Archive for the ‘Church of Ireland’ Tag

The Book of Common Prayer (2004)   2 comments


Above:  Ireland, October 11, 2010

Image Source = Jet Propulsion Laboratory


Image Courtesy of Jeff Schmaltz



The contents of this post flow from Bishop Harold Miller’s chapter in The Oxford Guide to The Book of Common Payer:  A Worldwide Survey (Oxford University Press, 2006, pages 431-437), his lecture at the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University (, my online research, and my use and study of The Book of Common Prayer (2004).



The Texts Themselves:

Worship Homepage, Church of Ireland:

Previous Editions of the Irish Prayer Book:


Eternal God and Father,

whose Son at supper prayed that his disciples might be one,

as he is one with you:

Draw us closer to him,

that in common love and obedience to you

we may be united to one another

in the fellowship of the one Spirit,

that the world may believe that he is Lord,

to your eternal glory;

through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (2004), page 335



Liturgy interests me.  My childhood experiences of bad liturgy in rural United Methodist congregations in southern Georgia interacted with my innate interest in ritualism to make me an Episcopalian.  There were other factors, of course, but those two constituted major factors in my decision to convert.  So I have become attached to versions of the Book of Common Prayer.  I know the 1979 BCP of The Episcopal Church the best.  Indeed, I am a Rite II person.  The 1928 Prayer Book is nothing more than an artifact to me; may it reside only as an exhibit in the proverbial museum of liturgy.  A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989) (, among my favorites, has carved out a niche on the vanguard of Prayer Book revision and liturgical renewal.  I seek it out when I want more adventurous and less traditional rites, more experimental than even The Episcopal Church’s Enriching Our Worship series offers.

The language of prayer interests me.  My private name for God–the one I use when speaking to God alone–is simply “You.”  It is a modern English word, for I speak modern English.  “You” is intimate without committing anthropomorphism.  To call God “Thee” in this age is to rebuild a barrier which Jesus tore down via the Incarnation.  And, in the romance language versions of the Bible I have seen, the text uses the informal form of the second person to refer to God.

I understand that it is impossible to avoid committing anthropomorphism when calling God anything other than “You,” given our human perspectives and the limitations of language.  This is especially true in public worship and liturgies for private prayer.  Yet me must remember that our language for God contains many metaphors and that the reality behind them exceeds our capacity for understanding.  So I choose not to take offense at gendered metaphors, which can prove spiritually helpful if one knows that they are merely metaphors.


The Church of Ireland has produced and authorized a new edition of the Book of Common Prayer which contains both Elizabethan and modern English, preserves poetry in the modern English portions, and offers a relatively conservative example of Prayer Book revision.  The Church’s previous Prayer Books (that of 1926, for example) were based mostly on the 1662 BCP.  Liturgical renewal and Prayer Book revision, starting with the publication of the first new rites in 1967, led to the Alternative Prayer Book (1984) and subsequent services in the 1990s.  There were 1926 BCP parishes, 1984 APB parishes, and parishes that alternated between the two books.  But now, with The Book of Common Prayer (2004), the Church of Ireland has just one legal Prayer Book.

Harold Miller, Bishop of Down and Dromore, lecturing at the Institute of Sacred Music of Yale University, summarized the volume as follows:

A quick review of prayer books in the Anglican Communion would show many liturgical volumes that are more flexible, more inculturated, more imaginative, and more “on the edge” theologically than the liturgies of the Church of Ireland.  For example, apart from a list of Celtic saints and their dates, and one or two Irish propers, some of the Irish hymns in the hymnal, and the fact that there is an Irish edition of the new BCP, there are very few signs of Celtic spirituality in the formal worship books of the Church of Ireland.  While characteristics such as flexibility, inculturation, and imagination and not in any sense absent from the 2004 Book of Common Prayer, the book is nevertheless characterized above all else by a desire for unity in the worship of God’s people–something greatly treasured in the Church of Ireland, not least because of our other political, cultural, and theological divisions on the island of Ireland.  This desire is, therefore, part of our own inculturation in a varied and sometimes divided community.  The theme song of the 1878 preface to the Book of Common Prayer is very much part of the psyche of the Church of Ireland when it states:  “What is imperfect wiht peace is often better than what is otherwise excellent without it.”

Indeed, unity is what The Book of Common Prayer (2004) is meant to maintain.  For example the rite for the Ash Wednesday service does not mention the imposition of ashes.  As Bishop Miller said at Yale University,

Reference to such a custom might divide.

My use of the book  has been restricted to private devotional purposes.  So I am not equipped to comment on whether the volume has had a unifying effect.  Bishop Miller says that it has had such an effect; I take his word for that.

The book itself is a handsome volume.  The green hardcover book features a Celtic cross and the words


on the front cover.  The spine displays smaller versions of each of those features.  There are three ribbon bookmarks (white, light green, and dark green) for the user’s convenience.  The paper quality inside is excellent and the font is easy to read.  The rubrics are even printed in red ink.  The volume demonstrates the care which people took in preparing it.

The services and prayers are a combination of Elizabethan and modern English.

  1. Morning and Evening Prayer (printed together with morning and evening portions labeled plainly) come in both forms.
  2. The rites for Holy Communion come in both forms.
  3. The rituals for Christian Initiation come in both forms.
  4. The marriage ceremony comes in both forms.
  5. The Funeral Services come in both forms.
  6. The ordination rites come in both forms.
  7. The Collects and Canticles come in both forms.
  8. Compline comes only in Elizabethan English yet A Late Evening Office comes only in modern English.
  9. The ashless Ash Wednesday service comes only in modern English.
  10. The Daily Prayer service, which comes only in modern English, features a seven-day cycle of thanksgivings and intercessions–a nice touch.
  11. The Psalter, borrowed from The Church of England’s Common Worship (2000), is stately modern English.  Those who prefer the modified Coverdale Psalter from The Book of Common Prayer (1926) have the option of using it instead.
  12. The “Some Prayers and Thanksgivings” section contains both Elizabethan and modern English language.

The most non-traditional service in the 2004 BCP is the Service of the Word, outlined on page 165 with three pages of instructions following.  The rubrics use the word “may” often, as in

A Psalm and/or a Scripture Song may precede or follow readings.

It reminds me of An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist, a.k.a. Rite III, from The Book of Common Prayer (1979) in flexibility of structure.

The 2004 Prayer Book contains the Revised Common Lectionary for Sundays plus readings for major holy days and saints’ days.  The retention of the practice of numbering Sundays after Trinity, not Pentecost, is a holdover from olden times.  (The Episcopal switched to counting Sundays after Pentecost in the 1970s.)  The absence of a Daily Office lectionary seems odd to me, but the Worship Homepage of the denominational website provides that information.

I detect a careful Protestant-Roman Catholic balancing act taking place in the 2004 BCP.  This becomes evident not only in the ashless Ash Wednesday service but in a comparison of Holy Communion One (traditional) and Holy Communion Two (contemporary).  The language in both refers to the body and blood of Jesus in relation to the bread and the wine of the sacrament, but Holy Communion Two contains something crucial which Holy Communion One lacks.  The priest, at the breaking of the bread, says:

The bread which which we beak

is a sharing in the body of Christ.

The congregation responds:

We being many are one body,

for we all we share in the one bread.

Where is the Incarnation of Jesus in the sacrament located?  Is it situated in the bread and wine themselves?  Or is it a non-localized spiritual presence, as in Reformed theology?  The texts are vaguer on that point in Holy Communion Two than those of Holy Communion One are.  And one can read the language (without stretching them too much) in both rites to find them consistent with Transubstantiation or Consubstantiation, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion not withstanding.  This vagueness need not be negative and my comments are not criticisms.  Much of the beauty of Anglicanism is located in its fence-straddling between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.  My own theology borrows generously from both sides.


The Book of Common Prayer (2004) has become a valuable part of my library.  I found its services online a few years ago, printed two of them, placed the pages in sheet protectors, and used the rituals.  But it is better to have a book sometimes, and I am a man of books.  True, the 2004 BCP is not a cutting-edge volume in regard to inclusive language or any other criterion, for it is a relatively cautious revision.  But it is a nice and graceful revision, a copy of which occupies space on the same shelf as A New Zealand Prayer Book, my favorite source for good cutting-edge liturgies.  I recognize the good in both and praise them.