A concise but comprehensive guide to planning the Eucharist according to the Book of Alternative Services

September 11, 2009 – 10:35 am

Make Preparation: Liturgy Planning Notes
By Paul Gibson

Online Publication, 70 pages

Reviewed by Daniel F. Graves


Making-Preparation-1I was delighted to hear the news that Paul Gibson’s Make Preparation: Liturgy Planning Notes (Toronto: ABC Publishing, Anglican Book Centre, 2009) is now available online. The church has, for some years, desperately needed a concise but comprehensive guide to planning the Eucharist according to the Book of Alternative Services. To be sure, Michael Ingham’s Rites for a New Age did much in the early days to introduce the BAS – both its rationale and its possibilities – to reluctant Canadian Anglicans; and Holeton, Hall, and Kerr-Wilson’s Let Us Give Thanks: A Presider’s Manual for the BAS Eucharist has served well in its purpose, although its ideological dogmatism now seems dated. Thankfully, Gibson’s manual builds on the former with mature and wise reflection on the use of the Eucharistic rite (nearly twenty-five years after the publication of the BAS), and carefully avoids the dogmatism that plagued the latter Hoskin Group manual.

Paul Gibson is a gifted liturgical scholar and practitioner. He served for many years as the liturgical officer of the Anglican Church of Canada and was a vital force in the development of both the Book of Alternative Services (1985) and the 1998 hymn book, Common Praise. It was my privilege to work at Church House during Mr. Gibson’s time there and also to have been the beneficiary of his tutelage during my days as a student at Trinity College. While confessing my own admiration for Mr. Gibson and his work, I should make it clear that over the years I have not always agreed with him on every point of his liturgical theology or practice. Thus, I came to Make Preparation with some thought that there would be several points with which I might take issue. I stand, however, humbled before this text and the graciousness of the man who placed the words on paper (or on the screen, as it were … as this is an electronic publication). As stated above, Mr. Gibson’s reflections on planning the Eucharist are thoughtful and expansive. There are few a “shoulds,” and perhaps a few more well-argued “should-nots,” but mostly there is guidance about decisions and how to make sound ones, in terms of the liturgy.

Mr. Gibson begins the text with his “principles of planning,” and reminds us of what we sometimes would not like to admit, that “all liturgy is planned, either well or poorly” (page 8). He then proceeds to illustrate an entrance rite that, while plagued with confusion, would clearly resemble the entrance rite in many of our churches. He then asks a series of questions, mainly “whats” and “whys.” Just what are we doing? Why do we do what we do? What makes sense in terms of the purpose of the liturgy? What makes sense historically (and does it continue to make sense today)? Why do we abandon certain things and why do we hold fast to others? Why is any particular piece of the liturgy important and how does it make sense of the whole, and how does it lift up the theme of the day and the liturgy’s ultimate meaning?

This is the pattern of the book. As he walks through the steps and major sections of the liturgy, Mr. Gibson asks these questions. More importantly, he encourages us to ask them. The book is less about giving us the answer as to what a good liturgy will be, than about teaching us how to find that answer ourselves. What is more, it is a collaborative approach. This has always been the hallmark of his instruction on the liturgy in the classroom and he brings that pedagogical insight into the pages of this manual. He becomes, for us, the discussion partner liturgy planners so desperately need. Yet, he is not content to leave things there. The encouragement that flows from the pages is an encouragement to set his words aside and begin a dialogue with our parish partners in liturgy planning. The liturgy team is, for Gibson, at the heart of a well-planned liturgy. The Eucharist is the community at work in prayer, and the team is the place where the community engages in shaping its worship. It is a place of creativity and wonder, in which divine possibilities are wed to our human offering of praise and thanksgiving.

In addition to its overarching philosophy of liturgy, the book contains particular gems of wisdom – the sort for which Mr. Gibson is known: “Don’t forget the psalm prayers!” His former students will recall his repeated admonition that these prayers that, like the psalms to which they are linked, cover the gamut of human experience. Unfortunately, they feel hidden and underused. His reminder of the ICEL collects and other international resources related to the RCL is also important. He points out as well the oft-neglected moments of silence in the liturgy and encourages the nurturing of such moments. Such is the stuff of this deeply reflective and practical guide.

One quibble I have is with the chapter on the homily. While the author offers several important thoughts on hermeneutics, and on the homilist as an artist, I certainly wish he would have spoken more about the importance of preaching in the Anglican tradition. In my experience, it seems as if the sermon is becoming more and more marginal to the Anglican liturgy and less and less carefully planned, written and performed by Anglican clergy. He might have offered some more precise insight into the practicalities of the art. I certainly would have appreciated a stronger reminder of its role, given the passion I know Mr. Gibson has for a good homily. This is a minor quibble, though, and might be argued that a fuller treatment of the role and planning of the homily is beyond the scope of this guide and better left to a preaching manual.

Finally, I am curious about the decision to release the book solely in electronic format. I suppose that this makes it more accessible to liturgy planning teams who might not have the financial resources to provide copies to all members of a group. Yet, I am still of the old school that places the value of a book in its acquisition and handling as well as in its reading. I live in fear that this important work (and others like it that forgo the printing process) will become lost amongst the endless sea of cyber-dross, and ultimately lose the audience that the internet so triumphantly promises. As a former bookseller, I speak not only out of self-preservation of the trade, but out of the reality that a good book, and this certainly is a good book, will be continuously placed in the hands of the seeker by the good bookseller. There are a few books that a bookseller will consistently recommend again and again, and this is one of them. If I were still in the trade and a customer sought out a liturgical guide, I would readily and repeatedly place this one in hand. Let us hope that the manner of its publication contributes to its distribution and not hinder it, and that this manual may have a long and happy life in the hands (or at the fingertips) of liturgy planners everywhere.

To read Make Preparation: Liturgy Planning Notes by Paul Gibson, click here.

c. 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This review may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the reviewer.