The Book of Common Worship (1946)   14 comments

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Above:  The Title Page of The Book of Common Worship (1946)

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This post follows these:

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/a-brief-history-of-u-s-presbyterian-worship-to-1905/

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/the-book-of-common-worship-1906/

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/the-book-of-common-worship-revised-1932/

Reading them first will enhance one’s comprehension of this post.

THE AUTHOR

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INTRODUCTION

The Church of Scotland, in 1940, published its landmark Book of Church Order, which became one of the two primary foundations for The Book of Common Worship (1946).  The other main foundation was The Book of Common Prayer (1928).  Hugh Thompson Kerr (1872-1950), who had served on the committee which prepared The Book of Common Worship (Revised) (1932) (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/the-book-of-common-worship-revised-1932/), served also on the committee which prepared the 1946 volume.  Kerr, who had earned his Th.D. from an Episcopal seminary, prepared the Eucharistic rite in the 1946 book.

The Book of Common Worship (1946), the third U.S. Presbyterian volume to bear that name yet the first to be not just authorized but official, is something of a historical-liturgical oddity.  It is a product of a time (1937-1948) when the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA) and The Episcopal Church (then known officially as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, or PECUSA for short) were discussing a possible merger.  With all due respect to my Presbyterian brethren, I am glad that the organic union did not occur.  (Many of my Presbyterian brethren agree with me, I am sure.)  The merger would have been unworkable.  Sometimes it is better to remain separate and to cooperate when possible than to combine institutionally.

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BODY

The Book of Common Worship (1946) is light-years ahead of The Book of Common Worship (Revised) (1932), which it replaced, and of The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1945) (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/the-book-of-worship-for-church-and-home-1945/), of The Methodist Church (1939-1968), another denomination part of which was breaking out of the shackles of long-term liturgical inadequacy.

The 1946 BCW, after the Preface and the Acknowledgments, gets down to business with prayers for preparation for worship–preparation by the congregation, preparation by the minister, and prayers with the choir.  Then follow six orders of Morning Worship, five orders of Evening Worship, two Services for Children, two Services for Young People, five Litanies, and the Commandments.  The orders of worship keep the sermon at the center of worship.

This was also true in The Episcopal Church at the time.  Prior to liturgical renewal in the 1960s and the 1970s, it was common for the usual Sunday service in Episcopal congregations to be Morning Prayer, with the Holy Communion on one Sunday each month.  The Book of Common Prayer (1979) has defined the Holy Eucharist as the central act of Christian worship, fortunately.

Back to the Presbyterians…..

Section III of the 1946 BCW is “The Sacraments and Ordinances of the Church.”  It contains rites for baptism, confirmation of baptismal vows, Holy Communion and preparation therefor, Holy Communion with the ill, marriage, the blessing of a civil marriage, the funeral, ordaining people and installing them in clergy and lay positions, recognizing various ministries of people on the congregational and larger church levels, dedicating a church, dedicating an organ, dedicating a gift to a congregation, laying a church cornerstone (now spelled without a hyphen), and organizing a church.

Section IV, “The Treasury of Prayers,” draws heavily from The Book of Common Worship (1906) (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/the-book-of-common-worship-1906/), The Book of Common Prayer (1928), The Book of Common Worship (Revised) (1932), and The Book of Common Order (1940).  This section’s nine divisions are:

  1. Prayers for the Christian Year;
  2. Prayers for the Civil Year;
  3. Prayers for Special Use;
  4. Prayers for Special Graces;
  5. Dedication of Offerings;
  6. Ascriptions;
  7. Benedictions;
  8. Assurances of Pardon; and
  9. Family Prayers, subdivided into Special Intercessions, Brief Petitions, and Grace Before Meat.

The twenty-four pages of Prayers for the Christian Year are more impressive than anything in the two preceding books (1906 and 1932).

Since I am typing this post on July 3, I want to mention that the two Independence Day prayers from the 1946 BCW are those from the 1932 BCW(R).

The 1946 BCW closes with a two-year lectionary taken from The Book of Common Order (1940).  This detailed plan for reading the Bible provides a Psalm, an Old Testament lesson, an Epistle lection, and a Gospel lesson for morning and evening worship on Sundays as well as lections for each day of Holy Week and for Ascension Day.  Thus the 1946 BCW is the first U.S. Presbyterian volume of its sort to contain a full lectionary.

The 1946 BCW omits the Psalter and the previously customary Ancient Hymns and Canticles, for The Hymnal (1933) contains those.

The 1946 General Assembly of the mainly Southern Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) approved the third BCW 

for optional use in our churches.

The prominent Anglican influences on the 1946 BCW were unmistakable.  In the services, for example, the Collect for Purity, the Agnus Dei, and the Nicene Creed came from the Prayer Book.  Such elements proved intolerable to many Evangelical-minded Presbyterians, however.  One of these opponents said of Kerr:

[He] is so enamored of high ritual that I think he wants to lead our church further and faster than it is willing to go.

–Requoted in Harold M. Daniels, To God Alone Be the Glory:  The Story and Sources of the Book of Common Worship (Louisville, KY: Geneva Press, 2003, page 37)

Thus the 1946 BCW, allegedly more Episcopalian than Reformed, touched and irritated many raw nerves of inheritors of reactive anti-ritualism and never received the acclaim its framers had hoped that it would.  That was unfortunate.

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CONCLUSION

The Book of Common Worship (1946) constituted a bold step into the deep waters of Christian tradition.  Unfortunately, it was–and is–ahead of its time for U.S. Presbyterianism.  The next book–called clunkily The Worshipbook (https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/the-worshipbook-services-and-hymns-1972-services/)–was simultaneously a great advance closer to the Roman Catholic homeland of tradition and an awkward attempt at innovation.  Unfortunately, it was artless innovation.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 3, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY THOMAS SMART, ENGLISH ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, ANGLICAN DEACONESS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ELIZABETH OF PORTUGAL, QUEEN

THE FEAST OF JOHN CENNICK, BRITISH MORAVIAN EVANGELIST AND HYMN WRITER

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