Friday, March 29, 2013

A Prayer Book Holy Week

It's a bit out of place to issue a post as such but I feel I must address an issue I find particularly annoying. That is, supposedly "Prayer Book" parishes, not using the Prayer Book, especially for Holy Week. This is especially true of traditionalists and those people who are supposedly mad at the Protestant Episcopal Church for not using the 1928 BCP. Yet, I have to wonder why PECUSA should use the Prayer Book, if its sharpest critics are not using it either?

Let me be clear about what I am referring to. The Prayer Book does not provide services or forms for the blessing of palms, the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday, the popular services of Good Friday, the long services of the Easter Vigil, or other "popular" aspects of Holy Week. In fact, some of these things were specifically condemned and prohibited at the Reformation, the blessing of palms (the English Reformation, and Anglicanism, does not have a theology of sacramentals and the blessing of inanimate objects was abandoned at the Reformation as an unbiblical practice). There's also an issue of nomenclature. The 1662 English BCP tends to prefer simplicity to complexity and in thus tends to reject uncommon names for holy days. For this reason, we have "The Sunday next to Easter", "The Thursday before Easter", etc. instead of Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday (re-insterted with "commonly called" in the 1928 BCP, a formula, which, in the 1662 BCP is often used to mean "popularly called X but better called Y, such as the "Nativity of our Lord, commonly called Christmas, meaning the first is preferred to the latter). While using one name over the other is nothing to worry about, I do think there is merit in the English BCP's simplicity.

The next issue is that of services. The English and American BCPs provide propers for each of the days of Holy Week (with the 1928 BCP adding proper collects for Monday-Wednesday, while in the 1662 BCP these fall under the Sunday Next to Easter's Collect), meaning that each day in Holy Week has an Epistle and Gospel thus meaning that Holy Communion can be consecrated and celebrated on each day of Holy Week. The Reformers rejected many of the practices popularly associated with Holy Week (both then and now) and preferred instead for the people to focus on the Word of God (the Propers contain very long Gospel readings, re-telling the story of Jesus' Passion). As aforementioned, the Reformers, following biblical practice, properly rejected the blessing of inanimate objects such as palms and ashes. These were properly excised from the English Liturgy and have not been re-introduced into a proper Prayer Book, with the exception of the optional blessing of wedding rings in the 1928 BCP. The other problem is the veneration of the cross in the Good Friday Liturgy which smacks against Reformed teaching that only God can be adored, not physical objects. In theory, there is nothing wrong with the traditions associated with Maundy Thursday and Easter Even, yet, it remains to be an issue of fidelity and honesty. If one pretends to be a Prayer Book Christian, he must follow the rubrics of the Prayer Book.

All of this to say, it is not necessarily wrong to hold these services (except where mentioned above), but they must be regarded as extra-liturgical. The main service of each day should be the Prayer Book service of either the Daily Office or Holy Communion (or both with the Litany), if a parish claims to be following the Prayer Book.

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