The Place of the Prayer Book
In the disjointed world of classical Anglicanism, the one tie that usually binds is the use of and affection for the orthodox editions of the Book of Common Prayer (1549-1928 English; 1928 American, 1962 Canadian and derivations thereof). I have visited numerous Anglican parishes in many jurisdictions and the services have, thankfully, been rooted in the classic Prayer Book. Ceremonial and vestments may differ from place to place (surplice and stole in some places, alb and chasuble in others; there may be bowing in some churches and genuflection in others; the sign of the cross may be made more often here and less often there, etc.), but the theology of the Prayer Book prayed devoutly is the great golden thread that runs through time and across fragmented groups.
However, the situation is different in the new grouping of Anglicans that are now departing the mainline Episcopal Church. Many have never encountered the 1662 or 1928 Prayer Books or used them in a worship setting, despite affirmation of the theology of these books. Instead, many put together liturgies culled from a variety of sources, using the 1979 ECUSA book as the framework and starting point. This presents the interesting fact that some Anglican parishes have a designated "liturgist" to draw up the service, while most traditional Anglican parishes simply select hymns based on the liturgical season. It is a happy occurrence then that one of the groups newly separated from ECUSA, the Anglican Mission in America, has produced a book of services in the modern language that simply updates the contents of the 1662 and 1928 books--this is a step firmly in the right direction, drawing those who profess Anglican orthodoxy to the services and theology of actual historic Anglicanism, the reformed Catholicism of the Anglican Way. Many traditionalists balk at the notion of "modern language" services, but it must be realized that--as I mentioned--many seeking to leave the mainline church body have known nothing else except modern language services (often expressing heterodox doctrine). I believe it is much better to have prayers used that are in line with the substance of what Archbishop Cranmer actually set forth.
In the Common Cause Partnership (encompassing Forward in Faith, many Episcopal dioceses, CANA, AMiA, and the Anglican Province of America and the Reformed Episcopal Church) one of the 800 pound gorillas standing in the corner, glowering, is the issue of Prayer Book "revision." This word means something quite different than it does when applied to the 1970s "revision" of the classical Cranmerian-Laudian text. In the 1970s we saw something completely new created, something that looked quite unlike anything that had come before. In my humble opinion, few in the APA and REC will accept anything but minor variations on the 1662 and 1928 texts. A conservative and faithful modern language counterpart to these volumes could possibly bridge that gap. Common Prayer means common theology; without this Anglicanism is lost. The other 800 pound gorilla in the corner is the ordination of women. If this is not addressed, little hope can be had for any full union of the Common Cause Partners.
That being said, it is with equal sadness that I read months ago of some parts of the Continuum approving the old Roman Mass, without restrictions, for use at the Eucharist. Many would ask "What's wrong with that? Is there something wrong with that Canon?" That is actually beside the point. Just as with the stitched together services coming from the newer departees from ECUSA, the use of the Roman Mass moves one further away from classical Anglican theology and Common Prayer. It effectively makes one an Old Catholic, and there is nothing really wrong with that, but when one goes to an Anglican church one would expect an Anglican service, not the old Roman one. I would just hope such bodies or congregations would accurately label their worship services, and sign on to the 14 Old Catholic Theses as well.
There is no need for a brand new (or brand new old Roman) liturgy. We have a fine liturgy. And there is no need for a brand new liturgist. We had an excellent liturgist. His name was Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.