Book Reviews: Baptism & Confirmation & Patterns for Baptism

Book Reviews

Baptism and Confirmation

Church House Publishing, 2022 (ISBN: 9780715123522, 468pp, £40)

Patterns for Baptism

Church House Publishing, 2022 (ISBN: 9780715123492, 392pp, £25)

These handsome volumes are the latest additions to Common Worship, the Church of England’s current temporary authorised liturgy and a liturgical ‘phase’ which has now been underway for over twenty years. In his preface to An English Prayer Book, Roger Beckwith joked that plans for Liturgy 2000 to comprise ‘a range of books’ rather than just one summoned up the spectre of the Middle Ages. Lo and behold, these two new volumes are no less than the 55th and 56th items in the series, bringing the total to far more than most pre-Reformation clergy had to contend with. Nonetheless, few users of Common Worship interact with the material in this format, the entire liturgy being accessible online. 

The first publication to bear the title ‘Common Worship’ was a book of Initiation Services in 1998, when the project was still in its experimental stages. Since that time there have been finalised and study editions of Initiation Services (2006 and 2018), with baptism and thanksgiving liturgies also appearing in the Main Volume and Pastoral Services (both 2000). Alternative (simplified) baptism texts were also published in 2015 (to some ridicule in the press for their removal of the renunciation of the devil). The introduction to Baptism and Confirmation is candid to admit that ‘navigating the full range of material, and making appropriate choices, can be challenging’. An understatement! The aspiration is that this new volume, which brings together all of the existing liturgies, will simplify the task. Meanwhile Patterns for Baptism, deliberately released as a companion volume, offers worked examples of how the services can be used.

As simplified as the provision may claim to be, it remains spectacularly complex compared with the prayer book’s three simple rites – baptism for infants, confirmation, and (from 1662) adult baptism. The options now available include conducting such rites in conjunction or apart, doing so with or without communion, doing so in modern, traditional, or ‘simplified’ language, and using any number of variations of readings, prayers, seasonal flourishes, and additional liturgical ‘components’ (e.g. a collective reaffirmation of baptismal vows). Many (if not most) churches will continue to simply use the basic provisions laid out in the Main Volume and it may well only be cathedral precentors with time to extensively consider such matters who craft elaborate diocesan initiation services using a wider range of the material here presented.

The entire Common Worship project has been conducted in the context of a new prevailing theology of baptism which has brought the rite into much greater prominence. A key danger of the new baptismal ecclesiology is the manner in which it replaces the propositional doctrinal bounds of the church with nebulous sacramental ones. The fruits of this mode of thinking are, sadly, much in evidence. One exaggerated form of the new theology takes baptism alone as ‘complete sacramental initiation’, dispensing with confirmation and the Lord’s Supper. The title Baptism and Confirmation is therefore significant in itself in continuing to assert, in the English church, the relevance of confirmation– a rite in which all candidates confess the gospel truths for themselves. 

It is a nice touch that, just as the Main Volume republished the BCP morning and evening prayer, so Baptism and Confirmation provides the original prayer book baptism service. Such references help to ground Common Worship in the doctrinal moorings which the prayer book, at least in law and theory, provides. As far as this aspect of liturgy goes however, such grounding is not unproblematic – the PB statements about the condition of baptised infants always had to be read in tension with the rest of the liturgy and with the Articles to avoid concluding that it taught baptismal regeneration. To have the original baptism service removed from this context may be an aid Common Worship could do without.

Edward Keene, Little Shelford