Liturgy and The Book of Common Prayer

Liturgy literally means the “work of the people,” but over the years a “liturgical church” has come to mean one that uses a set form for the words of its rites while “non-liturgical churches” rely on the leaders to lead the service without scripts and to offer extemporaneous prayers.  The Episcopal Church, with its “Book of Common Prayer,” is definitely considered liturgical under this definition.  But although our services are set and follow specific forms, they are not rigid and invariant.  In many ways, we have the best of both worlds.  We have words that beautifully and thoughtfully present our tradition and understanding of the scriptures, and yet we have many choices in what forms we use and opportunities for clergy and congregation to offer their own words in response to the Holy Spirit.   


Our current prayer book is very rich in its variety.  In addition, the priests and congregations have flexibility to design their own Prayers of the People and even to use different forms for the Eucharist.  Most liturgies have a Rite I version and a Rite II version.  Rite I uses the traditional language of the church (with its roots in Elizabethan English) while Rite II uses more contemporary language.   And there is still variety in the different Rites.  Rite I offers two forms of the Eucharistic Prayer, and Rite II has four forms.  In addition, there are six formal versions of the Prayers of the People for Rite II but these can also be offered in other forms.  Advent uses Rite I at the 7:45am Eucharist, a simpler version of Rite II at the 8:45am service, and Rite II at the 10am service.  In some years we have used Rite I at 10am during Lent.  


While most of us have preferred services (times and/or prayers), it is valuable to explore the different forms and to attend different services.  It may be that you need an earlier start to the day or that you decide to sleep in and go to a later service.  Or you may just want to try a different form.  One of the benefits of this change is that the words we usually say by rote now are fresh and may make us think more or hear things differently.   That is one reason we vary the Eucharistic Prayer during the year.    


The “Book of Common Prayer” is very rich indeed. There are beautiful services that don’t require a priest to lead them (Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Compline).  There are devotionals suitable for personal use during the day (see pp. 137-140).  The psalms are there and services for all kind of occasions.  We will be using a version of the “Celebration of a New Ministry” (p. 559) when Nancy is installed as Rector tomorrow.  There are prayers for every occasion and need (pp. 814-841) and an Outline of the Faith (Catechism).  If you don’t have one, you can purchase one from Amazon or view it on line at . So explore the book and experience the richness it offers.   


Bryan Bente