1928 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer

Revisions from 1892 BCP

The 1928 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) marked a significant revision of the 1892 BCP in the American Episcopal Church. It represented a continuation of some trends from the 1892 revision but also introduced new shifts in language, liturgy, and theology. The key changes included:

  • Further emphasis on ceremonial elements: The 1928 BCP included more explicit rubrics for using incense, vestments, and other ceremonial practices, reflecting the growing influence of Anglo-Catholicism.
  • Revision of the Communion service: The order of prayers was reshuffled, and the Lord’s Prayer and Prayer of Humble Access were moved back to their historical positions after the Consecration prayer. This aimed to emphasize the sacramental nature of communion.
  • Additional alternative prayers and rites: More options were provided for various services, catering to diverse preferences within the Church.
  • Reduced emphasis on penitential language: Some penitential phrases and confessions were softened or omitted, reflecting a shift towards a more positive and optimistic understanding of God’s grace.
  • Continued move towards inclusive language: Gender-neutral language was further incorporated, though less comprehensively than some wished. The changes weren’t always consistent, and some instances of gendered language remained. For example, the 1928 edition occasionally introduced terms like “Godself” or “It” when referring to God’s nature or essence, replaced terms like “priest” and “minister” with “clergy” or “ministry” in some instances, making the language more inclusive of female clergy., and sometimes replaced them with “people” or “all,” potentially broadening the scope to include women.
  • Greater emphasis on Christology: The centrality of Jesus Christ and his redemptive work became more prominent in prayers and affirmations.
  • Blending of Modern and Traditional language: More contemporary word choices and sentence structures were used to enhance accessibility. However, the 1928 BCP preserved some traditional phrases and prayers to balance the impact of change modernity and the comfort of historical tradition.
  • Revised Daily Office: The order of Psalms and canticles was reorganized, and alternative readings were offered.
  • Expansion of music options: New hymnals and authorized settings for choral music were introduced, enriching the musical dimension of worship.
  • Removal of outdated materials: Certain prayers and offices were omitted, reflecting changing societal norms and sensibilities.

A more complete listing of the changes can be found in Chapters VII (The New Prayer Book: Revision) and VIII (The New Prayer Book: Enrichment) in The New American Prayer Book: Its History and Contents, written by E. Clowes Chorley, D.D., Historiographer of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

The 1928 BCP continued to be debated, some appreciating its enhanced beauty and richness of worship, while others criticized its Anglo-Catholic leanings. Nonetheless, it remained the official Prayer Book of the American Episcopal Church until the major revision of 1979, shaping its liturgical practices and theological understanding for several decades.

Controversy About the 1928 Version

The 1928 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of the Episcopal Church in the United States was a revision intended to update the 1892 edition and address liturgical and theological concerns. However, it became embroiled in significant controversy, reflecting wider societal and religious tensions of the time.

The revision process sparked clashes between Anglo-Catholics, who favored a more ritualistic and sacramental approach, and Protestants, who preferred a simpler and more scripture-based worship style. The 1928 BCP introduced some concessions to Anglo-Catholics, such as the optional use of incense and Eucharistic vestments. Protestant critics felt these changes went too far, accusing the BCP of blurring the lines with Catholicism.

A particularly contentious issue was the reservation of the consecrated bread and wine (elements) after the Eucharist.  Protestants considered reservation unnecessary and potentially idolatrous, fearing it could lead to beliefs in transubstantiation (the real presence of Christ in the elements).

Though not directly addressed in the 1928 BCP, the issue of women’s ordination simmered beneath the surface. The Episcopal Church had ordained its first female deacon in 1889, but debate on priestesses continued.  Opponents argued that priestly ordination was reserved for men due to biblical and historical precedent while others countered that gender was irrelevant to spiritual qualifications and cited changing societal norms.

The 1928 BCP underwent multiple revisions and approvals within the Church structure. Despite compromises, it faced strong opposition from both Anglo-Catholics and Protestants. According to the 1928 Journal of the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America – the official record of the General Convention proceedings – page 552 shows the House of Deputies’ approval with a 514-480 vote, and page 578 shows the House of Bishops’ rejection with a 59-7 vote. This marked a rare instance where the two Houses disagreed, highlighting the deep divisions within the Church.

Was the 1928 Prayer Book Ratified by a General Convention?

Determining whether the 1928 Prayer Book was officially sanctioned is difficult due the passage of time, confusion between the English effort to revise their Prayer Book at the same time as the American Church (1928), and the difficulty of accessing the respective Houses’ report to the Convention.

It is possible that the 1928 version was approved in 1925, leaving only minor editing according to a Commission report by Bishop Charles Slattery, Chairman, on September 18, 1924 : “It is the expectation and hope of the Commission, as it doubtless is of the whole Church, that the work of revision will be so far completed in 1925 that upon the necessary ratification in 1928 the revised Prayer Book may be published.” 

Another source, The American Prayer Book: Its Origins and Principles. by Edward Lambe Parsons and Bayard Hale Jones, asserts:  “‘The work was finished at the Convention of 1925, and final ratification took place in 1928. In order not to delay further putting into the hands of the people a Prayer Book containing the changes adopted, final minutia were entrusted to the commission under a grant of general editorial convention. “