celebration of the Sacraments , in marriages and funerals, and in the conduct of public worship.
Dr. Henry Van Dyke directed the project and edited the book. Among the more notable members of the committee was Dr. Louis FitzGerald Benson. The committee drew upon The Book of Common Prayer (1892) and worldwide Reformed liturgies, such as those of the Church of Scotland. It created a book which added a congregational Prayer of Confession, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer to worship. The 1905 General Assembly required a few changes. Those changes made, the final product rolled off the presses just in time for the 1906 General Assembly commissioners to debate and approve the volume. Dr. Van Dyke stood by a table stacked high with copies of the BCW. Some commissioners were not amused and were quite offended. One flung a copy, as if it were tainted, saying:
Faugh! It smells of priestcraft.
Another pounded his fists on the table. Dr. Van Dyke asked him if he would deny anyone the liberty to use the book which, according to the title page, was for voluntary use.
The Preface to the 1906 BCW is a four-page-long defense of the volume’s existence. The book is of voluntary use, and therefore not an infringement upon the freedom of Presbyterian worship, it says. The volume is consistent with early Reformed traditions and the Bible, the Preface tells the reader. And the book contains forms and prayers helpful for both public and private use, it says.
The 1906 BCW contains the following rites:
- The Order of Morning Service;
- The Order of Evening Service;
- A Brief Order of Worship;
- The Commandments;
- The Beatitudes;
- The Order for the Celebration of the Communion;
- The Order for the Administration of Baptism to Infants;
- The Order for the Administration of Baptism to Adults;
- The Order for the Reception of Communicants from Other Churches;
- The Order for the Solemnization of Marriage;
- The Order for the Burial of the Dead;
- The Order for the Licensing of Candidates to Preach the Gospel;
- The Order for the Ordination of Ministers;
- The Order for the Installation of a Pastor Who Has Been Previously Ordained;
- The Order for the Ordination of Ruling Elders;
- The Order for the Installation of Ruling Elders Who Have Been Previously Ordained;
- The Order for the Ordination of Deacons;
- The Order for Laying the Corner-Stone of a Church; and
- The Order for the Dedication of a Church.
There is also The Treasury of Prayers, divided into five sections:
- General Prayers for Common Worship;
- Prayers for Certain Times and Seasons;
- Intercessions for Special Objects and Persons;
- Brief Petitions; and
- Ascriptions of Praise.
Family Prayers labeled for each day of the week follow.
Finally there follow The Psalter and Ancient Hymns and Canticles.
The Orders of Service omit the Holy Communion, unfortunately, but I suppose that replacing the sermon as the focus of public worship and restoring the Eucharist to its proper place as the central act of Christian worship would have been too much at the time, even though John Calvin would have approved.
The 1906 BCW found a certain level of acceptance, for the fact of its existence indicated a constituency favorable to it. This constituency expanded into the mainly Southern PCUS, whose General Assembly never approved the volume but many of whose ministers used it anyway, at least for funerals and weddings.
The Treasury of Prayers has proven to be the part of the 1906 BCW I have consulted most often. Due to my linguistic preferences, I have modernized the personal pronouns, turning “Thee” into “you,” for example. Style aside, there is much excellent content in that portion of the book.
The inclusion of some of prayers germane to certain days and seasons (especially Advent, Christmas Day, Good Friday, and Easter Day) indicated that, in 1906, the PCUSA was more favorable than the PCUS to observing Christmas and Easter. The 1899 PCUS General Assembly had forbidden the celebration of Christmas and Easter as contrary to Reformed Christianity and the simplicity of the Gospel in Christ and as conducive to will-worship. The 1903 and 1913 PCUS General Assemblies forbade the Committee on Christian Education to publish Christmas and Easter Sunday School lessons. Only in 1950 did the PCUS General Assembly affirm the religious observance of Christmas and Easter. This constituted a de jure recognition of what had been a de facto reality since the 1920s.
The 1906 BCW lasted for twenty-six years, having made a great impact on U.S. Presbyterian worship. The revolutionary book, possible because of a generation of unauthorized predecessors, was still, compared to its predecessors, a humble beginning. But that was enough.
History is inherently revisionist. Those who condemn “revisionist history” need to do more and better homework and to choose an accurate label for what they criticize. History is inherently revisionist because historians ask interpretive questions from their standpoint. So I, writing in 2013, think of The Book of Common Worship (1906) through the prism of 107 years and four successor volumes. That reality affects my judgment, for I compare the 1906 BCW to and contrast it with its successors. My evaluation is therefore relative in a way that it would not have been if I were undertaking a similar exercise in 1932, 1946, or 1972.
I also consider the book from the perspective of a ritualistic Episcopalian. Thus I notice two glaring omissions: the absence of a lectionary and the barest semblance of a church calendar. Nevertheless, the 1906 BCW was impressive for its time. The march toward the thing of great beauty that is the Book of Common Worship (1993) was a process, and the 1906 BCW was crucial to it. That long walk began in 1864, when Charles W. Shields published The Book of Common Prayer as Amended by the Westminster Divines, A.D. 1661 (1864). But the 1906 BCW, being the first official worship book of its denomination, crossed the Rubicon River. That volume was a cornerstone, one which many people rejected and others never knew existed.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JULY 2, 2013 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF WALTER RAUSCHENBUSCH, WASHINGTON GLADDEN, AND JACOB RIIS, ADVOCATES OF THE SOCIAL GOSPEL