"A Prayer Book for Australia?"

by John G. Mason

This article was published in July 1995, just before Australia's General Synod met to discuss the adoption of the new A Prayer Book for Australia.

While the General Synod voted to adopt the book (with amendments), in November 1996 the Synod of the Diocese of Sydney rejected the General Synod Canon which would have authorised the book's use in Sydney.

While this article refers to the draft version of the book, much of what is said holds true for the final version which is now in use in most dioceses in Australia.


This month General Synod will consider a Bill for a new Australian Prayer Book.

The draft Prayer Book has been produced by the General Synod Liturgical Commission. An enormous amount of time, effort and thought has clearly gone into it and recognition ought to be given to this. To pick up the new book and leaf through it quickly, it is evident that in both content and presentation it is a very creative piece of work. But herein lies both its strength and its weakness.

The book has sought to express the diversity of Anglican theology and practice. It has attempted to couch liturgy in language that is inclusive and in literary forms that are pleasing to the educated ear of the 1990s.

But this has been at considerable cost. Principles of Anglican worship and doctrine enshrined in the 'Book of Common Prayer' (BCP) have all too often been modified, altered or simply lost at some critical points, in the draft liturgies.

The BCP sought to enshrine the doctrine and principles of Scripture. In 1978 'An Australian Prayer Book' (AAPB) was produced, reflecting the need to produce the BCP services in 20th century idiom. With that revision liturgical options were also provided. This was understood to be part of the process of revision: experimentation within the framework of the theological and liturgical principles of the BCP.

So, for example, while the Second Order Marriage Service dropped the variations in the vows for the bridegroom and the bride it placed them in the context of the 'Preface' to the Marriage Service which reflected the theology of the BCP.

The draft 'A Prayer Book for Australia' (APBA) has taken a step further. Second Order forms of AAPB have tended to become the First Order forms in APBA; even more radical services have become the new Second Order.

It is important to ask whether the Liturgical Commission has gone beyond the scope of the Canon under which it was established. One of the functions of the Liturgical Commission is "to continue the work of draft revision of the Book of Common Prayer".

A Resolution of General Synod in 1992 requested the Commission to "...to present a draft revision of AAPB to the next session of General Synod...", but such a Resolution does not mean that the theology and liturgical principles of the BCP can be ignored. The fundamental and ruling principles of the Anglican Church of Australia state that any revision be consistent with "...the Book of Common Prayer, together with the Thirty-Nine Articles," which are to "...be regarded as the authorised standard of worship and doctrine in this Church..."

It is a concern that APBA seems to have ignored this. Let me illustrate.


1 The Principle of Uniformity

One of the important principles that lies behind the 'Book of Common Prayer' is the principle of uniformity. The BCP replaced the variety of services current at that time.

It could be said that AAPB with its Second Order options began to reverse this, but this I understand was never the intention. The intention of the Second Order options was to provide variations as part of the process of experimentation to revise the BCP. This does not mean to say that there should be no variety. The BCP provided for variations in the Proper Prefaces, Collects, Psalms and Canticles. But the draft APBA has gone much further. It seeks to entrench diversity as the norm. The multitude of options means that there is no longer a uniform liturgy for the Anglican church. Nothing in the book stands out as normative.

For some this simply expresses reality, but it is more than that. The draft forms are so broad in their scope that many practices rejected by the framers of the BCP would now have the imprimatur of this Prayer Book. The paradox is that while the options that are provided would seem to satisfy the middle ground of Anglicanism, many 'evangelical' and 'catholic' groups will feel marginalised.

Uniformity of Anglican practice may have gone: that is to be realistic. But at the very least we must preserve uniformity of theology. Otherwise what is left in calling ourselves Anglican?

We are duty bound to the Australian Church to insist that, in whatever form the Prayer Book is available (in printed, shortened or computer readable form), that no theology or practice occurs that is inconsistent with the principles of the BCP.

The Liturgical Committee that produced AAPB adopted the principle that where agreement could not be reached, the words or expressions of the BCP were used.

We would do well to apply that same principle with the new Prayer Book. This may be one of the good reasons why the BCP ought to be printed in any new Prayer Book.


2. Principles of Worship and Theology

Of the three proposed Orders of Holy Communion, the Second Order is the most radical. The nature of the service and the theology it reflects is innovative. Some of my concerns are illustrated in it.


2.1 The Principle of Preparation and Self-examination

The opening of any service is important. At the very least we need to be reminded of the nature and character of God and our relationship with Him. This ought to be especially true in the Service of Holy Communion.

The BCP and AAPB, immediately following the 'Collect for Purification', call for a self-examination before God. In this Collect God is asked to send the Holy Spirit (the 'epiclesis' of the BCP and AAPB) to assist the worshipper to repent and lead a life worthy of his name. The Ten Commandments (or, as in AAPB, Jesus' summary of them) are then read out. A clear reminder of God's character and his expectations of his people is provided.

Even if the abbreviated forms are used, the printed text of the Commandments remains and the eye can still stray over them and the conscience be quickened.

The draft Second Order has significantly altered this: the Ten Commandments are not printed out at this point - and have to be chased up on a page elsewhere.

Four (possibly five) options are provided in the new Order following the 'Prayer of Preparation'.

One option is the reading of the Two Great Commandments, put in the context of the words "Hear O Israel..."; a second option is the recital of the Ten Commandments (which are not printed at this point); thirdly the words, 'Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy' can be repeated (in either English or Greek - a pre-Reformation practice). There is no suggestion that this is a response to a specific reminder of the commands of God. Fourthly, 'a seasonal introduction' can be used; or fifthly, the section may be omitted entirely.

If the prayer of confession is said later in the service, namely after the sermon and prayers of intercession, the provisions of the draft Second Order are such that there is no specific requirement for either relevant passages of Scripture or any exhortation calling for repentance to be read out.

The impression conveyed is that self-examination is simply a formality, but the gospel demands more than that. The BCP rightly provided for a self-examination against the revealed righteous character of God.

We dishonour the name of God and we do a disservice to Anglicans if we do not remind people of the specifics of God's commands. Otherwise, we allow people to bring the spirit of the age with them into church, and take that same spirit with them when they leave. 'I did not mean to be dishonest', people say, 'I didn't know', or 'I couldn't help myself'.

Previous Prayer Books have understood that we have a responsibility to help people be honest and face up to what they have done, or not done, and to bring it to God, without excuse and seriously ask God for his forgiveness and grace and, at the same time, resolve to do better in the future. The AAPB's Second Order has the Ten Commandments printed in an abbreviated form in the service - they are not tucked away in some other place.

Relationship with God and responsibility towards one's neighbour is at the heart of Christianity. Because this is an important principle in the BCP, I for one, would be content if, instead of printing the Ten Commandments, some other statement was included (for example, Romans 1:18-23; Galatians 5:13-24; Colossians 3:5-10). Such passages need not be read out at each service.

The point remains that to have some of God's specific moral requirements set out, the eye will be able to stray over them and, provoked by the Spirit and the Word, worshippers will be prompted to a proper sense of the need for repentance and the need for Christ.

If people are not specifically reminded of where they stand before a holy, just but loving God, how can we expect them to understand the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ? We diminish the real significance of our participation in the Communion if these principles are lost. But even in the prayer of 'Confession' there is no explicit reference to the nature and consequence of sin before a just and righteous God.

So essential are these principles that every time the Holy Communion is celebrated, there should be provision for careful self-examination before God. In the Second Order this is weak: in the Order for Communion that has been introduced to APBA following the Funeral Service, there is no provision at all for any self-examination, Confession or Absolution.

In the 'Communion' following the Second Order Marriage Service, Confession and Absolution are an option - to be found elsewhere.

Furthermore, in the Second Order services, there is little or no provision at all for an exhortation to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ before the Prayer of Confession, Absolution and the participation in the Communion.


2.2 Use of Scripture

The use of Scripture seems to have altered. For example, in the 'Preparation' to the Second Order Communion, the reading of any 'Sentences from Scripture' is optional.

In one of the alternative responses to the Bible Readings we find:

(Reader) "[For] the word of the Lord,"

(Response) "thanks be to God."

This optional form '[For] the word of the Lord', does not make it clear to the congregation that the reference is to the preceding Bible reading. It could be taken as a general statement without a particular referent. The brackets only accentuate this.

There are also concerns with the Services of Baptism. At the very beginning of the service where the purpose of baptism is set out, there is a most strange omission. The words of the commission of Jesus are used '...go and make disciples of all nations...', but the very reason for this charge is omitted: namely Jesus' assertion, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matthew 28:18). Baptism is a sign of the confession that 'Jesus Christ is Lord'.

Another example of concern with the use of Scripture and variation from the principles of the BCP, is seen in the Second Order Marriage Service. It is not sufficiently grounded on the teachings of Jesus, of Paul and of Peter, which sit on that of the Old Testament.

While there is a freshness about the Service and many helpful elements to it, the biblical framework for marriage is not set out at the beginning of the Service in the same way that previous Services have done. More specifically, the distinctive responsibilities of a husband to his wife and a wife to her husband, which are set out in BCP and AAPB, are missing.


2.3 Theology of the Communion

In the essay which introduces the Communion services (the contents of the essays themselves are yet another cause for concern) we read,

"...the Book of Common Prayer rightly insisted on the once-for-all and 'full, perfect and sufficient' character of the sacrifice of the cross, so the present prayers strongly assert this understanding."

This is not borne out in practice: it is not there in plain language.

The Sydney Synod last year supported a motion about the proposed Prayer Book which said in part that:

"This Synod ...urges ...members of the General Synod to ensure that the theology of any new Prayer Book is consistent with the theological principles of the 39 Articles and The Book of Common Prayer; and in particular, seek to ensure that -

(i) all orders of Holy Communion (including any alternate form) contain clear, specific, unambiguous, and explicit references to the biblical doctrine of substitutionary atonement, as expressed in the 39 Articles (e.g. Articles 2 and 31) or the prayer of consecration in The Book of Common Prayer ("...a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world");"

None of the three options in the Second Order "Thanksgiving" prayer has this clear biblical focus on the Atonement. Rather they are full of theological sentiments, most of them biblical, but they lack the clear, precise statement of the real significance of the "Communion" as it is expressed in the Book of Common Prayer.

Perhaps not surprisingly with all this, other elements have also been introduced into the 'Thanksgiving Prayers'.

For example, the words of the 'Benedictus qui venit' ('Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord') are introduced. These words, signifying a link between the 'Sanctus' ('Holy, holy, holy...'), the praise of God in heaven, and the consecrated elements, are taken out of their biblical context. "Why are they here?", we may well ask. Cranmer dropped them in the 1552 Prayer Book and they were not re-introduced in 1662 nor in AAPB.

There is also an apparent invocation of the Holy Spirit on the 'celebration', in APBA. As already noted, such an 'epiclesis', as it is called, is to be found in the 'Collect for Purification' in the BCP. We may well ask, "What is the Holy Spirit supposed to be doing in the prayer of 'Thanksgiving'?" It is liturgically inappropriate to invoke the Spirit at this point, especially on 'our/the celebration'.

Then there are the words of the 'Agnus Dei' ('O Lamb of God...'). In the Sarum use and certainly in the Hereford use and the Roman Mass, this is the adoration of the consecrated elements in their transubstantiated form, that is, as the body and blood of Christ.

While these words are differently placed in APBA (they are optional words that can be sung during the Communion), nevertheless why have they in particular been selected? Why not provide other examples as well?

The words of the 'Benedictus qui venit', the 'Agnus Dei' and the 'epiclesis' may seem innocuous and attractive in the draft Prayer Book. In reality, for many they re-introduce motifs that were contextually inappropriate or doctrinally wrong: certainly they were rejected by the framers of the BCP.

I am sure that the authors of APBA have no intention of creating confusion. However, the reality is that the response of many readers will be that there has been the re-introduction of motifs or doctrine that have been considered and previously rejected. If that is the case then why are they being introduced when it is known that they will offend many Anglicans? Is APBA really an attempt to revise the BCP? Is it really an attempt to provide a Prayer Book for Australia?


2.4 Ceremonies and Scripture

The use of oil in the signing of the cross at Baptism is re-introduced. Certainly it is optional, but it is another example of the way some of the practices, specifically rejected by the framers of the BCP, are subtly being re-introduced and given the stamp of recognition and authority.

Some churches will have their symbols whatever happens. But there is no need to have them written into the text.

The Funeral Service has introduced the possibility of a cluster of ceremonies before the service commences. These include the placing of a lighted candle, the sprinkling of water, the placing of a Bible and a cross on or near the coffin. All this is done with prayers following.

The problem is two-fold: first, the purpose of the symbols is not explained to the congregation at large. Secondly, and more importantly, the unexplained objects distract attention from the clear word of God.

Cranmer in his essay, 'Of Ceremonies' in the BCP asked at one point what would Saint Augustine "have said if he had seen the Ceremonies of late day used among us...?" We might well ask what would Cranmer say about the introduction of ceremonies in our day?

We would be foolish to forget those perceptive and powerful words of Cranmer's in 'Of Ceremonies'. In part they read:

"...and many of them (i.e., Ceremonies) so dark that they did more confound and darken, than declare and set forth Christ's benefits unto us. And besides this, Christ's gospel ... is a Religion to serve God, not in the bondage of a shadow, but in the freedom of the Spirit; being content only with those Ceremonies which do serve to a decent Order and godly Discipline, and such as be apt to stir up the dull mind of man to the remembrance of his duty to God, by some notable and special signification, whereby he might be edified..." (from the Preface, 'Of Ceremonies', BCP.)

How easy it would be for bereaved people, at the very point when they need the assurance of God's word, to miss out on the hope that we have in the death and the resurrection of Christ.

My point is only reinforced by the fact that the bold, stirring and encouraging words of Jesus "I am the resurrection and the life..." no longer stand at the beginning of the formal occasion. We need to be sensitive and caring, yes, but more than ever we need to enable people to hear clearly God's words of comfort and hope.


3. Responsibility

Some insist that we should not unnecessarily concern ourselves with the new Prayer Book providing the overall theology is reasonable and that it has options we can use.

They say that if we do not rock the boat, everyone will be able to get what they want and that this will help evangelical Anglicans in other Dioceses.

However, we need to remember that in many places the Anglican Prayer Book is not just a book for public worship, it is also a book for private devotion. In some places the Prayer Book is used without there being a sermon: the liturgy itself becomes the sermon. Prayer Books by their very nature have an educational function, consciously or unconsciously distilling doctrine for the user.

Thus we need to ensure that there is no part of the liturgy itself, nor the rubrics, containing doctrine or practice inconsistent with accepted liturgical principles and theology. Otherwise we betray many Anglicans.


4. Conclusion

When people go out from church they ought to have a sense of having met with God.

But people cannot do that unless their understanding of God is right. "True worshippers", Jesus said, "will worship the Father in spirit and truth." Sound biblical theology is essential. It is an integral part of our being Christian: it is an important part of our being Anglican.

The Archbishop in his Presidential address to the [Sydney] Synod last year said that we

"...must take an increasing interest in matters of liturgy and play our part in their formation".

He reminded Synod that

"the 39 Articles and the Prayer Book of 1662 are our authorised standard of worship and doctrine". "This framework", he said, "has allowed for a uniformity and conformity of things essential with a liberty over things which do not lie at the heart of the faith".

Last year the Sydney Synod expressed its views in a motion about a new Prayer Book. In recent months many General Synod Representatives from Sydney have worked hard on reading through the 898 page draft book. Pages of comments and recommendations have been produced; many motions seeking deletions, alterations and additions have been forwarded to the Liturgical Commission of General Synod as well as the General Synod Secretary. Indications are that the Liturgical Commission is prepared to support at least some of the proposed amendments.

The question remains as to how many other amendments on matters that concern many Anglicans will be adopted.

The Prayer Book is the last remaining element that expresses Anglicanism in Australia. The title of the new book is 'A Prayer Book for Australia' but in its present form it does not live up to its name.

If General Synod fails to heed the voice of those who are concerned about the significant shift away from the fundamental and ruling principles of the Anglican Church of Australia, and if it produces a Prayer Book that does not reflect the theological principles which are at the heart of this Church, then General Synod itself must be held responsible for the consequences. For it will have severed the knot that ties the Church together.

I have illustrated only some of the problems with the new Prayer Book. Pray that General Synod will act with wisdom and grace so that God's people will be able to worship him in spirit and in truth.


John G. Mason, June 1995

John G. Mason wrote this when he was Rector of St. Clement's Mosman, in Sydney. He is currently ministering in the USA.


Anglican Church League, www.acl.asn.au