Category Archives: Anglican

Expansive Language Rite II

Friend of the blog Mother Laurie Brock has posted a resolution for General Convention that would offer an immediate trial use first reading of an expanded language version of the Rite II Eucharist. The resolution with liturgy is here, the liturgy alone is here.

As readers should know, I’m not a fan of revision and I’m usually wary of expansive language. Imprecise or incorrect theology is always the number one concern when liturgy gets tinkered with. But, poetics are a major concern of mine as well.  All too often expansive language comes from a well-intentioned place but produces bad liturgy. Effusive wordiness creating overly imaginative metaphors causes clunky sentences. Liturgy is not just poetry, it’s poetry that occurs out loud. Liturgy is inherently spoken. As it result, it must have the right rhythms for speaking it aloud and at volume.

Laurie took the Rite II services that we currently have and went through them, making gentle modifications to tone down both the male language and the dominion (kingdom/Lord) language that many in the church are finding problematic.

Here are my initial thoughts on a read through of the liturgy…

  • I don’t love the initial acclamation: “Blessed be God: holy, glorious, and undivided Trinity./And blessed be God’s reign, now and for ever. Amen.” I was initially unsure about “holy, glorious” thinking that it might be a little out of character from the styling of the rest of the service but was reassured when I realized it was riffing on “O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,” from the Litany. The response is more the issue. I get that we have a shift from “kingdom” to “reign” but I’m not a fan of the homophone especially in the first line of the service (rain=water from the sky? rein=God’s kidney? rein=part of a bridle?). I don’t know what would be a better replacement, though.
  • I like that the option is given to use either “God” or “Lord” in the collect dialogue.
  • I like the three options for responses to the reading, and that the “The Word of the Lord” remains the top one. This is a theological affirmation of the content that grounds the others. Just the “Spirit” options on their own makes me wonder if the Spirit is only in the act of hearing and not in the source material itself. The Spirit can speak to me from the NY Times; retaining “Word of the Lord” liturgically affirms that the text is God’s revelation even if one of the other responses is chosen.
  • That both Gospel acclamations have “Lord Christ” is great. In other places, the “Lord” language is de-emphasized but I agree that this is a key spot where we ought to retain it. That’s key–knowing when to be expansive and where the traditional language really is essential.
  • I like the treatment of the Creed.
    • It retains the language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are non-negotiables for Christian liturgy. Get beyond them in the creed and you’re doing something else.
    • “became truly human” is a good change. Yes, the incarnate body of Jesus was a man—it had a penis. However, the creed’s statement on this account is not about the personal plumbing of Our Lord but his humanity which this change accomplishes.
    • The use of relative clauses beginning “who” regarding the Holy Spirit is a good strategic move. It removes the unnecessary “he”s and forestalls revisionist “she”s that I frequently hear around the church.
    • [Update: I’m not a fan of the removal of the filioque, so I’m not thrilled about that. I’m well aware it’s not in the ecumenical version, but the West has used it for centuries and too many Episcopalians have Arian tendencies already…]
  • In the opening dialogue for the Eucharist, while the initial “Lord” is optional, its use later is not. I think that is a good move. Again, there’s a difference between expanding and expunging. Too often the former becomes the latter. I’m less concerned than some about the shift to “our” in the last response because the priest’s line makes it clear that our thanks and praise are, in fact, directed to “the Lord our God.”
  • Prayer A
    • “Son” language makes appearances while “maker and preserver” tones down the male language.
  • The Lord’s Prayer is untouched with both traditional and contemporary options retained.
  • The rhythm is off in the dropping of “Son” from the second line of the first post-communion prayer. What about “of our Source and Savior Jesus Christ?” It expands while retaining both the alliteration and the rhythm.
  • The second post-communion prayer retains a “Son” and “kingdom” but I’m not sure about “we are living members of the Body of your Child.” My own (likely idiosyncratic) mental image is that I will become the arm of a baby or toddler. Sorry—that’s just my mental word association with “Body of your Child”…
  • I like that a blessing is called for in the rubrics but nothing is directly stated. I think that’s a wise move because it permits a classic “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” blessing if so desired, and does not legislate, recommend, or encourage a modalist option.
  • Prayer B
    • There’s something about the flow of “In Christ’s sacrifice, unite us that we may be acceptable…” that feels off to me. Not sure what it is exactly… (It maybe the pile-up of sibilants at the start.)
  • Prayer C
    • “your only Child, born of Mary” is a good change. Of course, to my way of thinking, more Mary in our prayers is always a good change!
    • “God of Abraham and Sarah” is the choice taken to deal with one of the infamous hiccups in this prayer. This is a good option, but not my favorite option. Abraham and Sarah were the parents of Isaac, the child of promise who both indirectly begets and typologically represents Christ. So—there’s nothing wrong with this and it doesn’t raise the question of why Hagar isn’t named. I still prefer to the retention of the ancient title for God, “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” but want to see it balanced with “, the God of Miriam, Deborah, and Ruth” or something like that which includes women but doesn’t get into elaborating wives/concubines/sex partners of the patriarchs which gets messy really quickly.
  • Prayer D
    • There was a pretty light touch on D which is wise given that one of our reasons for including it is ecumenical.

I have some anxieties about piecemeal revision of the prayer book. I don’t know if that’s a road we want to go down, and it worries me about the precedent it would set.

However, if General Convention is bound and determined to do something right now to make things more inclusive, this is something that I can get behind. I have yet to see anything in Laurie’s revision that is problematic. Yeah, a few minor term and rhythm things I’d do differently, but those are quibbles. This is way better than EOW, and miles beyond what could be foisted upon us!

It gets an up-vote from my side. That having been said, I’m a straight white guy: I don’t get triggered by male or dominion language. I imagine some who do might say that this is too conservative and has not gone far enough. For my perspective, though, Laurie has done a wonderful job with this and I hope it receives proper consideration.

Collecting the Saints: 2018 Edition

I know that there is great back and forth among those with strong opinions on the matter regarding the proposed Lesser Feasts & Fasts up for debate at General Convention. I had the opportunity to write a guest blog post for the Center for Liturgy & Music at Virginia Theological Seminary on a brief history of the Episcopal sanctoral calendar. In brief, I identified some major trends in how the calendar has been conceived and how it has or has not been representative of the church in the roughly fifty years that we have had a calendar. Too, I mentioned some ways that the proposed book is in continuity with some of the broad trends and how even some of the things that appear as novelties do have some antecedents.

I made a comment in that piece that I wasn’t going to talk about collects and readings because that topic was a complex one that deserved its own post. Well—this is that post…

I don’t plan for this to be deep and exhaustive, but merely to point out some key trends with the readings and collects. At the conclusion, I think you’ll agree that whatever you may think of the decisions around specific individuals in LFF 2018, you’ll see that it is superior to previous volumes in its poetry, literary artistry, and theological grounding.

There are three broad movements when it comes to a philosophy of sanctoral collects in the Episcopal Calendar: 1) Common(ish) Collects, 2) The Return of the Biographical Collect, and 3) The Theological Turn.

1) Common(ish) Collects

Prayer Book Studies XII

Let’s start at the beginning, which for this topic means Prayer Book Studies XII: The Propers for the Minor Holy Days, published in 1958. The table of contents for this volume breaks down like this:

  • The Collects
  • The Epistles and Gospels
  • Movable Octaves and Seasons
  • The Proposed Propers
  • Indices

Let me be clear on this… The first 35 pages of this work talk about the complex and important work of finding suitable collects for celebrating the black-letter days. The heading entitled “The Problem of Suitable Collects” includes some very quotable lines like these:

The writing of Collects for liturgical use is a most exacting discipline. One is tempted to say that it is an art possible only to a literary genius, who at the same time has a profound knowledge of theology and a rich experience of prayer. In any case, the best Collects are generally the work of individuals; they are rarely effective when produced by a committee. (PBS XII, 6-7).

Two members of the group—unnamed, but I’d bet cash money that it was Bayard Jones and Massey Shepherd—got together, worked on possible collects “for a number of years”, and sent them out for testing. The results of their test are worth citing in full:

The aim of our subcommittee was to provide Collects of a biographical character, comparable to those of the Apostles and Evangelists in the [American 1928] Prayer Book. A complete schedule of Collects was finally prepared and sent to a number of persons skilled in these matters for criticism; and the results of these endeavors was used experimentally in a few of our seminaries and in certain private chapels. The ensuing comments after this trial use were not encouraging. Too many of these Collects gave the effect of being overly contrived and erudite. To place them in the Prayer Book would demand an annotated commentary for the benefit of those lay people who did not have an extensive knowledge of Church History and were therefore unable to appreciate the subtle allusions in these Collects. However admirable most of these Collects might be for personal, devotional use, they lacked that quality of universal application that is needed in a formulary for corporate, liturgical use. (PBS XII, 9)

In short, the biographical collect, although seen as desirable, was deemed a failure by the best liturgical minds of the time.

Instead, they decided to go with a set of Common(ish) collects. That is, having Commons for readily identifiable groups of similar saints was seen as a good idea. However, a certain variety was still necessary and helpful to avoid monotony:

For…the ninety-two Black Letter commemorations, we are offering a total of thirty-six collects, of which seventeen are appointed for one occasion only, the others for two or more occasions. But none of them are listed for more than six commemorations; and of these, an effort has been made to avoid using the same Collect twice over within the space of one month. However, there are one or two exceptions to this latter usage. By such a distribution, it is hoped that tedium may be lessened, and thus the devout attention of worshippers encouraged.  (PBS XII, 10)

The way that this worked out in practice is that certain key people had unique collects (Gregory the Great, Francis of Assisi, Irenaeus, the BVM and Mary Magdalene [remember, these last two were still black letter days at this point, not Holy Days]). Then—for instance—the 12 commemorations of martyrs were grouped into four categories by affinity and four collects were used, one for each group. Hence, the “early women martyrs”  (Agnes, Perpetua & Felicitas, and the Martyrs of Lyon) shared a collect, “early male martyrs” (Ignatius, Alban, and Laurence) shared a collect, “early church leader martyrs” (Polycarp, Justin, and Cyprian [Ignatius could have been in this group but wasn’t]) shared a collect, and “missionary martyrs” (Boniface, Patteson, and Hannington”) shared a collect. The Just-missionaries-not-martyrs-or-teachers group of 12 names was simply divided into two groups, each group sharing a collect. Thus:

We have attempted not to be arbitrary in the use of Collects for more than one worthy, and to find what might be termed obvious or natural groupings. The three monarchs: Louis, Alfred, and Margaret, share the same Collect as do five early Fathers who gave great contributions to the shaping of the dogma of the Incarnation–Hilary, Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, and Leo. It was readily evident that modern leaders in Christian humanitarianism such as Maurice and Wilberforce could be classed under the same Collect, but their predecessors of earlier times, such as Nicholas and Elizabeth of Hungary, were better served by other memorials. (PBS XII, 13-4)

Now let me give you an example of the actual collects and the discussion around them. Let’s follow two commemorations, Perpetua & Felicitas and Dominic, and see what we’ve got for their collects…

Agnes (January 21)
Perpetua and her Companions (March 7)
The Martyrs of Lyon (June 2)

Almighty and everlasting God, with whom thy meek ones go forth as the mighty: Grant us so to cherish the memory of thy blessed martyr(s) ——-, that we may share her pure and steadfast faith in thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect was based upon one for St. Agnes’ feast in the Gregorian Sacramentary. But in place of the original clause “who dost choose the weak things of the world to confound the the things which are mighty,” the Commission has drawn from a phrase used by William Bright in his Collect “For all who do the Work of the Church” (Ancient Collects, p. 237): “with whom thy little ones go forth as the mighty.” Both phrases are well-suited to describe the heroines who are the chief subjects of these commemorations. However, the Pauline expression, “weak things of the world” might not convey to the modern congregation the exact notion that is desired, hence the change of the word “weak” to “meek.” (PBS XII, 25)

And now Dominic:

Thomas Ken (March 20).
William Law (April 6).
Benedict (July 11).
Dominic (August 4).
Sergius (September 25).
Hilda (November 17).

Almighty and everlasting God, we give thee thanks for the purity and strength with which thou didst endow thy servant ——; and we pray that by thy grace we may have a like power to hallow and conform our souls and bodies to the purpose of thy most holy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The basis for this Collect was taken by the Commission from the Reverend E. A. L. Clarke’s The People’s Missal, where it appears for the Common of a Virgin-Martyr. It seems to be admirably suited to the varied “ascetical” gifts of the group of worthies here listed from all periods of the Church’s history. (PBS XII, 33)

I want you to notice a couple of key things here… First, collects are shared amongst similar kinds of saints—sorry, “worthies”—who are put together in relatively loose and arbitrary although reasonable groupings. Second, all of these collects have sources! Not only that, alterations were also made with reference to other collects as well as Scripture. There was not just thought but history and continuity behind what was being done here.

For selecting Scriptural readings, they didn’t start from scratch either, but looked at the old Roman Catholic Commons for the various categories of saints. Hence, Perpetua & Companions got the Epistle and Gospel from one of the 12 Commons of Marytrs—but not the one assigned to her day by Rome, rather from Salus autem: Hebrews 10:32-39 and Matthew 24:9-14a. Dominic doesn’t actually get a Scripture reading; in the two-tiered system of this book, Dominic is on tier 2 and hence only gets a collect, no Scripture.

Prayer Book Studies XVI/Lesser Feasts & Fasts (1st Ed.)

The material in Prayer Book Studies IX and XII were reworked to become Prayer Book Studies XVI which was itself adapted slightly to become the first edition of Lesser Feasts & Fasts. There was more change in the formatting than in the texts. Now the collects and Scriptural readings are grouped together. However, the brief biographies are still located in a separate part of the resource.

There is no change in the texts of either the collects or the Scripture for the two saints we’re following. However, there are signs of a shift on the horizon… At the end of the book are included one common each for the major categories of saints: martyrs, missionaries, monastics, etc.

Lesser Feasts & Fasts (Revised Ed. [1973])

Prayer Book Studies 19: The Church Year (1970) made some major forward strides in terms of thinking about a new way of doing the Calendar for a new prayer book that was now on the horizon. In particular, it re-aligned thinking on the Calendar in light of what Rome did with Vatican II. Nevertheless, this resource doesn’t address the Lesser Feasts. The Revised edition of Lesser Feasts & Fasts wouldn’t come out until 1973. What we see here is a Calendar very much under the sway of the coming ’79 Book of Common Prayer. The short Preface notes some changes that have taken place:

1. The Collects of the earlier edition have been carefully revised, and several new ones have been included. They are provided in both traditional and contemporary language, as in Services for Trial Use.

3. Commemorations which hitherto had only a Collect are now assigned Psalms and Lessons, either individually or by reference to the Common of Saints. (LFF 1973, vii, viii)

In this work we start seeing propers being conformed to the Commons that have been established for the forthcoming ’79 BCP. This shows up in both collects and in the appointed Scripture readings. Thus there is a certain work of norming the calendar and solidifying the previously rather fluid groups that had existed before. There is also a leveling of occasions and a move away from the original two-tiered system.

There is no change to the collect or lessons for Perpetua and her Companions except for getting the longer ending of the collect “…who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, in glory everlasting. Amen.” There is now a contemporary Rite II collect as well. This same collect is used but for a change of names for Agnes, but the Martyrs of Lyon now have a new collect that highlights Blandina and focuses less on meekness and more on the endurance of suffering. (I really need to do a post on JBob’s fascination with Blandina…)

Dominic’s collect is different and he now has lessons assigned to him (going forward, I’ll just provide the Rite II texts):

Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints, and who raised up your servant Dominic to be a light in the world: Shine, we, pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praises, who have called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.

This is a new template which will become the second Common for Missionaries. Here Dominic’s grouping has been rethought from “ascetic” to “missionary” and a new common assigned accordingly. If we look back  at Dominic’s original group, we’ll find that they have been dispersed into other Commons and assigned those collects; the only exception is Benedict who keeps the original collect with a minor change—“purity” becomes “humility” in recognition of the importance of that concept in the Rule.

Scripture-wise, Dominic will share 1 Corinthians 2 with Basil the Great, but Dominic alone gets the Romans 10 option and the Gospel, John 7:16-18. Glancing through the Scripture index, there is occasional overlap between the Scripture lessons that shows that a diversity of readings is the goal, but that they are falling back on Commons where it seems to make sense.

Broadly speaking, this era of Common(ish) Collects relied heavily on quality collects from the past. The authors mined the collect collections found in Bright, Frere, Souter, and a variety of Anglican missals as well as the Gregorian/Hadrianum material of the ancient Western sacramentaries. These were then adapted to serve for several people who fell into a coherent category, categories that became more formalized as we moved towards the ’79 BCP with its set classes of saints.

Because of the generalities needed (and the theological proclivities of its authors), these collects focused on the saints as exemplars in that their lives showed certain theological gifts or virtues—“witness through meekness,” “purity and strength,” “spread God’s light.” There were not usually specific details given because of the generalities of the Commons. However, some saints did get individualized collects and some Commons did get tailored at points (like the change to “humility” in Benedict’s).

2) The Return of the Biographical Collect

After being tried and rejected in the original tests for the Calendar, the biographical collect returned with a vengeance in 1980. There is a certain irony here. The ’79 BCP provided two or three collects for each Commons of the saints. The Revised Edition of LFF in ’73 utilized these commons for the Calendar. And yet, the edition of LFF released to accompany the New Prayer Book (you know, at the time when it actually was new…)  went in a completely different direction.

Lesser Feasts & Fasts (Third edition [1980])

The preface states “The purpose of the revision of the Collects for the Lesser Feasts was to ensure that each Collect be distinctive of the person commemorated, or of that aspect of the Church’s life to which that person contributed most significantly” (LFF 1980, iv). It then identifies several changes where collects were personalized for several individuals. This occurred at the hands of the Rev. Canon Charles M. Guilbert, Custodian of the Book of Common Prayer with the assistance of the Rev. Eric Jackson and Mr. Patrick Russell. (I’d dearly love to know if they looked at or used any of the material that Jones & Shepherd had compiled in their first go-around…)

In other words, the biographical collect was back—and it would be back to stay for quite a while.

While the Scripture lessons remained the same, we got a new collect for Perpetua and her Companions:

O God the King of saints, you strengthened your servants Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions to make a good confession, staunchly resisting, for the cause of Christ, the claims of human affection, and encouraging one another in their time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

And a new one for Dominic too:

O God of the Prophets, you opened the eyes of your servant Dominic to perceive a famine of hearing the word of the Lord and moved him, and those he drew about him, to satisfy that hunger with sound preaching and fervent devotion: Make your Church, dear Lord, in this and every age attentive to the hungers of the world, and quick to respond in love to those who are perishing; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

So—quite different and tailored to the occasion. A collect is one long sentence; these strain to the point of being run-ons. Truthfully, there’s a biographical first sentence about the saints, then a second sentence about us. What was classically a relative clause that said something about God pertinent for the rest of the prayer has become an opportunity to talk about the person. In theory we are thanking God for a specific gift or set of gifts given, but that ends up too often coming off like a rhetorical ploy than a focus on gifts and charisms. It’s a one-sentence biography, then the abstraction of idea or concept from that biography to be applied to us/the current church.

Needless to say, there are no classical sources being drawn on here. No doubt that was seen as a bonus. What has developed here is a new kind of prayer modeled on the collect but different.

This model would continue to be the regnant model as new names were added to the Calendar by General Convention.

With the arrival of Holy Women, Holy Men this kind of collect was pushed almost to the point of parody—particularly in the new additions. I’ve ranted about this before and will spare you the speech now. However, there was some reworking of the older biographical collects as well. While there was no change in Perpetua & her Companions, there was a new version of the Dominic collect:

Almighty God, whose servant Dominic grew in knowledge of your truth and formed an order of preachers to proclaim the good news of Christ: Give to all your people a hunger for your Word and an urgent longing to share the Gospel, that the whole world may come to know you as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

For all that I may not like the style,  this is a better prayer than the previous one. It is less allusive and more direct. It’s a better biography. Also, the request is more closely tied to the bio: “Dominic established an order of preachers: help us preach Jesus.”  This is better than “help us connect with hungers”—because Dominic was about preaching Jesus and doing it well!

The biographical collect stops being one sentence about God, who God is, and what we request of God based on who God is. Instead, it’s a sentence about a person—a human—and then a sentence about what we think we should ask as a result of that person. At it’s best it’s asking for a gift like what that person had; at it’s worst, it’s asking that we can do the same kind of job as that person. To my eyes, the focus is on humanity—an exemplary person and what we can learn from them—rather than on the God who has been in relationship with us and the gifts and charisms given by the Spirit that share in the virtues of Jesus Christ.

3) The Theological Turn

Great Cloud of Witnesses

HWHM was quite a thing to inherit—which I did when I became head of the Calendar Subcommittee in 2013. My initial attempt was to do what LFF 2018 is doing: move some names to more of a “remembrance list” and better balance the names that remains. This approach was rejected by the SCLM as it was composed then. Great Cloud was a compromise that attempted to maintain inclusivity, but address the theological issue of folks on the Calendars whom all could not receive as saints. You can read through all of the travails of that process in the back catalog here, so I won’t dwell on it.

Over all, GCW didn’t achieve what I had hoped that it would, and it was not accepted by the church.  Despite its shortcomings, I think the best work that went into it was the beginning of revision on the collects. As you can probably tell by now, I’m not a fan of the biographical collect. What I attempt to do was to think about how these collects are supposed to function and—in particular—to tie them into the concept of the Baptismal Covenant. How were these people living out the Covenant and what were the baptismal gifts and, graces, and charisms that they inhabit? Which of the virtues of Christ did they put most prominently on display?

Here’s a post where I discuss the specific revision of one collect (St Bede’s) along these lines. (And I see that I did a mini-version of the above post there too so it may be a teensy bit repetitive at points.) Here’s another that’s not as specific where I call out the relative clause problems in particular.

Looking back, I didn’t make any changes to either of these collects. They weren’t as bad as some others (Bede, Alcuin…) so I left them alone.

I must say, that was my biggest disappointment in the side-lining of GCW—the revised collects did not get much circulation.

Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2018

Now we get to the new proposal on the table. It starts with what had been done in GCW but goes further and does more, particularly in the trimming of unnecessary relative clauses. Let’s compare the one’s we’ve been looking at side by side:

Old Collect New Collect
O God the King of saints, you strengthened your servants Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions to make a good confession, staunchly resisting, for the cause of Christ, the claims of human affection, and encouraging one another in their time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. O God, the King of Saints, who strengthened your servants Perpetua, Felicity, and their companions to make a good confession and to encourage one another in the time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Almighty God, whose servant Dominic grew in knowledge of your truth and formed an order of preachers to proclaim the good news of Christ: Give to all your people a hunger for your Word and an urgent longing to share the Gospel, that the whole world may come to know you as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. Almighty God, Grant unto all your people a hunger for your Word and an urgent longing to share your Gospel, that like your servant Dominic we might labor to bring the whole world to the knowledge and love of you as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

To my eyes and tongue, the revisions here make objectively better prayers—prayers that can actually claim the name “collect” again! The content has not been completely overhauled, you can still see the bones that they’re working with, but the trimming of material has re-balanced the focus of the collect. The virtues, the charisms, the gifts are more in focus than before.

These two commemorations are just examples that I picked pretty much at random. As I flip through LLF 2018, I can see a host of improvements along these lines. Prayers are tightened up, the collect form is restored, some have been overhauled.

Is LFF 2018 a prefect document? No, of course not. But I see it as much improved step over what I did, certainly, and over what we have been working with over the past many years. We celebrate the saints because they show us what “the full stature of Christ” looks like in human form. They show us what the virtues of Christ look and act like in myriad different times and places and societies. They show us where a sacramental path of discipleship leads. They illustrate a Baptismal Covenant fully embraced. And the prayers with which we fete them ought to represent that truth too. This volume does that in ways we haven’t seen in a long time.

Please—let’s pass this one.

Office Lectionary Gaps

I find myself pondering the reasons for gaps in the lectionary of the Daily Office readings. I’m struck by a couple in particular…

What makes these interesting is that I’m not looking at the currently lectionary, but the original 1928 Daily Office lectionary.

Here’s one: 2 Samuel 11:2-4a, and 12:1-7,9-10,12-13a

That’s the David and Bathsheba story. The big chunk missing makes sense—that’s the full narrative that doesn’t focus on the specific sins of David here. What draws my eye immediately is the odd single-verse gaps, the omission verses 8 and 11. Here they are:

verse 8: [Nathan to David] And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.

verse 11: Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.

So, it seems like the polygamy of David is at issue here—but wouldn’t that seem to be  pertinent thing in discussing his “acquisition” of Bathsehba?

Doubtless the reason for this omission was because this is a reading for a major day—it’s the first reading at MP on Lent 1. I imagine the idea here was to avoid scandalizing congregations with the idea that David was polygamous or at least to distract people with that fact at this point. In all fairness, 2 Samuel 12:1-25 is read in its entirety on the Friday after the 15th Sunday after Trinity so we can chalk this up to Sunday Embarrassment, a feature of Anglican lectionaries since 1561.

What, then, do we make of Joshua 11:1-19, 23?

This is the reading appointed for Friday after the First Sunday after Trinity and is the only time Joshua 11 is read during the year. Let me provide you with some context—here’s 18 to 23:

18 Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 19 There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. 20 For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the LORD commanded Moses. 21 And at that time came Joshua, and cut off the Anakims from the mountains, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel: Joshua destroyed them utterly with their cities. 22 There was none of the Anakims left in the land of the children of Israel: only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod, there remained. 23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD said unto Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance unto Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. And the land rested from war.

It’s the divine genocide section.

Clearly no Sunday Embarrassment going on here because it’s a Friday and not a hugely major one at that. What interpretive principles are at work here, I wonder? I can see that these verses cause a scandal, but for me it’s more important that they’re left in. I believe it’s important that the rough edges remain in the text because they cause us to examine our hermeneutics more carefully: a selectively edited Bible makes it easier to teach and believe a simplistic inerrancy doctrine.

Update

Found another good one… Thursday after the 20th Sunday after Trinity: 1 Kings 2:1-4, 10-27

Like any good bandit chieftain, David leaves behind a hit list for Solomon on his deathbed:

Moreover thou knowest also what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, and what he did to the two captains of the hosts of Israel, unto Abner the son of Ner, and unto Amasa the son of Jether, whom he slew, and shed the blood of war in peace, and put the blood of war upon his girdle that was about his loins, and in his shoes that were on his feet. Do therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hoar head go down to the grave in peace. But show kindness unto the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be of those that eat at thy table: for so they came to me when I fled because of Absalom thy brother. And, behold, thou hast with thee Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite of Bahurim, which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim: but he came down to meet me at Jordan, and I sware to him by the LORD, saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword. Now therefore hold him not guiltless: for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him; but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood.

 

 

Anglican Breviary Use Case Poll

I have some questions for those interested in the Anglican Breviary.

(For those not familiar, the Anglican Breviary was a revision of the Roman Catholic Breviary subsequent to its 1910 revision; it contains the standard 8 prayer offices with all their attendant liturgical materials, but renders them in accordance with the psalms and prayers of the prayer book tradition. That is, the psalter is the Coverdale and BCP collects are used in some places rather than the Roman Catholic collects. Too, some of the readings at Matins are modified to reflect Anglican theological commitments in the few cases where there are significant points of divergence.)

Those (particularly though not necessarily exclusively Anglicans) who are interested in and choose to use the Anglican Breviary have some decisions with regard to its use. Please indicate where you’d fall. I’m going to leave this poll up for one week to get a sense of where folks are on things currently.

[poll id=”6″]

Evensong Handout, Rite I for Lent

Over on the Rubric Facebook page there was a question about whether any churches do Evensong from the prayer book any more. The answer is, yes, they do…

Just to distinguish, there are three main kinds of evening prayer services:

  • Evening Prayer where the service is prayer from the Book of Common Prayer,
  • (Congregational) Evensong where the officiant and the people sing the service together (the appointed psalms may either be read or sung—I’ve seen it both ways), or
  • Choral Evensong where the service is sung between the officiant and the choir. The congregation may chime in on the canticles or hymns—or not. Usually everything is sung and it uses either the 1928 or the 1662 format.

M’s church has been doing a congregational evensong during Lent and Advent. Attendance varies, sometimes it’s as high as 15, sometimes it’s just been 3 or 4. Usually it’s in the 10 or 11 range, but numbers aren’t the driving goal—offering Evensong is.

For several of the participants over the last couple of seasons, it was the first time they’d ever been to an Evensong. Too, sometimes M invited others to lead—once a priest from another congregation, and once our younger daughter H wanted to give it a try.  It worked because we used a format that was pretty easy. My preference is always to use the book, but I don’t find that practical in this instance because you have to know when and what to sing and when to move from hymnal to prayer book. Instead, we worked up a 1-page front-and-back sheet that contained the main body of the Office without hymns, psalms, or canticles. This allowed us to make one run of sheets that we could laminate and use over and over throughout the season.

Also, when you get into hymns and such you start running afoul of copyright regulations. Virtually all of the hymns and much of the composed service music is under copyright.  Both the text and tunes found in the hymnal for the specific service texts for Evening Prayer are in the public domain because, in the case of the prayer book, the texts are explicitly in the public domain. In the case of the tunes, they are traditional and have been used for hundreds of years. What *is* copyrighted is the typesetting of them in the hymnal. That’s why you can’t copy-and-paste from the hymnal without a license: the image of the contents are copyrighted even if the contents are not.

While M’s church does have one of the big rubber-stamp music licenses because they livestream and YouTube their service (which you can watch here), I opted to dispense with the issue altogether by setting the music myself with a basic music notation font and judicious use of the Paint utility.

So—what you’ll find here is a Rite I Evensong for Lenten congregational use that fits on a one-pager. [Now, with all the notes in the Dismissal!] Officiants will need their prayer books as some of their texts are partial or missing to save space and, of course, no propers are included.

The Confession is included and there’s a reason for that… When M first started this, she was doing it with a clergy colleague. We handed out the sheets, and he began with the Confession—which wasn’t on the sheets. This caused unintentional chaos, so I added it and it’s been on since. (As a basic rule, if you’ve given a handout for an unfamiliar service, you’d be advised to go with what’s on the handout even if it’s not the way you’d normally do it. Finish the service, then address the handout; don’t deviate in the middle [or beginning] and confuse everybody…)

Year B Gospel Canticle Antiphons for the Daily Office

I had a post in the works that got into discussions of the Anglican Missal and Breviary* and such that got long and windy and such so I’ll just keep this brief and cut to the chase…

Of course, I like the Anglican Missal and Breviary but there’s one obvious problem with using them as direct supplements to the ’79 BCP: our current use is grounded in a three-year Eucharistic lectionary. These venerable resources are grounded in a one-year lectionary.

One of the key elements of continuity between the Mass and Office in Western liturgy was the use of bits and pieces of the Gospel and Epistle for the nearby feasts in successive days of the Office and chief among these is the Gospel Canticle Antiphon which was typically taken from the Gospel lection. I have two different cycles of Gospel Canticle Antiphons in the St. Bede’s Breviary, but this is a post to alert you to another…

Friend-of-the-blog Charlie Heeley has put up a set for use with Year B of the Revised Common lectionary that also includes some appropriate Chapter passages for use with Noon Prayer as well. It’s a compact, six-page (printed front & back) booklet that puts these texts right at your fingers. It’s in a Google Doc that can be found here.

Let me know what you think!

Counting Christians

Bishop Martins has a good post up on Covenant about ecclesiometry: how we count the people in churches and what these mean for us as a church. Do read his article as he makes several good points about why and how we measure.

A central point that he makes is that we have to wrestle with the new realities of a post-Constantinian age. That is, in previous decades, we could assume that most of the people we were working with were baptized believers who knew the Christian story and what we were doing was inviting them into our version. That will no longer be the case in a post-Constantinian world and, as a result, a crucial metric will be adult baptisms.

I totally agree with that.

That having been said, I’ve been thinking something slightly different around this same issue… I completely agree with the ideas around the post-Constantinian age and also about the criticality of adult baptism—no argument at all from me on those points.

However, I don’t think we’re there yet. We’re on the cusp of a post-Constantinian age and not yet fully inhabiting it. Instead, I’d suggest that before we come to a true post-Constantinianism, we are currently inhabiting—and have been for the past couple of decades—an intense reshuffling of American Christianity in a Church Marketplace. Denominational loyalty used to be a real thing: you were what your family was. With the collapse of grand narratives and joining patterns, that paradigm fell apart.

The biggest movement was, of course, out altogether. Having less social pressure to stay in churches, many people left. Some, because they never really believed to begin with and felt more comfortable saying that; others, because they had other commitments, other demands, and church didn’t seem that valuable.

I’d argue that the other important movement besides the movement out was the movement across: the reshuffling of people into other denominations based on preference or fit. And, given the heavily political polarization of American Christianity since the rise of the Religious Right in the ’80s, those decisions have been as much political as theological.

I’d love to know if we have been keeping records on receiving and confirming people into the Episcopal Church.

Both M and I were received and from different church bodies at that. Many of my IRL and online Episcopal friends also came from somewhere else. Many are former Roman Catholics who came to a place where women could be ordained; others were Evangelicals or Fundamentalists who came to a place where their sexual orientation was not a matter of continual attack.

The combination of these two movements—movements out and movements across—I imagine that at this point we have the lowest percentage of Cradle Episcopalians (i.e., adult members raised from childhood in the Episcopal Church) that we have ever had.

This matters in a lot of different ways. In the context of ecclesiometrics, it means another important stat to keep our eye on. But—perhaps just as or more important—this feeds into the current identity crisis and the anxiety of identity that I contend is driving so many of our contentious issues right now including the debates around Communion Before Baptism and Prayer Book Revision.

On Language for the Liturgy, II

One of the issues that’s on the table when it comes to liturgy is the balance between poetry and prose. These two are not discrete things that stand apart from one another but, rather, describe two points on a spectrum of language use. On the prose end, the language ought to be clear, direct, and unmistakable. On the poetic end, language should be allusive/elusive and multivalent. Neither option is “good” or “bad”; instead, they serve different functions for different purposes. As a result, every piece of writing can fall somewhere on the spectrum between poetry and prose, some being more on one side of the spectrum than another.

Placing things on the spectrum is a matter of analyzing a number of qualities in a composition. Poetry tends to use ornamented language, elevated diction, archaic or antiquated language or constructions, and figures of thought and speech. Figures of speech include the subcategory of aural figures that most people commonly associate with the purer forms of poetry: alliteration (matching initial sounds), assonance (matching internal sounds), rhyme (matching ending sounds), and cadence (if it has a regular and/or repetitive flow).  A chief function of poetry is to communicate mood, feeling, or expression. Prose at its most prosaic is simple, clear, and direct. A chief function of prose is the communication of data or information. Most forms of writing that modern Westerners encounter tend to be prose or to be on the prose side of the spectrum; we tend to read more for information. However, even basic prose usually has some ornaments to spice it up and make it a bit more interesting.

Out of all of these various characteristics of both prose and poetry, I want to focus us on one in particular: valence. That is, how wide is the range of meanings that a word/phrase/sentence/paragraph can contain without the interpretation becoming strained or overtly non-literal? Another way to say this could be, where does the interpretive work fall? Is it on the part of the author and the text to communicate meaning and to make it clear or is it more on the part of the reader to interpret and find the possibilities inherent in the text?

Valence becomes particularly important when we talk about things like genre (what kind of writing it is) or purpose. Generally speaking, I’m a guy who loves poetry—but I have absolutely no tolerance for it in things like recipes or route directions! I don’t want to have to interpret how much salt I should put in a recipe: I vastly prefer “a teaspoon” to “a moonbeam’s worth.”  However, when I’m reading something that is designed to make me think, to make me reconsider how and why I live, to make me see the possibility in the worlds around me, I crave multivalent language, language that can mean many different things at once. Part of the fun of reading good writing is playing within the act of interpretation and teasing out the possibilities that fill the words and grammar.

So—to approach more closely to the topic at hand, how do we like our religious writing? Because I’m a guy who likes to think in poetry, I want the sermons I hear to have a good amount of the poetic within them. I don’t want them to be too flowery to the point where I have to do all of the interpretive work, but I’d rather have it make me think and consider than be too heavily on the prose side. Other people I know are the opposite. They ask for something different from sermons: cut the crap, tell me what to do. I think my brother is much more this way. And, for that reason, I see this to be—at least in part—a matter of hard-wiring. Some people prefer the more poetic, some the more prosaic. It’s not a value judgement, it’s human difference.

So—what about the liturgy? Where should it fall on the spectrum?

I think that this is one of the arguments that we are having but don’t stop to realize it, consider it, or properly ponder the implications.

As I see it, hear it, and feel it, a hallmark of classical Anglican liturgy is a high degree of poetry. The sound of it is important, the cadences, the assonance, the way words and sounds play off one another, the way the liturgy plays hide-and-seek with the words, meanings, and intentions of Scripture (particularly King James Scripture—a version where the translators were also poets and read it aloud amongst themselves before approving it.) The choice of diction, the vocabulary used is elevated. The language of both the King James Version and the prayer book betrayed some archaic qualities even in the time when they were written. Certainly for the KJV, this is due in some measure to the Tyndale and Lollard versions of the English that the translators looked back upon as they went about their work. The ’79 prayer book’s Rite I feels inherently more poetic to my modern ears precisely because of its archaic character and intentionally elevated diction (paging “inestimable” and “bewail!”)

But it’s not just sound and grammar, either. Consider the kinds of figures of thought that appear: Surely it is no accident that the Morning Prayer confession mentions that “we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep” in a prayer that appears just before the invitatory psalm where we recall that “he is the Lord our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand (Venite)” or “we are his people and the sheep of his pasture (Jubilate).”

Alright—so that’s my contention, that classical Anglican liturgy falls very much on the poetic end of the scale. So, what does that have to do with the present situation and discussion of revision and of the best kinds of language to use in the liturgy?

My own feeling is that one of the arguments that we’re not necessarily aware that we’re having is between those who want a more prosaic, didactic liturgy and between those who want a more poetic liturgy. Those who want to use the liturgy to convey information to be a teaching tool are going to want it more directly communicative and less multivalent. Those who want the liturgy to convey an elevated presence and experience of the mysteries of God are going to want it to be more ornamented and poetic. (This is not and probably shouldn’t be a strict either/or; like the poetic-prosaic spectrum there’s probably a spectrum here too…but I think there are definitely sides and preferences tending in these two directions.)

What should the liturgy be?

For my part, I’ll go back to Scripture to take my lead. Again, there’s a balance of poetry and prose in the pages of Scripture—Genesis and Acts, more prosey; Song of Songs and Revelation, more poetry. But I find our true paradigm in the Psalms. And I have in the past and will in the future make the argument that the Psalter is the first and truest language that the Church chose for Christian spirituality. The Psalms are poetry. The Psalms—given their central place in the Daily Office—have served as the guides for Anglican liturgy for centuries.

If revision happens, if the language of our liturgy changes, we must retain the poetic mode: this is the past, present, and future of Anglican liturgy and we risk altering the linguistic and spiritual balance at our peril.

On Language for the Liturgy, I

There has been a certain amount of discussion in various Facebook groups about revisions to the prayer book. I include here the obligatory reminder that the Episcopal Church is not currently in the process of revising the BCP, there is merely discussion over the possibility of revision…

That having been said, one of the issues that has popped up several times is about the issue of language, specifically, the use of the English language in the prayer book and what constitutes “language understood by the people.”

When these discussions break out, it seems to me that several arguments are going on and within some of these arguments some important distinctions are being either conflated or being ignored altogether.

One of the discussions involves levels of literacy. To what degree should the English used in the liturgy be intelligible to people of various degrees of literacy? What happens when a multisyllabic or difficult vocabulary word appears in a liturgical text? A fine example here would be one of my favorite words in the Rite I General Thanksgiving: “inestimable.” This is a long word that some people do not know and that people with limited English literacy (children, non-native speakers) might have trouble with. The framers of Rite II weighed in by altering it to “immeasurable.” It’s still just as long, but has a more common and easily understood root (measure). To clarify, what is at issue in this kind of argument is literal comprehensibility.

A second discussion involves technical terms. There is a distinct science of Christian theology. Like any other science, it uses technical terms in order to apply linguistic precision to its discussions. Words like “consubstantiation,” “perichoretic,” or “eschatological” or a phrase like “prevenient grace” are examples of technical terms. Generally speaking, these words are not largely used outside of Christian or religious discourse.

A third discussion involves “terms of art,” a phrase that can shade into the word “jargon” used in a technical rather than pejorative sense. A term of art is a word that is used within the wider language but that has a specific and more closely circumscribed meaning when used by a particular field, discipline, or community. An example would be the word “cult.” In standard English, a cult is a negative term to speak about a small religious movement characterized by manipulation and a leader who demands total obedience, often for nefarious ends. When used by scholars of religion, though, “cult” simply refers to the worship practices of a group or worship towards a particular deity; it has no negative meaning. Or, to come closer to the topic at hand, people in the church will refer to a wafer as a “host.” While this word has a given meaning in standard English, its church use differs from the standard usage.

Most of the discussions about language are imprecise arguments around whether Christian liturgy ought to use technical terms or terms of art. Often this is couched in the language of hospitality and inclusion: is it exclusive to use language that non-Christians will not understand?

A key problem here is how we define “standard” English and how we identify when a given term become unintelligible. For instance, I have heard arguments that words like “redemption,” “repentance,” “forgiveness,” “sin,” and “salvation” are insider words that the church needs to avoid. I’m constantly confused by this because I hear these words plenty in popular American music. Can you really make the argument that a word is not understood by regular speakers when it shows up frequently in pop music or mainstream rock? The only way this argument makes sense to me is if you posit—and can demonstrate—that the meaning between a “popular” use and “church” use has drifted so far that the one is unintelligible to the other.

Far more frequently, I think something else is at work here especially as it tends to pop up around works like “sin” and “sacrifice.” These words have a meaning, and it is flavored by centuries of use within the church. When church people suggest that they are unintelligible and exclusive to non-church people, I wonder if the meaning is not clear or if they don’t like the meaning that the term currently has. I wonder if a desire for new language is an attempt to make an aspect of the faith more palatable to the church people who take issue with a term.

Bottom line: if you take issue with the use of the word “sin” in the liturgy, your root problem may not be that visitors can’t understand it…

There’s more to be said about this topic, though, especially around what kind of language liturgies can or ought to be written in. I’ll get around to those shortly.