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Angela Tilby: Series 2’s optimistic legacy

06 October 2017


IT IS 50 years since the appearance of Series 2 Holy Communion. I first encountered the pale-blue booklets at a weekday eucharist in St Mary the Virgin, Linton, when on holiday with schoolfriends at Lee Abbey, near by.

At that time, I was doing my A levels, and knew nothing about the process of liturgical revision. But I sensed immediately that this was something different. For a start, the booklet was incredibly small and neat — just 16 pages — and had smart blue rubrics. The basic texts were unchanged from the Prayer Book, but the shape was new to me: the Gloria was near the start; it had a simplified confession; and there was a participatory form of inter­cessions.

The greatest revelation was the Prayer of Consecration, which in­­cluded in the Preface the whole scope of Christ’s saving work, from his birth to the sending of the Holy Spirit. (This is the basis of what is now Prayer A).

To my Evangelical teenage self, Series 2 captured a new note of con­fidence in God’s purpose for the world. It was less sin-laden, more celebratory. At the end of the book­let, there was a version of the Litany culminating in the wonderful prayer from the Gelasian Sacramentary which calls on God to “let the whole world feel and see that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and all things are returning to perfection through him from whom they took their origins.”

I loved that note of cosmic optim­ism, of all things being created per­fect in Christ, and destined to find fulfilment in him. I was reading Teilhard de Chardin at the time, and it resonated with his evolutionary theology. I later found the roots of his hopefulness in Early Church Fathers such as Irenaeus.

The bold Catholic simplicity of Series 2 could not last. Series 3 came on its heels: a booklet in pale mint-green that replaced all “thees” and “thous” with “you”. It looked upbeat with its big round title fount, but it began with five full pages of notes, and contained a wearying multi­plicity of options. At 32 pages, even the booklet felt chunky, with poor “handfeel”.

For me, there were other prob­lems. I mourned the loss of the fa­­miliar musical settings. I had loved Merbecke’s flowing Commun­ion Service, and Martin Shaw’s Anglican Folk Mass. I struggled with the new settings by Appleford and Rutter, but never came to terms with the leaden tumty-tum rhythms that the new words seemed to require.

But, despite these losses, some of the theological optimism of Series 2 filtered through to survive the Alter­native Service Book 1980, and has ended up in Common Worship. For that, at least, we should be grateful.

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