By H. Boone Porter Jr. 

Edited and introduced by Richard Mammana Jr.

The following essay by Harry Boone Porter Jr. (1923-99) was first published in The Anglican, April 1999, pp. 11-14, as part of its series “What Does 1549 Have to Say to 1999?” marking the 450th anniversary of the first Book of Common Prayer. The Anglican was the former quarterly joint gazette of the General Theological Seminary and the now-defunct Anglican Society, established in the United States in 1932 “to promote and maintain the Catholic doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church in accordance with the principles and contents of the Book of Common Prayer and in the context of an on-going exploration and affirmation of Anglican identity and self-understanding.”

Boone Porter was a major figure in 20th-century Anglican liturgics, receiving his D.Phil. at Oxford in 1954 on liturgical reforms under Charlemagne. He taught Church history at Nashotah House from 1954 to 1960, and liturgics at the General Theological Seminary from 1960 to 1970. In addition to many other responsibilities in the Episcopal Church, Porter served on the Standing Liturgical Commission from 1961 to 1976, and the General Board of Examining Chaplains from 1970 to 1982. He was a member of Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission, the Anglican Society, and the Alcuin Club. He was also editor of The Living Church from 1977 to 1990.


Porter’s retrospective on the revision of the Book of Common Prayer —in which he was intimately involved — is an unusual and informed perspective based on two decades of widespread use of the 1979 book between its publication and 1999.

Prayer Book revision must take account of past, present, and future. As some people look ahead to a revision in the next century, we must ask ourselves how a new Book might benefit from previous ones. In fact the use of previous editions, as well as of considerably older pre-reformation material, has greatly improved and enriched past Prayer Book revisions.

The 1892 edition was much improved by the restoration of the texts of the canticles in the daily offices, as in earlier English Prayer Books, but which had been impaired in the first American revision. The 1928 edition owes much of its excellence to earlier sources. Thus the prayers relating to Holy Communion were restored to the ancient catholic sequence, and many other restorations took place.

From the middle of this century on, Prayer Book revisions in the Anglican Communion have been marked by the recovery of older materials, our 1979 book being a major example. The restoration of Gloria in excelsis at the beginning of the Holy Eucharist, the salutation before the Sursum corda, the Benedictus after the Sanctus, and the reference (differently worded) to the Paschal Lamb after the Lord’s Prayer all recall 1549. New traditional material and arrangements have come from many sources, including, from the Greek liturgical tradition, the Phos hilaron and suffrages B at Evensong. Many items are translated from Latin. The oldest and first ancestor of our Prayer Book, the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus (early third century) has given us the solemn and mysteriously moving prayer for the consecration of a bishop, pp. 520-1.

More narrowly and specifically, what contributions or assets can 1928 offer in the foreseeable future? Quite a few. The present essay will consider several points at which something may have been lost in 1979. Yet no revision is perfect. Our present edition, for all its excellencies, seems to repeat some earlier errors of omission and commission, and we may perhaps profit by reflecting on some of them too.

The Size of the Book

Simply looking at 1928 and 1979, we see that the latter is bigger, too big and forbidding to newcomers or to those less accustomed to technical reading, as children, the visually handicapped, and those for whom English is a second language. Meanwhile, with rising prices, such a book necessarily costs substantially more. Thirty years ago, Episcopalians commonly owned their own copy of the Prayer Book. Perhaps it was not used as much as it should have been, but it was to be seen regularly on bedside tables. Today, price has been a major discouragement. How are we to cope with the size of the book and the related question of price?

Perhaps in the future we need two books, a simple inexpensive Sunday service book, and a second volume for everything else.

The Calendar

Opening both 1928 and 1979, a major section we soon encounter is the calendar. What a difference! We thought it was a great achievement to get a few more red-letter days and an expansive menu of black-letter days. But what has actually happened? The commemoration of saints and other worthies is so frequent as to become routine, and all sense of festivity for the so-called red-letter days seems to have evaporated. Some clergy pay no attention to them.

Half a century ago there were usually one or two red-letter days per month. The rubric after the Nicene Creed required the officiant to announce them the previous Sunday. Those who read the daily office were prepared by the preceding observance of the eve. For those attending weekday services, these festal days provided welcomed variations, and in some parishes larger attendance. Two or three times a year such a day fell on a Sunday and became truly a feast, with red or white vestments, beloved hymns, and, in many places, a more elaborate liturgy. Over the course of years, regular churchgoers experienced all these feasts. That is now swept away except for a few dominical red-letter days and All Saints. Has this loss been useful or constructive? It is hardly surprising that a few parishes are now violating the rubrics to observe these feasts if they fall on a Sunday, or even transferring one or more such days each year to a nearby Sunday.

The Offices

When we turn to the daily offices, the first thing we meet is a selection of Opening Sentences, some very well chosen for special occasions. In 1928, this was true both in the morning and the evening. In 1979, only the morning has proper sentences printed out. For the evening of feasts or special seasons, one must turn back to the sentences of Morning Prayer. It was a good try at saving pages, but it does not work. Even experienced readers and clergy ignore this rubric and simply use the ferial sentences in the evening.

Near the end of these services, why the three prayers before the General Thanksgiving are called “prayers for mission” is puzzling. It seems part of the descent of the word “mission” into meaninglessness. It is surprising that concern for the faithful departed is omitted from the daily offices in both 1928 and 1979. Compline would have been an excellent place for it.

1928 made the bold experiment at that time of providing for shortened Morning Prayer, which had one lesson and canticle and then jumped abruptly into the eucharistic rite. The revision of the lectionary in 1943 carried the ball further in providing starred lessons especially appropriate for such an arrangement on Sundays. This was a farsighted effort to get Psalms and Old Testament lessons back into the eucharistic liturgy, but the junction of the two services was odd, and the prayers for the beginning of the day were omitted. In fact this arrangement was not widely used until there was talk of revision.

1979 went all the way in two constructive directions. On the one hand, Psalms and Old Testament readings are now regular parts of the eucharistic rite. On the other hand it is expressly provided that Morning or Evening Prayer may serve as the pro-anaphora. Yet this order is not exactly encouraged in the rubrics, and the arrangement of it is not entirely clear. May a lay person read the gospel? The rubrics about the creed (p. 142) are unclear. Are one or more collects for the beginning of the day simply to be omitted? One could be said appropriately at the end of the Prayers of the People in an early morning service. This would be entirely legal, but this author has never encountered it. At a later celebration on Sunday, the General Thanksgiving and Prayer of St. Chrysostom could be used, though the rubrics encourage only a Collect. After all, the purpose of the revision was not to take the contents of Morning Prayer away from those who knew it and loved it.

The use of the office as pro-anaphora also makes sense in parishes which regularly have the office on weekdays, immediately followed by the Eucharist. No one can really reflect on a series of four unrelated readings! If the office as pro-anaphora prevailed, we would be spared the nonsense of a daily eucharistic lectionary.

Another suitable alternative in this situation is to have a brief Morning Prayer with one lesson from our present lectionary, one canticle, no creed, and no prayer for mission. Then in the Eucharist, the other lesson and gospel could be read. We find this nowhere suggested in the rubrics, however. In any case, it may be argued that the daily offices, now so artfully revised, need more exposure in our parishes. When Morning Prayer ruled on Sunday mornings it was natural for those of us who cherished catholic tradition to push for the Eucharist at every other chance we got. Now, however, the Lord’s own service has clear primacy on the Lord’s Day and is increasingly celebrated at weddings, funerals, Wednesday evenings in Lent, etc. We no longer need to clutch for it on weekdays. The question may respectfully be raised as to whether the daily office is not properly the norm for ordinary weekday worship. Anglican tradition and the usage of the ancient undivided church deserve attention.

The Liturgy of the Word on Sunday

The first part of the liturgy on the Lord’s Day, whether it be the office or Eucharist, is dominated in 1979 by the three-year cycle. This is an admirable feature. It is rational, consistent, and systematic. Yet rationality is not necessarily the main value in liturgy. A few Sundays have had specially theological, pastoral, devotional, or even merely human values. In discussing this feature of the liturgy, we are not engaging in phantasy nor are we supporting any imminent Prayer Book revision. Canon law permits changes in the lectionary by the General Convention without a Prayer Book revision. Let us consider cases.

In the first part of the Church Year there is Epiphany which, since early Christian history, has concurrently celebrated three mysteries: the Wisemen at Bethlehem, the Baptism of Jesus, and the marriage at Cana. Cranmer resourcefully assigned the Baptism to Matins, the Wisemen to Mass, and the wedding to Evensong (to use the terminology of 1549) — a good arrangement if most people are attending all three services. This arrangement was followed in later revisions, although Cana was also celebrated in the Gospel two weeks later. Without our pursuing all the revisions and relocations, 1928 broke new ground by assigning the Gospel of the Baptism to the Eucharist two Sundays later, and Cana the next week. Neither was supported by related Epistles.

1979 moves the Baptism to the Sunday after the Epiphany, supporting it by related readings as a truly festal part of Epiphany. It is receiving favorable attention in the church by the scheduling of baptisms for young and old. But what has happened to Cana? Alas, it survives only in Year C!

Some of us feel that, as an integral part of Epiphany (as affirmed, e.g., in Hymns 131, 132, 135, and 138), this Gospel passage should be read every year. The other readings could follow a three-year cycle. It is valuable as the only account of a wedding in the New Testament, except for the heavenly nuptials of Revelation, and affirms our Lord’s blessing of matrimony. It is a good time for a yearly sermon on matrimony and, as formerly in some parishes, prayer for the married and for family life. The prominent attention given to it at the beginning of the wedding service implies that the congregation have some awareness of what is being referred to. (Bizarrely, this passage is not among those suggested for a wedding, p. 426.)

Moving on in the church year, we miss the pre-Lenten Sundays with their odd names. People need to be cranked up for a good observance of Lent. The two days between the Sunday of the Transfiguration and Ash Wednesday are not enough — especially when parishioners are busy organizing the pancake supper. Surely one pre-Lent Sunday could have been kept before the Transfiguration.

It is an ancient tradition in Western liturgies to have one Sunday in Lent de Abraham. In 1928 it was the fifth Sunday, although its meaning was compromised by the omission of the original Old Testament lesson — the story of Abraham and Isaac, of course. In 1979, Abraham Sunday is the second in Lent, and in Year B the ancient Old Testament Lesson is restored. Only A has an Epistle relating to the “Father of the faithful.” Bizarrely, in no year is a psalm relating to Abraham proposed. Psalm 105:1-11 would do for all three years. Here, as in some other places, we observe an almost perverse avoidance of what seem the right psalms on Sundays! In no year is a Gospel referring to Abraham used. Hence there is no clear and perennial focus on this important biblical figure.

Another greater impoverishment in Lent is the dismantling of Mid-Lent, Refreshment, or Mothering Sunday. Of course Episcopalians no longer fast hard enough to need a respite, but of great importance was emphasis on our Mother Jerusalem, so quaintly expressed in the charming old Epistle (now relegated to the office on Year One), and in the beloved Jerusalem hymns. The Jerusalem theme is significant. Part of the meaning of Lent is a spiritual journey to the Holy City: in our hearts and spirits to the historic physical city where Jesus was crucified and rose again, but also to that heavenly city which is our true home, the goal and destination of the entire Christian journey. The existing ancient city, in its many travails, remains a symbol of all this, and it contains the Anastasis, or Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the mother church of the Christian world. In 1979, only in Year B does the Old Testament reading have reference to Jerusalem but, for once, the right psalm, number 122. The Sunday after Ascension Day can be subjected to a similar examination and possible queries.

Beloved days and seasons fuel our attachment to the church year and our participation in public worship. Some of these days have been stirring, some informative, some even odd. They have, however, added warmth and feeling to our spiritual culture, and should not lightly be cast aside and forgotten.

The Holy Eucharist

In 1928, the Holy Liturgy was a neatly laid out service. There were some side tracks, but the worshiper for the most part could simply proceed from page to page. This is still true of Rite One. With Rite Two, the worshiper is adrift in a sea of options and places to turn forward or back. The challenge of new alternative material sanctioned by General Convention may only confuse worshipers further.

Some major surgery is needed. Perhaps it can be achieved in a simpler Sunday service book. Rite One does not need two creeds and two General Confessions printed out, nor do the Offertory Sentences need to be printed out twice. In practice, congregations use “All things come of thee,” which is no longer printed out anywhere.

A particular point to query is just before the administration. The Prayer of Humble Access has been one of the most beloved prayers in the book, although in 1979 in Rite One it is weakened by the omission of separate references to body and blood. Some have felt it too penitential, but it has stood on guard against the apparently mindless and casual reception of the sacrament encountered today. This prayer, together with the Summary of the Law and the Comfortable Words, contributed much to the warmth and devotional spirit of the service. When we turn to Rite Two, there is no inspiring prayer for a devout and worthy Communion. When giving the sacrament to the sick, one may be aware of the shortcoming. The prayer on p. 397 simply does not do it. The one on p. 834 is a great prayer with a fascinating history, but too brief. A less penitential but devotionally moving prayer could have been provided somewhere for optional use. Of course both books missed the boat in not clearly connecting Holy Communion with the Holy Spirit. This was pointed out in the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation at Dublin in 1995 (Renewing the Anglican Eucharist, Grove Press 135, pp. 9-11).

Holy Baptism

The baptismal rite is a star in the 1979 book, and we can all be glad that this sacrament is again drawn into the public service on the Lord’s Day and that, as in the older Prayer Books, the Apostles’ Creed is restored, and that the holy chrism (missing since 1549) is back in place. Yet the sequence of items in the latter part of the service is rather uncertain in 1979, and Crammer’s great consignation formula is most lamentably lost. Fighting under Christ’s banner (which is of course the cross) as his “faithful soldier and servant” provided a high point in the service. In 1979, the priest does not even say aloud the word cross, and the call to heroic service as soldier and servant is lost. Surely these emotive words could have been included in a new formula. One suspects that they fell as victims to a widespread opposition to military imagery — something also seen in the 1982 Hymnal. The trouble is that serious Christianity does involve a fight, whether we like it or not. The devil is neither an ally nor a neutral power. In 1979. the reference to sharing Christ’s “eternal priesthood” is very popular, but this clerical imagery is less forceful and is indeed of questionable scriptural basis. We belong to a royal priesthood, yes, but is not the high priesthood of Christ, spoken of in Hebrews, unique?

Ordination Rites

In the latter part of the Prayer Book, there are the rites of ordination, not so often performed. Yet in the past one item in these services was familiar to devout church people, the first version of Veni, Creator Spiritus. This was the only familiar and easily recited prayer directed to the Holy Ghost which we have (or did have). No longer printed out anywhere in the Prayer Book, it has become inaccessible except by thumbing through the hymnal. Since in fact it is regularly used at ordinations, it should have been printed once, as is the ordination litany. The thous and thys could be italicized.

It may be regretted that in the last revision we did not seize the opportunity to restore strong emphasis on the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. This is one of many points to be pondered as we face the future.


Archbishop Cranmer produced a liturgy characterized by a phraseology and arrangements which were arresting, stimulating, challenging, and inspiring. Such features remained in subsequent Prayer Books down to 1928, and continue in Rite One. Rite Two, on the other hand, was intended to provide a more “objective” liturgy, addressing God in briefer, crisper language, hitting the right theological notes, but not devoting so much time or space to arousing the feelings of worshipers. It is a somewhat cooler, more businesslike liturgy. This seemed more in accord with today’s outlook. The trouble is that in today’s world, worship is no longer a businesslike activity. It is a voluntary, free-time activity for those who are attracted and inspired to engage in it. If Rite Two is someday revised, it may be argued that more attention and effort should be devoted to warmth and the human feelings of worshipers who wish to obey God, to love the Lord Jesus, and to be open to the Holy Spirit, but who know they need the help of the liturgy in doing so.

Richard Mammana Jr., a former editor of The Anglican, is the founding director of Project Canterbury (

3 Responses

  1. C R SEITZ

    TLC could commission a sleeker BCP, the 1979 reduced to the size of 1928. It would not be hard to do. I have long thought that–whatever merits of 1979–it isn’t a prayer book but a compendium of possibilities for worship.

  2. Pierre Whalon

    I might argue with my old friend and mentor Boone Porter on this or that point, but Richard Mammana has done a great service by reprinting this essay. As we continue to slouch toward a revision of the Book of Common Prayer, his admonitions should be taken into consideration. His point about the “business-like” style of Rite II is well taken. For instance, I always feel I have confessed my sins—whose remembrance is grievous unto me and whose burden is intolerable—than just that I “have not loved with my whole heart.”

  3. David Hein

    Excellent and informative article. Those who enjoyed it might like to read a sort of companion piece to it, though I’m no scholar of liturgy: my essay “The 1928 Book of Common Prayer: An Appreciation,” in The Imaginative Conservative, July 31, 2021.


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