Liturgical revision in the Episcopal Church

Headlines this summer sounded that the Episcopal Church was revising its historical Book of Common Prayer. It turns out they were wrong. Sort of. The American church’s prayer book is historic, but it dates from 1979 and is one of the best examples of liturgical revision in the second half of the twentieth century that came in the wake of Vatican II and the Missal of Paul VI. I’ve written two pieces that diveinto this in more detail over at Covenant, a blog of The Living Church, an historic bi-weekly of the Episcopal Church that dates from 1878. My first piece, “Did General Convention authorize Prayer Book revision?” explores just that question. The summary looks like this: there was a proposal for full-scale revision that one part of the legislative body approved, but the bishops revised the proposal enormously. As it stands now, they are encouraging liturgical and prayer book revision, but have set not official process in motion. It created a new task force to address the question and receive texts from various diocesan committees and then…well, the task force will have to figure that out. Turns out I was appointed to the task force and we’re meeting for the first time next month, so I’ll find out first hand what our approach will be.

My second article, “Licit Liturgical Revision for the Future,” explores the rather strange fact that while the General Convention of the Episcopal Church has been authorizing alternative rites to those within the prayer book for decades (the main focus of them has been varying approach to gender neutral language for God), they have done so without any canonical permission to do so. The Convention took the first steps to remedy this problem, which also turns out to pave a means for something like a Book of Alternative Services. Such an approach is the one taken by the Anglican Church of Canada. The former still retains the 1962 Canadian BCP as the official Book of Common Prayer but also authorized a Book of Alternatives Services that is permitted at any time and by any parish. Similarly, the Church of England retains the 1662 prayer book as its official rite, while having authorized a number of similar alternatives in the past decades, the most recent being the quite expansive Common Worship, which includes minor propers, offertory prayers and proper post-communions for every day. Watch this space for updates on the approach of the Episcopal Church in the coming three years.


  1. Where can I order the books you referenced for my personal library. I tried numerous stores in usa and Canada with no success. Sites and phone numbers would be most helpful.

  2. I remember going to the Anglican Centre in Rome where I was working in their excellent Library. One day, there was a lunchtime celebration of Holy Communion which I attended. The celebrant at that time was the Rev’d Harry Reynolds-Smythe, an Australian Anglican priest. He used the then draft text of the revised US Episcopalian BCP for the Rite, and its Eucharistic Prayer. I was impressed by it and have remained so. It is fully within the Scottish/USA Episcopal tradition and written in fine but simple English.

    I started looking at the other proposed EP’s, and found this (I am quoting from memory so may not have it exactly):

    Save us from the presumption of coming to this table
    for comfort only and not for strength,
    for pardon only and not for renewal …

    Great sentiments.


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