Reviews - What do customers think about Leaps and Boundaries: The Prayer Book in the 21st Century?
Leaps of faith in practice... May 29, 2004
If there is one thing distinctive about Episcopalians (the official American version of Anglicans) , it is that they take the liturgy seriously, and like any topic taken seriously, there is almost endless conversation about the liturgy. This text, 'Leaps and Boundaries: The Prayer Book in the 21st Century', is one of many books from the past decade devoted to exploring issues that have been identified in the history of liturgy and liturgical reform, particularly in light of the most recent prayer book revision (1979, for the American church) and the continuing change in society that calls for new expressions of worship. There are currently no particular plans for a full-scale revision of the American Book of Common Prayer; however, given the general pace at which these things happen, discussion now will set the stage for when the next revision is to take place. There were roughly 50 years between the last Books of Common Prayer (1928 to 1979); half that time has already passed with the current Book of Common Prayer, and the official process of adoption being realistically at least a decade long, it makes sense that now would be the time to begin looking for 'the next big thing'.
While Anglican liturgy has a strong historical tradition of support, and most Anglicans hearten to the idea of keeping faith with the past, it is also true, as editors Marshall and Northrup point out in the preface, 'Liturgy never reamins static, nor should it.' As we change, so should it, and it should change us, as we are changing it. Yet it remains firmly grounded in the three-fold foundation of Anglicanism, that being of scripture, tradition and reason.
This collection looks at various issues in three broad sections: The Big Picture; Rites and Wrongs; and Leaping Beyond the Bonds of Boundaries. In the section entitled 'The Big Picture', the first essay by Marion Hatchet looks at unfinished business from the last major reform, the 1979 book, and what can be done as corrective prior to the next major reform. This goes through the BCP section by section, highlighting important for consideration. Carol Doran looks at musical issues related to liturgy (something not generally addressed directly in the BCP save with minor rubrics about when music can be used). Finally, Leigh Axton Williams discusses the canonical procedures for changing the liturgical, and how to make this process more relevant and central to the task of the church as a community of worship.
In the section 'Rites and Wrongs', four authors look at particular issues. Paul Marshall (one of the editors of the volume) looks particularly at specific 'bad habits' that have collected around the liturgy in different pieces, and Linda Moeller takes a similar task, concentrating particularly on the practice of and results of the Baptismal rite. Rounding out this section are two essays concerning the ordained - Richard Leggett looks at the bishop's ordiantion/consecration rites, and Ormonde Platter looks at the role of deacons in the liturgy, an often misunderstood and misused order, particularly in liturgical rites.
The final section, 'Leaping Beyond the Bonds of Boundaries', is the section of experimentation and speculation. Philip Pfatteicher author of commentaries on the Lutheran Book of Worship, discusses the idea of a truly common Book of Common Prayer that could be utilised in the liturgies of both the Lutheran (ELCA) church and the Episcopal church, in light of the recent intercommunion agreements. Paul Marshall contributes another essay looking at the problem of lifelessness in some liturgical expressions, and how some protestants have lost an earlier sense of ecstasy and spiritual joy associated with earlier catholic and orthodox worship. Leslie Northrup, the other editor of this volume, looks at some of the cutting-edge issues surrounding liturgical thinking, particularly with regard to women's issues. J. Neil Alexander asks broad foundational questions for the future, including the radical idea of multiple Books of Common Prayer (to a certain extent, already a reality with alternative service guides) and other questions to which the answer would seem, to most Anglicans, no question.
I would have welcomed a concluding synopsis of ideas, or input from the editors about further directions and study, but sadly that is not present here. Unfortunately, there is no index or bibliography, nor a list of selected/recommended readings, that might make this volume very much more useful. As it is, this is a very interesting collection of essays by leaders in the field of Anglican liturgy, and worthy of a place in the library of any Anglican, particularly Episcopalians.