By Kevin J. Moroney

Editor’s note: This is another piece in The Living Church’s Necessary or Expedient? teaching series in prayer book revision. It appeared in the Feb. 12 issue. Mark Michael’s “Are we done with the ’79 prayer book?” is the well-known first piece in the series. Further essays in Necessary or Expedient? will appear here in the coming weeks and months. Click here to find and then bookmark the series.  

During the fall semester at General Theological Seminary I taught a class, “Prayer Books as Historical Theology,” that took up the challenge of revising sections of the Book of Common Prayer.

We worked on Proper Liturgies for Special Days (Ash Wednesday and Holy Week); Holy Baptism; Confirmation; Episcopal Services; and the Holy Eucharist.

In the first half of the semester we developed a long list of principles that would guide our revision work:


  • The 1979 prayer book needs refinement, not radical revision.
  • The texts and rubrics would require very little of those who do not desire change and will provide enrichment to those who seek it.
  • The liturgies would remain strong in the essentials of trinitarian theology and Christology while articulating a clearer baptismal ecclesiology.

We also decided that our liturgical provisions should accommodate the changing nature of community. Ever-increasing mobility means that we sometimes cannot worship together. We envisioned a section of prayers and brief liturgies for individuals and families.

This principle was of considerable importance to our work on Proper Liturgies for Special Days. We found noneed for significant alterations to the texts for Ash Wednesday or Holy Week. For those congregations that are too small or too far-flung to celebrate all the services, we made parts of the services adaptable for when people could be together.

For example, the liturgy for Ash Wednesday could be transferred to 1 Lent on the grounds that children will remember that they experienced the ashes more than whether it was on a Wednesday or a Sunday. A more complex construction is that elements of the Maundy Thursday liturgy may be integrated into the Palm Sunday liturgy by inserting the Gospel and ceremony for foot-washing, stripping the altar, and concluding the service with the reading of the Passion. We also included a section of Holy Week prayers for the home.

Similarly, we did not believe that the rite of Holy Baptism needed textual revision. We did minor work, such as moving the note allowing a candle from Additional Directions into the service text. We wanted the baptismal character of Confirmation to be articulated more clearly. We did this in several ways. First, the notes before the services we prepared provide a clearer dependence of Confirmation on Baptism:

Concerning the Service (Baptism)

Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church and its gathering in the Eucharist. The bond which God established in baptism is indissoluble, because the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable; baptism, therefore, is unrepeatable.

Concerning the Service (Confirmation)

Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church and its gathering in the Eucharist. In the course of their Christian development the baptized, when they are ready and have been duly prepared, are encouraged to make a public witness of their baptism and to receive the laying on of hands by a bishop.

Because Baptism is full initiation, Confirmation is an af firmation and public witness to those baptismal vows in the presence of a representative of the universal Church: a bishop. We chose to remove any language related to age or maturity, preferring to see candidates more simply as those who take the vows for themselves or those who cannot. In this rationale, even those who took their vows at Baptism would be encouraged to give witness to those vows in the presence of a bishop at Confirmation. We realize that this does not untangle all the issues between Baptism and Confirmation, but it asserts clearly that the former is full initiation and the latter is a public witness to Baptism that is encouraged rather than required.

In Episcopal Services, we similarly attempted to strengthen the theological and ceremonial ties between Baptism and Ordination by making three insertions to the rite that were designed to evoke a clearer vision of baptismal ecclesiology:

After the Opening Acclamation, we inserted baptismal versicles and responses:

The Bishop then continues

Bishop: There is one Body and one Spirit

People: There is one hope in God’s call to us;

Bishop: One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;

People: One God and Father of all.

At the Examination, we replaced the current responses of the candidate with the familiar response from Baptism: “I will with God’s help.”

We concluded the Examination with a congregational question and response similar to that found in Baptism:

The Presiding Bishop then addresses the people.

Bishop: Will you who witness these vows continue in the faith and pursue the ministry of Christ in and through the life and worship of the Church in this diocese?

Answer: We will.

Bishop: Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support this person in her/his ministry as your Bishop?

Answer: We will.

For the Holy Eucharist, our revisions were sufficiently conservative that we found much of what we did for Rite I applied also to Rite II. We included A Thanksgiving for Baptism, taken from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, as an alternative to the Penitential Order that could be used during Eastertide or other appropriate occasions. We also crafted the Opening Acclamation so that a congregation could either continue its current practice or use two alternatives:

Presider: Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

People: And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.

Presider: Blessed be God: the one, holy, and undivided Trinity.

People: Glory to God forever and ever.

Presider: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

People: And also with you.

We addressed formatting issues by placing the Decalogue and Kyrie/Trisagion in the Penitential Order. After the Liturgy of the Word, we arranged the liturgy of the Eucharist into what we called Orders, which included full texts from the Offertory to the Dismissal, to make it more userfriendly. There were two Orders in Rite I and six Orders in Rite II. The expansion in Rite II includes lightly edited versions of our four existing prayers (we resolved the gender issue in Prayer C by striking the phrase that includes Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). Order Five includes Eucharistic Prayer 2 from Enriching Our Worship (“as a mother cares for her children”) and Order Six is Prayer 3 from the Church of Ireland’s Book of Common Prayer, unique because it addresses each person of the Trinity individually.

We also tried to improve the section we now call the Sending by including the commissioning of Lay Eucharistic Ministers and strengthening the missional aspect of the Post-Communion Prayer:

Send us now into the world to spread the gospel, make disciples, and promote justice, that the Kingdom you announced might break forth in our communities and throughout the world; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

As the Episcopal Church discerns the possibility of prayer book revision, our class would like others to know that this was a valuable exercise in reflecting on core theology and how it finds liturgical expression that is both/and: both strong in essentials and flexible in use; both reasonably traditional and reasonably progressive, embracing the ecumenical liturgical consensus and enshrining a recognizably Anglican/Episcopal identity. We have no illusions that we got anything absolutely right, but we benefitted greatly from the exercise and we offer a few examples of our work as a glimpse of what a refinement of the prayer book could look like.

The Rev. Dr. Kevin J. Moroney is associate professor of liturgics at the General Theological Seminary.

About The Author

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6 years ago

A question for clarification: is it envisioned that moving the Kyrie and Trisagion etc. to the penitential order oblige the use of the order? I’ve always avoided its use because I privilege the traditional placement of confession after the readings and sermon in Our tradition. Additionally, isn’t the use of the Kyrie or Trisagion preferred in Rite I even on non penitential occasions, given that the rubric in 324 “here is sung or said” in reference to the kyrie, and “or this” in reference to the Trisagion, and only then allowing that the Gloria or some other hymn “when appointed,”… Read more »

6 years ago
Reply to  Jody Howard

I don’t see a way to edit a comment, so I’m posting a revision of my comment edited for clarity below: A question for clarification: is it envisioned that moving the Kyrie and Trisagion etc. to the penitential order obliges the use of the order if you want to use the Kyrie or Trisagion? I’ve always avoided regular use of the Penitential Order because I privilege the traditional placement of confession after the readings and sermon in our tradition (if it had been part of the piety of the parish I would of course have continued its use, but it… Read more »

Stephen Houghton
6 years ago

Anyone interested in another proposed revision of the Prayer Book, this one based on the 1928 BCP.