The ’79 Book of Common Prayer has two formal “rites.” “Rite I” uses traditional language and retains a direct connection with the classical Anglican liturgies of the earlier Books of Common Prayer; “Rite II” uses contemporary language and reflects the influence of the 20th century Liturgical Renewal Movement. In addition to these, though, sometimes the informal label of “Rite III” is given to the Eucharistic Prayer material under the heading “An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist” on pages 400-405. Not truly a separate rite, this collection of materials offers even more flexibility in the celebration of the Eucharist. The idea here is that this section gives a general framework and requires only certain given texts that nail down parts of the Eucharistic prayer. The presence of these elements is intended to ensure that even in its widely permissive flexibility there will be some core elements that align with our understanding of Episcopal common prayer.
Now—I’ve written quite a bit before about the Book of Common Prayer as a contract within the congregation. In a sense, the book protects the laity from the whims of the clergy. The text is the text and we’ve all agreed together that this is the material we’re going to use. Given that perspective, I’m not a huge fan of “Rite III” because it alters that balance of power; clergy, in their eagerness to be fresh and relevant, can do what they like without the input of the laity upon whom it is being inflicted.
The Rite III material has two brief rubrics directing its use on the top of page 400:
One of the actions of General Convention that I watched with great trepidation was D050: Authorizing “An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist” as a Principal Service. In its original form, it would have essentially nullified the second rubric above and made the Rite III option equal with the other two. This was not to be, though, and the version passed by Convention was altered to include some ecclesiastical oversight. Here’s the current text that passed:
If we were going to do this, this is a good way to do it. Its chief thrust is to ensure that a Sunday/principal Rite III prayer is a written text, not something ad libbed off the top of the priest’s head. (That can be done on weekdays and non-principal liturgies, though.)
As the saying goes, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” so—in that spirit—here’s my own Rite III liturgy. Bishops, feel free to give this your ecclesiastical blessing… In particular, I’m orienting this towards the young, defined generally in the Episcopal Church as any one below the age of 55.
Rite III provides a general pattern, a “shape of the liturgy” if you will, then two forms (Form 1 or Form 2). You can either use the Eucharistic Prayers from Rite One or Rite Two or you can use one of these two forms both of which are a combination of set texts and flexible general directions for what sort of material ought to appear in what order.
I’ll also note the presence of the permission on page 14 of the BCP permitting that “the contemporary idiom may be conformed to traditional language.” Too, I’ll also agree with the editors of the Anglican Service Book that conforming liturgies to traditional language involves more than swapping in “thees” and “thous.” Word order, syntax, and cadence are also important and need to be considered as well.
…Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying,
Almighty and everliving God, which by thy holy Apostle hast taught us to make prayers and supplications, and to give thanks for all men ; We humbly beseech thee most mercifully to receive
these our prayers, which we offer unto thy divine Majesty; beseeching thee to inspire continually the universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord: and grant, that all they that
do confess thy holy Name may agree in the truth of thy holy Word, and live in unity and godly love.Most merciful Father, we humbly pray thee, through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, and we ask that thou accept and bless these gifts, these presents, these holy and unspoiled sacrifices. We offer them unto thee, first, for thy holy catholic Church: that thou vouchsafe to keep it in peace, to guard, unite, and govern it throughout the whole world; together with thy servant N., our Bishop and all the faithful guardians of the catholic and apostolic faith.Remember, O Lord, thy servants and handmaids [N. and N.] and all who here around us stand, whose faith is known unto thee and their steadfastness manifest, on whose behalf we offer unto thee, or who themselves offer unto thee, this sacrifice of praise; for themselves, and for all who are theirs; for the redemption of their souls, for the hope of their salvation and safety; and who offer their prayers unto thee, the eternal God, the living and the true.United in one communion, we venerate the memory, first of the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord Jesus Christ; of Joseph her spouse; as also of the blessed Apostles and Martyrs, Peter and Paul, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Thaddaeus; Linus, Cletus, Clement, Xystus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian and of all thy Saints: grant that by their merits and prayers we may in all things be defended with the help of thy protection.
O God, heavenly Father, which of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world ; and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to celebrate a perpetual memory of that
his precious Death, until his coming again:
We beseech thee then, O Father, graciously to accept this oblation from us thy servants, and from thy whole family: order thou our days in thy peace, and bid us to be delivered from eternal damnation, and to be numbered in the fold of thine elect through Christ our Lord.
On the night in which he was betrayed unto suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks unto thee, he brake it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.”
Likewise, after supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, “Drink ye all of this: For this is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it for the remembrance of me.”
Wherefore, O Lord and heavenly Father, according to the institution of thy dearly beloved Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, we thy humble servants do celebrate and make here before thy divine Majesty, with these thy holy gifts, the memorial which thy Son hath commanded us to make: having in remembrance his blessed Passion, mighty Resurrection, and glorious Ascension, we await his coming in glory: rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumberable benefits procured unto us by the same; entirely desiring thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our Sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, this memorial of our redemption; most humbly beseeching thee to grant, that by the Merits and Death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his Blood, we and all thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his Passion.
Vouchsafe to look upon these gifts with a merciful and pleasant countenance; and to accept them, even as thou didst vouchsafe to accept the gifts of thy servant Abel the Righteous, and the sacrifice of our Patriarch Abraham; and the holy sacrifice, the immaculate victim, which thy high priest Melchisedech offered unto thee.
Vouchsafe, O God, we beseech thee, in all things to make this oblation blessed, approved and accepted, a perfect and worthy offering: Sanctify it by thy Holy Ghost that it may become for thy people the Body and Blood of thy dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.
Remember also, O Lord, thy servants and handmaids, [N. and N.], who have gone before us sealed with the seal of faith, and who sleep the sleep of peace. To them, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, we beseech thee to grant the abode of refreshing, of light, and of peace through the same Christ our Lord.
To us sinners also, thy servants, who hope in the multitude of thy mercies, vouchsafe to grant some part and fellowship with thy holy Apostles and Martyrs; with John, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicitas, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia and with all thy Saints, within whose fellowship, we beseech thee, admit us, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offenses; through Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom, O Lord, thou dost ever create all these good things; dost sanctify, quicken, bless, and bestow them upon us;
By whom, and with whom, and in whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honor and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. AMEN.
What is this?
It’s a proper Rite III prayer that follows the rules as I understand them. It’s a mash-up of the Tudor-era canon of the Mass attributed to Miles Coverdale (though likely not by him), the Eucharistic canon of the 1549 prayer book particularly as adapted in the current Rite I, and the required texts laid down in Form 2.
Is this some kind of a joke?
Well, maybe some kind… But for the most part—no.
Here’s the thing. Those who champion Rite III and its ilk assume that what the church needs is to become more informal. Take a look at the broader culture. Things are far more informal in our dress and in our speech than we were in prior decades. We watch Downton Abbey and marvel at the array of clothing for each meal, occasion, and time of day, the intricate codes of what was appropriate at one moment, season, or gathering but not for another. We’re not like that anymore. Only a few places exist in our everyday world where I can’t go in a t-shirt, jeans, and a pair of sandals.
But is the inherent corrollary of this movement that the liturgy of our churches should necessarily become more informal?
For one thing, I’m developing a suspicion of the notion of “liturgical evangelism”—that a (if not “the”) primary function of our liturgy ought to be not scare off newcomers. We must be welcoming and hospitable—absolutely—but what does that mean and what does it look like? Are we being hospitable, truly welcoming stangers and vistitors to something, if we suppress or jettison altogether our identity and integrity?
For another there’s a difference between informality at church and informality in the language of the liturgy. The language of this liturgy does not care if you are slumming it in flip-flops or rockin’ a three-piece. That has far more to do with, once again, practices of hospitality within the gathered community.
For yet another thing, I perceive among myself and my circle of friends a reaction against some of our current culture’s informality. In my house we call it the Mad Men effect. There is, particularly on the part of younger Gen-X and Gen-Y folks a desire for some of the structure—and style—that we think we see in Mad Men, Downton Abbey, and other perceptions of the Time Before the Sixties. There was a clarity there in roles and responsibilities we find lacking in today’s world. I’m very sensitive that this is a nostalgia for something we never actually experienced. That’s a whole other topic that we’ll get into some other day. The point I’m making here is that those looking for depth and authenticity increasingly hard to find in a shallow consumer-centered culture may be looking for something else. Perhaps language redolent of long-lived experience that actually is in direct contact with over a thousand years of Christian tradition is what they’re hungering for.
The line I’ve heard most frequently since prayer book revision was announced is: I hope they keep Rite I. And it’s not been old people saying this either.
Our culture has informality—but it lacks transcendence. A liturgy of this sort has transcendence in spades.
One last observation before wrapping up. I’d argue that this Eucharistic Prayer actually does a better job of representing baptismal ecclesiology than some in the ’79 prayer book. Note the two lists of saints and the references to the local community, both living and dead, imaged in the prayer. This prayer sketches the Body of Christ more fully by naming specific people and categories with whom we gather when we pray not named in our current prayers.
Prayer Book revision is coming. Rite 3 approval has occured. We will be entering into a time of experimenting with liturgy and liturgical patterns. I urge us to be broad and diverse in our experimentation. My fear is that we will only think about experimentation and diversity in narrow ways–things that are more informal and less structured. But that’s only one direction out of a host of others. Exploring the riches of our past has got to be a part of the picture as well.