Daily Archives: May 14, 2007

“Common” Prayer in the 21st Century: A Modest Carnival

As I noted previously, things are quiet so this will be a modest carnival for the time being. At the moment we only have a few entries—feel free to write something and drop me a line—we’ll get it added.

First up, we have a post from Caelius from the Monastery of the Remarkable English Martyrs. Caelius gives us Praying Amid A Series of Tubes where he tackles a number of issues beginning with the technology of liturgy and moves to its implications and what the future world will do to notions of community. As a result, he foregrounds continuity over either unity or uniformity.

Second, Mother M–my wife–has a guest post up here where she collects a number of thoughts gathered around the central questions of 1) what’s “common” about common prayer and 2) what is the place of the local and organic in relation to the common. She lifts up but does not resolve the tensionbetween the two–and the implications for the Anglican Communion. What Communion is there without a common ordo? She also does some thinking about the next BCP…

Which leads us to our third entry. Not written for the carnival, nevertheless Micah Jackson’s post at Speaking to the Soul, the spirituality blog of the Episcopal Cafe, also reflects on the next prayer book and the guiding criteria that have been in place and that will move forward into this new century.

Like Mother M, LutherPunk also thinks about the importance of ordo but in relation to Lutheran liturgical traditions of recent years. Ordo is balanced by the notion of adiaphora for a meditation on what is common and what is at the discretion of the congregation and its worship leaders.

My reflection thinks about the implications of common prayer on the coming shape of ecumenism and ecumenical discussions.

Fr. Chris Tessone has posted a piece in response to mine. Instead of a simplified rite as an ecumenical bridge–why not use one that already exists, that lacks the theological/sacramental barriers…and is spreading: the Daily Office.

The most wide-ranging and comprehensive comes to us from *Christopher at his new blog Betwixt and Between. *Christopher examines common prayer with an eye to lay participation in the world in a way not commonly experienced or discussed in America.

There are some good different directions represented here–and I’d love to see us continue the conversation on this topic. There’s more to be said on the relation between liturgical authority and uniformity in relation to the local and the organic as well as the issue of technology and liturgy addressing cultural change. In particular–I think it’d be great to see some more posts addressing these issues from Lutheran/Roman/Independent Catholic perspectives as well as more Anglicans… *nudge, nudge*

Guest Post: Mother M on Common Prayer

The “Common” in Common Prayer

What exactly is “common prayer”? In the Anglican/Episcopal
tradition we use this term frequently: our main liturgical book is titled The
Book of Common Prayer
. Yet it is a phrase so commonly used that I think we
often gloss over it and fail to think about what it really means. I must
confess that I never really thought about it until I read my husband’s blog and
saw his questions and invitation to post for the carnival. Common prayer is a
compilation of prayers and liturgies that we as a denomination hold to be
representative of our faith. These prayers and liturgies are grounded in
scripture, reason (to some extent), tradition and history. They are used
throughout the world or country as the norm—the core. There have been a number
of BCP’s over the last 458 years. There have been many revisions during this
time, but the core of the BCP has
remained mostly the same. The 1928 BCP for example has mostly been retained in
the current 1979 BCP. Many of the forms have been revised, condensed or used in
different ways in the newer version, but the core of our faith can still be
found. While I am pretty content with the 79 BCP, I know that the day is fast
approaching when the Church will have to reevaluate and revise the current
prayer book. I believe a new book will be inevitable when the current BCP is no
longer able to adequately address the larger Church in terms of social
concerns, liturgical language (language and images), pastoral needs, and
mission. The world we live in today, while changing quickly, is still not that
different from 1979 that we would need a new prayer book yet. That is where
supplemental and trial liturgies fit in (that is a whole other essay for
another time). So, I don’t see “common prayer” changing all that much in the 21st
century. In order for this to happen though here are some tips I would offer to
those revising the BCP:

  • remain
    faithful to the Scriptures and the liturgy of the early church
  • unify
    the Church
  • edify
    the people

As Marion Hatchett in his Commentary on the American
Prayer Book
reminds us, these three points have been kept in mind during
previous prayer book revisions and should be for future ones as well. I also
would hope that the revisers would continue to draw from:

  • Scripture
  • Church
  • Historic

Of course these things would be in combination with the
present world/culture/church conditions as well as missionary needs, pastoral
needs, and social needs/concerns. One of the points of the BCP as I see it is
to draw those in the Anglican communion closer to each other rather than
tearing us apart. The BCP addresses the needs and concerns through prayer and
liturgy of the whole body, not just one member.

There are a couple of other ways to think of “common” as
well: one way to think of common prayer that dates back to the medieval church
is as the regular or cyclic services of the Church (the Daily Office, the
Litany, and Eucharist) in contrast to the occasional sacraments/services and
other rites that ritually mark particular points in the Christian life. Alternatively,
common prayer could also mean those sacraments/rites/services that are for all
people and not just clergy and monastics. Participation in the liturgy as
opposed to the liturgy being done on one’s behalf (mass intentions). This is
one of the obvious shifts of Cranmer’s first BCP in 1549 compared with the
medieval mass. Any thoughts or ideas on this are most welcome!

One last thought on “common” prayer before shifting to local
organic liturgies. Common prayer in my dream world would include a common ordo
too. Currently the Anglican bodies do not have this and I often wonder what it
is that is holding us altogether if we actually don’t have a book of common
prayer or a common ordo. Ordo refers to the pattern of essential
elements in worship and their ritual ordering. Anyway, I see this uncommon ordo
to be a problem if we say we are in communion with each other. We ought to—at
the very least—have this in common. It makes me think: what in the world is the
Anglican communion anyway? There are two reasons that I can see why we need a
common ordo. First, it gives us an identity as a faith community. Second,
it strengthens our relations with other Anglican groups and, in theory, helps
us to support each other. For lack of time I have not thought anymore on this
subject, but I do strongly believe it to be quite important to the future of
both the Anglican communion and “Common” Prayer in the 21st century.

Local Organic Liturgies

Local organic liturgies certainly have their place in
worship, but I do not think they should be included in a book of common prayer
such as the BCP. There is a definite need for services to reach out to specific
ethnic groups. More should definitely be included of their culture, practices,
and traditions and they should be able to use these types of services with
ease. However, they should still use, know, and participate in the BCP’s
prayers and liturgies on a fairly regular basis since that is what is common
and the core of our faith. Newer local customs and liturgies are just that—local,
so it does not really fit in with my idea of common prayer.

New prayers and
liturgies are okay and actually should be encouraged as we need liturgical
imagination for our current age. The phrase “liturgical imagination” often gets
a bad rap when referring to certain forms of non-traditional ways of worship—like
decorating the altar with fabric and other crap as they did at one of the three
seminaries I have attended… This is not what I mean when I use the phrase. All
I am saying is that we need language and images that speak to our time, culture,
and social situation. These do not have to be new or non-traditional. We just
have to constantly reevaluate our worship and liturgies and make sure they are
meeting the needs and concerns of our current society. Those who know me know
how much I love old things and tradition, particularly in all things
liturgical. I love[most of ]Ritual
—need I say more? Anyway, sometimes the old just doesn’t work. (Though
often it does.) As Gordon Lathrop reminds us in his book Holy Things the
old is made to speak the new. It is all
about juxtaposition (also another essay for another time).

Mother M

Kalendar Note: Rogationtide

Today, tomorrow and the day after are the Rogation days. If you missed it, here’s a nice post on them from the Episcopal Cafe (not by me)… The Litany is especially appropriate on these days after MP or at some other point. They also have their own collects. I didn’t see them specifically noted as I glanced at my prayerbook during the morning commute–perhaps they’re pointed out in the Priest’s Handbook rather than the BCP?

Update: Here they are…hiding right after the other collects under number 19. Thanks, Scott!

In any case, there were historically two main purposes for the day, the blessing of the crops and the final cram for the Day of Judgment (anticipated Thursday). Because of the importance of final cram day, more Old English sermons survive for these days than any other liturgical occasion–including much of the sermonic material in the Vercelli Book. Common topics were the Four Last Things (death, hell, judgment, and heaven), the Creeds, and the Lord’s Prayer. So, in that spirit, I offer this as a great opportunity to bone up on the basics again

On Common Prayer: A Modest Proposal

I want to ponder both the possibilities and limitations of common prayer as we head deeper into this new century. There’s no doubt that things are changing. For decades Christian denominations have positioned themselves in relationship to one another primarily through their responses to modernism. Thus, there was a great shift in the in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the rise of fundamentalism as an approach to the social changes caused by advances in science and technology. There was another in the 1970’s as Rome clarified the stance of Vatican I and placed new accents upon the traditional faith in doctrine and liturgy which caused ripples throughout the Protestant Mainlines.

These ripples of Vatican II were both a continuing response but also the harbingers of new change. As we—forty years later—are still making sense of the reforms and their implementations, the world order is changing and the ripples are encountering new shoals. We are on the cusp of another major shake-up, no longer a response to modernism but postmodernism. In a sense the current problems are related to the rapprochement of the preceding decades. We have started talking to one another, to fields of science, and the humanities—and have found new questions and problems. New generations arise: the digital youth. Old ways are passing, new ones are struggling to be born.

As denominations shift and change in this new world, so our ways of relating to one another must change. The old ways are no longer tenable. Old patterns of ecumenism are based on bilateral conversations between small groups in rooms searching for common ground. Thus, I, a smoked-up-solemn-high-mass right-on-the-edge-of-transubstantiation Anglican, find myself in eucharistic fellowship with Moravians and the UCC thanks to shared agreements mediated by the ELCA. Don’t get me wrong—I have nothing against Moravians or the UCC, but some pretty serious differences exist in our sacramental theologies. If Christian witness is rooted in truth and
integrity—do these arrangements tell the truth about who and what these Christian communities are and what they believe?

I’d like to reframe what we’re about in terms of ecumenism. It’s one thing if we’re talking to one another—that is, if the point is the talk and the concepts therein. It’s another entirely if we’re talking about what we do—the practices that we engage in together. If the point of our unity is what we do, then why is ecumenical discussion so focused on thoughts and not actions? In short, my proposal for a new ecumenical direction in the new emerging order is shared action—common prayer: an Ecumenical Use.

The centerpiece of future ecumenical relationships between the Episcopal Church and other ecclesial bodies would rest not in conversations but in a liturgy, the Ecumenical Use. Much of it would be fairly rudimentary—a basic ordo that would lay out a flow of
service from Word to table—but it would also include a stripped-down eucharistic canon, something between the current eucharistic prayers A and D, that would seek to honor both Eastern and Western roots while retaining its Anglican heritage (like a double epiclesis, for example…). The fundamental rule would be that anything may be added to it—but nothing could be removed. The use of this liturgy in local communities would the sign and experience of ecumenical relationships, not conversations on a national level all too far removed from the theological and liturgical life of the people in the pews.

Ecumenical agreements could exist on a purely local level. Episcopal churches—both snake-belly low and the highest up the candle, Continuing Anglican bodies, Lutheran churches, Independent Catholic churches, could all use the liturgy and be united in it. Should a UCC church feel it to be within their common life—hey, why not? The blend between the stable agreed-upon Ecumenical Use and each community’s local use would maintain the flexibility that would allow each to retain its authentic character while holding what is most important in common. Should a community not feel they could participate in the Ecumenical Use with another, they simply would not have to use it. The responsibility and authority for ecumenical relationships would rest at the local level—where the people are and where they meet, gather, and pray.

Yes, it’s a far-fetched idea. Yes, it needs more development. But it’s a possibility—it’s a new direction. The change is coming. Our Great Unpleasantness reveals that we are already in the midst of it. With the challenges and difficulties come new opportunities—we just need to start figuring out what they are.