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Learning through Difference (part 1)

Crest and Coat of Arms of the ACC and of TECIn the first part of our series, the Reverend Matthew Cadwell, rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Wakefield, MA, and doctoral student in theology at Trinity College, Toronto, writes in response to the question:

What, in your impression, are the most significant differences in liturgical expression between the two provinces?

I should begin by noting that there are far more similarities than there are differences.  While there are points of divergence, both The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada share a liturgical tradition that is rooted in the 1662 Prayer Book.  However, The Episcopal Church also incorporated aspects of the Scottish Episcopal Church’s liturgical tradition, notably its Eucharistic Prayer with an epiclesis, in its first Prayer Book in 1789 and this, too, has shaped the Episcopal Church’s liturgical development and also its liturgical theology.  Thus, from the perspective of the 20th and 21st centuries the American Prayer Book tradition would seem somewhat more advanced or developed (and also more ancient).  When I presided at the Eucharist using the 1962 Canadian Prayer Book I always felt that something was missing.

Of course this characteristic Scottish influence was incorporated into the Canadian liturgical tradition when the Book of Alternative Services was developed and adopted in the 1980s.  Much of the BAS builds upon the earlier work of the 1979 American Prayer Book.  In fact, many of the rites—Holy Baptism, Holy Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Burial, and Ordination—use the American Prayer Book as a template, a fact that may surprise many Canadians and Americans alike.  In some cases the BAS offers improvements over the earlier US rites, in a few cases the liturgies seem to work less well, and in others there seem to be changes for no obvious reason.  But often the BAS uses the American prayers almost verbatim.

One area in which I think the BAS is less successful than the American Prayer Book is in the provisions for the Daily Office.  I have to confess that beyond providing more options in terms of canticles and such, I don’t really understand why the BAS Offices are structured in the way that they are.  There is a greater degree of flexibility, to be sure, but in my experience it just leads to confusion and a less satisfactory worshipping experience.  The one exception to this was in a parish in Toronto that used the BAS office on Sunday mornings as a separate service prior to the Holy Eucharist and followed the traditional form more or less.  In that case I thought it worked, but in others I more often than not found it frustrating.  I’d note also that one of the most beloved services in the American Prayer Book is the order for Compline.  While I don’t have statistics, my sense is that it is the most used of the daily services across The Episcopal Church.  Unfortunately, the Canadian BAS doesn’t offer provision for it.  An order for Compline is found in the authorized supplemental texts, but these aren’t as readily available in many parish contexts.

Perhaps the reason for the more significant change in the BAS Office is due to the fact that Canadians still have the option of using the traditional office rite in the 1962 Prayer Book.  There’s no question that it is a beautiful liturgy.  However, I find that in contrast to the BAS Office with its overabundance of options, the Canadian Prayer Book Office seems very limited in terms of the available invitatory and canticles.  For example, it would have been nice during Matins to sing something other than the Benedictus or Te Deum (or in Lent the Benedicite).  I’d add that the office rubrics in the Canadian BCP with regard to the collects can also be a little confusing, especially with regard to the prayers for the Queen and the like.  Thankfully the Canadian Prayer Book does also provide a liturgy for Compline, as well.

I can’t decide whether Canada made the right move in preserving the traditional Prayer Book while adopting the modernized BAS as an alternative.  As you may know, in The Episcopal Church the decision was made to adopt an entirely new book.  Originally there was to be no provision for what we now call “traditional language.”  However, there was enough outrage at the thought of consigning the Cranmerian prayers and language to history, when that language had been the Anglican liturgical heritage up to that point, that a last minute change in plans was made.  The traditional language was added to the new Prayer Book in the form of what we call Rite I (in much the way that the BAS has a traditional language form for the Eucharist, but in a fuller way in the American book).

Thus, there are Rite I liturgies for Morning and Evening Prayer, the Holy Eucharist (with two Rite I Eucharistic Prayers), and Burial.  However, these liturgies are not simply reprints of the earlier 1928 Prayer Book.  They are reorganized and in some cases rewritten to closely conform to their Rite II parallels.  This is most obvious in the Eucharist.  The Rite I Eucharist is essentially a modern Eucharistic rite that uses using traditional language.  The first Eucharistic Prayer, however, is essentially the same prayer that was used in the 1789 Prayer Book, which is itself essentially the same prayer that was used in the Scottish Episcopal Church and imported by Bishop Samuel Seabury following his consecration.  So, that important heritage has been preserved; however, many parishes use it infrequently and prefer the second Rite I Eucharistic Prayer that is somewhat shorter.

At the time the “new” Prayer Book in The Episcopal Church was being proposed and adopted there was significant consternation over the changes–both actual and assumed.  In the parish that I serve today the then-rector, who had been there some 29 years, resigned rather than be forced to use the 1979 book.  Perhaps he felt that he was just too old to learn something new, or perhaps he had real substantive problems with the new book.  I don’t know.  But many left the Episcopal Church over it.  However, over the long run I think the wisdom of the American Prayer Book has become clearer.  By uniting the traditional and contemporary in a single book we are reminded that we are still one church and our prayers are in fact united “common prayer,” even if some prefer to use Cranmerian language while others prefer the modern idiom.

There seems, in Canada, to be a greater division between what are known as Prayer Book parishes and BAS parishes.  I assume that’s slowly changing toward more universal use of the BAS (or at least the provision for some BAS liturgies) in most parishes.  But, so long as the 1962 book is the official Book of Common Prayer it is the standard liturgy for the province.  This seems to be problematic to me, especially since it is not the book that is most often used.  A similar situation is found in the Church of England.  That said, there is a dignity and grandeur about the Canadian Prayer Book that can’t be denied.  When using it one feels a profound connection with previous generations of Anglicans who have prayed the very same prayers, in some cases using the very same small red books.  That might be lost if the 1962 book were superseded by a newer more contemporary prayer book, but we should remember that the current Canadian Prayer Book is only 50 years old.  There was an earlier book issued in 1929 that this one replaced as well.

In latter years both provinces have issued supplementary texts that seek to expand our language for God and humanity.  I see this as a positive development.  It’s disappointing that the liturgical leadership of our provinces didn’t coordinate these texts.  While it’s nice that there are now six additional Eucharistic Prayers authorized in North America, many of which utilize inclusive language, I don’t see why they couldn’t have been joint North American supplements rather than separate Canadian and American ones.  I do appreciate that the Canadian supplementary prayers are published in small, easy to use booklets with full orders of service.  But I wonder if that has meant that they are not used as regularly.  In The Episcopal Church Enriching our Worship texts are presented in a somewhat more haphazard way.  However, it then becomes obvious that these prayers are intended to be inserted into a congregation’s regular worship life within the context of the usual Rite II order of service.


Our thanks to the Reverend Matthew Cadwell for his reflections on liturgical differences between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church. Perhaps we might focus our conversation in response to just a couple of questions:

  • Did we in the ACC miss an opportunity, in having both the BAS and the BCP rather than in having a sole combined prayer book with both contemporary and Cranmerian language? What has living with two different books meant to you?
  • What has stood out for you as you’ve worshipped in other places, that’s helped you to see with fresh eyes what you were used to in your home community?
Matthew Griffin

About Matthew Griffin

I'm a priest serving in the Diocese of Niagara, with both a pastoral and an academic interest in the relationship between liturgy and theology. I enjoy reading, cooking, and spending time with my beloved and our young son.
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