Paret, William, The Pastoral Use of the Prayer Book: The Substance of Plain Talks Given to His Students and Younger Clergy.  Baltimore: The Maryland Diocesan Library, 1904. 237pp.

William Paret is best known as the 137th Bishop of Maryland in the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America.  Born in New York in 1826, he was the son of merchants.  Paret’s formal education took place at Hobart College, where he eventually earned a doctorate in both canon law and civil.

William Paret is best known as the 137th Bishop of Maryland in the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America.  Born in New York in 1826, he was the son of merchants.  Paret’s formal education took place at Hobart College, where he eventually earned a doctorate in both canon law and civil law.  Paret studied for orders under Bishop William Heathcote DeLancey, and served as rector of several churches in New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.  He was ordained as a priest in 1853 and consecrated as bishop in 1884.  In 1893, Paret was instrumental in the formation of the Diocese of Washington as a separate diocese from the Diocese of Maryland.  He was one of the incorporators of the original charter for the Washington National Cathedral. In 1911, Paret died of complications from pneumonia at the age of 84. In addition to The Pastoral Use of the Prayer Book, Paret is the author of several books as well as numerous published sermons and lectures.

Summary of Contents

The Pastoral Use of the Prayer Book grew out of a series of informal discussions Paret had with seminarians, deacons, young priests, and students under his charge.  In his “prefatory note,” Paret notes that these meetings were so enjoyable and profitable both for his students and his own edification that he was often asked to publish the talks’ content.  The resulting book retains much of the talks’ conversational tone and is presented as friendly and fatherly advice from an experienced minister to those without such experience.

The book is organized topically, with each chapter generally covering a specific section or service of the prayer book.  Exceptions to this format are chapters three and four which discuss the frequency of the litany and communion services and advice about congregational music, respectively.  Additionally, several chapters are devoted to discussing matters relating to Holy Communion.  Other topics covered in the work include daily prayer services, baptism, catechizing of youth and converts, confirmation, administration of marriage services, pastoral visitation, visitation of the sick, and Christian burial.

Throughout the work, Paret intermingles practical advice about using the Book of Common Prayer with general advice about shepherding a local parish.  Much of the advice urges his students to avoid ecclesiastical fads, but rather to rely on the simplicity of the Prayer Book’s rubrics and the foundation of the Scriptures.  A good example of this is found in Paret’s concluding paragraph:

We can be Anglican in the best sense of that word, without slavish imitation of everything English.  We can be Catholic in the best sense of that word, without picking and choosing at our own fancy among all that was done or said in the first four centuries.  The grand essentials of Catholicity have been handed onto us, freed from things trifling and temporary, and applied to our own times and needs in our own Book of Common Prayer.  You cannot be too familiar with your Bible.  And you cannot be too familiar with your Prayer Book, as the best exponent of the Bible and your best guide to Pastoral Work (237).

Ultimately, Paret makes a good case for the old liturgical adage, lex orendi, lex credendi, “the law of prayer is the law of belief.”  Since Anglicanism is without a formal magesterium, the Prayer Book is the main interpretive lens for how Anglicans (especially Anglican clergy) are to approach and apply the bible.  Paret also emphasizes that since American Anglicans have their own Prayer Book, they also have legitimate regional differences from the Church of England and other Anglican provinces.  The American Book of Common Prayer is the liturgical standard for American Anglicans, not the English one.  In both liturgical and pastoral work, Paret urges his students to be American Anglicans rather than Roman Catholics or English Anglicans.

Evaluation and Application

One of the most interesting aspects of this work is the fact that it predates the publication of every version of the Book of Common Prayer that is currently being used by North American Anglicans.  In fact, during Paret’s lifetime, the Church switched from its original 1789 Prayer Book to the 1892 Prayer Book.  While I assumed that Paret’s references were to the 1892 edition, Paret would have been familiar with both American Prayer Books.  According to Charles Wohlers of, “The 1892 Prayer Book was a conservative revision, meaning that little of substance was changed from its predecessor, the 1789 BCP. Perhaps for this reason its tenure was relatively short, being replaced by a much more extensive revision in 1928” (click here to read the article on the 1892 Prayer Book).  Throughout my reading of The Pastoral Use of the Prayer Book, I found myself comparing Paret’s notes and advice to the rubrics of the 1928 Prayer Book.  I also mentally revisited the 1979 Prayer Book for further comparison.  Most of the time, such comparison showed continuity (or at least close similarity) between Paret’s time and the 1928 rubrics.  The 1979 Prayer Book, however, often bore much less resemblance the picture of Anglican prayer presented by Paret.

Nonetheless, I could often see the progression between the older versions and the newer.  Often, Paret advises his students against imitating Rome or imitating England.  As to the former, Paret reminds his students that the Reformation was necessary because of liturgical and pastoral abuses by the medieval Roman Church.  As to the latter, Paret reminds his students that liturgical variation often occurs on national lines and that his students owed their allegiance and liturgical obedience to their bishops (and thus, the Prayer Book authorized by those bishops), rather than those of England.  As I compared the progression of the various editions of the American Prayer Book, I noticed that many of the innovations tended to bring the latter editions into greater parity with the Roman Church or earlier Christian liturgical traditions.   Other innovations tended to reflect the social and cultural trends at the time of publication.  One wonders what Paret would say to modern prayer books.

Throughout the book, Paret emphasized the simplicity of the Anglican prayer tradition.  I found this emphasis to be the book’s greatest strength.  As in our day, pastors in Paret’s time often found themselves “in the hurry and whirl and din of Church business and organization and work” (19).  Paret’s advice to the clergy is to remember that the main duty is preach the word of God and administer the sacraments.  For Paret, pastoral duties flow out of these other two duties.  While the business of Church is certainly important, Paret urges his students to be pastors first and administrators second.

Paret also urged his students to be scrupulous in following the Prayer Book’s rubrics.  He writes: “The rubrics are the accumulation and careful record of the eighteen centuries of the Church’s experience.  You fill find careful obedience to them, yes, minute obedience your truest liberty and your best safety from your own fancies or wilfullness [sic], and from the fault-findings of others.”  As I looked back upon my own experience with liturgics, I would often find myself wanting to tweak aspects of the service.  Paret’s advice to his students in those instances is to remember that they are not wiser than their bishops and their spiritual ancestors.  I found this to be an appropriate rebuke.

As a clergyman within the Anglican Church in North America, I found one significant challenge in Paret’s book:  how do we in the ACNA apply the bishop’s advice when our province’s official Prayer Book is still a work in progress?  Indeed, for every ACNA parish that uses the ACNA trial liturgies, the 1979 Prayer Book, or 1928 Prayer Book, there seem to be two that are using liturgies from other provinces or other traditions.  Many, in fact, use patchwork liturgies that borrow from several sources.  Additionally, over the past several decades much of the Anglican world has moved away from the Book of Common Prayer toward various “books of alternative services.”  An irony of the “alternative service” tendency is that it has become the liturgical norm rather than an alternative in much of the Anglican world.  While it is encouraging to see that the ACNA trial liturgies are moving back toward patterns that reflect our classical Anglican heritage (unlike the radical 1979 Prayer Book), our bishops seem reluctant to enforce its use for modern-English services (they have stated that they expect the 1928 Prayer Book to remain/become the standard for traditional-English use in the ACNA).  Furthermore, the trial liturgies are very light on rubrics when compared to prior official Prayer Books.  While this is surely based on a desire to respect the variety we find among ACNA parishes and clergy, I think it does a major disservice to young clerics who need and desire a more solid foundation for their pastoral work. Ultimately, this is an issue that will need to be addressed by the bishops. It may be wise for the bishops to consider Paret and other voices of the past as they make these decisions.  It was the insightful theologian who said that tradition is giving past generations a vote.

On a final note, I originally reviewed this book shortly after going on my first solo hospital visitation when I was a postulant at Christ Our King Anglican Church in New Braunfels.  At the time, one of our parish priests was out of town and the other was recovering from surgery, so the church asked me to fill in.  The man in the hospital was not a member of our parish but was rather a family member of one of our parishioners.  He was from out of town and knew no local clergy.  As I prepared for the visitation, I decided to apply some of Bp. Paret’s advice.  I would simply do the Visitation of the Sick service from the 1928 Prayer Book with the patient and any family that happened to also be there.  Paret had written that he had “found [the full service] a comfort and blessing to the sick, and a comfort and blessing to myself.  It is not stiff nor cold if lovingly used” (217).  In administering the service as Paret advised, I found him to be correct in his assessment.  I was blessed, as was the sick man and his wife.  They even asked to keep the copies I had made.  I can honestly say that it was an unparalleled experience to truly see the interaction of pastoral work and use of the Prayer Book in the fieldwork of real ministry. In the three or four years since this incident, I have found Paret’s advice to be confirmed time and time again. In fact, this is one of the main reasons why I had adopted the 1928 Prayer Book as my main ministerial resource long before I was ordained and serving at a parish that loves the traditional Prayer Book and is faithful to the spirit of Paret’s wisdom.

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