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“Catholic” and the Book of Common Prayer
Lionel E. Deimel
 

My church used Form III of the Prayers of the People yesterday. It includes the following line:

Father, we pray for your holy Catholic Church;

What struck me about this line is the capitalization of the word “catholic.” My understanding has been that “Catholic Church” usually refers to the Roman Catholic Church, whereas “catholic Church” refers to the whole body of Christ. This reference in the 1979 prayer book of The Episcopal Church seemed odd, so I decided to investigate the use of “catholic” in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP).

The table below provides information about every instance of “catholic” in the 1979 BCP. “L” and “U” stand for “lowercase” and “uppercase,” respectively. Duplicated lines in the table represent multiple instances on the same page.

Page Location Phrase Case
54 Morning Prayer I (Apostles’ Creed) the holy catholic Church L
66 Evening Prayer I (Apostles’ Creed) the holy catholic Church L
96 Morning Prayer II (Apostles’ Creed) the holy catholic Church L
120 Evening Prayer II (Apostles’ Creed) the holy catholic Church L
278 Good Friday (Solemn Collects) the holy Catholic Church of Christ U
292 Easter Vigil (Introduction to Renewal of Baptismal Vows) his holy Catholic Church U
293 Easter Vigil (Renewal of Baptismal Vows) the holy catholic Church L
304 Holy Baptism (Baptismal Covenant) the holy catholic Church L
310 Holy Baptism (For Reception) the one holy catholic and apostolic Church L
327 Holy Eucharist I (Nicene Creed) one holy catholic and apostolic Church L
328 Holy Eucharist I (variant of Nicene Creed) one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church U
359 Holy Eucharist II (Nicene Creed) one holy catholic and apostolic Church L
375 Holy Eucharist II (Eucharistic Prayer D) your one holy catholic and apostolic Church L
387 Prayers of the People (Form III) your holy Catholic Church U
416 Confirmation (Baptismal Covenant) the holy catholic Church L
418 Confirmation (For Reception) the one holy catholic and apostolic Church L
489 Burial I (Additional Prayers) the communion of the Catholic Church U
496 Burial II (Apostles’ Creed) the holy catholic Church L
504 Burial II (Additional Prayers) the communion of the Catholic Church U
510 Ordination: Bishop (Preface to the Ordination Rites) Christ’s holy catholic Church L
510 Ordination: Bishop (Preface to the Ordination Rites) Christ’s catholic Church L
513 Ordination: Bishop (Presentation) the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church L
520 Ordination: Bishop (Nicene Creed) one holy catholic and apostolic Church L
526 Ordination: Priest (Presentation) Christ’s holy catholic Church L
530 Ordination: Priest (Nicene Creed) one holy catholic and apostolic Church L
538 Ordination: Deacon (Presentation) Christ’s holy catholic Church L
542 Ordination: Deacon (Nicene Creed) one holy catholic and apostolic Church L
816 Prayers (7. For the Church) thy holy Catholic Church U
854 Catechism (The Church) one, holy, catholic, and apostolic L
854 Catechism (The Church) catholic L
854 Catechism (The Church) catholic L
864 Historical Documents (Creed of Saint Athanasius) the Catholic Faith U
864 Historical Documents (Creed of Saint Athanasius) the Catholic Faith U
865 Historical Documents (Creed of Saint Athanasius) the Catholic Religion U
865 Historical Documents (Creed of Saint Athanasius) the Catholic Faith U
876 Historical Documents (Chicago Quadrilateral) the Holy Catholic Church U
877 Historical Documents (Chicago Quadrilateral) the undivided Catholic Church U

 

Observations

First, the raw statistics. The word “catholic” occurs 24 times with a lowercase “c” and 13 times with an uppercase “c.” Of the capitalized instances, 6 occur in the Historical Documents section of the BCP, and one of those instances actually does refer to the Roman Catholic Church. I will assume that the capitalized instances in Historical Documents reflect, if not original documents, then at least traditional versions of them.

Concentrating on the main body of the BCP and assuming that “catholic” generally means something like “universal,” the 7 instances of “Catholic” seem anomalous. There is no consistent usage here. For example, in the Great Vigil of Easter, “catholic” appears capitalized on one page and un-capitalized on the next. Holy Eucharist I offers two versions of the Nicene Creed; the first has “catholic” in lowercase, but the word is capitalized in the second. (The words of the alternative form are taken from pp. 15–16 of the 1928 BCP. Many of the words capitalized in the 1928 edition are in lowercase in the 1979 edition, so it is unclear why the capitalization of “catholic” was retained. This creed has an odd peculiarity, by the way. There is no “in” in the formulation “I believe one Catholic and Apostolic Church.” This follows the usage, if not quite the spelling, of the 1662 Church of England BCP. To me, at least, the clause is nonsensical.)

There does seem to be a tendency to capitalize “catholic” within prayers. Why, I cannot say. (See pp. 278, 387, 489, 504, and 816.)

I am inclined to consider all instances of “Catholic” in the 1979 BCP, excepting possibly those in Historical Documents, to be mistaken. In the next edition of the prayer book, such instances, if they are copied, should be rendered as “catholic.”

— LED, 12/28/2010

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