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Before we turn our attention to directions and suggestions for particular services, there are certain preliminary matters that we must consider: (1) the pattern of worship presupposed by The Book of Common Prayer and its theological basis; (2) the participants in worship and their function and vesture; (3) the setting of worship—"the house of the church"; (4) ceremonial action; (5) the language of the liturgy; and (6) the use of music.
The Pattern of Christian Worship
The first matter to be considered is one that frequently escapes our attention altogether. The Book of Common Prayer is not a miscellaneous collection of services; it provides a pattern for our worship that sets forth the appropriate service for each situation. If we do not understand this, our use of the Prayer Book will easily get off course.
The first rubric of The Book of Common Prayer 1979 states:
The Holy Eucharist, the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord's Day and other major feasts, and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as set forth in this Book, are the regular services appointed for public worship in this Church.
This rubric makes explicit what was implicit in all prior editions of The Book of Common Prayer: that the Prayer Book prescribes a pattern of services for parochial worship—daily Morning and Evening Prayer and the Holy Eucharist on Sundays and other major feasts for which propers are provided. A "regular" service in this sense is one which is regulated by the calendar of the church year and the lectionaries of the Prayer Book.
Daily Morning and Evening Prayer is rooted in the tradition of the Church and ultimately in its heritage from the Jewish synagogue. These services form the first major section of service material in the Prayer Book, The Daily Office. Also included in this section are two other parts of the Office which may be used as occasion requires—An Order of Service for Noonday and An Order for Compline, as well as a festive form of Evening Prayer—An Order of Worship for the Evening, and informal Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families. The Great Litany, prescribed by earlier Prayer Books for use after Morning Prayer on certain days, follows.
The occasions for which the celebration of the Eucharist are prescribed are theologically grounded. Sundays, "the first day of the week," when Christ "overcame death and the grave, and by his glorious resurrection opened to us the way of everlasting life" (Preface 2 of the Lord's Day, pages 345 and 377), are for that reason "feasts of our Lord Jesus Christ." They and other feasts of Christ are appropriately observed by the celebration of the Eucharist in which the "Risen Lord" is "known to us in the breaking of the Bread" (Eucharistic Prayer C, page 372). The feasts of the saints are observed in the same way because (Lesser Feasts and Fasts, page 56)
... the triumphs of the saints are a continuation and manifestation of the Paschal victory of Christ ...
For the major feasts of the Calendar, the celebration of the Eucharist is prescribed; other feasts listed on the calendar are days of optional commemoration, along with the weekdays of Lent and Easter. Propers for these optional commemorations are found in the book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. The Eucharist is not appropriate on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, days which commemorate Christ's death and burial.
The propers in the Prayer Book for Various Occasions are not commemorations; they are provided for what have been known in the West as "votive celebrations," celebrations related to a theme or intention rather than to the calendar. They may not replace the major feasts of the calendar, but may be used at other times. A daily celebration of the Eucharist (except on Good Friday and Holy Saturday) is neither required nor forbidden. The daily celebration of the Eucharist does tend to blur the distinction between feasts and other days, however, and overshadow the office as the proper form of daily worship.
The Collects for the Church Year, the section of the Prayer Book following the Great Litany, are provided for use with the regular services—that is, the Daily Office and the Holy Eucharist. Rubrics in this section regulate the use of the various propers.
The Proper Liturgies and Holy Baptism, the sections printed before the Holy Eucharist in the Prayer Book, may also be understood as "regular services"—that is, as services regulated by the calendar. The Proper Liturgies are special forms of the Proclamation of the Word of God used in Lent and Holy Week and at the Great Vigil of Easter. The Book of Occasional Services also provides proper liturgies. These include baptismal vigils for the Baptism of Christ and All Saints' Day or Sunday, other special forms of the Ministry of the Word on other days; seasonal material for the Office (lucernaria, or lamplighting responsories), the Eucharist (confractoria, or fraction anthems), and blessings; materials for the catechumenate for use in Lent or Advent; and seasonal services which are, properly speaking, paraliturgical. All of the material from this book is for optional and supplementary use.
Holy Baptism, formerly considered an occasional office, is now understood as the proper service for the baptismal feasts—Easter, Pentecost, the Baptism of Christ, and All Saints' Day or Sunday—and for the Bishop's visitation. The baptismal Eucharist is the proper liturgy for these feasts; in the absence of candidates for Baptism on these days, the Renewal of Baptismal Vows should replace the Creed at the Eucharist (rubric, pages 312; form, pages 292–294). A special bidding is provided for the Easter renewal of vows and one might be composed for the other days, relating the theology of Baptism to the theology of these feasts. A procession to the font would also be appropriate on these days, with a blessing of the water using the form provided on pages 570–571 and perhaps an aspersion of the congregation. The rubric on page 298 tells us that the baptismal Eucharist is an appropriate liturgy for any Sunday or feast. Baptism should not be administered at other times except in an emergency.
As distinct from these regular services, the Pastoral Offices and Episcopal Services in the Prayer Book and similar materials in The Book of Occasional Services are occasional services—that is, their use is determined by occasions in the lives of individuals and congregations rather than by the calendar. Note the second and third rubrics on page 13 of the Prayer Book:
In addition to these services [the regular services] and the other rites contained in this book, other forms set forth by authority within this Church may also be used. Also, subject to the direction of the bishop, special devotions taken from this Book, or from Holy Scripture, may be used when the needs of the congregation require.
For special days of fasting or thanksgiving, appointed by civil or Church authority, and for other special occasions for which no service or prayer has been provided in this Book, the bishop may set forth such forms as are fitting to the occasion.
These rubrics cover:
1. Pastoral Offices and Episcopal Services ("other rites contained in this Book");
2. Services in The Book of Occasional Services ("other forms set forth by authority");
3. "Special devotions" to meet the particular needs of a congregation, subject to the bishop's direction;
4. Forms for special days of fasting or thanksgiving set forth by the bishop.
It is important to be attentive to this pattern and its rhythms, in order that Christian worship reflect and embody the proportion and balance of Christian theology. Today, the Prayer Book pattern is recognized as true to the best Catholic and Evangelical tradition; its observance should not become a matter of controversy, as it was often in the past.
The Participants in Worship and their Function and Vesture
Recent liturgical theology has described worship as the epiphany of the Church—the situation in which the true character of the Church is revealed. Consequently, the functions of the members of the Church in the life of the Church are revealed by their functions as participants in the Church's worship. All Christians by virtue of their baptism share in the royal priesthood of Christ and in Christ's ministry of reconciliation. This is made explicit in The Book of Common Prayer 1979 by the references to this royal priesthood in the forms for the consecration of chrism and for the welcoming of the newly baptized on pages 307 and 308 and by the answer to the question, "Who are the ministers of the Church?", on page 855 in the Catechism.
The Episcopal Church's present understanding of ministry is stated most clearly in the Preface to the Ordination Rites on page 510 and in the section in the Catechism entitled "The Ministry" on pages 855 and 856. On the whole, it represents a recovery of a biblical and patristic theology of ministry which was partly displaced in the Middle Ages. Its key insight is the doctrine of the royal priesthood and of the ministry of reconciliation which is conferred by baptism. Unfortunately, the wording of the catechism gives the impression that lay persons constitute an order of ministry equivalent to the three orders of ordained ministers. Properly speaking, both the ordained and those not ordained share a common ministry by virtue of their baptism; besides this common ministry each order of the ordained has special functions within the ministry of the Church. The answer to the first question in this section of the catechism might better be phrased, "All Christians are ministers of the Church by virtue of their baptism," and the second question might better be worded, "What is the ministry which we share by virtue of our baptism?". Apart from the catechism, the Prayer Book ordinarily reverts to the older usage and means "ordained minister" when it says "minister."
Canon Charles Guilbert, commenting on the usage of the word minister in the rubrics of the 1979 Book writes (letter to the author dated May 25, 1987):
The Standing Liturgical Commission strove to clarify the older ambiguous usage of "minister" by the use of "celebrant," "officiant," or the specific order of ordained ministry when such distinction is intended. The exceptions are very few: (1) some of the rubrics of the Rite One Eucharist, where close adherence to the 1928 rite was aimed at; (2) "Minister of the Congregation" to denote the person, clerical or lay, to whom the notice of illness or death is to be made; (3) ministers of other denominations who might be participating in Prayer-Book rites; and (4) additional members of the altar team, called "other ministers," which would include both lay and clerical members."
There is a similar ambiguity in regard to the use of the word "priest." The word itself is ambiguous in English, being derived from the Latin for presbyter but usually carrying the meaning of the Latin word for priest (sacerdos). The liturgical texts of Baptism speak of the priesthood of the baptized. The rubrics of the book, however, use the word to refer to ordained priests. Properly speaking the orders of the ordained ministry are bishops, presbyters, and deacons. These are separate and distinct orders of ministry, each with its specific functions. First bishops, and then presbyters, came to be called priests. In the Middle Ages, the orders of ministry came to be understood not as functions within the ministry of the Church, but as participation, in varying degrees, in the priesthood of Christ. In other words, bishops, presbyters, and deacons were understood as chief priests, priests, and apprentice priests. As one scholar notes, an omnivorous presbyterate devoured the other orders of ordained ministry.
The present Prayer Book operates generally with the patristic idea of three separate and distinct orders of ministry rather than with a hierarchical ladder where one advances from diaconate to priesthood and a few advance further to the episcopate. It continues to use "priest" for "presbyter," however, probably partly out of a desire to maintain that the presbyterate is a priestly ministry. At other times, as in the rite for Communion under Special Circumstances and that for the Reconciliation of a Penitent, "priest" is to be understood as "bishop or presbyter." Although the usage of the rubrics is somewhat inconsistent and ambiguous, the context usually makes the meaning clear.
What are the functions of these orders of ministry? They are set forth in the Preface to the Ordination Rites, page 510. Bishops "carry on the work of leading, supervising, and uniting the Church." Presbyters, as associates of the bishops, "take part in the governance of the Church, in carrying out its missionary and pastoral work, and in the preaching of the Word of God and administering his holy Sacraments." Deacons "assist bishops and priests [= presbyters] in this work."
These general functions are revealed in the way each order functions in worship. The functions are set out in general terms in the directions on page 14 of the Prayer Book "Concerning the Service of the Church":
In all services, the entire Christian assembly participates in such a way that the members of each order within the Church, lay persons, bishops, priests [= presbyters] and deacons fulfill the functions proper to their respective orders, as set forth in the rubrical directions for each service.
The leader of worship in a Christian assembly is normally a bishop or priest [= presbyter]. Deacons by virtue of their order do not exercise a presiding function; but, like lay persons, may officiate at the Liturgy of the Word, whether in the form provided in the Daily Offices, or (when a bishop or priest [= presbyter] is not present) in the form appointed at the Eucharist. Under exceptional circumstances, when the services of a priest [= presbyter] cannot be obtained, the bishop may, at discretion, authorize a deacon to preside at other rites also, subject to the limitations described in the directions for each service.
The initial directions concerning each service give more specifics, as do the rubrics in the text of services and the additional directions printed after them. In particular we see in this Prayer Book much more careful attention to the appropriate functions of deacons and lay persons, whose parts in the service should not be usurped by bishops and presbyters.
For most of the Church's history, Christians have considered it appropriate to clothe those with special functions in public worship with particular vesture, both for seemliness and to indicate their office and function. This is true today, although there is presently a certain freedom to omit vestments on occasions of informal worship. In the Church of England, the vesture of ministers has been regulated by rubric and canon. The Episcopal Church for most of its history in this country has not officially regulated the vesture of its ministers at all. The only explicit requirements of The Book of Common Prayer 1979 are that candidates for ordination be presented in an alb or surplice (for the diaconate and presbyterate) or in an alb or rochet (for the episcopate).
We will treat the vesture of ministers by noting first the vestments and insignia of office in common use, then looking at the usage through history (by regulation or custom) in the Church of England, and finally by making suggestions for the Episcopal Church today.
Vestments in Use:
Basic Vestments. The cassock is properly speaking not a vestment at all, but the street dress of clerics. Since it is not in fact generally worn this way today, it may be (and often is) omitted, except with the surplice and the older forms of the rochet. The basic Christian vestment is the alb, a full-length white tunic with narrow sleeves. It was in origin the basic undergarment of the Roman empire. Since Christians were clothed in a clean white tunic when they came forth from the baptismal washing, this came to be considered the appropriate garb of the baptized, symbolic of the purity bestowed in baptism. It is an appropriate garment for any person with a particular function in public worship. Traditionally it has been girded with a cincture and worn with either a neckpiece (amice) or a hood. Contemporary forms of this garment have a high collar or hood in place of the amice and may be worn girded or ungirded. These contemporary forms, worn without cassock, often are cut like a double-breasted cassock and are consequently easier to put on than the traditional form of the garment. The most common variant is often known as the "cassock-alb" for this reason.
Two other variants of the alb have developed over the centuries. The surplice is in origin an alb of ample proportions and full sleeves, large enough to be worn over a fur-lined cassock. In the Middle Ages it came to be worn by all those with functions in public worship who were not vested as eucharistic ministers. Originally (and at the time of the Reformation in England) ankle-length, it tended to shrink to a waist-length vestment over the centuries. This latter form is not terribly attractive, and current taste favors a form no shorter than below the knees. Since it requires a cassock underneath, there has been a trend in recent years to replace the surplice with the alb for all uses.
Excerpted from Prayer Book Rubrics EXPANDED by Byron D. Stuhlman. Copyright © 1987 Byron Stuhlman. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
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Author's Introduction to the Second Printing
CHAPTER 1: Preliminary Essentials
CHAPTER 2: The Daily Office
CHAPTER 3: The Proclamation of the Word of God
CHAPTER 4: Proper Liturgies for Special Days
CHAPTER 5: Holy Baptism
CHAPTER 6: The Celebration of the Holy Communion
CHAPTER 7: The Pastoral Offices
CHAPTER 8: Episcopal Services
AN AFTERWORD: An Appropriate Style
A Short List of Resources