In my letter of last month I reflected on the 150th anniversary of Disestablishment, noting that one of its consequences was to give the Church of Ireland authority to revise and enrich its own liturgy to meet the needs of the times. This has been in fact a continuous process over the past century and a half.
As I write this letter, I am just home from taking a Confirmation service in the parish of Rathdowney. I was pleased to note that during the service the candidates were presented with their own personal copies of the Book of Common Prayer, and those copies were of course of the newly reprinted version, hot off the press. The pew editions are now a dark blue colour … hitherto since the Book first appeared in 2004 they have been dark green.
But fear not! The church has not produced a new Prayer Book, and there is no need to forsake the green volumes which have become a beloved part of our worshipping life for the past fifteen years. The new edition has a new colour and a new publisher, but the main contents of the book have not been altered at all … the size, layout and pagination are exactly the same. A few corrections and minor amendments have been ingeniously made that do not upset the page numbering in any way, and the only significant additional material comes at the back of the book, after the Psalter.
Here we find a new form, rich in flexibility and possibility, of Morning and Evening Prayer for use on a Sunday. Also at the back, printed for the first time in a Prayer Book, is a declaration made by the General Synod in 2009 concerning the best way in which contemporary Irish Anglicans might view historic formularies such as the 39 Articles which are part of our doctrinal heritage but which emerge from a period in post – Reformation debate when the language of theology was very much that of controversy, and when one church often discovered its identify by negative and indeed polemical comment concerning another. Many of us have long been anxious about what a visitor to one of our churches, browsing in the Prayer Book, might make of certain of the 39 Articles and what they appear to say about the beliefs of other Christians. Now such enquirers will find the Prayer Book itself stating, as did the 2009 General Synod … and here it is worth quoting at a little length –
” … historic documents often stem from periods of deep separation between Christian churches. Whilst, in spite of a real degree of convergence, distinct differences remain, the tone and tenor of the language of the negative statements towards other Christians should not be seen as representing the spirit of this Church today. “
Amen to that !
The Liturgical Advisory Committee, of which our own Dean of Cashel is the Secretary, are to be congratulated on this excellent and elegant reprint of our Prayer Book. For Anglicans, the Book of Common Prayer is essential to what we are … it is a true bond of worship and doctrine. The Book requires an elegance that reflects the beauty and the significance of its contents … Useful as service sheets and words on screens can be, they still never replace the importance of THE BOOK. The BCP is not just a book to be used in church; it is to be taken home, treasured and internalised. As the Preface to the 2004 Book made clear – ‘we were determined to produce a book which would have equal capacity to enrich private and corporate devotion‘. I hope that those confirmed today, and indeed all those who will be given Prayer Books at Confirmations and other similar occasions in the coming months, will come to appreciate – as generations before them did – the absolute truth of such words.
In recent weeks we mourned one of our well-loved Diocesan Readers, Patricia Doogue. Many fellow Readers joined family and friends at Castletown church in Killeshin Union for her funeral. Patricia was someone with a fine and independent mind, a great scholarly love of history especially in the Leighlin area and a valued capacity for loyal friendship. Her equal loyalty to her calling as a reader, the care and quality of her ministry through liturgy, were obvious to all. We shall miss her hugely.
Michael Cashel Ferns and Ossory