Anglican Church from past to present

Published October 1, 1998

BLESSING AND GLORY and Thanksgiving tells the story of the Anglican Church of Canada’s development from its colonial childhood to the distinctive maturity of an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion. The story is told in terms of worship, which is the clearest evidence of the personality and culture of a church.

This could have been a dull catalogue of historical data; instead it is a fascinating chronicle of people and their struggle to hold onto tradition and stretch in new directions at the same time.

Specifically, this book is an account of the twin processes leading to the publication of the 1922 and 1962 editions of the Book of Common Prayer. It exposes the hinge between our 17th-century liturgical standard and the rites and practices which have emerged in the last 30 years.

Although it is a liturgical history, the author is never out of touch with the theological movements which seek to find expression in liturgy. It becomes apparent to the reader that even our contemporary rites can be understood only against this background, and especially in terms of the men (they were men) who crafted the 1962 Book of Common Prayer, and their cautious but firm grasp of the theological issues which continue to shape the liturgical movement.

The Anglican Church of Canada is deeply indebted to William Blott for this map of some of the pathways of our first century. This book should be in the hands of every Anglican who believes that knowledge of history is a key to future well-being.

Leaps and Boundaries is a collection of essays exploring the possibilities of liturgical revision in the next century. Like all such collections, it is a mixed bag.

Marion Hatchett has amassed a fascinating catalogue of proposed amendments to the existing (U.S.) Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. Carol Doran argues beautifully for the relationship between music and prayer. Leigh Axton Williams presents an unconvincing apologia for canon law, which fails to recognize that the liberal Roman Catholic position on which it is based is a humane and tolerant reaction to the stifling atmosphere of a canon law-driven church.

Paul Marshall offers a witty and helpful critique of the kind of liturgical silliness which has been created by the combination of rubrical flexibility, uninformed pastoral zeal, and the current need to make every occasion “special.” In a second essay (worth all the rest of the book, and several times the price) he explores the relationship of liturgy and ecstasy.

Linda Moeller grasps the nettle of pre-baptismal admission to the eucharistic table but spoils her argument by turning it into the pursuit of paper tigers which she had liberally distributed on the landscape before the hunt began. (Whatever else may be said on this thorny subject, it cannot be taken as read that an open policy to communion “would replace the church as a source and gift of unity from above with the church as the expression of a [sic] earthly, natural unity from below,” redefining the source of unity, “wresting it from God and ensconcing it in humans.”)

Richard Leggett argues powerfully for a rite for the ordination of a bishop in which the central prayer recognizes the gifts which have led to the selection of the ordinand, and prays for their realization in ministry in terms which are current and accessible. Philip Pfatteicher reviews the ecumenical roots and pathways of the convergence of Anglicans and Lutherans and raises the heady possibility of a common prayer book.

Unfortunately, this book was carelessly edited. The chapters are named (not numbered) in index and headings, while they are numbered (not named) in the endnotes. Using the endnotes is thus a nightmare. As well, typographical and verbal errors abound.

Holy Things by Gordon Lathrop poses a dilemma for me: how to review a book that confirms one’s most cherished convictions and carries them into new, unexpected, and exciting territory and profundity? In spite of a dense style, this book is pure gold. It is at once a manual on how to discover the theology of liturgy, an exposition of the principles involved, and a presentation of examples of the product.

Lathrop finds the theology of liturgy not only in the sequence of events which constitute our acts of worship but also in identifying its elements in pairs whose interactive tension leads to new and fuller meaning. Christian worship is not just a matter of coming together on Sunday to hear the word, sing hymns, give thanks, receive communion. It is teaching and bath, Sunday and the week, word and sign, proclamation and table, thanksgiving and lament, assembly and leader.

One thing is never enough: it must always stand in tension with another, so that together they will provide a new and transforming understanding of God and of ourselves. To grasp two realities at once – and find new vision and challenge in the spark that jumps between them – this is the stuff of faith. Holy Things is organized under three main headings: the theology that rises from reflection on liturgy, the theology which is embedded in the community’s participation in liturgy and the implications of all this for the renewal of current practice.

Clearly, this is a book to be mined and readers are invited to take a non-linear approach if they want. Whatever they decide, may there be many of them.

Paul Gibson of Toronto is co-ordinator of liturgy for the worldwide Anglican Consultative Council.


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