The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography (2013)

Alan Jacobs contributes much to the understanding of the current Book of Common Prayer. His Biography traces in wonderful prose the creation under Cranmer, its banning, its reintroduction under Elizabeth I, its becoming venerable in the following generations, and its eventual loss of both commonality and bookishness.

Most interesting in my opinion is his treatment of the emerging of the American Episcopal Church—coming by way of Scotland—and of the growing “modularity” of worship today through things like Common Worship and, indeed, through recent updates to the prayer book (not least the 1979 American version).

The Dixian liturgical revolution is worth noting. Dix, a liturgical scholar who sought to find a biblical model for the Eucharist, noted a “Shape” to the Eucharist in history. Beginning with the witness of 1 Corinthians, he argued that the form was four-fold: take, bless, break, and give the bread. Thus the model for the Eucharist done with theological elegance. It seems Dix had an influence of the wider Liturgical Movement of the early twentieth century, such that as local versions of liturgies were made, his was the pattern for updating the language of the BCP. The greater impact of Dix’s work, and indeed as Jacobs presents it, of the Anglo-Catholic movement was the diversification of worship. As twentieth-century works like Common Worship took shape, Anglican worship not only lost its common feature to modular pick-and-mix options, but it also lost its book form as many of these modular options exist primarily on the internet for congregations to appropriate into worship aids or projected PowerPoint slides.

Jacobs account leaves the reader both nostalgic for commonality yet hopeful for the continuing emergence of local forms of worship, culturally appropriate for the proclaiming of the gospel.

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