In the Fourth Nocturn

Was the catholic party to blame for the failure of the 1928 prayer book?

This is a rather scrappy post which I saved out of a draft Twitter thread that contained too many arguments that I couldn’t quite squeeze into 280 characters. Apologies for loose reasoning, lack of citation, etc.

I’m considering the view that it was, in fact, mainly the catholic party which was primarily responsible for the failure of the 1928 prayer book — even the more moderate catholics who actually supported the book’s passage (and not just the extreme ‘Romanizers’ who rejected it on the grounds that neither it, nor the 1662 before it, were sufficiently doctrinally orthodox in their view).

The 1928 book was really the result of a failure to compromise. Or rather, it made one lazy compromise: for the first time, it would have officially sanctioned liturgical disuniformity in the name of letting everyone use the form of service they liked most. We can see the disaster this attitude has got us into today; at the time, the provision allowing the 1662 book to continue in use exactly as it was must have made it seem less necessary for the (largely catholic-leaning) reformists to find single forms of worship acceptable to all parties in the church. Those unhappy with any particular changes could simply ignore them.

If the moderate (Dearmerian) catholic party had been more willing to accept compromise, work for liturgical unity, and make a single, completely reformed Book of Common Prayer, perhaps it would have succeeded. The whole ‘additions and deviations’ approach was as much to blame for the book’s failure than objections to any of the individual ‘deviations’ allowed.

There were a lot of small, uncontroversial improvements to the 1662 book which could have been made without needing to keep old forms around. The 1928 could have been what the 1662 was to previous BCPs: an unquestionable, if minor, improvement with no doctrinal controversy. Improvements like: a shorter daily office, especially for weekdays; new prayers and thanksgivings; more eucharistic propers; and the subtle updating of outdated wording (e.g. changing ‘vile body’ to ‘body of our low estate’ in the burial service).

The most doctrinally controversial aspects of the new book were the provision for reservation and the long eucharistic prayer of the new communion service. Obviously, nearly a century later, I can’t say what compromises might have worked in these areas to yield agreement between the catholics and evangelicals of the 1920s. But, say, if the moderate catholics had given up on allowing reservation, then the other changes in the communion service (dropping the decalogue, shorter confession and absolution, etc.) would alone have significantly decreased the difficulty of celebrating in multiple patients’ homes in a short period of time. As far as I have read, even after the second defeat of the revised book in 1928, simply trying to get the measure through a third time and removing the provision for reservation altogether was seemingly never seriously considered.